Tag Archives: Ecology

New UN climate report is a ‘Code Red for Humanity’

By Reynard Loki – In a grim report released on August 9, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that climate change was “unequivocally” caused by human activity, and that within two decades, rising temperatures will cause the planet to reach a significant turning point in global warming. The report’s authors—a group of the world’s top climate scientists convened by the United Nations (UN)—predict that by 2040, average global temperatures will be warmer than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, causing more frequent and intense heat waves, droughts and extreme weather events. UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the bleak findings a “code red for humanity.”

The report found global warming increasing at a faster rate than earlier predictions estimated. “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land… [and] at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years,” the report says. “Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.” Even if the world’s nations enacted sharp and stringent reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases today, overall global warming is still estimated to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next 20 years. That means that the hotter, more dangerous future that scientists and the Paris climate agreement sought to avoid is now unavoidable.

Linda Mearns, a senior climate scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research and one of the report’s co-authors, offered a stern warning: “It’s just guaranteed that it’s going to get worse,” she said, adding that there is “[n]owhere to run, nowhere to hide.” In an interview with the Hill, Kim Cobb, the lead author of the report’s first chapter, said, “We’re already reeling, clearly, from so many of these impacts that the report highlights, especially in the category of extremes that are gripping these headlines and causing so much damage, but of course the 1.5 degree C world is notably and discernibly worse.” more>

Green markets won’t save us

Markets are an unreliable guide for navigating a problem as large and complex as climate change.
By Katharina Pistor – How can one make wise decisions about a perpetually unknowable future? This question is as old as humankind, but it has become existential in light of climate change. Although there is sufficient evidence that anthropogenic climate change is already here, we cannot possibly know all the ways that it will ramify in the coming decades. All we know is that we must either reduce our environmental footprint or risk another global crisis on the scale of the ‘little ice age’ in the 17th century, when climatic changes led to widespread disease, rebellion, war and mass starvation, cutting short the lives of two-thirds of the global population.

The British economist John Maynard Keynes famously argued that investors are driven ultimately by ‘animal spirits’. In the face of uncertainty, people act on gut feelings, not ‘a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities’, and it is these instinct-driven bets that may (or may not) pay off after the dust settles. And yet policy-makers would have us trust animal spirits to help us overcome the uncertainty associated with climate change.

Humanity has long sought to reduce uncertainty by making the natural world more legible, and thus subject to its control. For centuries, natural scientists have mapped the world, created taxonomies of plants and animals, and (more recently) sequenced the genomes of many species in the hope of discovering treatments against all imaginable maladies.

What maps, taxonomies and sequences are to chemists and biologists, numbers and indicators are to social scientists. Prices, for example, signal the market value of goods and services, and the expected future value of financial assets. If investors have largely ignored certain assets, the reason might be that they were improperly measured or priced. more>

They’re Healthy. They’re Sustainable. So Why Don’t Humans Eat More Bugs?

By Aryn Baker – Sylvain Hugel is one of the world’s foremost experts on crickets of the Indian Ocean Islands. So when he received an email from a fellow entomologist in March 2017 asking for help identifying a species in Madagascar that could be farmed for humans to consume, he thought it was a joke. “I’m working to protect those insects, not eat them,” the French academic responded tartly.

But the emails from Brian Fisher, an ant specialist at the California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco, kept coming. Fisher had been doing fieldwork in Madagascar when he realized that the forests where both he and Hugel conducted much of their research were disappearing. Nearly 80% of Madagascar’s forest coverage has been destroyed since the 1950s, and 1-2% of what remains is cut down each year as farmers clear more trees to make room for livestock. The only way to prevent this, Fisher told Hugel in his emails, was to give locals an alternative source of protein. “If you want to be able to keep studying your insects, we need to increase food security, otherwise there will be no forest left,” Fisher wrote.

His proposal was insect protein. More than two-thirds of Madagascar’s population already eat insects in some form, usually as a seasonal snack. If there were a way to turn that occasional snack into a regular meal by making it easily available, it could help ease pressure on the island’s threatened forests. Crickets, which are high in protein and other vital nutrients, were already being farmed successfully in Canada for both human and animal consumption. Surely Hugel, with his vast knowledge of Indian Ocean crickets, could help identify a local species that would be easy to farm, and, more importantly, might taste good? more>

EU vows to work with international partners to be climate neutral by 2050

New Europe Online/KG – The Europe Union can be a powerful promoter of climate ambitions also because it can offer a model of a socially just Green Deal transition, which leaves no one behind. “We can share our experience of tools such as the Coal Regions in Transition Initiative, and the Just Transition Mechanism. We can show that economic and energy diversification is possible and can create better jobs and growth for societies,” Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said on February 1 at the EsadeGeo Annual Energy Meeting “Geopolitics of the Green Deal Month”.

Europe accounts for around 8% of global emission. “So, to address global climate change, we need others to follow the same path – to become our partners in the clean energy transition,” Simson noted.

“Europe has two assets to advocate here: our high climate ambition and our just transition policy model. The European Union showed leadership announcing its climate neutrality goal for 2050. Last December EU leaders also agreed to step up commitment to reduce emissions by 2030. This is now the EU’s nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement,” the Commissioner said, adding that several other major international partners have announced as well net zero commitments. “We can look at 2021 with optimism. As a year of global climate action. Thanks to the COP 26 but also the actions of G20 and G7 led by the UK and Italy, Europe will be a driving force of this collective effort,” she said.

“So, as I said, we want to be leaders, but we have important work to do as partners. The Green Deal is not just an agenda to transform Europe’s economy and society. It has an impact beyond our borders, and most of all, on our closest partners and in our neighborhood. That’s why this must be a focus of our external energy action,” Simson stressed. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Optimizing water treatment with online sensing and advanced analytics
Overlaying real-time advanced analytics on data from online sensing can help to stabilize operations and increase capacity in water-treatment facilities.
By Jay Agarwal, Lapo Mori, Fritz Nauck, Johnathan Oswalt, Dickon Pinner, Robert Samek, and Pasley Weeks – Metals and mining companies are adapting to an operating environment in which water is highly regulated, experiences unforeseen supply shocks, and carries substantial social value. By 2024, water-operating expenses for these businesses are estimated to increase by a 1 to 4 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), with a 4 to 7 percent CAGR expected for water-capital spending. Consequently, these metals and mining companies have made significant investments—an estimated $15 billion in 2019 alone—to reduce water withdrawal and increase water efficiency in operations, as well as mitigate reputational risk.

Digital tools can optimize water-management operations—offering stability, reduced costs, and deferred expenditures for new capacity. This article describes the application of such tools in water treatment (see, “The five domains of water management”).

Central to sustainable operations is water reuse, wherein water is reclaimed after processing and treatment (to remove metals, reagents, or suspended solids). Reuse obviates the need for additional fresh water; it significantly reduces water-operating expenses and is critical to addressing low water availability in stressed areas. Anglo-American, for instance, has pledged to adopt techniques that will allow for more than 80 percent water reuse at their mining facilities, saving an estimated $15 million per year. more>

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We have to accelerate clean energy innovation to curb the climate crisis. Here’s how.

A detailed road map for building a US energy innovation ecosystem.
By David Roberts – “Innovation” is a fraught concept in climate politics. For years, it was used as a kind of fig leaf to cover for delaying tactics, as though climate progress must wait on some kind of technological breakthrough or miracle. That left climate advocates with an enduring suspicion toward the notion, and hostility toward those championing it.

Lately, though, that has changed. Arguably, some Republicans in Congress are still using innovation as a way to create the illusion of climate concern (without any conflict with fossil fuel companies). But among people serious about the climate crisis, it is now widely acknowledged that hitting the world’s ambitious emissions targets will require both aggressive deployment of existing technologies and an equally aggressive push to improve those technologies and develop nascent ones.

There is legitimate disagreement about the ratio — about how far and how fast existing, mature technologies can go — but there is virtually no analyst who thinks the current energy innovation system in the US is adequate to decarbonize the country by midcentury. It needs reform.

What kind of reform? Here, as in other areas of climate policy, there is increasing alignment across the left-of-center spectrum. Two recent reports illustrate this.

The first — a report so long they’re calling it a book — is from a group of scholars at the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), led by energy scholar Varun Sivaram; it is the first in what will be three volumes on what CGEP is calling a “National Energy Innovation Mission.” The second is from the progressive think tank Data for Progress, on “A Progressive Climate Innovation Agenda,” accompanied by a policy brief and some polling.

Both reports accept the International Energy Agency (IEA) conclusion that “roughly half of the reductions that the world needs to swiftly achieve net-zero emissions in the coming decades must come from technologies that have not yet reached the market today.” There are reasons to think this might be an overly gloomy assessment, but whether it’s 20 percent or 50 percent, aggressive innovation will be required to pull it off.

Both reports set out to put some meat on the bones of a clean energy innovation agenda. And they both end up in roughly the same place, with roughly the same set of policy recommendations. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Ten principles for successful oil and gas operator transitions
Incoming operators face several challenges when taking over an asset, including managing the transition, improving performance, and capturing value. Ten principles can guide the way.
By Pat Graham, Maximilian Mahringer, and Andy Thain – In the past five years, many oil and gas assets experienced an operator change after concessions expired and new operators or national oil companies acquired the rights, or after international oil companies divested or acquired assets. Regardless of the circumstances, a transition between operators represents a critical inflection point for an asset. On one hand, it gains a fresh lease on life through better access to capital, the adoption of new operating methods, or the application of new technologies that enhance its value. On the other hand, an operator change can trigger instability and increase risk before and after the transition. Indeed, many new operators fail to capture the value they expected.

From our analysis of production profiles following upstream operator transitions, we found that only about 20 percent were executed successfully, meaning they maintained or improved production levels throughout the transfer phase. Between 15 and 20 percent stagnated, while 60 to 70 percent declined.

Why were failure rates so high? We identified several reasons why incoming operators struggled to maintain production output:

Lack of collaboration between acquirer and incumbent. Failing to establish an effective working relationship can lead to multiple issues, such as reluctance among incumbents to invest in areas that fail to yield an economic payback before exit, decline in employee engagement, and challenges in the transfer of data and operating procedures.

Excessive level of change from day one. Transferring operatorship always involves changes to governance, operating processes, and IT systems—some of which will need to be implemented from day one. However, tackling too much change too soon can be disruptive, destroying good incumbent practices and cultural features that the acquirer should seek to retain.

Loss of essential capabilities. When exiting an operatorship, incumbents often relocate critical talent to more attractive prospects in their portfolios. This is particularly true of asset-leadership teams, specialists, and those with scarce skills. Replacing such capabilities can be costly and time consuming for the incoming operator.

Lack of attention to cultural differences. Every operator has their own way of aligning the organization’s vision, translating that vision into reality, and finding ways to create business value. No matter how similar ways of working may appear on the surface, different companies often interpret key terms such as “respect” or “risk-taking” in different ways, with different expectations of the behaviors needed to support them. Bringing these differences into the open and deciding which ones need to be addressed, and how, is a vital step in any transition. more>

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Updates from Georgia Tech

Scientists Transform Barbecue Lighter Into a High-Tech Lab Device
By Josh Brown – Researchers have devised a straightforward technique for building a laboratory device known as an electroporator – which applies a jolt of electricity to temporarily open cell walls – from inexpensive components, including a piezoelectric crystal taken from a butane lighter.

Plans for the device, known as the ElectroPen, are being made available, along with the files necessary for creating a 3D-printed casing.

“Our goal with the ElectroPen was to make it possible for high schools, budget-conscious laboratories, and even those working in remote locations without access to electricity to perform experiments or processes involving electroporation,” said M. Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “This is another example of looking for ways to bypass economic limitations to advance scientific research by putting this capability into the hands of many more scientists and aspiring scientists.”

In a study reported January 10 in the journal PLOS Biology and sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the researchers detail the method for constructing the ElectroPen, which is capable of generating short bursts of more than 2,000 volts needed for a wide range of laboratory tasks.

One of the primary jobs of a cell membrane is to serve as a protective border, sheltering the inner workings of a living cell from the outside environment.

But all it takes is a brief jolt of electricity for that membrane to temporarily open and allow foreign molecules to flow in — a process called electroporation, which has been used for decades in molecular biology labs for tasks ranging from bacterial detection to genetic engineering. more>

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The Adaptive Age

No institution or individual can stand on the sidelines in the fight against climate change
By Kristalina Georgieva – When I think of the incredible challenges we must confront in the face of a changing climate, my mind focuses on young people. Eventually, they will be the ones either to enjoy the fruits or bear the burdens resulting from actions taken today.

Our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through various mitigation measures—phasing out fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency, adopting renewable energy sources, improving land use and agricultural practices—continue to move forward, but the pace is too slow. We have to scale up and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. At the same time, we must recognize that climate change is already happening and affecting the lives of millions of people. There are more frequent and more severe weather-related events—more droughts, more floods, more heat waves, more storms.

Ready or not, we are entering an age of adaptation. And we need to be smart about it. Adaptation is not a defeat, but rather a defense against what is already happening. The right investments will deliver a “triple dividend” by averting future losses, spurring economic gains through innovation, and delivering social and environmental benefits to everyone, but particularly to those currently affected and most at risk. Updated building codes can ensure infrastructure and buildings are better able to withstand extreme events. Making agriculture more climate resilient means investing more money in research and development, which in turn opens the door to innovation, growth, and healthier communities.

The IMF is stepping up its efforts to deal with climate risk. Our mission is to help our members build stronger economies and improve people’s lives through sound monetary, fiscal, and structural policies. more>

Nature’s Solution to Climate Change

A strategy to protect whales can limit greenhouse gases and global warming
By Ralph Chami, Thomas Cosimano, Connel Fullenkamp, and Sena Oztosun – When it comes to saving the planet, one whale is worth thousands of trees.

Scientific research now indicates more clearly than ever that our carbon footprint—the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming through the so-called greenhouse effect—now threatens our ecosystems and our way of life. But efforts to mitigate climate change face two significant challenges. The first is to find effective ways to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or its impact on average global temperature. The second is to raise sufficient funds to put these technologies into practice.

Many proposed solutions to global warming, such as capturing carbon directly from the air and burying it deep in the earth, are complex, untested, and expensive. What if there were a low-tech solution to this problem that not only is effective and economical, but also has a successful funding model?

An example of such an opportunity comes from a surprisingly simple and essentially “no-tech” strategy to capture more carbon from the atmosphere: increase global whale populations. Marine biologists have recently discovered that whales—especially the great whales—play a significant role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere (Roman and others 2014).

The carbon capture potential of whales is truly startling. Whales accumulate carbon in their bodies during their long lives. When they die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean; each great whale sequesters 33 tons of CO2 on average, taking that carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries. A tree, meanwhile, absorbs only up to 48 pounds of CO2 a year.

Protecting whales could add significantly to carbon capture because the current population of the largest great whales is only a small fraction of what it once was. Sadly, after decades of industrialized whaling, biologists estimate that overall whale populations are now to less than one fourth what they once were. Some species, like the blue whales, have been reduced to only 3 percent of their previous abundance. Thus, the benefits from whales’ ecosystem services to us and to our survival are much less than they could be.

But this is only the beginning of the story. more>