Category: Earth & climate

Photo of the week: Shell freezes Arctic exploration (pun intended)

The beginning of the week started with a major victory for environmentalists: fossil fuel company Shell announced it will freeze its Artcic drilling activities for “the forseeable future”. Shell itself blames the disappointing outcome from the explorations this summer in the Alaskan Arctic for the halt in its search for oil and gas in the basin. After three years of strong opposition, environmental groups applaud the decision and called it “an unmitigated defeat” for big oil.

After years of protest and public outrage, Shell put its Arctic explorations on a hold (photo: David Ryder/Getty Images)

Protest at one of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs parked in Seattle bay. After years of public outrage, Shell put its Arctic explorations on a hold this week (photo: David Ryder/Getty Images)

For sure public opinion and rising concerns about Shell’s plans for Arctic oil and gas exploration played an important role. Critics said that it would endanger one of the last pristine areas on earth and that the operations in such harsh environments would just be too costly. Plus, when something goes wrong at a drilling site in the Arctic, it is very difficult to react fast to limit the damage. Even the former president of BP questioned Shell’s plans for Arctic drilling.

Despite Shell’s effort to portray itself as a progressive company in the climate change debate, it looks that they lost a lot of credit with their drilling plans for the Arctic. And not only their image got a serious blow; they spent more than 6 million euros so far on the hunt for fossil fuel in the region. That would have been enough to install around 1700 1MegaWatt wind turbines, 5.4 carbon capture and storage facilities or 46 000 years of heat for a eco-house, according to a calculation of the Guardian.

Source
The Guardian

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Photo of the week: the Sexy Plant

Each of us is carrying residues of pesticides in his or her body. More and more studies link immune system defficiencies, allergies and cancers with the chemicals which enter the human body via crops from non-organic agriculture. Students from the university of Valencia have now come up with an alternative, environmentally-friendly insect pest control method: the Sexy Plant.

Using controlled release of moth sex pheromones, the Sexy Plant causes mating disruption and avoid moth’s offspring. The team designed a genetic switch to turn on the release of pheromones after a solution of a copper-sulfate is sprayed on the plant. They also developed a biosafety module that prevents the plant to spread its genetic matter via pollen, which could eventually lead to an uncontrolled spread of the Sexy Plant itself which would endanger the original crop.

Two developers from the Sexy Plant team presenting their environmentally-friendly insect pest control method (photo: Sexy Plant)

Two developers from the Sexy Plant team presenting their environmentally-friendly insect pest control method (photo: Sexy Plant)

The Sexy Plant team claims that farmers can save up to 40% in insect pest control costs by planting the Sexy Plant between their crops. Plus, the pesticide free product can be sold for a better price. There is also a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, since pesticides have a carbon dioxide footprint of around 3kg per hectare which is avoided when using the Sexy Plant.

Sources

Sexy Plant project page

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Photo of the week: Rabbit gut microbes to clean up steel production?

If ArcellorMittal's pilot project to turn CO into bio-ethanol turns out economiccaly viable, it will apply the technology in all its steel production plants, such as this one in Bremen (photo: JesterRaiin)

Steel is still the most important engineering material, with a yearly production of around 1,7 billion tonnes. Unfortunately, the process to produce steel starting from iron ore is heavily polluting the atmosphere. Both CO and CO2 are produced, with the first one often burned to produce CO2 as well. When you do the math, you find that for each ton of steel, roughly two tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted. The contribution of the steel industry to the global CO2 emissions is estimated to be around 5%.

Reason enough to investigate the possibilty of reducing the footprint, thought bioengineering company LanzaTech. They developed the Clostridium microbe based on rabbit gut microbes, to capture carbon monoxide and converting it to ethanol.  “What we are talking about is turning an environmental liability into a financial opportunity,” said Jennifer Holmgren, chief executive of LanzaTech. The ethanol can be used to fuel cars and airplanes. ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steel producer, is about to start a pilot project in their production faciliy in Ghent, Belgium to test out the technology. When completed in 2018, the facility will produce up to 47 000 tonnes of ethanol. It’s estimated that for every ton of ethanol, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 2.3 tonnes. When the conversion process proves to be economiccaly viable, the company will roll out the technology in all her facilities over the world.

If ArcellorMittal's pilot project to turn CO into bio-ethanol turns out economiccaly viable, it will apply the technology in all its steel production plants, such as this one in Bremen (photo: JesterRaiin)

If ArcelorMittal’s pilot project to turn CO into bio-ethanol turns out to be economically viable, the company will apply the technology in all its steel production plants, such as this one in Bremen (photo: JesterRaiin)

Sources
LanzaTech
TheGuardian
MIT

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The climate debate is gaining momentum – update

Obama and Merkel in discussion during the G7 top at Elmau castle in Germany (photo: REUTERS/Michael Kappeler/Pool)

Four months ago I wrote about how the climate movement finally seemed to have stirred broader action at political levels (if you didn’t read it or want to fresh it up, read this first). With another four months to go until the climate summit in Paris, it becomes clear it was not just a lonely sparkle. It was the beginning of a fire.

(more…)

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Photo of the week: tracing back shipping lanes… with CO2!

When you were asked to point the places with most carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on earth, you probably would think of China, Western Europe and the US coastlines. A mapping of carbon dioxide pollution matches very well with population density indeed. That’s not a big surprise, since mankind is a very large contributor to CO2 emissions. But something you maybe wouldn’t have tought about, is the shipping lanes used by hundreds of cargo ships carrying goods from oil over coal to bananas from one side of the globe to the other. This enormous ships burn what is called bunker oil, a sulfur rich fuel oil. At least 4% of the global greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to be emitted by shipping. Since the amount of goods shipped oversea is still on the rise, it’s definitely worth spending some more time and money improving ships’ efficiency and pollution.

 

A mapping of the carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere reveals cargo ships' routes (map: Kennedy Elliott)

A mapping of the carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere reveals cargo ships’ routes (map: Kennedy Elliott)

Source

WashingtonPost
Wikipedia

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The climate debate is gaining momentum

Obama during his visit at the Energy Department, where he announced his plans to cut government emissions (photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Back in September 2014, many were skeptical about the People’s Climate March in New York. Could a mass demonstration really change the tone in climate policy when it has been stuck in never ending discussions for the last twenty-five years? The 311 000 protesters from over the whole world believed they could indeed.

We don’t know if the march had an hand in it, but we do know a lot started to change in the fall of 2014. The climate debate was steadily gaining momentum and impact. We saw a historical pledge of the US and China to reduce their emissions. For the first time we got an agreement with all countries present on the COP in Lima. The EU announced its new emissions reduction goals for 2030.

The new year had not long taken its start before we saw another big event in the climate debate. On fossil fuel divestment day, people all over the world organised parades and flashmobs to ask banks, universities and public institutions to divest from fossil fuels.

Obama during his visit at the Energy Department, where he announced his plans to cut government emissions (photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Obama during his visit at the Energy Department, where he announced his plans to cut government emissions (photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Not much later, Barack Obama vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline. The project would have brought millions of barrels of dirty tar sands oil all the way from Alberta (Canada) to Texas. Years of activism of a coalition between indigenous people in Canada and ranchers in the US finally showed off. It seems that Obama is warming up and finally putting all his energy in his promises regarding climate change.

And it doesn’t stop there. Last week, the president of the United States signed an executive order to reduce U.S. Government greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2025. Although the government accounts for only 0.7% of the US emissions, it is still the single largest emitter in the States.

And it is not so much about the numbers than it is about the move. To say it with Obama’s own words: it is leading by example. And it seems to work. Big firms like HP, IBM and General Electric all committed to cut their emissions drastically over the next decade.

In France, a new law was approved by parliament which decrees new rooftops of commercial buildings should be covered in plants or solar panels. Rooftops plants have many benefits. They are an extra layer of insulation during winter and summer, retain rain water for some time reducing the risk of flooding during periods of heavy rains. The natural rooftops also favors biodiversity in urban areas.

Yet, not everything is going as one would want. Despite the efforts of Barack Obama to let the US play a prominent role in the action on climate change, some republican states are going the opposite direction.

In California, the term “Climate Change” was banned from all official communication lately. How ironical for a state so vulnerable for its effects. As if banning the word is going to stop the planet from warming up. Bart Bibles, a state land management plan coordinator, was even suspended from work after he wrote a report and didn’t want to remove the words climate change. He was told to get a mental check-up, as if he is the one with some serious problems.

The 28  heads of state approved the proposal for a European Energy Union last Thursday (photo: European Union)

The 28 heads of state approved the proposal for a European Energy Union last Thursday (photo: European Union)

It can get even worse. The European Union is playing a leading role in progressive climate policies, yet last week the 28 heads of state accepted the the Energy Union proposal of the European Comission. This energy union is a logical next step in Europe with its free transport of people and goods. The Energy Union is intended to make the European electricity network more robust and less dependent of Russian gas. Most Europeans can only applaud this motives.

But the  EU miss an enormous opportunity in the way they now plan to fulfill this objectives. This is the ideal moment to fully prioritize renewables and efficiency targets. But the energy union seems to put gas on the first place. As the tension with Russia grows, the European Comission looks for European gas resources, instead of turning away from more gas instead. It is true: the burning of natural gas is up to 50% cleaner than conventional oil, but the production can be much more devastating. The whole plan doesn’t seem to match the spirit of the European goals on higher energy efficiency and renewable energy generation. As Brook Riley of Friends of the Earth Europe said:

It’s baffling to see governments putting gas in prime position when these plans were born out of a desire to end gas import dependency. Heads of state seem to have fallen for gas industry propaganda. Saying gas is a clean fossil fuel is like saying filter cigarettes will prevent lung cancer.

With nine months left until the Climate Summit in Paris, politicians seem to start feeling the hot breath of the climate movement. But they way they’re reacting to it is not always what wise leaders should do -we’ve still a long way to go.

Sources:
The Washington Post
Reuters
TheGuardian
Friends of the Earth

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