On the future of chocolate

photo: Divine Chocolate

Wandering through the Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert in the heart of Brussels can be a torture for chocolate-lovers (and who’s not?). Many famous Belgian chocolateers have a shop in this 19th century shopping arcade. Think Neuhaus, Léonidas, Godiva… Behind the windows, chocolate in all possible forms and shapes are displayed to lure you inside. The shop keepers are keen to let you try some of this delicous good that the Incas called food of the gods. It becomes very difficult not to spent all the money you have with you -some indeed do. And apperently we don’t have to go to the temples of chocolate to be tempted to buy it. Global sales are growing rapidly now chocolate becomes increasingly popular in China and South-America. Is this growing demand for chocolate a big deal? As long as supply follows demand there’s nothing to worry about, right? But that’s exactly where the problem lies.

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The ABC of climate change: Atmospheric lifetime

The atmospheric lifetime of a greenhouse gas refers to the approximate amount of time it would take for the anthropogenic increase (i.e. increase due to human behavior) to an atmospheric pollutant concentration to return to its natural level. That can happen as a result of either being converted to another chemical compound or being taken out of the atmosphere via a so-called sink. The lifetime depends on the pollutant’s sources and sinks as well as its reactivity.

The lifetime of a pollutant is often considered together with the mixing of pollutants in the atmosphere –a long lifetime will allow the pollutant to mix throughout the atmosphere. Average lifetimes can vary from about a week ( e.g. sulfate aerosols, small particles in a gas) to more than a century (e.g. carbon dioxide). The chart below shows the atmospheric lifetime of four common greenhouse gases.

In the graph you see that carbon dioxide is hanging around in the atmosphere for quite a long time after we emit it, longer than other greenhouse gases like methane. But you may have heard people talking about methane being 20 times or even 50 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Such statements are quite misleading without further clarification. In fact, that’s the reason why scientist have come up with something called the Global Warming Potential, which looks at the overall effect of a greenhouse gas over the timespan of 100 years after it has been emitted. Even though methane has disappeared after 12-15 years, the net effect is still 23 times stronger than carbon dioxide!

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Photo of the Week: the Rain maker

We write December 2015, with the new year around the corner. Yet, still 780 million people around the world have no access to clean and safe drinking water. That is 1 out of 9! Since many communities life at or near the shore, the vast amount of seawater nearby plead to be turned into the source of life. Until now various machines have been proposed to take the salt out of seawater. This desalination process happens to be expensive, both money and energy wise.

The best solutions to difficult problems are often found in nature. Same goes for the Rain Maker, the desalination machine that mimics the natural water cycle. It heats seawater until it vaporises. The water vapour is taken into another compartment to be distilled. Then the steam is cooled down and turns into water again. Via a smart design, most of the heat is recuperated.

Prototype of the Rain Maker. It turns seawater in drinking water in a matter of minutes (photo: Billions in Change)

Prototype of the Rain Maker. It turns seawater in drinking water in a matter of minutes (photo: Billions in Change)

No membranes or filters are used, making the device able to run on its own for months without human intervention. A machine the size of a small car can make more than 3500 litres of water an hour.

By building small units that can be mass produced, the price is reduced enormously. Depending on the specific needs, more or less Rain Makers can be combined. This makes a desalination machine finally cost effective. Current massive plants are designed case by case and just cost too much money. The builders of Rain Maker even propose to build a ship full of their desalinators. When a coastal area faces a water crisis, the ship rushes to the spot and can start producing clean drinking water straight away and pump it to the shore.

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Showcased in Billions in Change documentary

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Born of Hope

photo courtesy

Now the media attention about COP21 has died out a bit and I had the chance to have a better look at the Paris Agreement, it’s time to make up the balance of the text called historical by the negotiators and bullsh*t by climate activists.

If you ask me, reaching any agreement between 195 countries on a topic that affects nearly all aspects of our societies is quite historical whatsoever. It took them twenty-one climate summits to get it, that is twenty too many. But hey, here we are.

Is it enough? Of course not. But if you read my blog post at the beginning of COP21, you know that I was not expecting that. To be honest, when I was going through the drafts of the agreement circulating during the two-week summit, I was optimistic. Some of the good things have made it to the final text, some have not.

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Photo of the Week: climate activism gets really creative this time

photo: Avaaz

If by now you don’t know that something really big is happening in Paris, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the last few months. Yes, I’m talking about COP21, the long-anticipated climate summit. For more than a year, organisations around the world have been mobilizing for climate actions on the 28th and 29th of November to sent a strong signal to world leaders at the start of the event. Indeed, around the world thousands of people took it to the streets to march, sing and dance for the climate. But in the epicenter of the talks, the Paris’ climate march was forbidden in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks nearly three weeks ago.

Fair enough, you say. Safety first. But I was in Paris last weekend and what I saw and learnt from the people there was another story. The Christmas market on the Champs-Elysées was no problem to secure. All football matches are being played. No problems whatsoever. Last year a massive manifestation with more than 50 world leaders ahead marched through the streets of Paris to pay tributes to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Not a single issue for the French police back then. But now the authorities claim they can not guarantee the safety of public events related to the climate summit. In the meantime they have enough policemen to conduct house searches in climate activist workshops and putting people under house arrest without any reason  –which they don’t need right now by the way. Officially there is still a state of emergency in which the French police doesn’t need permissions for house searches etc, thanks to a law that was voted shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack last year. How convenient.

Thousands of shoes were placed on the Place de la Républic after the climate march was forbidden (photo: Avaaz)

Thousands of shoes were placed on the Place de la République after the climate march was forbidden (photo: Avaaz)

Anyway, if the French authorities really thought they could stop a climate activists so easily, they were wrong. Several creative actions popped up. If the people cannot march, the shoes will march for them; that was the idea behind the silent march. Thousands pairs of shoes filled the Place de la République in Paris, including one of Pope Francis and Ban Ki-Moon. A human chain stretched along the original route of the march; as long as people stay on the pavement organizers don’t need official permission. Activist group Brandalism was so bold to replace advertisements in the streets of Paris with their own version of ads for big polluting companies who sponsor the climate conference. You see, the climate movement is clearly not intimidated. More creative actions are under way for week 2 of the talks.

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A historical climate conference has just begun– this is what’s at stake

Today the long-anticipated climate conference will take off on Paris. Also known as COP21, the 21st Conference of the Parties, the climate talks are decisive for the future of our planet and all lucky enough to enjoy what she has to offer. What would a successful outcome look like? Is there any hope we will get there after two weeks of negotiations? A look into the future.

“We are the first generation that can end poverty and we are the last generation that can end climate change.”  –Ban Ki-Moon

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