Climate Change, Environmental Hazards, fossil fuels, Sustainability

Fossil Fuels Could Be History in Ten Years If We Make the Effort

Biomass cakes, wood, and trash is used for this cooking fire. Over 100 million households in India use such stoves 2-3 times each day.
Biomass cakes, wood, and trash is used for this cooking fire. Over 100 million households in India use such stoves 2-3 times each day. Photo: Info-farmer | WikimediaCC.

On a global scale, shifting to a clean energy system that does not rely on fossil fuels is a difficult task. People have been arguing about it for years. Detractors often look to the past and point out how long it took to switch from wood to coal, or to get electricity up and running throughout the world.

Switching from wood to coal took between 96 and 160 years, which is a time frame that many scientists think is too long to effectively slow down global warming.

According to a new study by Professor Benjamin Sovacool of the University of Sussex, we could transition out of fossil fuels in about a decade. His argument is based on comparing those older transitions to newer, smaller scale transitions.

For example, two-thirds of Indonesia was switched from kerosene to LPG stoves in only three years, while France saw electricity produced by nuclear power rise from 4% in 1970 to 40% in 1982.

In these cases, and others, the key is government involvement and a stated goal of transitioning energy models. The examples of coal or electricity were haphazard, with the adaptation of those systems being left largely to chance, to people deciding to engage with them.

By setting out with a goal of converting to a carbon neutral system like solar power, it would be much easier to shift, since there would be direction and goals to work towards. There would also be greater support for research into such technology, which would help immensely.

Professor Sovacool also notes that our current technology is far more advanced that it was when electricity was new, or even in the 1970s for that matter. Figuring out how to make something like solar power work, and then how to implement it, would be a lot easier to pull off.

Business, Conservation, Sustainability

Turning Sewage Water Into Something Drinkable

At Orange County’s Caspers Wilderness Park showers are currently unavailable for campers due to current drought conditions throughout the state of California.
At Orange County’s Caspers Wilderness Park showers are currently unavailable for campers due to current drought conditions throughout the state of California. Photo: Mechanoid Dolly | FlickrCC.

Dow Chemical Co. and Dupont Co., two American chemical industry giants that are 118 and 213 years old, respectively, recently announced a $130 billion merger deal that would take two years to complete. Led by activist investor Dan Loeb, hedge fund Third Point LLC suggested Dow Chemical split its specialty chemical and petrochemical businesses. As part of the deal, the merged company will split into three separate entities—focused on agriculture, specialty chemicals, and materials.

In the midst of this landmark deal, Dow is continuing to solidify its place as a leader in the industry—this time on behalf of California. As California continues to deal with one of the most severe droughts on record for the fourth year in a row, Orange County—with the help of Dow Chemical—is doubling down on its unusual strategy for drinking water.

Bloomberg recently toured the facility with Snehal Desai, Dow Chemical’s global business director of the water division. It’s the largest facility in the world that practices “toilet-to-tap” technology—a complex filtration system that transforms raw sewage into an end product that’s fresher than some bottled waters. The plant, located next to the county’s water treatment facility, pumps out 100 million gallons of drinking water daily, enough to supply almost 1 million Orange County residents. The county plans to increase the output of its groundwater replenishment system by approximately 50 percent.

“Recycled wastewater will probably be the single largest source of water for California over the next quarter century,” says executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies Tim Quinn. This goes for many other water-strapped regions of the world, including Australia, China, India, Israel, Spain, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa, where they have developed recycled wastewater systems for irrigation. Many areas are beginning to convert their systems to create fresh drinking water. San Diego also recently announced plans to generate 33 percent of its water from recycled sewage by 2035.

Dow Chemical has been a dominant player in advanced materials engineering for more than 100 years, generating $57 billion revenue a year in 180 countries in the world. “If not Dow, then who?” asks Desai. “The future water supply is a big-ass problem. We’ve got growing urban populations, growing industries, and dwindling resources. Who can tackle something of this magnitude? You need patience and horsepower to come up with solutions and to scale them. You can’t do that without big-boy company money.”

Ultimately, Desai believes that the same technology could accommodate individual households. Every city in the world will have to start rethinking the foundation of its water supply. “Not every city has an ocean, not everyone has good lakes and rivers,” Desai says. “But everybody’s got sewage.”

Business, Climate Change, Conservation

It’s Your Choice—An Exotic Vacation Or Global Warming

Dubai International Airport is a frequent stopover for global tourists in their ever-widening search for new destinations.
Dubai International Airport is a frequent stopover for global tourists in their ever-widening search for new destinations. Photo: Hamza Hydri Syed | FlickrCC.

The upcoming Paris conference on global warming aims to set real, concrete goals and guidelines to allow us, as a global community, to keep climate change to within two degrees (Celsius) of pre-industrial levels. Doing so will go a long way toward preserving the planet, but it will require finding ways to reduce carbon emissions around the world.

Those cuts are going to have to be made in various national economies, especially in the five nations that create the most emissions, namely China (25.9%), the USA (15.9%), India (15.9%), Russia (5.2%), and Japan (3.8%).

But coming in at number 6, responsible for 3.7% of the world’s carbon emissions, is global tourism. Every year, billions of people travel somewhere on holiday, and tourism can have a lot of positive effects.

One in 11 jobs, globally, depends on tourism, and going to new places and meeting different people is a great way to not only learn about the world, but to become more accepting of people who are different, and that’s great.

Global Tourism Creates Global Warming
Global Tourism Creates Global Warming

But global warming threatens a lot of the destinations people choose. From ski resorts to beaches, local wildlife to cultural heritage, global warming threatens that industry, and so it’s in the tourism industry’s best interest to help reduce emissions.

The tourism sector has pledged to reduce emissions by 50% by 2035, which is a pretty big jump. It won’t be all that difficult, either, as doing so will only cost a little less than US$1 billion. That translates to basically everyone paying an extra US $11 per trip. So for the cost of a burger and fries, you can help reduce emissions while you’re on vacation.

Those costs come from finding ways to make flights, lodging, car rentals, and public transit all greener, with the added benefit that it isn’t just tourists who use these services. Greener airplanes, for example, would be a huge step forward.

Climate Change, Nature, Science

Digital Map of Ocean Floor Could Help Us Understand Climate Change

A still shot of the world's first digital map of the seafloor's geology.
A still shot of the world’s first digital map of the seafloor’s geology. Photo: EarthByte Group, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney.

A team from the University of Sydney has created the first topographic map of the ocean in 40 years. The last one, made in the 1970s, was hand drawn, while this is the first digital map of the ocean floor, and it contains some pretty interesting things. For one, the ocean floor, especially the Southern Ocean around Australia, is more complex than we realized. Deep basins in the ocean floor, as it turns out, are much more intricate than previously imagined.

Mapping the ocean floor can tell us a lot more about the ocean, which covers 70% of the Earth. It’s especially useful in teaching us how it has adapted to climate change throughout the Earth’s history.

For example, much of the ocean floor is actually made of the fossilized remains of phytoplankton. Phytoplanktons are microscopic creatures that thrive in sunlight, not unlike plants. In fact, phytoplankton process so much CO2 that they create about 25% of the oxygen we breath, and contribute more to controlling climate change than terrestrial forests.

When those phytoplankton die they sink to the bottom of the ocean, and retain the CO2 they had breathed in when they died. That CO2 isn’t released into the surrounding ocean, which is good because when it dissolves in seawater it becomes carbonic acid and the oceans are already rapidly becoming more acidic.

Interestingly, the accumulations of dead phytoplankton don’t match up with the locations of phytoplankton blooms on the surface of the water. So we understand where they tend to live, but we don’t yet understand the process by which they sink. Understanding that process will require more research, and that research is important.

Understanding how phytoplankton live, and how they die, could help us to better understand how oceans adapt to climate change, a task researchers will have earnestly pursue in the coming years. A deeper understanding might even help us find a way to combat climate change.

Environmental Hazards, Sustainability

E-Waste Is Reaching Critical Levels

E-waste will soon weigh as much as 8 Great Egyptian Pyramids.
Image: Shutterstock

Technology is a big part of our world these days. It helps us live more efficiently, knowledgably, and greener—well, most of the time, anyway. But the sad truth is, electronics are part of a huge problem, and it’s only getting worse. With each new iPhone or Tablet comes a new cycle of consumption and waste. Today, the average U.S. citizen throws out 66 pounds of e-waste every year.

And that’s just in the U.S. Add in the billions of other people around the world, and we’ve got ourselves one huge problem—a problem that, according to the United Nations, will weigh as much as eight Great Egyptian Pyramids.

So, as much as we all love getting the newest tech gadget, perhaps we should reconsider our current practices. Instead of always needing the newest model, let’s ask ourselves this: Do I really need it? Does my old [insert object here] still work? Can I recycle this (and if so, where/how)?

Check out this e-waste world map from the “Solving the E-Waste Problem” (StEP) Initiative. On it, you can see country-level data “on the amount of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market and the resulting amount of e-waste generated in most countries around the world.” This helps to provide a snapshot of exactly what our electronics and technology consumption level is, and what proportion of those electronics are being put into landfills versus being recycled.

E-waste is a huge and growing problem, and it will only continue to grow unless we actively reduce, reuse, and recycle.


This New App Aims to Motivate Women to Exercise with Insults

I am Beautiful self-affirmation
Women need affirmations, not insults.
Image: Shutterstock

Technology can be your best ally or possibly your worst nightmare.  We love it when your computer spell-checks our spelling and catches our errors.  We love it when we can video chat with our best friend overseas.  And now there’s an app you can download that will berate you for being too fat. Sounds like a real winner, right?

No, I’m not joking.  This app, created in Japan, is called “Nenshou! For Girls.”  What, you may ask, in the world, is this new craziness?  Well, if you haven’t seen the most sexist app out there, now you have.  Instead of giving positive reinforcement like, “Go girl!  You can do it,” this app will yell awful things at girls as motivation for getting skinny. It’s a real boost for the self-confidence, don’t you think?

This app will play images of attractive animated men who will call you “fatty.”  Created by Creative Freaks and Visual Works, the designers who know how to exploit self-hate, there is even a version for men.

Guys who are looking to lose weight, however, will see images of beautiful animated trainers who give them positive encouragement and praise for a job well done. Any negative comments on the male version?  Not a one.

Why do the app creators think women need to be shamed in order to be motivated to change, but not men?  My guess is that the designers of this app are all male.

If anyone had a boyfriend who said rude things and denigrated your body, wouldn’t you dump his sorry ass?  I sure hope so.  No one should waste their time on someone who doesn’t affirm and appreciate them.

Nenshou! For Girls is a dieting app.  It’s a little appalling that the people who created it feel the only reason to lose weight is so men will tell you that you look good instead of telling you that you’re too fat.  What about getting stronger, more physically vital or being able to gain endurance?  Maybe you just want more energy so you can play with your kids more.

Nenshou! exploits all the wrong reasons we exercise. It shouldn’t be about pleasing others—it should be about being healthier, treating your body right, and practicing self-confidence.