Good morning, Q-MHI readers!
On the first Earth Day in April 1970, millions took to the streets to demand environmental protection. Nearly half a century later, things may not seem much better.
Nearly 80% of our energy still comes from fossil fuels—a figure that hasn’t changed since the first Earth Day. The atmosphere now has more carbon dioxide than any time in the past 800,000 years.the period for which we have direct measurements from ice cores. The increase essentially guarantees that in the absence of rapid and dramatic cuts to emissions, catastrophic temperature increases “well above” those the Paris agreement sought to avoid will become a reality by end of the century, according to Petteri Taalas, the head of the World Meteorological Organization.
According to a report released by the international climate observing body on Monday (Oct 30), the concentration of CO2 was at 403.3 parts per million as of 2016, up from 400 parts per million a year earlier. That 3.3 ppm rise is 50% more than the average rate over the past decade. Over the last 70 years, the rate of increase of carbon in the atmosphere has been “nearly 100 times larger than at the end of the last ice age,” the last time the Earth transitioned to a much warmer world, the WMO writes. As far as the global scientific community can tell, “such abrupt changes in the atmospheric levels of CO2 have never before been seen.”
The oceans are heating up, corals are dying, and natural disasters keep causing more damage. Oil and gas companies continue to be some of the most valuable in the world, and the warnings scientists give about climate catastrophe keep getting more urgent.
“The global importance of this refugia comes from its scale,” says Eslam Osman, a marine biologist at the University of Essex. “We are not talking about small pockets of resistance as previously recorded. We’re talking about 2000 kilometers of continuous reef system with high diversity and lots of endemic species. This is a huge scale.”
In a study published in Global Change Biology, Osman and colleagues compare records of Red Sea coral bleaching—in which corals expel the algae living symbiotically inside them, turning white and often dying afterwards—with Red Sea sea surface temperatures between 1982 and 2012. Despite periods of prolonged heating, “the northern Red Sea has not experienced mass bleaching,” conclude Osman’s team. Ditto the extreme El Niño-induced heating of 2015-2016, they write, when “bleaching was restricted to the central and southern Red Sea” even though northern waters were even warmer. Laboratory tests further underscored the northern corals’ hardiness.Sadly, the firm adds in its report, climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of such events, as is already apparent in the numbers.
But all signs suggest the scale of the environmental movement has crossed a tipping point. It’s no longer just the woman on the street who seeks environmental justice. Instead, the movement now includes wealthy investors and powerful governments.
International negotiations are more an art than a science. When the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015 by 195 countries, it felt as if the UN had finally mastered the art, some 25 years after it began working on it.Now a climate-denying US president has threatened to derail progress and set the UN back by pulling out of the accord.
“The Paris agreement is not intended as a fig leaf. It is not a branding opportunity, nor is it intended as a platform for lobbying. It is a club for countries who are part of a global effort to tackle dangerous climate change, and who are committed to emissions reductions. The US no longer meets these admission criteria,” writes Joseph Curtin, a member of the Irish government’s Climate Change Advisory Council and a research fellow at University College Cork.
In the past year alone, activist shareholders, including trillion-dollar investors like BlackRock and Vanguard, have forced fossil-fuel companies like ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum to reveal the risks to their investments from climate change.
US president Donald Trump turning his back on the Paris climate agreement would send a terrible signal about the country’s commitment to staving off an environmental catastrophe—the US alone is responsible for 15% of the world’s CO2 emissions.New York mayor Bill de Blasio affirmed the message today, amid the most serious speculation to date that Trump will trigger an exit from the agreement.
In the face of Donald Trump’s retreat from the Paris climate accords, local governments have become stewards of the environment. Just this week, two counties in Colorado filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy, seeking compensation for damages caused by wildfires, droughts, and storms on infrastructure, agriculture, and tourism.
The earlier lawsuits have largely focused on the obvious link between climate change, namely rising sea levels and damage to infrastructure. This new climate suit, far from the coasts, suggests that more communities around the country might take on energy companies in court.Each case could mean billions of dollars in damages.But not without a fight. Exxon Mobil and its allies have pushed back hard.
Exxon gave notice in January in a state court in Texas that it planned to countersue, which would allow the company to demand documents and depositions from the communities. The fossil fuel company defendants have also acted together in California courts to have suits dismissed, arguing that climate change is a “national and global issue” best decided by legislatures and nations, not by the courts.
There is good news from other corners, too. Government investment and regulations in developing and deploying clean energy have scaled well. In many parts of the world, it is cheaper to build renewable-energy projects than fossil-fuel power plants. This week, the UK went 55 hours without burning coal, which hasn’t happened since before the Industrial Revolution.
Portugal produced more renewable energy in March than energy it consumed for what is likely the first time, in March, according to the nation’s transmission system operator, REN.The average renewable generation for the month exceeded 103% of consumption, beating out the last record (99.2%), set in 2014.
To top it all off, poor countries are investing billions more in renewable energy than rich ones. Though Tesla may be suffering another episode of hiccups, forecasters keep revising electric-vehicles sales figures upwards.
Even technologies that were considered fanciful, such as carbon capture, are making a comeback. Progress is all around us. We don’t breathe the same dirty air or drink the same polluted water that we did back in the 1960s.In February, a bipartisan group of US senators celebrated when Donald Trump was forced to provide support to develop the technology and make it cheaper, as part of the big spending bill he needed to continue to fund his government.
The support came in the form of an extension to tax credits (called “45Q”) for companies that invest in carbon capture technology, which involves installing scrubbing devices at power plants or chemical industries that burn fossil fuels. The scrubbers selectively remove carbon dioxide from the plant emissions, which can then be compressed and stored underground safely—in effect making the factory or power plant carbon-neutral.
Still, it’s not enough. The time is ticking on how fast we can make the transition to a low-carbon world.The solution can be found at the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant, Iceland’s largest, just outside the capital Reykjavik. Since 2014, the plant has been extracting heat from underground, capturing the carbon dioxide released in the process, mixing it with water, and injecting it back down beneath the earth, about 700 meters (2,300 ft) deep. The carbon dioxide in the water reacts with the minerals at that depth to form rock, where it stays trapped.In other words, Hellisheidi is now a zero-emissions plant that turns a greenhouse gas to stone. Thus, the importance of the protester on Earth Day has never been greater.
—Akshat Rathi Q-MHI
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Ready for a new reality to dawn on Westworld? For a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming season’s chaos and revelations—and a preview of a very vengeful Dolores—watch trailer with the show’s cast and crew.
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Flipping Michael Cohen. Adam Pasick interviewed a criminal-defense attorney with “extensive experience” dealing with prosecutors, who explained in detail how Donald Trump’s under-investigation personal attorney could be turned against the president. “Basically,” the lawyer sums up, “Bob Mueller is playing three-dimensional chess, and Trump is playing tiddlywinks.”Mueller is pummeling the shit out of him, and every lawyer on the planet can see it.
When noise pollution is also a call to God. Many places of worship across Africa are breaking legal noise limits with their sermons and calls to prayer. Yomi Kazeem and Abdi Latif Dahir describe how governments face a delicate and often strange balancing act. One example: In Accra, mosques have been asked to send WhatsApp messages as a substitute for the adhzan or the call to prayers, to Muslim members rather than loud calls made using megaphones and speakers.
It’s an enduring problem elsewhere as well. In February, Rwanda closed down about 700 churches for breaking building regulations and excessive noise pollution. In March, the government also banned mosques in the capital, Kigali, from using loudspeakers during the call to prayer.
A balancing act
From Germany and Israel to the US and even in Muslim-majority nations like the United Arab Emirates, broadcasting religious sermons or adhan over speakers has been a contentious issue across the world. The World Health Organization has also warned of the long-term health problems of noise, including cardiovascular effects, poorer work and school performance, and hearing impairment.
In Kenya, after the environmental agency stipulated noise regulations in 2009 including a ban on the adhan, Muslims deemed it an infringement on their constitutional right of worship—pushing then-prime minister Raila Odinga to exempt them from the laws.
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