Iron the Prize

In 2012, 100 tons of iron sulfate dust and other iron compounds were cast off into a small patch of ocean 300km off Haida Gwaii. It was not a catastrophic accident. Rather, it was completely intentional.

This event was the doing of Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation in an effort to raise the quantity of salmon during the yearly salmon run, a key event for the people of Haida economically. This phenomenon of iron drastically increasing salmon population was first observed in 2010 and was likely caused by a volcanic eruption that occurred two years ago.  The eruption had dumped iron rich ash all over the northern Pacific Ocean. Iron is an important element for phytoplankton, as it is a key nutrient needed to synthesize chlorophyll, a key pigment vital for photosynthesis. This paper by Street and Paytan, 2005 suggests that the availability of iron is a determinant of net primary productivity. The resultant increase of phytoplankton could have boosted the availability of food for salmon, causing an increase from 1.7 million fish in 2009 to 34 million in 2010.

Apart from the huge population explosion of salmon, another benefit of fertilising our oceans with iron is that the increase in phytoplankton will increase the intake of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, effectively locking away the carbon dioxide when they die and sink to the bottom of the ocean. Iron fertilisation is being seriously considered as a geoengineering measure to combat climate change, and with its impressive potential – fertilising the Southern Ocean with iron could result in a carbon capture of one gigaton a year, one-tenth of our yearly carbon emissions.

Fig.1: Phytoplankton bloom in the Barents Sea. Retrieved from National Geographic.

Of course, as with all geoengineering measures, it does not come without its risks. We do not know what the effect on the food web would be were we to massively change the quantity of phytoplankton, the primary source of food for much of ocean life. Furthermore, it took 200 tons of iron to fertilise one square kilometre of ocean in Haida Gwaii. To fertilise the entirety of the Southern Ocean, all 20.33 million km2 of it, may be completely unfeasible. As a comparison, our largest producer of iron, Australia, produced 900 million tons of iron in 2018, less than half of what we would need to fertilise the southern ocean with iron.

Coming back to the events in 2012, though the people of Haida enjoyed another large salmon run the following year, the UN and the international scientific community were understandably pissed. The project had not sought permission from international bodies and may have violated the CBD, and was subsequently described as a rogue experiment. The potential implications of the geoengineering experiment could have yielded unintentional consequences and this brings about the necessity of an international governing body for geoengineering experiments. I still believe that geoengineering research is paramount, but geoengineering should not be considered as a solution until absolutely necessary.

But looking at the direction the world is heading in combating the climate crisis, geoengineering measures may be necessary sooner than later.

Trees are pretty metal, especially these ones

In 2018, humans emitted 36.5 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, and of that, 33.1 billion tons were produced in energy related use. This makes 2018 a record year for global CO2 emissions. If only there were a way to pluck it straight out of the air.

Well, this technology does exist.

Carbon capture technology exists in a few forms, but all have the same end goal: to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Of the different forms of carbon capture, the most widely implemented technique is carbon capture and storage (CCS) of separated carbon dioxide from point sources. These sources include power plants and cement factories that produce a high concentration of CO2 gas. At the end of 2018, CCS technologies have successfully stored 230 million tons of CO2 underground worldwide. A newer form of carbon capture is direct air capture (DAC). This is where large machines filter carbon dioxide out of the air. Carbon Engineering, one of the two functional DAC companies in the world, uses high surface areas and potassium hydroxide as a catalyst.

Some of you might probably be wondering: why bother creating a machine that filters carbon dioxide from the air when you have the OG carbon-sequestering machine – trees. DAC plants have a surprising maximum sequestration output. Just one plant can capture up to a million tons of CO­2 in a year, the same as 40 million trees. However, this comes at a cost: $94-232 per ton of CO2. Even at the lower end of that estimate, only a handful of countries (Fig.1) have high enough carbon prices to justify the capture of CO2 through DAC to be used exclusively for storage. Thus, DAC companies have to resort to finding a viable business plan with the CO2 that they produce. This Vox article states that Climeworks sells their CO2 to greenhouses while Carbon Engineering aims to use the carbon dioxide by injecting it into existing oil wells to enhance oil recovery or to create fuels from the carbon dioxide itself. These means that the CO2 sequestered from these DAC plants is likely to return into the atmosphere. And based on the source of energy used to power the DAC plants, the entire system may not even be carbon-neutral.

 

Fig.1 Carbon pricing in selected countries. Retrieved from Statista.

So if DAC is not panning out as a viable way to achieve negative emissions, what place does it have in combating climate change? Here are some of my views:

Firstly, it can be seen as a way to make our current fossil fuel usage more carbon-neutral, as CO2 is buried to extract fossil fuels. Additionally, if the technology of converting carbon dioxide to fuel become economically viable, then we have a carbon-neutral way of creating hydrocarbon-based fuels – fuels that can be used to power our current transportation services without a necessary switch to battery-powered vehicles. Effectively, it will ease the transition to carbon neutrality for modes of transport like shipping and aviation, for these vehicles cannot be easily switched to electric power.

Secondly, if it ever comes to the point where governments begin to pour money into removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, it is estimated that DAC technology will occupy 30 to 100 times less area than other carbon-negative sequestration methods such as bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), which involves using trees as the main way to sequester carbon dioxide (Fig.2). Perhaps it isn’t the negative emissions technology of today, but perhaps in the future it will play a key role in reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Fig.2 An overview of the BECCS process. Retrieved from Sims et al., 2016.

References:

Sims, Ralph & Barton, Barry & Bennett, Paul & Isaacs, Nigel & Kerr, Suzi & Leaver, Jonathan & Reisinger, Andy & Stephenson, Janet. (2016). Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy for New Zealand – full report.

Reflections on reflection

Solar Radiation Management (SRM) takes an unexpected approach to control climate change. Instead of the conventional approach of reducing greenhouse gases to limit the warming of our planet, SRM aims to limit the amount of energy (in the form of sunlight) that enters the Earth directly. Unexpected? Sounds straight out of a movie doesn’t it. If SRM sounds incredibly large-scale and unpredictable, that’s because it is. And out of all geoengineering techniques, it is perhaps the most uncertain and controversial.

Believe it or not, SRMs could be considered a natural process. Volcanos have been spewing out sulfur dioxide ever since the Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, and large eruptions like the 1991 Mt Pinatubo eruption can eject this gas high into the stratosphere. There, sulfur dioxide reacts with water forming sulfuric acid, which acts as an aerosol with a high albedo, reflecting solar radiation back into space. The concept of Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI) is the same. The Mt Pinatubo eruption cast 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere which resulted in an effect of a decrease in global average temperatures by 0.5°C for about 2 years. Generating that amount of sulfur dioxide and getting it into the upper atmosphere is a gargantuan task.

Fig 1: A graphic representation of SAI technology. Photo by Hugh Hunt, Wikimedia Commons.

The greatest fear in deploying SAI technologies is the ambiguity of their effects. Sulfuric acid may exist in the upper atmosphere as an aerosol, but some amount of it will find its way into the troposphere, where it can precipitate and fall as acid rain. This could be devastating for crops and communities that rely on rainwater as a water source. SAI technologies could drastically affect weather patterns. A project deployed on a scale that can reduce solar energy reaching Earth significantly would almost certainly affect weather on an equivalent, or even larger scale. We could see droughts and flooding as a result, or the disruption of crucial weather cycles, or we may not see any side effects. Climate systems are extraordinarily complicated and a change in one region easily influences an effect in another. Due to this volatility, it is almost impossible to study SAI on a small scale.

While these are certainly risks that are associated with SAIs, the next question to ask would be if the risk is a necessary evil. We must remember that the consequences of climate change is not distant and its impacts are felt by some nations even now. Report No. 20 by the United Nations University show that 81% of households in Kiribati have been affected by sea-level rise, and their government is already making preparations to migrate its citizens to Fiji in the not-so-distant future. And Kiribati is not the only low lying island to face this near-certain future. The deployment of SRM technologies could potentially reverse this situation, but only if it is coupled with the massive reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Fig.2: High tide on Kiribati Island. Photo by Josh Haner/New York Times/Redux Pictures.

On that note, perhaps the existence of SRM as a potential future mitigation measure itself is detrimental in the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, we must also realise that the warming of the Earth is not the only effect of increased CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Loss of nutritional value in food and ocean acidification are among the many other effects, and these cannot be solved by limiting solar radiation. SRM technology is not a sound argument to delay the global action we must take to limit our emissions. What it is, however, is a measure to save lives and avoid catastrophic tipping points. It is a monumental puzzle in morality and justice that governments must navigate in time to come.

A brief introduction to Geoengineering

On the 15th of June, 1991, a shockwave was detected near the city of Nagoya in Japan. Originating 2800km southwest of the city, Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines exploded in the second-largest eruption in a hundred years. The eruption threw a cloud of ash and gas more than 35 kilometres into the atmosphere, a cloud containing almost 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide that circulated several times around the globe. When sulfur dioxide is injected into the stratosphere, it oxidises and combines with water to form sulfuric acid. Suspensions of these sulfuric acid droplets in the air forms an aerosol, which produces a “global dimming effect” by reflecting solar radiation back into space. Studies found that the dimming effect caused by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo reduced global average temperatures by up to 0.5°C.

Fig. 1:  The 1991 eruption column from Mount Pinatubo taken from Clark Air Base. U.S. Geological Survey Photograph taken by Richard P. Hoblitt.

The concept behind this “sun shield” is undergoing serious consideration as a measure to reduce global average temperatures to stave off global warming. It is known as Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI) – the artificial injection of sulfur-based particles into the upper atmosphere – and it falls under a category called Solar Radiation Management (SRM). SRMs aims to control the amount of solar energy the Earth retains from the sun and is not limited to SAI. Other ideas that have been proposed vary from switching to lighter coloured crops with a higher albedo, to launching mirrors in space to reflect a percentage of incoming sunlight.

SRM is just one of the methods of geoengineering being proposed to combat climate change.

What is geoengineering? Oxford defines it as “the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change”. Apart from SRMs, another method of geoengineering is based on the idea of capturing carbon in the atmosphere to be stored or repurposed. The most well-known method of carbon capture is probably bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), where biofuels are burnt for energy, and the carbon is simultaneously captured and stored underground. As biofuels alone are considered a carbon-neutral system (CO2 produced is offset by the growth of plants used in biofuels), BECCS takes it one step further by eliminating the emissions, hence, achieving negative emissions. Other methods of carbon removal from the atmosphere include directly capturing carbon dioxide from the air, tweaking ocean chemistry to allow the ocean to absorb more carbon, and even the simple method of planting more trees.

Fig. 2: A direct carbon capture facility by Climeworks. Retrieved from Digital Trends

Geoengineering may seem like a simple answer to all our climate problems, but the reality is that it is farther from that than any other solution. As you may imagine, any project that aims to impact the world on a significant scale would require an immense amount of resources and work. Furthermore, some methods are extremely controversial due to their inherent uncertainty. Will they cause more harm than good? In the next few blog posts, I will delve deeper into the various arguments on geoengineering our world. Stay tuned!

How far I’ve come

I chose the theme for this blog based on two things I firmly believed in. Firstly, that technology is the future, and secondly, that one has to stay optimistic in this crumbling world. Today, I want to take a moment to review my stance on optimism and technology in the context of fixing the world’s problems.

I’ve been in my undergraduate environmental studies course for a little over 8 weeks now, barely two months.

Yet, in these two months, I have been exposed to so many different environmental problems, perspectives and concepts that my head feels like it’s about to burst. In these two months, I’ve been constantly pushed to wrack my brain thinking of solutions and ideas that my mind feels wrung dry.

In these two months, it has become clear to be that environmental issues are like a spider’s web, so intricately linked, sensitive and fragile. That’s why technological solutions of one problem tend to be a cause for another. For example, hydroelectric dams are the largest source of renewable energy, yet the biological impact of changing the dynamics of a river can be devastating both upstream and downstream. There is rarely a perfect technological solution, because ultimately, we create a fix that draws from another resource.

What about behavioural and mindset change? Well, that would certainly alleviate some of the stress we place on the environment. Perhaps if everyone subscribes to the idea of cutting our standard of living by two to six times, we could survive with the resources we currently have on this planet. But a quick glance at the current state of society suggests that we aren’t doing well in the way of changing how people live their lives. My observation is that most of the general public go about their business without a care in the world, hardly ever basing their decisions on environmental impacts. This could be due to a gap in knowledge. Even as an environmental studies student, I only recently learnt about the tremendous amounts of emissions associated with air travel, or the polluting effects and resource intensity of producing the clothes currently on my back.  Another factor is the unwillingness to change. In my view, the change that is demanded from people could be too drastic. Continuing on the example of air travel, how could we get Singaporeans to consider limiting it? Travelling is a spiritual escape, almost ingrained into our culture. It’s the first thing that students want to do when summer rolls around, and the break that working adults save up their leaves for. After all, we have dreams of seeing the world, exploring the far reaches of the planet. Who would accept being told that your dreams are destroying the world, and begin considering cutting their vacation from their summer itinerary? Its an even bigger stretch for those who live away from family to consider cutting air travel, yet in this increasingly globalized world, this situation is increasingly prevalent.

Right now, I’m jaded, angry and a little bit overwhelmed. Catastrophe is imminent, yet in our sheltered bubble, our wealth cushions the impact of environmental degradation. It’s hard to imagine a concerted effort to combat these problems when their impact on Singaporeans extend to a casual complaint on how hot the weather is, right before we duck into an air-conditioned room. Perhaps the sea levels have to rise to our front step for us to realise its time to scoop the water off our porch. As Tony Stark said in the last Avengers movie, “We’re the Avengers, not the ‘Pre-vengers’”. Everyone wants to be a hero, and everyone wants to save the world. But if we rise up only when half the world is dead, then is there any glory in winning? Unlike in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are no Infinity Stones to reverse the death of half of all living beings.

And unlike in the movies, this is real.

It’s so hard to face these problems with a positive outlook when there’s hardly anything positive to look out for. So what do we do? Do we just sit back and watch the world burn? The thing about the climate crisis is that it’s not like a larger asteroid strike, it is not an absolute event. It is a gradual subscription to a more unpredictable, disaster-prone future. No matter how much or how little we do, human life will likely persevere, but suffering is going to vary based on what we do now. With every tonne of carbon dioxide we stop from getting into the atmosphere, we reduce human suffering, and potentially save a life further down the line. When I think about the environmental crisis that way, it’s easy to push myself to do more.

Charging forward with electric cars

An electric revolution is happening.

In Oslo, Norway, 39% of all cars on the road are electric. According to The Verge, A combination of governmental and industrial factors have allowed for subsidies and incentives for electric cars to be straightforwardly implemented. These policies ease the consumers’ decision on whether or not the next vehicle they purchase will be electric. The municipal government of Oslo has even ensured that infrastructures like charging points are available, making the electric car experience even more convenient. Their latest development involves installing wireless charging plates for taxis waiting to pick up passengers.

Fig. 1: Tesla and Nissan Leaf charging in Oslo, Norway. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

The great thing about electric vehicles is that they do not emit CO2 or other greenhouse gases and pollutants as they’re powered by a large-capacity battery, not gasoline. While this is all fine and dandy if the electricity is generated by a renewable source, what if the power is generated from fossil fuels like coal or natural gas? Well, even in Colorado, US, where almost half of its energy is generated from coal power plants, an electric car will release about half the emissions compared to an average gasoline-powered counterpart. This is due to the increased efficiency of converting fuel to energy in a large power plant instead of a small combustion engine.

So clearly electric cars are less carbon-intensive than non-electric cars. Yet, Singapore has been slow on the uptake. Elon Musk even went so far as to criticise Singapore for being “unwelcome” to electric cars, after a failed attempt to bring Tesla, one of the most renown electric car brands in the world, into the country. Unlike Oslo, which has numerous incentives including an exemption from a 25% sales tax, Singapore only has a $20,000 rebate on electric vehicles, which is not enough to offset the higher production costs of electric cars.

Additionally, it is challenging for Singapore to adopt infrastructure for electric vehicles. Most of the population lives in high-rise flats, making it difficult to implement charging services. While this is slowly changing with the adoption of fast-charging technology at gas stations, petrol cars still are cheaper and more convenient.

Then there is the question of whether there is even a place for car ownership in a small city like Singapore. About 3 weeks ago, I attended a Post National Day Rally Dialogue (which my friend Cassandra has written about in her blog post here). There, there was an interesting question posed about the slow adoption of electric cars to Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli. His view on the issue is that instead of supporting infrastructure and subsidies to incentivise electric vehicles, we should use that money to invest in improving our public transport system. His sentiments were echoed by Ed Gillespie, co-founder of Futerra Sustainability Communications and writer of the book “Only Planet”, in a talk in NUS about how coastal cities can combat climate change. He suggests that building cities around cars as the main mode of transportation is space inefficient and unproductive especially for cities plagued with congestion. To paraphrase Ed, a shift to electric vehicles will only result in a cleaner, quieter traffic jam. Public transportation will free up space for more living spaces in cities, and this means less stress on the surrounding environments for development.

Fig. 2: A comparison of how much space is used by the same number of people taking public transport, cycling and driving. Retrieved from We Ride Australia.

There are many views on the electric car movement, I’d love to hear your views in the comments!

Intelligent solutions to the dumbest problem

Hello everyone!

Last week I talked about Artificial Intelligence and its potential in the conservation scene, but the potential of AI extends far beyond that. AI is also incredibly good at predicting where resources have to be allocated, ensuring that just the right amount is delivered at the right time and place. After all, many inefficiencies in the food and energy industries are due to poorly distributed resources.

In higher-income countries, food is being wasted in mind-boggling amounts, so much so that Andy Murdock from the University of California appropriately termed food waste as “the world’s dumbest environmental problem”. Meanwhile, lower-income nations suffer from food shortage and malnutrition. If food wastage can be minimised, less land could be used for agriculture and livestock, one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and more food could also be given to food banks, alleviating food insecurity.

So how does AI come into the picture? The flexibility of AI-based solutions allows measures to be implemented on every level. A couple of months ago, I went to the YSI SEA showcase 2019 titled Sustainability: Hype or Hope, a showcase of efforts in various fields to achieve a sustainable future. Two booths caught my attention: a booth for cricket-based flour (though the presence of free cookies may have strongly influenced my opinions) and a booth which featured an AI-powered dustbin by Winnow Solutions. When food waste is placed in the dustbin, its weight is measured and a camera above the bin will capture what is thrown in. The in-built AI can then identify the food disposed and enter it into a data sheet. This allows restaurants, especially buffet restaurants, make better decisions on how much of each kind of food should be prepared daily, and with what portion size.

Fig 1. Winnow Solutions, Winnow System food bin. Retrieved from BusinessCloud

Zooming out, AI can be used to predict demand for food on a supply-chain scale. One such company that does this is Symphony RetailAI. By identifying trends and anomalies in demands, its AI-enabled software can predict the optimal amount of stocks to be replenished. Naturally, this cuts down wastage of perishable products.

The best part of enhancing efficiencies is that there is no reason for businesses to think twice about implementing these solutions. Winnow Solutions estimate that their clients could see up to a 1000% return-on-investment from their product, RetailAI was built to minimise expenditure and maximise profits. But the fact that they are profit-driven may also be a shortcoming. After all, these solutions end up being gears in an engine driven by overconsumption. RetailAI may work to properly allocate supply, but their other services involve tracking consumer data and structuring the layout of retail stores to increase demand for goods.

That said, AI-based solutions for the supply-chain of necessities like food are undoubtedly a boon more than a bane. The impact of decreasing food waste and improving the distribution of food results in a massive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and prepares us for the challenge of feeding our growing world population. I wanted to talk about improving efficiencies of the electric industry but food waste ended up being a lot more content than I expected, so I’ll cover that in my next post. Stay tuned!

Getting intelligent about conservation

Hey everyone,

I mentioned that I would talk about the technologies that drive decoupling for these few posts, but while researching these technologies I came across an interesting topic: Artificial Intelligence in conservation. Reading more into the literature, I realised that this fairly new field shows immense potential to revolutionise the way we combat our environmental problems.

What is AI and what are its capabilities? MIT Technology Review defines AI succinctly: “It’s the quest to build machines that can reason, learn, and act intelligently, and it has barely begun.” Artificial intelligence is behind technologies from voice/face recognition to identifying objects based on a photo. In fact, if you have ever been asked to prove you’re human (Figure 1), you have participated in an AI project too. Google’s “reCAPTCHA” project gathers data from millions of human inputs to train Google’s AI through machine learning. Eventually, with enough manual input of data, it has learnt to decode handwritten words and even recognise basic objects like traffic lights and street signs.

Figure 1: A typical reCAPTCHA to deter spamming in forms/websites. Retrieved from StackExchange.

The ability of AI to be able to process large amounts of information means it could be extremely useful in tackling various problems in ecological conservation. With sufficient data, machine learning programs can be trained to identify animals photographed with camera traps and even through recordings of their vocalisation. There are already mobile applications dedicated to identifying common plants.

Figure 2: A mountain lion photographed by a camera trap. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

Utilising AI to process new data allows researchers to speed up processes that once had to be manually done, such as going through hours of video footage or audio data. Such methods have allowed the Serengeti Lion Research Program to shorten its workflow by up to nine months. AI also allows detection of subtle differences that are beyond what humans can detect, such as potentially identifying emotions from the vocalisations of animals. While this has so far only been considered in livestock (as far as this study is concerned), imagine being able to assess the emotional state of wild animals just through their vocalisations.

AI, however, is not easy to implement. The Serengeti Lion Research Program faces problems like unreliable internet and power sources. Other conservation projects in remote places may face issues transporting heavy equipment and lack of proper facilities to house such capabilities. But these limitations do not apply to research in Singapore, our natural areas are highly accessible and have well-maintained facilities. But a quick search turned up no results for AI in conservation in Singapore, we even have a citizen-science driven Biodiversity database that would be immensely useful as a data source for AI. Why are we not at the forefront of AI research?

Personally, after learning more about AI, I began seeing how it can be implemented into local research and also used to achieve novel solutions. We need more conservationist-computer science partnerships to capitalise on this revolutionary piece of technology, and I am excited to get a chance to work in this field.

Decoupling d’economy

To build an economy, expand your industries. To expand your industries, build more factories—big factories that consume lots of power and spew out tons of carbon dioxide, other GHGs and pollutants.

This has been a law of economic growth ever since the First Industrial Revolution. Carbon emissions of a country grow as GDP grows. After all, fossil fuels were and still remain the largest part of our global energy sources.

Figure 1: Primary energy consumption by source, World (Ritchie & Roser, 2019)

Furthermore, when incomes rise (assuming GDP rises faster than the population size), consumption habits change. For example, more people can afford meat and private transportation, which results in a growing carbon footprint.

But there is a sign that the curtains are closing on those times.

Experts call this phenomenon decoupling. OECD defines decoupling as “to [break] the link between ‘environmental bads’ and ‘economic goods’”. A common example of an ‘environmental bad’ and an ‘economic good’ is carbon emissions and GDP respectively. Figure 2 shows that there are some countries are able to achieve minimal or even negative elasticity between emissions and GDP growth. Only two out of the 20 countries have an emissions elasticity of more than one (Saudi Arabia and Iran), which is likely due to the nature of their economies being extremely reliant on oil and gas production. The data also suggests the MEDCs have economies that are less positively linked to emissions than LEDCs.

Figure 2: Change in emissions in response to a 1% change in trend real GDP (Cohen and Loungani, 2018)

There are, however, more disconcerting reasons to explain this trend of decoupling in MEDCs. As these countries transition to service-oriented tertiary industries, globalisation and international trade allows them to move their polluting primary and secondary industries to LEDCs while their consumption patterns remain the same (Peters and Hertwich, 2008). However, this cannot be used to account for decoupling entirely. Transitioning to cleaner forms of energy and improvements in infrastructure like more reliable public transport also accounts for a big part of decreasing emissions while maintaining growth.

The effects of the rapid development of green technologies are not localised to just MEDCs. In fact, they matter more to emerging economies looking to increase their power generation. Global decreases in the cost of solar power due to innovation has allowed China to overtake Germany as the biggest producer of solar power in 2015.

Although it seems that solar and other forms of renewable energy are still an extremely small percentage of the world’s energy source (going back to Figure 1), technology tends to follow an exponential curve of market penetration. It maintains a low penetration rate before rapidly undergoing “logistic technology substitution” at a certain tipping point (Grubb as cited in Roberts, 2019). There may come a point when we see a rapid takeover of green technology, and it certainly seems it will happen soon.

It has to happen soon.

In my subsequent blog posts, I will be looking at the specific technologies that are enabling the decoupling that I have described in this post, from electric cars to nuclear fusion. I hope you are as excited for my upcoming posts as I am!

Do leave a comment if you learnt something new, had an interesting thought or have any questions. I’d love to hear what you guys think!

References:

Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2019) – “Energy production & changing energy sources”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/energy-production-and-changing-energy-sources’ [Online Resource]

Peters, G. P., & Hertwich, E. G. (2008). CO2 Embodied in international trade with implications for global climate policy. Environmental Science & Technology, 42(5), 1401-1407. doi:10.1021/es072023k

Welcome! A little on why I’m writing what I’m writing.

“In motivating people to love and defend the natural world, an ounce of hope is worth a ton of despair.”

George Monbiot said this in his TED talk – For more wonder, rewild the world. It is a quote that I personally resonate with. As an environmentalist, it’s easy to be jaded by the constant barrage of bad news. From the loss of natural beauty and biodiversity in disappearing glaciers and burning rainforests, to the blatant indifference of significant political players like Trump and Bolsonaro. Perhaps the most alarming is the 2018 IPCC Special Report, the culmination of the work of many of the top climate scientists, painting a grim prospect of the world after a warming of 1.5° C – 2.0° C above pre-industrial levels.

But above all other people, as environmentalists, we have the heavy burden of smiling in the face of a breaking world. After all, optimism is a crucial part of sustaining socially beneficial practices (Peter and Honea 2012). We need to believe in a future that excites us, to spread that faith to others and drive successful environmental movements.

One of the figures whom I look up to immensely, and shares a similar optimism for the future, is Elon Musk. His optimism and farsightedness drives many of his technological pursuits, which often have strong social impacts as a result. Additionally, his fortitude in facing seemingly insurmountable situations has allowed him to accomplish feats no one thought possible. These are qualities that we need to tackle the challenges in climate change and conservation.

In this blog, I will focus on the use of technology to mitigate, decelerate or even reverse climate change and biodiversity loss (and their effects). While many of these technologies are controversial, technology always has the potential to improve. It motivates us to look towards a brighter future, to believe that the best is yet to come. And that’s the foundation of an optimistic mentality.

Do these values resonate with you too, or do you disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

References:

Peter, P. C., & Honea, H. (2012). Targeting social messages with emotions of change: The call for optimism. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing31(2), 269–283. https://doi.org/10.1509/jppm.11.098

A Tesla Model 3 Electric Car, Photo by Dario on Unsplash

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