Sunday, April 20, 2014

Global Warming. We Finally Know How To Fix It. Why It's Not Gonna Happen.

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Global warming. It's made out to be scary.. apocalyptic really, with scientists all around the world spelling out doom and gloom for the upcoming century. Sea levels rising, more freak storms, entire environments changing drastically... 

Healthwise, the World Health Organisation predicts a resurgence of infectious diseases due a lack of adequate drinking water (not just to evaporation... algae thrives in warmer conditions) and the spread of mosquitoes, lowered nutritional standards due to drought and ineffective agricultural techniques, and increases in international conflicts as millions, more likely billions are displaced and forced into hunger and starvation.

Quite a lot of panic over a few warmer days, right?

Well, it is a thing. It's happening as we speak. And even if you're less inclined to believe it exists (despite unanimous scientific backing and the already visible effects), the fact that 7million people last year (including 29,000 in the UK, a developed country) died DIRECTLY from air pollution should make you feel that we should do something about something that just happens to cause global warming too - greenhouse gasses. 

The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, has for years been giving independent, scientist backed analysis and projections about this issue. But they've been routinely ignored by governments all around the world, despite their worrying projections. Reasons for this include the fact that there's opposition to the idea that it's even occurring due to humans in the first place and the lack of a concerted, global political will to make things happen. And there's greater things starving countries have to worry about...  if rich countries aren't even following their recommendations, why should they?

But one other major reason these projections and reports are being ignored, is that so far they've only been focused on the problems, rather than suggesting a solution. The panel has historically been solely focused collecting data, projecting outcomes, and making recommendations on how much the world needs to decreases its greenhouse gas production, rather than suggesting universal, effective methods for dealing with the issue, which would give the world a path to follow for dealing with climate change. 

Well, this year, this has changed. The IPCC has,, for the first time ever, released a guide on the "Mittigation of Climate Change." This outlines and suggests methods, and technologies that policy makers around the world should implement to effectively tackle climate change. 
The ideal behind it, and the idea for making this report itself, is awesome. We're not only looking at what's happened and what's to come, we're setting ourselves a path forward to dealing with the issue, something I believe is key to fixing any problem. Here's a great video summarising the major suggestions they made. You can read the full report here.

Basically, they recommend that the world increase the proportion of low, or no carbon-emitting energy sources such as solar, hydro-electric or nuclear energy (where that's not achievable, a switch to natural gas based systems is recommended), decrease the already inflated amounts of carbon dioxide in the air already through afforestation (and less deforestation), the increased use of bio-fuels and the recapturing and storage of emitted greenhouse gasses (watch the video for how that works) to combat the major cause of greenhouse gasses (around 40% of them) - energy development. 

In terms of transport and industry, which together account for 53% of greenhouse gasses, they don't tell us how to achieve the targets, as they did for the energy production part of their recommendations (probably because they're more diverse issues that don't have the same end point of electricity, so can be done in many ways). In terms of reductions to industrially sourced carbon emissions, they advocated more recycling of wastes, the implementation of better technologies, the increased sustainability of buildings and their energy consumption and the sharing of technologies to make each industry most efficient for the amount of greenhouse gasses they would inevitably produce. In transport, they did recommend shifts to more efficient carbon based fuels, higher density transport through building of public infrastructure.

But in the end, these recommendations will just get ignored.
Just like the previous 24 years of scientifically backed IPCC reports.
And this is why.

These recommendations are backed by the work of over 250 scientists, and have taken years to take effect. They're a great step forward, because we've finally given policy makers a set, international guideline on how to reduce greenhouse gasses, something they can be held accountable for by their voters (in developed countries at least, we can afford to implement some of these changes)

They're great,  but they're recommendations that only look at the science... 

They neglect the basic idea that in order to get any change in the world, you need to make it cost effective, profitable, something that you can't afford NOT to do.

Right now, all these options come at huge cost. And the benefit is a cleaner, sustainable environment... something that won't confer direct economic advantage to those who implement them.

The people who fund these - governments and businesses don't stand to benefit. 
Governments will only pass bills that the people want... or they won't get reelected. not when another party  promises to give people a more stable economy, and things they need (infrastructure, jobs, security) and want (tax cuts). 
Yeah, people want change to happen in global warming (well, a good chunk of people do), and yeah a lot of people are concerned about it, but not many are willing to bear the costs of it. 
Businesses, well, they're businesses. They want to make money. And right now - green energy just doesn't translate to profits...

This cost benefit analysis, done by the German government concludes that, on the basis of cost alone, renewable energy is just not worth it.

So for change to happen - these recommendations not only have to be good for the environment - but also for the economy, and people too. 

The funny thing is, there are actual, cost benefits in their recommendations already.

This report, published in Nature in 1997, made nearly 20 years ago by the way, placed a dollar value on the services the world's ecosystems provide - a figure of 16 - 54 TRILLION, 1997 dollars. The world's ecosystems, and how we use them at the moment (including their protective "services" by the way - not just for sustaining our fishing/farming methods) will stand to change substantially for the worse due to global warming by the way - quicker than ever before.

But that's not enough. 

Putting a dollar value, even a HUGE on like that, on protecting our ecosystems, still doesn't stand up to profits that are visible to us right now. 

The recommendations that are made shouldn't only be guidelines or methods that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also show direct, fiscal benefits of implementing them. 
The benefits shouldn't just be restricted to a better environment.
We've seen that not work for the past 24 years (how long the IPCC has been around) 

Not once in the whole report is the long term financial benefit of switching to these better, greener models mentioned. Though they did mention the fact that technological advances have occurred and made these changes cheaper and more affordable to implement Not once did they say that switching to sustainable, low carbon emitting energy sources, like solar and hydroelectric, will give almost free energy that will last in the long run - something that WILL offset the huge capital required to set it up. Not once did they mention, or provide analysis of the fact that the recycling of products in industry results in less resources and money spent acquiring raw materials, or that sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings and building methods will last longer, and save on energy costs than ones that aren't done in such a manner. Not once did they mention that providing financial incentives to the general public to implement environmentally friendly means of living will result in less expenditure on fixing the environment outright which is occurring right now (read this article on China's environmental problem causing direct financial harm, and an increased health burden - this is in addition to the 7million deaths, and probably many more hospitalised, by air pollution - all costs that end up directly impacting the health sector). 

All these savings will only increase as global warming begins to take a further hold. Yet these benefits aren't analysed in cost benefit analyses, and this report failed to take that into account too. 

They gave us a way to beat global warming, but they gave us no real incentive to do it.

I'm all about finding ways to fix things and I always provide solutions to the things I say, as I talked about in my last post. This report is only in draft mode right now. It can change, and I hope it does, to not only provide a guideline for policy makers to follow, but also the likely financial benefits of following them - something that will lead to more pressure on policy makers to adapt to them. And I'll outline the financial benefits to the recommendations they have made below.

Right now, reducing greenhouse gas emissions isn't cost effective, or helpful in the short term. But that's because the reasons why it is beneficial, in the long run, are not even advocated. 

Saving the environment, and ourselves is not enough. 

We need money for it to happen on a wide scale. 

Just saying that makes me sad. But it's true nonetheless. 

I believe the recommendations of that IPCC report should be "marketed" not just as a fix to the environment (which governments, businesses and people have routinely ignored in the past), but for their economic benefits as well. And most of the recommendations do have that. 

By doing it this way, we provide profitable, tangible incentive to policies and practices which help the environment. 

Making Renewable Energy More Attractive:

--> Currently, renewable energy on the grid isn't viable on a large scale, and on traditional cost benefit analyses, they don't phase out. These analyses only tend to look at the short term though. Renewable sources, though they require a large initial capital investment, are staggeringly cheaper over the long term, with no need for the continued buying of fuel to keep them running. And the overall cost of renewable resources may be decreasing too, with power storage facilities moving in leaps and bounds over the years. Especially with sustained military, space exploration and private sector investment, technology and research is only bound to increase in efficiency and become cheaper too. And this fact is why it's increasing in overall usage, and in investments constantly over the years, as seen below. 

 The cost benefit analysis of subsidies to residential and small business renewable energy is clear. More than 2.5million homes and businesses and Australia alone have installed solar panel units. With an average saving of $544 on electricity per year (the average bill in Australia per year is $1064), that's a huge amount of money that gets recirculated into the economy, for a small capital investment (which can be claimed back in a rebate for a short time only) starting from $2399, that's a great investment, especially when you consider the original investment only gets added to your home's asset value in the end. 

The other method talked about, the recapturing of carbon emitted by large generators, is also expensive to set up initially. But, especially with rising prices of coal and natural gas, and the rising price of mining fossil fuels too as they become more scarce, this could effectively provide a new, renewable source that can be almost perfectly clean too.

Making Industry Sustainable, and still Profitable:

--> Industrially, companies stand to benefit financially from making improvements that will help the environment too. These methods are mentioned in the recommendation, but again, only benefits to the environmental are mentioned, not the economic impacts. 
But there are economic improvements to many ways of reducing industrial pollution too.
Upgrading to newer boilers reduces energy use and makes manufacturing cheaper, fully utilising heat in generators and motors increases energy production and also cuts costs. Blended concrete (concrete currently accounts for 22% of greenhouse gasses produced by industry), though it takes longer to set, stands longer and is stronger than traditional limestone based concrete and reduces carbon emissions significantly in this field. Again, a very economically viable improvement that drastically reduces greenhouse gasses too. Recycling steel, which accounts for 15% of total industry greenhouse gasses, and making oil refinery processes more efficient will also add to this [source]. These methods all benefit the environment, as well as companies bottom line, and this aspect should be mentioned, and be encouraged in legislation too. They don't just benefit the environment, but also the economy in the short and long term. 

Making sure companies comply with regulations is another issue which needs to be addressed, and the direct environmental impacts, not just the greenhouse gas emissions down the line are really starting to hurt developing countries. China, which has grown exponentially over the years is starting to realise this, after crises of water pollution became apparent. Interestingly enough, the citizens of China are starting to protest against environmental issues, and these protests will only increase in frequency if industrial and overall environmental pollution keeps occurring, making the environment a genuine issue of concern, (outside of international condemnation over smog concerns during the Olympics) for the country's communist party.

Making Agriculture Sustainable, yet still profitable:

--> In terms of agriculture, again, some recommended measures to reduce the greenhouse gasses of this sector also benefits the farmers too, and again, I believe these benefits should be outlined to further compliance with the IPCC's recommendations. Improvements suggested in the IPCC include the increased use of bioenergy resources, afforestation and reduced deforestation. Increasing the use of biofuels adds to the value of fast growing crops such as sugar cane and bamboo (which can be made into fuel more quickly, as well as just for sugar) as well as reduce the reliance and burden of fuel prices, which are only going to increase over time. Increasing afforestation, which doesn't just involve planting trees, is cheap, reduces carbon dioxide leakage to the environment (as you can see in the image below) and also can be used smartly, as cheap wind breakers for better crop development, and for better grasses, which lead to better livestock production too

Deforestation to clear space for agriculture, which was also mentioned as an issue (without much emphasis of the solution) in the report, is currently occurring all over the world, and forests and trees provide the only viable carbon dioxide filtering service, making it a vital part of fighting climate change. 
The use of more efficient crops and seeds, whether by selective breeding, or genetically modified crops to produce more harvest per acre leads to more efficient use of land, which benefits both farmers and the environment. Furthering the education of sustainence farmers with more efficient agricultural methods translates to less poverty and a better economy at low cost while also reducing the need to take down forests.  In tropical rain-forests in particular (which turn over 31% of the world's oxygen), deforestation shouldn't be mandated and indeed discouraged. Though rain-forests are lush, their soils are only that way because of the huge amount of biodiversity and high density of the rainforest, always turning over proper massive amounts of energy. Establishment of a monoculture on such land, where soil is only lush about 3 inches deep, is unsustainable, and farms usually turn arid within years of farming. Thus farming practices like turning forrest into pastures, as is done widely in Brazil, often fail, while continuing to destroy valuable forest. 

A picture depicting the actual worth of a tree. 

But 70% of agricultural emissions are derived from livestock, which the IPCC's report doesn't even mention. Improving the efficiency of livestock growing methods, such as breeding faster growing livestock, more grazing on low fiber grasses and low fiber feeds, which provide more energy AND less methane production, supplementing diets with tannin, a cheap antioxidant (which leads to 10 - 30% less methane emissions), and giving supplements to dairy cows to cause them to lactate longer all lead to increased production  efficiency for farmers and lowered carbon emissions too. 

Making Transport Greener while Still Keeping it Cheap:

As mentioned in the report, and as I talked about above, the utilisation of biofuels will reduce the environmental impact of greenhouse gasses due to transportation. The advocacy and spreading of public transport is another recommendation mentioned in the IPCC report and the economic benefits of this are already clear, with good access to public transport proven to cause more productive cities and environs. Public transport provides environmental benefits too - as it provides high density transport with lower energy use per person transported. The providence of car-pool only lanes reduces private transport costs, as well as this recent announcement by the NSW government to allow lane filtering by motorbikes (motorbikes consume much less fuel per person, and encouraging their use will lead to lowered greenhouse emissions as well as quicker transport, for both bikers and car drivers alike (which also = greater productivity, helping the entire economy out).

Newer technologies, not talked about in the IPCC report but still relevant to this issue are also coming into play, and promise to provide affordable, cleaner and superior transportation too. 
Hydrogen powered fuel cell technology only has water as a waste product. While Fuel Cells are currently expensive, and heavy, the technology provides a powerful vehicle that also goes 3 times further/longer than gasoline powered vehicles can too - and Toyota is already planning on releasing it as soon as next year. The only problem, environmentally, is that hydrogen takes energy to produce. But this stands to change too, as a recent discovery of an enzyme which converts plant sugar into hydrogen fuel is being trialed on a larger scale now. Other challenges that face it include the lack of refuelling stations. But it is a promising technology. 
Solar cars are already a thing, but aren't widely used at the moment as there are challenges in storing energy and in the power of vehicles too. One way that allows school and uni kids to improve the latter aspect is solar car racing - where groups of students, ie nerds (one of them a good friend of mine - sorry for calling you a nerd Anthony) get together, design, build and race actual solar cars. 
Things like this as well as private sector investment fosters innovation (something I believe should happen more and more efficiently too, read about that here)which will all lead to more efficient, more cost effective strategies. And this IS already happening, as you'll see below.

Making Sustainable Building Profitable:

--> Building with more sustainable methods has also been proven to be worth the cost, as seen in this novel cost benefit analysis of building green. Building green, though incurring more initial investment, has been shown to increase productivity by 25%, increase a buildings asset value by 10%, increase rent by 5 - 10% and also costs less to maintain over the years. If something similar had been done in the IPCC's policy recommendations, governments would be further inclined to provide subsidies for building new homes greenly, which would increase the incidence of it, and result in a more prosperous and green country. 

The IPCC's report has taken a positive step to make suggestions on what we, as humans, have to do to mitigate the impacts of global warming. This change in focus towards suggesting solutions and not just outlining the problems will give the world's leaders a clear path forward in combating climate change. But there are direct financial motives, beyond that of saving the environment, for making policies that encourage these changes too. If these benefits were to be made more clear, then the recommendations that this paper has made will be more likely to be followed. 

Indeed, the only way you can make something happen, is to make it too expensive NOT to do it.

Why you can't afford NOT to give blood <-- Click to read.

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