What on EARTH?! emails: June 2018
June 1, 2018
The bright future of wind energy!
Wind provides about 4% of the world’s electricity today. According to Project Drawdown’s most conservative scenario (yet still vigorous), wind could rise to 22% of the world’s electricity by 2050 and reduce emissions by 85 gigatons (85 billion tonnes). To break that down, 1 gigaton weighs the same as 400,000 Olympic size swimming pools of water…so 85 of those is a lot of greenhouse gases prevented from entering the atmosphere. Not only that, but using highly conservative estimates, the wind turbines would deliver $7.4 trillion in net operational savings over the next three decades while costing just $1.2 trillion to implement.
Wind is the cheapest source of new electricity today in the US and is expected to be the cheapest globally by 2030 excluding subsidies. (According to Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg respectively)
2°C (3.6°F) is the amount of warming above pre-industrial levels at which scientists say the consequences will become “catastrophic” for humans. We have already warmed the planet by 1.1°C (2°F).
Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, the temperature would likely continue to rise another ~.5°C (.9°F) from our emissions over the past few decades (There’s a lag time due to heating the oceans – like the time it takes for water to boil when you’re cooking).
Unfortunately, when we hear 2°C we naturally underestimate the true implications of such a change. After all, I don’t notice a big difference between a 59°F and a 62.6°F day (15°C and 17°C), do you? The thing is, 2°C does make a difference – a huge one. A better way to think about 2°C (3.6°F) is to imagine how you personally would feel with a fever that high. You’d be out of commission!
“When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on Earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this Earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.” – Paul Hawken
Take sustainable action
Wash your clothes in cold water!
Like most people, I thought it needed to be warm water until a couple of years ago, but it turns out that’s not the case anymore. Why? Because they don’t make washing machines and detergents like they used to. It’s 2018 and they make them better! The consensus among laundry experts (yeah, that’s a thing) is that the technologies have changed, making the more user-friendly cold water the way to go.
(the exception to this is if someone has been sick and the laundry needs to be sanitized)
Why use cold water? It’s better for your clothes, for you, and for the Earth. Here’s why:
- “Consumer Reports’ past tests found detergents have gotten much better at putting enzymes to work in removing dirt and stains at lower water temperatures, and are less effective at higher temperatures.“
- Hotter water temps can actually be bad. “Protein stains (blood, sweat) can set in when washed in hot water, and hot water may shrink or wrinkle synthetic fabrics.”
- And my favorite, “Since about 90 percent of the energy consumed while running a load is used to heat the water, the average household opting for cold can eliminate as much as 350 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually. For most homes, this will amount to about $40 in savings a year.”
Highlighting someone awesome
Devi is adventurous, inspiring, has an impressive track record, and is a pleasure to chat with!
Rather than the facts and figures we typically associate with climate change, Devi is working on something new, refreshing, and more powerful. She is on a mission to record 1,001 stories from people around the world on climate change and water. After 4 years and 16 countries (half of the time traveling by bicycle!) she has collected over 700 stories. Her stories capture the human element of climate change, an integral part of the story that’s often missing. After all, climate change is about people.
The idea came to her as she traveled down the Mississippi River wearing a cardboard sign that read “Open call for stories.” She recorded 50 hours of stories, and was surprised by how many tied into water and climatic impacts. She felt that these stories needed to be heard and wanted to hear more. Devi decided to continue her work around the world to hear how others are being impacted and to share their stories.
People are often very grateful to share their stories with her, to be heard. Sometimes they even tell her things they’ve never talked about before. She is all ears. As she puts it, “Listening is a form of activism. Listening is an act of love.”
Up next for Devi is getting her masters in science writing at MIT and a Nat Geo sponsored expedition to the Canadian Arctic to experience the new realities of life for locals up there and to share their stories.
June 8, 2018
I’m in Washington, D.C. right now with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (more on them another time) and have been super busy this week, so this is not your typical What on EARTH?!
But I figured I should send you something anyway as I’ve heard from a bunch of people that they’re loving these…which is music to my ears 🙂 I hope you like this one just as much!
The following is one of my all time favorite quotes (to the point where I have it framed in my room).
Background: Carl Sagan requested that NASA turn the Voyager 1 camera around as it was leaving the solar system to take a picture of the Earth. In 1990 Voyager 1 took this picture from nearly 4 billion miles away (6 billion km). That tiny white speck halfway down the band of light on the right is Earth!
Carl (pretty sure we would’ve been on a first name basis) later put this image in perspective. You can read the text below or watch the YouTube video if you’d like to hear him say it.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
– Carl Sagan
As always, any and all feedback is welcome. So is dropping a line just to say hello – I’d love to hear from you!
Hope you have an amazing weekend!
June 15, 2018
Renewables are starting to dominate. They are increasingly becoming the cheapest form of new power capacity in many parts of the world as is reflected in the chart below where they claimed nearly 70% of 2017 global investments in new power capacity.
Solar led the way with $160 billion in investments – head and shoulders above coal and natural gas which attracted $103 billion combined. The major player here was China as they were responsible for over half of the global investments in solar, thanks to a 58% year over year increase. China also accounted for 40% of clean energy investments overall.
Other countries with sharp increases in renewable investments included Australia, Mexico, and Sweden which were up 147%, 810%, and 127% respectively.
This trend will continue until new power brought online is almost always renewable. The next, and much needed, major landmark will be when it becomes cheaper to replace existing fossil fuel plants with renewables than to continue paying for their operating costs.
According to the UN and Bloomberg, the world has invested $2.9 trillion in renewable energy since 2004. See below for the breakdown over time.
China, which typically processes half of the world’s exported waste paper, plastic, and metals is done being the “world’s garbage dump”.
As of January 2018, China no longer accepts over 30 types of recyclable materials that are too contaminated by materials improperly recycled. They said it “seriously endangered people’s physical health and the safety of our countries ecological environment.” This shocked the global recycling industry and has many in high-income countries scrambling to figure out what to do with all of their trash.
Alternative solutions are not in place. With China not buying it, municipalities are left with few options. Many that were selling what they collected just last year are now forced to pay steep prices for its removal. Some have been stockpiling it, but quickly run out of space. Others see the only remaining options as incineration or burying it in a landfill. Neither of which are sustainable solutions. The costs are only going up with some saying towns will have to cut other services such as education if this continues.
Although alarming in the short term, I actually see this as very beneficial in the long run. This will force us to re-design waste management and take steps towards a more circular economy rather than a linear one. If the system were set up properly, it’d mimic nature in that nothing would be wasted and everything would maintain value throughout its life cycle…instead of the present linear system where we get stuck with junk that is not only useless, but harmful.
This is a huge opportunity! Businesses and governments will be forced to innovate and design a system that makes sense and accounts for the real cost of our waste.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurmon
Take sustainable action
Buy less (new) stuff.
The products we buy often consist of materials sourced from various parts of the world which are transported to a manufacturing facility, processed, and then transported to get to you. A lot of emissions can go into that. Plus, there’s a lot of packaging material used throughout the supply chain and on the end product which could easily be waste as outlined above.
Now, I’m not saying anyone should deprive themselves or live a less fulfilling life in any way. I’m simply suggesting that we think carefully about what we buy because of the impacts it has. If you don’t actually need something or if you’re uncertain that it will bring you joy, is it really worth getting? Next time you’re thinking about buying something consider these ideas:
1. Sleep on it for a day or two and ask yourself if you truly need or want it. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, especially if we think we’re getting a good deal on something.
2. When you decide to get something, rather than buying it, see if anyone you know has one they are willing to part with.
3. Go to a thrift shop! There’s plenty of high-quality stuff to be found there.
Again, nobody is saying to stop buying stuff, or that you shouldn’t ever buy new stuff. You know what makes sense for you based on the situation. Just try to be mindful when you shop!
Highlighting someone awesome
Kathryn is a professional actor who also happens to be helping to lead the zero waste movement on the side. Zero waste means sending nothing to a landfill. But don’t let that trip you up! It’s more of a direction than a realistic goal (at the moment). Nobody is really zero waste today, which Kathryn readily acknowledges. Her motto is “It’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices.”
She has written over 300 blog posts and has reached over a million people through her work! She adds a nice personal touch blending in the changes of eating real food, living simply, and avoiding the use of harmful chemicals. Kathryn lives and shares a lifestyle that’s healthier for people and the planet. In doing so she helps and empowers others to start taking the little steps that ultimately add up to a massive impact. This is what drives her.
When asked what she’d put on a billboard she replied, “I’d rather put a sign on every trash can that asked ‘How long did you use it?’ ”
The image below is an extension of the typical “reduce, reuse, recycle” from her website, which I thought I’d point out in light of the “A” and “T” sections today.
If you’re interested, I recommend you check out this blog post to get a better idea of what zero waste is really all about (it’s bigger than just trash). I’d also recommend Kathryn’s post on “The Big Four” if you’re looking for specific steps to get started. To get a better feel for Going Zero Waste and Kathryn’s work, definitely check out her website, Youtube channel, or Instagram.