‘Hell no, Shell must go’ — activists protest against the arrival of the Amazon Warrior in Cape Town on Sunday. This is the ship’s last stop before it carries out a seismic assessment in search of oil and gas off the Wild Coast, starting on 1 December.
Waving banners, beating drums and chanting, an array of protesters — including members of Extinction Rebellion Cape Town, Oceans Not Oil and the Green Connection — awaited the arrival of the Amazon Warrior, a 130-metre seismic blasting vessel hired by oil giant Shell, at Cape Town Harbour on Sunday morning. From the outset, their message was clear: “Shell can go to hell”.
“Hell no, Shell must go!” the protesters chanted. Placards with defaced Shell logos on them bobbed above the crowd.
Shell has appointed Shearwater GeoServices to conduct the survey, which will last from four to five months, and cover more than 6,000km² of ocean surface. The survey area is located more than 20km from the coast, with its closest point in water depths ranging between 700m and 3km, Daily Maverick reported.
During this time, the seismic airgun blasts will increase the cacophony of sounds in the ocean, adding to those made by whales, dolphins and other marine life. Scientists and environmentalists alike have raised serious concerns about the “disastrous effects” of seismic assessments on the marine environment.
Climate activist organisation Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cape Town has said that there is increasing evidence that seismic blasting harms marine life. “Environmentalists are extremely concerned that seismic blasting of this scale will hurt our whales during breeding seasons, possibly separating mothers from their calves. But also fishing communities are sounding the alarm since the shockwaves will also scare off and harm their catch for unknown periods,” said XR Cape Town press coordinator, Michael Wolf.
In a statement on Saturday, XR Cape Town demanded that President Cyril Ramaphosa urgently intervene and withdraw the exploration licence from Shell and its partners, and send the Amazon Warrior home.
Shell’s announcement has spurred widespread public outrage and ignited a petition campaign to stop the survey.
The Oceans Not Oil coalition started a petition calling on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy to withdraw approval of Shell’s application to probe for oil and gas off the Eastern Cape shoreline. By Sunday morning, the petition had received more than 147,500 signatories.
About 100-150 protesters and activists were at the Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront when Daily Maverick arrived at around 5.30am on Sunday. From there, the demonstrators marched through the Silo District, eventually arriving at the edge of a pier near Shimmy Beach Club.
For about three hours the protesters waited to “unwelcome” the Amazon Warrior to Cape Town. The ship eventually arrived in the bay at about 8.15am, but remained outside the harbour.
“The reason why we’re here today is because we’re telling Shell to go to hell. We do not approve of their want to do seismic activity across the Wild Coast because it will not only affect marine life but will affect individuals and marginalised communities,” protester and youth coordinator at the African Climate Alliance, Gabriel Klaasen, told Our Burning Planet.
Klaasen said Shell’s plans for the Wild Coast will not only affect marine life, but will have social and economic impacts on communities in the area.
“This needs to come to an end if we want to make sure our marine life is secure for future generations to benefit from. The ocean is one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world and if we don’t protect it, we are screwing humans over,” he said.
Addressing protesters on Sunday, strategic lead for the Green Connection organisation Liz McDaid said that while there are currently groups of environmental lawyers trying to find ways to stop the project, public pressure on Shell is the way forward.
“It’s us on the ground who have the best chance of public pressure building to stop them and to shut them down,” said McDaid.
McDaid said Sunday’s action was the first in a series of rolling actions planned before 1 December. There have been protests along the Wild Coast and pickets outside Shell petrol stations across the country, she said.
A silent march from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay harbour to raise public awareness also took place at midday on Sunday.
“What we are also planning to do — if we can raise the money — is hire a research vessel to shadow and monitor” the Amazon Warrior’s activity on the Wild Coast, said McDaid.
“What we also think will put public pressure on Shell is to call on all the holidaymakers who are driving around to boycott Shell,” she said.
“We were at the Paradise Motors Shell garage yesterday and it was very inspiring to see people look at the posters, drive in and then drive out without getting petrol,” she said.
“As long as we can resist and they know we are resisting, it makes their lives harder.”
The British government has introduced legislation that will require all newly built homes and offices to feature electric vehicle chargers in England.
November 22update: “New homes and buildings such as supermarkets and workplaces, as well as those undergoing major renovation, will be required to install electric vehicle charge points from next year, under new legislation announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson today,” according to the UK government website.
Home and EV chargers in England
Specifically, all new homes and offices will have to feature “smart” charging devices that can automatically charge vehicles during off-peak periods. New office blocks will need to install a charge point for every five parking spaces.
The new law will make England the first country in the world to require all new homes to have EV chargers.
It will also boost confidence in helping those who transition from gas cars to overcome range anxiety, as so many homes in England don’t have off-street parking or garages.
The proposal is part of the movement to rapidly boost the number of chargers across England ahead of the UK’s 2030 ban of new fossil-fuel vehicles. The government originally announced a proposal to mandate that all new homes have a charge point with a parking space in 2019, as Electrek then reported.
Nigel Pocklington, CEO of clean energy company Good Energy, said [via Business Green]:
The home and office EV charger mandate is expected to start in 2022.
As many as 3,600 giant sequoias perished in the flames of the twin wildfires that ignited during a lightning storm in early September and rampaged through 27 groves of the behemoths in the southern Sierra Nevada, National Park Service officials said Friday.
More than two dozen groves of the towering trees were scorched as the KNP Complex and Windy fires exploded through parched vegetation, exacerbated at times by fierce winds and thunderstorms.
It’s a stunning loss that equates to 3% to 5% of the world’s giant sequoia population — arriving on the heels of even greater devastation. Last year’s Castle fire killed up to 14% of the global population of giant sequoias. Among the three fires, officials estimate nearly 20% of all sequoias may have perished in the last 14 months.
The somber news was delivered at a briefing in the Grant Grove of Kings Canyon National Park, in the shadow of the General Grant Tree — considered the second largest tree on Earth. Last month, the massive tree, which rises more than 260 feet, was surrounded by sprinklers to protect it from the still-active KNP Complex fire that has torched more than 88,300 acres in rugged country in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
“It does not ever get easy looking at a monarch giant sequoia that has died,” said Teresa Benson, supervisor for the Sequoia National Forest, at the briefing. “That is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to look at in my entire 30-year career with the forest service. It is not a good thing for our environment.”
Though it’s no longer a threat, the KNP — still just 75% contained — continues to chew through pockets of heavy fuel.
Meanwhile, crews have fully contained the Windy fire to the south, which burned upward of 97,500 acres in the Tule River Indian Reservation and Sequoia National Forest.
The KNP Complex scorched 16 sequoia groves, and the Windy burned 11 groves of the giant trees, natural wonders that can live more than 3,000 years and rise over 250 feet.
Among the worst was Redwood Mountain Grove, where scores of giant sequoias were torched by the KNP Complex fire.
Interspersed with healthy-looking trees, blackened sequoia carcasses rose Friday in eerie, almost sculptural forms, like an army of the dead.
Some were still smoking from the blaze that erupted more than two months ago.
Officials had steeled themselves for the devastation, though the massive trees have survived — and thrived — amid wildfires for thousands of yeas.
With their towering canopies and thick bark, giant sequoias are adapted to withstand low-intensity fire, and even need it to reproduce. But ferocious climate-change-fueled fires of recent years have proved fatal to the trees that experts once thought were impervious to flames.
Officials on Friday said that between 2,261 and 3,637 sequoias with a base of 4 feet or more in diameter were either killed or so severely damaged that they would die in the next three to five years.
The figures come from a report based on analysis by scientists from the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service. While preliminary, Christy Brigham, chief of resources management and science for the Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks and co-author of the report, thinks they’re accurate — or worse, an underestimate.
Discussing the number of sequoias that perished, Brigham teared up at the briefing.
“While these losses are not as stark and large as the Castle fire, they are still significant, unsustainable and are outside the range of historic fire effects on large sequoias — and are not what we are trying to achieve as we manage these magnificent forests for fire and climate change resilience,” she said.
Since 2015, high-severity fires have killed large giant sequoias “in much greater numbers than has ever been recorded,” officials with the National Park Service said. Drought has also contributed to their decline, weakening their defenses and making them susceptible to incursions from bark beetles, another scourge to which they’ve historically been immune.
The KNP Complex and Windy fires ignited Sept. 9 amid thunderstorms that roiled the region and quickly exploded amid the parched landscape. As crews struggled to battle flames raging in steep, difficult-to-access areas, a devastating revelation emerged: The flames had pushed in the direction of the famed Giant Forest, home to some 2,000 giant sequoias, including the largest tree in the world.
As the grim reality set in, crews in mid-September wrapped the hulking base of the General Sherman tree — and some other well-known giants — in aluminum material typically used to protect buildings. General Sherman, considered the largest tree by volume, and many other nearby trees survived, in part, because of decades of prescribed burns to clear out vegetation in the tourist mecca.
But prospects were dimmer for more remote, less-manicured groves.
Garrett Dickman, a botanist assigned to the Windy fire, expressed fears weeks ago that tree mortality rates could rival those of the 2020 Castle fire, which burned at least 7,500 trees.
Aided by a sequoia task force, Dickman trekked through the backcountry to prepare trees for fire when possible and treat them after flames had passed through. He saw heavily scorched trees and entire groves he estimated had been decimated.
As the crews made their way through the burn zone, Dickman kept a tally of dead trees. He counted 74 by early October, but officials now say that number is far greater.
Brigham initially thought the trees had fared better amid more favorable conditions, including a frequent inversion layer that tamped down flames. But that optimism soured last month when an enormous pyrocumulus formed near the Redwood Mountain Grove, indicating the likelihood of extreme fire behavior. Castle Creek Grove also appeared subjected to high-severity fire.
Park officials wrote on Facebook that they suspected some groves were hit by flames severe enough “to result in sequoia mortality, possibly for significant numbers of trees (hundreds).” The recent assessment suggests the damage was even more severe.
In an effort to protect the beloved trees, crews resorted to unusual firefighting tactics. Besides wrapping the massive trees in fire-resistant aluminum material akin to tinfoil, sprinkler systems were also rigged in rugged terrain, personnel set preemptive fires to burn away potential fuels and climbers were even sent up a 200-foot tree to douse it with water.
“We’re taking such drastic measures to save these trees — and they deserve those drastic measures to be saved,” Dickman said at the time.
Much of Kings Canyon reopened last month, but some areas have since shuttered for the winter season, park officials said. Only a portion of Sequoia recently became accessible to the public.
Park officials last week reopened part of the foothills area, stretching from the Ash Mountain entrance to Hospital Rock, about six miles up the Generals Highway. Beyond that, damage to the road and hazardous trees made the area unsafe, Mark Ruggiero, a fire information officer, said. Some of the park’s biggest draws are still off-limits, including the Giant Forest.
While visitors would see charred trees and smoke billowing from hot spots, they’d also see areas resembling “a green carpet,” Ruggiero said. Grass was growing in burn areas recently doused by recent rains.
Portugal shut down its last remaining coal plant over the weekend, ending the use of the polluting material for electricity generation and becoming the fourth country in the European Union to do so.
Environmental group Zero said in a statement the Pego plant in central Portugal had been the country’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, adding that “freeing ourselves from the biggest source of greenhouse gases was a momentous day for Portugal”.
The move comes nine years before Portugal’s targeted end of the use of the fossil fuel by 2030.
Belgium, Austria and Sweden are the other three European countries to have already stopped using coal for power generation.
Although a hefty 60%-70% of its electricity comes from renewable sources, Portugal still relies heavily on imported fossil fuels to meet overall energy needs.
There are concerns the Pego plant, run by the privately held group Tejo Energia, might now be converted to burn wood pellets.
“The challenge now is to ensure utilities do not make the mistake of replacing coal with fossil gas, or unsustainable biomass,” said Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director at Europe Beyond Coal.
“Ditching coal only to switch to the next worst fuel is clearly not an answer,” said Zero’s president Francisco Ferreira. “Instead, the focus should be on rapidly upscaling our renewable energy capacity in wind and solar.”
A draft document seen by Reuters in June showed the EU was considering tightening rules on whether wood-burning energy could be classified as renewable. read more
Traffic on Lambeth and Vauxhall bridges stopped in rally against jailing of Insulate Britain members
Police have arrested 30 climate activists after a major bridge in central London was blocked by a sit-down protest.
The arrests on Lambeth Bridge came after Public Order Act conditions were imposed on the protest, which had been held in support of nine Insulate Britain campaigners who were jailed this week.
The bridge had been shut to traffic for a number of hours on Saturday by the sit-in, which initially involved up to 250 people who had marched from the Royal Courts of Justice.
Referring to Public Order Act conditions imposed on the protest, the Metropolitan police said: “Lambeth Bridge has now been reopened, 30 arrests were made for breach of S14 conditions.”
The force also said that Vauxhall Cross, where some of the demonstrators had moved, had reopened.
Earlier, climate protesters blocked the two London bridges as part of a demonstration against the jailing of nine Insulate Britain activists.
Members of the group were sentenced this week after breaching a court injunction in place to stop further road blockades that have caused serious disruption for motorists since September.
Campaigners stopped traffic on Lambeth Bridge, which crosses the Thames between Westminster and Lambeth, just after 2.10pm on Saturday. A sit-down protest forced police to divert traffic to other routes.
Earlier on Saturday evening, the Met imposed public order conditions on the protest and urged the remaining protesters to leave. Four of the protesters had glued themselves together.
The public order notice said the group have “no identified organiser” and “warm clothing, food, seats” and if they fail to leave, could face arrest.
An offshoot protest also blocked Vauxhall Bridge, the next bridge upriver.
Gabriella Ditton, 27, who was taking part in the demonstration at Lambeth Bridge said she believed she would end up in jail for taking part in the protests. She has been arrested six times with the campaign group, once for breaking the injunction.
“I have known for a couple of years that the only thing that is going to serve us is civil resistance. I have faith in people coming together.
“Solutions to this crisis exist, we just need the political will to do it.”
Zoe Cohen, 51, who had travelled from Warrington in north-west England to take part, said: “I am angry, distraught and grieving for the huge amount of nature that we have already lost.”
She added that “ordinary people should not have to do this and risk prison”.
Insulate Britain said it was not involved with setting up the event, which began after more than 200 supporters of the imprisoned activists gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in the afternoon.
One campaigner, Gully, told the crowd: “Make no mistake, these are political prisoners and they will not be the last.”
The group then walked from the courts to Westminster, chanting “power to the people”.
Insulate Britain began a wave of protests in September and blocked the M25, other roads in London, Birmingham and Manchester, and near the port of Dover in Kent.
The money will be used to “create and expand protected areas” with the goal of protecting 30 percent of the planet’s surface by 2030.
The 83-year-old Swiss-born steel magnate Hansjörg Wyss — who’s now an avid outdoorsman living in Wyoming — has already donated $450 million to protect 40 million acres of land and water across the globe since the establishment of the Wyss Foundation in 1998.
Wyss has also supported anti-poaching efforts, river restoration projects, African national park improvements, rails-to-trails initiatives and land conversation in his beloved adopted home, the American West.
He’s also pulled a handful of high-profile maneuvers to stop fossil fuel industries from degrading protected lands.
“Already, the campaign has identified nine locally led conservation projects spread across 13 countries — 10 million acres of land and 17,000 square kilometers of ocean in total — that will receive $48 million in assistance,” Mother Nature Network reports.
The first nine conservation projects to receive grants are:
1. Aconquija National Park and the National Reserve Project in Argentina
2. The Ansenuza National Park Project, also in Argentina
3. Costa Rica’s proposed Corcovado Marine Reserve
4. The multi-country Caribbean Marine Protected Areas initiative
5. The Andes Amazon Fund, which impacts Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Guyana
6. Romania’s Fundatia Conservation Carpathia, which spearheads conservation efforts in the Carpathian Mountains
7. The Edéhzhíe Dehcho Protected Area and National Wildlife Area in Canada’s Northwest Territories
8. Australia’s Nimmie-Caira Project
9. The Gonarezhou National Park Project in Zimbabwe
Funds will be granted to additional projects over the next 10 years.
“I believe this ambitious goal is achievable because I’ve seen what can be accomplished,” Wyss writes in an editorial for the New York Times.
“We need to embrace the radical, time-tested and profoundly democratic idea of public-land protection that was invented in the United States, tested in Yellowstone and Yosemite, and now proven the world over.”
“These are large emissions, and we see quite a lot of them on the global scale, much more than we had expected.”
Huge amounts of uncounted emissions of highly warming greenhouse gas methane are being released by “super-emitters” all over the world, satellite observations reveal.
Scientists have only recently worked out how to detect methane emissions from space, but what they have seen since has taken them by surprise. The greenhouse gas, which is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is leaking from gas pipelines, oil wells, fossil fuel processing plants and landfills all over the world. It is frequently released through negligence and improper operations; the emissions, in many cases, are not accounted for in mandatory greenhouse gas inventories.
“We see quite a lot of those super-emitters,” Ilse Aben, senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) told Space.com. “These are large emissions, and we see a lot of them on the global scale — much more than we had expected.”
Aben heads a team of experts working with data from an instrument called Tropomi (for TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) that flies on the European Sentinel 5P satellite, which is part of the Earth-observing constellation Copernicus.
Sentinel 5P launched in October 2017, and Tropomi started providing data a few months later. In the years since, scientists have slowly learned how to reliably interpret its measurements.
“We measure methane concentrations in the total column from the top of the atmosphere down to the surface,” Aben said. “What we are looking for is the little bit of extra signal that suggests something is being released on the ground.”
Tropomi pinpoints emission sources with a rather crude resolution of 3.4 by 4.3 miles (5.5 by 7 kilometers), an area about the size of a smaller city. But the Tropomi team collaborates with Canadian company GHGSat, which currently flies three methane-detecting satellites, the first of which launched in 2016. GHGSat provides a much more detailed resolution of 66 feet (20 meters), which enables the company to do finer detective work.
“With Tropomi, we look for these hotspots on a global scale,” said Aben. “We measure methane across the globe every day, and then we provide these locations to GHGSat and they can zoom in and pinpoint the exact facility that is leaking those emissions.”
The oil industry’s dirty secrets
The collaboration has proved fruitful. In data gathered over the first two years of Tropomi’s operations, scientists discovered major leaks of methane in the oil and gas fields of Turkmenistan, most of which were completely preventable.
Oil and gas fields must build flare installations that prevent methane from leaking into the atmosphere, and Aben said that these leaks suggest those installations are not being used properly.
“These emissions actually relate to flare installations that are not being flared in the oil and gas industry,” said Aben. “Flaring is meant to get rid of the methane gases by burning them. It would obviously be better to capture the gas, but they are not even burning it. It’s just methane pouring out, and that is not normal operations.”
The Tropomi measurements revealed thousands of kilograms (in some cases even tens of thousands of kilograms) of methane leaking from 29 plants every hour.
And the problem is not limited to Turkmenistan. A separate analysis of Sentinel 5P data released by French analytics company Kayrros in March this year found frequent methane leaks on three major pipelines supplying natural gas from Russia to Europe. Most of these events happened during maintenance work. Surprisingly, Kayrros detected 40% more leaks in the pandemic year 2020 compared to 2019, in spite of the overall reduction in gas imports from Russia to Europe, which was reported by the International Energy Agency.
Yasjka Meijer, the mission scientist of Europe’s planned greenhouse gas monitoring mission CO2M, told Space.com that combined, all these leaks might account for much more than the emissions that natural gas companies report. These hidden emissions could, in fact, undermine the effectiveness of the shift away from the burning of coal toward the burning of gas for electricity generation, Meijer said. Many countries rely on gas as a temporary measure to decrease greenhouse gas emissions while developing fully renewable energy resources.
“A lot of oil and gas producers say that their average leakage is about 3 to 4%,” said Meijer. “It turns out to be much more. But burning gas in a power plant outperforms coal in terms of the carbon footprint only if the leakage is not more than about 8%. With the numbers now, we actually have doubts, because it might be perhaps 10 or 15% and then the global climate impact would be much larger.”
“Before we saw the first one, I had never thought we would be able to see landfill emissions from space,” said Aben. “That certainly gave us a ‘wow’ moment when we saw it for the first time. And now there’s a whole bunch of them that we have detected.”
Thorsten Fehr, head of the atmospheric section at the European Space Agency (ESA), which is developing the CO2M mission and operating Sentinel 5P for Copernicus, cautions that monitoring greenhouse gas emissions from space is still in its early stages. But the space industry is ready to take the technology another step further and effectively start policing emitters from space. Such a capability will be crucial to keep the world on track to meeting its emission reductions targets in order to keep global warming close to the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) limit set out in the Paris Agreement negotiated at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.
Currently, nations self-report their emissions based on the amount of fossil fuels the various sectors of their economy burn. However, countries often release these numbers on a five-year delay, and experts question their accuracy.
“The Paris Agreement asks for a transparency framework,” Fehr told Space.com. “To basically show what people are doing, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do now.”
There are currently a plethora of space missions being readied to tackle methane emissions. In addition to GHGSat, Sentinel 5P and CO2M, a U.S. company called MethaneSAT, a spin-off from the nonprofit organization Environmental Defense Fund, plans to launch a new methane-monitoring spacecraft in October 2022. Earth-observation company Planet, together with a range of research institutions including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, are developing an entirely new constellation of methane-monitoring satellites as part of a public-private partnership.
This sneaky greenhouse gas is a focus of an international pledge that was introduced at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow on Nov. 3. Over 100 nations have signed the document, promising to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. According to a European Commission’s statement, this reduction alone could reduce the atmospheric warming projected by 2050 by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.28 degrees Celsius).
Scientists call methane emissions a “low-hanging fruit” and hope that the reductions should be relatively easy to achieve.
“It’s in nobody’s interest to release this methane,” said Meijer. “It should be easier to regulate than carbon dioxide, because for carbon dioxide, you would have to tell people to stop burning the fossil fuels.”
The carbon dioxide challenge
To similarly monitor carbon dioxide emissions is much more complicated. But Fehr says ESA is ready for the challenge, and with the CO2M mission plans to provide the first of its kind tool capable of distinguishing individual anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide from space.
NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, launched in 2014, currently provides data on the regional distribution of carbon dioxide sources and natural sinks, reflecting global trends and seasonal changes. Its sister instrument, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3, is attached to the International Space Station, taking measurements since 2019. But the resolution of these two instruments is nowhere near detailed enough to spot individual emitters.
“There’s a big difference between monitoring carbon dioxide and methane,” said Meijer. “The [natural] amount of methane in the air is much lower than the amount of carbon dioxide. Plus what is being emitted from sources is much higher than the background so it’s much easier to distinguish it from space. For carbon dioxide it’s the opposite. There’s already a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere naturally and the addition of individual sources is relatively small, you’re talking about a quarter of a percent.”
There are currently nearly 420 parts of carbon dioxide in a million parts of air, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the 1700s, before humankind started burning fossil fuels, the value was about 280, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The CO2M mission, expected to launch by 2026, hopes to measure the concentrations with an accuracy of 0.25%, which, according to Meijer, is still a technical challenge.
Making the world to cooperate
Aben hopes satellite observations will help keep the world on track to tackle climate change. The scale of the methane leaks surprised scientists, she said, but now that the previously hidden gas pipeline leaks and polluting landfills can finally be seen, fixing the problem is, at least, possible.
“I think that these satellite observations will certainly stir up and change the way we will be reporting emissions,” she said. “We are seeing things that I think are not visible at the moment in some of the reporting. Not all of the reporting is wrong, but this certainly adds a category of emissions that we might have missed.”
Meijer, however, cautions that it might still take a considerable effort to get the whole world on board. “This is the first time that you can actually put a finger on it,” he said. “But the problem is, how are you going to communicate with a country somewhere in Africa that there is too much methane leaking out of their facilities.”
At the recently concluded COP26 conference, nations strengthened their commitments to the goals of the Paris Agreement, agreeing to speed up the elimination of coal from the energy mix and increase their emission reduction efforts across the board.
With the new pledges, the world might be on track to keeping the global temperature rise within 3.2 degrees F (1.8 degrees C). That value is still above the preferred limit of 27 degrees F (1.5 degrees C), but considerably better than the 4.8 degrees F (2.7 degrees C) trajectory predicted under previous plans. The battle is by far not yet won.
NSW Police Commissioner has warned of 25 year jail sentences under the Crimes Act
Protesters have disrupted coal train movements for a ninth consecutive day
Police have arrested 19 people in the past ten days
Police have warned that coal activists disrupting train movements in the NSW Hunter Valley could face up to 25 years behind bars, with 19 arrests made since protests began early this month.
The group Blockade Australia returned to the Port of Newcastle this morning, halting operations for a ninth consecutive day, taking a stance against Australia’s climate policy.
NSW Police say two Victorian women, aged 24 and 28, have been charged with “intent to kill or injure person on railway, cause obstruction to railway locomotive or rolling stock and endanger safety of person on railway”, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years’ jail.
Police say a 40-year-old Newcastle man is likely to be charged with the same offence today.
A Blockade Australia protester took to social media from inside the coal loading facility this morning where he said he pushed an emergency stop button before crossing his fingers.
“My plan is to go and hide somewhere in those big aisles, there’s four of those aisles and they run for two kilometres each so I’m just going to go and get lost down there,” he said.
Nineteen people have been arrested from the same group since November 5.
Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said protests would not be tolerated.
“The ongoing protests are placing public safety at risk and endangering the lives of all those who use the rail network.”
“I have sought further legal advice today and am warning anyone who intends on behaving in the manner we’ve seen over the past week, that they could be charged with offences under Section 211 of the Crimes Act 1900, which carry a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.
“This is in addition to the various trespass and rail disruption offences numerous protesters have been charged with since Friday, November 5.”
PolAir and the Public Order and Riot Squad have joined local police in surveillance today under the new Strike Force Tuohy.
“[They] stand ready to target anyone engaging in this dangerous and criminal behaviour, and will not hesitate to take the appropriate action,” Mr Fuller said.
‘Draconian overreach of police’
Blockade Australia said the threat was an “overreach of police power” and committed to continue disrupting coal exports.
“Blockade Australia uses nonviolent blockading tactics to disrupt a system that is causing a climate and ecological crisis that threatens all life on Earth.
“Threatening protesters with 25-year prison sentences for blocking coal trains without causing physical harm to anyone is a draconian overreach of police power.
“Blockade Australia will continue to take sustained and disruptive action in response to Australia’s leading role in the climate and ecological crisis for as long as necessary.”
Only a small fraction of dams actually produce electricity. Transforming them into hydropower plants might stop new ones from being built.
IN NOVEMBER 2019 engineers switched on the 18th and final turbine at Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam: the final step in an odyssey of planning and construction that had started almost 50 years earlier. The vast hydroelectric complex—the fourth-largest in the world—completely upended the northern stretch of the Xingu River, one of the Amazon’s major tributaries. The waters held back by the main dam created a reservoir that flooded 260 square miles of lowlands and forests, and displaced more than 20,000 people.
Major hydroelectric dams can have catastrophic consequences—flooding homes and habitats and changing the flow, temperature, and chemistry of rivers for decades. Although few are quite as big as Belo Monte, there are a glut of new hydroelectric dams in the works all over the globe. In 2014 researchers estimated that there are at least 3,700 major hydroelectric dams in planning or under construction globally. Most of these new projects are located in low- and middle-income countries eager to fuel their growing economies with a crucial source of low-carbon power: In 2020, hydroelectric dams generated as much electricity as nuclear and wind power combined. But the race to tap the world’s rivers for renewable energy presents something of an environmental conundrum: Do the benefits outweigh the environmental chaos that dams can wreak?
Some researchers think there’s a smart way out of this dilemma. Rather than building more dams, why don’t we figure out a way to get more out of the ones that already exist? The majority of them aren’t generating electricity at all—they’re used for irrigation, water supply, flood control, or for fishing and boating. If we can figure out a way to put turbines into those dams so they also produce hydropower—a process known as retrofitting—we could unlock a huge renewable energy potential that isn’t being tapped.
In a retrofitted system, water falling through the dam would spin newly installed turbine blades connected to a generator—and that spinning would generate electricity that could be distributed to local homes or connected to a larger power grid. “How much more can we get out of revitalizing existing infrastructure, rather than expanding and building new infrastructure?” asks Ryan McManamay, an ecologist at Baylor University in Texas and coauthor of a paper exploring the untapped potential of non-powered dams. (McManamay’s own office in Waco is a short walk from one of these dams on the Brazos River. A wasted opportunity right on his doorstep, he points out.)
McManamay and his colleagues estimated that retrofitting dams and upgrading existing hydroelectric plants could boost their maximum output by an extra 78 gigawatts. That’s roughly the power generated by seven Belo Monte Dams, or more than double the average electricity demand in the whole of the United Kingdom. And in parts of the world where new dams are being planned and constructed, the change could be huge. Retrofitting and upgrading dams in the Amazon River basin could unlock 1.6 gigawatts of new electricity production. That’s roughly the amount of energy produced by a natural-gas-fired power station and enough to avoid the construction of 17 new smaller dams altogether. Upgrading and retrofitting dams in the Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia could generate so much power that all the new ones slated for construction in the region would be surplus above what’s required.
Some countries are already making use of this potential. Since 2000, 36 dams in the US have been retrofitted with turbines, adding more than 500 megawatts of renewable generation capacity. There is even more potential out there: A 2016 US Department of Energy report found that an additional 4.8 gigawatts of electricity could be generated by retrofitting non-powered dams over the next three decades. In places like the US and Western Europe, where the dam-building boom of the mid-20th century has long since faded, retrofitting may be the only option left for governments looking to eke out a little more hydropower. “If there are dams that are going to remain in place, let’s try and find solutions and work together to the most optimal solution,” says McManamay.
But before anyone starts upgrading all these dams, they might want to take another look at the numbers. It’s not easy to accurately predict how much electricity a retrofitted facility will actually produce, because it turns out not every dam is a good fit for conversion. Say someone wants to fit turbines in a dam that was built to hold back water so it can be used to irrigate farmers’ fields. During the growing season, a lot of that water would normally be directed toward crops, instead of flowing over the dam to generate electricity. Or perhaps it’s in an area where the water is only high enough to generate electricity for part of the year. Suddenly those retrofitted dams might not seem like such a smart idea.
One recent study on retrofitted dams in the US, also commissioned by the Department of Energy, found that projections of their power output veered toward the optimistic side: On average, those projections were 3.6 times greater than the actual output. The study found that the most successful retrofits tended to be concrete dams initially built to aid navigation. (Dams are often used to widen or deepen waterways to make it easier for boats to pass through.) “This is a complex issue. It’s not an easy fix,” says McManamay.
But in countries such as Brazil, big dams are still very much on the agenda. “If they’re going to develop and really raise the standard of living in the country as a whole, they need energy. That’s the long and short of it,” says Michael Goulding, a senior aquatic scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society. The country’s most recent 10-year energy plan outlines nine new large dams scheduled to be completed before 2029. Rather than hoping these dams won’t be built, it’s important to make sure that proper studies are carried out to make sure that they’re built in a way that minimizes environmental destruction, says Goulding: “Often the environmental impact frameworks aren’t very good. They’ll define an area of interest close to the dam and that area of interest doesn’t include all the downstream impacts and upstream impacts as well.”
The Belo Monte Dam is a good example of just how much of an effect large dams have on the surrounding environment. The dam complex redirected 80 percent of the Xingu’s flow away from a 62-mile stretch of the river known as Big Bend. This section of the Xingu also happens to be the only known wild habitat of the Zebra Pleco—an eye-catching striped catfish beloved by aquarists. “There is a huge risk that this species will go extinct,” says Thiago B. A. Couto, a postdoctoral researcher at Florida International University’s Tropical Rivers Lab. The impact of dams on fish species is well-documented elsewhere in the world. In Washington state, the Elwha Dam disconnected the upper and lower Elwha watersheds, reducing the habitat available to salmon by 90 percent. Some species local to the river disappeared altogether, while the populations of others—such as Chinook—fell to a fraction of their previous levels.
Eventually, however, even large dams may outlive their usefulness. In 2014, the last remnants of the Elwha Dam were removed forever. The Chinook salmon that for decades had remained locked behind two dams are now slowly making their way back upstream. A full recovery is expected to take decades. “Dams don’t last forever,” says Couto. “There are many that are abundant, but are not providing the minimum benefits that they are supposed to.”
Bowery Farming uses technology to prioritize accessibility and sustainability in their produce growing operations
To some, the pristine growing conditions and perceived mechanical interference of a vertical farm can seem unnatural, but at Bowery Farming “interference” is actually not the goal at all. “We don’t really think about how people are involved in the growing process, but how to take people out of the growing process” says chief science officer Henry Sztul. “Our goal is actually to have as few people walking around our plants as possible.”
Bowery Farming is a network of vertical farms working to reengineer the growing process. Using a system of light and watering technology, Bowery is able to use 95 percent less water than a traditional outdoor farm, zero pesticides and chemicals, and grow food that tastes as good as anyone else’s.
Bowery Farming uses vertical farm-specific seeds that are optimized for flavor instead of insect resistance and durability. Seeds are mechanically pressed into trays of soil, and sent out into growing positions, or racks within the building that have their own lighting and watering systems. Each tray gets its own QR code so that they can be monitored and assigned a customized plan for water and light until they’re ready to be harvested.
Irving Fain, Bowery Farming’s founder and CEO contemplates the prediction from the United Nations that 70 to 80 percent of the world’s population will be living in and around cities in the next 30 years. “Figuring out ‘how do you feed and how do you provide fresh food to urban environments both more efficiently as well as more sustainably?’ is a very important question today, and an even more important question in the years to come.”