When asked about a particular weather event’s link to climate change, scientists are typically cautious to make definitive statements — especially in the immediate aftermath, before they’ve had the chance to study the event.
Carbon dioxide emissions are invisible, but NASA has just made them all too real.
The space agency has released a video of high-resolution imagery documenting carbon emissions released over an entire year. The result is what looks like the world’s biggest storm stretching the length of the northern hemisphere. The video is the first time scientists have been able to see in fine detail how carbon dioxide moves through the atmosphere, showing the source of greenhouse emissions and their destination.
It’s mesmerizing and scary. The large, swirling, cloud-like plumes grow and spread across the globe over an entire seasonal cycle, showing just how far C02 emissions can spread. As the time-lapsed animation rolls through the year, the differences between spring, summer, fall, and winter are obvious—especially in the northern hemisphere. As the plant-growing season peaks in late spring and summer, the dark red plumes that signify the worst concentrations of carbon dioxide dissipate.
But as plant growth levels off in fall and winter, the dark plumes creep back up as humans spew carbon into the atmosphere from power plants, factories, and cars. Bill Putman, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, narrates the three-minute video and explains what the terrifying dark reds really mean.”As summer transitions to fall and plant photosynthesis decreases, carbon dioxide begins to accumulate in the atmosphere,” Putman says. “Although this change is expected, we’re seeing higher concentrations of carbon dioxide accumulate in the atmosphere each year.” That, in turn, is contributing to the long-term trend of rising global temperatures.
So what else does the map show? For starters, the world’s top three emitters—China, the U.S., and Europe—are easy to spot. Large red-tinged tails swirling above the areas indicate the highest concentrations of carbon. The video also shows how wind plays a key role in pushing carbon around the world, and how emissions levels can change rapidly because of weather patterns.
“The dispersion of carbon dioxide is controlled by the large-scale weather patterns within the global circulation,” Putman says. The released video portrays carbon emissions in 2006. Given that emissions have only increased since then, the current situation is even more dire.
In the future, the computer modeling data can help scientists better determine the location of carbon sources and sinks. http://bit.ly/1ORziW9
In the 2015 COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.
France will play a leading international role in hosting this seminal conference, and COP21 will be one of the largest international conferences ever held in the country. The conference is expected to attract close to 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organisations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society.
To visit the official COP21 website for more information, click here.
In 2013, world geothermal electricity-generating capacity grew 3 percent to top 11,700 megawatts across 24 countries. Although some other renewable energy technologies are seeing much faster growth—wind power has expanded 21 percent per year since 2008, for example, while solar power has grown at a blistering 53 percent annual rate—this was geothermal’s best year since the 2007-08 financial crisis.
Geothermal power’s relatively slower growth is not due to a paucity of energy to tap. On the contrary, the upper six miles of the earth’s crust holds 50,000 times the energy embodied in the world’s oil and gas reserves. But unlike the relative ease of measuring wind speed and solar radiation, test-drilling to assess deep heat resources prior to building a geothermal power plant is uncertain and costly. The developer may spend 15 percent of the project's capital cost during test-drilling, with no guarantee of finding a viable site.
Once built, however, a geothermal power plant can generate electricity 24 hours a day with low operation and maintenance costs—importantly because there is zero fuel cost. Over the life of the generator, geothermal plants are often cost-competitive with all other power sources, including fossil fuel and nuclear plants. This is true even without considering the many indirect costs of fossil- and nuclear-generated electricity that are not reflected in customers’ monthly bills.
The top three countries in installed geothermal power capacity—the United States, the Philippines, and Indonesia—account for more than half the world total. California hosts nearly 80 percent of the 3,440 megawatts of U.S. geothermal capacity; another 16 percent is found in Nevada.
Despite having installed more geothermal power capacity than any other country, the United States currently generates less than 1 percent of its electricity from the earth’s heat. Iceland holds the top spot in that category, using geothermal power for 29 percent of its electricity. Close behind is El Salvador, where one quarter of electricity comes from geothermal plants. Kenya follows at 19 percent. Next are the Philippines and Costa Rica, both at 15 percent, and New Zealand, at 14 percent.
Indonesia has the most ambitious geothermal capacity target. It is looking to develop 10,000 megawatts by 2025. Having only gained 150 megawatts in the last four years, this will be a steep climb. But a new law passed by the government in late August 2014 should help move industry activity in that direction: it increases the per-kilowatt-hour purchase price guaranteed to geothermal producers and ends geothermal power’s classification as mining activity. (Much of Indonesia’s untapped geothermal resource lies in forested areas where mining is illegal.) Even before the new law took effect, geothermal company Ormat began construction on the world’s largest single geothermal power plant, a 330-megawatt project in North Sumatra, in June 2014. The plant should generate its first electricity in 2018.
Indonesia is just one of about 40 countries that could get all their electricity from indigenous geothermal power—a list that includes Ecuador, Ethiopia, Iceland, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, and Tanzania. Nearly all of them are developing countries, where the high up-front costs of geothermal development are often prohibitive.
To help address this mismatch of geothermal resources and funds, the World Bank launched its Global Geothermal Development Plan in March 2013. By December, donors had come up with $115 million of the initial $500 million target to identify and fund test-drilling for promising geothermal projects in the developing world. The Bank hopes that the experience gained from these projects will lead to lower costs for the geothermal industry overall. This would be good news on many fronts—simultaneously reducing energy poverty, air pollution, carbon emissions, and costly fossil fuel imports. More
Production company Tree Media, whose mission is to inspire positive social action, has just released the first of four films in the Green World Rising series focusing on solutions to the climate crisis.
The eight-minute film, CARBON, narrated by actor and dedicated environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, was created with support from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and in collaboration with Thom Hartmann. The film’s goal is to draw attention to how some governments are already putting a price on carbon through carbon taxes and carbon trading to encourage polluters to shift from dirty energy sources to renewables prior to the UN Climate Summit in New York on Sep. 23. All four films will be released in the next month leading up to the summit.
“97% of climate scientists agree: climate change is happening now—and humans are responsible,” said DiCaprio. “We cannot sit idly by and watch the fossil fuel industry make billions at our collective expense. We must put a price on carbon—now.”
“We need serious action to address the most pressing issue of our time,” said Hartmann. “Communities across the world have taken action in the most direct and effective way possible by taxing and trading carbon. For us to beat this crisis, many more need to join.”
The film explains what a carbon tax and carbon trading are, how they can help us stop “using the atmosphere as a sewer,” as Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress says in the film, and what ordinary people can do to push elected officials to act. More
Published on Aug 20, 201 4 • CARBON is the first film in the Green World Rising Series, http:// www.greenworldrising.org “Carbon” is narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, presented by Thorn Hartmann and directed by Leila Conners. Executive Producers are George DiCaprio, Earl Katz and Roee Sharon Peled. Carbon is produced by
Mathew Schmid and was written by Thorn Hartmann, Sam Sacks, Leila Conners and Mathew Schmid. Music is composed and performed by Jean-Pascal Beintus and intro drone by Francesco Lupica. Carbon is produced by Tree Media with the support of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
If there’s a symbol of the environmental destructiveness of our consumer culture, it’s plastic, made from carbon-spewing petroleum products. But what if bags, bottles, and other plastics could help save the environment, not destroy it? What if your laptop computer, smartphone case, and office furniture, rather than emitting planet-warming greenhouse gases, stored them instead?
They will soon.
A Southern California company called Newlight Technologies has developed a way to make plastic from carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It’s called AirCarbon, and this fall, Dell Latitude laptops manufactured near El Paso, Tex., will be shipped in a Newlight AirCarbon plastic bag made from greenhouse gases that would otherwise be heating the planet. Virgin Mobile, meanwhile, has struck a deal to sell AirCarbon phone cases through Sprint, and furniture maker KI will start using AirCarbon plastic in its products.
“This has the potential not to just change our industry but the world at large,” says Dick Resch, chief executive of Green Bay, Wis.–based KI. “We’re taking pollutants out of the air and turning them into plastics that can be recycled. It’s pretty amazing on several fronts.”
Oliver Campbell, Dell’s head of worldwide procurement for packaging, said that testing by independent laboratories not only verified that AirCarbon plastic is carbon negative but that it is significantly cheaper than petroleum-based plastic.
“This is a big paradigm shift,” says Campbell. “With technology like AirCarbon, we’re starting to leave the planet in better shape than we found it.”
AirCarbon also helps solve a climate change conundrum: how to contain greenhouse gas emissions while promoting economic growth, particularly in poor, fossil fuel–dependent developing countries.
The creators of this fantastic plastic are a pair of Orange County high school buddies named Mark Herrema and Kenton Kimmel.
As Herrema prepared to graduate from Princeton University 11 years ago, he had a revelation that could have come straight out of a 21st-century version of the famous scene in The Graduate. (An executive corners a newly graduated Dustin Hoffman at a Los Angeles cocktail party in 1967 and offers a bit of advice: “I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.”)
In this case, Herrema was reading a Los Angeles Times story about efforts to contain emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from dairy cows. A lightbulb went off. Plastics.
“I thought, Why are we just emitting all the carbon in the air or taxing it or putting it in the ground when most of the materials we are making today are made from carbon,” Herrema, Newlight’s chief executive, recalls at the company’s Costa Mesa, Calif., headquarters, which are next to an auto repair shop. “Why not use this as a resource to make plastic?”
It was not a new idea. But past efforts foundered on a fundamental problem: cost. It took one pound of a pricey catalyst to create one pound of really expensive plastic. Herrema and Kimmel, Newlight’s chief technology officer, ran into the same roadblock.
“I spent my entire 20s in this building trying to make this work,” says Herrema, 32, a self-described “science nerd” who looks more like the Southern California surfer that he is. “Eventually we had a breakthrough, and the breakthrough was a new kind of catalyst that wouldn’t turn itself off at this one-to-one ratio.”
That was in 2010. Newlight’s new catalyst initially produced plastic at a three-to-one ratio. But the plastic wasn’t exactly ready for prime time. Herrema and Kimmel made their first chair for KI’s Resch, an early investor in Newlight. The executive picked up the chair and snapped it in half with his hand. Today Newlight is producing 10 pounds of plastic for every pound of catalyst, and all the chairs in the company’s offices were made by KI from AirCarbon.
At the company’s research lab, methane gas—yes, from cows like those Herrema read about in the newspaper—is mixed with air in a steel tank. Newlight’s patented biocatalyst then strips out the carbon from the methane and chains the molecules together to form different grades of plastic resin. At the end of the production line, the resin is chopped into pellets. Newlight sells the pellets to manufacturers to be molded into products. The company operates a plant in California and is building another one in the Midwest that will produce 50 million pounds of plastic annually. The company will obtain greenhouse gases from landfills or farms.
In one corner of the lab, scientists are experimenting with creating an AirCarbon replacement for plastic water bottles and foam packaging, those other ubiquitous scourges of modern life. More