Climate change: six positive news stories you probably missed in 2018

Solutions

Climate change news can be incredibly depressing. In 2018 alone, The Conversation covered the loss of three trillion tonnes of ice in Antarctica; Brazil’s new president and why he will be disastrous for the Amazon rainforest; a rise in global CO₂ emissions; and a major IPCC report which warned we are unlikely to avoid 1.5℃ of warming.

Then there were the rogue hurricanesintense heatwavesmassive wildfires and the possibility we are emitting our way towards a Hothouse Earth. Global warming has left some wintery animals with mismatched camouflage, and it may even cause a global beer shortage.

But things cannot be entirely bad, can they? We asked some climate researchers to peer through the smog and highlight a few more positive stories from 2018.

Renewable energy is being set up faster than ever

Rick Greenough, professor of energy systems, De Montfort University

2018 saw the largest annual increase in global renewable generation capacity ever, with new solar photovoltaic capacity outstripping additions in coal, natural gas and nuclear power combined.

This is one of several hopeful signs that the “cleantech” sector is rising to the challenge of climate change. The UK, for instance, set new records for wind generation. And now that subsidy-free solar generation has proven possible, there are plans for the UK’s largest solar farm to provide the cheapest electricity on the grid, thanks to battery backup (crucial for intermittent renewable technology). Tesla, meanwhile, installed the world’s largest lithium battery in Australia and it is set to pay back a third of its cost within one year.

Chernobyl fights against climate change

Mike Wood, reader in applied ecology, University of Salford

Three decades ago, the world experienced its worst nuclear accident to date. The damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant released large quantities of radioactive material into the environment, necessitating evacuation of an area now known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ). But forget the popularised imagery of a nuclear wasteland; Chernobyl is now home to an amazing diversity of wildlife, its forests are expanding and the future of this region is looking positive.

In the fight against climate change, there is a global need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase the removal and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (a process known as carbon sequestration). The ongoing expansion of Chernobyl’s forests means more atmospheric carbon is becoming incorporated into the trees. Additionally, the central part of the CEZ is now home to a major new solar farm development and wind farm development is being considered. Consequently, this post-accident landscape is now contributing to a sustainable future.

A new mobilising force for climate action

Anna Pigott, researcher in environmental humanities, Swansea University

The Extinction Rebellion direct action movement might not be the most obvious choice for positivity, what with its use of skull imagery and banners such as the one hung over Westminster Bridge in November reading: “Climate Change: We’re F****d”. But a closer look suggests that the movement’s acknowledgement of personal and collective despair in the face of environmental collapse might be a very positive move indeed.

As its co-founder Gail Bradbrook explains, “grief is welcome here – it is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity”. Poets and scholars alike have long spoken about how grief mobilises awareness and action, but rarely has this wisdom found its way into large environmental movements.

Pain usefully alerts us to problems that need our attention, and, in the case of climate change and species loss, our grief is a sign that we care deeply. Now is not the time to turn our back on such emotions. As the poet Mary Oliver has written: “You tell me your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” For many, the Extinction Rebellion movement has given them permission to grieve, and to share this grief with others. And this could be the most mobilising force for climate action yet.

Global economic growth may have peaked

Daniele Malerba, honorary research fellow, University of Manchester

Expansion in the global economy may have peaked, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The economic think-tank is worried by the slowdown, but it may actually be good news for the climate and possibly for society too. This is because less global economic growth means less production, less consumption – and lower emissions.

But any slowdown or eventual reversal in growth must happen in an equitable way to make sure that human well-being still increases. This is why an increasing number of researchers, politicians and citizens are advocating for degrowth.

Degrowth addresses the issue technological improvements are not enough to avoid climate change and an alternative to capitalism is urgently needed. The recent protests in France show that environmental and social issues need to go hand-in-hand. And this is critical in a situation when populist movements are spreading. Degrowth is the solution. As Ghandi once said, we have enough for everybody’s needs, but not everybody’s greed.

Glimmer of hope in emissions reduction

Parakram Pyakurel, researcher, Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering, Solent University

A lot still needs to be done to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions but not all is doom and gloom. For instance, the US, UK and Japan are among the countries whose total carbon emissions from energy fell in 2017 (the most recent year available), according to BP’s statistical review of world energy.

Interestingly, Ukraine showed the greatest reduction, with its 2017 energy emissions around 10% lower than in the previous year. This was thanks to a big fall in coal use, perhaps part of the country’s grand vision of a 2050 low emission development strategy, though it remains to be seen whether Kiev will take the strategy seriously in the long term.

Other nations that managed to reduce their energy emissions include South Africa, Argentina, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. We’ll need to carefully monitor the statistics in upcoming years to see whether they continue on this path.

Local community energy is doing well

Rory Telford and Stuart Galloway, Department of Engineering, University of Strathclyde

Renewable generation technologies such as wind turbines or solar photovoltaics are now a familiar sight, but many may not realise that communities themselves are accelerating the transition towards low carbon energy. In Scotland, the government’s programme to support local involvement in renewable energy has been a success. An initial target of having 500MW of community and local owned energy was achieved early and with policy stability and continued effort the new 1GW target by 2020 also looks achievable.

The Smart Fintry project based in Stirlingshire is an excellent example of a community approach to decentralised energy provision. The project balances local renewable electricity generation with community energy needs via dynamic energy management technology and an innovative tariff. This offers far greater flexibility to the network and cheaper energy for households.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Rick Greenough, Professor of Energy Systems at De Montfort University, Anna Pigott, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Swansea University, Daniele Malerba, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, Mike Wood, Reader in Applied Ecology at the University of Salford, Parakram Pyakurel, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering at Southampton Solent University, Rory Telford, Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde, and Stuart Galloway, Professor of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde.
Read the original article here.

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  • Twitter threats, abuse, murder: what women face defending the environment

    Obstacles

    Isabel Cristina Zuleta is a human rights activist in Antioquia, northern Colombia, where she works for the Ríos Vivos Movimiento de Afectados por Represas (movement of people affected by dams). According to the NGO Global Witness, 27 activists were murdered in this country in 2017 alone. 

    Since 2010, Zuleta has opposed the construction of the Hidroituango hydroelectric dam on the river Cauca, Colombia's second most important. Ríos Vivos is trying to raise awareness of problems the dam could cause – including environmental damage, forced evictions, and the impoverishment of local residents whose livelihoods rely on the river.

    Because of her activism, Zuleta has faced threats, harassment, attempted forced disappearances, criminal charges as well as sexual violence. In 2013, she said she was kidnapped by agents of the government’s so-called Mobile Anti-Disturbance squad who also photographed her “partes íntimas” (‘private parts’) while she was in detention.

    According to a 2018 report by the Fondo de Acción Urgente (Urgent Action Fund, or FAU) human rights network, when Zuleta reported this treatment to the Attorney General, she was told that it “was not the important thing”, and instead she was accused of promoting attacks against the company building the dam.

    In August, Zuleta told 50.50 that activists had received a myriad of recent threats, including: people approaching them to say they cannot protest, or threatening to kill them; people tailing them on the streets; and death threats via text messages, phone calls and Twitter. The next month, two family members of activists from her organisation were murdered.

    “I think that land and environmental defenders, we confront capitalist interests, and this means [our work] involves a higher level of risk”, Zuleta told 50.50 via a WhatsApp message voice recording. However, “without this land we don’t have any life possibilities”, she added. “We cannot negotiate our lives”.

    We confront capitalist interests, and this means [our work] involves a higher level of risk.

    In November, seven men were found guilty of murdering Berta Isabel Cáceres, a Honduran indigenous campaigner who'd long battled to block the construction of a dam on the Gualcarque river, considered sacred by the Lenca people.

    The supreme court ruled that Caceres’ murder was ordered by executives of the company Desarrollos Energeticos SA behind the Agua Zarca dam project because of delays and financial losses linked to protests led by the activist.

    Cáceres was 44 years old when she was shot dead in her home on 2 March 2016, after receiving death threats for years. Her murder shocked the world and brought greater international attention to the plight of human and environmental rights defenders in Latin America.

    According to Global Witness, at least 207 human, land and environmental rights activists were murdered around the world in 2017 – 60% in Latin America. This region is also home to the country with the most recorded deaths: Brazil, where 57 people were killed, 80% defending the Amazon rainforest.

    While most of these recorded murders were of men, the NGO noted that women activists also “faced gender-specific threats including sexual violence”.

    It said in a report: “They were often subjected to smear-campaigns, threats against their children, and attempts to undermine their credibility; sometimes from within their own communities, where macho cultures might prevent women from taking up positions of leadership”.

    They were often subjected to smear-campaigns, threats against their children, and attempts to undermine their credibility.

    The FAU network also monitors the situation of women defenders in the region and provides them with logistical and financial support. In 2018 they published another report that highlighted the ongoing challenge of impunity for perpetrators of violence.

    They also drew attention to the specific vulnerabilities and different types of violence that women activists face – including criminalisation, threats, harassment, attacks and femicides (gender-based killings of women and girls).

    One of the cases covered in their report was that of Lottie Cunningham, at the Centre of Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN) civil society organisation.

    She works with more than 100 indigenous communities who've faced attacks, assassinations, kidnappings, crop burning and forced evictions. Denouncing these human rights violations has earned her repeated death threats.

    One of the messages she received said: “In our country trash exists like these people who dedicate their lives to diffusing trash… against the government… I’m sick of these trash [people] and if I have to defend my blessed Nicaragua against this trash then it will be an honour to do so”.

    Cunningham was also followed in the streets and told there were “rumours” she would be murdered.

    Another case covered by FAU's report was that of Macarena “La Negra” Valdés, in Chile. In August 2016, one of her children found her hanged from the beams of her own home. She had also received death threats for months before this.

    Valdés had campaigned against the construction of another hydroelectric power station by the Austrian-Chilean company Global Chile Energías Renovables, in Paso Tranguil, where she was a leader in her community, the Mapuche.

    Her former partner, Ruben Collío, told 50.50 that Valdés was murdered in "a clear attempt to delegitimise our fight and try to make us react with violence”. He said: “It is so hard to ignore this basic instinct and fight them with their laws”.

    Collío insisted she hadn't shown signs of depression, but authorities claimed her death was the result of suicide. He said her family requested a second autopsy – which showed that her body had been arranged to simulate this.

    He is still fighting for justiceTwo years after her death, state prosecutors have not acknowledged the second autopsy; Collío and the Mapuche community continue to search for evidence to prove she was murdered.

    At the regional level, the FAU is calling for the UN resolution 68/181, which was adopted by the general assembly in December 2013, and focuses on protecting women human rights defenders, to be enforced and respected.

    Cases of violence must be better documented, FAU says. It's calling for new observatories to focus on this – as well as more thorough, independent investigations into threats against women defenders of land and human rights.

    This article is republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Bérengère Sim, a freelance journalist based in Mexico. Read the original article here.

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  • Hema is working to produce a vegan rookworst

    Solutions

    Last Monday, we wrote an article asking Dutch retail chain Hema to consider introducing a plant-based alternative of their rookworst, the beloved smoked sausage that is a staple of traditional Dutch cuisine.

    Hema didn't shy away from our request and, on Twitter, a company's spokesperson replied that efforts to produce a vegan rookworst are indeed underway: 

    We can only be happy about Hema's decision to look into the feasibility of a vegan smoked sausage.

    However, as indicated, it might take a while before we'll be able to cheerfully sink our teeth into a vegan rookworst.

    Replicating its peculiar texture (in the words of a connoisseur, the fat that "splashes out" when you bite it)  and distinctive meaty flavor in a plant-based recipe doubtlessly represents a remarkable challenge. 

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  • Spacebuzz wants to send 100 million kids a year to space (sort of)

    Solutions

    Last December, I published on Forbes and subsequently on Kinder World an article on why — if we want to tackle today’s global challenges — we need to start thinking of planet Earth as a single entity, beyond the narrowness of national borders.

    Ruminating over these issues, I bumped into a freshly-launched Dutch organization called Spacebuzz that is working towards this goal.

    In particular, they want to help children aged 9-12 experience the so-called “overview effect”, a cognitive shift in awareness reported by many astronauts that make them experience our planet as a boundaryless “tiny, fragile ball of life."

    Since the logistics of shipping throngs of mini Buzz Lightyears to space might get a bit arduous, Spacebuzz figured out a nifty workaround.

    They created an experience that combines VR and AR technology to give children a first-hand (or first-eye...) taste of the overview effect.

    Sounds cool? Not cool enough for the Spacebuzz folks that decided to set up the VR/AR experience inside a real looking space rocket mounted on a truck and use it to tour schools across Europe.

    Now, this is cool.

    And since I like cool things, I reached out to Hidde Hoogcarspel, the founder of Spacebuzz foundation. I wanted to know more about the foundation’s work and where it’s headed. The answer? Far, really far.

    To infinity and beyond

    When we discussed Spacebuzz’s plans, Hidde pitched me his many ideas with a contagious, exuberant passion. The guy had a dream, that was doubtless.

    Together with Dutch investor Zoran Van Gessel, he raised a pretty penny to build the epitome of coolness — a slick space rocket on wheels — but that was not all. Actually, in the long term, the rocket is not even that important.

    “Our goal for the future is that people all around the world will be inspired by our mission and will ask us the VR video to replicate the Spacebuzz experience in their own country. The video is all you need to set it up,” Hidde told me.

    Spacebuzz’s moonshot is that, in a few years, 100 million children will get to experience the overview effect yearly.

    The hope is to raise a generation that — conceiving planet Earth as our shared home we need to look after together — will be cognitively better equipped to tackle global issues such as climate change.

    But Spacebuzz’s plans aren’t just a bunch of grand ideas high up in the sky. The project is minutely detailed and well thought-through too.

    “Children will embark on a journey that is composed of three phases: the pre-flight training, the mission, and a post-flight mission debrief,” adds Hidde, “during the post-flight mission debrief, for example, the kids will be asked to hold a ‘press conference’ to share some insights about their experience.”

    To guarantee that the experience will actually have a positive impact on the children’s education, Dr. Max Louwerse, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Tilburg, will supervise Spacebuzz missions’ results.

    Moreover, WeTransfer founder Bas Beerens and astronaut André Kuipers —  the second Dutch citizen to ever make it to space — are Spacebuzz ambassadors. Kuipers' voice will also guide the children during their missions.

    If Kuipers has been the second, physicist and astronaut Wubbo Ockels was the first Dutch citizen to ever travel to space, having participated in a flight on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985.

    I'm not mentioning this information just to feed the curiosity of all the nerds of Dutch astronautics history out there, but because also Wubbo Ockels played a pivotal role in making Spacebuzz come together.

    Wubbo Ockels’ dream

    “His ideas profoundly influenced my world’s views,” Hidde told of Wubbo Ockels, “his dream is Spacebuzz’s dream."

    The Dutch astronaut and physicist spent his scientific career researching how to make our life on planet Earth more sustainable.

    For example, he developed a proof of concept for a 15-meter-long electric coach-like limo car capable of carrying 23 passengers at speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour. The car is called “Superbus” and the assonance with “Spacebuzz” is no coincidence.

    Wubbo Ockels died of kidney cancer in 2014. Before he died, he delivered a moving speech in which he expressed his dream to transmit the knowledge he gained as an astronaut to all the people in the world.

     “Suppose that I can transfer the experience which I have to you,” he said, “then you would go out and see the Earth and you would see the blue sky. Not the blue sky that you see outside. In space, you see you’re the only one. You’re the only planet, you don’t have another one. And so you have to take care.”

    “I had the idea to create Spacebuzz before I heard Wubbo’s last speech,” Hidde confided me, “But when I finally listened to it, it was really a powerful confirmation: yes, this is our vision - I thought - this is the dream we want to pursue.”

    If you want to help Spacebuzz realize this dream, you can support them thanks to the widget below. A Kinder world is just a click away 👇🏻

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