Whistling in the dark
Some good news on the environmental front is so, so welcome after weeks of despair following the election of climate-change-denying, fossil-fuel-supporting, Dakota Access pipeline investor Donald Trump. This week, Blogtography is going to look for good news, to raise our spirits before the inevitable distress the Trump ascension will bring.
In the American West, a new $50 million fund has been set up to help communities remove old, unwanted dams on local rivers. Once a dam is gone, rivers have a good record of restoring themselves fairly quickly to their natural state. The risk of flooding recedes and fish and other wildlife feel more comfortable. Water moving downstream is also much better than water sitting in a reservoir at restoring aquifers. Communities on rivers in Washington, Oregon, and California will be the first to benefit from the fund. And outgoing president (gosh, we feel sad writing that…) Barack Obama has used an executive order to protect 30,000 acres near the north entrance of Yellowstone Park from gold mining. Visitors to the park have complained about the blight caused by mining just outside the boundaries of the park, including 24-hour bright lights and noise, on top of the environmental damage. This follows last month’s executive order banning new leases for oil and gas drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic for at least five years. It’s possible that Trump’s new Secretary of the Interior could reverse the ban, but with oil prices low, economic pressure might mean that there isn’t much interest in that.
Other, cleaner, forms of energy are becoming competitive in the area of price (the one most consumers care about most), and it might just be the conservatives’ favourite market forces that provide some hope. Financial analysts at Morgan Stanley believe that the next decade will see the prices of renewable energy come down so far that the sector will no longer require government subsidies. Apparently, in the last 40 years, the cost of solar power has been reduced by nearly 99 per cent to about 61 cents US per watt—good news in a country soon to be governed by a man who has said he will re-boot the fossil fuel industry. And even Disney is putting in a mouse-ear shaped solar farm on its Florida property to keep those teacup rides spinning. The Sunshine State could become a hub for solar energy with the defeat of an anti-solar ballot initiative in November.
The world’s first solar-powered airship, Solar Impulse 2 will be joined by an ocean-going vessel powered by solar, wind, and self-generated hydrogen which will sail to 101 ports in 50 countries promoting clean energy. Energy Observer, a converted catamaran, can make hydrogen from sea water, giving the boat power when its solar panels and wind turbines are not operating.
An Australian company has figured out how to distill a bio-fuel from old tires that will run diesel engines. Stockpiles of tires are a huge source of pollution and toxic fire risk throughout the developed world, with more than a billion tires discarded every year. And a team in Britain, at the University of Bristol, has converted radioactive graphite into diamonds, which can in turn be used as batteries. Because of the long half-life of the material they are made from, the batteries will last for thousands of years without generating toxic waste.
There is light on the international horizon, as China—one of the world’s worst polluters—begins to take environmental concerns seriously. We can laugh at Trump’s stupid claim that climate change is a hoax invented by China to damage US industrial competitiveness, but the danger was that the opposite was true. China’s disregard for the damage caused by fossil fuel emissions could be seen all too clearly in the days leading to the Beijing Olympics. At the recent environment conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, the international community, including China, discussed ways to work together, regardless of what Trump does in the new year. This may be what gets us through: Trump, bombastic and unstable as he is, is only one man, albeit a very powerful one. Even a group of military and national security leaders have suggested that he treat global warming as a large-scale threat to US national security, and perhaps this, finally, will be language he understands.