We recently marked the sad anniversary of the first national lockdown across the UK. Similar dates were observed in other countries across the world, with some minor differences in timelines. During the last 12 months, we have read many reports of animals reclaiming abandoned cities, wolf-packs roaming very close to humans, trees and vegetation covers rate increased. However, official data on the effects of COVID-19 on global greenhouse gases emissions were only published on 2nd March 2021 by the IEA: we can now make an informed evaluation of the real impacts that COVID has had on our climate during the last 12 months.
The first important data to look carefully at is related to the fall of fossil fuel consumption and renewable energies. The former has seen a general decline, mainly due to fewer people driving around, industries stopping productions, and similar restrictions in place around the world. On the other hand, energy consumption from renewable sources has been less affected and ended in similar patterns compared with previous years (both from energy delivered and rate of increase, i.e. proposal of new plants, construction etc).
Primary energy demand dropped nearly 4% in 2020, with resulting CO2 emission dropping by 5.8% globally. The figures are obviously unevenly shared between the global North and the global South, and are also different between close countries, as often the restrictions in place differed also on a regional rather than global scale.
As already mentioned, lockdowns have had a major influence on transport reduction: this account for a 50% decline in CO2 emissions globally. This set of data shows how individual actions have an impact on our climate: half of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere each year could be directly linked with personal travel (commercial travel, although could have been reduced in some areas, was never totally interrupted to guarantee the supply of goods, therefore the importance of individual travel).
In the power sector, GHG emissions fell by 3.3%, the largest recorded fall in history. We may come to think that being forced at home would have resulted in higher energy consumption, and that is probably true if we think about our domestic energy consumption. However, it is known that most of the energy consumption is at the industrial level, therefore lockdown restrictions have resulted in halting the production and so the energy consumption of part of the world industry.
At a more centralised level, almost all major economies have seen a decline in CO2 release, although at different rates. Among these, only China has actually seen an increase in CO2 release, even though it settled way back with the general trend of increasing emissions of recent years. China is a growing economy that did not stop growing during the pandemic, despite huge setbacks.
We do not know as of now if the energy trends of 2020 are a model to be implemented for future energy policies. What we do know is that during the pandemic we have seen how different energy generation system, especially in the form of backup plans for hospital and other essential services, could meet our energy demand for the most part. It is increasingly important that we are able to deliver power to more people while reducing the impact it has on our climate. The reason for this is that if more people has access to clean energy, the whole economy will benefit and it will provide more resources for future research.
Obviously, no one wished that a pandemic was the way to go, and it actually wasn’t: a decline of CO2 emissions could be quickly forgotten if the rebound effect of next year economic recovery will outweigh what was “accomplished” last year. It is not always up to our government to ensure we don’t fail on our mission: as we have seen with transport, if we want we are able to make a huge difference in our everyday life, pandemic or not.
If you want to dig deeper on the data, click here.
It’s been a while since you last heard from me. Time flows by, inexorably, we can’t just stop it. What we can do is to maximise the output of the time we invest in doing all sort of things. In my case, apart from studies and other commitments, I’ve found that researching environmental issues is what I like, and here is my latest assessment of one of the most dangerous enemies of humankind: carbon.
Carbon is at the base of all living forms therefore it sounds a bit odd to name it as one of our enemies. However, when combing with two molecules of oxygen, it forms carbon dioxide (CO2), a powerful greenhouse gas.
The chemical equation of the combustion of carbon is quite straightforward to grasp:
C + O2 → CO2
So when we burn something, the carbon of the material we are burning combines with 2 molecules of oxygen to form carbon dioxide. Different molecules can be produced as well, depending on what we are burning.
The amount of carbon dioxide released during combustion can be easily calculated if we consider the atomic masses of carbon and oxygen, which are respectively 12 and 16.
The ratio of carbon and carbon dioxide produced during combustion is astonishing. We can easily calculate that burning 5kg of carbon produces approximately 18kg of CO2.
The atomic masses of carbon and oxygen are respectively 12 and 16 therefore the atomic mass of the CO2 molecule is 12 + (16*2) = 44.
We can calculate the amount of CO2 released per kilogram of carbon by dividing the respective atomic masses: 44/12 = 3,667 kg of CO2 produced per kg of carbon.
Therefore the combustion of 5kg of carbon will release 5*3.667 = 18.3kg of CO2.
So it’s easy to see that 1kg of carbon produces three times its amount of CO2 during combustion. It is estimated that coal-fired power plant (alone) produces 10Gt of CO2 per year. The amount of coal required to run them is quite high but it has been decreasing in recent years. The trend in developed countries has been to move from coal to oil and gas and now to renewables.
Would that be enough?
It would if the carbon capture of our planet will suddenly increase its rate of carbon sequestration. We have plenty of natural allies, such as trees and algae, that work tirelessly day and night to mitigate the effects of the mess we’ve made. However, the rate of deforestation, ocean acidification and dead zones are not helping, at all.
It is funny to see how much resources and time we invest in trying to reduce the emissions from fossil fuels power plants rather than stopping deforestation, for example. Humans have always been unique in this way for me: we are the only species that choose the most comfortable way for us to deal with a problem, forgetting that such problems could be on the edge of becoming irreversible in the future.
The concept of growing the economy while reducing emissions is challenging: on one side, we want to become wealthier; on the other side, we don’t want to trash the planet. Are these goals achievable together? I think they are, at least I hope they are.
But words and blogs don’t solve problems. Imagine a scenario where, in the future, we will not be allowed to use electricity at our pleasure. Let’s say, limited power at night. Would that be acceptable for you? Because the capacity of generation of electricity from renewables is not infinite. Think about wind power. If we assume that wind patterns won’t change due to climate change and we install wind farms onshore and offshore in all the suitable location on the planet, we would have reached its limit. They will obviously generate an insane amount of electricity. But that would be enough for a finite number of us unless we decide to ration the electricity consumed per capita. And who is going to tell to people from rural Africa that now they have the power but they can’t use it as they wish because we messed up? Not me, I’ll leave that to the others. I will be long gone, as many of you will. The same concept applies to any electricity generation system. Did we really reduce the gift of life to that? After the industrial revolution, humans decided to plug themselves into engineering masterpiece, the national grids, and we never unplugged from them ever since. In the meantime, we got fatter, lazy, arrogant and most notably we lost the pleasure of life.
What are we leaving behind? A better place for many, a sadder one for me.
On October 4th Netflix released the most waited documentary (perhaps) of the year: a life on our Planet, by David Attenborough.
For those of you who don’t know him, David Attenborough is living legend and monument of environmentalism. He became his television career in the 50s by travelling the world and documenting about wildlife, ecosystems and forgotten communities. He passionately narrated the most extreme weather conditions and reported the most bizarre examples of evolution on Earth. Following the great success of the series “Our Planet” from last year, Netflix decided to produce a new documentary with the legend and his unmistakable voice. This time, Mr Attenborough does not bring us in any particular place but decides to tell us the story and the evolution of the ecosystem we live on as he witnessed during the 93 years he spent living on it.
I often find it hard to find evidence to convince whoever I am talking with about the seriousness of the climate emergency we live on. I think studies and statistics bore people: they are often complicated to decipher, they contain words designed for academic knowledge and the implications of charts and graphs are not always immediate. On the other hand, I often stumble across misleading pictures and videos on the internet, which proved to be much more popular among profanes but unfortunately they do not represent the reality: they just exaggerate a single episode for the sake of clickbait.
This documentary has come as a gift from Heaven: we have now a 90 minutes HD quality documentary which has been built as a perfect tool to deliver an important message.
We start in Chernobyl, known to all for the explosion of the 4th reactor of the nuclear plant. From there, we go on to resume the travels and wonders Mr Attenborough has witnessed and wholeheartedly reported throughout his life. Knowledge being dropped like rain during British winter, we enter the phase of the documentary where we are presented with the scenario we heading to. It is not in a thousand year, or a few centuries: it is happening now and we are likely to lose control by the end of this century. I like the way the catastrophic scenario we are into is shown: no metaphors, no possibilities, no “if”s, just numbers related to the timeline, the first effects to come into action within the next 10 years.
In the end, there is space left to proposals, which in reality are not. We do not have a choice: if we decide not to take any action we will go extinct. This has nothing to do with the Planet itself: there have been 5 mass extinctions so far in 5bln years, but the planet has kept rotating around the Sun, and Nature has always regenerated itself. We will disappear and we will be what dinosaurs are for us today: an element of curiosity and study for few, a cinematic success and business for many.
Actions to be taken IMMEDIATELY are simple and under everyone eyes: we need to change our lifestyle and this means to rethink just about anything we do today. The food we eat, the way we grow it, the way we move around, the way we transform1 and use energy. We desperately need wildlife to go back to where they rightly belonged before we started to eradicate their habitat to plant palms so they can help the various ecosystems to be healthy again. We need to do all these things, and we need to do it now because in case you were still doubtful (or unless you are Donald Trump) time is running out.
As David Attenborough states towards the end: “We need to stop being apart from Nature and be a part of Nature”.
Thank you, Mr Attenborough. The world needs more people like you.
Note1: It is time that we all start to understand a bit more about energy. We don’t produce and consume energy, because the first law of Conservation of Energy states that energy is conserved. Thus we more likely transform energy and use it (inefficiently) throughout any process. We produce electricity to light up a bulb: what we really do is extracting energy from a certain source (coal, oil, gas etc) by burning it and transforming it in electricity to lighten up our streets.
Yesterday night was on the first of the 3 public debates leading to the presidential election of the United States, planned for 3rd November. In one side we had the president of the United States Donald Trump (Republican candidates) while on the other the former vice president of Obama administration, Joe Biden (Democratic candidate).
I am not a US citizen but, as a citizen of the Western world, I know that the implications of this election will affect both the country I grew up on and the country I currently live in. Nonetheless, we are talking about the most powerful and probably the most influential country on the planet. We live in a crucial period of environmental challenges and so it is important to follow the developments of this election because who if not the most powerful man running the most powerful country in the world could be a leader in the environmental crisis of the Anthropocene.
Moderator of the evening was Chris Wallace, presenter of Fox News among others, who was heavily criticized after by the public opinion for the way he managed the debate. I do not want to defend anyone, but I do not believe the task was easy and I think he proposed good themes for confrontation.
Among some that were unavoidable, like the COVID-19 crisis, the disruption and violence of the recent months, the theme of racism or the economic programme, the fifth of the six segments of confrontation was about climate change, and here is a report of the themes discussed. It is important to know that no fact-checking was allowed during the debate and that none of the candidates was given the questions before going live (but we all know that they went on stage well prepared about anything Wallace could have asked).
Fossil fuels – Trump
When asked about his position on the science of climate change, President Trump reported that “we have the lowest carbon if you look at our numbers right now”. That is partially true, but the merit it’s not his. President Obama introduced numerous reforms to reduce the amount of fossil fuels use and as a result of his administration, the carbon emissions lowered significantly.
Here is a report from the US Environment Protection Agency showing carbon emissions from 1990 – 2018: it is clear that emissions were heavily reduced in 2008-09 (the year when Obama took over Bush). Trump just kept going on the same trend as his predecessor, reaching the lowest point of the 30 years in 2017.
Climate change – Trump
After that, President Trump hesitated when Wallace directly asked for the second time if he believed in the science of climate change and then went on saying that the recent fires in California were a result of bad management. Here is the political trick: the examples made by the President are actually a possible reason. However, the reason why we had fires in California, Australia before that, and increasing extreme events, like drought and storms, is not because of a cigarette thrown on a forest floor left with dead trunks and leaves: the reason is that by increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, sun rays are trapped in it and so they warm our planet. A warmer planet means ice caps melt, we have less white surface in able to reflect the sun lights back in the outer space, and so the feedback loop keeps fueling itself. For more about that you might want to check this.
I say political trick because President Trump, as well as being inevitably smart (you don’t get that office if you’re not), is a good communicator: politics nowadays is about consent and he knows very well how to keep his numbers up. In the end, when asked about why he backed up on Obama’s clean energy policies, President Trump justified himself by saying that these policies were driving energy prices up.
Environmental plans – Biden
On the other hand, Joe Biden. He actually listed a number of goals for the country, something that the actual President failed to do. His proposals were:
- 2 trillion investment in green jobs.
- Stop using fossil fuels to produce electricity by 2035.
- 0 net emissions by 2040.
Trump jumped in saying that these solutions would cost “trillions of dollars”. Biden replied that these in facts would create jobs and will result in economic growth. Then, he mentioned the fact that in the past he was able to bring prices of renewable energies down and so “no one in America would open a oil/coal powered station again”. I am not sure if this was as a result of his personal action, or if he meant that because he was vice president of Obama. However, he told the truth. Here is a report of the number of power plants in the US from 2008 to 2018: all fossil fuels powerplants (apart from natural gases) reduced, and renewable increased. (source US Energy Information Administration, link to the full table here).
The big claims – Biden
Then he made a big claim: the first thing Biden would do if he was to be elected president would be the rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. He then stressed the importance of the Amazon and proposed a 20 billion dollar fee to be paid to Brasil (together with world-leading countries) to stop exploiting the rainforest.
When talking about green investments, Trump argued that it would cost a significant amount of money, while Biden made clear that recent extreme weather events in US (he cited IOWA) are a result of climate change and are actually costing significat amount of money.
The next appointment will be in two weeks, 15th October, in Miami, Florida.
I will not express my personal opinion because this website is not about politics and I have no intention of endorsing any of the candidates. It is up to the US citizens to vote for the one they think it would be best suited for the job: let’s just hope they will have the environment in mind when making this important decision.
The Fall has come! That beautiful period of the year when nature starts to slowly retreat is finally among us. Summer holidays are gone, and humans, as well as animals, are preparing for the long nights of winter.
In this period of the year, it is always good to check out satellite images of the Arctic to evaluate the Earth’s health. The ice cover of our Planet is very important during a period of increasing greenhouse gases and climate change, but to understand this we need to take a step back and think about a different concept: the albedo.
The albedo of an element is the capacity of a certain object to reflect sunlight. It can be expressed through numerical figures and, to keep things simple, we will assume that the colour white has an albedo of 1 (meaning is the frequency of radiation that reflects the most of sunlight) while the colour black has an albedo of 10. We can already notice something here: when you complain about your black car being heated because “attracts the sunlight” you are wrong: the colour of your car or clothes does not attract the sunlight but it is simply unable to reflect it back, and so the car gets hot.
But what has this to do with the planet?
If you make a couple of mental notes, climate change is simple to grasp. We need a high volume of surfaces with high values of albedo, in order to reflect more sunlight back into the outer space. And what is the white thing we have on the surface of our planet? Ice and snow. If we reduce the amount of ice and snow (by releasing more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere that will increase the Earth’s temperature, resulting in the melting of the ice caps) we will keep fueling the positive feedback loop of more GHG, higher temperature, less ice, less sunlight reflected back, and so on.
Obviously, ice is more abundant in Northern Latitudes. The beginning of Autumn declares also the end of the polar summer, the hottest period of the year at the poles, during which the ice naturally melts, despite of climate change. However, it is important to check the ice cover and compare it to previous years: this will give us an estimate of the melting of the ice rate, an important data we can use to evaluate the state of climate change (it can also be used to show proofs to your dumb friends who denies it at all).
Following are ice cover in the Arctic for the following year: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2000 (all the pictures shows the same day, 15th September) (Source: Nasa Earth Observation)
I can barely notice any difference when sliding the images. Does that mean that the Planet is not warming, or that the ice caps are not melting? Absolutely not.
That is a sign that the process is happening at a slower rate of what we might believe, but careful: I do not intend to pass the message that climate change is happening at a slower rate than we think. Simply, as we can see from this satellite images from NASA, the ice caps are melting at a slower rate than we think.
However, to quantify the gravity of the situation for those of you who are now feeling more comfortable with the climate crisis, we should compare the ice caps at the end of the Arctic summer with images from pre-industrial period to have a visual glance of how we are impacting the planet.
The purpose of this annual exercise is to embrace you with knowledge: just so you know, the next time you see a breaking news of an ice cap melting in the North Pole in July, you could simply notify the source that it is absolutely normal, and that it has been happening at a more or less steady rate for the past 20 years or so.
Have you ever thought about how big is Mexico? According to Wikipedia, its area is approximately 1.9M km2. A pool of scientists from 17 different countries has calculated that over the last 13 years the wilderness lost worldwide is the size of the North American Country.
Read the article -> Link.
How will the world look in 100 years? The global surface temperature of the Earth is set to rise, more or less depending (hopefully) on the action we will take in the meantime. However, with an increased temperature a sea level, it is expected a rise in the mass migration worldwide.
Read the article -> Link.
In these articles, we talked about the implications of our diet on the environment. In case you missed, CarbonBrief held a webinar on 18th September with the title: “Do we need to stop to eat meat and dairy to tackle climate change?”.
Watch the webinar -> Link.
As I previously mentioned, despite the political successes, the president of the actual USA administration should not have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. A loose on the methane emissions for the oil and gas industry is just one of the last actions that take the US back on its position on climate change.
Read the article -> Link.
Clickbait articles are not for me. This website has the goal to break down complex matter into simple and funny stories.
What to do, then, when we don’t have stories?
Most of the mainstream websites have paid freelance writer who are able to recycle old stories or transform a simple event into a 2000 words article. I respect them all because I understand the financial reasons behind this decision: they need to deliver to keep up with the costs.
However, this is not the case for The Green Post: this self-financed website does not depend on income (which, at the moment, is 0). And so, to reply to the messages I received lately, I just want to clarify that the contents will be published only if they will be considered relevant and only when I will feel that it is worthy to intervene on a public debate to share my opinion with the readers.
In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy this snap of a sunset taken last week during a relaxing ride along Bournemouth beach.
7 – 13 September
Experts at a US zoo are trying to figure out how a 62-year-old ball python laid seven eggs despite not being near a male python for at least two decades.
Three of the eggs from the snake in St Louis zoo remain in an incubator, two were used for genetic sampling and snakes in the other two eggs did not survive, the St Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The eggs were laid on 23 July and should hatch in about a month.
Read the article -> Link.
Over the last decades, we have seen huge improvements and commitment by different political parties in order to meet the net-zero emissions target for the UK. However, claims have not been backup up by facts so far. No discussion was raised in parliament, while some important decisions (like a rise in fuel duty) are still kept out of the debate, for now.
Read the article -> Link.
As the oceans warm, the risk of hurricanes increases. Is the trend we observed during the last century when the global temperature has risen by 1℃ and the Atlantic states of the US and the Caribbean have been hit by more frequent and more violent windstorms. According to the latest prediction, a temperature increase of 2℃ could increase the number of windstorms fivefold.
Read the article -> Link.
Once we discussed the possibility of ruminants being evil. The title was a provocation to the readers because we all know that they’re not. However, we have evidence suggesting that farming ruminant does not have a primal spot in a sustainable future. However, it does seem that in Wales, in order to promote and develop national farmlands, they are not following the advice.
Read the article -> Link.
My morning routine is pretty much the same as any other pothead you might know. You wake up, postpone the alarm and then you’re late for everything you set that alarm for the evening before. Business as usual they’d say.
But not today: today I nearly choked on my morning coffee while waiting for the combination of a hot drink and a cigarette to do its magic: the Norwegian parliamentarian Christian Tibryng Gyedde has nominated (for the 3rd year in a row!) the US President Donald Trump for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination was endorsed because of the President work in the Israel-United Arab Emirates peace conflict.
As always, let’s not forget that this website is not about politics: any political action of Donald Trump will not be discussed in the following article.
But I guess it is time to refresh some Norwegian (but not only) minds on why Donald Trump should not get the Nobel Peace Prize. Here are the 5 environmental reasons why Donald Trump should not win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Retrofront on environmental policies
The previous US administration of President Obama, in his 2 mandates, managed to accomplish some results in terms of reducing cars in the streets and carbon emissions. In 3 years of presidency, the Tycoon has managed to reverse or revoke nearly 100 of them (70 + 30 still under scrutiny). (Source NY Times, link. In the article, you can access the 2 studies from a pool of Harvard Law School and Columbia Law School).
Among all of the restriction that the previous administration introduced to tackle climate change is the lift on restrictions for greenhouse gases emissions from coal power plants (source: National Geographic, link).
To understand the importance and the gravity of this decision, you might want to check this first.
Exploitation of the Arctic
19th August 2019: the Guardian publishes an article titled “Why does Donald Trump want to buy Greenland?”.
Wow! I knew that billionaires weren’t new to extravagant purchases, but Greenland?! What an ambition!
In case you were wondering, the reason why Donald Trump (but not only) is interested in buying Greenland is that it is believed that the underground is full of fossil fuels. Potentially, it won’t only provide an unthinkable reserve of fossil fuels but will also serve as a strategic location to monitor closely the archenemy of USA: Russia. (Source: the Guardian, link. I strongly advise you to read the article to see by yourself how the President speak of Greenland).
Withdrawn from the Paris Agreement
On June 1, 2017, United States President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, and begin negotiations to re-enter the agreement “on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers,” or form a new agreement (Wikipedia).
This was unbelievable. The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, was a milestone of environmental justice. It did not aim to improve the economy of countries but the health of our planet. Accordingly, there are many research showing us how we would all benefits from a cleaner and more sustainable lifestyle: assuming that the US taxpayer would be forced to do a little sacrifice, they would have got much more in return! Measure wealth with happiness, not saving accounts.
(A country must give a notice of signing out the deal 12 months before and can’t do it within 3 years of signing the deal. It seems that the USA has notified the commission on 4th November 2019, so it could possibly sign out on 4th November 2020, a day after the presidential election is USA)
I don’t want to make any populist claim and shout out loud what a bad person Donald Trump is: he probably isn’t and I am sure he acts on behalf of the nation he serves as a commander in chief. However, I strongly criticise the decision of nominating a person that in the last 4 years was in charge of the most important office of our civilization and managed to undo most of what good has been done before him in 10 years (in terms of tackling climate change and/or similar). The Nobel Prizes are an iconic achievement that each one of us should receive because of some important contribution we give to humankind. Settling a harsh conflict in a critical area of the planet while not contributing in our battle to preserve the environment (and the life of us all) does not make you worthy of being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.