There is no question that solar power has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, but whenever one really looked at the numbers, it seemed to still be only a tiny fraction of the country’s power generation – until quite recently, less than one percent.
Trees are nature’s way of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Growing plants take up CO2 and store it in the form of their roots, stems and leaves. And in fact, a significant factor in the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been the extensive deforestation that has gone on over the past couple of centuries.
China and India have 36% of the world’s population and produce about 35% of global CO2 emissions, ranking first and third respectively in that category. The United States, with a little over 4% of the world’s population, produces about 16% of global CO2 emissions, good for second place.
The end of 2013 marked the first occasional observations of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of 400 parts per million. There is nothing magical about that value, but we do tend to focus on round numbers.
Biofuels are considered to be a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. However, they are generally more expensive than competing fossil fuels. Government subsidies, such as we have for ethanol in this country, have been necessary to make biofuels competitive in the marketplace.
The methanol economy is an idea that was promoted by the late Nobel-prize-winning chemist George Olah since the 1990s. The idea is to replace fossil fuels with methanol for energy storage, ground transportation fuel, and raw material for hydrocarbon-based products. Methanol is the simplest alcohol and can be produced from a wide variety of sources ranging from fossil fuels to agricultural products to just carbon dioxide. Methanol can be used directly as a fuel or it can be reformed into hydrogen, which can then itself be used as a fuel.
Capturing carbon dioxide instead of releasing it into the atmosphere is a way we can use fossil fuels without it having harmful effects on the climate. Energy storage is a way to address the volatility of clean energy sources like wind and solar power. Excess energy stored during peak production can be used when production ceases, such as when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing.
Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed a new method for producing hydrogen from water using solar energy. If successfully developed, their approach would make it possible to produce hydrogen in a centralized manner at the point of sale such as at a fueling station for hydrogen-powered cars.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, more than one billion international tourists travel the world each year. Tourism has become a powerful and transformative force for many millions of people. But all this travel is not as positive for the planet. To that end, the luxury travel network Virtuoso assembled a short, simple list everyone can follow to reduce the environmental impact of their travel.
Installations of solar power continue to increase rapidly around the world and in no place more than China. By the end of 2016, total solar generating capacity in China reached 77.4 gigawatts, making it the largest producer of solar energy in the world. Globally, there is a total of 228 gigawatts of solar power installed, although that number keeps changing rapidly.
Car tires are generally considered environmentally unfriendly because they are predominantly made from fossil fuels. Natural rubber is generally not used anymore; most tires are made from isoprene, which is chemically very like rubber but is produced by thermally breaking apart molecules in petroleum in a process called cracking. The isoprene is separated out and purified and then reacted to form the artificial rubber that is the major component in car tires. The tires eventually end up discarded in giant piles that represent one of our biggest waste disposal problems.
Microalgae biofuels may provide a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Algae efficiently use CO2 and can produce biomass very quickly. Some species can double their mass in as little as 6 hours. Such single-celled organisms are amenable to high-throughput techniques to evolve new strains, unlike terrestrial biomass sources like corn which can take years to modify.
A recent report from the Energy Information Administration notes that for the first time in 40 years, carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are less than those from transportation. The reason is that power plants nationwide are abandoning the use of coal and turning to cleaner burning natural gas, as well as newer sources such as solar and wind power.
Some of the poorest countries in the world are unfortunately among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Malawi, for example, has 90% of its population in rural areas and 80% of its labor force is associated with agriculture.
China and the United States today produce nearly half of the world’s carbon emissions, so the fight against global climate change depends greatly upon what actions the two countries take. China has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past twenty years from a largely rural society to one that is far more urbanized and far more energy intensive. In 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol on climate was negotiated, China was only responsible for 14% of global CO2 emissions. It then surpassed the US on that front in less than 10 years and now accounts for nearly 30% of the world’s emissions.
From 1998 until 2013, scientists observed a slowing in the rate of global mean surface warming. In other words, global temperatures were not rising as quickly as before. This quickly became known as the “global warming hiatus.”
Most of the blame for climate change has been placed on the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but methane also plays a major role. Estimates are that about 1/5 of greenhouse effect warming is caused by methane in the atmosphere. There is far less of it than carbon dioxide, but methane is tremendously more effective at trapping heat.
Combating climate change is a bit like treating a disease whose early stage symptoms are not very severe. People are not as motivated as they should be. Businesses have to comply with new regulations and spend money on new technologies, which seems like a losing proposition.
The Canadian government has chosen a carbon tax as its national policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This aggressive move could have major repercussions around the world.