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Clean Environment Concept

America’s National Science Academy Proposes $100 Million Geoengineering Research Program 

The nation’s national science academy recently claimed that the US should establish a multi-million-dollar research program specifically for looking into solar geoengineering. The group recently released a report that recommends the country put between $100-200 million into a five year program that would work to understand the “feasibility of interventions to dim the sun, the risk of harmful unintended consequences, and how such technology could be governed in an ethical way.”

The National Academies of Science (NAS) said that cutting fossil fuels emissions should be the nation’s number one priority when it comes to tackling climate change. However, the lack of action from our world leaders within the past decade has created an even more damaged environment to improve. 

The report claims that there are three types of solar geoengineering that would help heat escape the Earth’s atmosphere and thus cool the planet overall: “injecting tiny reflective particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight; using the particles to make low-lying clouds over the oceans more reflective; and thinning high-altitude cirrus clouds. Major volcanic eruptions are already known to cool the climate by pumping particles high into the atmosphere.

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Geoengineers are already arguing that the impact of climate change is already so large that every option must be explored if the Earth wants any chance at surviving the next century. Professor Marcia McNutt is the president of the Academy who recently spoke to the media about the importance of this overdue research. 

“Given the urgency of the climate crisis, solar geoengineering needs to be studied further. But just as with advances in fields such as artificial intelligence or gene editing, science needs to engage the public to ask not just can we, but should we? Questions of governance – who will decide to deploy this intervention and for how long – were as important as the scientific questions.”

Professor Chris Field of Stanford University was the chair of the committee that wrote the report, who claimed that “the US solar geoengineering program should be all about helping society make more informed decisions regarding the planet.”

“Based on all of the evidence from social science, natural science, and technology, this research program could either indicate that solar geoengineering should not be considered further, or conclude that it warrants additional effort.”

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The report claimed that “a reasonable initial investment for this solar geoengineering research program is within a range of $100-200 million total over five years. The program would be a small fraction of the US budget for climate change research and should not shift the focus from other projects.”

“The program should be designed to move forward in a socially responsible manner with researchers following a code of conduct, research catalogued in a public registry, and public engagement undertaken. Outdoor experiments should be subject to appropriate governance including impact assessments,” according to the report. 

The academy claims that the program should also include scientific research regarding the possible climate outcomes that geoengineering could have on society and its many ecosystems. “Social dimensions cited for research included domestic and international conflict and cooperation, and justice, ethics, and equity.”

Professor Gernot Wagner of New York University said: “The report’s focus on research and research governance is important for one simple reason: the current discussion is – and should be – all about research into solar geoengineering, certainly not about deploying the technology, where, if anything, a firm moratorium would be appropriate.”

Solar Panels

UK Company Using Material That Could Be “Game-Changer” For Solar Power 

Solar energy has been one of the biggest innovations within the past few decades. Now, a company in the UK is using a group of materials called perovskites to create the “next generation of solar panels.” The company claims that the materials could make solar power twice as efficient as it is now, and it’s flexible enough to wrap around entire buildings. 

Solar energy as a power source first appeared in the 1950’s in New Jersey. At the time Bell Labs created a silicon-based solar panel that was expensive, but effective enough to turn 6% of sunlight into electricity powerful enough to power everyday electrical equipment. As time went on the cost of solar panels went down but the use of silicon remained. Today, panels can turn up to 22% of the light emitted from the sun into power. 

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Oxford PV is the company that’s based out of the University of Oxford that initially began using perovskites for solar power back in 2018. The company found that when they coated the silicone used in the development of solar panels with perovskite, they achieved 28% efficiency in terms of converting solar energy into electricity. The company believes, however, the technology can get that percentage up to 40%. 

So what exactly does this mean in terms of the future of solar energy? As solar cells improve in efficiency, less solar panels are needed to power certain buildings, meaning costs for solar panels will decrease, and the amount of land, labor, and equipment needed to operate the panels would also decrease and simplify. This would mean more average individuals can begin implementing this type of technology in their own homes, and not just individuals of a higher working class who can afford it. Henry Snaith is the co-founder of Oxford PV and recently spoke to the press about the company’s major breakthrough.

“If we want to make it that all new power generation is solar photovoltaics, then we need to keep driving the price down. One way to do that is to keep pushing the efficiency or the power output of the module up, and this is where perovskites really come into play.”

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Perovskite was initially discovered as a material in the 1800’s, but Oxford PV uses a synthetic version that’s made from more inexpensive materials that are abundant in the Earth’s crust. This way the cost of material remains low, while other companies attempting to use the same materials are using different more expensive variations. The perk of perovskite is that it works monumentally better in the shade or on cloudy days when compared to regular panels with just silicone at the base. The goal, according to Snaith, is to replace silicone entirely with perovskite. 

“In the coming decades, all perovskite solar coatings promise to raise efficiencies even further, reduce the weight and shipping cost of solar equipment. As the technology develops, perovskite could be sprayed or rolled onto flexible surfaces.”

Oxford PV will begin producing solar cells made from perovskite on top of silicone early next year in a newly acquired factory in Germany. The company is estimating that the panels could save homeowners currently using solar panels up to $1,000 on the purchase and installation of these newer panels.

Power Plant

California to Build New Geothermal Power Plants

Although the current federal government currently denies the science of climate change, many states seek to advance research and technology for transitioning to renewable energies in the future, most notably California, which is one of the largest states in the country. Under Governor Gavin Newsom, California has set some of the most ambitious environmental policies in the nation, as the state is committed to improving its air quality and transitioning towards sources of energy like wind and solar. However, the state is also beginning to invest into an often-overlooked form of energy production, which is geothermal power. Three energy companies in the state have signed contracts to build two new geothermal power plants in the state—one in Imperial County near the Salton Sea and one in Mono County along the Eastern Sierra. The new plants will be the first geothermal power plants built in the state in almost a decade, demonstrating that California’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions includes a multitude of sources of energy.

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According to Governor Newsom, California’s focus on environmental policy has stimulated the economy, not harmed it, as some opponents of environmentalism have feared. Investing in renewable energy creates new jobs as infrastructure to create wind turbines, solar panels, and more needs to be built. Although wind and solar provides cheap, renewable energy, these methods of energy production depend upon weather conditions, as solar panels work less efficiently on cloudy days and not at all at night, and wind turbines are useless on a still day. Geothermal plants, on the other hand, can produce emissions-free power 24 hours a day, though this form of energy production is significantly more expensive than competing renewable energy sources.

Currently, most of the power supply in California comes from natural gas, which makes up 34.9% of the state’s power source; renewable energy, including geothermal energy, is a close second at 31.4%, whereas the least environmentally-friendly power source, coal, accounts for just 3.3% of the state’s energy. While geothermal is not the prefered source of renewable energy due to its cost, California has passed a bill requiring the state to become 100% climate-friendly by 2045, and the state will need to use all forms of renewable energy possible to achieve that goal. In addition to generating power, the companies involved in building these new geothermal plants hope to use them to extract lithium from the ground. Lithium is a key element for manufacturing batteries, and large amounts of lithium will be necessary in the transition to electric cars as well as storing energy.

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Already, 43 geothermal plants exist in California, many of which were built in the 70s and 80s and have been generating clean power ever since. Because the state is geologically active, California has great potential for generating power through geothermal plants—according to a 2008 estimate from the U.S. Geological Survey, the state has the potential to produce about 15,000 megawatts of power from geothermal energy. For environmentalists and proponents of renewable sources of energy, California’s recent investment in geothermal energy is heartening, as it shows that the state is committed to exploring all possible options for greenhouse-gas-free methods of producing electricity.

Climate Change

Restructuring our Communities may be the Key to Fighting Climate Change

The real estate market of the future is bound to be impacted by the effects of climate change. Though no one can predict exactly how climate change will change the way we buy, sell, and live in houses, it’s likely that efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change will play a role in transforming our home lives. One proposal for adopting a more sustainable lifestyle involves rethinking the way we conceptualize our communities, and creating towns that are entirely self-sufficient, where the town generates its own food, electricity, and other commodities. Building communities in this way has a number of benefits: a town that is self-sufficient is resistant to changes in global and economic forces, and locally-grown food often tastes better and creates jobs for the community.

James Ehrlich, entrepreneur and founder of RegenVillages, intends to create communities of this nature in order to lay the groundwork for the sustainable living of the future. Unlike most typical real estate developers, Ehrlich has a love of farming and a deep concern for the environment, and the communities he envisions helping to create are nothing like the communities of today. Ehrlich envisions small, self-contained villages with abundant farms and fishing opportunities, and solar panels on the roofs of all of the houses. In these theoretical communities, residents do not drive vehicles, which pollute the atmosphere; rather, residents walk or bike, and taxis and autonomous cars serve as transportation. These communities are intended to be built on the outskirts of cities to which residents commute, and a specialized piece of software called “Village OS,” which will connect regenerative infrastructure to smart houses, is in development.

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Achieving sustainability is an essential component to adapting to life under climate change and mitigating its worst effects. Because of the environmental costs of manufacturing goods in factories and shipping goods by plane, boat, and truck, many environmentalists believe that a transition towards locally-sourced resource consumption will become increasingly necessary as time goes on to cut down on carbon emissions. Producing electricity locally also has environmental benefits, as the efficiency of energy production via solar panels or windmills near the source of consumption is greater than using electricity over long distances. Because Ehrlich’s communities are designed with walkability in mind, the houses do not even have driveways, and the communities’ design is meant to encourage environmentally-friendly means of transportation to the greatest possible extent.

Ehrlich is already planning to construct one of these communities on a 61-acre plot of land near Amsterdam. This community is planned to have 300 units, and the plans feature a number of greenhouses and other amenities for residents to enjoy. Ehrlich intends for his communities to allow residents to get back in touch with nature and develop a more grounded relationship with their environment and the resources they consume. As far as Ehrlich is concerned, urbanization is a trend that will begin to fade as people start to desire more quiet and peaceful lifestyles. Ehrlich has invested most of his life savings into the project, and has had difficulties with securing investors and managing land rights. Ehrlich considers the ultimate commitment to be one in which you invest your own resources in an idea that you believe in, and he has done exactly that, due to his conviction of the necessity of transforming the way we live in the face of climate change to allow prosperity for generations to come.

Climate Change Protest

TIME Special Report Emphasizes Threat of Climate Change

TIME magazine this week took the unusual step of devoting an entire issue to the subject of climate change, with every story printed in the magazine offering a different take on the subject. The issue, entitled “2050: The Fight for Earth,” recognizes the 30th anniversary of when TIME recognized the endangered Earth instead of their usual person of the year in 1989. The climate-focused edition of the magazine imagines a planet roughly thirty years in the future, exploring various outcomes depending on humanity’s reaction to the crisis through interviews with activists, celebrities, and experts. The editors of TIME suggest that while humanity has woken up to the reality of the crisis, we are ill-equipped to handle it, and hope that devoting an issue to the subject will prompt further discussion and action about reducing the causes of climate change and adapting to its effects.

TIME hopes to bring further attention to the subject with the use of digital media. The magazine’s website hosts a page devoted to the issue, offering links to the stories present in the issue and a link to download an app which grants smartphone users an immersive 3D journey through the Amazon rainforest, including areas which have been destroyed by wildfires, narrated by Jane Goodall. Called TIME Immersive, the app includes a new section devoted to visualizing the Amazon rainforest, and uses augmented reality technology to superimpose models of the rainforest onto real-world environments, allowing the user to view the models from different angles in real-time. As the user explores these virtual environments, Jane Goodall describes the extent and scope of environmental destruction, its various causes, and potential solutions. As the app is free and available for both iOS and Android, it’s worth checking out.

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In one of the issue’s featured articles, Bill McKibben, an author and environmental expert, imagines a future in which humanity has survived the worst effects of climate change, but life on Earth is dramatically different. In the article, McKibben predicts that while humanity has witnessed the destruction of forests in California due to wildfires and other extreme weather events, engineers have succeeded in developing cheap renewable energy in the form of solar panels and wind turbines, which have reduced carbon emissions dramatically. McKibben imagines that the threat of climate change becomes a decisive factor in ensuring a victory for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, especially among women, who are disproportionately displaced by climate change worldwide, and young people, who turn out to vote in record numbers. This candidate, McKibben asserts, removes the filibuster in order to pass sweeping, unprecedented legislation to end subsidies for oil and gas companies, tax carbon emissions, and invest in green energy.

The cost of adapting to the effects of climate change is massive

Despite this optimistic view, however, McKibben asserts that the worst effects of delaying action on climate change for several decades are unavoidable and yet to come, and the runaway effect will accelerate global warming and sea level rise. As a result, extreme weather events continue to displace millions of people, creating an unprecedented humanitarian and political crisis, and ancient carcasses will be released from melting ice sheets, releasing germs and diseases once thought extinct. The cost of adapting to the effects of climate change, which includes constructing massive seawalls to deal with sea level rise and building infrastructure to protect against hurricanes and other weather events, is massive, and the overall mood of humanity is changed: though we are thankful we survived climate change, we have a different outlook on man’s dominion over nature and the threat of natural forces.

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Another climate activist, Andrew Blum, gives a different take. Blum, a journalist, describes the various technological innovations that will be necessary for tackling the climate crisis. While continuing to invest in solar and wind is necessary, Blum argues that other approaches must be explored as well. Improving the electricity grid to allow for more interconnection and storage of energy is essential, Blum claims, as is innovating with safer and cleaner nuclear energy options and managing carbon in the atmosphere with sequestration.

As the major stories featured in this week’s issue are available for free online, they are worth taking a look at. TIME’s dedication of an entire issue to climate change reflects the urgency and importance of the problem; and as the climate crisis continues, more and more outlets are likely to follow suit.