How to Accelerate 100 x – Lessons Learned from China’s Coronavirus Response

This week’s climate story brings us to China. To be more specific, to the construction site for a new hospital in the city of Wuhan. Wuhan is the center of the coronavirus outbreak and the new hospital is being built to isolate and treat people with the virus. Imagine construction noise day and night. Cranes are moving and workers are assembling pieces. The remarkable thing: They are building the hospital in 10 days. Yes, you read correctly, 10 days.

How can that be? In the US it takes years to build a hospital. Building a hospital in 10 days is less then 1% of time compared to a three-year timeline. How can China build a hospital 100 times faster in this emergency situation? What lessons can we learn? And what can we apply to the climate change emergency?

Lesson 1: Scale what works. The plans for the hospital were copied from a similar hospital, built in 2003 during the SARS virus outbreak. The modular design has prefab rooms that have been constructed in factories and just need to be assembled onsite.

There are many climate solutions that work and exist today. According to project drawdown some of the most important solutions are installing wind turbines, restoring tropical forests, and building solar farms. These solutions are there today, we need to copy, apply, and scale them.

Lesson 2: Rethink what doesn’t work. Basically, we are building hospitals the same way we have been for hundreds of years. The new hospital is not a full-service facility, its designed for a single purpose: Isolating and treating people with the coronavirus. They looked at what is needed and removed everything not needed. The planners rethought how this hospital is being used and how it’s being built. With razor sharp focus, they delivered exactly what’s needed, 100 times faster.

Electric cars are a powerful climate solution. If charged by renewables, carbon dioxide emissions fall by 95 percent. Tesla is an example of a climate solution that re-examined, focused, and modernized a product. Their goal was to make an electric car that’s better than a gasoline powered car. By rethinking the dashboard and replacing screens, buttons and the entire conventional dashboard of a car with only one screen, they saved time and money during production while modernizing the way we interact with cars.

Lesson 3: Share a vision. One of the reasons the hospital is being built so quickly is that everybody is working together with the shared vision to contain the virus. Policy, regulations, and funding work towards the same goal. And thousands of workers are building the hospital around the clock in only 10 days.

For climate solutions, funding, policy and people need to be aligned. Right now, a lot of funding and policy works against climate solutions. Seaweed, for example, is a promising climate solution. It captures greenhouse gases and can be used to produce sustainable food, feed, fertilizer and packaging. Yet, it’s incredibly hard to get permissions to start a seaweed farm. Carlos Duarte, a leading seaweed scientist said in an interview with National Geographic it might be easier to obtain a license for an oil rig than it is for seaweed farming. We need to mobilize funding, policy and regulations, and the people working on it towards the same goal.

The new hospital in Wuhan is an incredible accomplishment. There are questions about the sustainability of the prefab rooms as well as its usage after the outbreak. But what we can learn from China is how to respond to an emergency and then apply these principles to the climate emergency.

What do I like most about these lessons in acceleration? They give me hope. Imagine we could respond to the climate emergency 100 times faster than we thought was possible. We need to look at what works and scale it. We need to look at what doesn’t work, and modernize it. And most importantly, we need to all work together. I hope we can respond to the climate emergency faster and better than we ever imagined!

Healthy, Delicious, and Climate-Positive

A few weeks ago I went to Blue Tech Week. The talks about sustainable ocean and water technologies were amazing. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks. But today I’ll write about the lunch I had there.

While I was grabbing food at the buffet, I noticed that every dish had seaweed as an ingredient. The rice, the chicken, the salad, even the dessert. And it was delicious!

While eating, I chatted with Wenhao, who was sitting next to me. I asked him how he was connected to the conference and he answered: “Through the food”.  I was intrigued so he told me more: He has a farm in Hawaii and the sea asparagus in the salad was from his farm.

You guessed it: This week’s story brings us to Hawaii. Imagine lush forests with amazing waterfalls, beautiful beaches and crystal-clear water. This is where Wenhao’s company Olakai grows sea asparagus or sea beans. It has a crunchy, salty flavor and is a superfood packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. In our case the sea asparagus was fresh in the salad, but it can also be blanched or pickled.

Wenhao told me about how his sustainable farm uses saltwater from the sea to grow seaweed and sea asparagus as well as fish. This is how it works:

Aquaponics provides the fish with feed and oxygen while the carbon dioxide and nutrients (fish poop and leftover feed) naturally fertilize the the seaweed and sea vegetables. It creates the perfect environment for organic farming. And the best thing: No water, fertilizer or pesticides are needed.

What does sustainable farming have to do with climate change? According to project drawdown, crop and livestock production is the source of about 1/8 of greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable farming practices reduce emissions from farming and ranching while also sequestering significant amounts of carbon.

What a fantastic way to grow sustainable food! Let’s hope sustainable aquaponic systems expand to other areas of the world. After that inspiring conversation I had to go back to the buffet and try some more…

How Seaweed Tackles Climate Change

Just your nightly bedtime story? This week’s UN climate change report assesses the state of the oceans. It’s a dire forecast of melting ice sheets, sea level water rise, and acidification of the oceans. The acidification happens as the water takes in more and more human caused carbon dioxide. The report says that we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030. Besides reducing emissions we need to work on restoring the oceans. Is there anything hopeful I can write about this week? Yes!

Imagine small scale farms for seaweed and shellfish such as oysters. These plants and animals have the superpower to clean the water, filter out pollutants, and capture carbon dioxide. By working their magic, they put underwater ecosystems back into balance. This week’s story is about a seaweed farm called Ocean Rainforest.

Picture a windy, cloudy and cold place. This story brings us far north to the Faroe Islands. They are situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Norway and Iceland.

This is where the company Ocean Rainforest seeds, grows, harvests, and processes seaweed. They sell four types of seaweed on their website that can be used for food, cosmetics, and packaging. Seaweed farming is extremely sustainable because it doesn’t need fertilizer or water to grow, and doesn’t require deforestation.

By cultivating the seaweed instead of taking from wild stocks, we are sustaining the natural balance of our fjords.

http://www.oceanrainforest.com/

What I love most about Ocean Rainforest is how their farm takes in more carbon dioxide than they use.

As seaweed grows it takes in carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. Pieces of seaweed get washed out to sea and sink to the bottom of the ocean, where they permanently sequester carbon.

Coastal ecosystems sequester away surprisingly large amounts of carbon – they can sequester up to 20 times more carbon per acre than land forests

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/how-kelp-naturally-combats-global-climate-change/

Ocean Rainforest is one of the largest seaweed cultivators in Europe. Let’s hope their success inspires other seaweed farmers to start similar companies all around the world!

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Can Kelp Forests Stop Global Warming?

Imagine diving through an underwater area with a lot of giant algae, a kelp forest. These underwater forests are very productive ecosystems and capture carbon the same way as forests on land. They take in carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and create a healthy ecosystem for plants and animals. Unfortunately, these kelp forests are in danger. As the planet is getting warmer much of that heat is absorbed by warmer surface waters in the ocean. That warm water layer is getting bigger and nutrients from cold currents can’t reach the kelp forests any more. Kelp and marine animals are disappearing and ocean deserts are getting bigger. That sounds terrifying, is there a way to stop that trend? Actually, there is.

Growing back kelp forests may be one of the most extraordinary ways to reverse global warming

https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/coming-attractions/marine-permaculture

Today’s post is about Dr. Brian Von Herzen and his climate foundation. He came up with a way of restoring cold ocean currents to reestablish plankton, kelp, and fish. His invention is a wave powered tube that pumps cold water to an underwater structure to regrow plankton and kelp. This is how it works.

The left picture shows how cold currents naturally work. As wind blows warmer water to the side it gets replaced by cold, nutrient rich water. The nutrients help plankton, kelp, and seagrass to grow and marine animals to flourish. The picture in the middle shows how the warm water layer expands with raising temperatures. Cold, nutrient rich water can’t reach the kelp forest and ocean deserts expand.

The picture on the right shows Brian’s cold water pump. It pumps cold, nutrient rich water from deeper levels closer to the surface. The water flows into a structure where plankton and kelp can grow and bring back other marine plants and animals.

Restoring plankton and kelp sounds like a great idea. The numbers for carbon sequestration are actually massive and could make a real impact! Plankton are tiny but significant.

“They comprise half of the organic matter on earth and produce at least half of the earth oxygen”

http://www.climatefoundation.org/what-is-marine-permaculture.html

As with plankton, kelp sequesters huge amounts of carbon dioxide. On top of that, kelp can be harvested and utilized:

Floating kelp forests could provide food, feed, fertilizer, fiber, and biofuels to most of the world

Paul Hawken, Drawdon

I love this brilliant invention! Climate Foundation is currently testing the pump in Australia and the Philippines. Hopefully this can be adapted more widely soon so that we can restore ocean health, capture carbon emissions, and maybe one day reverse global warming!

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Can Drones Capture Carbon Dioxide?

The British Startup BioCarbon Engineering develops drones to restore wetlands by planting mangroves. Wetlands sequester a huge amount of carbon dioxide in plants above ground and in the soil. In fact, they store five times more carbon dioxide than tropical forest.

The soil of mangrove forests alone may hold the equivalent of more than two years of global emissions—22 billion tons of carbon, much of which would escape if these ecosystems were lost.

https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/land-use/coastal-wetlands

Besides capturing carbon dioxide, mangroves provide protection from storm surges. Once restored, they clean the water and bring back marine animals.

Unfortunately, mangroves are being cleared at an alarming rate. More than half of the world’s mangrove forests have been lost in the last 50 years. That brings me back to BioCarbon Engineering’s drones and how they help to restore coastal wetlands. So, how does it work?

Drone crates a 3d map, drops seedlings, and monitors reforestation

First, a drone flies over the area to create a 3d map. This map is then used to decide where to plant. It drops biodegradable pods that are filled with a germinated seed and nutrients while recording each pod’s location. After planting the drone monitors the progress of the reforestation.

One of BioCarbon Engineering projects is in the Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park in Myanmar. Locals appreciate the restored mangrove forests because they are flood barriers and bring back crabs and fish. Long term success of the restoration can only be achieved with support from locals. Non-profits such as Worldview International Foundation work with local communities to train them to fly drones and monitor progress. Instead of making a living by selling the mangrove wood, locals are now making a living by restoring these wetlands.

And who pays for it? Non profits such as Sustainable Surf are launching projects for consumers and companies all over the world to finance the restoration of coastal ecosystems.

What I like most about BioCarbon Engineering is how the drones can scale up the reforestation of wetlands. We need all the help we can get to balance out our carbon dioxide emissions and this looks like a promising approach.

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