A while ago I wrote about an amazing project that uses drones to re-grow mangrove trees in Myanmar. The world urgently needs a range of solutions to offset carbon emissions, and trees play a major role. How do trees tackle climate change? Trees capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it in biomass, roots and soil. According to the Trillion Tree Campaign, global reforestation binds at least a quarter of the annual man-made carbon dioxide emissions.
I love the mangrove project in Myanmar! At the same time I have been reading about our yearly tree losses in North America and Europe. That made me wonder: What are we doing to replant trees closer to home? That’s where the Canadian startup Flash Forest comes into play.
Imagine you are walking through a big, green, majestic forest, breathing in the cool, fresh air. Can you hear the sounds of birds and other forest animals? This week’s climate story brings us to a forest in Canada. Actually, for now, it’s land that recently burnt down in a wildfire. With Flash Forest’s help, hopefully, it will be a forest soon. Flash Forest is a reforestation company that uses drones to reforest areas. This is how it works:
First, the land is mapped to identify where and how to grow a mix of native trees. Then drones drop seed pods in the soil. After planting, the drones monitor the progress and replant spots if necessary.
The seed pods are also designed to store moisture, so the seedlings can survive even with months of drought
To stop global warming we need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I have been writing about different ways to do this, from planting trees, restoring wetlands, to capturing carbon. Although I have been writing about the importance of seaweed, I haven’t looked at marine animals before. So here we go…
Imagine you are on a boat off the San Diego coast. The sun is shining, and you are looking over the calm water. Suddenly there is a splash and a huge whale comes out of the water and dives back in. What an incredible experience.
Turns out, besides being amazing animals, whales help to offset global warming. An article from the International Monetary Fund explains how they do this and what monetary value whales have.
Whales store carbon in their bodies and help phytoplankton growth. Wherever whales are, phytoplankton increases. What do these tiny microorganisms have to do with climate change? Let’s find out…
Basically, whales are natural fertilizers. They move from cold, nutrient rich water where they feed to nutrient poor water, such are surface waters, stimulating phytoplankton growth. They also migrate from cold, nutrient rich waters to warm waters for breeding and stimulate phytoplankton in the process.
Phytoplankton not only contribute at least 50 percent of all oxygen to our atmosphere, they do so by capturing about 37 billion metric tons of CO2, an estimated 40 percent of all CO2 produced
Before whaling there we 4-5 million whales, now there are only 1.3 million left. This is how whales could help tackle climate change:
Even a 1 percent increase in phytoplankton productivity thanks to whale activity would capture hundreds of millions of tons of additional CO2 a year, equivalent to the sudden appearance of 2 billion mature trees
Beside stimulating phytoplankton growth, whales themselves store massive amounts of carbon dioxide. When whales die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean where this carbon is stored for hundreds of years.
What I like most about the article is that they show the economic benefits of restoring whale populations. They value an average great whale at $2 million. Subsidizing whale’s greenhouse gas sequestration would be worth $13 per person a year.
Whales are helping to restore ocean health and capture massive amounts of greenhouse gases. What’s stopping us from helping whale populations to grow right now?
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!
I’m trying to find my way through downtown when a policeman jumps in front of my car holding up a stop sign. I stop, slightly shocked. What’s happening? A film crew passes by in a car, filming another car doing a U-turn. You guessed it, this week’s climate story brings us to Hollywood and Los Angeles.
A few weeks ago I attended the Veloz forum in Los Angeles. Veloz is a nonprofit organization for electric cars. The conference had an engaging mix of speakers from electric car companies, electric charging companies and utilities.
Why are only 2.1% of Americans driving electric cars? Why are there still so few electric car models out there? Why are electric cars still not mainstream? During the conference I learned that some of the concerns car buyers have with electric vehicles are range, charge time, and cost.
The campaign is a set of commercials, comparing electric cars to technologies that seemed strange at first, too, like email or online dating.
So, what does online dating have to do with electric cars? They are both normal now. What I like most about the campaign is that’s its effective and funny at the same time. Let’s hope campaigns like this help more buyers to switch to electric cars. (Photo by bruce mars from Pexels)
I promised more updates about the inspiring talks at Blue Tech Week and Green Connections, so here is another one. Ingvar Mathisen, the CEO of the Port of Oslo, talked about his plans to become a carbon neutral port.
So, this week’s story brings us to a place far, far north. This time of the year it’s quite cold and dark with under 6 hours of daylight. Imagine snowy streets and a bustling port, with ferries, cruise and container ships, and terminals, beautifully decorated with Christmas lights.
What does the Port have to do with Climate Change? According to project drawdown, transportation produces 14% of all emissions. 80% of global trade is done by ship and while ships have far less emissions than planes or cars, they still emit a lot. Shipping produces 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions as well as other harmful air pollutants.
Ingvar told us about the city of Oslo’s ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 95% by 2030. The Port of Oslo is following by planning to reduce emissions by 85% by 2030. His goal is to become emissions free in the long term. How does he plan to do this? Here is a breakdown of current emissions:
The left side shows that the Port of Oslo contributes 4% to city wide emissions. In the port, foreign and local ferries and container ships are the biggest emitters. On the right side are the Port of Oslo’s emissions by segment. The biggest chunks comes from in-port activity, for example electricity and heating for cruise ships while docked. Transitioning people and goods makes up for another big chunk of emissions, followed by land activities such as port facilities. In his talk, Ingvar highlighted how they plan to cut these emissions:
Shore power to meet the need for clean electricity when docked
Use of district heating to meet the need for steam when docked
Emissions free handling of goods and freights in the port
Electrification and battery hybrid solutions on entry to and exit from the port
Ships running on alternative fuels such as liquid biogas and biodiesel
Long term goal: Ships running on Hydrogen
I wrote about hydrogen powered cars before. Powering ships is interesting, too. While hydrogen would allow ships to produce their own zero emissions solutions on board, the technology is not ready for commercialization.
What I like most about Ingvar’s talk is how inspiring it is. If one port plans to decarbonize, ships might shy away and choose other ports instead. The good news is that ports like Los Angeles, Amsterdam, and Valencia have zero emission plans, too. Let’s hope this movement catches momentum so the entire transportation and shipping industry can cut emissions drastically.