Our future isn’t all bad ~ The Good Anthropocene

High Line. Urban public park on an historic freight rail line, New York City, Manhattan.

What do New York’s Highline Park, a bike that washes carrots when you pedal, and a village that when it built four water tanks, created an increased storage capacity and increased crop yield rates from 6.83 quintals per ha in 1977 to 14.32 in 1986, have in common?

They are a number of positive stories about our future and how we are dealing well with our environment, in places all over the world.

It is rare to hear environmental scientists sounding positive about the future. But that’s exactly what’s happening now with an international group of researchers. Because over the past two years, they have been gathering examples of positive initiatives of various kinds from communities around the world. These range from projects involving community-based radiation monitoring in Japan to ones designed to create healthier school lunches in California, to puffin patrols in Newfoundland that save baby birds from traffic.

These researchers believe that there are aspects of these projects that can be used either alone, or in combination with one another to build a better, more sustainable future.

The researchers have analysed 100 of the more than 500 projects that have been contributed to the website they have created, Good Anthropocene.  As a result, they have identified some of the overarching trends in community initiatives that they believe can potentially play a role in creating a future that is both more just and more sustainable.

The researchers pulled out six main overarching themes from the projects that were submitted. They are:

1. Agroecology ~ these projects generally adopt social-ecological approaches to enhancing food-producing landscapes. One example is the Satoyama Initiative in Japan where urban residents are working with rural people to revive underused rural lands through farm stays and volunteer work along with financial support.

2. Green Urbanism ~ these are projects that focus on improving the liveability of urban areas. New York City’s Highline Park, where native species have been planted on abandoned railway lines to create urban spaces where art, education and recreation intersect and are accessible to all.

3. Future Knowledge ~ these are projects which foster new knowledge and education which can be used to transform societies. One example is Greenmatter, a program in South Africa to provide graduate-level skills for biodiversity conservation.

4. Urban Transformation ~ these projects work to create new types of social-ecological interactions around urban space. One example is the Sukhomajri village in the Himalaya’s where the community became well-known in the 1980s for coming together to stop Sukhna Lake from silting up as well as for harvesting rainwater, and in the process transforming their village.

5. Fair Futures ~ these projects aim to create opportunities for more equitable decision making. One example is City of the Future LĂŒneburg 2030+ ~ a project that aims to envision the future city of LĂŒneburg, Germany in a way that it turns into more sustainable, livable and fair place. The project has been jointly developed by the sustainability oriented University of Leuphana, the local government of the Hanseatic City of LĂŒneburg, local NGOs and business as well as citizens.

6. Sustainable Futures ~ these are social movements to build more just and sustainable futures. One example is the US based Farm Hack project that was founded in 2010 by farmers and organizers who use the internet to share new ideas about food production and innovative tools to increase the resilience of sustainable agriculture and rural economies. One example is a bicycle powered root washer.

This project is exciting  because it represents a big shift for environmental scientists to start looking at things positively,” says Elena Bennett, who teaches at McGill’s School of the Environment and is the lead author on a paper on the subject published today. “As scientists, we tend to be very focussed on all the problems, so to look at examples of the sustainable solutions that people are coming up with ~ and to move towards asking, ‘what do the solutions have in common’ is a big change.”

Bennett adds, “This is also a move away from the typical academic perspective of looking at things in a top-down way, where we the scientists determine all the definitions. We have encouraged people who are involved in the projects to define what makes a project ‘good. We wanted to see a variety of ideas about what people want from the future.”

The researchers invite those who are involved with sustainability projects of various kinds around the world to go to the Seeds of a Good Anthropocene website and contribute them.

Re-post ~ Our future doesn’t have to be dismall| McGill

See more ~ Good Anthropocene

Generation Anthropocene ~ How humans have altered the planet for ever

Plastic and rubbish floating in the ocean. Photograph: Gary Bell/zefa/Corbis. Source: The Guardian

In 2003 the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term solastalgia to mean a “form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change”. Albrecht was studying the effects of long-term drought and large-scale mining activity on communities in New South Wales, when he realised that no word existed to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed about them by forces beyond their control. He proposed his new term to describe this distinctive kind of homesickness.

Where the pain of nostalgia arises from moving away, the pain of solastalgia arises from staying put. Where the pain of nostalgia can be mitigated by return, the pain of solastalgia tends to be irreversible. Solastalgia is not a malady specific to the present but it has flourished recently.

“A worldwide increase in ecosystem distress syndromes,” wrote Albrecht, is “matched by a corresponding increase in human distress syndromes”. Solastalgia speaks of a modern uncanny, in which a familiar place is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action: the home become suddenly unhomely around its inhabitants.

Albrecht’s coinage is part of an emerging language-set for what we are increasingly calling the Anthropocene ~ the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record. And what a signature it will be.

A total of 50m kilometres of holes have been bored in the search for oil. Mountain tops have been removed to get at the coal they contain. The oceans dance with billions of tiny plastic beads. Weaponry tests have dispersed artificial radionuclides globally. The burning of rainforests for monoculture production sends out killing smog-palls that settle into the sediment across entire countries. Humanity has become a titanic geological agent with a legacy which will be legible for millennia to come.

The idea of the Anthropocene asks hard questions of us. Temporally, it requires that we imagine ourselves inhabitants not just of a human lifetime or generation, but also of “deep time” ~ the dizzyingly profound eras of Earth history that extend both behind and ahead of the present. Politically, it lays bare some of the complex cross-weaves of vulnerability and culpability that exist between us and other species, as well as between humans now and humans to come. Conceptually, it warrants us to consider once again whether – in Fredric Jameson’s phrase – “the modernisation process is complete, and nature is gone for good”, leaving nothing but us.

There are good reasons to be sceptical of the epitaphic impulse to declare “the end of nature”. There are also good reasons to be sceptical of the Anthropocene’s absolutism, the political presumptions it encodes, and the specific histories of power and violence that it masks. But the Anthropocene is a massively forceful concept, and as such it bears detailed thinking through.

Though it has its origin in the Earth sciences and advanced computational technologies, its consequences have rippled across global culture during the last 15 years. Conservationists, environmentalists, policymakers, artists, activists, writers, historians, political and cultural theorists, as well as scientists and social scientists in many specialisms, are all responding to its implications. A Stanford University team has boldly proposed that ~ living as we are through the last years of one Earth epoch, and the birth of another ~ we belong to “Generation Anthropocene”.

The word “Anthropocene” itself entered the Oxford English Dictionary surprisingly late, along with “selfie” and “upcycle”, in June 2014, some 15 years after it is generally agreed to have first been used in its popular sense.

‘What will survive of us is love’, wrote Philip Larkin. Wrong! What will survive of us is plastic!!

The Anthropocene Working Group of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy was created in 2009. It was charged with answering two questions: whether the Anthropocene should be formalised as an epoch and, if so, when it began?

The group’s report is due within months. Recent publications indicate that they will recommend the designation of the Anthropocene, and that the “stratigraphically optimal” temporal limit will be located somewhere in the mid-20th century. This places the start of the Anthropocene simultaneous with the start of the nuclear age.

Plastics in particular are being taken as a key marker for the Anthropocene, giving rise to the inevitable nickname of the “Plasticene”. We currently produce around 100m tonnes of plastic globally each year. Because plastics are inert and difficult to degrade, some of this plastic material will find its way into the strata record. Among the future fossils of the Anthropocene, therefore, might be the trace forms not only of megafauna and nano-planktons, but also shampoo bottles and deodorant caps ~ the strata that contain them precisely dateable with reference to the product-design archives of multinationals.

Re~Post: Generation Anthropocene: How humans have altered the planet for ever | The Guardian Australia

We can reduce carbon emissions while growing GDP ~ 21 countries already have…

Is it possible to have economic growth at the same time as a country is transitioning to a new climate economy?

There’s a debate about whether growth can drive, or even coexist with, climate stabilization. On the other side of the coin, it’s also a discussion of whether climate stabilisation can drive growth. The debates on growth and resources are complex, fractious and centuries old, and while they won’t be resolved in the immediate future, recent developments show that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stayed flat in 2014 and 2015 while GDP continued to grow.

This emerging trend is supported by 21 countries that have managed to reduce GHG emissions while growing GDP over the period from 2000 to 2014.

A year after the Australian government implemented its carbon tax, there was no significant negative economic impact

The UK is an example of a country where economic growth and CO2 emissions have increasingly diverged. Between 2000 and 2014, the UK achieved six years of absolute decoupling where real GDP grew at the same time that carbon dioxide emissions declined. Over the 14-year period, emissions dropped from 591 to 470 million metric tons of energy-related CO2, while GDP grew from $2.1 to $2.7 trillion (constant 2005 U.S. dollars).

How Have Countries Decoupled?

There is not a single formula, policy or demographic trend that’s driven GDP-GHG decoupling across all countries. Sweden, for example, implemented ambitious policies including carbon taxes that supported its decoupling. Denmark’s rapid increase in renewable energy reduced emissions while stimulating local production.  As illustrated in the table below, another key factor in many countries is a structural shift of the economy away from emissions-intensive industry.

Graph of gdp and change in CO2

Across the 21-country group, the average change in the industry share of GDP was a 3 percent reduction over the period, with an average CO2 reduction of 15 percent.

Shifting to a Low-Carbon Path

Decoupling of GDP and GHG emissions in numerous countries demonstrates the feasibility, and increasing prevalence, of the transition to cleaner modes of economic activity. These country-level decouplings are driving the global trend toward decoupling in 2014 and 2015. Beyond the aggregate trends described here, more information is needed on the potential leakage of carbon emissions to other countries as nations move their industries overseas, factors that enable sustained and absolute decoupling, and what’s needed to support larger-scale emissions mitigation.

Over the 14-year period covered here, the aggregate annual CO2 reduction for these 21 countries amounted to slightly more than 1 billion metric tons. Given that total annual global carbon dioxide emissions grew by more than 10 billion metric tons over this period, it’s clear that decoupling needs to be scaled up rapidly to have any chance of limiting average warming this century to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels ~ the current international target for preventing the worst impacts of climate change.

As countries focus on implementing the Paris Agreement, decoupling presents one option to address global climate challenges while preserving economic security.

Repost ~ The Roads to Decoupling: 21 Countries Are Reducing Carbon Emissions While Growing GDP | World Resources  Institute

What’s the scenario with global biodiversity?

Fishing boat off the coast of Spain, near the CĂ­es Islands. Modelling future scenarios for biodiversity could be used to build more sustainable fisheries. Image: Armando G Alonso / Flickr

When the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) ~ the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, consisting of 195 member countries ~ reviews and assessed the most recent scientific information on climate change, one of the central things they were concerned with are climate projections and future scenarios. That is, what the future climate is likely to be and what impact that might have on our economies, societies and ecosystems.

The IPCC regularly update a range of future scenarios based on factors that affect climate, like greenhouse gas emissions. They can show us what the future climate might look if we continue on the same greenhouse gas emissions trend, or if we reduce or increase our rate of emissions. They can then predict what is likely to happen if certain policies are implemented or actions are taken to curb emissions. Having commenced this work in 1988, the IPCC’s ability to model these future scenarios, and how we are tracking against them, has become increasingly refined.

Now, the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems is benefiting from this kind of scenario modelling.

Recently, in Kuala Lumpur, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) ~ which does for biodiversity what the IPCC does for climate ~ adopted an approach for using scenarios and models to inform policy making related to biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The approach that was adopted by representatives of IPBES’s 124 member nations is spelled out in the report, The Methodological Assessment of Scenarios and Models of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The assessment was conducted by 83 experts and cited in more than 3,000 scientific papers and, in two rounds of peer review, received 4,066 comments from 230 independent reviewers.

“IPBES’s goal is to give policymakers and all of society a more complete understanding of how people and nature interact, and how policy and management decisions made today might affect these interactions in the future,” said Dr Simon Ferrier, the scenarios and models assessment’s Co-Chair and Senior Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO.

Examples include the use of scenarios and models to sustainably manage fisheries or to carry out land use planning that balances needs for development and biodiversity protection.

In setting out the rationale for using scenarios and model, IPBES had as an objective to move away from the current reactive mode of decision-making, to a proactive mode in which society anticipates change and thereby minimises adverse impacts, and capitalises on important opportunities.

“The scenarios and models assessment is the starting gun for mobilising scientists, decision makers and other stakeholders to jointly embark on an ambitious, global effort to better understand and use scientific information about biodiversity and ecosystem services,” said Dr Karachepone N. Ninan, the other Co-Chair of the scenarios and models assessment and Chairperson of the Centre for Economics, Environment and Society in Bangalore, India.

IPBES’s member nations also approved the commencement of a new global assessment of biodiversity and ecosystem services, which will be completed by 2019, and will measure progress towards meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, 2011-2020, and the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Mobilisation of work on scenarios and models across the broader scientific community will allow this assessment to also explore the potential consequences of alternative policy options for maintaining and improving the state of biodiversity and ecosystem services into the future.

Repost ~ What’s the scenario with global biodiversity? | ECOS

Read more ~

Wind and solar are crushing fossil fuels

Solar & wind crush fossil fuels

Wind and solar have grown seemingly unstoppable.

While two years of crashing prices for oil, natural gas, and coal triggered dramatic downsizing in those industries, renewables have been thriving. Clean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels.

One reason is that renewable energy is becoming ever cheaper to produce. Recent solar and wind auctions in Mexico and Morocco ended with winning bids from companies that promised to produce electricity at the cheapest rate, from any source, anywhere in the world, said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

“We’re in a low-cost-of-oil environment for the foreseeable future,” Liebreich said during his keynote address at the BNEF Summit in New York recently. “Did that stop renewable energy investment? Not at all.”

Here’s what’s shaping power markets, in six charts from BNEF:

Chart of solar & wind

The reason solar-power generation will increasingly dominate: It’s a technology, not a fuel. As such, efficiency increases and prices fall as time goes on. What’s more, the price of batteries to store solar power when the sun isn’t shining is falling in a similarly stunning arc.

Just since 2000, the amount of global electricity produced by solar power has doubled seven times over. Even wind power, which was already established, doubled four times over the same period. For the first time, the two forms of renewable energy are beginning to compete head-to-head on price and annual investment.

Meanwhile, fossil fuels have been getting killed by falling prices and, more recently, declining investment. It started with coal. It used to be that lower prices increased demand for fossil fuels, but coal prices apparently can’t fall fast enough. Richer OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries have been reducing demand for almost a decade. In China, coal power has also flattened. Only developing countries with rapidly expanding energy demands are still adding coal, though at a slowing rate.

The best minds in energy keep underestimating what solar and wind can do. Since 2000, the International Energy Agency has raised its long-term solar forecast 14 times and its wind forecast five times. Every time global wind power doubles, there’s a 19 percent drop in cost, according to BNEF, and every time solar power doubles, costs fall 24 percent.

And while BNEF says the shift to renewable energy isn’t happening fast enough to avoid the catastrophic legacy of fossil-fuel dependence-climate change-it’s definitely happening.

Repost ~ Wind and solar are crushing fossil fuels | Sydney Morning Herald

Rammed earth wall keeping the top end cool

Long rammed earth wall

Composed of 230m of simple, natural materials, this earthen structure may look unassuming, yet it is actually the longest rammed earth wall in Australia. Built to accommodate cattle workers during mustering season in the scorching Western Australia outback, the eco-friendly formation represents a shift in the approach to architectural design of this sort. Built by Luigi Rosselli Architects and tucked into the edge of a sand dune, this “Great Wall of Australia” is a brilliant example of simple, eco-conscious design.

The wall is constructed primarily using iron-rich, sandy clay obtained from the building site and gravel from a nearby river, which are bound together using water from a local bore.

This ancient technique forms the exterior façade, that is then built into a sand dune which forms the rear and roof of the building. Simple in theory, this results in a structure that naturally stays cool, even in the intense heat of the outback.

rooms

The continuous building contains twelve earth-covered apartments, separated by angled verandas to maintain privacy. Designer Sarah Foletta creates an interior space with a minimalistic yet liveable style, and a central hub on top of the wall provides a place for residents to meet and socialize.

Roof lght

It may seem decidedly elementary, yet this natural, energy-efficient approach towards housing development will save time, money, and resources. The design has been acknowledged by Australian Institute of Architects, and hopefully represents a shift towards similarly eco-friendly architecture in the future.

Re-post ~ Eco friendly “Great Wall of Australia” Naturally Protects Residents from Sweltering Heat | My Modern Met

Floating solar solution for Lismore Community Solarfarm

In an exciting and unexpected turn of events, a floating solar solution is now going to be used for the East Lismore Community Solarfarm.

This change has been made at the sewage treatment plant to overcome the site limitations and maximise opportunities to expand the size of the solar array in the future ~ particularly given Lismore City Council’s plan for 100% renewable energy.

We think it’s wonderful that our prospective community investors can now consider what is an even more pioneering project, together of course with the high profile solarfarm planned for Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre.

Here is an example of what the floating solarfarm may look like:

The two community companies for the projects ~ Lismore Community Solarfarm (Goonellabah) Pty Ltd, and, Lismore Community Solarfarm (East) Pty Ltd ~ have now been incorporated. These are the legal entities which will raise the funds for the two solarfarms, by offering shares for investors. In turn, once the investment offers are fully subscribed, each company will loan the funds to Lismore City Council to build the each of the solarfarms (Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre and East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant).

A constitution for each of the companies has been fully executed and will be available on the Farming the Sun website in due course.

For this establishment stage of the community companies, Starfish Initiatives is the sole shareholder and has appointed Executive Director, Adam Blakester, as the sole director. Starfish will surrender their share, and Adam will resign as Director, as the community investors become shareholders and in turn nominate to be directors at the each company’s first General Meeting after the investment offers are completed.

The offer documents, formally known as an Offer Information Statement, are being submitted to Norton Rose Fulbright, our legal partners, for final review and is expected for Launch by late May all going to plan.

As these community energy investments are a private offer, it will be only be made available to those parties who have signed onto the Investor Pledge. As at today, 136 people have signed the Investor Pledge. We would greatly welcome your interest as well! You can add your name to the list here.

The funds raised by private investment will be lent to Lismore City Council to build the solarfarms. In the event that there are any excess funds remaining, the terms of the loan provide that the Council may utilise these funds for other projects identified within their 100% Renewable Energy Master Plan.

The tenders to build the solarfarms are being conducted by Lismore City Council. These are now live!  These tenders will run in parallel with us releasing the investment offers to raise the funds for the two projects.

The tenders can be accessed via Lismore City Council’s Tenderlink. For more information, contact Lismore City Council.

In addition to all of the above good news and progress, Starfish is incredibly pleased and grateful for confirmation of a major donation from Diversicon Environmental Foundation. Diversicon’s donation will enable us to cover the full establishment costs for the two Lismore Community Solarfarm projects ~ Australia’s first community-funded and Council-operated projects of this kind. iversicon join with our other financial partners ~ NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Lismore City Council and The Earth Welfare Foundation.

While this cash funding is essential, it is important to also recognise the substantial pro-bono investments being made by our other partners ~ particularly Embark Australia and Norton Rose Fulbright ~ which in total value are greater than our modest cash budget.

Starfish expresses its sincere gratitude to these Project Partners for their trust and investment in our collective vision and work.

The Farming the Sun collaboration is now working on the following priorities:
1. Finalising the private share offer after legal advice is received
2. Signing the loan agreements (between the two community companies and Lismore City Council)
3. Establishing administrative and financial systems for the community companies
4. Launching the Private Investment Offers

Useful links ~

Find out more about Lismore Community Solar ~

Read more about the floating solarfarm announcement ~

Tasmania’s crazy lurch back into the (expensive) fossil fuel era

Tasmania's crazy lurch

Only just recently, Tasmania ~ courtesy of its rich hydro resources, excellent wind conditions, and even a little bit of sunshine ~ could boast of having 100% renewable electricity, with all the economic possibilities that could afford in a world rapidly transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

The state had closed down its last fossil fuel generator, and the combination of a large hydro fleet (2,200MW), a growing portfolio of wind farms (310MW) and a small amount of rooftop solar (80MW) accounted for its electricity needs.

Tasmania supplemented and profited from these resources through the BassLink cable to the mainland, more for exporting clean power rather than importing from the heavily coal-reliant Victoria. Only a short time ago Tasmania, with its giant hydro battery, was perfectly positioned to become a fully green state, becoming the first to use renewables to supply all electricity, road transport and many industrial processes.

All it would require was a bit of vision and forward planning ~ encourage rooftop solar, build more wind farms, use the green electricity as a prompt to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles; maybe even build a new link to the mainland to become an export of green electricity.

Not any more. Due to a combination of bad luck and rotten planning, old school thinking and ~ guess what ~ climate change, Tasmania has found itself with little water in its dams to generate hydro electricity, no power link to the mainland, bushfires shutting down generators, and not enough renewables to fill the gap.

The Tasmanian government finds itself in the midst of an energy crisis ~ facing soaring costs and electricity rationing because it resisted a push to build new wind farms, and sought to put a lid on rooftop solar. It blithely believed that its dams would never fall to such critically low levels.

Last year, Tasmania began to import more electricity from Victoria, and then the link to the mainland was suddenly damaged and cut in late December 2015. No one knows when it will be repaired.

So what does it do in a crisis? Tasmania has no choice but to lurch back to the fossil fuel era. It switched back on its gas-fired power station early this year and has now begun to switch on containerised diesel gen-sets. The use of diesel generators, which sets the marginal cost of power (which is then paid to all other operating generators under the rules of the National Electricity Market) means that Tasmanians are paying the same price for generation as a remote mine in the Australian outback.

Note this graph below:
Tas Hydro Fossil Fuel

For the last seven years, Tasmania has had the lowest electricity prices of any state. But last month, the average price has remained at more than $250/MWh, barely any different from the peak power price. With the addition of network and retail costs, the cost of electricity is about $500/MWh. As a comparison, rooftop solar probably costs around $150/MWh in Tasmania.

The crisis has sparked some interesting initiatives. Apart from having to fly in replacement parts for the gas-fired generators and diesel gen-sets from Abu Dhabi, the government is also accelerating its “cloud-seeding” program to try to bring forward some autumn rains.

It has struck agreements with three major industrial facilities and employers to shave more than 110MW of capacity from demand.

No effort has been made to encourage household and smaller business consumers to increase the efficiency with which they use electricity.

The output of rooftop solar is still being valued at just $60/MWh, one-fifth of the price of diesel. The state’s pricing regulator recently said it could see no benefits from rooftop solar, and delayed an assessment on battery storage because it was “too hard”. Perhaps in its next review it might change its tune.

A year ago, the government said Tasmania could provide the equivalent of 1,00MW of “base-load” power to Victoria, substituting one of the big brown coal generators in the Latrobe Valley with clean power. Now it can’t even meet its own needs.

Re-post ~ Tasmania’s crazy lurch back into the (expensive) fossil fuel era | Renew Enconomy

See also ~ Cross post: Marcus: Tasmania’s energy scandal | Catallaxy Files

Without fossil fuels, a new population puzzle

Image

How many people can the Earth support? It’s a question that’s been asked for centuries, generating wildly divergent answers ~ from less than a billion to more than a trillion. Today, the question arises with new urgency as we contemplate life after oil.

Perhaps the best answer comes from Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University, in his aptly titled How Many People Can the Earth Support? It’s an exhaustively researched 532-page book, but his conclusion can be summarized in two words: it depends.

That is, the planet’s capacity to sustain human life depends on how resources are used and distributed and on the values and social structures that shape the way we live.

If all of the world’s people ate like carnivorous Americans ~ 1,763 pounds of grain each per year, some eaten directly, but most fed to livestock ~ then the 2-billion-ton world grain harvest would support only 2.5 billion people.

That’s a problem, since there are now 7.4 billion of us. But if we all ate like people in India ~ a mostly vegetarian diet of just 440 pounds of grain per person each year ~ then the same harvest would support a population of 10 billion.

Certainly, there is some elasticity in the planet’s carrying capacity, and better, fairer resource use could help expand it. But, in a world where fossil fuels were in short supply, that capacity would likely contract.

In recent decades, food production has more than kept pace with skyrocketing population growth, partly thanks to mechanization and cheap oil. Indeed, modern agriculture is so dependent on fossil fuels that the food we eat is practically “marinated in crude oil”, says environmental activist Bill McKibben. The vast quantity of oil required to maintain Western consumption is at least partially to blame for its leading per capita carbon footprint. Reductions in the oil supply would curtail food production ~ at least in the short term.

Shortages of natural gas would also make it harder to synthesize nitrogen fertilizer, which has helped triple crop yields since 1950.

Climate change could dramatically reduce crop yields in many parts of the world at a time when global food production must increase by 70% to keep pace with current trajectories of growth and consumption.

So, how many people can the Earth support? The fact is, we just don’t know. But, given the uncertain supply of fossil fuels and the grim realities of climate change, it makes sense to aim for the low end of the United Nations’ population projections ~ about 9 billion people, rather than 13 billion ~ by the end of this century. The good news is that we actually know how to do this:

    • all people can make real choices about childbearing
    • ensuring access to voluntary family planning services
    • educating girls, and
    • providing opportunities for women.

We may not know how many people the Earth can support, or what will happen in a world of dwindling fossil fuels and a changing climate. But we do know this: The best means to slow population growth are also important ends in themselves. And together, they can help build a sustainable, equitable future.

Re-post ~ Without fossil fuels, a new population puzzle | Yes

Solar power tower goes up in Australian desert, ready to grow tomatoes

Solar tower in desert for tomatoes

Construction of a world-leading, concentrated solar power (CSP) tower plant that will supply electricity heat and desalinated seawater to grow tomatoes in the Australian desert has reached a major milestone, with the erection of the 127m high tower.

The company behind the custom-built Port Augusta plant, Aalborg CSP, with construction group John Holland, put the final tower sections in place this week, topping it with the 234-tonne central boiler, which will soon receive the reflected sun rays from more than 23,000 mirrors.

As you can see in the video below, this final task – understood to be involve the largest lifts to this height ever undertaken in Australia – required some “careful calculations”.

Aalborg’s Integrated Energy System will be the first large-scale CSP-based technology in the world to provide multiple energy streams ~ heating, fresh water and electricity ~ for horticultural activities; an innovative and sustainable approach dreamed up by Adelaide-based outfit Sundrop Farms.

The company originally used finance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to develop a prototype of its proprietary closed-loop farming system, in which it successfully grew tomatoes year-round, using only sunlight and seawater.

In December 2014, Sundrop secured $100 million of funding from leading global private equity investor KKR, allowing it to proceed with plans to expand the prototype into a 20-hectare facility, including the CSP tower plant.

Sundrop has also secured a 10-year exclusive contract with Coles for the supply of tomatoes, creating jobs for up to 175 people.

Aalborg’s custom-build CSP plant will heat the greenhouses in wintertime and on cold summer nights, provide fresh water by desalinating seawater drawn from the nearby Spencer Gulf (5km from the site) and run a steam turbine to produce electricity.

“This groundbreaking project proves a new platform to address major global energy challenges. The construction progresses well and we are looking forward to harvest the first sunrays in the second half of 2016,” said Svante Bundgaard, CEO of Aalborg CSP.

Re-post ~ Solar power tower goes up in Australian desert, ready to grow tomatoes | ReNew Economy