By Renee Sams
THE UNITED NATIONS climate summit in Copenhagen last December, after much debate, failed to come to any agreed action on climate change. There was a proposal that governments should pledge by a 31st January deadline by how much they were going to take action to protect the climate but nothing seems to have come of that.
It is now 21 years since the first scientific assessment of climate change was published and 18 years since the Rio Earth Summit at which the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed.
Twelve years have passed since Kyoto Protocol was agreed and two years since the Bali Action plan, all milestones that were to provide ways forward to curb emissions of “greenhouse gases” but so little has been done that we are still heading inexorably towards a catastrophic climate change.
Despite the voices of large campaigns like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, supported by millions of people calling for action to save the planet, the political leaderships of the richest countries have ignored them yet again.
Although governments are unwilling to take on the challenge of the environment, some big corporations, seeing new opportunities for profit, have welcomed it and now renewable energy is growing by leaps and bounds.
For example, General Electric (NYSE) has switched business away from financial engineering to eco-engineering. Silicon Valley, pioneer Vinod Khosia, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, raised $2 billion in two funds on clean technologies. Sales of hybrid vehicles are growing at a breakneck pace and Toyota and Ford are trying to satisfy the demand with new models. and electric cars are also coming on the market.
Great improvements have been made in the latest electric cars but smaller, more efficient and longer lasting batteries will be needed if electric cars are to become the family car of the future.
Falling grain prices have brought biofuel back in the picture as a viable economic issue and Big Oil is now taking it seriously; Royal Dutch Shell is investing a staggering $12 billion in biofuels.
In the US President Obama, although supporting biofuels, has now put $83 billion into guarantees that will allow two new nuclear reactors to be built, the first in the United States in nearly three decades. He is trying to calm the fears of the anti-nuclear movement with the promise that by using beryllium as an additive that not so much dangerous radioactive waste will be produced.
But the dangers of trucking any radioactive waste around the country are well known and the anti-nuclear movement is angry and will campaign against any new reactors. They are also angry that taxpayers’ money is being used to build nuclear reactors because Wall Street bankers will not risk investing their millions in the unpopular nuclear business.
The Pentagon is also going for biofuels in a big way and they expect that by 2011 they will have a fuel suitable for military jets that will only cost $2 per barrel. This is despite warnings from scientists from the Global Invasion Species Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, together with other group about the dangers of invasive crops being used to make biofuel.
“Most of the newer biofuel crops are what scientists call invasive species that have an extraordinary high potential to escape biofuel plantations, overrun adjacent farms and natural land and created economic and ecological havoc in the process.
“Some of the most commonly recommended species for biofuel production are also major invasive alien species” the paper said, adding that “these crops should be studied more thoroughly before being cultivated in new areas”.
Wind farms are being built all over the world, and in this country the Chancellor Alistair Darling earmarked some £525millions in 2009 for the construction of five off-shore wind farms and dozens of turbines on shore.
The £525 millions will be streamed into the Renewables Obligation Scheme to make is more attractive to commercial companies to sell more wind energy. It is estimated that about 20GW of new wind farm sites could be built in the next ten years.
The use of solar power is also increasing; the sunny southern states in the US are producing a lot of solar power for domestic use and President Obama has now given preliminary approval of $4 billion in Federal loan guarantees to help build the world’s largest solar power complex in the Mojave desert in California.
The use of rivers to provide energy is not new and water driven power stations have got larger; the biggest now is China’s Three Gorges Dam project, which displaced over 1.2 million people. The Three Gorges Dam is over six times as long as the Hoover Dam, between Arizona and Nevada, and almost 50 per cent larger than Washington State’s Grand Coulee Dam.
Run-of-River projects use the natural downward flow of rivers and micro turbine generators to capture the kinetic energy carried by the water. Typically, water is taken from the river at a high point and gravity fed down a pipe to a lower a part where it emerges through a turbine generator and re-enters the river. This kind of project is relatively cheap and has very little environmental impact.
As the oil runs out, a lot work has been done to find a substitute to make diesel and the latest development is algae, a third generation biofuel which solves many of the problems that plants cause with a lot of water use and fertilisers. Algae has a small footprint, it doesn’t use much land or water, it can be grown anywhere and as a bonus it eats CO2.
Producing algol oil close to where it is going to be used is more economic than piping or shipping oil thousands of miles and unlike oil it is a renewable resource, capable of providing consistent amounts of oil as fossil fuel reserves grow harder and more costly to find and exploit.
Many big corporations are now investing in the research and development of algae biofuel including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, although it will be a few years before Algadiesel is ready for mass sale in family cars.