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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt

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Environment

Dec 03, 2018

A Buried Report; Trump Refuses to Believe it

President Trump recklessly disregards the dangers of climate change in the face of resounding scientific consensus.

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

Climate change is not just knocking on the door anymore. It’s over the threshold and it’s looking to blow your house down. 2018 has brought us near apocalyptic signs of climate change to both coasts of the United States. We’ve seen biblical fires on the west coast and a series of devastating tropical storms on the east coast. Like “the nothing” in the 1984 film The Neverending Story, climate change is sweeping over the planet like a dark storm with no regard for life.

The data is alarming. Sixteen of the seventeen warmest years in the 136-year record have occurred since 2001, with 2017 as one of hottest years on record. The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season was the first on record to see seven storms generated over warmer, subtropical zones. And on the west coast, more than 6,000 wildfires ravaged over 1 million acres across California this year, causing damages worth more than $2.56bn – the most destructive and deadly on record.

A BURIED REPORT

On Black Friday, the Federal government published a new report detailing the nation’s imminent risks to the dangers posed by climate change. Specifically, the National Climate Assessment lays out how the United States economy and the health of each individual are at stake.

The report warned that “more frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events” are looming that will pose a threat to water resources, air quality, food and even national security. We can expect further deterioration to US infrastructure, in addition to natural resources like oceans and coastlines.

Although the report by the Federal Government contains critical information about our near future, the report was released on Black Friday, in an undeniably intentional move to sweep it under the rug.

UNITED STATES LEADERS ARE FAILING US

In a state of utter denial, President Trump has whipped up a reality distortion field around the imminent dangers facing us and even around the concept of climate change itself.

In a now infamous tweet from 2012, Trump put an unsubstantiated political spin on global warming. “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”


And this past week, he confused global warming with weather, tweeting, “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter All Records – Whatever happened to Global Warming?” – something you’d expect your Grandpa to say, to which you’d respond, “Oh, Grandpa.”


To see all of the global warming related tweets in between, check out all 115 Tweets on the subject, as reported by Vox.

Scientists have been outspoken that while “global warming” describes temperature increases, “climate change” is a more apt description of the process by which humans emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases that cause extreme weather events.

When asked about the National Climate Assessment released on Black Friday, Trump dismissed the report, saying “I don’t believe it,” after admitting that he “read some of it.”

We’re seeing Trump’s belief system play out in policy decisions. In June of last year, Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, making it the only country refusing to commit to prevent global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Photo by Carolina Pimenta on Unsplash.

NORMALIZING DENIAL

Trump’s statements on climate change, although baffling to most of us who choose to educate ourselves on the subject, nevertheless seep into the consciousness of his base, unfiltered, and propagate like a virus. Although tweets may seem unofficial and less significant than a public address, they normalize climate denial in the face of resounding scientific consensus. Trump’s message is clear – his policies and decision-making will disregard the dangers posed by climate change.

Notwithstanding Trump’s distorted reality, extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and endanger public health. Read More: About the 3 Things Everyone Can Do to Fight Climate Change Right Now.

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Environment

Aug 19, 2019

Should we Turn the Sahara Desert into a Huge Solar Farm?

According to NASA estimates, each Saharan square metre receives, on average, between 2,000 and 3,000-kilowatt hours of solar energy per year, a farm would be equivalent to 36 billion barrels of oil.

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WRITTEN BY

Amin Al-Habaibeh

Whenever I visit the Sahara I am struck by how sunny and hot it is and how clear the sky can be. Aside from a few oases there is little vegetation, and most of the world’s largest desert is covered with rocks, sand and sand dunes. The Saharan sun is powerful enough to provide Earth with significant solar energy.

The statistics are mind-boggling. If the desert were a country, it would be fifth biggest in the world – it’s larger than Brazil and slightly smaller than China and the US. Each square metre receives, on average, between 2,000 and 3,000-kilowatt hours of solar energy per year, according to NASA estimates. Given the Sahara covers about 9m km², that means the total energy available – that is, if every inch of the desert soaked up every drop of the sun’s energy – is more than 22 billion gigawatt-hours (GWh) a year.

This is again a big number that requires some context: it means that a hypothetical solar farm that covered the entire desert would produce 2,000 times more energy than even the largest power stations in the world, which generate barely 100,000 GWh a year. In fact, its output would be equivalent to more than 36 billion barrels of oil per day – that’s around five barrels per person per day. In this scenario, the Sahara could potentially produce more than 7,000 times the electricity requirements of Europe, with almost no carbon emissions.

Global horizontal irradiation, a measure of how much solar power received per year.
Global Solar Atlas / World Bank

What’s more, the Sahara also has the advantage of being very close to Europe. The shortest distance between North Africa and Europe is just 15km at the Strait of Gibraltar. But even much further distances, across the main width of the Mediterranean, are perfectly practical – after all, the world’s longest underwater power cable runs for nearly 600km between Norway and the Netherlands.

Over the past decade or so, scientists (including me and my colleagues) have looked at how desert solar could meet increasing local energy demand and eventually power Europe too – and how this might work in practice. And these academic insights have been translated in serious plans. The highest-profile attempt was Desertec, a project announced in 2009 that quickly acquired lots of funding from various banks and energy firms before largely collapsing when most investors pulled out five years later, citing high costs. Such projects are held back by a variety of political, commercial and social factors, including a lack of rapid development in the region.

The planet Tatooine from the Star Wars movies was filmed in southern Tunisia.
Amin Al-Habaibeh, Author provided

More recent proposals include the TuNur project in Tunisia, which aims to power more than 2m European homes, or the Noor Complex Solar Power Plant in Morocco which also aims to export energy to Europe.

Two technologies

There are two practical technologies at the moment to generate solar electricity within this context: concentrated solar power (CSP) and regular photovoltaic solar panels. Each has its pros and cons.

Concentrated solar power uses lenses or mirrors to focus the sun’s energy in one spot, which becomes incredibly hot. This heat then generates electricity through conventional steam turbines. Some systems use molten salt to store energy, allowing electricity to also be produced at night.

A concentrated solar plant near Seville, Spain. The mirrors focus the sun’s energy on the tower in the centre.
Novikov Aleksey / shutterstock

CSP seems to be more suitable to the Sahara due to the direct sun, lack of clouds and high temperatures which makes it more efficient. However the lenses and mirrors could be covered by sand storms, while the turbine and steam heating systems remain complex technologies. But the most important drawback of the technology is its use of scarce water resources.

Photovoltaic solar panels instead convert the sun’s energy to electricity directly using semiconductors. It is the most common type of solar power as it can be either connected to the grid or distributed for small-scale use on individual buildings. Also, it provides reasonable output in cloudy weather.

But one of the drawbacks is that when the panels get too hot their efficiency drops. This isn’t ideal in a part of the world where summer temperatures can easily exceed 45℃ in the shade, and given that demand for energy for air conditioning is strongest during the hottest parts of the day. Another problem is that sand storms could cover the panels, further reducing their efficiency.

Both technologies might need some amount of water to clean the mirrors and panels depending on the weather, which also makes water an important factor to consider. Most researchers suggest integrating the two main technologies to develop a hybrid system.

Just a small portion of the Sahara could produce as much energy as the entire continent of Africa does at present. As solar technology improves, things will only get cheaper and more efficient. The Sahara may be inhospitable for most plants and animals, but it could bring sustainable energy to life across North Africa – and beyond.


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This article was updated on April 30 to correct an error. Saharan solar could potentially produce more than seven thousand times the electricity requirements of Europe (not 7).The Conversation

Amin Al-Habaibeh, Professor of Intelligent Engineering Systems, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo: Photo by Arthur Aldyrkhanov on Unsplash

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