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Environment

Dec 03, 2018

Three Things Everyone Can Do to Fight Climate Change Right Now

Trump is in climate denial; it's up to us to turn the tides on climate change.

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas

At The Outdoor Journal, we’ve been discussing how the US leadership continues to let us down and outright deny climate change. But what can we do as individuals to stem the problem? Although the global scale of climate change feels too gargantuan for just one person to fight it, there are choices we can make on a daily basis that can make a difference. Our daily habits do have measurable results on our environment and make up an economic power over corporations and industries that need us to sustain them.

3. PLANT-BASED DIET

Stop eating meat and the Earth will thank you for it.

Stop eating meat and the Earth will thank you for it. According to the National Climate Assessment, a report released last week by the Federal government, “Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands, and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly disrupt agricultural productivity in the United States.” The report asserts that “Climate change is also expected to lead to large-scale shifts in the availability and prices of many agricultural products across the world.” As crop yields drop and livestock populations fall off, a momentous shift towards plant-based eating may be inevitable. Beyond individual health benefits, a plant-based diet eliminates the environmental pressures caused by factory farming, an industry that is already contributing to climate change.

Photo by Miika Laaksonen on Unsplash.

According to a recent report that studied the impact of global food systems on climate change, the production of animal products generates the majority of food-related greenhouse-gas emissions, in fact, up to 78% of total agricultural emissions. For example, cattle require farmland, feed and fresh water in vast excess to plants like legumes, while also emitting the greenhouse gas methane. In a vicious cycle, we are growing plants to feed the animals that contribute to climate change (that we then slaughter to feed ourselves). Why not just cut out the animal factory farming from the equation?

At the individual level, researchers at the University of Oxford found that switching to a plant-based diet could reduce your carbon footprint from food by up to 73%. Zoom out to the planetary scale and we find that if everyone on Earth removed meat from their diet it would free up 75% of farmlands – that’s the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined.

While the idea of switching to a plant-based diet may appear daunting to some, one approach to try would be to commit to one plant-based meal per day as a start, and scale up from there.

2. SLOW FASHION

The fashion industry contributes the same amount of greenhouse gas as Russia per year.

1999’s Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk asserted a social commentary on consumerism within the United States. “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” Consumers who purchase new clothes and quickly discard them based on rapidly changing trends might not realize that it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce a single t-shirt. At The Outdoor Journal, we’ve exposed the environmental harms as well as the poor working conditions beget by fast-moving fashion.

According to an analysis of the World Resources Institute summit, the fashion industry contributes 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions – which equates to all plane travel across the planet, or the yearly emissions impact of Russia.

As individuals, we can pull the reins on the fashion industry by changing our mindset to a more sustainable, slow fashion movement. You could do your research to discover the most environmentally conscious brands and boycott the bad-actors. Reach out to your favorite brands with your concerns. Or you could buy clothes less often, shop at vintage stores and learn to repair your worn clothes. Cheers to making this New Year’s resolution to feeling more satisfied with the clothes that you already own.

1. GET POLITICAL

For those of us who are truly concerned with the mounting perils of climate change, one option would be to put your money where your mind is. In a similar vein to Patagonia’s CEO donating the company’s entire $10M Trump tax cut to non-profit groups who work on issues related to climate change and the environment, we could each pledge our tax refunds to the difference-making group of our choice.

Or we could look to the youth of the nation for inspiration and take to Capitol Hill. Juliana v. US, also known as the Children’s Climate Lawsuit was filed in 2015 and now includes 21 plaintiffs between the ages of 11 and 22, who argue that the government’s engagement in policies that contribute to climate change have caused irreparable harm to their generation by denying them a safe climate. The plaintiffs are seeking a judgment that forces the government to initiate policies to curb climate change.

It is our fundamental right to a clean environment.

As the Children’s Climate Lawsuit argues, it is our fundamental right to a clean environment. However, a devil’s advocate might argue that individual choices are illusory – that changing your eating and shopping habits might give you a psychological benefit of feeling like you are making a difference, while in the grand scheme of things, you’re not. But that’s not true. Even though we as individuals have less direct power to fight climate change than the industries and corporations that are contributing the most harm, we do have a voice. As consumers, our choices of what we eat and what we buy are an ongoing conversation with companies. You can further that conversation by voting in elections, attending debates and contacting politicians (it’s never been easier with social media). We have the ability and the responsibility to enact change. Indeed, the time for action is nigh.

Read More: A Buried Report; Trump Refuses to Believe it – President Trump recklessly disregards the dangers of climate change in the face of resounding scientific consensus.

Cover Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash.

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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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