Bloomberg reported that the EU wants to ramp up efforts to slash pollution in the bloc through its Green Deal. The European Commision will probably seek to accelerate pollution cuts to 55% compared with 1990 levels by the end of the next decade. The current target is to lower pollution by 40%.
The commission is proposing this to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent. A proposal, scheduled to be unveiled next month, will be based on a study that takes into account fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
“I do not think it is widely understood just how ambitious this is. It means a whole range of new and ambitious policies to be put in place at record speed – as well as a very significant strengthening of the policies we have. It will require tough decisions in tough times,” said Peter Vis, a senior adviser at Rud Pedersen Public Affairs in Brussels.
In today’s time, almost everybody is racing for carbon neutrality in order to make the environment better, and heal the planet. After I read some articles and studies, it’s seems like radical change is not exactly the best solution for our planet. Let’s get to it.
First, let’s talk about the big bad wolf here: the carbon dioxide.
Pros & cons of technologies to remove carbon
According to a new research the removal of carbon dioxide from the air via technologies could have huge implications for future food prices. The researchers didn’t say that we shouldn’t stop these efforts, but machines used to suck all CO2 will
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that in order to keep the world under a 1.5C temperature, the world needs to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and removing as well as storing large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
How do we remove but store carbon dioxide? One idea is called BECCS – bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. This means growing crops that soak up carbon and then burn them for electricity while capturing and burying the carbon that’s produced.
While it sounds like an excellent idea, critics stated that this process require the deployment of huge amounts of land which would reduce the amount of land for agriculture at a time of increasing global population. We all know that the wildlife and the environment are struggling because of lands required for agriculture, right? Combined with this idea, they may lose, not just struggle.
There’s also Direct Air Capture (DAC), where machines pull CO2 directly from the atmosphere. In Switzerland and Canada, experimental installations of this idea have been successfully implemented. However, there has been little research to date on how the deployment of DAC would impact crop and food prices.
The new study, published on Nature Climate Change, looks at the large-scale deployment of a range of negative emissions technologies including DAC. It states that these machines need a huge amount of energy and water resources.
DAC will need large amounts of heat to make the process work. This would require energy equal to 115% of current global natural gas consumption. The machines also use 35% of the water currently used in global electricity production.
While DAC doesn’t require a lot of land, there will still be a need for significant amounts of energy
“I want to make clear that we’re not in any way trying to throw cold water on efforts to try and develop DAC. I think DAC is really very important technology that needs to be developed. But in our simulations, what we find is that the world doesn’t just go 100% all in on DAC, right?” said Dr. Andres Clarens from the University of Virginia, who led the study.
“Even under optimistic pricing scenarios for the technology, the world is still deploying a decent amount of BECCs, if you want to get to 1.5C. DAC is not going to be the only thing,” Clarens went on.
If DAC is used everywhere and if it becomes a majority, many parts of the world will see substantial price increases in maize, wheat and rice. The worst affected areas would be in sub-Saharan Africa which could see prices rise by 5-600% by 2050. India, Pakistan and many other countries in Asia could see three to five-fold increases, while Europe and South America could see prices double or treble.
Some people involved in DAC reject the report’s findings, saying that the authors wrongly assumed that all air capture systems are the same.
“We would like to point out that the paper only analysed liquid sorbent direct air capture technology whilst Climeworks has developed a solid sorbent technology that does not rely on the burning of natural gas or has a need for fresh water to deliver carbon dioxide removal from the air,” said Christoph Beuttler from Climeworks. “We are confident that if the paper would have made that distinction the reported direct air capture potentials could be significantly higher and the risks lower.”
In the end, everybody the researchers and Climeworks agreed that humanity shouldn’t keep relying on fossil fuels and do its best to mitigate the climate change and save the planet.
Now let’s move on to the fact that a study showed how increased carbon makes the Earth greener.
2016 study saying that CO2 was making the planet greener
In 2016, an international team of 32 authors from 24 institutions in eight countries conducted a study that involved using satellite data from the NASA. They found that over the course of 33 years (from 1982-2015), our planet had an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States.
Photosynthesis happens when plants chemically combine carbon dioxide drawn in from the air with water and nutrients tapped from the ground to produce sugars, which are the main source of food, fiber and fuel for life on Earth. Studies have shown that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide increase photosynthesis, which leads to more plant growth.
Meaning, there’s such thing as carbon dioxide fertilization.
Although, CO2 isn’t the only thing that cause this increased plant growth. Nitrogen, land cover change and climate change by way of global temperature, precipitation and sunlight changes all contribute to the greening effect.
To determine the extent of carbon dioxide’s contribution, researchers ran the data for carbon dioxide and each of the other variables in isolation through several computer models that mimic the plant growth observed in the satellite data.
Computer models showed that carbon dioxide contributes to70% of the greening effect. “The second most important driver is nitrogen, at 9 percent. So we see what an outsized role CO2 plays in this process,” said co-author Ranga Myneni, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University.
However, this benefit from CO2 might not last forever. Dr. Philippe Ciais, co-author, said that studies have shown that plants acclimatize to rising carbon dioxide concentration, and the fertilization effect diminishes over time. Until when, we don’t know yet.
So, based on this 2016 study, is it safe to hypothesize that when we suck out a large portion of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, plant growth gets stunted? Although, we must remember that the results were based on models, not actual experimentation. It’s a food for thought nonetheless, don’t you think?
And, let’s not forget that renewable energy production needs materials. And if it’s going to be implemented globally, we’re going to need a lot of materials.
Constant mining to get materials for renewable energy technology
There’s a newly published study in the journal Nature Communications noting that technologies and infrastructure used for renewable energy will drive an increase in the production of metals. That will drive more mining, which is harmful for biodiversity, especially if not done carefully.
The researchers have mapped mining areas and assess their spatial coincidence with biodiversity conservation sites and priorities. They found that mining potentially influences 50 million km2 of Earth’s land surface, with 8% coinciding with Protected Areas, 7% with Key Biodiversity Areas, and 16% with Remaining Wilderness.
Most mining areas, at 82%, target materials needed for renewable energy production. Areas that overlap with Protected Areas and Remaining Wilderness contain a greater density (the number of mining properties within 50 km of each 1 km2 cell) of mines.
This study doesn’t discount the need for renewable energy production, since climate change is also a threat to biodiversity. But, the production of renewable energies is also material-intensive; much more so than fossil fuels, according to the researchers.
They stated that wind and solar farms have a significant spatial footprint and other environmental risks (with citations), and those kinds of infrastructure also have direct and indirect consequences of associated mining activities.
“While some protected areas (PAs) prevent mineral extraction and prospecting activities, more than 14% of PAs contain metal mines within or nearby their boundaries and consequences for biodiversity may extend many kilometers from mining sites,” the researchers note.
Also, there are other areas which are getting more and more important for future conservation investment and not designed for all mining activities because they’re specifically needed for biodiversity only.
“Conservation plans for these sites must identify and develop strategies to manage all major threats to biodiversity, to ensure that mining the materials needed for renewable energy production does not simply replace the climate change-related threats mitigated by reducing fossil fuel use,” the study states.
Mitigating climate change and trying to be carbon neutral is all the rage now, and that’s necessary. But after reading this study, I feel like we shouldn’t just look at one side only. Mining for the materials can have negative impacts too.
The study claims that these risks are never mentioned in conservation plans and policies, even internationally, and no new mining threats addressed in global discussions around post-2020 United Nation’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity.
Talking about the future of mining, the researchers state that it will certainly grow since the demand for renewable energy technology and infrastructure won’t stop and will continue to grow.
They also state that minimizing threats of renewable energy production to biodiversity can be done by diverting some of the materials, fossil fuels will still likely play an important role in meeting the future energy demands of a growing global population.
If you want to read the full mining study, which provides you the extensive data, click here. Also, here’s an article that talks about how green energy has dirty side effects (mind you, this is an opinion/argument piece, not an actual journalism).
In conclusion, after reading those studies, the ideal solution for our planet is not replacing or completely removing the bad (like fossil fuels, carbon dioxide) but focusing more on balance? Yin and Yang?
I mean, of course these studies can be contested or rebutted with other studies that provide contrary data. And for sure, we have all the freedom to disagree with these studies. But as I said, it’s a food for thought, nonetheless.
What do you think?