There is all this talk about Climate Change. I guess we all want to know how much of it is true and how relevant is it to my business? This article discusses what has happened, is happening and some of the predictions so you can assess the importance for yourself. It also discusses the causes of this and includes some discussion of available options.
Global warming is a fact. It is likely to speed up, with near record growth in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.
The recent UK Stern Report warned that if we ignore this we are likely to have an economic impact equivalent to the combined first and second world wars plus the great depression, and that is without considering millions of people displaced around the world.
To put climate change into perspective, during the last ice age global temperatures were only 5°C lower than today and much of Canada, Europe and northern Russia was covered in massive ice sheets several kilometres thick.
Half of the 65 species unique to the Australian Wet Tropics will become extinct with a 3.5°C increase in temperature. A 2-3°C change is expected to cause 80% of Kakadu wetlands to be lost.
Weather extremes and greater fluctuations in rainfall and temperatures caused by climate change are liable to change productive landscapes and exacerbate food, water and energy scarcities in a relatively short time span. Particularly worrying is sea-level rise because of the density of coastal populations and the potential for the large-scale displacement of people in Asia.
Climate change will cause health security consequences, since some infectious diseases will become more widespread as the planet heats up.
Rising global temperatures will see more fires, droughts and flooding over the next 200 years, according to climate scientists from the UK’s University of Bristol.
It is predicted that climate change will contribute to destabilising, unregulated population movements in Asia and the Pacific. While most of population movement is likely to be internal, there will be flow on effects requiring cooperative regional solutions.
Increasingly extreme weather patterns will result in greater death and destruction from natural disasters, and add to the burden on poorer countries and even stretch the coping ability of more developed nations.
For a handful of small, low-lying Pacific nations, climate change is the ultimate security threat, since rising sea-levels will eventually make their countries uninhabitable.
Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases now, researchers predict Eurasia, eastern China, Canada, Central America and Amazonia are at risk of forest loss. Global warming of less than 2°C would create a 30% probability of deforestation, while more than 3°C would double the likelihood of loss. (UK research)
Now about the Causes
There are three main gases that are responsible for causing the Greenhouse Effect.
The data for this has been taken from ice cores giving thousands of years of information.
– Carbon Dioxide CO2
– Nitrous oxides – often called NOX
All three are increasing exponentially at present. We are now sitting a long way outside the concentrations that have ever occurred in the past and we don’t know what will happen.
Who is to blame for this? My little bit can’t make all that difference. Twenty-seven per cent of carbon emissions come from homes which means the rest comes from business in some form or other and a large percentage of business involves small to medium enterprises and farms, just like most of us.
Air traffic is currently blamed for about 3.5% of the human activities that cause climate change and is the fastest growing source of emissions. Its share of total CO2 impact is expected to grow to 5% by 2050.
A recent report stated that agriculture is responsible for 40% of greenhouse gasses,
– 70% of total methane,
– 80% of NOX – this comes from biochemical processes in soils. There are large losses of N from fertilizers – between 15and 50% of N fertilizer goes missing. If you use N fertilizer, you need to improve the efficiency of use.
There are 1.4 billion cows worldwide, each producing 500 litres of methane a day and accounting for 14% of all emission of the gas
There is now 5 times the historic concentration of fertilizers in the sea off the coast of Queensland. This causes and increased growth of algae and algae feed Crown of Thorns starfish larvae. The combination of higher temperatures and Crown of Thorns Starfish is seriously threatening the Great Barrier Reef.
Impacts on water
Global warming is expected to intensify the water cycle, with increased risk of floods and droughts. One of the effects of global warming is likely to be changes in the seasonality of river flows in regions where winter precipitation falls as snow. Additionally, rising sea levels will damage the quality of fresh water available from coastal aquifers and wetlands.
Less freshwater is likely to be available in West Africa, Central America, southern Europe, the eastern US and southern Australia. Other regions, particularly tropical Africa and northwest South America, will be at significant risk of excessive runoff as trees are lost, increasing the chances of severe flooding.
We need to preserve our water quality. There are more of us and fresh water is deceasing. Anything discharged into drains ends up in lakes, dams, rivers or the sea. Do any rivers or lakes near your business have algal problems? A wetland can remove up to 90% of sediments, nutrients and bacteria from stormwater.
When we go boating we really enjoy being in the environment but have we thought about the impact we may be having on water quality. Two-stroke engines produced up to 10 times more water pollution than four-stroke. They acidify waterways and release heavy metals from sediments resulting in underwater pollution up to 1000 per cent worse with two-stroke engines.
What can we do about this?
We can think about our buildings and try to reduce energy use there. Eighty-four per cent of property owners, architects and consultants are involved in green development to some degree, but there are still limited choices of green building products, according to the first major survey of attitudes to sustainability.
While governments are seen as having the greatest influence on society’s reaction to climate change, 65% of surveyed people expected the private sector to take the lead in coming years.
Wind power could supply one third of the world’s electricity by 2050 and save 113 billion tones of CO2 emissions, according to a report by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and Greenpeace.
We can think about our waste
When our waste breaks down in land fills, it generates large amounts of methane gas. Some of the newer landfill sites have been carefully designed to prevent leaching into the water table and to capture the methane gas generated. In Victoria in 2004-5, 5.4 million tonnes of waste was recycled. This is a 7% increase from the previous year it showed recycling saved over 78 million gigajoules of energy, 52 GL of water and 4 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses. 55% of the total solid waste stream was recovered.
Germany has become the 18th country to join the international “Methane To Markets Partnership”, an initiative to turn the toxic greenhouse gas in the coalmining, landfill, agricultural, and oil and gas sectors into a clean energy source.
India wants industry to use waste-to-energy technologies to both generate electricity and help address waste disposal challenges in various core industries including pulp and paper industry, breweries, textile mills, rice mills and solvent extraction units.
The paper industry is eminently suited for power co-generation as 75-85% of energy is to heat the process and 15-25% as electrical power. “The large quantity of wastewater generated in pulp and paper industry can be used for generating biogas which can be used to produce thermal energy electricity.”
And we can consider using other fuels as well as how far we transport things and whether the transport is efficient.
The biggest initiatives here are alternative fuels such as harnessing solar and wind energy and also using fuels made from plants and other biological sources instead of fossil fuels. This is logical because fossil; fuels are just fossilised forests from the past.
Victoria’s wind farms are saving more than 250,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, according to an independent study. A typical 2 MW wind turbine reduces greenhouse emissions by about 6,000 tonnes per year, with 1,000 MW of installed wind able to displace around 600 GWh of brown coal generation per annum.
A meat works in Victoria, is investigating the use of animal fat from its abattoir operations for making biodiesel. The potential 10 ML of biodiesel a year would fuel the company’s own transport fleet, with the excess sold on the open market. In Australian biodiesel is being made from canola but sugar would be another good source.
In New Zealand biofuel is being made from algae grown in sewage ponds. This is important because a major obstacle to biodiesel is the fact that the same land used to grow biodiesel crops is also needed to grow food.
Trading carbon is a sensible strategy so that people who do use large amounts of carbon based energy can pay other people who are growing trees. One of my clients has a forestry project to enable their business to be carbon neutral. My business donates a portion of all our income to Trees for Life to support them growing seedling native trees for farmers and other land owners to plan each year.
Governor Schwarzenegger says California, the world’s 12th largest carbon emitter, will become a global leader in greenhouse emissions reduction following agreement on a cap and trade system.
So how does this affect me?
Personally I feel deep concern about the future my grandchildren and their friends face. I think we all need to take the many small steps that may seem to “not make much difference” to try to reduce the overall load on the system. I use low energy fluorescent bulbs in table lamps instead of the ceiling full of halogen lights in both my home and my office. I chose to live in a well insulated north facing place so that I get winter sun coming under my verandah but no summer sun and I seldom use the air conditioner. I used heating for only for 4 hours last winter and that was when the ground outside was white with frost. In summer 40oC outside translated to 29 oC inside and I decided I was comfortable as it was under 30 oC. I drive a duel fuelled car and walk or ride my bike when this is possible.
These are little steps to reduce our foot print and if we all do this in both our businesses and our homes we do have a cumulative effect. We can choose “green power” in most places. In our business we can think carefully about all the impacts we have just discussed and work out how to save green house gas use and remember this also saves us money.
Obviously we also need to take big steps as well and new technologies must also be developed as existing technologies are not adequate to “solve” the problem, but we can reduce the load and the rate of global warming by all taking our small steps and we need to start now.
Helping the environment can be a real win-win.