In my last article, I wrote about the negative impact on the health of planet earth from the dramatic rise in human population to over 7 billion presently from just 2.5 billion in 1950 and our increased pollution of the air, sea and land. This is causing an unprecedented global warming which is leading to super storm catastrophes, melting of the ice caps and glaciers worldwide, rising sea levels with increased flooding, severe droughts and fires leading to refugee migrations and loss of our rain forests, coral reefs and number of animal species. This article highlights some of the positive changes in just the last 10 years that if continued and accelerated could change the direction of the negative impact that we as humans have put on the earth and preserve, improve and maintain life as we know it.
Paris Climate Agreement
The nations of the world have agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is a significant change from even five years ago where China and India were not willing to reduce carbon (coal, oil and gas) burning.
As of December 2016, 194 states and the European Union have signed the agreement. 160 of those parties have ratified or acceded to the agreement, most notably China, the United States (who is intent on leaving) and India. The countries with three of the four largest greenhouse gas emissions of the signatories’ total about 42 percent together.
On June 1, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the agreement, causing widespread condemnation in the European Union, China, India, many sectors in the United States, and throughout the world. Under the agreement, the earliest effective date of withdrawal for the U.S. is November 2020.
Meanwhile, over 30 major cities and 36 state governments, including California and New York will continue to abide by the agreement. Along with over 80 university presidents and over 100 major business, they are negotiating with the U.N. to be accepted in the Paris Agreement, even without a Federal endorsement.
Significantly, most major countries have upped their commitment after President Trump announced his intention to withdraw. In July 2017, France’s environment minister Nicolas Hulot announced France’s plan to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 as part of the Paris Agreement. Hulot also stated that France would no longer use coal to produce electricity after 2022 and that 4 billion euros will be invested in boosting energy efficiency.
Rapid technology change
In 1980, AT&T introduced the first bulky mobile phone and expected to sell 900,000 by the year 2000. But in 1999, the industry actually sold 109 million phones -120 times more than predicted. Now almost everyone in the world has a cell phone. The same thing happened with computer technologies.
And now, the same thing is happening with renewable energies, especially solar. Efficiency has been rapidly increasing for solar and wind, while costs have been rapidly decreasing. In fact, some of the new contracts signed in 2016 provide electricity at rates less than half the cost of the cheapest electricity generated from the burning of coal or natural gas. And the price continues to decline rapidly. For the year 2016 in the U.S., 70 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity came from solar and wind. Less than 0.2 percent came from coal.
Ten years ago, I was recommending replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs for major energy savings. Today, LED light is rapidly taking over the market. I switched to LED Christmas lights two years ago and was amazed by their low energy use, coolness to the touch and the number of lights that could be strung on one line.
Electric cars were non-existent ten years ago and are advancing rapidly with cost and charge time dropping and with distances traveled increasing per charge. In 2009, I had solar panels placed on my southeast facing roof and in 2011 purchased a newly released Chevy Volt, which is charged every night. My electric bill has been close to zero since that time, with the worst year being $150 for the entire year. This includes having a car driven locally every day.
Also, there is a rapid improvement in battery storage technology. This is particularly important, because more efficient and cheaper batteries can solve the intermittency disadvantage of solar and wind energies. That is, they can continue providing electricity at nighttime when the sun doesn’t shine and during periods of the day or night when the wind is not blowing.
Wind energy has made major advancements. Fifteen years ago, the best projections were that global wind energy would increase by 30 gigawatts. But by 2016, the wind produced 487 gigawatts, beating that goal by 16 times. For 24 hours on April 17th, 2016, wind power met 103.6 percent of Denmark’s needs. One day in August 2016, Scotland got 100 percent of its electricity from wind power. In Portugal, they had four days straight in May 2016 on renewable energy alone.
Since 2012, Georgetown, Texas, a city of about 50,000, is powered entirely by wind and solar. Georgetown runs its own municipal electric utility and determined that renewable rates would be cheaper and would not rise over time. In fact, the town sells back extra power to the grid. Unlike coal and oil, which are subject to price fluctuations, the city knows exactly what the costs are going to be in the future. Furthermore, because fossil fuel power plants depend on steam to produce energy, using wind and solar reduces the strain on the state’s water usage during punishing droughts, while improving air quality.
The projection 15 years ago was that solar electricity would grow by 1 gigawatt a year. That goal was exceeded over 17 times by 2010 and by 53 times by 2015 and an amazing 75 times by 2016. The rate continues to increase because the cost of silicon solar cells continues to drop. Solar is particularly good for third world countries without our complex infrastructure. Panels are being installed on the roofs of grass huts in Africa and on rooftops throughout the world.
Chile is an inspiration, growing its solar electric capacity over 1000 times in four years from 11 megawatts at the end of 2013 to 13.3 gigawatts by end of 2017.
In the U.S., there are environmental concerns for massive solar projects in open space areas, like it is being done in the desert of Chile. So, it seems like common sense to me that solar should be placed on roofs and especially should be required for new construction. Why not have solar installation be part of the building code, like insulation requirements? In the long run, it will save the owners money.
Geothermal energy use has been steadily increasing. Geothermal energy is heat from underground that is used to make energy.
In 1960, Pacific Gas and Electric began operating the first successful geothermal electric power station in the United States at The Geysers in our own Sonoma County. Geothermal electricity generation is currently used in 24 countries, while geothermal heating is in use in 70 countries. Based on current geologic knowledge and technology, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) estimates that only 6.5 percent of total global potential has been tapped so far. Countries generating more than 15 percent of their electricity from geothermal sources include, New Zealand, El Salvador, Kenya, the Philippines, Iceland and Costa Rica.
The Permaculture Movement
Permaculture is a growing global grassroots movement that builds healthy environments, regenerates the land and empowers communities. It is a sustainable-design approach that mimics patterns in nature to create regenerative edible ecosystems. It applies natural design principles to create resilient systems - providing food, water, shelter and energy needs. Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered around simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.
The term permaculture was developed and coined by David Holmgren, then a graduate student and his professor, Bill Mollison, in 1978. The word permaculture originally referred to “permanent agriculture,” but was expanded to stand also for “permanent culture,” as it was understood that social aspects were integral to a truly sustainable system of natural farming.
Sonoma County is one of the leader in permaculture design with many gardens, teaching programs and companies to change local properties into sustainable, healthy environments.
So the health of the planet can be saved, maintained and improved, if we stay on and support these positive paths. But there is much opposition from rich, powerful corporations with an invested interest in continuing oil, gas, and coal consumption along with agribusiness corporations with an invested interest in current, unhealthy food consumption. My next article will touch on what we as individuals can do to help turn towards a healthier planet.
Enjoy Life and Keep Smiling!
George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. #585-8595 firstname.lastname@example.org