We must fight climate change like it’s World War III – here are 4 potent weapons to deploy



Lukas Coch/AAP

David Blair, University of Western Australia; Bruce Hobbs, CSIRO; David Franklin Treagust, Curtin University, and Malcolm McCulloch, University of Western Australia

This article is part of a series in The Conversation on radical ideas to solve the environmental crisis.


In 1896 Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius explored whether Earth’s temperatures were influenced by the presence of heat-absorbing gases in the atmosphere. He calculated that if carbon dioxide concentrations doubled, global temperatures would rise 5℃ – even more at the poles.

Just over a century later, the world is on track to fulfilling Arrhenius’ prediction. If we continue on the current trajectory, Earth will warm up to 4.8℃ above pre-industrial times by 2100.




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We are a group of experts in physics, geology, science education, coral reefs and climate system science. We believe the lack of progress by governments in reducing global emissions means bold solutions are now urgently needed.

We must fight climate change like it’s World War III – and battle on many fronts. Here we examine four of them.

The world’s emissions are headed in the wrong direction, despite a century of warnings to act.
STEVEN SAPHORE/AAP

1. Plant a lot more trees

Tree-planting has enormous potential to tackle to climate crisis. Recent research calculated that worldwide 900 million hectares of additional tree cover could exist outside of already-established forests, farmland and urban areas – sufficient to store 25% of the current atmospheric carbon pool. Forests act to increase cloud and rainfall and reduce temperatures.

The grand vision of the Gondwana link project in Western Australia is an example of what can be done. It is reconnecting fragmented ecosystems to create a continuous 1,000km corridor of bushland.




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Broadscale land clearing must cease and a massive program of tree planting should be implemented in all possible areas. Such a program would provide huge small business employment opportunities. It requires incentives and partnerships that could be funded through taxes on carbon emissions.

Renewable energy-powered desalination may be required in some places to provide the water needed to establish forests in drought conditions. This meshes with an important new technology: carbon mineralisation.

Millions of hectares of forest should be planted to act as a carbon sink.
CHRISTIAN BRUNA/ EPA

2. Turn carbon dioxide into rock

Carbon mineralisation involves turning carbon dioxide into carbonate minerals by emulating the way seashells and limestone are made naturally.

Many techniques have been researched and proposed. These include capturing carbon dioxide from industrial plants and bubbling it through brine from desalination plants, or capturing it from nickel mine tailings using bacteria.

Huge quantities of CO₂ can potentially be captured in this way, creating useful building materials as a by-product.

Demonstration plants should now be trialled in Australia, with a view to rapid scaling up to commercialisation.

3. Make Earth’s surface more reflective

Solar radiation management describes techniques to reflect solar energy (sunlight) back to space, and so counteract planetary heating.

Changing the reflectivity of surfaces, such as by painting a dark roof white, reduces absorbed heat enormously and could cool cities. On larger scales we can dust asphalt roads with limestone, retain pale stubble on farms over summer and plant paler crops.

Studies suggest lighter land surfaces have good potential for cooling at a regional scale, and may lower extreme temperatures by up to 3℃.

Such methods also indirectly cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing air-conditioner use.

White roofs, such as on the Greek Island of Santorini, can help reflect solar radiation and lower temperatures.
Yvette Kelly/AAP

4. Reimagine transport

Economic mechanisms are essential to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, energy storage and zero-emission transport.

The international shipping industry emitted about 800 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2015, and this figure is expected to double by mid-century.

For all ships not powered by renewable energy, research suggests speed limits could be lowered by 20% to reduce fuel use. Australia could lead the world by scaling berthing charges according to satellite-monitored ship speeds.

Australia should also follow the lead of Norway which offers generous financial incentives to encourage zero-emission vehicles (powered by hydrogen or electricity). These include sales tax exemption and free parking in some places. And it’s worked: almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway in March 2019 were reportedly entirely electric-powered.

Forcing ships to sail more slowly could lower carbon emissions.
ALI HAIDER/EPA

Where to next?

The above list is by no means exhaustive. Australia’s bid to sell emissions reduction to the world as renewable hydrogen and electricity should be massively accelerated, and expanded to the scale of the Apollo mission’s race to the Moon.

We must slash emissions from agriculture, and re-establish soil carbon reservoirs lost through modern agriculture. We also suggest a major military response to bushfire, including a water-bombing air fleet and airfields within two hours of every fire risk location.




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Finally, the war demands a central headquarters providing leadership, information and coordination – perhaps a greatly expanded version of the Greenhouse Office established under the Howard Coalition government in 1998 (but later merged into another government department). The office should provide, among other things, information on the climate cost of every item we use, both to aid consumer choice and tax climate-harming products.

Some technologies may prove too costly, too risky, or too slow to implement. All require careful governance, leadership and public engagement to ensure community backing.

But as global greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, governments must deploy every weapon available – not only to win the war, but to prevent the terrible social cost of despair.

The full report on which this article is based is available here.The Conversation

David Blair, Emeritus Professor, ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, OzGrav, University of Western Australia; Bruce Hobbs, , CSIRO; David Franklin Treagust, John Curtin Distinguished Professor, Professor of Science Education, Curtin University, and Malcolm McCulloch, Professor, University of Western Australia

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

For decades, scientists puzzled over the plastic ‘missing’ from our oceans – but now it’s been found


Britta Denise Hardesty, CSIRO and Chris Wilcox, CSIRO

You’ve probably heard that our oceans have become a plastic soup. But in fact, of all the plastic that enters Earth’s oceans each year, just 1% has been observed floating on the surface. So where is the rest of it?

This “missing” plastic has been a longstanding scientific question. To date, the search has focused on oceanic gyres such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the water column (the part of the ocean between the surface and the sea bed), the bottom of the ocean, and the stomachs of marine wildlife.

But our new research suggests ocean plastic is being transported back onshore and pushed permanently onto land away from the water’s edge, where it often becomes trapped in vegetation.

Of course, plastic has been reported on beaches around the world for decades. But there has been little focus on why and how coastal environments are a sink for marine debris. Our findings have big implications for how we tackle ocean plastic.

New research shows a significant amount of plastic pollution from our oceans ends up back on land, where it gets trapped.

The hunt for marine pollution

Our separate, yet-to-be-published research has found around 90% of marine debris that enters the ocean remains in the “littoral zone” (the area of ocean within 8km of the coast). This new study set out to discover what happens to it.

We collected data on the amount and location of plastic pollution every 100 kilometres around the entire coast of Australia between 2011 and 2016. Debris was recorded at 188 locations along the Australian coastline. Of this, 56% was plastic, followed by glass (17%) and foam (10%).

Data was recorded approximately every 100 kilometres along the coast of Australia. Of the marine debris recorded, more than half was plastic.

The debris was a mix of litter from people and deposition from the ocean. The highest concentrations of plastic pollution were found along coastal backshores – areas towards the inland edge of the beach, where the vegetation begins. The further back from the water’s edge we went, the more debris we found.

The amount of marine debris, and where it ends up, is influenced by onshore wave activity and, to a lesser extent, wind activity. Densely populated areas and those where the coast was easily accessible were hotspots for trapped plastics.




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Think about what you see on your beach. Smaller debris is often found near the water’s edge, while larger items such as drink bottles, plastic bags and crisp packets are often found further back from the water, often trapped in vegetation.

We also found more debris near urban areas where rivers and creeks enter the ocean. It could be that our trash is being trapped by waterways before it gets to the sea. We’re finding similar patterns in other countries we’re surveying around the Asia Pacific and beyond.

This pollution kills and maims wildlife when they mistake it for food or get tangled in it. It can damage fragile marine ecosystems by smothering sensitive reefs and transporting invasive species and is potentially a threat to human health if toxins in plastics make their way through the food chain to humans.

It can also become an eyesore, damaging the economy of an area through reduced tourism revenue.

Onshore waves, wind and areas with denser human populations influences where and how much marine debris there is along our coastlines.
CSIRO

Talking rubbish

Our findings highlight the importance of studying the entire width of coastal areas to better understand how much, and where, debris gets trapped, to inform targeted approaches to managing all this waste.

Plastic pollution can be reduced through local changes such as water refill stations, rubbish bins, incentives and awareness campaigns. It can also be reduced through targeted waste management policies to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics. We found container deposit schemes to be a particularly effective incentive in reducing marine pollution.




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This discussion is particularly timely. The National Plastics Summit in Canberra last week brought together governments, industry and non-government organisations to identify new solutions to the plastic waste challenge, and discuss how to meet targets under the National Waste Policy Action Plan. Understanding that so much of our debris remains local, and trapped on land, provides real opportunities for successful management of our waste close to the source. This is particularly critical given the waste export ban starting July 1 at the latest.

Plastic in our oceans is increasing. It’s clear from our research that waste management strategies on land must accommodate much larger volumes of pollution than previously estimated. But the best way to keep plastic from our ocean and land is to stop putting it in.

Arianna Olivelli contributed to this article, and the research upon which it was based.




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The Conversation


Britta Denise Hardesty, Principal Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, CSIRO and Chris Wilcox, Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO

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

How changes brought on by coronavirus could help tackle climate change



David Sasaki/Flickr

Glen Peters, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo

Stock markets around the world had some of their worst performance in decades this past week, well surpassing that of the global financial crisis in 2008. Restrictions in the free movement of people is disrupting economic activity across the world as measures to control the coronavirus roll out.

There is a strong link between economic activity and global carbon dioxide emissions, due to the dominance of fossil fuel sources of energy. This coupling suggests we might be in for an unexpected surprise due to the coronavirus pandemic: a slowdown of carbon dioxide emissions due to reduced energy consumption.




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Based on new projections for economic growth in 2020, we suggest the impact of the coronavirus might significantly curb global emissions.

The effect is likely to be less pronounced than during the global financial crisis (GFC). And emissions declines in response to past economic crises suggest a rapid recovery of emissions when the pandemic is over.

But prudent spending of economic stimulus measures, and a permanent adoption of new work behaviours, could influence how emissions evolve in future.

Global fossil CO2 emissions (vertical axis) have grown together with economic activity (horizontal axis) over extended periods of time.
Glen Peters/CICERO

The world in crisis

In just a few short months, millions of people have been put into quarantine and regions locked down to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Around the world events are being cancelled and travel plans dropped. A growing number of universities, schools and workplaces have closed and some workers are choosing to work from home if they can.

Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has cancelled a critically important meeting and will instead hold it virtually.

The International Energy Agency had already predicted oil use would drop in 2020, and this was before an oil price war emerged between Saudi Arabia and Russia.




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The unprecedented coronavirus lockdown in China led to an estimated 25% reduction in energy use and emissions over a two-week period compared to previous years (mostly due to a drop in electricity use, industrial production and transport). This is enough to shave one percentage point growth off China’s emissions in 2020. Reductions are also being observed in Italy, and are likely to spread across Europe as lockdowns become more widespread.

The emission-intensive airline industry, covering 2.6% of global carbon dioxide emissions (both national and international), is in freefall. It may take months, if not years, for people to return to air travel given that coronavirus may linger for several seasons.

Given these economic upheavals, it is becoming increasingly likely that global carbon dioxide emissions will drop in 2020.

Global air travel is down significantly as a result of the pandemic.
Andy Rain/EPA

Coronavirus is not the GFC

Leading authorities have revised down economic forecasts as a result of the pandemic, but so far forecasts still indicate the global economy will grow in 2020. For example, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) downgraded estimates of global growth in 2020 from 3% (made in November 2019) to 2.4% (made in March 2020). The International Monetary Fund has indicated similar declines, with an update due next month.

Assuming the carbon efficiency of the global economy improves in line with the 10-year average of 2.5% per year, the OECD’s post-coronavirus growth projection implies carbon dioxide emissions may decline 0.3% in 2020 (including a leap year adjustment).

But the GFC experience indicates that the carbon efficiency of the global economy may improve much more slowly during a crisis. If this happens in 2020 because of the coronavirus, carbon dioxide emissions still could grow.

A decomposition of CO2 emissions growth into economic growth (orange) and carbon efficiency improvements (green) to estimate future emissions based on OECD economic growth projections.
Glen Peters/CICERO

Under the worst-case OECD forecast the global economy in 2020 could grow as little as 1.5%. All else equal, we calculate this would lead to a 1.2% decline in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020.

This drop is comparable to the GFC, which in 2009 led to a 0.1% drop in global GDP and a 1.2% drop in emissions. So far, neither the OECD or International Monetary Fund have suggested coronavirus will take global GDP into the red.

The emissions rebound

The GFC prompted big, swift stimulus packages from governments around the world, leading to a 5.1% rebound in global emissions in 2010, well above the long-term average.

Previous financial shocks, such as the collapse of the former Soviet Union or the 1970s and 1980s oil crises, also had periods with lower or negative growth, but growth soon returned. At best, a financial crisis delays emissions growth a few years. Structural changes may happen, such as the shift to nuclear energy after the oil crises, but evidence suggests emissions continue to grow.

Global fossil CO2 emissions (in Gigatons or billions of tonnes of CO2) and carbon intensity of world Gross Domestic Product (grams of CO2 per $US, 2000), with the most important financial crises.
Global Carbon Project

The economic legacy of the coronavirus might also be very different to the GFC. It looks more like a slow burner, with a drop in productivity over an extended period rather than widespread job losses in the short term.

Looking to the future

The coronavirus pandemic will not turn around the long-term upward trend in global emissions. But governments around the world are announcing economic stimulus measures, and they way they’re spent may affect how emissions evolve in future.

There is an opportunity to invest the stimulus money in structural changes leading to reduced emissions after economic growth returns, such as further development of clean technologies.

Also, the coronavirus has forced new working-from-home habits that limit commuting, and a broader adoption of online meetings to reduce the need for long-haul business flights. This raises the prospect of long-term emissions reductions should these new work behaviours persist beyond the current global emergency.




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The coronavirus is, of course, an international crisis, and a personal tragedy for those who have lost, and will lose, loved ones. But with good planning, 2020 could be the year that global emissions peak (though the same was said after the GFC).

That said, past economic shocks might not be a great analogue for the coronavirus pandemic, which is unprecedented in modern human history and has a long way to go.The Conversation

Glen Peters, Research Director, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo

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