Those of us living in the United States can easily get wrapped up in the domestic energy picture, but it is important to stop and take a look at how renewables are doing in other countries too.
If you peruse a list of countries by 2008 emissions, the top emitter of carbon dioxide is currently China, followed closely by the U.S. China accounts for 23.5% of world emissions, and the U.S. is responsible for 18.27%. However, the good news is that China’s renewable-energy industry is currently on the upswing due to supportive government policies and generous subsidies; so much so that they’ve achieved the height of the world’s wind and solar industries. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Everything is made in China.” The U.S. does import many goods from China, but a report released this week titled, “Advantage America” analyzed trade between the two countries in solar, wind and smart-grid technology and services in 2011.
The analysis, by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Pew Charitable Trusts, showed $6.5 billion in renewable energy technology and services traded between the U.S. and China. But the U.S. sold $1.63 billion more to China than it imported.
It’s good to see both countries making such strides in renewable energy. Oftentimes, the countries are perceived as being in competition with one another, but a more accurate picture would be that they are interdependent. The bottom line is that both countries should be doing as much as possible to focus on renewables, especially considering they’re the top two carbon dioxide emitters on the planet. And the global interest and investments in renewables doesn’t stop there.
Saudi Arabia, a country with the world's second largest oil reserves, is beginning a green revolution. This week, Saudi King Abdullah revealed ambitious plans to develop renewable energy programs that will produce 54,000 megawatts of electricity by 2032 as part of a strategy to save 1.2 million barrels of their oil per day for export.
King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-Care) is a strategy paper set up by King Abdullah in 2010 to develop alternative energy sources so the country won't have to burn millions of barrels of oil a year on power generation. KA-Care outlines the preliminary phases of the kingdom's agenda for its energy future and focuses on thermal solar, photo-voltaic solar, wind, geothermal and waste-to-energy. Much of the desert landscape in the Persian Gulf is well suited to solar energy production; a fact that has not escaped the Saudi’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The UAE, with 8% of the world's proven oil reserves, has also embarked on a major renewables program, which focuses on nuclear and solar energy production. By taking a look at the global energy picture, we see that even those countries with vast fossil fuel resources recognize the finite limitations of their reserves and the importance of investing in sustainable energy projects, which is great news in the fight against climate change. Every country on the planet contributes to global warming, and every country will have to do their part in order to pave the way to a sustainable energy future.
Most of the time, we do not take into account the complete costs to producing or consuming a good or service. This is because we focus on the explicit costs. For example, if we were to bake a loaf of bread, we would take into account the cost of the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, milk, and butter. Perhaps we would even calculate our labor time to make the dough and the cost of running the oven, but would we account for the carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere for the delivery truck that delivered the baking supplies? How about the CO2 emissions from the power plant burning fossil fuels to generate the electricity to run the oven? The problem is that we are not required to bear the full cost of production. Some of the costs to bake that loaf of bread were shifted to society as a whole.
Even if we did not bake the loaf of bread ourselves, we’re still shifting costs to society as a whole just by consuming it. Our cars burn gasoline to drive to and from the grocery store, and regardless if we walked or biked, gasoline was likely also burned to deliver the bread to the grocery store in the first place. Sure the delivery truck paid for the gasoline, but many companies do not pay for the carbon emissions their operations generate.
We need to make some drastic changes to avoid the ills of global warming, which we are beginning to see affect our daily lives, but the logistics of transforming our world’s energy system can be intimidating. The first thing we need to do is get off fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources. Easier said than done, I know. It will be a complex and time-consuming process converting power plants, vehicles/transport systems, homes and commercial buildings. Unfortunately, time is not on our side here. We really need to reduce carbon emissions 80% by 2050.
So then the question becomes how can we transition the world’s energy infrastructure to sustainable sources by mid-century? One of the ways suggested is to implement a tax on CO2 emissions that begins low and gradually increases. There should be no mystery either about how much and at what intervals over time the tax will rise. Then people, businesses and governments can plan their fossil fuel exit strategy.
The revenues the carbon tax generates should be directed into subsidizing renewable energy innovation and overhauling energy infrastructure.
Ideally, the carbon tax should be global. Again there are logistical challenges to this climate change solution. The key is that we need a systematic and practical process. Isn’t it time we started taking responsibility for the full costs of production and consumption? Society is bearing the cost as a whole, and society as a whole needs to be part of the solution.
Depending on where in the world you live, it might be easy to forget that the environment is more than just the air we breathe or the land under our feet. It’s important to keep in mind that the oceans also are being affected radically by climate change. The oceanic problems are too numerous to list. However, this week we are taking a closer look at one issue that people in different parts of the planet face, rising oceans as the polar ice caps melt and more saltwater.
Those of us that live in the United States might not be aware how rich we are in freshwater sources as say countries in the Middle East that are very arid environments. Obviously those countries have other resources that we lack, but water is essential to life. Our planet may be covered in a great deal of water, but much of it is unusable to humans in its natural state because of the high salt content.
Did you know that salt is expelled from seawater when it freezes? Although some brine is trapped, the overall salinity of sea ice is much lower than seawater. So the seas are rising as previously permanently frozen parts of the planet melt. This means that not only is there more water, but it’s becoming salty as it melts.
Desalination is any of several processes that remove some amount of salt and other minerals from saline water. Unfortunately, it is quite an energy intensive process. Last week, a new renewable energy desalination project was announced in Masdar, Abu Dhabi, which is in the United Arab Emirates. The project seeks to transform seawater into useable, freshwater on land by building a commercially viable and renewable energy-powered desalination plant by 2020.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region of the Middle East is comprised of the Arabian Peninsula countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman. The GCC formed in 1981 and uses about half the world’s desalinated water.
Of course, accessing renewable energy is not the only impediment to sustainable desalination. Another effect of global warming is oceanic acidification that contributes to massive algae blooms. These algae blooms can shut down a desalination plant. There are other unwanted components that might be present in seawater such as radioactive material from warships and nuclear power plants which would need to be removed before the water could be used safely.
Despite other lingering issues, it is still worth asking the question, “Can these enormous desalination plants powered by renewable energy help mitigate some of the issues we face from rising sea levels?” The answer is, “Every bit helps.” But don’t start thinking it’s a magic bullet since none exists. We still all need to do our parts in reducing our carbon emissions and footprints. However, it is good news that desalination can be a sustainable and environmentally responsible industrial solution and worth noting that low cost, low impact renewable energy technologies do exist.
Environmental conservation is a broad, global goal that will only be achieved by the aggregate of actions taken by small businesses and individuals in communities around the world. Carbonfund.org is engaged in large-scale initiatives, such as the development of our forestry projects in Brazil, but we continue to offer simple and affordable ways for any person, family or start-up business to make a difference in the fight against the negative impact of climate change.
Our personal emissions offsetting programs and CarbonFree® Business Partnerships help everyone to be part of the solution to climate change. New CarbonFree® Partner Citizen Yogurt is a great example of a local business putting its community and environmental mission into action. Citizen Yogurt in Raleigh, North Carolina is a 100% locally owned and operated family business, offering self-serve frozen yogurt with bold and unusual flavors and toppings, and a commitment to social and environmental responsibility.
Citizen Yogurt’s community involvement includes sponsoring local swim teams, sports clubs and organizations in their neighborhood. They sponsor charitable donation nights where at least 10% of the night’s revenue will go to community organizations. The yogurt shop features sustainable bamboo hardwood floors and their yogurt comes from rBST-free cows.
“Citizen Yogurt has chosen to take a different path to success. We have committed to running our business in the best way possible – including the impact on the environment and community. Carbonfund.org’s transparency, not-for-profit status and strong partner list help make that goal easier to achieve,” states Charles Park, Owner and President of Citizen Yogurt.
Citizen Yogurt joined the CarbonFree® Business Partnership program this year, neutralizing their annual operational emissions by supporting Carbonfund.org’s projects that reduce carbon emissions elsewhere through reforestation efforts, energy efficiency innovation and renewable energy technology development. Their CarbonFree® Business Partnership program underscores their commitment to sustainable operations and helps to create awareness in their local area about mitigating carbon emissions and encouraging customers to think about environmental commitments in their own lives.
We believe that Citizen Yogurt is leading by example as a great model for environmental commitment while serving up tasty froyo treats to the Raleigh community.
The proliferation of killer whales bred in captivity, on display in aquariums and public performances, and in Hollywood movies over the past thirty years has spurred the interest in killer whale watching in the wild. Yet the worldwide population of Orcas has been difficult for researchers to assess, and the species is threatened by depletion of the global fish population, oceanic pollution, large-scale oil spills, and habitat disturbance caused by noise and conflicts with boats, including whale watching tour operators.
Organizations such as the Pacific Whale Watch Association has helped by establishing strong memberships and specific guidelines for whale watching tours that help to protect both the whales and the tour groups seeking the memorable experience of watching Orcas in the wild.
In a stronger step towards developing environmentally-responsible tour operations, Carbonfund.org is pleased to announce a new partnership that brings carbon neutral whale watching to the Vancouver Island area. Carbonfund.org has recently partnered with Eagle Wing Tours, a locally owned and family operated marine adventure eco-tourism company based on Vancouver Island, to create Canada’s first carbon neutral whale watching experience. Eagle Wing Tours assessed the full estimated annual carbon emissions from its whale watching tour operations and established a carbon mitigation program through Carbonfund.org by supporting our carbon reduction and clean energy technology projects. This carbon neutral program is the final step in Eagle Wing Tours’ Go Green Whale Watching Program.
“We are trying to redefine what a wildlife tour company is. Spotting that whale is the cherry on top of an all ready very comprehensive marine experience,” explains Brett Soberg, Co-Owner and Captain at Eagle Wing Tours. “What we can do to protect these species by supporting education, conservation and responsible business is where we really count. We selected to support Carbonfund.org due their non-profit designation which supports our 1% For the Planet membership.”
Carbonfund.org encourages eco-tourism companies to carefully monitor their environmental impact and to mitigate harmful emissions by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy innovation, and supporting forestry and habitat preservation. We are pleased to welcome Eagle Wing Tours to join our eco-tourism partners in these efforts.