This was never more so then when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced in 2018 that unless the world took significant steps to reduce carbon emissions – we will experience catastrophic climate change.
In this image you can see a comparison of Apostelens Glacier in Norrearm Fjord Landsat from 1999 to 2016. Red arrows are the 1999 terminus location, yellow arrows the 2016 terminus location and purple arrows indicate an expanding bedrock ridge.
The evidence is clear – the oceans are warming; there is more carbon in the air forming a thick blanket over the earth; the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, especially on glaciers and the Greenland icesheet; sea levels are rising. These are facts – and while there is contention about how quickly we will be affected by the changing climate – there is no doubt we are – and will be affected into the future. It is usually at this point in any conversation I have about climate change, that things get tense – so I have tried something new…..and I think it is working.
‘How about we talk about making our planet more sustainable?’ I ask.
From here I like to start with explaining some of the amazing technologies that are being developed to help our planet and us. For example – right here in Brisbane two CSIRO researchers produced two cars powered by hydrogen derived from ammonia. In a world first, the cars were fuelled with carbon-free fuel, showing that hydrogen could be shipped safely to other markets.
You may not know this – but one of the biggest hurdles to making hydrogen powered cars able to be mass marketed (as hydrogen is highly flammable) has been figuring out how to actually transport it safely across the country. What also makes this technology great is that Hydrogen cars can be refuelled in a similar way that petrol and diesel cars are now and an average tank lasts up to 1000 Kilometres. This means that Service Stations can transition to hydrogen fuel and still function as they do now – which keeps people in jobs and our life routine the same. The last – and I think most exciting prospect for hydrogen cars is that they emit water. That’s it! So, it is great for the environment – we can all agree on that – and it can also make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Watch the ABC News Report on CSIRO Carbon-free Fuel below.
Billions of tonnes of plastic waste have polluted the planet, from the Arctic to the deepest ocean trench, and pose a particular risk to sea life. But here is another exciting prospect – scientists have found a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles. At 72 degrees Celsius the optimised enzyme can break down a tonne of PET plastic by 90% in just 10 hours. It gets even better – the degraded material can then be used to create new food-grade plastic bottles. This means that our reliance on oil can be reduced, we can cut carbon emissions and energy use and incentivise the collection and recycling of waste plastic. That is pretty awesome in my book!
The story doesn’t end here – let’s talk about renewable energy – solar, wind, geothermal and hydro-electricity.
In Australia, 21% of our electricity is generated by renewables – with the plan to increase this year on year. It is a start. Globally, Carbon emissions flattened in 2019 to around 33 gigatonnes – this is the result of a sharp decline in CO2 emissions in advanced economies mainly via the power sector where the expanding use of wind and solar, as well as the switch from coal to natural gas suggest that there is a clean energy transition happening. Where CO2 emissions are now at levels not seen since the late 1980s (when electricity demand was one-third lower). In fact, the uptake of renewable energy around the world is taking place at an unprecedented rate – wonderful news!
What about Costa Rica in Central America?
This small country of approximately 5 million people has been using 98% renewable energy accessed from rivers, volcanoes, wind, and solar power to generate its country’s power for the last 5 years. This has been so successful that they now hope by 2021 they can be completely carbon neutral. Their example is being followed by other Central American countries and is a beacon of light for the developing world.
Finally, in this time of COVID 19 – it is incredible to think about how the world has changed in just a few months. Our ‘new normal’ is going to look so different. It can be hard to see what good could come of a pandemic where nearly 360,000 people have died, but here are a couple of amazing outcomes of countries being in lockdown. In Punjab province in India, residents have been able to see the towering peaks of the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years, after a massive drop in pollution caused by the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
What about China’s Pollution?
In China, where COVID-19 first started, the lockdown has had a remarkable affect on pollution in Wuhan. NASA and the European Space Agency’s pollution monitoring satellites detected a significant decline in the amount of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) — a noxious gas emitted by cars, power plants and factories.
Let me leave you with a message of hope – we can rise to the occasion – we have the means to make our planet more sustainable – we are creative and dynamic…and the world has come together to do this before. By the 1970s scientists realised that the ozone layer was in significant decline over the Poles -especially the South Pole. The ozone layer is a region of Earth’s stratosphere that absorbs most of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation. So it is pretty important. This is the amazing bit – at time at the height of the Cold War – countries came together to sign and enact an agreement in 1987 (known as the Montreal Protocol) to stop using chlorofluorocarbons. It was the first time that so many countries agreed to do something together for the betterment of the planet – and it is working! The ozone layer is recovering across the planet. For instance, the ozone layer is expected to recover to 1980s levels by the 2030s for the northern hemisphere mid-latitudes and by the 2050s for the southern mid-latitudes, while the Antarctic ozone hole will probably recover a bit later in the 2060s.
So, we CAN do this – if we act in concert for the betterment of the planet – we will not just make our own lives better – but also those of future generations. We have to think about how we act in the world, far beyond our own lifetime – if we can do this, we really can heal the world. If you would like to listen to some great podcasts with your sons, go to the BBC’s Inside Science special report or catch up on the ABC’s Science Show series.