giovedì 21 febbraio 2019

Humanity’s Global Warming Challenge

Global Warming is the greatest challenge that humanity must face and resolve to avoid the worst catastrophe of modern history.  The warming of the planet is underway and the consequences are visible in the intensification every year of extreme natural phenomena such as hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, floods, melting of glaciers, rising sea levelsEmissions, caused mostly from fossil fuels, which are cause global warming, continue to increase.

Scientists claim that there are only 12 years left before touching the point of no return of an increase of the earths temperature beyond the 1.5 degree threshold with respect to pre-industrial levels! Reaching this point of no return would lead to extreme phenomena so acute and frequent as to cause tens of millions of deaths and displacement of hundreds of millions of people due to the rise in sea levels and vast desertification.  Disaster can and must be averted, but we must immediately act on several fronts.

There are at least four fundamental components to the fight against Global Warming:

It is ever more necessary for individuals to change their habits for more sustainable behaviours and consumption.  Here are some examples of behaviours to follow:
  1. Apply the famous three R"s of ecology - REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE - in every action that uses natural resources.
  2.  Reduce food waste.  Economically richer societies waste a lot of food. My mother used to tell us when we were children that food is Gods gift, and you dont waste Gods gift.
  3. Reduce meat and fish consumption.  Both mostly come from intensive farming and can be harmful to peoples health because they employ hormones to fatten animals and               antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick - these substances end up to a certain degree        in the food chain and are detrimental to our health.  Furthermore, animal farms consume       from 3 to 5 times the amount of land needed to feed a vegetarian person. It would therefore be necessary to drastically reduce meat consumption and favour a predominantly                  vegetarian diet, preferably with organic products and at 0 Km (for example, my daughter  has become vegetarian for ethical and ecological reasons).
  4. Only use LED lighting for the home.  Limit heating and air conditioning in the home.
    Use home appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers only when they are fully     loaded and preferably at night.
  5. Preferably use public transport and sparingly the car.
Individual behaviours are fundamental, however they are not sufficient.  In fact, I believe that educated and socially responsible people represent about 10% of the population of developed countries, that is about 100 million individuals, plus another 100 million for the rest of the world, therefore about 200 million people on a world population of about 7.5 billion people.  Responsible and committed citizens continue to increase, but the time horizon is long and therefore individual behaviours alone are not enough.

Corporate Social Responsibility including Environmental Sustainability awareness is continuously growing amongst medium and large companies.  If the 1000 largest multinationals (especially manufacturing companies), would commit to reaching zero emissions within the next 10 years, a great step forward would have been achieved towards the rescuing of the planet and of humanity.

Fortunately, many large companies are already zero emissions, for example Google and Apple, and the numbers and commitments continue to grow.  And even in this field, responsible citizens can put pressure on companies where they work for a more responsible ecological behaviour.  Union organisations can do the same.

Unfortunately, there are only still very few governments who have environmental sustainability as a priority of their political agenda.  Amongst the great nations (in terms of population), which are most committed are China, Japan, Germany, and Scandinavian countries and the results are visible.  Italy, regretfully, is not amongst these, even though we have many natural resources such as sun, wind, and water, to be able to become a country at Zero Emissions within 10 years, if there were the necessary policies implemented that would also bring strong positive economic growth and widespread improved health for all citizens.

Here are some examples of policies for sustainability:
1.    Eliminate coal electric plants.  Coal is amongst the most polluting fossil fuels, and yet there are still many coal power plants in the world: about 40% of world electric energy is produced from coal (even Italy still has 12 coal plants).  The elimination of these power plants should be the first priority of all responsible governments, enforcing by law the shutdown of coal plants or their conversion to methane gas in a period of maximum 10 years, supplying at the same time incentives for conversion.
2.    Policies of incentives for renewable sources of energy, in particular for privately owned small solar installations of 3 to 10 KW, as well as for distributed storage systems.
3.    Build large infrastructures on rail, such as urban subway and train lines at medium/high speed for intercity transport and long distances.
4.    Stimulate the purchase of electric and hybrid plug-in vehicles.
5.    Educate citizens to differentiate waste and impose strong fines for infringement.
6.    Outlaw production of non biodegradable plastic.
7.    Ban intensive livestock farming and favour open air animal farms. 
8.    Help farmers create solar greenhouses for the production of fruit and vegetables at low water consumption, producing energy at the stame time.

Technological developments will be the major component and driver for solving the sustainability problem, because  it will make economically convenient, without incentives, eco-sustainable products and solutions.  Already today, technological progresses are enormous: for example, photovoltaic panels for small distributed systems cost 2K Euro per KW, while 12 years ago (when I installed them on my vacation home roof) their cost was 6K Euro per KW.

            1. Solar panels and electricity storage.  The cost of photovoltaic panels today is 2K Euros per KW for small distributed systems (including installation) and just over 1K Euros per KW for large photovoltaic parks.  Similar reductions as for solar, took place in the last 10 years for wind power farms.  And the same reduction has taken place for accumulators, and costs keep going down. They will probably halve in the next 5/7 years.  In addition, mini local interconnected intelligent" networks will optimise the use of electrical energy produced from these distributed clean energy sources without weighing too much on the national distribution network.

            2. E- mobility.  Electric mobility is developing very rapidly: in 2018 new electric vehicle registrations in the world have been nearly 2 million, that is almost double those of 2016. I believe this trend will continue with new registrations that will reach 4 million worldwide in 2020, 8 million in 2022, 6 million in 2024 and over 30 million in 2026.  In the meantime, storage batteries will have significantly improved allowing autonomies of 500 km already by 2024 and of over 800 km by 2027.  Finally, the infrastructures for recharging will grow tremendously and times to recharge will be reduced to a few hours at home, a few tens of minutes in public fast recharging facilities in the city (such as at shopping centers and parkings), and to a few minutes in super fast charging points in the main roads and highways.  I believe that by the end of the 2020s, new registrations of electric cars in the world will exceed those of engines with internal combustion.

Another promising innovation is that of a potential machine that can absorb" CO2 from the atmosphere and use it as fertiliser.  A prototype of such a machine is being tested and could be mass produced within 3/4 years.

These four fundamental components make me optimistic on the possibility that we can defeat potential Global Warming catastrophe.  The first component, that is individual behaviours, remains key both for its direct contribution as for the impulse it can give to the other components.