Climate change: six positive news stories you probably missed in 2018


Climate change news can be incredibly depressing. In 2018 alone, The Conversation covered the loss of three trillion tonnes of ice in Antarctica; Brazil’s new president and why he will be disastrous for the Amazon rainforest; a rise in global CO₂ emissions; and a major IPCC report which warned we are unlikely to avoid 1.5℃ of warming.

Then there were the rogue hurricanesintense heatwavesmassive wildfires and the possibility we are emitting our way towards a Hothouse Earth. Global warming has left some wintery animals with mismatched camouflage, and it may even cause a global beer shortage.

But things cannot be entirely bad, can they? We asked some climate researchers to peer through the smog and highlight a few more positive stories from 2018.

Renewable energy is being set up faster than ever

Rick Greenough, professor of energy systems, De Montfort University

2018 saw the largest annual increase in global renewable generation capacity ever, with new solar photovoltaic capacity outstripping additions in coal, natural gas and nuclear power combined.

This is one of several hopeful signs that the “cleantech” sector is rising to the challenge of climate change. The UK, for instance, set new records for wind generation. And now that subsidy-free solar generation has proven possible, there are plans for the UK’s largest solar farm to provide the cheapest electricity on the grid, thanks to battery backup (crucial for intermittent renewable technology). Tesla, meanwhile, installed the world’s largest lithium battery in Australia and it is set to pay back a third of its cost within one year.

Chernobyl fights against climate change

Mike Wood, reader in applied ecology, University of Salford

Three decades ago, the world experienced its worst nuclear accident to date. The damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant released large quantities of radioactive material into the environment, necessitating evacuation of an area now known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ). But forget the popularised imagery of a nuclear wasteland; Chernobyl is now home to an amazing diversity of wildlife, its forests are expanding and the future of this region is looking positive.

In the fight against climate change, there is a global need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to increase the removal and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (a process known as carbon sequestration). The ongoing expansion of Chernobyl’s forests means more atmospheric carbon is becoming incorporated into the trees. Additionally, the central part of the CEZ is now home to a major new solar farm development and wind farm development is being considered. Consequently, this post-accident landscape is now contributing to a sustainable future.

A new mobilising force for climate action

Anna Pigott, researcher in environmental humanities, Swansea University

The Extinction Rebellion direct action movement might not be the most obvious choice for positivity, what with its use of skull imagery and banners such as the one hung over Westminster Bridge in November reading: “Climate Change: We’re F****d”. But a closer look suggests that the movement’s acknowledgement of personal and collective despair in the face of environmental collapse might be a very positive move indeed.

As its co-founder Gail Bradbrook explains, “grief is welcome here – it is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity”. Poets and scholars alike have long spoken about how grief mobilises awareness and action, but rarely has this wisdom found its way into large environmental movements.

Pain usefully alerts us to problems that need our attention, and, in the case of climate change and species loss, our grief is a sign that we care deeply. Now is not the time to turn our back on such emotions. As the poet Mary Oliver has written: “You tell me your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” For many, the Extinction Rebellion movement has given them permission to grieve, and to share this grief with others. And this could be the most mobilising force for climate action yet.

Global economic growth may have peaked

Daniele Malerba, honorary research fellow, University of Manchester

Expansion in the global economy may have peaked, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The economic think-tank is worried by the slowdown, but it may actually be good news for the climate and possibly for society too. This is because less global economic growth means less production, less consumption – and lower emissions.

But any slowdown or eventual reversal in growth must happen in an equitable way to make sure that human well-being still increases. This is why an increasing number of researchers, politicians and citizens are advocating for degrowth.

Degrowth addresses the issue technological improvements are not enough to avoid climate change and an alternative to capitalism is urgently needed. The recent protests in France show that environmental and social issues need to go hand-in-hand. And this is critical in a situation when populist movements are spreading. Degrowth is the solution. As Ghandi once said, we have enough for everybody’s needs, but not everybody’s greed.

Glimmer of hope in emissions reduction

Parakram Pyakurel, researcher, Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering, Solent University

A lot still needs to be done to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions but not all is doom and gloom. For instance, the US, UK and Japan are among the countries whose total carbon emissions from energy fell in 2017 (the most recent year available), according to BP’s statistical review of world energy.

Interestingly, Ukraine showed the greatest reduction, with its 2017 energy emissions around 10% lower than in the previous year. This was thanks to a big fall in coal use, perhaps part of the country’s grand vision of a 2050 low emission development strategy, though it remains to be seen whether Kiev will take the strategy seriously in the long term.

Other nations that managed to reduce their energy emissions include South Africa, Argentina, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. We’ll need to carefully monitor the statistics in upcoming years to see whether they continue on this path.

Local community energy is doing well

Rory Telford and Stuart Galloway, Department of Engineering, University of Strathclyde

Renewable generation technologies such as wind turbines or solar photovoltaics are now a familiar sight, but many may not realise that communities themselves are accelerating the transition towards low carbon energy. In Scotland, the government’s programme to support local involvement in renewable energy has been a success. An initial target of having 500MW of community and local owned energy was achieved early and with policy stability and continued effort the new 1GW target by 2020 also looks achievable.

The Smart Fintry project based in Stirlingshire is an excellent example of a community approach to decentralised energy provision. The project balances local renewable electricity generation with community energy needs via dynamic energy management technology and an innovative tariff. This offers far greater flexibility to the network and cheaper energy for households.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Rick Greenough, Professor of Energy Systems at De Montfort University, Anna Pigott, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Swansea University, Daniele Malerba, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, Mike Wood, Reader in Applied Ecology at the University of Salford, Parakram Pyakurel, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering at Southampton Solent University, Rory Telford, Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde, and Stuart Galloway, Professor of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde.
Read the original article here.

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  • Muslim doctors open free clinic for uninsured patients in a Ohio mosque


    In this time of religious tensions, a small piece of good news can go a long way in restoring your faith in humanity. This positive bit, for example, comes all the way from the United States. Northeast Ohio, to be precise.

    👉 In Parma, a small city close to Cleveland, a group of Muslim doctors decided to convert some of the local mosque's spare rooms into a free health clinic where everybody is welcomed, no matter if uninsured or not Muslim.

    As reported by local media outlet News5 Cleveland, The Cleveland Ibn Sina Clinic opened just a few weekends ago but more than 30 patients have already received treatment.

    "We have the ability, we have the potential, we have the resources,” said Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, who is one of the 20 doctors that committed to volunteering their expertise. "Giving a little bit of your time, I think, goes a long way in making a difference in people's lives," he added.

    “A lot of the doctors came here from foreign countries outside the United States looking for better opportunities. Now that they are established, some of them are practicing with hospitals, some of them have their own practice, now they want to come together and give back to the community,” commented Hala Sanyurah, who is the clinic's Communication Director.

    The clinic — that will not just focus on primary health issues but also on more specific diseases like asthma, diabetes, and mental illness  is the first free medical facility in the region.

    Credit header image: Stu Spivack 

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  • Winter was frigid because the polar vortex got ‘drunk'


    The mere mention of the term “polar vortex” elicits thoughts of bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills. Most people are aware that the frigid air in the Northern Hemisphere is coming directly from the Arctic region, yet they don’t know why polar vortexes happen.

    Not surprisingly, this has led to some rather heated debate. One side of the argument claims that the polar vortex is a result of climate change and human activity. The other side suggests this is a natural phenomenon that proves global warming is false and that humans are not involved in altering our climate.

    The truth is the former is correct. But trying to convince someone to accept this reality might be a difficult challenge. Thankfully, when it comes to the cause of the polar vortex, there is a relatively easy — and for some, relatable — explanation. Quite simply, the polar vortex gets drunk.

    My research expertise is in microbiology, immunology and chemical mechanisms of molecular interaction (think antibiotics).

    As a science communicator, one of my greatest hurdles is defining the intricacies of research into language with which people can understand. This means going deep into the literature and finding the mechanism behind the result. It also means having a deep level of knowledge in a variety of different science branches.

    In some cases, the information can be difficult to convey to a wider audience. But when it comes to the polar vortex, it’s not difficult at all.

    A close examination of the chemistry associated with the onset of these cold snaps reveals a near-perfect resemblance to a chemical shift our bodies encounter during alcohol consumption. The results reveal that both humans and the planet are similarly susceptible to unexpected and unwanted movements.

    Unstable masses

    Most of us can recognize when someone has had too much to drink. Their speech is slurred and they have troubles with their balance. This latter symptom is why the walk-and-turn sobriety test is effective — an inebriated person has trouble moving in a straight line.

    Maintaining posture and balance is a complicated neurological process. Research has revealed that one molecule, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), is necessary for us to achieve this goal. Our brains use this neurotransmitter to help control the signals to our muscles, particularly when we feel the effects of gravity or being pushed by another person.

    When we drink alcohol, GABA helps us preserve our balance and posture. But once we end up losing the necessary levels of GABA needed to keep us upright, we sway, stagger and stumble. Only when we’ve sobered up and increased our GABA levels are we able to regain our balance.

    A similar process occurs in the Arctic.

    Cold sober

    The polar vortex, officially known as the stratospheric polar vortex (SPV), is a stable air mass that tends to stay put when it’s cold sober. In the same way we feel an internal heat during alcohol consumption, the region can warm up with an infiltration of air from the south, better known as a sudden stratospheric warming. When this happens, the steadiness of the vortex is challenged.

    Much like our brains have GABA to maintain stability, the SPV also has a chemical that helps to maintain stability. It’s ozone.

    When levels remain high, the vortex stays in place. But should the levels drop, then the vortex starts to sway, stagger and then stumble southward, a process known as outward eddy transport. Depending on how low the ozone levels drop, the vortex can stretch well into the southern United States and Europe. Eventually, the SPV sobers up, the ozone levels recover, and the air mass stays up north. But this recovery can be slow and leave those affected freezing for weeks instead of days.

    As to what causes the ozone loss, it’s a reaction with a variety of chemicals in the air. Researchers can observe the process in real time and have found that the offenders are not alcoholic in nature but happen to be compounds that contain nitrogen and chlorine. The Earth produces these chemicals in the form of volcanic output and forest fire emissions, and this can lead to a drunk polar region.

    But the frequency of these events has increased from one every few years to one very few months. There must be another perpetrator.

    Thanks to real-time examinations of polar vortex movements over the last 20 years, we can easily finger the culprit: industrial air pollution. These commercial activities produce more than enough of the nitrogen and chlorine chemicals to reduce ozone levels and cause those drunken staggers. The data clearly shows that the blame for the rise in those cold blasts falls squarely on us.

    As this winter’s supply of polar vortex events comes to an end, so should the debate over whether the polar vortex is real — it is — and whether these movements are due to human activity — they are. Until we find ways to reduce our dependence on ozone-removing chemicals, all we can do is hope for the best and brace for the worst.

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Jason Tetro, Visiting Scientist at the University of Guelph You can read the original article here

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  • Inside the Hospital of St. Cross, UK's oldest charitable institution


    Here at Kinder, we're often busy thinking about the future of philanthropy and how charitable organizations will look like 100 years from now.

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    One of them is the Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty in Winchester England, that actually prides itself to be the UK's oldest charitable institution.

    Founded around the year 1132, the almshouse was initiated by Bishop Henry of Blois to support thirteen poor men who were unable to work and to feed some 100 people who showed up at the gates every day.

    The thirteen men became known as the "Brothers of St. Cross". Despite the religious connotations of the term "brother", the Brothers of St. Cross were not and are not monks, therefore St. Cross is not a monastery. 

    The Wayfarer's Dole

    The Hospital of St. Cross' most unique and famous charitable endeavor is surely the so-called "Wayfarer's dole".

    According to this delightful tradition, every visitor of the almshouse can ask for a free horn of beer and a morsel of bread. As recalled by the organization's website, the custom was started by a monk from Cluny, in France, whose holy order always gave bread and wine to travelers.

    After so many centuries, this tradition still continues nowadays as seen in the BBC's program Songs of Praise👇

    The Hospital of St. Cross, which is hosted in a beautiful medieval building immersed in the British countryside, is regularly open for visits. Head to the organization's website for additional information.

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