I love getting knocked out of my bubble, where it sometimes seems to constantly rain bad news about the climate crisis that crowds out anything positive. There was a recent article in The Guardian, a news organization dedicated to “independent investigative journalism,” that brightened my day. Maybe even a whole week.

This column is based on the article, “The seven megatrends that could beat global warming: There is reason for hope.” The article, in turn, is based largely on the “Mission 2020 Initiative” spearheaded by Christiana Figueres, identified as “the former U.N. climate chief who delivered the landmark Paris climate change agreement.”

Fundamental to her assessment is the assumption that we have only until 2020 to “get carbon emissions on a downward curve and on the way to beating global warming.”

This is a pretty scary assumption but she states, “We are seeing progress that is growing exponentially, and that is what gives me the most reason for hope.”

So, here are the seven megatrends.

One: Methane and meat. The report points out that more and more people on the planet are eating more and more meat as incomes rise in underdeveloped countries. But, billionaire Richard Branson boldly predicts that “in 30 years or so we will no longer need to kill animals and all meat will be (lab) or plant-based, taste the same and also be much healthier for everyone.”

His optimism is supported by Bill Gates and others, including major meat and dairy companies (Tyson, Danone and Nestle) that are putting substantial investments into plant-based foods, such as burgers, that are “competitive on taste, price and convenience.” The Chinese government is also investing hundreds of millions in lab-grown meat.

Two: Renewable energy production. Despite President Trump and his fixation on coal (see below) Figueres says, “I am no longer concerned about electric power.” This confidence is based on the 90-percent plunge in “production costs for solar panels and wind turbines” just in the last 10 years, such that these two renewable sources are “in many parts of the world already the cheapest electricity available.“ The article also states “two-thirds of all new power in 2016 was renewable.”

Three: “King coal: dead and dying.” The article claims, “A flip side of the renewable boom is the death spiral of coal, the filthiest of fossil fuels.” The International Energy Agency in 2013 predicted that coal as a source of electricity would grow by 40 percent in the next two decades but in 2017 revised that to just 1 percent.

The caveat is that although “new” coal plants are already more expensive than solar and wind, the really significant turning point will come when renewables are cheaper than existing coal plants, which Mission 2020 expects could occur as early as 2030.

Four: Electric cars. Although global sales of electric vehicles represent less than 2 percent of total car sales, some analysts claim this represents “lift-off” for the industry and that by 2030, 80 percent of all new car sales will be electric. As with many of these seven megatrends, China is leading the way and now sells more electric cars than the United States and Europe combined.

Five: Batteries. One knock on renewables is that the sun doesn’t shine 24/7 and the wind does not always blow, so where will all these electric cars, as well as household appliances, get a reliable source of electricity?

The megatrend here is similar to that of solar and wind: the cost of battery storage has declined more than 75 percent in just the past six years and the International Energy Agency expects a further decline of 50 to 66 percent by 2030.

Battery storage may not be sufficient for long periods when solar or wind are unable to contribute to the grid, but this is being addressed through storage of compressed gas as well as long-distance interconnectivity of the grid.

Six: Energy efficiency. This is certainly a hallmark of California’s energy policy with more or less constant re-evaluation of standards for both buildings and appliances. Though this effort at constant improvement in energy efficiency at times makes it difficult for appliance manufacturers, not to mention local builders and code enforcement officials, the push is on for “zero net energy” homes and other buildings.

Seven: Trees. This is one of those things that sounds sort of wishy-washy. “Really, if I just plant a tree I’m helping combat the climate crisis?” Well, yes; it may be small but it’s a contribution.

Also needed, however, are massive tree planting and reforestation projects. Unfortunately, this is one megatrend that is going in the wrong direction. The article indicates that although destruction of forests globally accounts for 10 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, “annual tree losses have roughly doubled since 2000” and more money is being put into cutting down forests than in replacing these forests or planting new ones.

Hope rests on the fact that it can be done. For example, the article claims that tree-planting programs in China, India and South Korea in the past two decades have removed CO2 from the atmosphere equal to “three times the entire European Union’s annual emissions.”

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis; his column is published on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Send comments to johnmottsmith@comcast.net.

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

January 17, 2018 | Posted in Columns Tagged A4PRINTED

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