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Chile has been suffering devastating wildfires this month. So far, nearly one million acres have burned, 26 people have died, thousands have been injured, and many left homeless. Central Chile has been plagued by a 13-year megadrought, and its interior minister suggested the fires should serve as a wake-up call about the climate emergency. The recent heat has also been felt in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina, where temperatures reached 122 F in Buenos Aires.
Credit: Jamie Sudler, H2O Media, Ltd.
Yet, in the midst of another climate-induced disaster, some big oil companies announced they were retreating from goals they had set to address global warming. The oil giants made record profits last year based upon increasing prices after the end of COVID-19 lockdowns and following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
BP said it was reducing its pledge to limit their operations’ effects on climate change and, as the news site Vox writes, doubling down on fossil fuels. The company was one of the first to announce plans to cut emissions 35 to 40 percent by the end of this decade but now has scaled that back to 20 to 30 percent.
According to Bloomberg, ExxonMobil is now abandoning its heavily publicized efforts to make environmentally safe fuels from algae and has already halted funding for a multi-million-dollar project on algae at the Colorado School of Mines. Despite doubling its profits in 2022, Shell, Europe’s largest energy company, will limit its investment in renewables and other carbon reduction strategies to less than half of what it invests in oil and gas exploration and extraction.
According to the UN, fossil fuels including coal, oil, and gas are by far the biggest contributor to climate change, accounting for more than 75 percent of global greenhouse emissions and almost 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. An investment analyst told the Washington Post that the big oil companies have an inherent tension at the core of their business because reducing emissions means producing less oil and gas, which generates less cash flow.
The commercial interest in deep-sea mining for minerals is growing rapidly because of demand for metals, such as copper, cobalt, zinc, and gold, among others, to be used in batteries and electronic devices. Some companies have plans to use large robots to scrape the ocean floor, similar to strip mining on land, that could affect not only the seabed but also much of the marine environment with plumes of sediment and harmful noise.
A Parapagurus sp. crab makes its way across a spectacular and unexpectedly densely packed field of ferromanganese nodules blanketing the seafloor of Gosnold Seamount, explored during Dive 16 of the 2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones expedition. | Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones: New England and Corner Rise Seamounts
The Canadian government announced last week that it would not allow seabed mining in its waters without rigorous regulations and that it will urge for new rules to be put in place in international waters.
There has been much opposition to sea-bed mining because there is not enough research about its potential harm. Species in deep ecosystems have adapted to their conditions and are extremely vulnerable to human interference. According to EcoWatch, scientists have warned that sediment plumes from deep-sea mining might spread for hundreds of miles, exposing marine life to toxins.
In a statement last month, the National Assembly of France called the lack of scientific knowledge about sea mining a major risk. Similarly, the Canadian government said that there needs to be more knowledge about the potential impacts of deep-sea mining before any decision toward authorizing it. In addition to Canada, an increasing number of nations including France, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Chile have called for a moratorium or at least a pause on deep-sea mining.
Adding to concerns, in January, video recordings surfaced showing sediment being discharged on the ocean surface by a Canadian mining firm that was testing deep-sea mining in the Pacific Ocean. Greenpeace Aotearoa posted the video, which, according to the Guardian, was leaked by a group of scientists who had been hired by the mining company to monitor its operations. The scientists were concerned by what they say was a flawed process by the corporation called The Metals Company.
As global temperatures rise, glaciers around the planet are melting and creating lakes where there was once ice. The massive pools are usually kept in place by dams of ice and rock, but prolonged high temperatures or an abrupt heat wave could cause them to rupture, sending rock, ice, and water cascading downhill.
Global distribution of glacial basins, color-coded according to mountain range, with ‘High Arctic and Outlying Countries’ (HAOC) representing all basins outside of the four main ranges in this study (Alps, Andes, High Mountains Asia (HMA) and Pacific North West (PNW)). Pie charts show the proportion of exposed population as individual country contributions to the mountain range total, with pie charts sized according to percentage contribution to the 2020 global total.
According to a new study by an international team of scientists led by Newcastle University, these so-called “glacial lake outburst floods” threaten 15 million people worldwide, where downstream hydropower plants, buildings, roads, and homes could be crushed—with little warning to prepare.
The number of glacial lakes has grown rapidly since 1990 because of climate change—as has the number of people living in harm’s way. The study found that more than half of vulnerable populations are in just four countries: India, Pakistan, Peru, and China.
The research team looked at 1,089 glacial lake basins worldwide, examining the number of people living within 50 kilometers of them, as well as the level of downstream development, to quantify and rank the potential for damage. And while mountainous areas in Asia had the highest potential for glacial lake outburst flood impacts, the authors say Peru and Bolivia are areas of concern because of a lack of research in those countries.
The threat assessment was not determined by the number and size of glacial lakes, but rather the number of people a rupture could affect. For example, as Phys.org explains, thousands of people have been killed by glacier lake outburst floods in Asia, but only a handful in North American Pacific Northwest, where, although there are twice as many glacial lakes they’re not located near populated areas.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Fans who attended this year’s Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, will have chowed down a lot of chicken wings, burgers, and french fries. And while that greasy food may not do much for waistlines, the oil it’s cooked in won’t go to waste. It could be fuel for future airline flights.
Neste plans to supply the Air France-KLM Group with more than 1,000,000 tons (approximately 1.26 billion liters) of Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel™ over a period of eight years starting in 2023. | Credit: Neste
As Fast Company reports, Finnish refiner Neste will collect the leftover fryer oil from a pre-game tailgate party with more than 50 local food vendors and transform it into so-called sustainable aviation fuel or SAF.
SAF is made from oils, greases, and fats, as well as municipal waste and non-food crops. Current aircraft can blend 50 percent SAF and jet fuel without modifications, resulting in as much as an 80-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
The estimated 1,000 gallons of cooking oil used to feed 15,000 fans at the Super Bowl will become feedstock for Neste’s refining operations. The vendors will store their used fat in three 270-gallon bulk tanks provided by Neste partner Mahoney Environmental.
After the game, the oil will travel by ship to one of Neste’s refineries in Finland, the Netherlands, or Singapore to be used at one of those airports or returned to the U.S., where it is currently supplying carriers at San Francisco International, including Alaska, Delta, and United airlines.
SAF is expensive to produce so it only accounts for less than one percent of aviation fuel, but that number could take off as the industry moves to meet its net zero emission goals by 2050.
Music Credits: Pump Up the Mind, Chilled Minimalism | Instant Classix, Scandinavian Noir Thriller Music | Winnie the Moog, Inspired Life | Maze, Dark Clouds / Creative Commons