Specks of light amid gloomy prospects

Out of the gloom come glimmers of light, reminders that while climate change’s worst case scenario may be truly disastrous, there will always be reasons to feel better about the future. 

Here’s a sampling from my inbox on just a couple of days last week. First, a technology that promises to help Tasmanian aquaculture move away from vulnerable coastal waters into more environmentally friendly offshore locations. Last week the Western Australian company Carnegie Clean Energy told the ASX that its wavepower system, MoorPower, had shown its suitability for commercial operation, replacing diesel power for, among other things, maintenance activities for offshore fish farming.

Something that every drought-afflicted farmer dreams about: Nature Communications has just published a paper by Australian National University scientists about a new method of using sunlight to get freshwater from the ocean or from saline groundwater. It uses just a fifth of the energy demanded by the complex membranes, high pressure and heat of conventional desalination plants. 

The technique of thermodiffusive desalination – TDD for short – relies on a natural process called thermodiffusion by which salt moves in liquid water from warmer to cooler conditions. Repeated cycles of water through a temperature-controlled chamber separates out water that’s fresh enough for most crops. 

Another low-tech climate solution involving use of trees and light-coloured, light-reflective roofs to reduce heatwave impact was investigated by a Los Angeles research team looking at how such simple changes might affect the wellbeing of city people subjected to the most obvious impact of global warming, more heatwaves.

The heat team, calling themselves the Los Angeles Urban Cooling Collaborative, examined data from thousands of visits to the city’s hospital emergency rooms and looked at how these cases might be affected by changes in two critical elements, tree cover and light-coloured roofs. They found the changes could lower ground temperatures by as much as 3C and cut heatwave deaths by a quarter. 

The Australian science news feed Scimex reported on a detailed analysis by the George Institute for Global Health of Australia’s food purchasing patterns, to identify best pathways to lower emissions, and on promising work at the University of Queensland to smooth the transition to electric vehicles.

With take-up of electric cars gathering pace here, as it is throughout the developed world, the UQ team identified key steps for a smooth transition: rolling out charging stations for all electric vehicles including trucks and buses, enabling EVs to supply power to the grid, training EV mechanics and introducing in stages EV road-user charges – rich pickings for every government needing to put together policies and laws for the coming transport revolution.

Scimex also reported on studies by Murdoch University (WA), Deakin University (Victoria) and the University of Technology Sydney to develop a “reconfigurable multi-microgrid system” connecting dispersed microgrids to enable a national clean energy network to meet highly variable, intermittent demands.

How about guilt-free chocolate? Swiss food scientists have produced a palatable chocolate made solely with ingredients from a cocoa pod – importantly containing no added sugar – to eliminate production waste while cutting manufacturing and transport emissions. The new process draws on the surprising discovery that cocoa pod waste contains a chemical that performs the sweetening role of sugar.

Smart technology delivering reliable clean energy and precious water, ideas to make cities cooler, smoothing the transition to EVs and lowering food emissions, low-waste sugarless chocolate… all of these are things to take pride in. The people behind them are working in the public interest to deliver ideas and products that will make lives better and lessen our impact on the planet. 

Every day, so many creative ideas and clever technologies. Multiply that by dozens, hundreds, thousands maybe, of the people involved in each of these ideas. Scientists, technicians, engineers, data specialists, accountants, planners, doctors, executives, company directors, ordinary workers… each of whom has made a personal decision to do something to help smooth the journey ahead.

Those great efforts and thousands more besides are in vain without a critical ingredient, government. Governments must support these good actors while also making the big decisions, however uncomfortable those decisions and however troublesome the world’s bad actors.

Some bad actors seek to dominate others. Others, better intentioned but equally threatening, conceal that threat because it affects their business. The gas industry, for instance, uses every opportunity to ram home its false message that our future wellbeing depends on it being allowed to release carbon from its present safe storage under the ground and under the sea, ultimately to add to all our troubles by supercharging atmospheric warming.

As always, government is the key.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.