Climate News Roundup – Week of 7/5
An experimental Swiss aircraft christened the Solar Impulse completed the world’s first 26-hour solar flight on July 8. The 3,500-pound plane has 206-foot wings covered in 12,000 solar cells, and batteries used to store energy for nighttime flight. The project has been hailed as a great success – not is solar flight is possible, but it is even possible at nighttime. The plane had achieved an altitude of 27,877 feet around sunset, and then glided down to 4,500 feet before the sun rose again and the solo pilot, André Borschberg, resumed power generation for the engines. Experiencing nighttime temperatures of -4*F inside the cockpit, Borschberg noted that his drinking water had frozen during the flight and his iPod battery had died. He used a combination of yoga poses, breathing exercises, and a bottle of water spray to stay awake. The project’s developers are hopeful about the future of solar flight. Solar Impulse’s next step is to create a solar plane capable of flying in perpetual motion to be launched by 2013 for a round-the-world flight.
Analysis of recent commitments to curbing CO2 emissions are showing that global average temperature will increase 3.5*C by 2100, rather than the 2*C target agreed to by multiple governments at Copenhagen. While there is a wide range of model estimates of how current commitments, and real action, will affect climate – anywhere in the range from 2.3*C to 4.3*C – there seems to be a growing consensus that most 2020 commitments for reducing emissions cannot accomplish the 2*C goal set out in the Copenhagen Accord, let alone the 1.5*C goal that some island nations are calling for. The IPCC predicted that while at 2*C up to 30% of species may face extinction, at 4*C there would be reduction in food production capacity, massive extinctions, and the near-complete loss of the Greenland ice sheet. While the threat of a 4*C increase is certainly alarming, optimism remains. “There’s more work to do if we’re going to avoid a 2C temperature rise which is why we’re pushing the EU to cut its emissions by 30%,” said a UK Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesperson. “Keeping below 2C is still possible from the high end Copenhagen accord offers, but will require steeper action after 2020.”
Researchers Rush to Fill Noah’s Ark Seed Bank While Politicians Bicker, Scientific American
The Millennium Seed Bank in England is enduring the turmoil of politics as it faces funding cuts. The project’s mission is straightforward: to collect and store one-quarter of the world’s plant species before they face extinction. But roughly US$3,000 is required for to collect and store each species, and in a political environment where skepticism of climate change appears to be gaining ground, politicians are less keen to fund the project, questioning the practicality of seed storage. “We are almost certainly looking at cuts. Rather than just standing still at a time when we need to be moving forward faster, we are going backwards. We are already losing species,” the head of the seed bank, Paul Smith, said. The bank prioritizes rescue efforts for species that are most at risk, and already stores the seeds of 20 extinct species and many more that are believed to be extinct. Threats to plant survival range from deforestation to disease, and climate change is also a major threat. But, says Smith, in a post-Copenhagen political environment that threat may be seriously undervalued, and the consequences – for plants, at the very least – could ultimately be disastrous.
Germany’s Federal Environment Agency said last week that Germany might become the first industrialized nation to entirely kick dependency on fossil fuels for energy. The nation already sources 16% of its energy from renewables, up from 5% in 1995. Given that trend, the president of the FEA stated that a complete break from fossil fuels was not only possible, but that the 2050 timeline could be accelerated with technological advances. Germany already is the world leader in photovoltaics, producing nearly 9,000 megawatts per year. It is also the world’s second-largest producer of wind energy after the United States. Energy production in Germany accounts for 40% of their greenhouse gas emissions, and so the 2050 plan presents a significant reduction in emissions for Germany.