Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Encounters At The End Of The World - A students review

Just over a week ago now Millie watched this film and when she wrote her review she stated that it was one of her favourite films behind Harry Potter. Anyone who has been in a classroom when Harry Potter has been mentioned when Millie was around probably got the impression that she likes it rather a lot! So, as soon as she made this comparison I thought she must really really rate this film and so I thought I would watch it to see if it is any good......

The documentary consists of surreal footage of both above and below the ice and interviews with some interesting (and rather unique) people that work in Antarctica who are clearly very passionate and enthusiastic about the work they do. The footage of the scenery and the wildlife is unbelievable and the noises of the seals, the ice and just pure silence are literally out of this world. The documentary provides an insight into the research that is being conducted in Antarctica which ranges from studying the nutritional content of Waddell seal milk and neutrino detection to the study of the ice caps. All of this research is vital, especially the studies on ice caps as they hold the potential for us to gain a better understanding of both past and future changes within the climate.

I am a bit of an animal lover and so the bits involving seals and penguins really interested me but the bit that grabbed the most of my attention was the volcano stuff - especially the images of inside the fumaroles. Before watching this documentary I had never even heard of fumaroles before and to be honest I don't really know a lot about volcanoes. I still can't get over the sheer size of the fumaroles that are dotted around the sides of Mount Erebus. The documentary didn't really explain how they formed the massive ice towers or the caves but, as I couldn't get the images of the vast caves and towering chimneys out of my head, I just had to try and gain some understanding of how they are formed (sorry - I get a little enthusiastic about many things and my hunger for knowledge means I hate the feeling of not knowing!). Fumaroles are openings in the Earth's crust that emit steam and gas. The steam is created when superheated water turns to steam because the pressure of the water drops as it emerges from the ground. However if a lot of groundwater is present the fumaroles can turn into hot springs which provide a source of water that is heated by the escaping gases. The gases released are not always toxic and this is why scientists are able to enter some of the fumaroles on Mount Erebus. Fumaroles can occur individually or as part of a fumarole field. A fumarole field is an area that consists of both hot springs and gas vents that are created because the shallow location of magma and hot igneous rocks means they interact with the groundwater and release gases. In Antarctica the gas and steam that seeps through the openings in the Earth's crust cause the snow above to melt and this carves out huge caves within the snow. As the steam rises it freezes and chimney like features are created. Over time these get bigger and bigger and some of the fumaroles on Erebus are estimated to be two stories high (I think this is kind of the basics).

Anyway back to the review.......
I have to admit that I totally agree with what Millie said in her review about how she didn't like how developed McMurdo was. I understand the importance of the research that is being conducted in Antarctica and that some infrastructure is required for this to happen but, to me, it just seemed wrong to see a construction site accompanied by lots of heavy machinery in the backdrop of Antarctica - an area that I previously (and maybe naïvely) believed to be almost like a different world that was free from human influences and the encroachment of civilisation.

Overall I think this film is definitely worth watching as it provides an insight into the work that is being conducted in Antarctica, what it is like to live there and what Antarctica is like in general. Apart from a few links to climate change it is not necessarily relevant to our current module but it did make me think about the fact that if global temperatures rise, in say 30-50 years’ time (or maybe even less, who knows) the landscape, that is portrayed in this documentary through some simply stunning footage, is going to look very different to what it does today.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Dealing with the aftermath of flooding

This is slightly off topic (if you can bear the length there is a link to climate change right at the end) but I have been trying to keep ontop of some of the population and rivers stuff and so I thought I would try and write a blog post which discussed how different countries deal with the aftermath of flooding. I have also tried to explain how the La Nina oscillation caused extreme rainfall in Australia and Sri Lanka but it is rather complicated - don't fret it is no longer on the syllabus!

Over the past few weeks the news has been filled with stories about flooding across the globe. It is believed that they have all been caused by the same thing – the La Niña oscillation. This oscillation is rather complicated and scientists don’t really understand why or how it happens but I am going to try and explain some of the basics (as I understand them). La Niña occurs when the surface temperature of the water in the eastern Pacific cools and the western waters get warmer. This increase in surface temperature to the west means that the water has more energy and so heavy rainfall and storms become more frequent. The cold water from the deep depths of the ocean gradually rises upwards and collects off the west coast of South America. Strong easterly trade winds pull the cold water across the Pacific. This causes warm water and high pressures to build up along the east coast of south-east Asia and Australia where it becomes trapped which results in heavy rainfall. La Niña has varying impacts on the climate in different parts of the world. Usually the parts of the world that normally experience dry weather become drier and those with wet weather become wetter. The Atlantic and Pacific hurricane activity often increases with La Niña and the effects of severe droughts are likely in those already dry parts of the world.
Although it is believed that the recent floods in Australia and Sri Lanka were caused by the same weather system; the precipitation that fell has had very different impacts on these regions and the two different countries have taken very different approaches to deal with the aftermath of the flooding. Brazil has also experienced floods but it is unclear if this was caused by La Niña as the Met Office claim that La Niña should have made Brazil drier this year. This is an example of how scientists are still unsure about La Niña and also El Nino which has the opposite effect on the climate. The El Nino Southern Oscillation is created when the trade winds that blow along the South American coast from the south east weaken and the temperature of the sea along the South American coast begins to rise. The atmospheric pressure decreases in the eastern Pacific and rises in the western Pacific which causes the warm air and water to move to the eastern side of the Pacific where it replaces the colder water supplied by the Humboldt current. Usually this causes increased levels of precipitation for the western and southern areas of South America and, the lower ocean temperatures create exceptionally dry weather in the countries in the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific. It is unclear what causes the switch between a La Niña and an El Nino and scientists don’t really know if there is any pattern to when they switch.
In Australia the floods, so far, are believed to have claimed 35 lives but there are still some people missing. The floods forced thousands of people to abandon their homes and their belongings. The flooding was caused because the annual monsoon rains coincided with La Niña. These two different weather phenomena do not usually occur simultaneously but, as I am sure you are all aware, when they did the impact on Australia was vast. Last year Australia experienced many bush fires and droughts and the conditions required to provoke these events were created by the El Nino Southern Oscillation. This meant that the ground was extremely dry and so flash floods became a possibility if enough precipitation fell in a short time. As you are all aware, this is exactly what happened as the La Niña oscillation at the beginning of the year, which has been suggested to be the strongest one on record, created an awful lot of rain. Australia experienced its wettest December on record in Queensland with around four times the average rainfall in places and between 400mm and 1200mm (up to 4ft) of rain fell during that four-week period in coastal areas of Queensland. It is not just Queensland that has been hit by flooding. The south eastern state of Victoria has also experienced floods. The Victorian floods are estimated to have killed at least 6,000 sheep and washed away 41,000 hectares of crops, costing the agricultural sector as much as $2 billion in lost production and damaged infrastructure. The impacts of the flooding in Australia vary from the destruction of infrastructure and the loss of materialistic items to the impacts it will have on the Great Barrier Reef. Fortunately only a small percentage of people who were affected by the flooding have lost their lives but, especially in developing countries, this is often not the case. The next problem facing the Australian government is how are they going to deal with the aftermath of the flooding and ultimately who is going to pay for the massive clean-operation.

The clean-up operation is going to be a gigantic task as houses will have to be cleaned, redecorated, refurnished and have all the electrical systems replaced. Fortunately, in developed countries, most insurance companies will provide the funds for most of this. This will have to be done in every house in every one of the 80 communities that was affected by this flooding. Also other infrastructure, especially bridges and roads, will have to be repaired and the cost of this is going to huge. The backbone of the recovery effort is being provided by aid assigned by the Government, charitable donations and help from the military but this is not enough to rebuild the areas hit by the floods. To help foot the bill the Australian Government, from the 1st July, is implementing a 12 month flood tax for all those who earn over A$50,000 and who were not affected by the floods. The new tax will charge an extra 0.5% on those earning A$50,000-A$100,000 and 1% more on those earning more than A$100,000 and this tax is expected to raise about A$1.8bn. Australia is developed country and so has the resources, and economy, to recover fairly quickly on their own but for other, less developed countries, it is a different story………….
Sri Lanka also experienced wide scale flooding over the last few months. It is believed that as many as 390,000 people have been driven from their homes and at least 3,744 houses have been destroyed, according to the country's Disaster Management Centre. Although, at present, only 37 people have been killed; in developing countries the secondary effects are often worse than the primary effects. It is believed that 400,000 children could starve as the floods have destroyed 21% of the rice crops in the country and so food shortages are an impending issue. Developing countries often have very poor sanitation and so the spread of water borne diseases, like cholera, is likely. Once the water supplies become contaminated it is very difficult to contain the spread of the disease and this is exactly what happened in Haiti and the outbreak has killed over 1000 people. In terms of the cost of repairing the damage, in Sri Lanka it is a lot lower than the cost of rebuilding the Australian states affected. The cost of rebuilding Sri Lanka is estimate to be around £315 million but the country cannot afford to foot this bill. The reason for such a difference in the cost of repair is due to the fact that the damage done in Australia was mainly to the infrastructure which is costly to rebuild. In Sri Lanka the damage to infrastructure would be minimal in comparison as there is not as much developed infrastructure in the country. However, in Sri Lanka, the human cost is going to be a lot higher. In developed countries insurance companies pay out to provide the money need for the cost of repair to houses and taxes are then used to pay for the repair work needed on infrastructure etc. In Sri Lanka this is not the case and instead they have to rely on aid from other countries. So far medical units have been sent to the area to help those who have sought shelter in crowded relief camps and the government have sent military helicopters to distribute aid and used transport aircraft to move aid from the capital, Colombo. Four camps have been set up to help flood victims and troops have been deployed to distribute food and medical supplies. India has sent a plane loaded with food supplies as well as blankets and water purification tablets. The US said it was sending aid and has supplied boats to rescue the stranded and distribute bottled water, cooking materials and tarpaulins. Reaching those in remote areas is often an issue and countries often rely on the helicopters and boats provided by countries like the US to reach those in danger as they, themselves, do not have the resources to do so.

Australia will recover a lot quicker from the flooding than Sri Lanka will. The flooding that occurred in Pakistan 6 months ago is still causing problems in the country today. Over 1000 people died in Pakistan itself and around a 100 more in neighboring Afghanistan whilst thousands lost everything. The biggest issues provoked by the floods were the spread of diarrhoea and cholera and shortages of food and clean water. Pakistan had to depend on aid from other countries in a similar way in which Sri Lanka are doing so now. The UN provided £6.5 million in aid for the relief effort and the UK provided £10 million. The US also offered aid and as well as $10 million they provided 12 temporary bridges to replace most of those that were destroyed by the floods. The worrying fact is that, 6 months on, people are still dying due to the secondary impacts created by flooding. Some blame Government inefficiency, for example, the Sindh area is in desperate need of around 500,000 blankets but so far the Government has only sent 13,000. So the question is, how long will it take Sri Lanka to recover from the flooding and how sufficient and effective is just sending monetary aid?

In terms of development Brazil is probably in between Australia and Sri Lanka. The floods, which then led to landslides, killed over 800 people in Rio de Janeiro and over 500 people are still missing. Brazil is taking a totally different approach to dealing with the aftermath of the flooding. The Government has proposed to build 8000 ‘free’ houses to replace those that were destroyed by the flooding. President Dilma Rousseff has said 6,000 of the proposed homes would be paid for by the state and federal governments and the other 2,000 would be donated by a consortium of construction companies. The houses would be given to families living in shelters after their homes were destroyed and to those who were being removed from areas considered at risk of further flooding and landslides. It is planned that the proposed homes will be built on public land and the construction cost subsidised by the federal government and private companies, with the Rio state government then paying the monthly purchase instalments on behalf of poor families who move in. As well as trying to deal the aftermath of flooding, the Brazilian Government are also trying to implement measures to reduce the impacts if such an event was to occur again. The Government are directing funds to projects which involve mapping out areas that were prone to flooding and landslides and clamping down on unauthorised building in danger zones. Federal money is also being made available to rebuild roads and bridges and fund drainage and hillside stabilisation projects. The hope is that these new measures will reduce the impacts that future floods and landslides will have on the area and the people of Brazil.

These three countries have taken very different approaches to dealing with the aftermath of flooding but is there a right or wrong way to deal with the impacts of flooding? I think that it depends on the area as less developed countries could not implement a temporary tax to foot the bill of the clean-up. Developing countries have to rely on aid to recover after a disaster instead but often monetary aid alone is not enough. Advisors and medics are often needed more than just money to help ensure that the aid actually reaches the people that need it. I think the approach that Brazil has taken to floods is quite sustainable as not only are they trying to deal with the present situation but also prevent a similar one from occurring in the near future. Poor sanitation and unstable buildings in the favelas in areas like Rio de Janeiro escalate the impacts of flooding as they make landslides more likely and the spread of diseases more probable and by making building regulations stricter hopefully the conditions in the favelas can be improved and therefore the secondary effects of future floods less damaging.
Now I am going to try and link flooding to the current module. A recent report that investigated the flooding that the UK experienced during 2000, which damaged 10,000 houses and caused £1.3 billion worth of insurance loss, has blamed climate change for the flooding. This is the first time that anyone has linked a single weather event to climate change since Al Gore implied that human induced climate change caused Hurricane Katrina. Two reports that were released this week have suggested that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which has caused the average global temperatures to rise, has significantly increased the risk of flooding as warm air holds more moisture than cold air. Record high sea temperatures are believed to be the reason for La Nina being so strong this year and having such a devastating effect. It is believed that as we increase our greenhouse gas emissions the probability of severe floods occurring across the global will increase. The method used to come to this conclusion was to compare two climate models which were based on two different scenarios. The first one was classed as a realistic scenario and was based on the greenhouse gases that were present in the atmosphere during 2000 whilst the other one was based on a world where humans had not created and emitted any greenhouse gases. The conclusion of the report that used this method was that human greenhouse gas emissions "significantly increased" the likelihood of the 2000 floods and, they claimed, with a 66 per cent confidence level, that emissions nearly doubled the risk of the 2000 floods. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20141-blame-human-emissions-for-british-floods.html
 The other report, which was carried out between Canada and the UK, studied the increase in the frequency of extreme precipitation events that occurred in the Northern Hemisphere between 1950 and 2000. They concluded that, although there have been some variations, extreme rainfall events have become more common and the only explanation of this trend is the slow steady increase in temperatures provoked by greenhouse gas emissions. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12484314
Both of these reports suggest that the possibility of floods, like those experienced in Australia, Sri Lanka and Brazil this year, occurring has significantly increased. This means that countries are going to have to be more prepared and have more efficient ways of dealing with the aftermath of flooding. So, is this really a great time for the government to announce that they are cutting the funds for flood denfences by 8%? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12402284

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

American oil company refuse to take responsibilty of the pollution created by the oil industry in Ecuador

The oil industry has many negative impacts on developing countries and the big oil companies often escape punishment for the impacts their industry has on the surrounding environment and the local people. This is a link to an article about a (rather messy and ongoing) courtcase between an American oil company and Ecuador regarding the allegations that the oil company dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste into unlined pits and the Amazon between 1972 and 1992 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12464063.

At present the Ecuador courts have ruled that Chevron, the oil company, should pay a £5.3 billion fine for the damage caused to crops, the death of lifestock and the increased cancer rates caused by the pollution they created. However Chevron are appealling this court ruling as they believe that the Ecuador government and Petroecuador are to blame. It is hoped though that the current court ruling will stand as environmentalists believe that this would then force companies operationg in the developed world to comply with the same anti-pollution standards that exist in developed countries.

Climate loans - A good or bad idea?

In my last post I discussed whether or not developed countries have a moral obligation to take some responsibility of those displaced by climate change induced environmental disasters. One of the approaches taken by developed countries to help those affected by climate change is, through multilateral banks, to provide climate loans. These loans are designed to help developing countries deal with the impacts of climate change; however there is alot of controversy surrounding these loans..... (Link to an article about a row over the EU's climate loan policy

Nepal is an example of a country were the possibilty of loans from multilateral banks to help them fight the impacts of climate change is being investigated. Many civil societies and non-governmental organisations oppose these loans as they say it is unfair to burden an already climatically vunerable country, like Nepal, with loans in the name of dealing with climate change. Climate loans have long been opposed by many environmental organisations as they say they are against what they class as climate justice. Krishnal Lamsal, who works for the Local Intitatives Biodiversity Research and Development organisation (non-governmental) in western Nepal questionned "How can they even think about giving a climate loan when they know that climate change is not a problem we created, and that it was the developed world?". This view is shared by many in Nepal itself. On the other hand, the government agrue that, in the long run, the money will be good for the country. The proposed loan of US$60m is a component of the Strategic Programme on Climate Resilience (SPCR) being agreed between the government and the donors that include the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation. In addition US$50m is likely to be given in the form of a grant. Many critics of the proposed climate loan argue that it should all be provided in the form of grants as the idea of a US$60m loan will shackle this developing country with debts and this belief has provoked them to advise that the government only accept the grants and not the loans. Although Nepal recently prepared a National Adaptation Programme of Action which needs funds to implement its projects aimed at helping people to cope with the immediate effects of climate change; the Environment Ministry claim that "The loan is not at all going for adaptation projects they are actually for climate resilience that include long term projects like, for instance, building bridges, embankments, development of resilient seeds in agriculture etc,".

Personally, I don't think that giving loans to developing countries is neccessarily a great idea but I also don't think that grants, although they are better than loans, are not going to benefit the country greatly in terms of their ability to deal with the impacts of climate change. Simply throwing money at a country is not enough as countries, like Nepal, also need advisors and scientists to ensure that they utilise this money in a sustainable way. However this is clearly a controversial issue (like most of the issues in the energy module it seems!) and so everyone is likely to have a different opinion. So, do you think that climate loans are a good idea or do you think there are other, more sustainable, ways of helping developing countries fight the impacts of climate change?

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Do developed countries have a moral obligation to help those displaced by climate change?

An environmental migrant is someone who has been displaced by climate change induced environmental disasters. Technically they should not be classed as climate refugees, although this is how they are normally referred to, as they do not have the same rights as a refugee has and they are not fleeing from war or political instability. Although some people still argue that environmental migrants do not exist at present, changes to the environment in the future are likely to force people to move.  

Climate change is going to have different impacts on people across the global but one thing that is for sure is that it is going to affect all of us in some way or another. However it seems that those who are going to be affected most are actually in fact those that who consume the least amount of energy and who do not emitted large quantities of greenhouse gases. For example, sea levels are expected to rise as the higher average global temperatures cause the west and east Antarctic ice shelf and the Greenland ice dome to melt. It is estimated that if the Greenland ice dome or the West Antarctic ice shelf were to melt or break up they would each cause the sea levels worldwide to rise by 20ft. A slight rise in sea level would cause much of Bangladesh and India (especially Calcutta) to be lost to the sea. These two countries are amongst the most densely populated countries in the world and an estimated 60 million people would be displaced. The IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) predict that a rise in sea levels is likely to create a lot of environmental migrants – especially from small islands. The question is where are all of these people supposed to go and who should take responsibility of them? Should it be the government of that country or do countries in the developed world, who are the largest consumers and polluters, have a responsibility to take care of those who have been affected by the impacts our lifestyles are having on the environment?

This is quite a topical issue and it is unclear exactly what impacts climate change is going to have on migration. Some people think that people are likely to try and move to the developed countries in search of refuge whereas a recent study by the IIED suggests that people will stay within the same country but move to areas that are not as greatly affected by environmental change. The report also suggested that families living in areas of environmental decay would often choose to send one family member to a city to earn money to bolster rural incomes. Either way this is going to have huge impacts on the area and, in the future is likely to be a big problem as, although at present space for the world’s population is not an issue, as land is claimed by the sea and more of the environment becomes inhabitable, space for the increasing population to live may be hard to find.

The EJF (Environmental Justice Foundation) believe that this is going to be a huge problem in the future. I got these statistics off of their website http://www.ejfoundation.org/page231.htm
Right now
  • 12 million people live in poverty because of climate change
  • 26 million people have been displaced as a direct result of climate change
  • 250 million people are affected by desertification
  • 508 million people in water-stressed or water-scarce countries
  • 2.8 billion people live in areas of the world prone to more than one of the physical manifestations of climate change: floods, storms, droughts, sea level rise
In a decade
  • More than 400 million Africans could be living in extreme poverty.
By the end of the century
  • More than 100 million people could be affected by exacerbated storm surges
  • 200 million people may have been displaced by deteriorating environmental conditions
700-1500 million people could be affected by water shortages

These statistics suggest that the number of environmental refugees is going to be massive and that someone is going to have to help all of these people relocate. The IIED's report suggested that the richer nations have a moral obligation to help those displaced by environmental change but what do you think? Does the UK, as one of the most developed countries in the world, have a moral obligation to take responsibilty of some of the people who are likely to be displaced by environmental change or are they the responsibilty of the country from which they originate?

Friday, 11 February 2011

An Inconvenient Truth

I watched the film version of 'An Inconvenient Truth' whilst studying Geography at GCSE and I was planning on watching it again seeing as it is relevant to what we are studying at present and to compare it to 'The Age of Stupid' which I watched a couple of weeks ago. However I found the book version of 'An Inconvient Truth' and, as I am a bit of a bookworm, I decided I would read the book instead......

I have literally just finished reading it and my head is buzzing with so many questions - most of which revolve around the idea that if we realise that we are harming the environment and that climate change is actually happening why don't we all do something about it? As I am sure you are all aware, the book/film is all about the Former Vice President, Al Gore, sharing his concerns on the pressing issue of climate change in the hope that it will provoke people to alter their lifestyles to reduce the negative impact that they currently have on the environment. The book is very thought provoking and whilst presenting some interesting ideas, makes you question your own lifestyles and the impacts that they have on the environment. After reading the book and looking at all of the graphs and statistics it contains I find to hard to believe that some people still don't accept that climate change is happening. I realise that it is quite a controversial issue and is often the topic of heated debates (I should probably apologise to my family for bombarding them with facts and statistics this evening and for possibly getting a bit too involved in a discussion over who's responsibilty dealing with climate change is and the sustainability of our current lifesyles - although, on reflection, I think they may have been trying to wind me up!) but how much more evidence to people need to persuade them that changes to our environment are happening and that these changes have been caused, or atleast accelerated, by human activity. I really enjoyed the book (and found it very hard to put down!) and I would even say that I enjoyed it more than the film. The book contained lots of images and graphs which made comparisions very easy to make and, the fact that I had it right infront of me, meant that I found it easier to make sense of and analysis what is was the graphs and images were trying to demonstrate. There is a slight political slant to the book (more so present in the film) but this, combined with the geopolitics stuff we have been learning about recently, made me realise that, whether we like it or not, politics plays a huge role in the energy we consume and the impacts our lifestyles have on the environment. There was one image, imparticular, in the book that really made me think about this.......
This picture shows the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and it is very clear to see the difference between the two regions. Deforestation is a huge problem as developing countries, who's populations are growing rapidily, rely on wood as an energy source. Almost 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year is as a result of the burning of brushland for subsistence agriculture and wood fires used for cooking. It is evident that these two countries have different approaches to the way in which they treat the forest. The foundations of these approaches will be based on politics. Climate change is a global issue and so any efforts to solve this problem need to be universal ones if they are to have a substantial impact. The Kyoto Treaty was ratified by 132 nations but the USA, who are the biggest consumer of energy in the world, and Australia refused to sign it. Also many developed countries, due to the fact that most of the oil used is used for transportation, have implemented requirements on how many miles per gallon cars should do as a minimum. However America, who are well known for driving very large cars, have not followed the other developed countries. Surely, if we are to start to remedy this situation, politician's across the world need to stop focusing on where they are going to source their next barrels of oil and instead invest more time and money in deciding on an action plan, that can be implemented on a global scale, to reduce the impacts our current lifestyles are having on the environment.

So, is this book/film worth reading/watching................well my answer has to be yes. If you are unclear on the evidence for climate change that is avaliable or the impacts that rises in sea levels and changes in temperatures are likely to have on the world then this is ideal for you. In terms of the book vs film, I personally prefered the book as, like I said earlier, you can then really take your time when looking at the images and interpretting the graphs but, from what I can remember, the film has a similar impact and presents the same information. I would definitely suggest that you try and watch either (or both) 'An Inconvenient Truth' or 'The Age of Stupid' sometime over the next few weeks - 'The Age of Stupid' is in the library but I am not 100% sure if 'An Inconvenient Truth' is in there.

Next up on my list of books to read is another Al Gore book, 'Our Choice', which he wrote a couple of years after 'An Inconvenient Truth' to offer the solutions to the problems that were identified in 'An Inconvenient Truth'. I must admit that I am very interested to see what Al Gore believes are the actions that need to be taken to effectively address the issue of climate change and I will right a response to the book after I have read it to explain what his views are and whether or not I agree with him.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Impacts of the 1973 oil crisis and how energy consumption is linked to population growth and development.....

I have realised that it is probably about time that I actually started blogging about what I am primarily supposed to be blogging about! So, what did I learn in Geography today……..
In today’s lesson we started off by learning a bit about the 1973 Oil Crisis. This oil crisis started in October 1973 when the members of the OAPEC (Arab members of the OPEC and Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) announced an oil embargo (basically they refused to trade oil with the USA) due to the fact that the USA had started re-supplying the Israeli military during the Yom Kippur War (Fourth Arab-Israeli War – October 6th to the 25th 1973). Many of the countries within NATO blamed the USA’s actions for provoking the oil embargo and therefore the possibility of high oil prices and disrupted supply that accompanied this embargo. Due to fear of their own imports of oil being stopped, other European countries and Japan tried to distance themselves from this situation. The USA negotiated with Arab oil producers and the different countries involved to try and end the oil embargo. In January 1974 an agreement was reached which included the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. This was enough to persuade the Arab oil producers to lift the embargo and this was done so in March 1974.
However, in terms of oil prices, we are still feeling the impacts of this oil crisis today. During the oil crisis the OPEC members, independently, agreed to fully utilise their control over the world oil prices to guarantee themselves a more stable income. This resulted in oil prices being raised and ever since this oil crisis they have remained high. This has had a huge impact on the world’s economy as countries are reliant on oil and after the price of oil was increased there was a period of time known as the ‘oil price shock’ as this provoked a stock market crash.
After discussing the oil crisis we moved on talking about peak oil production and the ODAC (Oil Depletion Analysis Centre). ODAC was created in 2001 and is an independent UK based charity which aims to “engage public, interest, simulate concern and create momentum for progressive change in energy policy and planning”. The Peak Oil Primer is well worth and it includes some interesting statistics http://www.odac-info.org/peak-oil-primer . An exact date for when we will reached peak oil production has yet to be calculated but what is clear is that it is going to be very soon and from that point onwards the amount of oil we are able to produce will decrease and the price will increase. This means that we don’t have long to try and develop other sources of energy and reduce our dependency on oil.

The oil trade flows graph that we look at today was rather interesting as it provided a graphical representation of which countries are dependent on which in terms of their oil supply. The USA receives oil from a variety of countries and by far imports the most oil. The reason for varying the countries that they import oil from is to improve the security of their oil supply. For example, if another oil crisis was to occur between the Arab nations and the USA, the USA would still be able to get some oil from Mexico, Venezuela, Canada and Nigeria and so, combining this supply with their stock piles, they would be able to continue with their normal lifestyles. For the opposite reason, Saudi Arabia does the same. Saudi Arabia controls 25% of the world’s oil reserves and they sell the oil they produce to many countries and so this means that they can guarantee the exporting of oil to one country or another even if relations between them and another country deteriorate. Some countries group together and trade with each other to try and reduce the costs of importing oil. Generally speaking the South American countries do this and so do the countries that used to be in the former USSR. The graph illustrates that the countries within the Asia Pacific region are dependent on imports of oil and that they don’t export any oil. This is because they have very few oil reserves as, in volcanic regions; the volcanic activity degrades the oil.
From reading the Geofile and looking at some more graphs we were able to compare the energy consumption in MEDC’s and LEDC’s. From analysing all of the information it became very clear to me that this module is very closely linked to the population module and that many of the energy issues we are likely to face in the future are going to be linked, and perhaps provoked by, population problems we are likely to encounter.
Energy consumption is likely to grow in line with population growth as, as LEDC’s develop their populations expand and at the same time technology and industry improve and so they start using more energy. It is predicted that by 2050 the world population will reach 9 billion and so can you imagine how much energy 9 billion people will consume. In reference to the UK, our use of coal enabled us to develop and countries, especially China, are now using coal as a resource to improve their industry and economy. We were not limited to how much energy we could consume or how much carbon dioxide we could release in our early stages of development and so is it fair to try and control how much energy developing countries consume. I think it is an extremely hard question to answer as in our development we polluted the atmosphere to a great extent but the increase in energy consumption needs to be monitored and controlled in order to try and reduce the impacts our lifestyles have on the environment. I also noticed another pattern between development and energy. As countries develop the energy sources that they rely on change.  Countries in stage 1 and 2 of the DTM are dependent on non-commercial sources like wood as they can’t afford to import resources from other countries or build the infrastructure required to transport the energy. In sub-Saharan Africa 500 million people are reliant on non-commercial sources of energy. However, in many areas this has led to large scale deforestation which has increased the risks of landslides and flooding. As countries then move from stage 2 into stage 3 they seem to use coal more and depend less on biofuels. At present developed countries are trying to use coal less as they strive to become greener and instead opt for gas or nuclear but these methods of generating energy are too expensive to implement in LEDC’s. Renewable energy sources are used in both LEDC’s and MEDC’s, despite the high start-up costs, as certain physical features are required and these features are not present in all countries. MEDC’s use more oil than LEDC’s, in general (there are a few exceptions like Saudi Arabia, for example, as they have to use some oil in order to extract it), and so does this mean that as more countries develop the demand for oil is going to increase?
This is not the only link between the energy issues module and the population change module and over the last few days I have realised just how closely they are linked. Other examples of how they are linked include the impacts that climate change is likely to have on migration and which countries should take responsibility for environmental refugees and also, as the global population grows can we manage to feed everyone whilst using fertile land to grow biofuels. Anyway they are issues that I will try and discuss in another post. Feel free to leave any comments as, more so than the other two we have studied so far, it seems vital that you can form your own opinions on these issues and discussions are perhaps the best way to do so.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Energy Sources

So far this week in my Geography lesson’s we have been presenting our group presentations on the different types of energy. I found it quite hard to take detailed notes on some of the energy sources and so I am going to try and quickly summarise each energy source…….
Wind Energy: RENEWABLE
·         Suitable areas are those that have an average wind speed of 25 kilometres per hour. This means that coastal areas, on top of hills and plains are often the best places to develop wind farms as they often experience stronger winds more frequently.
·         It is the most developed form of renewable energy and is used in many countries. In this country this energy source is mainly used to supply electricity to remote locations.
·         In this country there are currently 3,153 turbines and there an additional 30 new wind farms under construction.
·         At current levels of development wind farms are expected to produce 4.6% of the electricity we will use in the UK this year BUT they are unreliable. For example in December of last year they only produced 0.2% of the electricity we produced which is only 2.43% of their capacity. Due to this countries, like Australia, often build wind farms in conjunction with other renewable energy source plants.
·         However they are not popular as they don’t look nice, are noisy and are unsafe for birds. Many people in this country have the NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude towards wind turbines – one of the case studies on the film The Age of Stupid perfectly presents this attitude (it is well worth watching!). Space is an issue as the turbines themselves take up a lot of room and roads need to be built so that they can be accessed to be serviced. There are also some questions surrounding the production of the magnets needed to build efficient turbines but for more on this see the previous blog post (Are turbines really as green as we think they are?).
·         On the other hand, they produce free green energy and in terms of start-up costs, due to the levels of development, it is slightly lower than that of other renewable energy sources.
Personally I don’t think that wind farms will be able to provide a reliable and strong enough source of energy to power this country. This is partly because it is a rather unreliable source of energy and because, due to the strong opposition, it would be extremely hard to build enough turbines to allow us to generate a substantial amount of electricity from this source. However some areas in the country, especially the west coast and in Scotland, experience relatively frequently strong winds and therefore I believe that turbines should be built there so that we can utilise this energy source and use it to contribute to our energy mix.
Natural Gas: FOSSIL FUEL
·         Although it is considered to be a fossil fuel it is ‘cleaner’ than oil and coal. Burning natural gas produces 30% less carbon dioxide than oil and 45% less than coal.
·         It’s a finite resource and it is estimated that supplies will run out by 2085.
·         Natural gas reserves can be found in 50 countries around the world but the largest reserves of this resource are in Russia and the Middle East
·         It is essentially formed in the same way as oil (natural gas it formed at high temperatures and oil and lower temperatures) and this means that it is extracted in a similar way.
·         Before natural gas can be used it has to be refined to remove impurities from it. This process results in other gases escaping into the atmosphere.
·         After it has been refined, natural gas has multiple uses – residential (heating), commercial (fuel-cell energy), and industrial (incineration).
·         Natural Gas industry has long been recognised for trying to reduce the environmental impact that producing this energy source creates. A company called Statoil extract natural gas from the North Sea and they have developed a method of capturing and storing the carbon impurities that are in natural gas http://www.newscientist.com/engineeringgreats/article/dn19997-clearing-the-air.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=statoil-articles
·         However, if a spill or leakage was to happen then the environmental impacts could be massive as a considerable amount of methane would be released into the atmosphere
·         As natural gas is more environmentally friendly than oil and coal it is likely that over the next few years this energy source will be utilised more and more. This energy source is also being developed more to try and make it more environmentally sustainable; at present researchers are trying to find methods of combining it with a specially designed panel that allows a heat-producing reaction to occur which then can be used to heat water.
It will be impossible for us to switch from using fossil fuels to renewable energy sources overnight and so, whilst further development of renewables takes place, I think that natural gas could be used more to reduce the world’s dependency on oil and coal. Although all fossil fuels release potentially harmful gases into the atmosphere; natural gas is the most environmentally friendly one out of them but the use of this source will need to be managed to minimise the impact it has on the environment and to try and make the reserves of it last as long as possible.
·         It is estimated that we will reach peak oil production in 10 years and that oil reserves will run out within 40 years. This is potentially a huge problem as we rely so heavily on oil as it is linked to most of the items we use every day.
·         Oil drilling is permitted in 99% of the world’s oceans. Oil drilling negatively impacts on the nearby ecosystems and sea life. For example, the laser guns that are used to detect oil are believed to cause the loss of hearing, amongst other damage, in marine life such as whales who rely greatly on this sense. The burning of oil also releases a large amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
·         An ever increasing demand for oil has led to companies exploring deep water oil. This is more risky and oil spills and blowouts become more likely. The BP oil spill last year demonstrates what can happen if something goes wrong. Many people wonder whether it is really worth the risk……
-          17 workers died
-          75 000 barrels of oil leaked out of the well every day which totalled to 145 million gallons of oil before the well was sealed.
-          This oil travelled 40 miles and had huge impacts on the local environment and industry which relies on fishing
There is a very informative National Geographic article on the oil spill – this is the link if anyone is interested and wants to know this issue http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/10/gulf-oil-spill/bourne-text
·         The film The Age of Stupid includes a case study that outlines the impacts the oil industry is having on developing countries like Nigeria. Unfortunately they are mainly negative ones as pollution has affected fish stocks and water supplies and promises by oil companies to build schools and hospitals are not carried through and in this case this has increased poverty in the area.
·         Recently BP signed a deal with a Russian Oil Company to explore the possibility of oil in the Artic http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12197848
The incident last year involving the BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico highlighted the impacts that this industry can have on the environment. As the demand for oil increases the risk of something like this happening again is only going to increase too. I think that we have become too dependent on oil as a resource and source of energy and so it is going to be very hard to stop using it. In the near future I think it will be very unlikely that we will stop using oil completely especially when companies, like BP, are thinking about investigating the Artic in search of oil. Although there maybe oil there I think the money and time would be much better spent developing renewable energy sources as someday our oil reserves are likely to run out and, at present, we will not be able to rely on renewable energy to supply electricity and energy to the same quantities that we currently consume.
·         In terms of development it is 10 years behind wind energy and is the least developed source of renewable energy and at present can only be implemented on a small scale.
·         In 2007 the EMEC research centre was set up on the Orkney Islands to try and develop more effective ways of capturing wave energy.
·         Wave power is the concentrated wind energy that is stored in the waves and so wave plants are often built in conjunction with wind farms.
·         West coast of the UK is a good place to try and capture this form of renewable energy as it has a long fetch. Places like Norway are also ideal as the fjords condense and concentrate wave energy and so make the waves stronger and so more energy can be generated.
·         Suitable areas are those that have a yearly average of over 15kW per metre as this enables the electricity to be generated at competitive prices.
·         It is predicted that at current levels of development 15%-20% of the UK’s electricity demand could be supplied by this source.
·         Australia uses the floating buoy method which involves using submersed air filled balloons which move with the water to pump water to shore for electricity generation.
·         The Limpet device was installed in 2004. A gully was excavated into the shoreline so that a concrete chamber could be built to trap waves and then force the water back through turbines.
·         In 2007 four floating sea snakes were built and placed off the Orkney Islands. They work by generating electricity when the motion of the waves moves the hinged joints that connect the tube sections. This project cost £10 million and provides power for 3000 homes.
·         The Wave Hub was built in Cornwall in 2007. The project involved an onshore substation connected to electrical equipment on the seabed 10 miles from shore via a sea-cable. Wave Hub has the ability to provide power for 7 500 homes which saves around 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every 25 years.
·         However the construction of such projects damages tidal basins and so they are unpopular with surfers. This then has a knock on effect on the local economy as, areas like Cornwall, are reliant on the income created by tourism and the surfers who visit areas with big waves. Also, at present, the start-costs are very high.
·         On the other hand it is considered to be safer for sea birds than turbines and they do not impact on marine growth as they move with the water not against it.
With further development I think that wave energy could generate a lot of energy for some countries like the UK, Norway, Hawaii and Australia as they have some of the perfect conditions to enable enough energy to be captured to make it financially viable. At present there are lots of different methods that can be used to generate wave energy and I am unsure on what one I think is best as I think it depends on the area at which it is going to be built. The sea snakes seem to have the least amount of impact marine growth and sea life as they move with the water and not a lot of construction has to take place on the sea bed but on the other hand, in an area that it used for shipping they may not be the best method. The one thing that really stood out for me was the fact that wave plants are often built in conjunction with wind farms and as I am learning more and more about the different sources of energy I think that perhaps this is the way forward in terms of energy production as the renewable energy sources are not that reliable and so perhaps it would be most sustainable to invest in and develop a range of sources instead of just focusing on one.
Solar Power: RENEWABLE
·         In 2008 solar power contributed to only 0.02% of the world’s energy use. This is partly because the photovoltaic cells that are commonly used only harness 15% of the sunlight’s energy.
·         The best places to develop solar energy are tropical areas or deserts. The UK receives 50% of the sunlight per square foot of that that countries on the equator receive which means that this energy source could be used in the UK.
·         PV converts sunlight into energy whilst CPS focuses light into a strong beam which is then used to heat water. Solar furnaces use mirrors to direct the energy to a power tower. This method saves 7000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and can generate enough energy to power 4000 homes.
·         Spain uses solar energy a lot – the PS20 tower in Seville has the potential to generate 20MW of energy. California also utilises this source of energy – SEGS.
·         Traditionally in Kenya, kerosene lamps were used as a source of lamp but there is a lot of health risks associated with using kerosene. Solar power is gradually starting to replace kerosene as the source of energy. In remote locations, like villages in Kenya, solar power can provide a reliable source of energy and it means that the villages do not have to be connected to a national grid http://www.greatenergychallengeblog.com/blog/2011/01/17/kenya-steps-into-solar-future/
·         Solar energy is a very green form of renewable energy but it has high initial start- up costs if you are trying to develop it in a commercial scale.  It is only cost effective in sunny areas and only works during the day which means some areas are not suitable and that the amount of energy it can generate will vary over the course of a year.
In terms of developing it in the UK the south east coast would be a good place as this area experiences the warmest and sunniest weather. I don’t think though, due to our climate, that solar energy will be able to provide anything more than a small proportion of our energy mix. However in countries like Kenya I think that it is a great alternative to using Kerosene lamps and so I personally think that the use of this form of renewable energy should be developed and encouraged in LEDC’s that are located in more tropical areas as it is a good way of providing electricity to remote and isolated settlements.
Hydroelectric Power (HEP): RENEWABLE
·         Hydroelectric power is the production of power by using the gravitational force of falling or flowing water.
·         It currently produces 97% of all the renewable energy in the world and produces 3% of the electricity we generate in the UK.
·         It doesn’t use any form of fuel and the reservoirs that are built as part of the dams can generate their own revenue as they are often used for leisure activities.
·         However the dams are very large and very costly to build and can cause fragmentation of habitats and siltation which can lead to increased flooding in some areas. Dam failures can also occur which can lead to disastrous floods.
·         The Three Gorges dam – At present has a capacity of 18,200 MW and by 2012 this is expected to rise to 22,500 MW. It cost $26 billion to construct. It is believed to have caused many earthquakes and it 2010 it was estimated that around 97 landslides were provoked by the construction of this dam.
·         Tummel HEP in Scotland- Consists of 9 stations which have a capacity of 245MW. This means that they could power 850,000 homes.
At present HEP produces the most amount of energy in the world out of all of the renewables and this means that it is going to play an important role in a greener future. However the building of the dams used to capture HEP are believed to have lots of negative environmental impacts and so the question is, is this the best renewable energy source to utilise? In terms of providing energy for the UK I think that there are more suitable sources of renewable energy to exploit. However, HEP could still provide a proportion of the energy we consume and contribute to our energy mix especially if the development of projects in Scotland continues.
Tidal Energy: RENEWABLE
·         Tidal energy has the potential to supply 20% of the electricity we consume
·         Many people get confused between tidal energy and wave energy but they are very different as tidal energy is produced by trapping water and, when the tide turns, pressuring it through turbines.
·         This energy source is a bit more predictable than the other renewables as tides can be predicted. However the energy source can only be utilised for around 10 hours every day.
·         The La Rance barrage in France was built in the 1960’s and 330 metres long. It produces 4% of the electricity used in Brittany. Since it was built in the 1960’s very little maintenance work has had to be done on the barrage. This demonstrates that, although the start-up costs are very high (estimated cost of £30million to build the Severn Barrage), once built very little money has to be spent on it and that they last for a very long time.
·         The future of the development of tidal energy in the UK is uncertain as the plans for the Severn Barrage were recently scrapped (see blog post ‘Current Local Energy issues’ to learn more).
·         The environmental issues surrounding tidal energy are that the building of barrages can destroy mudflats which migratory birds rely on. Also they disturb fish migratory patterns. Barrages can increase erosion in some locations and siltation in others and therefore increase the risk of flooding.
The scrapping of the Severn Barrage is likely to have huge knock effects of the development of tidal energy in the UK. I think that the Severn Barrage would have been great way of developing our renewable energy production as the barrage had the potential to produce a lot of renewable energy for the UK as the Severn Estuary has a tidal range of 13 metres which is the second largest in the world. The scrapping of the Severn Estuary is a very controversial issue and personally I think that the government should not have been so hasty in their decision to scrap it. Although the barrage would have had some negative impacts on the environment, a similar project has been very successful in France and perhaps a compromise could have been found which involved the proposed size of the barrage being reduced so that it didn’t stretch across the entire width of Severn Estuary.
Geothermal: RENEWABLE
·         Geothermal energy is the thermal energy stored within the ground. This thermal energy is created by volcanic activity, radioactive decay and absorbed solar energy.
·         There are only a handful of locations across the world that have the conditions required to produce a substantial amount of geothermal energy in a finically viable way.
·         Geothermal energy can be utilised in two ways. Often water is pumped down into the hot rocks which then heat up the water. Sometimes this water is pumped straight back to homes to be used for heating. The compressed steam that is created by the heating of the water can also be used to generate energy by using it to turn turbines and therefore generate electricity.
·         It is often quite hard to find suitable areas to try and capture this energy source as, due to the fact you have to drill down quite deep into the rocks, soft rock areas are required.
·         No fuel is needed to run the plants and they don’t have to be very big which means they are a very green source of energy. It is also a very reliable source of energy. However start-up costs are very high and so are maintence costs as it causes corrosion. They also have a 20% failure rate.
·         Iceland produces the most geothermal energy and Iceland sources 25% of the energy they consume from geothermal energy. 90% of heating comes from geothermal energy as well. Iceland is Europe’s largest producer of bananas as they can generate the heat required to grow them in greenhouses from geothermal energy.
·         There is a hot rocks project on Dartmoor which helps to produce hot water but this project was very expensive.
·         In 2010 the Eden project was given permission to build a hot rocks geothermal plant with the capacity of 3-4MW.
The hot rocks projects that are currently being developed in the UK have the potential to generate quite a bit of renewable energy that will contribute to our energy mix. However, we will never be able to rely as heavily on geothermal energy as Iceland, for example, as we don’t have the right conditions to do so. Despite this fact I still think that it is worth developing this source of energy as it could provide heating and hot water for local people.
·         Russia, China and the USA have the largest coal reserves in the world.
·         Coal can be mined in two ways – shafting or surface mining
·         Mining is very dangerous but it a very big industry. 40% of the world’s coal is produced in China were they have 5 million workers involved in the industry. However, an estimated, 20,000 coal miners die in China each year.
·         Electricity is generated when the coal is burned and used to heat water to produce steam which is used to turn turbines.
·         A typical coal-fired power station generates 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year which is the equivalent of cutting down 161 million trees.
·         The burning of coal produces carbon dioxide, methane and sulphur dioxide which all contribute towards acid rain. Water pollution is often caused which damages ecosystems.
·         The coal industry used to be massive in the UK but after the mines were privatised this industry started to decline. Another reason for the decline was that the remainder of our coal supplies are so deep down that they cannot be extracted at competitive prices and so it is cheaper to import coal from abroad.
·         Most of the coal-fired power stations in the UK have since been turned into gas and nuclear power plants.
Although the amount of coal we are using is reducing we still import quite a bit from other countries. The move to convert our coal-fired power stations into gas and nuclear power plants was, in my opinion, a positive one as it has meant that we are less dependent on coal and are using other, slightly more, environmentally friendly sources of energy.
Uranium/Nuclear Energy:
·         Uranium is used in nuclear power.
·         50% of the world’s reserves of uranium are in Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan.
·         Although it is a fossil fuel it doesn’t produce a lot of carbon dioxide (produces depleted uranium instead). Also the reserves of it are predicted to last a lot longer that oil reserves – it is predicted that they could last for up to 60 years if demand for it stays at the present level.
·         In the UK the government has recently agreed to develop nuclear energy in the UK. The closest one to us is Hinkley Point (see the blog post ‘Current Energy Issues’ for more details on the proposed Hinkley C).
·         The largest issue associated with nuclear power is the dangers linked to producing it and how we dispose of the radioactive waste. If something was to go wrong then the affects would be vast – Chernobyl Disaster of the 26th April 1986 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/guides/456900/456957/html/nn1page1.stm
Although I believe that nuclear power, if managed properly, is a better option than relying on oil and coal to produce energy; I personally believe that money would have be better spent trying to develop the plans for capturing tidal energy in the Severn Estuary. However, in the near future, I think that nuclear energy is likely to contribute a large proportion to our energy mix.