Thursday, February 13, 2020

The good news

Michael - Thursday

A house of plastic
Yes, there actually is some. The good news is that in a variety of ways individual people and corporations are starting to ignore the politicians and take matters into their own hands. The matter I’m referring to is climate change and the environment. Actually, that is the only issue that really matters. What deal Britain reaches with the EU (if indeed it reaches one at all) or the outcome of Trump’s tariff war with China are sideshows. I’m not saying they are irrelevant, just that that the main event is what will happen to this planet if we don’t modify the way we do things.

It's not news that people have woken up to the issue and have been protesting, addressing conferences, and generally trying to change the mindsets of the powers that be.

The question is whether activism has any effect. Will it change the minds of leaders like Trump, Johnson, and Scott Morris? Absolutely not. But it can bypasses them. Individuals can change their behaviour. Corporations can and do change their priorities. GM is working on electric cars. Many manufacturers are phasing out diesel vehicles altogether. Exxon is looking at what it can do to significantly reduce emissions. No one believes coal has a future (as a fuel) anymore. (Even Trump and Scott Morris don’t believe it, it’s merely campaign rhetoric.)

Equally important, individuals can take things into their own hands and make a tiny difference. But a tiny difference multiplied by a significant number of the people in the world adds up to a lot. Also, it's their priorities as consumers that drive those of the corporations.

Finally, innovation and potential profit can get together and make impacts governments can only talk about. Everyone knows of Elon Musk and his batteries and electric cars, but there are thousands of other entrepreneurs dealing with waste, energy and emissions in a variety of ways. And individuals support them, being willing to pay extra for products that are more environmentally friendly.

Omega 1
Some initiatives are innovative ways of using existing technologies. At the end of last year, France switched on the largest floating solar farm in Europe, Omega 1, generating 17 Megawatts. Why floating? Well, in a country where land utilisation is important, this uses an area that would not otherwise be used for some other purpose. But there are other advantages also. The panels are kept cooler and operate more efficiently as a result. (Lakes and reservoirs are the hosts; the panels won't cope with wave action.)

Note the grapes in the background!
A South African farmer in the Franschhoek area has picked up the idea too. Not only is the increased efficiency important to him, but the panels provide a cover for some of his dam, reducing evaporation. Land isn't as much of an issue here, but water is. He says the fish like it for cover and the birds for perching. That does necessitate some cleaning however...

A South African initiative is an innovative way to deal with plastic waste. Recycling is an option of course but the problem is that it requires significant water energy and raw materials. The point is to get rid of the waste without wrecking the environment, but it's not really sustainable. The answer is to move away from the use of these types of plastic altogether. But in the meanwhile there are short term answers, for example Ecobricks. Stuff large plastic bottles with any type of  clean plastic scraps - exactly the stuff that lasts forever. Then use it to build houses. The bottles can be joined together in a variety of ways. The one at the top of the page uses a wire frame, the one below a type of cement.

But in the longer term we need to move away from this type of plastic altogether. How about this sort of polystyrene? It works as well as the usual type that degrades into multiple plastic nodules that hang around forever. The difference is that this one is grown from mushroom spoors in a mould. Very little is required in the way of raw materials - a little food, a little time. (Polystyrene requires considerable amounts of water and energy.) At the end of the process, the moulds are baked to kill the growth (so don't worry about opening your new TV box and being smothered by The Blob!)

Afterwards break up the pieces and throw them in the garden. After some rain, you have free compost.

These are just three examples. There are thousands of others. That's the good news.