An Inconvenient Truth: Ten Years On


Ten years ago, Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup, sending Italians into a frenzy. Yet, perhaps just as significant was the release of An Inconvenient Truth.

This documentary featured former US Vice-President Al Gore discussing on a slide show, about the consequences climate change would have on our planet in the future. It was a visual tour de force for the eyes, as Gore hit the point home, slide, after slide, after slide, about what will occur if we do not make necessary changes in order to avoid future damage. An inconvenient Truth won the 2006 Best Documentary Feature Oscar. It also became one of top grossing documentaries of all time, taking in $49.1 million, globally.

So what has happened since An Inconvenient Truth has come out?

A lot of things have happened. I won’t go into every crook and cranny on what’s happened since, but I will discuss some key points.

Weather events are getting more extreme: Ok, as much as I love watching a good extreme wrestling bout, the same can’t be said about extreme weather. There is nothing funny, nor pretty about flash flooding, droughts, and intense heat waves.  In, fact it’s quite scary. Consider since 2006, six years have been the hottest globally on record, (2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, and 2015). There is a 99% chance 2016 will be even warmer (and it’s not even June yet). Climate analysts suggest these types of events will only increase in warming world, as we head into a “New Normal” of expecting the unexpected in weather. If that won’t get you, perhaps increased insurance rates in the pocket-book will from these situations.

Increased investments in renewables and cleantech investment: While doom and gloom abounds about climate change, one positive has occurred, which is more investments into renewable energy and clean technology. Renewable energy and clean technology has seen revival, thanks to reducing carbon emissions, but also thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which poured $31 billion US into new American clean energy projects. Since then, global renewable energy investment reached a record in 2015 with $329 billion US, with emerging market countries leading the way. Electric vehicles are also finding their way, as they are becoming more affordable, as Tesla Motors has taken already 373,000 pre orders for its affordable ($35,000 per car) model 3 vehicle, and is considered a “game changing” event within the automobile industry due to the amount of rapid sales for an electric vehicle.

Ten years on. An Inconvenient Truth, if anything got more people talking about climate change and began a serious conversation in mainstream society. It’s been used in universities, and schools about what needs to occur about taking climate action. Sure it has its detractors.  Yet at the end of the day, it’s a discussion that needed to be out in the open. Look, I love talking about money (I prepare income taxes, and took economics), but we can’t continue to beat up our planet Earth day in and day out in the sake of maximizing return. There is no economy with no planet. Today we have to technology to move forward, with wind, solar, biofuels, battery storage, and electric vehicles.  The Internet of Things will help to ramp up renewable energy through smart grids, as smart cities will help to ensure improved energy efficiencies in major urban centres.

We owe it to ourselves. If not to save our Earth, but in the very least to upgrade our outdated 20th century infrastructure into the 21st century, and save ourselves future costs from extreme weather events.

So watch An Inconvenient Truth again. Discuss what has changed since. Debate with your friends and neighbors. Be inspired by it. But in the very least come out of it with something new, and take action. Because there is No Planet B.

 

Moving Forward After the Fort McMurray Wildfires


It’s really been a trying week for Canadians, after a wildfire forced 80,000 residents of the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray Alberta (which is located in the heart of the Alberta oil sands) to evacuate the city on May 3rd.

Fort McMurray pic

Fort McMurray Wildfire via Wikipedia Some Rights Reserved Under The Creative Commons

 

There was many factors which contributed to this “beast of a wildfire.” Limited snowpack from a dry winter, from El Nino, along with a lack of rainfall and a hint of a warming climate help spur the tragic events.

University of Alberta told Climate Central what occurred in Fort McMurray, Alberta is on par with how human climate change effects wild fires in Northern forests.

While the fire rages, there has been a firestorm of controversy about if climate change should be even mentioned. Some on both sides of the climate debate have taken it to extremes, ranging from glee seeing Fort McMurray facilities burn down, to a Calgary Sun op-ed telling environmentalist Tweeters to screw off.

Personally, I am not a fan of either of these tactics. Fort McMurray residents have been through plenty, and my heart goes out to them, and may God bless them. Those who tweeted early this week they were happy that Fort McMurray was burning down need to learn appropriate manners when dealing with such tragedies, and only make things worse.

Now having said that, what occurred this week in Fort McMurray may not be a one-off? Slate.com climate reporter Eric Hothouse said discussing what occurred this week in Fort McMurray this past week “Isn’t natural.” He goes onto say further:

Talking about climate change during an ongoing disaster like Fort McMurray is absolutely necessary. There is a sensitive way to do it, one that acknowledges what the victims are going through and does not blame them for these difficulties. But adding scientific context helps inform our response and helps us figure out how something so horrific could have happened.

Holthaus is right. There is a way of mixing the scientific context, while respecting those who have suffered through these horrendous events, and not figure point at Fort McMurray residents. After all, many of them worked in Fort McMurray in search of a more prosperous future away from bleaker economic conditions.

However, now we must look forward. We owe it to ourselves, as Canadians to prevent these sorts of future disasters as much as possible, whether it’s Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, or even Winnipeg.

So heading forward, let’s have a discussion on how we make future development more environmentally sustainable. Newer cleantech industries like wind, solar energy and biofuels can play a role in this development, and helping to retrain those from the oil patch becomes very critical.

As for adaptation, my favorite suggestion is boosting the Canadian military. Yes, I said INCREASE  Canadian military presence! With limited dollars being spent on one of Canada’s greatest institutions, and participation falling dramatically, it’s time to rethink our Armed Forces role and improve it. Given increased security risks from climate change. The Royal Canadian Armed Forces must protect Canadians from all security risks, including climate security risks in the 21st century. A larger military would ensure there is enough manpower on the ground to help those battling these disasters, while comforting those who have lost everything.

So let’s talking and work towards rebuilding.

Corporations Leading the Way on Climate Change (Seriously)


Monday’s news from the United States regarding 13 major companies announcing they will invest $140 billion in renewable energy, to reduce carbon emissions, is proving big business is serious about climate change.

Wind farm US Ill.

Wind Energy By Jim Allen Via Flickr Some Rights Reserved

Some of the most well-known brands, including Apple, Microsoft, Google, WalMart, and Coca-Cola said in a statement from the White House they plan to add more than 1,600 MW of additional renewable energy. These 13 companies have promised their support for a climate deal ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Paris late fall.

Meanwhile, last week, Amazon added their voice in advancing the renewable energy agenda, when it advocated for renewable tax credits in US congress. Thank the world’s largest e-commerce store for purchasing a North Carolina wind farm, in championing both the Investment and Production Tax Credits.

Here are some driving factors why this is a trend that’s likely here to stay.

1. Consumers are voting with their dollars, not necessarily at the ballot box: Ok, I get this where politics is important and elections drive climate policy (including the upcoming Canadian Federal election this fall). However, consumers voting with their dollars has become a new way of doing politics outside the government realm. Ethical funds, consumer boycotts are some ways customers can voice their displeasure with how companies are doing business. Businesses, have a faster response time with consumers, rather than governments with their constituents on many problems. Case in point, Newsweek, recently highlighted Corporate America’s critical role in supporting same- sex marriage and other social issues:

Fortune 500 corporations are trying to appeal to (or at least avoid offending) the widest possible swath of Americans. “Inclusiveness” may not be good politics in this day of polarization and micro-targeting, but it seems to be good business. And that is making the business community the sort of “big tent” political force that neither major political party can claim to be.

While don’t expect the CEO of Suncor to be buddies with New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulclair any time soon, big business will have a bigger ear towards consumers going forward, or they will lose customers business.

2. The Carbon Investment Bubble is About to Burst:  Bill McKibben’s groundbreaking 2012 Rolling Stone article about how Earth could only burn 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere by 2050 before this planet can keep within the 2C limit, was the catalyst of divesting from fossil fuel investments. Now, fossil fuels becoming a more riskier investment. as Bank of England Governor Mark Carney noted these investments will become financially abandoned.

3. IT and Internet companies Are The Backbone for Renewable Energy: From Apple, who runs all their US operations on 100% renewables, to Google, who has bought 1.1 GW of clean energy, information technology and internet-based companies have been leaders in supporting renewables. Tom Friedman’s 2008 book Hot, Flat, and Crowded exemplified how information technology was going to be critical in moving green technology forward.

We are starting to see this marriage become a reality, with these companies investing heavily in The Internet of Things, and smart grid technology. Smart grid markets are estimated by 2020 to reach past $400 billion globally. Hence, there is real incentives for the likes of Google, Apple, Cisco, in reaping the rewards of strong climate change policy.

It’s not perfect. Sure, but corporations are becoming leaders on this issue. And it may very well be driving many Naomi Klein and Milton Friedman fans bonkers.

US Adds 1.3GW of Solar PV in 1st Quarter of 2015: GTM Research/SEIA


United States solar market continues its growth, fuelled by residential PV installations, which advanced by 76% (437MW) in the first three months of 2015.

Solar Energy Industries Association/Green Tech Media (GTM) Research, who co-publish the US Solar Market Insight quarterly reports on the state of the industry, said overall installations were 1.3GW in Q1 2015. This was the sixth straight quarter where more than 1GW of new solar capacity was added.

3664051538_29c9e77b02_z

Image Credit: Photon Energy via FlickrSome Rights Reserved

This also accounted for 51% of new US electricity generation brought online, said senior vice president of GTM Research Shayle Kann.

Kann expects greater than 3 million home solar installations in the next five years, thanks to a more extensive movement towards customers engaging in energy creation, management, and use.

California (not surprising) lead the way in 2015 first quarter installations, followed by Nevada, New York, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. Texas, New Jersey, Arizona, New Mexico, and Maryland, round out the top ten in new capacity

Image credit via: GTM Research / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

Image credit via: GTM Research

Prices also fell this past quarter for home solar systems by 10% compared to 12 months earlier, at $3.48/watt. This is especially good news for consumers who are looking to take advantage of solar’s falling prices, with improved technologies.

One interesting side note from this report which kind of surprised me was how North East US record snowfall this past winter did not hamper new solar capacity:

The Northeastern U.S. experienced one of its worst winters ever recorded, but that didn’t prevent the residential solar market segment from having its best quarter of all time. The first quarter tends to be the slowest time of the year for the solar market due to weather, accounting and tax considerations. Despite these headwinds, the residential market still grew 11 percent over last quarter, its previous high-water mark.

What this recent report is solar is becoming the real deal. It’s a testament when despite pitiful weather conditions could have hurt new solar pv in Northern Atlantic states, places like New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland were in the top ten for new overall installations.

As SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch said “Solar continues to be the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States. By 2016, the U.S. will be generating enough clean solar energy to power 8 million homes.”

Resch added solar power can 8 million cars off the road, or 45 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Not bad, considering fossil fuels like Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson mocks renewables, despite its growth,and ignoring 97% of scientists who suggest climate change is real.

If you want to go deeper into this report go to the SEIA website, where you can download the report.

Climate Change Today: Weather Underground Infographic


Today in the food for thought category, Weather Underground had put out a nice, clean, infographic explaining the causes and effects of climate change.

Considering 97% of scientists agree that carbon emission levels (which are currently over 403 parts per million) is pushing man-made climate change, the effects are nothing to ignore.

climate-change-today

Image Credit: Climate Change Today via Weather Underground

What this infographic does nicely is show what effects (extreme weather, higher temperatures, higher sea levels) will occur.

So pick what concerns about our changing climate and advocate for it.  For me, it’s the cost of inaction of doing nothing. Plus my second problem is how governments need to update old and outdated infrastructure, in order to meet the needs of a warming world, as Bloomberg discussed in April:

Severe weather is the leading cause of power disruptions, costing the U.S. economy from $18 billion to $33 billion a year, and climate change will only make it worse, a White House review on energy infrastructure concludes.

The report, released Tuesday by the Energy Department, recommends investments in the electric grid to protect it from the severe storms that may be occurring more frequently because of global warming, as well as from physical and cyber-attacks.

Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz unveiled the report at Peco Energy Co. in Philadelphia. Biden noted that more electricity is being generated from solar and wind, which are challenges to the grid. Renewable energy resources often are in rural areas where power is needed least, requiring lines to bring it to consumers.

 “How and where we’re producing energy is changing and our energy infrastructure has to keep up,” Biden said.
Infographics provide information to people who don’t have the time to read a 20-page report. It’s critical to nail the key points in a specific issues (like climate change) within one page, so people can advocate for their concerns better. This is one of the better infographics on climate change geared towards the general public.

Book Review: Rooftop Revolution By Danny Kennedy


photo (2)

Rooftop Revolution Book Cover

Released last fall before the US presidential elections, Rooftop Revolution, written by Sungevity CEO and former Greenpeace activist Danny Kennedy is a clear concise book on the potential solar energy has in advancing a sustainable economy that should please environmental activists and sustainability entrepreneurs alike.

Kennedy at the start explores the false pretensions the fossil fuel industry comes up with against solar (happily known as King CONG-Coal, Oil, Nuclear, Gas). In the prologue, Kennedy goes into detail on why fossil fuels are inefficient (namely blasting off mountain tops for coal), while causing extensive environmental damage. He also cites the very dangerous potential of oil rigs causing serious environmental damage, thanks to incidents like the BP oil spill in spring, 2010. While nuclear energy may have no carbon emissions, the problems with storage, waste, and the accident in Fukushima and Chernobyl, Kennedy suggests nuclear energy is a definite no go for a clean energy option.

Meanwhile, the author notes, 20 days of sunshine has the same amount of energy potential, than all of the earth’s natural gas, oil, and coal supplies. That is something that perhaps all countries should take heed of if they are looking to provide energy in an ever-increasing energy hungry appetite.

And it’s not just solar energy that is good for the environment but also good for the economy, also. Similar to the information technology revolution, The Rooftop Revolution, Kennedy believes solar can do the same to boost an economy that lost jobs from CONG industries. He points despite the massive profits CONG industries have made, they employ less than twice as many bodies in clean energy industries. Given the number of solar jobs increased by 13.2% in 2012, it’s no wonder why we are seeing such bullishness in the former Greenpeace activists hope for this emerging industry.

Kennedy believes ten things will occur to help the “Solar Ascent,” including:

  1. Lower prices
  2. Job opportunities
  3. The speed in which solar energy is growing
  4. Scalability
  5. Increased access (important for emerging markets to leapfrog CONG energy)
  6. Value
  7. Climate change concerns
  8. Popularity
  9. National Defense
  10. Evolution.

It’s these ten things plus his knack for storytelling, maturing from an activist to a premier clean-tech entrepreneur (Kennedy did his fair share of civil disobedience against fossil fuel organizations in his younger days) that makes you want to read this book. His belief, that while protest can work, being an entrepreneur and changing the world through private enterprise provides some very key lessons both environmental activists and business students should take heart.

There are some minor flaws with the book. They include: looking at the idea of how the natural gas boom will affect solar prices in the short-term. There is also Kennedy’s suggestions of China’s low cost solar manufacturing could irk some union people (despite helping to decrease costs of photovoltaic panels) detract some of the good points from the book.

Nonetheless, environmental activists, business people, cleantech geeks, and those who want to know how solar energy works should get this for their bookshelf.

Food For Thought: Extreme Weather Statistics: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid”


Front Cover of the November 1, 2012 edition of Bloomberg Businessweek

Here is some more food for thought in the climate energy era. This time regarding statistics related to extreme weather events:

– Manitoba’s 2011 flood cost hit past the $1 billion mark.

– Hurricane Sandy is expected to cost more than US$50 billion dollars.

– According to the November 1st edition of Bloomberg Businessweek, in 2011, there were 14 US$1 billion weather disasters.

– A recent World Bank Report suggests an increase of 4C would see rapid sea level rise, heat waves that would adversely affect the world’s poorest regions. in the report.

– Hurricane Sandy and the U.S. mid-west drought this summer are on pace to rank in the most costly financial weather disasters since 1980.

– 2012 is also expected to be the second most expensive year relating to weather events, only behind 2011.

– North America has been the most effected by extreme weather catastrophes between 1980 to 2010, compared to other areas of the world, with climate change playing a role according to Munich re:

Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America. The study shows a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades, compared with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America. Anthropogenic climate change is believed to contribute to this trend, though it influences various perils in different ways. Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity. The view that weather extremes are becoming more frequent and intense in various regions due to global warming is in keeping with current scientific findings, as set out in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as well as in the special report on weather extremes and disasters (SREX). Up to now, however, the increasing losses caused by weather related natural catastrophes have been primarily driven by socio-economic factors, such as population growth, urban sprawl and increasing wealth.

The numbers speak for themselves. The numbers are damning. It’s real. It’s not going anywhere. If you think the problem is only going to get better, you are sadly mistaken. When economists like Nicholas Stern in 2006 suggest global Gross Domestic Product will fall dramatically because of changes of the earth’s climate, you know you have problems.

The question is: When we are fascinated by watching the events unfold on CNN, the Weather Channel in the States, or on CBC in Canada, why do we treat this like some movie? It’s not a movie. It’s real life with a tub of popcorn and Diet Pepsi.

“It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”