The shipping industry and sustainable fuel alternatives

The shipping industry is responsible for transporting approximately 52% of marine commerce across the world. However, the combustion engines which power these cargo ships impact the planet negatively by releasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

This is a problem as the shipping industry is one of the most important aspects of trade and livelihood for those countries that rely heavily on imports. With the industry still serving as the foundation of the UK’s prosperity, solutions to transition the industry toward more sustainable measures inline with the environment are well underway.

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As well as offering a more environmentally friendly solution, looking at the different ways the shipping industry can power its ships also presents cost-effective solutions with bigger ships holding more cargo being able to be powered with less expensive fuel sources is a win win for most corporations involved. Below is a list of different fuel alternatives that may help sustain the shipping industry on a greener course:

Amonia

  • Doesn’t produce carbon emissions.
  • Requires more storage and toxic for human and aquatic life.

Hydrogen

  • Doesn’t produce carbon emissions.
  • Needs to be stored at -253 degree Celsius or -423 Fahrenheit and potentially explosive.

Liquefied natural gas

  • Less carbon emissions produce and already used on some ships.
  • Still a fossil fuel so not carbon neutral.

Biofuels

  • Made from vegetable oils and compatible with many ships.
  • Less energy dense and more expensive than regular oil.

Methanol

  • Can be made cleanly and already used in some ships.
  • Less energy dense and expensive.

Nuclear

  • Doesn’t produce carbon emissions, extremely energy dense and is already used in some ships.
  • Possible presents several lethal issues if things start to fail.

As you can see, there are a number of alternatives which present themselves as better alternatives than using standard oil. However, this transition is no easy task and holds its own set of complex issues. With the timescale to make these changes slowly dwindling, action is crucial in these next few decades. With multiple industries, including the shipping industry, starting to change to more sustainable practices, the impact of climate change can only be minimised by reducing the harmful practices of the modern world which have become too familiar to us all. Therefore, advocating industries such as fast fashion, meat production and transport to transition toward sustainable practices will ultimately have the biggest impact in slowing the consequences of our rapidly changing climate.

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What 2050 will look like if ‘business as usual’ continues

The phrase ‘business as usual‘ is a prediction model which demonstrates what will happen if nothing is changed over the next few decades. With the majority of business and governments central focus on economy rather than well-being, for both the planet and the people, often the future does not bode well if change is not instigated. Often 2050 is seen as the decade where the consequences of not changing our ways will have catastrophic impacts on all of us.

If business does continue as usual, then by 2050 due to the increased warming of the planet we will begin to see some of the consequences unprecedented in human history.

It is estimated that we will have an ice free artic in the coming decades, causing unprecedented sea levels to rise by 2100, meaning many coastal areas will be uninhabitable. However, by only 2050 these slight increases to sea level are estimated to impact 1 billion people.

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Another problem is coral reefs bleaching. This already a problem but will continue to worsen by 2050, causing major damage for marine ecosystems and the wildlife that depends on them.

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Another tragic loss by 2050 will be the loss of many animal and plant species due to human behaviour continuing as usual. This has also been estimated to reach a point unprecedented in human history as a report claims that we may experience around 1 million species going extinct in the near future.

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What we can do now to prevent this from happening? The need for change is upon us in many different ways. The change for renewable energy is a must if we want to curtail the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere. The need to change our diets is also a must if we want to alleviate the stress we put on our planet by producing too much meat which has shown to be an insufficient food source. As well as making sure countries stick to their goals which were agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Agreement. We need start thinking smarter about the way we live and actively grow out of the wasteful lifestyles that capitalism has instilled in all of us. The profits of big business and government will not mean as much if we are left with a lifeless planet for future generations to inhabit.

Eating meat can no longer sustain human life on Earth

Looking back at human history, we have all been meat eaters for thousands of years and it is something that is linked closely with our ancestry. However, as the planet now holds an unprecedented amount of us, approximately 8 billion, it does not have the capacity to hold that many daily meat eaters as David Attenborough made clear in his recent documentary ‘A life on Our Planet‘.

Current statistics show that globally we consume around 350 million tons of meat a year, this number is continuously increasing with meat consumption since the 1980s doubling in 30 years. Providing space and resources for all the animals that we eat also has major damaging impacts on the environment. Additionally, one of the issues with meat consumption in developed countries is the desensitisation of killing and eating animals that we all have become comfortable with, automated factories which process dozens of animals each day take away the moral aspect which is an important factor as to why consumption is so high. Therefore, switching to a more vegetarian diet needs to become the new norm if we are going to give our planet the respite from all the damage we have caused it up to this point.

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A report published by 37 scientists last year concluded that our current food systems are currently threating human health and environmental sustainability. They assessed that more than 820 million people have insufficient food and low-quality diets, urging that global transformation of the food system is needed now more than ever. Another report published in the same journal stated that we can no longer feed our population a healthy diet whilst balancing planetary resources for the first time in 200,000 years.

Another study found that the animals we use for food take up 83% of the world’s farmland, whilst only contributing to 18% of our calorie consumption. Also, contributing up to 58% of food’s emissions. Whereas, a vegetarian diet can help reduce the green house gas emissions produced by meat production, use less land to cultivate crops and provide healthier alternatives to many poor diet choices. Demonstrating that eating meat is somewhat an inefficient food source and with so many of us understandably eating meat due to our ancestry here the problem can start to become apparent.

Not only is eating meat inefficient as a food source but it also contributes to a host of other problems. For example, an conservation website found problems with meat consumption ranging from deforestation and loss of biodiversity to eutrophication and desertification.

Due to the large amount of space it takes to raise livestock for meat production and the lack of space we have left, natural areas which we rely on are beginning to suffer. For example, the Amazon rainforest is currently being destroyed, mostly illegally, for meat production, timber and minerals. The rate at which it is being destroyed is also alarming as it is one of the largest rainforests on our planet which we rely on for species diversity, minimising carbon emissions and protects indigenous communities. The image below demonstrates the extent of the clearing taking place for farmland.

© Paulo Pereira / Greenpeace

Desertification is the process where fertile areas of soil become increasingly arid. Too much grazing livestock in one area can prohibit the land from replenishing and thus, cause the process of desertification. The IPCC report ‘Climate Change and Land‘ states that: ‘Asia and Africa are projected to have the highest number of people vulnerable to increased desertification‘. The report also states: ‘Projected increases in population and income, combined with changes in consumption patterns, result in increased demand for food, feed, and water in 2050‘. Reinforcing the need for a change toward a more vegetarian diet, as the population increases, so does the demand for lifestyles which are not sustainable at such as scale on a planet with finite capacity and resources.

However, scientists also recognise that changing people’s diets on a mass scale is a major challenge. As a 2018 publication in Science states:

Although meat is a concentrated source of nutrients for low-income families, it also enhances the risks of chronic ill health, such as from colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease. Changing meat consumption habits is a challenge that requires identifying the complex social factors associated with meat eating and developing policies for effective interventions‘.

It also suggests that governments need to shape food systems around environmental health and animal welfare and not just for contamination and economical priorities.

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Referring back to the report ‘Climate Change and Land‘ – this report does offer some solutions to these issues:

A number of land management options, such as improved management of cropland and grazing lands, improved and sustainable forest management, and increased soil organic carbon content, do not require land use change and do not create demand for more land conversion


A wide range of adaptation and mitigation responses, e.g., preserving and restoring natural ecosystems such as peatland, coastal lands and forests, biodiversity conservation, reducing competition for land, fire management, soil management, and most risk management options (e.g., use of local seeds, disaster risk management, risk sharing instruments) have the potential to make positive contributions to sustainable development, enhancement of ecosystem functions and services and other societal goals

As you can see, these responses focus not just on meat production and agriculture but other issues as well. As is the nature of climate change, a problem is not exclusive to itself but often interlinks with a set of problems which all react collaterally with each other. Due to our rapid population expansion since the previous century, we are at a crucial point in human history where we not only need to make a renewable energy transformation but also a dietary transformation in order to continue to sustain human life on Earth and prevent a sixth mass extinction event from happening.

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Mountain glaciers are melting at an irreversible rate

The increased warming of the planet since industrialisation began has caused many different changes to the planet’s characteristics. One visible and alarming change has been the melting of mountain glaciers which was first observed in 1850. Now there is widespread scientific research which shows that mountain glaciers are diminishing all around the world from the Alps and Icelandic glaciers to the Himalayan mountain range.

Specifically concentrating on the Himalayan mountain range, which has been described as the planet’s third pole, the former Prime Minister of Bhutan highlights some interesting points on mountain glaciers and the issues of climate change.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Juc_yvEkJuc&ab_channel=TED

As explained in the video above the melting of mountain glaciers is problematic for a number of different reasons. One of those reasons being sea-level rise and flooding which will create unprecedented amounts of climate refugees and destroy habitats for certain species. Similar to permafrost thawing, the melting of glaciers may also expose lethal diseases and methane gas, which is more harmful than carbon dioxide, causing them to re-enter the atmosphere due to unfrozen earth which both damage human and environmental health.

Not only do these problems have collateral affects but scientists have estimated that at the rates of melting currently being observed, our planet will lose some of its glaciers before the end of the century and heavy glacierised regions will continue to contribute to sea-level rise beyond 2100. The melting of glaciers is already evident as in 2019, Iceland lost their first mountain glacier and people came together with a plaque to acknowledge the problem and spread awareness that climate action must take place if we are to prevent more degradation of our planet’s health. This is worrying as these problems are relatively new to us, meaning that the solutions are also new and not yet obvious.

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However, one of the most obvious solutions to melting glaciers would be to prevent global warming and transition toward renewable energy but as I identified in a previous post, global warming itself involves many complex issues. Additionally, to fix such a major issue cannot simply be done by transitioning to renewable energy as the transition itself is a slow and complex problem.

Although, transitioning to renewable energy is a arduous and complex task, with each year seeing more technological advancement there is still some hope. For example, the International Energy Agency documented that the rise and growth for renewable energy increased in 2019 and using scenarios predicted that it will continue to grow considerably from 2020. This demonstrates a clear trend that people are working internationally to help mitigate some of these complex and daunting issues.

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Why climate change is more of a concern now than ever before

Currently, climate change is a major issue for humanity and one that cannot be solved easily. The words ‘climate change’ are somewhat natural when looking at the Earth’s history but presently represent a host of different issues which are all interlinked in some way. From deforestation, pollution, carbon emissions to overfishing, meat consumption and consumerism all affect the planet’s sustainability and biodiversity.

A recent video which helps summarise my point further can be found below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Sl28fkrozE&t=0s&ab_channel=TED

What will be looked at today is the history of global warming and the consequences melting ice and rising temperatures.

The first appearances of climate change occurred during the 1820s when Joseph Fourier discovered that atmospheric gases could trap heat emitted by the sun. Today, we now know this early discovery has degrading consequences, especially for those contributing least to the problem.

Two examples of the progression of our planet’s degradation I will draw from are the melting of ice and warming of the planet.

The melting of ice worsens with each passing year as the time-lapse below demonstrates.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7x9leQqrkc&feature=emb_logo&ab_channel=AGU

Some of the problems which follow the ice melting are associated with flooded coastal areas, disturbed marine ecosystems and the collapse of polar ecosystems. Each bring their own set of problems to the table and some of the consequences of these changes are yet unknown as our planet as never experienced such radical climate change in recent history.

The warming of the planet, which is interlinked with the melting of ice, brings a host of separate problems as well. As shown in the video below, global warming has considerably increased over the past 100 years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sqdyEpklFU&feature=emb_logo&ab_channel=NASAClimateChange

The consequences associated with global warming consist of longer breeding seasons for insects and this ultimately leads to population imbalances, such as locusts, taking place in parts of Africa and Asia leading to reduce crop yields. Global warming also causes permafrost to thaw, releasing ancient viruses and harmful gases, such as methane, back into the atmosphere.

The amalgamation of these two interlinked issues which fall under the umbrella of climate change demonstrate the complexity of the problem at hand. Demonstrating that as a collective we must take climate change seriously and invent efficient ways to deal with these complex issues.

In summary, these two main examples are clearly interlinked and disturb the planet’s natural systems. However, as mentioned earlier these are only two issues amongst a plethora of other concerns which are caused by human behaviour and affect the planet’s health. Therefore, in striving for solutions to these problems it is vital that we take a collective responsibility and not leave it in the hands of a minority of scientists and technological innovation.

Sources:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Sl28fkrozE&t=0s&ab_channel=TED
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225789568_Global_warming_and_state-corporate_crime_The_politicalization_of_global_warming_under_the_Bush_administration
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7x9leQqrkc&feature=emb_logo&ab_channel=AGU
https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/11/e1700537
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.12337
https://utsc.utoronto.ca/news-events/breaking-research/most-polar-bear-populations-likely-collapse-end-century-if-global-warming
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sqdyEpklFU&feature=emb_logo&ab_channel=NASAClimateChange
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225789568_Global_warming_and_state-corporate_crime_The_politicalization_of_global_warming_under_the_Bush_administration
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jun/08/rolling-emergency-of-locust-swarms-decimating-africa-asia-and-middle-east
https://arcticwwf.org/newsroom/the-circle/arctic-tipping-point/thawing-permafrost/

The forefront of climate change research

Disclaimer: I am in no way sponsored or endorsed by any of these organisations, I am just trying to spread the awareness of information on climate change.

Recent research on climate change taken from credible sources outline what current research is focused on. Some studies I have already written about in my previous posts so they will not be included within this thread. The aim of this is to give people an idea of what direction climate change research is currently heading:

Side note: an interesting podcast mini-series from the University of Oxford on climate change and its research models, economic consequences and the issues surrounding the solutions. A great listen if you do not have the time to read.

Hopefully this helps broaden the awareness on current climate change issues and at the very least provides informative sources for you to refer to when needed.

Why climate change is the best investment of the 21st century

In 2014, many powerful leaders came together in New York to speak about the united climate action to tackle the growing global issues. Many voiced the opinion that it costs more to ignore the problem of climate change than to invest in solving the issues.

It was also in the year of 2014 that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an assessment on climate change science. The report stated that the longer we wait to reduce our emissions, the more expensive it will become. Outlining a key point that to tackle climate change head on and investing in the infrastructure early will help us gain an advantage on the problems which we are now experiencing. Additionally, the report states that to carry on with business as usual will only accelerate climate change and create damage costs beyond what we can accurately assess. This is also key as many today still ignore or deny climate change and their responsibility to it, which will be covered in more depth later.

Although, investment into climate change is essential, some have warned that investing in climate change issues is a complex matter with long-term investment not being so clear cut.

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It is now firmly established that climate change is a much needed and important investment for governments and NGOs to focus on in order to help minimise the damage costs of climate change. However, others have highlighted the importance of investing in adaptation measures as well.

A report released in 2019 by the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) stated that adaptation measures such as early warning systems would help avoid suffering, economic loss and be economically beneficial. Some of the most crucial climate issues such as drought, rising sea levels and unpredictable weather can all be avoided by preparing with adaptable measures that the report touches on. These adaptive measures can help prevent suffering but also help invest money into the preventing issues before they become too expensive to fix. For example, the report states that rising sea levels may create hundreds of millions of climate refugees moving from coastal cities, creating a total cost to coastal urban areas around $1 trillion each year by 2050.

Additionally, the IPCC is currently preparing the sixth assessment report on climate change which incorporates the idea of adaptation to climate change as well. Therefore, it is absolutely clear that when it comes to climate change prevention is one-hundred percent better than cure.

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If business is to continue as usual then certain people will continue to profit from the destructive practices which have been normalised in today’s society. For example, in 2011 an incident occurred where Shell had been responsible for an oil spill near the coast of Nigeria. When asked for $5 billion in compensation, Shell refused to pay stating that there was no legal basis for such a fine to exist, thus avoiding the responsibility of the harms they had incidentally caused. It is well known that many companies try to avoid blame, as seen by the oil spills and other incidents globally. However, active climate change denial still has a strong voice and is one of the major barriers to creating concrete solutions against climate change.

The sophistication of climate denial by big business is one that has been compared to the misinformation campaigns led by the tobacco industry from the 1950s to the 1970s. For example, ExxonMobil in the United States being one of the biggest companies in the oil and gas industries, spent $16 million from 1998 to 2005 to produce uncertainty about climate change. This demonstrates the lengths big businesses will go to in order to keep profiteering from the harmful practices that continue to cause millions of people suffering each year. Not only are people losing their homes but many people’s health are at risk from toxic waste dumps as well as millions of acres of habitat and rainforest being lost for the sake of profit.

As we are at a crucial turning point in our planet’s health and our own, one of the most famous naturalists, David Attenborough, has recently stated that this is our last chance to stop wasting resources, time and money. Therefore, in order to rid ourselves of the destructive habits of today’s society, there is great need to actively inspire a healthier change that everyone needs to be apart of in order for it to work.

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How climate change plays a key role in the frequency of virus infections

The current pandemic has claimed thousands of lives over the past six months and left many more with long-term injuries. However, the coronavirus is not unique, since the start of the 21st century there have been many other outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as Ebola, SARS, swine flu and zika – although none have managed to spread quite like the coronavirus. The catalyst for such diseases can be explained by using China as an example, as their population nears 1.5 billion and the conditions of wet markets in their countries are a perfect place for diseases to spread. This is due to the poor conditions the animals are kept in, making it easy for diseases to spread from one another, as humans consume these animals it is more likely that these diseases will spread from animal to human. However, it is not only such conditions which increase the likelihood of infectious diseases but also climate change, more specifically global warming.

https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/global/time-series/globe/land_ocean/ytd/12/1880-2019

As the above graph demonstrates, global temperatures continue to increase due to the high amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, among other reasons, which creates an catalyst for infectious diseases. Higher temperatures have been associated with increased rates of spreading disease through carriers such as insects. Insects which carry diseases, one example being mosquitos which spread malaria and zika, have longer breeding seasons and life cycles due to the higher temperatures which we are experiencing globally (Lynch et al. 2010). As temperatures continue to increase each year, the rate of infectious diseases will continue to increase due to these prolonged life cycles. This helps understand the correlation between global warming and the rate of diseases we have seen since the start of the 21st century.

Although this may seem alarming, scientists are hard at work in creating solutions to such problems. One such solution is the engineering of genetically modified male mosquitos which when breeding with females do not carry over diseases, therefore prohibiting the amount of infectious diseases which can be spread to humans.

The spread of infectious diseases due to climate change has also been found in other ways, such as the melting of permafrost. Permafrost is frozen land found in the Northern hemisphere typically trapping gases such as methane underneath it. As global temperatures continue to rise, scientists have discovered that these frozen landscapes are beginning to melt, thus releasing a lot of harmful gases as well as lethal diseases back into the environment. In 2016, scientists discovered that a young boy had died of anthrax which had been sourced from dead reindeers which had been frozen for more than 70 years, however due to the melting of permafrost this exposed land released this disease back into the environment.

Credit: Ben Curtis/AP – Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2020/jan/24/billions-of-locusts-swarm-through-kenya-in-pictures

Additionally, climate change and its association with unpredictable weather patterns can create other problems involving insects and population imbalance. Since 2019, many parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East have been experiencing large quantities of locust which are surpassing into the billions and devouring the crops the people there rely on. This demonstrates the unpredictable consequences of climate change and the lack of preparation governments and nations have in terms of dealing with these problems.

As infections diseases, population outbursts and many other problems continue to surface due to the radical change in the planet’s climate, solutions and international cooperation to these problems continue to appear somewhat vacant. Spreading awareness of these issues are most important in helping to bring attention to these catastrophes which are without solutions. As time is somewhat running out in terms of irreversible damage, this seems to truly be a situation where everyone is responsible but also a time where everyone needs to get involved to help combat these destructive issues.

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