Burning Up

In his excellent Exponential View newsletter, Azeem shared a few powerful pieces of data about changes we’re seeing in global climate.

The latest data from NASA shows that the planet is heating up at record speeds.

This chart shows a trebling of the energy imbalance just since 2000 alone. That’s a lot of additional energy in the Earth’s system, available to heat oceans, land and atmosphere, melt ice and increase sea levels.

Our parents have been talking about the incredibly intense heat in India already. This is happening across the subcontinent. The forecast for Dadu in Pakistan over the next ten days is 48-49°C (120 degrees Fahrenheit).

Such heat is deadly and challenges a person’s ability to survive without the support of air conditioning. Three years ago, over 350 Magellanic Penguins living in the southern tip of Argentina died when the temperature hit 44ºC in the shade. We aren’t any different.

It is ominous.

Our transition away from Carbon can’t come fast enough. To that end, here are a few optimistic notes.

(1) California, which would be the 5th largest economy in the world if it was its own nation state, fulfilled 99.87% of its electricity demand with renewables for a period last weekend – two thirds from solar.

This is building off a recent milestone when clean energy powered 80% of energy in the UK.

Electricity is responsible for 25% of global greenhouse emissions.

(2) This week, NJR Clean Energy Ventures started construction on an 8.9-MW floating solar installation in Millburn, New Jersey. It will be the largest floating array in the United States. While floating solar is usually built on reservoirs, what will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm was also begun this week, 125 KMs off the east coast of Yorkshire, England in the North Sea. The Dogger Bank Wind Farm will have an installed capacity of 3.6 GW.

While this is both great, large scale solar installations are way cheaper that wind.

(3) Australian and Chinese researchers have published about the development of an organic polymer-based rechargeable battery with double the energy capacity of previous models. This is pointing to a possible future with far less dependence on lithium and cobalt mining.

(4) 2 weeks ago, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) shared plans to approve the construction of 39 utility-scale solar projects, totaling more than 29 GW of capacity on federal lands by the end of 2025. That’s more than twice France’s total installed solar capacity and will increase overall solar capacity in the US by 20%.

(5) This data from 2019 shows the scale of the problem – 84% of global energy comes from fossil fuels.

This is changing quickly – for example, in 2021, 10% of all electricity came from wind and solar. But the change can’t come fast enough.

(6) Nuclear is among the bigger non-fossil fuel sources. It is also among the safest and cleanest sources of energy.

We need a lot more innovation on nuclear energy. Seaborg technologies, for example, is working on providing nuclear energy on barges in industrial areas.

(7) The top 10% richest humans in any country (e.g., over $170K household income in the US) contribute a disproportionate amount of Carbon emissions. Even the middle 40% (I’d guess household income >$50,000) make a massive contribution to emissions.

The differences between the rich and poor within a country contributes to more emissions than between rich and poor nations.

Every one of us can and needs to act. There’s a lot riding on it.