By Global Public Square staff
China's rivers have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. First they found thousands of dead pigs in one river. Then they found hundreds of dead ducks in another. And now, entire rivers are going missing. Thousands of them in fact. A new survey has found that China has 28,000 fewer rivers than previously thought. They've been built-upon, overused, and drying up. The study comes from no less an authority than China's Ministry of Water Resources and the National Bureau of Statistics.
Something else has also gone missing in China: clean air. A study out last week shows how air pollution in China led to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010. A separate study by China's Academy of Environmental Planning found that in the same year, 2010, environmental degradation cost the country $230 billion dollars.
By Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is United Arab Emirates special envoy for energy and climate change and CEO of Masdar, an Abu Dhabi-based renewable energy initiative. The views expressed are his own.
Four months ago today, U.S. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for five states and the District of Columbia over the approach of Hurricane Sandy. The super storm was a reminder that climate change is blind to faith, socio-economic status and geography. It also underscored that supplying cheap, sustainable energy and mitigating climate change is not a challenge for future generations – it is our challenge today.
And energy-rich nations have a shared responsibility to do more. After all, they have the financial and technical ability, as well as decades of expertise, to create the necessary growth of a new energy industry balanced by renewable sources of power.
By Kirk R. Smith, Special to CNN
Kirk R. Smith is a professor at the University of California-Berkeley and chair of the expert group evaluating household air pollution risks for the Global Burden of Disease, and the 2012 Tyler Laureate for Environmental Achievement. The views expressed are his own.
About the worst thing you can do is stick burning stuff in your mouth. Every year, tobacco kills more than six million people, according to the World health Organization. Including secondhand tobacco smoke affecting non-smokers, it is the chief cause of ill-health (measured as lost years of healthy life) among men globally and for everyone in North America and Western Europe.
The terrible disease burden imposed by tobacco is recognized by most people, but the risk of another form of smoke is also highlighted in the new “Global Burden of Disease” report released last Month in The Lancet – smoke from cooking fires. About 40 percent of the world still cooks with solid fuels, like wood and coal, in simple stoves that release substantial amounts of the same kinds of hazardous chemicals found in tobacco smoke directly into the household environment. Indeed, a typical wood cookfire emits 400 cigarettes worth of smoke an hour.
By David Burwell & Shin-pei Tsay, Special to CNN
Editor's note: David Burwell is the director of the energy and climate program and Shin-pei Tsay is director of cities transportation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.The views expressed are their own.
International climate change negotiations underway in Doha urgently need to find a path out of the climate change quagmire. The 2009 global climate conference in Copenhagen achieved consensus on one key point – that world average surface temperature could not rise more than two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels without risking catastrophic climate impacts. The truth is, the world has already gone past this, and the only hope is for cities to support global efforts.
This meteorological line in the sand of two degrees Celsius equates to 450 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and has been reaffirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And the International Energy Agency warns that global capital investment in new energy assets must make a fundamental shift away from fossil fuels in the next five years to have any chance of hitting the target.
By Michael Levi, CFR
Michael Levi is director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Energy, Security and Climate originally appeared here. The views expressed are his own.
The past week has been huge for people who want to see the United States go big on climate change. First Hurricane Sandy vaulted climate change back into the public debate. Now the reelection of Barack Obama means that there will be someone in the White House who cares strongly about the issue. The combination creates an opportunity to press for climate action.
That makes it all the more critical for people who care about climate change to get things right. If they remember one thing, it should be this: they will need to build coalitions if they want to go big.
By Debra Knopman, Jordan Fischbach & David Groves, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Debra Knopman is vice president and director for RAND Justice, Infrastructure and Environment; Jordan Fischbach is an associate policy researcher; and David Groves is a senior policy researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.
Natural disasters have a way of concentrating minds and creating political openings for change that can otherwise be difficult to achieve under normal conditions. Indeed, infrastructure like subways, roads, bridges, tunnels, ports, water and wastewater systems, electricity and communications networks rarely make the news except when they fail.
The massive damage and disruption caused by “Super Storm” Sandy has created a rare moment when New York City, New Jersey and surrounding areas are singularly focused on the infrastructure they need in a changing environment – not just the infrastructure they already have thanks to the vision and investments of past generations.
It is actually a moment to look south – at how Louisiana has chosen to shape its post-Katrina approach to protecting coastal populations and restoring eroding coastal lands.
Fareed Zakaria GPS is premiering its fourth and final edition of its “Global Lessons” series, tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Powering America looks at how to quench the country’s growing thirst for energy – cheaply and cleanly.
In the next decade, the world will consume 50 percent more energy than it does today. How can this need be met without a devastating impact on the world’s climate? Is the solution wind energy? Solar? Nuclear? Shale gas? Efficiency? Or something entirely new?
Watch the latest "Fareed Zakaria GPS" special, ‘Global Lessons: The Road Map for Powering America,’ this Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.
By Michael Graetzel, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Graetzel is a professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, where he directs the Laboratory of Photonics and Interfaces. He has consulted for technology firm G24i. The views expressed are his own.
For two centuries, we have been burning billions of years of photosynthetic residue, better known as fossil fuel, to power our factories, homes, vehicles and cities. But we may not need to do this much longer – solar resources are great enough for all of us. Indeed, it may surprise many to learn that the amount of solar energy striking the earth in one hour is equal to the total energy consumed by all of humanity in a whole year. Learning to capture more of this resource could yield huge dividends for humanity.
Here at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland we have developed a solar cell technology that takes its cue from photosynthesis: dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs). By separating the components for light absorption (which determines the cell’s color) and the transportation of electrical current, this technology is remarkably similar to natural photosynthesis and provides unique benefits for integrating solar cells into everyday life. The color tunability and transparency of the cells, as well as an enhanced efficiency in indoor light – power conversion efficiencies can reach over 12 percent at full sunlight intensity and more than 25 percent for interior lighting – afford DSCs the opportunity to extend solar power generation seamlessly and conveniently into our office buildings and living rooms.
By Edward Alden, CFR
Editor's Note: Edward Alden is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Renewing America was originally published here. The views expressed are the author’s own.
President Obama has become the first president in 22 years to issue a formal order blocking a foreign investment into the United States on national security grounds. The decision, which denies the acquisition of a small Oregon wind farm project by a Chinese-owned company, will unfortunately be seen as yet another signal – this time from the highest possible level — that the United States does not really want Chinese investment. And for an economy still struggling to create jobs, that’s the wrong signal to send.
The action by Obama is the first presidential rejection of a foreign acquisition on security grounds since President George H.W. Bush blocked a Chinese aerospace company from acquiring Mamco, a Seattle maker of aerospace components. While many other potential transactions not involving Chinese companies have been withdrawn as a result of U.S. government security concerns, the formal decision by President Obama will reinforce Chinese fears that their acquisitions in the United States face an unfairly high level of scrutiny.
By Evan Fraser, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Evan Fraser is an associate professor of geography at the University of Guelph in Canada and author of Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations. The views expressed are his own.
With this summer’s terrible weather decimating America’s corn crop, pundits are suggesting that a food crisis is brewing. This isn’t an idle concern. In 2008, soaring food prices prompted sometimes violent unrest in dozens of countries. In 2010, drought and wildfire destroyed 25 percent of Russia’s wheat; the Kremlin banned grain exports. This sent food prices up, too, triggering the first protests in Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt that ultimately formed the Arab Spring. Now, drought in the United States has wiped out between 20 percent and 30 percent of what corn farmers thought they were going to harvest, while corn prices have soared to all-new highs.
Will this year’s events send crowds into the streets to topple governments?
Two U.N. reports published earlier this month shed contradictory light on this question. The first report is optimistic. The September Food Price Index published by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)shows that the price of food did not rise between July and August. More importantly, the price of cereals, when taken as a whole, remained stable. This is very good news. And while cereals are still expensive relative to historic levels, prices are a bit below those that sparked riots in 2008 and 2010. One reason for this is that thanks to good harvests last year and the year before, we have a fair bit of food stored, and hence have a bit of a buffer. Jose Graziano da Silva, the director general of the FAO, stated “This is reassuring…although we should remain vigilant, current prices to do not justify talk of a world food crisis.”
By Lisa Ballantine, Special to CNN
Lisa Ballantine is executive director of Filter Pure, which focuses on providing sustainable water sources in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The views expressed are her own.
As we watched Hurricane Isaac sweep through the Caribbean at the end of last month, we were confronted with images of more misery hitting Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, an island hard-hit over the past few years. Media coverage showed people being pounded by wind and rain, floating in flood waters and in desperate and immediate need yet without shelter. Organizations and individuals in the U.S. have been moving to respond with help and aid. But the need goes deeper than relief for a single hurricane or earthquake.
It is, of course, wonderful to come from a country that responds to the needs of the international community in times of disaster, and many Americans are generous and quick to reach out to those in need. But many of us living in developed countries struggle to genuinely understand the daily grind of poverty as parents are forced to travel to watering holes or to try to protect their sick children from parasites.
By Scott Tinker, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Dr. Scott W. Tinker is the acting associate dean of research at the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT Austin. He is the state geologist of Texas and recently co-produced the global energy documentary ‘Switch.’ He also serves on the Technical Advisory Council for BP.
Several years ago, I briefed a U.S. Senate hearing on the possibility of energy independence. “Probably not in our lifetimes,” I said boldly. “Energy security is a better goal.” That probably wasn’t what the senators wanted to hear, and as it turns out, in terms of energy independence, I may well have been wrong.
The concept of independence is deeply embedded in the American psyche. Our nation began with a declaration of it. But what does independence mean in the context of energy? Most would agree that energy independence is achieved when a nation produces more energy than it consumes – countries such as Brazil. So, how does the United States stack up?
Today, oil represents just over one-third of total U.S. energy consumption, and we import about half of that oil. One way to become independent would be to replace imported oil with a substitute. Easy to say, hard to do: hundreds of millions of cars, trucks, and planes run almost exclusively on gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel that come from oil. So why are we still dependent on oil? Because fuels made from it have physical properties – tremendous energy density, easy to transport globally and no solid residue or ash, making them nearly perfect transportation fuels. Just fill up in three minutes and drive some more! And all those fill-ups add up to about 10 million barrels of imported oil every day. Substituting something else will take time.