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This Planet is a series of short video stories that draw on the best new videos, awesome graphics, and surprising facts about climate, energy and innovation.

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This Planet Chronicle

Why Reviving the Nuclear Zombie Could be Trump’s Worst Decision Ever

Evelyn Messinger

Because nukes always live to kill again.

chernobyl.jpg

IMAGE: PAR SYSTEMS INC.   Chernobyl under wraps: Thirty years after the reactor exploded, the large dome is being placed to seal off the smaller dome, which seals off the reactor, which is still leaking.

 Jan 26, 2017

In early December, there was a media stir when a memo from Trump’s transition team surfaced, asking the Department of Energy to name employees who participated in climate meetings. In the very same memo were questions that might turn out to be even more significant: Can the nuclear power industry be brought back to life, they asked, so that aging nuclear reactors can keep “operating as part of the nation’s infrastructure?”

Only one week earlier, nuclear market watchers were advising their industry to make radical changes – not to their business model but to their PR strategy – in order to survive the Trump era.

An article in Power Magazine titled Trump: Bad News for U.S. Nuclear Power? put it this way:

“While new nukes are horrendously expensive, the industry’s argument has been…the value of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.” But the Trump folks don’t believe that CO2 is warming the climate, so “the nuclear industry may have to find a new political peg on which to hang its business hat.”

What a difference a week makes!

Under the oil-loving, solar-hating Trump regime, nuclear power looks set to rise again.

The conservative The Daily Caller noted that nuclear energy experts “suspect Trump will be extremely pro-nuclear,” and the Fiscal Times speculated that, “With Trump at the helm,” a “new era” of nuclear power is dawning. The website breathlessly predicted a nuclear industry that “no longer bows to fear…”

Ah, fear. Not a popular emotion but it sure gets your attention. Researching this article led inevitably to a fearful conclusion: nuclear technologies may be useful for a limited time but their deadliness lasts, in effect, forever. The fatal flaw at the core of the nuclear industry is this: even if the life-destroying, land-poisoning accidents can be prevented, the nuclear zombie lives on. Nuclear waste, much like the undead, does not lie easy in its grave, but is rising up to kill and kill again. Such as:

 

FUKUSHIMA

Oh, did you think that the Fukushima meltdown was over? Well, think again. Not only is it not over, it won’t be over in your, or your children’s, or your grandchildren’s, lifetimes.

 

tepco ice wall.jpg

CREDIT: TEPCO   A well extracts clean groundwater before it gets to the radioactive Fukushima plant, and another extracts poisoned groundwater leaving the plant before it gets to the ocean. But don’t be fooled by the size of the arrows: hundreds of tons of radioactive water are still reaching the Pacific ocean.

Some 60,000 tons of highly radioactive water sit in the basements of the leaking buildings, and the best we can hope for is to contain the relentless leakage of poison into the Pacific Ocean. That’s why the plant’s operator TEPCO decided to build a wall of ice around the complex, to divert the hundreds of tons of groundwater that passes through the damaged buildings every day.

So how’s that working out? In a word, NOT. In July TEPCO admitted that the ice wall wasn’t stopping the water, and in September a typhoon simply melted the ice away.

 

WIPP

How about repositories of nuclear waste having their own accidents? Yes, it not only happened but it was all the fault of kitty litter, as This Planet reported last year.

The one and only official US nuclear waste site, New Mexico’s WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) handles mostly low-level radioactive waste. Casks of the stuff are stored in caverns underground, and the casks are packed with kitty litter, because the clay stabilizes the waste. In 2014, someone at the WIPP decided to “go green,” using organic kitty litter which, it turns out, has some very unhealthy properties for nuclear waste. Here are the key finding from the Department of Energy’s fact sheet:

Key Judgment 1. The contents of Drum 68660 were incompatible. The nitrate salt residues, organic sorbent (Swheat Scoop®), and neutralization agent (triethanolamine) known to be present represent a potentially reactive chemical mixture of fuels and oxidizers.

In other words, the addition of Swheat Scoop® caused Drum 68660 to go boom. Even though it was a teeny tiny mistake, it resulted in 21 workers being contaminated with low-level doses of radiation, the shut down of WIPP and a cost (to date) of $640 million, “among the costliest in U.S. history.” And that’s not counting “the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned.” And oh yeah, the contract for future waste clean-ups skyrocketed by 70% after the accident.

IMAGES:DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY, THE HAPPY BEAST Left: Inside the WIPP, one of many teams must go in to discover the problem. Center: the problem, a single canister that exploded, causing untold damage, because they used the wrong kitty litter, right.

 

ALL THE OTHER LEAKS, EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME

A small news story in March reported that two US reactors leaked radioactive tritium in 2016. If you didn’t hear about it, that’s because it happens all the time. In 2011 an Associated Press investigation discovered that over 75% of commercial US nuclear plants have leaked tritium, often into the water supply, usually from old corroded waste tanks. Tritium is both odorless and colorless like water, and it enters the cells of a body, where it can cause cancer, as easily as water.

Even though every gram of radioactive material put into the biosphere kills, the regulatory agencies have been weakening the rules for years. By simply changing the words of a regulation, tritium accidents are magically transformed into routine events, neither penalized nor newsworthy beyond the local communities affected.

And that brings us to a true anomaly - one with a universal lesson.

 

HANFORD

hanford men.jpg

CREDIT: DEPT. OF ENERGY

The workers at Hanford had respirators when the most recent leaks happened. Then the clean-up contractor decided they weren’t needed - based on an illegitamate study.

A funny thing happened on the way to developing the US nuclear arsenal: 586 square miles of Washington state got contaminated with radioactive waste. The Hanford plant, a key bomb-building site, was closed at the end of the cold war, leaving behind 56 million gallons of the most toxic nuclear waste on earth. They’ve been cleaning it up ever since.

But guess what happened? A newish, double-walled tank leaked radioactive liquid into the space between its two walls. Seattle’s KING TV, no stranger to this story, covered the leak in April. In July, KING reported that workers cleaning up the leak were being sickened by fumes. In August, KING’s excellent investigative story summarized the whole sorry episode, revealing that the contractor being paid to clean up the leaks decided to cut back on worker’s gear that protected them against the deadly fumes. Sixty workers ended up sick.

 

DON’T DO IT, DONALD!

Nuclear regulations have surely prevented many accidents, but as the Hanford story reveals so clearly, the amount of money anyone is willing to spend on cleanups is not endless, and the sense of corporate and governmental responsibility has severe limitations. What never dies is the damage that the nuclear power zombie causes. So here are some cautions and a suggestion for the new President:

IMAGES CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT: PIXABAY.COM; ENERGY.GOV; REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE; DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

• Nukes are not “green” except when they use the wrong kitty litter. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) asked the Trump administration “to use its purchasing power” to change the wording of government mandates. An article entitled NEI Asks for Assistance to Make 2017 a Happy Nuke Year, describes the lobbyist asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to replace “mandates requiring renewable energy purchases with mandates that require clean energy purchases.” Once again, the idea is to simply change the words, magically putting “emission free” nukes in the same category as wind and solar. Will anyone notice that calling nuclear energy clean is like, well, calling the undead alive?

• Extending licenses on old nuclear plants is giving zombies a new lease on life. Energy companies that manage a mess of messy old nuclear plants, most built in the early 1970s, feel put upon because their operating licenses run only until the 2030s. They think another 20 years for these outdated, increasingly accident-prone clunkers would be just fine and they want you, President Trump, to think so too.

• Don’t try this in your homeland. Industry boosters and some environmentalists who are worried about global warming are talking up new types of power plants that have mechanism they claim will prevent meltdowns. Even if we could afford building these new designs (orders of magnitude more expensive than solar or wind) their waste will end up in the zombie graveyard. Do we really want to keep making more of them?

• OK try something new in waste management and storage. Fast. Like it or not, the nuclear zombies are already among us. So what can be done? There are processes to encase waste in glass, or concrete, such as have been going on at another weapons clean up site, Savannah River. But that program started in 1990 and aims to get it done in 2036. Forty-six years is a long time, so shouldn’t getting a move on the waste problem be the most important thing for the new Secretary of Energy to do?

And then there is Yucca Mountain, the long-planned and long-delayed repository for US nuclear waste. The Trumpers seem interested in reviving this too, and it does have one advantage: the hundreds of thousands of poisonous waste containers scattered across the US in casks and caves, in the earth and the seas, can all be put in one place. Of course getting them there opens loads of opportunities for zombie escapes – but it’s a chance we need to take.

Last word: if you want to fight the zombies, Greenpeace and the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) are the places to start.

 

 

Charge Up Without Blowing Up; the Need for a Better Battery

Frank Bozzo

With the recent explosive news regarding Samsung, batteries are on a lot of people’s minds. We have been using the same lithium-ion type batteries for over a decade and it’s time to upgrade. Aside from our cell phones, this issue impacts the future of sustainable clean energy. Both solar and wind energy are getting cheaper all the time but, before we can make any energy alternatives cheaper than so-called “brown energy” or fossil fuels, we need to have a way to store that energy, for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. A better battery is the logical answer, until we solve the problems that we have with today’s batteries, clean energy will be held back. Let’s take a look at some of the issues plaguing the current generation of batteries and some companies and research teams that think they have found the solution.

Capacity:

Now we aren’t talking about storing high-def pictures of your cat here, we are talking about energy storage capacity. The amount of energy a battery can hold by it’s weight makes or breaks, scientists have been working for years to expand battery capacity, and that essentially defines the field of battery research. Better batteries a range of applications, from utility companies being able to store more solar power, to us being able to go a few more days without charging our Apple Watches. As the cost of solar power continues to come down, a larger capacity battery will not only be a battery game changer, but, with its alternative energy implications, a world changer.

 

Speed of Charge and Discharge:

As of right now, to charge your Tesla electric car at home, it could take you 3 or 4 hours. At a supercharger station charging only takes 40-ish minutes, but, there are just under 700 of those in the US (compared with some 168,000 gas stations). For clean energy to take off, the charge and discharge rate has to improve. When Tesla CEO Elon Musk released his patents to the world two years ago, he was hoping for advancement in this type battery technology.

Efficiency:

Last but not least is the efficiency of the battery. This relates directly to the other two components that must be improved: along with the charge being fast, it must last. Clumped in with this is the ability to recharge multiple times with no degradation. Over their lifespan, batteries degrade progressively, due to chemical changes in their electrodes, reducing capacity, cycle life, and safety. We have all experienced this with our cellphones and other gadgets, and, while it may not seem like a big deal to get a new phone every year or two, when we are talking about the degradation of a microgrid, or your car, that’s another story.  

Now that you know how desperately we need a battery upgrade, what solutions are out there? There are several ideas, and scientists around the world are working on this, here are the few of the most innovative ideas that we could find:

 

  1. Nanotechnology: Using materials invisible to the naked eye, the scientists working in this field are changing the nature of the materials used in batteries from flat to three dimensional, enabling them to absorb more energy during charge-ups. The idea of using nanotech to improve the battery is not new: back in 2005-Toshiba said that they were working on a nano-battery that would charge 80 times faster than a Lithium-Ion. Just this year HE3DA, a Prague-Based company, said it has prototypes that have undergone successful tests and is hoping to have a product on the market by the end of the year.

  2. Graphene: The world’s first two-dimensional material(consisting of a single layer of atoms): 200 times stronger than steel, transparent, flexible and more conductive than copper. This year a Spanish company introduced a graphene battery that could be charged in a matter of minutes and run an electric car for nearly 500 miles.

  3. Next Generation Lithium, Using Air or Sulfur: With the potential to hold 10 times the energy of their very popular predecessor, a Lithium-Air/Sulfur - very exciting move forward. But, so far, progress is being held back by the batteries having the tendency to short out, or explode-like some Samsung batteries that you might have seen in the news. Nevertheless, an updated Lithium battery may be the future.

 

These are just a few of the many options being researched to give the battery a desperately needed update. There is a lot that individuals, not just scientists, can do to help make sure battery technology improves. We can all stay informed, and use two of the most valuable resources we have, our money and our voices, to make sure that our future is a clean future.

 

The Northwest Passage Opens for Luxury Cruisers... Thanks to Climate Change

Frank Bozzo

The Fabled Northwest Passage isn't what it used to be - an impenetrable ice-choked wilderness. For the first time, but surely not the last, a high-end luxury cruise ship has traversed the Arctic Sea. 

THIS PLANET is publishing a video while the Crystal Serenity is still at sea, heading for New York City, it’s final port of call. 

Iceberg.jpeg

Maybe the cruise did not quite achieve the Crystal Line’s trademarked offer of “Unexpected Adventure” (TM) - but somewhere between Ulukhaktok and Labrador, the small number of travelers who could pay for a berth on the ship did get their money’s worth. Icebergs, check. Whales, check. Native villages, check. Polar bears standing on fragments of ice, seemingly bewildered by passing zodiacs full of humans — check.

Meanwhile, worries by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Coast Guard about “another Titanic” were for naught, at least for this year: 

Video: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Thanks to climate change, the Crystal Serenity never needed to deploy its rented ice-breaker to break ice. It’s named the Shakleton by the way, after a hero of Antarctic expeditions, whose ship ended up like this:

Photo: Public Domain 

Photo: Public Domain 

But let's get back to the top of the world, where the sea ice cover has shrunk by 70% over the last 30 years. 

Image: Andy Lee Robinson 

Image: Andy Lee Robinson 

So, with the Serenity securely out of danger, the ice-breaker could focus on its day job: housing two helicopters, presumably reserved for those extra-cost "Unexpected Adventures," and fielding a passal of zodiacs for viewing stranded polar bears and the like.

Photo: Crystal Cruises 

Photo: Crystal Cruises 

It is possible that THIS PLANET is just jealous, and might gladly take that cruise if the price could be met, and if the irony could be swallowed - of expelling just a tad more carbon to see polar bears stranded on a sliver of ice (like this one), before the carbon melts it.

Photo: Captain Birger Vorland, Crystal Cruises

Photo: Captain Birger Vorland, Crystal Cruises

An Uphill Battle for Climate Justice… That We Just Might Win

Frank Bozzo

The government doesn’t work for corporations, it works for the people, and here’s a way they are being reminded of that

Photo: pixabay.com

Photo: pixabay.com

Imagine that you’ve decided to build your dream house. You hire me to be your contractor. Fast forward 6 months later and I have done zero work. In fact, I’ve barely started drawing up plans for you to approve. What would you do? Would you take me to court?

Well, that is exactly what people around the world are doing, but it’s not just your money and time that are at risk – it is your future. Bubbling up all over the world are legal cases in which young and old are suing their governments for not acting, not even creating a plan, to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

This Planet found a surprising number of these cases, and we included them in this short, inspiring video , Climate Warriors Winning in Court.

How far reaching and diverse are these cases? Are they taking place solely in the lower courts, or only in the developed world? By no means: these cases come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from legal discourse at The Hague, to civil suits in the mountains of Peru. One thing they share is the recognition that climate change is creating new dangers – a recognition that is getting harder to deny as ice melts, floodwaters rise and droughts spread across the land. In legal terms, recognizing these dangers creates an implicit promise that governments are obligated to act in order to safeguard the future. Let’s take a deeper look into how these broken promises are being made right in court:

1.   In the case of Urgenda vs the Netherlands, a Dutch court at The Hague explored the responsibility of the state in matters relating to climate change.  The question of the state’s responsibility was addressed, positing that the Netherlands would suffer water shortages and heat related deaths would increase exponentially should they continue to release CO2 at the current rate. The court decreed that steps be taken by the state to ensure that reductions in CO2 emissions of at least 25% are made, because anything less would be breaking the law.

A 16-year-old in White Plains, NY speaks her mind about why climate change education is essential. She is part of a lawsuit leveled against the U.S. government, calling on them to rethink their position on CO2. She contends that continuing to release fossil fuels as we have been is putting the next generation, her generation, at risk and if the current leadership does nothing, it shows both a lack of responsibility and ageism toward the young.

In Peru, the ‘eternal ice’ is melting. Huarez, a small village nestled in between the peaks of the Andes, is at risk of a huge flood wave wiping out those who live in this valley as the glaciers are being washed away by global warming and very little to nothing is being done to protect the people. In a strange twist, these threatened families in Peru are connecting with climate change activists in Germany to sue RWE, a German energy company. One of the aims of the Peruvians is to illustrate the global nature of climate change, holding a company based in one of the world’s most industrialized and wealthiest nations responsible for effects that too often play out in the world’s poorest countries. It is estimated that at least 5,000 people would be impacted by this tsunami and they are completely unprotected, so they are seeking part of the costs of building a dam to protect them when the flood waters from the melting glaciers arrive, as they inevitably will.

Photo: http://www.startribune.com/

Photo: http://www.startribune.com/

Students in St Louis decided to become the teachers and give their city council a ‘climate change report card’. The city scored a D- on its Zero Emissions plan and a C on Carbon Removal. Their frank statements moved a council member Anne Mavity to say, “We need to be pushed. We are trying to be very forward-thinking but we can do more. Help us do that.”

Perhaps most effective of all is the Oregon-based group Our Children’s Trust, which has partnered with a broad range of climate activism groups to bring lawsuits on behalf of young people in all 50 states. Their suits have been challenged by government and businesses, but they are winning the right to proceed, so far in Massachusettes, Oregon and Washington. You can learn more and see videos of many of these kids at their website, ourchildrenstrust.org.

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Seeing the Forest AND the Trees

Evelyn Messinger

The day I am writing this is the Spring Equinox, the moment of balance between daylight and darkness. And it’s a good day here in the Northern Hemisphere because the light force is with us, increasing every minute, while the dark side is losing its power.

This is also International Forest Day. While the world’s forests are still being destroyed too fast, there is actually something to celebrate this year.  The title of This Planet’s latest episode, “When a Tree Burns in the Forest,” may not sound like good news, but some good things are happening.

This video explores the “Global Forest Watch” tool launched by the World Resources Institute (WRI) to track forest health and destruction (full disclosure: my nephew works at WRI). Global Forest Watch is an app you can download to your phone or computer, that uses satellite monitoring data, allowing:

“anyone to create custom maps, analyze forest trends, subscribe to alerts, or download data for their local area or the entire world. Users can also contribute to GFW by sharing data and stories from the ground via GFW’s crowdsourcing tools, blogs, and discussion groups.”

Besides Global Forest Watch, there is other good forest news this year. But let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Some of it you already know: rainforests are being cut down, and their unique and irreplaceable ecosystems are rapidly disappearing. 50% of the world’s forests have been destroyed or degraded, with only 15% intact .

Joe DeSousa

Joe DeSousa

The bad news you may not know is that the U.S. Congress has decided that burning trees for electric power is good for the environment. The Washington Post reports that

“A group of forest scientists, ecologists and climate researchers has sent a strongly worded letter to the U.S. Senate, arguing that pending bipartisan energy legislation incorrectly claims that burning trees for energy is carbon neutral.
“’Legislating scientific facts is never a good idea, but is especially bad when the “facts” are incorrect,’ say the researchers, led by Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center.”

That was in February. The amendment is now part of the legislation – happy International Forest Day!

But I promised good news, and here it is: trees “inhale” carbon dioxide much as we inhale oxygen, and a new study published in Nature reports that when forests get used to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, they adjust quite well, absorbing more than they had previously. In other words, they help compensate for our unceasing atmospheric pollution.

You may have noticed that this bit of good news, like the Global Forest Watch tracker, is only “good” in so far as it offsets the terrible bad news about forest destruction. Or, as Sean DeWitt of WRI puts it in our video story:

        “The bad guys can’t hide anymore.”

        “The bad guys can’t hide anymore.”

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The Cold War Gets Icy

Evelyn Messinger

An obscure TV channel in Siberia inspired our new episode, Cold War On Ice, by alerting us to the fact of a superpower buildup in the Far North. Yamal-Region TV is owned by the government of Russia’s Yamal oblast (state), a finger of permafrost land the size of Florida that pokes into the Arctic Ocean. In the native Inuit language Yamal means “the end of the world.”

And that may turn out to be the perfect name for it, because the entire Arctic region is controlled by competing powers, including Russia and the U.S. who are now arming themselves to the teeth. The argument is over newly thawed shipping lanes and gas ports opened up by the warming climate. In the words of Reuters News Service, they are Preparing For War .

When we fired up the trusty Google translate tool for the Yamal TV news, a world of cold war planning in the cold north came into focus. Ice breakers! Military bases! Roads to nowhere (except oil exploration sites)! That good old reason to go to war – natural resources and plenty of them – was exactly what we found.

Damn the melting permafrost and full speed ahead – Siberia is the richest fossil fuel source on Earth, but it was hard to get at all that oil and natural gas because it lay beneath a whole lot of ice. These riches include a potential 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and over 13% of its unexplored oil. 

The Arctic just had its hottest summer on record in 2015, and eighty percent of the summertime ice cover has melted since 1979, so the time is right for lucrative new shipping lanes in the Arctic, as well as a handful of new Natural Gas ports.

According to Stratfor security analysts, Russia will be able it to monitor the activities of other nations in the region because they control the newly exposed shipping lanes controlled by securing a geopolitical ace in the hole that no other country can claim. But if history has a lesson, it’s that when riches are in the form of oil, the US better get its slice. That makes the Superpower military buildup in the Arctic today’s biggest under-reported story.

...under-reported but not unreported. A collection of graphic depictions of claims, routes and bases in the Arctic.

Russia has already filed a request for the UN to recognize its continental shelf claims in the Arctic. According to an article in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, Russia’s defense ministry is planning an Arctic base that can house 150 soldiers for more than a year with no outside contact. Russian maritime war exercises in the area have been unprecedented in scale including one ‘snap exercise’ that used 80,000 soldiers and 220 aircraft.

But Russia wants to play down the buildup; the Moscow Times says:

“The apparent militarization of the Arctic is merely a process of normative securitization. …Russia reprises its Cold War role and is cast as the villain of the Arctic narrative… Discussion of Russia's 'rapid' militarization is misleading, as Russia's Arctic military might isn't anything new.”

 

The US is hardly convinced. President Obama will be requesting resources from Congress in 2016 to fund ‘critical investments’ in icebreakers ($3 Billion for 3).  Reuters reported that the US already operates 41 nuclear powered submarines that can cut through or sail under Arctic ice.  And over the last 14 months, most of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies have assigned analysts to work full time on the Arctic.

 And, as This Planet shows, Obama made it human, visiting Alaska with a selfie stick, and topping off his Instagram with all the selfies:

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A Year of Great Videos from Ashden

Frank Bozzo

Our latest episode Efficient Living By Design is about a library designed by the innovative British firm Max Fordam that uses 50% lass energy than comparable buildings. More importantly for This Planet, this is the seventh video in our series about winners of the annual Ashden Awards. Each year they produce beautifully made short films that chronicle and showcase sustainable energy trailblazers.

From Ashden's ABOUT page:

The Ashden Awards uncover and reward the most exciting sustainable energy pioneers in the UK and developing world, who are leading the way to a thriving low-carbon future. Our winners don’t just receive prize money – we also give them a global platform to promote their work and access to our elite community of sustainable energy leaders.

With the climate talks wrapping up in Paris, it is the myriad small projects - like those that the Ashden Award celebrates – make up an increasingly important part of our clean energy future. The 11 award winners in 2015 ranged from a micro-hydro project that is bringing electricity to the remote mountains of northwest Pakistan; to Antwerp-based Tapazz, an innovative peer-to-peer car rental network; to renewable solar energy micro-grids in rural Kenya.

What is more, Ashden supports a wide range of talented independent UK film companies, like Rockhopper TV and TV Trust for the Environment, who produce the videos of the award-winners, assuring that these great projects get the lovely videos they deserve.

Although the Ashden Awards are supported by a range of corporate foundations and don’t seem in any danger of disappearing, it seems only right to tell you that you can contribute to Ashden too. But better yet, watch their videos on the Ashden YouTube channel and feel good about the present and the future.

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This Planet on Television

Evelyn Messinger

When Link TV offered This Planet a 13-minute slot for 7 weeks following Rockhopper TV's Hot Cities series, we jumped at the chance to get TV exposure for the wonderful short videos we have found online. As our mission statement says:

This Planet partners with a broad range of organizations promoting climate-awareness, community resilience and energy alternatives. Rather than competing with the media materials they create, frequent This Planet video programs and the thisplanet.tv website amplifies their distribution and highlights their messages, generating a greater interest in climate science and drawing the public towards a fuller understanding and better policy decisions.

The videos in the series were created by some of the world's most talented film makers and actors, working together out of concern for the climate and the Earth.

Watch all the episodes of This Planet's TV series

Or watch it on Link TV: DIRECTV Channel 375; DISH NETWORK Channel 9410.

Tuesdays - 8:45pm Eastern Time (5:45pm Pacific Time) and 11:45pm Eastern (8:45pm Pacific).

Sundays - 7:45pm Eastern (4:45pm Pacific).

Check LinkTV.org for further air-times each week.

 

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The End Of The World

Evelyn Messinger

This Planet made two episodes about these Siberian craters because, if you like weird stories, there’s a lot to like about these craters.

 1.  I <3 craters

• HUGE COOL-LOOKING HOLES IN THE GROUND of mysterious origin.

Discovered in the Russian arctic last summer, most scientists think they were created by exploding methane. As an article in The Guardian put it:

“As the ice melts, methane gas is released, which builds up pressure until an explosion takes place, leading to the formation of a crater.”

But like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, no one was there when the craters formed, and there are no recordings of their creation. So no one is really sure what caused them.

• SCARY GREENHOUSE GAS. One sure thing is that there was methane in these holes before they opened up. They may (or may not) have been caused by melting permafrost due to global warming, and they may (or may not) be contributing to climate change by releasing large amounts of methane from the melting permafrost. It’s easy to get scared by methane: this 11-minute film Last Hours by Green World Rising, explaining what methane released by melting permafrost could do, will keep you up at night:

Scientists are worried too, because methane and other gasses trapped in permafrost pack 25 times the climate-warming power of carbon dioxide - and the frozen regions of the world have a lot of it:

• OUTSIDER APPEAL. Besides a couple articles in The Washington Post and The National Geographic, a rather ridiculous story on CNN and a few sensationalized YouTube videos, the story of the craters is not yet well known here in the US. But any story that takes place in Russia has a certain outsider appeal. More on this below.

 

 2.  Russia, America, Science

 The mysterious craters aren’t very well known in the US, probably because we Americans never pay much attention to stories that don’t star Americans. The heroes of this story are Russian scientists, who are the ones climbing down into the craters in the dark Siberian winter. On top of that, the US is in an argument with Russia right now. Apparently we are heading back to the cold war, as The Economist's KAL's cartoon illustrates: 

 Our impression is that Russians are less concerned about climate change than other Europeans and Americans, as described in an Open Democracy Russia article by Dr Maria Sharmina and Dr Christopher Jones of the University of Manchester, UK:

“… we keep hearing that climate change might actually be good for Russia. There is a view that it will benefit the country through a shorter winter season, better temperatures for growing food, and more accessible oil and gas in the Far North…The government has taken a few steps towards a lower-carbon future: it has signed up to the global 2°C emissions pledge and adopted the Climate Doctrine and the Renewable Energy Decree. However, Russia’s other policies contradict its climate change commitments, including generous subsidies for the production of fossil fuels.”

Indeed, as this graph shows, Russia has deployed less renewable energy resources than most developed countries, and its use of solar and wind energy is nearly nil.

Our interviews with Russian scientists in Moscow recently revealed the differences in our outlooks on climate change. None of the Russian scientists were “climate-deniers,” but some of their views were more optimistic about the outcome, at least for their country.

Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensy, Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Science's Oil and Gas Research Institute, is featured in these videos. He is a scientist with a reverence for proof, who agrees that human use of fossil fuel is warming the planet. But beyond that, a stark division in perspectives is clear.

•  Dr. Bogoyavlensy subscribes to the hypothesis that an ice age is beginning, which will dwarf the effects of human-created warming.

•  He muses about one theory, that more CO2 will mean more trees will grow faster, offsetting the effects on the atmosphere.

•  And in Part 2 of our series, the Professor appears to take comfort in the idea that Russia can weather the rising seas (despite the fact that St. Petersburg will be inundated). He says that Russia can afford to lose some of the permafrost on which many Siberian towns are built.

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Crowdfunding Comes of Age

Frank Bozzo

More and more, people who are concerned about climate change are “putting their money where their mouths are,” by investing in renewable energy sources thorough innovative online crowdfunding.  Recently, This Planet posted the story Crowdfunding Solar about Abundance Generation, a British Ashden Award-winner. Abundance is one of three British websites named by Solar Plaza as the top five renewable crowdfunders worldwide (number one is the Dutch company Windcentrale, and there is one American company on the list, Mosaic Energy).

A number of This Planet videos have covered innovative crowdfunding projects recently, illustrating the range of this new form of public participation. In addition to Crowdfunding Solar, there’s Desert On Ice, the story of an extraordinary project in the northern Indian region of Ladakh that is supporting agriculture through the creation of ‘Ice Stupas’.

Another fascinating effort we reported on in the video What Is Dark Snow?  A group of scientists, who are using crowdfunding to support their research trips to  Greenland, have discovered a new and unsuspected element contributing to the melting ice in northern latitudes. 

If you have a good crowdfunding source or story, email us at support@thisplanet.tv

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Nuclear Headache: Take Two Aspirin, Call Me In One Hundred Thousand Years

Evelyn Messinger

12000yrs.jpg

Maybe using a likeness of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream was someone’s idea of a joke. Humor is a logical response to the need to alert hikers in 12,000 A.D. to the dangers of this particular patch of desert.

This episode of This Planet is 4 minutes long - more than twice the length of most of our videos. That's because, between Three Mile Island and the kitty litter fiasco (more on that below), there is way too much to say. And yet we immediately got bogged down in just how much our viewers know about nuclear power.

 

I. THE ACCIDENTS

The first nuclear accident to attract worldwide attention – at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania – happened just 36 years ago, and many people have already forgotten it, or never knew it happened.

That's  enough time for some excellent documentaries to have been produced. We like this one:

Three Mile Island’s Reactor One is now permanently sealed and off-limits to human visitation for a few tens of thousands of years. A key element of that crisis was that officials minimized the danger to the public – a mistake American nuclear officials say they will not make again.

In any case, only seven years later another accident happened – but worse.  Much, much worse. When you combine an empire on its knees, a bureaucracy built on secrecy and a culture of non-responsibility, you get the Soviet Union of 1986, and you get Chernobyl, the worst nuclear contamination -- ever: 


Now off-limits to human visitation for a few tens of thousands of years, the Chernobyl explosion caused untold deaths in Ukraine and birth defects across Europe. A key element of that crisis was that officials minimized the danger to the public – a mistake Russian nuclear officials say they will not make again.

In what seemed a positive sign that the nuclear industry is improving, 24 years went by without a major accident. These were the very years when the danger to the climate of burning fossil fuel became clear. The bald reality of our imperiled climate made nukes look better to some environmentalists, including the Whole Earth Catalogue founder and icon of a certain age, Stewart Brand.

This Planet quotes Brand in our story, from Inhabitat’s longer interview.


   

 

 

This writer may well have joined Mr. Brand in advocating nuclear power, if the 25th year after Chernobyl - 2011 - had not introduced a new place name into the nuclear power hall of shame. An earthquake knocks out power to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power planet; the earthquake creates a tsunami which floods the plant's backup generators, allowing its nuclear fuel to melt down; the containment structure explodes. This video explains each excruciating step in the disaster.

Now off-limits to human visitation for a few tens of thousands of years, the poison spewing from Fukushima has yet to be fully contained. A key element of that crisis was that officials minimized the danger to the public – a mistake Japanese nuclear officials say they will not make again.


These images show plans for stoping the flow of water in the future, including creating a perimeter of frozen ground around the building complex.

II. THE WASTE

Even if there were never another nuclear accident, there is one big problem with nuke plants: their waste products will remain radioactive from anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 years. Wikipedia says:

 

High Level Waste (HLW) accounts for over 95 percent of the total radioactivity produced in the process of nuclear electricity generation. The amount of HLW worldwide is currently increasing by about 12,000 metric tons every year, which is the equivalent to about 100 double-decker buses or a two-story structure with a footprint the size of a basketball court.[32] A 1000-MW nuclear power plant produces about 27 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel (unreprocessed) every year.[33]

 

On top of that, much of the waste will generate heat for many years, and so must be stored in water that is continually circulated to stay cool.


What could possibly go wrong with nuclear waste cooling ponds?

In 2014, The Guardian newspaper ran these images, of tanks that have held nuclear waste in the UK since 1962. 

The exposé goosed the British government into speeding up its program to put this waste in casks, ready for burial.

 

Where will radioactive casks be stored?

The nuclear waste that is not in cooling ponds is in above-ground casks...including that from 1979's Three Mile Island accident.

Wha - did you think that nuke waste just did it's job of poisoning the locals then went away?

There is only one place currently being built to contain high-level nuclear waste. Named Onkalo ("hiding place" in Finnish), it is under construction in Finland, and will be for years to come. You can watch the extraordinarily beautiful and thoughtful film about Onkalo, Into Eternity, now online.

Hiding waste for 100,000 years raises philosophic as well as safety questions.

•  Will anyone know it's there in even 10,000 years, let alone 100,000?
•  Is it ethical to just hide it and hope no one ever digs there?
•  Or will it become a legend, and could that legend transmute the "hiding place" from "buried danger" into "buried treasure"?
• How do you make a warning sign anyway, for people who will have a language you can't know and a culture you can't understand?

 

III. THE KITTY LITTER

 

The story appeared on Forbes.com about a year ago. There’s just no point in saying it any way but directly quoting the article:

Nuclear Waste Leak Traced To --- Kitty Litter

"You might have heard that the most likely culprit for the Valentine's Day radioactive leak was...kitty litter!
"Yes. The wrong kitty litter was probably used to treat some of the nuclear waste recently disposed in the world’s only deep underground nuclear waste repository, near Carlsbad in New Mexico. Cat litter has been used for decades in radiochemistry labs and nuclear facilities to stabilize certain radwastes, like liquid scintillation solutions, evaporator bottoms, and other materials that have nitrate salts in solution.
"… Unfortunately, someone working with this waste, before it was to be shipped to WIPP [Waste Isolation Pilot Plant] , used a new “green” cat litter, made with materials like wheat or corn. These organic litters do not have the silicate properties needed to chemically stabilize nitrate the correct way."

 

It is kind of funny, except it isn’t. Because the number of nuclear reactors is growing all the time, while human inexactitude and lack of caution is the same as it ever was.  According to this article on the Emerging Markets website, Russia alone, which competes with France and the U.S. to sell nukes worldwide, is building plants in Hungary and Jordan (two each), Egypt and Iran, while pitching their nuclear wares in Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina.

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Bows, Arrows, Laptops: From the stone age to Google in a generation

Evelyn Messinger

written by nanette phillips with evelyn messinger

Less than 50 years ago, the Paiter-Suruí tribe remained one of the few Amazon forest peoples who had very limited contact with the ‘modern’ world. But in 1969, when a highway was built through the pristine Amazonian rainforest and the Surui territory, the way was paved - literally - for the insatiable extractivism of illegal logging and mining.

A few decades later, the Suruí and other local tribes were decimated by disease, and fighting for their very lives. This is when they got a little lucky: the rubber tapper turned internationally-renowned activist Chico Mendes created the forest people's alliance. The Paiter-Surui territory, whose limits are now legally demarcated, stands out as an emerald green swatch amidst a tapestry of brown deforested land:

And they were lucky to be visited by a group of American film makers, whose Brazilian sound recordist, Denise Zmekhol, was also a photographer. Her photos began a chain of events that have put the tribe at the heart of her award-winning film “Children of The Amazon” as well as the film  from which our video, Mapping Survival, was drawn.

At around the same time, the Suruí elders turned to the modern, capitalist world in one way at least: they sent the young generation to school. Some, like Almir Suruí, even went to college in the big city. This was probably how he knew about Google.

Almir became Chief Almir when the tribe decided to follow his vision: to put the Paiter-Suruí land "on the map" - a Google map -  and in the process to “trade in their bows and arrows for laptops.”

Well aware of the major cultural discrepancies, Chief Almir nonetheless believed the mapping project, carried out by tribal elders and youth alike, would “strengthen those whose livelihoods directly depend on a healthy ecosystem” by instigating a dialogue with the rest of the world about land conservation and indigenous rights.

In collaboration with Google, the Suruí have created a 3D cultural map of their territory, which catalogues the forest’s living assets. The tribe used the map, which marks historical sites, animal hunting grounds and vegetation, to wrap it’s own history in a wonderful assortment of images, retelling their story in a little over 11 minutes, here:

The map launched the Suruí from invisibility into the global spotlight. They have their own website now, and the maps allow the tribe, as well as NGO’s like the World Resources Institute, to monitor illegal logging activity in the Amazon. And mapping the territory was the first step in implementing the Surui Forest Carbon Project, giving the tribe the right to earn income by planting trees that offset carbon use somewhere else in the world. This is part of REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, plus sustainable forest management). The project, it is hoped, will generate an estimated $10.8 million dollars for the tribe.

 REDD+ has been criticized by some activist groups for being yet another capitalist scheme that will benefit those driving deforestation most. Chief Almir sees it differently though, as “a mechanism that unites our values and those of the non-indigenous capitalist world.” Chief Almir was confident that "you can develop in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all."

The Paiter-Surui’s implementation of REDD+ coincided with Brazil cutting deforestation rates, according to Newsweek, by three-quarters and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 39% percent, making Brazil something of a “golden child” within the environmental movement.

But Brazil’s good reputation was short lived. In 2013, deforestation was back on the rise, a fact that the Brazilian government attempted to conceal according to an article in Newsweek. The Paiter-Surui territory is within the ‘arc of deforestation’ in Brazil, where 40 truckloads of illegally harvested timber were extracted daily.

While the country continues to feel pressured to respond to the escalating environmental crisis, the battle cry for ‘progress’ resounds much more loudly within many government offices. The Minister of Agriculture, Kátia Abreu, said, “there are many things holding back progress—the environmental issue, the Indian issue and more…Imagine how high it [productivity] might be without those obstacles.”

 

Almir and his fellow community members have not backed down in their efforts to halt illegal logging while defending “the rights and integrity of peoples living in voluntary isolation.” But even with sophisticated monitoring technologies and cutting-edge carbon sequestering initiatives, without a government willing to work with indigenous groups and enforce the existing laws against illicit logging, the Amazon’s future remains at risk.

 

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Engineering A New Future

Evelyn Messinger

In January 2014 students at a school in the Ladakh region of Northern India worked with engineer Sonam Wangchuk  on a project they called the Ice Stupa - you can learn about it directly from them, here:

Their aim was to find a solution to the water crisis facing Ladakhi farmers in the critical planting months of April and May before the natural glacial melt waters start flowing. In This Planet's video Desert On Ice, Sonam Wangchuk tells the story of this key innovation. Hint: no motors, not even any moving parts.

By the end of February they had successfully built a two-story prototype of an ice pyramid that could store roughly 150,000 liters of winter stream water which otherwise would have gone to waste.  They called it an Ice Stupa because the shape resembles the traditional  stupas of Ladakh and Tibet:

In early spring, the natural glaciers become smaller and smaller in size and there is much less water to irrigate crops. Then they release too much water during the hotter summers, making the glaciers even smaller. With these ice stupas the fresh snow and ice in the mountains that melt even in winter, and so are wasted, can be frozen and stored until spring, when farmers need water the most. 

With the success of the prototype, the team started planning a much bigger project, a field of ice stupa's watering an entire desert. The cost of the larger project was prohibitive, but Wangchuk and the students soon found a solution: they launched this IdieGoGo campaign to raise $119,500. Instead they have raised $125,200 - that's a lot of ice!

At their website IceStupa.Org, the new project is being chronicled, from pipes being laid in the mountains to high-tech sprinklers (that didn't work) to the new ice stupas taking shape.

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Crowdfunding Support for Science

Evelyn Messinger

If the Greenland ice sheet took a selfie, it might look like this:

Since Greenland can't take pictures of itself, a group of scientists is sending a few drones aloft so they can see the situation for themselves. In these images, everything that is soot-colored brown/grey is ice. Yes, ice.

There's an old, perhaps apocryphal, story that the Viking Erik the Red named his newly-discovered island Iceland. But then he was dismayed to find that no one wanted to move there because it sounded too unpleasant. So when he discovered a larger island that was even icier than Iceland, he named it Greenland in order to attract unwary settlers. But Greenland was never green, or grey or brown, until now. It was white.

 

The dark surface absorbs sunlight, making the ice melt faster than scientists predicted. To find out why the ice is dark, Glaciologist Jason Box and his team started the Dark Snow project. Box, who is featured in this week's This Planet video, What Is Dark Snow? (and in the documentary film Chasing Ice), may represent a new kind of scientist-activist. As profiled in this 2013 article from Climate Desk, Box is determined to get out on the ice come hell or high water (literally), and even willing to team up with the likes of Greenpeace:

Box increasingly began to think outside of…his last name. Rather than waiting on funding agencies, he teamed up with Greenpeace on a series of expeditions to document, and also dramatize, the ice sheet’s melting. He also began to set up time lapse cameras to observe the ice as it declines

According to Jeff Masters at Weather Underground, soot from forest fires is one contributor, as he reported here:

Climate change and forest fires synergistically drive widespread melt events of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Their ice core study found that black carbon from forest fires helped caused a rare, near-ice-sheet-wide surface melt event that melted 97% of Greenland's surface on July 11 - 12 2012, and a similar event in 1889. Since Arctic temperatures and the frequency of forest fires are both expected to rise with climate change, the results suggest that widespread melt events on the Greenland Ice Sheet may begin to occur almost annually by the end of century.

Results from Dark Snow’s 2014 summer expedition are revealing something new - that algae is colonizing the surface of the melting ice sheet.

This Dark Snow blog post by team member Karen Cameron explores this discovery, quoting one of the team's scientists, Marek Stibal about the unfortunate color of the algae:

"these guys [the algae] are packed with a dark purple-brown pigment that protects them from sunlight, but also causes the darkening of the ice surface."

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/the-heat-is-on-in-greenland-support-the-dark-snow-project

FROM: The Heat is on in Greenland: Support the Dark Snow Project By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:50 PM GMT on June 25, 2014

Help them at DarkSnow.org

http://darksnowproject.org/#give-now

Masters noted in his Weather Underground article that Dark Snow is "the first crowd-funded Arctic expedition."

We are proud to promote the Dark Snow project. Click here to visit their website which has lots of interesting information, and you can contribute to this venture. Crowd funding allowed the scientists to purchase their drones and is letting them spend time on writing their reports rather than writing grant proposals.

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The Energy Wars of 2015

Evelyn Messinger

Officials who were elected in November of 2014 are being sworn in across the US, and a titanic struggle – locally, regionally and nationally – is about to begin over the future of  U.S.  energy production.

Our most recent episode of This Planet, This Is Climate Justice, tells the story of Richmond, California, home to a working-class community and a humongous Chevron oil refinery. The town is suing Chevron over an accident that threatened the health of thousands. The energy giant tried - and failed - to get a slate of company-friendly candidates elected, in what amounted to a referendum on safety for people who live in the shadow of the refinery.

On the national level, the fossil-fuel forces look set to do better. The Senate’s incoming Republicans and a handful of conservative Democrats vow to push through the highly symbolic bill authorizing the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline, which aims to carry fuel across the US from Canada’s tar sands. The pipeline has become the calling card of Conservatism, and may also be a card up President Obama’s sleeve, one he’s willing to sacrifice in order to win on other issues.

Democrats, perhaps seeing that the pipeline is inevitable, have loaded the bill up with amendments, says Marketwatch:

"Such amendments include at least three that would make the Keystone bill 'more of a jobs bill', [Senator Chuck] Schumer said. For example, they will require the steel that would be used in the pipeline to be made in the U.S."

In the states, the situations vary. Sometimes the political cast of the state is all that matters, such as in liberal California, where the Governor is moving to divest the state of its coal investments.

The story is murkier in Kansas, a state that This Planet covered in Kansas & The Wind, our sort-of fantastical mashup of the Wizard of Oz, the song “Dust in the Wind”, and the Koch brothers. Because wind power has a strong presence in this flat wind-swept state, we wondered if laws supporting renewable energy might have a prayer of a chance in this conservative state.

 Energy behemoth Koch Industries, in the guise of the Kansas-based policy advocacy group Americans For Prosperity, has relentlessly attacked the renewable mandates, as the Energy and Policy Institute explains:

"Kansas’ Republican Governor Sam Brownback defeated Democratic challenger Paul Davis. While this specific gubernatorial election can be characterized as a referendum on Brownback’s aggressive tax cutting, the state’s renewable energy standard is also at stake over the next few years. Ari Phillips at ClimateProgress wrote, 'the Koch brothers have devoted a significant amount of time and money into repealing the standard and as of late, Brownback has wavered in his support.' Brownback was once in favor of the state’s renewable energy standard but has now singled (sic) that he would like to “phase out” the law. Davis said he would veto any bill that repeals the standard. The introduction of a bill designed to repeal the standard seems inevitable in 2015."

The Energy and Policy Institute is the place to learn about - what else? - energy and policy. And this article gives a comprehensive overview of how the election results will play out from South Carolina to North Dakota, from carbon trading to fracking.

If you happen to be one of a seeming minority of Americans who are not thrilled by the prospect of methane craters in the tundra or oil-laden trains lumbering past on the nearest railroad track, the Sacramento Bee thinks things may be better than they appear. Maybe it’s just that their article Renewable Energy Companies Use New Clout in Statehouses was published on Christmas Eve, and they couldn’t resist dispersing a bit of Christmas cheer. But the article points to solid numbers: a $118 billion wind industry that employs 73,000 Americans, growing by $17.3 billion invested annually in new wind farms, and the $20 billion a year solar industry with its 143,000 employees.

So buck up folks…let us have a clean and healthy 2015!

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Will Hybrid Animals Help Species Survive?

Evelyn Messinger

Is it possible that some species could escape extinction by using a human trick – what we call “winging it”? While we humans are good at innovation under pressure, we think of evolution as a slow-track phenomenon, and that it is our species alone who can defy its rules.

 And yet, as this New York Times Magazine article  with the cool graphics explains, there appears to be a secret backdoor to species adaptation: hybridization, when individual animals of related species cross paths, have sex and produce offspring. 

Sometimes hybrids are evolutionary dead ends, as today’s This Planet episode, Bears! And Other Hybrids, points out. The most common example of cross-species hybridization, the mule, is almost always infertile, and is likely why hybridization has such a bad rep.

But sometimes, closely related species produce fertile offspring that mix the traits of their parents, like Lynx and Bobcat, Eastern Wolf and Coyote. And as the talented Mr. Hank Green of Scishow explains, the Grizzly Bear and the Polar Bear can produce The Majestic Grolar Bear:

 Scientists are rethinking their assumptions about the evolutionary value of hybridization, now that the behavior of animals under species-wide pressure is getting easier to observe. It’s worth repeating that the WWF’s 2014 Living Planet Report estimates that 52% of this planet’s species have already gone extinct. If the future holds more grolars, coywolves and blynxes, it may not be a reason to rejoice, but can give us hopes about the adaptability of Mother Nature.

Click the image to download the report.

Click the image to download the report.

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This Planet's Winners & Heroes

Evelyn Messinger

Since the news about climate is so often bad, we notice when positive things happen. If someone makes videos about the good stuff, all the better. Recently we found some hidden troves of videos focused on climate successes. and we've received permission to use the stories about these successes in our This Planet series.

One great source of success stories is the Ashden Awards. Ashden presents one of the world's most prestigious awards to energy innovators in the U.K. and the developing world, and they make great videos about the winners...you can see them all here. These individually crafted videos are made by a few of the leading British environmental film-makers, like TV Trust for the Environment and Rockhopper TV to make them.

See our Ashden Award-winners: Outsourcing Giant Insources Energy Savings on energy saving at India's Infosys, and Build Strong on the building material hemcrete.

 

Another group of successful climate-related projects can be found in the U.N.'s Momentum For Change initiative, which focuses on energy innovation in the developing world. 

We are publishing a series of stories that have a special emphasis on women's initiatives, from Momentum's Climate Heroes documentary, narrated by actor Ian Somerhalder.

Our two stories so far: Climate Heroes of Ghana are building bamboo bicycles, and Climate Heroes of Bangladesh are taking control of their water future.

More videos illustrating these success stories will be appearing on This Planet in the months to come.

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Weather & Climate, Together Again

Evelyn Messinger

This story is set in the past and in the future. Let's start with...

THE FUTURE

In September, the World Meteorological Organization gathered local weather reports from over a dozen countries. Although they featured well-known weathercasters (including Jim Cantore at the Weather Channel), these reports were unusual, to say the least...

...because these are forecasts  of storms, heatwaves or floods that take place in the year 2050. Organized with the help of the climate-focused non-profit Climate Central, this is a rare and successful effort to connect weather and climate in the public’s mind. Here  are all the 2050 videos, whose contributors range from Brazil to Burkina Faso.

This effort was rare because the science of weather reporting, called meteorology, is focused on what the weather will be this week. Climatology is focused on weather patterns over a decade or a century or a millennium. The difference is partly responsible for a mini-scandal that took place a few years ago.

 

THE PAST

In 2009, climate-change deniers hacked the emails of climate scientists; the results of this so-called ‘Climategate’  are still playing out in the courts.

A few phrases used by the scientists in their emails, presented without context or explanation, appeared to imply that scientists were conspiring with each other to falsify data. Even if some climate scientists are shown to have exaggerated, the claim that climate change is false has ultimately been proven to have no merit. But it set the stage for a rift between climate and weather science.

In 2010, a survey of TV weathercasters revealed that Climategate had tipped many meteorologists into the skeptical category. This wasn’t difficult because the reliance on computer models by both disciplines has divided them: computers have greatly aided forecasters to predict local weather, but only up to 10 days or so into the future. How could computer models, they asked, show the weather so far in the future?

 

A 2011 study revealed that meteorologists didn’t have clear information depicting the long-term trends that reveal steady warming and other patterns related to cimate change. TV meteorologists in particular needed this evidence, presented in a highly visual way, to share with their viewers.

Here’s where Climate Central comes in again: their Climate Matters project creates graphics that are both TV-friendly and scientifically accurate. And a 2014 survey shows that TV weathercasters have more open minds about climate change today than in the past.

A new episode of This Planet, Weather & Climate & The Future, includes more about Climate Central's work, as well as an interview with their TV meteorologist, Bernadette Woods-Placky.

With 20/20 hindsight, a non-professional in weather and science like me wonders whether scientists and communicators relied too much on computer-generated climate models to alert the world to the dangers of climate change. As Climate Central has shown, events in the past may be more effective than those in a theoretical future to convince people that dumping endless amounts of carbon into the atmosphere has real consequences. And relying on real data rather than conjectures has an additional benefit: scientists are inoculated against accusations of fraud every time there’s a snow storm.

••••••••••••

PS (12/2/14) - Before we move on, I want to emphasize how Climate Central's focus on the sweet spot between climate and weather keeps yielding great information. Like the thorough coverage of today's rainstorm in California, which includes this sensational gif:

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Filming Solar Entrepreneurs

Evelyn Messinger

It began with a charming video about a likable young woman in Rwanda who works for the NGO Solar Sister, selling solar lamps to her neighbors. Their idea is that women like Chantal will aid rural development, get her neighbors off expensive and unhealthy kerosene, and spend her earnings to feed and educate her children. So everyone wins.

There are many reasons to help women in the developing world. As an employee of Solar Sister says in This Planet’s A Livelihood From Sunshine episode, “If energy poverty was a person, that person would be a woman.”

Aid projects aimed at women range from The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, which engages women worldwide to take action on climate change, to the U.N. sponsored Sustainable Energy For All, which targets women in its support for governments and businesses making the transition to sustainable energy. And the U.N.'s Climate Heroes documentary, narrated by actor Ian Somerhalder, also focuses on women and innovation and is definitely worth a watch.

 

But we were floored to find the range of developing-country solar projects that have already received recognition from Great Britain’s famous Ashden Award. It would be difficult to overestimate the impact of Ashden on worthy projects worldwide in terms of the publicity, expert support and the introductions to investors they receive. And those of us in the developed world know about great projects from China to India to Ethiopia thanks to Ashden.  Here is a short video about one of this year’s Ashden winners, Off Grid Electric of Tanzania, which provides solar to rural villagers to power mobile phones:


Ashden’s portraits of its 2014 winners were created by TV Trust for the Environment. Earlier years have featured films by the greatest British environmental film companies, such as Rockhopper TV. So the other angle of this story is – great films! The creators of the Solar Sister video that got us started is the charitable media organization and creator of award-winning photos, Ripple Effect Images (whose tagline is “help a woman, help the planet”). So here’s the Solar Sister video for your enjoyment:

Solar Sister eradicates energy poverty by empowering women in rural Africa to become entrepreneurs for solar lanterns, bringing light, hope and opportunity to remote communities.

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Kansas is Perplexed

Evelyn Messinger

A titanic struggle is shaping up in the U.S. over whether, and how much, renewable energy technologies need governmental support. The issue is especially acute in the State of Kansas, which has a more mature wind energy industry than most U.S. states. Kansas wind generates almost 3,000 Megawatts and according to the  Wind Energy Foundation, the price of wind-generated power in Kansas is now competitive with other sources. That means an active wind power lobby, and many Kansans are reaping rewards from allowing wind generators on their land. Kansas has a state-wide mandate: 20% renewable energy by 2020. And most of it will be wind:

A joint project of BP Wind Energy and Sempra U.S. Gas & Power, the Flat Ridge 2 Wind Farm in Kansas is the largest single-build wind farm in U.S. history. The project represents a major investment in renewable power for U.S. consumers.

But Kansas is also the home of  Koch Industries, a huge fossil fuel company whose founders are deeply involved in conservative politics. The majority of electricity in Kansas is generated by coal, and whether wind can totally replace coal is debatable. In any case, the Koch-controlled conservative advocacy group Americans For Prosperity is fighting to repeal the renewable mandate in Kansas, with commercials like this:

AFP-Kansas' TV ad promoting the repeal of green energy mandates in Kansas.

Republicans swept the November 2014 midterm election in Kansas just as in the rest of the country, and the effects will be felt. The newly re-elected Governor has switched from supporting the 20% renewable mandate to opposing it.

Whether wind is strong enough to stand on it's own against coal is unknown, but it's pretty clear the test is coming. Despite the probable demise of the mandate, there's no reason that This Planet can't have some fun, in the episode we call Kansas & The Wind.

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