What Are Some Renewable Sources of Energy

solar panel in field

Renewable energy can be defined as energy that is replenished at a higher rate than it is used. Fossil fuels do not qualify as renewable energy sources under this definition because they are spent more quickly than they are naturally restored. Sunlight, wind, geothermal, and hydropower energies, though, are renewable. Sunlight, wind, geothermal, and hydropower sources are virtually inexhaustible; we will never deplete the global supply. Furthermore, these four energies have fewer related greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fossil fuels.

Solar Energy Renewable

Sunlight is the most abundant source of energy available on Earth. Sunlight can be cheaply acquired and has extremely low emissions outputs. Capturing energy from the sun is accomplished with solar panels. When sunlight impinges on a solar panel, the photovoltaic silicon cells convert light energy into usable electricity. Solar panels’ energy generation process is itself 100% greenhouse gas emissions free. Manufacturing solar panels are, however, associated with some carbon dioxide emissions; according to a study in Nature, solar panels produce emissions as low as 20g CO2 equivalent per kilowatt-hour over their lifetime.

The main disadvantage to solar power: it’s not consistently available at all times, in all places. Sunlight energy varies depending on the time of day, season and year, and geographic location. On the other hand, if installed in the right place and stored properly, the electric energy from solar panels can provide energy to people living in remote areas, without the need for larger energy networks. Therefore, purchasing solar panels could save your household money on its monthly energy bill!

Wind Energy Renewable

Wind energy comes from turbines. The force created by the motion of air turns the turbine’s blades around a rotor, which spins a generator to create electricity. Simply put, the kinetic energy from the wind is collected by wind turbines, converted to electricity, and then stored for later use. The wind is an inexhaustible resource, it will never run out. Though, like sunlight, the wind is not equally available at all times and in all places. The ideal locations for wind turbine installation are windy areas, that have little wildlife, and are far away from populations of people, as wind turbines can be noisy.

Wind turbines are usually hundreds of feet tall and are often installed in groups, referred to as wind farms. Turbines work better in groups so that sufficient amounts of wind energy can be captured over a large distance. For the most part, greenhouse gas emissions from wind energy are quite low, especially relative to those of fossil fuel combustion. The emissions associated with wind energy are a result of manufacturing their parts and materials.

Hydropower Renewable

Hydropower facilities come in four different forms: impoundment, diversion, offshore (seawater), and pump and storage. In each case, the principle is the same, water is energy created by the movement of flowing water which pushes against the blades of a turbine to spin a turbine. Hydropower plants operate similarly to wind farms, in that they convert kinetic energy to electric energy.

Renewable Geothermal

Geothermal energy is heat continuously produced inside Earth. Most of this internal heat is brought on by the spontaneous process of unstable atomic nuclei transitioning into more stable versions of themselves; radioactive decay. The decay of radioactive elements results in a release of heat and happens perpetually in the Earth’s core, meaning that this energy can never be exhausted.

Earth’s internal energy heats up underground sources of water, which rises up to the surface as underwater hydrothermal vents geysers, steam vents, and hot springs. This energy too can be made to turn a turbine generator and generate electricity.

Renewable Biomass

Biomass is an organic source of energy, that is, it’s the material of or from living organisms. Common biomass materials include agriculture feedstocks, grasses, wood, algae, animal manure, and human sewage. Organic material is consistently available and can, in theory, be used indefinitely. The energy contained in biomass comes partly from the carbohydrates that photosynthetic plants have synthesized using sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. The carbohydrates from plants and animals can be transformed into usable energy when burned (direct combustion) or converted.

renewable biomass wood chips and bamboo

Biomass technically qualifies as a renewable source of energy, but when burned, biomass emits carbon dioxide at rates comparable to fossil fuels for the same amount of generated energy. Unlike burning fossil fuel burning, which releases carbon that’s been stored underground for millions of years or more, biomass burning releases carbon that’s been stored in living organisms, i.e plants, animals, and organic wastes. The carbon dioxide from burned biomass is not moved back into the biosphere as quickly as it is expelled, meaning that biomass combustion is not a carbon-neutral means of energy production.

The Future Climate Change

Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) are scenarios that describe how Earth’s climate could potentially change in the future based on greenhouse gas concentrations emitted into the atmosphere. Each of the scenarios makes a different assumption about future greenhouse concentrations; some are low, while others are high. Climate modelers can use concentrations from differing emissions scenarios to estimate the effect this will have on near-surface air and water temperatures.

The RCP scenarios’ names correspond with their radiative forcing target level for 2100. For example, in a scenario named “RCP 2.6”, the future radiative balance would be changed by 2.6 W/m2, causing Earth to warm to restore this balance. Radiative forcing is the effect that various components of the atmosphere (i.e greenhouse gases and air pollutants, solar irradiance) have on the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation. In other words, the radiative forcing estimates refer to changes in atmospheric heat caused by greenhouse gases and other forcing agents.

Future Climate Change Predictions

There are numerous factors to account for when assessing future climate change. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is perhaps the most significant among these factors because the atmosphere’s temperature responds to the total concentration of greenhouse gases. Therefore, RCP projections assume that temperature is linearly related to the cumulative total of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

By calculating the changes in the atmosphere’s components, predictions can be made about the temperature changes that would result. Other factors that must be considered for reliable future climate change assessments include developments in adaptation technologies, changes in land use, future energy production, population growth, and economic growth.

Some scenarios are optimistic, in that they predict future emissions to be much lower than they are today. The worst-case scenarios, on the other hand, are pathways that have the highest estimated future greenhouse gas concentrations; and therefore the highest temperature predictions.

RCP 2.6 is an example of a more optimistic scenario. RCP 2.6 assumes that humanity implements a variety of technologies and strategies for curbing emissions while also making ambitious emissions reductions across sectors by 2100. RCP 2.6 refers to the concentration of greenhouse gases that cause global warming at an average of 2.6 W/m2 (watts per square meter). RCP 2.6 results in the least amount of global warming of all the RCPs.

RCP 8.5, the so-called “business as usual scenario”, has the highest global mean temperature increases of all pathway scenarios. RCP8.5 is a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario that is likely to be the outcome if humanity makes few or no concerted efforts to decrease emissions, resulting in a warming average of 8.5 watts per square meter globally. Projected changes in climate under RCP 8.5 will be more severe than under RCP 2.6.

There are four main RCPs that extend to the end of the century (2100). RCP 4.5 and RCP 6 are intermediate scenarios between 2.6 (lowest) and 8.5 (highest). The RCP estimates are far from exact, as there are far too many societal and climatological uncertainties to factor into assessments. In reality, future greenhouse gas emissions can fall anywhere on the spectrum between RCP 2.6 and RCP 8.5, or perhaps outside the boundaries of these projections entirely. Also, no one can be sure exactly how sensitive Earth’s climate might be to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases and other forcing agents.

Inherent uncertainties aside, these limited sets of scenarios allow for a common language and way of thinking about future changes in climate for policymakers and climate modeling teams.

How Fossil Fuels Are Formed

Fossil fuels are formed by geological processes acting on the remains of living organisms from millions of years ago. As organic material from deceased plants and animals becomes buried deeper and deeper underground, that material is exposed to increasing amounts of pressure and heat. This heat and pressure transforms underground plant and animal material into coal, natural gas or oil. The form that the ancient remains take depends on the type of organic matter involved, the amount of time its been buried and the degree pressure and temperature. For example, plankton and algae can naturally transition from kerogen to petroleum if given enough time.

In the 21st century, fossil fuels are burned to meet most human energy needs. They also serve as the base for common plastic products, such as shopping bags, car parts, containers, electronics, and clothing. Our reliance on fossil fuels is increasing the net amount of heat energy in the planet’s atmosphere, causing global average temperatures to rise. The resultant greenhouse gases from burning these fuels also contribute to ocean acidification, air pollution, and water pollution.

Fossil Fuels Definition

Fossil fuels are organic substances that are removed from the Earth’s crust and used for energy. The remnants of decomposing organic material naturally create carbon- and hydrogen-plentiful compounds (also known as hydrocarbons) as they become buried, compressed and heated over millions of years. Hydrocarbon deposits are then extracted from underground sources by way of mining, hydraulic fracturing, and drilling. Burning hydrocarbons produces heat energy which powers engines, generates electricity and supports industrial processes.

The energy in fossil fuels comes from the hydrocarbon within them. Those hydrocarbons come from photosynthetic organisms (life forms that use sunlight to synthesize nutrients like oxygen and sugars from water and carbon dioxide). Hydrocarbons are molecules consisting of bonded hydrogen and carbon atoms. The stored energy in fossilized hydrocarbon compounds releases energy in the form of heat when burned. Hydrocarbon combustion, the chemical reaction in which hydrocarbons interact with oxygen, also produces water and carbon dioxide.

Fossil Fuels Used For

Fossil fuels have a diverse range of uses across sectors in civilization. Oil specifically, has byproducts that are used in pesticides and fertilizers. Natural gas is sometimes used to for refrigerating and cooling equipment, and to heat buildings. Coal, perhaps the most abundant fuel source, is critical for the generation of electricity. Fossil fuels may continue to dominate our energy economy because strategies and technologies for their extraction continue to improve.

What Climate Change Effects

Day-to-day, weather varies depending on factors like region, elevation, temperature, precipitation, wind flow and time of year. But in the background of daily weather variations, changes that happen over decades or longer can be observed in weather records. These long-term changes describe climate rather than weather. Long-term warming trends recorded since the industrial age have been linked to human activities, like agriculture and energy production.

So called, ‘human-induced climate change’, or anthropogenic climate change has 5 distinct effects: 1) increased surface temperatures, 2) rising sea levels, 3) melting ice sheets, 4) declining biodiversity, and 5) decreased agriculture production.

What Are the Effects of Rising Temperatures?

Rising surface, ocean, and atmospheric temperatures, also known as global warming, is perhaps the most influential symptom of climate change. As average daily temperatures gradually increase, there may be more incidents of heatwaves and droughts. Global warming also adds to the likelihood of wildfire occurrences. Evapotranspiration-the combination of water evaporation, soil moisture evaporation, and plant transpiration-rids soils and vegetation of their moisture. Dried-out plant matter acts as kindling during wildfires and enables the spread of flames.

Excess heat may also be hazardous to human health. People who are exposed to extreme heat can experience a range of conditions, including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes.

Why Is Sea Level Rise a Problem?

Sea level rise is related to the melting of land-ice and thermal expansion in seawater caused by heating oceans. The most affected communities are those along coasts. Coastal systems are more sensitive to rising seas because of their low elevation and proximity to large bodies of water. Erosion from intense wave action and flooding threatens coastal infrastructure more than that of high-elevation and inland territories. On top of that, coasts are highly vulnerable to extreme storms such as tropical cyclones. Coastal storms, including hurricanes and tropical storms, generate powerful ocean waves and harsh winds that indiscriminately damage property and claim lives.

How Can Melting Ice Sheets Affect the Environment?

Ice sheets are permanent masses of ice that cover vast amounts of land in Greenland and Antarctica. Under the influence of global warming, ice sheets melt more quickly. Water from melting land ice inevitably flows into seas and contributes to rising sea levels. In return, increasing amounts of melting sea ice loss reinforce global warming. This is because brightly colored snow and ice surfaces reflect sunlight back into space at a higher rate than the surfaces of darkly colored sea water, which are more efficient at absorbing sunlight and heat energy. As ice sheets melt, Greenland and Antarctica will continue to heat up, and vice versa.

Permafrost (layers of subsurface soil, gravel, and sand that stay frozen year-round) stores plant material and keep them from decomposing as long as they remain frozen. Thawing these icy structures will allow the natural breakdown of plant materials to take place. When organic materials decompose, an array of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere and intensify global heating.

Biodiversity Loss Effects

A report published in 2021 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) drew a connection between climate change and biodiversity loss. According to the report, long-term climatological shifts have the potential to adversely alter a wide range of ecosystems.

For example, ocean acidification, which is driven by warming sea temperatures, can be harmful to species that form shells and skeletons from calcium and carbonate. When large amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide are absorbed by seawater, the water’s pH is reduced and the amount of carbonate ions decreases. Ocean acidification can make shells and skeletons grow more slowly or dissolve more quickly, leaving species like scallops, corals, sea urchins, and clams more prone to impaired health.

How Does Climate Change Affect Agriculture?

The physical effects of climate change could be influencing agriculture production in a myriad of ways because crops depend on suitable environmental conditions to grow. Crop growth can be disturbed by abiotic stress like shifts in air temperature or lack of water. A 2017 study titled, “Temperature Increase Reduces Global Yields of Major Crops in Four Independent Estimates“, compiled results from four analytical methods (global grid-based models, local point-based models, statistical regressions, and field-warming experiments). They discovered that “without CO2 fertilization, effective adaptation, and genetic improvement, each degree-Celsius increase in global mean temperature would, on average, reduce global yields…”. For certain plant species, exposure to hotter temperatures could lower yields and make food security threats more pronounced in the future.

Global temperatures have risen by an estimated 0.08 degrees Celsius per decade (since 1880) and some of this trend is attributable to human activity.

California Senate Bill 1383

Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383) is California’s short-lived climate pollutant reduction law. The bill was enacted September 2019 to lower emissions of short-lived pollutants such as methane by 40%, relative to 2013 levels, no later than 2030. To achieve this objective, Californian food generators are being required to reduce their organic waste contributions.

California Landfill Methane Rule

SB 1383 limits the amount of organic decomposing material in landfills so that California’s total greenhouse gas emissions will decrease. Decomposing organic wastes, including foods, wood or paper discharge so-called “landfill gases” (LFG). LFGs are a combination of several greenhouse gases that are produced as organic wastes rot and break down.

In a sense, Senate Bill 1383 addresses food security and regional emissions reductions all at once. A fraction of food that would normally be disposed of in landfills or composts, must now be made available for human consumption. Some Californian households and businesses will have to initiate food recovery programs and or strengthen existing food recovery strategies.

Who Does SB 1383 Apply To?

SB 1383 requires specific food businesses to donate the maximum possible amount of edible food to food recovery organizations and for recycling. The law assumes two tiers for different kinds of edible food generators. “Tier One” includes supermarkets, grocery stores, food service providers and wholesale food vendors.

Restaurants, hotels, health facilities, certain education agencies and large venues and events are all considered “Tier Two”. Both tiers of food generators must donate as much food as they possibly can to food recovery organizations. Organizations and services that participate in SB 1383 are obligated to maintain records of the food being donated and the frequency of donations.

Who Passed SB 1383?

Edmund Brown Jr passed SB 1383 September 2016. Brown received his law degree from Yale and served as Governor of California from 1975 to 1983 and 2011 to 2019. By signing the bill into law, he established official methane emissions reduction targets that apply to most food generators across in the state.

Senate Bill 1383 California

Senate Bill 1383 went into effect January 1, 2022. By regulating organic waste disposal, California is expected to decrease its total greenhouse gas output while feeding hungry citizens at the same time. Organics may be recycled by composting and mulching. Some organic materials are converted into biogas, a renewable energy source, through a process known as aerobic digestion.

Plastic Pollution in the Arctic

ice in the Arctic ocean
Ice in the Arctic ocean

A study, “Plastic Pollution in the Arctic” reports that Arctic wildlife regularly ingest, become entangled in, or be smothered by plastic debris. Arctic species such as sculpin (Triglops nybelini), the northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), and belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) have been found with plastic inside them. Plastic ingestion may even affect marine invertebrates like zooplankton in the eastern Canadian Arctic and the Fram Strait (a sea channel between Greenland and Svalbard).

Plastics from agriculture, landfills, dumping, industry, household products, fisheries, offshore industry, and other such sources are routinely carried to and within the Arctic by atmospheric and aquatic circulation systems. Transported plastics from local and distant sources are therefore highly distributed. The United Nations estimates that approximately 150 million tons of plastic debris may be scattered across the Arctic. Plastics are found on Arctic shores, in varying levels of the water column, in sea ice, and inside the bodies of marine biota.

Plastic Pollution

Circulation systems, including wind, ocean currents, and freshwater river flows, move plastic pollution through Arctic ecosystems, especially as they break down and fragment into smaller constituent pieces. The physical effects of global warming, then, influence the distribution of plastics and microplastics in the Arctic by increasing the frequency and or intensity of extreme weather events, like flooding and windstorms. Sea level rise or higher poleward wind speeds from global warming have the potential to transport greater levels of plastic debris to Arctic ecosystems.

GMO Pros

An article made available in Science Direct, 2022, unpacks the potential benefits that genetically modified crops have for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Authors of the document, Emma Kovak, DanBlaustein-Rejto and Matin Qaim, claim that “genetically modified (GM) crops can help reduce agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition to possible decreases in production emissions, GM yield gains also mitigate land-use change and related emissions”.

How Do GMOs Affect The Environment?

GM (genetically modified) crops are agriculture plants that have had stretches of DNA added, effectively modified or turned off within their genome to achieve desired traits. GM crops are commonly designed to be more resistant to insects and tolerant to herbicides. Modified crops can therefore lower the need for chemical pesticides, which are greenhouse gas contributors. Also, yield increases from GM crop use may prevent greenhouse gas emissions from the conversion of natural land (land that is uncultivated) to cropland. Land conversions promote greenhouse gas emissions through tilling and forest clearing.

Research Method and Design

The article contrives a hypothetical scenario in which the European Union (EU) lifts its “quasi-ban” against widespread GM crop use. Authors of the article assume that yield increases from genetically modified crop adoption in the EU would offer benefits similar to those observed in other industrialized, temperate-zone countries that use modified crops. They further assume that enhanced crop production in the EU will bring about proportional decrease in agriculture production elsewhere. The latter of these assumptions is built on the belief that land will be spared (remain uncultivated) because the EU will be producing more crops domestically, consequently shrinking land conversion demands in outside territories.

Avoided emissions estimates from increased yield are intentionally underestimated in the article. Although authors state that “…higher GM crop adoption in the EU would likely also lead to higher [technology] adoption elsewhere”, their avoided emissions estimates do not account for the implementation of technology related to genetically modified crop use.

Avoided emissions estimates also do not account for the implementation of novel modified crops and traits. In other words, estimates are strictly based on well known genetically modified crops (soybean, cotton, canola, maize, and sugar beet) and the traits that they are designed with.

Conclusion Drawing

Adopting genetically modified crops in places like Europe, which has higher wheat crop loss levels-caused by insects and pathogens-that the global average, may result in improved crop growth by making vegetation more resilient to environmental stressors, such as disease, insects and herbicide application. Increased vegetation is expected to lead to enhanced soil fertility and improve carbon absorption in soils and biomass. By boosting crop yields in areas that have not broadly accepted genetically modified vegetation, tilling and forest clearing-related emissions can be mitigated.

Even though estimates are based on already-existing technology for modified crop application as well as already-existing modified plants and traits, it’s fair to assume that new technologies and new crops and traits will emerge from increased modified crop adoption in the European Union. Authors of the article assert that the EU can and should “increase agricultural productivity through embracing new crop technologies, thus contributing to global environmental benefits”.

Effects of Plastic On the Ocean

An article titled, “The Fundamental Links Between Climate Change and Marine Plastic Pollution”, describes the interactive relationship between climate change and marine plastic pollution. The article’s authors claim that climate change and marine plastic pollution are linked in three ways: 1) the production of plastic relies on fossil fuel extraction and is thus a greenhouse gas contributor 2) climate and weather influence the distribution and spread of plastic pollution across environments 3) marine ecosystems and species are vulnerable to plastic pollution and climate change.

Does Plastic Cause Climate Change?

The rise in plastic demand is likely due to its reputation as an inexpensive and lightweight material that has a wide range of uses. Plastic is used for packaging, electronics, toys, utensils, safety gear, and infrastructure. Even so, plastics and microplastics release potent greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, methane, and ethylene throughout their lifecycles, from production to after-use. Greenhouse gases from plastic materials must therefore contribute to ocean heating and climate change.

When the natural gas and oil for plastics are extracted from underground sources, methane leaks sometimes occur. During methane leaks, stored methane flows freely into the surrounding air or water. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is far more effective at absorbing and reradiating heat energy than carbon dioxide.

After extraction, raw natural gas and crude oil are subjected to rounds of intense heat to be refined and eventually manufactured into usable products. This heating releases carbon dioxide gas and other chemical pollutants.

Even after plastics have been used and discarded, they continue to slowly discharge methane and ethylene when exposed to solar radiation.

How Does Plastic Move Around the World?

The movement of plastics between environments is influenced by weather and climate. Plastics are circulated by the flow of water and wind. Extreme weather, like floods and windy storms, can move plastics from one system to another. For example, flooding riverine systems can transport plastics into the ocean, while tropical storms from oceans can push plastics onto terrestrial surfaces.

How Does Plastic Affect Marine Ecosystems?

Plastics continue to impact the ecosystems long after they have been dumped into oceans. Ingesting plastic can lower the survival odds of certain marine organisms. In some cases, marine animals become entangled by plastic products or have their feeding and breathing pathways obstructed. On top of that, plastic potentially facilitates species migrations because plastic debris attracts encrusting organisms and microbial communities. Therefore both climate change and plastic pollution can contribute to species movement between ocean regions. Increased species mobility can bring about invasive species risks.

Some suspension feeders and benthic organisms likely mistake microplastic particles for food because the plastic particles are roughly the same size as feeding matter, such as plankton. Ingestion of plastic debris can be lethal or sub-lethal for marine species. Sub-lethal effects can be impaired reproduction ability, loss of sensitivity, the inability to escape from predators, loss of mobility, decreased growth, and body conditions.

Toxic chemicals like flame retardants, metal ions, and antibiotics are incorporated in some plastics and can also be ingested by wildlife. Fish that have been exposed to these chemicals are unsafe for human consumption as contaminated seafood sources can create adverse health effects on people.

Conclusion Drawing

The review, “The Fundamental Links Between Climate Change and Marine Plastic Pollution”, concludes that ocean plastics and climate change are inherently interactive. Plastics rely heavily on fossil fuels during production and continue to emit greenhouse gases long after they have been disposed of; which contributes to ocean heating and climate change. Climate change, on the other hand, is associated with extreme weather and floods which exacerbate the spread of plastics in and between land, freshwater, and marine environments. Both plastic pollution and climate change pose threats to marine ecosystems and species.

Freshwater and Climate Change

Freshwater systems provide usable water for human consumption, technological development, and agriculture, while also serving as habitats for aquatic species. Therefore, freshwater systems are of crucial economic and ecological value. A 2021 study titled, ” “The Importance of Indirect Effects of Climate Change Adaptations On Alpine and Pre-Alpine Freshwater Systems” asserts that human-made changes to water hydrology and pollution from sewer outflows and agriculture chemicals are detrimental to freshwater systems.

What Is Freshwater?

Rivers, reservoirs, and streams are examples of freshwater systems. Freshwater is a subset of Earth’s water which is significantly less salty than marine waters (like seas and oceans). The United States Geological Survey, a branch dedicated to science within the United States Department of the Interior, defines freshwater as “water containing less than 1,000 milligrams per liter of dissolved solids, most often salt.” Though freshwater is renewed through the water cycle, it is a finite resource. If freshwater is used more quickly than it is naturally replenished, water security risks may be enhanced.

Research Method and Design

Authors of “The Importance of Indirect Effects of Climate Change Adaptations On Alpine and Pre-Alpine Freshwater Systems”, regard higher frequency of extreme meteorological events and increased temperatures as “direct effects” of climate change. These direct effects adversely influence the state and quality of aquatic regions. Direct effects also interact with human responses to climate change and produce “indirect effects”.

So-called indirect effects refer to human practices that are aimed at climate change mitigation. Indirect effects include land-use changes, alterations to freshwater systems, and increasing irrigation practices. Authors suggest that “indirect effects may, at least in the short term, overrun the impact of direct climate change on water bodies.” Though all biomes are predicted to be impacted by climate change, freshwater systems in alpine and pre-alpine regions may be disproportionately at risk due to agriculture and hydropower plants.

Hydropower installations in freshwater networks can fragment or isolate certain species populations which are ill-adapted for the changes in water flow and perpetuate biodiversity loss. By modifying the hydrology of freshwater systems, water usage for energy production can compound the direct effects of climate change to aquatic flora and fauna.

Agriculture can disturb freshwater systems as well, but in a much different way than hydropower plants. Climate change can intensify extreme weather event trends, such as floods, storms, and droughts; these effects can drive diminished crop yields. In the interest of mitigating decreased crop production brought on by climate change, agriculturalists may expand irrigation infrastructure or enhance fertilizer use. These adaptations can exacerbate the consequences which are already affecting crop growth cycles.

Conclusion Drawing

Authors of the 2021 review claim that “rain-fed dairy farming is currently the most predominant form of agriculture, but in the future, these grasslands may become more and more dependent on irrigation”. Redirecting water for irrigation use can potentially limit the quantity of water available in freshwater ecosystems. Variability in weather regimes may contribute to further dependence on water from irrigation (rather than from rainfall) in the future. Some of the responses that agriculturalists are expected to as a response to a changing climate pose risks to freshwater systems. Policymakers must account for indirect impacts to alleviate worsening the ecological status and water quality within aquatic environments.

Heat Stress Signs

Observed heatwave trends have been on the rise in the last four decades according to a research article published in January 2022. The study titled, “Increasing Heat-Stress Inequality In A Warming Climate”, projects further intensification of extreme heat events in the future. Excess heat events like heat waves are an immediate threat to human well-being, as they may contribute to crop failure, worsened wildfires, and heat-related deaths, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Researchers of the 2022 study claim that societies in the lowest-income regions are projected to have greater difficulties adapting to the challenges posed by a warming climate. Authors claim that their “findings demonstrate continued increases in heatwave exposure inequality because of delays in adaptation capacity in the developing world, compounded by a higher emergence of warming in low-latitude areas where most of the low-income countries occur”.

Research Method and Design

This study used heatwave data from the years 1980-2019 to model future temperatures for 2030-end of the century.

Heatwaves here are defined as “an event during which daily mean temperature exceeded the 97th percentile of local annual mean daily temperature in a reference period for at least three consecutive days”. Authors of the study claim that they are operating under the assumption that vulnerability to heatwave-related risks and degrees of suffering is determined by economic development status.

Researchers split all regions of the world into four socioeconomic classes for income: lowest, lower-middle, upper-middle, and highest, (based on the population weighted per-capita gross domestic product in 2015). They were then able to create a spectrum of economic adaptive capacities. Adaptation capacities include cooling systems, electricity, early detection, and warning systems, and infrastructure.

As reported in the study, a 60% global increase in the total number of heatwave days was recorded over the past 40 years. Average yearly heatwave seasons were 75% longer during the 2010s compared to those in the 1980s. Also, “the maximum decadal amplitude of shock heatwave was between 2.16 (Europe) and 3.27 (North America) °C higher in the 2010s as compared to the 1980s”. Although heatwaves intensified across all socioeconomic classes, the “low-income region” observed the greatest rate of increase in heatwave season length yearly.

Conclusion Drawing

In the 2010s, the “high-income region” experienced 30% fewer heatwave days. Sensitivity to heat waves is significantly determined by a society’s adaptation efforts. Regions with relatively low incomes will face greater challenges and vulnerability to heatwaves due to their lack of access to resources that enable adaptation across sectors. Inferior adaptation capacities may hinder or delay institutional heatwaves responses to heatwaves, making societies with lower-scoring GDPs more susceptible to the impacts of rising temperature averages and excess heat.

Cowspiracy Facts: Oceans

fish near water surface
Fish near water surface

While fisheries generate food and profit, they could do much more harm than good for underwater ecosystems. The film Cowspiracy makes a convincing case for the deleterious effect of large-scale fishing operations on ocean environments, species variety, and abundance. Cowspiracy depicts modern fishing as a largely unsustainable industry that could lead to fishless oceans by 2048.

Fishing As Depicted By Cowspiracy

Fish and other marine life are mostly hunted as food. However, some species are used for other commodities. Sharks, for example, are sometimes hunted for their skin which can be used in the making of leather. Other species like whales and manatees are regularly harmed or killed unintentionally by getting caught in fishing nets. The Cowspiracy Facts page cites a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) document which states that in the year 2017, between 51 – 167 billion farmed fish had been killed for food.

That same year an estimated 250 – 600 billion crustaceans were also farmed and killed for food. Even animals that are not eaten by humans are caught and killed inadvertently because of drift netting or trawling. Susan Hartland of the Conservation Society says that animal populations are being extracted from oceans more quickly than they can recover. Marine species are therefore collapsing under the immense pressures of modern hunting. The unintended catches, sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins are called bykill.

Keystone Species and Trophic Cascades

Apex predators often act as keystone species, meaning that they have disproportionately large effects in their natural environments. This makes the removal of sharks particularly concerning. As top predators, many sharks species exert top down influence in their respective food webs. The removal of sharks, and other keystone species increases trophic cascade risks. Trophic cascades are the ecological chain of events triggered by the removal or addition of top predators.

Agriculture, Fishing and Algae Blooms

“Livestock operations on land have created more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead zones around the world in our oceans…” According to Dr. Richard Oppenlander, an environmental researcher featured in the Cowspiracy film. Water pollution comes in the form of pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, plastics and other waste material. However, animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean pollution – a fact which is stated explicitly in the Cowspiracy film.

Animal agriculture run-off upsets nutrient balances in aquatic ecosystems by introducing phosphorus, nitrogen, manure and potassium from chemical fertilizers. These excess nutrients can cause alae blooms, leading to uninhabitable zones for marine species. Blooms of algae drain sunlight and deplete oxygen levels – making the environment unsuitable for most other lifeforms in the ecosystem.

Bottom trawling contributes to inhabitable zones similarly. Bottom trawling, also referred to as “dragging” involves casting a fishing net to the sea floor. Trawling disturbs sediments along the sea floor which causes carbon to be released. Once carbon dioxide is released from sediments, it is then absorbed by ocean seawater. Elevated carbon levels allow water to trap in more heat and further facilitate algae and plant overgrowth.


COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference which took place this November 2021, in Glasgow. This conference was supposed to accelerate action towards achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (limiting global average temperature rise to well below 2℃ by the middle of the 21st century). According to the Paris Climate Agreement, participant nations are also encouraged to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5℃ relative to preindustrial levels by mid-century.

COP26 was to be the latest installment in this ongoing conversation between world leaders, corporations, and intergovernmental committees.

The Glasgow Pact

Toward the end of the 2 weeks United Nations Climate Change conference, a change was made to the wording of the Glasgow Pact. The phasing out of coal was changed to the phasing down of coal. The latter wording can be found in the Glasgow Pact document. Sources reveal that this change was first proposed by representatives from India, and garnered support from China. As coal combusts, several airborne pollutants are released, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, particulates, and ash. Coal burning is a prominent element of climate destabilization, as it contributes to global warming and increasingly acidic oceans. Though COP26 is the first climate agreement to explicitly mention coal, the tentative promise to phase down coal use this century is not assuring.

The Glasgow Pact “emphasizes the need to mobilize climate finance from all sources to reach the level needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, including significantly increasing support for developing country Parties, beyond USD 100 billion per year…”. As for the US$100 billion per year by 2020 pledge, first proposed in 2009, the Glasgow Pact “notes with deep regret that the goal” has not yet been met, but secures no further progress on this front. This is a failure to small island nations and countries with highly vulnerable economies that are already feeling the effects of climate change and are predicted to be disproportionately affected due to less resilient economies.

Protests outside of COP26 erupted before the final event officially concluded. Hundreds of civil society representatives were dissatisfied with the conclusions reached during the climate convention. Even more frustrations have been articulated online.

The 7th subtitle, “Implementation“, makes no explicit commitments

The “implementation” section of the Glasgow pact likewise makes no explicit commitments. Without the implementation of targets, meaningful action can not be achieved. That said, more promises are likewise insufficient answers to immediate to answer immediate concerns for relief and infrastructure investments. COP26 has largely failed small island nations and those with emerging economies in this regard.