Reforestation, deforestation, the Amazon, 100% renewable energy, Mark Jacobson, Bolsonaro’s Brazil
Photo by Assaad W. Razzouk
Hi and welcome to episode 18 of The Angry Clean Energy Guy with me, Assaad Razzouk. I am so happy you’re here. As always, my website, https://theangrycleanenergyguy.com/ has transcripts for all the episodes and I hope you find these useful and helpful.
This week I am going to rant about forests and I will take you through a tour of some amazing forestry initiatives that are going on around the world; and some horrible forestry destruction being condoned in other countries.
I’m also going to rant about detractors of 100% renewable energy, the cohort of armchair commentators that are judging the feasibility or non-feasibility of 100% renewable energy without actually having built anything in their lives.
My Winner of the Week is professor Mark Jacobson of Stanford University and my Villain of the Week is President Bolsonaro of Brazil. I will give you my reasons for both selections at the end of the podcast.
FORESTS, DEFORESTATION AND REFORESTATION
So let’s talk about forests. There are, as I said before, amazing stories going on in forestry. Remember, we know that to fight climate change we need to be essentially powered by renewable energy by 2050 and we need to re-forest.
Costa Rica is a great example of what I’m talking about. The forest cover of Costa Rica increased from 21% of its landmass in 1986 to over 52% today, while its growth accelerated and its GDP per capita more than tripled. So yes: You can double forest cover while tripling your economy. Forestry and green is good.
Another great initiative is taking place in Africa. There is a project there called the Great Green Wall, which is supposed to become the world’s largest living structure. It’s already on its way. It stretches all the way from Senegal in the West to Djibouti in the East and it’s supposed to build a great green wall between the Sahara desert and Greener Africa, which is underneath. It’s an $8 billion project and it’s planting 7,600 kilometers worth of trees that are 15 kilometers wide across 20 countries. I mean that project is amazing. It’s fighting desertification by restoring 100 million hectars of degraded land. And obviously it’s creating massive jobs. It’s holding back forced climate migration north. It’s saving water and it’s fighting drought.
The third example is Pakistan. Under Imran Khan’s leadership, Pakistan has already planted an astonishing 1 billion trees, restoring 350,000 hectars of forest. Now Imran Khan announced that they’re going to scale up the Billion Trees Tsunami and plant 10 billion trees in five years. They’re going to need help funding that, and they’re innovating: Pakistan are proposing to their creditors a debt-for-nature swap whereby creditors forgive some of Pakistan’s debt, in return for Pakistan pulling off that amazing feat of planting 10 billion trees.
The other example from Africa is Ethiopia. A few days ago, Ethiopia planted 350 million trees in one day, a world record, in an ambitious initiative to plant 4 billion trees. They want to reverse a decline in the forest coverage of the country from pretty much zero today back to 35% which is what it was in the early 20th century.
Another example is China. China is planting forests like there is no tomorrow. In five years between 2013 and 2018, China planted 83.5 million acres, or 338,000 km2, an area larger than the Philippines, Norway or Finland. China alone is home to 25% of the world’s new greenery since 2000 so they are pulling their weight.
India is trying to do the same. In 2017, one and a half million people in India planted more than 66 million trees in a record breaking 12 hours. Now that’s just been beaten by Ethiopia, but still, India under the Paris climate agreement is pledging to increase its forests by a massive 95 million hectares by 2030 (234 million acres or 950,000 km2).
And the final example is Western Europe. In 10 years, Western Europe grew its forests by an area larger than Switzerland. All these forestry stories are great news for the planet because forests absorb CO2 and preserve biodiversity. Remember that at the moment we’re losing 75,000 square kilometers of forests every year. That’s the equivalent of seven football, or soccer if you prefer, fields every minute.
One of the biggest culprits in terms of our loss of forest is Brazil. Since its new president was elected, Brazil lost 2,000 square kilometers of forests. That’s only since January and that’s up 40% year on year, so compared to the same period last year. Even worse, in June alone, deforestation rates rose dramatically in Brazil with 80% more forest cover loss then in June of last year. Frankly speaking, this should be a crime against humanity and people should be going to jail. What Brazil should do is what Pakistan is doing. If it has financial issues protecting the Amazon, it should reach out to other countries for a debt-for-nature swap. It’s a very simple solution and many countries will listen and will act.
Needless to say, the countries I did not mention are not doing much. So the United States is not doing much. Russia is not doing much.
So in the US for example, trees were chopped down dramatically all the way until 1920 then the country started to regain some lost tree cover because abandoned farms, for example, reverted back to forest. However, the US is barely net positive in forest cover because they don’t have an active tree planting campaign. So what’s wrong with the US having its own ‘plant a billion trees’ or ‘plant 5 billion trees’ initiative? If anybody can do it, the Americans can do it.
What we need around the world and what we can have around the world are many more initiatives like those of Ethiopia, Pakistan, China, India and Africa. So I’m not sure Indonesia, are you listening? Thailand, are you listening? Asia in general, are you listening? Latin America, are you listening? US, are you listening? We can do this and this would be massive in the fight against climate change.
100% RENEWABLE ENERGY AND THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT
The climate movement is huge. It’s deep. It’s also diligent, it’s passionate, it’s committed, and very importantly, it’s also correct because it’s fighting for nothing less than the future of our civilization.
But what I can see in slow motion in front of my eyes is that it’s also at risk of collapsing. Just take a look at sustainability conferences and how they’ve been hijacked by oil officials; or the climate talks and how Big Coal and Big Gas and Big Oil are everywhere there; or Energy Weeks in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur or Tokyo or Houston or London, which to this day, 2019, still talk about renewable energy as an afterthought.
Now, climate advocates come in numerous flavors. You have advocacy organizations for example, like 350.org, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the WWF and many, many others. They’re massive, with Greenpeace alone having a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Some of these NGOs are organized in global networks like the climate action network.
Everybody is supported by lots of intellectual firepower and think tanks, publishing thoughtful and facts based research about the climate crisis or if I should really call it what it is, the climate emergency that we are in now.
In addition, at universities around the world, we have a burgeoning Divest movement calling for a divestment from fossil fuels, pushing as hard as it can.
We also have shareholder activists like the Carbon Disclosure Project or the Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change or CERES pushing for sustainable business and investment practices and importantly for a minimum disclosure of climate risks in the business models of companies of all colors and shapes.
There’s also on top an extensive United Nations infrastructure fully deployed on the climate space plus the World Bank, the IFC, the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, all sorts of multilateral and bilateral banks in addition to these.
Remember we’ve known that we’re facing catastrophic climate change since 1992 at the very least, that’s when the United Nations Rio summit took place. Sadly, to this day, the climate movement’s track record is still one of failure [because greenhouse gas emissions keep rising]. There’s many reasons for this and I’ve addressed them in previous podcasts as well as in articles that I’ve written.
However, I want to give you a very small case study today focused on renewable energy that shows you how the climate movement just cannot get its act together because it likes to fight one another and that is one of its biggest problems. So people supporting, for example, nuclear energy have nothing better to do than to keep criticizing people who support solar, wind and water. And the nuclear lobby in particular is seemingly completely happy to ignore the facts and just beat to its own drum, turning its guns firmly towards renewable energy instead of fighting for less or zero oil, gas and coal. And I don’t understand that. Why do they do that instead of going after Big Oil, Gas and Coal, who we know are at the root of the problem and are lobbying their way with billions of dollars each year out of the pressure applied on them by the climate movement?
So the case study I want to tell you about has at its center, a professor at Stanford University called Mark Jacobson. He’s a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of Stanford’s Atmosphere Program. In 2009 he co-published a paper in Scientific American proposing that the world should move to 100% renewable energy and what that means in this case is solar, wind and water. So no nuclear, and no gimmicks like carbon capture, which doesn’t work and geo-engineering, which is a fake excuse put out by Big Oil.
He then published a follow-up paper in 2015 in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Now, if you actually bother to read his work, which is incredibly impressive, you would be amazed. Mark Jacobson and others, co-authors, actually published full roadmaps for how – I lost count but something like 140 or 150 – countries around the world can move to 100% renewable energy from wind, water and sun. And these are across all sectors of the economy.
Now instead of the climate movement getting behind this research (and it does to a certain extent, there are 280 articles, scientific articles now basically underpinning the fact that we can move to 100% renewables from sun, wind and water and debunking criticisms of 100% renewables in great detail), some try to undermine it. Mark Jacobson should really win a Nobel Prize because as a result of his work, today you have over 60 countries with 100% renewable electricity laws as well as over 200 cities worldwide that have set a 100% renewable electricity targets and 50 cities with multisector, 100% renewable energy targets. So that’s covering not only electricity, but also transportation and heating.
And remember when someone says to you that we cannot move to 100% renewable energy, remind them that California, which is the world’s fifth largest economy, enacted into law a requirement that the state must be powered by 50% renewables by 2026, 60% by 2030 and it must be 100% carbon free by 2045 which means zero coal, zero oil and zero gas in California’s energy grid – and California enacted this law because the intermittency and the variability of renewables can be managed and the whole can work together. And no, we don’t need coal. No, we don’t need gas and we certainly don’t need oil.
So instead of getting behind Mark Jacobson’s research and maybe helping out, some researchers instead published papers, since debunked, challenging the findings of Jacobson and his colleagues. And I don’t understand that. Why are these people playing games? Why don’t they instead stay focused on the problem? 90 companies are responsible for two thirds of emissions since industrialization and they’re all oil, gas, coal, or cement companies. We’ve got to stay focused on these companies and we’ve got to ensure that they pay the price for their pollution. It seems like a simple and clear goal. Yet some parts of academia like to waste everybody’s time by attacking forward thinking innovators who are coming up with science-based frameworks that show how we can reach 100% renewable energy and that are targeted at making the oil and gas and coal lobbies shut up because oil, gas and coal already put out an enormous amount of propaganda and we’ve got to fight them back, not fight each other.
When you go to the transcript of this podcast, which you can find on my website, https://theangrycleanenergyguy.com/ you’ll see hyperlinks to some of that research and you can read it for yourself.
I’m pretty confident that at the end you will conclude that Mark Jacobson should win a Nobel Prize for his work and I am pretty confident that that will happen in time. And remember, I am from the renewable energy business. I know we can do it. So critics that challenge the science for allegedly not taking sufficient account of the variability of wind and solar, allegedly as not being able to scale storage, allegedly as having high system costs or resource constraints or social acceptance constraints – think wind turbines kill birds for example – so these critics have been thoroughly debunked. They are wrong. They are wrong across the board.
I mean come on, use your common sense. Wind turbines, of course they kill birds and bats, but their contribution to total bird death is basically immaterial. Yet you’ve got agenda driven people trying to use emotional arguments, and birds – poor birds – to score points. You’ve got to be very skeptical when you hear nonsense and you have to ask who are these people, how are they getting paid and what are they trying to achieve? So when you hear something stupid, recognize it as stupid because your common sense tells you it’s stupid. Wind turbines and birds for example, is an open and shut case. Check the research. Fossil fuel plants kill, so oil, gas and coal plants kill 2,000 times the number of birds killed by a wind turbine. I mean, please give us a break.
And my message to the climate movement is you must close ranks and you must stay focused on the objective. Stop wasting Mark Jacobson and my and other people’s time by attacking us from inside. Focus on the goal. We are trying here to fight climate change, not fight each other. By all means criticize, but your criticism should be constructive, not fueled by jealousy as is so obviously the case in the 100% renewable energy argument.
WINNER OF THE WEEK
Thank you so much for putting up with me this long. Really thank you, I appreciate it.
The topics that I am trying to deal with are complex and God knows there are so many Villains of the Week. I never have a problem selecting one weekly and if this was a daily podcast, I would select one daily as well. But the point of today’s podcast really was to contrast amazing initiatives in forestry with a climate movement which is disjointed and actually manages to undermine its best people instead of focusing on the problem is. That’s why my Winner of Week is a person that I think deserves a Nobel prize for not only their outstanding and trailblazing research, but also what they’ve had to put up with. So well done, professor Mark Jacobson and keep the faith. Thank you for what you do.
VILLAIN OF THE WEEK
And not surprisingly, my Villain of the Week, although I had a rich crop this week, is President Bolsonaro of Brazil because president Bolsonaro is actually deliberately going about destroying the Amazon. The Amazon is, as many of you know, the lungs of the planet and destroying it should be a crime against humanity. It is a crime against humanity. President Bolosnaro, driving everything for profit motives, and to benefit your friends and your backers and God knows who else, is shameful. You should be ashamed of yourself and you should absolutely stop what you’re doing and redeem yourself by saving what’s left of the Amazon and then reforesting it instead of destroying it for your friends, the agricultural lobbies whose agriculture we don’t want and we don’t need.
Thank you again for putting up with me today and have a great week.
There is so much to be angry about, if you are a clean energy guy.
Every day, so many things that happen around the world make me angry when I look at them with lenses colored by the climate change chaos unfolding everywhere around us. And I am especially angry because I know we can solve the climate change crisis if we were only trying.
Each week, I will share with you a few topics that struck me and that I was very angry about – and this will generally have to do with climate change, solar or wind power, plastic pollution, environmental degradation, wildlife, the oceans and other related topics.