Documentary from 2017. Filmmaker Jamie Redford embarks on a personal journey across the US to meet pioneers of clean energy technology, often finding them in some very unlikely places. Available on HBO.
Ten years after the Academy Award®-winning An Inconvenient Truth brought climate change to the forefront of mainstream culture, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power proves to be more relevant than ever today. Join former Vice President Al Gore as he continues his tireless fight, traveling around the globe to educate and inspire the next generation of climate champions. Eye-opening and alarming, this compelling follow-up shows that while the stakes have never been higher, the solutions to the climate crisis are still within our reach. Available to buy or for rent on Youtube.
Dark Waters tells the shocking and heroic story of an attorney who risks his career and family to uncover a dark secret hidden by one of the world’s largest corporations and to bring justice to a community dangerously exposed for decades to deadly chemicals.
Published in: 2003
In this book Gino Segré, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania, observes humans and the world from a temperature perspective. Measurement of temperature is only a few hundred years old. Scientific understanding of the temperature of the gas is even newer. Looking back, we find important contributors such as the father of modern microbiology Louis Pasteur (the concept of pasteurization – sterilization by heating). The Fahrenheit scale, named after Daniel G. Fahrenheit, was discovered in England / Holland in the 1730s. Most countries adopted the Celsius scale, after its proponent Anders Celsius.
SUN, EARTH. SEA AND OZONE. There are four main contributors to the earth’s temperature: (1) the sun – our main source of heat, (2) heat generated directly in the earth, i.e. volcanic eruptions – small amount of heat compared to what sunlight supplies the earth, (3) the oceans and (4) the atmosphere – its coverage both protects the earth from harmful radiation and keeps much of the ground heat from entering space. All these climate changes are linked. There are also other contributors, such as collisions with asteroids (main source of climate change is the dust that is injected into the atmosphere).
TEMPERATURE AND LIFE. Life originated on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago, with slow development over the first 3 billion years. 565 million years ago, new organisms suddenly arose in abundance. Within 50 million years, members of all basic forms of wildlife emerged. The development depends on a series of rises and falls in the earth’s temperature, all caused by factors such as Agassiz’s glacier movements, Croll’s feedback loops, a leap in the greenhouse effect, Wegener’s continental drift and temophilic bacteria. Each of them was crucial at some point in the development. Changes in temperature have shaped and reshaped the earth’s surface, destroyed life, and stimulated rebirth.
CONTINENTAL DRIFTS. At the beginning of the 20th century, Alfred Wegener suggested that the east coast of South America and the west coast of Africa were once together (now called continental drift). Fifty miles below the surface the temperature is 2000 degrees Fahrenheit; enough to create volcanoes and movements of continents and the seabed. Despite the visual manifestation of thermal activity of volcanoes, they are insignificant compared to plate-tectonic movements. A valley or gorge can symmetrically spread away from the central gorge by about an inch per year.
ICE AGE CYCLES. In 1941, Serbian mathematician Milutin Milankovitch was able to give a thermal history of the earth for more than half a million years (ice is as the rings in tree, showing past climates). Milankovitch showed warmer temperatures about 103,000, 82,000, 60,000, 35,000 and 11,000 years ago. His graphs showed a long interglacial epoch between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago and nine sharp minima during the last 650,000 years – nine significant ice ages. During these ice periods, the summers were about 12 degrees Fahrenheit colder than today (enough to cover the earth with large layers of ice). The ice age follows what all geological textbooks call Milankovitch cycles.
ANOMALIES AND SURPRISES. The two coldest summers of the last 500 years, 1601 and 1816, were followed by major volcanic upheavals that threw huge amounts of dust into the stratosphere. This connection is easy to understand. However, we do not know why the period between 1100-1250 was so hot in Europe and America that the Vikings could grow crops in Greenland. We also know little about the events behind the period 1400 to 1800, “Little Ice Age”, when the Dutch canals froze over, and the Swedish army invaded Denmark by marching over an icy North Sea. The evidence contains surprises. We know that El Nino (rain) comes every 3-7 years and lasts for 12-18 months, but we do not know how big the next one will be. From a little more than 5,000 years ago, El Nino came only a few times per century, and then only in a weakened form. Because the Earth’s position relative to the Sun varies very slowly, these global events cannot be explained by Milankovitch cycles. No single system explains all marine phenomena.
METAN-RUN. For billions of years, methanogens have produced 15 trillion tons of methane buried on the seabed. 55 million years ago, groundwater warming, probably due to displacement of ocean currents, triggered methane emissions into the atmosphere. Methane has a heating capacity of 30x carbon dioxide. The temperature was not adjusted fast enough which caused the release of more methane. This created a rampant greenhouse effect. Over the next 10,000 years, one trillion tons of methane made their way to the atmosphere. Then the earth finally managed to reach equilibrium. The sea temperature had then risen 10 degrees. Half of the foraminifera species disappeared.
KNOWLEDGE OF AIR IS ”NEW”. Before 1750, air was assumed to be “subtle matter” or “ether”. The greenhouse effect was not mentioned until 1822 and in the late 1850s it was discovered that nitrogen and oxygen are transparent to both incoming solar and outgoing earth radiation, while steam, carbon dioxide and methane absorb infrared rays. The next big step was taken in the 1890s, by the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, who with the feedback effects of water vapor predicted that a doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would lead to an average global temperature increase of 10 degrees Fahrenheit. In the 1950s, Roger Revell observed that 80% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere remained there for a long time.
THE HUMAN IMPACT. Carbon dioxide increases from population growth and lifestyle. The Stefan-Boltzmann radiation law predicts how much radiation comes out of each square meter of a surface at a given temperature. Thermal equilibrium means that the same amount of heat comes in and goes out (changed marginally over time). By doing the calculation of heat in versus heat out, the average temperature of the earth should be 0 degrees Fahrenheit. But it is 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Greenhouse gases are the main cause of the temperature difference (though not so simple because the volume in air is about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% argon).
UN-ESTIMATION 1990. In 1990, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 360 ppm (parts per million) compared to 277 ppm in 1750 (the beginning of both the industrial revolution and the first large-scale deforestations). Based on population growth, economic development and technological development, the UN panel in 1997 concluded three estimates of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the next 100 years: the most optimistic forecast for 2100 was 450 ppm, the intermediate scenario was 700 ppm and the worst case was 954 ppm. Based on this, the average world temperature would rise by 2-6 degrees Fahrenheit and sea levels would rise from six inches to three feet. In 2000, the “worst case” was revised to predict a temperature increase of 6.3–11 degrees from the 1990 level.
RISING SEA LEVELS. When liquid Arctic ice melts, no more water is displaced. But when “land-ice” melts and slides into the oceans, water levels rise around the world. An increase in temperature in one place can trigger an environmental disaster in another. If Antarctic Ice Sheets (WAIS), estimated to contain one million cubic miles of ice, were to melt, it would lead to global flooding and the disappearance of most ports around the world. Bangladesh would be under water; the Netherlands would be endangered and much of Florida and Louisiana would disappear.
Humans and degrees
98.6 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT. The human temperature under the tongue is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37.1 degrees Celsius). If the temperature varies 2% in any direction you will feel sick and if it varies 5% in any direction it is time to go to the hospital. However, internal temperature varies depending on the organ, metabolism, and blood flow. No single gene has been confirmed to control temperature.
98.6 DEGREES IS CHEMISTRY. The first evidence of man is traced to two million years ago and in Africa. There, the daily temperature was low 70s (F). A body temperature in the high 90s optimized the dissipation of heat generated by metabolic processes. Man’s move to cooler areas has been handled with bonfires and clothing. There is no significant effect on body temperature. The main reason for thermoregulation is the optimization of complicated sets of chemical reactions that allow humans to perform difficult activities.
A DELICATE BALANCE. Chemical reactions usually occur faster when the temperature rises, so a fluctuating brain temperature would lead to unpredictable reactions. When the surplus cannot be emptied and information arrives too quickly, the system breaks down. Humans, other mammals, and birds are most effectively around 100 degrees (F) and most comfortable with an external temperature of about 20-30 degrees below our own temperature (provides a comfortable heat loss). If it is colder, we lose heat too quickly and if it is warmer, we retain too much. We regulate this with clothes, blankets and muscular activity such as shaking or sweating.
FEVER BOILS THE DEFENSE. Heat shock proteins are often called stress proteins and are thought to play an important role in diseases. The immune system works by recognizing intruders, attacking back, and destroying them. But there may be an intermediate stage where the intruder triggers stress proteins that alert the immune system. These proteins play an important role in the human fever response where the rise in temperature in case of disease is simply a way to stimulate our body to increase hsp production (everything from fruit flies to humans has hsp production).
HIGHER TEMPERATURES ARE CREATED. The ability to create fire allowed people to move towards harsher climates (especially if they had hunting tools and clothes). Man has since created ever higher temperatures, a development that includes the combustion of coal, the production of bronze and irons, the steam engine, the 19th century large Bessemer furnaces (manufactured steel) and finally nuclear power. The story can be read 0 degrees, 500, 1000, 2000, 2500 and finally millions of degrees Fahrenheit. In the last 200 years, lower temperatures have also been achieved in laboratories as all known gas species have been liquefied.
Published in: 2021
In this book, Bill Gates tries to decipher the complex connections to explain what research says about the climate issue. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased dramatically since the 1850s due to human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels. We have already raised the temperature by at least 1 degree celsius since the industrial age, and if we do not reduce emissions, it will probably be between 1.5 and 3 degrees warmer in 2050 and between 4 and 8 degrees warmer by 2100. This book is about what it takes to stop this and why we can do it.
FROM 51 BILLION TO ZERO. 51 billion is the number of tonnes of greenhouse gases that the world emits into the atmosphere on average each year. The figure may vary slightly from year to year, but in general it is increasing. Zero is what we must strive for. To stop warming and avoid the worst effects of climate change – and they become very unpleasant – we must stop releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. To avoid a climate catastrophe, we must (1) bring down emissions to zero, (2) use all the resources we have – such as sun and wind – in a faster and smarter way, and (3) we must develop and apply all technological breakthroughs that can take us the rest of the way.
WHY ZERO? Because the greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for so long, the planet stays warm long after we have reached zero. About one-fifth of the carbon dioxide emitted today will remain in 10,000 years. There is no scenario where the world stops getting warmer if we continue to increase the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the hotter it gets, the harder it will be for humans to survive – even less feel good. We do not know exactly how much damage will be caused by a certain temperature rise, but we have every reason to worry.
HOW MUCH GREENHOUSE GAS IS RELEASED BY CATEGORY. Manufacturing (cement, steel, plastic) accounts for 31% of emissions. Energy production accounts for 27%. Agriculture / cultivation (plants and animals) accounts for 19%. Transport (aircraft, trucks, cargo ships) accounts for 16%. Heating and cooling account for 7%. Some things, like electricity and cars, get a lot of attention. Passenger cars account for 47% of all emissions from the transport sector (garbage trucks, buses and trucks 30%, cargo cruise ships 10%, aircraft 10% and the other 3%), which in turn is 16% of the world’s total emissions. These are important, but improvement needs to happen everywhere.
A BALANCING ACT. The world is emitting less greenhouse gases this year  than last year because economic activity has slowed down so sharply due to Covid-19. The decline in 2020 will probably be somewhere around 5%. In real terms, this means that we emit between 48 and 49 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases instead of 51 billion. This small decrease in emissions proves that we cannot reach zero simply by not flying and driving as much as before. We have with Covid now seen the high societal cost – deaths, unemployment, mental health, etc – of putting the world on paus. In addition, there is the perspective that the world must produce more energy so that the poorest can get better. We must produce energy without emitting more greenhouse gases – it must be clean energy.
POPULATION GROWTH. The world’s population will be approaching 10 billion at the end of the century. By 2060, the world’s building stock will have doubled. It’s like building a new New York every month for 40 years, and that’s mainly due to the growth in developing countries like China, India and Nigeria. What happens when more people live as the richest 16 percent do today? Global energy demand will have risen by 50 percent by 2050, and if nothing else changes, emissions will rise almost as much. It will not be easy to get electricity from all over the world from clean sources. Today, fossil fuels account for two-thirds of all electricity generated worldwide (Coal 36%, natural gas 23%, hydropower 16%, nuclear power 10%, renewable 11%, oil 3% and other 1%). Today, the United States spends only 2% of its GDP on electricity. The main reason is that fossil fuels are cheap.
ELECTRICITY AND DENSITY. As the numbers get high quickly, it is convenient to use abbreviations. One kilowatt is 1,000 watts, one megawatt is 1 million and one gigawatt is 1 billion. In the world, 3,000 gigawatts are consumed, in the United States 500 gigawatts, in a medium-sized American city 1 gigawatt, in a small town 1 megawatt and in an average American home 1 kilowatt. An important factor is energy density. Different energy sources can generate different amounts per square meter: fossil fuels (500-10,000 watts per square meter), nuclear power (500-1000), solar energy (5-20), hydropower – dams (5-50), wind (1-2) and firewood and other biomass (less than 1).
ENERGY TRANSITION TAKES TIME. The wind does not always blow, and the sun does not always shine, and we do not have cheap batteries that can store energy long enough for large cities. Many have heard of Moore’s law, Gordon Moore’s prediction in 1965 that the capacity of microprocessors would double every two years. He was right. But computer chips are something in themselves. The solar panels, for example, have not become a million times better. When crystalline silicone solar cells were introduced in the 1970s, they converted c.15% of sunlight into electricity. Today, they convert c.25%. It’s good but far from Moore’s team.
ENERGY STORAGE. Solar power costs about 5 cents per kilowatt hour. The price for the electricity from this if we were to store overnight is three times higher than what we pay during the day: 5 cents to generate and 10 cents to store, a total of 15 cents. There are researchers who believe they can manufacture a battery with 5x longer life. They have not done so yet, but if they are right, it would push down the extra cost from 10 to 2 cents. Nothing can be more important than taking advantage of today’s renewable energy sources and improving transmission.
LITHIUM BATTERIES. Lithium-ion batteries – despite their limitations – are the best we can hope for. Researchers have studied all the metals that we could use in batteries, and it seems unlikely that there are materials that could provide better batteries than the ones we already design. Gates thinks we can improve them by a factor of 3x but not by a factor of 50x. The larger the vehicle to be moved and the longer it is to be driven without charging, the more difficult it will be to have electricity as an energy source. Unless an unlikely breakthrough occurs, batteries will never be so light and powerful that they can move aircraft and ships more than short distances. In addition, the production of electricity accounts for only 27% of all emissions. Even if we had a huge breakthrough in batteries, we would still have to get rid of the other 73%.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES – THE POSTER CHILD. The price difference between electric cars and petrol-powered cars has shrunk dramatically in recent years. This is largely due to the fact that batteries have become much cheaper – a reduction of 87% since 2010 – and also to various tax breaks and government measures to ensure that there are more emission-free cars on the roads. In some countries in Europe, petrol prices are so high that the green additional cost of electric cars has already come down to zero. As battery prices continue to fall, Gates predict that the additional cost of most cars in the US will also be zero by 2030. With so many electric buses sold In China, Gates believes that the green additional cost of buses will be reduced to zero within 10 years, which means that most major cities in the world can switch to electricity.
THE COST MAKES INVESTMENTS WORTH IT. Recent models show that the cost of climate change in 2030 is likely to be between 0.85 and 1.5 percent of US GDP per year. Current estimates of the cost of Covid-19 in the United States this year vary between 7-10 percent of GDP. Assuming a similar disturbance occurs once every ten years, it means an average annual cost of 0.7 to 1 percent of GDP, roughly equivalent to the damage that climate change is expected to cause.
Chouinard is a legendary climber, surfer and environmentalist. He is also the reluctant entrepreneur who founded Patagonia, Inc., one of the most respected eco and socially conscious companies in the world. We have recently written a Brief on his book “Let my people go surfing”.
Richard Wolfson is Benjamin F. Wissler Professor of Physics at Middlebury College, where he also teaches environmental studies. He did undergraduate work at MIT and Swarthmore, double-majoring in physics and philosophy. He holds a master’s in environmental studies from the University of Michigan, and PhD in physics from Dartmouth.
This course of 12 half-hour lectures reviews the most up-to-date research on climate change, explaining the concepts, tools, data, and analysis that have led an overwhelming number of climate scientists to conclude that Earth is warming and that we humans are in great part responsible. The course can be found here.
A cinematic journey through humanity’s massive impact on the earth, which has taken us into a new geological age. The film team has traveled to six continents and 20 countries to document and show how humans have changed the earth. Canadian documentary from 2018.