• Meet the new “renewable superpowers”: nations that boss the materials used for wind and solar

    Imagine a world where every country has not only complied with the Paris climate agreement but has moved away from fossil fuels entirely. How would such a change affect global politics? The twentieth century was dominated by coal, oil and natural gas, but a shift to zero-emission energy generation and transport means a new set of elements will become key. Solar energy, for instance, still primarily uses silicon technology, for which the major raw material is the rock quartzite. Lithium represents the key limiting resource for most batteries – while rare earth metals, in particular “lanthanides” such as neodymium, are required for the magnets in wind turbine generators. Copper is the conductor of choice for wind power, being used in the generator windings, power cables, transformers and inverters. In considering this future it is necessary to understand who wins and loses by a switch from carbon to silicon, copper, lithium, and rare earth metals.

  • Running out of water: Cape Town, the U.S., and drought

    The recent news that Cape Town, South Africa—a modern city of nearly 4 million residents (plus over 1.5 million tourists yearly)—was on the brink of running out of water, the taps about to run dry, put water back into the headlines. After years of drought in several American states, could this happen closer to home? “The current crisis in Cape Town will almost inevitably repeat itself elsewhere,” says an expert. “Because of geography, many cities in the United States and the world are highly or entirely reliant on local precipitation. In California, for example, most of the Central Coast, including Monterey and Santa Cruz, currently depend on local rainfall. Given climate change, moreover, droughts in the arid regions of the world are likely to become more frequent and more severe. Warmer temperatures, moreover, will raise evapotranspiration rates—increasing agricultural water needs and the amount of stored water lost to evaporation.”

  • Studying Caribbean hurricane damage to reduce hurricane risks worldwide

    The biggest natural disaster to ever hit the Caribbean island of Dominica is now likely to provide guidelines for reducing the risk globally of disaster from hurricanes. Scientists are surveying the damage to Dominica’s landscape, infrastructure and communities following the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Dominica was devastated by the hurricane last September which left 68 people dead or missing. The hurricane registered as Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum wind speeds of 260 km/h.

  • Cape Town water crisis highlights a worldwide problem

    The water supply is running dry in Cape Town, South Africa. The city’s reservoirs are shrinking as a three-year drought wears on. If it doesn’t rain soon, the drought could bring South Africa’s second most populous city to its knees. Cape Town residents are adapting as best they can. They are skipping showers and finding new ways to conserve and reuse their meager allowance of 50 liters (13 gallons) per person per day. That allowance may soon be cut in half, too. As soon as April or May, Cape Town could reach “Day Zero,” when the city will shut off the taps in homes and businesses. Residents will need to line up at collection stations to gather their water rations. Only hospitals, schools, and other essential services would still receive piped water. If things continue on in this way, Cape Town is in danger of becoming the world’s first major city to run entirely out of water. How can this happen in a city of four million residents? And what other cities may be at risk?

  • With glaciers disappearing, will water become scarce?

    There are around 200,000 glaciers worldwide. They play a central role in the water cycle, particularly in the middle and low latitudes, by offsetting runoff fluctuations. Rivers are lifelines on which billions of people depend worldwide, either directly or indirectly. The world’s largest rivers begin in glaciated mountain regions. Climate change may cause many glaciers to disappear. Will water become scarce? Will the Alps, the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains and the Andes continue to act as water towers? Climate change is a global problem with local consequences. If the international community succeeds in restricting the temperature rise to an acceptable level via contributions from each individual member, the effects may be mitigated. Many glaciers would still shrink significantly even with major climate protection efforts, but the consequences for water resources would be more moderate.

  • Desalination: global examples show how Cape Town could up its game

    Day zero is looming for Cape Town and a dedicated and efficient long-term solution to South Africa’s water woes must be found. The weather can’t be controlled and drought patterns for the region are set to worsen. It’s time to stop relying solely on rainfall and dam levels for clean water as a critical resource. South Africa boasts a coastline of over 2500 kilometers so it should be considering the oceans as an abundant water supply. Converting seawater to clean drinking water can be achieved by desalination, a proven technology that’s been used around the world. Desalination plants have dramatically increased in number and sophistication around the world due to membrane technology breakthroughs and energy saving equipment. Three global examples in Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Israel show that South Africa could increase water output in a timely and cost effective way.

  • Keeping the lights on if the world turns to 100% clean, renewable energy

    Researchers propose three separate ways to avoid blackouts if the world transitions all its energy to electricity or direct heat and provides the energy with 100 percent wind, water, and sunlight. The solutions reduce energy requirements, health damage, and climate damage. “Based on these results, I can more confidently state that there is no technical or economic barrier to transitioning the entire world to 100 percent clean, renewable energy with a stable electric grid at low cost,” says one researcher.

  • Mexico’s September 2017 tremor highlights successes of seismic early warning system

    Mexico’s earthquake early warning system gave Mexico City’s residents almost two minutes of warning prior to the arrival of strong seismic waves from the 7 September 2017 Tehuantepec earthquake centered off the southern coast of Mexico, according to a new study. The magnitude 8.2 earthquake is the largest earthquake detected by the alert system, known as SASMEX, since it began operations in 1993. SASMEX also sent an alert for the magnitude 7.1 Morelos earthquake that occurred on 19 September. The alerts highlighted how some recent improvements to the system may help decrease the time needed to receive, detect and broadcast the alerts, but they also point to places where the system can improve in the future.

  • Can Israel help solve Cape Town’s water crisis?

    Within three months, South Africa’s capital city and biggest tourist destination may become the first major city in the world to run out of water. The four million residents of Cape Town will have their water supplies cut off unless the city manages to reduce daily consumption by 20 percent. The “Day Zero” shutdown is expected for mid-May 2018 and is recalculated every week based on current reservoir capacity and daily consumption. The crisis is mostly attributed to three years of unprecedented drought that has dried up the city’s six-dam reservoir system. If the dams fall below 13.5 percent capacity before the start of the rainy season in June, taps will be turned off and residents will have to line up at municipal points to collect their allotted 25 liters per day. As ‘Day Zero’ approaches, experts weigh in on how Israel may be able to help Cape Town and other water-scarce locations avoid future disasters.

  • Cape Town water crisis should serve as a “wakeup call to all major U.S. cities”: Expert

    Cape Town, South Africa is hurtling towards a water apocalypse with “Day Zero” — when authorities will turn off the taps — pegged for the first half of April. The crisis, which has placed the city in peril, was caused by years of draught, insufficient and aging infrastructure, and population growth. To find out what this means for Cape Town residents and if a similar disaster could strike Phoenix, ASU Now turned to Dave White, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, a unit within ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions and director of Decision Center for a Desert City.

  • Sea level rise will make Oregon’s existing flooding problems worse

    The hot spots of sea level rise in the United States tend to be located on the East and Gulf Coasts, where sinking land and changes in ocean circulation are amplifying the global sea level rise rate. But when we take a deeper dive into our interactive maps of chronic flooding due to sea level rise, it’s clear that small but significant areas within many of Oregon’s idyllic coastal towns–Coos Bay and Tillamook, for example–are also at risk of chronic inundation in the coming decades. Because it will take decades for the benefits of emissions reductions to be felt, today’s business owners may not benefit from such reductions themselves. But for the towns of coastal Oregon to continue to be dynamic, thriving places for the next generation of entrepreneurs and residents, the case for building resilience to flooding and reducing carbon emissions is clear.

  • Hazard mitigation, recovery plans for coastal cities

    The field of urban planning is gaining interest as cities around the world are facing increased exposure to weather-related risks and hazards ranging from sea level rise and flooding to temperature build-up and urban heat island effect. A recently completed five-year research project examined 175 hazard mitigation plans adopted by counties and municipalities along the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific Northwest coastlines. These local governments are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to adopt such plans to be eligible for pre-disaster and post-disaster mitigation funds. The National Research Council concluded that land use strategies that guide growth away from hazard areas are the most promising long-term solution to reducing risk; yet, land use strategies are rarely used. Instead, mitigation plans emphasize other mitigation approaches like levees, elevation of buildings and emergency management.

  • Climate change-related risks to 50% of U.S. military infrastructure: Pentagon

    Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics released a comprehensive new survey of climate change-related risks to military infrastructure worldwide. The vulnerability assessment does not offer any specific cost estimates related to these vulnerabilities, but it does paint a concerning picture of current climate change-related risks to military installations both at home and abroad, with around 50 percent of 1,684 sites reporting damage from six key categories of those risks: Flooding due to storm surge; flooding due to non-storm surge events (e.g., rain, snow, sleet, ice, river overflow); extreme temperatures (both hot and cold); wind; drought; and wildfire. Given that rapid climate change is projected to exacerbate most of the above categories of risks throughout this century (its effect on wind is less certain), the reasonable expectation is that vulnerabilities to military sites will only increase.

  • Be prepared: Society saves $6 for every $1 spent preparing for natural disasters

    A new report from the National Institute of Building Sciences, a public-private partnership Congress established in 1974, examines the cost savings of preparing for natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, many of which are worsened by climate change. The report builds on, and updates, the Institute’s groundbreaking 2005 analysis of the same name. The original analysis found that for every dollar invested in pre-disaster mitigation there is a $4 savings to society. The new report makes an even stronger case for advanced planning, finding that for every $1 invested in federally funded pre-disaster mitigation grants society saves $6, and for every $1 spent on building codes society saves $4.

  • Critical infrastructure firms face crackdown over poor cybersecurity

    An EU-wide cybersecurity law is due to come into force in May to ensure that organizations providing critical national infrastructure services have robust systems in place to withstand cyberattacks. The legislation will insist on a set of cybersecurity standards that adequately address events such as last year’s WannaCry ransomware attack, which crippled some ill-prepared NHS services across England. But, after a consultation process in the U.K. ended last autumn, the government had been silent until now on its implementation plans for the forthcoming law. A set of 14 guiding principles were drawn up, with the NCSC providing detailed advice including helpful links to existing cybersecurity standards. However, the cyber assessment framework, originally promised for release in January this year, won’t be published by the NCSC until late April – a matter of days before the NIS comes into force. Nonetheless, the NIS directive presents a good drive to improve standards for cybersecurity in essential services, and it is supported by sensible advice from the NCSC with more to come. It would be a shame if the positive aspects of this ended up obscured by hype and panic over fines.