Capitalism broke the planet. Here’s how it’s going to fix things

The environment and high finance are strange bedfellows – but a new movement is raising billions to fight climate change. A breakthrough – or green hogwash?

Pile of coins

Chris Knorr/Getty; Gioele Calvanese/EyeEm/Getty

A MID-LIFE crisis brought Sean Kidney his epiphany. “My father died and I had a stroke,” he says. “It was a wake-up call about what I was doing to create a world my kids could survive in.” Kidney had been a consultant on top Australian pension funds, but now he vowed to put his skills to use in a new way: combatting climate change.

Finance and the environment are traditionally uneasy bedfellows, but they have been getting cosier of late. Buoyant returns from green investments, plus the ever clearer financial repercussions of climate inaction, have drawn vast flows of money into projects to combat and mitigate global warming. It’s also spawning alternative types of investment designed to help save the planet. Could capitalism succeed where governments have largely failed – or is this all green hogwash?

The fixation on fast returns makes finance seemingly ill-equipped to cope with a long-term problem like climate change. Traders’ algorithms make money over timespans of milliseconds; CEOs can be hired and fired based on quarterly returns; even central banks tend to work on two or three-year cycles when setting monetary policy. Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, acknowledged as much in a speech in 2015. Climate change is a “tragedy of the horizon”, he said at Lloyd’s, the London-based insurer. “Once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.”

Since then, however, a new wind has begun blowing. Low-carbon technologies have continued to mature, with solar energy in particular graduating from high-cost niche to financial superstardom, thanks …

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New Scientist – Earth

How to keep the lights on without burning the planet

Ditching fossil fuels to go 100 per cent renewable is a dream within reach – thanks to new tech that keep things humming even when wind and sun aren’t there

renewable artwork

Roberto Cigna

TO STAND any chance of halting runaway climate change, we need to squelch carbon emissions down to near zero by mid-century. That means getting off filthy fossil fuels – and fast. Few scientists would disagree with that, but there is precious little consensus on how to do it. Nuclear fission power is expensive and mired in controversy. Nuclear fusion, directly harnessing the kind of reactions that power the sun, remains a distant dream. Meanwhile, renewable energy is too unreliable to meet all our power demands.

Or is it? Clean energy technologies have come on leaps and bounds in the past decade or so. More recently, an impassioned debate has broken out among energy experts as to whether “100 per cent renewables” is now within our grasp and, if so, how we get there. “We can really mess this up,” says Dan Kammen, an energy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. “Just because we can make the shift doesn’t mean we will.” But the path we need to take – and the hurdles we face – are increasingly clear.

The renewables revolution has gathered momentum in recent years thanks to free-falling prices. And as clean becomes cheap, installation is surging. The world added 98 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy last year – more than any other energy source. Over half of that, 53 GW, was in China, which has long been the world’s biggest consumer of dirty coal.

In California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, renewables already provide over a third of electricity and will surpass 50 per cent well before 2030. Germany is aiming to get at least …

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New Scientist – Earth

Fixing planet plastic: How we’ll really solve our waste problem

plastic bags

Stephen Wilkes/Gallery Stock

BY NOW, it is just a question of which heart-rending image you choose. There is the hawksbill turtle struggling to free itself from a plastic bag. The sea of polystyrene trash floating over a Caribbean nature reserve. Or the sperm whale washed ashore in Spain, its stomach filled with plastic waste.

Since the introduction of mass-produced plastics in the early 20th century, humanity has produced an estimated 8300 million tonnes of the stuff. Around three-quarters has been thrown away, and 80 per cent of that has drifted into the environment or gone into landfill. Eight million tonnes a year end up in the ocean – 5 trillion pieces and counting.

It is an environmental catastrophe and a human one, too, as some people in parts of the developing world live ankle-deep in filthy, non-biodegrading plastic trash. The long-term health implications for all of us remain uncertain, as ingested plastic works its way up the food chain.

Everyone agrees something must be done. From banning plastic straws to rebooting recycling systems to harnessing plastic-munching bacteria, there is no shortage of touted solutions. It is less clear what would work best. But fixing the plastic waste crisis is going to take some seriously joined-up thinking. If we make the wrong decisions now, we risk making the problem worse.

If plastics didn’t exist, we would have to invent them. Generally made of oil-derived polymers, they can be hung with different chemical groups and spiced up with additives to give them wildly differing properties such as hardness, strength, density and heat-resistance. This makes them just the thing for everything from colourful, durable kids’ toys …

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New Scientist – Earth

In “Huge Win for Pollinators, People and the Planet,” EU Bans Bee-Killing Pesticides

The European Union on Friday voted to ban agricultural pesticides that are harmful to bees and which scientists have warned could have a broader impact on the global food chain. (Photo: Dejan Hudoletnjak/Flickr/cc)The European Union on Friday voted to ban agricultural pesticides that are harmful to bees and which scientists have warned could have a broader impact on the global food chain. (Photo: Dejan Hudoletnjak / Flickr)

Faced with mounting scientific evidence that bee-poisoning neonicotinoids, or neonics, could cause an “ecological armageddon,” European regulators on Friday approved a “groundbreaking” and “historic” ban on the widely-used class of pesticides — an announcement met with immediate applause by campaigners.

“The E.U.’s groundbreaking ban on bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides is a huge win for pollinators, people, and the planet,” responded Tiffany Finck-Haynes, senior food futures campaigner for Friends of the Earth (FOE).

Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s environmental health program, said it’s also a win for “science-based regulation of pesticides.”

Under the new rules, which build on existing restrictions and are expected to take effect by the end of the year, three main neonics — imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam — will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses “where no contact with bees is expected,” according to a statement by the European Union (EU).

Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for health and food safety, welcomed the move, which follows a February assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that concluded “most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honeybees.”

“Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production, and the environment,” Andriukaitis told the Guardian.

The vote was widely praised by the many environmental advocates who have spent years fighting for an outright ban on the use of neonics — a position that has been met with protests from major agricultural groups and lobbyists for pesticide manufacturers.

“Authorizing neonicotinoids during a quarter of a century was a mistake and led to an environmental disaster. Today’s vote is historic,” declared Martin Dermine of Pesticide Action Network Europe.

“A majority of member states gave a clear signal that our agriculture needs transition,” Dermine added. “Using bee-killing pesticides cannot be allowed anymore and only sustainable practices should be used to produce our food.”

While celebrating their victory in Europe, critics of neonics also used the news to draw attention to alarming developments at the US Environmental Protection Agency in the era of President Donald Trump.

“The E.U.’s wisdom highlights the Trump EPA’s folly,” noted Burd. “Although US beekeepers reported catastrophic losses again this winter, and just this past week the EPA closed a comment period on another suite of damning neonicotinoid risk assessments, rather than banning these dangerous pesticides, the agency is actually considering increasing the use of neonics across another 165 million acres.”

Instead, Finck-Haynes said, US regulators and food retailers should “take immediate action and eliminate the use of these toxic pesticides.”

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