The flood barriers that might save Venice

The first thing it resembles – this private, manmade island, straddling the Adriatic Sea and the Venetian lagoon – is a Bond villain’s lair. The second – as you dock at the private pontoon, walk past the Brutalist concrete façade, and into a “control room” where staff watch monitors tracking the waters around the island 24/7 – is something out of “Squid Game”, CNN reports.

In fact, as sinister as it sounds, this 144,000 square meter (35.6 acres) island which keeps a silent tab on Venice around the clock isn’t a malign force – it’s there to protect one of the world’s most fragile cities. 

The nameless island – situated between the peninsula of Cavallino-Treporti (which curls out from the Italian mainland, putting a protective arm around the Venetian lagoon) and the Lido island, a giant sandbar that blocks off most of the historical center of Venice from the Adriatic Sea – is the beating heart of the MOSE: the system of flood barriers that have, after 1,200 years, allowed the floating city to stand up to rising sea levels. 

It has taken its time. The MOSE – Italian for Moses, and short for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, or Experimental Electromechanical Model – has been in the works since 1984. But it took nearly four decades to build, being beset by delays and corruption to such an extent – a former mayor went on trial for embezzling money from the project – that many Venetians believed it would never work.

Their fears were proved groundless on October 3, 2020, however, when, as regularly happens in winter, Venice was hit by an exceptionally high tide.

A tide that was 135 centimeters (53 inches) above normal levels hit Venice. Usually, that would have put around half the city underwater, but this time, the city remained dry. It was the first time the MOSE had been raised in adverse weather conditions. It was, as one Venetian told at the time, “historic… like the first step of Armstrong on the moon.” 

Fourteen months later, the MOSE has been raised 33 times: 13 in 2020, and 20 so far in 2021. (The flooding period typically runs from October to March.) The naysayers appear to have been proven wrong – not once has it failed to protect the city when raised.

The yellowfins poking ever so slightly out of the sea tend to look fragile against the raging Adriatic, in footage taken when they’re raised – normally during storms whipped up by rough sirocco winds, which blast the city from the south. 

But get up close, and you realize appearances can be deceptive. Each of these enormous barriers is 20-30 meters (66-98 feet) long, and 20 meters wide. They are embedded in the seabed in concrete chests, 40 meters wide, 60 meters long, and 10 meters high. 

Oh, and there are 78 of them, spread in four lines, at the three entry points to the Venetian lagoon.

As a piece of infrastructure, the MOSE is a behemoth.

And yet, when the barriers are not in use, you don’t see a thing. Unlike flood barriers in northern Europe – and at a much greater expense – the MOSE was designed to be invisible when the barriers are not needed. 

A Bond-style island in no man’s land

The barriers at the Treporti inlet are split in two by an artificial island HQ.

The hub of the project is the specially constructed island floating in the middle of the northernmost entry point to the lagoon.

Overlooking the bucolic island of Sant’Erasmo, with the snow-tufted Dolomites on the horizon, it’s a “no man’s land between the sea and lagoon” where the lagoon and Adriatic waters converge, according to engineer and site director Alessandro Soru.

The “bocca di Treporti,” or Treporti inlet (“bocca” is Italian for mouth) is an almost mile-wide channel between Punta Sabbioni (the tip of Cavallino-Treporti) and the northernmost point of the Lido island. 

There are two more entry points to the lagoon: at Malamocco, on the southern tip of the Lido, and another one at Chioggia, a fishing town at the southernmost point of the lagoon.

Treporti is by far the widest channel, though, and the level of the seabed varies from between 20 to 40 feet here. So, rather than create a massive barrier of varying height, the island has been created to divide the inlet into two. It also provides a space for the headquarters of the MOSE, which might otherwise disturb tourists in the campsites and beaches of Punta Sabbioni. 

‘Proper James Bond’

The control room monitors the lagoon from the safety of the artificial island.

Inside, a wall of monitors in the control room streams live CCTV footage of boats passing through the three channels. It also feeds in information on weather and tide levels and monitors the barriers when they are raised.

One screen monitors the level of the lagoon and the sea levels: blue for the former, red for the latter. 

On normal days, both blue and red lines rise and fall together like a heartbeat monitor – spiking at high tide, then hitting a trough at low.

On a recent date, however – December 8, 2021 – the lines spectacularly diverged.

The red line, denoting the Adriatic tide level, spiked high at 130 centimeters (51 inches) above the average, while the blue lagoon line followed it for a while, then plunged, then leveled out far below the red line, before eventually descending together. 

On that date, at 8.58 p.m., the MOSE was raised as the tide hit 80 centimeters. That quick plunge? Physics – more specifically, the fluid dynamics of Bernoulli’s principle, meaning the lagoon level took a quick dip to 50 centimeters, before stabilizing at 80 centimeters for the next 12 hours. The MOSE was lowered at 8.44 a.m. the following day, when the two lines converged again. 

In good weather, there are a couple of people here on day shift, as well as a team of four in the tunnel, 62 feet below, where half-mile tunnels in the concrete cases below the fins connect the island to the Lido and Punta Sabbioni, and the underwater humidity can be felt in your bones. 

The underwater tunnel follows the barrier from Punta Sabbioni to the Lido.

Warrens of pipes carrying the air to fill the barriers run underfoot in the tunnel, while chambers leading off from the side house the valves connecting the fins to the concrete bunkers. Each can be sealed off from the main corridor with the flick of a button, and it can operate even if, in a disaster, water gets in. Soru points to a porthole in the corner of the room: “That’s so you can get in via a sub, if it’s flooded – proper James Bond,” he says. 

But when tides are high, this is the 24/7 hub of the whole operation, with a 100-strong team operating in the control room, in the underwater tunnels, and in the lagoon, as boats zip around to bring workers to the island – since there’s no public transport. There’s even accommodation so workers can sleep here between shifts. 

How the MOSE works

In normal weather, the yellow fin sits flush in its concrete case on the seabed.
In normal weather, the yellowfin sits flush in its concrete case on the seabed.

After decades of initial controversy, the building of the MOSE began in 2009, with the last “fin” installed in June 2019, on the Lido side of the Treporti island.

The Venice lagoon is notoriously shallow – the average depth is just 1 meter (3.3 feet). But the inlets from the Adriatic are much deeper – Malamocco, the entrance to the industrial port is 14 meters (46 feet) deep, for example. Although they didn’t alter the depth of the inlets, engineers excavated the seabed along all three to make room for the concrete “cases,” which fit flush along the seabed.

The 14,000-ton cases were cast in concrete on the mainland, then floated into position and sunk beneath the water, while the debris removed from the seabed was used to build the island at Treporti – the “works citadel,” as Soru calls it. 

Inside the concrete chests sit the metal floodgates, treated every three months with an anti-corrosive – non-toxic, because of the lagoon ecosystem. Each of the 78 barriers is a uniform 20 meters (65 feet) wide, and varies from 20-30 meters in length, depending on the depth of the water. 

They can resist waves of up to 3 meters above normal tide levels – significantly more even than the record 194 centimeters (76 inches) tide that devastated the city in 1966.

venice flood barrier 20
Air is pumped into the fin, which raises it above the water. To lower it, the air is replaced with water.

How they work is down to a surprisingly simple hydraulics method. Lying dormant on the seabed, the hollow barriers are filled with water to weigh them down. 

To raise them, air is pumped into the fins, as the water drains out. They float upwards until they emerge above the water – at which point they form a barrier with the Adriatic surging against them one side, the lagoon relatively calm – and low – on the other.

When the tide subsides, water is pumped back into the fins and air expelled, causing them to sink down again and settle in their cases. It takes just 32 minutes to raise them, and about half that to lower them – that’s down from 91 minutes last year, according to Elisabetta Spitz, the “extraordinary commissioner” responsible for the project, who reports to the Italian government.

An underwater tunnel to maintain the fins sits 140 steps below the water.
An underwater tunnel to maintain the fins sits 140 steps below the water.

The process sounds simple, but has been honed to a precise degree. Between each barrier is an almost 3-inch gap, to release some of the intense pressure on the fins as they withstand the Adriatic. For the same reason, they’re raised four or five at a time, instead of all at once. They can work independently, too – so engineers can choose to raise just some of the barriers, to slow down the flow of water into the lagoon, or lower them temporarily at Malamocco to let an industrial ship go through to Venice’s port – Italy’s second busiest, and the fifth in the Mediterranean.

That also means, says Soru, that if, as people fear, one barrier ever fails to raise, it won’t stop the MOSE working as a whole. Not that that’s happened in the year that it’s been protecting the city. 

Finger on the button

The floods of November 2019 caused over $1 billion damage.
The floods of November 2019 caused over $1 billion damage.

Deciding to raise the barriers is a complicated process. Two establishments study the weather predictions: the Centro Maree di Venezia, which monitors tide levels for the city, and the Sala Operativa Consorzio Venezia Nuova, which is responsible for the MOSE. Both use different modeling and compare their forecasts. 

Spitz calls the process a “series of warnings, from 48 hours before the tide until three hours before.” 

It’s not just the MOSE operatives who receive it. “It informs everyone who operates in the lagoon to get going, because everyone has to do something – from the guy driving the trash-collecting boat who needs to change course, to ships needing to go in and out,” she explains.

Fifteen minutes before that three-hour warning, Spitz and a government representative get an email, “summarizing everything that’s happened in the preceding hours and asking for confirmation to proceed.

“For example, if there’s a ship running late because it’s been caught in bad weather, we can decide to leave a part of the barrier open to let it in. 

“We intervene only if there are exceptional events that mean we need to deviate from the procedure. If not the procedure goes ahead without intervention.”

It’s not just sea level and wind speed that they need to take into account — rainfall raises the water level around the city, as do swollen rivers disgorging into the lagoon. “Even if a tide of 95cm is predicted, we don’t know if the barriers will go up,” says Soru. 

Last year, on December 8, Venice was hit by a 138cm flood, causing extensive damage to the city, just weeks after the MOSE had shown it never need to happen again. The reason? Only 125cm had been predicted, but wind, rain and river water rocketed the sea level up. 

The 2019 floods devastated local businesses including hotels.
The 2019 floods devastated local businesses including hotels.

“I take responsibility for it,” says Spitz. “It was one of the first raisings, we had a procedure that was a bit more complicated and as acqua alta [flooding] wasn’t predicted, we took the decision to not mobilize it.

“But it was one of the first tries, and we understood the process needed to be made more automatic, so we updated the procedure. It was our fault. But today it wouldn’t happen.”

“It was disastrous, but we learn from experience – now we raise the barriers a few centimeters earlier,” says Soru.

When the MOSE is fully operational in 2023, the barriers will be raised when the water level hits 110cm (43in) above the regular level. That won’t help the lowest areas of the city, such as St. Mark’s Square which floods at around 90cm; but it will protect around 86% of Venice, including most residential areas. 

In fact, says Soru, the barriers will be raised when it looks like the tide will hit 100cm, to account for wind and rain raising the water levels. 

For now, though, with the barriers in a final stage of tests, they’re raised when the tide is predicted to hit 130cm. 

The criticism

The barriers raised for the first time in bad weather on October 3, 2020.
The barriers were raised for the first time in bad weather on October 3, 2020.

Of course, projects of this size are rarely without their detractors. One of the main criticisms leveled at the MOSE is that the barriers interfere with the lagoon ecosystem, turning it into a pond rather than a living lagoon.

But, says Spitz, when the barriers were up for 48 hours last year, that was as a trial, to test their resistance. In the future, even in periods when the barriers are up daily, it will only be for a few hours at a time. They have also installed locks at Chioggia and Malamocco to enable some fishing vessels and industrial ships to pass while the barriers are up. 

“When it goes up, it’s three, four hours maximum,” she says. “And then it’s not a given that you have to raise all the barriers. There are many possibilities and much flexibility. We’re trialing all of them to target choices better to the needs that will gradually show up. Every time we do a raise, we prepare dozens of tests to get the answers we need, understand the function and make it better.”

And while St. Mark’s Square floods at a level well below that at which the MOSE kicks in, another project – though delayed – is due to construct a glass barrier around the famous Byzantine basilica. Protection for the businesses in the square, however – like historic café Quadri – is a long way off. Its manager, Roberto Pepe, previously told that the MOSE’s cut-off point of 110 centimeters “changes nothing and leaves a sour taste” for those whose livelihoods rely on the piazza.

Spitz insists that she didn’t choose the cut-off points – a committee of local and national governance did. Access to the port was also taken into consideration.

When raised, the barriers cut off the three main entry points to the lagoon.
When raised, the barriers cut off the three main entry points to the lagoon.

“We need to save Venice, Chioggia, the islands – Murano, Burano, and lots of small islands are even worse off in front of high tides,” she says.

“But above all we need to find a point of mediation between economic needs – of those who operate in the lagoon – and the need to protect. That’s the big question we’ll need to take forward down the line.”

Another criticism of MOSE? The exorbitant overheads. The MOSE cost around $8 billion to build, and accounts from its first year suggest that it costs $328,000 to raise it every time – nearly double the original estimates.

The fins must be treated with anti-corrosive every three months, and their containers must be dredged twice per season, after a buildup of sand inside them meant that six fins could not be lowered during 2020 trials. The containers will need a thorough clean every five years.

Coping with climate change

Tourists typically navigate Venice flooding on raised walkways.
Tourists typically navigate Venice flooding on raised walkways.

The big question, of course, is how the MOSE can hold up to climate change. 

After the flood of December 2020, Claudio Vernier, president of the Associazione Piazza San Marco, which represents business owners in St. Mark’s Square, told that when the MOSE was initially planned, it was estimated that it would hit 110 centimeters only a couple of times a year.

“Now with the worsening climate crisis, the water level is always higher, and we see that kind of tide level 20 times a year – what will happen in 30 years?”, he asked.

Spitz and Soru, however, insist that the barriers will last longer than that.

“A study on corrosion we did a few months ago said that it can last for 100 years, but must be maintained every three months,” says Soru.

“If in 100 years the barriers aren’t enough, and we can’t hold off 3-meter tides, I can tell you the problem won’t be Venice,” adds Spitz.

“The lagoon is closed now. The protection is more than sufficient, the barriers are what they are. But you would need to think about protecting other areas – the problem would be much more in the Po delta [which covers much of northern Italy]. 

“If climate change is dramatic, there will be serious problems elsewhere. You’d need to look elsewhere, not at Venice.”

In the meantime, plans have been mooted to partially power the MOSE through solar panels. Installing them at Malamocco could provide 20% of power – but Spitz hopes to make the project carbon neutral within three years, to stand it in good stead for the future. 

Spitz arrived in 2019, well after the corruption trials of the MOSE. “I know there were scandals, I’ve read about them, and it’s right that they’re stigmatized and the people who did it were punished,” she says.

“But despite everything that happened with the MOSE, I say, long live the MOSE. Because it protects Venice.”

If she’s right, the devastating flood of November 2019 – which killed two and caused $1 billion damage to local businesses which have yet to recover, might be a thing of the past. And La Serenissima can rest a little more, well, serene. 

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Which Christmas tree should you choose to save the climate?

It’s the time of the year when most Americans finish Thanksgiving leftovers and venture out in search for the best holiday sales. More importantly, they plan their household centerpiece of the season: the Christmas tree, CNN reports.

While some revel in the scent of a real tree and the joy of picking one out at a local farm, others prefer the simplicity of artificial trees they can reuse for Christmases to come.

But consumers are becoming more climate-conscious, and considering which tree has the lowest impact on our rapidly warming planet has become a vital part of the holiday decision. Plus, choosing a planet-friendly tree will likely get you on Santa’s good list.

So, which kind of tree has the lowest carbon footprint — a natural tree or a store-bought plastic tree? It’s complicated, experts say. 

“It’s definitely a lot more nuanced and complex than you think,” Andy Finton, the landscape conservation director and forest ecologist for the Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts.

We’ve made a list — and checked it twice — of the things to know before you choose between real and artificial. 

The case for artificial trees

It’s easy to imagine that reusing an artificial tree year after year is the more sustainable option. But Finton says if an artificial tree is used for fewer than six years, the carbon cost is greater than investing in a natural tree.

“If the artificial trees are used for a longer lifespan, that balance changes,” Finton. “And I’ve read that it would take 20 years for the carbon balance to be about equivalent.”

That’s because artificial trees are typically made of polyvinyl chloride plastic, or PVC. Plastic is petroleum-based and created at pollution-belching petrochemical facilities. Studies have also linked PVC plastic to cancer and other public health and environmental risks. 

Then there’s the transportation aspect. According to the US Department of Commerce, most artificial Christmas trees are imported into the US from China, meaning the products are carried by fossil fuel-powered ships across the Pacific Ocean, then moved by heavy freight trucks before it ultimately lands on the distributor’s shelves or the consumer’s doorstep. 

The American Christmas Tree Association, a nonprofit that represents artificial tree manufacturers, commissioned WAP Sustainability Consulting for a study in 2018 that found the environmental impact of an artificial tree is better than a real tree if you use the fake tree for at least five years. 

“Artificial trees were looked at [in the study] for factors such as manufacturing and overseas transportation,” Jami Warner, executive director of ACTA. “Planting, fertilizing and watering were taken into account for real trees, which have an approximate field cultivation period of seven to eight years.”

What are the benefits of real trees?

On average, it takes seven years to fully grow a Christmas tree, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. And as it grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the air. Protecting forests and planting trees can help stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis by removing the planet-warming gas from the atmosphere. 

If trees are cut down or burned, they can release the carbon they’ve been storing back into the atmosphere. But Doug Hundley, spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association, which advocates for real trees, says the act of cutting down Christmas trees from a farm is balanced out when farmers immediately plant more seedlings to replace them. 

“When we harvest the trees or cut them, we plant back very quickly,” Hundley said. 

If the idea of trekking through a forest to find the perfect tree is intriguing, you can buy a permit from the US Forest Service, which encourages people to cut their own tree rather than buy an artificial one. According to Recreation.gov, cutting down thin trees in dense areas can improve forest health.

But Finton doesn’t recommend pulling a Clark Griswold and chopping down a massive tree to haul home — especially if it’s in an area you’re not permitted for. He recommends getting a tree from a local farm, instead.

“To me, the benefit of going to a Christmas tree farm, which is different than cutting a tree in the forest, is that it concentrates the impact of removing trees into one location,” he said. “And it puts the responsibility on the farmers to regenerate those trees.”

There’s also an economic benefit to going natural, since most of the trees people end up getting are grown at nearby farms. About 15,000 farms grow Christmas trees in the US alone, employing over 100,000 people either full or part-time in the industry, according to the National Christmas Tree Association

“What we’re doing by purchasing a natural Christmas tree is supporting local economies, local communities, local farmers and to me, that’s a key part of the conservation equation,” Finton said. “When a tree grower can reap economic benefits from their land, they’re less likely to sell it for development and less likely to convert it to other uses.”

Disposal matters

Trees pile up on the curbs after the holidays are over, and the final destination in many locations is landfills, where they contribute to emissions of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas roughly 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

“Real Christmas trees ending up in landfills is very much discouraged,” Hundley said, adding that there needs to be “separate areas for yard waste where Christmas trees can go.”

But some towns and cities repurpose the trees to benefit the climate and the environment. In New York City, trees left on curbs during a certain timeframe are picked up to be recycled or composted. The city sanitation department also hosts an initiative called MulchFest, where residents can bring their trees to be chipped for mulch and used to nourish other trees throughout the city. 

“When the tree is finished being used by the homeowner, it’s very easy and common in America to have the tree chopped up into mulch — and that’s stored carbon is put back in the ground,” Hundley added. 

Finton also says former Christmas trees can be reused for habitat restoration; they can help control erosion if placed along stream and river banks, and can even help underwater habitats thrive if they are placed in rivers and lakes.

The end of life for an artificial tree is much different. They end up in landfills — where they could take hundreds of years to decompose — or incinerators, where they release hazardous chemicals.

The bottom line

Weighing the complicated climate pros and cons, real Christmas trees have the edge. But if you choose to deck your halls artificially, get a tree you’re going to love and reuse for many years.

Either way, Finton said, people should feel good about their decision and find other ways to tackle the climate crisis. 

“It’s a debate, but once you’ve made a decision, you should feel good about your decision, because there’s so many other things we can do in our lives that have an even greater climate impact — such as driving less or advocating for policies that expand renewable energy,” Finton said. “Enjoy the holidays and focus on other aspects of your life to reduce the impacts of climate change.”

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How to control climate change?

The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow has been billed as a last chance to limit global warming to 1.5C. But beyond the deals and photo opportunities, what are the key things countries need to do in order to tackle climate change? BBC reports.

1. Keep fossil fuels in the ground

Burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and especially coal, releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, trapping heat and raising global temperatures. 

It’s an issue that has to be tackled at the government level if temperature rises are to be limited to 1.5C – the level considered the gateway to dangerous climate change. 

However, many major coal-dependent countries – such as Australia, the US, China and India – have declined to sign a deal at the summit aimed at phasing out the energy source in the coming decades. 

2. Curb methane emissions

A recent UN report has suggested that reducing emissions of methane could make an important contribution to tackling the planetary emergency.

A substantial amount of methane is released from “flaring” – the burning of natural gas during oil extraction – and could be stopped with technical fixes. Finding better ways of disposing of rubbish is also important because landfill sites are another big methane source.

At COP26, nearly 100 countries agreed to cut methane emissions, in a deal spearheaded by the US and the EU. The Global Methane Pledge aims to limit methane emissions by 30% compared with 2020 levels.

3. Switch to renewable energy

Many wind turbines and a large solar panel array in a desert valley, mountains in the distance and blue sky above. Palm Springs, California, USA

Electricity and heat generation make a greater contribution to global emissions than any economic sector. 

Transforming the global energy system from one reliant on fossil fuels to one dominated by clean technology – known as decarbonization – is critical for meeting current climate goals.

Wind and solar power will need to dominate the energy mix by 2050 if countries are to deliver on their net zero targets.

There are challenges, however.

Less wind means less electricity generated, but better battery technology could help us store surplus energy from renewables, ready to be released when needed.

4. Abandon petrol and diesel

We’ll also need to change the way we power the vehicles we use to get around on land, sea and in the air. 

Ditching petrol and diesel cars and switching to electric vehicles will be critical. 

Lorries and buses could be powered by hydrogen fuel, ideally produced using renewable energy. 

And scientists are working on new, cleaner fuels for aircraft, although campaigners are also urging people to reduce the number of flights they take.

5. Plant more trees

A UN report in 2018 said that, to have a realistic chance of keeping the global temperature rise under 1.5C, we’ll have to remove CO2 from the air. 

Forests are excellent at soaking it up from the atmosphere – one reason why campaigners and scientists emphasize the need to protect the natural world by reducing deforestation. 

Programs of mass tree planting are seen as a way of offsetting CO2 emissions. 

Trees are likely to be important as countries wrestle with their net-zero targets because once emissions have been reduced as much as possible, remaining emissions could be “canceled out” by carbon sinks such as forests. 

6. Remove greenhouse gases from the air

Emerging technologies that artificially remove CO2 from the atmosphere, or stop it being released in the first place, could play a role. 

A number of direct-air capture facilities are being developed, including plants built by Carbon Engineering in Texas and Climeworks in Switzerland. They work by using huge fans to push air through a chemical filter that absorbs CO2. 

Another method is carbon capture and storage, which captures emissions at “point sources” where they are produced, such as at coal-fired power plants. The CO2 is then buried deep underground. 

However, the technology is expensive – and controversial, because it is seen by critics as helping perpetuate a reliance on fossil fuels.

7. Give financial aid to help poorer countries

New Delhi, India – July 25, 2018: A poor boy collecting garbage waste from a landfill site in the outskirts of Delhi. Hundreds of children work at these sites to earn their livelihood.

At the Copenhagen COP summit in 2009, rich countries pledged to provide $100bn (£74.6bn) in financing by 2020, designed to help developing countries fight and adapt to climate change. 

That target date has not been met, although the UK government, as holders of the COP presidency, recently outlined a plan for putting the funding in place by 2023.

Many coal-dependent countries are facing severe energy shortages that jeopardize their recovery from Covid and disproportionately affect the poor. These factors stop them from moving away from polluting industries. 

Some experts believe poorer nations will need continuing financial support to help them move towards greener energy. For instance, the US, EU and UK recently provided $8.5bn to help South Africa phase out coal use.

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The world should adopt faster to the climate crisis – UN report

The gap is widening between the impacts of the climate crisis and the world’s effort to adapt to them, according to a new report by the UN Environment Programme, CNN reports.

The annual “adaptation gap” report — which published Thursday amid the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow — found that the estimated costs to adapt to the worst effects of warming temperatures such as droughts, floods and rising seas in low-income countries are five to 10 times higher than how much money is currently flowing into those regions. 

In addition to promising to limit warming, governments from wealthy nations in the 2015 Paris Accord reaffirmed their commitment to contribute $100 billion a year to poorer nations to move away from fossil fuel and adapt to climate change-fueled disasters. This is because developing nations, particularly those in the Global South, are most likely to endure the worst effects of the climate crisis, despite the small amount they contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Inger Andersen, executive director of the UNEP, said this is why climate finance — funding for low-income countries to fight the climate crisis — is vital.

“The Paris Accord says adaptation and mitigation funding needs to be in a degree of balance,” Andersen told CNN. “Those in poorer countries are going to suffer the very most, so ensuring that there’s a degree of equity and a degree of global solidarity for adaptation finance is critical.”

But the report found that $100 billion a year — a pledge which wealthy nations have so far been unable to achieve — isn’t even enough to match the demand. Adaptation costs for low-income countries will hit $140 to 300 billion each year by 2030 and $280 to 500 billion per year by 2050, UNEP reports. 

In 2019, only $79 billion of climate financing flowed into developing nations, according to the latest analysis.

As the climate crisis intensifies, adaptation measures are becoming more critical. Global scientists have said the world should try to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — a critical threshold to avoid the worst impacts. But Thursday’s report suggests this threshold will be breached sooner than previously imagined, and some climate impacts are already irreversible. Wildfires, droughts, record heat waves and deadly floods terrorized parts of the Northern Hemisphere this summer.

“While strong mitigation is the way to minimize impacts and long-term costs, increased ambition in terms of adaptation, particularly for finance and implementation, is critical to prevent existing gaps widening,” the report’s authors wrote. 

Roughly 79% of all countries have adopted at least one adaptation plan, policy or strategy to stem the impact, a 7% increase since 2020. Meanwhile, 9% of countries that don’t currently have a plan or policy in place are in the process of developing one. 

But the report says implementation of these adaptation measures is stalling. A separate UNEP report found that 15 major economies will continue to produce roughly 110% more coal, oil, and gas in 2030 than what’s necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, which will worsen climate change-fueled extreme weather events and make adaptation all the more critical. 

At a forum on vulnerable countries at COP26 this week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on wealthy nations, banks and shareholders to “allocate half their climate finance to adaptation” and “offer debt relief” for low-income nations.

“Vulnerable countries must have faster and easier access to finance,” Guterres said. “I urge the developed world to accelerate delivery on the $100 billion dollars to rebuild trust. Vulnerable countries need it for adaptation and for mitigation. [They] are not the cause of climate disruption.”

One way to tackle this, according to the report’s authors, is to use Covid-19 recovery stimulus packages as an opportunity to deliver green and resilient adaptation measures to developing countries. The twin crises of climate change and the pandemic have stretched economic and disaster response thin, but authors say it proves the world can adapt to the worst impacts of warming temperatures.

The adaptation gap report comes at a critical time as world leaders gather at COP26 to discuss the probability of keeping the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius alive, as well as also ensuring that wealthy, fossil fuel-generating nations hold on to their promise of transferring $100 billion a year to low-income countries, particularly in the Global South.

Andersen said one thing is clear: “The more we delay climate action, the more adaptation will become important, especially for the most poor, who are going to be hit the hardest.”

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What TV news green activists should watch?

When environmental activists, government officials and corporate leaders descend on Glasgow for COP26, there will be plenty of articles, videos and books floating around that extol the virtues of being green. One piece of content unlikely to be circling much is Blown Away: The People Vs Wind Power, a documentary currently airing on Fox News in the US. But Glasgow attendees would do well to watch it, FT reports.

The film features Tucker Carlson, the genial-looking TV host with a dyspeptic streak who underwent a conversion from bow-tie-wearing prep into rightwing barker in the Trump era. In the 26-minute film, he travels across the country to “expose the hidden costs of the green energy agenda”. What he seems most angry about is the “death and destruction brought on by these monstrosities” known as wind turbines.

Never mind the fact that most Glasgow attendees view wind power as such a self-evidently wonderful thing that turbine photos plaster the COP26 programme. Carlson thinks that wind farms threaten the livelihood of fishermen (because turbines are being built offshore), harm pristine forests and jeopardise the safety of ordinary US workers, since they can sometimes fail and cause a power cut.

“This is about enrich[ing] the most powerful people in the country at the expense of the most vulnerable — it’s exploitation of the weak by the powerful,” says Carlson. “It’s foreign companies that will make a fortune.” More specifically, he hates the fact that companies from Spain, Norway and Denmark are running the turbines and that financiers such as Warren Buffett and banks including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are involved.

If you’re in Glasgow, you’re no doubt rolling your eyes by now or perhaps correctly retorting that, say, a coal mine does more damage than any Scandinavian turbine. But even if you disagree with Carlson’s attacks, it would be a mistake to ignore him for at least three reasons.

First, and most obviously, we live in an era when political tribes are losing the ability to empathise with others and when it is dangerously easy for anyone, particularly activists, to slip into groupthink. Not only has lockdown kept us trapped with our own social groups for a long period, but as we have dashed online we have tended to intensify our tribal affiliations. Technology, after all, makes it so easy to customise our identities and confirm our biases.

As a result, I suspect few Glasgow attendees even know that Carlson is so angry about wind turbines, or are likely to see clips of his diatribes in their social media feeds. Even though the show he fronts, Tucker Carlson Tonight, is the highest-rated on American cable TV, with 3.42 million nightly viewers.

Second, even if you dislike Carlson’s overall stance, there are grains of truth in some of what he says. Take his charge about elitism. 

As Blown Away reports, one feature of wind farms is that they tend to be located in remote, rural areas or places subject to what wind engineers call the “Starbucks Rules”. As one explains on camera, “Never try to site a wind project within 30 miles of a Starbucks . . . because the demographic that is willing to pay a premium price for Starbucks coffee has the education and wherewithal to organise to resist wind projects.” Nimby-ism — Not In My Back Yard — predominates.

This was recently on display in the Hamptons, the wealthy enclave near New York, when a wind farm company proposed running a cable through one beach town. Such was the local outcry that the project was shelved. This is far from the only inequitable issue haunting green policies. If gas prices rise because of a carbon tax, it is poor — not elite — voters who suffer relatively more. If coal mines are shut down, it will not be urban voters who lose their jobs.

Green activists ignore this at their peril; without government action to offset these effects, we will see more episodes like the gilets jaunes demonstrations against fuel-price hikes that erupted in Paris a few years ago. And more angry Fox News coverage.

Which leads to my third point: cultural issues and affiliations matter. Covid-19 showed us you cannot beat a pandemic with medical and computing science alone. You need to shift behaviour too. The same applies to green policies. People who fear that wind turbines are destroying their livelihoods — or who define their political identity by watching Fox — will not listen to lectures by scientists. Behaviour will only change if “green” issues are presented to different communities with empathy and respect — and proper incentives.

This will not be easy. Last week, the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team published a research paper urging ministers to use social science insights to “nudge” people to be green. However, it was withdrawn from the government’s website a few hours later.

Yet, even if the gulf between Fox News and the COP26 crowd seems hopelessly wide, neither can afford to simply dismiss or deride the other. Think of that when you see glossy photos of turbines in Glasgow; Carlson’s resistance isn’t entirely hot air.

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Is solar cooking the new way to save forests

From cool, dewy European mountain ranges and humid Central Asian forests to the urban sprawl across North America and the arid landscapes of the African continent, millions of people are cooking with only the sun’s rays as fuel, CNN reports.

This culinary magic is known as solar cooking. Instead of burning a fuel source, solar cooking uses mirrored surfaces to channel and concentrate sunlight into a small space, cooking food while producing zero carbon emissions.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.6 billion people around the globe cook their daily meals over open fires. Fuelled with wood, animal waste, kerosene and charcoal, these fires produce highly polluting smoke and contribute to deforestation, soil erosion and ultimately desertification — but solar cookers could provide an alternative.

Solar cookers and shrinking forests 

Solar Cookers International (SCI) is an non-profit that advocates for the adoption of solar thermal cooking technologies. SCI says it knows of over 4 million solar cookers around the world, which people are using to cook and bake in the direct sun or through light clouds.

One of these people is Janak Palta McGilligan. The 73-year-old is a member of the SCI Global Advisory Council and director of the Jimmy McGilligan Centre for Sustainable Development in Madhya Pradesh, India — which she founded with her late husband in 2010.

In a country where up to 81% of rural communities rely on polluting fuels for cooking, Palta McGilligan noticed people were being disadvantaged by cooking with firewood from shrinking ecosystems. Their health was impacted and the natural environment surrounding them eroded. “Girls couldn’t go to school because they spent all day collecting wood,” adds Palta McGilligan.

Yet with an estimated 300 sunny days a year, India has a substantial opportunity for using solar thermal energy.

Palta McGilligan introduced solar cookers to these communities, with the Jimmy McGilligan Centre covering all the training costs and 90% of the price of the cookers, both to protect the forests from degradation and to provide equal opportunities for women.

To date, the Centre has trained more than 126,000 people in sustainable practices such as solar cooking, and food curing and dehydrating techniques, as well as using solar thermal energy to heat up an iron to press clothes.

“It is about the environment, but it is also about equality,” she tells CNN.

A simple solution?

There are many types of solar cookers: from mirrored boxes to rooftop systems and evacuated tube cookers — a more complex device that functions well in colder climates.

Palta McGilligan advocates globally for the health benefits of solar cooking. “Even economic health is benefited,” she says. “All the polluting fuels are so expensive but solar cooking is free — always.”

Anyone can use a solar cooker and training is simple: “You have to learn to position the solar cooker, how to align it to the sun. That’s all,” explains Palta McGilligan.

A basic solar box oven can be constructed with a cardboard box and mirrors or foil, costing as little as a couple of dollars.

Solar cookers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but all utilize thermal energy from the sun.

There’s one obvious drawback: You can’t cook after dark, and although food will cook quickly on a sunny day, in poor weather solar cookers can take considerably longer than a conventional stove or oven and may not reach temperatures high enough to safely cook meat. On cool or windy days, heavy foods — such as loaves of bread — may not cook at all.

But solar cookers can be used to dehydrate and cure foods to preserve them for stretches of time when there is heavy cloud cover.

‘Whole forests will be saved’

According to international NGO SolarAid, in sunny and arid climates a single solar cooker can save up to a ton of wood annually.

That can add up, with the use of polluting cooking fuels accounting for more than half of global black carbon emissions. Black carbon is one of the biggest contributors to climate change after carbon dioxide, but it only stays in the atmosphere for days to weeks. In fact, burning wood biomass generates greater CO2 emissions per unit of energy than burning fossil fuels.

Beyond the carbon cost, the use of biomass fuels can contribute to deforestation of rural regions.

“The planet is at risk,” says Palta McGilligan. “In rural India, we can’t grow trees quickly enough to make up for the wood burnt for cooking.”

She says that alongside training on solar cooking methods, she encourages the planting and nurturing of native vegetation and trees to begin to counteract the environmental impact lifetimes of woodfire cooking has had in rural India.

“The people in the villages are connected to the forests,” Palta McGilligan tells CNN. “They feel sorry the jungles are being lost, they’re sad that there will be no trees. Solar thermal energy is a great relief to them.”

Palta McGilligan has observed the recovery of ecosystems as a direct result of solar cooking being introduced to a village. “Whole forests will be saved by the use of solar cookers,” she says.

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Queen Elizabeth calls attention on lack of action on climate change

Queen Elizabeth II has said the lack of action on tackling the climate crisis is «irritating», CNN reports.

The British monarch made the remarks on Thursday during a conversation at the opening of the Welsh Parliament in Cardiff.

The Queen was chatting with the Duchess of Cornwall and Elin Jones, the parliament’s presiding officer, when her remarks were captured on video.

At one point, the Queen appears to be talking about the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, saying: “I’ve been hearing all about COP … I still don’t know who’s coming.” 

In a separate clip, the Queen appears to say it is “irritating” when “they talk, but they don’t do.” Parts of the two clips were inaudible.

In her reply, Jones appears to reference Prince William’s remarks from earlier Thursday, saying she had been watching him “on television this morning saying there’s no point going into space, we need to save the earth,” the PA Media news agency reported.

The Duke of Cambridge spoke about the ongoing rush for space travel in an interview with the BBC’s Newscast podcast, which aired on Thursday.

“We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live,” he said.

His comments aired the day after “Star Trek” actor William Shatner, 90, made history by becoming the oldest person to go to space aboard a New Shepard spacecraft, developed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

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Miners protest in Bulgaria

SOFIA, Oct 13 – About 1,000 miners and workers from Bulgaria’s largest coal-fired power plant marched in Sofia on Wednesday to protect their jobs and to urge the government to support their industry, Reuters informs.

Demonstrators called on the Cabinet to guarantee it would not rush to shut mines and power plants at the Maritsa East lignite coal complex in southern Bulgaria, despite a European Union push to decarbonise the bloc’s economy by 2050.

“There should be green, clean energy, but time is needed for investment first,” said Spaska Ruskova, 58, who works for a mining equipment company.

“It will probably happen for our grandchildren, but it cannot happen now, because hundreds of families are destined to lose their jobs and doomed to high power bills,” she said.

Bulgaria needs to set a date when it will phase out power generation from coal if it wants to draw on EU recovery funds and meet the bloc’s climate goals.

The interim government has said it will present its plan for EU aid to Brussels on Friday. It will defend its target of closing coal-fired plants by 2038 or 2040 – largely in line with the miners’ demands.

Environmental group Greenpeace has demanded that the polluting plants be closed by 2030, urging Bulgaria to focus on renewable energy and providing new jobs in the coal regions.

Protesters say early closure of the plants, which produce 40% of Bulgaria’s electricity, would lead to power shortages and rising energy costs.

Some 10,000 people work at the Maritsa East complex, whose lignite coal deposits are rich in sulphur blamed for poor air quality and respiratory diseases.

Trade unions say the complex provides livelihoods for more than 100,000 people in the European Union’s poorest member and have vowed to keep up pressure on the government that is to formed after a Nov. 14 general election.

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Google will prevent climate change deniers from making money from ads

Google is cracking down on the ability of climate change deniers to make money off its platforms and to spread climate misinformation through advertisementі, CNN reports.

The company said Thursday it will no longer allow advertising to appear alongside “content that contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change.” Google (GOOG) will also prohibit advertisements that deny the reality of climate change. 

The policy, which goes into effect next month, applies to any content on YouTube and other Google platforms that refers “to climate change as a hoax or a scam,” as well as denials that “greenhouse gas emissions or human activity contribute to climate change.”

“We’ve heard directly from a growing number of our advertising and publisher partners who have expressed concerns about ads that run alongside or promote inaccurate claims about climate change,” Google said in its announcement Thursday. “Advertisers simply don’t want their ads to appear next to this content. And publishers and creators don’t want ads promoting these claims to appear on their pages or videos.”

Big tech companies have faced increasing pressure in recent years to contribute more to the fight against climate change, including action against climate-related misinformation on their platforms. But as some of the big platforms have shown in the past, consistently implementing a policy after it has been announced tends to be the most challenging part.

Facebook last month announced its own effort to combat climate misinformation, including a $1 million grant to support fact-checking of false climate claims. 

Google also rolled out several products earlier this week to increase climate awareness, including a new setting in Google Maps that shows users the most eco-friendly route.

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Google maps will help tourists to find the most eco-friendly routes

Driving and flying are huge contributors to carbon emissions and climate change. So Google is helping users make more informed decisions about how they travel, CNN informs.

The company is releasing features on Google Maps and Google Flights to show how travel plans may contribute to climate change.

Eco-friendly routes

In addition to showing drivers the fastest way to get to their destination, Google Maps will now show the route that’s the most fuel-efficient. 

To provide the new feature, Google incorporated data from the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which estimates that eco-friendly routing has the potential to prevent more than one million tons of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere per year. That’s the equivalent of removing 200,000 cars from the road, Google claims.

On the Google Maps app, the most eco-friendly route will display with a small green leaf next to it. The route option will include information about how long the trip will take and how much fuel the driver could save. 

Options for bikers

It’s no secret that biking is a more eco-friendly travel option than driving, and the use of biking directions on Maps has increased by as much as 98% over the past year, according to Google. The tech company is focusing on tapping into bike riders with a new feature called “lite navigation” that gives cyclists important details about their routes.

This feature is being introduced after Google heard from cyclists who were sick of following turn-by-turn directions on their phones. Bikers tend to tuck their phones away for most of the ride, after all.

With lite navigation, bike riders will be able to see details about their route without needing to keep their screen on or engage turn-by-turn navigation. 

Cyclists will also be able to track their trip progress, see their ETA updated in real time and find details about the elevation of their route.

Bike and scooter sharing

In addition to the biking feature, in 300 cities — including Berlin, New York and São Paulo — Google Maps is introducing a feature that will provide more information about bike and scooter sharing. With this new option, Google Maps users will be able to find nearby docking stations and pinpoint how many vehicles are available at that moment.

To make this feature possible, Google is partnering with bike and scooter companies including Europe-based Donkey Republic, Tier and Voi, as well as Bird and Spin, which are based in the US.

Finding flights with fewer carbon emissions

Alongside price and trip duration information, Google Flights users will now be able to see carbon emissions estimates for nearly every flight in the search results. The estimates are “flight-specific” and “seat-specific,” Google said. 

“Newer aircraft are generally less polluting than older aircraft,” the company said in its press release. “Emissions increase for premium economy and first-class seats because they take up more space and account for a larger share of total emissions,” Google added.

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