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Rewilding could be the way to save Britain’s farms

It’s English countryside as you’ve never seen it before. Taking a walk through Knepp Castle estate in the leafy Sussex countryside is bewildering, challenging and utterly thrilling.

A fallow deer hurtles from a blackthorn thicket. Buzzards rise from every copse. A purple emperor butterfly glides around an oak. A shrew scuttles between stunted hawthorns, shaped into topiary by free-ranging cattle. It feels like the land has been set free – and in 2001, these 3,500 acres were. Their owner, Charlie Burrell, inherited a conventional dairy and arable farm but, inspired by Frans Vera, a Dutch rewilding ecologist, took his land out of conventional cultivation.

What’s happened since is astonishing. Hedges have marched into fields, meadows have filled with wild flowers, young oaks and sallow thickets – an explosion of fecundity. Such fertility is squandered by rewilding, say critics, who argue that it is crazy to pay subsidies to farmers to stop producing food when Britain already eats far more than it can grow.

Knepp offers a riposte to this. Despite rewilding, it is still a farm that produces 75 tonnes of quality organic meat each year from Burrell’s free-grazing animals – Old English longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs, Exmoor ponies and roe and fallow deer.

 

(Guardian 11.7 2016)

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The Wild Horse Returns to Mongolia

A species that was near extinction is now recovering in the wild because of active management by conservation biologists.

 

In 1880, Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalski encountered a small population of wild horses while traversing central Asia. The horses were compact, with heavy limbs and strong necks. They had dun coats with a white stain around the nose and a thin, dark stripe that ran from the mane to the tail. These were unlike the so-called “wild” horses that abound in Australia and North America, which are actually feral, meaning they descended from domesticated horses. These Asian horses were a distinct species of Equus that had never been domesticated. Scientifically described for the first time, the species was given the name Equus przewalskii, Przewalski’s horse.

European breeders and zoo directors rushed to collect specimens of the “newly discovered” wild horse, which was actually well known to people in Mongolia and other parts of central Asia. A few dozen foals reached zoos and privately owned parks in Europe and North America, but many perished during the trans-Siberian journey.

Meanwhile the wild populations of Przewalski’s horse, or takhi (meaning “spirit”), as they are known in Mongolia, declined as animals were killed and collected by Europeans, displaced by domesticated grazing animals, and hunted for food. Over time, their numbers and habitat shrank until the takhi became extinct in the wild in the late 1960s.

(…)

Since 1997, takhi have been successfully breeding in the wild, though captive animals have deliberately been introduced to supplement the wild herds at Takhin Tal. As of winter 2007, 115 takhi were roaming free in the Dzungarian Gobi, including 76 animals born in the wild. These numbers are especially significant since computer models suggest that a group of 100 free-ranging horses is considered a viable population—one that is biologically resilient and less prone to natural catastrophes that could wipe out large numbers of takhi.

(American Museum of Natural History , no date)

China builds world’s biggest solar farm in journey to become green superpower

Vast plant in Qinghai province is part of China’s determination to transform itself from climate change villain to a green energy colossus.

High on the Tibetan plateau, a giant poster of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, guards the entrance to one of the greatest monuments to Beijing’s quest to become a clean energy colossus.

To Xi’s right, on the road leading to what is reputedly the biggest solar farm on earth, a billboard greets visitors with the slogan: “Promote green development! Develop clean energy!”

Behind him, a sea of nearly 4m deep blue panels flows towards a spectacular horizon of snow-capped mountains – mile after mile of silicon cells tilting skywards from what was once a barren, wind-swept cattle ranch.

“It’s big! Yeah! Big!” Gu Bin, one of the engineers responsible for building the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in the western province of Qinghai, enthused with a heavy dose of understatement during a rare tour of the mega-project.

The remote, 27-square-kilometre solar farm tops an ever-expanding roll call of supersized symbols that underline China’s determination to transform itself from climate villain to green superpower.

Built at a cost of about 6bn yuan (£721.3m) and in almost constant expansion since construction began in 2013, Longyangxia now has the capacity to produce a massive 850MW of power – enough to supply up to 200,000 households – and stands on the front line of a global photovoltaic revolution being spearheaded by a country that is also the world’s greatest polluter.

 

(The Guardian 19.1 2017)

Reasons to be cheerful: a full switch to low-carbon energy is in sight

Climate change optimism is justified – a complete transition from carbon to solar and wind power looks practical and affordable within a generation.

 

My first book on climate change was published 10 years ago. I looked at how responsible individuals could choose to run their lives to cut their carbon footprint.

Inevitably minimising your carbon footprint meant making some uncomfortable choices – stopping eating meat, for example, or giving up flying. Hair-shirtism, in short. In 2009, I advised individuals on how they could cut their carbon emissions by 10%.

I then disobeyed some of my own recommendations, flying to the US to visit a daughter at university, for example. Over the subsequent years, it increasingly seemed to me that changing western lifestyles in the way my first book suggested was going to be an impossible struggle.

Moreover, the world still had more than a billion people without an electricity supply. Any solution that didn’t give them access to power was unfair and unworkable. So I switched to writing about how we could substitute low-carbon energy sources for fossil fuels.

At first it seemed that renewable electricity would always be more expensive and solar power would languish unless it was heavily subsidised. Using alternative energy sources seemed difficult, expensive and inconvenient. I now think I was completely wrong.

In fact, optimism about successfully tackling climate change has never been more justified because 2016 was the year in which it finally became obvious that the world had the technology to solve the problem. Even as the political environment has darkened, the reasons have strengthened for believing that a complete transition to low-carbon energy is practical and affordable within one generation.

(The Guardian 19.1 2017)

 

 

 

Scotland sets ambitious goal of 66% emissions cut within 15 years

Scotland is seeking to dramatically cut its reliance on fossil fuels for cars, energy and homes after setting a radical target to cut total climate emissions by 66% within 15 years.

In one of the world’s most ambitious climate strategies, ministers in Edinburgh have unveiled far tougher targets to increase the use of ultra-low-carbon cars, green electricity and green home heating by 2032.

The Scottish government has set the far higher target after its original goal of cutting Scotland’s emissions by 42% by 2020 was met six years early – partly because climate change has seen winters which are warmer than normal, cutting emissions for home heating.

The new strategy, which is expected to cost up to £3bn a year to implement and is closely linked to a new renewable energy programme due to be published this month, will call for:

40% of all new cars and vans sold in Scotland to be ultra-low-emission by 2032, with 50% of Scotland’s buses to be low-carbon.

A totally carbon-free electricity sector based entirely on renewable energy sources by 2032, when Scotland’s last nuclear power station will close.

Four out of five of Scotland’s 2m homes to be heated using low-carbon technologies.

The repairing of 250,000 hectares of degraded peatlands, which store a total of 1.7 gigatonnes of CO2 in Scotland.

At least 30% of Scotland’s vital publicly owned ferry fleet to be low-carbon, powered by hybrid engines.

 

(The Guardian 19.1 2017)

Das Ende der Kohle ist absehbar

Die Zukunft der Kohle hat die Bundesregierung in eine kleine Tabelle verbannt, sie steht auf Seite 26 ganz unten. Bis 2030, so legt der kürzlich erlassene Klimaschutzplan der Bundesregierung dort fest, darf die deutsche Energiewirtschaft noch höchstens 183 Millionen Tonnen Kohlendioxid ausstoßen. Das entspricht ziemlich genau der Halbierung der derzeitigen Emissionen. Wie das genau gehen soll, steht nicht in dem Plan, denn die Konsequenz gilt als unbequem. Schließlich könnten davon auch Kohlekraftwerke in Nordrhein-Westfalen betroffen sein. Und da wird am Muttertag gewählt.

Doch ohne massive Einschnitte bei der Kohle wird es nicht gehen. “Für die Erreichung der Klimaziele”, so heißt es in einer Studie des Umweltbundesamtes, “ist eine stärkere Minderung der Emissionen aus Kohlekraftwerken um etwa 60 Prozent gegenüber dem Jahr 2014 erforderlich.” Die Studie liegt der Süddeutschen Zeitung vor. 60 Prozent weniger Kohlekraft binnen weniger als 14 Jahren – das passiert nicht von selbst.

Die Varianten für einen Kohleausstieg liefert das Gutachten deshalb gleich mit. So könnten sich “durch einen ordnungsrechtlichen Ansatz oder eine Verhandlungslösung” bis 2030 drei Viertel aller Braunkohlekraftwerke stilllegen lassen. Braunkohle verursacht wesentlich mehr Kohlendioxid als Erdgas, auch mehr als Steinkohle. Mit Variante zwei ließe sich ein Höchstalter für alle Kohlekraftwerke festlegen. Nach 40 Jahren Laufzeit wäre dann Schluss, sowohl für Braun- als auch für Steinkohle.

 

(Suddeutsche Zeitung 16.1 2017)

Today all Dutch trains are powered 100% by wind energy

Travelling by train has been the most environmentally friendly way of transportation for a long time already. In the Netherlands they have now taken it to the next level using wind turbines to power all of its trains.

The Dutch have a long history of using wind energy to advance. They used windmills to drain land covered by water since the 17th century.

 

Energy company Eneco provides NS the energy to transport 600.000 people per day. That’s 1.200.000 train trips per day without any CO2 emissions.

NS requires 1.2B kWh of wind-powered energy per year, which is the same amount all households in Amsterdam consume per year. The partnership with NS, allowed Eneco to invest substantially in the expansion of its wind turbine parks.

(Brightvibes 2.1 2017)

 

99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year

Our media feeds are echo chambers. And those echo chambers don’t just reflect our political beliefs; they reflect our feelings about human progress. Bad news is a bubble too.

If it bleeds, it leads” isn’t a phrase coined by some cut-throat tabloid editor. It’s a potent truth that lies at the heart of the modern day media machine. It’s time for some balance. That’s why our team at Future Crunch spent the year gathering good news stories you probably didn’t hear about, and sent them out in our fortnightly newsletter.

Here’s our full list for 2016…

(Medium 5. 12 2016)

China Bans Its Ivory Trade, Moving Against Elephant Poaching

China announced on Friday that it was banning all commerce in ivory by the end of 2017, a move that would shut down the world’s largest ivory market and could deal a critical blow to the practice of elephant poaching in Africa.

The decision by China follows years of growing international and domestic pressure and gives wildlife protection advocates hope that the threatened extinction of certain elephant populations in Africa can be averted.

China’s announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation,” Carter Roberts, the president and chief executive of the World Wildlife Fund, said in a written statement. “With the United States also ending its domestic ivory trade earlier this year, two of the largest ivory markets have taken action that will reverberate around the world.”

(New York Times 30.12 2016)

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