The Immense Risk Climate Change Poses to Electricity Supply

by Caroline Chmiel

US and European electricity supply is increasingly defenseless to climate changes. 91% and 78% of the total electricity in the US and Europe, respectively, is produced by thermoelectric power plants, which are nuclear and fossil-fueled. These plants and the processes to get electricity rely on the availability and temperature of water resources for cooling. The changing climate directly affects temperature and water resources, so the heavy reliance on these factors in electricity is at high risk. Freshwater withdrawals for cooling coal, gas and nuclear-fuelled power plants are highest in North America. Next highest worldwide is Europe. Continue reading

Australia’s Nuclear Power Dilemma

by Caroline Chmiel

Environmentalists in Australia strongly see nuclear energy as a crucial alternative to burning fossil fuels, especially because of its low-carbon emissions. A study conducted in in 2010, and then again in 2011 reveals the Australian public’s changing views on nuclear power in relation to climate change. Post-Fukushima, the majority of respondents (40%) said they would not accept nuclear power as an option to help tackle climate change, though most Australians still believed nuclear power to be a cleaner, more efficient option than coal which dominates their energy production. Previously, the survey in 2010 showed a majority (42%) responding with a sentiment of willingness to accept nuclear power if it would help address climate change. Continue reading

Changing Mindsets on CCS Technologies

by Caroline Chmiel

As “decarbonisation” as a world-wide initiative continues to spread, scientists and governments have an increased interest in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies. CCS technology involves capturing CO2 emissions at the industrial combustion sources, compressing it for transportation and transporting it (via pipelines) to an appropriate geological site into which it is injected for long-term storage. Focus groups in London reveal the psychology behind differing opinions on energy. Nuclear power strongly shapes the critical argument in these studies. The general consensus of these findings argues there is little public anxiety concerning this technology, but in private, opinions are overall negative. To start, research shows awareness of CCS amongst non-specialist groups is small. Once briefly introduced to the concept, perceptions immediately took a negative attitude revolving around the risks being higher than benefits. In addition, this paper defines the concept of a ‘moral hazard’ in regards to CCS as risks associated with technology or continued reliance on fossil fuels when investment needs to completely shift to renewable technologies. The UK national planning policy says that “CO2 emissions are not reasons to prohibit the consenting of projects which use these technologies” therefore endorsing the potential for technology beyond the demonstration stage. Returning to public opinion, when CCS is perceived in this manner of bridging technology that will not reduce investments in renewable technology, acceptance is at its highest. When people believe the government doesn’t have an interest in the outcome and public involvement is valued on the topic of climate change and CCS, people are also more open. Continue reading

Going Further than Simply Divesting in Fossil Fuels

By Caroline Chmiel

The New School in Manhattan takes an unusual move in the current trend of divesting fossil fuel investments. As other institutions and groups try to divest in fuel, the New School has added elements in addition to eliminating all of its fossil fuel investments, the New School plans to reshape its entire curriculum, bringing climate change and sustainability to the forefront of the school’s mission and values. The New School focuses primarily on the field of design, so there is an immense opportunity to emphasize designing for the future with an eye toward climate change. Some examples of potential actions are: minimizing waste in clothes making, minimizing transportation of medium and aligning urban environmental planning with weather patterns. Outside of teaching these methods, the school itself plans to reduce its own carbon footprint by reducing energy use, paper use, and waste. It also wants to search for small-scale local food suppliers. Continue reading