The Conversation – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 22 Sep 2023 01:00:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Climate Change: Was the freak ‘Medicane’ Storm that devastated Libya a Glimpse of North Africa’s Future? Fri, 22 Sep 2023 04:04:15 +0000 By Mike Rogerson, Northumbria University, Newcastle; Belkasem Alkaryani, University of Tobruk and Mahjoor Lone, Northumbria University, Newcastle | –

Storm Daniel landed on the Libyan coastal town of Toukrah in the early hours of September 10 and started moving east. Soon the wind was rising and heavy rain falling, forcing people to stay indoors. By afternoon the rain was clearly out of the ordinary.

Albaydah city on the coast would receive 80% of its annual rain before midnight, according to records from a local weather station that we have accessed. In less than 24 hours, thousands of people were dead, hundreds of thousands were missing, and towns and villages across Jebel Akhdar (the Green Mountain) in north-eastern Libya resembled a Hollywood disaster movie.

Storm Daniel was a Mediterranean cyclone or hurricane (a so-called medicane) which struck Greece, Bulgaria, Libya, Egypt and Turkey over the course of a week. Medicanes are not rare. Such large storms happen in this part of the world every few years. But Daniel has proved to be the deadliest.

At the time of writing, the World Health Organization estimates that at least 3,958 people have died across Libya as a result of the floods, with more than 9,000 people still missing.

Daniel was not an exceptionally big storm though. The medicane with the highest wind speeds was medicane Ianos in September 2020, which killed around four people and caused more than €224 million (£193 million) of damage. So what made Storm Daniel different?

Less frequent, but stronger

Like tropical cyclones, medicanes form in hot conditions at the end of summer. Most medicanes form to the west of the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. As they tend to strike the same regions each time, the people living in the western Mediterranean, southern Italy and western Greece, have built structures to deal with these storms and the occasional downpours they bring.

Daniel formed relatively far to the east and struck north-eastern Libya, which is rare. Dozens of people were killed in communities across Cyrenaica, the eastern portion of the country.

In the mountain gorge above the city of Derna, two dams failed in the middle of the night. Thousands of people, most of whom were asleep, are thought to have perished when the wave of water and debris swept down to the coast, destroying a quarter of the city.

A composite image of two aerial photographs of a city taken by satellite.
Derna, a city in eastern Libya, before and after Storm Daniel.
Google Earth/Holly Squire, CC BY

Since medicanes are formed in part by excess heat, events like this are highly sensitive to climate change. A rapid attribution study suggested greenhouse gas emissions made Daniel 50 times more likely.

Despite this, the sixth assessment report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that medicanes are becoming less frequent but larger. Storm Daniel suggests where medicanes form and make landfall might be more important than their frequency and size.

So does Libya need to brace itself for more of these events in the future than it has in the past, even if they affect the western Mediterranean less often?

Clues from the past

An important clue might lie deep underground, inside caves within north-eastern Libya. Although the caves are often dry today, they contain stalagmites which formed when rain passed through the soil, into the rock and dripped into the cave below thousands of years ago.

These rock formations attest to times in the past when this region was considerably wetter. The caves in Libya – and in Tunisia and Egypt too – form these stalagmites when the global climate is warm.

These bygone warm periods are not quite the same as the warm periods IPCC forecasts suggest modern climate change will usher in. But the way a hot world, a relatively ice-free Europe and North America and a wet northern Africa have regularly coincided in the past is striking. Striking and difficult to understand.

That’s because the experiments that suggest medicanes will become less frequent as the climate warms belong to a pattern described by IPCC climate assessments, in which wet parts of the world are expected to get wetter and dry parts drier. So it is hard to understand why stalagmites tell us warmer periods in the past involved wetter conditions across the northern margin of the Sahara – one of the driest regions on Earth.

Fortunately, scientists can learn more from the way stalagmites sometimes grow imperfectly, leaving tiny blobs of water trapped between the crystals.

The stalagmite we recovered from Susah Cave on the outskirts of Libya’s Susah city, which was severely damaged in the storm, had quite a lot of water in it from wet periods dating to 70,000 to 30,000 years ago. The oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in this water are suggestive of rain drawn from the Mediterranean. This could indicate more medicanes were hitting the Libyan coast then.

Our finding that more rain was falling above Susah Cave during warm periods suggests we should get more storms hitting eastern Libya as the climate warms. This is not quite what the IPCC forecasts, with their prediction of fewer but larger storms, show.

But storm strength is measured in wind speed, not rainfall. The caves could well be recording an important detail of past storminess which we’re not yet able to forecast.

Are stalagmites warning us that North Africa must prepare for future medicanes shifting further east? Our ongoing research aims to answer that question.

The pattern of ancient desert margins receiving more rain during warm periods despite the “dry gets drier” pattern of global climate models is not unique to northern Africa but found around the world. Over millions of years, globally warm periods almost always correspond with smaller deserts in Africa, Arabia, Asia and Australia.

This “dryland climate paradox” is important to unravel. Understanding the differences between climate models and studies of ancient rain will be key to navigating the future as safely as possible.

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Mike Rogerson, Senior Lecturer in Earth System Science, Northumbria University, Newcastle; Belkasem Alkaryani, Lecturer in Geology, University of Tobruk, and Mahjoor Lone, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Palaeoclimatology, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Are Green Sustainability and 20th Century-Style ‘Economic Growth’ Compatible? Scientists increasingly Fear Not Thu, 21 Sep 2023 04:06:58 +0000 Ivan Savin, ESCP Business School and Lewis King, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona | –

(The Conversation) – When she took to the floor to give her State of the Union speech on 13 September, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen largely stood by the script. Describing her vision of an economically buoyant and sustainable Europe in the era of climate change, she called on the EU to accelerate the development of the clean-tech sector, “from wind to steel, from batteries to electric vehicles”. “When it comes to the European Green Deal, we stick to our growth strategy,” von der Leyen said.

Her plans were hardly idiosyncratic. The notion of green growth – the idea that environmental goals can be aligned with continued economic growth – is still the common economic orthodoxy for major institutions like the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The OECD has promised to “strengthen their efforts to pursue green growth strategies […], acknowledging that green and growth can go hand-in-hand”, while the World Bank has called for “inclusive green growth” where “greening growth is necessary, efficient, and affordable”. Meanwhile, the EU has framed green growth as

“a basis to sustain employment levels and secure the resources needed to increase public welfare […] transforming production and consumption in ways that reconcile increasing GDP with environmental limits”.

However, a survey of nearly 800 climate policy researchers from around the world reveals widespread scepticism toward the concept in high-income countries, amid mounting literature arguing that the principle may neither be viable nor desirable. Instead, alternative post-growth paradigms including “degrowth” and “agrowth” are gaining traction.

Differentiating green growth from agrowth and degrowth

But what do these terms signify?

The “degrowth” school of thought proposes a planned reduction in material consumption in affluent nations to achieve more sustainable and equitable societies. Meanwhile, supporters of “agrowth” adopt a neutral view of economic growth, focusing on achieving sustainability irrespective of GDP fluctuations. Essentially, both positions represent scepticism toward the predominant “green growth” paradigm with degrowth representing a more critical view.

Much of the debate centres around the concept of decoupling – whether the economy can grow without corresponding increases in environmental degradation or greenhouse gas emissions. Essentially, it signifies a separation of the historical linkage between GDP growth and its adverse environmental effects. Importantly, absolute decoupling rather than relative decoupling is necessary for green growth to succeed. In other words, emissions should decrease during economic growth, and not just grow more slowly.

Green growth proponents assert that absolute decoupling is achievable in the long term, although there is a division regarding whether there will be a short-term hit to economic growth. The degrowth perspective is critical that absolute decoupling is feasible at the global scale and can be achieved at the rapid rate required to stay within Paris climate targets. A recent study found that current rates of decoupling in high-income are falling far short of what is needed to limit global heating to well below 2°C as set out by the Paris Agreement.

The agrowth position covers more mixed, middle-ground views on the decoupling debate. Some argue that decoupling is potentially plausible under the right policies, however, the focus should be on policies rather than targets as this is confusing means and ends. Others may argue that the debate is largely irrelevant as GDP is a poor indicator of societal progress – a “GDP paradox” exists, where the indicator continues to be dominant in economics and politics despite its widely recognised failings.

7 out of 10 climate experts sceptical of green growth

How prevalent are degrowth and agrowth views among experts? As part of a recent survey completed by 789 global researchers who have published on climate change mitigation policies, we asked questions to assess the respondents’ positions on the growth debate. Strikingly, 73% of all respondents expressed views aligned with “agrowth” or “degrowth” positions, with the former being the most popular. We found that the opinions varied based on the respondent’s country and discipline (see the figure below).

green growth, degrowth and agrowth split according to scientific discipline
The chart shows the school of thought espoused by 789 global researchers, according to geographical origin and scientific discipline.
Fourni par l’auteur

While the OECD itself strongly advocates for green growth, researchers from the EU and other OECD nations demonstrated high levels of scepticism. In contrast, over half of the researchers from non-OECD nations, especially in emerging economies like the BRICS nations, were more supportive of green growth.

Disciplinary rifts

Furthermore, a disciplinary divide exists. Environmental and other social scientists, excluding orthodox economists, were the most sceptical of green growth. In contrast, economists and engineers showed the highest preference for green growth, possibly indicative of trust in technological progress and conventional economic models that suggest economic growth and climate goals are compatible.

Our analysis also examined the link between the growth positions and the GDP per capita of a respondent’s country of origin. A discernible trend emerged: as national income rises, there is increased scepticism toward green growth. At higher income levels, experts increasingly supported the post-growth argument that beyond a point, the socio-environmental costs of growth may outweigh the benefits.

The results were even more pronounced when we factored in the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI), suggesting that aspects beyond income, such as inequality and overall development, might influence these views.

In a world grappling with climate change and socio-economic disparities, these findings should not simply be dismissed. They underline the need for a more holistic dialogue on sustainable development, extending beyond the conventional green growth paradigm.

Post-growth thought no longer a fringe position

Although von der Leyen firmly stood in the green growth camp, this academic shift is increasingly reflected in the political debate. In May 2023, the European Parliament hosted a conference on the topic of “Beyond Growth” as an initiative of 20 MEPs from five different political groups and supported by over 50 partner organisations. Its main objective was to discuss policy proposals to move beyond the approach of national GDP growth being the primary measure of success.

Image by Alexander Droeger from Pixabay

Six national and regional governments – Scotland, New Zealand, Iceland, Wales, Finland, and Canada – have joined the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership. The primary aim of the movement is to transition to “an economy designed to serve people and planet, not the other way around.”

Clearly, post-growth thought is no longer a fringe, radical position within those working on solutions to climate change. Greater attention needs to be given to why some experts are doubtful that green growth can be achieved as well as potential alternatives focussed on wider concepts of societal wellbeing rather than limited thinking in terms of GDP growth.The Conversation

Ivan Savin, Associate Professor of Business Analytics at ESCP Business School, Madrid campus & Research Fellow at ICTA-UAB, ESCP Business School and Lewis King, Lecturer in climate policy and green economics, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Electric Vehicle Demand surge through 2030, So Why is the Oil Industry Doubling down on Production? Wed, 20 Sep 2023 04:02:05 +0000 By Robert Brecha, University of Dayton | –

Electric vehicle sales are growing faster than expected around the world, and, sales of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles have been falling. Yet, the U.S. government still forecasts an increasing demand for oil, and the oil industry is doubling down on production plans.

(The Conversation) – Why is that, and what happens if the U.S. projections for growing oil demand are wrong?

I study sustainability and global energy system transformations. Let’s take a closer look at the changes underway.

EVs’ giant leap forward

On Sept. 12, 2023, Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization that advises the world’s major economies, drew global attention when he wrote in the Financial Times that the IEA is now projecting a global peak in demand for oil, gas and coal by 2030.

The new date was a significant leap forward in time compared with previous estimates that the peak would not be until the 2030s for oil and even later for gas. It also stood out because the IEA has typically been quite conservative in modeling changes to the global energy system.

Birol pointed to changes in energy policies and a faster-than-expected rise in clean technologies – including electric vehicles – along with Europe’s shift away from fossil fuels amid Russia’s war in Ukraine as the primary reasons. He wrote that the IEA’s upcoming World Energy Outlook “shows the world is on the cusp of a historic turning point.”

The United Nations also released its “global stocktake” report in early September, assessing the world’s progress toward meeting the Paris climate agreement goals of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial temperatures. The report found serious gaps in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by soon after mid-century. However, it noted two bright spots: The world is more or less on track in the growth in solar photovoltaics for renewable energy – and in the growth of electric vehicles.

The dynamics of EV expansion are important because each vehicle that uses electricity instead of gasoline or diesel fuel will depress demand for oil. Even though demand for petroleum products in other sectors, like aviation and petrochemicals, is still increasing, the IEA expects a decline in road transportation’s 50% share of oil consumption to drive an overall peak in demand within a few years.

EVs are now on pace to dominate global car sales by 2030, with fast growth in China in particular, according to analysts at the Rocky Mountain Institute. If countries continue to upgrade their electricity and charging infrastructure, “the endgame for one quarter of global oil demand will be in sight,” they wrote in a new report. As electric trucks become more common, oil demand will likely drop even faster, the analysts wrote.

Global sales of light-duty vehicles already show a decrease in internal combustion – gasoline and diesel – vehicle sales, mainly due to increasing EV sales, but also due to an overall decline in vehicle sales that started even before the pandemic.

So, why is the US projecting oil demand growth?

Based on the data, it appears that global oil demand will peak relatively soon. Yet, major oil companies say they plan to increase their production, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration still projects that global demand for oil and fossil fuels will continue to grow.

Vehicles do last longer today than they did a couple of decades ago, and they are also larger, slowing down efficiency gains. But the Energy Information Administration appears to be lowballing projections for EV growth.

The Biden administration, which pushed through large U.S. tax incentives for EV purchases, has taken steps to clear the way for increasing some oil and natural gas exploration. And large government subsidies continue flowing to fossil fuel industries in many countries. These contradictions undermine the goals of the Paris Agreement and could lead to costly stranded assets.

What do these trends mean for the oil industry?

It’s fair to assume that large industries should have a good handle on future developments expected to affect their fields. But they often have a competing priority to ensure that short-term gains are preserved.

Electric utilities are an example. Most didn’t feel threatened by renewable electricity until penetration expanded quickly in their territories. In response, some have lobbied to hold off further progress and invented spurious reasons to favor fossil fuels over renewables.

Of course, some companies have changed their business models to embrace the renewable energy transition, but these seem to still be in a minority.

Large corporations such as BP and TotalEnergies invest in renewables, but these investments are often offset by equally large investments in new fossil fuel exploration.

Both Shell and BP recently backpedaled on their previous climate commitments in spite of tacit admissions that increasing oil production is inconsistent with climate change mitigation. Exxon’s CEO said in June 2023 that his company aimed to double its U.S. shale oil production over the next five years.

What is happening in the fossil fuel industry seems to be an example of the so-called “green paradox,” in which it is rational, from a profit-maximization point of view, to extract these resources as quickly as possible when faced with the threat of future decreased market value.

That is, if a company can see that in the future its product will make less money or be threatened by environmental policies, it would be likely to sell as much as possible now. As part of that process, it may be very willing to encourage the building of fossil fuel infrastructure that clearly won’t be viable a decade or two in the future, creating what are known as stranded assets.

In the long run, countries encouraged to borrow to make these investments may be stuck with the bill, in addition to the global climate change impacts that will result.

Extractive industries have known about climate change for decades. But rather than transform themselves into broad-based energy companies, most have doubled down on oil, coal and natural gas. More than two dozen U.S. cities, counties and states are now suing fossil fuel companies over the harms caused by climate change and accusing them of misleading the public, with California filing the latest lawsuit on Sept. 15, 2023.

The question is whether these companies will be able to successfully adapt to a renewable energy world, or whether they will follow the path of U.S. coal companies and not recognize their own decline until it is too late.The Conversation

Robert Brecha, Professor of Sustainability, University of Dayton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mahsa Amini: A Year into the Protest Movement in Iran, this is What’s Changed Mon, 18 Sep 2023 04:02:25 +0000 Mahsa Amini: a year into the protest movement in Iran, this is what’s changed

By Afshin Shahi, Keele University | =

Iran’s rulers continue to enforce tight public controls as the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the “morality police” approaches.

Amini died after being arrested for allegedly breaching hijab rules. The news of her death prompted nationwide protests, jolting the foundations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Ahead of the expected protests on the anniversary of her death
on September 16, the regime continues to attempt to control social media and heighten surveillance.

But the desire for change has not waned among many.

How protests took hold

The state’s reaction to the Women, Life, Freedom protests that broke out in reaction to Amini’s death has been predictably draconian. Sources suggest hundreds have been killed, a staggering nearly 30,000 detained , and a spate of executions have been carried out.

Just as troubling are the tales emerging from the shadows, stories of detainees facing unspeakable horrors, from torture to rape.

Although the ruling elite’s ongoing struggle to enforce the compulsory hijab appears futile, the regime is showing no signs of conceding.

The mandatory hijab, an issue for the past four decades, continues to be extremely contentious. Despite the dangers, numerous women, in acts of quiet defiance, choose to reject this enforced code daily. Their courage is met with intensified street patrols, hostile confrontations and looming new lawsthat threaten even stricter penalties.

There seems to be an underlying fear within the governing circles that relinquishing control over something as ostensibly trivial as women’s hair might set a precedent, leading to a more significant loss of control in other areas of governance and social life.

Sources suggest that in an effort to sustain an aura of omnipotence, the regime is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain its grip on every aspect of life in Iran. The governing philosophy that would seem to lean more towards instilling fear rather than winning the hearts and minds of the people.

In the face of mounting economic challenges and the fact that one third of the population is living in extreme poverty, the Iranian people’s resilience, honed by years of resistance and a relentless yearning for change, this perpetual battle resembles a drawn-out war of attrition between the state and the people.

But there is a deep-seated protest movement in Iran, anchored in years of civil disobedience, symbolic actions, resistance art and immense sacrifice. There’s clearly still an appetite for change.

However, the path to change is fraught with obstacles. The opposition, despite its passion, is fragmented, lacking leadership to pull together collective efforts. There are few well organised opposition parties outside the country.

Over the past six months, there have been significant disputes about whether Iran should reinstate a constitutional monarchy or continue with a republican system. Instead of focusing on the common enemy, they disagree over what should replace the current rulers.

This absence of a cohesive front makes garnering substantial international support challenging, especially when the regime leans on authoritarian allies such as Russia to enhance its surveillance and repressive capacities. It would appear the regime is equipped and willing to employ every available means to mute the populace, amplifying the risks and costs associated with dissent.

Where did it all start?

From its beginnings in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s unaccountable and overzealous plans to reshape and redefine Iranian society have been opposed by many. The decades that followed saw an increasing chasm between the people and the regressive clerical establishment.

Misuse of power, corruption, catastrophic economic policies and the unabashed use of violence have methodically whittled away the revolutionary “allure” of the regime.

Over the years, Iran has been no stranger to protests. But while the student protests of 1999 and the Green movement of 2009 were significant chapters in Iranian history, the post-2018 period witnessed a tectonic shift.

Protests are no longer confined to urban centres – they’re nationwide, audacious and challenge the very core of the Islamic Republic’s ideology. The Women, Life, Freedom movement, with its lasting impact and international spotlight, stands as a testament to this change.

In recent months, cafes and restaurant have closed and businesses have been accused of flouting the state’s stringent policies. Universities aren’t spared either.

An unsettling purge is under way, with university professors being replaced by regime loyalists, while campuses including Tehran University have become heavily surveilled zones. Add to this economic conditions that are so bad it is pushing people to suicide, and societal tensions reach a boiling point.

Over the recent months leading up to the anniversary, momentum has been building. Several high-profile opposition figures have urged the public to seize this opportunity and once again take to the streets to defy the regime.

This atmosphere of simmering unrest hasn’t escaped the regime’s notice. An Amnesty International report offers a glimpse into the state’s systematic harassment of families mourning their lost loved ones. Among those arrested was Mahsa Amini’s uncle. Covering an extensive ten provinces, Amnesty’s research details human rights violations against numerous victim’s families, showing the extent of the government’s oppressive reach prior to the anniversary of Mahsa’s death.

One of the significant achievements of last year’s uprising was the shattering of pervasive fear among the people. Despite the sombre atmosphere, violent crackdowns and execution of young protesters, the Women, Life, Freedom movement has fostered a collective courage to defy the regime.

In anticipation of the anniversary, both sides have been bracing themselves. People are gearing up for a potential resurgence of protests, while the state is preparing to suppress any sign of dissent.

Many hope the political stalemate will not last indefinitely. While the move towards democracy may span years, the desperate desire for change must, surely, shift the prevailing order.The Conversation

Afshin Shahi, Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer) in Middle East Politics & International Relations at Keele University, Keele University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Summer 2023’s Climate-Driven Record-Breaking heat is not ‘The New Normal,’ since the abnormalities will Keep on Coming Sun, 17 Sep 2023 04:02:34 +0000 Scott Denning, Colorado State University | –

Summer 2023 has been the hottest on record by a huge margin. Hundreds of millions of people suffered as heat waves cooked Europe, Japan, Texas and the Southwestern U.S. Phoenix hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) for a record 54 days, including a 31-day streak in July. Large parts of Canada were on fire. Lahaina, Hawaii, burned to the ground.

As an atmospheric scientist, I get asked at least once a week if the wild weather we’ve been having is “caused” by climate change. This question reflects a misunderstanding of the difference between weather and climate.

Consider this analogy from the world of sports: Suppose a baseball player is having a great season, and his batting average is twice what it was last year. If he hits a ball out of the park on Tuesday, we don’t ask whether he got that hit because his batting average has risen. His average has gone up because of the hits, not the other way around. Perhaps the Tuesday homer resulted from a fat pitch, or the wind breaking just right, or because he was well rested that day. But if his batting average has doubled since last season, we might reasonably ask if he’s on steroids.

Unprecedented heat and downpours and drought and wildfires aren’t “caused by climate change” – they are climate change.

The rise in frequency and intensity of extreme events is by definition a change in the climate, just as an increase in the frequency of base hits causes a better’s average to rise.

And as in the baseball analogy, we should ask tough questions about the underlying cause. While El Niño is a contributor to the extreme heat this year, that warm event has only just begun. The steroids fueling extreme weather are the heat-trapping gases from burning coal, oil and gas for energy around the world.

Nothing ‘normal’ about it

A lot of commentary uses the framing of a “new normal,” as if our climate has undergone a step change to a new state. This is deeply misleading and downplays the danger. The unspoken implication of “new normal” is that the change is past and we can adjust to it as we did to the “old normal.”

Unfortunately, warming won’t stop this year or next. The changes will get worse until we stop putting more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the planet can remove.

The excess carbon dioxide humans have put into the atmosphere raises the temperature – permanently, as far as human history is concerned. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for a long time, so long that the carbon dioxide from a gallon of gasoline I burn today will still be warming the climate in thousands of years.

That warming increases evaporation from the planet’s surface, putting more moisture into the atmosphere to fall as rain and snow. Locally intense rainfall has more water vapor to work with in a warmer world, so big storms drop more rain, causing dangerous floods and mudslides like the ones we saw in Vermont, California, India and other places around the world this year.

By the same token, anybody who’s ever watered the lawn or a garden knows that in hot weather, plants and soils need more water. A hotter world also has more droughts and drying that can lead to wildfires.

So, what can we do about it?

Not every kind of bad weather is associated with burning carbon. There’s scant evidence that hailstorms or tornadoes or blizzards are on the increase, for example. But if summer 2023 shows us anything, it’s that the extremes that are caused by fossil fuels are uncomfortable at best and often dangerous.

Without drastic emission cuts, the direct cost of flooding has been projected to rise to more than US$14 trillion per year by the end of the century and sea-level rise to produce billions of refugees. By one estimate, unmitigated climate change could reduce per capita income by nearly a quarter by the end of the century globally and even more in the Global South if future adaptation is similar to what it’s been in the past. The potential social and political consequences of economic collapse on such a scale are incalculable.

Fortunately, it’s quite clear how to stop making the problem worse: Re-engineer the world economy so that it no longer runs on carbon combustion. This is a big ask, for sure, but there are affordable alternatives.

Clean energy is already cheaper than old-fashioned combustion in most of the world. Solar and wind power are now about half the price of coal- and gas-fired power. New methods for transmitting and storing power and balancing supply and demand to eliminate the need for fossil fuel electricity generation are coming online around the world.

In 2022, taxpayers spent about $7 trillion subsidizing oil and gas purchases and paying for damage they caused. All that money can go to better uses. For example, the International Energy Agency has estimated the world would need to spend about $4 trillion a year by 2030 on clean energy to cut global emissions to net zero by midcentury, considered necessary to keep global warming in check.

Just as the summer of 2023 was among the hottest in thousands of years, 2024 will likely be hotter still. El Niño is strengthening, and this weather phenomenon has a history of heating up the planet. We will probably look back at recent years as among the coolest of the 21st century.The Conversation

Scott Denning, Professor of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Zinc-Ion Batteries may solve our Renewable Energy Storage Problem Sat, 16 Sep 2023 04:02:19 +0000 By Storm William D Gourley, McMaster University and Drew Higgins, McMaster University | –

(The Conversation) – Hotter summers, drier forests, rising waters: climate change is not just a threat to our future, it’s hurting our world right now.

While there are many ways human activity has brought about climate change, global electricity generation sources are among the leading culprits. Despite small upticks in the supply of wind and solar power, we have not yet reached a point where we are able to dislodge the fossil fuels that are entrenched in the power mix of many countries.

But why is this still the case?

Since renewable sources deliver an intermittent supply of power, we also need a way to store this energy to meet the demand of the grid when the sun is not shining, or the wind is not blowing. This is a major challenge, as the switch to renewable power also requires establishing long lasting, safe and affordable energy storage systems. As such, finding a cheap, safe and alternative battery to lithium is the key to moving the needle to a completely renewable power sector.

Beyond lithium-ion batteries

As with electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries have become a popular option for the grid, as they offer a high energy density, modular solution for energy storage. But the use of lithium-ion batteries has also brought along its own challenges with high cost of materials, risk of fire and explosion and lack of recycling practices limiting the widespread adoption of lithium-ion batteries for the grid.

One incredibly promising option to replace lithium for grid scale energy storage is the rechargeable zinc-ion battery. Emerging only within the last 10 years, zinc-ion batteries offer many advantages over lithium. These include cheaper material costs, increased safety and easier recycling options.

With grid-scale energy storage potential at a considerably cheaper cost — and higher levels of safety — widespread commercialization of zinc-ion batteries could be exactly what is needed to integrate renewables into energy
infrastructure in Canada and other countries.

The cost of a battery

For Canada to reach the decarbonization targets set in the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, including a grid powered by 90 per cent renewable electricity, the deployment of zinc-ion batteries will be crucial.

Studies have shown that for renewables to become the source of 90 to 95 per cent of all electricity, the cost of energy storage must be below US$150/kWh. Modern lithium-ion systems are still sitting around US$350/kWh. In part, this is due to high manufacturing costs and their reliance on expensive raw materials to achieve the high energy density needed for modern electric vehicles.

Zinc-ion batteries on the other hand, could solve the cost and abundance issues. Using inexpensive, abundant materials such as zinc and manganese not only makes them cheaper to produce, but lowers risk from supply chain disruptions or material shortages that affect lithium-ion materials such as lithium and cobalt.

The annual production of zinc globally is over 100 times that of lithium. Not to mention that demand for lithium and cobalt is anticipated to outweigh the supply within the next decade.

Zinc is a safer option

With rigorous safety standards being created for batteries used in homes, factories or within the electrical grid, safety is key to getting the public to embrace them. In this way, zinc-ion batteries offer further advantage.

The flammable and toxic solvent based electrolyte of lithium-ion batteries is replaced with a water-based alternative, removing the risk of fire and explosion.

Conversely, the safe disposal of lithium-ion batteries can also be a difficult task, as they contain toxic compounds. Recycling these batteries is currently economically infeasible due to high costs leading to large numbers of spent cells ending up in landfills.

Fortunately, zinc-ion batteries simplify end of life treatment. The nontoxic, aqueous electrolyte used in zinc-ion batteries means that well established methods like those for lead-acid battery disposal can be used. Also, the metallic zinc anode could be easily reused in new batteries.

The future of energy storage

To reach its goal of 90 per cent renewable energy by 2030, Canada must look for alternatives to lithium-ion batteries to enable decarbonization of its power sector. Leveraging the cost, abundance and safety benefits of zinc-ion batteries, Canada can accelerate the integration of wind and solar power across the nation.

Zinc-ion batteries support Canada’s decarbonization goals and prove an opportunity to capitalize on a rapidly expanding battery market. While zinc-ion batteries are a relatively new technology, their potential to support grid scale energy storage within Canada and worldwide cannot be understated.

With the help of Canadian research and manufacturing, including efforts from McMaster University and Dartmouth, N.S.-based Salient Energy Inc., the integration of zinc-ion batteries could become a reality within the next several years, establishing Canada as an industry leader.The Conversation

Storm William D Gourley, PhD Candidate, Chemical Engineering, McMaster University and Drew Higgins, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, McMaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

30 Years after Arafat-Rabin Handshake, clear Flaws in Oslo Accords doomed peace Talks to Failure Thu, 14 Sep 2023 07:47:30 +0000 By Maha Nassar, University of Arizona | –

On Sept. 13, 1993, the world watched as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn. It was a stunning moment. The famous handshake between adversaries marked the beginning of what became known as the Oslo Accords, a framework for talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives, mediated by U.S. diplomats.

The idea was that through open-ended negotiations and confidence-building measures, Palestinians would eventually take control over their own affairs in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem – territories that Israel had illegally occupied following the 1967 Six-Day War.

After an interim period of five years, the thinking went, a Palestinian state would exist side by side with Israel. And through such a two-state solution, peace between Israel and the Palestinians could be achieved.

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Thirty years later, it is clear the Oslo Accords have achieved neither peace nor a two-state solution. So far in 2023 alone, over 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis have been killed. Israel has the most right-wing, nationalist government in its history, and the Palestinian leadership is weak and divided. There is little prospect for a return to negotiations anytime soon.

How did this grim reality emerge from such high hopes in 1993? Many analysts point to violations of the terms of the accords committed by both sides. Others blame a lack of accountability, which allowed those violations to go unchecked.

Certainly, there is plenty of blame to go around. But as a scholar of Palestinian history, it is clear to me that the Oslo peace process failed because the framework itself was deeply flawed in three key ways.

First, it ignored the power imbalance between the two sides. Second, it focused on ending violence by Palestinian militant groups while overlooking acts of violence committed by the Israeli state. And third, it sought peace as the end goal, rather than justice.

Let’s break each one of these down.

Ignoring the power imbalance

The Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, had implicitly recognized Israel in 1988. But a more formal statement was needed for Israel to agree to talks. In an exchange of letters on Sept. 9, 1993, Arafat wrote to Rabin, “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.”

In formally recognizing Israel’s right to exist, the PLO essentially gave up sole sovereign claims to 78% of the Palestinians’ historic homeland that was now claimed by Israel.

In response, Rabin wrote to Arafat that Israel would “recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.” He did not recognize the Palestinians’ right to form their own state.

In a “Declaration of Principles,” signed by Arafat and Rabin at the White House on Sept. 13, it was stated that the aim of the talks was “the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (from 1967) and 338 (from 1973).” Those U.N. resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied in 1967. But they do not explicitly call for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Since then, Israel has expropriated nearly half of the West Bank for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers, in violation of international law. It also routinely siphons off water from Palestinian underground aquifers for the use of the settlers, while depriving Palestinians access to their own water.

As a result of these and other measures, life for Palestinians became worse during the post-Oslo years, not better. As Palestinians lost further control over their lands, homes and resources, their ability to establish a state grew more distant.

Yet, by insisting that bilateral negotiations take place between a powerful state and a stateless people – rather than under the auspices of the United Nations or other international body – the Oslo framework ignored the power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians. U.S. mediators would insist that both sides needed to compromise. But Israel held far more military, economic and diplomatic power than the Palestinians.

By ignoring this power imbalance, the Oslo Accords effectively allowed Israel to continue to confiscate land and resources with no consequences. With 60% of the West Bank under Israeli control, the prospects for a viable, independent Palestinian state were undermined.

No end to state violence

A 1994 follow-up agreement stated, “Both sides shall take all measures necessary in order to prevent acts of terrorism, crime and hostilities directed against each other.” It added that “the Palestinian side shall take all measures necessary to prevent such hostile acts directed against the Settlements, the infrastructure serving them and the Military Installation Area.”

Successive Israeli governments have interpreted “hostile acts” broadly. As a result, even Palestinians who have defended their lands through nonviolent means have been arrested, imprisoned and shot at by Israeli soldiers.

The agreement also stated that “the Israeli side shall take all measures necessary to prevent such hostile acts emanating from the Settlements and directed against Palestinians.” But it does not mention Israeli military violence against Palestinian civilians.

To enforce this agreement, the Palestinian Authority – an autonomous body that rules over Palestinians in the West Bank – agreed to coordinate with the Israeli military over security matters. It would either arrest Palestinians whom Israel suspects of carrying out hostilities or allow Israel to enter Palestinian areas and arrest suspects themselves.

This coordination protects Israelis from Palestinian violence, but it does not protect Palestinians from violence by the Israeli military. Since fall 2000, the Israel military has killed eight times as many Palestinians as compared with Israelis killed by Palestinians. Half of those Palestinian victims were not involved in hostilities when they were killed, according to analysis from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

Palestinians are also subjected to other kinds of human rights abuses from the Israeli state. These include home demolitions, imprisonment without charge or trial and abuse at checkpoints. Most soldiers accused of harming Palestinians do not face consequences for their actions, according to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization.

Peace over justice

This kind of structural violence and abuse – perpetrated by the state against marginalized groups – rarely makes headlines in Western media. Such a lack of awareness reinforces Israel’s ability to control Palestinians’ lives and further undermines the prospects for peace.

Yet this exclusive focus on achieving peace has, I believe, also been part of the problem. American and Israeli diplomats narrowly defined peace as the absence of armed violence and set that as the overarching goal. They believed that if Palestinians refrained from committing acts of violence, then peace through a two-state solution could be achieved. Coverage that mirrored this perspective in the mainstream U.S. media further entrenched this view.

But this understanding of peace has ignored the Palestinians’ need for justice. At a minimum, justice to many Palestinians would have meant an end to security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel and the establishment of an independent, democratic Palestinian state on the remaining 22% of their homeland.

But with the power imbalances enshrined in the Oslo framework, and with U.S. mediators focusing more on peace – measured by incidents of Palestinian violence over those perpetrated by the Israeli state – this was not to be.

Oslo as ‘surrender’

One month after the famous handshake, the Palestinian scholar Edward Said described the Oslo Accords as “an instrument of Palestinian surrender.” Recently, a group of leading political scientists called on U.S. policymakers to abandon the Oslo framework and the two-state solution altogether. They call on the U.S. to “advocate for equality, citizenship, and human rights for all Jews and Palestinians living within the single state dominated by Israel.”

It is, I believe, an urgent call. Life for Palestinians is getting worse, not better. A growing number of international human rights organizations and public figures describe the current reality on the ground in Israel-Palestine as a form of apartheid.

Thirty years after their famous handshake, Arafat and Rabin have long since passed. It’s time to admit that the process they kick-started is also now confined to history.The Conversation

Maha Nassar, Associate Professor in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of Arizona

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Solar panel technology is set to be Turbo-Charged Wed, 13 Sep 2023 04:02:16 +0000 By Bruno Vicari Stefani, CSIRO; and Matthew Wright, University of Oxford | –

Solar panel technology has made enormous progress in the last two decades. In fact, the most advanced silicon solar cells produced today are about as good as the technology will get.

So what’s next? Enter “tandem solar cells”, the new generation in solar technology. They can convert a much greater portion of sunlight into electricity than conventional solar cells.

The technology promises to fast-track the global transition away from polluting sources of energy generation such as coal and gas. But there’s a major catch.

As our new research shows, current tandem solar cells must be redesigned if they’re to be manufactured at the scale required to become the climate-saving technology the planet needs.

The solar story so far

A solar cell is a device that turns sunlight into electricity. One important measure when it comes to solar cells is their efficiency – the proportion of sunlight they can convert into electricity.

Almost all solar panels we see today are made from “photovoltaic” silicon cells. When light hits the silicon cell, electrons inside it produce an electric current.

The first silicon photovoltaic cell, demonstrated in 1954 in the United States, had an efficiency of about 5%. That means that for every unit of the Sun’s energy the cell received, 5% was turned into electricity.

But the technology has since developed. At the end of last year, Chinese solar manufacturer LONGi announced a new world-record efficiency for silicon solar cells of 26.81%.

Silicon solar cells will never be able to convert 100% of the Sun’s energy into electricity. That’s mostly because an individual material can absorb only a limited proportion of the solar spectrum.

To help increase efficiency – and so continue to reduce the cost of solar electricity – new technology is needed. That’s where tandem solar cells come in.

Image by Sebastian Ganso from Pixabay

A promising new leap

Tandem solar cells use two different materials which absorb energy from the Sun together. In theory, it means the cell can absorb more of the solar spectrum – and so produce more electricity – than if just one material is used (such as silicon alone).

Using this approach, researchers overseas recently achieved a tandem solar cell efficiency of 33.7%. They did this by building a thin solar cell with a material called perovskite directly on top of a traditional silicon solar cell.

Traditional silicon solar panels still dominate manufacturing. But leading solar manufacturers have signalled plans to commercialise the tandem cell technology.

Such is the potential of tandem solar cells, they are poised to overtake the conventional technology in coming decades. But the expansion will be thwarted, unless the technology is redesigned with new, more abundant materials.

The problem of materials

Almost all tandem solar cells involve a design known as “silicon heterojunction”. Solar cells made in this way normally require more silver, and more of the chemical element indium, than other solar cell designs.

But silver and indium are scarce materials.

Silver is used in thousands of applications, including manufacturing, making it highly sought after. In fact, global demand for silver reportedly rose by 18% last year.

Likewise, indium is used to make touchscreens and other smart devices. But it’s extremely rare and only found in tiny traces.

This scarcity isn’t a problem for tandem solar technology yet, because it hasn’t yet been produced in large volumes. But our research shows this scarcity could limit the ability of manufacturers to ramp up production volumes in future.

This may represent a substantial roadblock in tackling climate change. By mid-century, the world must install 62 times more solar power capacity than is currently built, to enable the clean energy shift.

Clearly, a major redesign of tandem solar cells is urgently needed to enable this exponential acceleration of solar deployment.

Ramping up the transition

Some silicon solar cells don’t use indium and require only a small amount of silver. Research and development is urgently needed to make these cells compatible with tandem technology. Thankfully, this work has already begun – but more is needed.

A scarcity of materials is not the only barrier to overcome. Tandem solar cells must also be made more durable. Solar panels we see everywhere today are generally guaranteed to produce a decent amount of electricity for at least 25 years. Perovskite-on-silicon tandem cells don’t last as long.

Solar power has already shaken up electricity generation in Australia and around the world. But in the race to tackle climate change, this is only the beginning.

Tandem solar cell research is truly global, conducted within a range of countries, including Australia. The technology offers a promising way forward. But the materials used to make them must be urgently reconsidered.The Conversation

Bruno Vicari Stefani, CERC Fellow, Solar Technologies, CSIRO and Matthew Wright, Postdoctoral Researcher in Photovoltaic Engineering, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Marrakech Artisans – who have helped rebuild the Moroccan City before – are among those hit hard in the Earthquake’s Devastation Tue, 12 Sep 2023 04:02:59 +0000 By Abbey Stockstill, Southern Methodist University | –

A powerful earthquake that hit close to the medieval city of Marrakech in Morocco on Sept. 8, 2023, has killed thousands and injured many more. It has also put at risk buildings and monuments of major historic importance, among them the minaret of the Kutubiyya mosque, a 12th-century structure that is an icon of the city.

The Medina, the medieval walled portion of the city, is now littered with rubble. The cultural significance of the Medina extends far beyond the antiques and trinkets sold to tourists.

It is the location of numerous artisan workshops that make the ceramic tiles, carved plaster and intricate woodwork that decorate the city. Many of these workshops have maintained traditional methods for centuries, transmitting skill sets down through the generations.

Part of Morocco’s bid for Marrakech’s UNESCO status was based on these craft traditions being “intangible cultural heritage,” which the U.N. describes as knowledge or skills that are passed down orally rather than in written form.

I’ve been working in Marrakech since 2014, living there on and off as I completed research on a book about the development of Marrakech as a medieval metropolis. Although my work focused on the 12th century, the more I learned about the city, the more I realized that most of the urban fabric and architectural sites I was looking at were thanks to the conservation efforts of local workshops.

The UNESCO designation was a historical acknowledgment of the traditions of poor and rural communities that can often get left out of larger conversations about art history. It is precisely these communities that have maintained Marrakech’s architectural heritage for generations, but the earthquake has destroyed the workshops and residences of many in the Medina.

These poor and rural communities are at their most vulnerable just when their skills will be needed the most to help rebuild the city after this disaster.

Oral origins

Marrakech was founded in 1070 by the Almoravid dynasty, which derived from a tribe that was part of a larger non-Arab confederation of peoples now referred to as Berbers.

It was one of the first major cities in the wider Islamic west, known as the Maghrib – now comprising Morocco, Algeria and parts of Tunisia – to be founded by a group indigenous to the region.

The majority of the community spoke a dialect of Tamazight, an Afro-Asiatic language distinct from Arabic. It was primarily an oral language, meaning that knowledge was more commonly handed down via poetic stories rather than written texts.

Some Arabic sources described the Almoravids as “unsophisticated” and “illiterate,” yet the evidence of their architectural and artistic heritage suggests otherwise. In Marrakech, they built an elegantly proportioned dome known as the Qubba al-Barudiyyin and commissioned the elaborate wooden minbar (pulpit) that now sits in the Badiʿ Palace Museum.

They were followed by the Almohad dynasty, another largely indigenous group, that faced similar accusations in historical accounts despite building the Kutubiyya minaret, Marrakech’s signature monument.

Site of independence movements

The city’s origins as a Berber capital contributed to making Marrakech the epicenter of contemporary Moroccan national identity, rooted in a pride and independence centuries old. Whereas other North African cities had roots in Arab or Roman tradition, Marrakech could claim to be distinctly Moroccan.

In the face of Ottoman expansion in the 16th century, the kingdom of Morocco, based out of Marrakech, was the sole region of the Arabic-speaking world to maintain their autonomy from Turkish control.

Although the French and the Spanish would compete for colonial rule of the country, the Moroccan independence movements of the 20th century were largely based out of Marrakech. The city was so prone to revolt that the French administration moved the colonial capital further north to Rabat.

Even the word “Morocco” is derived from an etymological transmutation of “Marrakech.”

A hidden history

And yet, recovering the city’s significant past is an exercise in reading between the lines.

The oral traditions of the city’s founders were rarely faithfully transcribed. Written sources are often scattered and unpublished, and those that do exist are often written by outsiders or visitors to the city.

The Ottomans were excellent record-keepers, enabling scholars to explore extensive centralized archives on every part of the Arabic world – except Morocco, whose archives remain dispersed and underfunded. Historians have had to work obliquely to uncover concrete details, relying on archaeological and anthropological research to supplement oral traditions.

Integral to these efforts was the role of craft traditions in and around Marrakech. Craft was a key point of France’s colonial efforts in Marrakech, where they established “artisan schools” in the Medina to ostensibly document and preserve their methods. In doing so, the French Protectorate – which ruled the country from 1912 to 1956 – created a kind of living nostalgia within the Medina, conflating the people who actually lived there with the city’s medieval past.

This effectively created a form of economic and social segregation in which craftsmen and their families were siloed into the old town, while the wealthier expatriates and tourists occupied the Ville Nouvelle outside the medieval walls.

Preserving the past through craft

At the same time, these craft traditions are also what made it possible to preserve and restore many of the sites in and around Marrakech that now draw thousands of tourists each year.

The Qasba Mosque, the city’s “second” major mosque after the Kutubiyya and originally built between 1185 and 1189, underwent successive restorations in both the 17th and 21st centuries after political instability led to their decline. In both cases, local artisans were employed to renovate the mosque’s stucco walls and the mosaic tile work known as zellij.

An wall with multicolored tiles and carved plaster decoration.
The Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakech.
Abbey Stockstill, CC BY

The 11th-century Almoravid pulpit required a team of Moroccan craftsmen to successfully restore the minbar’s intricate marquetry.

Artisans have also been important ambassadors for Morocco’s place in the larger canon of Islamic art, building a courtyard as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2011 renovation of their Islamic galleries using 14th-century techniques and materials.

With the Marrakech Medina partially destroyed, many of these artisans and workshops will face tough choices regarding their future. Gentrification over the last decade has priced many residents out of their ancestral homes, and many of these workshops operate on thin margins – too thin to both pay for damages and retain control over their property.

Rebuilding intangible heritage

Parts of the city walls cracked in the earthquake, and an 18th-century mosque in the main square lost its minaret. The historic 12th-century site of Tinmal, not far from Marrakech and nestled in the Atlas Mountains, has also collapsed.

The human toll of the earthquake is still being tallied, and the material damage is likely to be extensive. Nothing can replace the loss of life. Yet the history and resilience of a place are instrumental in any recovery.

It will be the role of Marrakech’s intangible heritage – its artists and artisans – to rebuild after this disaster. In the midst of narratives about caliphs and sultans, philosophers and poets, it can be easy to forget that the people who built these places often went unnamed in the historical texts.

But these artists will need support to maintain Marrakech’s history, to preserve the past for future historians to discover.The Conversation

Abbey Stockstill, Assistant Professor of Art History, Southern Methodist University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.