As the world celebrates the start of a new decade, in Australia, the pomp and fun of welcoming a new year have been overshadowed by a mega-crisis. This has been due to the country’s 2019 fire season, which has proven to be exceptionally brutal and quite a challenge to control. Only a few days into 2020 and forecasts are still pointing to worse days as the Australian forest fires are expected to continue spreading. According to the national weather forecaster, it has been predicted that the nation’s east (which has been the hardest hit) will experience drier-than-average conditions until March or later. Essentially, this means that for the next three months, a lot of effort and input is required to manage the devastating fires.
For centuries, bushfires have been an intrinsic part of the Australian natural environment, and each year, there are varied fire-seasons expected in different parts of the country. The continent’s weather patterns are the defining aspects of where it is most likely that these fires to occur. Typically, in southern Australia, the risks are higher in summer and autumn. While for New South Wales and Queensland, wildfires are likely to occur in spring and early summer. Finally, in the northern territory, most wildfires occur in winter and spring. These fires have primarily been propelled by the fact that the Australian climate is generally hot and dry, with most parts of the country having lots of vegetation cover. As such, not only is most of the country fire-prone, but bushfires are highly likely to spread too quickly.
The 2019 Australian wildfires
There was an early kick-off to the fire season in 2019 in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, where the first incidents were reported in September. Since then, there has been a series of widespread forest fires that have continued over the months into 2020. While a typical fire season in the region extends from October to March, this year’s fires not only begun earlier but were much wilder. Within a month, these wildfires had already burned more earth than the damage that has been caused in the past two years. For many people, attention was raised by the Binna Burra fire in South East Queensland that destroyed 11 homes and the historic lodge. This was the wakeup call as the fire swept through the surrounding subtropical forest (a cool and wet region) in an unprecedented way.
Since then, wildfires that have started in different parts of the region have been extreme with blazes tearing through bushland, wooded areas, and national parks. While the fires affecting various areas are varied in size, there have been massive infernos that have affected hectares of land. These huge blazes have not been easy to contain, with some burning for months while covering more acres by the day. It has become worse as some of the massive fires have merged to create an ‘out of control situation’ for the firefighters. One of the complex situations that have been a challenge to manage has been the Gospers Mountain fire that at one point ballooned to over 1.2 million acres. The sheer size of such a single massive fire is in itself too demanding to be handled in a week or two.
What is making the fires so disastrous?
2019 has been the hottest year for Australia according to government records that show the country was +1.5° warmer than average. These record-breaking temperatures saw the country experience average highs of 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit (41.9 degrees Celsius) in December. Not only was the country hot, but it was extremely dry, given the low rainfall recorded in the year. Even the annual monsoon rains that caused dangerous flooding in Queensland were behind schedule, and while it packed quite a punch, it did not last. As such, most of the country faced drought, with the vast forest covers having lots of fuel load and moisture. Therefore, immediately the fires started, they were bound to be more intense, given the underlying dryness and heat in the country.
The drought experienced in the country did not leave out the rainforest systems that are typically immune to raging fires because of the moist conditions. This has been the primary reason why areas that in the past never had to worry about Australian forest fires have equally been affected. It is not just the hot temperatures and dry conditions that have seen fires take a toll of Australia, but strong winds have aided them. The strong winds experienced in most parts of the nation have caused dangerous conditions as they have led to the quick spread of the fires. This has equally led to thick smoke that has greatly undermined the efforts by firefighters to contain the disaster. Together, these conditions have created the ultimate recipe for disaster. This has led to the worst fire season that Australia has ever had to deal with in decades.
Effects of the Australian wildfires
So far, more than 14.8 million acres have been destroyed by the Australian fires, making it shockingly huge. Compared to similar events that made international headlines recently, such as the Californian wildfires and fires in the Amazon rainforest, this is by size the largest. The New South Wales, which includes Sydney, has been the hardest hit as more than 10 million of the burned acres are in the state. Currently, the residents of Sydney and nearby towns are battling with poor air quality as the city has been engulfed by hazardous haze from the fires.
The Australian wildfires have equally led to massive destruction of properties, loss of lives, and massive human displacement. Currently, reports show that more than 1,400 homes have been destroyed, with 20 reported incidents of death (including three firefighters who have died over this period). It is not only humans who have been affected, but tens of thousands of animals have had their habitats destroyed, with a significant percentage being killed. While scientists have not yet provided official reports, it is feared that several rare animal and plant species could be completely wiped out.
Endangered Animals That Might Disappear From The Earth Soon
Endangered animals are those animals that are under great threat of becoming extinct in the near future. When an animal or species is marked as endangered, it simply means that they are vanishing fast or the population is not large enough to stand the test of time. Here is a list of some of the threatened animals:
Siberian Tiger: The cold, snowy climate of Siberia is the natural habitat of the Siberian tiger, the largest member of the cat family. It is a highly endangered species with approximately 540 of them at present. Loss of habitat and hunting of Amur tigers have been responsible for the reduction in their numbers. Another area of concern is that there is not much genetic diversity in the existing population, enhancing their vulnerability.
Black Rhino: Black Rhino of Africa is a critically endangered species at the moment. A shocking report revealed that there were 70,000 black rhinos in the 1960s and only 2410 of them in the year 1995. The biggest reason behind the extinction of these animals is poaching as the horn of the rhino is used to prepare Chinese medicine. After that, measures have been taken to stop poaching and selling their horns to countries such as Vietnam and China.
Mandarin Duck: The mandarin duck is among the most beautiful- looking ducks, often spotted on the lakes and ponds in Britain. However, the native habitats of these bright- colored ducks are China, eastern Asia, Japan, and Korea. With forests being cut down, they are having difficulty surviving.
Mountain Gorilla: Mountain gorillas reside along the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Not discovered until 1902, the mountain gorillas have endured a lot due to human activities such as war, hunting, habitat destruction, and unlawful pet trade. In 1989, the total number of mountain gorillas left was 620. Thanks to diligent conservation efforts, the population has started increasing and the current number is 880.
Blue Whale: The blue whale is the largest animal to have inhabited planet Earth and also among the endangered animals. They live mainly in the ice-cold waters of the Antarctic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean where there is an abundance of plankton for their sustenance. In the whaling season between1930 and 1931, the Antarctic whalers killed 30,000 of them. The community of blue whales needs at least 10 decades of protection to reach a number that will diminish threats of extinction.
Komoda Dragon: The Komoda dragons are the largest members of the lizard family and they are found in the islands of Indonesia. These giant lizards can be as long as 3 meters and are considered to be powerful predators. They prefer to live in uninhabited islands are, therefore, are at a constant threat from human beings.
Loggerhead Turtle: Loggerhead turtle is a threatened reptile living in the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Black Sea. In ancient times, the main dangers to loggerhead turtles were hunting for their meat and shell. At present times, tourists crowding the sandy beaches preferred by turtles for nesting have been responsible for their small population. Again, increased temperature of sand results in the birth of more females, thereby disturbing the balance.
Lion-tailed Macaque: If you want to spot some of these small monkeys you have to travel all the way to the tropical rainforests in the southwestern part of India. Unlike several other animals residing there, the long-tailed macaque faces difficulties adapting to the changed habitat. Poachers have also captured thousands of baby macaques in the past, often killing the parents while doing so.
What are we doing to save the endangered species? The United States of America passed the US Endangered Act or ESA in the year 1973 with the aim of recovering and protecting imperiled species along with the ecosystems that are crucial to their survival. The ESA has acted as a safety net for the endangered animals and has been successful in preventing the extinction of more than 90 percent of the species under its effective care. Many species bald eagle, Stellar sea lion, and grizzly bear are on the path to recovery, thanks to this law.
Global Warming: The Coronavirus and the Reduction of Global Carbon Emissions
Have you wondered whether any good can come from the global coronavirus, COVID-19? Will there be a long-term decline in global warming statistics caused by the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions?
The disastrous consequences of COVID-19
At a glance, there are many more disadvantages than advantages. The global economy is battling to hold up under the strain of the rapid spread of the virus. Mainland China has closed off her airports and harbors, and as most of the world’s manufactured products come from China, these closures are causing havoc in the rest of the world.
Eric Morath of the Wall Street Journal notes that “financial markets and economic forecasters are warning of rising risks for the U.S and global economy, which we’re improving before the novel coronavirus spread from China around the world.”
Current infection rates stand at 102 469 cases across the globe, with more than sixty-four countries reporting at least one case. And, most of the infections, 80 651 cases, are in mainland China. As Alan Whiteside notes, in his seminal piece titled, “Covid-19 (the SARS-CoV-2) and you,” there are “puzzling blank spots on the map, notably most of Africa and Latin America and China outside Hubei.”
Consequently, the question that scientists and researchers are asking is: Why are the COVID-19 infection numbers extremely low or non-existent in these areas? There are currently no answers to this question. Researchers simply do not know.
The trajectory in global infection rates is difficult to predict because there are too many unknowns in how the virus spreads, mutates, and whether it is seasonal or not. Thus, the researchers who use mathematical algorithms to develop predictive models determining how bad the outbreak will be, are reporting vastly different outcomes based on the various mathematical equations used as a basis for a particular model. In this case, the number of predicted cases range from at least 500 000 cases to a maximum of 4.4 million cases.
As an aside, researchers know that the virus spreads through touch. This typically occurs when a person touches a surface that has been contaminated by an infected person and touches their face, especially their mouth, eyes, or nose. It is also transferred via infected droplets that are sprayed everywhere by an infected person coughing or sneezing.
Finally, the Case Fatality Rate (CFR) needs to be considered to put the disease into perspective. The seasonal flu CFR rates in the USA is usually less than 0.1%. In other words, there is one fatality for every 1000 infections. The original CFR rate in China was originally thought to be 2.3%.
However, it has also been reported by the Worldometers.info website that a number of COVID-19 cases double every 7.4 days. Thus, the global CFR rate has dropped from 2.3% to 2.2%. And, more than 50% of those infected have recovered.
The possible benefit of COVID-19
As an aside, it must be noted that the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak is devastating for many people across the globe, especially for those stranded in geolocations cordoned off by the authorities to prevent the spread of the virus.
And, even though the global health and economic negatives far outweigh any possible benefit to the pandemic, there is one potential advantage to the worldwide reduction of the manufacturing and transport sectors.
The CarbonBrief.org website reported on 19 February 2020, with updated information on 4 March 2020, that China’s CO2 emissions had reduced by 25%. This is because electricity demand and industrial output are still far below their usual levels. Statistically speaking, the effects of the attempt to contain the coronavirus have resulted in a 15% to 40% reduction in production across China.
Preneshni R. Naicker, in her journal article titled, “The impact of climate change and other factors on zoonotic diseases,” notes that “geoclimatic change most markedly affects zoonotic diseases transmitted by arthropod vectors.”
She also highlights the fact that circa 60% of all new human pathogens are zoonoses. In other words, almost two-thirds of all new viruses contracted by humans are transferred from animals. And, there is a complicated relationship between the human-animal interface, which is continuously influenced by the effects of climate change.
Therefore, based on this scientific research, it is possible to conclude that the earth, or environment, allows, even encourages, the development of zoonoses like the latest coronavirus to protect itself from the ongoing destruction as a consequence of climate change and global warming.
Bad News for Coal Mining: Green Energy is Gaining Grounds in India
Coal mining is the initial step in the filthy cycle of coal use. It causes deforestation and the release of toxic levels of heavy metals and minerals into the water and soil. Besides, coal mining is linked to the negative environmental impact that persists for decades after the coal has been removed. The good news is that different nations around the world are taking important steps to mitigate the impact of coal extraction action.
India’s bold move
India has achieved a significant green energy milestone and successfully driven another nail into the coffin for coal mining and usage. The country has wrapped up what’s being perceived as the largest ‘firmed renewables’ auction in the world. Besides, India’s move has locked in some of the world’s most affordable prices for solar energy.
Launched by SECI (Solar Energy Corporation of India) in August 2019, the tender called for about 1.2 GW of grid-connected electric power capacity with a guaranteed peak supply of power. This was the first project of this kind in India. The project’s primary objective was to procure a supply of approximately 600 MW of power for 6 hours every day from 5:30 am to 9:30 am and from 5:30 pm to 12:30 am (the peak power demand hours).
Beyond the expectations
SECI’s project was oversubscribed and attracted bids for 1.62 GW of power capacity. However, it was highly competitive, with Greenko securing about 900MW of hydro-storage power for an average tariff of Rs4.404/kWh and a quoted peak tariff of about Rs6.12/kWh.
Additionally, Goldman Sachs-backed ReNew Power acquired 300 MW in battery capacity. The weighted average bid was Rs.4.30/kWh and a quoted peak price of about Rs.6.85/kWh. According to PV Magazine, India has set a world record for renewable-plus-batter storage capacity. And this is a significant step in reducing coal mining and its impact on the environment.
For the amount of renewable energy provided during the off-peak hours, SECI is expected to pay Rs2.88/kWh, a pre-specified tariff. Note that the tariffs granted are payable over a period of 25 years.
The successful bids amount to 3GWh of energy storage capacity and the associated green energy generation assets. And all these sound a warning for coal mining and usage.
Green energy is taking root
According to Kashish Shah, a reputable research analyst at IEEFA, Energy Economics and Financial Analysis), the beauty of this auction was that the target tenderers had provided time-of-use pricing. Shah mentioned that this is the first project for India where battery storage is incorporated, and it shows that when this time-of-day pricing and financial incentive are provided, it is easy to minimize coal mining and attract the top renewable energy players in the industry.
Shah told the RenewEconomy that the tender timing is somewhat right for India as the country is hovering close to the 100GW mark for the overall installed renewable capacity. After this point, storage will become increasingly crucial for all new projects.
Meanwhile, solar energy advocates across the country are now celebrating the results of this tender. This is because the advent of green energy means a death knell electric power generated from coal. Shah agrees to the fact that India should continue taking the right steps to minimize coal mining and imports and then transition from thermal-based electricity production to renewable energy-based power.
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