The turnout at the recently concluded climate summit was impressive and laden with declarations and commitments to net zero emissions. However, whether (and how quickly) countries repay their commitments has nothing to do with what their diplomats said in Glasgow and everything to do with the domestic politics of each country, which has its logic and is only weakly affected by international politics. Indeed, what was required of countries to achieve net zero emissions or the green age is not achievable in the short or medium term without a lot of sacrifice. Not to mention the potentially huge infrastructure spending that will be involved. It would have made more sense to demand what will be acceptable to all, especially “poor countries”.
Climate change has been attributed to human activities such as deforestation, burning fossil fuels, gas flaring, releasing methane into the atmosphere, etc., and perhaps rightly so. Surprisingly, however, natural events on our planet like volcanoes (around 200 of them currently active to varying degrees) that spew large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere have not been included. Not to mention the wildfire seasons in the western United States and Australia.
From now on, many technological solutions of greenwashing are proposed to replace fossil fuels: the combustion of natural gas, currently used in many applications, produces greenhouse gases, but to a lesser extent than fossil fuels, and therefore considered as the path of transition from fossil fuels to fuel. Hydrogen produced from water by electrolysis using renewable energies is called “green hydrogen”. The problem is, green hydrogen is expensive. Currently, most hydrogen is made from natural gas or even coal. It’s cheap but it produces a lot of greenhouse gases. However, if you capture these greenhouse gases and bury them in the ground, you are allowed to call it “blue hydrogen”. Again, they say the technology to capture and store greenhouse gases is unproven and will be expensive. So, for now, the blue hydrogen process continues to spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Thus, it will not be surprising that hydrogen propulsion hides major pollution risks.
We forget that we are where we are today because of technological solutions to meet the increasing demand and lifestyle of the human population. These technologies have damaged the world in two main ways: pollution and depletion of natural resources.
Consider the following: (a) The main sources of air pollution are related to technologies that emerged in the wake of the industrial revolution, such as the burning of fossil fuels, factories, power plants, mass agriculture and the vehicles. The consequences of the emission of harmful or excessive amounts of gases such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide and methane into the earth’s atmosphere, include negative impacts on the health of humans and animals. and global warming, increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the air trap thermal energy in the earth’s atmosphere and cause an increase in global temperature.
(b) Water pollution, on the other hand, is the contamination of water bodies such as lakes, rivers, oceans and groundwater, usually due to human activities. Some of the most common water pollutants are household waste, industrial effluents, and insecticides and pesticides, which can destroy ecosystems and negatively affect the food chain.
(c) Technology has made it possible to consume a natural resource faster than it can be replenished. There are several types of resource depletion, the most serious of which are aquifer depletion, deforestation, fossil fuel and mineral extraction, resource contamination, soil erosion and overconsumption of resources. These mainly occur as a result of agriculture, mining, water use, and the consumption of fossil fuels, all of which have been made possible by advancements in technology. Due to the increase in the world population, the levels of degradation of natural resources are also increasing; Large-scale mineral and petroleum exploration has increased, causing more and more natural depletion of petroleum and minerals. Combined with advancements in technology, development and research, mining of minerals has become easier and therefore humans are digging deeper to access more, resulting in lower production of many resources.
(d) Deforestation has become severe, with the World Bank reporting that the net global forest loss between 1990 and 2015 was 1.3 million km2. This is mainly for agricultural reasons, but also for logging for fuel and to make room for residential areas, encouraged by increasing population pressure. Not only does this result in the loss of trees, which are important because they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but thousands of plants and animals are losing their natural habitat and have become extinct.
(e) Many believe that new environmental technologies, such as renewable energy combined with cleaner fuels, smart logistics and electric transportation, have the potential to cause the rapid decarbonization of our economy and the mitigation of other damage damaging. The question is: will these be sufficient, and not mask other pollution risks, perhaps unknown?
Remember that the conversion of hydrogen into energy produces water vapor, which is an important greenhouse gas. Imagine a situation where hydrogen cars are only driven in already congested cities like London, New York and Lagos, the air will be saturated with water vapor, which means high humidity, with consequences for the environment. and human health. The situation is then akin to a passage from one problem to another. It should also be remembered that the switch to biofuels favored by some is now one of the main causes of habitat destruction, because forests are felled to produce wood pellets and liquid fuels, and soils are destroyed to produce biomethane.
To be continued tomorrow.
• Dr Okoroafor wrote from Lagos.