The Weekly Anthropocene, August 24 2022
Dispatches from the Wild, Weird World of Humanity and its Biosphere
Macquarie Island, a remote Australian possession halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica, is a biological jewel, home to the world’s entire royal penguin population during nesting season and a key nesting site for a wide array of Southern Ocean seabirds. However, a few decades ago it was overrun by 300,000 introduced European rabbits. Their appetites stripped away the island’s “megaherb” meadows of giant tussock grass and Macquarie Island cabbage, causing erosion and mudslides that threatened seabird nests. After a years-long eradication program, in 2011 conservationist Melissa Houghton and her labrador retriever Wags (pictured, on the island) successfully caught what proved to be the last rabbit on Macquarie Island, making it the largest island to successfully eliminate rabbits to date. Ten years later, the vegetation has rebounded immensely and spread across the island, and the entire ecosystem from insects to seabirds is recovering. Eight major seabird species nesting on Macquarie, the black-browed albatross, light-mantled sooty albatross, Antarctic prion, white-headed petrel, grey-headed albatross, blue petrel, South Georgian diving petrel, and southern diving petrel, have all seen strong local population growth and all save the grey-headed albatross are no longer considered endangered in Australia. (The penguins were already doing great since hunting had stopped decades ago and the rabbits weren’t as much of a threat to them). Although small islands represent only about 5% of Earth’s land area, they’re home to 40% of globally threatened vertebrates and have been the site of 61% of all extinctions since the 1500s (see full study). Projects like this show the way to save them. Great work!
The US state of Georgia saw a record-high 3,966 sea turtle nests in 2022 so far. Over 6,000 baby loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) have hatched from the 236 nests on Jekyll Island alone. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center, also on Jekyll Island, also recently released its 1,000 rehabilitated sea turtle back into the wild, after 15 years so far of helping nurse sea turtles injured by boat collisions and other dangers back to health. The loggerhead sea turtle population in Georgia has grown by about 4% every year since the 1990s.
Wolves in the Alps are experiencing exponential population growth, rising from over 250 packs in 2021 to over 300 in 2022 so far, as they recolonize the rich forested mountains of Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia, and France. A wolf pack is defined as at least two adults with at least one pup, so that’s at least 900 individual wolves. (Pictured above: a map from Swiss wolf protection group Gruppe Wolf Schweiz of the 2021 packs). This wolf population is expected to plateau in the next five years at around 800 packs across the Alps, as they reach carrying capacity. Another example of the historic return of wildlife to a reforesting and less-polluted Europe. Great news!
China has built nearly 31 gigawatts (1 GW=1,000 megawatts) of new solar power electricity generation capacity in the first half of 2022, from January through June, up a whopping 137% from the first half of 2021. (Pictured above: a solar farm in Dunhuang, Gansu Province). China’s total solar power capacity is now at 340 GW, up 25.8% from 2021 already (and the year’s not over!). China also has a previously declared goal to bring combined wind and solar capacity to 1,200 GW by 2030, up from 635 GW at the end of 2021. For context, this is vast amounts of energy: at the end of 2021, the entire United States had slightly under 1,200 GW of total electricity generation capacity, from all forms of electricity production including fossil fuels, renewables, nuclear, and hydro. Solar is set to soar still further!
Wind is booming in China too, especially offshore wind. In 2021, China installed 16.9 GW of offshore wind, over 80% of the 21.1 GW installed worldwide in that year (see chart above).
And all this new renewable energy needs a strong grid to get it to homes and businesses. State Grid Corp. of China will start work this year on a 150 billion yuan (US $22 billion) project to install ultra-high voltage power lines connecting solar, wind, and hydropower in the west (including the new massive desert renewables projects planned) to big cities in the east.
The Chinese auto market, the world’s largest, is now forecast to sell 6 million electric vehicles in all of 2022 (possibly more!), double the 2.99 million new electric vehicles sold in 2021. In July 2022, 486,000 new electric vehicles were sold in China, over 26% of the entire new auto market in China that month. The world’s biggest car buyer is going electric much faster than expected!
Furthermore, the Chinese government has issued new emissions reduction targets for seven key industrial sectors: steel, building materials, petrochemicals, non-ferrous metals, consumer goods, equipment manufacturing and electronics. All companies in these sectors with an annual revenue of 20 million yuan (US $2.9 million) or higher have been ordered to reduce their energy consumption per unit of value by 13.5% below 2020 levels by 2025, and have a new overall goal of peaking carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. Shanghai steel companies are already working to replace their old coal-fired blast furnaces. Some interesting things to note here: first, China’s overall national carbon emissions are already quite likely to peak by 2025, but these heavy industry sectors are slower to decarbonize, so moving them along is progress. Also, reducing energy consumption per unit of value is not the same as reducing energy consumption overall, it means being more efficient, producing more bars of steel/vats of cement/toasters/whatever for the same amount of energy.
To sum up, a ridiculously vast amount of awesome clean energy progress is happening in China these days. The West doesn’t hear that much about it from our media, probably for two fairly good reasons. One, the relevant news items’ primary sources are in Chinese and even when translated can sound kind of odd and confusing. A vitally important recent press release (about that new seven major industries emissions reduction plan) has a title that Google Translate renders as “Notice of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the National Development and Reform Commission on Printing and Distributing the Implementation Plan for Carbon Peaking in the Industrial Sector.” Not exactly go-viral material. And two, the Chinese government is doing lots of horrible things: to name just a few, the Uighur genocide, Hong Kong repression, recent and very possibly ongoing forced organ harvesting, and routinely threatening the free democracy of Taiwan. China is arguably the major geopolitical and ideological rival right now to the group of European, North American, and East and Southeast Asian democracies that this writer collectively thinks of as “the West.” Praising good things happening in China can feel wrong, even traitorous. But still, building out clean energy technology and reducing carbon emissions is really good news for the whole world. If China and the West compete to decarbonize faster, every human and animal on Earth gets a more climactically stable and less air-polluted planet. Great news!
Due to a preplanned family vacation, there will be no The Weekly Anthropocene news roundup for August 31, 2022. However, we will be sending out a piece of original short science fiction, previously only available to paying subscribers!