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The Weekly Anthropocene, December 21 2022
Dispatches from the Wild, Weird World of Humanity and its Biosphere
The Indian megacity of Mumbai has seen a boom in its flamingo population, from an estimated 10,000 in 2007 to an estimated 130,000 in 2022. They arrive in flocks seasonally, and primarily feed on algae in the Thane Creek mudflats, a local strip of wetland surrounded by mangrove stands that together are home to over 160 bird species. The local community has embraced the charismatic flamingos, with flamingo festivals popping up and an annual “Run for Flamingos” marathon attracting thousands. The flamingos of Mumbai are yet another striking example of thriving urban wildlife in the Anthropocene, from the peregrine falcons of New York to the caracals of Cape Town. Great news!
Around the world, power transmission lines are an increasingly vital part of the story of the renewables revolution.
Construction has begun on the Champlain Hudson Power Express, a 339-mile transmission line (entirely underground or underwater) that will deliver 1,250 MW of Québec hydropower to New York City once it’s fully operational in 2026. It should reduce carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons, the equivalent of taking half a million cars off the road every year, and will be fully operational in spring 2026. Another transmission line project, the 179-mile Clean Path New York, will soon bring power to NYC from 3,400 MW of new wind and solar projects on the way in Upstate New York. Together, these projects will be big steps forward to help the state of New York hit its legally mandated target of 70% renewable electricity by 2030!
A planned 600 MW underwater power line running between Tunisia and Italy will bring Saharan solar power to the European grid-and it just received €307 million in funding from the European Union!
India and Saudi Arabia are reportedly in very early talks to link the Gujarat coast with Saudi Arabia with power cables under the Arabian Sea, allowing the transmission of renewable energy between the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East. This would likely be part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s One Sun One World One Grid initiative proposing a global renewable energy grid. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes!
And the Australia-Asia Power Link, perhaps the most ambitious renewables and transmission line project in the world right now, is moving along very nicely! The plan is to build 10 gigawatts (10,000 megawatts) of solar panels in Australia’s Northern Territory (which would be the world’s largest solar farm), then lay a giant 4,200-kilometer undersea power line through Indonesian waters from Australia to the city-state of Singapore. This project alone could meet 15% of Singapore’s electricity needs. On October 18th, Lee Hsien Loong and Anthony Albanese, the prime ministers of Singapore and Australia respectively, signed a green energy deal to help smooth the path for this project to go forward. Bloomberg reports that the project (administered by Sun Cable) is gradually gaining enough funding, has qualified as “investment-ready” allowing for public funding support in Australia, and is on track to start building in 2024 and be fully operating by 2029. This is the sort of bold, innovative work that could one day lay the foundations for a world-spanning super-grid. Spectacular news!
Bringing solar, wind, and hydroelectric power to dense major cities, the world needs more transmission lines to make the clean energy revolution a reality. This newsletter encourages you to be sure to support such projects when they come up in your communities!
More Clean Energy News
The Inflation Reduction Act continues to drive a gigantic, unprecedented boom in clean energy manufacturing in America! From August 16th (the day the law passed) to November 30th, 20 new clean energy manufacturing facilities have been announced or expanded; amounting to 12 solar facilities (a 300% increase in US solar manufacturing capacity!), 6 battery facilities, and 2 wind facilities. Total clean energy investment hit $40 billion in that period, more than for all of 2021! (If you’re interested in accessing Inflation Reduction Act federal support for your business or home, the White House recently released an excellent 183-page guidebook to its investments and how to apply for them).
And the clean energy boom is not slowing down, with more new clean energy manufacturing announcements expanding America’s “battery belt” this December! On December 6th, American Battery Factory announced that they’re building a $1.2 billion lithium ion phosphate battery giga-factory near Tucson, Arizona. ABF will prioritize providing batteries to the US military. And on December 14th, Redwood Materials announced that they’re building a massive $3.5 billion electric vehicle battery manufacturing and recycling campus near Charleston, South Carolina. It should create 1,500 jobs, and begin operations in late 2023. This project will also help US national security by producing key anode and cathode materials currently manufactured almost exclusively in China.
"The federal government has put together a pretty clear set of pretty substantial incentives that guide the direction of this transition, and it's really benefiting the country right now."-JB Straubel, Redwood Materials CEO.
As has been widely reported, the US National Ignition Facility attained a net-energy-positive nuclear fusion reaction for the first time in history on December 5, 2022. This is a truly awesome scientific breakthrough, but it’s not going to be very relevant to the near time fight against climate change in the near- to medium-term. This technology will take decades to commercialize, and will likely use different forms of fusion reactors when that does happen-and by then we’ll hopefully have a completely renewables-powered grid anyway. If commercial fusion proves viable, though, humanity has a pretty strong chance of getting lots and lots of cheap energy by, say, the 2060s. And more energy is always useful-imagine the projects we’ll be able to create!
The European Union passed a landmark new agreement that will greatly simplify the permitting process for renewable energy projects; among other new rules, member states have agreed that the permitting for solar equipment should take no longer than three months. Permitting is increasingly the major remaining bottleneck for renewables deployment now that funding is plentiful and the technology is cheap and efficient, so this will have a big impact!
The state of South Australia generated a whopping 104.1% of its electricity needs from wind and solar alone over a recent seven-day period, exporting the surplus power to neighboring states! South Australia also plans to reach 100% renewables year-round within a few years. The next time someone says wind, solar, and batteries aren’t enough to power a modern industrialized-country grid, tell them about South Australia!
Nine major developed economies (Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have agreed on a Just Energy Transition Partnership deal with Vietnam, on the model of the Indonesia Just Energy Transition Partnership announced this November1. The nine rich countries will provide $15.5 billion in public and private funding to help enable Vietnam to switch from coal to renewable energy. In return, Vietnam has pledged to peak its emissions in 2030, increase its renewables target to 47% of its electricity by 2030, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. If these targets are met, this should prevent 500 megatons of emissions by 2035. These deals are really excellent news, a great model for sustainable development!
Yellowstone National Park
The parasite Toxoplasma gondii has made headlines in recent years for its fascinating biological properties; it’s carried by cats, has likely infected over a third of all living humans2, and has been found to drive infected rodents to riskier behavior, including being less afraid of cats so that they get eaten and the parasite can return to its cat hosts to breed. Now, a new study has found that T. gondii is prevalent in the wild carnivore community of Yellowstone National Park, and seems to be causing some extraordinary behavioral changes.
The researchers found that T. gondii is prevalent among the park’s wild cougars3, with 51.6% testing positive. When they tested 229 Yellowstone wolves, 27.1% were seropositive for T. gondii (i.e. with antibodies indicating current or former infection), mostly wolves from packs that overlapped areas of high cougar density. Fascinatingly, when the researchers cross-referenced the parasite-positive wolves with the well-observed records of individual wolf actions in Yellowstone National Park from 1995 through 2021, they found that the parasite appears to have substantially changed their behavior. A seropositive wolf was 11 times more likely than an uninfected wolf to leave its original pack and disperse to a new area4, and 46 times more likely to become a pack leader!
It gets even crazier: since infected wolves tend to make riskier decisions, and pack leaders determine the course of action for entire packs, the researchers hypothesize that infected pack leaders are more likely to lead their packs into riskier situations (including closer contact with cougars), which leads to more wolves getting infected, which continues the cycle.
As the great biologist J.B.S. Haldane once said, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” This parasite’s life cycle seems to be changing everything from wolf range expansion to pack politics to wolf/cougar interactions-that’s incredibly weird, and really interesting. There are probably untold multitudes of similar multi-species relationships that humanity doesn’t know about yet. The natural world continues to astound us with its complexity!
Yes, you read that right: studies have found that billions of people are carrying a sometimes-mind-altering parasite. This writer is quite probably infected, as they’ve spent a lot of time near cats. It’s generally only harmful to infants and immunocompromised people, though (this is why the CDC recommends that pregnant woman should not clean cat litterboxes) so most people carry Toxoplasma gondii never experience negative health effects.
Which is a high-risk, high-reward action that often leads to the founding of new packs.