The Weekly Anthropocene, October 5 2022
Dispatches from the Wild, Weird World of Humanity and its Biosphere
As previously chronicled in this newsletter, the Australian Institute of Marine Science recently achieved a historic breakthrough for coral conservation: successfully inducing Great Barrier Reef corals to spawn out of season, allowing much more coral to be bred in captivity. On the other side of the world, the Florida Aquarium has now succeeded in a completely different coral breeding “moonshot.”
Elkhorn coral populations in Florida waters, once the dominant species of Florida Keys reefs, have declined by 95% due to coastal development, diseases from humans' wastewater and bleaching from climate change-induced heat waves. The scattered remnants left aren’t managing to breed: annual mass spawning events aren’t happening while warming and pollution are preventing new baby corals from settling. Faced with the imminent disappearance of Florida Keys reefs, a team of coral conservationists decided to try an unprecedented gambit: using experimental cryopreservation technology to try to cross-breed Florida coral with corals from elsewhere in the Caribbean that were still regularly producing eggs.
The project began in 2018, with an effort to collect eggs of the critically endangered elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), a key reef-building species in the Caribbean, during mass spawning events off Curaçao. (Pictured: a diver collecting elkhorn coral eggs). Then, they were fertilized with the cryopreserved sperm of Florida coral. It was far from clear that this would work: the technology was brand-new and it wasn’t even known if such long-separated populations could produce fertile offspring. However, the new larvae growing at the Florida Aquarium succeeded beyond researchers’ wildest dreams.
“We almost ended up with a six-foot-by-four-foot [1.8-meter-by-1.2-meter] solid piece of elkhorn coral made up of 400 different individuals,” said Keri O’Neil, senior coral scientist. “They were just outgrowing the tanks.”
These particular Curacao/Florida coral babies will be sent to museums, aquariums, and conservation laboratories across America instead of being reintroduced to the wild, as some scientists are concerned that with parents from the other end of the Caribbean, they’ll bring in genes that aren’t well adapted to Florida water conditions. However, now that the technology has been proven to work, the process can easily be repeated with eggs gathered from nearby, more closely related elkhorn coral, perhaps from Mexico or the Bahamas. A new hope is dawning for the great Florida Keys coral reefs!
U.S. Clean Energy
Oregon is now home to America’s first utility-scale project that combines all three of the star technologies of the renewables revolution: wind turbines, solar panels, and grid-scale battery storage. The Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility (pictured) includes a 300-megawatt wind farm, a 50-megawatt solar farm, and battery storage facility that can store up to 120 megawatt-hours of electricity, all of which are synchronized to complement each other to ensure a balanced, stable feed of electricity to the grid. It’s enough to reliably power about 100,000 homes.
“If the solar is chugging along and cloud cover comes over, the battery can kick in and make sure that the output is uninterrupted. As the sun goes down and the wind comes online, the battery can make sure that that’s very smooth so that it doesn’t, to the grid operator, look like anything unusual.”-Vice President Jason Burwen of the American Clean Energy Association.
The California Air Resources Board voted in first-of-their-kind regulations that will ban the sales of fossil fuel powered heating and hot water systems, starting in 2030. From 2030 onward, residents of the Golden State will only be able to purchase zero-emission heating appliances, like highly effective electric heat pumps.
New York has begun the regulatory process to emulate California’s ban on the sales of new light-duty internal combustion engine vehicles, set to take effect in 2035. From 2035 on, all new cars bought in the Empire State will be electric vehicles. Massachusetts and Washington State are expected to follow suit shortly. This is spectacular news with impacts far beyond these states, as this will heavily incentivize carmakers to speed up their already-impressive plans for a complete transition to EVs!
The EPA Clean School Bus Program, funded by last year’s great Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, plans to deliver $5 billion in federal funding to American school districts over the next few years to help them buy zero-emission electric school buses. (An electric school bus already in use is pictured, above).
“America’s school districts delivered this message loud and clear – we must replace older, dirty diesel school buses. Together, we can reduce climate pollution, improve air quality, and reduce the risk of health impacts like asthma for as many as 25 million children who ride the bus every day.”-EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.
The first round of funding, disbursing $500 million, received thousands of applications from school districts in all 50 states. This unexpectedly vast surge of interest has now led the EPA to nearly double its first-year funding, to $965 million. Zero-emission school buses will be coming to communities across America in the next few years!
The Brazilian election concluded its first round of voting on October 2nd, with liberal, pro-environmental ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, winning 48.43% of the vote compared to incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro’s 43.2%. They will both advance to a head-to-head final round on October 30th. Jair Bolsonaro is such a horrific human being in so many ways that this writer doesn’t even want to write about him further: suffice it to say that getting rid of him will be a considerable victory for Brazilian civil rights and democracy as well as a chance at protecting the increasingly ravaged Amazon Rainforest. Check out the chart above of Amazon deforestation: Lula was president from 2003 to 2010, leading the massive decrease in destruction, while Bolsonaro was elected in 2018 and actively supported the resulting increase with an array of pro-logging policies. The October 30th final runoff will be one of the most consequential single elections ever for Earth’s climate. Stay tuned.
The Australian state of Queensland announced a new $62 billion 10-year clean energy plan, with goals to reach 70% renewable electricity by 2032 and 80% by 2035. At the center of the plan is a massive new investment in pumped hydro for energy storage. Pumped hydro is essentially a “water battery,” using extra energy during sunny, windy days to pump water uphill, and then let the water run down through turbines to keep the grid stable on windless nights. Queensland’s newly planned Pioneer-Burdekin Pumped Hydro facility, set to be completed by 2035, will be the largest in the world, with five gigawatts (5,000 megawatts) of 24-hour storage. New wind and battery facilities are also in the works, for what’s being dubbed the “Queensland SuperGrid.”
In the wake of South Australia being set to reach 100% clean electricity as soon as 2025 or 2026, it’s particularly interesting to see how the clean energy revolution can be customized to take advantage of regional strengths. South Australia is mostly flat and mostly desert, so it’s built massive amounts of solar but doesn’t have many good sites for pumped hydro, relying on truly immense grid-scale batteries. Mountainous, forested Queensland has opted to slot record-breaking pumped hydro facilities into its hospitable landscape. Spectacular news!
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