The Weekly Anthropocene: September 14, 2022
A Dispatch from the Wild, Weird World of Humanity and its Biosphere
Researchers with the Australian Institute of Marine Science have, for the first time ever, coaxed Great Barrier Reef coral to spawn “out of season,” beyond their natural October-December window. By carefully changing the environmental parameters of their tanks (pictured) to simulate natural spawning conditions on the Great Barrier Reef (including out-of-the-box twists like artificial moonlight), the researchers have induced 43 different corals from 6 species to release their egg and sperm bundles into the water months before the natural spawning season. For four of the six coral species, fertilization occurred, free-floating larvae grew, and they eventually settled down to become young corals, a successful completion of the life cycle.
“The ability to control the timing and frequency of spawning in the lab increases research opportunities to stay ahead of the curve and accelerate the development of feasible options to protect the Great Barrier Reef from some of the effects of climate change.”-Dr. Carly Randall, AIMS.
Now that the bottleneck of seasonal larvae supply has been overcome, we could see a boom in Great Barrier Reef coral aquaculture, with a consequent boost to efforts to grow more heat and acidification-resistant breeds of coral in captivity and reseed them into the wild to ensure a future for coral reefs in the Anthropocene. Great work!
From May through August 2022, the European Union generated a record 12% of its electricity from solar power, up from 9% last summer (see chart). This solar boom led to an avoided €29 billion worth of fossil “natural” gas imports, a critical bonus as the EU works to cut off gas imports from the brutal Russian regime. Eighteen of the EU’s 27 member countries set a record-high share of solar power generation: the highest was the Netherlands at 22.7% solar electricity over the summer. Notably, the EU also got another 12% of its electricity from wind power and 11% from hydropower over the same period, totaling 24% for wind and solar, 35% for renewable energy, while coal only generated 16%. And the EU as a whole and many of its member countries are setting strong new climate targets (for example, eight EU countries bordering the Baltic Sea just announced a joint plan to increase their offshore wind capacity sevenfold by 2030), so progress is set to accelerate. Great news!
China’s carbon dioxide emissions fell by 8% in the second quarter of 2022 (aka April through June), the largest reduction in at least a decade. China’s emissions have now fallen year-on-year for four consecutive quarters, due in large part to ongoing record-high installations of new wind and solar capacity. For an in-depth breakdown, check out CarbonBrief’s analysis.
India installed a record-high 7.2 gigawatts (GW) of new solar power capacity in the first half of 2022, a 59% increase from the 4.5 GW installed in the first half of 2021. As of June 30 2022, 114.07 GW of renewable energy capacity (excluding large hydropower projects) had been built in India, with 60.66 GW more in development. For context, India’s entire national electric grid has 403.759 GW of installed capacity, total. Keep up the good work towards clean electrification!
Electric vehicles are being adopted in the US much faster than expected. To take just one company as an example, Ford’s EV sales grew 307% in August 2022. The company is struggling to keep up with sky-high demand for the new Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, which is being sold on dealer lots in an average of eight days, the fastest turnaround of any Ford vehicle.
Electric vehicle batteries are lasting longer than expected, and battery recycling capacity worldwide is growing so much that there’s now actually a shortage of battery scrap to feed into recycling facilities! A good problem to have.
Malaria is an age-old scourge of humanity and one of the major causes of human pain and death on this planet. In 2020, there were an estimated 241 million cases and over 627,000 deaths, mostly of children in Africa. In October 2021, the world rejoiced when GlaxoSmithKline’s RTS,S (aka Mosquirix), the world’s first successful malaria vaccine, was approved by the World Health Organization. This was a huge step forward, but also very clearly a “first try”: it only prevented malaria for 44% of young children receiving it. Now, Oxford University has created a new malaria vaccine, dubbed R21, that in a recent Phase 2b trial in Burkina Faso reached efficacy rates of 80% (when paired with Matrix-M, an adjuvant compound created for Covid vaccines that increases the body’s immune response to vaccines). R21 is also much cheaper to make than RTS,S, as it uses less of a key protein. Results from an ongoing Phase 3 trial for R21 examining results from 4,800 children aged 5-36 months across four African countries, are expected soon: that should be the final hurdle before being licensed for widespread use. Oxford has teamed up with the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, to produce up to 200 million doses per year, which could be deployed as soon as 2023. This is truly spectacular news, especially since climate change is widely feared to expand malaria’s distribution. R21 seems likely now to be widely deployed and prevent millions of children from dying pointless, painful deaths in the next few decades. A great advance for civilization!
The small West African nation of Togo has become the first country in the world to eradicate four neglected tropical diseases: guinea worm (aka dracunculiasis) in 2011, lymphatic filariasis (aka elephantiasis) in 2017, sleeping sickness (aka African trypanosomiasis) in 2020, and trachoma (aka blinding trachoma) in 2022. Excellent work!
Researchers have discovered a new drug, an antiparasitic compound dubbed AN15368, that is 100% effective in curing Chagas disease (aka American trypanosomiasis) in mice and non-human primates. It should move to human clinical trials in the next few years. Chagas is another neglected tropical disease, affecting over 6 million people per year and killing slightly under 10,000, mostly in Latin America.