An Extraordinary Solar Boom

Blake Wooldridge

One of the most relevant and recurring topics in society today as well as our class is climate change. The role climate change plays on our everyday lives is increasing due to noticeably increasing impacts. The effects of years and years and millions of tons of burnt fossil fuels has created large scale turmoil regarding the implications on decisions to keep abusing resources. Combating these changes has become a priority for several nations. Renewable resources have gained popularity amongst these nations. The search for more efficient ways of maximizing the capacity of power with minimizing impacts has resulted in an outbreak of solar power.

Solar power alone has attributed to more than a third of all new net power capacity added worldwide in 2017. Solar power has become much more affordable and therefore applicable within the past several years. Since 2009 the cost of electricity from large scale solar projects has dropped by 72%. Recently solar panels have been used on thatched roofs in Kenya allowing Indian farmers to pump groundwater for their fields. This allows agriculture to flourish and boosts economy. Other new sources such as wind, biomass, and geothermal power can also account for a substantial change of reliance on fossil fuels.

Cumulatively all renewable energy sources account for only 12% of electricity consumed worldwide. The majority of energy produced still comes from coal and fossil fuels that are continually refused to be recognized as detrimental to the health of our planet. “This shows where we are heading,” said Nils Stieglitz, a professor at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, which produced the report along with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “The fact that renewables altogether are still far from providing the majority of electricity means that we still have a long way to go.” This long way to go is becoming longer and longer, and some world leaders have recognized the importance of combating this issue now.

One of the nations on the forefront of this solar revolution is China. China has significantly cut back on usage of coal at home as well as accounted for almost half of all renewable energy investments worldwide. In 2017 alone China pumped $86.5 billion into solar energy. The U.S. has also played a significant part in the development of solar power but has displayed an increasing lack of urgency regarding the protection of the environment. Even though the U.S has historically been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases the investment in renewables went down to $40.5 billion in 2017.

The priorities of U.S government can be exemplified through many of the recent administrative propositions such as the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. Some of the cuts included in this 2019 budget proposal include a 15% cut to the Agriculture department along with a 25% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency as a whole. Under this cut many programs could be completely relinquished. This creates a significant problem for the growth of the renewables industry. The lack of governmental subsidies could prove to be the tipping point for projects backed by government price support.

Oil Versus Limestone

  Oil Versus Limestone
As a consumer and a surfer one of the most important products to me is a wetsuit. I don’t buy these regularly but the multitude of different professions and hobbies that require one creates a wide scale demand. This demand creates experimentation with the different materials and chemicals which certainly have their implications on the environment. The most common material used in wetsuits is neoprene.
Neoprene is a synthetic rubber based material which is now being produced on the industrial scale. Neoprene is so popular because it was the first synthetic rubber developed with a unique balance of physical and chemical properties. It has good weather and ozone resistance, aging resistance, low flammability, strength, and adhesion to many substances. For these reasons neoprene can be used in many different areas and has taken over the rubber industry.
As the possibilities of neoprene increase the possibilities of adverse effects to the environment increase. The highest potential for release into the environment lies within the transfer, manufacture, and storage process. The two types of neoprene are limestone neoprene and oil based neoprene. Oil based neoprene is commonly made from polychloroprene rubber chips which are melted and mixed together with carbon black and baked in an oven until it expands to make a foamed rubber. The chips themselves are made from chloroprene monomers which are reacting small molecules. These molecules produce the macromolecules that make up rubber. In the 1960’s limestone neoprene  was developed by Japan’s Yamamoto Corporation to convert calcium carbonate from limestone into chloroprene rubber chips, resulting in limestone neoprene. Limestone neoprene is favorable for several reasons; one being it is much less dense than oil based neoprene. This produces a more impermeable, more durable, more stretchy, lighter weight, and warmer wetsuit.
The most common method used to make neoprene is derived from petroleum. The many implications of this oil based product on the environment include the release of gases and synthetic chemicals into the air. Oil exploration, drilling, and extraction result in crude oil spills that have a direct and noticeable effect on the health the surrounding ecosystem. Both oil based and limestone wetsuits are nonrenewable resources that end up in a landfill somewhere.
The other method which is less commonly used is derived from limestone. The limestone is mined, crushed, and fed into a furnace at extremely high temperatures. This process is energy intensive but significantly reduces dependence on oil based products. A limestone spill is also much easier to clean up then an oil spill. Limestone based wetsuits might slightly reduce environmental impacts for a significant reduction in impact neoprene itself must be replaced by another material. The evaporation of chemicals used in adhesives and solvents must be replaced by a new innovative approach to minimizing environmental footprint.

Personal Change

Throughout this semester Environmental and Sustainability Studies has introduced me to the importance of change now. Personally I’ve realized that in order to motivate yourself to be a part of the greater good you must habitually and actively take part in addressing certain issues that you are passionate about. There are many ways to become involved such as citizen science, volunteer work, recycling, buying locally, and educating others on the importance of this issue. For me I have recently tried to change aspects of my lifestyle that have become habitual and are continually a threat to myself and the environment around me.
Upon seeing how many earths I would need to live sustainably I knew that I had to make a change in my lifestyle. Addressing consumption, wastage, and certain activities that have become second nature was the first step. I have recently been trying to go through my day as normal but maintain a sustainability conscious mindset. An example of one of the changes in my routine would be cooking food at home instead of buying out. I would have never realized the significance of this small change in lifestyle. Buying local allows for a strong local economy along with a building of character in local community. The impact is seen not only at the local level but all the way up to the global level. It reduces environmental impact at all levels by requiring less transportation along with less dependence on the big businesses that would otherwise be developing to meet our needs. This results in less congestion, sprawl, habitat loss, and pollution. When all of this is taken into account and a sense of community is created the local businesses take pride in their services and provide for a prosperous outlook for the future of a community. After a couple weeks of maintaining a routine of buying mainly local, recycling, and using a compost in my backyard I feel healthier, have more energy throughout the day, and seen a significant decrease in waste.
At first the urge to buy a burrito from moes southwest grill was hard to resist but after seeing the benefits as opposed to just being momentarily satisfied I have decided to stick with this change in lifestyle. This change has given me a new perspective on the consequences of maintaining oblivious and wasteful routine. If you haven’t already I would consider making this change and seeing the unanticipated yet noticeable benefits. Small changes like eating locally provide for a much brighter and sustainable future which is more important now than ever. Going through the day with this mindset of minimal waste and embracing an environmentally conscious lifestyle contribute to countless amounts of interconnected branches within sustainable development.


Nature Inspiration

Growing up I have always felt an extremely strong connection with the natural world and have been fortunate enough to have a knowledgeable mentor. Throughout my childhood as well as his my dad took me fishing almost every single morning. His love of the natural world and the peacefulness that came along with it began to rub off and in turn I too became obsessed with the mechanisms of nature. Catching fish and spending as much time on the water as we did truly gave me a lust for figuring out how these processes are all pieced together.

As I got older my understanding of the intricate balance of nature grew. The ways in which the tide was flowing, the wind was blowing, light was showing, and endless amounts of factors more played a role in whether we would be fishing or catching that day. Free of technological distraction, the water forces you to be in the present. Sometimes it can be powerful and frightening sometimes it can be your friend but the feelings that the water can give you are continually humbling. I’ve personally had many of these experiences on the Chesapeake Bay with my dad as well as surfing all over the east coast. Situations when you get caught in the middle of a thunderstorm or thrown onto a rock are only tastes of the power of Mother Nature. This raw and untamed power is increasingly being trifled with by man whom of which typically has a lack of respect for or just simply a lack of understanding.
These intricate interconnected processes that surround us are subject to disruption by man as well as the natural processes that have the ability to greatly affect each other. These changes are rarely noticeable until it’s too late. Changes such as biodiversity loss in the Chesapeake have taken a noticeable toll on water quality. This is because of disease decimating oyster populations and their ability to filter the water on top of runoff, dumping, and pollution. These circumstances add up for a volatile situation for man as well as nature.

The extent of the quality of the water gets worse and worse as you go further inland where almost nothing can survive. The rockfish or striped bass which is the main target of our adventures was once of abundance and healthy but almost a quarter of the fish we catch now have bulging red sores and look skinny in appearance. This is a parasite called micobacteriosis which is found in 76% of sick bass. These are a couple of the reasons I cherish a strong connection with nature. Sometimes we would get lucky and sometimes we would get skunked but the love of nature is something that I will always hold close.