This week current climate, which every Saturday brings you a balanced view of the news of sustainable development. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every week.
australia largest coal-fired power plant could close seven years earlier than planned as operator Origin Energy admits the polluting energy source is no longer financially viable. The site will instead become a full-scale battery. You would expect the person responsible for reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to be happy to hear that. He was not. Australia’s Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said he had little notice of the decision, which could leave a “significant gap in reliable production”. Although the transition to a system powered primarily by renewable energy is not without its challenges, it is both necessary and possible. As Australia’s Energy Market Operator (AEMO) modeled in December, with appropriate investments in renewables, storage and grid reinforcement, the National Electricity Market (NEM) could be without coal by 2043.
The case of Australia shows how in some cases companies, particularly when it is clearly in their financial interest, can be more decisive than governments to embrace the net zero transition. One of the stories I’m highlighting this week is how so-called carbon clubs could also accelerate action at the policy-making level, while another examines the persistently high cost of energy. nuclear versus renewable energy sources.
The more I talk, read and write about climate change, the more I want to know. I’m not the only one: for Climate Talks, I spoke to the co-founder of Paravel Indre Rockefellerwho did just that – she went back to school to take on the challenge of running a sustainable business head-on.
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As the world heats up, could ‘carbon clubs’ boost climate action?
In a decisive decade for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, most countries are still dragging their feet. One way to accelerate action would be for nations to join a “carbon club” that agrees to tax imported goods based on the carbon emissions it took to make them.
Eating less meat, especially less beef, is one of the most effective steps individuals can take to reduce their impact on the environment, but no one likes being told what to do. Therefore the World Resources Institute experimented with including messages such as “small changes, big impact” and “join a movement” on menus. It worked pretty well.
Last year marked a new record for the global SUV sales worldwide. IEA analysis finds the number in use today is 35 million higher than just a year ago, contributing an additional 120 million tonnes of CO2 emissions to the problem climatic. Admittedly, the electrification of SUVs in 2021 has increased faster than in previous years, but demand is not as strong as for smaller cars.
The other great read
The enduring appeal of nuclear power makes little economic sense
French President Emmanuel Macron has announced ambitious plans to add at least six new nuclear reactors by 2050. The country is also a big supporter of nuclear power in the European Union, pushing for its inclusion in the taxonomy of block green energy. But despite all the postures of France, one fact continues to hinder the widespread adoption of nuclear energy: its constantly high cost.
Since its inception in 2016, travel accessories company Paravel has aimed to create durable, high-quality products using natural materials. But an expedition to Antarctica in 2018 made co-founder Indré Rockefeller realize that a more holistic approach to sustainability was needed to reduce the company’s environmental impact. Seeking to learn more about the subject, she enrolled in Columbia University’s climate and society master’s program in September and says the experience gave her a new perspective on business and sustainability.
How did the Antarctica expedition change your view of sustainability?
The moment my phone was received, I called my co-founder [Paravel CEO Andy Krantz]. By the time the call ended, we were already scrapping nearly finished products and starting over, because we thought this was the time to say, don’t expect “good enough” when it it is a durable product. Let’s push further. And when a supplier says they don’t have a recycling option, they go to another supplier. [Sustainability] became the lens through which we looked at every opportunity, every product from lining to zipper, the partnerships we created, the Code of Social Responsibility, measuring our own carbon footprint. As a company, we take responsibility for our actions and see how we can mitigate the effects we have, and also help inspire and educate our community to support us. To be something we were afraid to talk about, [sustainability] is something we are working on and will never be done working on.
When did you realize you wanted to learn more about it and go back to college?
I had what I considered to be a solid and comprehensive understanding [of climate change] through self-education. But I wanted to understand this question at a deeper level – the crux of science, politics, opportunities and challenges. We’re all busy and sometimes it’s hard to [allocate] certain hours of the day, every day, just to learn, and I knew that this course would give me the structure to dive deep and also get out of my comfort zone. The first few weeks were a complete shock to the system. I just remember coming home and my brain hurt. Now it definitely meets my expectations, in that I was able to dive into subjects that I would not have encountered otherwise and learn from inspiring teachers. It tested some of my own philosophies and made me rethink a lot of what I considered standard.
Could you give me an example?
I am currently taking a course on the circular economy. When I think of design, at Paravel we have focused on using sustainable materials or recycled materials.
But now I think we can’t stop there. This is just the beginning. How can we have a more circular approach philosophically? How to make a product that can be easier to disassemble and reuse its materials? How do we design the complete life cycle? How do we think the business model is more circular, not just the design?
Does pursuing this degree make you more confident in our chances of tackling the worst impact of climate change?
It depends on the day. There have been days when I came home after a long day of school and looked at my children and started crying, because I felt helpless and unable to help them. And then there are days when I come home full of inspiration around humanity and the potential we have as human beings to help each other and get through this.
Would you recommend this path to founders who aspire to have a positive impact on their business?
You don’t have to do anything as formal as what I’m doing to find out more about [sustainability and climate change]. There are amazing, free resources available everywhere. It’s worth finding the time to step away from the business and find a space to examine what’s happening where your mission and values align. It helps you get back to work with new perspectives.
Indré Rockefeller’s responses have been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity.
on the horizon
Governments could lose billions in fuel tax revenue of the transition to electric vehicles. But this could be an opportunity for motorists to pay more fairly according to use.