The Shift to Electricity: Mitigation and Adaptation on a Country Level

My last series of blogs concentrated on Germany’s energy transition. Since the country’s reunification in 1990, there has been a major increase in electricity and decrease in primary energy use, which paralleled a similar growth in sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar (photovoltaic). Additionally, Germany decided to stop using nuclear energy following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. More recently, the country also decided to stop the use of coal. All these steps are contributing to a major reduction in Germany’s carbon footprint. As always, there are winners and losers in this transition. As we have seen in France, if the losers are not compensated, they may cause trouble (see my blogs on the Gilets Jaunes).

This week I will start to expand this kind of analysis globally.

There are 193 sovereign countries in the world that are members of the United Nations, as well as two observer states (the Holy See and Palestine). These include countries of all sizes and economic statuses. Some choose their governments through general election processes; others are ruled by autocratic leaders. To make analysis feasible I will focus this series on 15 countries, divided into three groups based on the World Bank’s low-, median-, and high-income classifications. In each group, I have selected the five most populous countries. Together, these 15 countries constitute 75% of the world’s population.

When I discussed the German situation in previous blogs, I based the analysis on German reporting. My global analysis will use World Bank data, as I have done here repeatedly. The World Bank gets its data from individual countries, and then subjects them to intense scrutiny. This takes a long time. As a result, its data are often less up-to-date than the countries’ original reporting. Therefore, the latest data available for all 15 countries is from 2000-2014.

These are the important indicators in this study:

  • Electricity intensity = Electricity use/Primary energy

  • Coal intensity (part of the IPAT relation): Ratio of coal to full mix of primary energy sources

  • Renewal intensity: Ratio of renewable or sustainable sources in primary energy and in electricity production

  • Carbon production

  • Energy intensity = Ratio of energy/GDP

  • Carbon intensity = ratio of Carbon/GDP and ratio of Carbon/Primary energy

I have discussed some of these indicators in earlier blogs in somewhat different contexts and will surely return to them later. Other indicators are new here.

Unfortunately, the data for most of these indicators are not directly available for these countries within the given time frame. I cannot just cut and paste them. I would have to calculate them directly from the World Bank database.

Let’s start with electric power consumption.

Here, I’m following the electricity intensity indicator, which is defined as the ratio of electricity use/primary energy use. I have discussed similar indicators here before, such as carbon intensity and energy intensity. When we associate an indicator with the word intensity, it can indicate different things. For instance, carbon intensity can be used in either the context of carbon dioxide emissions divided by GDP or those same emissions divided by energy use. I have previously taken a closer look at the version of carbon intensity that relates to GDP.

Electricity intensity can signify electricity use per employeeper GDP, per volume of data transmission, the ratio of retail electricity sales to commercial sector income or, probably the oldest definition, from physics:

Electric intensity is the strength of electric field at a point. Electric intensity at a point is defined as the force experienced per unit positive charge at a point placed in the electric field”.

Going back to our definition of electricity intensity, it invokes electricity use per unit of primary energy use. Both functions in the definition are extensive and depend on population, so their ratio becomes an intensive function, independent of population. This means we can directly compare countries of different sizes.

Figures 1 – 3 show the changes in electricity intensity for the three groups of countries.

  Figure 1 – Low-income countries
               Figure 2 – Medium-income countries

Figure 3 – High-income countries

The units in the three graphs are kwh/kg oil equivalent, which is standard in the World Bank database. Conversion to more common units will not change the trends.

In almost all cases we see consistent increase in the electricity intensity, matching the trends we saw in the blogs regarding Germany. Figure 3 shows Germany’s changes are roughly equivalent to those of the other large rich countries; Japan is the only outlier, with a higher baseline but a similar growth pattern.

We need to remember, however, that a consistent increase in electricity intensity does not necessarily mean a lower carbon footprint. In Germany, we saw that the increase in electricity intensity came with decreased use of primary energy and more sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar that replenish the electrical grid. While this is a positive incidence, it is not necessarily the norm. The most recent data from the World Bank show that access to electricity in low-income countries stands around 70% for urban settings and 28% for rural settings. Any wealth increase will be reflected in changes to electricity intensity and low-income countries tend to want low cost energy sources—for now, those are still fossil fuels. I will, of course, cover these issues in future blogs.

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Wisdom from Germany: How to Transition Away From Coal

This is the end of my series about my summer trip and the lessons I learned when I visited Germany. In last week’s blog, I promised to finish up my examination by comparing Germany’s energy transition efforts with those of the rest of the world. I am fulfilling this promise here by focusing on the country’s efforts to remove coal from its energy mixture, as part of its ultimate goal to convert its economy to carbon neutral.

Figure 1 shows a global map highlighting specific regions, countries, and cities that have committed to net zero carbon by 2050 or before. Germany is not part of this esteemed group. However, it is marked—as part of the European Union and on its own—as exploring the resolution.

net zero, global energy transition, legislation, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, US, NYC, New York City, legislation, target, goalFigure 1

In almost all cases of commitment to net carbon zero by 2050, the first hurdle is removing coal as an energy source in electrical power delivery. Figure 2 demonstrates the state of this decision among European countries. Again Germany is one of those that are discussing such a phase-out (as opposed to Spain, Poland, and many other countries that are not).

Europe, coal, net zero, electricity mix, energy mix

Figure 2

Figure 3 (reposted from last week’s blog) shows the detailed evolution of the spectrum of energy sources powering the German electrical grid from 2002 to 2018.

Germany, power, electricity, generation, capacity, coal, biomass, winnd, solar, mineral oil, natural gas, coal, lignite, nuclear powerFigure 3

Table 1 shows the quantitative evolution of the various energy sources from 2002 to the present. As can we see in Figure 3, the capacity of electric power in Germany over this period expanded by 79%. Figure 3 and Table 1 give the power capacity in gigawatts (billion watts).

Table 1 – Comparison of Germany’s energy sources powering its electrical grid in 2002 and 2018 (GW)

Table 2 shows that almost all of the increase in the use of electricity came from the newly installed sustainable energy in solar and wind (wind also falls within the category of solar). Germany’s energy transition began with a massive shift to electricity use powered by sustainable wind and solar sources, rather than leading with an end to coal use.

Table 2 – Data from Table 1, translated into broader categories

Over this period, the German population stood around 81 million people and didn’t increase (partially due to a relatively low fertility rate). The real GDP/person in chained euros stood at 600 million in 2002 and increased to 747 million in 2018. The chained euros method (or chained volume series) is a relatively new approach to illustrating the “real” value of a currency. It involves adjusting the value of the currency to reflect inflation over time, making it easier to compare figures from different years.

By this account, the real GDP value increased by less than 25% over this period. So the shift to electrical power is an energy transition driven by neither population nor changes to the GDP.

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 in Japan, Germany announced that it would stop using nuclear energy. However, Tables 1 and 2 both show that nuclear energy already constituted a relatively small percentage of Germany’s power sources, and the change didn’t have a particularly large impact on the country’s electricity production. Meanwhile, Figure 3 shows the sharp change in nuclear energy use in 2011, from 20.4-17.1GM.

That brings me to coal.

Germany is using two main kinds of coal: lignite (brown coal) and hard coal. Lignite is the lowest-quality coal, usually formed from compressed peat (60-70% carbon content and 10-20 million Joules/kg of heat content). It is also the lowest-cost coal, often found in shallow deposits close to power sources. Hard coal, such as anthracite (92-98% carbon content and 26-33 million Joules/kg of heat content), comes exclusively from deep mines in just a few countries in the world, which makes it significantly more expensive. We can see from Table 2 that as of 2018, the installed capacities—that is, the maximum output of electricity that a generator can produce under ideal conditions—of lignite and hard coal in Germany’s power generation were similar. However, an announcement came from Berlin earlier this year that:

Germany, one of the world’s biggest consumers of coal, will shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants over the next 19 years to meet its international commitments in the fight against climate change, a government commission said Saturday.

Shortly after this announcement, Chancellor Angela Merkel made a follow-up statement about the timeline for this undertaking:

TOKYO (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that her country would withdraw from coal-fired power production by 2038, showing her support for the deadline recommended by a government-appointed commission.

The so-called coal commission said last month that Germany should shut down all of its coal-fired power plants by 2038 at the latest and proposed at least 40 billion euros ($45.7 billion) in aid to coal-mining states affected by the phase-out.

Chancellor Merkel was voicing the decisions of a power commission that reflected the transition’s various stakeholders. Below are some of the details of this commission:

4.2 June 2018: the Coal Commission is set up

In June 2018, the federal government moved to set up the Commission for Growth, Structural Change and Employment (Kommission Wachstum, Strukturwandel und Beschäftigung, KWSB). In principle, this is the round table with representatives of environmental associations, trade unions, business and energy associations, the affected regions and scientists that Agora Energiewende had advocated two and a half years earlier.

The Coal Commission was given a mandate to develop a plan to gradually reduce and shut down coal-fired power generation, including a completion date and the necessary accompanying legal, economic, social, renaturalization and structural measures. The plan was to be completed prior to the UN climate conference in Katowice in early December 2018. This timing was intentional: Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze was to take the international stage to announce that Germany, the world champion lignite user, is setting a rational course to address climate change. Everyone knows that Germany has been diligently expanding renewable energies and shutting down dangerous nuclear energy. However, everyone also knows that coal is largely responsible for Germany’s failure to meet its climate targets and the stagnation of its transition to renewable energy.

1.2 Funding for coal mining regions

The Coal Commission made recommendations on how to organize structural change in the coal mining regions in terms of industrial and employment policy. The central theme of the Coal Commission on the policy side was to cushion the impact of structural change.

The prime ministers of the coal states have demanded billions of euros for the structural change and will probably get them. The Coal Commission proposes a law to secure €1.3 billion annually over 20 years, distributed to all four coal mining regions. In addition, €0.7 billion per year are to be made available by the federal government independently of the budget. Together, this amounts to the €40 billion over 20 years that are currently being cited again and again in the media. It is not yet clear which region will get how much. An allocation formula still has to be found. A colorful bouquet of proposals for structural development in the coal mining regions – around 180 pages – was appended to the report. The projects can be broadly categorized in five main areas of action:

  • Promotion of infrastructure expansion and acceleration (e.g. research on the supply of liquefied gas)

  • Promotion of public service measures (e.g. provision of a railway link from the rural district of Helmstedt to the regional center of Wolfsburg)

  • Economic promotion and development (e.g. Green Battery Park Euskirchen)

  • Promotion of R&D, science and innovation (e.g. establishment of a mobility research center at the Kerpen autobahn intersection)

  • Labor market policy, development of skilled workers (e.g. postgraduate studies in Intelligent Manufacturing at the Bautzen University of Cooperative Education)

As it turns out, while coal removal was not Germany’s first step, it remains a very important component in the energy transition. As I have mentioned several times on this blog, every step in the energy transition, no matter where or when it takes place, involves winners and losers. If the “losers” of such a transition are not consulted and compensated, they will do everything in their power to block any progress (see the Yellow Vest demonstrations in France (December 18 and 26, 2018 blogs). I will continue to follow up on how Germany contends with these issues.

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Renewable Energy in Germany: Windmills

One of the main stops on my extensive summer trip (September 4th blog) was Germany. I have talked about that throughout September (with the exception of my September 10th blog, when I focused on Dubai). This blog will be the last in the series. Specifically, I want to look at why Germany is (or is portrayed as) failing in its attempts to combat climate change via an energy transition away from fossil fuels (September 17th). My wife and I were fortunate enough to have friends drive us through Germany from Holland. We first visited the Magdeburg area, the place where the American army liberated me, my family and 2,500 other prisoners of the Nazis. I am part of a group that includes a local school, trying to erect a monument near the liberation site to celebrate survivors and liberators and memorialize the event. Following an event co-organized by that school, a local family drove us to Berlin.

We drove through about 60% of Germany, seeing the vast mid-country landscape (the shortest distance between Berlin and the Polish border is 247 miles or 398 km); from the Netherlands to the Polish border is 590 miles (950km). Windmills dominated our view as we drove (and this isn’t even the densest area of windmills in Germany; that’s farther north, toward Denmark and the Atlantic Ocean). We took photographs wherever we could. I am including two of them below as Figures 1 and 2. They demonstrate the two main arrangements: one is a densely packed windmill farm owned by a utility company that also oversees power distribution; the other is a more limited number of windmills on the field of a local farm.

windmills, Germany, farm, renewable, energy transition

Figure 1 – Windmill farm

windmill, Germany, farm, renewable, energy transition

Figure 2 – Farm with windmills

I asked around about how much farmers can get for agreeing to host windmills on their land. The response I heard was roughly 200,000 Euros/year. For that kind of money it is no wonder that the landscape is full of these devices. Once I started to investigate the issue in Germany as a whole, I found that the numbers overall look a bit different. There is a great, detailed paper about this, published in Energies (2019, 12, 1587): “Wind Turbines on German Farms—An Economic Analysis.”

Figures 3 and 4 show the full picture in terms of Germany’s use of renewable energy, using data from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy.

The start of the timeline in Figure 3 coincides with the unification of Germany (1990). The inverse trend between GDP and carbon emissions is impressive and certainly worth emulating.

Germany, GDP, economy, energy consumption, emissions, GHGFigure 3

Figure 4 starts 12 years later and looks at the growth in generation capacity among clean energy sources.

Figure 4

Figure 5 shows the ambitious commitments that Germany made in 2010. 2020 will be the first milestone when the country’s progress in the energy transition (see the December 9, 2014 blog for more details) will be evaluated.

power consumption, energy consumption, power, energy, energy transition, greenhouse gases, GHG, renewables, Germany, target, climateFigure 5 Government-approved objectives of the German energy transition (2010)

Chancellor Angela Merkel commented about the present status of the German energy transition. She did not sound particularly optimistic:

ANGELA MERKEL has admitted the dire state of Germany’s automotive industry means the country will fail to achieve it previously set goals. The Chancellor said achieving the goal of 65 percent green electricity by 2023 is “questionable” in light of the industry’s decline. Merkel made the comments during a speech at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt this week where the number of participating companies fell by a quarter from last year, in a sign of the industry’s failings. Some large manufacturers such as Toyota or Fiat did not attend.

Indeed, more recently, after some haggling, Germany decided to spend some 60 billion Euros to get back on track. For many in Germany it was too little, for others it was too much. In any case, it all reflects the country’s efforts to satisfy commitments that the German government made in 2010, under different economic conditions.

In the next blog I will try to compare Germany’s efforts with those of the rest of the world.

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The Holocaust and Climate Change – Past Meets Future in Hillersleben

I have often reflected here upon my past experiences as a Holocaust survivor and have likened climate change to a self-inflicted genocide. One of my main objectives in this summer’s globetrotting trip was to look at the intersection between my family’s Holocaust history and new efforts to make the future a bit safer from the coming horrors of anthropogenic climate change. Unsurprisingly, this involved visiting key sites in Germany, including Hillersleben.

This week, I am showing some photos, both old and new, of changes within these areas. While I didn’t plan it as such, I am writing this blog on the weekend when millions of young people, inspired by the 16-year-old Greta Thunberg (see August 6th blog), have skipped school to participate in some of the largest global demonstrations in our memory. Their message is clear: they are concerned about climate change and are demanding that adults (especially policymakers) do something about it.

Figure 1, repeated from August 6th, begins my tour of Germany with a section of the Berlin Wall. The rest of the photographs show the evolution of the site of my displaced persons camp— Hillersleben, a town not far from the city of Magdeburg, which was part of East Germany before unification in the 1990s.

Figure 1 – Portion of the Berlin Wall with graffiti that says, “save our planet”

This segment of the Berlin Wall is part of the Topography of Terror museum, built on the site of buildings which during the Nazi regime held the headquarters of the SD, Einsatzgruppen, and Gestapo.

     Hillersleben, Magdeburg, cemetery, Jewish, Holocaust Figure 2 – The edge of the Jewish cemetery in Hillersleben and the house behind it in 2008

Hillersleben, Magdeburg, cemetery, Jewish, Holocaust

Figure 3 – Interior of the house shown in Figure 2

Hillersleben, Magdeburg, cemetery, Jewish, Holocaust, solar power

Figure 4 – August 2019 photograph of the same Jewish cemetery in Hillersleben. A group of solar cells has replaced the house.

 Hillersleben, Magdeburg, cemetery, Jewish, Holocaust, solar power

Figure 5 – 1945 photograph of the cemetery, on display in the Magdeburg museum

Hillersleben, Magdeburg, cemetery, Jewish, Holocaust, solar power

Figure 6 – 2008 photograph of the names that were on the gravestones before they were removed from the cemetery

Hillersleben, Magdeburg, cemetery, Jewish, HolocaustFigure 7 – 2019 photograph of an engraved stone memorial to the graves that were removed. It lists no names.

Hillersleben, Magdeburg, cemetery, Jewish, Holocaust, solar powerFigure 8 – Extent of the solar cells around Hillersleben, 2019

Hillersleben, Magdeburg, cemetery, Jewish, Holocaust, solar power, windmill

Figure 9 – Solar cells, windmills, cows, and corn for biogas around Hillersleben

Hillersleben, Magdeburg, water, wastewater

Figure 10 – Part of the town’s wastewater disposal system

Hillersleben will be the territorial meeting of my own past and my grandchildren’s future (should they accept it as such). It seems to be actively working toward sustainability, so hopefully its legacy will continue to be one of mitigating the forces of genocide—both Nazi-led and self-inflicted.

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Cherry-Picking Data in an Energy Transition: Renewables & Polar Bears

My original plan was to continue writing about what I learned during my summer-long trip. Last week I focused on Dubai and I thought to focus this week’s blog on the greenhouses in the Netherlands. However, as usual in this business, reality has a way of disrupting our plans. In this case, it was an article in Forbes that caught my attention: “Why Renewables Can’t Save the Climate.” Below are some excerpts from the piece:

But the centerpiece of all the Democratic candidates is renewables, upon which the candidates propose spending trillions.

Doing so, they all claim, will be good for the economy and the natural environment, including by preventing climate change. But around the world, renewables are in crisis because they are making electricity more expensive, subsidies are expiring, and projects are being blocked by wildlife conservationists and local communities.

In Germany, the world leader in renewables, just 35 wind turbines were installed this year. The country needs to install 1,400 per year to meet its climate change targets.

“While climate activist Greta Thunberg is sailing with wind power to the Sustainability Summit in New York,” wrote Die Welt, “the German wind power industry is sailing into the doldrums.”

The halting of wind deployment in Germany has resulted in the industry shedding 25,000 jobs over the last year.

It’s not clear Germany can handle much more wind. Its electricity grid operator increasingly has to cut off electricity from industrial wind farms on windy, low-demand days, to avoid blow-outs.

The same is happening in California. The grid operator increasingly must pay neighboring states to take the state’s excess solar electricity, and cut off power coming from solar farms, on sunny, low-demand days.

The article focuses on criticism of the global energy shift from fossil to sustainable solar sources such as wind, photovoltaics, and biogas. It pays special attention to the negative consequences of these new systems in Germany and California. There are other articles that address similar complaints within Germany. I just came home from a trip that involved driving across Germany and seeing the changing landscape with my own eyes, but I’ll delay that discussion for later.

Meanwhile, I started to think about both the physics of energy transitions and, separately, about polar bears.

Figure 1 shows a picture taken from the internet of a polar bear with her two cubs on an isolated piece of ice surrounded by water. The polar bears look real and feel different from the fake polar bear shown in Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which drew strong objections from many of my students when I screened the film as an introduction to the topic of climate change.

polar bears, renewables, Arctic, sea ice, climate change

Figure 1

I followed my thinking about these polar bears on their small piece of ice in the middle of a vast span of blue water by zooming out to show the context of the larger area in Figure 2, a satellite picture of ice melting in the Arctic.

Arctic, sea ice, climate change, meltFigure 2

I imagined the mother bear “explaining” what is happening in their environment to her two cubs. She obviously doesn’t have any thermometers to measure the temperature of the water and didn’t attend classes that would enable her to explain the phase transitions between water and ice. However, the sheer scale of the satellite picture shown in Figure 2 is so massive that it would likely be beyond the bears’ comprehension. More likely, the mother bear would simply teach her cubs that water extends a very, very far way. An earlier blog (April 16, 2019) showed us that before the beginning of the 18th century, humans were not much better educated on this issue than the mother bear. We had no thermometers until 1709, and no satellites or any other useful technological gadgets to help us with context. In other words, the mother bear’s best advice for her cubs: stick around and hope for the best—is not far from our own past strategy.

Phase transformations are generally the transitions from one phase or state of matter to another one by heat transfer. The term is most commonly used to describe transitions between solid, liquid, and gaseous states of matter. Freezing and boiling water are probably the simplest examples but there are many possibilities for this kind of transition. It is not surprising that a global energy transition is rich with options for such transitions.

People experiment with almost everything. If the experiment succeeds, they have a chance to harvest big awards; if it fails they—or their investors—will lose money. Since the transition is global, countries tend to experiment with various forms of subsidies that spur international competition. If these subsidies are time-limited, however, we get strong fluctuations in the profitability of the initiative.

With the modern technology and communication modes available to almost everybody, it is easy to cherry-pick successes and failures that back up our various agendas. This is exactly what seems to be happening right now.

A recent (2019) report, “Global Wind Turbine Order Capacity Increased 111% In Q2’19” provides a somewhat different picture of current affairs than the above articles portray:

Global wind turbine order intake increased by an impressive 111% in the second quarter of 2019, according to new figures published by renewable energy research firm Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, overtaking the previous record set in the fourth quarter of 2018

Wood Mackenzie published its Global Wind Turbine Order Analysis: Q3 2019 report last week, showing that wind energy developers around the world ordered a record 31 gigawatts (GW) of wind turbine capacity in the second quarter of 2019 — a 111% year-over-year increase and a new record.

Year-to-date demand amounted to 79 GW thanks in large part to increased demand in China and the United States and despite a decrease of 41% YoY in Europe during this year’s second quarter. China and the US enjoyed impressive quarters for capacity ordered as developers made a beeline to procure turbines with sufficient time to commission projects before 2020 subsidy deadlines in both countries ran out.

Unsurprisingly, Germany and the rest of the EU have flagged somewhat in their pursuit of these efforts due to the European economy’s slowing over this period.

In June, one of the most respected scientific publications, Applied Physics Reviews, published a detailed, peer reviewed, technical report about the status of wind power, with an emphasis on European and German efforts. The report, in Volume 6, Issue 3, is called, “Powering the 21st century by wind energy—Options, facts, figures.” All the authors of this report work at the Fraunhofer Institutes.

Cherry-picking convenient small instances (even if they’re true) from within the complex global energy transition is not much different from picking a weather trend that lasts a few days anywhere in the world and using it to make a statement about the global climate. It is also not too far from a person shouting in the middle of the night somewhere, that, “It’s dark, therefore there is no sun,” as I showed in a caricature in February 12, 2019.

Since I have already published a few blogs detailing the German energy transition (December 9 30, 2014), I will update the country’s situation next week.

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Dubai: City of Contradictions

Dubai, UAE, United Arab Emirates, proposal, dome, development, sustainable, mall of the worldFigure 1 – The proposed “Mall of the World” in Dubai

Last week, I posted some outlines of the trip that my wife and I took over the summer. The trip anchored on three family weddings that took place in Brisbane, Australia; Paris; and Krakow, Poland, as well as a commitment in Germany. The latter was an event near Magdeburg, Germany, where a school is leading an effort to erect a monument to both the American army and those that they liberated, including me, my mother, my uncle, and 2,500 other survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (see the June 11th blog from this year).

As I mentioned last week, this was a very long trip and we needed some breaks, especially on the way from Australia to Europe. We decided that Dubai would be a good place to stop: we had never visited but many of our friends had recommended that we do so. We were a bit hesitant because we knew what to expect there at the height of the summer. Figure 2 shows the temperature and precipitation by month. We visited in the beginning of August. It was obvious to us that we would end up jumping from one air-conditioned place to another, with very little time spent outdoors. However, one of the aspects that interested me most (and fortunately interested my wife as well), was that it might give us a “realistic” picture of what we might expect the world to look like by the end of the century in a business as usual scenario (barring us fleeing to Mars).

weather, celsius, temperature, rainfall, precipitation weather, fahrenheit, temperature, rainfall, precipitationFigure 2 – The difference in precipitation between the driest month and the wettest month is 28 mm. The average temperatures throughout the year vary by 15.6 °C (Δ 28°F).

I found the opening picture (Figure 1) on the site ZME Science. It shows one of the solutions that was—and perhaps is still—being seriously considered. The site explains it this way:

Appropriately called Mall of the World, the city will cover an area of 48 million square feet and will set new records for various large behemoth structures: the largest indoor theme park in the world (the one actually covered by the dome), the largest mall (8 million sq. ft.), along with 20,000 hotel rooms catering to all types of tourists, and a cultural district with theaters built around New York’s Broadway, Ramblas Street in Barcelona, and London’s Oxford Street. If you ever had any doubt the Saudis have a thing for the ‘big’, here you go…

Aside from the obvious mistake in this paragraph that we are not talking about Saudi Arabia but rather about the United Arab Emirates (Dubai is the largest city in the UAE and the home of about half the country’s population), the description is more or less accurate.

Can we expand the concept globally? Many countries are trying on a local scale (see the October 24, 2017 blog) but none have attempted the scale shown in Figure 1. Maybe Dubai is the right place to start.

Of course, Dubai has a somewhat dubious recent history and there are some possible dark sides to these proposed developments:

Three decades ago, Dubai was little more than desert.

The city exploded in prosperity after the United Arab Emirates discovered oil in 1966, leading to a development boom that has resulted in the world’s tallest building, the second-biggest mall, one of the most luxurious hotels, and more skyscrapers than any city besides New York and Hong Kong.

Oil and gas now accounts for less than 1% of Dubai’s economy, down from 50% at one point, according to Bloomberg.

But for those looking at Dubai and wishing their country or city would use it as a model, Dubai may be more of a cautionary tale. The shiny, glass towers hide the trampling of the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers that built them. They hide the often opaque and arbitrary legal system, and the fear over what happens to the economy when the cranes stop building and the flow of foreign investment dries up, as happened in 2009.

Publications such as the UK’s Independent have further amplified the more nefarious aspects of the country and the project: “This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery.”

I am including some of the pictures I took during my visit: Dubai, UAE, United Arab Emirates, development, sustainable, Burj Khalifa, tower, mall

Figure 3 – The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa tower

Dubai, UAE, United Arab Emirates, development, sustainable, Burj Khalifa, tower, mall

Figure 4 – Near the Dubai Mall

Once you enter the Dubai Mall, the heat is no problem. Nor is the income distribution (for you!). This is one of the biggest malls in the world, with luxury stores from all over the planet, American-sized prices, and as many restaurants as you care to count. The entertainment includes a great aquarium, on-site scuba diving, and the world’s largest fountain. You can also climb the world’s tallest building (so far), the Burj Khalifa (this comes with a US $200 price tag that we skipped), and so on.

Dubai, UAE, United Arab Emirates, development, construction, Expo 2020Figure 5 – Major construction in preparation for Expo 2020 in Dubai

Construction activity is everywhere—as shown in Figure 5—mainly in anticipation of Expo 2020. However, a recent Reuters poll predicts a sharp decline in house prices.

Figure 6 shows a different picture of Dubai: that of the old city, still critically dependent on window air conditioners.

Dubai, UAE, United Arab Emirates, air conditioning, air conditioner, old, A/CFigure 6 – Old Dubai

Sustainable City

However, the most striking example of a direction that Dubai might be taking came during our first day there, when we visited its “Sustainable City.” According to Wikipedia:

The Sustainable City is a 46 hectare property development in DubaiUnited Arab Emirates. Situated on the Al Qudra road, it is the first net zero energy development in the Emirate of Dubai. The development includes 500 villas, 89 apartments and a mixed use area consisting of offices, retail, healthcare facilities, a nursery and food and beverage outlets. Phase 2 of the development will include a hotel, school and innovation centre.

The City was developed by Dubai-based Diamond Developers, whose Chief Executive Officer, Faris Saeed, has stated that much of his inspiration for the development came from UC Davis West Village.

Key elements of the City include:

  • a residential area of 500 townhouses and courtyard villas inspired by Dubai’s old Bastakiyadistrict
  • 11 natural ‘biodome’ greenhouses, organic farm and individual garden farms for local food production that use a passive cooling method with fans and pads.
  • 10 MW peak solar production
  • waste water recycling, with segregated drainage for greywater andblackwater using papyrus as a biofilter
  • biking and shaded jogging trails
  • charging stations for electric cars
  • an equestrian center

Apart from periphery roads and car parking areas, the development is a car-free site.

The parking areas are topped by solar shading featuring solar panels that are connected to an electrical grid to supply energy into different sections of the city.

Panels are also placed on the roofs of all of the houses.

The construction waste is reused to furniture the public spaces.

The townhouses have UV reflective paint to reduce the thermal heat gain inside the houses.

Here are some pictures from inside the Sustainable City:

Dubai, UAE, United Arab Emirates, development, sustainable, sustainable cityFigure 7 – A model of the full Sustainable City

Dubai, UAE, United Arab Emirates, development, sustainable, sustainable city, greenhouse, plants, growthFigure 8 – A greenhouse

Dubai, UAE, United Arab Emirates, development, sustainable, sustainable city, solar, solar power, renewable energy, renewable, humidity, dehumidifier, water, heatFigure 9 – Solar-powered dehumidifier and water heater

Dubai, UAE, United Arab Emirates, development, sustainable, sustainable city, solar, solar power, renewable energy, renewable, ozone, ozonator, technology, water, sterilization, Figure 10 – Solar-powered ozonator for cleaning

The United Arab Emirate’s officials have collected articles about its efforts to make the country and the city of Dubai sustainable on a site called The Sustainabilist.

Energy storage, so essential in any setting that relies on sustainable solar energy, was not mentioned. Nor was doing so necessary on the part of the Sustainable City’s tour guides. The city has an agreement with the emirate that all renewable energy is routed through (and stored by) the emirate’s mostly fossil-fueled power company. They buy it at the same price as traditional fuels, and those who produce it can then drawn upon it when needed for the same price. This process of selling excess solar power to a utility and then using it later is called load leveling. In Germany, the price that you get from the utility for the access energy that you deliver is only 10% of what you have to pay when you draw upon it later. That the UAE is offering equal prices for both directions constitutes a great subsidy. Not only that, UAE’s utility companies signed long, 25-year or more contracts to buy electricity from these solar power plants, which gives the solar developers more time to pay off the initial investment, making for cheaper solar power overall.

Next week I will start to explore other stops from this trip.

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Around the World in 5 Weeks: Three Weddings, Climate Change, and the Holocaust


My wife joined me on a whirlwind trip from New York City to Brisbane and Melbourne, Australia to Dubai, UAE to Paris, France to The Hague, Netherlands to Farsleben and Berlin, Germany to Krakow, Poland. We returned a few days ago and started back to work the day after we arrived.     New York City, NYC, Brisbane, Melbourne, Australia, Dubai, UAE, Paris, France, The Hague, Netherlands, Farsleben, Berlin, Germany, Krakow, PolandFigure 1 – Map of our travels (it’s a little hard to see the specifics but you get the idea)

The trip combined family occasions with the commemoration of Holocaust events that relate to my history. I also looked at climate change issues and even snuck in some simpler tourist curiosities (sometimes you just need a break).

To be more specific, the three weddings took place in Brisbane, Paris, and Krakow. The Holocaust connection was confined to Germany. As to climate change, the most relevant areas were Dubai, The Netherlands, and Germany. I will give more details about these activities in future blogs.

Most of the Holocaust-related parts of this trip took place in Farsleben, Germany; I described the planned events in my June 11th blog on D-Day. I am writing this blog on Sunday, September 1st, 80 years after the Nazi invasion of Poland that marked the start of WWII. This year also marks the 80th year since I was born in Warsaw, Poland to a Jewish family.

Here are four photographs to give you some highlights of the trip:

Berlin, wall, topography of terror, planet, Nazi, Germany, museum

Figure 2 – Portion of the Berlin Wall with graffiti that says, “save our planet”

Berlin now has a Topography of Terror museum on the site of buildings which during the Nazi regime held the headquarters of the SDEinsatzgruppen, and Gestapo. The portion of the Berlin Wall above is part of this museum.

Figure 3 – Solar cells in Hillersleben

Meanwhile, Hillersleben—the Displacement camp where the American soldiers that liberated me first took me (see July 5, 2016 blog for more details)—now has an extensive area of solar cells for energy capture, along with major wind farms nearby.

Figure 4 – The Sustainable City in Dubai

Figure 5 – Pepper-growing greenhouse near Rotterdam

Carbon footprints

With all our good intentions for this trip, I still have to address the adverse effects such a trip contributed to the atmospheric chemistry that enhances anthropogenic climate change. Greta Thunberg’s recent trip to New York City (by boat) only accentuated that issue. I wrote about her here before (August 6, 2019 blog). She is working hard to prevent trips similar to what I took and is advocating that people refrain from flying. She is 16 and I am 80; our comfort requirements and available time are different—many factors contribute to different choices.

The total mileage of my trip (based on the airplane mileage I gained) was 27,940 miles (46,659 km). That is about 10% longer than the circumference of the Earth (24,901 miles). If I confine myself to a single type of aircraft—the Airbus A380 that I actually used on several of the legs, I can do some of the math. The manufacturer claims that the carbon footprint of this airplane is 75g per passenger seat per km. Fortunately, I can afford to fly these kinds of distances in business class. However, the expanded legroom and personal space that upgrade entails translates to fewer persons per square foot and thus larger footprints per person.

Given that the footprint data that I quote doesn’t differentiate between classes on the plane, I double the contribution (this approximation is most likely on the low side). So, my carbon footprint is 150g per km, meaning my total carbon footprint for the trip is about 7 metric tons. This carbon footprint is equivalent to a year and a half in a “typical” passenger car with a fuel efficiency of 22 miles/gallon that is driven 11,500 miles/year and emits 4.6 metric tons carbon dioxide per year.

4.6 metric tons per year x 1.5 years = 6.9 metric tons CO2

In order to compare the emissions from the car and the plane, in terms of grams of CO2 per km, I must first convert my metrics so that they match:

11,500mi x 1.6 = 18,400km

4.6MT = 4,600,000g

250g/km > 150g/km

In other words, if we assume that there are no other passengers in the car the air travel is significantly more efficient, even if we don’t consider travel time. No matter how we look at it, though, it is a very large carbon footprint. The only difference is that the airplanes will fly these routes whether or not my wife and I take these flights, while the car will stay in the garage and emit nothing if we decide not to go anywhere.

As I promised earlier in this blog, I will follow in the next few weeks with more detailed descriptions of our observations. I’ll leave you to be the judge of whether or not our efforts justify the damage that we have contributed to the environment.

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Guest Blog: US Medical Schools Must Train Medical Students for Climate Change

This week, a medical student friend of mine presents a guest blog. As always, we welcome your comments and questions. We’d love to start a discussion about this topic.

SA is a second year medical student interested in global surgery. She is a native New Yorker and a proud graduate of Brooklyn College.

As a medical student cramming my brain with vast quantities of information on the fundamentals of the physical exam and how to take down medical history, I still have not gotten used to the idea of actually taking care of patients on my own. In between classes and research, I barely have enough time to sleep, let alone contemplate what it may actually look like to take care of patients on an everyday basis. But, for the past year of medical school, I have trained hard to learn the knowledge and skills I will need to address a multitude of increasingly complex health care issues that will inevitably affect the lives of my future patients.

Arguably one of the most pressing health care issues facing US patients is anthropogenic climate change, an impending public health crisis that threatens to disrupt food systems, exacerbate chronic disease conditions, and drive up rates of respiratory illnesses and vector-borne diseases globally. Climate change is already disproportionately impacting vulnerable communities, creating waves of “climate migrants” in the wake of floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events.

Along with multidrug resistance and lead contamination of public water supply systems in cities such as Newark, climate change is high on the list of public health threats I worry about. Regardless of whether I am prepared to confront the realities of being a care provider, I recognize that I will inevitably be forced to deal with the devastating repercussions of climate change at least once over the course of my medical career.

This is a grim realization, but it is one that is spurring students like myself into action. This past January, I was given the opportunity to meet with leading climate change experts and physician advocates at the New York Academy of Medicine’s 2019 Clinical Climate Change Conference. The faculty at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai organized the conference. It provided a forum for physicians and allied health professionals to discuss the impact of anthropogenic climate change on patient health outcomes and ways to mitigate these adverse effects.

Similarly, as an organizer of the Advocacy in Medicine (AIM) Conference at the New York Academy of Medicine, I am facilitating a workshop for medical students on climate change and health. I chose to organize the AIM conference because I wanted to mobilize medical students to become effective future care providers, advocates, and educators in this realm. More recently, I co-authored a Health Affairs op-ed on the need for the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to mandate sustainability reporting for US hospitals. It’s a measure that I believe is essential: collecting baseline data on health systems’ environmental impacts. Without knowledge of what is currently happening, it is difficult to identify which areas need the most attention moving forward.

Still, organizing conferences and writing op-eds are insufficient ways of engaging and educating the nation’s future physician workforce on climate change. That is why we need broader institutional-level change, particularly in the form of US medical schools creating climate change-focused curricula.

This past June, the American Medical Association voted to create a baseline curriculum that physician educators can utilize to inform their students of the myriad impacts of climate change on patient health. Several schools, including the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), University of Minnesota Medical School, and University of Illinois College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign are stepping up to the challenge.

For the past two years, Sinai has offered first year medical students the opportunity to work on a global health summer project focused on integrating clinically relevant material on climate change into course content related to medical microbiology and the social and environmental determinants of health.

UCSF has introduced elective courses covering food security and environmental sustainability. Encouragingly, 187 schools have joined Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health consortium to promote climate-focused curricula at their respective graduate programs. For physicians who are already practicing, the Yale School of Medicine offers a continuing education certificate and the University of Colorado School of Medicine offers a fellowship for emergency physicians interested in climate-related medicine.

While medical schools must take urgent action on this issue given the scale and magnitude of climate change, there are significant barriers to introducing climate-focused curricula. One challenge involves the breadth of material that medical students are already expected to learn in a very short period of time.

Medical schools boast overloaded, dense curricula and frequent examinations. Indeed, academic demands and the pressure to consistently perform on par with their peers adversely impact medical students’ mental health, leading to increased suicidal ideation, burnout, and elevated substance use amongst medical students.

Adding to an already arduous and time-consuming curriculum can be challenging. Secondly, the consequences of climate change are not yet tested on Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), which is perhaps the most important examination a medical student will take during medical school. In other words, there is little immediate incentive for medical students to master these concepts while in school. Given their time constraints, it is more likely that students will focus their energy on understanding elements that will be relevant for passing their Board exams.

Thirdly, in the clinical setting, there is a systemic lack of focus on communicating environmental concerns to patients. This type of inertia is difficult to overcome when there is very little training and infrastructure for physicians to address the environmental and psychosocial determinants of health. Meanwhile, primary care physicians are often allotted a mere 15 minutes to speak with each of their patients. Severe time constraints and increased administrative burdens leave little time for physicians to adequately address climate change in their discussions with patients.

And yet, all of these challenges are not insurmountable; they could be sufficiently addressed if medical education focused on producing more environmentally conscious and eco-literate physicians. After all, medical students need to know that they will be cogs in a health care system that is currently the world’s seventh largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions. In 2013, it released 614 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents— other greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide, water, etc.) measured in terms of how much Co2 is needed to produce the same greenhouse effect.

Board examinations should incorporate the health effects of climate change in order to incentivize students to learn this material for their future practice. Medical schools need to update their curricula to include the most clinically relevant information rather than a hodgepodge of basic science minutiae that will never even appear in Board-style questions.

For physicians who are already practicing, there should be increased pressure on administrators to provide avenues for more time with patients so physicians can discuss climate change in the clinical setting. Departments should allocate resources to adequately train physicians in proper and effective communication with their patients on climate change and other environmental and psychosocial determinants of health.

The time to act is now. Effective health care delivery in this country largely depends on training the next generation of care providers to understand the effects of climate change on patient health outcomes. And as future care providers, medical students must be committed to fighting climate change, just as they are committed to combating the spread of infectious diseases and the persistence of inequities as key drivers of human disease and suffering.

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Income Inequality: Climate Apartheid

About three months ago (May 14, 2019) I featured a student-written guest blog on income inequality. That blog centered on transportation. It wasn’t the first time that we have addressed the issue on Climate Change Fork. Previous blogs that focused on the issue include:

January 7, 2014: Why Do We Care About Inequality?

August 19 & 26, 2014: Income Inequality – Piketty; Inequality – Responses to Piketty

September 2, 2014: Income Inequality – Science Magazine

September 9, 2014: Income Inequality – Climate Change

August 4, 2015: China – The Price of Progress: Inequality and Transparency

February 19, 2019: The Green New Deal Resolution: Is it Viable?

May 14, 2019: Guest Blog: How Income Inequality Correlates with CO2 Emissions and What We Can Do About It

We are now, slowly but loudly, approaching the 2020 presidential election. Finally, climate change is becoming an important part of the agenda for many aspirational politicians—not only in the US but also abroad. While these candidates are not confined to the left-of-center subset, they mainly emerge from that direction. In many cases, this ties in to that part of the political spectrum increasing its focus on remediating the growing income inequality. The recent dialogues about the Green New Deal (see the February 19th blog) are a good example. Green jobs are a tantalizing promise. However, in all these discussions, what we are missing are direct, quantitative connections between these two issues. This shortcoming leaves the impression in many quarters that presenting the two issues as intertwined is more of a publicity stunt (“look at what good people we are!”) than an actual means of addressing strategies to solve societal issues.

I don’t think this has to be the case. I will try in this blog to identify some of the missing direct connections between the trends—especially in cases where the two are so intertwined that we cannot address one of these trends without also referencing the other.

I found a fitting new phrase that describes the intersection between income inequality and climate change: BBC reported on the recently coined term, “climate apartheid.”

Climate apartheid’ between rich and poor looms, UN expert warns

A UN expert has warned of a possible “climate apartheid”, where the rich pay to escape from hunger, “while the rest of the world is left to suffer”.

Even if current targets are met, “millions will be impoverished”, said Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty.

He also criticized steps taken by UN bodies as “patently inadequate”.

“Ticking boxes will not save humanity or the planet from impending disaster,” Mr Alston warned.

The Australian native is part of the UN’s panel of independent experts, and submitted his report – which is based on existing research – to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

I find the article and expression accurate and engaging. I have talked before about climate refugees and have no doubt that many in such situations as described above will soon be forced to flee their homes in search of the resources essential to their survival. The emphasis in the UN was on rich and poor countries but the divide also applies to smaller units.

Figure 1 shows a plot of the global income distribution, based on OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) data:

global income distribution, income inequality, income

Figure 1Plot of global income distribution

You can see from the graph that in 2003 almost 1.5% of the world population earned roughly $400. Ten years later in 2013, the number of people with a similar income was only half of that. By 2035, the OECD projects that only about 0.4% (the highest plurality for the year) will earn between $1,000-2,000. I’m not sure if these numbers are adjusted for inflation but we can see that the trend is more money going to fewer people, especially as we look farther down the graph to where only a few individuals hold most of the money.

I have discussed the Gini coefficient before as a measure of inequality, specifically in the context of China (August 4, 2015); 0 is completely equal and 1 is completely unequal (one guy owns everything). In this case, the Gini values are represented in percentages. The world is a very unequal place.

To determine the impact of such unequal distribution on climate change, one must first figure out individuals’ expenses as a function of their incomes. To do this globally would be basically impossible. It would, for example, have to include considerations such as currency conversion and large differences in tradition and preference. Fortunately, the US census survey has provided an example:

Table 1 – Average Annual Expenditures of All Consumer Units by Income Level: 2009

income inequality, income, food, shelter, utilities, vehicles, cars, gas, gasoline, health, healthcare, pensions, social security

In the categories that obviously result in carbon emissions, such as food, utilities, and gasoline consumption, one can see saturation in expenditures for larger income brackets—those who can pay for the fanciest versions of everything. However, as we covered in the graph above, there are significantly fewer people in those brackets and the smaller numbers at the bottom add up quickly. In other words, the much larger numbers of lower income people will emit considerably more than the small number of high-income people, thus continuing the drivers of climate change. Increasing equality will mean contributing resources to low-polluting activity, thereby decreasing the carbon intensity of the world (pollution divided by GDP).

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Guest Blog: Chapin Zerner—Duckweed vs. Roundup & Spectracide vs. Salinity

Hi! This is guest blogger Chapin Zerner, checking in from East Northport, New York. I have made one previous appearance on Climate Change Fork, back in 2013—as the fourth grader who worked with Professor Tomkiewicz on an electricity audit science fair project in the hopes of a bid to Brookhaven National Labs. While I ultimately did not advance to the Brookhaven competition in fourth grade, my love of science was in no way quashed.

In fact, in the years since, I have worked on four science fair projects at junior high and high school levels. These endeavors have focused on a variety of subjects, including two astrophysics projects (the latter of which was under the guidance of Professor Tomkiewicz) and two biology projects. The one of most relevance to the increasingly pertinent issue of climate change was that I developed starting in July of 2018 and continued to pursue through many science fairs into April of 2019.

This experiment focused on the relationship between the phytoremediator plant, Lemna minor L., colloquially known as duckweed, and harmful, chemical-ridden pesticides. This testing was all completed in high-salinity environments (more on that later). I titled the paper chronicling this experimentation: “The Effect of Increased Salinities and Introduction of Phytotoxic Pesticides Roundup and Spectracide Triazicide on the Health and Phytoremediation of Lemna minor L.”

lemna minor, duckweed, experiment, roundup

Lemna minor L. (duckweed)

Part of my rationale behind using duckweed as the specimen for this experimentation was its role in the environment as a model organism. In other words, the effects displayed in the behavior of duckweed will more likely be transferrable to other organisms similar in structure than would a randomly chosen aquatic plant. Additionally, duckweed has a unique ability to act as a phytoremediator in its environment—effectively ridding its immediate environment of any harmful agents found in trace amounts. Much research has been done on this ability of Lemna minor L., with respect to heavy metals.

However, my most critical reason for using duckweed specifically was its close relation to its sister species, Oryza sativa—common Asian rice. Rice is one of the most widespread ingredients throughout world cultures, and feeds approximately a quarter of the world’s population, exemplifying its role as an international staple crop. Likewise, I chose the pesticides Roundup and Spectracide due to their widespread use as herbicides and insecticides, respectively.

The facet of this research that was, in my opinion, the most relevant to global climate change was that of the preliminary saltwater testing. The effects of melting ice caps, glaciers, and overall rises in sea levels are well documented, and often result in a phenomenon known as saltwater intrusion. Characteristics of saltwater intrusion include the encroachment of brackish and saline water into coastal freshwater sources, namely aquifers. Thus, freshwater organisms, such as our beloved duckweed, are adversely affected.

While there was a plethora of research surrounding saltwater intrusion and its effects on freshwater environments, the environmental field was severely lacking in the respect of climate change plus other environmental shifts. That is to say: climate change does not occur in a vacuum. There are other factors that experience alterations at the same or at similar rates to climate change, sometimes in conjunction and sometimes individually. Hence, the infiltration of saline water to aquifers interrelates to the infiltration of harmful man-made chemicals to drinking sources such as aquifers.

Since the combination of pesticides and saline water has the potential to be a deadly one, affecting both liquid and solid sources of sustenance, my partner and I deemed this research to be a worthy endeavor. So, we went about experimenting with a control of fresh water: 0 millimolar (mM, one thousandth of a mole per liter) salt water. In addition, we had four experimental groups: 25 mM, 50 mM, 75 mM, and 100 mM. We ran these trials several times with a minimum of 10 gametophytes—individual duckweed organisms—per testing vessel. These trials were run with only salt water. At this point in experimentation, no pesticides had yet been added.

Following the collection of data and analysis of preliminary results, we chose two experimental groups for further testing with the addition of pesticides: 25 mM and 75 mM saltwater solutions, as well as the fresh water control. These concentrations were chosen due to quantitative and daily qualitative results showing there to be the greatest extremes in stratification here. Duckweed was healthiest at a 25 mM salt solution, and least healthy at 75 mM; the highest salt concentration, 100 mM, seemed to kill the Lemna minor L. too rapidly to be of any use in further testing.

We then chose a high and a low concentration of each Roundup and Spectracide to add to the chosen saline solutions. These trials were also run in duplicate, with a minimum of 20 gametophytes per testing vessel. After several days of trials, and a surplus of assessments and chemical testing, we were surprised at the determined results. Roundup, the herbicide made to kill plant life such as Lemna minor L., was less effective at killing duckweed in our experimentation than was its insecticide counterpart, Spectracide. This was hypothesized to be due to the potency of active ingredients in each solution.

These increased salinities are hypothesized to have served as catalysts for the active ingredients of Roundup and Spectracide, although to a lesser extent in the case of Roundup.

An additional finding included the realization that the effectiveness of glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup, is contingent on the presence of the shikimate pathway, a seven-step metabolic process found in plants. It is this process that kills the unwanted plants. Companies such as those that produce Roundup may claim non-toxicity to humans due to the fact that mammals do not contain the shikimate pathway. However, the human gut microbiome, an integral part of human health, contains microbiota, which do utilize the shikimate pathway. This suggests that Roundup entering the body by any means, whether it be by eating plants sprayed with the chemical, or, as evidenced by multiple lawsuits, by working in close contact with it, is likely extremely detrimental to human health.

Once again, this process is exacerbated by the presence of high-saline environments. This, coupled with saltwater intrusion and the encroachment of sea levels, is not a favorable combination for human health. On the other hand, Spectracide does not utilize the shikimate pathway like Roundup. Rather, it forces open ion channels in the targeted insect, leading to paralysis and eventual death. Thus, the effects of Spectracide on human health in the presence of salt is not as well understood, but certainly does pose a threat.

For me, this study demonstrated the depth of the unknown in terms of hazard-levels for chemicals such as Roundup, especially in conjunction with global climate change and altered saline concentrations in aquifers and beyond.

I would like to thank Professor Tomkiewicz for the opportunity to discuss my research here. Please contact me if you have any questions. Meanwhile, here is a link to my full paper.

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