In 2016, the US offshore oil and natural gas industries—which are heavily concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico— contributed 315,000 jobs and $30 billion to the US economy. These industries are lucrative, but they see their fair share of challenges. 

Even during the best of times, the extraction of oil and gas demands strict attention to employees’ health and safety and the maintenance of assets. But as extreme weather events increase—strong winds, heavy rain, lightning, and high seas—the risk of mishaps increases, requiring additional care. Delivery and distribution may be halted, assets may become damaged, and there’s a greater chance of oil and chemical spills. 

A Look at Past Events

The US offshore oil and gas industries were dealt a one-two punch in 2005, as two category-5 hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) swept across the coast. The effects were so damaging that it took years to recover:

– 3,050 of 4,000 platforms in the Gulf were affected, each of which halted production for several weeks.

– 22,000 of the 33,000 miles of Gulf pipelines were in the storms’ direct path, and 457 pipelines were destroyed

– 115 platforms were destroyed

– 8 million gallons of oil spilled into waterways from Louisiana to Alabama 

– Oil prices spiked to $70 a barrel

Image Credits

Companies spent millions to repair their infrastructure. Shell, for example, spent over $300 million on recovering and repairing assets. Besides the cost of repairs, for the next nine months, 22% of federal oil production and 13% of gas production remained shut-in—resulting in the loss of 150 million barrels of oil and 720 billion cubic feet of gas. 

 Since those two hurricanes, there have been ten more category 5 Atlantic hurricanes. Climate change’s effects are certainly being felt— and experts anticipate that it will induce more storms at greater intensities. Although we can’t stop them from happening, we can learn more about them and determine the best ways to reduce their impact—to ensure these industries operate safely and remain lucrative. 

Data’s Place in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industries

It’s the responsibility of oil and gas companies to protect their infrastructure, assets, and employees. It’s also their responsibility to set up emergency response teams and employ remediating measures to minimize the extent of oil spills if and when they occur. 

Accurate, real-time data (and alerting) is vital for making fast, informed decisions that will protect assets, lives, and the environment. Here are two specific applications of data to the offshore oil and gas industries:

  1. Monitoring extreme weather changes:

A week of delay to operations could affect major shippers and cost companies as much as $7.5 million. Time is essential for reducing the impact of extreme weather events such as hurricanes. 

Anticipating upcoming wind shifts and speed changes can help prepare and protect vessels and their tethered connection. Having up-to-date weather data also allows companies to avoid dangerous activity. Not only does this protect these billion-dollar oil rigs and employees, but it also prevents oil spills.

Real-time ocean data is also important for monitoring everyday weather and temperature changes. Milder weather can still put operations and assets at risk. For pipes, all it takes is a 35 mph wind at a specific angle to become damaged. (To put that into perspective, Hurricane Katrina’s wind speeds were moving at 175 mph.) 

To reduce the risks posed by climate variability and change, some experts advocate for better collaboration between the oil and gas industries and the meteorological community. A stronger partnership between these two groups would allow for better integration of high-quality weather and climate information into energy sector activities. 

  1. Oil spill mapping:

To limit the areas affected by an oil spill and facilitate containment and cleanup efforts, several factors must be identified: 

– Spill location 

– Size and extent of the spill

– Direction and magnitude of oil movement

– Wind, current, and wave information for predicting future oil movement

Oil Spills caused by Katrina

Image Credits

Timely detection and continuously updated information on these factors are vital for executing response measures. Responders depend on oil spill trajectory maps built from field observations, aerial surveys, remote sensing, and weather forecasts for ocean currents and winds (drawn from weather buoys). Oil spill trajectory maps help with cleanup measures, shoreline protection, and penalization (when applicable):

– Slick detection and surveillance

– Tactical and strategic countermeasures

– Slick trajectory determination 

– Containment boom implementation

– Gathering of legal information 

To echo the prior discussion, the weather is becoming increasingly unpredictable. With quick changes to wind speeds, currents, and waves, oil spill trajectory maps need to be informed by real-time holistic data to be effective. These industries are some of the most advanced users of weather and climate information. However, their rapid evolution, and extreme changes to weather, constantly create new needs.

The offshore oil and gas industry isn’t the only large industry requiring top-quality data in the face of increasingly volatile weather. Read about the risks to the maritime industry and how real-time data is a game-changer for operations. 

This article by Ayesha Renyard was originally published at

About Sofarocean:

Our oceans cover over 70% of our planet’s surface, drive our climate system, and over 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea. Our ocean environment affects us every day, through weather, the food we eat, and the stuff we use. Yet, ocean data is exceedingly sparse, and we know more about the surface of the moon than the waters surrounding us. Distributed sensing has revolutionized digitizing on land and from space. Ocean’s are next.

Our goal is to create a data-abundant ocean and provide critical insights into science, society, and industries. As a first step, we deploy and grow the world’s largest real-time ocean weather sensor network which provides the most accurate marine weather information and forecasts to power industry-specific solutions.

We believe that more and better ocean data will contribute to a greater understanding of our environment, better decisions, improved business outcomes, and ultimately contribute to a more sustainable planet.

Featured Image Credits: Pixabay

The ocean has been around for billions of years. Yet, we only started measuring oceanographic variables in the late eighteenth century. We’ve got a long way to go before we can fully understand it. 

What we do know is that it’s changing at a rapid pace—and at the crux of many of these changes is our warming global sea surface temperature. 

To get you up to speed, this post is an introduction to sea surface temperature, and we’ll be answering all the fundamental questions: 

What is it? 

How is it measured? 

What is the data telling us?

And most importantly, why is this information important?

What is sea surface temperature (SST)? 

Sea surface temperature (SST) is the water temperature close to the ocean’s surface. It varies mainly with latitude, with the warmest waters generally near the equator and the coldest waters in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. 

As the oceans absorb more heat, sea surface temperature increases, and the ocean circulation patterns that transport warm and cold water around the globe change.

How is SST measured?

SST was one of the first oceanographic variables measured, yet it is still a fairly new phenomenon. The first recording was in the late eighteenth century by Benjamin Franklin, who suspended a mercury thermometer from a ship while traveling between the US and Europe. SST was later measured by dipping a thermometer into a bucket of water that was manually drawn from the sea surface (yes, humble beginnings). 

The first automated technique was accomplished by measuring the temperature of water in the intake port of large ships in 1963. 

Today, SST measurement is obtained by satellite microwave radiometers, infrared (IR) radiometers, in situ moored and drifting buoys, and ships of opportunity. Different instruments measure the temperature at different depths. For instance, most buoys have sensors located at about 1-meter depth or placed at regular intervals along a tether line. When measured from space, sea surface temperatures represent a depth that is related to the frequency of the satellite instrument. For example, IR instruments measure a depth of about 20 micrometers, while microwave radiometers only measure a few millimeters. 

Satellite infrared data is merged with the temperature data drawn from ships and buoys to create a holistic understanding of sea surface temperature at a larger scale. We’ve come a long way from the bucket method. 

Why does SST data matter? 

While heat energy is stored and mixed throughout the depth of the ocean, the temperature of the water right at the sea’s surface—where the ocean is in direct contact with the atmosphere—plays a significant role in weather and short-term climate. The ability to measure it allows us to observe the global system and quantify ongoing weather and climate change

What is Sea Surface Tempreature data telling us? 

Average Global Sea Surface Temperature



Due to global warming, the average global SST is on a steady incline. From 1901 through 2015, the temperature rose at an average rate of 0.13°F per decade. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s severely impacting the ocean; sea levels are rising, and ocean circulation patterns are changing—disrupting marine ecosystems and even human livelihood.

Why should we care about rising sea levels?

As the water warms, two things happen. First, it expands as its temperature increases. Second, it melts glaciers and ice sheets. Together, these phenomena increase sea surface temperatures, and consequently, sea levels.

Rising sea levels lead to greater coastal erosion, stripping the coast of its natural protection consisting of sediment and wetlands. Each year, extreme weather events—such as cyclones, storm surges, and hurricanes—increase in intensity and frequency. Due to coastal erosion, communities are at greater risk of floods, and ultimately habitat and infrastructure destruction. 

We can’t stop rising sea levels, but we reduce their impact. Learn how improved ocean data can help coastal communities mitigate the risks associated with rising sea levels.

How does SST change ocean circulation patterns?

Ocean Circulation Patterns


Ocean circulation is the large-scale movement of waters in the ocean basins. The oceans have thousands of currents, gyres, and eddies that carry water around the planet. Their movements regulate the Earth’s climate and transport carbon, heat, and nutrients.

Together, these currents act like a giant conveyor belt that transports heat from the tropics to the higher latitudes. As warm water from the tropics flows toward the poles in wind-driven currents near the surface, it cools, becoming denser and heavier, and eventually sinks. Temperature and salinity drive this circulation—so changes in these variables will affect it. Warming waters are melting ice sheets and glaciers. In conjunction with increased rainfall, ocean water is becoming less saline (and less dense than saltier water), which is slowing the ocean’s circulation.

A Nature study reveals that the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation has slowed by about 15 percent since the middle of the last century

Which industries are being affected by increased SST? 

Four industries that are especially impacted by increased SST are the maritime industry, offshore oil and gas industry, agricultural industry, and fishing industry

The increase of extreme storms and other weather events along the coast can cause million and billion dollars worth of damage to the maritime, offshore oil and gas, and agricultural industries’ assets and operations. The need for real-time data and warnings is incredibly important for monitoring and predicting the storms and their effects—to reduce damage and operation closures. 

The slowing ocean circulation patterns create inhabitable marine ecosystems for some species, driving them to cooler water and subsequently affecting the local food chain. There is an increase in the frequency and density of harmful algal blooms such as red tide. Additionally, scientists link increased SST to coral bleaching, leading to a decline in fish populations. Fisheries located in areas of rapidly warming waters are seeing severe decreases in fish stock—some to the point of collapse. Obtaining denser data can identify areas that need critical rehabilitation and help guide sustainability projects. 

This article by Ayesha Renyard was originally published at

About Sofarocean:

Our oceans cover over 70% of our planet’s surface, drive our climate system, and over 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea. Our ocean environment affects us every day, through weather, the food we eat, and the stuff we use. Yet, ocean data is exceedingly sparse, and we know more about the surface of the moon than the waters surrounding us. Distributed sensing has revolutionized digitizing on land and from space. Ocean’s are next.

Our goal is to create a data-abundant ocean and provide critical insights into science, society, and industries. As a first step, we deploy and grow the world’s largest real-time ocean weather sensor network which provides the most accurate marine weather information and forecasts to power industry-specific solutions.

We believe that more and better ocean data will contribute to a greater understanding of our environment, better decisions, improved business outcomes, and ultimately contribute to a more sustainable planet.

Featured Image Credits: Pixabay

The covid-19 pandemic has changed the world, grinding to a halt increasingly large geographic areas and portions of the economy in an effort to slow the virus’ spread.

The impacts have been profound on the ground, but government-mandated lockdowns have also remade the atmosphere. Satellite data from China, the first epicentre of the outbreak, and Italy, the second hot spot, have shown big drops in pollution following lockdowns that limited the movement of people and goods and factories’ ability to produce stuff. With the pandemic now becoming increasingly prevalent in the U.S., Americans have already started moving less as mayors and governors have turned to similar measures.

In an effort to track the impacts, Gizmodo assembled an interactive map to explore the changes in air pollution not just in the U.S. but globally. The map runs on Google Earth Engine and uses data collected by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite, which circles the Earth capturing various types of data. It includes four snapshots from December 2019 through March 20, 2020. The Sentinel satellite data shows nitrogen dioxide, which is a handy proxy for human activity.

“Nitrogen dioxide is produced by fossil fuel burning and therefore often used as an urban pollution tracer,” Barbara Dix, an atmospheric researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Gizmodo in an email. “Burning fossil fuels directly emits a lot of nitrous oxide and a little nitrogen dioxide (often referred to as NOx together), but the nitrous oxide is rapidly converted into nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere. Nitrogen dioxide can easily be measured by satellite.”

Given that fossil fuels power everything from cars to electricity, nitrogen dioxide satellite imagery really does show the impact covid-19 is having on society like no other dataset. There are clear signs of the virus’ impact all around the world, and we’ll dive into some U.S. examples below. But it’s also important to note a few small caveats as you scroll around the map and look at the before and after images.

The data presented here is a series of single-day snapshots. Weather patterns can blow pollution around and disperse it while rain and even the level of sunshine can further change readings taken by Sentinel-5P. There are also natural sources of nitrogen dioxide that can affect readings. The data in Google Earth Engine isn’t necessarily quality filtered. Dix noted that means clouds can mess with readings, which may be why on the interactive map there are some rougher-looking areas like northern New England in March or signs of pollution in the Seattle area where there may not be much. It will take researchers time to really dive into the data and filter it to get a fine-scale understanding of covid-19’s impact on air pollution. Despite these caveats, the trends in many major cities around the U.S. are staggering and clearly at least in part tied to the changes forced by the covid-19 pandemic.

“The rapid decrease we see in nitrogen dioxide due to covid-19 is unprecedented,” Dix said. “We are now witnessing a global experiment where one emission source is rapidly turned down (NOx), while other sources are still up or will decrease more slowly. A lot of atmospheric science will come out of this.”

“I imagine that the air pollution monitoring data collected during the covid-19 shutdown will be useful to test our fundamental understanding of the sources of pollutants (economic sectors, natural emissions, etc.), the chemistry of nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter, and short term health and ecosystem effects of air pollution,” Viral Shah, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard, told Gizmodo in an email.

California Covid-19


California became the first state in the U.S. to issue a shelter-in-place order effective on March 19, though many cities made their decision to shut down earlier. The resulting drop in pollution from January to March in the state’s major metro areas is stark. Los Angeles is a huge source of pollution owing to its car culture, and the city’s precipitous drop in pollution is clear. Traffic reports back up the satellite data. The Bay Area and San Diego also saw pollution disperse in the face of a shelter-in-place order.

The impacts extended across the border as well. Tijuana—which is intimately linked to San Diego—saw pollution dissipate to practically nothing. Ditto for El Paso and Juarez visible further east. The Mexican and American governments have agreed to partially close the border in an effort to stop the spread of covid-19.

Even though they’re not in states with lockdowns, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and Las Vegas all have varying degrees of restrictions on residents and businesses. And once again, the map makes clear that’s likely having an impact on pollution.

Northeast Corridor

The Northeast Corridor

The populous area stretching from Boston to Washington, DC, is the epicentre of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak and also a hub of economic and political activity. It’s also an area where states and cities have moved quickly to shut down non-essential services to slow the virus’ spread.

Though New Yorkers aren’t as car-dependent as their Los Angeles counterparts, there are still plenty of vehicles normally on NYC roads and dense clusters of buildings emitting pollution. Ditto for Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, which normally form a daisy chain of pollution along Interstate 95. With covid-19 lockdowns, the chain has been broken.

The Midwest


The area from Minnesota to West Virginia forms the biggest cluster of states with lockdown orders in effect. Six governors have already put their states on lockdown are or will do so shortly.

The data here is a bit noisier, but some clear trends are apparent. Car-centric Detroit has a big dip in pollution. Sprawling Chicago’s pollution also disappears.

The U.S.-Canadian border, like its southern counterpart, is also closed outside of essential services and trade. The province of Ontario called for a lockdown late last week, and the impacts of these moves also show up on the map. Pollution also gets wiped out in Detroit’s neighbour, Windsor, and Toronto further east.

One odd blip is a hot spot of pollution in Kansas near Emporia. That could be one of the data artifacts Dix mentioned or nitrogen dioxide emissions possibly tied to fires that burn through the state’s grasslands each spring.

The South

Even though the South is has been slow as hell to act, and Texas’ lieutenant governor spent Monday actively advocating for letting old people to die to save shareholder value, the impacts are still notable there. While the data is a bit noisy, nitrogen dioxide emissions in Houston, a hot spot for the petrochemical industry, appear to have declined. New Orleans—another petrochemical hot spot that’s located the only southern state to call for a total lockdown—appears to have seen a drop in pollution as well.

That may be tied to the fortunes of fossil fuels, which have dropped due to a price war sparked by Saudi Arabia and plummeting demand as the world economy slows. Sharp dives are also visible in Mexican cities like Monterrey, which may be tied to the border closure.

Explore the full map here.

This article by Brian Kahn and Dhruv Mehrotra was originally published on

Featured Image Credits: Pixabay

Bestselling US reporter David Wallace-Wells says the planet’s future depends on WWII-like fear and alarm in the face of climate change.

David Wallace-Wells, and perhaps only he, might have found a single glimmer of solace in Nelson’s recent fires.

To talk about climate change in terms of degrees of global warming (the Earth will be 4°C warmer by the end of the century, the United Nations says) apparently is too small a number to concern many of the public. On the other hand, talking about US$600 trillion in climate-change damage might be too large a number to be relatable.

But wildfire – its ferocity, its unpredictability and the sense of vulnerability it creates – is something that every human, and probably every animal, innately understands.

California Wildfire

Wildfire in California. Photo/Getty Images

“Wildfire is not just horrible in the sense of a horror movie, but also feels immediate even if you don’t live somewhere that is vulnerable to it,” Wallace-Wells tells the Listener from his home in New York. “There is something about the way those stories unfold that makes you think your life, your community, your home could possibly be threatened. I think the intimacy and immediacy of that threat is really important to wake people up.”

Waking people up to the threat of climate change is Wallace-Wells’ cause. It never used to be. He has never considered himself an environmentalist. The 36-year-old is a journalist – deputy editor of New York magazine – and came to climate change initially by reading, then writing about the subject. The more he read, the more he understood and the more he understood, the more alarmed he became. The more alarmed he became, the more he felt that if he was tipping from journalism’s prized impartiality into advocacy, then it was justified because the stakes were so high and the threat so immense.

David Wallace Wells

David Wallace-Wells.Photo/Getty images

The full horrors

In 2017, he wrote a long magazine piece explicitly focused on worst-case scenarios should the Earth warm by 5°C, or even up to 8°C. With no action to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, 8°C of warming is the high end of the UN’s projections by the end of this century. Also, by then, many of the world’s major cities would be underwater as a result of sea-level rise, and tropical diseases would reach as far as the Arctic. At the equator and in the tropics, even to walk outside would be to risk death, so those regions would be added to the land area of the planet that is already uninhabitable. Fires and hurricanes would, meanwhile, continue to ravage forests and coasts.

There was an enormous response to Wallace-Wells’ story. There was a sense, he says, that many scientists had been trying to protect people from the full horrors of climate change, perhaps thinking that scaring people too much simply made them fatalistic when they needed to feel hopeful to be motivated to act.

Wallace-Wells is not afraid of fear and alarm when they arise from science. His just-released book, The Uninhabitable Earth, reads like a passionate call to arms.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming


That military analogy would not be lost on him. The UN’s special climate report, published last October, said that to prevent catastrophic warming, a global mobilisation not seen since World War II was necessary.

“It’s worth remembering,” Wallace-Wells says, “that on the point of hope and optimism versus fear and alarm, WWII was not a war that anyone fought out of hope. It was a war we fought out of fear and panic. We were terrified, and the reason we mobilised so quickly and so totally was because we were terrified. Climate change is a threat on that scale or bigger, and it’s foolish to dismiss fear and alarm as tools in our rhetorical toolkit for waking people up and engaging them on this issue.”

That is not to say that Wallace-Wells sees climate change as merely a public-relations exercise. Far from it. It is about the future of life on Earth and how that life might look compared with the life we live now.

Climate protests in the UK

Hope for a generation: youth climate protests in the UK. Photo/Getty Images

The great untruths

In his book, he writes that it is tempting to look at the three “one in 500 years” hurricanes to flood Houston since 2015, the “thousand-year flood” that swept through Ellicott City, Maryland, in 2016, followed by another that was 50% larger two years later, or the regular wildfires in California, and think that this is “the new normal”.

“The truth is actually much scarier,” he writes in The Uninhabitable Earth.

“That is, the end of normal; never normal again. We have already exited the window of environmental conditions that allowed the human animal to evolve in the first place. The climate system that raised us, and raised everything we know as human culture and civilisation, is now, like a parent, dead. And the climate system we have been observing for the past several years, the one that has pummelled the planet again and again, is not our bleak future in preview. It would be more precise to say that it is a product of our recent climate past, already passing behind us into a dustbin of environmental nostalgia.

“There is no longer any such thing as a ‘natural disaster’. Not only will things get worse, technically speaking, they have already gotten worse. Even if, miraculously, humans immediately ceased emitting carbon into the atmosphere, we’d still be due for some additional warming just from the stuff we’ve put into the air already. And, of course, global emissions are still increasing …

“The past few years of climate disasters may look like about as much as the planet can take. In fact, we are only entering our brave new world, one that collapses beneath our feet as soon as we set foot on it.”

If Wallace-Wells is guilty of rhetorical flourishes, there is plenty of science to back them up.

Chinese Steel Plant

Smoke billows from an unauthorised Chinese steel plant in 2016. Photo/Getty Images

For too long, he says, public fears have been assuaged by three great untruths about climate change: first, that it will occur slowly; second, that it will mostly affect only people who live on the coast; and third, that it will not be too severe.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

It is here and already unstoppable; every human life will be affected by it and some of the effects will be so large and overwhelming “they are almost impossible to believe”, he says.

As is commonly known, a warming planet leads to melting ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. The whiteness of ice causes the sun’s rays to reflect back into the sky in what is known as the albedo effect. When ice melts and becomes dark ocean, it absorbs heat rather than reflects it, so the planet warms faster still.

“A warming planet will also melt Arctic permafrost, which contains 1.8 trillion tonnes of carbon, more than twice as much as is currently suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere, some of which, when it thaws and is released, may evaporate as methane, which is 34 times more powerful a greenhouse-gas warming blanket than carbon dioxide when judged on the timescale of a century. When judged on the timescale of two decades, it is 86 times more powerful.

“A hotter planet is, on net, bad for plant life, which results in what is called forest dieback – the decline and retreat of jungle basins as big as continents and woods that sprawl for so many miles they used to contain whole folklores – and a dramatic stripping back of the planet’s natural ability to absorb carbon and turn it into oxygen, which means still hotter temperatures and more dieback – and so on.

Wildfire Nelson 2019

Aftermath of a wildfire near Nelson. Photo/Getty Images

“Higher temperatures mean more fires and fewer trees, which means less carbon absorption. More carbon in the atmosphere means a hotter planet still, and so on.

“A warmer planet means more vapour in the atmosphere, and water vapour, being a greenhouse gas, brings higher temperatures still – and so on. Warmer oceans can absorb less heat, which means more heat stays in the air, and they contain less oxygen, which is doom for phytoplankton – which does for the ocean what plants do on land: eat carbon and produce oxygen. This leaves us with more carbon, which heats the planet further, and so on. These are the systems that climate scientists call ‘feedbacks’, and there are more.

“Some feedbacks work in the other direction, moderating warming, although many more point towards an acceleration of warming, should we trigger them. And just how these complicated, countervailing systems will interact – what effects will be exaggerated and what undermined by feedbacks – is unknown, which pulls a dark cloud of uncertainty over any effort to plan ahead for the climate future.”

Through the climate-change catastrophe that is unfolding, the poorest countries will suffer most, with the exception of Australia, which is the richest of those countries that are expected to bear the brunt of fiercer heatwaves, greater desertification and longer droughts. One effect of that, Wallace-Wells thinks, will be migration to New Zealand. He hopes New Zealanders will be accommodating hosts when Australians join the millions of climate-change refugees who will be seeking new homes in our hot new world.

Youth climate protests in France earlier this year and in 2018.

Youth climate protests in France earlier this year and in 2018. Photo/Getty Images

Push for policy change

All of us, Wallace-Wells argues in his book, are responsible for this unfolding disaster.

“All of us are, collectively, responsible, imposing some suffering on our future selves every time we flick a light switch, buy a plane ticket or fail to vote.” Now, he says, we all need to be responsible for the next act. “We found a way to engineer devastation, and we can find a way to engineer our way out of it – or, rather, engineer our way towards a degraded muddle, but one which nevertheless extends forwards the promise of new generations engineering their own way forward.”

Unplugging the entire industrial world from carbon is intimidating, but the avenues to do so are there. However, Wallace-Wells says we should stop thinking of the future as a continuation of our present lifestyles, because it will be completely different.

Being saved by technology is nothing we should rely on. He agrees with the description of carbon capture and storage as, so far, nothing more than “magical thinking”. Although it is common to assume that technology will somehow save us, there is no sign that it can handle the  scale of the problem. Further, carbon emissions, which levelled off marginally in 2015 and 2016, are again on the rise. Even before that rise, not a single major industrial nation was on track to fulfil the commitments made in the 2016 Paris Agreement, which aimed to keep  global temperature rise this century below 2°C. A further aim to limit increases even more, to 1.5°C, – considered the best-case scenario given the amount of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere – meant nations needed to better their Paris commitments. China, which already has the world’s largest carbon footprint, grew its emissions 3% in the first half of last year. Globally, coal-fired power has nearly doubled since 2000.

Failure is a common theme in the world of greenhouse gas-emission targets. The 20 years that followed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – a binding treaty committing nations to reducing their emissions – produced more carbon emissions than the 20 years that preceded it, Wallace-Wells writes.

Interestingly, or perhaps “worryingly”, Wallace-Wells thinks there is very little that individuals can do, other than apply political pressure for change.

The changes that are needed, he argues, are so vast, so significant and so urgent that Westerners deciding to go vegan, or to ride a bike instead of drive a car, are making such a marginal difference that, in his view, their energy would be better spent on pushing for policy changes.

Climate Change Protest

Photo/Getty Images

The idea that we make our mark on the world through individual choices is, to him, a diversion, he tells the Listener.

“When I look at my cohort, I worry that too many people like me spend their political capital on things that have only a marginal effect on this huge issue.

“The kinds of changes we are likely to need to avert dramatic warming and catastrophic levels of climate suffering are the changes that can be manufactured and engineered only at a policy level.

“If you add up all the meat consumption of all the liberals in the West, and add up all their emissions from their non-electric cars and the amount they are willing to forgo air travel, those choices will theoretically have some effect on the carbon footprint of their respective countries and in total would have some mark on the global carbon footprint, but we are talking about needing changes that are so much bigger than that.”

Wallace-Wells argues that responses at a national level are required to rebuild infrastructure, to make a massive investment in green energy and to find new ways of doing agriculture to make it considerably less carbon intensive; to encourage new treaties among nations that factor in carbon emissions – perhaps similar to the way they are judged on human rights now – and to cope with the wars that will increase over resource use, not to mention the rise in crime, ill health and mental problems that are already known to accompany warmer weather.

There are opportunities, including for New Zealanders, he says, in the development of green energy, such as solar, or carbon-capture ideas along the lines of our ambitious tree-planting programme, and other non-carbon technologies.

“Climate change is not an ancient crime we are tasked with solving now; rather, we are destroying our planet every day, often with one hand as we conspire to restore it with the other. We can also stop destroying it, in the same style – collectively, haphazardly, in all the most quotidian ways in addition to the spectacular-seeming ones.

The project of unplugging the entire industrial world from fossil fuels is intimidating, and must be done in fairly short order – by 2040, many scientists say. But in the meantime, many avenues are open, were we not so lazy and so blinkered and so selfish to embark on them.”

This article by Joanne Black was previously published on Noted

About the Author:

Joanne Black is an award-winning journalist. She currently lives in Washington DC, where she is a speech writer, a freelance journalist and author of the New Zealand Listener‘s popular Back to Black column.


Featured Image Credits: Pixabay

Learn More About Climate Change


Blockchain has been touted as a solution for problems ranging from curing cancer to legitimizing the black market in the US Prison System. While some use cases are definitely more tenuous than others, there is currently a lot of faith in blockchain climate change solutions. But is it justified?

The Climate Change Problem Is Getting Worse

In October last year, the UN issued its starkest warning on climate change yet. We have only twelve years left to restrict global warming to a maximum of 1.5 C (2.7 F) compared to pre-industrial levels. Even half a degree beyond this will bring far worse risks of extreme heat, drought, and floods. Furthermore, the damage caused by climate change is expected to displace more than 143 million people over the next three decades, who will be forced to flee their homes to escape climate-related issues.

The Paris Agreement on climate change aims to limit the increase to less than 2 C. Therefore, achieving the 1.5 C rise is at the ambitious end of the existing commitment. The Paris Agreement requires each country to define its own contributions to the efforts to restrict climate change. The contribution of each country is called a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Each nation must ensure its targets become progressively more ambitious over time.

It’s important to note that the Paris Agreement has no legal enforceability and each country participates through consensus. If countries start to leave, the agreement could fall apart and leave the world with no solution to the problem of increasing global temperatures.

Can Blockchain Help?

Measurement and tracking are the core challenges in tackling climate change. This doesn’t just apply at the macro level necessary to verifying how nations are progressing in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Business and people also have to participate. In the words of management expert Peter Drucker: “What gets measured, gets managed.”

Blockchain provides a means of establishing a single point of truth between entities through the application of consensus methods. Real-world assets can become tokenized on the blockchain, including carbon credits or green energy. These assets are tradable, creating value and incentivizing climate change efforts within nations and enterprises.

In January 2018, the United Nations announced the formation of the Climate Chain Coalition. The announcement outlined the mission of the group in “advancing collaboration among members working on issues of common interest, and to help enhance the environmental integrity and results of DLT applications for climate.” The coalition now has more than one hundred members, including NGOs, consulting firms, and various blockchain companies and associations.

Blockchain Climate Change Groups

Given the UN efforts, it seems inevitable that blockchain has a role to play in the future of managing climate change. However, the UN initiative isn’t the only one. Several other blockchain climate change groups and projects are working to further the effort. Here are just a few.

Blockchain Climate Institute

The Blockchain Climate Institute is an international, non-profit, volunteer-led entity. It acts as a think-tank as well as an advocacy group for blockchain climate change initiatives. The mission statement of the Institute is “to raise awareness among the international climate change policy community of the tremendous potential of Blockchain technology to considerably enhance climate actions.”

It aims to achieve this mission in three areas:

  • Addressing climate finance flows, namely helping to fill the funding gap between investment needed for climate change and the amount that countries have already committed to paying under the Paris agreement
  • Increasing transparency in climate funding
  • Helping developing countries access climate financing


Climate Change

There’s an impressive line-up of experts from the climate change and blockchain sectors sitting on the Institute’s advisory board. They include the former Director of Climate Change from the World Bank and a former MD of the Canadian Blockchain Research Institute (the professional body co-founded by Don and Alex Tapscott).

Blockchain for Climate Foundation

The Blockchain for Climate Foundation has a single, clear goal: put the Paris Agreement on the blockchain. It’s an ambitious project, involving each country joining a single blockchain ledger and transparently recording their own investments and contributions to climate change. If it’s pulled off, it will be an all-encompassing near-global blockchain climate change record.

Obviously, such a global ledger would be a powerful tool in measuring and managing the impact of climate-related initiatives. However, it would also represent an impressive demonstration of the potential for blockchain technology used internationally for good.


Climate Change

The Blockchain for Climate Foundation is based in Canada. As such, it’s starting with putting the Canadian National Carbon Account on the blockchain. This will work as a proof of concept, demonstrating to other countries what’s possible with blockchain climate change tools. The Foundation is also convening a working group of government representatives to help guide and develop the tool.

Climate Ledger Initiative

The Climate Ledger Initiative is another group dedicated to the research and development of blockchain climate change solutions. It’s stated mission is “to accelerate climate action in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through blockchain-based innovation applicable to climate change mitigation, adaptation, and finance.”

CleanTech21, a sustainable development foundation based in Zurich, is behind the Initiative. The Governments of Switzerland and Liechtenstein both provide funding to the Climate Ledger Initiative.

In December last year, the Initiative published a comprehensive paper detailing various ways in which blockchain climate change initiatives could help further the cause. These included using blockchain in carbon pricing and taxation as well as token-based crowdfunding for climate change initiatives. Another example is blockchain in renewable energy development.


Like the technology itself, blockchain climate change initiatives are still very much in their infancy. The fact that there is a multitude of research-based groups and think-tanks is reflective of this. At this early stage, many of them are working separately but towards the same goals.

As blockchain matures, and governments and enterprises gain trust in the new technology, it’s likely that many of these disparate groups will consolidate into broader and more powerful initiatives. When that happens, we will see the true potential of the impact of blockchain in reversing climate change.

This article by Sarah Rothrie was previously published on

About the Author:

Sarah ran away from a corporate job so she could travel the world. After doing that, she found herself a much-loved new career as a freelance blockchain technology writer. She is now a full-time digital nomad, who travels the world while working on her laptop. In addition to writing and researching, she also runs her own websites – find out more at You can usually locate her somewhere near the food.

Featured Image Credits: Pixabay

There’s a new meme on Facebook called the 10-year challenge.

You share and compare a pic of yourself from 10 years ago with today as some sort of ageing exercise I guess, although the sceptics think it might be data mining by our social media giants — a cheap way to refine facial recognition technology.

Anyway, the one that got me was the two images taken 10 years apart of glaciers, showing just how much they had shrunk over that time, posted by people who care about climate change hijacking the initial concept.

I’ve been writing about climate change in this column for a long time and things are starting to change.

I don’t usually bother referencing the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — I think the consensus is in, people believe the science.

Well, maybe not the West Coast Regional Council which has, apparently, asked for simpler and more certain advice and, until they receive it, are not in favour of the Government’s Zero Carbon Bill.

Seems somewhat ironic that the council’s position is in the news during record high temperatures across Australia (49.5C in Port Augusta, South Australia, this week), and we’ve been impacted with our own, albeit more moderate, heatwaves in New Zealand thanks to our proximity to the lucky country.

It’s not only record highs our planet is facing.

This week Chicago has suffered from record lows, hitting -27C thanks to the polar vortex being further south than usual. This phenomenon has been caused by the jet stream, which normally separates these conditions, being pushed into the Arctic by warm weather patterns, displacing the polar vortex.

So, yes, while these are all isolated examples of weather , collectively they may be evidence of what happens in a warming climate — more devastating extremes on top of an increased average base, with the sea level rise that comes with it.

It’s pretty obvious these sorts of temperatures wreak havoc on vulnerable people — the elderly, pregnant women, the homeless, babies and young children, those with debilitating conditions.

Climate ChangeThe extended heatwave period makes it incredibly stressful on the human body and hard to recover without access to air conditioning or water to cool down. And not only humans, our animals too are suffering — livestock, native creatures, even our beloved pets.

Further challenge exists in the pressure that our electricity systems face in these conditions. In Australia in recent summers, the grid has blacked out due to the increased demand, combined with the capacity of the transmission wires reducing in heat — and, of course, the price soars. It’s a triple whammy.

I was shocked to discover how much coal is being burned at Huntly power station to meet this week’s demand.

While there might be challenges in creating more hydro, solar and wind power in New Zealand, it’s a no-brainer that we need to get out of coal.

We might not suit solar as well as Australia does, but it should definitely be in the mix, particularly for households — if we can get the payback into the grid sorted across our multitude of electricity providers.

So what do we do? We can’t bury our heads in the sand any more. It’s too hot.

The everyday pressure we face to take individual action doesn’t necessarily drive the results that systemic change does, plus it can have an unintended consequence of driving complacency.

Once you have your reusable coffee cup, are you doing your bit? What if you ride your bike more? Eat less meat? Purchase an electric car? If we break down the changes to individual choices, we can lose sight of the big changes needed that will really make a difference.

However, here’s one suggestion that does a bit of both — switch power companies.
Change from the mainstream and seek out a New Zealand company that provides only renewable electricity.

I’m shifting to Powershop — apparently it is recognised as cheaper as well, plus they offer a credit for new accounts so any fees associated with leaving your current provider are likely to be offset.

While our consumerism may be a negative contributor to climate change, perhaps we can redirect consumer behaviour on a mass scale to drive the change needed to keep coal in the ground.

This article by Nicola Patrick was previously published on

About the author:

Nicola Patrick is a Horizons regional councillor, works for Te Kaahui o Rauru, and leads the social enterprise hub, Thrive Whanganui. A mother of two boys, she has a science degree and is a Green Party member

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