In an epic case of tragic coincidence, a few weeks ago National Geographic Channel began unspooling its new five-part documentary Hostile Planet, focusing on species facing extraordinarily harsh environments. Right around the same time, researchers reported that an entire colony of emperor penguins in Antarctica suffered the latest in a series of breeding collapses attributed to climate change.
Well, that’s either going to make you crawl into a bottle and forget all the troubles of the world, or run out and fight even harder for the sparkling green economy of the future, complete with penguins.
The Climate Change Challenge
With all that in mind, CleanTechnica took the opportunity for a brief email interview with Hostile Planet series host Edward Michael Bear Grylls (the final episode is on National Geographic Channel tonight at 9:00 p.m./8:00 central).
If the name Bear Grylls rings a bell you may be thinking of You vs. Wild, or maybe Bear Grylls: Mission Survive, or Running Wild with Bear Grylls. With that in mind, we asked Grylls how the spirit of adventuring and survival applies to the challenge of global warming.
“I believe there is a direct link in wanting to protect the planet if you can truly experience the planet yourself and appreciate just how precious and beautiful it is,” Grylls said. “This is our only planet — the only home that we know. By being an adventurer — or even just exploring beyond our four walls from time to time — we inevitably develop a stronger connection to our habitat. And then, naturally, we would want to preserve what we have and keep it there not only for our children’s children but for the myriad of species who share our home.”
Speaking of children, Grylls is optimistic that the next generation will do a much better job of addressing climate change.
“What I’ve found from my travels and conversations and experiences is that generally, young people don’t debate that climate change is real and happening,” he said. “The younger generation understands our reality and they want a solution. That in itself has been the biggest source of encouragement and optimism for me when it comes to the future of our planet.”
Showing, Not Telling
The narrative is spartan and the penguins do most of the talking. That dovetails with Grylls’s hopes for the viewer takeaway:
Filming and traveling for “Hostile Planet” and “Running Wild” has also given me so many opportunities to show people up close the effects of climate change on our planet, and that also makes me hopeful that viewers and audiences will see that and be spurred to implement change in their daily behaviours and routines.
Go ahead, see for yourself! There is still a lot of planet left to save.
For that matter, the population of emperor penguins at the Halley Bay colony in Antarctica really has crashed after three failed breeding seasons in a row linked to climate-related sea ice breakup, but all is not lost.
Many of the Halley Bay penguins seem to have taken up residence at the nearby Dawson-Lambton Glacier colony, where 14,612 breeding pairs are now packed into an area that held just 1,280 pairs as recently as 2015.
Behavior Change, Climate Change
As Grylls suggests, a bit of behavior change is in order. That’s not just a matter of reusable totes and biodegradable drinking straws. Major investors and electricity buyers are also changing the way they look at bottom line opportunities.
In one especially interesting development, legendary US investor and early clean power adopter Warren Buffett let word slip over the weekend that his Berkshire Hathaway group is ramping up its wind investments to cover all the electricity needs of its customers in Iowa.
Berkshire is also looking beyond Iowa to Nevada, where it expects to cut coal out its NV Energy utility by 2023.
Earth To Natural Gas: You’re Next
Cutting coal is actually not a particularly tough row for NV Energy to hoe these days. The utility began ratcheting down on coal after 2005, which was right about the time when cheap natural gas began flooding the US market. Shocker, I know.
According to NV Energy’s latest fact sheet, it already cut carbon emissions from coal by 85% between 2005 and 2015. That doesn’t even count its 257-megawatt Reid Gardner Generating Station Unit 4, which shut down in 2017.
It looks like the next step for NV will be to whittle away at its natural gas profile. In one development on that score, last year the announced that it would build a fleet of six new solar projects.
Totaling 1,001 megawatts, the six new solar arrays will replace Unit 1 of NV’s North Valmy coal power plant. The idea is to shut down the unit four years ahead of schedule, at the end of 2021.
Why not replace Unit 1 with a new gas unit? Well, that’s where the interesting bit comes in. NV is still floating a new gas unit to replace Unit 2, which is slated to close in 2025. However, our friends over at Nevada Current report that the utility has a plan — called the Low Carbon Case — that pretty much gives natural gas the bum’s rush:
…the Low Carbon Case increases renewable energy capacity and production, reduces natural gas capacity and production, and all but eliminates coal-fired capacity and production by 2023 and would “advance Nevada’s energy policy, delivers the services that customers value, and fits closely with NV Energy’s corporate business strategy.”
The six new solar projects will double the share of renewables in the NV portfolio, from 14% to 32%, in one fell swoop.
The suite of projects also includes 100 megawatts of energy storage — which US Energy Secretary Rick Perry himself recently touted as the key to making renewables just as reliable as any old baseload power plant.
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Photo (screenshot): Rockhopper penguins on Hostile Planet.
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