Equilibrium/Sustainability — China to send solar power from space
A Chinese satellite could soon be beaming solar energy down from space — the first step in an ambitious push to supply the country with zero-carbon energy from orbit.
But the technology — which Beijing says it will start building by 2028 — remains elusive. It involves turning solar energy into a transmittable microwave beam and sending it to receivers on Earth, according to the South China Morning Post.
Beaming down the energy requires maintaining an antenna hundreds or thousands of meters long — amid threats of solar wind turbulence and asteroid strikes, the Post reported.
The initial plans involve launching a satellite to test the power of its transmission technology by 2028, and the program will send a more powerful satellite to conduct further experiments two years later, according to the Post.
But by 2050 — after a series of upgrades — the Chinese government hopes to be sending down commercially affordable power from a space station that will by then produce as much energy as a current nuclear plant, the Post reported.
Also of note: The U.S. Air Force is planning the launch of its own “power-beaming” test mission — which it sees as a means to power the remote combat bases of the future — by 2024, according to Space.com.
Today we’ll look at the rising number of people who want the U.S. to do more about plastic pollution and the huge majorities “very frustrated” about the toll it takes on oceans. Then we’ll look at why there aren’t any cheap electric vehicles yet — and why they’re likely coming soon.
Prioritizing plastic waste
Plastic waste pollution was a top-five priority issue for nearly a quarter of Americans surveyed in a new poll conducted by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF).
A jump from previous polls: About 23 percent of respondents to the poll cited this problem as a top-five issue for Congress to address in the next two years — a sharp rise from a similar poll taken in 2020, when just 16 percent of respondents considered the issue a priority.
Skepticism about recycling endpoints: Meanwhile, more than 75 percent of respondents said they believe that none or only a small portion of the plastic waste generated in the U.S. actually gets recycled, the poll found.
The WWF published these results, produced by Denver-based research firm Corona Insights, ahead of Wednesday’s World Oceans Day.
An all-American issue: “On a daily basis, nearly all Americans interact with plastic and create waste, in some form – making it one of the most tangible environmental issues we face today,” Erin Simon, the WWF’s head of plastic waste and business, said in a statement.
Overwhelming frustration: The poll — which surveyed 1,028 people across the U.S. from various demographics and political affiliations — found that 85 percent of Americans were either very or moderately frustrated that plastic waste in the U.S. often ends up in the ocean.
A large majority of respondents likewise expressed dissatisfaction with the country’s insufficient recycling capacity, and with the fact that many items deposited for recycling do not actually end up recycled, according to the survey.
Partisan leanings: Democratic-leaning respondents were more likely to indicate that such circumstances were “very frustrating” than their Republican-leaning peers, the poll found.
While survey respondents across the board expressed a willingness to decrease their plastic waste, they also voiced concern that their efforts might be in vain, according to the poll.
CONSUMERS HOLD BUSINESSES RESPONSIBLE
When asked to select groups that should be responsible for reducing plastic waste, 90 percent of the respondents chose businesses that produce or sell plastic — up four percentage points since 2020, according to the poll.
And more than half of respondents — 53 percent — said they believe that such businesses represent the group most responsible for reducing plastic waste, which is a six percentage-point jump from 2020, the survey found.
Action needed now: With almost a quarter of respondents deeming plastic waste a primary concern, the WWF said policymakers must take action to fix this problem.
In a separate policy guidance document, the group offered various recommendations for transitioning from what the authors described as “a linear to a circle economy” — or one “that is restorative and regenerative, where materials are recycled and reused to their fullest extent.”
Changing how we manage waste: While policymakers may be aware of the problem, they will need to implement policies that overhaul the management of plastic waste, according to Anthony Tusino, senior program officer for plastic policy advocacy at the WWF.
“Together we can identify solutions and create a future where plastic no longer ends up in nature,” Tusino added.
Industry agrees: In response to the WWF poll, Joshua Baca, vice president of plastics at the American Chemistry Council — a trade group that includes plastic manufacturers — agreed “that more must be done so plastics remain in our economy and out of our environment.”
“WWF’s public opinion polling on plastic and waste management reinforces the need for Congress, state and local governments and the plastics value chain to do more to address waste and foster a circular economy,” Baca said in a statement.
Push for circular economy: Baca acknowledged that “Americans are skeptical of recycling and want businesses to take more action in reducing plastic waste,” noting that plastic-makers support a 30-percent recycled plastic standard by 2030 for all U.S. packaging.
“We hope to work collaboratively with Congress, WWF and other stakeholders to pass meaningful legislation to accelerate a circular economy for plastics,” Baca said.
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EVs almost cheap enough for mass adoption
Electric vehicles (EVs) aren’t cheap yet — but they’re getting cheaper, with some all-electric models available for just under $30,000.
That means EVs are pressing into the price range where mass adoption can happen, experts told Equilibrium.
Falling prices, rising prices: With lithium-ion battery prices falling about 9 percent per year and the cost of all cars is rising, luxury and mid-range electric vehicles are already equivalent or superior in price to their fossil-fuel powered counterparts, according to industry sources.
The average price of a new car was about $47,000 at the start of the year — and many new EVs are now “right in line” with that, Matt Degen of auto review site Kelley Blue Book told The Hill.
A sweet spot under $30k: “Are you going to find an EV as cheap as the lowest price Kia gas model? Not yet,” Degen added.
“Nobody really has a crystal ball as to when you’re going to see a $20,000 EV. But if you want a sub-$30,000 EV, you can get one.”
Why aren’t EV prices falling faster? In a sense, they’re cheaper than their price would suggest.
The energy cost of battery packs is now down to $118 per kilowatt hour — meaning it’s approaching the $100 threshold below which the Department of Energy believes we will see a rapid increase in mass adoption.
But those gains are largely invisible to consumers — because they’re getting plowed into packing more range into every new car, John Gartner of the Center for Sustainable Energy told Equilibrium.
CONSUMERS HOLD BUSINESSES RESPONSIBLE
Ryan Robinson, who runs the automotive research group at Deloitte consulting group, says far more is needed to make serious carbon reduction gains.
Cars need to get cheaper: Deloitte’s research shows that most customers are looking for vehicles in a crucial $30,000 – $50,000 sweet spot, Robinson said.
“We’re just not going to get to our reduced carbon emissions footprint, you know, on the backs of how many $100,000 vehicles we can sell.”
Constricted EV supply chains are another major problem: Whatever its nominal price, the F-150 Lightning is now sold out. That lack of capacity keeps most EV activity confined to the luxury market, Robinson said.
Lower prices and higher capacity are coming: The Biden administration, numerous state governments and all the major carmakers are now spending big to modernize their battery technology, find new sources of critical materials and increase the scale of their production chains.
Temporarily spoiled for choice: For now, customers are living in “a golden era” of choice, Degen told Equilibrium.
“You can still get a supercharged V-8 with a manual transmission that’s just going to burn rubber all day. Or you can get an electric car that goes 500 plus miles on a charge,” he said.
Don’t expect that diversity to hold: The era when “car” and “EV” are synonymous is coming — it’s only a question of when, Degen said.
Parks too scattered to protect most mammals
The world’s protected areas may be too sparse and fragmented to ensure the survival of most land mammal species, a new study has observed.
In order to bridge these gaps, countries should establish an “expanded network of global protected areas,” according to the authors, who published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Such a network should prioritize connecting vulnerable animal populations — rather than covering as much area as possible, the study found.
Scant refuge: Between 44 and 65 percent of “nonflying” mammals worldwide are “underprotected” by existing national parks and wilderness areas, the authors found.
That means those species don’t have a large enough proportion of their population living in a protected area “to ensure long-term surivival,” according to a press release accompanying the study.
Zooming in on the existential threat: If global populations reach the expected 10.5 to 11 billion people by 2100, millions of square miles of new lands will have to be cleared to feed and house them, the study found.
That threatens to severely fragment surviving habitats, breaking up mammal populations to the point that they “would be unlikely to survive in the long term, with a higher risk of it and its unique genetics going locally extinct,” according to the study.
Getting specific: Between 1,700 and 2,500 mammal species out of the approximately 3,800 surveyed were underprotected, the scientists found.
The most vulnerable species tended to be larger, endemic to single regions or residents of tropical forests.
Size matters less than connection: Because of the importance of connecting spread out populations, park planners should focus on connecting concentrated zones of especially high biodiversity, the authors found.
No love for ugly reef fish, the dirty-energy ships carrying the clean-energy future and a climate-driven plague in Singapore.
‘Ugly’ reef fish need more protection
- While people may prefer reef fish of certain shapes and colors, scientists found “mismatches between aesthetic value, ecological function and extinction vulnerability” in a new PLoS Biology study. Less attractive fish are often more important to reef function and most in need of public support, but are least likely to receive it, the authors stated.
Ship pollution on the rise, absent world action
- Efforts to curb the massive amounts of carbon emissions generated by ships continue to meet resistance, The Washington Post reported. While the International Maritime Organization hosted leaders this week to discuss the issue, shipping and fossil fuel industries “wield considerable influence in these negotiations,” according to the Post.
Climate change drives mosquito-borne “emergency”
- Dengue fever — a mosquito-borne tropical virus known for generating violent body aches — is causing an “emergency” in Singapore that experts are deeming an omen of climate change, CNN reported. Singapore, which is heating twice as fast as the rest of the world, has had twice as many dengue cases so far this year than it had in all of 2021.
That’s it for today. Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.