Monthly Archives: February 2016

Guest blog by Sara Fasmer Hansen

Do you remember snowy white winter holidays, from your childhood? Recall your parents talking about winter once colder and your grandparents even about colder once? Have you like me ever wondered if your memories are wrong or the weather actually was colder back then?

When talking about the weather over a longer period we use the term climate. The fact is that the climate is always changing over time, on our planet. Ice Ages have risen and fallen again. Some climate change occurs over millions of years, while others occur over a millennia or even decades. And there have always been variations in our climate.

We all learn in school that Earth is spinning around the sun. One obit makes a year. We know that Earth spins around its own axis. One time makes a day. Some might recall learning that Earth is tilting compare to its own axis. However most of us did not learn is that there is variation in the tilt of Earth’s axis. The tilt can be measured in degrees. The angle of the Earths spin axis relative to the plane of the orbit, around the sun, is referred to as the obliquity. The variation can be between 22.1 and 24.5 degrees. And a complete obliquity, from one point to the other with the variation of 2.4 degree, takes approximately 41 thousand years. The variations seem small, which is probably why we did not learn about them or paid attention during school years – however they have huge impact. The variation means that Earths tilt controls the glacial cycles. The position of the Antarctic Circle and the Arctic Circle are migrating. Moreover it will change the amount of energy received from the sun at any given latitude.

At the time being the obliquity of the Earth is 23.4 degree. Currently, the obliquity is decreasing. Thereby the Arctic 1Circle is moving northwards. The energy received from the Sun south of the Artic Circle will increase. Consequently the north hemispheres summers in the high latitudes should get colder, and the winters in the mid latitude should get warmer. All mirrored in the south hemispheres, where the Antarctic Circle is moving southwards.

So if the climate is constantly changing do to obliquity, why is the media filled with all this fuss about climate change? Because the climate is changing more rapid now that ever before. The changes that have happened to the climate in recent years, is not particularly dramatic when seen in a long historical perspective. However the particular is that the changes are made much faster than previously observed.

Earth’s climate depends on a balance between the absorbed sunlight it receives and how much it radiates back to space. The global surface air temperature has increased by 0.74°C in a century (1906-2005). This figure might sound small. However since it is an average, some regional temperature changes are higher, which may have major consequences in the affected regions. Moreover the newest data published calculates 2015 to be the warmest year in historical records. With a largest margin in annual global temperature (0.1°) to the latest record observed, in 2014.

How come that it is heating up now? The main reason is caused by human activities. Most climate scientists agree the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of gases. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases such nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) has an ability to reflect heat radiation. Once these gases are in the atmosphere they keep the heat on the ground. They are therefore called greenhouse gases. If they did not exist, all heat would disappear into space, and the earth would be too cold to support any life. The natural greenhouse gasses keep the average surface temperature on Earth around 14°C. Without them numbers would be around minus 19°C. So in fact it is not the greenhouse gasses in itself that is the problem. In the last 150 years, since the industrial revolution began in mid 1800s, the atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased by more than a third, from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million. So one of the problems is the human expansion of gasses leading to enhanced greenhouse effect, which leads to higher temperatures on Earth.

Can we stop the heating? To predict the future research scientists use scenarios to create several different climate models. These scenarios contain variety of parameters such as precipitation, snow cover and temperature fluctuations. Moreover they can include different parameters ranges between very low, stabilization or increasing concentrations in greenhouse gas levels. The most advanced climate models predict that the global average temperature on Earth will increase approximately between 1.5 and 5.5°C by year 2100, relative to mid 1990.

So if greenhouse gas emissions were to remain at their current levels, we would expect to see global temperatures to rise to around 5°C. As a result of global warming, the climate will change. When the temperature rises globally, the atmosphere gets warmer. This means that it can contain more water vapor, which later will fall as rain. So we will experience more storms, cloudburst and flooding in the future. Glaciers will melt and sea levels rise, bringing coats cities at risk. The streams of ocean water would be affected. Moreover will there also be more periods of drought. It will obviously have conditional consequences for farming, agriculture production and fisheries, as biodiversity and ecosystems will be altered. Species will be affected and many will have to adapt or migrate from their currently location.

Future climate projections are looked closely upon by the international scientific and political communities. In 1990,2 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produced its first comprehensive assessment of climate change. It clearly stated that human activities affected the climate and unless actions were taken to reduce green house gas emissions, the problem was going to get much worse. International agreement was needed to address these climate changes, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was established in 1992. And when first “Conference of the Parties” (COP) to the UNFCCC was held in 1995, it was decided that negotiations should begin settling on a protocol that would make binding agreements for industrialized countries in order to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. However although COP has been held once a year since – and a protocol agreed on in 1997 (during COP3 in Kyoto, without many operational details) the details seemed to be missed, rejected by some countries and withdrawn again by others. Meanwhile did the emission not lower.

In 2009 (at COP15 in Copenhagen), the countries stated their determination to limit global warming to 2°C by 2100. Why this 2°C temperature rise scenario? The 2°C maximum appeared initially during mid 1970 in the literature. In 1990 new reports argued warming just above 1°C wouldn’t be advisable. However since the authors knew it was too late to keep within this level they suggested 2°C instead. In 1996 the European Union’s Council of Ministers adopted the 2°C as a benchmark point, where global warming would be irreversible and the effects would be catastrophic. The benchmark point got anchored in peoples minds. G8 (the governmental political forum of leading industrial economies) agreed on this point as a maximum and hence COP15.

In order to reach a 2°C target, the energy production needs to be lowered, as reduction of the global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by 40-70% by 2050. Furthermore emission neutralization needs to be reached by 2100. This means changing energy sources from highly polluting fossil fuels to renewable sources such as solar, wind, water, geothermic and biomass. Will we meet a 2°C target? It seems durable however not easy. And even if we can keep the average global temperature rise below 2°C, certain amount of climate change will still be observed. Sea levels will rise and droughts will occur in many regions.

Skeptic and critiques remarks of the 2°C target has emerge from countries (such as small island states) and large groups of scientist. These scientists disapproving the 2°C upper threshold and promote instead an average global 1.5°C target as a more adequate limit for dangerous interference. Meanwhile data shows that we passed the 1°C mark (in late 2015) for the average global temperatures rise since levels recorded in 1850-1900.

In COP21 (the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting, in Paris 2015) nearly 200 countries adopted the first-ever international legally binding agreement on global climate change. In highlights governments agreed on:

  • Temperature threshold. The agreement sets out a global action plan to significantly reduce risks and avoid dangerous impacts of climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C. A long-term goal will be to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2°C by 2100, with an ideal target to limit the increase to 1.5°C.
  • Reducing emissions. Two emissions goals was stated; first that greenhouse gas emission should peak as soon as possible and secondly that the countries should aim to achieve net greenhouse gas neutrality in the second half of the century.
  • Development. The agreement will commit developed countries to provide finance for developing countries, in order to implement efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses meanwhile seeking to lower the risks posed by the consequences of climatic changes. That been help in form of new technologies and renewable energies, changing management practices or consumer behavior. And finance is supposed to be extended from the current goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year in support in public and private resources by 2020 through 2025, with a new, higher goal to be set for the period after 2025.
  • Transparency. Governments will, in a five years cycle from 2020, be required to review, assess and report their progress in implementing their climate target for an international review. They will not be able to lower their targets and are on the contrary encouraged to raise them. Moreover they are committed to submit new plans towards the long-term goal, with a clear expectation of progress beyond previous once.
  • Support. As EU and other developed countries did recognized that action to reduce emissions and build resilience climate change impacts in developing countries to be a difficult task, binding obligations to support them in the efforts was made. And in addition to the progress reports, developed countries shall report on support provided meanwhile developing countries should report on support received.

It sure seems that the politicians took the highlighted facts of climate change seriously this time around. As the COP21 agreement marked culmination of groundwork laid in the aftermath of the failed attempt to achieving previous global agreement at the COP15 in Copenhagen. Most people were satisfied with the COP21 agreement that has been mentioned as “the beginning of the end of fossil fuels servings as the primary energy” anda revolution for climate change”. However key steps remain and many operational details of the new agreement is left to be decided by future COPs.

The Paris agreement will be open for signature by the countries on April 22, 2016. In the meantime each country with its own domestic governmental procedures will have to decided whether to join the international agreement or not. At the time of writing some governments are unfortunately showing resistance. Unfortunately as the agreement only will enter into force and have an effect once enough countries (55 countries, representing at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions) have formally approved it by their signature.

However to make an environmental impact; social, technological, economic, political and legal considerations sure will have to be prioritized now. But will this climate changes be hot topic – once the media stops typing about it? Will the political community redeem their goal? Only if we as citizens, consumers, and individuals implement!

So what can you and I do as an individual to reduce this rapid climate change?

Once you accept that humans are causing global warming, you must also accept global warming is still ongoing. What we eat, our choices of housing, they way we travel all have an impact on how much green house gasses we as individuals create. As consumers we need to think and rethink our behavior. You could try out one of the carbon footprint calculators, to find out where your own impact is highest: The World Wildlife Fund has one for UK; as well as Nature;, where you can calculate your footprint for US. Personal I got surprised about my travel budget. So what to do about it?

Here are five tips on how you can help improve the situation for our planet:

  • Turn off your lights and appliances. Turn off lights you’re not using. Turn lights off when you leave the room. You heard your parent say it, – well it is still a good idea. Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones, which saves in the long run both energy and money. Make sure that you turn appliances off instead of leaving them on standby. Especially older appliances (from before 2010, when new EU regulations went into place) tend to use energy when in standby function. Let energy efficiency be a primary consideration when choosing new appliances as the vacuum cleaner, dishwasher or refrigerator.
  • Recycle and compost. Recycle your paper, cans, plastic and glass. Imagine all your trash as a value. Glass can be washed and use directly again, however the majority is melted and turned into new glass products as well as building sand for floor and wall insulations. Old paper can be transformed into new products such as office paper, magazines, books and newspapers, as well as parts of loft insulations and road surfaces. Aluminum cans are 100% recyclable and can be reused in constructions of cars and airplanes or to make new ones. In fact recycling one can saves up to 95% of the energy needed to make a new one. Moreover it is estimated that recycling of one ton of aluminum can save nine tons of CO2. Plastic bottles can be recycled into various item including new bottles, fillings for sleeping bags or fleece jackets. I need to highlight recycling system in Switzerland, as it is one of the most excellent once I have discovered. Here all garbage disposals have a cost. Trash is only collected if in special payable bag, which basically incorporates the taxes for the pick-up service. Add to that that is it easy to find recycling stands for glass, cans, batteries, paper, cardboard and plastic. Although to some frustrations, especially to newcomers, this is for sure an effective way of nudging the consumer in direction of recycling.
  • Change diet. Cut down on you beef and dairy consumption. Animal protein production requires about eight times as much fossil fuel energy compared to the production of plant protein. It takes a lot of resources to raise cows. In addition to water use, and feed production, cattle being ruminant livestock (with several stomach compartments) produce methane CH4, a green house gas with a significantly higher warming potential than CO2. Production of one kilogram of beef creates over five kilograms of green house gasses whereas one kilogram of cereal only creates 300 grams. A vegetarian general saves at least 3000 pounds of CO2per year compared to meat eaters. Poultry production is more energy efficient and less greenhouse gas intensive than beef. So, if you are not willing to eliminate meat entirely, try to limit beef from your diet. One could also highly suggest buying local meat, reducing transport, instead of buying beef from overseas. And especially from areas where cows are grazed on land that used to be tropical forest cleared for agricultural use, as deforestation additionally is a contributor to carbon emissions.

Travel less. Transport better. Walk or use you bike to work. It basically fossil fuel free, doesn’t cost much and you will stay in shape, too. Use public transportation. Most of us are living in a city, where the bus, tram and trains are routinely running. The energy cost, of these transportations forms, is the same if they are passenger empty, half- or full. The same can be true for cars of our time. When you drive your car, you transport not only yourself you also move the weight of the car to. So when you feel the need to use the car, hear if others are going you way, and considered carpooling. Until fossil fuel is replaced by alternative fuel like bio fuel, you should avoid flying when possible, fly less frequently, and fly shorter distances. For leisure air travel try to take fewer and longer vacations when traveling to far away destination. Changes habits, discover and visit more drive able locations closer to home.

  • For work air travel, rethink if you need to take each trip. Combine your trips. Work remote. Increase your use 3of video/tele-conferences. And remember to choose to fly economy class for the same reasons as carpooling and public transportation. As each flyer’s share of a flight’s carbon emissions is relatively less, compared to half empty or private airplanes, when it’s spread out over more people. And while you’re away, turn your stuff off. Turn down your thermostat and turn off your electronics. What’s the point of things being on with no one there?
  • Insulate and seal your home. Home heating and cooling can contribute considerably to greenhouse gas emissions. Insulation your home to block out heat and cold. Reduce drafts and air leakage, around windows and doors, and moreover through the attic and basement. Provide controlled ventilation if needed. Making a few small changes in your home can reduce greenhouse gases and save you money too!Take the first baby steps in reducing you carbon footprints.Do you feel overwhelmed? Then start with creating new but durable habits, like turn of the light, increase the number of vegetarian meals during the week or where you feel you could reduce you impact in the list above. It will cost some thoughts and time, but the prize will be a world worth living in, for the next generations to come.Sources: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), United Nations conference on climate change, WWF:, European Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, U.S. Department of Energy, Intergovernmental panel on climate change, National oceanic and atmospheric administration bio about the author:

    Sara Fasmer Hansen, Environmental Scientist – exploring sustainable solutions for our planet. 4

    In the past 15 years, I have worked and obtained a comprehensive theoretical and practical education in the field of environmental biochemistry.

    My knowledge is based on strong passion for Environmental Sustainable Solutions and I have: Learned to communicate my knowledge through scientific publications and at conferences in front of an audience. I have been involved in identification of glycosyltransferases, plant cell wall biosynthetic enzymes, via bioinformatics, structure-function analysis and furthermore characterizing of these enzymes by heterologous expression, and plant genetics. I have investigated in plant cell wall degrading enzymes and in this context performed a functional characterisation of a putative transcription factor involved in the transcriptional regulation of enzymes degrading arabinan and arabinoxylan. As a Post Doctoral Fellow my focus was on plant cell wall biosynthesis for better biofuel production. And have experimental understanding of laboratory model organisms including Arabidopsis, Aspergillus, Escherichia coli, incest cell lines and Daphina.

    Currently, I write scientific articles, and book chapters based on my research results. Moreover, I take part in a range of courses about human influence on global climate change. Furthermore I guest blog, as you can see here.

    I am always looking for new opportunities to use my academic background as well as my technical skills in combination with my strong interest in environmental sustainability. So please feel free to contact me for more info on via LinkedIN.