Without pollinators, a third of flowering plant species would produce no seeds and half would suffer an 80% or more reduction in fertility. Therefore, even though auto-fertility is common, it by no means fully compensates for reductions in pollination service in most plant species.
This is the finding from a paper, “Widespread vulnerability of plant seed production to pollinator declines,” published in the journal Science Advances on 13 October 2021.
Over the past century, the finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) regime has physically and socially engineered inequity. As we barrel deeper into the climate crisis, the same communities exploited by FIRE will face the worst of environmental crises to come and the extreme weather that is already here.
There’s a widespread hypothesis that links the resilience of coral reefs with their remoteness from human activities — the farther away they are from people, the more likely corals are to bounce back from disturbances.
However, when researchers put that hypothesis to the test, they found it didn’t hold. No matter how remote some populations of corals were, on average they demonstrated no more resilience to acute disturbances than reefs with a greater human influence. And, contrary to expectations, there is some evidence that areas with greater human development may recover from disturbance faster than their more isolated counterparts.
As renewable energy is poised to replace fossil fuels long term in Illinois, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) is delving into a looming issue: what to do with solar modules, wind turbines, and electric vehicle batteries that are no longer used. Keeping these products out of landfills is the primary goal.
ISTC’s Renewable Energy Equipment Recover-Reuse Program has expanded from focusing specifically on solar module reuse and recycling to creating additional partnerships with organizations involved in wind energy and electric storage technologies and systems. This comprehensive view is especially significant because of the recent passage of the Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which aims to expand the development of renewable energy to deliver 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Through consumer incentives, the act also plans to add more than 1 million electric vehicles to Illinois roads by 2030.
“While we encourage the growth of renewable energy, we also see the issue of handling used equipment as a big problem that’s quickly approaching,” said Jennifer Martin, ISTC environmental program development specialist. “We are looking to prepare a strategic plan with solutions for reusing and recycling renewable energy equipment in Illinois and surrounding states.”
The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that Illinois currently has 2 million solar modules installed in the state. ISTC estimates between 100,000 to 600,000 modules in Illinois will reach their end of life and will need to be managed by 2030. By that time, there could also be 11 million tons of lithium-ion battery waste from electric vehicles in the U.S., according to the International Energy Agency.
The first wind farm in Illinois was established in 2006. A wind turbine’s estimated service life is 15 to 25 years, so the turbines installed on the state’s first wind farm are now starting to reach end of life. As of December 2020, more than 3,000 utility-scale turbines have been installed in Illinois, a number that will continue to grow, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the American Clean Power Association.
Turbine blade composition can make them difficult to transport, recycle, and landfill. These statistics show the enormity of the equipment waste issue now and in the years to come.
Martin and other ISTC staff are evaluating regional environmental and economic impacts on equipment and materials, modeling scenarios, and developing strategies to address viable and cost-effective recycling and repurposing of used solar modules, wind turbines, and lithium batteries for electric vehicles.
A crucial element of the program will be developing and fostering a network of stakeholders of waste management companies, recyclers, manufacturers, industry associations, state agencies, and academic institutions to evaluate issues and solutions.
Martin has been working with a solar end-of-life working group for three years to explore options for handling the waste. Currently, much of the used equipment ends up in landfills.
Materials recycling has great potential, but the present small volumes of end-of-life solar modules can present a problem for system owners. It is now more economical for solar owners to toss materials away than recycle them, Martin said.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the cost of landfilling solar-power equipment can typically range between $1 to $5 per module, while the cost of recycling is between $15 to $25. This doesn’t include the decommissioning labor and shipping fees.
Reusing is another alternative. Solar panels that are replaced can still have between 70 to 95 percent of their useful life. These panels could be donated for use by schools, park shelters, and other sites. However, there is no state or nationwide network set up to connect entities interested in used modules with solar farm owners.
Electric vehicle batteries can also be recycled, refurbished to their original usage, or repurposed. Recycling helps divert materials from landfills while recovering critical materials that could lessen the U.S. dependence on foreign markets and imports.
A key component of the program is to determine the infrastructure for recycling and repurposing that needs to be in place so renewable energy equipment isn’t taking up limited landfill space and helps to create a more circular economy.
The New Coal: Plastics & Climate Change is a comprehensive account of the United States plastics industry’s contributions to the climate crisis. Using the coal-fired power industry as a benchmark, the report examines ten stages in the creation, use, and disposal of plastics.
Southern Italy’s rural Calabria region announced an innovative project in 2021 to breathe new life into its small towns. It plans to offer young professionals thousands of dollars if they move in and commit to launch a business, preferably a business the community needs.
Northwest Arkansas has a similar program to draw new residents to rural towns like Springdale by offering US$10,000 and a mountain bike. Lincoln, Kansas, is offering free land to remote workers who are willing to relocate and build a home there.
These efforts take advantage of the growing work-from-home culture to try to revitalize rural communities that are in decline.
They may also hold a key to coping with anticipated domestic climate migration as storms and wildfires exacerbated by climate change make parts of the country unlivable.
As professors andauthors focused on sustainability, we see ways in which projects like these might help solve both the challenge of rural population loss and the likely acceleration of migration from climate-insecure cities. While this proposal may not be viable for every community, we believe it would benefit many towns seeking to reverse population loss and rejuvenate their economies.
Opportunities in climate migration
Global climate change presents an immediate problem. Millions of people worldwide will be at risk from sea level rise over the next two generations, while others will be driven away from regions of prolonged heat, drought and the threat of wildfires.
From 1953 to 2003, the U.S. rural population declined from 36% of the population to 21%. By 2050, fewer than 13% of Americans are likely to live in rural areas based on current trends. The decline of small farms and rural manufacturing has reduced employment opportunities for educated youth, driving many to leave. Four-fifths of rural counties have fewer businesses today than in 2008.
In some areas this trend has become a downward spiral. Population and business losses reduce tax bases, impoverishing public services, making communities less attractive for new residents and leaving fewer opportunities for local kids who want to stay. This pattern can contribute to feelings of insecurity, political polarization and a decline of trust in democratic institutions across rural America.
Given the right support, community leaders may be able to reenergize their towns by encouraging people displaced by climate disasters to move in.
A new homesteading movement
“Managed retreat” is a proactive concept – it involves rebuilding in safer locations before disasters hit. That includes reinventing, reconfiguring and reconstructing housing and commerce. It could also mean creating networks of reinvigorated small towns, particularly those not far from the amenities and services of a sizable city.
Successful recovery and reinvention start with a community-supported plan for the future, including opportunities for in-town housing space, commercial opportunities and upgraded public services.
One way to encourage interest from investors and future residents is to focus on climate-friendly infrastructure powered by renewable energy. Areas rich in wind, sunlight and forests can update their zoning rules to encourage renewable energy investment, along with nonindustrialized food production, such as organic farms.
Developing high-tech greenhouses, such as those populating farmlands across Europe, for example, could support new jobs and provide fresh produce. The coal country town of Morehead, Kentucky, for instance, is supporting a hydroponic greenhouse that’s now producing nearly 3 million pounds of beefsteak tomatoes a year.
To support revitalization and smooth the transition for new residents, we suggest that the federal government could finance a sequel to America’s 1862 Homesteading Act, which encouraged people to settle and develop the American West.
Federal efforts to expand rural broadband access can lift another barrier to bringing in young workers excited about working from home, as well as entrepreneurs with the expertise necessary to make these projects and other new businesses succeed in sustainable ways.
If government assistance programs support the aspirations of rural towns’ grassroots leadership, these efforts could come to be viewed with trust rather than suspicion.
This is a way for communities that have lost their tax base to recruit new tax-paying citizens. There can be downsides – change can be difficult for some communities, the investment can cause concern and it might not work as quicklyor effectively as the community hopes. For rural towns close to cities, there can also be concerns about gentrification if remote workers drive up housing prices. But there are many communities, particularly across the rural South and Midwest, that could benefit from the influx of new residents and skills while the people relocating can find safer new homes.
No single rural center can provide all the benefits of larger urban centers, but networks of revitalized towns could start to compensate.
Climate change poses unprecedented challenges for U.S. population mobility. At the same time, America needs to renew and transform declining rural regions.
Waiting until disaster strikes becomes expensive and chaotic. Revitalizing rural communities now could alleviate migration pressures and help restore the cooperative and supportive ways of rural life. It can be a win-win proposal.
Fundamentally, the path towards a circular economy lies not in high-altitude resolutions, pledges and manifestos. Rather, progress resides through the decidedly less-glamorous earthbound work of business process improvements, negotiations among buyers and sellers, and internal business teams needing to resolve highly complex technical issues. These efforts are essential to building more empowering business cultures through intra-organizational and cross-value-chain networks.