Discover more from Talking Climate with Katharine Hayhoe
There's no such thing as "wasted space"
Smart land us for solar energy, decline in tree quality, and how spending time outdoors supports climate action
Imagine pulling into a parking lot in the scorching summer heat. What if instead of endless pavement, there were rows of shaded spots covered in solar panels? Not only can they charge electric cars, but big parking lots tend to be located near places that use a lot of electricity, like hospitals, shopping centers, and office buildings.
In France, a new law will require all parking lots with more than 80 spaces cover at least half the area in solar canopies. This could add up to 8 percent of the country’s current power capacity to the grid, the equivalent of 10 nuclear power plants.
Efforts to use “waste space” in urban areas are gaining popularity in other countries as well. In the U.S., there’s more than 52,000 acres of empty land beside highways and roads. The Ray project aims to cover that area in solar panels, generating enough electricity to power 12 million electric vehicles. Many other unused urban areas could become solar farms, too — including toxic landfills, land previously used for mining, and even skyscraper walls. Doesn’t that just make sense?
Rising global temperatures mean that trees in colder areas are getting a longer growing season, and producing more wood as a result. In some regions of North America and Europe, trees have grown at a rate up to 77 percent higher than the previous century.
That sounds like good news: but unfortunately, forest ecologists say that while faster growth may result in bigger, and more, trees, they are also less structurally sound. Fast-growing trees are weaker, have shorter life spans, and absorb less atmospheric carbon. So though faster growing trees could lead to an expansion of forests globally, their rate of carbon uptake is likely to decrease, meaning they will be less able to help us in reducing the effects of fossil fuel emissions on the climate.
This is why it’s so important to protect old growth forests from the threats of mining, logging, and road building. In addition to providing essential habitats for wildlife, they also absorb carbon and filter pollution to combat climate change and protect our health and that of the planet.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Spending time outdoors in nature is good for our minds and our bodies. It also increases “pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours,” making us more aware of and willing to tackle challenges like pollution and climate change.
Here’s something you can do outdoors this summer. The Cornell Ornithology Lab has teamed up with the New York Times to create a citizen science project to track biodiversity across North America, and they need your help. The data you gather will help scientists understand how climate change and habitat loss are affecting birds.
As they explain here, “It’s important work. Nearly half of all bird species worldwide are known or suspected to be in decline, and climate change could accelerate this trend. By gathering data like this, you’ll help inform decisions about the conservation and study of birds.”
You don’t have to be an expert, and all you need to get started is a phone app!