This is not as much a blog post as a ‘teaser’ for an upcoming blog post – a very special one. I will be having a discussion with Ajaita Shah, CEO of Frontier Markets. Read this story (watch the video) and learn about the project (really a portfolio of projects and programs in my opinion).
This will put you in the proper mindset to appreciate the upcoming interview.
I look forward to it and you should, too.
Photo Credit: Michael Kucera
Part of the debate on climate change is whether or not it is anthropogenic - meaning caused by humans. Some argue that, sure, the climate is changing, but it’s always changing, it’s natural, and we as humans have nothing to do with it. This is a big deal, because if it is our “handiwork”, [A] we will know more about the nature of the problem, and [B] we would have better information – as well as greater responsibility – to do something about it, and fast.
To determine this, a study just published in Nature magazine which was based on a scientific research project that used plankton sediment from greater than 170 years ago (thus the title of this blog post) as a baseline (another project management key word!) to look at the changes. In particular, this study used planktonic foraminifera, which are abundant at greater depths, and in some places can carpet entire swaths of the sea floor.
The writeup of the study in Nature is highly technical and frankly hard to read even for a science nerd like myself. However, a summary of the study was provided in Smithsonian magazine, which is summarized here:
…one of the sea’s most ubiquitous organisms is helping researchers measure the changes that have already occurred. Centuries of fossil records and live-capture data show that some marine plankton populations reflect a clear change in response to human industrialization and the warming oceans that have come with it.
If you’d like to see one of these critters eating another critter (a tiny shrimp, in fact), watch the video below:
In any case, here's what the researchers found and just reported on last week:
From the Smithsonian article:
The shift, measured by comparing the relative abundances of dozens of plankton species within the samples, doesn’t appear to be random. The amount of change in the plankton communities correlated with the degree of documented temperature change in the surrounding waters. The direction of shifting communities also largely lined up with patterns of ocean temperature change, as authors found when they matched up seafloor fossils with their closest analogues in modern communities.
Planktonic foraminifera may not be as majestic as whales or sea stars, but the breadth of their fossil record provides a useful baseline to confirm a wider trend of ocean life changing in response to human activity. Shifts in plankton communities are a concerning indicator of the “bigger picture” for marine ecosystems as ocean temperatures continue to rise at increasing rates, the researchers say.
I find this research project fascinating and I think it helps us focus on facts rather than to debate based on guesses and assertions which may or may not be true.
By now, we all know that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and is a cause of climate change. For an excellent explanation of the overall causes, can go to this NASA site.
Or, watch this video. It's 10 minutes well-spent.
A recent article from BBC news (https://www.bbc.com/news/business-48723049) summarized three examples of efforts – successful efforts – to convert carbon dioxide into products that can instead help humans, and making money in the process, with deals like this popping up even after the article, which was published only a few days ago. These deals mean initiatives, and these initiatives mean projects – and those projects will need project management expertise from people like you.
From the article:
Until recently, it was assumed that energy-intensive firms burning gas to fuel their processes would need eventually to capture the resulting carbon emissions and bury them underground.
This option is inefficient and costly, so the prospect of utilising some of the CO2 as a valuable raw material is exciting for business.
In this post, I’ll summarize a few and point you to some other ideas innovators have been considering.
Fizzing your beer or other beverage
One farm in the UK has found a way to take “horse muck” (BBC’s word, not mine) and straw and put this mixture through a bio-digester and then use advanced membranes to separate out food-grade CO2, which can be sold to local beverage manufacturers to make beer or lemonade (or seltzer, or any bubbly beverage) fizzy. Find out more at Strutt and Parker Farms’ website.
Fertilizer pellets that are carbon-negative
With this technique, corn and cow manure are put into a bio-digester, where bacteria break down these materials to produce biofuel. Then, the left-over sludge with other wastes from various industries (fertilizer, sewage plants, farms), and pump in CO2. The CO2 helps the nutrients bind to the sludge, and to produce high-grade fertilizer pellets, which in the process, effectively reduces CO2 while producing a profitable product. Find out more at CCM Technologies (of Swindon, UK).
Construction materials: Limestone from CO2
Carbon8 (and others) take ash from the chimney of a waste incinerator plant. This is mixed with water and CO2, which produces heat (which can be used for various purposes, since that is a form of energy in and of itself). However, the main “show” here is the creation of artificial limestone, which can be used for building blocks and other purposes. This permanently captures the CO2 in the blocks. This artificial limestone also reduces the need for cement, which is a carbon intensive material.
You can find out more about these carbon-negative, cash-positive initiatives here:
I also suggest that you check the links in each of the three processes above for really good content on each of the techniques.
Image credit A. Goodson https://www.agoodson.com/andy-potts-illustrating-complex-scientific-concepts-for-bbc-focus/
In the past few posts (four of them in the series Forest for the Trees), I discussed low-tech ways that we can assist nature in fixing climate change. Most of these posts dealt with ways to prevent the loss of trees – for example, doing a better job of policing illegal logging - as well as an a better understanding of – and use of – symbiosis between tree roots and mycorrhiza.
In this brief post, I go to the other extreme and discuss much higher-tech, proactive steps that some scientists are considering to take action on climate change.
Some of this may be of higher urgency based on a recent report. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/148cb0_a1406e0143ac4c469196d3003bc1e687.pdf
If you are thinking this is from a radical organization such as Greenpeace, you’re quite wrong. One of the authors, Ian Dunlop, was senior Executive of Royal Dutch Shell for many years and chaired the Australian Coal Associations (1987-88). See his profile here: https://www.clubofrome.org/member/ian-t-dunlop/
I’ll likely blog about this report – and the reaction to it - in June so stay tuned. But now, back to the idea of fixing climate change. This article on the BBC News homepage, and this one from TechCrunch also caught my attention. Below is a good abstract from the BBC News story:
Scientists in Cambridge plan to set up a research centre to develop new ways to repair the Earth's climate. It will investigate radical approaches such as refreezing the Earth's poles and removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The centre is being created because of fears that current approaches will not on their own stop dangerous and irreversible damage to the planet. The initiative is the first of its kind in the world and could lead to dramatic reductions in carbon emissions.
The to-be-established “Centre for Climate Repair” – the establishment of which certainly constitutes a project, one which immediately drew detractors. BusinessGreen magazine says: “some environmental campaigners remain fiercely opposed to the concept and today attacked the new centre's focus on unproven geoengineering fixes, arguing they distract from the urgent necessity to enact the social, technological, and political change necessary to cut carbon emissions.”
Greenpeace is indeed one of those voices. To read their objections to the ideas (and even the rationale), go here.
That said, let’s have a look at what this new Centre would be researching as programs and projects. I’m going to mainly do this with pictures (credit to the BBC News site referenced above, of course), because, as you know, a picture is worth a whole bunch of words.
Refreezing the poles
The idea is to pump seawater up to tall masts through very fine nozzles (creating a mist) using purpose-built ‘drone’ ships This misting action produces tiny particles of salt which, when they reach the clouds, ‘strengthens’ the cloud cover, making it more reflective, and increasing its ability to cool the areas below them.
This is mainly about CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), a topic on which I’ve blogged previously.
This is mainly about fertilizing the sea with iron salts (rusts) which promote the growth of plankton.
If you put your project management hat on, and think about secondary risk. Do these activities pose a threat, in terms of what they may do to the environment beyond the intended result? I personally think there is nothing wrong with researching these ideas (with secondary risk in mind) and in parallel looking at ways to reduce the production of greenhouse gasses and pollutants.
What do you think?
This is the fourth and final (for now) post about forests. This topic just continued to (bad pun warning) branch out on me.
You’ve heard of a negative feedback loop or a death spiral? You’ve probably seen them in your projects. Here's an example: There is pressure to get things done faster, so you have the team work overtime, there is team member burnout. You also try fast-tracking (doing things in parallel that best practice tells you should be done in sequence), leading to further slips in the schedule and increased costs, which causes further pressure to cut corners, do more fast-tracking, more overtime, which causes more slippage …. Yep, you recognize this - a death spiral.
Well, it’s the same thing with ectomycorrhizal fungi.
Yes: ectomycorrhizal fungi are an example of a fungal symbiont – a fungus which coats the outside of root branches of trees, exchanging carbon to the tree, in exchange for sugars. Symbiosis. A win-win situation.
The general term for these fungi are mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi are those that form a symbiotic relationship with plants. There are two main groups of mycorrhizal fungi: arbuscular fungi (AM) that penetrate the hosts's roots, and ectomycorrhizal fungi (EM) which surround the tree's roots without penetrating them. See below for a photo of this partnership.
From a recent article in Nature magazine, EM fungi, mostly present in temperate and boreal systems, help lock up more carbon from the atmosphere. They are more vulnerable to climate change. You can see in the chart below that the EM fungi live in areas of colder (but potentially warming) climate. They have a much slower carbon cycle, therefore are much better at storing carbon in the ground long-term. AM fungi, more dominant in the tropics, promote fast carbon cycling.
According to the research, 60% of trees are connected to EM fungi, but, as temperatures rise, these fungi - and their associated tree species - will decline and be replaced by AM fungi.
In other words, the types of fungi that support huge carbon stores in the soil are being lost and are being replaced by the ones that spew out carbon in to the atmosphere. And the continued rise will continue that decrease of the longer-term carbon storage – you see it now, I hope – a death spiral.
From a recent article in Nature magazine - If there isn't a reduction in carbon emissions by 2100, there could be a 10% reduction in EM - and the trees that depend on them. The results of this finding can now serve as a basis for restoration efforts such as the UN's trillion tree campaign by informing which types of tree species, depending on their associated mycorrhizal network, to plant in what particular area of the world.
In addition to the article in Nature, a related story on BBC’s Science Hour, entitled “The World Wide Web” (podcast audio here), discusses this in great detail, and in fact, the video below is a great summary.
The interesting side story here is that the fungi that is involved in symbiosis with the trees also allows a sort of tree-internet (a Wood Wide Web) to exist, in which trees are interconnected via the fibers of the fungi. I won’t go into detail, but you really should watch the video below by scientist Susanne Simard, and if for no other reason than comedy, you should follow it immediately with the clip from the movie Avatar.
TED Talk Susanne Simard
I found this fascinating from a science standpoint but also a project standpoint. The mapping project, the trillion tree initiative, the research projects by Susanne Simard – they are all at the intersection of sustainability and PM. If you want to learn more of the science, I provide these additional readings:
An academic paper on the storage capability of CO2 by mycorrhizal fungi
An article describing the Wood Wide Web