Earthzine: Widening the scope

Time to introduce to another web portal launched this month, this one called Earthzine. It’s a webzine created by dedicated volunteers involved in Earth observation offering fresh perspective on the state of the planet. Fostering Earth observation & global awareness

My contribution to the launch is an interview with Rob Adam, who emerged from political incarceration during Apartheid to help lead South Africa’s scientific and technological renaissance. I spoke to Adam primarily about his role in GEO, an international collaboration to foster global sharing of oceanic, terrestrial and satellite-based Earth observations. Among other things, GEO could be a critical step towards better modeling of climate change.

Adam made two noteworthy observations on the energy challenge. One was the fact that coal has lost some of its shine even in South Africa, which needs energy to meet its development goals. Some of the many new coal-fired power projects in the offing there are being converted to nuclear projects (which he oversees as CEO of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation). Adam explains that South Africa wants to pull its weight in the fight against climate change, but also that its leadership recognized that at some point in the future even this developing nation would have to pay the full price of coal — including its environmental costs. The net result, says Adam, is “a profound effect on the thinking on energy production and energy generation in South Africa.”

More profound to me was another comment by Adam, this time on the value of better modeling of weather and climate for renewable energy. Why? Because most renewable energy, as he points out, depends on the weather. How do you project where to put a wind farm or how much energy a solar park will produce if historic patterns of wind flow and cloud cover no longer hold? “The biggest challenge for renewables,” says Adam, “is climate change.”

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