Is seaweed set to save us from overheating?

Global Warming and the Future

The years are getting warmer and warmer, and we currently sit on 1% extra planet warmth. Doesn’t sound like much, a 22 degree day as opposed to a 21 degree day at the beach is not going to break the bank so to speak, but the great scientific brains of the world have declared that the world as we know it will start to unhinge if we ever break more than 2% of extra heat on a global scale.

Heat waves will be more frequent and more destructive, resulting in droughts, failed crops, massive livestock loss and new animal migrations. There will also be a human death toll far worse than the 2003 Europe heat wave, in which about 70,000 people died from heat-related deaths. We have all neatly signed the Paris Agreement On Climate Change and we are all dutifully trying to do our bit to lower our emissions, but is it enough, and is it going to be in time?

Tim Flannery, Australian author of the recent Atmosphere Of Hope: Searching For Solutions To The Climate Crisis is not that sure. “The climate system has been chinked off it’s axis and we are already living with the results,’ says Flannery, who believes that if we stop greenhouse gases, the planet will continue to warm.

Green Energy

Despite this fact, we have to continue along the route of green energy, and there have been some remarkable global changes and shifts in this genre. As we continue to see solar grow on a daily basis in South Africa from domestic installations to big business conversions, there are many more impressive situations occurring worldwide. Australia is ahead of schedule to get 28% of its energy from renewables in the next 5 years, and China increased its solar capacity by 18 gigawatts in 2015 alone. The main problem however lies with big business.

“Renewables do away with the concept of businesses and individuals as simple customers: instead they transform them into prosumers who compete with electricity utilities,” explains Flannery.

Patric - Genergy Solar Installer

Patric – Genergy Solar Installer

This is great for us electricity consumers, but is extremely problematic for electricity companies and the coal industry obviously. Eskom’s woes could get a whole lot worse if we continue on this trend of solar energy growth in South Africa, and the coal industry will be the first knock-on.

Financial realities along with vocal public disdain for the industry will see it very difficult to get new coal mines opened in the foreseeable future, unless a government hand signs it off, without due diligence. With the green energy revolution continuing to storm forward, this will become more and more difficult to do.


Electric Vehicles.

According to Flannery, electric vehicles (EV’s) are the next big disrupter. Without a reliance on oil, end-users could forever alter the world’s economic structure. Elon Musk is planning on delivering half a million EV’s per annum, the French are aiming at installing 7 million EV charging stations by 2018, and China, good old China, plans to have 5 million EV’s on the road in the next 4 years. While we are currently behind the curve in South Africa, it is only a matter of time before we are all riding electrical, and it will become a battle to find an Engen on the main drag.

Along with the rise and rise of EV’s, many households are installing PV panels, batteries and inverters to take away their reliance on the grid. This is also a phenomenon that is increasing exponentially in South Africa, and the quandary that remains is that Eskom will have to continue to raise prices as it loses customers. Better to get off that bandwagon as fast as possible.

Seaweed As Saviour

We still have the problem that if we turn of emissions, the planet is still going to possibly carry on warming up. There is one answer staring us in the face, according to Flannery. What is needed is a way of extracting carbon out of the earth’s atmosphere. So important is this concept that Richard Branson has offered a prize of 25 million pounds for an invention that could draw one gigatonne of carbon out of the industry. Flannery thinks he might have the answer, in seaweed, of all things.

Seaweed grows really fast, and it absorbs C02 in large quantities. It would need to be farmed on a mammoth scale however, but it could prove to be an effective way to cool the earth down. Oh, and you can eat it. In fact, seaweed was what saved the Irish nation during their well-recorded potato famine, and it is consumed in large scale in Japan, at cinemas, much like a box of popcorn or a bag of biltong here. It’s not a weed but a nutrient–rich vegetable.

So the answer could be seaweed. Worldwide we have plenty of seaweed coastline to farm enough of the stuff, and stranger things have happened.


Acknowledgement to Kirk Owers, Tracks Magazine, and Tim Flannery