The weather has been a big issue in the news this summer in many countries. But it’s not all been the same weather. Some places have been super hot and dry, others have been very, very wet, with huge amounts of rain.
In Italy in August, they recorded a temperature of 48.8 degrees Celsius, the hottest ever in Europe. In Canada – a country we normally think of as chilly, with lots of snow - it hit 49.6 degrees. That’s quite a bit hotter than a hot bath.
All that heat has dried up the land and helped forest fires to spread out of control in several countries – in America, in Russia, in Turkey and also in Greece and Italy. Maybe you saw on television how planes fly over the blazes dropping water?
Hot in places, wet in others
And yet in other places, the problem was quite the opposite – too much water. In China and in Europe, mainly in Germany and Belgium, there was so much rain in July that it caused huge floods that did massive amounts of damage. In places, they had as much rain in a day as they normally get in a month.
Perhaps you saw pictures of people using boats to get around towns and rescuing people from the upper windows of houses?
Scientists’ “code red”
Now, forest fires and floods are things that have always happened. But what scientists are saying is that they are happening much more often these days.
There was an important report this summer that was approved by all the world’s governments in the United Nations. In this report, scientists from a United Nations organisation called the IPCC said that all of us must make changes if we don’t want all this crazy weather to get even worse.
The head of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, called the report a “code red for humanity” – a very urgent warning that we have to do something now.
We have to find ways to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide, also known as CO2, that we pump into the atmosphere. CO2 is the main greenhouse gas behind climate change. We produce it in all sorts of ways, mainly by burning coal, oil and gas – fossil fuels. We do that transport, to warm our homes and to make stuff.
The good news is that lots of people are already finding solutions to slow global warming. And this summer was no exception.
Meet the “waste queen”
Time to meet Veena. A newspaper in Australia, where she lives, has called her the “waste queen”. Why? Because she loves coming up with ways to recycle old rubbish in ways that help us fight global warming.
Veena Sahajwalla, a professor of engineering in Sydney, invented something she calls “green steel” – a way of making this amazingly useful metal that creates a lot less carbon dioxide than today’s steel factories.
Steel-making is one of the biggest and most polluting industries in the world. That’s because we make steel by melting iron from the ground and adding carbon to it from burning coal – a big source of CO2.
But there’s no way we’re about to stop using this wonder metal. It’s everywhere. How much steel can you see around you now … ?
A world of steel
If you’re using a computer, it may be made partly with steel. Perhaps the chair you’re sitting on has steel legs. If you’re in a big modern building, it probably has a steel frame. At home, the fridge, the oven, the washing machine – all steel. Out on the street, cars and trucks and buses are made of steel. And so on and so on.
Steel’s great. But the factories that make it add about 10 percent to all the carbon dioxide that human beings create every year. But Veena and lots of other people are working to change that, and to make steel with much less CO2.
In August, a company in Sweden, Hybrit, which has found a way to make steel without coal, made its first delivery to a customer. Volvo, another Swedish company, will use this kind of “green steel” to make trucks.
For now, it’s all part of testing to see if it can really work without costing too much. But within 5 years, the companies hope to be making large amounts of coal-free steel. Instead of coal, they have a process using hydrogen and clean electricity.
What’s exciting in the steel industry is that there’s more than one solution to the CO2 problem, however.
Steel from rubbish
Professor Veena’s green steel, which she invented a few years ago, uses a completely different approach and factories are now using it in Australia. Veena’s method? Well, remember, they call her the “waste queen”, so that’s a clue.
Veena uses old rubber tyres to replace coal. About one and half billion (yes, 1,500 million!) tyres from cars and trucks are thrown away every year. And they’re rather hard to recycle. Burning tyres, instead of coal, lowers the amount of new CO2 that goes into the atmosphere when we turn iron into steel.
A girl inspired
Veena is passionate about all kinds of recycling. She says she got the recycling bug when she was a little girl in India.
Many Indians don’t have lots of money and so they take special care not to waste stuff. When Veena walked around the streets of Mumbai, she saw people repairing things of all kinds or collecting rubbish to turn into something else.
“Nothing was wasted,” says Meena. She was inspired to study to be an engineer and has made recycling her life’s work.
Now, as well as her green steel from old tyres, she’s developing other recycling processes. One of these, launched this year, is a “micro-factory” that is turning old clothes and glass into tiles and other building materials.
“I see waste as an opportunity. To me, waste is really one of those untapped resources, just waiting to be harnessed,” Veena told Australian television this year.
"We need to be bold and brave and think big."