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You have run out of excuses, and we are running out of time
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yup, out of time.
Not enough people care (about anything) to change the status-quo. Americans are intensely stupid and lazy, just look at how they react in other countries. The false hope (hopium) that the status-quo is going to be changed by a groundswell of people is false. Hasn’t happened. The levers of power and control haven’t moved an inch. We’re irrevocably committed to catastrophic climate change. All of the claims that allege we are not going to experience catastrophe and that “we have time” are factually lying and misrepresenting what cannot be changed now. It’s downright comical to read their claims and their lies about what can be done. It’s the same sort of disingenuous deceptions coming from the White House (about any subject). In many ways, science has seriously let us all down. They didn’t take seriously the conclusion of their own results when they should have, or consider the ramifications and inertia involved soon enough. Many still don’t. We’re not running out of time (plenty of time still ahead), we’re running away from the truth.
>We’re irrevocably committed to catastrophic climate change.
I’d agree with that. Knowing that the best we can do now is prepare to get out of the way of the places that will be impacted the most (recognising everywhere will be impacted bit some more quickly than others) AND ensure your lower your emissions (aim for say 3-4t per annum at most) and consumption so you can say to people like Greta, you’re not part of the problem.
“…AND ensure your lower your emissions (aim for say 3-4t per annum at most) and consumption so you can say to people like Greta, you’re not part of the problem.”
I am sure she will take great comfort in that as she treads water.
3-4 tonnes of CO2 per person is still an amount that is contributing to the predicament. The world, as a whole, is at not much more than that figure now. Some countries are at a fraction of 1 tonne per person and that should be the minimum aim. However, most of us are part of the problem for emissions up to now. We can reduce a lot but we can’t take away our part of the blame for past emissions.
Why do you pick 3-4t? Whilst a significant reduction for many westerners and rich people everywhere, that’s too high. My understanding is that 1-2t might be a level that would stabilise atmospheric CO2 concentration at a ‘reasonable’ level (because that much release is balanced by natural sinks, assuming that they are not too heavily degraded c.f. now).
“In many ways, science has seriously let us all down.”
I don’t think it is science that has let us all down. It is idiots like Trump and others that are letting us all down. Scientists can’t force people to listen to them.
I agree that we’re running out of time, but the denialists will never run out of excuses.
JR, you’re right. For more than a decade we’ve heard scientists tell us we needed to start serious mitigation action yesterday (i.e. more than a decade ago, even two decades ago) to avoid very severe consequences, but with no real urgency in their voices. Yet we still hear scientists, even prominent ones, claiming that there is still a chance of this or that goal, or that we can still avoid the worst consequences (a meaningless phrase). That kind of talk hasn’t worked for so long that I’m reminded of that definition of madness; doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.
It doesn’t really matter whether the 1.5C limit is hypothetically possible (with the right definition of the base period, the right data set, an optimistic view of the carbon budget and all the right actions from yesterday); it is practically impossible. Even a 2C limit now looks to be impossible (I would say it definitely is). The main mass movements I see are towards doing even less about climate change, which is why part of me now hopes for clear climate change impacts (it’s already clear to some of us of course but I’m thinking undeniable – perhaps an ice free Arctic by September would do it) even though that would mean we’re already in the catastrophic phase. I don’t see anything else doing it.
You only need to consider the massive loss of ice (globally) to know that we are already in the “catastrophic phase”. Earth systems take time to respond, but once they do – it’s too late to then fix (don’t believe the hopium claims). Nothing can replace the missing ice now. The Himalayas are down by 50% less then thought (for example). Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic – all exhibiting massive losses. ALL of the scientific “estimates” about rate of warming, ice loss, acceleration, etc., continue to be wrong and must be made worse and worse as more studies are conducted. As I said – they don’t actually believe their own results and must “wait” for more data to be “certain” despite being able to project the trends. If I could do it – so could they, but they refused to do so (too risky to be an alarmist scientist). People were told to stop being alarmists – but we’ve been proven right and they’ve been proven wrong, over and over again. The amount of ice lost now is so gargantuan that it means all of the trigger points have already occurred and we need nor more evidence or proof that we are facing catastrophe now – and yet science STILL won’t admit to this actual fact. There is no such thing as a “2C limit” by the way, this is a made-up claim by a economist and has always been utterly bogus and should be totally abandoned as a metric for anything. We’re going to blow right past 2C, 3C, and 4C now – guaranteed.
If there is a hope, it’s that the massive impacts of 1.5C and up will mitigate against the industrial technological global civilisation we have now, so fossil fuel burning and forest lost will be massively reduced as economies crash all over the world, IMO. Of course that won’t stop the ongoing effects of already released carbon (nor reverse the non-AGW impacts) but at least would do something to mitigate against temperature rises of the more apocalyptic voices.
“ALL of the scientific “estimates” about rate of warming, ice loss, acceleration, etc., continue to be wrong”.
That’s a very bold statement, and I call bullshit. Scientific estimates of the rate of warming have been very accurate on the whole, getting better over time. Estimates of ice loss cover a very wide range, which includes the observed range. To say that they are ‘all wrong’ is just silly, and fairly obviously not true. And so it follows that your claims of irreversible doom are on very shaky ground. Things are a lot more nuanced than that, although we clearly agree that things are not going well at the moment.
[Response: The lame attempt to smear Greta Thunberg as an opportunist seeking wealth and fame, is truly despicable. It is morally wrong. You have spit on truth in the most disgusting fashion; what you linked to, and are trying to spread, is a sin. I rarely see genuine evil of such magnitude posted in comments on this blog, but you just did it.]
How often have we seen FF industry shrills claim climate scientists are only in it for the money?
The guilt they feel is used against their opponents by projecting their own lack of morals onto others ….
JR, Mike R.–There is hope–not for avoiding damage, but for avoiding “3 or 4 C warming.”
Ice loss is, as best as we can tell, reversible, per modeling studies. Of course, we have to get emissions on a declining pathway, whereas they are still in fact increasing at the global level. So I’d agree with you that there is more than ample reason for “real concern.” Or alarm. Hell, it’s “hair on fire” time.
Yet it is also true that a lot more has been done and is being done on mitigation than ‘faux realists’ want to admit. Discounting that is just what “FF shills” want to see happen, because if it’s all useless, then why not just keep on doing the familiar, and lining pockets with FF profits?
Was that meant to say irreversible Doc?
All the evidence points to accelerating ice lose.
With the inertia of the oceans and the Faustian bargain that is aerosoles I can not see ice melt reversing in any presently possible future scenario.
We can but limit the impact of our unfortunate atmospheric experiment and hope humanity finds an as yet unknown solution in the future.
No, “reversible” is correct. (Or at least, it’s correct that there have been modeling studies that show that Arctic sea ice should be able to regrow if the atmospheric carbon burden were to actually drop.)
I guess, Doc, it’s stating the obvious that sea ice loss is reversible. After all, there have been Arctic sea ice free periods before and yet we have Arctic sea ice now. But the notion that it’s reversible in timescales relevant to humans is probably one that requires everything to go right, but, where humans are concerned that is impossible (I won’t even say “unlikely”).
I agree that there’s some reason to hope that 3C can be avoided, but only because the impacts of 1.5C, 2C, 2.9C would decimate our global civilisation, and that would, of course, have severe downsides of its own.
Humans, collectively, and certainly those who we elect as leaders (or who take leadership without consent), have not shown any willingness to alter our trajectory. I’ve been reading about many great things that are being done but they have been having no discernible impact on the big picture. For some of us it’s hair on fire time but the rest will probably look at us as if we’re mad. Maybe we are!
Then how do you explain this?
Click to access 2017_Final_emissions_statistics_one_page_summary.pdf
The UK has reduced it’s emissions by 42% from 1990 levels, well past (IIRC) what its Kyoto targets were. Germany, one of the world’s premier manufacturing nations, has reduced by ~25%, and has announced improved emissions reduction plans for the coming years.
Those examples reflect precisely what you say can’t possibly happen, nicht wahr?
Better yet, the Chinese emissions curve has clearly been bent, despite growth once again in 2017 after 3 years of stasis. Their aggressive moves toward renewable energy (and, less important but still significant, nuclear power) as well as electrified transport are clearly having an effect.
While human response so far has been far short of adequate, and has certainly been both marked and retarded by stupidity and cupidity, particularly in the American case, it isn’t nearly negligible. We’re starting to push 415 ppm–will almost certainly see it next year. But what would we be at now, had the European Union not managed to meet (and, I think, actually exceed) its Kyoto goals?
Pretending mitigation progress is negligible is seems to me to be a form of “cheap nihilism*.” It’s surprisingly tempting to humans, many times because it offers an excuse for inaction. If action is futile, then “carpe diem”–i.e., “party like it’s 1999!” In other cases, cheap nihilism may offer psychic protection against disappointment–remember the old saw about how pessimists set themselves up for pleasant surprises, optimists unpleasant ones? Personally, I think the most constructive thing is to focus less on the outcome, and more on the needed action in the present.
It’s an easy cheap shot to speak of “hopium.” Hope is not the same thing as denial, not Pollyannism, not unrealistic. It springs from humility: the smartest and wisest of us do not know, and cannot know, what is going to happen–much less with what human polities will or will not decide to do. That means we always work from incomplete knowledge. Many of us, like Tolkien’s wise, deluded Denethor, can’t bring ourselves to admit this. Hope, like one famous vision of God, lives in the gaps (of which there are still plenty, pace all those insisting the contrary above.)
The opposite of hope, of course, is despair. (I believe the etymology is from French: “desespoire”, meaning “the removal or absence of hope.”) And what is despair? It’s giving up. It’s consenting. It’s choosing death.
Which is why:
“Despair is not adaptive.”
*I suspect most aren’t actually ‘pretending,’ but merely failing to look beyond the obvious failures, and see the small but not insignificant successes.
Doc, I think we’ve discussed territorial emissions versus consumption emissions before. Glen Peters tweeted on a UK report of a 38% reduction in emissions, you seem to have found one that claims 42%. However, what we saw was consumption emissions negating that drop until the global financial crisis, from which it looks like the UK may only just be emerging (austerity measures are still in place, I believe) – in time for Brexit! Overall, the real story of emissions due to the UK economy is far, far less rosy that the official figures for territorial emissions which don’t even include international air and sea travel, and I note the expansion of fossil fuel projects and airports is ongoing in the UK. This kind of false accounting is simply not helpful in painting a realistic picture about what is being done. In all countries, the economy takes precedence over the lives of future generations and the lives of members of other species.
There is one answer to your hope we our well along on the journey .
In public I dont as a rule talk doom.
On this blog among realists I hope we can let our guards down and discus what is really happening and will happen .
There is not as yet an economically palatable and scalable method of carbon capture and storage. There is even less ability to remove all emissions from the global economy. Net Zero CO2 will not happen in this generation and probably in the next.
I see little hope of staying under 3C on our present trajectory.
At this level of warming we may have the ability to do something removed by natural feed back processes that will take over and make our efforts moot anyway.
That does not mean I have given up or panicked.
It just means I am a realist.
We must do all we are able both individually and collectively.
We also should not sugar coat the future prospects with talk of unachievable goals like 1.5C or reversing the keeling curve with CCS.
Griff and others preaching doom:
I am sure that at the middle of the last century, people were lamenting the fact that we would never wean ourselves off of whale oil either. And while the consequences of our dependence on petroleum are regrettable, I am sure that our cetacean cousins celebrate its advent.
It’s harsh to frame some commenters as preaching doom. I think some of us experience despair and existential dread at times. Sometimes we vent or comment in the throes of despair and existential dread. A little understanding and compassion can go a long way. We all want to live meaningful and happy lives. We want the same for our children and grandchildren. None of us have any guarantee that we will live meaningful and happy lives. I have found a lot of comfort in recognition of and identification with the amazing ability of this planet to foster development of life in a myriad of forms. We are earthlings and that’s an amazing and satisfying thing. There are many species of earthlings. The species come and go which we experience as unfortunate. Earth endures and earthlings persist. It’s fabulous.
Snark – do you have any links about the whale oil concern in the past? That sounds wrong to my ear.
Very strong atmospheric methane growth in the four years 2014‐2017: Implications for the Paris Agreement
E. G. Nisbet Et al
First published: 05 February 2019
Plain Language Summary
The rise in atmospheric methane (CH4), which began in 2007, accelerated in the past four years. The growth has been worldwide, especially in the tropics and northern mid‐latitudes. With the rise has come a shift in the carbon isotope ratio of the methane. The causes of the rise are not fully understood, and may include increased emissions and perhaps a decline in the destruction of methane in the air. Methane’s increase since 2007 was not expected in future greenhouse gas scenarios compliant with the targets of the Paris Agreement, and if the increase continues at the same rates it may become very difficult to meet the Paris goals. There is now urgent need to reduce methane emissions, especially from the fossil fuel industry.
I don’t hope that “we are well along our journey” (presuming that that means the journey of mitigation.) The Keeling curve certainly does demonstrate that–but when you point to it, you are not showing me anything I don’t know (and indeed, worry uselessly over, from time to time.)
I merely insist that we have taken a significant number of steps. We have a very long way to go, but in my view we are at least starting to achieve a better cadence in our step.
You say that:
Perhaps not, but I think we’re probably a whole lot closer than you think. One example:
For brevity, I won’t say too much here about CE–you can read more if you wish–but note that 1) they have scalable Direct Air Capture and Air to Fuel processes, the former of which could be used for sequestration instead of as an input to A2F; 2) they are in what they call “commercial validation,” meaning that they have moved beyond the pilot stage, and are working at scale, and 3) they expect to begin full commercial operation in 2021.
I think it’s just the reverse. We have most of what we need to decarbonize our economy now–renewable energy is visibly on the way to being the backbone of the global electric grid, and with price parity (or, often now, advantage RE) that’s an accelerating trend. We have most of what we need to decarbonize transport. We have most of what we need to decarbonize agriculture. We have essentially everything we need to decarbonize buildings.
Increasingly, we even have the will to start.
Not sure what you mean by ‘in this generation’, but I think we can in fact get to net zero by 2050–which is what we need to do to avoid the worst warming scenarios–or rather, to have a gambler’s chance to avoid it.
(One of the craziest aspects of all of this stuff is that whereas many of us in this society balk at taking comparatively tiny risks, like riding bicycles without helmets, or eating eggs for breakfast every day, we as a society are willing to consider ‘2/3rds chances’ of not destroying the world, as if that were even remotely sane.)
Are you talking in a technical sense? I have never read anything which shows that we have the capability, in a practical sense, to do all of the above. There are three aspects which are nearly always missing from studies which talk about renewable power for our societies. They are whether the necessary resources exist, how those resources are obtained and refined, and the environmental impacts (both from the mining/refining/manufacturing process and from the diversion of energy flows from their natural cycles). In addition, where is the upper limit of this effort; does it allow for infinite growth and, if not, where is the move towards economic steady state – at the least?
Of course, in practice, not everything will ever go smoothly, nor will all humans get on board, so such dreams will always remain dreams.
Mike, we have indeed discussed territorial vs. consumption-based emissions metrics in the past. And I remain unpersuaded that the latter offers a sufficient justification for thinking the former a meaningless statistic. (Particularly since I’ve not seen actual numbers for the latter, just some general statements.)
You seem to assume that the observed declines in emissions are as a result of reductions in manufacturing–basically, outshoring the emissions. But manufacturing in the UK has not, in fact, decreased; it’s remained basically at a similar level over the last several decades. Ergo, the drop in emissions cannot be due to a drop in manufacturing. (It is true that the services sector has more than tripled in size during that time, which no doubt has helped to drive the “decoupling” of economic growth from emissions.)
What I take from this is that, if the UK can maintain an essentially constant level of manufacturing output with a decreasing level of emissions, then other nations–including developing ones–can do the same. (Heck, German manufacturing has increased by about 80% over the same span that German emissions have dropped 22%.)
Am I suggesting all is well? Of course not. There’s a lot of room between Pollyanna and Dante.
Doc, I haven’t seen the UK manufacturing data to comment on your claim other than to say that if it has “remained basically at a similar level over the last several decades”, then economic growth would dictate that goods (and services) are being increasingly supplied from abroad. The UK benefited from an ability to replace coal fired electricity generation with gas powered generation, which can only get it so far. If you look at territorial emissions, they have been trending down since 1990 but, as this chart shows (keep clicking Next) the picture definitely changes when consumption based emissions are used. It is really only since the great recession that emissions reduced. The decline since 1990 has been a fraction of the alleged figure often given. This article by George Monbiot also gives a good explanation.
I’m sure you’d agree that the global figures are what really count and that is not a good picture. How should we apportion responsibility for those global emissions? Purely on territorial emissions? A large part of some countries’ territorial emissions are due to the consumption in other nations. Should we not take that into account?
It should also be noted that official figure of territorial emissions do not take account of international air and sea transport. With the UK actively trying to expand air travel, even territorial emissions aren’t adequate. Are they useless? I’m not sure. They are easier to estimate but they definitely don’t provide the full picture and attempts to claim some countries are taking action aren’t valid unless they include all emissions due to their economies.
Mike, you raise the very germane points as to:
This is a big and complicated question. But the very complication points toward a high degree of flexibility and substitutability which makes me, at least, optimistic about the answer to your question. For instance, neodymium (for permanent magnets in wind turbines), lithium, and cobalt (for EV batteries) have all been proposed as fatal ‘bottleneck’ materials. But lithium isn’t all that rare, even though there were only a few operating mines for a while. As demand increased, other mines were developed or re-opened. And lithium will be a stock as the technology matures: recycling it will be economical and will be practiced.
The neodymium and cobalt have work-arounds: many turbines use electromagnets, not permanent ones (they pay the penalty of a small parasitic power loss), and cobalt can be minimized (Tesla) or substituted with an alternate electrolyte chemistry (BYD).
Another important question, but one which I think is easily overblown. After all, eliminating the highly polluting extraction practices often still characterizing the FF economy gives a whole lot of ‘headroom’ for the extraction of stocks of material resources. And, again, they will be stocks, existing in a circular flow, not a resource disposed of in one pass through the system.
No doubt any sort of mining can be destructive in some form or fashion, and that goes double for refining. But it’s not as if the destruction being done is either a) new, or b) likely to increase on net.
Nothing can allow for infinite growth, period. That’s what makes this question the most important one.
Because the hardest constraints on growth in the final analysis aren’t sources of materials or even energy; they are (IMO) the sinks for waste. Physicist Tom Murphy has a beautiful reductio ad absurdam called “Galactic Scale Energy,” which shows that maintaining a 2.5% annual growth rate leads to utterly absurd results in surprisingly short time frames. (If you aren’t familiar, it’s well worth Googling up.) And of course, the whole essence of the climate problem today is that we are exceeding the sinking rate for CO2.
So we have to achieve a society at some point. That is a given. But I don’t think that’s our primary task right now. When you have a traumatic injury situation to deal with, the first thing you need to do is to ensure that the victim is breathing and has a heartbeat. Then you stop the bleeding. Only after the situation is stabilized do you start surgical repair, and only after a certain amount of healing has taken place do you begin rehabilitation.
Similarly, our main task now is to stop the bleeding of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It’s not too early to begin working toward a truer sustainability. We do need to be reading Herman Daly and his critics and successors, and considering how me might live a non-disposible lifestyle, how to build a circular economy. We emphatically should be doing our personal best today to minimize our wastefulness. But that’s not the first priority, right now.
To the first, I say, of course, and to the second, vigorous disagreement. Not all humans are onboard with *anything*, including the use of speech. Is civilization, culture, technology nothing but dreams?
We will decarbonize, and we will move toward true sustainability, because in the end there’s no other choice. We’re just going to be dragging some of our brethren and sistren along with us. Does that mean that decarbonization and sustainability will have flaws, exceptions, unintended consequences, detractors, political fights, stupid memes, and all manner of conflict, pettiness and bathetic circumstances attending them?
Of course. But, imperfect though their instantiation will be, they are going to happen. Are happening now, actually, and increasingly so. If you are willing to look, you can see it.
I love you, Doc, but when you say: “We will decarbonize, and we will move toward true sustainability, because in the end there’s no other choice. ” I think you assume that human have sufficient agency in the natural world to control our biosphere through our choices. That seems like a reach to me.
I think there are many possible outcomes that arise from our species heavy CO2e emissions. I think one of those outcomes is that we will choose to decarbonize and move toward true sustainability. Maybe we could even achieve true sustainability? That is the rosiest possible outcome imho.
Well, if we don’t decarbonize, civilization will end, and then we will stop emitting. The planet will have elevated CO2 for a couple of thousand years, and warmer oceans for 20,000 years or so.
The blip in CO2 will be our geologic legacy.
The biosphere will be just fine: Changed, but fine.
I think that you have identified one possible outcome with the end of human civilization. Doc has identified one outcome: humans will decarbonize and achieve sustainability (I am moving it up a notch from the move toward sustainability thought that Doc typed in)
I think another possible outcome is a blinking on and off of human civilization over a couple of thousand years as pressures increase and nationstates (as we are currently organized) collapse or muddle through the mess that is our carbon legacy.
I suspect there are other possible outcomes, like our species makes the interplanetary leap that some humans are drawn to and moves off planet. Another is that God wakes up from nap and just sweeps away the excess carbon and gives us a stern lecture about housekeeping. That one and the off-planet move seem like long shots to me.
Doc, rather than go on interminably, let me say that I agree with most of what you’ve written with the exception of the most optimistic parts. I’m not keen on plastering over the wounds, though that seems to be the first priority now. Unless we start to look at the big picture, I don’t think we’ll ever take the appropriate actions.
Just one point on “We will decarbonize, and we will move toward true sustainability, because in the end there’s no other choice.” This is not correct, or at least misleading. One other choice is to continue messing up until some tipping point is reached from which we cannot recover. Another “choice” is to continue until the disintegration of our global civilization, thus entering a kind of death spiral until we’re back to patches of humans living a very basic existence until someone discovers a way to utilise the debris of a past civilisation and start the process all over again – that is, a kind of roller coaster but never living sustainably (other than, technically, during the societal declines).
BTW, when I refer to “all humans” I don’t mean it literally but there has to be a critical mass.
Feh. “We have to achieve a society” = “We have to achieve a *sustainable* society.”
Jacobson et al 2010 (cited over 1110 times) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421510008645
calculates all the materials needed to build out a renewable energy system. They show that all the materials are readily available for such a system except for rare Earth elements used for wind turbines in 2010. Since then the manufacturers of wind turbines have developed designs that do not use rare earth magnets so all the materials exist in sufficient quantaties.
Since this was found out so long ago people no longer discuss this issue.
Abbott 2010 shows that the materials to build out a significant amount of nuclear power do not exist.
While looking for this citation I found: Matching demand with supply at low cost in 139 countries among 20 world regions with 100% intermittent wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) for all purposes https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960148118301526
which shows that many solutions exist to build out a renewable energy system world wide and answers the questions about excessive hydro usage in Jacobson’s previous papers. No surprise, Jacobson finds that if you count health savings a renewable energy system is cheaper than a fossil fuel system. If you count the savings from reduced sea level rise, decreased drought and floods and decreased extreme storms renewable energy is abour 1/4 the cost of fossil fuels..
[Response: Too often, what was discovered and verified years ago, still needs regular repeating.]
Thanks for the link, Michael. I’ve never seen that before, so will take some time to assimilate it. However, I notice that it references an earlier Jacobson paper to back up the claim that WWS energy is “essentially” zero carbon. I checked a table in that earlier paper which claims that CO2e emissions from WWS is in the 10-77 g per kWh range. If I take a figure of 20g, I come up with about a 10th of current emissions. I may have it wrong but, 10% of current emissions (so, about 3 gigatonnes per year) is not essentially zero in my book. The latter paper also uses vague terms like “low” in terms of environmental impact, which doesn’t seem scientific and I’ll have to investigate more to see if it seems sensible. The paper also seems to be dismissive of limits by using phrases like “theredonotappeartobe
significant environmentaloreconomicconstraints”, “are widely abundant”, “virtually100% recyclable”, and it mentions alternatives to some scarce resources but, to some degree, these are speculative (though with some basis, admittedly).
This only goes up to 2030-2050, and we’re well past the date of this analysis (2010), but at least does say that energy demand would need to significantly decrease. This alone would mean that such a plan wouldn’t get off the drawing board. However, thanks again for the link though it’s going to significantly eat into my spare time to assimilate!
sbm, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but in the early 1800s, whale oil was one if the main fuels for lighting many of the finer homes and the streets of many cities.
The point is that the technology of the day always seems inescapable until it isn’t. When was the last time you reached for your trusty slide rule?
People talk of the petroleum age as if it were inevitable, but around the time automobiles just started to compete with horse-drawn carriages for space on city streets, electric motors were as common as internal combustion engines. If petroleum had not come along, would energy storage research have entered a golden age, leading to a clean technology?
The constraints of the present are inescapable until the future liberates us from them.
@Snarkrates and all,
Famous images Professor Tony Seba loves to use:
“Another is that God wakes up from nap and just sweeps away the excess carbon and gives us a stern lecture about housekeeping.”
This, of course, is the position held by signers of the Cornwall Declaration.
Well this position or the position that carbon will suddenly fail to warm the planet when God’s fail-safes kick in. Everyone educated in the Christian religion has read all about how God engineers all sorts of fail-safes to keep human folly from harming anyone or any thing. The Old Testament is full of such stories!
This was a discussion that was had at Eli’s burrow several years ago, but this is nothing more than a nice sciencey fantasy. The physics/thermodyncamics just aren’t there. This isn’t the same as the horses and cars illustration above because our understanding of physics, energy, and available technical options is orders of magnitude more sophisticated than what was in operation over a hundred years ago. Fusion has been thirty years away for over fifty years, and even if it wasn’t it wouldn’t provide the flexbility/portability that we need for moving in relativistic spans – or for lighting the homes of the Third World. Vacuum energy? Yeah…
And then there’s Sprengel’s/Liebig’s inconveniently bright idea…
And if we were somehow able to tap into a new source of energy to fuel this interplanetary/interstellar leap, that same miracle would be currently pursued to solve the pressing issue of torching fossilised ferns and dinosaurs to make our lights glow. It doesn’t seem to want to come out of the closet though, so I think that Proxima Centauri is not so close…
Lest folk really do think that my comments are all about despair, I will through in what I see as the aims that are worthy of our full efforts.
We all, every one of us, need to live more simply, more modestly. 8+ billion people cannot live like the First World, and indeed the First World cannot continue to live like the First World.
Stop sucking so much electricity to light up and heat/cool your houses, when wise behaviour is an alternative. Build smaller houses, and build them green. Properly green. Buy less stuff. Stop flying around the planet to take photos next to drugged tigers, pyramids, and Pacific atoll beaches. Pay the real price to the environment when you use fossil fuel: yes, tax the carbon. Learn to grow at least some of your own food. Live and locate in your local area. Make it strenuously known to your friends, colleagues, and societal representatives that they need to face these necessities too.
It’s not onerous. I’m down to quarter of a bag of rubbish per month, and I can probably halve that by ditching a few remaining conveniences that really aren’t difficult to replace. With insulation, double-glazing, a strategically-placed Trombe wall/greenhouse-like construction below my own house, combined with the thermal mass of stored rainwater, I suspect that I might be able to avoid most (> 90%) supplementary heating year-round. All my water comes from the sky. All my kitchen, bathroom, and toilet waste stays on my property, and I invite friends around to contribute to the bounty that feeds my gardens.
I rarely travel more than half an hour from my home, and then mostly to work. When I do, I try as much as possible to ride-share or use public transport. I keep my clothes for years – in some cases until there are more holes than not. I live a humble life, but it’s a very rewarding and satisfying one. Friends, food, fun, family… The stars, hard work, the joy of making. Music. Art. Nature. My only significant indulgence is going online too much, but even that is going to be further tapered. And surrendered…
Sadly, this won’t be enough to help my children manage when they’re my age, so I’m now wondering what I need to teach them to cope as best as they might when that time comes…
OK, maybe that’s the point where I can’t quite keep away the despair…
Dr David Suzuki has quite a lot to say about this kind of thing:
Fruitful discussion, IMHO–hope others feel so, too.
When I wrote “We will decarbonize (und so weiter),” I meant it. And I think that we will.
But, just to clarify, that’s a statement of faith–i.e., an outcome I logically expect, but which depends on emotion, not evidence for its sense of ‘certainty.’ Or, you could say, it rests on incomplete evidence (as all prediction/projection tends to do.) Mike’s other possibilities do remain possibilities (some more so than others.) ;-)
Nor do I want to “plaster over wounds.” While I’ve pushed back on the territorial vs. consumption-based emissions issue WRT the UK, it would be wrong of me to suggest that the consumption-based metric isn’t cause for concern–or, better, cause for more of us taking the admirable actions that TRABJ described for us. (Well done, sir, I’m struggling along in your wake!)
Last year the remnants of two major hurricanes passed directly over us. And an hour or two to the northeast in our state, a fairly large town was partially submerged for more than a month. In the state capital, an hour the other way, some businesses just reopened from extreme flooding in 2015. And I’m pretty sure we’re seeing the decline in insect populations that people have been observing basically around the world. That one scares the crap out of me, frankly.
I said that I “believe” that we’ll decarbonize and build a more sustainable society. But I have no particular beliefs about how bad things will be by the time we get that done–except that there will be a whole lot of associated loss. Things will be wrecked in large numbers, and people will die in large numbers. How large, I’m not sure; harms, I’m pretty sure, do not scale linearly with warming, but I don’t know what function would approximate the damage curve well. There’s a wide range of possibilities, I think.
That damage–those wounds–are a big part of what will do the ‘dragging’ necessary to compensate for our highly imperfect (but not completely defective) collective foresight. It was avoidable, of course. But not any more.
So, IMO, we’ll decarbonize and build a sustainable society because we must–but how many of us there will be, post-transition, and how much we will have lost, I don’t dare to project. I just know that it’s our job to try and hurry the process along as much as possible.
[Response: Perhaps the most fruitful discussion ever on this blog.]
For someone with very strong comments about energy supply you do not seem very well informed on the basic terminology of the energy debate.
Jacobson’s plan delivers all the energy currently used in all sectors of the economy and the energy estimated to be needed in developing countries in the year 2050. Energy consumption is not reduced in the plan as you claim. Energy generation is reduced. The reduction in energy generated is due to the fact that renewable energy production is so much more efficient than fossil fuel energy production that 40% less energy is needed to supply the demand. In addition, some buildings and other systems are built more efficiently so they use less energy.
I will give two examples. You own a coal (or nuclear) power generating station. The steam generators in the plant operate at approximately 40% efficiency. In order to deliver 1000 megawatts of power to the grid you must burn enough coal to produce 2500 megawatts of heat (primary energy production is 2500 Mw). In addition, the mining and transport of the coal uses 10-15% of the energy content of the coal. At my solar facility if my solar panels produce 1000 megawatts of power I deliver 1000 megawatts to the grid (primary production is 1000 Mw). Transmission losses are less than 5%. That means I need to produce less than 40% of the power of a coal plant to deliver my 1000 megawatts. Note that waste heat is also much reduced.
A second easy example is my electric car. An internal combustion engine in a car operates at less than 25% efficiency (0% efficiency when at a stop light). To supply 1000 joules of energy it must burn at least 4000 joules of gasoline (not counting the energy to mine, refine and deliver the gas). An electric car operates at over 90% efficiency and has much lower energy costs to deliver the energy. I use less than 25% of the energy to deliver the same amount of power to the car.
My impression is that your remaining questions stem from your misunderstanding the terminology that Jacobson uses. Read the paper carefully and do not jump to conclusions about terms you do not understand.
Keep in mind that Jacobson found many solutions to using renewable energy that supply all energy. He only describes one but another could be chosen if there turn out to be issues with the one he describes.
Michael Sweet, that’s a fairly condescending tone, which isn’t a helpful way of addressing people in a discussion. I’m trying to go through the papers now (the 2011 paper relies heavily on his 2009 paper, so both have to be read, plus there is a part 2 to the 2011 paper, which I don’t know if I’d need to read).
Regarding power demand, the 2011 paper does mention conservation measures in several places and that seems to be included in his estimate of the power demand in 2030 [“Assuming that some additional modest energy-conservation measures are implemented (see the list of demand-side conservation measures in Section 2) and subtracting the energy requirements of petroleum refining, we estimate that an all-WWS world would require 30% less end-use power than the EIA projects for the conventional fossil-fuel scenario”]. Still more to read, though.
Michael, Regarding Jacobson and Delucchi’s paper, I’ve now read through the main body of it and scanned some of the referenced earlier paper. I am quite impressed by the depth they go into but remain unconvinced due mainly to several unreferenced claims, many assumptions, and dismissals of small numbers. Some of the potential environmental impacts haven’t been gone into or what impact such a build out would have in an era when power sources are definitely more FF than WWS. I did discover that there are significant criticisms of Jacobson’s work from scientists (including prominent ones) so there is more to do in examining those.
Thanks for linking to it, as I have more to examine, now, in that area.
While any big study will have blemishes, it is important to separate those problems which are due to solutions like those proposed by Jacobson, and which are due to the appalling context it is trying to be birthed.
In particular, there are three worth mentioning.
One is the idea that environmental impacts ought to be assessed in the same old/same old manner as any other build when the point of the exercise over all is to respond to an overwhelming environmental crisis. And I put the blame for that squarely upon a lot of environmental progressives who claim they get what’s at risk, but then act like they really care about maintaining their political influence and if possible increasing it.
A second is regional climate impacts due to albedo changes and stealing of energy from winds. Part of this is ignorance due to extreme lack of funding for studying and modeling this in the United States. Sure you want to minimize such disruption, but you can’t know what to do to do that until it is planned and modeled.
And the third is the extreme distaste the USA shows for any kind of rational planning on where to put resources, abandoning it to “the market”, when these considerations ought to be assessed and balanced. instead it’s a crap shoot.
These are not at all the fault of the Jacobson proposal or anything like it.
I suspect those studies are deeply flawed. Like all modeling, they’ve failed to account for all the mechanics involved. Somehow, all the extra atmospheric moisture has to be reduced, and under a warming world, this only increases. Ice takes thousands of years to form on the scale of what we’ve once had, we clearly do not have that kind of time at all. Albedo is affecting the Arctic, Greenland, Antarctica and the land-based ice, Andes, Himalayas, etc. That too can’t be “rolled back” by much of anything unless the water vapor is turned back into snow. Re: mitigation. Nothing has worked so far. C02 emissions peaked this month at 414, still rising. Human pollution to the global atmosphere is still rising. Now freshwater lakes are found to be sources too. It’s just human hubris that alleges we can fix this. Prove it. That hasn’t been done. What the evidence shows is that it’s now unstoppable, but science can’t admit to this. Bad for careers and funding. Not picking on them, but they’ve put their jobs before the truth. I’ve studied carbon sequestering, it can work, but not to scale. And virtually everything considered has this problem, nothing can be brought to scale. There is also no funding, no political will, and no time. I do not advocate more FF, but neither do I advocate more growth either. We need less, not more, of everything. Global power-down, zero growth still won’t stop warming (now). But it’s a step in the right direction, but it will never happen. Civilization is a heat engine, our refusal to abandon the source cause will destroy habitat. Species extinctions are so severe now that we are collapsing entire ecosystems. Upward trajectory indicates that amplifying feedbacks are now unstoppable. We don’t have what it takes, politically or even resource wise to pull this off. We don’t control Earth systems, they control us, but we’re certainly capable of tipping them far past stability. We cannot undue hundreds of years of “pushing” in a single generation, this claim is what is at the heart of “limiting warming” and it’s a total lie. 550 gigatons of C02 can’t be removed like we think, and that still leaves the oceans. So yes, we’re going to blow right past 2C and even 4C, there is absolutely no doubt at all. Wet-bulb temperatures will then wipe out most plant life, certainly all of our food crops. We starve and most everything else dies. Those are the facts now, unfolding daily.
I’m afraid you are basically waving your arms on the reversibility of ice loss. You could be right that there is more to it than models so far include, but the best information we have is that, could we draw down atmospheric CO2, the cryosphere could in fact regenerate.
On getting that done, I would agree that there is lots to be discouraged by, hence my “hair on fire” comment. But at the same time, I think a lot more is happening than meets the eye. It’s not enough, yet–but I’m not prepared to concede that it can’t be enough, soon enough to make a considerable difference in the outcome.
And I’m prepared to do everything I can to try to move the needle in that direction.
“could we draw down atmospheric CO2, the cryosphere could in fact regenerate.” And that’s the kicker. Many of these alleged technologies don’t exist. None that do are too scale. Nor is their political will or funding. If you just examine what we “do” versus what we “say” – the evidence is clear. We will not solve this. This is why models fail. Not only do they not account for all the variables, they utterly fail to depict human nature (and isn’t that the REAL problem, after all?). I’m a professional programmer (retired) and know that computer simulations are just that – they are not real life. The thousands of years it takes for the ice we’ve already lost isn’t being modeled. Computer simulations are poor substitutes to reality. The hopium expressions of what we “could do” don’t have any relevance in the real world. Only what we “are doing” is what matters – and the models do not completely account for this either. It’s disingenuous and misleading to put any faith into modeling – when we won’t do (or can’t do) what is required. We’ve claimed for decades what we “could do” but the reality is very, very different.
Can’t reply on your UK article in place – but you realize you’re pointing to just 3 years of one smallish country – while global emissions continue to accelerate upwards? That is the only explanation needed. In fact, your claims are specious because none of it matters (C02 lasts a very long time), and therefore, more warming, and more ice loss (irreversible now) continues (to accelerate). These microscopic “successes” are like the arguments that changing light bulbs was going to make a measurable difference – it didn’t. You do realize that even if true zero emissions were achieved tomorrow – that the world continues to warm, right? Nobody is arguing that “action if futile” but we’re definitely making the claim that action so far has been nearly insignificant and inconsequential. It’s not enough – not even close. You appear to be content to settle for insignificant efforts. I definitely reject this approach, because it shows how unwilling we are to address the issue and settle for what won’t work. It’s clearly not working – as the evidence actually shows (emissions still going up and what one country does doesn’t change the global number enough to matter – yet. And the ice is still melting – unstoppable). Your type of argument is to deflect away from reality and what it means to have insignificant “successes” and therefore, mislead people that these so-called solutions are working and at hand. This is factually not true. If there really were solutions, and the political will to enforce them – they’d be in operation now, but they’re not. That is the big lie that has been adopted by the hopium advocates. Solutions are only “real” when they actually exist – and being utilized, otherwise, they are not solutions. They’re empty promises and half-hearted efforts, which is what your UK link actually states (they did say “estimates”). Counter-act these claims by everything else still going on all over the world and it’s like a grain of sand being dropped into the oceans, raising sea levels a minuscule amount. Nothing to get excited about or claim is a “solution” or even pin your hopes on
You’re right that the global figure is the most important and it shows that while countries are claiming this or that improvement, the reality is that their supposed efforts are inconsequential and, due to not accounting for consumption or international freight and travel, such reporting is not even honest.
JR–“you realize you’re pointing to just 3 years of one smallish country – while global emissions continue to accelerate upwards?”
No, I’m not. I’m pointing at a significant decline in emissions that is the result of decades of work, and that has in fact been sustained now over decadal timescales. (Look at the graph.) Furthermore, it’s not just the UK–which, by the way, is a strange country to call ‘smallish’ as measured by economy; it’s the 5th largest in the world, in fact. The EU-28 has, as a whole, reduced its emissions by 22% as compared with the 1990 level.
“You do realize that even if true zero emissions were achieved tomorrow – that the world continues to warm, right?”
Yes, most likely for a few decades, and a few tenths of a degree:
“Nobody is arguing that “action if futile”…”
You may want to reconsider your messaging, then, as I suspect a lot of people might mistake it for saying precisely that. And I don’t mean that as snark, but rather quite literally.
“You appear to be content to settle for insignificant efforts.”
I’m reconsidering my messaging, as I didn’t think I’d said anything that would suggest that. I seem to recall using terms like “fight”, “work”, and even “hair on fire.” I don’t find those redolent of “settling,” and I certainly am not suggesting that we should, or can, “settle.” I do suggest that “we are screwed and there is nothing we can do about it” is not the best message to inspire action.
“And the ice is still melting – unstoppable).”
Again, no, it is not–at least, not as far as the state of the art can tell today.
“Your type of argument is to deflect away from reality and what it means to have insignificant “successes”…”
I disagree. It seems to me that you wish to “deflect” away from any successes by labeling them as “insignificant.”
“They’re empty promises and half-hearted efforts, which is what your UK link actually states (they did say “estimates”).”
That is a total non sequitur. Of course emissions are “estimated”; there is no magic meter that can give us an exact reading. But our statistical tools are more good enough–especially in countries like the UK–to give us estimates that are robust and reliable.
Furthermore, if we couldn’t estimate our emissions reasonably accurately, a large chunk of our GHG-related climate science would be lacking an evidentiary base. This argument is right out of the denialist playbook; that you are compelled to–or choose to–resort to it is frankly unworthy.
“Counter-act these claims by everything else still going on all over the world and it’s like a grain of sand being dropped into the oceans…”
No, it is not. Again, the UK is the 5th-largest economy in the world. But, more importantly, the EU-28 has an economy almost as large as that of the US, comprising roughly a fifth of global output. So, unless you are talking about a grain of sand that one-fifth the mass of the ocean, you are making a highly misleading comparison.
I’m not suggesting that a 22% drop over 1/5 of the world is enough. But it is far from insignificant–and especially so, when the other 4/5 of the world has committed to follow that lead. We’re going to take losses, and we are going to suffer. But what has been done, and what will still be done, is not futile or pointless.
So let me renew my suggestion: we need to focus less on what we may suffer, and more on what we should *do*. Because that’s the only thing within our control that will affect our fate.
Despair is not adaptive.
“What the evidence shows is that it’s now unstoppable, but science can’t admit to this. Bad for careers and funding.”
You are sounding like a denier. The science is the science – it does not say that warming is now ‘unstoppable’. That is entirely a political, technical and economic question. You seem to claim that this is true _despite_ the science – in which case you need evidence to support your claim.
“I’ve studied carbon sequestering, it can work, but not to scale.”
AIUI there is space to store 73,000Gt or CO2 in formations under the North Sea (I did get that number in a pub, so will have to find a reference to back it up, but it was from a scientist with relevant expertise). That’s enough for 1800 _years_ of emissions at current rates. And we already have plenty of holes in the North Sea to take stuff out. We clearly have the tech to put things back again, and plenty of space. It is merely a matter of economics and/or will. Perhaps you mean that collection is hard? Well yes, but also not impossible, especially when it is done at generation. CCS is a necessary part of decarbonisation, particularly for things like cement where CO2 emissions are intrinsic to the process.
Like Doc Snow I disagree with your counsel of despair. Things are being done, and a lot more could be done given the right incentives. Political will to do the right things comes from things like the increasingly obvious groundswell from the school strikes, Extinction Rebellion and millions of small actions that get people thinking about the problem in the right way and thus making sensible choices. Yes, there is a huge amount still to do – our trajectory is miles away from ‘good’ – but it’s quite wrong to say that it’s all hopeless, nothing is happening, it’s too late, it’s irreversible. It’s also not helpful: Despair is indeed not adaptive.
JR: ” What the evidence shows is that it’s now unstoppable, but science can’t admit to this. Bad for careers and funding.”
Don’t be a dumbass! Truth is the career of a scientist. Prognostication is not. Prediction, yes, but only as concerns the goodness of models. The idea that our future is written in stone is just stupid. There are innumerable opportunities for changing it–both for better or for worse. A scientist realizes this–that is why they discuss scenarios rather than predictions. Maybe if you learned how science works, you wouldn’t say such embarrassingly stupid things.
People like Greta Thunberg are one of their kind. She is amazing. So clearly thinking. And yes, dedicated young women do create a certain attention, more then men can. This seems to be somehow hardwired in our brains, and this in turn is provoking some to appalling reactions. But anyway: let’s use the momentum she has created.
Let’s all keep constantly, steadfastly and incessantly change the narrative wherever we have some influence.
There seems to be a perfect storm against changing public opinion:
– the enemy is invisible, oderless and non toxic.
– the most pronounced effects are currently in places where almost nobody lives (the poles).
– the problem is science based and the general population tends to be science illiterate.
– change threatens a trillion dollar industry (fossil fuels)
-conflicting religious views i.e. “only God can change the climate”
– is happening at a pace that is rather slow compared to the human life span (so far, anyway).
An example of this can be seen in my home state of Oregon. At the end of the 19th century, more than 180″/decade of snow fell in Portland. During the most recent decade only 26″ fell. But who is around now that was around in 1880 to notice the difference?
Click to access Seasonal%20Snowfall%20Portland.pdf
There are newspaper photos of cars driving across a frozen Columbia river. Hasn’t happened in 80 years…..who remembers?
I could go on and on. Hard not to conclude the planet is screwed.
“Hard not to conclude the planet is screwed.” Slight clarification: the planet will be fine. The planet has gone through several great extinction events and is usually back in new full bloom in about 10 million years. But a lot of various kind of earthlings may very well be screwed by the consequences of the CO2 emissions we have produced. This is an amazing planet. We were all lucky to catch a ride on this planet. It’s a shame that we have triggered an extinction event, but that’s what we did. I think it’s all about mitigation and building for resilience now because the next geological blink of an eye is going to be quite harsh. I will continue to keep my emissions as low as possible and think about what, if anything, can be done to address the environmental and generational injustice of this event. To Greta and my grandkids, I say, I am sorry to hand off our ecosystem in such raggedy shape. I worked hard to slow the extinction event, but I don’t think I ever had a chance of changing the drivers of this extinction event. Live well, be kind to each other. It’s a miracle that we are here and conscious. Appreciate your time as an earthling and make the most of it.
Yeah, the geology will be fine. And there’s every reason to think that, should we screw things up to the utter max, the biosphere will still regenerate something new and exciting, probably in just a few million short years.
I think humans may well make it through; we’re a pretty tough bunch, folly, vice and all. Maybe not much of our cultural heritage, though, and maybe not most of us individually. (Where ‘make it through’ means not dying too prematurely.) We may well be there with all the other generalist species. Or not.
I’m hoping that things will be screwed less than maximally, and, as I said, trying to work toward that end.
Good comments. I agree with both of you.
The planet doesn’t give a rat’s. Sagan saw it: this is, has always been and always will be the age of bacteria. They are the main form of life, always were. Everything else is fluff. We will make our own world very bleak and unpleasant but won’t affect things that much on the really long term. Even if a full reboot was to happen, there are still a few billion years of useable sunlight for everything to restart and re-evolve into new stuff.. We might kill everything that makes our lives richer and more enjoyable, however.
Humans look at the world from a human point of view, naturally. A few humans realise that our species needs biodiversity to survive, most don’t. But it really doesn’t matter if life on the planet continues when humans have ceased to be. Humanity “doesn’t give a rat’s”, though some humans would probably disagree. There is nothing objectively good about life but for a life form which is aware of life, it’s really cool. So it doesn’t matter if some form of life will continue, or re-emerge, after we’re gone. We are not “fluff” but we are just part of the planet, not the whole planet, contrary to what most people seem to think (going by their actions).
Technically, “objectively good” is an oxymoron, because “good” is a value, and values are inherently subjective (though there may be good reasons and foundations for widely shared subjective ones). Ayn Rand would disagree, of course, if she were still alive, but her perspective (and thus axioms) was/were warped by emotional dysfunction. IMO.
With the to-and-fro on this and recent Open Mind threads over the nature of future impacts, it might be worth flagging the essays and other commentary of Jem Bendell:
Probably the most controversial piece of his is the paper here:
Click to access deepadaptation.pdf
or, if you prefer an audio file:
[audio src="http://www.lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.mp3" /]
Bendell has spent a lot of time considering something that is really a denialism that afflicts many of the accepters of climate change: what is coming, and what is to come if we don’t adequately grasp what is already coming. I’ve only come across his work today, but it’s very much along the lines of that to which I and some others have been trying to draw attention on these threads.
There are points of Bendell’s with which I differ in understanding, if not completely disagree. One of the most important differences is that I see a large span between the timing of societal disruption and the extinction of humans, whether or not the final ending is the result of climate change. But that is an almost academic consideration compared to the high probability of the proximal phenomenon – societal (and ecological…) disruption within (at least some of) our lifetimes.
Before people pile on, I will stress again that I am not promoting, advocating, recommending, or otherwise engaging in a pure nihilism and futility about, nor an abandonment of effort to address, the carbon emissions that cause global warming. In fact, neither is Bendell if one drills down into some of his comments… His focus though is probably more of an adjustment to the future, where mine is still to try to control it as much as possible before it arrives.
But we do need to face up to what’s coming, and what will come if we continue to deny not only the fact of climate change but the effects in train and to come. We cannot have a sensible conversation if we do not explicitly identify and discuss the elephant in the room – the current baseline impacts (now, and about to manifest) that we’re wrought, and how much further impact will occur depending on what action we achieve.
Otherwise we’re talking about a risk analysis that doesn’t actually include any operational understanding of the risks…
An afterthought, to frame my point in the context of the title of this thread…
“We’re running out of time…” has different meanings depending on the result that we want. If we want to avoid anything but the most modest of human misery and loss of biodiversity from climate change, we’ve already run out of time. If we want to have a viable global society and a reasonable planetary ecology going into the future, we’ve probably still already run out of time.
If we want to leave some legacy for a subset of humanity in the future, then we’re desperately running out of time…
If you want to completely FUBAR human civilisation and even existence, and lock in not only the 6th Mass Extinction but also the 2nd Great Dying, then a few more decades of business as usual should be enough to do the job.
“…the high probability of the proximal phenomenon – societal (and ecological…) disruption within (at least some of) our lifetimes.”
Yes, even successful adaptation and mitigation efforts would/will, I think, count as “disruptive” of the current order. Though less so than failure.
“But we do need to face up to what’s coming, and what will come if we continue to deny not only the fact of climate change but the effects in train and to come. We cannot have a sensible conversation if we do not explicitly identify and discuss the elephant in the room…”
Yes again. While I’ve been at pains to argue against despair above, I would not argue that we don’t have a whole lot of hurt heading our way, at best. And right now, I see a whole lot of people who accept the reality of what science says in a remote and theoretical way, but are not ready to think seriously about what it means, nor to make acting on it more than a secondary priority.
I think I see that changing, but I would also not argue that it isn’t very, very late in the day.
As a colleague and environmental scientist told me several years ago, long before I learned enough to agree with him, the thing of it is that advanced countries like the United States are more susceptible to harm than people in less economically fortunate locale once the structural changes in economies, infrastructure, and support systems start happening, all wrought by gradually worsening conditions. The argument is basically ecological. To support the typical American, even low income American, requires they have continued participating in a wealth-rejuvenating process, namely, a job, one that continues to exist, one that they can still commute to, one that remains worthwhile on the net given other constraints on their lives. Moreover, almost no one grows their own food, or makes their own stuff, or repairs their tools. Emergency backup generators may exist, but these depend upon a sustained network of suppliers to deliver propane and the like. The set of spatial supports and the multiple of carrying capacity needed for continued let alone happy existence of that American is much larger than people in less economically fortunate areas. That means the collision cross section of that support with historically extraordinary events is many times larger.
For example, should supply chains snap, or extensive inland flooding occur and be maintained in its effects — whether because of widespread debris or sewage spread over large areas — impede transport corridors, like I-93N heading into Boston from the south, commutes will be mired and food deliveries by trucks held up. If portions of downtown Boston or Cambridge flood, there will be no job offices to which people can commute. If widespread inland flooding persists across summers, mosquito populations will increase. With sufficient flooding, portions of suburbs will be isolated from rapid access by emergency services.
It’s not that the less economically fortunate should be ignored. By all means, the OECD countries — particularly the United States — own a substantial chunk of cumulative CO2 emissions and so, more than anyone else, are responsible for the present situation. A lot of the wealth the USA and Europe has was obtained by exploiting fossil fuels. Economically and morally, then, there is a proper need to consider reparations.
But I fear this focus on others and the less fortunate diminishes the risk and urgency to the comfortable day-to-day person. Our comforts are based upon fragile systems, highly centralized for supposed efficiency, scattered across the globe using supply chains which offer availability and low cost, but also sum up risks over large spatial regions. Stability comes from decentralization and local self-reliance. In the United States, at least, decentralization and siting requires more deliberate planning, and proper treatment of risks — even existing ones — let alone projections from climate change, for new development and county and town budgets for stormwater management and infrastructure hardening. (See at bottom for one example.)
Finally, while it is proper we should mitigate, to set leadership standard and move towards readjusting our collective harms, more dollars will be needed to prepare for and offset harms caused by our country’s unwillingness to cooperate internationally, since a robust global response to emissions is not possible without it. Accordingly, it seems to make sense to lobby to reestablish and further such cooperation than focus upon just mitigation.
Examples from Town of Westwood, MA, Stormwater Management codes showing lack of will to prepare for the risk projections from the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell:
This is pretty typical, at least in Massachusetts.
Ecoquant, your first couple of paragraphs remind me of something Alfred Henry Lewis said over a century ago, that “There are only nine meals between mankind and anarchy.” The developed world has largely ignored this observation, until events such as Katrina come along – and then we promptly forget the lesson after a few weeks to months…
Joseph Tainter has long spoken of societal collapse, but most people treat his thesis as an academic abstraction. I am ashamed to say that I did to some extent, and it was a blurb in a tea room New Scientist just over a decade ago that reset the context for me:
It’s a theme that they repeat:
but there’s a lot of meatier material to be read if one searches for complexity theory, complex systems failure, and the schlock-horror version – sociietal and civilisation (or ‘civilization’…) collapse.
Yes, I’ve had the same intuition for a long time–FWIW–albeit much less luck in communicating it. (Probably I never articulated it well.)
But it has seemed to me that specialization of function–which is the very essence of a complex civilization–and its enabling by a pervasive consumerist technology, have made almost all of us utterly unable to survive outside of our accustomed social systems. (Technology customarily substitutes for previous survival techniques which can be employed freely by almost anyone if they have the knowledge–we set a thermostat, the workings of which are utterly mysterious to most, rather than gathering wood and building a fire–an art which, I suspect, has become pretty mysterious to much of the ‘First World’, now, too, in all but the most obvious aspects at least.)
And those social systems I spoke of a moment ago have not been engineered for redundancy or resiliency; for the most part–system components are designed (and “designed” is to some degree a stretch, as it seems to me that to a considerable degree they have rather evolved under market pressure instead) with the assumption of the robustness of other system components. So I suspect there are many unrecognized chokepoints and vulnerabilities just waiting to bite us, hard.
So, yeah, “nine meals from anarchy.”
Although I dislike the book, there is something similar to what you wrote about in Taleb’s Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, and he even uses “fragile” as a transitive verb: fragilizing.
“In the decades since these publications were first published, a new form of psywar has emerged in the form of false hope. With unlimited funding and organizational support from foundations like Ford, Rockefeller, Gates and Soros, U.S. Government propaganda now has a vast new army of non-profits that, along with corporate media and academia, serve as both a third wing of mass consciousness and a fifth column for destabilization campaigns worldwide.”
Conspirational, stupid and totally devoid of interest, plus doesn’t say anything about the chemtrails…
You may ‘prefer’ this?
‘December 10, 2012
By Cory Morningstar
“350 ppm is a death sentence … The safe level of CO2 for SIDS (Small Island Developing States ) is around 260 parts per million …” CO2 buildup must be reversed, not allowed to increase or even be stabilized at 350 PPM, which would amount to a death sentence for coral reefs, small island developing states, and billions of people living along low lying coastlines.” – AOSIS Briefing 2009’
Historically, CO2 has been 288 ppm.
It is important to keep this in perspective and not to go too nuts.
Climate change can cause lots of human misery, sure. Collapse of Western Civilization, possibly. But not extinction, not even human. Loss of millions of lives? Possibly. And the biosphere will be fine. Changed, for sure, probably to the detriment of people who depend on it. But thriving, yes.
Indeed, despite all the insults hurled at it global net primary productivity is up!
It’s also important to not set expectations too high when emissions are finally zeroed: At some point, some of the risks IPCC and co. tried to avoid by remaining under +2C are going to be incurred, and those risks will persist for 1000 years or so, even if we do zero emissions eventually.
The latter is the thing most people don’t get, even 350.org people, even other activists: At the point we stop emitting, many things will stop getting worse (after an inertia coast for 10 years or so), but they won’t get better.
Exception: Sea level rise. Ice takes a long time to melt, and we’re already over the threshold for ice sheets to disappear. If we stop it’ll take 300 years to do that, but it will happen. If we don’t stop, let me get my 20-sided die back out …
There’s no effective way to reverse this at present, not afforestation, not “smart agriculture”. And, even if we could, there’s nothing as cheap as keeping fossil fuels in the ground, whatever the cost of the turmoil and disruption to changing them over. I don’t think that transition can be orchestrated by a command economy, though.
This is almost out of kilter with the rest of the post but I’d take issue with the notion that climate change will not cause extinctions. It may already be doing so. With increased ocean heating, with 100 year floods becoming common, with long extreme heat waves, with stronger cyclones and shifting of climate zones, it is inconceivable (to me) that extinctions would not result. And, of course, with unknown interactions between species in our biosphere, extinctions caused by climate change may then cause others and, whilst I don’t think this bout of climate change will cause humans to go extinct, I don’t think it’s totally beyond the bounds of possibility. Lastly, “the biosphere will be fine” seems highly complacent. If climate change does cause extinctions or even significant losses to populations of species (animals and plants), then I can’t see how the biosphere could be described as “fine” or “thriving”, except in the very long term, of course, assuming a reasonably recovery at some point in the future.
With respect to biosphere I in no way suggested nothing was going to change. There is a background extinction rate in any healthy ecosystem. It’s victims are primarily microbial, but wait long enough or make a big enough change and there will be casualties on a larger size. We don’t see this because in terms of biomass we are large creatures. This running from extinction is why phenological changes happen first, and those have been detected at least for a couple of decades. Biological axiom: All species eventually go extinct.
Second, I rejected the idea of annihilation in part because it continues the idea that the world continues to exist to serve us and has no independent identity. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place. At the moment the biosphere is doing very well overall. It could take a hit and has in the past. What has NOT taken any hit like that is 5000 years of human civilization which has existed in the same stable climate until we inadvertently decided to disrupt it.
The primary proposal for annihilation of life is the runaway greenhouse, and that’s really quite hard to do.
And, yeah, Dr Guy McPherson doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Again, I’d take issue with that statement. However, since there is no objective measure of wellness of the bioshpere, I guess it comes down to personal opinion. In my opinion, the biosphere is a very long way from “doing very well.”
Those are primarily three products and derivative of responses from MODIS (satellite) observed. More details here.
There is also this page but its work has fallen victim, apparently, to the present administration’s budget priorities.
More products are available here.
There is a recent paper which discusses this here and assembles some of these products into a coherent picture. No doubt the biosphere could be affected by perverse human pollution, but, quantitatively speaking, there’s little evidence of it among the microbiota. No doubt there is evidence among macrobiota, but it is difficult to separate those effects from those of, for instance, overfishing or overharvesting.
Worth keeping an eye on this. Fortunately, we have the tools, as long as the funds to operate and improve them keep flowing.
Not the most authoritative source for information on science, really…
About the author tab: “Cory Morningstar is an independent investigative journalist, writer and environmental activist, focusing on global ecological collapse and political analysis of the non-profit industrial complex. She resides in Canada. Her recent writings can be found on Wrong Kind of Green, The Art of Annihilation, and Counterpunch. Her writing has also been published by Bolivia Rising and Cambio, the official newspaper of the Plurinational State of Bolivia.
I suggest you consider reading science sources for, well, science information.
As a professional journalist, Ms. Morningstar traffics in sensationalism, and is unconstrained by facts. Why would you consider her more credible than the IPCC? Wouldn’t a genuine skeptic distinguish between peer-reviewed science and creative writing? If you don’t trust the international community of climate scientists, why would you trust anyone else?
Inadequate scientific meta-literacy is easily corrected: the Dunning Kruger Effect, not so much.
So this is incorrect?
‘“350 ppm is a death sentence … The safe level of CO2 for SIDS (Small Island Developing States ) is around 260 parts per million …” CO2 buildup must be reversed, not allowed to increase or even be stabilized at 350 PPM, which would amount to a death sentence for coral reefs, small island developing states, and billions of people living along low lying coastlines.” – AOSIS Briefing 2009’
From the IPCC.
“We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN “
Need to go to the original science and not quotes from Guardian or some other report if you want to know. Whether or not it counts as “catastrophe” depends upon how much economic disruption and mass migrations the world wants to contend with. There is some hyperbole in the use of the word, but unmitigated emissions will produce a world miserable for humans to live in, at least by historical standards.
To the point, a good assessment of recent geologically historical CO2 can be had in a report in Science by C. N. Waters, et al, from 2016. The link there goes to a public directory where you can find the report in full. (Note there was a correction to the text 2 weeks later which is included.)
The directory also includes an editorial comment by the late Stephen Schneider remarking upon fluctuations in estimates of mid-19th century atmospheric CO2 levels which were being reported in the 1980s.
And there is a copy of a key figure from Waters, et al which I have included below. It has annotation placed there by me, both to document the source, and a line about 275 ppm CO2 which I drew on the figure.
The argument is that if CO2 concentrations were 270-290 ppm for a long time, it’s not really defensible to claim they need to return there. 350 ppm has been considered a compromise, but we won’t be getting back to 350 ppm for a long time, probably a 1000 years or longer, certainly not naturally.
Even if we did, the heat commitment to oceans has doomed the Small Island Nations to submergence, even though at present rates this won’t be realized for 200-300 years. That’s because oceans have taken up a good deal of the excess heat from emissions forcing and they won’t lose it for 15,000-20,000 years, no matter what anyone does. That means steric SLR and melting of ice sheets.
If CO2 were somehow knocked back appreciably below 250 ppm, we’d be heading for another Ice Age, although that would not happen quickly, either, due to the heat commitment to oceans.
What specific statements do you disagree with and what is your evidence?
Do you have any specific evidence that 350ppm or greater is NOT likely to raise sea levels sufficiently to dramatically affect/kill small island states over the rest of this century as most scientists predict?
I thought that this TED talk by Greta was very movng.
It might go without saying, but I’m saying it just to be sure, that the health of GNP or NPP says nothing about impacts to people, or what happens when temperatures continue to increase.
I say that because I just noticed that the White House is about to launch an assault upon the intelligence agencies collective determination that climate change is a national security threat, an assault led by Dr William Happer. I won’t be surprised at all if at some point he trots out the MODIS data to support his claim that there’s “Nothing to see here. Move along home”, which, AFAIK, he never said, but that’s what he means.
He is of course wrong, however much data he takes out of context.
Yes, the history of South Carolina over the last 3+ years is a good illustration; we’ve had multiple billion-dollar flooding events, what with the great flood of 2015 and on down to Florence and Michael last year. Point is, all the repair activity goes onto the state GDP number–even though it’s replacing lost value, not generating new value. So a billion-dollar disaster may look like economic *stimulus* by the numbers. (Or some of them, anyway.) But it sure doesn’t feel like a lucky break to those on the ground.
How is the biosphere doing? I think it’s as fine as it can be in the early stages of a major extinction event. I think the global insect decline indicates that the biosphere is in a major shakeup. It’s a dynamic system that does support living things and allows for life and evolution, but it may be a rough place for certain species.
Food security / World’s food supply under ‘severe threat’ from loss of biodiversity (headline from the Guardian) based on UN report:
It’s all relative when we discuss how the biosphere is doing.
I just think it’s important to be clear. If the consequences of biosphere change primarily impact human beings, well, serves us right. I just get annoyed when people think that the rest of the biosphere is going away, too.
Of course we should be concerned about these impacts! But pointing to species and changes which do not directly impact people dulls the message of urgency, in my opinion.
The late Prof Wally Broecker wrote in 2018:
And Dr Martin Wolf, economist at FT, wrote
Dr Wolf was referring to Brexit, but given the force with which he argues we need to do something about climate change I don’t think he’d mind my appropriating the comment to apply to our collective actions with respect to it.
What do we do if people just don’t listen, or are stupid in the way they are going about this? We can struggle, and argue, and invest our own time and treasure in means and vehicles which help make this right. We can hope that something like the modular nuclear reactors I mentioned at my blog today will come on strong, safe, and cheap and help electrify everything, but other than these, and continuing to engage and teach, there’s not much else we can do.