Thursday, October 07, 2010

Shrink the Economy to Fight Global Warming Says Author of “Losing Our Cool”

How many times have we heard Al Gore, Thomas Friedman, and others say that unleashing green technology to fight global warming will also drive economic growth? But is economic growth really compatible with fighting global warming? No it isn’t says Stan Cox, the author of a new book entitled “Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer).” In an interview posted on Grist he cites a paper by an economics professor at the University of Utah which concluded that to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide below 450 ppm, considered by many scientists as the threshold for dangerous climate change, “the world economy is going to have to shrink by 1 to 4 percent per year over the next 40 years.” If that isn't bad enough news for consumption-obsessed societies he also says that we will need “a pretty massive transfer of wealth from wealthy individuals, areas, or countries to those that are less wealthy. When you say we have to reduce the output of the economy by so much each year, there are many, many people in the world that have nothing to reduce. They actually need a bit more production just to get the basic necessities of life.” That’s probably not going to go over too big in Tea Party circles or in the executive suites of major corporations.

A similar conclusion about the need to shrink the economy was reached in a study by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Britain. The study called for a reduction in living standards in the wealthier countries over the next 10 to 15 years.

Cox says that a different economic system is required. He also admits that “Unfortunately I'm not, and I'm not sure who is, smart enough to know how to get out of our situation.”

It seems our best hope is that these studies that call for a shrinking economy, a redistribution of wealth within countries and among countries, and even the end of capitalism are wrong. It seems impossible to imagine such radical change taking place within the next few years, which is when it would have to occur to be effective. Right or wrong it should be a topic of discussion in the mainstream press but even that seems too much to ask for.

Monday, October 04, 2010

India Moves into Third Place among Greenhouse Gas Polluters

India has a long way to go to catch up to China and the US when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions but it has finally passed Russia on the list taking over third position. At the moment India only accounts for 3% to 5% of emissions compared with 23% and 22% for China and the US, respectively, but with its huge and growing population and rapidly growing economy it is bound to close the gap with at least the US over the coming years. As it is, India, China, and the US account for about half of all emissions and this proportion will grow as India and China keep lifting people out of poverty and having such people adopt a much more energy hungry Western type of lifestyle.
Those who say that these three countries should get together and come to an agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions instead of relying on the UN process which requires that almost two hundred countries arrive at an agreement seem to make more and more sense as the UN process appears to be getting nowhere. The UN meeting in Cancun, Mexico in a couple of months should provide more information about whether or not the UN process should be abandoned. A more or less complete failure should be a signal that a new type of process is needed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jimmy Carter's Solar Panel Stays off White House Roof

It is probably just as well that Bill McKibben was unsuccessful a couple of days ago in his effort to have Barack Obama place on the White House roof one of the thermal solar panels that Carter had put on the roof when he was president only to have Ronald Reagan a few years later take them down. To many Americans the association of Jimmy Carter with energy policy brings to mind having to make personal sacrifices like turning down the heat in winter and wearing thick sweaters to keep warm. Americans won’t even pay higher taxes to support costly wars so forget about lowering the thermostat. Jimmy Carter had a profound grasp of our energy problems back in the 1970s and how we should overcome them. When Ronald Reagan came into office it is was like returning to the Stone Age when it came to environmental issues, which for many Americans still seems to be the best place to be. Reagan thought trees were a major source of pollution. Now we have global warming deniers. Just because time passes doesn’t mean intellectual thought has to progress. Apparently thousands upon thousands of scientific peer-reviewed papers showing that global warming is real and that it is largely caused by humans means nothing to minds frozen in time, obsessed with denying the scientific reality. Better to believe some talk show host who never took a physics or chemistry course but claims that the vast majority of climate scientists are dead wrong. Bill McKibben and others who correctly comprehend the danger posed by global warming certainly have their work cut out for them to get this country off the suicidal path that the deniers are keeping us on.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

No More Mr. Nice Guy for Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben, the environmental writer who wrote the first popular book on global warming over twenty years ago and who founded, has apparently come to the conclusion that being nice means losing the political battle over climate change against the super wealthy fossil fuel industry and that more aggressive tactics are needed to advance the climate movement. So he and leaders from two other environmental organizations have issued a letter which asks people to suggest ideas for mass climate action. The goal is to transform the climate movement so it more resembles the civil rights movement or women's suffrage movement of the past. Will asking people to put their bodies on the line work? Can they actually find enough people to do this? The first answers should start coming in next spring when it is expected that the initial mass direct actions will take place.

Monday, September 06, 2010

No Nancy Pelosi, it Isn’t about Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

It is Labor Day so the topic is jobs or at least promises of jobs. This brings to mind a very short but memorable speech by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi just before voting took place last year on the American Clean Energy and Security Act (Waxman-Markey bill), the comprehensive climate bill passed by the House. The debate that took place before the vote was somewhat surreal with few House members referring to the changes in the physics, chemistry, and biology that are taking place on our planet due to greenhouse gas emissions. Because of these changes we are heading toward disaster. Many Democrats argued that it was a job-creating bill and many Republicans argued that it was a job-killing bill. Some House members said it was all about achieving energy independence. When Nancy Pelosi spoke at the end of the debate she said it was about one thing, creating jobs, jobs, jobs. Is that true?
A climate bill should create a large number of jobs in a number of industries such a solar, wind, and home insulation. But it should also wipe out a large a number of jobs in the coal industry and oil industry. In should cause a major disruption with winners and losers. There doesn’t seem to be any alternative.
Whether to adopt a strategy of frightening people about climate change or adopt a strategy that is aimed to what people really care about, having better lives now, has divided climate activists. The great conundrum is that neither strategy appears to have any chance of success. The general experience is that most people don’t want to listen to the scientific facts about climate change. These facts should create a sense of urgency but they just tune out messages about parts per million in the atmosphere, etc, not caring whether the target is 450 ppm or 350 ppm or staying below 2C or 3C or getting down to 1 or 2 tons of carbon per capita, etc. Most people will listen to messages about creating jobs or achieving energy independence but these goals do not convey the sense of urgency that is needed and are too limted, for example, many people do not need jobs and energy independence only addresses oil, saying nothing about coal, the most important source of greenhouse gases. So no strong political moment has been created to counter the filthy rich fossil fuel industry that has spent vast sums of money to protect their profits from climate legislation and as a result we drift onward toward catastrophic climate change.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Where Is Obama’s Climate Change Speech?

Many of us who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 expected him to give a major speech on global warming during the first year of his presidency. Well here we are toward the end of his second year in office and so far there has been no speech. Even with a comprehensive climate bill stalled in the Senate there was no speech. What gives Mr. President who promised change we can believe in? We are still mainly relying on greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels for most of our energy needs and an end to this madness is nowhere in sight.
Is a major speech on global warming really necessary? With domestic and international efforts to fight global warming going nowhere it would seem the only way to break the stalemate would be for the President of the United States to take a political risk and give a major speech on global warming followed by many other speeches the way he did to push through healthcare legislation. There doesn’t seem to be any other way to convince the public about the dangers of global warming and the need for urgent action. All other attempts to get out the message have been successfully countered by climate change deniers. For all the books, articles, talk shows, blogs, etc. on why urgent action is needed there are books, articles, talk shows and blogs by deniers claiming that global warming is a hoax or is based on bad science or some other nonsense.
The government has a website on climate change where the scientific facts are readily available. The days of George W. Bush trying to hide the scientific facts are behind us. But that really hasn’t changed anything. The fossil fuel industry still seems to call the shots. The House did pass a climate bill but it was woefully weak and at best could have been viewed as a first step forward, coming nowhere close to what the climate scientists say is needed. So far, the Senate has been unable to even get a climate bill to the floor for a vote and apparently it will not happen at all this year.
So as we watch the volume of ice in the Arctic get smaller each summer, and the melting of ice on Greenland accelerate, and record high temperatures outnumber record lows by a two to one margin, and global temperature trends upward, and the oceans acidify, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere steadily increase from one year to the next, and climate computer models spin out disastrous predictions which are almost hard to believe there is still no big speech by Obama, no major push to try to break the political stalemate that is preventing needed action to stop a threat that many say could ultimately result in the demise of modern civilization.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Opposition to California Geoengineering Conference Is Growing

The Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies will be held from March 22-26 2010. This conference is being organized by the US-based Climate Response Fund and its Scientific Organizing Committee. While some scientists may think this conference is a good idea there are people who do not and an open letter opposing the conference has been posted by the ETC Group for opponents of the conference to sign. The first paragraph of the letter states “As civil society organizations and social movements working to find constructive solutions to climate change, we want to express our deep concerns with the upcoming privately organized meeting on geoengineering in Asilomar, California. Its stated aim, which is to «develop a set of voluntary guidelines, or best practices, for the least harmful and lowest risk conduct of research and testing of proposed climate intervention and geoengineering technologies,» is moving us down the wrong road too soon and without any speed limit.” The open letter ends by saying “It is vital that the international debate about geoengineering not be left in the hands of those with a self-interest in its facilitation, pursuit, and profit. It concerns us all and must be brought out into the open where all can participate. That will not happen in Asilomar.”

One of the problems with geoengineering seems to be that no one is sure how to go about it. It looks like there will be many battles ahead as efforts to move geoengineering forward take place.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Effect of Soils on Global Warming Greatly Underestimated Say Finnish Researchers

Climate models may have to be revised to account for greater release of carbon dioxide by soils as the temperature increases. According to an article from AFP, Finnish researchers using radiocarbon measurements found that slowly decomposing compounds in soil are more sensitive to increasing temperature than more rapidly decomposing compounds. The scientists, who published their study in the journal Ecology, noted that if global temperatures increase by 5C above preindustial levels soils would release 50% more carbon dioxide than predicted from the usual methods that are used, which rely on short-term measurements.

The Finnish Environment Institute released a statement saying “The climatic warming will increase the carbon dioxide emissions from soil more than previously estimated. This is a mechanism that will significantly accelerate the climate change. Already now the carbon dioxide emissions from soil are ten times higher than the emissions of fossil carbon. A Finnish research group has proved that the present standard measurements underestimate the effect of climate warming on emissions from the soil. The error is serious enough to require revisions in climate change estimates. In all climate models, the estimates of emissions from soil are based on measurements made using this erroneous method. Climate models must be revised so that the largest carbon storage of the land ecosystems will be estimated correctly.”

If this research is confirmed we may be reaching catastrophic climate change even soon than thought. Revision of climate models based on this research could produce even more alarming results than they have already.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Research Ship Data Indicates Arctic Could Be Ice-Free by 2013

Once again changes are happening faster than climate models have predicted. This time it is the rate that ice is disappearing in the Arctic. According to an article in The Vancouver Sun scientists from Canada who studied the Arctic ice from a research ship last winter found much more melting than expected. In fact the melting was so profound that is was the first time a research ship was able to remain in open water during the winter. The leader of the research team, Professor David Barber from the University of Manitoba, said that the melting was occurring “much faster than our most pessimistic models suggested” and estimated that the Arctic would be ice-free during the summer between 2013 and 2030 (the article incorrectly says winter). Although the rate of melting surpasses the models Barber refers to other scientists have predicted the Arctic being ice-free by 2013 before. A BBC article from 2007 describes this prediction by Professor Wieslaw Maslowski from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California.

The findings by the Canadian scientists appear to confirm the possibility that sooner rather than later instead of ice reflecting sunlight in the Arctic during the summer months the darker ocean will be absorbing the sunlight, thereby creating more warming which in turn could speed up the thawing of Arctic tundra which could release the greenhouse gas methane which would produce more warming and so on. It seems hard to believe but according to the latest scientific research in only a little more than 1,000 days we may reach this ominous situation.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Will CO2 Catchers Start Catching On?

With hopes of avoiding catastrophic climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions rapidly fading it is getting time to look at what to do as a last resort. If there is any feasible last resort it may be employing millions of CO2 catchers to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and then probably store it underground. One major obstacle is that successful working models of these devices do not yet exist. The big problem is that while capturing CO2 is not difficult it tends to take a lot of energy to release it once it has been captured, which basically makes such a device impractical. However, there are reports that this major hurdle may be close to being solved. A Columbia University research team led by Klaus Lackner has been working with a synthetic resin which according to Lackner in an article posted on Spiegel Online International “attracts CO2 strongly when dry, but releases it again easily when wet.” and “the process produces only about a fifth as much CO2 as the device collects.” He estimates that to offset between 10 and 15 percent of annual emissions would require 10 million CO2 catchers. A blog on Grist reports that researchers in the Netherlands have developed a copper-based catalyst that can capture CO2 and then release it in a different form using relatively little energy. News of this discovery was reported in the January 15th issue of the journal Science. So if a landscape filled with wind turbines and solar panels isn’t enough to save us from global warming perhaps adding millions of CO2 catchers will do the trick.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Don’t Blame Me Says IPCC Head Pajendra Pachauri

Apparently, Dr. Pajendra Pachauri, chief of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, doesn’t believe that when mistakes are made by the organization he heads that the buck stop with him. In an interview with The Guardian Pachauri refused to accept any blame for the erroneous claim in the IPCC’s 2007 report that the Himalayan glaciers could be completed melted by 2035. Pachauri says “You can’t expect me to be personally responsible for every word in a 3,000 page report.” Clearly, Pachauri is no Harry Truman. It is not very comforting that the head of the IPCC won’t accept any responsibility for an important error. With the climate skeptics trying to take full advantage of any mistake that comes to light it would be desirable to have the IPCC led by someone who can accept blame for what happens on their watch. Instead there is Pachauri.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Copenhagen Accord Pledges Add Up to Climate Catastrophe

If anyone believed that the leading global warming polluters would have an epiphany and pledge greenhouse gas emissions reductions that would save us from climate catastrophe they must be sorely disappointed. Fifty-five countries met the deadline of January 31 to pledge for the hastily drawn up Copenhagen Accord and did exactly what they said they would do, which is nowhere near enough to avoid having the global temperature soar beyond the ominous 2C mark above preindustrial levels. An Associated Press article reports that the US stuck to its miserly pledge of 17% reduction below 2005 levels by 2020 and the biggest global warming polluter of all, China, will not pledge to reduce emissions but only to reduce emissions growth. Of course, these pledges are not legally binding so not only are they insufficient but may never be adhered to. So it looks like just about everyone is resigned to go over the climate cliff together. What does that say about human intelligence? Somehow it doesn’t translate into sane actions on a national level. It looks like mass stupidity has triumphed after all. Who would have guessed that millions of years of evolution would lead to that?