Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies

Can't believe a word you say
      -The Knickerbockers

She was practiced in the art of deception
      -The Rolling Stones


         In a way, I don't mind if Exxon or the Koch brothers lie to me.  I guess I expect that.  After all, they are "the enemy".  ( Unless DD is right that there is no "them" only "us").  But it kind of bugs me when I see ...ahem ...exaggerations coming from the "good guys" - the "non deniers".
        Like when the IPCC says we can avoid 2 degrees, but declines to mention that it means "we can get to 2 degrees, if someone invents a magical technology to suck up carbon."  Or Oregon passes a "historic". climate bill eliminating coal power by 2030., when the only coal plant in the state had already been slated for retirement by 2020.  
       Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?.  CO2 emmisions went flat in 2014!  Wow!    But wait a minute,  that's not exactly true. In fact,   CO2 emissions hit a new record in 2014!     (It is true that the rate of growth slowed  though) .    How about  CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere?  Did they "flatten"?   Well no .. in 2014, they rose by 2.17 ppm and in 2015 they jumped up by a record 3.05 ppm      
        Let's go back and look at the IEA press release again.   Lets' get behind the headline.  Here's what they say: "Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) – the largest source of man-made greenhouse gas emissions – stayed flat for the second year...."   OK, and the "energy related" emissions amount to about 30% of total emissions.   
      It doesn't cover emissions from other sources such as methane from livestock ,    or agriculture, where the news is not quite as good.  See this study .  
"When observations and models only take into consideration how much carbon dioxide plants and other biological activity pull out of the atmosphere the results can look promising – with the land actually absorbing the equivalent of about 25 percent of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions and partially slowing down climate change.
“But we found that when you include the other two main greenhouse gases – methane and nitrous oxide – this completely changes the role of the land in that instead of having a cooling effect on the climate, it has a net warming effect,” said Benjamin Poulter, an assistant professor with a dual appointment in MSU’s Department of Ecology in the College of Letters and Science and the Montana Institute on Ecosystems.
        I suppose you could interpret these "good news" pronouncements is two possible ways.  The most generous would be to say that these folks know that people are getting discouraged, so they want to throw them a bone.  "Hey troops!, things are getting better!"   Were winning! "   Its probably a good idea to cheer people up, if you can.  After all February 2016 crossed the critical threshold, by averaging 15 degrees above pre industrial.     And on land the average was more than 2 c
         On the other hand, perhaps its an indication of panic.  Panic might be an appropriate reaction to James Hanson's latest study..   see e.g. Scientists Warn of Perilous Climate Shift Within Decades, Not Centuries
"The paper by Dr. Hansen and 18 co-authors dwells on the last time the Earth warmed naturally, about 120,000 years ago, when the temperature reached a level estimated to have been only slightly higher than today. Much of the polar ice disintegrated then, and scientists have established that the sea level rose 20 to 30 feet.
Climate scientists agree that humanity is about to cause an equal or greater rise in sea level, but they have tended to assume that such a large increase would take centuries, at least. The new paper argues that it could happen far more rapidly, with the worst case being several feet of sea-level rise over the next 50 years, followed by increases so precipitous that they would force humanity to beat a hasty retreat from the coasts.
“That would mean loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history,” Dr. Hansen said in a video statement that accompanied the new paper.
 For an interesting perspective on panic, see Ugo Bardi's recent post :  The climate emergency: time to switch to panic mode?

"The problem is that societies; specifically in the form called "states" do not normally show much intelligence in their behavior, especially when they are in a state of panic. One of the reasons is that states are normally ruled by psychopaths whose attitude is based on a set of simple rules, mainly involving intimidation or violence, or both. But it is not just a question of psychopaths in power; the whole society reacts to threats like a psychopath: with the emphasis on doing "something", without much concern about whether it is the right thing to do and what would the consequences could be. So, if climate starts to be perceived as a real and immediate threat, we may expect a reaction endowed with all the strategic finesse of a street brawl: "you hit me - I hit you."

A possible, counterintuitive, panic reaction might be of "doubling down" in the denial of the threat. That could lead to actions such as actively suppressing the diffusion of data and studies about climate; de-funding climate research, closing down climate research centers, marginalizing those who believe that climate is a problem; for instance classifying them among "terrorists." All that is already happening in some degree and it may well become the next craze, in particular if the coming US elections will handle the presidency to an active climate denier. That would mean hard times for at least a few years for everyone who is trying to do something against climate change. And, perhaps, it would mean the total ruin of the Earth's ecosystem.

The other possibility is to switch all the way to the other extreme and fight climate change with the same methods used to fight terrorism; that is, bombing it into submission. Of course, you cannot bomb the earth's climate into submission, but the idea of forcing the ecosystem to behave the way we want is the basic concept of "geoengineering".

In the world of environmentalism, geoengineering enjoys more or less the same reputation that Saddam Hussein enjoyed in the Western press in the 1990s. That's for good reasons: geoengineering is often a set of ideas that go from the dangerous to the impossible, all ringing of desperation. For a good idea of how exactly desperate these ideas can be, just take a look at the results of a recent study on the idea of pumping huge amounts of seawater on top of the Antarctic ice sheet in order to prevent sea level rise. If it were a science fiction novel, you'd say it is too silly to be worth reading.

However, it may be appropriate to start familiarizing with the idea that geoengineering might be the next world craze. And, perhaps, it is better to take the risk of doing something that could go wrong than to do nothing, considering that we have been doing nothing so far. Don't forget that there are also good forms of geoengineering, for instance the form called "biosphere regeneration." It is based on reforestation, fighting desertification, regenerative agriculture and the like. Removing some CO2 from the atmosphere by transforming it into plants can't do too much damage, although it cannot be enough to solve the problem. But it may stimulate also other fields of action against climate change; from adaptation to switching to renewable energy. Maybe there is still hope..... maybe.

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