Thursday, October 6, 2016

What are we fighting for?

Its one two three four
hey, what are we fighting for?
  -Country Joe and the Fish
When you believe in things
you don't understand 
then there's trouble
     - Stevie Wonder
    So, what are we fighting for?  Well if we are fighting for Donald, Hillary, or Jill, we are fighting for a continuation of our comfortable high energy lifestyle.   For how long?     Not that long, actually, see below.
      Of course we Americans  are not alone.  Here  is a nice summary from Dave Roberts  "No Country on Earth is taking the 2 degree climate target seriously..   He explains it a lot better than I can.  Even though many countries signed the Paris accord, saying that they would shoot for 1.5, no one is doing what is needed i.e.  Reducing CO2 emissions very rapidly.
       And the reason is pretty straightforward:
>> "...avoiding dangerous climate change will require an immediate and precipitous decline in global carbon emissions over a decade or two. Given that most present-day economic activity is driven by fossil fuels, it would mean, at least temporarily, a net decline in economic activity. No one wants to discuss this, except climate scientist Kevin Anderson
       By, "no one", he means no one.  No one is calling for degrowth. - Not Bill McKibben and  (Corrections welcome!)   Not James Hansen,  who supports nuclear power.  See his new paper here  ( which I haven't had time to read.  )
   Here's  Anderson presentation, where he explains that in order to meet 2 degrees we have to be willing to accept a hit to the economy.   And perhaps even more significant expressly states that a " ‘low carbon energy supply can’t be built in time for 2°C.’"  
        Kevin Anderson is a special case - because he doesn't believe in magic.  
        And the rest of us apparently  do.  
        The magic takes two forms - the simplified one, the one that is adopted my most of us unsophisticated unwashed masses, is the "plug and play " version.  That we can build out a new industrial infrastructure, power plants, industrial machines, transportation machines, etc a) in short order and b) within the remaining carbon budget, and c) without giving up anything else!  
          The more sophisticated science types are too numerate for that form.  They know that's not possible, so they have a different dies ex machina. - the carbon  sucking device, which allows us to exceed our carbon budget "for a while", then suck it back out of the air.  
         The Anderson plan, is fairly straightforward.   We in the west - the top 10% should put economic growth on hold, and make the necessary cuts in carbon emissions.  The folks in Asia and Africa , should be given a chance to climb out of abject poverty.
           Interestingly Ugo Bardi and his colleagues,  have just published a study which attempts to model something very similar ..  They call it The Sowers way, to emphasize that we need to use our "seed corn" (carbon budget ) wisely - i.e. to build out the next energy system.- one which will be self sustaining without fossil fuels. 
This model shows that there are important limits  in finding a "solution space".  
       First,  is that there has to be an agreement by all parties.   By now, everyone knows the importance of energy.  Energy is wealth.  Energy is power.  Why would the Chinese sign on to a deal that would keep them as second class citizens of the world?   Forever.  They will need a fairer share, if they are going to participate .       
      Second, the amount of energy available after the build out has to be "enough", i.e. an amount  which would allow everyone a minimal  amount of the fruits of civilization.
       Third, the end result also has to be "feasible".   The assumed rate of build out has to be within our capability.   The build out in the model is set at a rate which is ten times the current build out rate.  This is obviously ambitious,but do-able. 
       The result is an energy system which provides a modest energy lifestyle for everyone - 2000 watts per person. 
 All of this points to the same conclusion.   We can't get where we want merely by changing our energy supply.    We will also need to change our energy demand .  Which is not to say that this transition to renewables is a bad idea.    It should be implemented as quickly as possible.      But, energy use is not the only adjustment that is needed.   Because climate change is only one part of a number of ecological limits. 
      I ran across an interesting editorial in the Guardian which deals with the problem succinctly.     The problem of growth.
"The climate movement made an enormous mistake. We focused all our attention on fossil fuels, when we should have been pointing to something much deeper: the basic logic of our economic operating system. After all, we’re only using fossil fuels in the first place to fuel the broader imperative of GDP growth.
The root problem is the fact that our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption. Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads. And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.
             So, what is the alternative to the Anderson plan?  To keep on the way we are going, to believe in one form of magic or another, and then to be surprised when it doesn't work out.
         One way to think about it is to imagine a kid born in 2020.  Let's call her "Holly",  (the last kid born in the Holocine).  Her birth year will probably coincide with the earth hitting 1.5 degrees above pre industrial. see here    In 2036, when she is 16, chances are we will hit 2 degrees, according to Michael Mann..  Can 3 degrees be far behind?  It depends on climate sensitivity, and feedbacks.  Looking at Michael Mann's graph, she could see 3 degrees as early as her 20th birthday, and in any event by her 55th..
            What will the world look like for Holly?  Mark Lynas wrote a book, 6 Degrees,  that described the effects predicted with each additional degree.  Here is a summary.  .(Perhaps this would also be a good time to review Gwynne Dyer ' s Climate Wars.  Good summary and review here )

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