Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Your money or your life

They say the best things in life are free
well you can keep them for the birds and bees
     - the Beatles

Say a prayer 
for the salt of the earth
     -The Rolling Stones


       I ran across a review by Kevin Anderson,  of Leonardo DiCaprio's film, Before the Flood.  Its worth reading.  Here.    He says that the movie does provide some good information, but that it leaves the viewer with the impression that there are easy technical solutions to climate change,  which do not require any changes to our life style.  He says:

"Certainly huge strides towards low carbon energy could be achieved now with existing energy supply and demand technologies. The research, development and deployment of promising new technologies, including Musk’s solar-battery future, could be accelerated. But Paris and carbon budgets frame an urgent problem far beyond the multi-decadal timeframe of deploying sufficient new energy technologies to displace fossil fuels. Deep and early mitigation through reduced fossil-fuel use by high emitters is key to both extending the window for this technology-transition and for leaving sufficient emission space for those in poverty to have near-term access to fossil fuel energy."

He also has some harsh words about the film's claim that a person can be "carbon neutral " by buying offsets,  saying, 

"I really doubt that the Pope, whose Encyclical makes more systems-level sense than the plethora of glossy reports dispensed by green-growth ‘think’ tanks (and who was interviewed for the film), would sanction the ongoing “buying of indulgences”. For that’s what it is. The emissions from first-class flights, grand hotel rooms and travelling film crews are changing the climate now – and will for the next ten thousand years. The deed’s been done – and no amount of conscience-salving finance can assuage the climate impact. Ok, the projects funded may have real and important value – but asking someone else to diet whilst we binge on high-carbon fun is simply fraudulent. "

      For all his good intentions, Leo doesn't want to give up his lifestyle.  None of us do.  Leo is worth $245 million.   He has the lifestyle of the rich and famous.   (But that's OK, I think he's a good actor.)  The rest of us just have the lifestyle of the rich.   After all, we are the top 10% of the world.     (Interesting fact:   The top 10%  is responsible for 90% of the CO2 .   That's us.    The folks whose  income is greater than $23 a day - $8400 per year.      ). 
      So naturally, we hope that technology and "green growth", can reduce CO2 while increasing GNP, so we can continue to enjoy that life.   Eric Lindberg, in his article,  Economic Growth A Primer , makes an effective argument that this is a comforting illusion, but that any growth of GDP is likely to continue make things worse .  He notes that 

"  As the global economy grows, species go extinct, rainforests are permanently lost, carbon emissions grow, and the world becomes hotter and hotter.  These trends are not reversing, nor is there any credible sense that they might.

Interestingly Bill Gates  (net worth  $85 B ), seems to agree with Lindberg , at least in part.    He says

"What’s amazing is how our intense energy usage is one and the same as modern civilization. That is, for all the great things that happened in terms of human lifestyle, life span, and growing food before 1800, civilization didn’t change dramatically until we started using coal in the U.K. in the 1800s 

He also doesn't think that renewables will provide the answer
"Today’s technologies are a good start, but not good enough. Some places don’t get enough regular sunlight or reliable wind to depend heavily on these sources. In any case, these and other clean-energy technologies are still too expensive to be rolled out widely in poor countries. They’re getting cheaper, but many developing countries aren’t waiting for these tools to become affordable. They’re building large numbers of coal plants and other fossil-fuel infrastructure now. That’s very unfortunate, but it’s understandable. We can’t expect them to wait decades for cleaner alternatives when their people need energy now.
So, Gates is looking for an "energy miracle".   

For an interesting exploration of the hype about fast renewable energy is taking over, and how much capacity has been built. see  How Renewable Energy Advocates are Hurting the Climate Cause 

Lindberg  is not looking for a miracle, he has a different solution, stop economic growth.

"True, economic growth does provide some short-term benefits and gains, and recessions are legitimately painful and destructive But economic growth is nevertheless the greatest threat to humanity today, and those most devoted to economic growth will, as its consistent performance begins to wane in the future, perhaps be the greatest political threat to ordinary people of the world."  

           Another certified rich guy, Warren Buffet, (net worth $76.9 billion) has famously said "Only when the tide goes out,do you discover who has been swimming naked."

           It seems that the tide is going out    NOAA reports:

"The annual growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii jumped by 3.05 parts per million during 2015, the largest year-to-year increase in 56 years of research.

           Even the super rich are feeling nervous , and hope to avoid the impacts by building  "lifeboats "-  small compounds in places like New Zealand,  complete with airfields and planes. ( one wonders how such compounds will do in a "long emergency"

        The impacts to "regular people" has begun.  Today, climate change accounts for 87 per cent of disasters worldwide. Some of the worst droughts in decades are continuing to unravel across southeastern Africa and Latin America. Cyclonic storms, floods, wildfires, and landslides are bearing on the world’s most vulnerable populations.

 Some suggest that we "brace for impact"  

"The challenge of adaptation directly exposes the climate crisis as a crisis of social justice. All disasters break open the wounds of unequal societies. Storms do not discriminate, but they do make landfall on landscapes riven by disparities of wealth, power and safety.

The labels of ‘natural disaster’ and ‘extreme weather’ can mislead us into thinking that the principal dangers we face stem from the atmosphere’s furies. But as geographer Jesse Ribot writes, ‘vulnerability does not fall from the sky.’ The wreckage of climate change is the product of collision: between environmental conditions and human realities."
         Some people can't afford swim suits. 

         For an interesting exploration of energy, climate and poverty, you may want to take a look at part of  Bill Gate's blog  Life In the Dark.     (I was quite taken by the picture of the Nigerian students, with no electricity at home, studying under street lights.)



              According to Kevin Anderson, if carbon emissions were to peak in 2020,   any hope of avoiding  a 2 degree rise would involve, " on the order of 10 percent reductions a year after 2020, leading to total decarbonization by 2035-45."

      With that in mind , lets look the "cap and trade" bill that has been introduced in the Oregon legislature.(  HB 2135 ).  It would  require carbon reductions on the following timetable .  By 2025 : 20% reduction , by 2035 : 45%, by 2050 : 75%. 

      What's the proper response to this?   Obviously it fails the "Anderson test".  Most glaring is that it never requires "decarbonization"  at all. Not by 2035-45 as Anderson suggest.  Not by 2050.   We never get to 100% reduction.  Ever.  Is it a "step in the right direction"?.    In some sense it is.  But, clearly, this bill is not shooting for 2 degrees.    But,  as they say, "politics is the art of the possible.:  What is possible, may not be what is necessary.

       One possible way to look at all this, is by analogy .   When a ship is taking on water, you attempt to pump out the excess, , but there is a point at which the pumps are overwhelmed, see  e.g The Titanic..  At that point, pumping water will not improve things.   It's not a "step in the right direction".   It wouldn't really make it "less bad", because the ship is going down.  At that point it is time to put your energy elsewhere,  handing out life jackets , and   providing an orderly evacuation .    

     Similarly,  reduction in carbon emissions will be useful, but only up to a point.  That point is when the enough tipping points have been reached, and the climate change is self sustaining.  After that reductions will have no impact. 

 Have we crossed that line?  Hopefully not

     In any event, one way or the other, we had probably better "brace for impact".

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