Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Taking it to the streets

And it's one, two , three
Hey, what are we fighting for ?

       - Country Joe and the fish



      Happy Earth Day,  (A little late).   And have a happy March for the Climate.

      Before we decide what it is we are fighting for, let's take a look at where we are.  What's new?  Well, CO 2 has set a new record - 410 ppm.  Not exactly a good sign.   In fact, CO2 levels are not merely rising,   but accelerating .    

See chart

Inline image 1

 But how can this be?  Supposedly, CO2 emmissions have flattened.  We are constantly hearing that the solar and wind revolution is already here.  Tesla is building huge battery factories.  Surely this means things are getting better. .

      Here is a very interesting article that explores this mystery.  

    I recommend you read the whole thing, but here is a snip.

       " Recently the climate press has been buzzing about a hopeful CO2 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA estimates that fossil fuel CO2 didn't increase in either 2015 or 2016. Even better, they point out, this is the first time that has happened while the global economy expanded. I was curious how to reconcile this plateau in fossil fuel CO2 with the continued acceleration of atmospheric CO2. Here's what I found:
    1. Fossil fuel CO2 might be increasing. The IEA numbers might be wrong. They rely on nations to accurately report their fossil fuel use. Not all of them do, especially when it comes to burning their own coal supplies. In fact, the lack of a system to accurately verify national CO2 claims was a key issue in the Paris Climate Accord discussions. The worry is that as nations face increasing pressure and scrutiny around their CO2, the incentives to cook the books will increase. Incorrect accounting of just one percent globally could switch the storyline from "hopeful plateau" to "continuing acceleration". The IEA devotes two chapters of their "CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion" report to the various issues impacting data accuracy.
    2. Humans might be increasing CO2 emissions from other sectors. Roughly a quarter of the CO2 released by humans comes from non-energy sources not covered in the EIA numbers. These include land use changes, agriculture, deforestation, fugitive emissions, industrial processes, solvents and waste. We could be increasing CO2 from these.
    3. Climate change might be increasing CO2 emissions. Increases in wildfires, droughts, melting permafrost — as well as changes to plankton and oceans — can all cause sustained increases in CO2 emissions. And climate change is affecting all of these. Perhaps some of these changes are underway.
    4. The oceans and biosphere might be absorbing less of our CO2. Much of the CO2 humans release gets taken up by the oceans (ocean acidification) and the biosphere (increased plant growth). Some climate models predict these "CO2 sinks" will lose their ability to keep up. If that is starting to happen, then dumping the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere will result in increasing amounts staying there.

           We continue to accelerate towards a nasty climate future.  This is  not only the end of the Holicene ( the relatively benign climate we've had for 12,0000 years - enabling us to create agriculture, and civilization )  but the end of the Anthropocene ( the period when humans - briefly took control of the climate- until human activity was swamped by positive feedbacks).   I'm not sure if we have a name for the next era  "Out - of -control -ocene"?

    See this thought provoking article.  "Exiting the anthropocene" .  

    The author provides a nice distinction between the reactions of most people :  Hard Denial. - i.e.  it's not really happening so I don't need to change my lifestyle,  and Soft Denial. - it's happening, but  slowly and I've got plenty of time to impliment technical solutions, so I don't need to change my lifestyle.  He says:

'It is as if the crew of the Titanic was split between those that thought that it would take days to sink, and those that believed that it would never sink. No need to panic, better to relax with a nice cup of tea.

      Can't we somehow blame this on Trump?  Well he's not making it better,  but despite the nice rhetoric thd Obama program (" all of the above")  didn't make things much better.

       So, why are we stuck?

       One interesting way to look at it, is from an "oligarch perspective".   Its no secret that for many years, US politics has been heavily influenced by the those folks who have a lot of money.  You can call them the 1%, the Davos crowd, or simply the oligarchs.   They set up think tanks to draft position papers and fund  super pacs to fund campaigns.  No politician can afford to ignore them.  Neither hard nor soft denier oligarchs want anything that would disrupt economic growth.  

So, regardless of the impact to climate on the long or short term, this is what we get.  For an interesting exploration of the American system promotes the inters of the elites in many areas  See this New Yorker article  , "Is America An Oligarchy?"  or see the underlying study from Princeton.

   This "go slow" , soft denier,  approach is the dominant framework for dealing with climate change around the world.  See here

"Thus the market-driven, eco-modernist approach that is dominant in most major nations; the approach taken by the Obama presidency. A major requirement for this approach is that the official policy bodies, such as the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC), play along. They must support a position that a very rapid reduction in emissions, such as the 8-10% per year proposed by Kevin Andersen[4] [5], is not required. They must assume that we can even overshoot the carbon budget, and then suck the CO2 out of the air later with “negative emission technology”. Another assumption is that of no major positive climate feedbacks that will kick-in during the next few decades while we overshoot the carbon budget. There must also be an underlying belief in the ability of the market and technology to solve our problems. These assumptions are embedded in the official Integrated Assessment Models used to derive government policies, that assume no feedbacks, continued growth, rosy assumptions of market-driven renewables growth and efficiency gains, and a massive build-out of negative emissions technologies. The later real action is delayed, the more fantastical the models seem to become. As Andersen has noted, quite a few climate scenarios even assume that emission reductions started a number of years in the past[6]."

      Of course , this is to be expected.  As Paul Kingsnorth has pointed out  "saving the planet"  really means " saving the current form of civilization , and our lifestyle"

"Today’s environmentalism is as much a victim of the contemporary cult of utility as every other aspect of our lives, from science to education. We are not environmentalists now because we have an emotional reaction to the wild world. Most of us wouldn’t even know where to find it. We are environmentalists now in order to promote something called “sustainability.” What does this curious, plastic word mean? It does not mean defending the nonhuman world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens sapiens, though some of its adherents like to pretend it does, even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people — us — feel is their right, without destroying the “natural capital” or the “resource base” that is needed to do so."

     And, it is quite understandable when looked at from a psychological perspective, as this article: Your brain on Climate Change -why the threat produces apathy not action".

"Our brain is essentially a get-out-of-the-way machine,” Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard best known for his research into happiness, told audiences at Harvard Thinks Big 2010. “That’s why we can duck a baseball in milliseconds.”
While we have come to dominate the planet because of such traits, he said, threats that develop over decades rather than seconds circumvent the brain’s alarm system. “Many environmentalists say climate change is happening too fast. No, it’s happening too slowly. It’s not happening nearly quickly enough to get our attention.”
Humans are saddled with other shortcomings, too. “Loss aversion” means we’re more afraid of losing what we want in the short-term than surmounting obstacles in the distance. Our built-in “optimism bias” irrationally projects sunny days ahead in spite of evidence to the contrary. To compound all that, we tend to seek out information not for the sake of gaining knowledge for its own sake, but to support our already-established viewpoints.
     I don't want to be too negative here.    This go slow approach could accomplish something.  Of course it won't keep the temperature below 1.5 or 2 degrees, as agreed in Paris.  But perhaps it can avoid 4  or 6 degrees.    What actually would achieve 2 degrees ?  Well here is what it might actually  take according to group of European researchers.  See here.

A simple (but daunting!) road map for staying below 2°C
They start with the big picture: To hit the Paris climate goals without geoengineering, the world has to do three broad (and incredibly ambitious) things:
1) Global CO2 emissions from energy and industry have to fall in half each decade. That is, in the 2020s, the world cuts emissions in half. Then we do it again in the 2030s. Then we do it again in the 2040s. They dub this a “carbon law.” Lead author Johan Rockström told me they were thinking of an analogy to Moore’s law for transistors; we’ll see why.
2) Net emissions from land use — i.e., from agriculture and deforestation — have to fall steadily to zero by 2050. This would need to happen even as the world population grows and we’re feeding ever more people.
3) Technologies to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere have to start scaling up massively, until we’re artificially pulling 5 gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere by 2050 — nearly double what all the world’s trees and soils already do.

     This program would not meet the desires of the soft deniers, because it is very unlikely that such cuts could be made without a major effect on economic growth.  So, we are between rock and a hard place. Maybe the best we can hope for is the market based eco modernism  approach.  You might call it "business as usual " light.  We leave a little in the ground.  Maybe we leave the really uneconomic stuff - the tar sands and the oil shale.  We do build out a bunch of renewable capacity,  but we also probably leave the Anthropocene.

     That's when the positive feedbacks  take over.  We are already seeing some of them.  The biggest is the blueing of the Arctic.  There is more and more open water, which is absorbing heat.  Right now it is estimated that the amount of heat being absorbed by the Arctic is equivalent to 25% of the heat that humans are causing with CO2.    Once the ice fully melts that could be 50%  see this study.  See also Dr Peter Wadhams.  

      Other feedbacks are being triggered.  The permafrost is melting releasing CO2 and methane.   see here Permafrost melting 20% faster than thought.  No one has a good handle on the quantities involved.  Large ares of boreal  forest  and the Amazonian forest are become carbon emitters rather than carbon sinks.

         ( BTW:  Did you know there is a site called faster than expected?)

      So, the temperature will rise , the normal weather patterns will he disrupted .   This will eventually have a significant effect on agriculture .

    If you watch one climate video this year, I suggest you watch this one.   Its a speech by Dr. David  Battisti, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington,whose special is climate impacts to food security..   He discusses the sensitivity of the various staple crops - rice, wheat and maize - and how they are likely to handle the changes in temperature and rainfall.  (Skip to minutes 35, if you are impatient).  Using very conservative assumptions about temperature and rainfall, he suggest that by 2100 the crops productivity will drop by 30-40% , and much more in the tropics

Of course,this is already happening in some locales. See here

"Somalia, site of the world’s deadliest weather-related disaster of the past 34 years--the 2010 - 2011 drought and famine, which killed 258,000 people—is under dire threat again, thanks to a multi-year drought that has gripped Eastern Africa since the second half of 2015. After the rains of the main March - June rainy season were deficient in 2016, the important “short” rains of October - November 2016 essentially failed, causing crop failures and severe food shortages. Insurance broker Aon Benfield estimated damages from the drought of $1.9 billion, with $825 million of that total for Somalia, based on the U.N. appeal for that amount of money in aid for the region. During March, at least 136 people died of hunger in Somalia due to the drought, according to the International Business Times, and hundreds more have died in a cholera outbreak this year.

Of course, we tend to ignore what goes on it the temperate zones, especially Africa.  What about the"first world" ?    Here's one possible answer, from here

"Battisti convincingly demonstrates that heat stress dramatically and reliably reduces crop yield—by about ten percent per degree Celsius warming. But when we include impacts from increased weather volatility, changes in rainfall patterns, droughts and decreased water supplies, violent storms, increased pest pressure, and increased disease transmission rates—plus loss of land due to soil erosion, salinization, and sea level rise—we can readily see that a 30 – 40 percent reduction in food production is a wildly optimistic best case scenario.
Given all this, we can now say it’s quite possible that we’ll see something like a 50 – 60 percent reduction in global food production capacity within the next two or three decades. Meanwhile, the UN also projects that because of population pressure there will be a simultaneous increase in demand for food by 14 percent per decade going forward."

What to do?

Probably what people do in response to this predicament will depend on their personality and temperament.  Some of us will blog.   😄 Some of us, despite the apparent grip of the oligarchs, will protest.    Those who believe in divine intervention will pray.  

Others may plant trees.     Some may try to prepare for Dr Batisti's new world by gardening   and promoting a local food movement.   Or try to preserve local bits of the natural environment.   One might focus on the climate refugees, I Like those fleeing the war in Syria, which may be the first of the Climate Wars.     

Here is one interesting option.  Learn to live more simply .Here is an interesting movie,  “A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity” about some folks who tried the experiment of living much more simply,  while learning small house construction techniques.

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