Climate-induced drought. Deadly heat waves. Overfishing. 400,000 annual premature deaths from coal-soot in China (US figure is 30-50,000). Whipsawing oil prices and war in the Middle East. Dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. Industrial monocultures using vast quantities of petroleum fertilizer. Industrial meat production separated from farming, wasting a huge supply of ideal natural manure fertilizer and creating a mammoth waste-disposal problem. Continent-sized floating masses of plastic detritus in the Pacific. Economic debacle at the big-three US automakers, caused by over-reliance on profits from huge and inefficient vehicles. Ocean acidification (carbonic acid formed from atmospheric C02) leading to dissolution of coral reefs. Massive bee die-off from pesticides. Shrinking of glaciers which provide drinking water for 2 billion people. Toxic ash spills at coal plants. All this petro-carnage is made still worse by explosive population growth among the poorest nations, where a billion people live on about a dollar a day and also often lack access to sufficient clean water.
Are we fed up with this shit yet? Can we not evolve past our pyromania–our need to put fire to every combustible material we can possibly manage to dig out of the Earth? Can we not imagine a better way?
What do all these shameful conditions have in common? They are the result of a broken global politico-economic system that has taken the easy way out far too long. They are symptoms of old, tired ways of being. They represent large multinational businesses and the wealthiest countries pursuing deliberate policies to internalize short-term gains to themselves and externalizing their long-term costs and losses onto the rest of the world. And they are unsustainable. What that means in plain English is that we are about to hit the proverbial wall–in every one of these areas. Right now, people are distracted by the financial crisis from a much, much bigger problem. We have been depleting natural capital at an alarming and completely unsustainable rate. Since about 1980, the world has been in environmental deficit, and the problem is getting worse by the day.
The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gas emissions is now.
The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a critical greenhouse gas, is higher than it has been for at least 650,000 years. The average temperature of the Earth is heading for levels not experienced for millions of years. Scientific predictions of the impacts of increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and deforestation match observed changes. As expected, intensification of droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfires, and severe storms is occurring, with a mounting toll on vulnerable ecosystems and societies. These events are early warning signs of even more devastating damage to come, some of which will be irreversible.
Delaying action to address climate change will increase the environmental and societal consequences as well as the costs. The longer we wait to tackle climate change, the harder and more expensive the task will be.
The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gas emissions is now.—Statement 09 December, 2006 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science [.pdf]
Since its inception, it has been the mission of BSJ to speak with a strong voice for sustainability. It’s part of the two-pronged approach to apply rational thought, empirical methods and a systems perspective to both pragmatic and philosophical matters. I used to think that the biggest enemies of this process were religious fundamentalists. But that’s far from the case. Fundies are bad enough alright. But the right wing, Republican and often religious climate deniers are far worse. I have never encountered a more sorry-assed, ignorant, intransigent bunch of intellectually dishonest blowhards.
Yes I’m name calling. In spades. We are talking about people trying to block the all-important risk-management and safeguarding of the future of human civilization, which is the most important project in the history of that civilization. The deniers are flailing and caterwauling about a few restrictions and changes that will actually benefit the world and lead to better lifestyles. It makes me–in a word–furious. I talked a little bit about this in my article Red Lenses, in which I gave the arm-draggers my middle finger. Well it’s still sticking out, right in their faces–because that’s what they are doing to all of humanity when they oppose sustainability. It seems they’d rather have a million people they will never know die of starvation or crop failure in some hellish place on the other side of the globe than possibly, say, change their driving habits, electricity consumption, or buy different kinds of products than the ones they’re used to.
But it’s not just about some poor people on the other side of the world anymore. The latest reports document that we could be very close to climate tipping points, after which runaway climate change would be unstoppable. Albedo flip is one problem, where white reflective ice is replaced by dark absorptive water. But the biggest risk is the permafrost and methane clathrate release scenario. CO2 induced warming could thaw permafrost and methane ice under the seabed. Methane is over 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. So once that process started, it would conceivably continue until all the methane was released. At times in the past when methane concentrations have spiked, the Earth has experienced mass extinctions. (Permian-Triassic extinction event, and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum.) I don’t have to elaborate as to what that would mean for humanity. In 2008, methane was observed bubbling up from the floor of the Arctic Ocean. Concentrations at the ocean surface were 100 times normal levels. We paid for the scientific research to be done, the planet’s ecological alarm system is screaming at us, and many of us are still not listening.
Here’s a lighter humorous 10-minute video on this issue which still makes the identical point: We must act now to manage risk.
“Out of sight, out of mind” and short-term vs. long-term thinking are the root causes of the unsustainable methods that are the core causes of climate change. We’ve run up nature’s charge card practically to its limit. The nearly seven billion people on Earth would need two planets if they wanted to live sustainably with current methods. If everyone lived like Americans, we’d need roughly five planets. Something’s got to give, we’ve got to get back to one-planet living. It’s not nice to fool with “Mother Nature” as they say, and she won’t be amused at our folly. There won’t be a stimulus package big enough to get us out of this problem and there aren’t any more Earths in the galactic neighborhood. [Note: I don’t think there’s actually a personality called ‘Mother Nature.’ It’s just a metaphor.]
So what do we need to do? First, stop the pyromania. Stop lighting things on fire to power our society. It’s Neanderthal. We’re sitting on the solid crust of a molten ball of metal with infinitely more heat than we could ever use. We then ignore the molten mass and extract as much burnable residue from millions of years of plant growth as we can out of that thin crust. We fight each other for access, consuming half of the fossil fuels in existence and doubling the concentration of C02 in the atmosphere in just two centuries. How stupid could we possibly be?
CO2 is nature’s thermostat, and we just turned the heat up to maximum, because we can’t seem to stop our obsession with fire at every level of our society. We’re being scammed, victimized and bamboozled by a powerful handful of carbon-hawking syndicates who are getting very, very rich at humanity’s expense. Even with falling oil prices at the end of the year, Exxon-Mobil still posted record profits in 2008. However, even the mighty Exxon is a dying breed. Most oil companies are now nationalized and There Will Be Blood is being played out between governments on a global scale.
Fossil fuels are the very worst way possible to power our lives. Using exactly the same drilling technology we use to extract oil, we can mine heat from the earth to produce limitless electricity. Google noted “A recent MIT report on EGS estimates that just 2% of the heat below the continental United States between 3 and 10 kilometers, depths within the range of current drilling technology, is more than 2,500 times the country’s total annual energy use.” That leaves aside wind, solar and tidal power, any of which could with proper deployment, replace every existing source of combustion energy.
But we don’t have to replace all of it. We can cut that number way down by stopping the waste. Tens of millions of homes in the US burn natural gas or heating oil to stay warm, and voraciously consume coal electricity to stay cool in the summer. But the answer to that problem is again, right beneath our feet. Just 10 feet down, the soil stays 55 degrees Fahrenheit year round. A simple coolant loop buried in the earth coupled with a high-efficiency heat-pump would eliminate two-thirds of the average home’s heating and cooling bill. We can mandate still higher efficiency for all home and commercial heating and cooling systems. We can replace incandescent lights, not with compact fluorescents, but with cool solid-state LED lighting which will be cost-effective within the next 3-5 years, and is more than 10 times as energy efficient as incandescents. This is just for starters.
The Rocky Mountain Institute in Old Snowmass, Colorado has been a tireless advocate for sustainability. And they practice what they preach. They maintain a headquarters building [expired link replaced with updated article] which has been using nearly zero energy since 1984 and stays warm enough in winter to grow tropical plants. Clearly we have the technology readily available to build zero-energy homes and businesses. Somehow–tragically–people just seem to love ignition. They want to keep burning fuel and paying high electric bills for no good reason.
Change is coming.
Cars are being re-electrified by nearly a dozen major manufacturers. Jets are one of the few applications where it seems liquid fuel cannot be easily replaced. Algal fuel can pull CO2 out of the atmosphere during its production, which makes the eventual burning of that fuel carbon-neutral.
All these things can and will be done. Our new president has promised to make them a high priority. But there are a lot of people on the right who will not “go gently into the good night” so to speak. As the calls for action build, and policies begin to shift, they engage in ever more hyperbole, attempts to distort the science, cast aspersions on the motives of the messengers, or–when they utterly lose the argument–simply resort to smears and ridicule.
Al Gore has launched the We campaign also known as RepoWEr America, with a goal of replacing all carbon energy with renewables in 10 years. That’s a tall order, even with a Democrat in the White House. But I applaud him for it. What does he get for his audacious vision? Mockery and slander.
Yes it’s wintertime, boyz, and that means let’s focus on the fact that it’s cold outside. Never mind that weather and climate are two distinctly different things, and that there’s actually another hemisphere where last time I checked it was summer! Lo and behold, Australia is in the midst of its worst heat-wave in a century. But let’s be real clever and build an ice sculpture of Al Gore in Alaska. That’ll teach him.
I also received an unfortunate email with the subject line “Gore’s Global Warming Just Another Madoff Con.” Which touched off an email ‘debate,’ which was more like a dialog of the deaf, culminating in still more intransigence and denial from the clueless “conservative.” A sample:
I am merely saying that the scientists, bankers, former Vice-presidents and current administrations members should and must always be suspect especially when they start saying we need more of you money to stave off this impending doom. Blind faith in authority figures and the purity of their motivations? An interesting stance for a purported atheist. What the hell man? I know that Barack Obama is some magical messianic figure for most people but what the hell happened to not trusting the goddamn Harvard lawyer? And for the record I feel that it is sneaky and underhanded to make poor people pay for their carbon footprint when they never had the means to reduce it, when the overriding principle of our government since I was born has always made and kept us dependent on fossil fuels. I personally feel that Government is there to do for people only what they cannot do for themselves, not punish them for using the technology that was available. Global climate change isn’t a scheme concocted by the administration and I doubt my father or any other rational human being believes that. But taxing people because of it? That’s like forcing a man to live in shit his whole damn life and then taxing him for the smell. Frankly with someone for a reputation for cynicism you certainly put a lot of faith in these guys.
What is the point of having universities, training scientists, launching spacecraft, spending billions of dollars studying the planet if we then ignore the data?
This is not dogma, or a viewpoint, or faith. This is fact. It is not a matter of debate. The debate has already happened. Not only is the matter settled, but a lot of the scientific caution that’s been used has turned out to actually have resulted in the IPCC report underestimating the severity of the problem. Like evolution and gravity, anthropogenic CO2 based climate change is established with as much certainty as any science has ever been. It’s somewhere around the 99% mark of climate scientists who agree.
You’re all over the place with your arguments. It has nothing to do with atheism or authority. It has to do with respecting the scientific method, which has been used by thousands of scientists all over the world with many different backgrounds. They have used everything from ice-cores to satellites, to computer models to study this problem and study it in more depth than nearly any other scientific question in history.
I agree about the policy of the government having been supporting cheap fossil fuels. Does that mean we now turn around and essentially commit suicide because we made a mistake? No, we change our behavior and solve the problem. Rich and poor has nothing to do with it. Taxing carbon or using a cap-and-trade system should be revenue neutral. Do you know what that means? Because I already said it in an earlier email, and you’re still talking about poor people. What it means it that carbon is taxed and everyone gets that money back as a tax rebate. But what it does is penalize people who still use high-carbon sources of energy. It favors people who use no carbon. They just get a check and pay no tax.
All this discussion is ultimately moot. The current administration has pledged to act, and even banks, insurance companies and yes–energy companies–in the form of the US Climate Action Partnership are preparing their business plans for a carbon-regulated future. Recently, two coal plants were denied construction permits. Carbon as an energy source is going down in flames. It’s on the wrong side of history.
But there’s still trillions of dollars at stake, and we can expect the stakeholders to use every trick in their playbook: Deny, when that doesn’t work, delay. When that doesn’t work any more, pretend to cooperate, engage in greenwashing then lobby for toothless regulations. If that doesn’t work, plead economic hardship and try to vote the Neanderthals back into office. We’re due for all this and more as science finally becomes public policy. It’s only just beginning. Let’s hope that the climate is more resilient than it seems, and that the biosphere can outlast our childish and foolish game of Russian Roulette.
[NOTE: If you’re a climate-change denier or carbon-apologist, don’t even think about commenting on this story. I’ve put up with your obfuscating, lying, despicable non-arguments for far too long on this site. In four words: You’ve had your day. You’re not debating, you’re blustering. You’re in good company with the 9/11 truthers, flat-earthers, and faked-moon-landing conspiracy theorists. You will be banned. If you can’t imagine a better world without the need to light carbon on fire, you’re obviously a certifiable pyromaniac. You shouldn’t be allowed near matches, petroleum products, debate forums, or even paper. You’re a clear and present danger to yourself and others.]