Showing posts with label climate change mitigation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label climate change mitigation. Show all posts

The Political System Is Behind The Times

Nearly all of President Barack Obama's measures in the United States were done without the approval or permission of a Republican-controlled Congress, where climate change denial (and unwillingness to accept fundamental geophysical truths) has become a political litmus test. 

Obama's measures include a June 2014 directive from the Environmental Protection Agency requiring significant emissions reductions from coal-fired power facilities. Former US Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson (a Republican) linked the climate catastrophe to the 2008 financial crisis: 

  • We are accumulating excesses (debt in 2008, greenhouse gas emissions that are trapping heat now). 
  • The policies of our administration are faulty (incentivizing us to borrow too much to finance homes then, and encouraging the overuse of carbon based fuels now). 
  • Our specialists (first financial experts, now climate scientists) attempt to make sense of what they observe and predict potential futures. And the enormous dangers have the potential to be disastrous (to a globalized economy then, and the global climate now). 
  • We barely averted an economic disaster at the last minute by using government intervention to save a failing banking system. 
  • Climate change, on the other hand, is a more intractable issue. We are releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which will stay there for millennia, heating up the planet. 
  • That means the choices we're making today—to stay on a nearly carbon-dependent path—are locking us into long-term repercussions we won't be able to alter, but only adjust to, at great expense. 
  • It is estimated that protecting New York City against rising oceans and storm surges would cost at least $20 billion in the short term, and much more in the long run. And that's only one of the coast's cities. 2014 (Paulson) 

The Prince of Wales, who also believed that the biggest financial collapse since the Great Depression of the 1930s would be overshadowed by ecological concerns, particularly climate change, echoed Paulson's view. 

  • “This [the financial crisis] we can solve pretty easily,” Prince Charles said as he accepted an honorary degree from the London Business School. 
  • But there is another systemic risk that, in my opinion, is far more serious in the long run: the threat of increasing and accumulating environmental collapse, with its devastating consequences not only for us as a species, but also for the countless others who shape this planet alongside us and on whom we rely for our survival. 
  • Our blind resolve to disregard the realities and go on as normal, I believe, is increasing the danger of a collapse that will be much more spectacular and difficult to recover from than anything we have seen in recent years. (2011, Prince of Wales) 
  • In 2014, Paulson collaborated on an economic study of climate change costs called Risky Business with Michael R. Bloomberg (former New York City mayor and investment company owner) and Tom Steyer (retired hedge fund manager). 
  • They support a carbon price and the phase-out of fossil-fuel subsidies. “The greatest lag is in the political system,” said Princeton University geoscientist Michael Oppenheimer. 
  • He believes that the severity of the danger has been debated for the last two decades, and that another 20 years may pass before a global diplomatic response is in place. 
  • In the meanwhile, the window of opportunity for feedbacks to take control is shrinking. “We can't afford to take a wait-and-see approach,” Oppenheimer added. “The most pressing issue is when will we commit to [limiting global warming to] 2 [degrees Celsius].” 

There isn't a whole lot of headroom left. We'd best go to work.” According to Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado in Boulder, the present pace "isn't going to accomplish it" (Kerr 2007).

You may also want read more about Global Climate Change here.

Climate Change Politics And Diplomacy Outstripped By Geophysics

Global warming is a deceptively backhanded problem in which thermal inertia produces consequences half a century or more after we cause it by burning fossil fuels. 

Our political and diplomatic discussions are triggered by outcomes. 

Political inertia, combined with thermal inertia, offers a challenge to the human species and the planet we govern: design a new energy future before sheer necessity—the hot wind in our faces—compels action. 

Global warming is hazardous because it is a stealthy, slow-moving catastrophe that requires us to recognize a fact decades in the future with a past-tense system of private, legal, and diplomatic response. 

  • Two scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California–San Diego published research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in September 2008 that showed that even if greenhouse gas emissions were completely eliminated by 2005, the world's average temperature would still rise by 2.4°C (4.3°F) by the end of the twenty-first century. 
  • The latest carbon dioxide statistics and study, according to Richard Moss, vice president and managing director for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, indicate that “we're already locked into greater heat than we thought” (Eilperin 2008; Ramanathan and Feng 2008). 
  • These estimates have been around for more than a decade. These have been wasted years in terms of global diplomatic reform. 

A second key factor that affects climate change, in addition to thermal inertia, is feedback, which includes albedo (light reflectivity).

  • In the summer, when the sun shines at the top of the globe, melting Arctic ice reveals open ocean. 
  • Because dark ocean water absorbs more heat than lighter ice and snow, it heats up and melts faster. 
  • Meanwhile, permafrost on land surrounding the Arctic Circle melts, releasing even more carbon dioxide and methane, hastening the natural process that feeds on itself. 
  • When you add the trigger of rising human emissions to these natural processes, the situation becomes much worse. 

Climate change is a cumulative phenomenon. 

Many of the feedbacks that contribute to increasing temperatures tend to speed up with time, reinforcing each other. 

  • For example, increasing human-caused emissions cause permafrost to thaw, releasing even more carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. Melting ice darkens surfaces, allowing more heat to be absorbed. 
  • Meanwhile, rising seas are soaking coastal soil, destroying crops, and polluting fresh water sources in low-lying island countries like the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands' foreign minister, Tony deBrum, stated, "The groundwater that sustains our food crops is being flooded with salt." ‘The green is becoming brown,' says the narrator. (Davenport et al., 2014). 
  • “Runaway growth in the emission of green house gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of ‘severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts' over the next decades,” wrote Justin Gillis in The New York Times (2014, August 26). 

Diplomats and climate scientists gather every year in an attempt to arrange a global pact to halt the rise in greenhousegas emissions, despite a growing chorus of warnings that the results will be too little, too late. 

  • As temperatures rise and raging weather becomes a staple of daily headlines, diplomats and climate scientists gather every year in an attempt to arrange a global pact to stall the rise in greenhousegas emissions amid a rising chorus of warnings that the results will be too little, too late.
  • By 2015, global diplomacy's attempts to deal with climate change and its impact on everyday weather had fallen behind. 
  • As wind and solar expanded throughout the globe (Germany, the world's fourth biggest economy, drew one-third of its power from renewable sources by 2016), a renewable energy infrastructure emerged, but it was too sluggish to keep up with the increase in temperatures. 

The fundamental issue is: can mankind alter its energy paradigm fast enough to prevent irreversible environmental damage? 

  • While James Hansen believes the 2°C goal is overly ambitious, some experts believe it will never be met due to the global momentum of greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • In Nature, David Victor (a professor at the University of California–San Diego) and Charles Kennel (of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography) stated, "The objective is essentially unattainable" (Kolbert 2015, 30). To meet the target, global greenhouse gas emissions would have to decrease to almost zero in the second half of the twenty-first century. 
  • Even if all diplomatic recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions made in 2015 were implemented, global warming by the end of the twenty-first century would be restricted to 6.3°F, compared to 8.1°F if emissions remained at current levels (“Climate Scoreboard” 2015). 

If all countries fulfilled their commitments, global emissions would begin to decline within a decade or two, but only slowly and insufficiently to prevent thermal inertia from increasing temperatures, melting glaciers across the globe, raising sea levels, and wreaking havoc on flora and wildlife. 

  • Countries' commitments made before the global climate conference in Paris at the end of 2015 were "a significant step forward, but not enough—not even close," according to John D. Sterman, a management professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Gillis and Sengupta 2015). 
  • In 2014, the US and China signed their first-ever agreement, which included a joint statement that the US will reduce emissions by up to 28% by 2025 and China's emissions would peak by 2030. 
  • The government of India, the world's third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2014, does not anticipate emissions to peak until at least 2040. 

As carbon dioxide and methane levels continue to increase, every action to decrease emissions is “on speculation”—in the future. And as long as these levels increase, humanity will lose the fight against global warming.

You may also want read more about Global Climate Change here.

Consequences of Climate Change


Given current emissions, scientists predict that ice would melt much quicker than previously anticipated. 

The scientists were taken aback when their model predicted that half of Antarctica's (and, by extension, the world's) ice would melt within 1,000 years, causing sea levels to rise at a rate of a foot per decade for centuries, a rate that "would almost certainly throw human society into chaos, forcing a rapid retreat from the world's coastal cities." 

  • To put it simply, if we burn it all, we melt it all, according to Winkelmann, a researcher at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (Gillis 2015, September 12). 
  • London, Berlin, Paris, Shanghai, Sydney, Rome, Tokyo, Miami, New York City, Boston, New Orleans, Houston, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Venice, Buenos Aires, Beijing, and Washington, D.C. are just a few of the coastal cities that may be flooded. 
  • Caldeira said, “This is mankind as a geologic force.” “We [humans] aren't having a subtle impact on the climate system; we're hammering it with a hammer” (Gillis 2015, September 12). 
  • An average global temperature increase of around 20°F would cause ice melting, with more at higher latitudes and interior regions and less in the tropics and near shorelines. 
  • According to Justin Gillis of The New York Times, “vast sections of the Earth will certainly become too hot and humid for human habitation, causing food production to fail, and driving much of the planet's plant and animal life to extinction” (Gillis 2015, September 12). 
  • “The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States,” scientists reported in 2014. 
  • “Water is becoming scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains are increasing in wet regions, heat waves are becoming more common and severe, wildfires are becoming more severe, and forests are dying under attack from heat-loving insects” (Gillis 2014, May 6). 
  • “Summers are longer and hotter, and prolonged spells of exceptional heat persist longer than any living American has ever experienced,” according to the National Climate Assessment released by the United States Global Change Research Program. 
  • Winters are usually milder and shorter. Rain falls in torrential downpours. People are noticing differences in the duration and intensity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that flourish in their gardens, and the types of birds they observe in their communities in any given month.” Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the report's drafting but saw a late copy, said, "Yes, climate change is already here."
  •  “However, the expenses thus far are still modest when compared to what will be standard practice by the end of the century” (Gillis 2014, May 6). 2016 was by far the warmest year on record, marking the third year in a row of record temperatures. 
  • The only places with colder-than-average temperatures in 2015 were the seas off Greenland and Antarctica, where fast melting ice was cascading into the oceans, cooling the air above. 
  • The margin of error for the new record was astounding—0.23°F (0.23°C) (according to NASA) and 0.29°F (0.16°C) (according to NASA) (as measured by NOAA). 
  • New global highs and lows are often recorded in tenths of degrees. A powerful El Nio had a role, but so did long-term global warming driven by human greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Gerald A. Meehl, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, stated, “The entire hole system is persistently warming” (Gillis 2016). 2016 continued 2015's hot trend, with the largest deviation from the average of any month on record. 
  • The Arctic saw the most extremes, with some places exceeding 6°C (13°F) over the 1951–1980 average. 
  • The Arctic as a whole was 4.0°C (7.2°F) warmer than it was over the same time period. Global warming is more than just a matter of temperature rises. 
  • Warming temperatures alter the hydrological cycle's behavior, increasing the severity of storms as well as the frequency and intensity of droughts and deluges. 
  • Because warming also increases evaporation, a warmer atmosphere may retain more moisture, enhancing the explosive nature of precipitation. 
  • As a consequence, drought and flooding may occur at the same time in different parts of the country—or even alternate in the same location. 
  • Changes in precipitation patterns may vary dramatically over time and location, according to theory and an increasing number of daily weather reports. 
  • Temperatures appeared to be shifting faster than the hydrological cycle. Such shifts will be uneven, episodic, and often unpleasant. 

One of the most startling results of the National Climate Assessment was the increasing frequency of heavy rainfall. 

For decades, scientists have predicted that more water would evaporate from a rising ocean surface, and that the warmer atmosphere will be able to retain the extra vapor, which will subsequently fall as rain or snow. 

Even the most seasoned specialists were taken aback by the severity of the impact. 

  • The National Climate Assessment concluded that “the eastern half of the [United States] is getting greater precipitation in general,” according to Justin Gillis of The New York Times on May 6, 2014. And the percentage of precipitation dropping in extremely heavy rain episodes has increased by 71 percent in the Northeast, 37 percent in the Midwest, and 27 percent in the South during the last half-century.” Such developments are taking place all across the globe. 
  • In the summer of 2010, for example, floods ravaged Pakistan, but an exceedingly unusual downpour flooded the town of Leh in Ladakh, India, which is located in one of the world's driest deserts. The hamlet is located in a high-altitude desert that is shielded from the majority of precipitation by neighboring mountains. 
  • In August, the average rainfall is 15 millimeters, or a fraction of an inch. However, a half-hour downpour on August 6, 2010, washed most of the town away, killing 150 people and left hundreds more missing. The storm was so powerful, yet so remote, that it missed a meteorological station in the valley and remained unnoticed. 
  • In 2013, significant sections of Nashville, Tennessee, were flooded by almost 20 inches of rain, while parts of Colorado got a year's worth of rain in a single week. As much as two feet of rain fell in as little as 24 hours in parts of the Florida panhandle. 
  • At the same time, sand dunes erupted over most of the Navajo reservation in New Mexico and Arizona, which is normally dry, as precipitation dropped from meager to virtually none—except for a brief but intense rainfall. Early in October 2015, parts of South Carolina got two feet of rain in three days. In some parts of southern Texas, 20 inches of rain poured two weeks ago.

You may also want read more about Global Climate Change here.

Climate Change Bills Are Over-Due

The bills for our fossil fuel use are finally being paid. In 2015, experts concluded that “burning the presently available fossil fuel resources is sufficient to destroy the [Antarctic] ice sheet” (Winkelmann et al. 2015). 

Although this research is focused on Antarctica, all other ice would melt at the same time. How much time will it take to create an ice-free planet? 

No one knows for sure. 

  • The actual combustion of fossil fuel reserves may happen within a thousand years if present rates of growth continue. 
  • Taking into account thermal inertia delays, complete melting of the ice might take thousands of years—but the momentum of this inertia would be irreversible. 
  • “The legacy of what we're doing over the next decades and centuries is really going to have a dramatic influence on this planet for many tens of thousands of years,” Ken Caldeira, a researcher at Stanford University's Carnegie Institute of Science and one of the study's four coauthors, told Chelsea Harvey of the Washington Post (Harvey 2015). 

As the world's carbon dioxide pollution from humans continues to increase, the geography of generation has shifted. 

  • Since the beginning of the Industrial Age, the relative proportions of carbon dioxide emissions have shown the rapid growth of China and India, as well as the continuing importance of the United States and Europe. 
  • This is significant because CO2 is released and stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.

 According to data collected by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and revised by BP in 2014, China accounted for 25% of global CO2 fossil fuel emissions, the US 15%, and Europe (including a tiny portion of Eurasia) 13%. Europe and a tiny portion of Eurasia have a combined stake of 29 percent (1751–2014); the United States has a share of 20 percent; China has a share of 10%; and India has a share of 3%.

You may also want read more about Global Climate Change here.

Fossil Fueling Climate Change Disaster

The fossil fuel era began as the United States grew to become the world's most powerful economy, with a growing territory and rising immigration (mainly, but not entirely, from Europe). 

  • Between the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the extraction of coal, oil, and natural gas brought machine labor equal to one billion horses (or 3 billion human slaves). 
  • Human slavery, maybe not coincidentally, became economically and politically outdated. Consider how much human work was shifted to fossil-fueled machinery between 1800 and 1970: the number of human hours of labor required to produce an acre of wheat decreased from 56 to 2.9. The same number fell from 185 to 24 for an acre of cotton. 
  • Food production has become as automated as any other industry: in 2014, seven calories of energy (mostly fossil fuels) were needed to create one calorie of food ( Johnson 2014, 14, 19, 39). 
  • The production of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere surged as a result of this energy revolution.

The greenhouse effect (also known as "infrared forcing") is essential to life on Earth as part of the planet's natural cycle. 

  • The planet's average temperature would be - 2°F without it. The additional heat caused by human burning of fossil fuels creates a concern. 
  • A little, like chocolate, is OK; too much is harmful to the body. Fossil fuels provide us with comfort and ease, and changing their usage fundamentally offers the century's—and, most likely, many centuries'—challenge. 

Unless we rapidly wean ourselves off fossil fuels, the major difficulties will emerge after the middle of the twenty-first century. 

“We are nearly to the threshold of irreversible collapse, and will cross it shortly if we are not careful,” Sir John Houghton, one of the world's top experts on global warming, told The Independent (London) (Lean 2004, 8).

You may also want read more about Global Climate Change here.