Options are Good. Good Options are Better.
The scientific evidence being amassed overwhelmingly indicates that climate change is happening now, that humans are at the root of its acceleration, and that it may very well threaten the health and survivability of our planetary biosphere and as a result, the human race.
YOU need to decide that caution is the better part of valor. Decide to respond to climate change, not ignore it. Regardless of whether the Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or the Green Party hold political favor, support the elimination of fossil fuels as a societal foundation. Make emissions controls onerous for the purveyors of destruction and suck the expense out of corporate profits- legally. Attach personal accountability and restitution to the destruction of the planet. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Support ridiculous amounts of R&D investment in wind, solar, wave, hydrogen, biofuels, and other sustainable, non-pollutant sources of energy. Provided with better alternatives, Big Oil’s choice to ‘Go Green’ may not have to be a shotgun wedding.
No I did not include Nuclear Power. How many accidents have we had? Where are we putting (hiding) the waste? How many hundreds of thousands of years does it remain a threat to all life?
Most scientists agree that it is not too late to mitigate the ill effects we’re forcing on our spaceship earth. Depending on how we react, the detrimental impacts can last as little as a few decades, or plague us for thousands of years. Perhaps beyond the last human survivor.
Support science. Support technology. Lobby to convert the bloated defense budgets (a good portion of which is planned around protecting access to oil) toward programs and policies, like sustainable/free energy R&D, that benefit our great grandchildren and their descendants, and that ensure not only a sustainable planet and the opportunity to expand beyond the stars, but fair opportunities for the pursuit of happiness and the right to live healthy and free right here and now on spaceship earth with equal economic advantage and comfort.
Climate change is but a bellwether, a wakeup call. It clearly demonstrates that our latest experiment with unbridled capitalism and a so-called “free” economy only serves the interest of a few while literally placing our species at risk.
Folks, that's some BAD politics. It is time for a Seachange.
Politics and Science
In the previous article, “Its Global Warming, STUPID”, we saw how our ability to assess the overall risks of climate change has increased as the warming-per-degree impacts become easier to predict. There are two basic issues that we must force policymakers to weigh:
- The level of warming we’ll allow vs. the cost to stop it, and
- The emissions threshold for that warming level
The folks in charge control the first item- the level of warming we’ll allow. The “folks in charge” are of course those with the most influence which are those with the most money which are those that stand to lose the most should we diverge from our present petroleum-based economy. What to do? Throw in the towel?
It may be that only hugely intensified public pressure/outcry, with the continued backing of scientific evidence, will drag these public servants kicking and screaming to legislate and enforce emission and many other standards needed to protect the planet from our apathy, greed, and sloth. Vote your oil supporting lackey out of office. Tar and feather him/her to show one really good use of a petroleum-based product.
Just the Facts, Man
Scientists have been able to figure out with a fair amount of certainty that to keep planetary temperatures steady at any given point on the thermometer, we as a species need to cut CO2 emissions by 80%.
Here are a couple of illustrative examples that compare leveling off emissions, as opposed to actually reducing them.
Scenario 1: Leveling Off Emissions
Scenario 2: Sharp 80% Reduction in Emissions
Additionally, scientists have come to the conclusion that it is the accumulation amount rather than the rate emitting which translates CO2 volumes into higher planetary temperatures. An estimate of human-emitted carbon in the atmosphere today is at 500 gigatonnes, or 500 billion tons. Conservatively, scientists believe that at 1,150 gigatonnes, should we allow that to happen, temperatures will increase by nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Centigrade).
So it is clear that what’s really important to global warming, is the cumulative CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. One proposed solution is the “Emissions Budget” or “Diet” approach. Rather than dictate an annual emissions subtotal each year, specify and adopt policies that over a longer period of time, perhaps over the next 40 years, dictate what the cumulative emission must be. Obviously the more aggressive the goals, the safer we are in mitigating ongoing damage to the biosphere. Checkpoints would need to be established to ensure directional and sufficient progress toward the final objective.
Meeting an Emissions Budget
Being able to achieve the objective of our emission diet, or overall cumulative budget will be greatly aided by an early and aggressive action plan and its execution. International cooperation must be gained as corporations seek refuge from the higher costs of clean air standards.
Emissions Reduction Scenarios Chart adapted from: National Research Council, but oh so much nicer with a Militant option.
So far we’ve centered our review on CO2, Carbon Dioxide. It is indeed the most critical greenhouse gas that we need to control. The chart below, given that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary producer of CO2 in the US, how that production is divided between transportation, industrial uses, and commercial and residential applications. Likewise, it indicates whether the gas comes directly from combustion powered machinery or as fuel to create electric power.
Here are some interesting facts about the US’s CO2 output relative to the world:
- Of all human-created CO2 in the atmosphere today, we have produced half.
- We currently supply 20% of world-wide new greenhouse emissions annually.
- Of all the world’s population, we only have about 5%within our borders.
- Our contribution percentage will decline over the coming years not because of reduction, but because of the sharp increase expected from developing countries like India and China.
That last fact should be alarming to all. We have no official jurisdiction over these developing countries, and a possible shortage of credibility give our first bullet above. Why, so the argument will go, should we curtail advancement and greater industrialization/production when you, Uncle Sam used it to achieve world dominance? And we’ve all seen how ineffectual the UN can be in any resolution.
Education regarding choice alternatives and consequences must be high on our communication priority list, not to mention creating the availability of viable alternatives to destructive fossil-fuel-based energy, transport, and industrial advancement solutions.
Below is a simple CO2 Creation Chain adapted from the National Research Council Publication 2010b. By strategically supplying healthier alternatives throughout the value chain, perhaps combined with enforced standards of energy sources and efficiencies, developing countries could stem what may seem as the inevitable path taken by the US during the 20th Century.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction Options
There are a number of things we can do, both short and long term to alleviate the production of greenhouse gasses, in addition to those already covered.
- Greater efficiencies. Better insulation, heating, cooling, and lighting method.
- More efficient machines. More “MPG/KPL”.
- Alternative, non-petroleum-based fuels and renewable energy.
- CO2 Capture and sequester, post manufacture, ambient air. Forest and plant management.
- Education and consumer incentives for smart choices.
- Tax credits and incentives for manufacturers.
- Government regulation, policies, financial incentives and disincentives:
- Carbon tax
- Efficiency and energy source mandates, building codes, etc.
- Sponsored volunteerism
The National Research Council’s publication from which many of these facts have been gleaned suggests that the prevailing thought on incentives according to economists and analysts is that of disincenting – levying taxes and penalties to encourage the adoption of alternate sources and methods. That a tough row to hoe in anyone’s book. Our favorite designer here at FHE, Buckminster Fuller will tell you in a minute, provide a better alternative and it’s a cake walk.
Boondoggles and failures of incentivized R&D into alternative fuels and construction and transportation notwithstanding, give people a better way to build and advance and then get out of their way. One need not be a conspiracy theorist to imagine the many saboteurs lined up to kill our efforts to usurp this petroleum-based economy. Trillions at stake. Entire nations and cultures at stake. Kings and their Kingdoms (literally). Time to dive back into that well. It is deep with possibilities.
There’s an old and perhaps inappropriate joke about all the middle east will have left when we don’t need or they run out of oil, is sand and sun. Add to that wind, some ocean and seaside property, and you have one of the world’s richest most abundant areas of renewable energy imaginable. Silicone and glass, solar arrays, wind energy, wave energy, and the like.
What the hell are we waiting on?
Reducing Non-CO2 Global Warming Culprits
The reason CO2 is our chief concern is because of its abundance and long life span. However there are a few other greenhouse gases that are actually more harmful by chemical make-up, but have less overall impact because they only comprise about 15% of our climate-warming emissions. They include:
- Nitrous Oxide
Many of you may remember the whole hydrofluorocarbon ordeal some 20-30 years ago. The banning of hairspray and all manner of other spray cans which used that gas as the propellant. The reason? Depletion of the ozone layer and the unfiltering of damaging ultraviolet radiation (light) upon us surface dwellers.
However, agriculture generates the most non-CO2 greenhouse gasses. Livestock digestion produces methane, and manure and fertilizer generate both methane and nitrous oxide. Farming techniques known as ‘precision agriculture’ can help eliminate unnecessary over-fertilization and improve waste management practices. Additionally, methane has a secondary market, so capturing methane gas produced by landfills, coal mines, and oil and gas refining/production facilities provides its own monetary reward system.
Last on our list of global warming agents are non-greenhouse gases such as “soot” aka black carbon that comes from burning bio and fossil fuels, biomass fuels like dung in many parts of the world. These pollutants are short-lived but can have a pretty significant local impact on temperature. In particular, the airborne dark colored particulates in cold climates can coat snowy and icy surfaces, capturing heat and accelerating thawing activity.
Providing clean alternatives to people who rely on such fuels could help significantly reduce local concentrations of pollutant-induced hot pockets.
Preparing for Change
Some have chosen the moniker “Global Weirding” as opposed to both Global Warming or Climate Change. This is because we’re seeing all sorts of disruptions to “normal” weather patterns as a result of excessive greenhouse gasses. Desert conditions where rain should be, floods in places that have never received massive rain dumps. Extreme temperatures. Unseasonable days. Hurricanes and Tsunamis.
Proactive governments, whether it be cities, counties, states, the feds, or any number of cross-border agencies are preparing emergency plans to account for conditions that they have never before had reason to suspect would actually occur. Your part should be to query your local government and agencies to see their plans. Emergency preparedness plans should be part of the public record. If your area is still operating with a 1990 plan, time to become an activist in getting that changed.
Fresh water may soon be considered a scarce resource. The Washington Post (as just one of hundreds if not thousands of stories) recently ran an article (8) on the topic. Local efforts should be underway to ensure not only conservation, but adequate access to, capture, and storage of fresh water from all available sources (i.e. scarce rain fall). Lake Mead, which serves Phoenix, Denver, and Las Vegas as a primary source of H2O is down to less than ½ of its levels from just 25 years ago.
Fracking, thought originally to be a great way to glean hard-to-reach, cleaner-than-petroleum fuel should not be allowed near any source of underground fresh water. Gas companies sold us a bill of goods by saying their salt water and chemicals needed to force the natural gas out of shale could be contained. Fracking is destroying underground fresh water supplies all over the country (and world). Because it also causes earthquakes, it should not be allowed near any human built structures or natural areas with potential falling rock that would harm land improvements (like triple decker overpasses – yes they are drilling within miles of public highways with 5 story overpasses) or living things. Go frack yourself, we should say.
High winds, hurricanes, and tornadoes can be expected to continue coming, perhaps at an increasing rate. Old ways of building homes with wood and insulated with petroleum based products should be abandoned and zoned out of existence. Concrete based materials, adobe-type structures (including mud and straw), and new alternative materials should be employed and R&D funded liberally to find clean green materials that will withstand harsher winds and rain (and hail) that also provide great natural insulation to conserve valuable heating and cooling resources.
Local food sources should be made abundant. Replace lawns with food bearing plants and where not possible, low/no water ground covers. Fruit and nut trees should become ubiquitous where square footage allows.
For existing structures, governments (local/federal) need to provide incentives to replace single pane windows, add insulation, tighten air exchange, and upgrade to maximum efficiency heating and cooling systems. Every home in America and around the world should be equipped with solar panels to augment existing power sources.
New construction, in addition to the use of alternative building materials, should maximize the natural insulation of the earth – going underground partially or completely would have an immediate and dramatic effect on current and future demands for temperature control-related energy needs while at the same time providing protection from potentially harsher natural elements.
With rising ocean levels as a result of melting glaciers and thermal expansion, full-time habitats along coastal areas need to be phased out – whether that be a public project under the jurisdiction of eminent domain or an abandonment by the owners out of necessity will depend a few court cases most likely.
Examples of some adaptation options for one expected outcome of sea-level rise.
Why Act Now?
No one can predict the future, nor the exact number of degrees the planet will warm per Gigaton of emissions accumulation, nor the exact fall out of that higher temperature over time. Does that mean we wait until the damage is done to see how correct our estimates are?
Clearly not. No more than we would wait to see if a toddler walking toward the path of an approaching bus goes far enough to get hit. At some point it is too late to begin to act. There is a growing number of scientists that subscribe to the “tipping point” theory which states that at some point the damage to the planet is irreversible and one ecosystem after another in our biosphere will fail regardless of any last-minute heroic efforts. Regardless of whether that is true (see our article on Environmental Tipping Points), there are a number of both common sense and scientifically sound actions that can be taken, many with benefits above and beyond correcting continued global warming. Here are a few:
- It is universally true that changes needed in a system or process are simpler and less expensive if you make them early on, rather than if made later. The reason? As systems develop, they grow in magnitude, become more complex and have greater interdependencies with other systems/processes. This equates to more time, people, money, and resources when making the change later – more ‘stuff’ has to be done to more things. Generally the ratio is an exponent, not a simple multiplier.
- An ounce (gram) of prevention is worth a pound (kilogram) of cure. Another old adage you can count on. Corrective action now may prevent types of environmental damage or domino effect that cannot be undone for thousands of years or even millennia.
- Infrastructure investments in polluting production facilities can be incredibly expensive, into the billions sometimes. Establishing standards before these investments are made, and they are being made in an accelerated fashion as developing countries come on line, will save multiple billions down the road.
- Enacting suggestions throughout this document, while certainly spawned by global warming are just plain smart in terms of protection from and to the environment, long-term efficiency and conservative use of our resources, and healthier for the planet and the living species, both plant and animal that ride our dear Spaceship Earth.
Science has spoken with alarming clarity. The risks are far too great to ignore. Your choices will create the future that we have for ourselves and our children. And their children. And so on and so on. And it is not just our policies regarding greenhouse gas emissions that must be scrutinized and adjusted in the face of all the destruction and negative consequences we see piling up around us. It is the political, socioeconomic policies and institutions that must be examined and improved at a fundamental level.
A dying planet is but a mere symptom of the real problems that ails us.
For those of you who have perused other parts of the site, say Interstellar Colonization for example, it should come as no surprise that we highly recommend immediate corrective action as a simple, matter of fact and basic Risk Mitigation Strategy. The ONLY argument against aggressive or even militant action is a loss of profit on the part of the individuals who most benefit from the positive margins of corporations and polluters. Profits that come from, yes,
We the People.
SAVE OUR SHIP
I may have mentioned elsewhere I am not an overly religious man, but there are times when a bible verse has universal applicability, particularly when one adds a paraphrased title from a Social Distortion song and takes an even further literary license to it…What gaineth a man who profits the whole world, then dies unable to take it with him when he goes, only to leave a grand inheritance to a narrow definition of family who may just die along with the planet he’s destroyed as a result of his greed?
Man, if that won’t suck a fellow’s soul into the nether regions of the oft believed in hereafter, it leaves me struggling to think of a more severe crime/sin than causing the death of the human race.
- Advancing the Science of Climate Change, National Research Council, 2010a
- Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change, National Research Council, 2010b
- Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, National Research Council, 2010c
- Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change, National Research Council, 2011d
- Ocean Acidification: A National Strategy to Meet the Challenges of a Changing Ocean, National Research Council, 2010e
- Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts for Decades to Millennia, National Research Council 2011a
- 7. America’s Climate Choices, National Research Council, 2011c
- World Water Day: A forceful reminder that the U.S. is running out of fresh water, Washington Post, March 22, 2013