It’s rather jarring to see an expert like Tim Garrett, whose work I have followed for many years, come out and say so bluntly that we will not do the steps needed to save ourselves. And the reason is very simple…
People will raise hell if their right to pollute and consume is severely curtailed. We see this today with people’s refusal to simply wear a damn mask and do what’s for the greater good in a global pandemic. Now can you imagine the outrage when they are told they have to drastically reduce their living standards to prevent catastrophic climate change, a threat we cannot see but which will nevertheless destroy us in the long run? The reality that humans are causing the climate to warm, with catastrophic consequences, demands radical government intervention in the market as well as collective action on an unprecedented scale. This has been known for decades and those catastrophic consequences are now coming to fruition, yet we remain a carbon-based, growth-oriented civilization.
The later the “peak” the harder the reductions, bearing in mind that it is the area under the lines (cumulative emissions) which ensures a 2°C outcome. The 2020 peak (above) indicates the “unprecedented” 10% reductions trajectory giving only a 50/50 chance of staying under 2°C.
Prof Kevin Anderson says there is no longer a non radical option, and for developed economies to play an equitable role in holding warming to 2°C (with 66% probability) emissions compared to 1990 levels would require at least a 40% reduction by 2018, 70% reduction by 2024, and 90% by 2030. This would require “in effect a Marshall plan for energy supply”. Low-carbon supply technologies cannot deliver the necessary rate of emission reductions, and they need to be complemented with rapid, deep and early reductions in energy consumption, what Anderson calls a radical emission reduction strategy. All this suggests that even holding warming to a too high 2°C limit now requires an emergency approach. Emergency action has proven fair and necessary for great social and economic challenges we have faced before. Call it the great disruption, the war economy, emergency mode, or what you like; the story is still the same, and it is now the only remaining viable path.
~ David Spratt, The Myth of Burnable Carbon, Climate Code Red, 2014.
Not only do we need to halt future CO2 emissions, but we need to magically extract CO2 already in the atmosphere with technology that does not exist. Quoting Prof Anderson from last month:
…in 2020 such technologies remain highly speculative, with a few very small laboratory/pilot schemes now operating, with other proposed technologies still in the imagination of academics and tech-entrepreneurs. This faith in utopian technology reflects a deep and systemic bias that has hugely undermined the real scale of the mitigation challenge and misinformed policy makers for many years.
When a 16-year-old girl named Greta Thunberg spoke with trembling anger of the unspeakable crimes today’s adults are committing against her and future generations, a chill ran down my spine. She will be alive to see the pulses of rapid sea level rise, the unraveling of industrial agriculture, the mass migration of hundreds of millions of climate refugees, and the disintegration of Earth’s biosphere. Today’s world with the ever-worsening breakdown of the biosphere is much more dangerous than during the Cold War when the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation hung in the air like the sword of Damocles, as expressed by President Kennedy: “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.” Not only does the threat of nuclear war persist, the sword of abrupt climate breakdown now looms ever larger as governments are rendered impotent.
Scientists and the Red Cross recently warned the world is currently suffering at least one climate catastrophe per week and nearly two million people per week are needing humanitarian assistance. A UN global assessment confirms the planet is currently experiencing 2,500 conflicts over fossil fuel, water, food and land — conflicts directly related to the ongoing collapse of the earth’s biodiversity. No civilization in history has faced a complete reshuffling of the planet’s biosphere, let alone the ecological armageddon brought on by a Pandora’s box of pollutants from industrial civilization. Microplastics are literally raining from the sky. Irrevocably out-of-step with the natural world, modern civilization is destroying its host ecosystem by altering the geochemistry of the planet. A mass extinction event unlike any in Earth’s history is underway. Even if a small fraction of the global population survives this overshoot, it will take 10 million years for biodiversity to bounce back. Since atmospheric CO2 will ultimately be drawn down through a very slow natural process called sedimentation, the Earth will not reach pre-industrial CO2 levels againfor more than 100,000 years. The last time CO2 levels were this high was 3 millions years ago during the Pliocene when temperatures were 3-4°C(5-7°F) higher globally than today, and sea levels were 15-20 meters(50-65 feet) higher. It was too warm for glacial ice sheets to even exist in the northern hemisphere.
At 412 ppm and rising, experts said temperature rises of 3-4C are likely now locked in.
What does any honest scientist have to say about mankind’s prospects in a 4°C world:
“We have already observed impacts of climate change on agriculture. We have assessed the amount of climate change we can adapt to. There’s a lot we can’t adapt to even at 2C. At 4C the impacts are very high and we cannot adapt to them.” Rachel Warren, University of East Anglia
“Thinking through the implications of 4 degrees of warming shows that the impacts are so significant that the only real adaptation strategy is to avoid that at all cost because of the pain and suffering that is going to cost.” Prof. Neil Adger, University of Exeter
“…there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible. A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today. The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur.” World Bank report (2012) Turn down the heat: why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided
People are completely oblivious to our dependence on the complex adaptive systems that allow humans to exist and persist. To be clear, when the global temperature rises by 4°C within this century it will be faster than the blink of a geological eye, and we, along with 80% or more of the planet’s species are finished. 96% of all marine species and more than two-thirds of terrestrial species perished during the Great Dying at the Permian-Triassic interface. Global mean temperature at that time rose an estimated 5-8°C over a timespan of 3,000-20,000 years. A 4°C rise over just two centuries will be a rate of warming 15 to 100 times faster than that past extinction event. At this speed of warming, regions would experience temperature spikes of 10-15 degrees above normal in some months. Ecosystems would implode and the services they provide that sustain us would be obliterated. Virtually every vertebrate species on Earth would disappear, along with most plants and many invertebrates.
At just 1°C of warming we are already seeing major ecosystems such as coral reefs unraveling. Hurricanes so powerful that they require a new category now barrel across the Atlantic ocean and completely decimate islands; the cataclysmic Storms of our Grandchildren that Hansen warned about have only just begun. Arctic permafrost melt has already exceeded 2090 projections. It was economist William Nordhaus that set the 2°C warming target in 1975, not scientists. What did he get for this dangerous speculation, divorced from empirics? The Nobel, naturally. These days he is saying 3.5°C is just fine. John Kerry says we cannot leave the climate emergency in the hands of the neanderthals in power, but I dare say that anyone promoting mainstream economic theory is guilty of omnicide. Capitalism’s “extractivism” has turned the entire planet into a sacrifice zone.
Grand Bahama island before/after Hurricane Dorian made landfall, Sept 1, 2019
The rise of political ‘populism’ and the election of reactionary politicians in the U.S. and abroad has thrown yet another monkey wrench into any possibility of tackling the climate crisis. The demagogic Trump administration is simply burying any scientific evidence and ignoring its government’s own research on such things as the recent surge in climate refugees from Latin America due to climate-induced food insecurity. Russia and Brazil have both encouraged and precipitated the wildfire infernos raging in their countries. The catastrophe unfolding in the Amazon is a direct result of President Bolsonaro’s neoliberal policies designed to plunder the Amazon much like Trump’s dismantling of the EPA and deregulation of corporations. Both ignore the science of climate change and the reality of ecological collapse. In the case of Russia’s Putin, it was a cold economic calculus: “If the cost of putting out these remote fires is greater than the profit that could be made from selling the timber, they can decide to let it burn.”
And then there’s the global debt bomb of $250 trillion waiting to explode, not to mention the $200-250 trillion global carbon debt which increases by 16 trillion every year. Meanwhile, banks are quietly shielding themselves from climate catastrophe at taxpayers’ expense by shifting risky coastal mortgages off their books and onto the federal government’s Fannie and Freddie programs. Just as the U.S. government is leaving vulnerable countries to fend for themselves, so are private institutions unloading the risks onto the public. For those at the very top of our economic pyramid scheme who control public policy, dwindling resources will be kept first and foremost for them while everyone else is treated as collateral damage. This dereliction of responsibility, this cutting and running, is how the deteriorating conditions of the world are being handled. Throughout history, society’s elite have shown the same arrogance and hubris in the face of impending calamity. For example, the Fall of the Roman Empire:
If you read the chronicles of the early 5th century AD, you get the impression of total mayhem, with barbarian armies crisscrossing Europe and few, if any, Roman nobles and commanders trying to defend the Empire. Most of them seemed to be maneuvering to find a safe place where they could find safety for themselves. We don’t know what was the final destiny of Rutilius Namatianus but, since he had the time to finish his poem, we may imagine that he could build himself a castle in Southern France and his descendants may have become feudal lords. But not everyone made it. For instance, Paulinus of Pella, another rich Roman, contemporary of Namatianus, desperately tried to hold on his possessions in Europe, eventually considering himself happy just for having been able of surviving to old age.
We see a pattern here: when the rich Romans saw that things were going really out of control, they scrambled to save themselves while, at the same time, denying that things were so bad as they looked. We can see that clearly in Namatianus’ poem: he never ever hints that Rome was doomed. At most, he says, it was a temporary setback and soon Rome will be great again.
Thunberg’s speech alluded to such behavior by the polluting nations:
For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight. You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.
Yes, Greta, they are evil; they have access to every expert on the seriousness of the crisis and they are building walls and saving their own skin while continuing business-as-usual. Lest we forget, the fossil fuel industry’s own scientists accurately predicted the life-threatening effects of its product decades ago and not only did they do nothing to stop it, they funded and orchestrated a vast network of climate denial propaganda which continues to this day and have raced to exploit even more fossil fuels from the melting Arctic. When you consider that billions of people are going to die as a result, their actions become by far the greatest crimes against humanity ever committed. Make no mistake, our society is trading a livable planet for an unsustainable way of life that is irreparably depleting finite resources and altering the earth for eons, making it uninhabitable for organized human societies. Each day of business-as-usual further degrades the planet’s biodiversity.
“As the temperature rises, the patricians will seek refuge as polar migrants, or set sail on heavily armed ocean liners. Millions more will live in underground cities, anywhere to escape the sun. Dazzling reports of new methods for sopping up the gigatons of carbon dioxide will create ripples of enthusiasm and then fade in the next news cycle. Fisheries and agriculture will collapse, drugs will provide little solace, and everyone will curl up in a foetal position in the end, like the ash-entombed victims at Pompeii, whimpering in the inescapable heat. The likelihood of this outcome increases as the years pass and the smoke rises.”
~ Nicholas P. Money, THE SELFISH APE: Human Nature and Our Path to Extinction
"The latest climate simulation models are projecting temperature increases of up to 7°C by the end of this century. Unless you have a magical faith in technology, then that level of temperature rise signifies the potential end of our species…"https://t.co/kdldvQXGCapic.twitter.com/a5DUZOXOG9
This will be my last post until after Thanksgiving break.
I featured Professor Charles Hall in EROEI and the Collapse of Empires and here he is again with another interesting talk on energy and EROEI to clear away all the bullshit headlines about America becoming the “New Saudi Arabia”. Our economy simply cannot grow anymore without energy inputs that have a high EROEI. Of course you also have to take into account the environmental externalities of fossil fuels which are writing the epitaph on our tombstones – “Homo Sapiens had more fossil fuels than brains. Mother Nature tried to warn them, but their addiction was too strong and their propaganda too pervasive.”
…Many experts now believe that, absent the discoveries of numerous new giant oilfields or breakthroughs in development of alternative fuels, oil demand will persistently push global prices to unaffordable levels, shackling economic growth indefinitely.
Even if discoveries somehow keep pace with demand, extracting oil from increasingly harsh conditions, such as beneath the Arctic Ocean or other deep ocean waters, will put upward pressure on prices.
Despite the potentially huge economic consequences, no full-scale, multinational energy conservation effort has been launched to buy time for development of alternatives, such as electric cars, that would ease pressure on oil supplies and prices.
When oil prices eclipsed $100 a barrel in 2011 and early this year, they were edging toward the “breaking point” – the threshold where economies can no longer expand, said Charles Hall, a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences and Forestry of the State University of New York. Hall, a co-author of the book “Energy and the Wealth of Nations: Understanding the Biophysical Economy,” said that the economy has stalled in the past when U.S. energy costs have approached 13 percent of the gross domestic product.
Annual global expenditures on raw energy have climbed to an estimated $8 trillion to $9 trillion, exceeding 10 percent of the $70 trillion world gross domestic product. Those figures, however, omit the succession of price up-charges along the manufacturing, marketing and delivery chain for energy-related components of goods and services.
“I don’t think the economy is ever going to grow again . . . not on a sustained basis,” Hall said in an interview…
…“The first half of the age of oil saw this rampant expansion of industry, transportation, trade, agriculture,” said Colin Campbell, an 81-year-old retired Irish petroleum geologist who founded the peak oil movement. “The population went up six times in parallel over 100 to 150 years . . . triggered by the cheap, easy energy that made everything possible.
“Now we face the second half, which is about to dawn, which just undermines this whole world system under which we’re now living,” he said. “Naturally, no one wants to admit that.”... – link
…Also, the elite don’t want to admit that the game they control is over. Capitalism is finished. We won’t have to fret about what will replace this economic system which people believe is irreplaceable because the system is self-destructing and taking all of us with it.
And about those environmental externalities that are sealing our fate in the annals of extinct species…
In a devastating speech at Bristol University Tuesday November 6th, 2012, Dr. Kevin Anderson accused too many climate scientists of keeping quiet about the unrealistic assessments put out by governments, and our awful odds of reaching global warming far above the proposed 2 degree safe point.
In fact, says Anderson, we are almost guaranteed to reach 4 degrees of warming, as early as 2050, and may soar far beyond that – beyond the point which agriculture, the ecosystem, and industrial civilization can survive.
All this comes from one of the world’s top climate scientists, plugged in to the latest research and numbers. Kevin Anderson is from the UK’s premier climate modeling institution, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and the University of Manchester. He delivered the speech “Real Clothes for the Emperor, Facing the Challenges of Climate Change” at the Cabot Institute of the University of Bristol in Britain.
His estimates are backed up by recent reports from the International Energy Agency, and now the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. I also quote from Joe Romm’s blog at thinkprogress.org, and a comment by Lewis Cleverdon from Wales, in the Transition blog at transitionculture.org. – link
Did anyone really think there would be no consequences for this?: