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The Urgency of NOW on Climate Change

Updated Dec. 19, 4:00 PM

There is a huge amount of bad news. But there is the good news that if we pull off a near-miracle, it might really put meaning back in the word; “Future”.

On AUG. 1, 2018, before all the excitement started, the NY Times published Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change

This narrative by Nathaniel Rich is a work of history, addressing the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989: the decisive decade when humankind first came to a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change.

Then it just started to gush out: the extreme urgency that the UN IPCC and others have expressed in various lengthy analyses and statements that should be communicated and passed on to people wanting to be active in preventing catastrophic climate change. We have been told

  1. We must turn around from the highest CO2 emissions in history and bring them halfway to zero by about 2030. This in spite of the fact that the fossil fuel industry is desperate to grow their business as fast as they can.
  2. The Secretary General of the UN has said that if we don't make major changes in 2 to 3 years, that goal will not be achievable.
  3. The purpose of these goals is to prevent more than 1/2 degree C rise in temperature and then to bring the temperature down.
  4. The primary sources of new oil and gas around the world have been through “fracking” processes. These processes have been quite expensive (in lots of ways, but the cash flow of the fossil fuel industry is a sensitive point). The financing of the industry has been growing ever more fragile, and new sales are what pay for yesterday's loans to cover extraction and refinement.
  5. The capitalization of the companies is still based on “reserves”, even though we cannot burn even 1/5 of existing reserves and expect our ecosystem to survive.

After Thanksgiving we wanted to understand:

Why would they Publish a Dire Federal Climate Report on Black Friday? - The Atlantic Spoiler – Trump, et. al. thought that by doing that, it wouldn't get noticed.

Table of Contents of this excellent report …


The Gathering Storm - 18 December 2018 - James Hansen

Young people today confront an imminent gathering storm. They have at their command considerable determination, a dog-eared copy of our beleaguered Constitution, and rigorously developed science. The Court must decide if that is enough. That is the final paragraph of my (thick) Expert Report written more than a year ago for Juliana v. United States. We are fortunate to have such a brilliant and dedicated group of attorneys who have assembled a score of Experts and are working to ensure that young people receive their day in court.

In the meantime, there are reasons why it may be useful to summarize the climate science story.

Albert Einstein once said that a theory or explanation should be as simple as possible, but not simpler. And it depends on who the audience is. My target is the level of a Chief Justice or a fossil fuel industry CEO.

This is a draft, because I want to be sure that there are no inconsistencies in my testimonies against the government, against the fossil fuel industry, and in support of brave people who have taken risks in fighting for young people. So I am seeking suggestions for how to make this science story clearer.

I should say something here about end-game strategy. We probably are getting close to the next opportunity for real progress. We blew the last opportunity, when Barack Obama was elected. It was not his fault. We had not really made the whole climate/energy/economics story clear enough.

Despite the sour turn toward increased global authoritarianism, the heart-warming sight of marching Australian children, defying their Prime Minister’s instruction to stay in school, suggests that it may not be long until we have a chance at another day of reckoning. This time we must be clearer about what young people and other life on our planet need to assure their future. And thoughtful people at high government and industry levels must understand.

History of this understanding is not well reported, as I discuss in Sophie’s Planeta. Already in 1982, E.E. David, President of Exxon Research & Engineering, in his keynote at the Ewing Symposiumb, presciently characterized the climate story: “faith in technologies, markets, and correcting feedback mechanisms is less than satisfying for a situation such as the one you are studying at this year’s Ewing Symposium. The critical problem is that the environmental impacts of the CO2 buildup may be so long delayed. A look at the theory of feedback systems shows that where there is such a long delay the system breaks down unless there is anticipation built into the loop. The question then becomes how to anticipate the future far enough in advance to prepare for it.”

David recognized the delayed response of the climate system, which is the critical factor that gives rise to intergenerational inequities. He concluded that this delayed response demands anticipation to avoid system breakdown, where, in the climate case, system breakdown would be catastrophic climate change for today’s young people and future generations. David’s conclusion began “To sum up, the world’s best hope for inventing an acceptable energy transition is one that favors multiple technical approaches subject to correction - - feedback from markets, societies, and politics, and scientific feedback about external costs to health and the environment.”

A slightly revised draft of the Preface of Sophie’s Planet is available here.

Response of the U.S. government and the fossil fuel industry was not policy that would move the energy industry gradually and efficiently toward clean carbon-free energy. Instead they chose very expensive investment in developing technologies such as hydraulic fracturing “fracking,” an energy-, chemical-, water-, and resource-intensive process that allows extraction of more and more fossil fuels. E.E. David became a climate change denier. Government and industry concurred in this approach.

In assessing this failure of early government policy in Sophie’s Planet I suggest that we, the scientific community, bear much of the responsibility. I disagree with the assessment in the dedicated issue on the New York Times last summer, that the greater public was the villain. I argue that President George H.W. Bush, in supporting the 1992 Rio Framework Convention on Climate Change, did what was appropriate at that time.

The failure has been not to advance policy in the subsequent 26 years. When I gave a talk to executives of an oil company that adorned its web site with windmills and solar panels, I learned that they actually had almost no investment in carbon-free energy, it was more a PR strategy. They could take advantage of the clout of “Big Green” environmental organizations, while not really getting serious about carbon-free energy. That is the background, about why I believe there is value in trying to make the climate story as clear as possible to an industry CEO as well as a Chief Justice. There will be lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry, which may help bring them to their senses. However, I am not so much interested in ‘reparations’, the idea that we can extract a lot of money from the industry for its past sins. That potential pales in comparison to getting their cooperation on moving as rapidly as practical toward clean carbon-free energy of the future.

Therefore, I am interested in any suggestions for improving the clarity of ‘Climate Change in a Nutshell’. I believe there is a good chance that the relevant CEOs have a heart, and they must be pretty smart or they would not have made it to the position they are in.

Read "Climate Change in a Nutshell"

Grist Says: 12/12/18—————————————————–

Scientists released two major studies this week that tackle the future implications of climate change.

By 2150, if we continue on our emissions-heavy trajectory, the majority of the world’s surface will have tipped to conditions that pre-date the evolution of modern humans. A century or so after that, we could jump start the death of most ocean life.

This future isn’t as far away as it might seem. There’s a good chance that a few of my fellow millennials’ grandchildren will still be around in the middle of the next century, when the world could return to Eocene-like conditions not seen on Earth for 56 million years. What our descendants would face a century after that is not for the faint of heart. Oxygen would be squeezed out of the oceans, suffocating nearly all life there. On land, rainstorms would be so intense they’d scour the land bare. Large sections of the planet would be uninhabitable.

  • We have lost 70% of large animals on earth since 1970.
  • We have lost 1% of the oxygen in the ocean since 1950
  • We have lost a huge portion of our insects – to the point where diversity of species is seriously in risk.
  • We are on the edge of not being able to have organizms in the ocean that are based on exoskeletons reproduce.
    • Next step is ability to survive as adults.

Various ways of confronting this situation have been tried.

I remember well the first institution to announce it was divesting from fossil fuel. It was 2012 and I was on the second week of a gruelling tour across the US trying to spark a movement. Our roadshow had been playing to packed houses down the west coast, and we’d crossed the continent to Portland, Maine. As a raucous crowd jammed the biggest theatre in town, a physicist named Stephen Mulkey took the mic. He was at the time president of the tiny Unity College in the state’s rural interior, and he announced that over the weekend its trustees had voted to sell their shares in coal, oil and gas companies. “The time is long overdue for all investors to take a hard look at the consequences of supporting an industry that persists in destructive practices,” he said.

Six years later, we have marked the 1,000th divestment in what has become by far the largest anti-corporate campaign of its kind. The latest to sell their shares – major French and Australian pension funds, and Brandeis University in Massachusetts – bring the total size of portfolios and endowments in the campaign to just under $8 trillion (£6.4tn).

The list of institutions that have cut their ties with this most destructive of industries encompasses religious institutions large and small (the World Council of Churches, the Unitarians, the Lutherans, the Islamic Society of North America, Japanese Buddhist temples, the diocese of Assisi); philanthropic foundations (even the Rockefeller family, heir to the first great oil fortune, divested its family charities); and colleges and universities from Edinburgh to Sydney to Honolulu are on board, with more joining each week. Forty big Catholic institutions have already divested; now a campaign is urging the Vatican bank itself to follow suit. Ditto with the Nobel Foundation, the world’s great art museums, and every other iconic institution that works for a better world.

Thanks to the efforts of groups such as People & Planet (and to the Guardian, which ran an inspiring campaign), half the UK’s higher education institutions are on the list. And so are harder-nosed players, from the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (at a trillion dollars, the largest pool of investment capital on Earth) to European insurance giants such as Axa and Allianz. It has been endorsed by everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Barack Obama to Ban Ki-moon (and, crucially, by Desmond Tutu, who helped run the first such campaign a generation ago, when the target was apartheid).

And the momentum just keeps growing: 2018 began with New York City deciding to divest its $189bn pension funds. Soon the London mayor Sadiq Khan was on board, joining the New York mayor Bill de Blasio to persuade the other financial capitals of the planet to sell. By midsummer Ireland became the first nation to divest its public funds. And this month, a cross-party group of 200 MPs and former MPs called on the their pension fund to phase out its substantial investment in fossil fuel giants.

Heavy hitters like that make it clear that the first line of objection to fossil fuel divestment has long since been laid to rest: this is one big action you can take against climate change without big cost. Indeed, early divesters have made out like green-tinged bandits: since the fossil fuel sector has badly underperformed on the market over recent years, moving money into other investments has dramatically increased returns. Pity, for instance, the New York state comptroller Thomas DeNapoli – unlike his New York City counterpart, he refused to divest, and the cost has been about $17,000 per pensioner.

The deeper question, though, is whether divestment is making a dent in the fossil fuel industry. And there the answer is even clearer: this has become the deepest challenge yet to the companies that have kept us on the path to climate destruction.

At first we thought our biggest effect would be to rob fossil fuel companies of their social licence. Since their political lobbying power is above all what prevents governments taking serious action on global warming, that would have been worth the fight. And indeed academic research makes it clear that’s happened – one study concluded that “liberal policy ideas (such as a carbon tax), which had previously been marginalised in the US debate, gained increased attention and legitimacy”. That makes sense: most people don’t have a coal mine or gas pipeline in their backyard, but everyone has – through their alma mater, their church, their local government – some connection to a large pot of money.

As time went on, though, it became clear that divestment was also squeezing the industry. Peabody, the world’s biggest coal company, announced plans for bankruptcy in 2016; on the list of reasons for its problems, it counted the divestment movement, which was making it hard to raise capital. Indeed, just a few weeks ago analysts at that radical collective Goldman Sachs said the “divestment movement has been a key driver of the coal sector’s 60% de-rating over the past five years”.

Now the contagion seems to be spreading to the oil and gas sector, where Shell announced earlier this year that divestment should be considered a “material risk” to its business. That’s how oil companies across the world are treating it – in the US, petroleum producers have set up a website designed to discredit divestment,. and for a while had me under round-the-clock public surveillance. The pressure is not preventing anyone from acting: when Yale arrested 48 brave students who were occupying its investment offices last week, they left chanting: “We’ll be back.”

Divestment by itself is not going to win the climate fight. But by weakening – reputationally and financially – those players that are determined to stick to business as usual, it’s one crucial part of a broader strategy. The Carbon Tracker initiative in London published the first report laying out the fact that the fossil fuel industry has five times more carbon in its reserves than any climate scientist thinks is safe. And with activists marching and going to jail, phrases such as “stranded assets” were soon appearing in the mouths of everyone from hedge fund managers to the governor of the Bank of England.

As Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who managed to push through the Paris accords in 2015, put it: “The pensions, life insurances and nest eggs of billions of ordinary people depend on the long-term security and stability of institutional investment funds. Climate change increasingly poses one of the biggest long-term threats to those investments and the wealth of the global economy.” Last year she turned down an honorary degree from a US university because it hadn’t yet sold its stock.

We can’t count on governments alone to do the work necessary – governments, from Canada and America to Russia and Saudi Arabia to China and India, are still too often beholden to the fossil fuel companies. We need to keep pushing hard on those companies – and we will.

• Bill McKibben

Note that the fossil fuel industry (not the energy industry but the industry that does it with carbon based products) must die in order for the planet to live. If they don't slow down dramatically tipping points are possible within 5 years.

Other thoughts

Statements by a 15-year-old autistic Swedish 9th-grader that has taken to heart that if the situation depresses you, you must fight back. She got to tell the world through going to COP-24 in Poland, where they eked out something that sounds like the Paris Accord is still alive.

In a sense, the solution is simple.

In another sense, the fact that it will be a jobs generator is wonderful.

Also, it is essential to have the solution be applied at all income/wealth levels. We cannot afford pollution from any level. And we can be blessed by the resulting equality of opportunity.

The very simple statement of the solution is

  • to quit using carbon-based fuels, replacing them with solar and wind and any other non-carbon sources we come across.
  • That stops us from continuing to make it worse. What is not so simple, is that we are running out of time, and we have the denier industry to deal with.
  • to remove from the atmosphere all the CO2 and other greenhouse gasses so that the excess heating effect is removed.
  • This requires major changes in how we care for The Dirt. Organic farming, regenerative farming and forestry. And, by golly, some of the same in the ocean. Restoring kelp forests and similar equivalents of our mango forests and amazon forest and such also helps restore the acid balance and O2 balance in the ocean.
  • The fossil fuel industry has been promising big machinery to stuff the evil CO2 down a hole and keep it there. So far, they aren't proving they can. And we need a solution now. Having a solution that not only solves the gas problem, but restore sour soils and waters, and restore oxygen to our air and oceans seems the obvious thing to kick start to me.
  • No matter what, an ever increasing amount of waste doesn't work. Having fish dying off from their contact with too-abundant plastic is a heck of an example. So, there is a major civil/systems engineering problem of making our economy “circular” – every waste product must be a wanted input for some next purpose. Not just something to soil the planet with.
urgency_of_now.txt · Last modified: 2018/12/19 18:46 by admin