Time is about to run out on holding global warming to two degrees. The next President needs to be prepared to act promptly and decisively to assure that the world changes direction. The world’s seeming inability to make progress on climate change appears to be more a refusal to jeopardize growth of the GDP, even though economic growth (a) has arguably been of advantage only to the very wealthy im the U..S. for the last forty years, and (b) will be gone forever if we do not address climate change promptly, honestly and decisively. Surprisingly there is no need to give up in despair over climate change, but the candidates need to drop preconceptions, address the issue thoughtfully and collegially and, with President Obama, be “terrified” and accordingly “get on this.”
For reason that follow it will be almost completely impossible tokeep global warming under 2 degrees if decisive action on a global scale is not taken in 2017. IWhy we are on such a short fuse has to do with the misled global warming policies that have been followed to date and will be discussed here. f that action is taken we will be well on our way to halting catastrophic global warming. With all due respect it is almost inconceivable that Mr. Trump, an intellectually-challenged indviidual with no experience in global affairs and a belief that there is no human-caused global warming, could handle the situation., That is one person’s view.
The writer hopes that the reader finds this missive to be worthwhile abd accordingly forwards it to his or her frirends and associates. The writer notes that perhaps by coincidence, a similar article was pblished in Common Dreams, cited below, on Thursday.
“One of the world’s primary sources of energy data, the International Energy Agency, has issued a stark warning to world leaders unless there’s concrete action to address climate change by 2017, the world will pass the point of no return on the journey to ‘dangerous’ climate change. . .. Every month now counts: if the world is to stay below 2C of warming, which scientists regard as the limit of safety, then emissions must be held to no more than 450ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the level is currently around 390ppm. But the world’s existing infrastructure is already producing 80% of its ‘carbon budget,’ according to a new analysis by the IEA, published on [November 9, 2011]. This gives an ever-narrowing gap in which to reform the global economy onto a low-carbon footing. ‘The door is closing,’ Fatih Birol, of the International Energy Agency, said. ‘If we dont change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists telll us is the minimum (for safety). The door will be closed forever.’ ” http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/pressmedia/quotes/48/index.html.
That was November, 2011 and was the International Energy Agency quoting the press on its Energy Outlook 2011. Little has changed.
There is really only one accurate. measure of what we are doing to stop global warming. It is the chart of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at the peak of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. You have probably seen it before, but probably have not seen the most recent update; it is in any event worth taking a fresh look::
You will notice that in the last four years the CO2 concentration has gone up 10ppm, or 2.5 ppm/yr, as opposed to 0.9 ppm/yr in 1960-1970 and 1.5 ppm/yr in the period 1985-95, half-way in-between, a factor of 1.7 each 25 years. The CO2 concentration is not only going up, but going up exponentially. IWithout knowing the reader’s feeling about this, this writer’s feeling is that we’re not making progress. We have 47 ppm to go to get to the maximum we’re allowing ourselves, (450 ppm), with 19 years to get there. In nineteen years [The Common Dreams article cited above gives the figure as seventeen, and because other warming factors than CO2 are now in play, is probably more accurate], unless we cut our use of fossil fuels way down in the interim we must be prepared to give up gasoline, everything imported in diesel ships, home-heating with natural gas, meat eating (You knew that meat-eating accounts for about 20% of global warming, well above the maximum reductions that can be accomplished with increased coal-plant efficiency?), fertilizers like ammonium nitrate, which needs natural gas for its manufacture, coal-fired power plants, plastics, diesel irrigation pumps and so forth. This is all quite conceivable (the main thing we need is cheap batteries to store solar and wind energy), but not the way we’re going.
What is most glaringly missing is that no major government agency (and, downright embarrassing, no major conservation organization [excapt Bill McKibben’s, first on Thurssay of this week. Congratulations, Bill! See “The New, new Climate Math: 17 Years to Get Off Fossil Fuels, or Else,” www.commondreams.org/news/2016/09/22/new-new-climate-math-17-years-get-fossil-fuels-or-else ] , is advocating that production or consumption of fossil fuels be in any way curtailed. That might come as a surprise to you, but it’s the main reason we’re not making progress. We’ll look at that in a moment. If you don’t limit the production and consumption of fossil fuels, you don’t limit global warming. Unbelievable until you realize that the primary duty of the general public in a”free market” economy is to buy, buy, buy, to keep the GDP growing, probably the reason no government or conservation organization will advocate conservation. And, of course, there is the oil industry itself. There is a remarkable similarity, at least in this writer’s eyes, between the goals set for emissions reductions in the Kyoto Protocols, the Waxman-Markey bill, and the later Kerry bill, and the reductions expected at the time to be mandated by falling resourcess in the ground; in short, over the years it has consistently appeared that proposed global warming controls have been designed to require of the industry little more than failing resources would require anyway. So failure to directly limit production or consumption of fossil fuels would be par for the course. Maybe it’s time for certain people to get their priorities straight ot to seek psychiatric help.
So what has been proposed to stand in for actual limits on fossil fuel production and consumption.? Primarily, two items that walk and talk like production and consumption limits, but aren’t: energy efficiency measures (“efficiency” for short), and alternative non-fossil-fuel energy sources, photovoltaic solar and wind in particular (“alternatives” for short). These are certainly good things, but what’s the difference between then an direct limis on production and consumption?
An efficiency measure cuts the need for fossil fuel to get a particular job done, so there is extra. Maybe it cuts the gasoline needed to get to work or cuts the amount of coal to make a kilowatt hour of electricity, But it is hard for this writer to perceive that as a result the original petroleum or the ton of coal is going to stay in the ground unless someone says it has to. There’s no guarantee that any of the savings at all will go into reduced use of gasoline or coal, and a virtual certainty that at least some of the gasoline and coal saved will get burnt elsewhere. Not to mention that the population is going to increase around 30% by 2050, so a 30% increase in efficiency is just going to get eaten up by the coming generation. That is guarantted, because the International Energy Agency has decreed that how we decease CO2 emissions must not be at the expense of “lifestyle” losses. So if you have a car, your kids get cars. To get some certainty that the saving are real, there had better be limits on how much gasoline or coal can be produced and consumed. So we’re back to that. Which is not to mention that to get a saving from an efficiency measure, you have to burn what’s left. Stopping global warming ultimately requires zero carbon emissions, and no efficiency measure gets you more than part way. So efficiency measures are way different from genuine consumption cuts.
So what about solar panels and wind energy? Everybody loves them, right? This writer sure does, and would put solar panels on his roof in a minute if he could afford it. But they’re still good, right? Yes, but that doesn’t mean they’ll lower emissions. They could get eaten up by higher demand, more children, etc. Don’t laugh, because in the nation of the great alternative-energy triumph, Germany, in the few years it took for solar and wind to rise dramatically and exponentially to close to half the energy used for electrical power,production, the demand for power for internal use and export has gon up just as fast so the consumption of fossil fuels has been flat. Consumption of lignite coal in particular has gone up. People and industry and people’s kids are hungry for energy so the renewables are going to get used to supplement fossil fuels rather than to supplant them unless there are requirements for actual reduction of production and consumption going along with increased availability of alternatives. The net result is that emissions have gone up while the percentage of renewables in the energy mix has gone up dramatically, just as would be expected if it hasn’t been required that the increases in renewables be used to offset the fossil fuels. The failure to reduce fossil fuels as solar and wind came on line in Germany now requires that from 2013 to 2030, lignite fird generation will have to drop by 62 percent and hard coal fired generation by 80 percent for Germany to get back on track to its goal of a virtually 100% decarbonized power sector by 2050.. Germany is much to be commended that it is going to try, but this would appear a “hard row to till,” and the problem arises directly out of failure to bring fossil production and consumption down as the produjction of renewables went dramatically up. The failure of the “poster boy” for renewables to bring down GHG emissions suggests that without strict rules reqjuiring renewables to supplant rather than supplement fossil, Germany is showing the world how to fail, not how to succeed. See “The German Energiewende and its Climate Paradox An Analysis of Power Sector Trends for Renewables, Coal, Gas, Nuclear Power and CO2 Emissions, 2010–2030,” https://www.agora-energiewende.de/fileadmin/downloads/publikationen/Analysen/Trends_im_deutschen_Stromsektor/Analysis_Energiewende_Paradox_web_EN.pdf
Solar and wind also have a lethal shortcoming with present technology: that their function is intermittent, and to meet the needs of a society running 24/7, no matter how much solar and wind energy is generated, supplementatkion with fossil fuel, which can be turned on and off to meet the intermittency, is necessary. There is only one altrnative solution: the development of storage systems that can stretch the availability of solar and wind to their down times. Presently they are lmited to taking over around a maximum of 40% of energy needs, a long way from zero carbon. We have 20 years to rectify that situation, only a little longer if our only concern is what to do when the fossl fuels run out. Well Mama Nature developed a battery that has worked for many hundreds of millions of years, so it should not be beyond our capacity. We just have to do it faster than she did.
So it appears that elimination of direct limits on production and consumption, and their replacement with efficiency and alternatives, has been a deathly error, forced upon us by our addiction to “stuff” and separate addictions of the powers that be to the GDP and of course to the fossil fuel industry… (By the way, woiuld you really expect the industry to have allowed efficiency measures and altdernatives to get through if they were equivalent to reductions in production and consumption? Me neither. Remember how the goals in the Kyoto Protocols, Waxman-Markey and Kerry tracked expected natural reduction of deposits rather than scientifically justified need, so that those documents in fact required little of the industry that Mama Nature wasn’t already requiring? And don’t forget that when the industrfy complained it was going t lose $23 trillion meeting 2 degrees, that the “budget” was increased by thousands of gigatonnes, again witout scientific justification. The writer wonders why our fearless leaders lie when they are going to be found out anyway and when they are going to be hurt as much as we are by global warming.) But that’s still not all, .
In 2011 the IEA wasn’t taking account that melting snow and ice in the Arctic create warming even if CO2 levels aren’t going up. That’s because if something bright and reflective gets replaced with someting dark and dull, the light that was reflected is now absorbed as heat. This effect is probably increasing without regard to emissions-caused warming because it creates a positive feedback on itself. Melting causes increased heat absorptionm causes increased tenperature causes increased melting. Consequently EIA likely overerestimated the emissions needed to get to 2 degrees. (The issue is complicated by he fact that in the Antarctic, warming has a negative feeback on itself at this time due to its causing greater masses of ice to be floating on the ocean. This net overall effect will begin to be offset as land is uncovered. This writer won’t go into all that here, but see Global Warming Accelerates, https://consortiumnews.com/2016/05/18/global-warming-accelerates. “Two Degrees Was Too Much – Global Warming Is Out Of Control.” www.countercurrents.org/arguimbau050516.htm. But that’s still not all, not what creates the immediacy of 2017, and not what caused Birol to say “The door will close forever” without action in 2017.
Let’s go back a little way. Around 1980 America made a conscious decision to begin investing negatively in the future. It is probably inate in the commencement of a civilization’s decline. An example was the Reagan Administration’s tax cut. Tax cuts thereafter became a habit. Reagan and his advisors believed the taxes were so high that they were hurting the economy so much that a tax cut would make the economy boom and federal revenues bizaarrely go up. A little more fancy talk and Reagan managed to triple the national debt. And that was only part of negatively investing in the future. You could buy a house that was beyond your means as long as its value went up fast enough to pay back your mortgage. And it was OK to stop paying students for their higher education as long as they would make out so well that their studentn debts would be paud off by the econoomic boom. So many clever Boomers , instead of using their educations creatively, became drones to pay off their debts. And so it went. But of course there comes a time when the future has had so many burdens placed on it that GDP growth comes to a crawl, the debts all come due, and the system crashes. So the habit of negatively investing in the future became an addiction to borrowing and to GDP growth.
Along comes global warming. People have been building all kinds of polluting facilities on credit or by gambling capital on future pollution. amd to do so they have had to secure their debts on future production,which includes GHG emissions, of course. Once the amount of future GHG emissions securing the start-ups exceeds the amount allowable for staying within two degrees of warming (the “budget”) , we are in the position that either we must fail in that promise or investors must begin to default. If we are not going to jeopardize capital investments that have gone beyond the 2-degree limit, then we are not going to meet the 2-degree goal. Simple as that. At least nearly simple as that. Which is why Fatih Birol, now CEO of IEA, told the UK GUARDIAN, “i am very worried – if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.” UK Guardian November 9, 2011 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/nov/09/fossil-fuel-infrastructure-climate-change. The door closes right about now.
Everyone who watched Paris and had a realistic view of what it takes to meet the two-degree goal came out with a sense of hopelessness: IEA was leading the world down a dead-end street and the great majority of the world’s nations weren’t even going to follow that far. Meeting the goal was completely impossible. But there is a flip side to what Birol told the Guardan: that if we DO change direction in 2017, we are NOT locked in to failure. And it appears to this writer t because of that, that there is a very simple solution that IN THEORY works. 1. We give ourselves until the 450-ppm atmeshereic concentration of CO2 arrives (apparently something a bit short of 19 years) to convert to solar and wind totally, and to be prepared for a prompt conversion when the economical battery becomes avaklable,. 2. We commence a crash program to develop an inexpensive battery that can store wind and solar energy. 3. We place a moratolrium on development of new sources of fossil fuels and construction of lsignificant new fossil-fuel-using facilities. Germany has demonstrated that fast conversion is possible with only one real glitch: the missing battery 1 and 2 are necessary within decades in any event because we are in extreme difficulty if those steps aren’t taken before we run out of fossil fuels. The moratorium is inescapable becase without it, everything placed on line adds to warming beyond 2 degrees.
Will this work? Yes if carried out. . The moratorium will prevent going past the budgetg. The use of fosil fuels will gradually drop as he useful lives of facilities on line run out. This will be on approximately he same time line as alternative energy sources move in to replace themI s it feasible? Yes with the possible exception of success in the crash program. Just remember, Mama Bature did is so we can, Is it costly? No. Of course the moratoriuim will interfere with the GDP. Growth or shrinkage of our energy budget has a firmer hold on growth or shrinkage of the GDP than we would like to believe although there are those who say it is relaxing.
Is it responsible to put into effect a moratorium that will of necessity have some ill effect on GDP growth? Yes. We must remember”
- Catastrophic global warming may be inescapable already with the warming only having reached 1 degree, and is almost certainly inescapable if we go beyond 2 degrees.
- To this observer’s poorly-trained eye, the moratorium is inescapable to keep the door from closing forever on holding global warming below 2 degrees. If we go beyhond 2 degrees, we likely bid the rising GDP farewell forever. So the choice is between losing GDP growth forever (without regard to thenatural limits of growth, which probably accomplish this anyway within the coming decade)or losing it for a few years. There will be jobs lost, but building the infrastructure for conversion should more than offset them.
- For the last 4 decades, the average American has not benfited from a growing GDP. The benefits have been exclsively showered on the wealthy with the result of an ever-increasing chasm betwen the wealthy and the rest of the nation. Those who are concerned about the income gap need not be concerned about the effect of the proposed moratorium on the GDP.
Because of IEA’s discovery of the lock-in phenomenon and 2017 as the date of its hitting the 2 degrees wall, there is no escape from our having to reduce total energy use while waiting for the general availability of alternatives if the door is not to be closed forever onstaying below 2 degrees.. That will occur naturally as a result of the moratorium and the gradual result of retiring carbon-guzzlers. The hopeless global warming scenarios that have been cooked up with a determination not to interfere with the GDP have to fail because the lack f a moratorium will always keep the ability to shut down fossil plants in a timely fashion out of reach. The door closing forever is prevented if and only if the moratoriujm exists unil it is possible to replace carbon-rich facilities with “alternative energy” facilities. The GDP will of necessity drop as the moratorium and phaseout of old plants reduce total energy consumption. And at the same time, consumption of fossil energy will be lowered. If capital taken out of the fossil industry as a result of the moratorium is put into the “crash program,” and into building the necessary infrastructure for a carbon-free economy, the conversion should go speedily and relatively smoothly, and lost GDP growth will be minimized.. The writer notes that a smoothe transition reequires building of the necessary infrastrcture before it can be paid for by energy sales. This may require federal subsidies and low-cost loans for its occurrence but this would be equivalent of a stimulus program that would at least partially offset the losses from the moratorium Or so i seems to this one person, neither an engineer nor an economist.
There nay well be a better way to prevent “the door closing forever,” and to providde for a smoothe transition to alternative energy but someone has to conceive of it. The International Energy Agency’s fanciful scenarios (which incidentally are the first major EIA publication in many years not signed by the brilliant Dr. Birol) are not it. See Arguimbau, “The International Energy Agency’s “Cookbook” For Paris :A “Last Chance” That Only Continues Forty Years of Failure,” December 3, 2015, http://www.countercurrents.org/arguimbau031215.htm.,
Solving the “battery” problem within decades is essential to prevent the end of the industrial era and tto carry out all proposed global warming mtigation plansomeet all proposedlimits on global warming, so as President Obama says, “we have to get on this” regardless.Some of the technological advances dreamed up by the International Energy Agency for meeting 2 degrees without interfering with the GDP are truly fanciful, such as (a) devices for taking the CO2 out of exhaust and storing it for all time – a technological feat far more difficult than the nuclear waste problem, which has stymied the engineers for decades, and (b) a device to permit us to exceed 450 ppm “temporarily” by magically removing vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, a problem Mama Nature took hundreds of millions of years to solve and we are “unsolving” by destroying our forests. Economical battery storage, on the other hand, does not seem to be pie in the sky. The costs of both photovoltaic panels and batteries to accompany them are so rapidly falling that “going off the grid,” once considered ridicuously expensive, is already economical for many millkions of Americans and is expected to be low enough to run the traditional utilities out of businessc by 2050 even if no “crash program” is put in place. See Rocky Mountain Institute, Economics of Battery Energy Storage, http://www.rmi.org/Content/Files/RMI-TheEconomicsOfBatteryEnergyStorage-FullReport-FINAL.pdf Utility Dive,
Why battery storage is ‘just about ready to take off’ http://www.utilitydive.com/news/why-battery-storage-is-just-about-ready-to-take-off/407096/, “Report: Solar Paired With Storage Is a ‘Real, Near and Present’ Threat to Utilities,” http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/where-and-when-customers-may-start-leaving-the-grid, and Rocky Mountain Institute, “How Much Does Storage Really Cost?” http://blog.rmi.org/blog_2016_01_21_how_much_does_storage_really_cost_lazard_weighs_in
The next President needs to be prepared to address these issues immediately upon taking office, and the job of the voters is to decide which of two probable candidates is more capable of doing so. It is not this writer’s role to answer that question for others. We need a President who will say and believe and mean of global warming control what President Kennedy said and believed and meant of world peace, a far more difficult goal:
Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many of us think it is unreal. But that is dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable – – that mankind is doomed – – that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.
We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade – – therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings..
American University Commencement speech June 10, 1963, http://www1.american.edu/media/speeches/Kennedy.htm
So VOTE! The earth is relying on you.
The author is a retired lawyer with a BA from Harvard in physics. He lives with a dog and a cat, turkeys and porcupines, and forty fruit trees in rural Western Massachusetts. He aspires to living a carbon-free life and comes a little closer each year. His writing on related subjects may be found by Googling “Nicholas C. Arguimbau” and Countercurrents.