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Questions as big as the atmosphere

Questions as big as the atmosphere

A review of After Geoengineering

After Geoengineering is published by Verso Books, Oct 1 2019.

What is the best-case scenario for solar geoengineering? For author Holly Jean Buck and the scientists she interviews, the best-case scenario is that we manage to keep global warming below catastrophic levels, and the idea of geoengineering quietly fades away.

But before that can happen, Buck explains, we will need heroic global efforts both to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions and to remove much of the excess carbon we have already loosed into the skies.

She devotes most of her new book After Geoengineering: Climate Tragedy, Repair, and Restoration to proposed methods for drawing down carbon dioxide levels from the atmosphere. Only after showing the immense difficulties in the multi-generational task of carbon drawdown does she directly discuss techniques and implications of solar geoengineering (defined here as an intentional modification of the upper atmosphere, meant to block a small percentage of sunlight from reaching the earth, thereby counteracting part of global heating).

The book is well-researched, eminently readable, and just as thought-provoking on a second reading as on the first. Unfortunately there is little examination of the way future energy supply constraints will affect either carbon drawdown or solar engineering efforts. That significant qualification aside, After Geoengineering is a superb effort to grapple with some of the biggest questions for our collective future.

Overshoot

The fossil fuel frenzy in the world’s richest countries has already put us in greenhouse gas overshoot, so some degree of global heating will continue even if, miraculously, there were an instant political and economic revolution which ended all carbon dioxide emissions tomorrow. Can we limit the resulting global heating to 1.5°C? At this late date our chances aren’t good.

As Greta Thunberg explained in her crystal clear fashion to the United Nations Climate Action Summit:

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A globalised solar-powered future is wholly unrealistic – and our economy is the reason why

A globalised solar-powered future is wholly unrealistic – and our economy is the reason why

Over the past two centuries, millions of dedicated people – revolutionaries, activists, politicians, and theorists – have been unable to curb the disastrous and increasingly globalised trajectory of economic polarisation and ecological degradation. This is perhaps because we are utterly trapped in flawed ways of thinking about technology and economy – as the current discourse on climate change shows.

Rising greenhouse gas emissions are not just generating climate change. They are giving more and more of us climate anxiety. Doomsday scenarios are capturing the headlines at an accelerating rate. Scientists from all over the world tell us that emissions in ten years must be half of what they were ten years ago, or we face apocalypse. School children like Greta Thunberg and activist movements like Extinction Rebellion are demanding that we panic. And rightly so. But what should we do to avoid disaster?

Most scientists, politicians, and business leaders tend to put their hope in technological progress. Regardless of ideology, there is a widespread expectation that new technologies will replace fossil fuels by harnessing renewable energy such as solar and wind. Many also trust that there will be technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for “geoengineering” the Earth’s climate. The common denominator in these visions is the faith that we can save modern civilisation if we shift to new technologies. But “technology” is not a magic wand. It requires a lot of money, which means claims on labour and resources from other areas. We tend to forget this crucial fact.

I would argue that the way we take conventional “all-purpose” money for granted is the main reason why we have not understood how advanced technologies are dependent on the appropriation of labour and resources from elsewhere.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Top Scientist Says He Quit USDA Because Trump Admin Tried to Bury His Study on Climate and Nutrition

Top Scientist Says He Quit USDA Because Trump Admin Tried to Bury His Study on Climate and Nutrition

Rep. Chellie Pingree tweeted, “Once again, the Trump admin is silencing our scientists.”

Lewis Ziska

Plant physiologist Lewis Ziska quit the U.S. Department of Agriculture Friday. (Photo: Peggy Greb/USDA Agricultural Research Service via sciencenewsforstudents.org)

The exodus of federal scientists in the era of President Donald Trump continued Friday as 62-year-old plant physiologist Lewis Ziska left the U.S. Department of Agriculture “over the Trump administration’s efforts to bury his groundbreaking study about how rice loses nutrients due to rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” Politico reportedMonday.

“There was a sense that if the science agreed with the politics, then the policymakers would consider it to be ‘good science,’ and if it didn’t agree with the politics, then it was something that was flawed and needed to be done again.”
—Lewis Ziska, ex-USDA scientist

Ziska—who worked at USDA under five presidents, both Republicans and Democrats—charged in an interview with Politico that he left the department’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) because the USDA tried to block the public dissemination of his research on how the human-caused climate crisis’s impact on rice could threaten the nutrition of 600 million people. The studyPolitico reported, was internally cleared at the department and peer reviewed prior to its publication in the journal Science Advances last year.

USDA, in a statement to the outlet, said that “this was a joint decision by ARS national program leaders—all career scientists—not to send out a press release on this paper” based on scientific disagreement, and the decisions involving the study weren’t politically motivated.

Ziska, however, said that “this isn’t about the science. It’s about something else, but it’s not about the science.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Abandon All Hope: Moving Toward an Existentialist Environmentalism

Abandon All Hope: Moving Toward an Existentialist Environmentalism 

As the Earth’s ecological systems upon which we depend accelerate in their slouch towards Bethlehem, our society faces an existential crisis.  The effects of climate change are far direr than we initially expected.  Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen to 415 ppm for the first time in over three million years.  The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C describes that we face an increase in global average temperatures of 1.5 degrees C as soon as 2040. Furthermore, the two degrees of warming that scientists widely argue is the final major threshold before permanent, large-scale climatic shifts leading to ecological collapse, is no longer some far-off possibility or hyperbolic fear-mongering, but an imminent reality.  The future we face in this new Earth is marked ever more frequent and intense fire and flooding, famine and disease, droughts and storms.

Similarly, compounded by decreasing habitat availability from deforestation, overfishing, and resource overuse, climatic shifts are already being accompanied by staggering and consistent losses in biodiversity.  Published last month, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ Global Assessment Report concluded that the second-fastest mass extinction event in planetary history is underway; the current rate of extinction is 100 to 1000 times greater than historical background rates.  Over one million species are at risk of extinction within the next few decades.

As they perceive the horsemen beginning to saddle up their mounts, many of my friends and colleagues in the environmental community have succumbed to anxiety, if not despondency.  It is all too easy to become overwhelmed and unable to make a decision on how to proceed given the enormity of the problem and the lateness of the hour.  Indeed, given their scale, global challenges like climate change and biodiversity loss have been called hyperobjects which humans cannot comprehend despite their pervasive effects that are and will be experienced by everyone in some way.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Global Warming, Carbon Dioxide and the Solar Minimum

Global Warming, Carbon Dioxide and the Solar Minimum

Since Climate Change (CC) has been a constant of life on Gaia with the evolution of photosynthesis 3.2 billion years ago and has more complexities than this one essay can address; ergo, this article will explore co2’s historic contribution to global warming (GW) as well as explore the relationship of Solar Minimum(SM) to Earth’s climate.

Even before the UN-initiated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) formed in 1988, the common assumption was that carbon dioxide was thekey greenhouse gas and that its increases were the driving force solely responsible for rising climate temperatures.  

At that time, anthropogenic (human caused) GW was declared to be theexistential crisis of our time, that the science was settled and that we, as a civilization, were running out of time.

And yet, in the intervening years, uncertainty remained about GW’s real time impacts which may be rooted in the fact that many of IPCC’sessential climate forecasts of consequence have not materializedas predicted.  Even as the staid Economist magazine recently noted:

Over the past fifteen years, air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse gas emissions have continued to soar.” 

Before the IPCC formed, NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii registered co2 levelsat under 350 ppm (parts per million) with the explicit warning that if co2 exceeded that number, Mother Earth was in Big Trouble – and there would be no turning back for humanity.  Those alarm bells continue today as co2 levels have risen to 414 ppm as temperatures peaked in 1998.

From the outset, the IPCC controlled the debate by limiting its charter

to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Can Renewable Portfolio Standards make RE Work?

Can Renewable Portfolio Standards make RE Work?

Guest post by Geo who is a geologist working in Alaska

People want energy to be cleaner (i.e. emit less carbon dioxide). One way to do this is to use regulations to force either greater efficiency, or a switch to cleaner fuels.

A good example would be Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in the United States. They were first enacted by the United States Congress in 1975, after the 1973–74 Arab Oil Embargo, to improve the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks (trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles) produced for sale in the United States. The idea was that slowly, across the board, the mileage of all cars and trucks produced in the U.S. would gradually increase. Over time this would result in cleaner air, and reduced oil usage. And perhaps save consumers money…

And it more or less worked as advertised. Standards were raised, and efficiency increased, largely without additional cost. U.S. cars are twice as fuel-efficient today as they were 40 years ago, saving car owners millions of dollars, and reducing air pollution. Arguably a win-win.

Figure 1: EPA “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 through 2017,” EPA-420-S-18-001, January 2018.

A slight nuance was added in some markets. Certificates for high mileage vehicles could be traded, so that some manufacturers could continue producing low mileage vehicles. For example, under California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Regulation and those of states that have adopted California’s standard, vehicle manufacturers are required to earn or purchase credits for compliance with their annual regulatory requirements. This means that a certain number of electric cars must be sold to balance any low mileage vehicles.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

UK climate emergency is official policy

UK climate emergency is official policy

Heathrow’s expansion is now in question. Image: By J Patrick Fischer, via Wikimedia Commons

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Harvest timber without destroying forests

Harvest timber without destroying forests

A prehistoric squirrel, it is said, could have scampered from Norway to Singapore without touching the ground, so dense was the carpet of trees that stretched across the world. Similar forests stretched across North America and many other parts of the world – all of them providing a home to thousands of living things, all of them vacuuming the carbon dioxide from the air and keeping the climate stable.

Most of that landscape was felled for timber and paper long ago, the land given over to crops and suburbia – or to wasteland. Of course, humans need food and houses, but we also need timber and wildlife, and our ancestors would have been wiser to preserve some of those forests for future generations. And sometimes, they did – for at least six thousand years, some humans have used an old technique to continually harvest timber from a forest while keeping it alive indefinitely.

When the evergreen trees around here are cut at the base, their roots die. But many broad-leaved, deciduous trees continue to soak up water and nutrients through their roots. The roots put their energy into creating shoots, which grow into new saplings – and soon you will have several smaller trees where you had one before. In a matter of years or decades – how long depends on the type of tree – you can harvest those smaller trees, called “underwood,” and the process begins again. You can keep doing this as long as the original base continues to live, which can be more than a hundred years.

Commonly coppiced species included ash, chestnut, oak, hazel, sycamore and alder, and most of these created shoot from the cut stump, called a stool. The new trunks usually curved outward from the original stool, and so their naturally bowed wood was often prized for ship-building.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

CO2 levels pass 3-million-year record

CO2 levels pass 3-million-year record

Fossil fuel burning is pushing CO2 levels ever higher. Image: By Tony Webster, via Wikimedia Commons

The modern world is about to pass a temperature peak dating back for millions of years – because CO2 levels have already passed an ancient record..

LONDON, 8 April, 2019 – German scientists have confirmed, once again, that carbon dioxide is reaching concentrations unprecedented on any human time scale, with CO2 levels in the atmosphere already higher than they have been for at least three million years.

And their computer simulations – backed up by analysis of ocean sediments that tell a tale of changing temperatures and greenhouse gas levels – show that before the century’s close the world will become warmer than at any time in the last three million years.

The last time planetary temperatures reached a level higher than the target set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015was during a bygone geological period, the Pliocene.

“It seems we are now pushing our home planet beyond any climatic conditions experienced during the entire current geological period, the Quaternary,” said Matteo Willeit of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Our results imply a strong sensitivity of the Earth system to relatively small changes in atmospheric CO2. As fascinating as this is, it is also worrying”

“A period that started almost three million years ago and saw human civilisation beginning only 11,000 years ago. So the modern change we see is big, really big, even by the standards of Earth history.”

He and colleagues report in the journal Science Advances  that they made a numerical model of all the astronomical and geological data available for the last few million years and fed in algorithms to represent the physics and chemistry of planet Earth.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Guest Post: Carbon emissions will reach 37 billion tonnes in 2018, a record high

Guest Post: Carbon emissions will reach 37 billion tonnes in 2018, a record high

Pep Canadell, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, University of East Anglia; Glen Peters, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Robbie Andrew, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo, and Rob Jackson, Stanford University
Carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuels and industry are projected to rise more than 2% (range 1.8% to 3.7%) in 2018, taking global fossil CO₂ emissions to a new record high of 37.1 billion tonnes.

The strong growth is the second consecutive year of increasing emissions since the 2014-16 period when emissions stabilised, further slowing progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement that require a peak in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. Strong growth in emissions from the use of coal, oil and natural gas suggests CO₂ emissions are likely to increase further in 2019.

Strong energy demand is behind the rise in emissions growth, which is outpacing the speed at which decarbonisation of the energy system is taking place. Total energy consumption around the world increased by one sixth over the past decade, the result of a growing global middle class and the need to provide electricity to hundreds of millions of people living in poverty. The challenge, then, is for all nations to decarbonise their economies while also satisfying the need for energy, particularly in developing countries where continued growth in energy supply is needed.

These analyses are part of the new annual assessment of the Global Carbon Project (GCP), published today in three separate papers. The GCP brings together scientists who use climate and industrial data from around the world to develop the most comprehensive picture of the Earth’s sources and sinks of greenhouse gases.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Decades of Denial and Stalling Have Created a Climate Crunch

Decades of Denial and Stalling Have Created a Climate Crunch

Firefighters spray water on a 2013 bush fire in Australia

In a 1965 speech to members, American Petroleum Institute president Frank Ikard outlined the findings of a report by then-president Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee, based in part on research the institute conducted in the 1950s.

The substance of the report is that there is still time to save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequence of pollution, but time is running out,” Ikard said, adding, “One of the most important predictions of the report is that carbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at such a rate that by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as possibly to cause marked changes in climate beyond local or even national efforts.”

Many scientists were reaching similar conclusions, based on a body of evidence that had been growing at least since French mathematician Joseph Fourier described the greenhouse effect in 1824. In the 1950s, Russian climatologist Mikhail Budykoexamined how feedback loops amplify human influences on the climate. He published two books, in 1961 and 1962, warning that growing energy use will warm the planet and cause Arctic ice to disappear, creating feedback cycles that would accelerate warming.

The predictions have proven to be accurate, and evidence for human-caused global warming has since become indisputable.

What happened? Over the ensuing decades, the fossil fuel industry didn’t try to resolve what it knew would become a crisis. Instead, it worked to downplay and often deny the reality of climate change and to sow doubt and confusion. Knowingly putting humanity — and countless other species — at risk for the sake of profit is an intergenerational crime against humanity, but it’s unlikely any perpetrators will face justice.

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Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Climate Change 2018-2100

Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Climate Change 2018-2100

This is Part 5 of the World Energy Annual Report in 2018.  Links to Part 1 to Part 4 are shown below:

World Energy 2018-2050

World Oil 2018-2050

World Natural Gas 2018-2050

World Coal 2018-2050

This part of the Annual Report provides updated analysis of world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels consumption, evaluates the future prospect of global warming and considers the implications of global emissions budget (to limit global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius) for economic growth.  Figures are placed at the end of each section.

In 2017, fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal) accounted for 85 percent of the world primary energy consumption.  Consumption of fossil fuels results in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.  In 2017, the global average surface temperature anomaly was 1.18ºC (degrees Celsius).  The ten-year average global surface temperature anomaly from 2008 to 2017 was 1.00 ºC (NASA 2018).  Global surface temperature anomaly is measured by the difference between the global average surface temperature and the average global temperature during 1880-1920.  The latter is used as a proxy for the pre-industrial global average temperature (Hansen and Sato 2016).

A scientific consensus has been established that if global average surface temperature rises to and stays above 2ºC higher than the pre-industrial global average temperature, dangerous climate change with catastrophic consequences cannot be avoided.  According to Hansen et al. (2016), global warming by more than 2ºC will lead to the melting of West Antarctica ice sheets, causing sea level to rise by 5-9 meters over the next 50-200 years.  Bangladesh, European lowlands, the US eastern coast, North China plains, and many coastal cities will be submerged.  Further increase in global average temperature may eventually lead to runaway warming, turning much of the world unsuitable for human inhabitation.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fracking in the UK

Fracking in the UK

Burning fossil fuels is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions (GGE), and, greenhouse gas emissions (water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O)) are the principle cause of man-made climate change. Given this fact, governments throughout the world should be moving away from fossil fuels and investing in, and designing policies that encourage development of, renewable sources of energy. But the British Conservative government, despite public opinion to the contrary, has all but banned the construction of onshore wind turbines and is encouraging fracking in England. The Tories are the only UK political party to offer support for this regressive form of energy production, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens having all promised fracking bans should they gain political office at the next general election.

Hydraulic fracking is the process of releasing gas and oil from shale rock: huge quantities of water, proppant (usually sand) and chemicals are injected at high-pressure into hydrocarbon-bearing rocks, rocks that can be up to a mile down and were once thought to be impermeable. This process of fracturing (or cracking) forces the rocks to crack open, and gas held inside is released and allowed to flow to the surface.

Shale gas is a fossil fuel, and when combusted produces GGE, albeit at around 50% less than coal or oil, but GGE nevertheless. The leading fracking company in Britain is the energy firm Cuadrilla. An organization that according to its website, aims “to be a model company for exploring and developing shale gas in the UK,” they state that they are “acutely aware of the responsibilities this brings, particularly with regard to safety, environmental protection and working with local communities.” Really?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Forests are the Best ‘Technology’ to Fight Climate Change

Why Forests are the Best ‘Technology’ to Fight Climate Change

The warning from the world’s top climate scientists that carbon dioxide (CO2) will need to be removed from the atmosphere to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is both a due and dire recognition of the great task in front of us. What must not be forgotten, however, is the hope that our forests provide.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said limiting global warming to 1.5C is not only achievable but also critical, given the previously underestimated accelerating risks for every degree of warming beyond that target.

It has also suggested that the amount of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) that will be needed can be limited by significant and rapid cuts in emissions, but also reduced energy and land demand to a few hundred gigatonnes without relying on Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).

This means forests and land use can and must play a key role in efforts to achieve 1.5 degrees, but governments and industry too often overlook why improved forest protection, as well as forest restoration, are crucial alternative solutions to risky CDR technologies such as BECCS.

While greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and the destruction of forests and peatlands contribute heavily to climate change, the growth and restoration of forests can contribute significantly to reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Recent research suggests that forest protection and restoration, together with other “natural climate solutions”, can provide over one-third of the climate mitigation needed between now and 2030.

The IPCC has estimated that between 100 and 1,000 gigatonnes of CO2 will need to be removed from the atmosphere to meet the Paris goals. It has been broadly agreed that the most important natural “carbon sinks” are the world’s forests. To limit climate change, we must urgently adopt an holistic approach to forest and peatland protection.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars

Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars

Because plants convert CO2 (a greenhouse gas) into oxygen, gardens combat global warming. Right? Isn’t this, as Sherlock Holmes would say, elementary? So why then is the mayor of a major coastal city, one whose very existence is threatened by global warming, intent on destroying community gardens? Could it be because the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, isn’t terribly concerned about the already unfolding ecological catastrophe? It certainly looks that way. Perhaps this is why, in spite of the fact that he lives in a city in which getting around by car is ridiculously slow, and there’s great public transportation, and cars are a major source of pollution and global warming, and New York City will be accessible only to scuba divers before too long because of sea-level rise, he not only travels 12 miles in an SUV to work out, but reproduces anachronistic, car-centric politics. His priorities lie elsewhere, with those of real estate developers, and the “business class” generally. This is why de Blasio can’t stop shutting down community gardens.

Grown on lots of land leased from the city, these gardens are being taken away from the communities that cultivated them, and that they enrich, and handed over to de Blasio’s real estate developer allies. Transferring vital resources to the wealthy, so that the wealthy can enjoy even more than they need, while the rest of us manage with ever less (no different from efforts to take away Social Security), is, of course, how this system works – and has worked here since the Dutch colonized the region in the 17th century. It doesn’t matter that the planet is growing hotter, and that trees and gardens ameliorate this – cleaning and cooling the carcinogenic air. The system has rules of its own, it must “efficiently exploit” the land and everything on it – i.e., generate profit. Necessities must be subordinated to luxuries. Obstacles to this effort will be plowed under.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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