Monday, October 03, 2016
1.5 C by 2030. 2.0 C by 2050. Let's Go Out and Get an Electric Car.
This is one of those blog posts that was almost spiked. I wrote it last week but put it on hold. Another study on climate change. Seems we got it wrong again. The end is nigher than we thought. Sort of like standing with a megaphone on the bridge of the Titanic calling out each time the stern list worsened by a degree.
Then, this morning, I came across a fluff piece in the enviro section of The Guardian. It was a real "feel good" report about an MIT study showing how clean energy is making inroads as wind and especially solar costs plummet. And it's true. The devil, however, is in the details.
Here are some of the highlights. In the UK, electric vehicle charging stations will outnumber gas stations by 2020. Since 2008, LED costs in the US have plummeted as much as 94%. In the US the unit cost of commercial solar energy has dropped by about 2/3rds. Wind power costs are likewise dropping and wind could generate 35% of US electricity by 2050. It's all great stuff, encouraging and to be encouraged.
The devil is what's unsaid. Not mentioned is how much US energy demand is going to increase by 2050 and what that means for overall consumption of fossil fuels. 35% by 2050 sounds great but it's simply not enough and not nearly soon enough. If this is the best we can expect from the world's most affluent economy what are we to expect from the poorer and more heavily populated countries, especially those in Africa and Asia that will be going through a baby boom of unprecedented scale?
So much for the good news.
The bad news? Most of us will be around to see global warming break through the 1.5 degree Celsius mark. The good news? Many of us won't be around to see it hit 2.0 degrees Celsius by mid-century. The other side of that coin is that our children probably will see 2C and our grandkids will see temperatures much higher yet.
You can find all the details in a report released Thursday, "The Truth About Climate Change." Lead author is Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the IPCC.
Here's the thing. The report is pretty clear except for what it leaves out. It focuses on man-made emissions, anthropogenic global warming. That's like exploring the apple and ignoring the entire bag of oranges. The oranges are non-anthropogenic global warming, what are known as natural feedback loops. That element consists of things such as the loss of Arctic sea ice, the release of seabed methane deposits thawed by warming waters, the release of methane from thawing permafrost, those sorts of things. That's what the 2 C limit, now revised to 1.5 C, was intended to avert, back when, only it's already underway.
We also learned this week that we've now driven atmospheric CO2 levels permanently past the 400 ppm mark. No one expects it to return to sub-400 levels in our lifetimes.
Here's another thing. Civilization is somewhere between 11 to 12,000 years old. Our civilization began when Earth entered the Holocene geological epoch. We had a great, albeit brief, run.
Today, however, Earth is the warmest it has been in 100,000 years, way back before human civilization. We are already there. But there's more to come. Our existing atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions ensure that Earth will hit levels not experienced for 2,000,000 years. Our species, homo sapiens, date back just 200,000 years.
We, mankind, have achieved most of this in just 200 years, two centuries. That's how powerful the impact we have had on this planet Earth. Today we're more than 7-billion bulls loose in the same planetary china shop.
So, yes, by all means get an electric car and load up on those now affordable LEDs. Gaze in adoring awe whenever you see a wind farm. Just don't let them blow smoke up your - well, you know.