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.


Toby said...

Automobiles spend more time sitting idle than actually going anywhere. Solar panels on the roof to recharge the batteries should be obvious.

Usable power needs to be created closer to where it will be consumed. As much as a third of power can be lost when sending electricity over long distances.

Anonymous said...

It still takes oil to manufacture these cars.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 3:06

So, what's your point? Asbestos is still used as a fire retardant in parts of the world. That doesn't mean we shouldn't take measures to cut down on its use - entirely if possible.


Toby said...

"It still takes oil to manufacture these cars."

Considering how we need oil for so many uses it is stunning that we burn it.

Lorne said...

In some ways, Mound, perhaps it is better that the majority of people do not know about the things you convey in this post. I have read your research and others' over the past several years, and while my preference is to be as well-informed as I can be, it is clear that we are likely past the point of no return; others might seize upon this dire situation as licence to do nothing to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, since it will do little good at this point. But something tells me it is still better to fight the good fight, even if there is little prospect of victory, than do nothing at all.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Lorne. I believe you were away last week when I wrote this:

The post and the book referenced, "The Upside of Down," speak to your point that we've probably left it all too late. The author, Thomas Homer-Dixon, professor and former head of the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice, concludes that we have set in play several tectonic forces that will, not may but will, take down civilization. The book is devoted to ensuring that the outcome is not outright collapse as foreseen by Jared Diamond but a sharp decline that may afford us the opportunity, if we're wise enough to see it, to re-invent civilization with different modes of organization - social, political, economic, industrial. The book is available for a few bucks in good condition from Abe Books. You can probably also find a copy in your local library. I think you'll find it interesting.

Anonymous said...

Picky---picky My point is...companies will still find excuses to keep searching for oil and use anything including vehicle production to do so. Instead of spending money to design better public transport.

John's Aghast said...

If Musk is successful in colonizing Mars perhaps he could take a stab at re-colonizing Earth.

The Mound of Sound said...

Mars is Elon Musk's "bridge too far." The place has no atmosphere. Mars lost its magnetic field some 4-billion years ago. Without that protection, solar winds simply swept the atmosphere away. The loss of that magnetic field removes all sort of protections human life requires.

I have an alternative idea for seeding our galaxy with life. It entails sending capsules laden with carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids, into deep space. Instruments aboard the capsule would search for suitable planets and then land on them, dispersing those building blocks of life. It wouldn't be human life, to be sure, but it would be Earthly life of the sort from which we evolved.

The point is the more complex the organism, a person for example, the more terra-forming would be necessary, perhaps billions of years in some cases. There is no "just add water and stir" instant evolution.