Thursday, September 22, 2016

That "Carbon Budget"? It's Gone.

Because the battle against climate change is predominantly a political question, reality often gets marginalized if not ignored entirely. When you hear our political leadership discuss climate change it's always about cutting greenhouse gas emissions by some percentage of some past year's emissions by some year in the future - maybe. Politicians set "goals" that provide enough wiggle room that their commitments are nonsense, pure bullshit.

Justin Trudeau is using Stephen Harper's numbers of a 30 per cent reduction from 2005 emissions levels by 2030. To hear him tell it, anything above that would destroy the country or at least our economy. Pure bullshit.

Then there's a new article from Bill McKibbon in The New Republic. You'll be wanting to sit down to read this:

The future of humanity depends on math. And the numbers in a new study released Thursday are the most ominous yet.

Those numbers spell out, in simple arithmetic, how much of the fossil fuel in the world’s existing coal mines and oil wells we can burn if we want to prevent global warming from cooking the planet. In other words, if our goal is to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do?

Here’s the answer: zero.

That’s right: If we’re serious about preventing catastrophic warming, the new study shows, we can’t dig any new coal mines, drill any new fields, build any more pipelines. Not a single one. We’re done expanding the fossil fuel frontier. Our only hope is a swift, managed decline in the production of all carbon-based energy from the fields we’ve already put in production.

The new numbers are startling. Only four years ago, I wrote an essay called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” In the piece, I drew on research from a London-based think tank, the Carbon Tracker Initiative. The research showed that the untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas identified by the world’s fossil fuel industry contained five times more carbon than we can burn if we want to keep from raising the planet’s temperature by more than two degrees Celsius.

...“What we found is that if you burn up all the carbon that’s in the currently operating fields and mines, you’re already above two degrees,” says Stephen Kretzmann, OCI’s executive director. It’s not that if we keep eating like this for a few more decades we’ll be morbidly obese. It’s that if we eat what’s already in the refrigerator we’ll be morbidly obese.

...To have just a break-even chance of meeting that 1.5 degree goal we solemnly set in Paris, we’ll need to close all of the coal mines and some of the oil and gas fields we’re currently operating long before they’re exhausted.

“Absent some incredible breakthrough in mythical carbon-sucking unicorns, the numbers say we’re done with the expansion of the fossil fuel industry,” says Kretzmann. “Living up to the Paris Agreement means we must start a managed decline in the fossil fuel industry immediately—and manage that decline as quickly as possible.”

A "managed decline." In Paris last December, Potsdam Institute director, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, used a different term, "induced implosion," in imploring our political caste to use their power to shut down the fossil energy giants as soon as possible.

There's your problem - a scientific diagnosis that is unacceptable politically. That goes, in spades, for Canada. If you're going to have a "managed decline" or an "induced implosion" you would begin by shutting down the dirtiest, highest-carbon fossil fuels. Coal is one. Then there's the highest-carbon variety of ersatz petroleum, bitumen. That means the Tar Sands. 

A "managed decline" means that we have to put ourselves on a carbon diet which begins by switching to conventional, lower-carbon fossil fuels while we speed up the transition to alternate, clean energy. That may be good news for the sweet crude resources of the Middle East but that only gives us cause to redouble our efforts to transition off fossil energy.

Or we can take the politically favoured alternative, the one our grandkids will pay dearly for in the decades to come. That's the clear choice of the government of Canada.

1 comment:

Toby said...

Think Justine and crew will apologize to our grand children in about 30 years?