Thursday, December 06, 2018

If Lemmings Could Drive...

If lemmings could drive they would be a lot like us. They would still go over the cliff only in a little more style.

A report in The New York Times says we, mankind, are driving ourselves over a cliff.

Scientists described the quickening rate of carbon dioxide emissions in stark terms, comparing it to a “speeding freight train” and laying part of the blame on an unexpected surge in the appetite for oil as people around the world not only buy more cars but also drive them farther than in the past — more than offsetting any gains from the spread of electric vehicles. 
We’ve seen oil use go up five years in a row,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford and an author of one of two studies published Wednesday. “That’s really surprising.” 
Worldwide, carbon emissions are expected to increase by 2.7 percent in 2018, according to the new research, which was published by the Global Carbon Project, agroup of 100 scientists from more than 50 academic and research institutions and one of the few organizations to comprehensively examine global emissions numbers. Emissions rose 1.6 percent last year, the researchers said, ending a three-year plateau.

Reducing carbon emissions is central to stopping global warming. Three years ago nearly 200 nations hammered out the Paris Agreement with a goal of holding warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (two degrees Celsius) over preindustrial levels. 
Avoiding that threshold — already considered challenging — is viewed as a way to stave off some of the worst effects of climate change, like melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels. For the Paris goals to be met, scientists say, global emissions from power plants, factories, cars and trucks, as well as those from deforestation, would need to swiftly begin declining to zero.
I realize these posts are depressing. I know because I only post about a fraction of what I read and I find nothing rewarding in it. Yet we need more people spreading the word, letting others know - those that want to know - what's happening, where we're heading, what it means.

Imagine how the hundreds of scientists from 13 US government agencies that produced the latest National Climate Assessment, all 1,600 pages of it, reacted when their president dismissed it, saying "I don't believe it"?

It's no wonder why the burnout rate among climate scientists is so high.  You muster all the science, distill it into a report, issue a dire warning and then get heaped with scorn and derision. Suddenly that opening for a chemistry teacher in a backwater community college sounds irresistible.

Are we collectively working our way through the Kubler-Ross model of five stages of grief? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. How can anyone, save those who refuse to take a glimpse at what's under the carpet, not be so affected?

Of course we have the global community earnestly toiling away in Katowice, Poland, to find some means of averting runaway global warming. Mr. Trudeau wants a $20 per ton carbon tax to curb our fossil fuel appetites. Some favour cap and trade. There's no real consensus.

What we rarely talk about is how we're going to put in place enough alternative clean energy to keep our economies ticking over without some sort of collapse.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at that and concluded that, at the rate we're going, we should have an alternative clean energy world in just under 400 years.

Beyond the vexing combination of economic, political, and technical challenges is the basic problem of overwhelming scale. There is a massive amount that needs to be built, which will suck up an immense quantity of manpower, money, and materials. 
For starters, global energy consumption is likely to soar by around 30 percent in the next few decades as developing economies expand. (China alone needs to add the equivalent of the entire US power sector by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.) To cut emissions fast enough and keep up with growth, the world will need to develop 10 to 30 terawatts of clean-energy capacity by 2050. On the high end that would mean constructing the equivalent of around 30,000 nuclear power plants—or producing and installing 120 billion 250-watt solar panels.
There’s simply little financial incentive for the energy industry to build at that scale and speed while it has tens of trillions of dollars of sunk costs in the existing system. 
“If you pay a billion dollars for a gigawatt of coal, you’re not going to be happy if you have to retire it in 10 years,” says Steven Davis, an associate professor in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine. 
It’s somewhere between difficult and impossible to see how any of that will change until there are strong enough government policies or big enough technology breakthroughs to override the economics.
Which brings us back to December, 2015 and the Paris climate summit. That was when the global community announced they would cut emissions sufficiently to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. When he heard that, Potsdam Institute director, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, warned that to have any chance of meeting that 1.5C target would require nothing less than the "induced implosion" of the global fossil energy industry. Governments, i.e. petro-states, would have to euthanize their fossil energy giants.  He knew that Big Fossil would fight fang and claw, use their massive political clout, anything to keep growing - and they are. And here in Canada we keep subsidizing them to the tune of billions upon billions of dollars every year. What kind of message does that send the Oil Barons?


Anonymous said...

Corporations are driving us over the cliff. Get every fossil fuel vehicle off the roads and we bring down the % of CO2 in the environment nicely. it now!

The Mound of Sound said...

Wish I had a magic wand, Anon. They haven't invented that yet. As the MIT report shows, conversion would be a truly Herculean chore. That said, we can do as much as possible and hope to do even better after that if we make this our government's top priority. But the economy remains the top priority for our federal and provincial governments and that means that, at best, the fight against climate change will yield to a great extent to other priorities.

Rural said...

“I realize these posts are depressing. I know because I only post about a fraction of what I read and I find nothing rewarding in it. Yet we need more people spreading the word”
And I am saddened to say that whilst I try to resist 'galloping over that cliff' other than adding to your ongoing regurgitating of the accurate but largely ignored highlighting of the cliff at our toes I know not what to do. I do believe that the awareness of the problem is increasing but will action take place, what will it be and will it be in time? Somehow I doubt it!
BUT keep on rattling our collective cage Mound!

The Mound of Sound said...

Rural, the way I rationalize this, and it does take a good bit of rationalization, is that, while we may not be able to achieve a remotely ideal future for our grandchildren, what we can unquestioningly do is make that future far worse than it need be.

That has to be the focus; trying to see to it that we at least minimize the damage we're currently adding to the indelible impacts from the past. That alone is reason enough to keep posting these reports.

BW said...

At this point we have painted ourselves into a corner.
While many focus on personal automobiles, the two major users of fossil fuels are agriculture and goods transportation (much of this to transport food).
FF enters every step of food production: machinery, fertilizers, processing, etc.
Going full organic (no FF inputs) we could probably feed adequately 2 billion people, at the most.
There is no easy way out of this.

Anonymous said...

Even Lemming are smarter than us; they don't actually run off cliffs. That was just a disney staged event for "White Wilderness".

Humans on the other hand are unwilling to take their foot of the gas.
I think the shame of it all is we will take the lemmings and other life with us on the plunge down.