Wednesday, November 06, 2019

How Do You Like Your Chances?

Maybe you think they're just making this sh*t up. Maybe you would like to think they're just making this sh*t up but you realize that they're not. Maybe the enormity of what they're saying is more than you can process so you don't want to think about it period.

11,000 scientists are not a hoax. A hoax is essentially a fraud, a deception. I used to do a good bit of fraud work. Some of the bad guys I encountered were really, really good at it. I learned a lot from them. One thing I learned is that scams don't like numbers. Too many cooks spoil the broth sort of thing. People drift off script, some get cold feet, some are not worth a dam at telling lies. 11,000 people, that's no hoax. 11,000 scientists, highly educated experts from a broad range of disciplines, you've got to take them at face value.

It's incumbent on us to accept that they're telling the truth. Now it's time to confront the truth they're telling us, their blunt and dire warning that our survival is in grave peril.

The good thing is that they've told us what we must do to have a viable future. The bad thing is that it's one hell of a shopping list. We have to overhaul this thing, our way of life, how we're governed, our economy both domestic and global. We have to change course and we don't have the luxury of time.

Here are a few of their observations.
The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle. The most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions (table S1).
...Profoundly troubling signs from human activities include sustained increases in both human and ruminant livestock populations, per capita meat production, world gross domestic product, global tree cover loss, fossil fuel consumption, the number of air passengers carried, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and per capita CO2 emissions since 2000.

...Especially disturbing are concurrent trends in the vital signs of climatic impacts (figure 2, supplemental file S2). Three abundant atmospheric GHGs (CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide) continue to increase (see figure S1 for ominous 2019 spike in CO2), as does global surface temperature (figure 2a–2d). Globally, ice has been rapidly disappearing, evidenced by declining trends in minimum summer Arctic sea ice, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and glacier thickness worldwide (figure 2e–2h). Ocean heat content, ocean acidity, sea level, area burned in the United States, and extreme weather and associated damage costs have all been trending upward (figure 2i–2n). Climate change is predicted to greatly affect marine, freshwater, and terrestrial life, from plankton and corals to fishes and forests (IPCC 2018, 2019). These issues highlight the urgent need for action.

...Especially worrisome are potential irreversible climate tipping points and nature's reinforcing feedbacks (atmospheric, marine, and terrestrial) that could lead to a catastrophic “hothouse Earth,” well beyond the control of humans (Steffen et al. 2018). These climate chain reactions could cause significant disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies, potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.

To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live, in ways that improve the vital signs summarized by our graphs. Economic and population growth are among the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion (Pachauri et al. 2014, Bongaarts and O’Neill 2018); therefore, we need bold and drastic transformations regarding economic and population policies.
The group then identifies six areas in which we need wholesale change, now.

On energy they urge a rapid (i.e. engineered) shift from fossil fuels to renewable clean energy. We don't, we die. They're blunt about it - fossil fuels must be left in the ground where they can no longer poison our environment. You would have to be thicker than Scott Moe not to understand that means leaving the high carbon, low value stuff - coal and bitumen - in the ground.

Next up are short-lived climate pollutants - methane, black soot and hydroflourocarbons. That captures natural gas among the pollutants we must outlaw. That's bitumen, coal and natural gas. Oh dear.

Third is rehabilitating the biosphere, i.e. reversing  habitat and biodiversity loss,  while protecting and restoring the planet's forests through reforestation and afforestation. Afforestation is the tougher of the two because it means taking land now used for other purposes and planting trees there instead.  With a population now nearing eight billion, more than three times the global population when I was born, we've been devouring our wilderness to meet human needs. It's going to be tough to give land back to nature especially as we have already degraded our stocks of arable farmland.

Numero Quatro - 'where's the beef?' We must break our meat habit and switch to an increasingly vegetarian diet. All that grazing land should be put into crops to feed humanity. They also call for a drastic reduction in food waste. Oh, if only.

The Big Number Five. Surprise, it's the economy. We've got it stoked to crazy levels.  We're extracting and consuming far more than nature, our biosphere can provide.  And, as capitalism demands, we're still in relentless pursuit of perpetual exponential growth in GDP. Our own Justin Trudeau is an open advocate of endless growth, GDP.
Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.
Ecosystems come ahead of GDP. So do improving human well-being and reducing inequality.

Are you ready for an end of capitalism, the economic model we've embraced back to the 17th century? We have built a global civilization on capitalism but capitalism has also been instrumental in bringing us to the edge of this abyss. Are we really interested in living within our ecological means? Can we accept structuring our society, our economy to live in harmony with our biosphere, the one we've been savaging for decades?

The final area where urgent change is needed is population. On this one I'm not so sure that these scientists have the full measure of our predicament.
...the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity.
Credible and respected NGOs such as the Global Footprint Network conclude that mankind exceeded the Earth's ecological carrying capacity around 1970 when population passed the three billion mark. Since then we've more than doubled in numbers and that increase has been compounded by increases in longevity and in per capita consumption. GFN and other sources think that we've been in 'overshoot' for so long that the Earth's sustainable carrying capacity has declined to just two billion.

I can understand the dilemma facing these scientists. There's no acceptable means to slash human population by 75 per cent in short order. We will probably get there through a variety of means - war, disease, climate die-off (famine, resources exhaustion, etc.).

Okay, now we've gone through the Six Deadly Sins and what we must do about them if we want to preserve some viable future. We know what must be done but also the scale of what must be done.

Canadians are extremely fortunate that we have a federal government that has solemnly pledged to "follow the science." I assume that includes the science of survival but I suppose I could be wrong. I hope not.

What would our government have to do to meet these six criteria? Population - we get a pass on that one. The other five, we don't.

Energy. Canada's an energy superpower. The only two parties that have ever governed our country are big on the fossil fuels, especially one of the most harmful one, bitumen. The prescription is blunt - leave that stuff in the ground. Instead we're moving to flood world markets with even more of the high-carbon, low-value, climate-wrecking garbage. Justin Trudeau has made way more progress on this than Stephen Harper ever did.  The Dauphin is about to pull the trigger with his new and greatly expanded pipeline.

Do you think he'll "follow the science"? I surely don't.

What about methane, natural gas? Our government is a big advocate of LNG projects to get Canadian fracked gas to world markets.  Science? Meh.

Rehabilitating the environment is next. Canada is one of the two remaining sources of real wilderness. The other is Russia. A lot of our wilderness, our forests, is at risk to pests such as the pine beetle. Climate change is an additional forest stressor. We may need to reforest with tree species that are pest- and climate-resistant but we still have that option. It's an iffy proposition for governments already defunded but it's possible.

The vegetarian thing. That's going to be a hard sell. People like their beef. They like their pork. Canada being a democracy, sort of, what would it take to garner public support for slashing meat production and consumption? Think Alberta is already foaming at the mouth? I doubt we'll see Ottawa grow the cojones needed to tackle that one but who knows?

Capitalism and the abandonment of the GDP-based economy. Our prime minister, in keeping with every prime minister before him, is a big fan of GDP. He boasts of it. Gotta keep that exponential growth perpetual. More this year and more next year and the year after that and forever. It's dangerously delusional. I'll let David Suzuki explain.

Yet it seems to me every bit as delusional to expect that our leaders, including this prime minister, will accept what Suzuki observes is a matter of "mathematical certainty." It doesn't take a great mind to see Suzuki's point but, for some reason, our leaders are conditioned to ignore it. Isn't that like jumping in the back seat with a thoroughly drunk driver?

I don't see this call to arms being answered by the leadership we have today. I don't see other nations heeding this urgent warning either. What does that portend? We'll know soon enough.

If this makes you feel like throwing in the towel, don't. We need to fight this even if we're cynical about the outcome. Public attitudes are changing and while concern about climate change doesn't yet translate into a willingness to do much about it, it is a start. It does focus the public on what's happening and the more they learn the more powerful the fight becomes.  The government side can't grow nearly as fast as public opinion. That makes the fight worthwhile.


Anonymous said...

Have you quit eating pork and beef Mound? Have you sold your car(s) and get around on a bicycle? How many times have you flown in the past 10 years? How many solar panels do you have to power your home?

Serious questions.

Northern PoV said...

Serious Qs if your trying to deflect and confuse....

"While individuals may have a role to play, appealing to individual virtues for addressing climate change is something akin to victim-blaming because it shifts the burden from those who ought to act to those who are most likely to be affected by climate change. A far more just and effective approach would be to hold those who are responsible for climate change accountable for their actions.The Conversation"

Northern PoV said...

I occasionally succumb to fast food (mea culpa).

As for "The vegetarian thing. That's going to be a hard sell. People like their beef."

A&W's 'beyond' burger is way better than their 'real' beef burger. imo

Toby said...

"Are we really interested in living within our ecological means?"

Is anybody? Is it even possible?

BTW, grazing animals often use land that is not much good for anything else. By taking meat out of our diet we cannot assume that pasture land will all become vegetable gardens.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ SQ. A few answers to your questions. I don't eat beef. I lost the taste for it. Just to test that I bought a beautifully marbled steak last year and cooked it perfectly. Everything was great until it was time to eat it and then my enthusiasm was short lived. I don't tend to eat pork although probably a little more than my beef consumption.

I do eat poultry but in small portions. I'm lucky enough to have a small fishing port about half a km. distant and can often pick up fresh catch there. My neighbour goes out for prawns and crabs and often hands me a bag over the fence. I don't say no.

I still must drive because I'm not on any transit line. That said I drive as little as necessary and, when I do, I often cart along a neighbour, sometimes two, on my shopping trips. I was encouraged this year when I renewed my insurance to learn that I qualify for a low mileage, under 4k, discount. It takes another 10% off my insurance bill.

I do have a bicycle, a Specialized Rockhopper, that I've used for several years just for exercise. The kind that has suspension front and back, helpful to my aging bones.

I have flown once in the last 10 years, twice in the last 11 years. The first was for my mother's funeral. The second for my father's. I traveled extensively in the 60s through the early 80s when the world was worth seeing. If I want to see what those special places are like today I use Google Earth. It's not pretty. I'm content with my memories and my old photos.

No solar panels, not just yet. I did look into it but the utility of panels is diminished by the environmental costs and the fact that our electricity is about 90 per cent from renewable, hydro-electricity. Very little comes from fossil fuel generation and soon, I understand, that small remainder will be replaced.

I moved from a large house to a small house. Small but immensely comfortable. I retrofitted energy efficient casement windows that cool my house so well that I don't require air conditioning or constant fans. Partly that's because I live one block back from the sea atop a rocky promontory that renders the neighbourhood secure from sea level rise for a century or more.

I do these things because I can and I really don't consider them an imposition on my lifestyle. I never feel that I'm sacrificing anything.

I hope that answers your questions and addresses your concerns.

The Mound of Sound said...

NPoV, I too enjoy the A&W veggie burger but it's terrible when undercooked. So far it's been two hits and one miss.

The Mound of Sound said...

Toby, let's put it this way. 'Some' grazing animals use marginal land. That same land, however, can be used to grow switch grass and other plants that can be turned into 'surface cycle' fuels in lieu of fossil fuels. Ranching still takes a lot of energy and once the critters are headed for the feedlot a considerable amount of land that could otherwise be used to provide food.

As you well know, Toby, I tend to go on as I already have here. You raised good points and I felt the need for more than a cursory response. Thanks for your patience.

You ask if it's even possible to live within our ecological means, i.e. in harmony with nature. Not as we're currently structured - over-consumptive, overpopulated. What we must come to grasp is that our excessive consumption and overpopulation will be corrected one way or the other. All that remains to be seen is whether we do it on our terms or not. As they say, "nature bats last."

What is visible to the naked eye aboard the International Space Station evidences the looming havoc. Rivers that no longer run to the sea, algae blooms in our rivers, lakes and coastlines, seasonal wildfires of extended scope and duration that extend from Mexico into Alaska, spreading desertification as the Sahara jumps the Mediterranean and crosses into Europe or in China that manifests in dust storms that are carried by high altitude winds across the Pacific most of which seems to land on my furniture. Additional signs of widespread deforestation and desertification are testament to how we're degrading the biosphere. Chris Hadfield documented a lot of this with his DSLR camera.

Other evidence was supplied by NASA's Grace satellites that recorded with astonishing precision surface subsidence resulting from depletion of our aquifers for industrial agriculture. In the past century California's key agricultural zones have subsided more than 30 feet. They're fast running on empty. Meanwhile the industrial fishing fleet moves from region to region as it 'fishes down the food chain' depleting whatever, at any given moment, is the most desirable species as the better ones collapse. Hell they're even fishing hake now for human consumption. Hake!

These all corroborate warnings of collapse. We don't want to do much about it so nature will take its course just as James Lovelock's Gaia theory predicted. It wasn't that long ago, certainly less than a dozen years, that there were still credible scientists who disputed Lovelock's theory. Now his hypothesis is uncontroversial.

the salamander said...

I would prefer people read and re-read your excellent post for complete absorption..
I have a comment stewing in my head.. will keep it there till later..
after I re-read several times carefully..

Trailblazer said...

Unfortunately the climate debate has been reduced to right wing politics vs left wing politics.
Add to that the answers and solutions are divided by profit and loss.
Not to be outdone the evangelicals look forward to something better when the whole shit show dissolves!
Then there are the majority!
Those with their fingers in their ears unable to come to terms with reality beyond TV's shopping channel and Coronation Street.


Owen Gray said...

Myths have enduring power. They assume the status of dogma. If we are to survive, we have to reject the dogmas which have become second nature to us.

The Mound of Sound said...

TB, I suspect you're right. Hyper-partisanship has traditionally given way in times of national emergency. Not this time. Not here, not in the States. The Euros seem to have done much better. It was the chemist, Margaret Thatcher, who first got Britain engaged on the threat which probably explains why the UK is far ahead of North America in cutting emissions, etc. Perhaps it has to do with fossil industry influence in Washington and Ottawa.

Either way, we're still pretending that Harper's emissions targets are relevant even as we fall steadily further behind that inadequate goal.

The Mound of Sound said...

It is becoming pretty clear, Owen, that climate change is easily on par with other severe dangers, such as war, but isn't seen that way. We've also learned that, the longer we fail to act the greater the harm we will experience and the costlier will be the remedy.

There are so many factors that undermine effective action. One of the worst is 'creeping normalcy.' If the public of 2010 were to see the advance of climate change we experience today I imagine they would be shocked. Yet when it arrives incrementally, in layers, it all becomes the 'new normal' in short order. We ignore the path climate change has carved even across the near past. It's a form of induced amnesia. It may already be claiming lives abroad and we may lose a few here or there to floods or severe weather events but that's not enough to energize public opinion to demand action.

Anonymous said...

In response to Anonymous (first comment) I offer this:

What is her or his point? Are they arguing that Mound contributes to climate change? So what? So does everybody else... Should we not try to combat climate change because Mound drives a car?

I also offer the thought that hypocrisy does not cause climate change.