Friday, June 20, 2014

Is The End Still Nigh?

Jennie, you haven't mentioned the end of the world lately, are we still on for that?

Yes. Yes we are.

Here are some points to consider.
The US is a net importer of natural gas and will remain in that status for the foreseeable future. There will be no exporting of gas to Europe. We are not the next OPEC.  All those oil and gas fracking sites, the science says they'll experience sharp dropoffs in production after their first flush. The Frackers say, "Oh, we'll get more efficient and just keep drilling." Meaning every last unspoiled piece of land in this country will be spoiled in our efforts to feed our addiction.  Those lofty reserve estimates for what's in the ground? Total bunk.  If we want oil independence, we NEED TO GET OFF OF OIL. Period.

Speaking of the stuff in the ground. It really needs to stay there if my grandchildren are going to have enough liveable areas to survive in. Yes, survive.  A 4 degree Celsius warmup would make large
swathes of our planet too warm for humans. Too warm for our crops to grow, too warm during the heat of the day for a human to literally survive in.
In 2012, the writer and activist Bill McKibben published a heart-stopping essay in Rolling Stone titled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” I’ve read hundreds of thousands of words about climate change over the last decade, but that essay haunts me the most.
The piece walks through a fairly straightforward bit of arithmetic that goes as follows. The scientific consensus is that human civilization cannot survive in any recognizable form a temperature increase this century more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Given that we’ve already warmed the earth about 0.8 degrees Celsius, that means we have 1.2 degrees left—and some of that warming is already in motion. Given the relationship between carbon emissions and global average temperatures, that means we can release about 565 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere by mid-century. Total. That’s all we get to emit if we hope to keep inhabiting the planet in a manner that resembles current conditions.
Now here’s the terrifying part. The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a consortium of financial analysts and environmentalists, set out to tally the amount of carbon contained in the proven fossil fuel reserves of the world’s energy companies and major fossil fuel–producing countries. That is, the total amount of carbon we know is in the ground that we can, with present technology, extract, burn and put into the atmosphere. The number that the Carbon Tracker Initiative came up with is… 2,795 gigatons. Which means the total amount of known, proven extractable fossil fuel in the ground at this very moment is almost five times the amount we can safely burn.
Proceeding from this fact, McKibben leads us inexorably to the staggering conclusion that the work of the climate movement is to find a way to force the powers that be, from the government of Saudi Arabia to the board and shareholders of ExxonMobil, to leave 80 percent of the carbon they have claims on in the ground. That stuff you own, that property you’re counting on and pricing into your stocks? You can’t have it. -source

Here's some of the salient parts from that Bill McKibben piece linked above.
In fact, study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year – and at that rate, we'll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years, around the time today's preschoolers will be graduating from high school. "The new data provide further evidence that the door to a two-degree trajectory is about to close," said Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist. In fact, he continued, "When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees." That's almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.
If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn't pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today's market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you'd be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren't exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won't necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can't have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That's how the story ends.

The numbers are simply staggering – this industry, and this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they're planning to use it. They're clearly cognizant of global warming – they employ some of the world's best scientists, after all, and they're bidding on all those oil leases made possible by the staggering melt of Arctic ice. And yet they relentlessly search for more hydrocarbons – in early March, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told Wall Street analysts that the company plans to spend $37 billion a year through 2016 (about $100 million a day) searching for yet more oil and gas.
There's not a more reckless man on the planet than Tillerson. Late last month, on the same day the Colorado fires reached their height, he told a New York audience that global warming is real, but dismissed it as an "engineering problem" that has "engineering solutions." Such as? "Changes to weather patterns that move crop-production areas around – we'll adapt to that." This in a week when Kentucky farmers were reporting that corn kernels were "aborting" in record heat, threatening a spike in global food prices. "The fear factor that people want to throw out there to say, 'We just have to stop this,' I do not accept," Tillerson said. Of course not – if he did accept it, he'd have to keep his reserves in the ground. Which would cost him money. It's not an engineering problem, in other words – it's a greed problem.

There's disagreement as to whether 2 degrees actually is a safe level of warming. "Two degrees is actually too much for ecosystems," wrote George Mason University's Thomas Lovejoy in the New York Times. "A 2-degree world will be one without coral reefs (on which millions of human beings depend for their well-being)." Certain island nations will disappear at 2 degrees by the rising oceans.
Either way, we've waited so long to begin cutting emissions that two degrees looks flatly impossible. We're on track for 4°C of warming — which is nearly the temperature difference between the world now and the Ice Age. That's a nightmare for the planet. The World Bank tried to model it and realized that they had no idea what would happen — or whether humans could manage. There's "no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible," they concluded.

Our crops, like ourselves, are adapted to the climate we have now. Temperatures too hot will keep corn from pollinating. Weather patterns that change too much, too quickly will most certainly cause crop failures.  Oh, and our global stockpile of emergency grain? Already at the lowest levels possible. Our domesticated animals won't get off free either, rising temperatures will most certainly mean increasing frequencies of disease and parasites. Water supplies are already feeling the crunch in Western and SW states, another 4-11 °F of warming will only take that crisis to higher levels.  There's no way we can "engineer" our way out of all these problems simultaneously. We'll be too busy putting out the fires (literally) and trying to keep our basic (and aging) infrastructure from melting in the heat and washing away in the floods.

The problem goes so much deeper than oil, we can have a discussion about oil, and most people will agree that we need to get off of it. Every president in the past 50 years has remarked on how critical it is that we get off of oil. But nothing happens, because no one wants to talk about what that would actually mean. No one wants to talk about how stupid our fantasies of infinite growth are on a finite world.
The inescapable failure of a society built upon growth and its destruction of the Earth’s living systems are the overwhelming facts of our existence. As a result they are mentioned almost nowhere. They are the 21st Century’s great taboo, the subjects guaranteed to alienate your friends and neighbours. We live as if trapped inside a Sunday supplement: obsessed with fame, fashion and the three dreary staples of middle class conversation: recipes, renovations and resorts. Anything but the topic that demands our attention.
Statements of the bleeding obvious, the outcomes of basic arithmetic, are treated as exotic and unpardonable distractions, while the impossible proposition by which we live is regarded as so sane and normal and unremarkable that it isn’t worthy of mention. That’s how you measure the depth of this problem: by our inability even to discuss it. -George Monbiot

Your friendly neighborhood doomer, signing off.
Oh, somebody buy me some of these Calamitywares.
- Jennie

1 comment:

Jon Lorisen said...

Terrifying. Not much else to say.