Sunday, July 8, 2012

So What? - the Climate Sanity Connundrum

From the Tea Party section of the new Alice in Wonderland movie, where Alice meets some very questionable and well past the borderline of sanity tea partiers... And this is a fine introduction to any discussion of Global Climate Change in this country at the present time. As you might already know, this Climate Change now taking place is largely largely wrought by too much CO2 pollution dumped into our atmosphere in too short a time period (where "CO2 pollution" is defined as one of the by-products of burning fossil fuels that gets dumped into the air), with nary a care as to what this might do, eventually.

And guess what, it appears to be that "eventually" is seeming to be more and more like "nowadays". I bet you can't wait till we get to experience the real deal, eh? Yeah right...

Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the commercialization of the steam engine, CO2 concentrations have been rising in the atmosphere, and this is directly related to the quantity of fossil fuels - coal, methane (unnatural gas) and oil, though the destruction of forests/burning trees faster than they can grow back has not been helpful to minimizing Global Warming's adverse effects, either. In this article there is a nifty chart about global CO2 pollution in the last century (anthropogenic CO2 emissions): We humans have dumped a trillion tonnes (1.1 trillion tons) of CO2 into our atmosphere since roughly 1950 - very impressive in a sad way. As a result, our planet now absorbs slightly more energy from the sun than it radiates out into outer space - about 0.75 watt per square meter of surface area. And the higher the CO2 concentration, the greater that amount (called a forcing) gets. There was essentially no forcing - that is, the energy radiated out into space matched the energy absorbed from the sun - for roughly the last 11,000 years, until basically the 20th century (see CO2 chart). Our planet's atmosphere has not had CO2 concentrations this high (around 396 ppm) for several million years, back when we had no polar icecaps and ocean levels were a lot higher (75 meters, or about 246 feet). But, we've also had times when lower CO2 levels were present (a by-product of the rise of the Himalaya Mountains following the collision of India with Eurasia), and those time periods are called ice ages, when our planet's ecosystem and climate was a lot colder.

Anyway, those are the facts, really simplified. And if we wish to continue with a similar climate to that which gave rise to human civilizations for the last 11,000 years, we have to get those CO2 levels down back around the 300 ppm level, ASAP. Since the ocean is the major sponge for CO2, that means that we need to stop putting so much CO2 pollution in the air - less than the oceans absorb, basically. We also have problems with methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), but the big gorilla in the room of greenhouse gases is CO2. Actually, adjustment of CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere is how the biology of the earth acts to keep the climate in a "sweet spot", but we are way past this "sweet spot" and definitely in a "hot spot". However, if we keep dumping more CO2 into the air than is pulled out by oceans, lakes and by trees/other plants and algae, well, it won't be good. Here is a little taste of what's been going down lately:

But, as Steven Colbert is prone to say, facts do have a liberal bias, and in the interest of fairness and balance, maybe some non-facts need to be offered up. Or maybe not right now... Actually, this climate sanity denialism is a major industry in itself, and often it is almost unavoidable - almost like the air we breathe. But despite all of the sophistication that the SCIENCE of modern advertising, propaganda dissemination and "big lie" implementation can bring to bear, there had to be fertile soil for that vile little seed of doubt to sprout, allowing blissful ignorance and a whole spate of characteristics most people do not find acceptable in other situations to blossom forth. After all, while behaving in a mode consistent with climate insanity might cut it for this crew (see picture below), is this wise for most of our country? After all, if you can believe the history of how Alice in Wonderland was written, these Tea Partiers would be seriously bent out of shape, so at least they HAVE and excuse to ignore Climate Change, not discuss it and especially not do anything about it.

But what is our excuse? Like, did we ever go to school, learn to read and operate a cell-phone and a TV remote as well as drive a car? And while the majority of this country sort of know about our "CO2 issue", collectively we basically refuse to do much about it. And there really is not much use in understanding that Global Climate Change is human made (and a good part of it is Made in America), bound to bring us all kinds of grief and misery and yet not doing much about it. Perhaps the analogy of a nation behaving like an alcoholic on a bender is the appropriate one to describe this situation...

And so, in the Case of Global Warming and CO2 pollution, facts mean little, and it is unlikely that they will mean much until we get past the disaster that is Peak Oil when it really starts hurting (about 5 to 10 years from now), and intense and epic disaster weather "outliers" are no longer unusual. It is unlikely that the U.S. people will elect officials who will do things to stop our awesome rate of CO2 pollution and get it below the rate at which oceans, trees and possibly other actions (like biochar production from biomass) and pulling down that CO2 from our atmosphere in the near future. BUt, if by some miracle we did motivate on the Climate Problem, we may have to impose serious import duties on countries that are living large (well at least the rich and powerful in those countries) on CO2 pollution, especially slave labor societies like China who derive competitive advantage from coal use to make electricity, heat and chemicals, especially ammonia. OMG, more expensive crap in Walmarts, Targets and Home Depot! Eeks, we might even have to manufacture our own computers, cellphones and solar PV panels! And they might cost more! More Eeks! Now it's time to start throwing teacups (and watch out for that Rabbit, as he throws a mean teacup!)!

Here is a well meaning discussion on the morality of the CO2 pollution problem, and it shows this "Alice in Wonderland" problem of "when logic and proportion, is falling on its head" with respect to climate issues": Climate change wrought by CO2 pollution may be a big problem of morality, and a crime against those who will live in the future, but by and large, if it might require work, taxes, higher prices for fossil fuels and less consumption of fossil fuels, not to mention the gradual (and just how gradual?) abandonment of suburbs and a cutting back on car dependency, it is not going to happen. So it's immoral. So what? What is the minority of people advocating an even greater retrenchment in the standard of living for most Americans (via higher costs for energy) going to do - throw the majority in jail? Fine them for doing bad things (and collectively, we ARE doing bad things by our climate)? Not. Going. To. Happen. It may be more likely to throw climate sanity advocates in jail, and not a nice one, either...

Most people in America are very short term and economic survival oriented these days - that is a by-product of the poor economic performance that gross inequality and the aftermath of a balance sheet recession (see tends to bring. With so much short term stuff like staying employed, climbing out of debt and out of de-facto debtors prisons/homelessness to worry about, who really has the time to worry about what lies ahead in 10 to 20 years. That's called a "high discount rate" view. Besides, if you don't make it past the short term, the longer term stuff is irrelevant, anyway.

So if climate sanity advocates wish to discuss solutions to the climatic abyss coming down the pike, "fire and brimstone" lectures are not going to cut it for MOST people. Odds are, ways to get a jobs and make the world a better place, and increased economic activity from a massive green energy program (such as via using a FIT renewable energy pricing system) would be more appropriate. And maybe some stress on getting the most bang for the buck (such as installing renewables that deliver low per unit energy costs instead of the most expensive ones) might also be wise - and ones where there are decent and appropriate for our country employment possibilities. And if some renewable approaches get chosen that involve importing the renewable energy systems from outside of the country, abandon those right away. With at least 15 million people in need of a job and another 10 million in need of a better one, importing things like solar PV panels is criminal, or at least immoral. And how can you claim a more moral energy approach by importing PVs made with slave labor? That kind of antic is something the Koch fiends will truly relish exploiting.....

In Alice in Wonderland, there WAS logic at play, but it was more complex than it appeared at first glance. We know the "doom and gloom unless you change your evil ways" approach to climate change is itself a doom and gloom scenario, as it will produce no good result, and allow those profiting and profiteering from fossil fuels to enjoy more good times, and keep the CO2 pollution rate "maxed out" till we sort of run out of highly profitable fossil fuel deposits. For capitalists such as those ruling Exxon-Mobil, capitalism is like a super-intense multi-dimension video game with variable rules except for one - he (or she) who dies with the most money WINS! They only respect money and the political, social and economic power that it brings. Morality... it is such a "So What?"
thing. It's for losers, in their eyes and in their world view. Those who revel in such concepts like "morality" are...immoral, unfit to lead and unfit to be listened to. The only way such capitalists will come around to a more climate sane position is if they can't make as much money on fossil fuels (nowadays quite true for natural gas, new nukes and somewhat for coal) and they (as in the same corporation or in different ones) can make some money in renewables. Money talks in their worldview. If you can't talk money, you can't talk to them, and those people (especially political leaders) they rented/purchased, either.

And right now, renewable energy systems in the US are not money makers. However, that's one of the beauties of the Feed-In Tariff pricing system - it allows renewables to be money makers, and not just ways to avoid paying taxes made from other activities, while at the same time keeping electricity prices reasonable as long as the selection of technologies (which ones and to what extent) is chosen appropriately. Granted, there will be disputes over how much money (what is the profit rate), and renewables will not likely rival oil in profitability for a while. But, presumably us "moral energy" advocates have to start from somewhere, especially in this country...

So what are your views on energy, morality climate change and how to go from where we are to where you think we need to be and in the shortest amount of time, too? Care to jump into the Rabbit Hole?

(image from the same movie).


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