Scientists Warn of Global Dangers
“Humanity is on a collision course with Nature.
A damaged Nature will survive. We may not.
We must change course to avert an ecological disaster.”
“Humanity is on a collision course with Nature.
A damaged Nature will survive. We may not.
We must change course to avert an ecological disaster.”
GR–Ode to concerned scientists: They see the danger, they blow the horns and clang the bells, and they wait. But the ramparts remain empty. They turn to their family and friends, but dreamlike their voices are too soft and none respond.
“Fifteen thousand scientists have issued a dire warning to humanity about impending collapse but virtually no-one takes notice. Ultimately, our global systems, which are designed for perpetual growth, need to be fundamentally restructured to avoid the worst-case outcome.
“For a moment, the most important news in the entire world flashed across the media like a shooting star in the night sky. Then it was gone. In November, over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued a dire warning to humanity. Because of our overconsumption of the world’s resources, they declared, we are facing “widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss.” They warned that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”
“This is not the first such notice. Twenty-five years ago, in 1992, 1,700 scientists (including the majority of living Nobel laureates) sent a similarly worded warning to governmental leaders around the world. In ringing tones, they called for a recognition of the earth’s fragility and a new ethic arising from the realization that “we all have but one lifeboat.”
“This second warning contains a series of charts showing how utterly the world’s leaders ignored what they were told twenty-five years earlier. Whether it’s CO2 emissions, temperature change, ocean dead zones, freshwater resources, vertebrate species, or total forest cover, the grim charts virtually all point in the same dismal direction, indicating continued momentum toward doomsday. The chart for marine catch shows something even scarier: in 1996, the catch peaked at 130 million tonnes and in spite of massively increased industrial fishing, it’s been declining ever since—a harbinger of the kind of overshoot that unsustainable exploitation threatens across the board.” –Jeremy Lent (What Will It Really Take to Avoid Collapse?).
In recent posts, I described the warnings of impending disaster. I didn’t expect to have an impact, and I wasn’t wrong. As Jeremy Lint points out in the article above, the media avoidance of unappetizing topics is too complete. And of course, our leaders in power avoid the subject in their subservience to wealth. My first hint that good advice for avoiding collapse would be futile was the minimal response to my discovery of the simple and inexpensive means for everyone to switch their homes from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy. Like Pangloss, I’ve remained hopeful. But I read that book, and now I’ve turned to a more practical concern; the post-anthropocene survivors, the weeds, have absorbed my attention. Today’s weed is Shepherdspurse, a foreign but familiar little mustard that feeds butterflies and yields medicines for us humans.
GR: Climate scientist Paul Beckwith is a reliable source for climate-change information. I’ve included the text of Dr. Beckwith’s introduction to his latest video. There’s not much I want to add. I will say that I watched the video twice and did some fact checking and have to say that unfortunately, Beckwith’s report is accurate. I don’t know how many times we have to discover that things are worse than we thought, but here we are again. [My transcription is a lightly edited version of Beckwith’s introduction.]
Paul Beckwith– “If you think that 25+ years of global climate change policy meetings (IPCCs & COPs), and today’s much discussed growth in clean energy and efficiency are reducing global fossil fuel usage and thus greenhouse gas emissions then you are mistaken. The truth, illustrated by cold hard data, is brutal in its stark revelation of the lack of effort to prevent the coming traumatic events. You need to see the facts for yourself. Fossil fuel growth is backed by enormous government subsidies. Emissions are climbing like there is no tomorrow. No safe tomorrow, not for your grandkids, not for your kids, and not for you.”
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GR: Prices are falling and production is accelerating. Interesting comments.
“In an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio during late 2016, Elon Musk famously claimed that it would take just 100 Gigafactories to produce enough clean energy to meet the needs of the entire world. As of mid 2017, in the face of an ever-worsening global climate, the equivalent of 7 such plants were already under construction while plans for many more were taking shape on the drawing boards of various clean energy corporations across the globe.
(Elon Musk shares climate change concerns, expresses urgency for rapid transition to clean energy in interview with Leonardo DiCaprio during late 2016.)
“Tesla’s own landmark gigafactory began construction during late 2014. Upon completion, it will produce the Model 3 electric vehicle along with hoards of electric motors and around 35 gigawatt hours worth of lithium battery storage every single year (a planned output that Tesla said it could potentially triple or more to 100-150 gigawatt hours). During May, Tesla stated that it would set plans for four new gigafactories after Model 3 production began in earnest late this summer. And this week, Elon Musk announced an ultimate ambition to construct between 10 and 20 gigafactories in all. For reference, so many gigafactories could ultimately support vehicle production in the range of 12 to 24 million annually.” –Robert Scribbler (Old Energy Left Behind — Equivalent of 7 Gigafactories Already Under Construction; Tesla Plans 10-20 More | robertscribbler).
GR: Though I’ve often criticized local governments for their excessive support for development, American cities and counties are proving that in some instances, local action can be better for citizens and nature conservation than state or federal action.
“Santa Barbara, California became the 30th city in the country to commit to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. The Santa Barbara City Council approved a measure Tuesday that establishes a community-wide goal of transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
“The resolution also commits the city to transition all municipal buildings and operations to 50 percent clean energy by 2020. Santa Barbara represents the first city on California’s Central Coast to make this commitment.
“President Trump may be withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, but cities are stepping up and re-committing to adopt, honor and uphold the Paris climate goals,” Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said. “I’m proud that Santa Barbara just adopted a 100% renewable energy goal and is joining other cities across the nation leading the way on clean energy at the local level.”
“In April, Mayor Schneider became one of the first mayors in the U.S. to join the new Mayors for 100% Clean Energy initiative and endorse a vision of powering her community with 100 percent renewable energy. The passage of the measure reinforces how mayoral leadership in cities across the U.S. is accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels to 100 percent clean energy. Mayor Schneider is joined in Mayors for 100% Clean Energy by Central Coast mayors Fred Shaw of Carpinteria, John F. Johnston of Ojai and Heidi Harmon of San Luis Obispo.” –Sierra Club (Santa Barbara Joins Clean Energy Revolution, Commits to 100% Renewables.)
GR: Here’s some good news. In a surprising development, India has begun moving from coal to solar energy. The country’s air-pollution problems are part of the reason. The rapid decline in the price of solar power is also a factor.
The next bit of good news I would like to see is a decline in India’s population. In the words of Indian conservationist Dr. K. Ullas Karanth, “India is renowned as the land of the tiger and the elephant; many of our gods are depicted riding peacocks or tigers. But sadly, the equation that existed between people and wildlife centuries ago has vanished, and our protected areas, which comprise a mere 4 percent of India’s landscape, are now mere islands amidst a sea of people, with tremendous demands and pressures being put upon them.”
MUMBAI, India — “Just a few years ago, the world watched nervously as India went on a building spree of coal-fired power plants, more than doubling its capacity and claiming that more were needed. Coal output, officials said, would almost triple, to 1.5 billion tons, by 2020.
“India’s plans were cited by American critics of the Paris climate accord as proof of the futility of advanced nations trying to limit their carbon output. But now, even as President Trump pulls the United States out of the pact, India has undergone an astonishing turnaround, driven in great part by a steep fall in the cost of solar power.
“Experts now say that India not only has no need of any new coal-fired plants for at least a decade, given that existing plants are running below 60 percent of capacity, but that after that it could rely on renewable sources for all its additional power needs.
“Rather than building coal-fired plants, it is now canceling many in the early planning stages. And last month, the government lowered its annual production target for coal to 600 million tons from 660 million.
“The sharp reversal, welcome news to world leaders trying to avert the potentially deadly effects of global warming, is a reflection both of the changing economics of renewable energy and a growing environmental consciousness in a country with some of the worst air pollution in the world.
“What India does matters, because it is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States. And its energy needs are staggering — nearly one-quarter of its population has no electricity and many others get it only intermittently.
“With India’s power needs expected to grow substantially as its economy continues to expand, its energy use will heavily influence the world’s chances of containing the greenhouse gases that scientists believe are driving global warming.
“Much attention at the time of the signing of the Paris agreement was focused on the role President Barack Obama played in pushing India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, to sign. In doing so, Mr. Modi committed India to achieving 40 percent of its electricity capacity from nonfossil-fuel sources by 2030.” –Geeta Anand (Continue reading.)
GR: The smoke from burning coal, oil, diesel, and gasoline causes many health problems and deaths worldwide. According to the New York Times, the problem is so bad in India, that the country is going to make electric vehicles mandatory by 2030. The country is also switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The article doesn’t mention the great loss of wildlife that is also occurring because of human burning of fossil fuels. The danger to humans and every other species from declining biodiversity and ecosystem disruption is immense. Follow this link to get an idea of the broader context for the problem with air pollution and health.
“NEW DELHI — India’s rapidly worsening air pollution is causing about 1.1 million people to die prematurely each year and is now surpassing China’s as the deadliest in the world, a new study of global air pollution shows.
“The number of premature deaths in China caused by dangerous air particles, known as PM2.5, has stabilized globally in recent years but has risen sharply in India, according to the report, issued jointly on Tuesday by the Health Effects Institute, a Boston research institute focused on the health impacts of air pollution, and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a population health research center in Seattle.
“India has registered an alarming increase of nearly 50 percent in premature deaths from particulate matter between 1990 and 2015, the report says.
“You can almost think of this as the perfect storm for India,” said Michael Brauer, a professor of environment and health relationships at the University of British Columbia and an author of the study, in a telephone interview. He cited the confluence of rapid industrialization, population growth and an aging populace in India that is more susceptible to air pollution.
“Pollution levels are worsening in India as it tries to industrialize, but “the idea that policy making should be led by government is lacking,” Bhargav Krishna, manager for environmental health at the Public Health Foundation of India, a health policy research center in New Delhi, said in an interview.
“As air pollution worsened in parts of the world, including South Asia, it improved in the United States and Europe, the report said, crediting policies to curb emissions, among other things. The report’s website that provides country-by-country data on pollution levels and the health and mortality effects.
“Environmental regulations in the United States and actions by the European Commission have led to substantial progress in reducing fine particulate pollution since 1990, the report said. The United States has experienced a reduction of about 27 percent in the average annual exposure to fine particulate matter, with smaller declines in Europe. Yet, some 88,000 Americans and 258,000 Europeans still face increased risks of premature death because of particulate levels today, the report said.
“A fraction of the width of a human hair, these particles can be released from vehicles, particularly those with diesel engines, and by industry, as well as from natural sources like dust. They enter the bloodstream through the lungs, worsening cardiac disease and increasing the risk of stroke and heart failure, in addition to causing severe respiratory problems, like asthma and pneumonia.” –Geeta Anand, New York Times (Continue reading.)
GR: What can we do to reverse global warming? Lots. The list of proposals contained in this work is by far the most comprehensive I’ve seen (Project Drawdown). Recommended. The rest of this blog post is an interview of the project’s leader.
“In this interview, environmentalist, entrepreneur, and author Paul Hawken discusses Project Drawdown, “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” Hawken, who leads the project and edited the just-published book Drawdown, explains why his team felt it necessary to create a master list of the most substantive current solutions to global warming, and how they went about their extensive research. Surprisingly, many of the top solutions they identified and modeled do not involve energy systems, but instead focus on changes in food, land use, and other categories. Hawken speaks about global warming in positive terms, describing it as useful “feedback” that enables humans to take responsibility for what they have done – and to devote themselves to fixing the problem rather than to laying blame.
“If you had asked the thousands of experts at the Paris climate talks to make a list of the top five or 10 solutions to global warming, in any order, I don’t think anybody could have done it. We don’t know. And isn’t that odd? A sixth grader can tell you the five biggest states, but we can’t name the five biggest solutions to the biggest problem humanity has ever faced?” –Paul Hawken.
“They call it “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” It’s a set of 80 solutions that already exist, and 20 “Coming Attractions” that are still emerging. The solutions include the obvious, such as wind and solar power, but the plan doesn’t focus exclusively on renewable energy or even on energy sources in general. The solutions also involve food, buildings and cities, land use, transport, materials, and initiatives aimed specifically at women and girls. Two of the solutions – family planning and educating girls – would be at the top of the list if combined.” –Dawn Stover (Continue: Paul Hawken: “Game on” for global warming: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Vol 73, No 3.)
GR: The U. S. has begun adopting renewable energy. For instance, the number of us solar jobs (not even counting wind) surpassed coal, oil, and gas jobs officially in late 2015 (https://www.bloomberg.com). This story shows some of the powerful support behind the 100 by ’50 Act (100% by 2050). It also includes links to background information as well as the bill and the bill summary.
People in my community are switching to rooftop solar power. The switch stabilizes their costs and gives them independence from power failures of all kinds. Those that live in shaded homes like mine or in multi-family apartments are switching using the Green-e Program.
Look at the list of seven core components of the transition plan and see if you agree that it is sensible. The story from KTVZ.com reporting from Senator Merkley’s home state lists the component near the end:
“Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), along with Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), introduced landmark climate legislation Thursday that would transition the United States to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by no later than 2050.
“The “100 by ’50 Act” lays out a roadmap for a transition to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2050. It is the first bill introduced in Congress that will fully envision a transition off of fossil fuels for the United States.
“America is home to innovative entrepreneurs and scientists who have tackled many challenges in our nation’s history — from harnessing electricity, to putting a man on the moon, to curing disease,” said Merkley. “The power to end the use of fossil fuels and completely transition to clean and renewable energy is within our hands, but just as with the moon landing, we need a roadmap, a goal, and a passionate, shared national commitment to get us there.
“If an asteroid were hurtling its way through space towards our planet, we would do everything in our power to stop that asteroid. Our commitment to fighting climate change should be no less. Starting at a local, grassroots level and working toward the bold and comprehensive national vision laid out in this legislation, now is the time to commit to 100% by 2050.”
“The good news is that despite President Trump, we are winning this battle,” said Sanders. “In Vermont and all over this country, we are seeing communities moving toward energy efficiency and we are seeing the price of renewable energy plummet. Our job is to think big, not small. We can win the war against climate change. We can win the war in transforming our energy system and put millions of people to work doing that. We can create a planet that will be healthy and habitable for our children. There is no issue more important.”
“It is no longer a question of if we can power our country with 100 percent renewable energy, it is a question of when,” said Markey. “We know that we have 100 percent of the clean energy resource potential in the United States. And we have 100 percent of the technological capability to achieve this goal. As President Trump launches attacks on investments in climate science and energy innovation, now, more than ever, we need to stand up and fight for our clean energy future. I thank Senators Merkley and Sanders for their help leading this historic clean energy revolution.” –KTVZ.com (Continue reading: Merkley, Sanders goal: U.S. on all renewables by 2050 – KTVZ