Long overdue and probably an overlong post. I’m dumping from Facebook and other places.
To describe the predicament of climate deniers, Naomi Oreskes invokes the metaphor of the waiter:
“Imagine a gigantic, colossal banquet. Hundreds of millions of people come to eat. They eat and drink to their hearts’ content, eating food that is better and more abundant than at the finest tables in ancient Athens, or Rome or even in the palaces of medieval Europe. Then one day a man arrives wearing a white dinner jacket.”
It is, Oreskes explains, the waiter—and he is holding the bill. She continues:
“Not surprisingly the diners are in shock. Some begin to deny that this is their bill. Others deny that there even is a bill. Still others deny that they partook of the meal. One diner suggests the man is not really a waiter, but is only trying to get attention for himself or to raise money for his own projects. Finally the group concludes that if they simply ignore the waiter, he will go away.
“This is where we stand today on the question of global warming. For the past 150 years, industrial civilization has been dining on the energy stored in fossil fuels and the bill has now come due. Yet we have sat around the dinner table denying that it is our bill, and doubting the credibility of the man who delivered it.
“The great economist John Maynard Keynes famously summarized all of economic theory in a single phrase: “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” And he was right. We have experienced prosperity unmatched in human history. We have feasted to our hearts’ content. But the lunch was not free.
“So it is not surprising that many of us are in denial. After all we didn’t know that it was a banquet—and we didn’t know that there would be a bill. But now we do know. The bill includes acid rain, and the ozone hole and the damage produced by DDT. These are the environmental costs of living the way citizens of wealthy developed nations have lived since the industrial revolution. Now we either have to pay the price, change the way we do business, or both.
“No wonder the merchants of doubt have been successful. They’ve permitted us to think we could ignore the waiter, while we haggled about the bill. The failure of the United States to act on global warming as well as the long delays between when the science was settled and when we acted on tobacco, acid rain and the ozone hole are prima facie empirical evidence that doubt-mongering works.”
This is probably the longest linkdump I have ever made so I am hiding the rest of it under the fold.
In the comment section I wrote:
What about Galveston and Corpus Christi? What about Houston as a world headquarters for energy? What about water supply of cities in Texas ? Those are the things that really scare me. What about the energy portfolios for state utilities? Even given Rick Perry, I feel that the energy portfolio for most states will continue to become greener.
If future sea level rise and hurricane intensification scenarios are realized, here we show that by the 2030s, hurricane flood levels could increase by 3 to 27%, depending on projected climate scenario, and by the 2080s, hurricane flood levels could increase by 10 to 108%. For a given hurricane impacting a particular coastal community, this projected increase in flood levels as a consequence of global warming translates to a relative increase in the number of homes and businesses impacted by hurricane flooding. The total structural damage to homes and buildings impacted by flooding due to a major hurricane is projected to rise by 60 to 100% by the 2030s and by more than 250% by the 2080s. The potential implications of our findings include an increase in displacement of families and local businesses, a rapid rise in property damages, and long-term economic consequences at both local and national levels following hurricane events.
Michael Tobis summarizes why we need to care about climate change:
Humans have become the dominant force on our planet. A hundred years ago or further back, when the land changed, when the ocean changed, when the air changed, it was nature that did it. Now, when the land changes, or the ocean changes, or the air changes, it’s us.
One of the biggest changes we are making is in how energy flows through the atmosphere. We do this with various pollutants including carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is the most worrisome for two reasons: first, much of our technology is built on a platform of fossil fuels, and second, because nature has no way of quickly getting rid of the extra carbon that we pump into the system.
The result of these changes in how sunlight flows into the earth and how heat makes its way back out is climate disruption. The most well-known part of this climate disruption is global warming, and global warming is real enough, and measurable. But to focus on “warming” leaves people with the idea that the changes are going to be gradual and gentle.
The way that the earth moves energy around from the light coming in to the heat going out is called “weather”, and the usual patterns of weather are called climate. When we shift the inputs and outputs around, we change the climate, and that means we get weather we are not used to. When it rains in Pakistan as it would in a wetter place, or it warms in Moscow as it usually does here in Texas, the people, the ecosystem, and the infrastructure are unprepared, and unprecedented disasters may strike. The more we disrupt the climate, the worse these changes will get.
Climate scientists are not a very politically adept group, and there are clever people who don’t want our results to be heard. We need to start taking real science seriously and to ignore the nonsense propagated by people with a financial stake in business as usual. It is our responsibility to future generations to take this problem seriously, and to look at ways not just to reduce, but ultimately to eliminate carbon-based emissions.
Texas A&M Professor John Nielson-Gammon said recently that models he’s analyzed show temperatures rising as much as 1 degree Fahrenheit per decade in Texas, meaning that by 2060 the state will be 5 degrees hotter than it is now.
Bill McKibben wrote some amazing thoughts about saving the planet:
Part of the conservative creed has always been that markets, left to themselves, accomplish most tasks more efficiently than government regulation. That’s true, of course, just as it’s true that markets don’t do everything you want. (That’s why we have cheap deregulated airlines and yet retain the Federal Aviation Administration.) But conservatives have grown more insistent on the deification of markets in recent years; Rand Paul is ever less an outlier. If markets do damage, that’s okay—it’s creative destruction à la Schumpeter.
But even if you accept that process absolutely within the economic sphere (and very few of us do, which is why Rand Paul just might lose), it doesn’t follow that it works outside of it. Destruction of the planet’s fundamental physical systems isn’t creative—it’s just destruction. If Microsoft disappears, innovators will take its place. If Arctic ice disappears, no young John Galt is going to remake it in his garage. The essential question is: Is the environment a subset of the economy, or is it the other way around? Or, more combatively, you really think you can out-argue physics? Hayek’s good, but atmospheric chemistry is a tough opponent.
Carbon dioxide mixes easily and freely in the atmosphere. If the climate change you caused followed you around like Pigpen’s cloud, then no problem. But it doesn’t—your Navigator drowns Bangladeshis. Given the magnitude of the changes now underway, and the way they will foreclose individual choices unto the generations, it’s possible to argue that this is the greatest attack on freedom we’ve ever witnessed.
McKibben’s Eaarth book is a profound reflection on the climate change and the moral crises posed by it. I compare it to Thoreau’s Walden with a bunch of scientific research thrown in. Related: Ian McEwan’s novel Solar is a well-written novel about a embittered physicist who can’t stand climate change scientists. It’s an effective social novel about self-delusion and the nihilism underlying it. (generally it has received good reviews from ecology sites).
Here’s an RSS feed to the Commonwealth Club Climate One podcast. This is a California-based group who organizes panels and lectures by prominent people in the field of climate change. Although in general the positions are climate hawkish, some of the speakers are neutral or critical of the consensus viewpoint. Oh, well. At least, they’re having a frank conversation. I’ve only listened to one talk and found lots of food for thought. Note: a lot of the discussions are steered towards California politics.
Time magazine has been publishing some outstanding pieces about climate change. Robert Nickelsberg reports:
The average person in the industrialized world eats more than 176 lb. of meat annually, compared with around 66 lb. consumed by the average resident of the developing world.
The geophysicists Gidon Eschel and Pamela Martin have estimated that if every American reduced meat consumption by just 20%, the greenhouse gas savings would be the same as if we all switched from a normal sedan to a hybrid Prius.
I’ve really become a fan of Ecocentric blog on Time.com. Here’s some highlights:
Bryan Walsh on the claim by climatologists that we are woefully underestimating the CO2 cuts necessary to stabilize temperature:
Hoffert estimates that maintaining global economic growth while keeping atmospheric CO2 concentrations below the magic 450 ppm number—which some environmentalists say is still too high—would require the production of approximately 30 terawatts of carbon-neutral power by 2050. (That’s terawatt as in “one trillion watts,” as in 826 times more energy than you’d need to send Marty McFly’s DeLorean back to 1985.) But we have yet to produce a single terawatt of carbon-free energy, and given the gridlock in the U.S. over climate and energy policy, I can’t say we’re moving in the right direction either…
Here’s another gloomy assessment by Ken Caldeira from the same article:
Because most of the threat from climate change will come from energy infrastructure we have yet to build, it is critically important that we build the right stuff now – that is, low carbon emission energy technologies. We have a gas station infrastructure but not a battery recharging infrastructure. This makes it easier to sell new gasoline powered cars than new electric cars. Thus there are infrastructural commitments that go beyond our calculation of future CO2 emissions embodied in existing devices.
In another piece, Walsh mentions that
The vast oceans—which cover some 70% of the planet, a familiar figure but one that’s difficult to really grip—hold 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere, and since the mid-20th centuries the oceans have absorbed some 18 times more of the excess heat from global warming than the atmosphere has.
This can be illustrated in an amazing video demo using a water balloon. (At about the 3 minute mark).
Speaking of videos, Mark Fiore has been doing some amazing satirical vids about oil and fossil fuels: Drill, Baby, Drill (produced in 2008, but prescient about the BP spill). Vote for Oil, Little Green Videos (my fave quote: “We love it when our environmental disasters have good visuals, little submarines and crying tourists to make even better. You just don’t get that kind of TV with some kind of dead zone in the Gulf” ), and Little Green Man. Here are two other parody videos: Coalergy and Clean Coal Air Freshener.
Crock of the Week Video: US Naval School Postgraduate School Study predicts ice-free conditions in Arctic Ocean in 2016 (plus or minus 3 years). In other news, oil companies are starting to build drilling facilities to take advantage of the new area which is opening up.
Per capita every American consumes 100 gallons of water: 4 gallons directly, and 96 gallons through the power plants that give it energy. (Note: solar and wind do not require the use of water; only coal/natural gas plants do). (Source).
In Texas, per capita water consumption is 140 gallons per day. (Source).
I’ve made the point several times before that college students will be driving climate change action, not people like Joe Romm or Barack Obama or John Kerry. They have the least to lose and the most to gain. That’s why It’s Getting Hot in Here will be a source of what’s to come. Here’s a video challenge by CA college student Joel Francis to debate the CEO of Koch (and here’s a video detailing his ill-fated attempt to meet Mr. Koch at his company headquarters). It’s funny. Climate change already activists know how much money is involved in promoting dirty energy, but the California Prop 23 debate ended up exposing the fault lines. I saw many flickr photos about “boycotting Texas oil”,” something which does not bode well for Texas.
For the record, here are some consumer products produced by Koch. Boycott these!
In Texas universities, students are pressuring administration to fund sustainability projects. These are not merely ideological issues involved here. Green investments produce 3x the jobs as fossil fuel investments. Now there is the college sustainability report card which ranks colleges according to sustainability. Here’s a screenshot of the Texas colleges.
Related: I like this promo video for the Great Power Race, a college competition for climate change ideas. OT: there are a LOT of crotch shots in this video!
Tom Fowler tries to estimate the carbon footprint of an electric car. Electric vehicle: .14 lbs of CO2 per mile; Gasoline vehicle: .71 lbs of CO2 per mile; of course, if you used a renewable electric provider, you wouldn’t have this issue. Unfortunately, the 2 companies (TXU & Reliant) most eager to provide electric stations for electric cars are also the ones with a history of including coal in their fuel mix.
Carla Saulter on how mass transit ends up helping to combat obesity and teaching self-reliance to children:
“When they’re not getting exercise, transit-geeks-in-training get attention. Parents on transit, freed from focusing on the road, can spend the ride interacting with their kids: reading, playing games (I once saw a father and son playing Connect Four at a bus stop), pointing out landmarks, or simply talking face to face. N…ot that kids who ride transit need much attention. They’re having too much fun. For kids on transit, the journey — Bells! Big wheels! Spinning seats! Turnstiles! Card readers! Automatic doors! — is at least as good as the destination.”
Bill Dawson examines the recent refusal by Texas to submit a plan to issue greenhouse-gas permits. Although this is not exactly surprising, it means Texas is the only state that is on a full collision course against the EPA about climate change. Someone will win; someone will lose.
Last week I drove 16 km to bring my paper and plastic to the local recycling center (32 km round trip). Somehow, it doesn’t seem worth the effect. (Almost all the apartments in Houston have no access to recycling).
Here’s a poetic video short by Ramin Bahrani about the life of a plastic bag. There is an implicit ecological message, but I think Bahrani is content just to weave a fairy tale. If you don’t recognize Bahrani’s name, you better do so. He’s an Iranian-American social realism filmmaker that produces gritty slice-of-life films about US. His Chop Shop movie was listed by Roger Ebert as one of the best U.S. films of the decade! I probably wouldn’t go that far, but I would call it a very good film.
Another oddity. Peter Sinclair of Climate Crock of the Week unearths a Frank Capra educational film from the 1950s about the harms of global warming. (he makes the point that climate change was always well known, but the evidence was still unclear—unlike now).
I vow not to blog about politics, but here’s an interesting data point made by Robert Reich:
“According to FEC data, only 32 percent of groups paying for election ads are disclosing the names of their donors. By comparison, in the 2006 midterm, 97 percent disclosed; in 2008, almost half disclosed. Last week, when the Senate considered a bill to force such disclosure, every single Republican voted against it.”
A point worth making is that when indie groups produce political ads against a Democrat, they don’t reveal their agenda (which can often be fossil fuels) and instead focus on irrelevant personal scandals and gaffes. Let’s see: gay marriage, that the opponent doesn’t persecute illegal immigrants enough, that the opponent has once shaken hands with Obama. Things like that.
National Journal reports about how the GOP’s dismissal of climate change legislation is unprecedented (Oops, offline now!)
“… it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is “no party-wide view …like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of.”
I tend to ascribe the opposition to SUV Christians a class of people who see no contradiction between going to church and adopting sustainable lifestyles to preserve the environment.
“The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.” John Boehner (source).
From 350 photo gallery, I found this amazing photo of preschool kids in the Maldives Islands. They are growing a plant in a pot and learning to transplant it into another location. Indeed, that is what people from the Islands will soon be doing for themselves as a result of sea level rise.
In a way, there is nothing special about this photo; it is just an ordinary preschool class doing an outdoor project. At the same time, you have kids who are keenly aware of the ocean’s presence and the fragility of the life balance where they live. And they are starting off with the near certainty that they themselves will need to be transplanted into some other country, a thought too huge for preschool minds to contemplate.
Knowledge and Information about Climate Change
From NASA’s education unit, here are 4 interactive quizzes about climate, C02 and Sea Level Rise. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication just published its report on the public’s knowledge about climate change. Not pretty. (The PDF contains information about the questions and the answers; very interesting!) 50% of Americans understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities (this is not good, but hardly surprising).
John Nielson-Gammon provides commmentary here and here. Nielson-Gammon said there are three levels of understanding about climate change: 1)that global warming is occurring, 2)that mankind is mainly responsible for it and 3)proposition that continued anthropogenic global warming introduces the likelihood of catastrophic impacts on the Earth and its inhabitants in the foreseeable future. He refers to that third definition as “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.”
Another interesting study: Woman are better informed about climate change than men are:
Masculinity is associated with detachment, control and mastery, while femininity stresses attachment, empathy and care. The latter traits might make it easier to feel concern about the potentially dire consequences of global warming, McCright said. “Women and men think about climate change differently,” he said. “And when scientists or policymakers are communicating about climate change with the general public, they should consider this rather than treating the public as one big monolithic audience.”
Flying, particularly on long-haul flights, is so highly emitting that it dwarfs everything else on an individual carbon budget. Many climate groups have calculated that in a sustainable world each person would have a carbon allowance of two… to four tons of carbon emissions annually. Any single long-haul flight nearly “instantly uses that up,” said Christian Jardine, a senior researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University…George Monbiot concludes in his book, Heat, that to meet current environmental targets set by the British government for 2050, almost all flying will have to stop and the current fleet of planes grounded. “I recognize this will not be a popular message,” he writes.
Speaking of greenwashing, here’s a Coal is Clean site. If you look closely at it, you will see why it is funny. Related: Texas doctors praise the beneficial health effects of the new Matagorda coal plant. Here’s beyondtalk, a site dedicated to organizing nonviolent resistance against fossil fuel companies.
Here’s an interesting graphic about what would happen if solar power received subsidies: