The best way to save the planet?

18 06 2018

This amazing piece of information just came across my newsfeed, and it encapsulates everything I believe in and want to practice on the Fanny Farm….  There are great embedded videos in this, and it will take you some time to get through it, but it’s really worth the effort… the Roots of Nature site is fantastic, and I will go through it once the building phase here is over….

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The best way to save the planet? Stop listening to George Monbiot!

We can’t and shouldn’t try to calculate the value of living systems by only using reductionist science that is centuries behind explaining the true wonder of mother nature and her balanced systems.

POSTED BY CAROLINE GRINDROD ON JUN 16, 2018

In his last article and in the other regenerative agriculture and holistic management hate mail currently spewing from George Monbiot – is an unrelenting desire to reduce our food production systems down to simple numbers. Numbers which conveniently support his idea of a vegan utopia.

This sort of mechanistic analysis only makes sense for de-natured food systems where all-natural processes have been ‘knocked out’ and what’s left is a lifeless medium in which a plant can put down roots. In our modern ‘Frankenstein’ agriculture N + P + K = a food plant, which will survive if you exterminate all pests (also known as wildlife) with pesticides, all fungi (one of the most important organisms for carbon sequestration) with fungicides, and all weeds (also known as wildflowers) with herbicides.

George Monbiot Meat
This ‘efficient’ yet highly vulnerable chemical agriculture system is what mostly produces the plant foods that George insists is all we should eat. A lot of the plants are also fed to our Frankenstein livestock fattened in sheds in horrible and unethical conditions. I’m with George 100% that this practice is completely unacceptable and totally inefficient, but the WHOLE of this chain of production is utterly anti-nature, regardless if it’s animals or humans eating the product.

Let’s not overlook that in any food production system – especially those run by large profit-driven corporations like the companies who will be making those yummy fake meat burgers  – there’s a lot of waste crop that doesn’t make the grade for human consumption which makes up a significant part of what is fed to livestock. This isn’t factored into his number crunching.

We can all cherry pick reductionist science to back up our most closely held viewpoints. George accuses free range steak of being ‘more damaging’ than even conventional meat based on the land required to produce a KG of grass-fed steak. These accusations are based on the ridiculous idea that a living animal on a living system should be quantified using this calculation;

Total methane emissions = number of animals x lifetime of animal x methane emissions per head per day.

 

Thinking of a cow as a ‘meat machine’ highlights the extent of the issue of using reductionist science for making decisions about food. But as explained in this great piece and its relevant links  much of the methane emitted by cattle as part of a properly managed grazing system is oxidised and countered by the processes in the healthy living soils that the animals themselves enhance.

George Monbiot seems to think of a cow as a machine that belches unacceptable levels of methane into the atmosphere, yet overlooks the huge increase in methane that would be generated by the introduction of beavers into rewilded landscapes. As we can see in this systematic review of the literature, wetlands, which are promoted by beavers making dams, may sequester some carbon but the methane they release could overall make their GHG contribution more than if the land were to be left as grazing land.

Luckily as holistic managers, we understand that it would be ridiculous to judge the beaver based on science that is taken out of context and will probably soon be out of date anyway. I’m all for regenerating a fully functional habitat and would love to see beavers introduced back into our Wilderculture sites to improve overall ecosystem function; especially the water cycle. But if you applied the same thinking that claims cows cause global warming to beavers, they could be considered a bad idea along with any other wild herbivores that inevitably burp methane.

 

regenerative agriculture

 

George seems to understand nothing of the very serious health concerns associated with eating a vegan diet. Please watch the video below for a better understanding of why animal food are so important for fighting disease.

 

 

I think the reason why George Monbiot very obviously doesn’t ‘get’ regenerative agriculture and seems to have no grasp at all of what is involved in holistic management, is that he sees nature on one side of the fence and agriculture on the other.

By segregating and exploiting agriculture to feed humans so we can ‘give back’ land to nature, we further alienate ourselves from ‘the’ environment. Shouldn’t it be ‘our’ environment? Eventually, nobody will care; we’ll end up eating factory made products and forget any responsibility we have for our food systems and how they impact nature and people.

George Monbiot thinks of rewilded land in terms of ecosystems, yet doesn’t apply any of the same logic to farmed land and the food systems he recommends. He’s missing the point totally – probably because he repeatedly shuns any offer to learn more about it – that holistic management is based on a framework that helps us increase the effectiveness of the ecosystem processes.

In holistic management, we use tools – that sometimes include livestock – to build a healthier ecosystem that supports the greatest range of species possible, including predators. For us Holistic Managers, we consider predators, and diversity as a barometer of how well we managing our land.

 

 

Conservation organisations have highlighted that one of the biggest threats to species and habitats is the fragmentation and isolation of species in reserves; they’re like islands in a sea of degraded farmland. My dream, through our Wilderculture work, is to have farms that are even better than our current nature reserves for wildlife and provision of ecosystem services. These farms will also produce highly nutritious meat and other plants, in greater volume than the current low baseline, as a ‘by-product’ from the use of livestock to improve habitat. I would LOVE to have the problem of trying to protect my livestock from wolves and lynx one day, this would mean our environment is enormously productive and resilient to climate fluctuations.

George assumes that all holistic managers use fences and exclude predators from grazing land, which is simply not true. We learn and fully understand that we can’t have a healthy ecosystem without creating the functions of the predator-prey relationship – it’s a ‘key insight’ of holistic management!

 

 

In many of the dry-land ranches holistic planned grazing (a procedure we sometimes use in holistic management) the livestock are herded and fences aren’t used at all. When we do use fences, it is simply to mimic the function of a bunched and moving herd of wild herbivores where herding is impractical. Cattle in our Wilderculture work and in many of the African holistic management systems encourage the regeneration of a kind of wood pasture/savannah landscape – exactly that most likely to have prevailed before man had such a significant influence on the landscape.

 

 

For those who want to understand more about Holistic Management and see some of the farmers managing over 40 million hectares using this tried and tested framework, this short documentary explains it well. Or you can join me on an hour-long webinar explaining more.

 

 

We assess our land through four windows; the water cycle, the mineral cycle, the energy flow and community dynamics. Increasing function in these can increase productivity dramatically; good for the farmer, good for wildlife.

Those who judge everything based on reductionist empirical evidence will assume this is too simplistic a metric to use. Don’t be fooled. The more I learn about the most updated soil and climate science from globally respected experts such as Jason Rowntree,  Walter JehneChristine JonesElaine InghamDavid JohnsonRichard Teague – who, unlike some more ‘confused’ grazing researchersare on the right side of the now-called ‘soil revolution’ – the more I appreciate the simple elegance of this method of assessment. Reading ecosystem processes at the soil surface encapsulates the incredible and complex natural balancing system at play, in a way that science can’t yet fully accommodate.

But some of the better newer science also suggests we shouldn’t look at food systems through a single ‘window’. This article is a great and full explanation of why carbon sequestration and methane oxidation cannot be separated out from the – sometimes more important – climate change mitigating functions of a food production system.

 

The four ecosystem processes.

 

The water cycle – we assess and improve how well the water passes into and is retained within the soil and utilised by plants avoiding drought and flood. A poor water cycle reduces the ability of our planet to cool itself, drastically reduces productivity in all growing systems and reduces the ability of soil to sequester carbon.

The mineral cycle – can your plants access minerals and recycle through a living soil food web then back to the soil quickly so more plants can grow? If it does then, we can drop all the fertilisers, chemicals and medicines from agriculture – the biggest contributor to the agricultural Carbon footprint AND the biggest cost drain on farmers.

Energy flow – How effectively are you using sunlight energy and passing it through the ecosystem system for the benefit of all organisms including those that will eventually feed humans. By getting more plants photosynthesizing per every Metre squared we are making more food; for microbes in the soil, for livestock, for wildlife and eventually us. If solar energy flow is not effective you will be using fossil fuel energy; that’s expensive and destructive.

Community dynamics – How effectively are you harnessing the highest successional state within the land you manage to balance our and reduce pests, maximise nutrient uptake, seed rainfall and make all land (agricultural or ‘wild) more resilient to climate change and wild fire?

 

 

In George’s articles, he refers to one of the conclusions of this report; ‘It shows that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution that are caused by food production.’

In Richard Young’s (Sustainable food trust) superb response he highlights the many problems with using global averages to back up a highly Westernised viewpoint. The above figures neglect to understand that when farmers pioneer land they will assess the production capabilities of a given area and cultivate the lower, flatter and most accessible for crop (plant food) production and use the higher more inaccessible or less productive areas for grazing animals. it’s just common sense.

 

Of course, you’re going to get fewer calories and protein from these vast areas of uncultivated land, they wouldn’t sustain effective plant food production anyway!

 

Why do you think there are no vegan traditional cultures on the 2/3 rds of the planets habitable land that have long dry seasons? You simply don’t find large numbers of vegans anywhere in the world where there aren’t fancy-pants health food stores! All the traditional peoples of dry-land cultures have to rely on the milk, eggs, meat and blood of animals to survive.

Let’s imagine a modern-day land pioneer deciding what to grow on his land, it will illustrate why simply selecting an ‘efficient’ grain crop may not be the brightest of ideas!

You stumble across a hundred acres of wild and diverse savannah grassland and ‘grab it.’ You’ve got two choices;

1) You decide to grow just soya beans; it’s the most efficient source of food you can grow in terms of protein production and yield. Somehow you find the money to buy the seed.You need to plough the land to minimise competition and establish the crop; this kills most of the creatures that live here. Because you’re fighting nature to grow a monoculture (nature abhors bare ground and monoculture) you must use chemicals to suppress the weeds, disease, and bugs that are making a ‘bee’ line for the easy target you have provided them.

The soil has degraded releasing its valuable Carbon into the atmosphere reducing the capacity to absorb and retain precious water, and the soil micro-organisms so vital for oxidising methane and cycling nutrients have been destroyed.

The soil structure is damaged, and the liquid carbon pathway no longer functions so the plants will need inorganic fertilisers to grow – the most energy-intensive element of agriculture. 60% of those fertilisers will be lost to the rivers and streams causing havoc in water ways and oceans.

You will need to irrigate the land because, bare soil (what you have created) gets hotter and loses water through evaporation very quickly and is prone to drought and flood damage.

You could eat all this soya bean product and possibly survive – for a while at least, but there are serious health concerns about eating copious amounts of soy, or plant foods – especially the modern processed types. (see the note at the foot of the article)

Between 40 – 70 nutrients are known to be needed for health and disease resistance, not only will we get pretty bored of eating soy products, it would inevitably lead to disease and malnutrition.

The land will eventually become so degraded that no amount of chemical helps will allow a successful crop to grow – it’s not a good long-term plan – you’ll end up with a desert.

 

 

2) Alternatively, you could maintain the diverse, living savannah and allow all the wildlife to co-exist.Within your 100 acres, you can run a herd of twenty or more cattle by bunching them and moving them to mimic the natural large herds of grazers that pass through the land. You’re going to team up with your neighbours to make bigger groups, so you can allow areas of land to rest for longer.

You can milk the cows which produce a healthy and nourishing protein source all year round along with an amazing array of health benefits and you can kill a cow or a wild animal occasionally for meat.

You can use the wild herbs and roots for food and grow small areas of crops in mixed rotation to avoid pest burdens and soil degradation, the manure from the animals replenished the fertility of this land.

The entire system provides all the nutrients you need to thrive and requires NO agricultural fertilisers, chemicals or livestock medications.

This system is flood and drought resistant and can go on forever supporting the families who choose to live there.

So, in a fuller context, Georges soy-based scenario isn’t sounding quite so attractive! One of the best examples of scenario two operating at a significant food production scale is regenerative agricultural hero Gabe Brown who, in this great video below, shows an photograph of some soil before and after a woodland was cleared and then cropped with soy for 17 years – it’s scary!

 

 

George Monbiot is using the current unsustainable agricultural model – which I completely agree must change – to justify a move to a plant-based model with some vague notion that we will get better at producing plants organically without the need for livestock.

As Mark Palmer, an experienced organic agricultural advisor explains in his excellent article, producing food from an animal-free cropping system is not as simple as George would like it to sound.

My colleague Georgia and I have written a whole series of articles on how to eat in ways that regenerate land and recover human health whilst still producing enough food to nourish a growing population; we cover them fully in our ‘Wilderove approach’ the eco-omnivore approach to saving the planet.

 

Dumbing down the complexity of the discussion to a statement like ‘eating vegan is less harmful to the planet’ is absurd!

 

As I have highlighted in my article ‘I run a meat business but I’m glad more people are becoming vegan’ I would be happy to leave George alone to enthusiastically convert more people to veganism. I admire anyone who’s willing to make a change for the sake of the planet, even, if in my view, it’s misguided. At least it’s a move away from some of the cruel agricultural practices that are the current norm.

But sadly, George Monbiot seems to have made it his life’s greatest mission to undermine the efforts of regenerative agriculture practitioners like myself who farm alongside wildlife, help mitigate climate change and produce healthy food for all humans (not just middle-class ones with access to a whole foods store!) And, in particular, he seems hell-bent on destroying the reputation of a man; Allan Savory, whom I feel will one day be remembered as one of the greatest positive change-makers of our time.

We holistic managers and regenerative farmers are a small but growing movement of empowered, skilled, experienced and passionate individuals who WILL keep trying to save this beautiful planet regardless of the unrelenting application of limited thinking and significant influence against our cause.

 

 

So, in my humble and un-scientific opinion, one of the most damaging practices in land management today is the widespread promotion of GM.

I mean George Monbiot!

Caroline Grindrod

 

Taken from Weston Price Web site; • High levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Phytic acid in soy is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow cooking. High phytate diets have caused growth problems in children. • Trypsin inhibitors in soy interfere with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. In test animals soy containing trypsin inhibitors caused stunted growth. • Soy phytoestrogens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women. • Soy phytoestrogens are potent antithyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease. • Vitamin B12 analogs in soy are not absorbed and actually increase the body’s requirement for B12. • Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D. Fragile proteins are denatured during high temperature processing to make soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein. Processing of soy protein results in the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines. Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods. Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.

 

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Kevin Anderson tells it like it is…..

26 05 2018

 





Allan Savory on holistic grazing

6 05 2018

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work may show — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert. Statements in this talk have been challenged by other scientists working in this field.





World’s first multi-million dollar carbon-capture plant does work of just $17,640 worth of trees

30 04 2018


This is a shortened and reworded version of the original article.  Obviously, since we’re at the peak of global fossil fuel production, when the plateau ends sometime between now and 2025 and production declines exponentially, greenhouse gas emissions will start to drop dramatically as well. Meanwhile, transportation, supply chains, diesel engines, blast furnaces, the chemical industry (500,000 products made with and OF fossil fuels), are utterly dependent on petroleum. We simply can’t kick the fossil fuel habit no matter how much we’d like to since there are no commercially viable alternatives (I explain why in my book: “When Trucks Stop Running”).

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical PreppingKunstlerCast 253KunstlerCast278Peak Prosperity , XX2 report

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Editorial Staff. June 2, 2017. World’s First Multi-Million Dollar Carbon-Capture Plant Does Work Of Just $17,640 Worth Of Trees—It’s The “Worst Investment In Human History. National Economics.

On May 31st the world’s first commercial carbon dioxide capture-plant was opened in Hinwil, Switzerland.  It’s designed and operated by a Swiss company called Climeworks, and uses a modular design that can be scaled up over time.

The company says that the plant will remove 900 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year by passing it through a special filter that isolates carbon dioxide molecules.

What will happen to all of this carbon dioxide?

Some of it will be cycled into nearby greenhouses to help the plants grow and some to use in carbonated beverages, the rest underground.

The company says their technology could be used to stop climate change.

They estimate that 250,000 such plants would be necessary to capture enough carbon to meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s goals of capturing 1% of global emissions by 2025.

Why would anyone do this when you could plant beautiful trees instead, trees that provide shade and fruits, as well as take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replace it with breathable oxygen?  Trees are really good at this. It only takes an average of 98 trees to remove 1 ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year.

That means that this plant is worth only 88,200 trees per year — and really more than that if you add in the enormous carbon and energy footprint for the fabrication of all the parts.

We can’t compare the costs of Climeworks “solution” to trees, because Climeworks doesn’t state the cost of their plant on their website—probably because it’s egregiously high.

But we do know the cost of planting trees.  You can sponsor charities to plant trees for you at 20 cents per tree.

We probably don’t even need to plant more trees, we just need to stop cutting them down to make room for new development and ranch land—better land management is actually our cheapest, and most effective option at preserving the environment.





‘We’re doomed’: Mayer Hillman on the climate reality no one else will dare mention

30 04 2018

 

“We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on.”

‘We’re doomed’: Mayer Hillman on the climate reality no one else will dare mention thumbnail“We’re doomed,” says Mayer Hillman with such a beaming smile that it takes a moment for the words to sink in. “The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.”

Hillman, an 86-year-old social scientist and senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute, does say so. His bleak forecast of the consequence of runaway climate change, he says without fanfare, is his “last will and testament”. His last intervention in public life. “I’m not going to write anymore because there’s nothing more that can be said,” he says when I first hear him speak to a stunned audience at the University of East Anglia late last year.

From Malthus to the Millennium Bug, apocalyptic thinking has a poor track record. But when it issues from Hillman, it may be worth paying attention. Over nearly 60 years, his research has used factual data to challenge policymakers’ conventional wisdom. In 1972, he criticised out-of-town shopping centres more than 20 years before the government changed planning rules to stop their spread. In 1980, he recommended halting the closure of branch line railways – only now are some closed lines reopening. In 1984, he proposed energy ratings for houses – finally adopted as government policy in 2007. And, more than 40 years ago, he presciently challenged society’s pursuit of economic growth.

“With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport is almost irrelevant,” he says. “We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on.”

While the focus of Hillman’s thinking for the last quarter-century has been on climate change, he is best known for his work on road safety. He spotted the damaging impact of the car on the freedoms and safety of those without one – most significantly, children – decades ago. Some of his policy prescriptions have become commonplace – such as 20mph speed limits – but we’ve failed to curb the car’s crushing of children’s liberty. In 1971, 80% of British seven- and eight-year-old children went to school on their own; today it’s virtually unthinkable that a seven-year-old would walk to school without an adult. As Hillman has pointed out, we’ve removed children from danger rather than removing danger from children – and filled roads with polluting cars on school runs. He calculated that escorting children took 900m adult hours in 1990, costing the economy £20bn each year. It will be even more expensive today.

Our society’s failure to comprehend the true cost of cars has informed Hillman’s view on the difficulty of combatting climate change. But he insists that I must not present his thinking on climate change as “an opinion”. The data is clear; the climate is warming exponentially. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the world on its current course will warmby 3C by 2100. Recent revised climate modelling suggested a best estimate of 2.8C but scientists struggle to predict the full impact of the feedbacks from future events such as methane being released by the melting of the permafrost.

Hillman believes society has failed to challenge the supremacy of the car.
Pinterest
Hillman believes society has failed to challenge the supremacy of the car. Photograph: Lenscap / Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

Hillman is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100. “This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to climate change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical.”

Global emissions were static in 2016 but the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was confirmed as beyond 400 parts per million, the highest level for at least three million years (when sea levels were up to 20m higher than now). Concentrations can only drop if we emit no carbon dioxide whatsoever, says Hillman. “Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return.”

Although Hillman has not flown for more than 20 years as part of a personal commitment to reducing carbon emissions, he is now scornful of individual action which he describes as “as good as futile”. By the same logic, says Hillman, national action is also irrelevant “because Britain’s contribution is minute. Even if the government were to go to zero carbon it would make almost no difference.”

Instead, says Hillman, the world’s population must globally move to zero emissions across agriculture, air travel, shipping, heating homes – every aspect of our economy – and reduce our human population too. Can it be done without a collapse of civilisation? “I don’t think so,” says Hillman. “Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”

Hillman doubts that human ingenuity can find a fix and says there is no evidence that greenhouse gases can be safely buried. But if we adapt to a future with less – focusing on Hillman’s love and music – it might be good for us. “And who is ‘we’?” asks Hillman with a typically impish smile. “Wealthy people will be better able to adapt but the world’s population will head to regions of the planet such as northern Europe which will be temporarily spared the extreme effects of climate change. How are these regions going to respond? We see it now. Migrants will be prevented from arriving. We will let them drown.”

A small band of artists and writers, such as Paul Kingsnorth’s Dark Mountain project, have embraced the idea that “civilisation” will soon end in environmental catastrophe but only a few scientists – usually working beyond the patronage of funding bodies, and nearing the end of their own lives – have suggested as much. Is Hillman’s view a consequence of old age, and ill health? “I was saying these sorts of things 30 years ago when I was hale and hearty,” he says.

Hillman accuses all kinds of leaders – from religious leaders to scientists to politicians – of failing to honestly discuss what we must do to move to zero-carbon emissions. “I don’t think they can because society isn’t organised to enable them to do so. Political parties’ focus is on jobs and GDP, depending on the burning of fossil fuels.”

Without hope, goes the truism, we will give up. And yet optimism about the future is wishful thinking, says Hillman. He believes that accepting that our civilisation is doomed could make humanity rather like an individual who recognises he is terminally ill. Such people rarely go on a disastrous binge; instead, they do all they can to prolong their lives.

Can civilisation prolong its life until the end of this century? “It depends on what we are prepared to do.” He fears it will be a long time before we take proportionate action to stop climatic calamity. “Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

 

Guardian





EARTH DAY AND THE HOCKEY STICK: A SINGULAR MESSAGE

22 04 2018

Originally published on J Pratt 27’s blog……

Sorry about the images, no matter how much I shrink them, they won’t fit on the page……  you can view them properly in a separate tab…..

By Michael E. Mann

Credit: Freestylephoto Getty Images

Two decades ago this week a pair of colleagues and I published the original “hockey stick” graph in Nature, which happened to coincide with the Earth Day 1998 observances.

The graph showed Earth’s temperature, relatively stable for 500 years, had spiked upward during the 20th century.

year later we would extend the graph back in time to A.D. 1000, demonstrating this rise was unprecedented over at least the past millennium—as far back as we could go with the data we had.

Original “hockey stick” temperature graph in Nature, 1998. The Y axis shows the Northern hemisphere mean temperature, in degrees Celsius; the zero line corresponds to the 1902 – 1980 mean. Credit: “Global-scale Temperature Patterns and Climate Forcing over the Past Six Centuries,” by Michael E. Mann et al. in Nature, Vol. 392, April 23, 1998

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, publishing the hockey stick would change my life in a fundamental way. I was thrust suddenly into the spotlight. Nearly every major newspaper and television news networkcovered our study. The widespread attention was exhilarating, if not intimidating for a science nerd with little or no experience—or frankly, inclination at the time—in communicating with the public.

Nothing in my training as a scientist could have prepared me for the very public battles I would soon face. The hockey stick told a simple story: There is something unprecedented about the warming we are experiencing today and, by implication, it has something to do with us and our profligate burning of fossil fuels. The story was a threat to companies that profited from fossil fuels, and government officials doing their bidding, all of whom opposed efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the vulnerable junior first author of the article (I was a postdoctoral researcher), I found myself in the crosshairs of industry-funded attack dogs looking to discredit the iconic symbol of the human impact on our climate…by discrediting me personally.

The hockey stick temperature reconstruction from 1999 (blue) along with the data record (red) and the 2013 “PAGES2k” temperature reconstruction (green).  Credit: Klaus Bittermann via Wikimedia Commons  (CC BY-SA 4.0) 

In my 2013 book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, I gave a name to this modus operandi of science critics: the Serengeti strategy. The term describes how industry special interests and their facilitators single out individual researchers to attack, in much the same way lions of the Serengeti single out an individual zebra from the herd. In numbers there is strength; individuals are far more vulnerable.

The purpose of this strategy, still in force today, is twofold: to undermine the credibility of the science community, thus impairing scientists as messengers and communicators; and to discourage other researchers from raising their heads above the parapet and engaging in public discourse over policy-relevant science. If the aggressors are successful, as I have argued before, we all lose out—in the form of policies that favor special interests over our interests.

As the Serengeti strategy has been deployed against me, I have been vilified on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal and other conservative media outlets, and subject to inquisitions by fossil fuel industry–funded senators, congressmen and attorneys general. My e-mails have been stolen, cherry-picked, taken out of context and broadcast widely in an effort to embarrass and discredit me. I have been subject to vexatious, open-records law requests by fossil fuel industry–funded front groups for my personal e-mails and numerous other documents. I have experienced multiple death threats and have endured threats against my family members. All because of the inconvenience my scientific findings posed to powerful and influential special interests.

Yet, in the 20 years since the original hockey stick publication, independent studies again and again have overwhelmingly reaffirmed our findings, including the key conclusion: recent warming is unprecedented over at least the past millennium. The highest scientific body in the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences, affirmed our findings in an exhaustive independent review published in June 2006. Dozens of groups of scientists have independently reproduced, confirmed and extended our findings, including a team of nearly 80 scientists from around the world who in 2013 published their finding in the premier journal Nature Geoscience that recent warmth is unprecedented in at least the past 1,400 years.

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most authoritative and exhaustive assessment of climate science on the planet, concluded recent warmth is likely unprecedented over an even longer time frame than we had concluded. There is tentative evidence, in fact, that the current warming spike is unprecedented in tens of thousands of years.

Of course, the hockey stick is only one of numerous lines of evidence that have led the world’s scientists to conclude climate change is (a) real, (b) caused by burning fossil fuels, along with other human activities and (c) a grave threat if we do nothing about it. There is no legitimate scientific debate on those points, despite the ongoing effort by some people and groups to convince the public otherwise.

Their preferred tactic is to exaggerate the uncertainty in models that project where climate change is heading and argue such uncertainty is a cause for inaction, when precisely the opposite is the case. Arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than the climate models have predicted. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets appear prone to collapse sooner than we previously thought—and with that, estimates of the sea level rise we could see by the end of this century have doubled from previous estimates of about three feet to more than six feet. If anything, climate model projections have proved overly conservative; they are certainly not an exaggeration.

Scientists are finding other examples as well. In part as a result of our own work three years ago, there is an emerging consensus—as publicized in recent news accounts—that the “conveyor belt” of ocean circulation may be weakening sooner than we expected. The conveyor delivers warm waters from the tropics to the higher latitudes of the North Atlantic, supporting vibrant fish communities there and moderating climates in western Europe and eastern North America. The earlier melt of Greenland ice, it appears, is freshening the surface waters of the subpolar North Atlantic, inhibiting the sinking of cold, salty water that helps drive the conveyor.

When the hockey stick was first attacked in the late 1990s I was initially reluctant to speak out, but I realized I had to defend myself against a cynical assault on my science and on me. I have come to embrace that role. What more noble cause is there than to fight to preserve our planet for our children and grandchildren?

There is great urgency to act now if we are to avert a dangerous 2- degree Celsius (3.6-degree Fahrenheit) planetary warming. My own recent work suggests the challenge is greater than previously thought. Yet I remain cautiously optimistic we will act in time. Along with many other Americans, I have been inspired by the renewed enthusiasm of our youth, who are demanding action now when it comes to the societal and environmental threats they face. Indeed, I have committed myself to helping insure a future in which we avoid catastrophic climate change. So let me conclude with this exhortation from the epilogue of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars:

“While slowly slipping away, that future is still within the realm of possibility. It is a matter of what path we choose to follow. I hope that my fellow scientists—and concerned individuals everywhere—will join me in the effort to make sure we follow the right one.”

Press link for more: Scientific America

 





I told you so………

15 03 2018

At this rate, it’s going to take nearly 400 years to transform the energy system

Here are the real reasons we’re not building clean energy anywhere near fast enough.

“Is it possible to accelerate by a factor of 20?” he asks. “Yeah, but I don’t think people understand what that is, in terms of steel and glass and cement.” 

by James Temple  Originally published at Technology Review

windhelicopter

Fifteen years ago, Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution, calculated that the world would need to add about a nuclear power plant’s worth of clean-energy capacity every day between 2000 and 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change. Recently, he did a quick calculation to see how we’re doing.

Not well. Instead of the roughly 1,100 megawatts of carbon-free energy per day likely needed to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 ˚C, as the 2003 Science paper by Caldeira and his colleagues found, we are adding around 151 megawatts. That’s only enough to power roughly 125,000 homes.

At that rate, substantially transforming the energy system would take, not the next three decades, but nearly the next four centuries. In the meantime, temperatures would soar, melting ice caps, sinking cities, and unleashing devastating heat waves around the globe (see “The year climate change began to spin out of control”).

Caldeira stresses that other factors are likely to significantly shorten that time frame (in particular, electrifying heat production, which accounts for a more than half of global energy consumption, will significantly alter demand). But he says it’s clear we’re overhauling the energy system about an order of magnitude too slowly, underscoring a point that few truly appreciate: It’s not that we aren’t building clean energy fast enough to address the challenge of climate change. It’s that—even after decades of warnings, policy debates, and clean-energy campaigns—the world has barely even begun to confront the problem.

The UN’s climate change body asserts that the world needs to cut as much as 70 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions by midcentury to have any chance of avoiding 2 ˚C of warming. But carbon pollution has continued to rise, ticking up 2 percent last year.

So what’s the holdup?

Beyond the vexing combination of economic, political, and technical challenges is the basic problem of overwhelming scale. There is a massive amount that needs to be built, which will suck up an immense quantity of manpower, money, and materials.

For starters, global energy consumption is likely to soar by around 30 percent in the next few decades as developing economies expand. (China alone needs to add the equivalent of the entire US power sector by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.) To cut emissions fast enough and keep up with growth, the world will need to develop 10 to 30 terawatts of clean-energy capacity by 2050. On the high end that would mean constructing the equivalent of around 30,000 nuclear power plants—or producing and installing 120 billion 250-watt solar panels.

Energy overhaul
What we should be doing* What we’re actually doing
Megawatts per day 1,100 151
Megawatts per year 401,500 55,115
Megawatts in fifty years 20,075,000 2,755,750
Years to add 20 Terrawatts 50 363
Sources: Carnegie Institution, Science, BP *If we had started at this rate in 2000 Actual average rate of carbon-free added per day from 2006-2015

There’s simply little financial incentive for the energy industry to build at that scale and speed while it has tens of trillions of dollars of sunk costs in the existing system.

“If you pay a billion dollars for a gigawatt of coal, you’re not going to be happy if you have to retire it in 10 years,” says Steven Davis, an associate professor in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine.

It’s somewhere between difficult and impossible to see how any of that will change until there are strong enough government policies or big enough technology breakthroughs to override the economics.

A quantum leap

In late February, I sat in Daniel Schrag’s office at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. His big yellow Chinook, Mickey, lay down next to my feet.

Schrag was one of President Barack Obama’s top climate advisors. As a geologist who has closely studied climate variability and warming periods in the ancient past, he has a special appreciation for how dramatically things can change.

Sitting next to me with his laptop, he opened a report he had recently coauthored assessing the risks of climate change. It highlights the many technical strides that will be required to overhaul the energy system, including better carbon capture, biofuels, and storage.

The study also notes that the United States adds roughly 10 gigawatts of new energy generation capacity per year. That includes all types, natural gas as well as solar and wind. But even at that rate, it would take more than 100 years to rebuild the existing electricity grid, to say nothing of the far larger one required in the decades to come.

“Is it possible to accelerate by a factor of 20?” he asks. “Yeah, but I don’t think people understand what that is, in terms of steel and glass and cement.”

Climate observers and commentators have used various historical parallels to illustrate the scale of the task, including the Manhattan Project and the moon mission. But for Schrag, the analogy that really speaks to the dimensions and urgency of the problem is World War II, when the United States nationalized parts of the steel, coal, and railroad industries. The government forced automakers to halt car production in order to churn out airplanes, tanks, and jeeps.

The good news here is that if you direct an entire economy at a task, big things can happen fast. But how do you inspire a war mentality in peacetime, when the enemy is invisible and moving in slow motion?

“It’s a quantum leap from where we are today,” Schrag says.

The time delay

The fact that the really devastating consequences of climate change won’t come for decades complicates the issue in important ways. Even for people who care about the problem in the abstract, it doesn’t rate high among their immediate concerns. As a consequence, they aren’t inclined to pay much, or change their lifestyle, to actually address it. In recent years, Americans were willing to increase their electricity bill by a median amount of only $5 a month even if that “solved,” not eased, global warming, down from $10 15 years earlier, according to a series of surveys by MIT and Harvard.

It’s conceivable that climate change will someday alter that mind-set as the mounting toll of wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, extinctions, and sea-level rise finally forces the world to grapple with the problem.

But that will be too late. Carbon dioxide works on a time delay. It takes about 10 years to achieve its full warming effect, and it stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years. After we’ve tipped into the danger zone, eliminating carbon dioxide emissions doesn’t decrease the effects; it can only prevent them from getting worse. Whatever level of climate change we allow to unfold is locked in for millennia, unless we develop technologies to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere on a massive scale (or try our luck with geoengineering).

This also means there’s likely to be a huge trade-off between what we would have to pay to fix the energy system and what it would cost to deal with the resulting disasters if we don’t. Various estimates find that cutting emissions will shrink the global economy by a few percentage points a year, but unmitigated warming could slash worldwide GDP more than 20 percent by the end of the century, if not far more.

In the money

Arguably the most crucial step to accelerate energy development is enacting strong government policies. Many economists believe the most powerful tool would be a price on carbon, imposed through either a direct tax or a cap-and-trade program. As the price of producing energy from fossil fuels grows, this would create bigger incentives to replace those plants with clean energy (see “Surge of carbon pricing proposals coming in the new year”).

“If we’re going to make any progress on greenhouse gases, we’ll have to either pay the implicit or explicit costs of carbon,” says Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

But it has to be a big price, far higher than the $15 per ton it cost to acquire allowances in California’s cap-and-trade program late last year. Borenstein says a carbon fee approaching $40 a ton “just blows coal out of the market entirely and starts to put wind and solar very much into the money,” at least when you average costs across the lifetime of the plants.

Others think the price should be higher still. But it’s very hard to see how any tax even approaching that figure could pass in the United States, or many other nations, anytime soon.

The other major policy option would be caps that force utilities and companies to keep greenhouse emissions below a certain level, ideally one that decreases over time. This regulations-based approach is not considered as economically efficient as a carbon price, but it has the benefit of being much more politically palatable. American voters hate taxes but are perfectly comfortable with air pollution rules, says Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University.

Fundamental technical limitations will also increase the cost and complexity of shifting to clean energy. Our fastest-growing carbon-free sources, solar and wind farms, don’t supply power when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. So as they provide a larger portion of the grid’s electricity, we’ll also need long-range transmission lines that can balance out peaks and valleys across states, or massive amounts of very expensive energy storage, or both (see “Relying on renewables alone significantly inflates the cost of overhauling energy”).

Million tonnes oil equivalentA renewables revolution?Despite the wide optimism surrounding renewables like wind and solar, they still only represent atiny and slow growing fraction of global energy.NuclearHydroAll RenewablesCoalNatural GasOil2000200120022003200420052006200720082009201020112012201320142015201605k10k15kSource: World consumption of primary energy consumption by source. BP

The upshot is that we’re eventually going to need to either supplement wind and solar with many more nuclear reactors, fossil-fuel plants with carbon capture and other low-emissions sources, or pay far more to build out a much larger system of transmission, storage and renewable generation, says Jesse Jenkins, a researcher with the MIT Energy Initiative. In all cases, we’re still likely to need significant technical advances that drive down costs.

All of this, by the way, only addresses the challenge of overhauling the electricity sector, which currently represents less than 20 percent of total energy consumption. It will provide a far greater portion as we electrify things like vehicles and heating, which means we’ll eventually need to develop an electrical system several times larger than today’s.

But that still leaves the “really difficult parts of the global energy system” to deal with, says Davis of UC Irvine. That includes aviation, long-distance hauling, and the cement and steel industries, which produce carbon dioxide in the manufacturing process itself. To clean up these huge sectors of the economy, we’re going to need better carbon capture and storage tools, as well as cheaper biofuels or energy storage, he says.

These kinds of big technical achievements tend to require significant and sustained government support. But much like carbon taxes or emissions caps, a huge increase in federal research and development funding is highly unlikely in the current political climate.

Give up?

So should we just give up?

There is no magic bullet or obvious path here. All we can do is pull hard on the levers that seem to work best.

Environmental and clean-energy interest groups need to make climate change a higher priority, tying it to practical issues that citizens and politicians do care about, like clean air, security, and jobs. Investors or philanthropists need to be willing to make longer-term bets on early-stage energy technologies. Scientists and technologists need to focus their efforts on the most badly needed tools. And lawmakers need to push through policy changes to provide incentives, or mandates, for energy companies to change.

The hard reality, however, is that the world very likely won’t be able to accomplish what’s called for by midcentury. Schrag says that keeping temperature increases below 2 ˚C is already “a pipe dream,” adding that we’ll be lucky to prevent 4 ˚C of warming this century.

That means we’re likely to pay a very steep toll in lost lives, suffering, and environmental devastation (see “Hot and violent”).

But the imperative doesn’t end if warming tips past 2 ˚C. It only makes it more urgent to do everything we can to contain the looming threats, limit the damage, and shift to a sustainable system as fast as possible.

“If you miss 2050,” Schrag says, “you still have 2060, 2070, and 2080.”