Three Things We Don’t Understand About Climate Change

3 09 2017

ANOTHER great article from Ahmed Nafeez’ new Medium website…….  Please support his magnificent efforts.

This is the most honest item on Climate Change I hace seen in quite a while. It almost goes as far as saying what I’ve now concluded, we must de-industrialise. Almost.

Go to the profile of Aarne Granlund
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Thinking about climate change is not something that comes natural to humans — or ‘consumers’ as we have been called for decades. It is not only emotionally unpleasant, but analytically extremely challenging.

I argue that most of us do not grasp how immediate this situation has become, how fast it is progressing and what the scale of change needed is to reach the stabilisation targets of the Paris Agreement.

I also argue that after individuals, nations and corporations understand the urgency and the rate, they should be honest about the scale of action needed in order to avoid collapse of the biosphere and thus civilisation.

North America on 29th of August 2017. Tundra and forest fires in the Arctic + British Columbia and Hurricane Harvey off the coast of South Texas (Terra / MODIS @ Nasa WorldView).

Human society is deeply and permanently coupled to the Earth System. In the geological epoch we have entered called the Anthropocene, that system is undergoing immediate, massive disruption. The previous epoch of Holocene gave us agriculture and settled living arrangements.

Since the onset of industrial production at an accelerating rate and scale, human society has had deep and far ranging influence on natural processes which it depends on. Climate change is only one of the manifestations — there are multiple large-scale indicators of our presence on this planet from erosion to nitrogen runoff, species extinction to uncontrolled population growth.

1. Urgency

The first misunderstanding about climate change is related to how we perceive its impacts in the temporal space. It is not (only) a future issue, not a polar bear issue and certainly not an issue which only affects a few remote parts of the world.

Situation has become dangerous during the last three years of 2014, 2015, 2016 and now continuing into 2017. Certain parts of the world see less immediate danger but systematic changes affect us all.

NASA GISS dataset on land and ocean temperature anomalies (2017).

How is it possible that the Earth System has taken up our presence on the surface so lightly even when we have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere and the ocean with our carbon pollution?

Ocean heat uptake has doubled since 1997 (Gleckler et al, 2016).

Most of the energy (heat) human carbon pollution creates ends up warming the world ocean, some 93% of our pyromania ends up there. Every passing year we pump 41 gigatons (that is a very big number) of carbon dioxide into the Earth System, where roughly half of it is absorbed by natural sink capabilities of the ocean and the land biosphere. Rest of it ends up in the atmosphere with all the other gases we put up, including aerosols and certain novel entities that have never occured in the natural state of the Earth System.

The fact that increasing greenhouse gas loading from human sources in the carbon cycle is cumulative makes this an extremely vicious political, economic and social problem. The increment which ends up in the atmosphere can only be drawn down by the natural climate system on time scales extending to tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

The Global Carbon Budget from GCP, 2017.

One component of urgency is that when surface temperatures increase after being buffered by the ocean — without the world ocean we would already be 36°C hotter on the surface of continents from the increased atmospheric forcing — they can do so in a non-linear fashion.

This creates immediate impacts. Single exceptional extreme weather events are not caused by climate change but happen in a distinctively new climate. Hotter atmosphere holds more moisture which increases precipitation. Extreme heatwaves become more common. Ice in all its forms melts.

Right now there are multiple imminent disasters occuring in various parts of the planet. Global fire situation has been exceptional in Siberia, Greenland, Canada and in other parts of North America. Tundra burns, forests burn, people suffer. Europe has been under severe heat waves and there have been mass casualties from forest fires in Portugal.

There is extreme flooding in South Asia, impacting multiple cities and the country of Bangladesh of which one third is currently under water. Hurricane Harvey just hit South Texas at Category 4 strength and produced record precipitation totals for many locations, including but not limited to the City of Houston. Tens of millions suffer from these impacts — right now.

Arctic climate change is proceeding at fast pace (AMAP SWIPA, 2017 http://www.amap.no/swipa2017).

2. Rate and Scale of Change

The Arctic, area located on the top of the planet from 66°N north, is a prime example of systematic exponential change. It is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet. There is less inertia in the Arctic than there is in the general climate system.

But even the general climate system is being pushed in ways which have no previous analogue in natural climate changes going back tens of millions of years. It is about the rate of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases added. There have been periods in the deep geological past of Earth when greenhouse gas concentrations have been much, much higher than they are today but increases have never occured this rapidly.

Proxy measurements of carbon dioxide from ice cores (NOAA @ NASA Climate Change https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/).

Earth is a fluid, non-linear system capable of abrupt and total change. Earth System has been in a hothouse state and for a while was mostly covered by ice. At current pathways we are literally going to lose very large portions of both continental polar ice sheets, possibly in their entirety. This will take centuries but when we commit, the result will be permanent. Permafrost is thawing, threathening both the carbon cycle and our settled living arrangements in the Arctic.

When climate scientists project future climate change up to and beyond 2050 and 2100 they refer to scenarios. They are used in policy making to set stabilisation targets.

Tipping elements in the climate system (Schellnhuber et al, 2015).

What is worrying is that humanity is currently putting in place an atmospheric forcing comparable to something between the RCP4.5 and 8.5 (watts per square meter) end results. The choice between the Paris Agreement ‘well below 2°C’ framing and higher, 3–4°C level of warming is the choice of having a civilisation with global governance capability or losing it.

At any pathway we choose to follow, in order for the climate to stabilise at a higher level of change, emissions need to be zero. If new carbon pollution enters the climate system, temperatures will go up. This also applies to 2.5°C emissions budgets as well as 3°C budgets.

3. Stabilisation

What is to be done? Multiple actions are under way. Our energy system is changing with global energy demand growth continuing to rise due to industrialisation of developing nations, but new added electricity capacity in the form of solar and wind power only appear to offset some of the added growth. Electricity is only a portion of our energy use profile.

The massive use of fossil fuels is the prime driver of human-caused climate change. The fraction of low-carbon energy is the same now that it was a few decades ago. Fossil fuels absolutely dominate our energy system at >80% share in total final energy consumption. Deforestation and other land-use change also contribute significantly, but our profligate use of fossil energy commits us to possibly catastrophic breakdowns of the climate system.

For a reasonable chance of keeping warming under 2℃ we can emit a further 865 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2). The climate commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 2030 are a first step, but recent analyses show they are not enough (Canadell and Smith, 2017 http://bit.ly/2jRNjIK).

The trouble with negative emissions (Peters and Anderson, 2016 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6309/182).

The carbon budget framing might seem like a radical socio-political construct but it is in fact the best depiction of the physical reality of climate change. Cumulative emissions dictate the mitigation outcome — there is absolutely no doubt about this as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has shown.

The relationship between temperature change and cumulative CO2 emissions (in GtCO2) from 1870 to the year 2100. (IPCC 2014 Synthesis Report).

It is indeed the fact that many applications of fossil energy are growing exponentially that is the problem for climate stabilisationAir travel, road freight, shipping. Exponential global growth. Based on sound understanding of the physical reality, their fossil carbon use should be declining exponentially.

Three years to safeguard our climate (Figueres at al, 2017 http://go.nature.com/2t1gwUD).

All of this is sadly true and supremely distressing. Emissions from fossil fuels and land use change are 60% higher than they were in 1990 when scientists established most of what has been shown above with high certainty. Only the resolution of understanding has increased along with worsening climate impacts.

F/ Honesty

Finding out the reality of this situation is a profound experience. It is a state shift in human cognition, comparable to expansion of internet and global connectivity.

What I argue as citizen is to stop lying to ourselves. We have to obey the ancient laws of nature. No amount of economic growth, green shift, denial or activism can negotiate with physical constraints of the Earth System.

Our energy system will never be able to transform fast enough to meet the Paris Agreement stabilisation target without mad assumptions of building a carbon draw down device on this planet three times the size of the current oil industry, capable of sequestering greenhouse gases from ambient air on the order of what the natural sinks like the world ocean and the land biosphere are currently doing.

Roughly 10% of us generate almost as much greenhouse gas emissions from our lifestyle as the rest of the people on this planet. Finnish household consumption added to territorial emissions at >15 tons CO2 equivalent per capita will breach the global carbon budget for lower stabilisation targets within a decade. This is a pragmatic, but also a moral issue. Nobody can escape it, no matter how much one tries.

Finnish emissions reductions and negative emissions to meet Paris Agreement framing (Climate Analytics, 2016.)

We have to transform our diets, mobility systems, energy production and conspicuous consumption within a decade to limit risks of profound magnitude. The first decade should cut all of our carbon pollution in half. The next one should halve the portion left and so on. We have to put in policies which enchance natural sinks and research artificial new sinks.

This is not an obligation just to protect future generations, poor people or animals anymore. It is a threat to huge amounts of people living in the present moment on this finite planet in our vast universe.

We have to push through this mentally, keeping focus on what there is to be done with resolute purpose against nearly impossible odds. We have to be honest to ourselves, respectful of others and lead by example in everything we do.

Everybody can enter this space with relatively little sacrifice. It might be very painful in the beginning but truth is, after all, one of the most precious things this world has to offer.

Do what comes naturally, but always remember three things: how immediate this is, what kind of rates it is progressing at and what the scale of change needed must be in order to limit risk.

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How Unsustainable is PV Solar Power?

27 10 2015

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post about renewables being unable to even keep up with the growth of the internet’s energy consumption, along come a couple of other articles I just had to share…..

From Low Tech Magazine yet again is an article about the mushy numbers used to ‘prove’ PVs are the way to go in the future. Most followers of this blog will already know how I feel about this, however, this item has some interesting factoids I was not aware of that make a most interesting point.

Lower costs have spurred an increase in solar PV installments. According to the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, a record of more than 39 gigawatt (GW) of solar PV capacity was added in 2013, which brings total (peak) capacity worldwide to 139 GW at the end of 2013. While this is not even enough to generate 1% of global electricity demand, the growth is impressive. Almost half of all PV capacity in operation today was added in the past two years (2012-2013). In 2014, an estimated 45 GW was added, bringing the total to 184 GW.

Solar PV total global capacitySolar PV total global capacity, 2004-2013. Source: Renewables 2014 Global Status Report.

According to these numbers, electricity generated by photovoltaic systems is 15 times less carbon-intensive than electricity generated by a natural gas plant (450 gCO2e/kWh), and at least 30 times less carbon-intensive than electricity generated by a coal plant (+1,000 gCO2e/kWh). The most-cited energy payback times (EPBT) for solar PV systems are between one and two years. It seems that photovoltaic power, around since the 1970s, is finally ready to take over the role of fossil fuels.

But, as the article goes to great lengths to explain, manufacturing has moved to China, and as was recently revealed, the biggest eighteen ships produce as much CO2 as all the cars in the world……… so shipping those panels (and inverters) from China to Australia, Europe, and the Americas is unbelievably polluting.

Less than 10 years ago, almost all solar panels were produced in Europe, Japan, and the USA. In 2013, Asia accounted for 87% of global production (up from 85% in 2012), with China producing 67% of the world total (62% in 2012). Europe’s share continued to fall, to 9% in 2013 (11% in 2012), while Japan’s share remained at 5% and the US share was only 2.6%.

Price of silicon solar cells wikipedia

Compared to Europe, Japan and the USA, the electric grid in China is about twice as carbon-intensive and about 50% less energy efficient. Because the manufacture of solar PV cells relies heavily on the use of electricity (for more than 95%) this means that in spite of the lower prices and the increasing efficiency, the production of solar cells has become more energy-intensive, resulting in longer energy payback times and higher greenhouse gas emissions. The geographical shift in manufacturing has made almost all life cycle analyses of solar PV panels obsolete, because they are based on a scenario of domestic manufacturing, either in Europe or in the United States.

Compared to the original manufacturing scenarios of Germany, Japan, Spain, and the USA, the carbon footprint and the energy payback time of Chinese PVs are almost doubled in the asian manufacturing scenario. The carbon footprint of the modules made in Spain (which has a cleaner grid than the average in Europe) is 37.3 and 31.8 gCO2e/kWh for mono-Si and multi-Si, respectively, while the energy payback times are 1.9 and 1.6 years. However, for the modules made in China, the carbon footprint is 72.2 and 69.2 gCO2e/kWh for mono-Si and multi-Si, respectively, while the energy payback times are 2.4 and 2.3 years.

Carbon footprints solar cells produced in china and europe

At least as important as the place of manufacturing is the place of installation. Considering that at the end of 2014, Germany had more solar PV installed than all Southern European nations combined, and twice as much as the entire United States, this number is not a worst-case scenario. It reflects the carbon intensity of most solar PV systems installed between 2009 and 2014. More critical researchers had already anticipated these results. A 2010 study refers to the 2008 consensus figure of 50 gCO2e/kWh mentioned above, and adds that “in less sunny locations, or in carbon-intensive economies, these emissions can be up to 2-4 times higher”. Taking the more recent figure of 30 gCO2e/kWh as a starting point, which reflects improvements in solar cell and manufacturing efficiency, this would be 60-120 gCO2e/kWh, which corresponds neatly with the numbers of the 2014 study.

Solar insolation in europe

Solar insolation in north america

Solar insolation in Europe and the USA. Source: SolarGIS.

So far, I expect most DTM readers already knew this….. but now for the clincher, and it’s growth, yet again totally unsustainable. The author calls this Energy cannibalism, a term I just love!

Solar PV electricity remains less carbon-intensive than conventional grid electricity, even when solar cells are manufactured in China and installed in countries with relatively low solar insolation. This seems to suggest that solar PV remains a good choice no matter where the panels are produced or installed. However, if we take into account the growth of the industry, the energy and carbon balance can quickly turn negative. That’s because at high growth rates, the energy and CO2 savings made by the cumulative installed capacity of solar PV systems can be cancelled out by the energy use and CO2 emissions from the production of new installed capacity.

For the deployment of solar PV systems to grow while remaining net greenhouse gas mitigators, they must grow at a rate slower than the inverse of their CO2 payback time. For example, if the average energy and CO2 payback times of a solar PV system are four years and the industry grows at a rate of 25%, no net energy is produced and no greenhouse gas emissions are offset. If the growth rate is higher than 25%, the aggregate of solar PV systems actually becomes a net CO2 and energy sink. In this scenario, the industry expands so fast that the energy savings and GHG emissions prevented by solar PV systems are negated to fabricate the next wave of solar PV systems.

Several studies have undertaken a dynamic life cycle analysis of renewable energy technologies. The results — which are valid for the period between 1998 and 2008 — are very sobering for those that have put their hopes on the carbon mitigation potential of solar PV power. A 2009 paper, which takes into account the geographical distribution of global solar PV installations, sets the maximum sustainable annual growth rate at 23%, while the actual average annual growth rate of solar PV between 1998 and 2008 was 40%. [16] [21]

This means that the net CO2 balance of solar PV was negative for the period 1998-2008. Solar PV power was growing too fast to be sustainable, and the aggregate of solar panels actually increased GHG emissions and energy use. According to the paper, the net CO2 emissions of the solar PV industry during those 10 years accounted to 800,000 tonnes of CO2.

Which totally puts paid to the hopes of ‘green people’ wanting a quick transition from coal to PVs. The faster it happens, the worse greenhouse emissions are…… Is this the ultimate limit to growth? I find the irony almost too much to bear. I heartily recommend reading the article at its original source where all the facts and figures are referenced. It makes for sobering reading……..

But wait there’s more. Just last night on TV I saw an item on 7:30 on ABC TV showing some guy who built a modern mansion with all the bells and whistles, 300m from the grid. he claims it was going to cost $200,000 to connect to the grid (seems rather excessive to me…) so decided to go off the grid. The TV item was about how we will all go off the grid within ten years, and look at this guy’s amazing green bling…… four inverters no less! Anyone with four inverters is using four times too much power (and hence energy), and he proudly claimed to have batteries capable of backing the whole lot for…. three days. I can guarantee he will soon be disappointed. Anything less than a week would not suit me, I’d opt for ten days. But then again, I don’t need four inverters, we’ll only have one. Watch it here.

Why am I so certain he will be disappointed? Well Giles Parkinson and Sophie Vorrath are, like me, not convinced your average electricity consumer understands any of the dilemmas they face.

So for those of us left, and interested in battery storage as a means of saving money, how do the numbers stack up?

Before tackling those numbers, it is worth noting that the numbers for battery storage are more complex than they may first appear.

Making the economics work will depend on how much your household consumes and when, the size of your solar array, if any, and the local tariff structure. Then you have to consider how you will use that battery, and how the grid might use it to.

Because batteries are left lying around doing nothing much of the time, ‘the sweet spot’ for consumers lies in the range of 3.5to 5.0 kWh/day. Or less, I would add. And that, my friends, leaves out 90% of the electricity consumers as they stand right now. That Adelaide guy in the 7:30 show is well out of his league, and when he’ll have to replace his underworked Li ion batteries after just 10 years, if he can still get some, he will be wondering why his green bling is so expensive to keep running… and to top it all off, the article raves about what will happen way out to 2030, assuming that business as usual will continue forever, and that there will still be a grid to hook up to, unlike Gail Tverberg, the optimist!





To Collapse or Not To Collapse

21 02 2015

This is a great debate from the Sustainable Living Festival featuring David Holmgren, George Monbiot, Nicole Foss, Philip Sutton, and a couple of others I don’t know like Jess Moore and George Marshall…..

The SLF Great Debate presents

To Collapse or Not To Collapse, or Sucking Beer Out Of The Carpet according to Nicole Foss!

Pushing for economic ruin or building a great transition





Musings on the sustainability of meat and dairy

13 11 2014

In ‘my circles’, I know a lot of vegetarians and vegans.  Vegans, in particular, are the most zealous about their ideal, and I often clash with them for reasons I will tease out in this article.  Make no mistake, I find the entire industrial animal husbandry system totally abhorrent.  It is only possible because we still have relatively cheap fossil fuels, and because farming has left the hands of the many into the hands of the few who can only produce enough food for everyone by using hundreds if not thousands of fossil fuel slaves.  The Matrix is making it so easy to ‘work’ in its grip, and spend the returns shopping for food so cheap that what else are you to do?  I could never sell the food I produce, it takes me far too long (but what else have I got to do!?) and I would never get the financial return it merits, yet the satisfaction and the quality I get is worth my while…..

Simon Fairley

Recently, SBS TV here in Australia aired a fascinating doco featuring Michael Mosley titled “The Truth About Meat” (which Expires on 24 November 2014, 8:40pm).  I was already aware of the disturbing practices in the meat industry, but this film left me nonetheless gobsmacked.  The cruelty exercised on some of the animals depicted beggars belief.  Greed rules in the Matrix.  I have to say I was uplifted by the ending where Mosley meets Simon Fairley, an old fashioned dairy farmer who among other things milks his cows by hand.  The farmer explains how nothing else but grass would grow on his farm, and as we can’t eat grass, it makes sense to use cows to convert it into something we can use.  Interestingly, for someone who makes his livelihood from selling milk, he espouses that we should all use meat and dairy less.  A lot less.  Half, or maybe even less…..  I never thought I’d see the day a dairy farmer draws an exponential curve, but this one did!  As we hit the Limits to Growth wall, this will happen anyway.  Plus, if you want to continue eating meat and dairy post crash, you will have to source it locally, or grow your own.

In another doco titled “Should I Eat Meat” (which expires on 17 November ’14 – so be quick!), Mosley searches for whether or not eating meat is good or bad for you.  Many vegetarians take great pleasure in telling me meat eating causes cancer or some other terrifying life ending diseases.  Mosley’s doco actually concludes this too as he yet again experiments with his own body to discover ‘the truth’.  His cholesterol went up while bingeing on meat.  It’s actually debatable whether high cholesterol is bad for you, the jury’s still out on that one; and besides, we’re all different…  I eat a lot of cheese, and I have my share of meat too, yet my cholesterol is very low (3.0 last time it was checked, and it was 2.8 for thirty years before that!) while Glenda, who’s on the same diet (she actually eats way less cheese than me) has hers at a level that worries the doctor…  What to make of this, I do not know.  As far as meat causing cancer goes, eat non organic meat poisoned with hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides at your own peril methinks……

So, can we raise our own animals ethically and sustainably?  The ethical part of it is easily dealt with as far as I am concerned.  We care for our animals,

Zeb, our British Alpine buck, saved from the knackery at one day of age, hand/bottle raised, a real sweety

Zeb, our British Alpine buck, saved from the knackery at one day of age, hand/bottle raised, a real sweety

and those we kill (like the recent four ducks that were born in our incubator) had a great life roaming around the orchard, only locked up at night for their own security and released again at sunrise.  I’ve become an expert at dispatching chickens and ducks painlessly (for both them and me..) and with virtually zero stress on the animal.  Killing a stressed animal simply gives you bad meat tainted with adrenaline.  When we raised the only two pigs we’ve ever kept here, the mobile butcher came with his .22 rifle to do the dispatching for me.  We put some food on the ground a few metres apart for the pair of them, and when he shot the first one at point blank range killing it immediately, the second pig did not even flinch, so quiet and stress free was the whole affair.  The second pig never knew what him either.  The butcher said the animals were of the very best condition, something he can tell immediately by just looking at their livers.  He’d worked in abattoirs and said that after seeing what went on there and how bad the meat quality was, he never buys supermarket meat, and he raises his own meat too.

In the end, the resulting pork meat cost us just the same as buying organic free range pork from the shop (if you can even find some), but we knew where they’d been and what they were fed, and the meat was outstanding……  in fact the quality of the chicken and duck meat we raise leaves supermarket produce for dead (pardon the pun).

Yellow coloured grass fed free range chicken

Yellow coloured grass fed free range chicken

We don’t feed any grains to our chickens at all, instead giving them loads of organic food scraps we are lucky enough to have access to (it was the food we also fed the pigs). We also make sure our chooks eat a lot of grass.  The Muscovy ducks do this naturally, it’s their preferred staple.  A couple of years ago, I saw Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall expose the British chicken industry for what it was really worth, and showed how grass fed free range chickens have twenty times the Omega3 fatty acids of ordinary birds.  The way to tell if a bird is grass fed and truly free range is by the colour of its skin and fat, bright yellow….  you won’t find those on supermarket shelves.

I realise that there is nowhere near enough waste food around for everyone to do this, but it has occurred to me we could easily grow wheat here, as it self seeds easily whenever grain is spilled on the ground, and we’ve had moderate success with sunflowers, which I must plant again soon.  Our biggest concern here for doing all this is that we run the whole show on tank water, and really, we need at least one more tank.  This requires money and resources, and that’s where the sustainability side of things kicks in for me.  Nothing we do is sustainable, really…..

But think about this.  If we did not have the goats, I would have to mow 3/4 of an acre.  I can’t do the maths on that, but there must surely be some greenhouse tradeoff.  Besides, because we recycle all the animals’ manures and turn them into compost, we don’t buy fertilisers made and packaged with fossil fuels.  That alone must save at least as much greenhouse emissions are the goats’ belching….

In the end, there are no silver bullets.  Too many people, wanting too many meals made up of protein is the real problem, and I see no answer to that curly problem.  The Matrix must simply wind down, that’s all there is to it.





We cannot shop our way out of environmental crisis, ‘green’ or not

20 08 2014

1Guest post by Pete Dolack.  Pete is an activist, writer, poet and photographer. He wishes he could keep all those balls in the air but keeps dropping some of them. He has worked with a variety of groups as an activist, and currently works with Trade Justice New York Metro as part of the effort to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He writes about the economic crisis, and ideas for a better world in his blog Systemic Disorder. He is also the author of the upcoming book, It’s Not Over: Lessons from the Socialist Experiment.

Originally published at Generation Alpha

 

 

There is no alternative to a dramatic change in the organization of the global economy. We cannot make ‘green’ what cannot be green. A powerful 33-page paper by Dr. Richard Smith, Green capitalism: the god that failed, demonstrates this as effectively as anything I have read. Richard, from the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London, argues that:

  • “Green capitalism” is “doomed from the start” because maximizing profit and ecological sustainability are broadly in conflict; the occasional time when they might be in harmony are temporary and rare exceptions. This is because corporations are answerable to private owners and shareholders, not to society. Profit maximization trumps all else under capitalism and thereby sets limits to ecological reform.
  • No capitalist government can impose “green taxes” effective enough to end the coal or other destructive industries because the result would be recession and mass unemployment.
  • Green-capitalism proponents vastly underestimate the speed with which environmental collapse is coming. No amount of tinkering can alter the course of environmental destruction under the present system. Humanity, therefore, must replace capitalism with a post-capitalist ecologically sustainable economy.
  • Resource extraction is inherently polluting but can’t be shut down without chaos. It is not possible to “dematerialize” much of the economy, as green-capitalism proponents believe possible. The only way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is to “enforce a drastic contraction of production in the industrialized countries.” This is not possible under capitalism because the affected industries would be committing suicide. It could only be carried out through a socialization of industry and a redeployment of labour to sectors that need to be developed for social good.
  • Consumerism and over-consumption are not “cultural” or the result of personal characteristics — they are a natural consequence of capitalism and built into the system. Problems like climate change and other aspects of the world environmental crisis can only be solved on a global level through democratic control of the economy, not by individual consumer choices or national governments.

 

Cap-and-trade equals profits by polluting

European attempts to implement “cap and trade” schemes to limit greenhouse-gas emissions were countered from the start by industry lobbyists asking for exceptions because, they argued, they would lose competitiveness. Some threatened to move elsewhere, taking jobs with them. Governments gave in. Polluters and traders took in windfall profits, with no real effect on emissions. Dr. Smith writes:

“German electricity companies were supposed to receive 3 per cent fewer permits than they needed to cover their total emissions between 2005 and 2007, which would have obliged them to cut emissions by that amount. Instead the companies got 3 percent more than they needed — a windfall worth about $374 billion at that time.”

A proposal to directly tax carbon in France, proposed by the administration of Nicolas Sarkozy, was ruled unconstitutional because most of France’s major polluters would have been let off the hook entirely while households would have assumed the burden. Dr. Smith put the farce of this failed proposal in perspective:

“The court said that more than 1,000 of France’s biggest polluters could have been exempted from the charges, and that 93 percent of industrial emissions would not have been taxed at all. But even if Sarkozy had successfully imposed his carbon tax, this tax would have raised the price of gasoline by just 25 US cents per gallon. Given that the French already pay nearly $9 per gallon for gasoline, it’s hard to see how an additional 25 cents would seriously discourage consumption let alone ‘save the human race.’ ”

Some advocates of cap-and-trade or carbon taxes in the United States try to get around industry pushback by advocating they become “revenue-neutral.” But if “carbon tax offsets are revenue neutral, then they are also ‘impact neutral,’ ” Dr. Smith writes. That brings us back to the reality that imposing drastic cuts would be the only way to effect the significant reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change in coming decades. That, in turn, can’t be done without massive dislocation.

Yet reductions are not only necessary, but will be required by physical limits — the world’s population is using the resources at the rate of 1.5 Earths and the United Nations predicts we’ll be using two Earths by 2030. Moreover, if all the world’s peoples used resources at the rate that the United States does, “we would need 5.3 planets to support all this.” Needless to say, we have only one Earth available.

 

More efficiency leads to more consumption

One of the pillars on which green capitalists rest their advocacy is increased efficiency of energy usage, achieved through technological innovation. But energy usage has been increasing, not decreasing, despite greater efficiencies gained out of a range of products. Gains in efficiency can, and frequently are, used to expand production; given that capitalist incentives reward expansion, that is what is done. Moreover, “green” industries are not necessarily green. The paper points out:

“Even when it’s theoretically possible to shift to greener production, given capitalism, as often as not, ‘green’ industries just replace old problems with new problems: So burning down tracts of the Amazon rainforest in order to plant sugarcane to produce organic sugar for Whole Foods or ethanol to feed cars instead of people, is not so green after all. Neither is burning down Indonesian and Malaysian rainforests to plant palm-oil plantations so Britons can tool around London in their obese Landrovers.”

Making motor vehicles more fuel-efficient, although a goal that should be pursued, nonetheless falls far short of a solution. Fuel usage from the increasing number of vehicles and longer distances travelled are greater than all the savings from fuel efficiency. And focusing on only when the vehicle is being driven leaves untouched most of the pollution caused by them. Dr. Smith writes:

“Most of the pollution any car will ever cause is generated in the production process before the car even arrives at the showroom — in the production of all the steel, aluminium, copper and other metals, glass, rubber, plastic, paint and other raw materials and inputs that go into every automobile, and in the manufacturing process itself. Cars produce 56 percent of all the pollution they will ever produce before they ever hit the road. … [S]o long as [automakers] are free to produce automobiles without limit more cars will just mean more pollution, even if the cars are hybrids or plug-in electric cars.”

Those electric vehicles are only as “clean” as the source of electricity used to power them. Many plug-in electric vehicles are coal-powered vehicles because coal is a common source of electricity. Looking at it holistically, such an electric vehicle would be more polluting than a gasoline-fuelled vehicle; and the majority of the pollution from the manufacturing (for the vehicle itself) would be there just the same. Then there is the pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions of the electric-car battery. Nickel is a primary input; the Russian city that is the site of the world’s largest source of nickel, Norilsk, is one of the world’s most polluted places.

“I would not be surprised if the most ecological cars on the planet today are not those Toyota Priuses or even the Chevy Volts with their estimated [seven- to 10-year] lifespan, but those ancient Fords, Chevrolets, and Oldsmobiles cruising round the streets of Havana. For even if their gas mileage is lower than auto-producer fleet averages today, they were still produced only once, whereas American ‘consumers’ have gone through an average of seven generations of cars since 1960 (when the U.S. embargo ended car imports to Cuba), with all the manufacturing and disposal pollution that entailed.”

 

Consumerism props up capitalist economies

Planned obsolescence is part of the problem, across the spectrum of manufactured products. Capitalist manufacturers don’t want products that last a long time; repeatedly selling new products is far more profitable. But it would be overly simplistic to lay full blame for this on greed, however much greed is rewarded by a capitalist economy. Household consumption — all the things that people buy for personal use from toothbrushes to automobiles — accounts for 60 to 70 percent of gross domestic product in almost all advanced capitalist countries. If people aren’t buying things, the economy struggles.

Proponents of green capitalism fail to grasp the structural causes of over-consumption. However much better for the environment, and the world’s future, drastic reductions in consumerism would be, moral exhortations can’t be effective. Trapped in an idealist mirage that capitalism can be “tamed” or “repurposed,” green capitalists, through seeking individual solutions to structural and systemic problems, not only miss the forest for the trees but leave the economic structure responsible untouched. People in the global North should consume less, but to place the blame on individual behaviour lets the manufacturers of useless products off the hook and is blind to the economic realities should the system be left in place intact.

Once again, we cannot shop our way out of economic and environmental problems. Even not shopping would bring its own set of problems, Dr. Smith writes:

“[H]ow can we ‘reject consumerism’ when we live in a capitalist economy where, in the case of the United States, more than two-thirds of market sales, and therefore most jobs, depend on direct sales to consumers while most of the rest of the economy, including the infrastructure and not least, the military, is dedicated to propping up this super consumerist ‘American way of life?’ Indeed, most jobs in industrialized countries critically depend not just on consumerism but on ever-increasing over-consumption. We ‘need’ this ever-increasing consumption and waste production because, without growth, capitalist economies collapse and unemployment soars. …

[I]t’s not the culture that drives the economy so much as, overwhelmingly, the economy that drives the culture: It’s the insatiable demands of shareholders that drive corporate producers to maximize sales, therefore to constantly seek out new sales and sources in every corner of the planet, to endlessly invent [new needs]. … ‘[C]onsumerism’ is not just a ‘cultural pattern,’ it’s not just ‘commercial brainwashing’ or an ‘infantile regression.’ … Insatiable consumerism is an everyday requirement of capitalist reproduction, and this drives capitalist invention and imperial expansion. No overconsumption, no growth, no jobs. And no voluntarist ‘cultural transformation’ is going to overcome this fundamental imperative so long as the economic system depends on over-consumption for its day-to-day survival.”

There is no way out other than replacing capitalism with a steady-state economy based on meeting human needs, and that could only be attained through bottom-up, democratic control. No one promises new jobs to those who would be displaced under capitalism; logically, then, those who jobs and ability to earn a living is dependent on polluting or wasteful industries resist environmental initiatives. The wholesale changes that are necessary to prevent a global environmental catastrophe can’t be accomplished under the present economic system; it would require a different system with the flexibility to re-deploy labor in large numbers when industries are reduced or eliminated, and one that would have no need to grow. Inequality would have to be eliminated for any kind of global democratic economy to be able to function.

Dr. Smith pronounces this “a tall order to be sure.” That it is. But with many world cities, and entire countries, at risk of becoming inhabitable due to rising sea levels, more erratic weather and an accelerated timetable to deplete the world’s resources, what choice do we have? Green capitalism is not only not green, it is worse than illusion because of the false hope it dangles in front of our eyes.





Climate – What do we know?

5 05 2014

Another guest post from our friend Mark Cochrane……

If you have not yet watched the Ted Talk by Gavin Schmidt below, I highly recommend that you do so.

It is often authoritatively stated that:

adaptation costs are likely to be both less than mitigation costs and manageable.

which is a wholly unsubstantiated opinion that is refuted by hundreds, if not thousands, of scientific studies as recently reported in the Working Group II – adaptation (link), and Working Group III – mitigation (link) IPCC reports that have come out this year.

However, you do not need reams of technical materials to have basic sense. The logic and wisdom of the matter was succinctly provided by Benjamin Franklin and climate change is no exception.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

We know that we should substantially reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, actively seek alternative energy sources, and dramatically improve the efficiency with which we utilize energy. This statement would be true even if climate change issues were not at stake. Unless you fail to believe M. King Hubbert (1956 – Peak Oil), Meadows et al (1972-present Limits to Growth), and some guy named Chris Martenson (Crash Course – review here), you cannot help but know in your gut if not your head that our economic and societal over-reliance on rapidly depleting fossil fuel resources is a recipe for disaster, regardless of the climate consequences.

But since this topic is a climate one, what about the climate issues?  Christopher Monckton’s long debunked point about earlier periods of rapid warming is worth mentioning here. The 1920-1950 period actually would be relatively low warming, the correct period at issue is 1910-1940 when there was substantial warming that was only minimally related to human activities. Even so, that period did not warm as fast as we are currently experiencing.

However, this does provide a powerful indication of why we know that human-related emissions of greenhouse gases are of critical importance in ongoing climate changes. As Gavin Schmidt shows, the models are quite skillful in simulating many of the various climate processes at work throughout the world. The contrast between the the 1910-1940 and the 1970-present periods is very illustrative because we can compare modelled results to the actual observations of what has occurred in the global climate. When we look at how the models correspond to the climate record when forced only with ‘natural forcings’ (i.e. no additional greenhouse gases), we can see that the 1910-1940 period of warming is fairly well explained, while the rapid warming that we are currently experiencing is almost completely unexplained. (See Skeptical Science for a more detailed description of pre-1940 Warming Causes and Logic).

Conversely, if we remove the ‘natural forcings’ and only include greenhouse gas increases caused by human activities (primarily fossil fuel use), we see that although humans did not have much of a hand in the 1910-1940 warming, we are certainly in the driver’s seat of change now.

Actual climate change is from the combination of natural forcing and our accumulated greenhouse gas emissions. We know that we have to kick the fossil fuel habit. While Limits to Growth, the Crash Course and other sources clearly indicate that there is going to be a serious hangover for humanity coming when, as Heinberg says, the Party’s Over, as fossil fuels become less and less available, the climate change effects are going to be handed to future generations as the unpaid bar tab of our ongoing fossil fuel binge.

Mark

“What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”
F. Sherwood Rowland





The 5 key elements of sustainable transport

13 04 2014

The 5 key elements of sustainable transport, or rather ‘so called’ sustainable transport makes for interesting reading.  Some of this info doesn’t really make much sense to me…. like the C intensity of different flights (business and economy, short and long) as a function of emissions per kilometre.

Interestingly, the difference between a ‘small car’ (a car that can only do 35MPG is NOT a small car!  But then, this is written in/for the USA….) and a grid charged electric car is only 15g CO2e/km, or just 9%.  By that measure, the Suzuki Alto I drove in Tasmania emits far less than an electric car, unless that car is 100% solar recharged.  And then I’m doubtful, because since we now know solar has a shockingly low ERoEI, it might be even closer than we think.  I’m also surprised cycling’s numbers are as high as they are shown here.  Does a cyclist really consume a whole lot more food than a motorist?

The article also states “People who live in cities have lower transport emissions.  Fuel economy may be lower in city traffic but that is more than made up for by the fact that city dwellers drive far less.”  Well that depends……  since moving from the city to the country, I’ve actually halved how much I drive!  Then it continues with “In 1950 less than 30% of the world’s population lived in cites, by 2010 that figure was over 50%, and by 2030 it is expected to surpass 60%. This natural trend to urbanization is a huge opportunity to for lowering both distance travelled per person and the carbon intensity of that travel.”  Whoever wrote this has obviously no idea cities will eventually be abandoned for being too far from their food sources, and due to the fact that when grids go down, none of the lifts will work!  Nor the sewerage……..

Shrink That Footprint

sustainabletransport

Transport is responsible for around a seventh of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Of these emissions almost two thirds are the result of passenger travel while the rest is due to freight.

So passenger travel is a big deal for climate.

In the chart above, which comes from our new eBook Emit This, we compare carbon intensity of different types of passenger transport on a per passenger kilometre basis.  Using it we can explain some elements important to the development of a sustainable transport system.

1) Fuel Economy

Our chart today compares the carbon intensity of different transport modes, per passenger kilometre.  The better fuel economy gets the lower emissions go.  If you just look at the cars you’ll see the large car (15 MPG) has emissions almost three times that of the hybrid car (45 MPG).

By improving fuel economy we can get the same mileage while generating fewer emissions.  Something that is achieved by making engines more efficient, vehicles lighter and bodies more aerodynamic.  But even then combustion engines remain relatively inefficient and produce emissions at the tailpipe, so improving them is really just a stop-gap en-route to sustainable transport.

2) Occupancy

The cheapest and simplest way to lower the carbon intensity of a passenger kilometre is to stick more people in the vehicle.  In each of the figures above car occupancy is assumed to be an average of 1.6 passengers (including the driver).  But most cars are designed for 5 people.

If you take a look at the bus examples the importance of occupancy becomes even more stark.  The local bus example has emissions seven times higher than the school bus.  While there routes may vary a little they are both diesel buses.  The main difference is that the school bus has very high occupancy.

With notable exception of flying public transport tends to have quite low carbon emissions, due largely to having relatively high occupancy.

3) Electrification

In the absence of breakthroughs in second generation biofuels electrification is the most important pathway to low carbon transport.

Electric cars using low carbon power have footprints less than half that of the best hybrid, even after you account for their larger manufacturing footprint.  Right down the bottom of our chart is the high-speed EuroStar rail which used low carbon French electricity. Though not on our chart the lowest carbon transport on earth is probably electrified public transport in a place like Norway where electricity generation is almost carbon free.

While there is a natural tendency to obsess about the electrification of cars, there are lots of interesting innovations occurring in the electrification  of rail, motorbikes, scooters and bikes.

4) Pedal power

They may be a bit low tech for some, but when it comes to carbon emissions bicycles are pretty cutting edge.  Even when you account for the foodprint of excess energy used when cycling, the humble bike is incredibly low carbon.

Bikes have obvious limitations around speed and distance, but for short trips in places with good infrastructure they are hard to beat in terms of carbon. They also have a great synergy with public transport systems like intercity rail.

5) Urbanization

Each of the first four elements we have described above refers to improving the carbon intensity of transport.  But emissions are a function of both how we travel and how far we travel.  One thing that tackles both of these issues is the trend towards urbanization.

People who live in cities have lower transport emissions.  Fuel economy may be lower in city traffic but that is more than made up for by the fact that city dwellers drive far less.  Electrification of public transport is more economic and practical in cities.  Occupancy on public transport systems is much higher.  And access to infrastructure for both cycling and walking is often better.

In 1950 less than 30% of the world’s population lived in cites, by 2010 that figure was over 50%, and by 2030 it is expected to surpass 60%. This natural trend to urbanization is a huge opportunity to for lowering both distance travelled per person and the carbon intensity of that travel.

Those are our five elements of sustainable transport: fuel economy, occupancy, electrification, pedal power and urbanization.

Check out our free new eBook Emit This for more ideas on getting more life out of less carbon.

Source: Shrink That Footprint. Reproduced with permission.