Urgent Action is Required by All of Us

We have known about the dangers of global climate change for decades, but we have continued to delay decisive action year after and decade after decade. Now we are careening towards a Point of No Return which threatens irreversible damage to life-support systems and possible extinction of human life unless we REVERSE COURSE immediately.

The Paris Climate Agreement, signed by the EU and more than 190 nations since 2015, is an agreement by governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperatures below a 2°C increase (from pre-industrial levels) and make efforts to limit this increase to 1.5°C. This monumental agreement is meant to legally bind governments to avert catastrophic global climate change. The problem is that globally we are nowhere near reaching these targets.

What is the Point of No Return?

The authors of the Paris Climate Agreement are hopeful that the earth can handle a global temperature rise of just below 2°C to prevent tipping into a scenario called “Hothouse Earth.”

“If this were to happen, the world would become far warmer than it’s been for at least the past 1.2 million years. Sea levels around the globe would likely rise between 33 and 200 feet higher than they are now.” –Business Insider

It may be the case, however, that we need to keep warming to a maximum of 1.5°C to avoid descending into Hothouse Earth. If we are conservative, we should aim for the lower target of a 1.5°C rise in temperatures.

If we fail to dramatically ramp up the transition to clean energy and cleaner land use, we will be left with an increasingly uninhabitable planet. What does that look like, you ask?

If the earth’s average temperature warms by 2.0°C climate models predict that the climate will become dramatically unstable and conventional feedback systems disrupted making a higher temperature rise inevitable. Dramatic sea level rise would inundate coastal areas and large swaths of land while making deserts of large areas while a rise of 4 to 5°C would make the earth uninhabitable. Scientists say that we are entering the earth’s sixth mass extinction and have sounded the alarm about the tale tale loss of vertebrate species  which  entails “massive anthropogenic erosion of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services essential to civilization.”

If we don’t get this right, it’s game over for all of us.

How Much Time Do We Have to Act Decisively?
Not Much

In August 2018, a study attempted to identify a deadline for action to reach a 2°C. The study found that by 2035 we must have begun to replace 2% of global energy needs from fossil fuels to clean energy sources EACH YEAR. On my reading this entails a 50% reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions by 2055 and a 100% transition to clean energy and agriculture before 2085.  2% per year may sound easy, but between the 1990s and 2017 clean energy only grew by 3.8%. We will have to pick up the pace technologically, politically, and as consumers if we are to reach the 2% per year transition required in the near future, while aiming to reduce our dependence of fossil fuels by 5% per year as soon as possible. This 5% per year beginning in 2019 is what is called for in the most recent report on climate change prepared by some 150 scientists for the IPCC in October 2018. This report, using the most updated scientific data, gives us 12 years to reduce carbon emissions by 50%. See news coverage here, actual report summary here.

What Can We Do?

We must support leaders in both government and business who take seriously this threat and denounce those who don’t. We must vote in climate leaders and vote out climate-change deniers. We must make purchases inline with our values to reduce our contributions to climate change. This blog is intended to help you make good decisions along these lines. Below are some starting points. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

1. We Must Transition to Clean Sources of Energy

In short, this means transitions from fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) to clean energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, tidal etc). Utilities must begin to increase the amount of electricity generated with clean sources. Individual consumers can install solar, and possibly wind or geothermal to help this transition. Individual consumer can purchase and use electric or other non-carbon fueled vehicles. Investors must divest in fossil fuel companies and fuel sources and invest in clean energy generation and sources. All coal plants must be replaced by solar, wind, hydro or geothermal by 2030.

2. We Must Transition to Clean Use of Land

Apart from energy, the other major source of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the way we use land and feed ourselves. We must stop clearing forests, especially rainforests in order to graze cows. Doing so is a double whammy for the climate. Trees reduce CO2 and cows emit significant levels of the greenhouse gas methane (CH4). Individual consumers can reduce the amount of beef and diary they consume as well as the amounts of meat they consume generally. You can also be an advocate for vegan and vegetarian options at restaurants, schools, and everywhere food is sold or served. For more on the harm by livestock go here. On the additional benefits of eating less or no meat go here.

3. We Must Change Our View of Economic Growth

We must abandon the logic that economic growth is an end and good in itself. It is not. It is destructive to the natural world. The increasing consumption of goods and the wasting of goods and energy is destructive behavior which is bad for the environment, but has been seen as good for the economy. This is why we must stop focusing on GDP and begin to use and advocate for other measures of human flourishing such as GNH (gross national happiness).

4. The Human Population Should Be Allowed to Decrease

For our own good, the good of the human species, we should stop being concerned about ageing populations. In 2018 we have more than 7.5 Billion people on the planet, up from 6 billion in 2000, up from  5 billion in 1990, with a projected 9.7 billion inhabitants by 2050. Higher numbers of humans mean more consumption of limited resources (material and energy), and greater damage to the natural environment. We need to stop seeing articles like this, or this, or this, bemoaning the fact that some countries are beginning to have negative population growth. Negative population growth must be welcomed as good news (in short, the problem of declining productivity can be alleviated by automation and robotics).

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We have a lot of work to do, but the wind is at our backs!
These kinds of reports appear weekly:
Markets will advance green agenda–even if some governments lose interest
Get out of fossil fuels while you can:
Carbon ‘bubble’ could cost global economy trillions

But don’t let those reports make you complacent! The problem is the speed of our response and transition! Need a sober reminder? World ‘nowhere near on track’ to avoid warming beyond 1.5C target (27 September 2018).

Let’s get busy building a new world and fighting for our future.

 

 

Not convinced you should be concerned about climate change? Here’s a simple test.

Climate change may seem so remote, big, or abstract that you may not feel you should be concerned. To help, I’ve devised a simple test of two questions to help people determine if they should be concerned about climate change.

I do not want you to dismiss these questions as silly, meaningless or even insulting. I want you to seriously consider both of them as genuine questions which require a response from you. Even if you find the questions easy to answer, I encourage you to think about each of your answers and then move to the conclusion.

Question One

  1. Do you care about anything?

This is not a facetious question. It is possible that there are nihilistic apathetic misanthropes who might not care about anything. So, how about you? Give it some thought. Think about a few of the things you really care about. Again, this may seem pointless, but it is a very good question for everyone to think about from time to time. So, go ahead and give it some thought. Once you have decided about the people, things, animals or places, you care about, take a moment to appreciate them and then move on to the next question.

Question Two

  1. Do you believe in science?

Answering this question requires that we understand what science is. Above all science is a method, a way of pursuing and developing knowledge. We might rephrase the question: do you believe in the basic principles of scientific discovery?

This opens another, important question: What are the basic principles of scientific discovery?

First, is a commitment to not making stuff up. This means not accepting anything as true unless you have evidence to support your conclusion. The gathering of evidence is fundamentally done through sober and systematic observation. Equally fundamental is that your conclusions are open to testing and retesting by others and that you are open to being proven wrong. These two qualities are known as reproducibility and falsifiability.

So, do you believe that this method is a valuable and reliable tool for determining facts about the material world?  Keep in mind that I’m not asking about ultimate or spiritual truths here, but rather, demonstrable facts about the observable world. If you your answer is yes, jump to the conclusion. If you’re still not sure, keep reading.

Still here, great. Keep in mind that science made possible the computers, smartphone, internet, automobiles, televisions, and all kinds of devices we use every day. In other words, all those things prove that science works as far as being able to explain facts about our world. So, if you use these kinds of devices and believe they are useful you should answer yes to this second question. But your answer is up to you, and I want you to really feel it.

The Conclusion

Warning!: It’s going to get real, real fast.

If you can answer yes to both questions, in other words you care about someone or something and you believe in science, you should be mortally concerned about climate change because it is a scientifically validated apocalyptic scenario that threatens everything and everyone you care about.  So you should do everything you can to follow the best scientific advice available to help prevent catastrophe. This advice is clear and this blog will help introduce and explain it in detail.

In short, first and most importantly we must transition from fossil fuels as our energy source to clean forms of energy. The most important clean sources of energy are solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro-electric. The second most important solution is the development of carbon capture technology to help reduce atmospheric carbon. The third most important change is to radically reduce our consumption of beef and in turn reduce cattle herds. Why are all of these important and how do we do this?  For now you can explore further here, here and here.  You should also come back to this blog where I will continue to elaborate these points and provide information on the hows and whys of transition. And, importantly, don’t despair. Join me and countless others in fighting for our future. It won’t be easy, but we can do this.


If you are able to answer no to one of those questions, consider the possibility that you may have misunderstood one of the questions and give it some more thought. I’m happy to respond to any genuine questions about science (or caring). 🙂

 

Need more evidence of the scientific consensus?
I’ve begun to compile links and information here.

A Moral Tipping Point

It is now morally repugnant to support the buying and selling of humans. To hold others in bondage as slaves  is understood as barbaric, but it was once business as usual in many parts of the world including the antebellum American South.  Slave holders were successful and respected members of their communities; they were social, economic and political elites, but something changed. IDEAS about what was right and wrong, CONVICTIONS of what was morally permissible, CONCEPTIONS of what was just and unjust– all began to change.

slave girl in chains

Slave trade memorial in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

The abolition of slavery in the American South didn’t come easy-it came about through bloody revolts and a horrific civil war (1861-1865).

I join others in believing that we are at yet another moral tipping point. Again there is a respected class with economic and political clout that is engaged in morally untenable practices, namely those involved in the fossil fuel industry. As Mouhot, who has written a book on the subject, has written:

“Intriguing similarities between slavery and our current dependence on fossil-fuel-powered machines struck me: both perform roughly the same functions in society (doing the hard and dirty work that no one wants to do), both were considered for a long time to be acceptable by the majority and both came to be increasingly challenged as the harm they caused became more visible.” (full article here)

Neither he nor I are suggesting morally equivalency between slavery and the fossil fuel industry; there are critical differences between the two, however, there are structural similarities which are striking and important. Just as we needed to end the Southern economic dependence on slavery, we need to end our dependence on fossil fuel energy.

Is the Fossil Fuel Industry Immoral?

As Mouhot has noted, “Our contemporary economies have become extremely dependent on fossil fuels, just as slave societies were dependent on their slaves – indeed far more than the latter ever were.” This dependency, in both cases, generated wealth, power, and influence. The wealth and power of large plantation owners in the South was connected to land and slaves; the wealth and power of the fossil fuel industry is directly connected to the amount of coal, oil, and bitumen extracted–“black gold.”  Fossil fuel executives, like slave owners before them, believe they have a right to what makes them rich and powerful and aren’t willing to give it up without a fight.

smoke stacks

But, you might ask, how is oil money immoral? The burning of fossil fuels, which are currently the most common source of power for electricity, transportation, heating and so on, is known to release carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is also expelled every time we exhale. The problem with the production of carbon dioxide through power generation and transportation is the astronomical amounts of CO2 that are released all the time, day and night, streaming into the atmosphere. We know that this human generated CO2 (through the burning of fossil fuels) is changing the composition of the atmosphere surrounding the earth. We also know that CO2 in the atmosphere acts like a blanket holding heat in. This is what scientists have called the greenhouse effect. Like the glass or plastic used in the construction of a greenhouse, CO2 prevents heat from escaping the planet. The more CO2 we pump into the atmosphere the warmer the planet gets. There is no debate on these basic points, but just as slave owners appealed to the Bible to justify slavery, fossil fuel executives have sown confusion and doubt about the science behind global warming and climate change (for more go here). Their campaigns of misinformation have been so successful that many people have been wrongly convinced that climate change is a hoax. It is not a hoax; it is scientifically established fact.

Dangerous Times – Brought about by our Fossil Fuel Habit

We are now seeing and living the dangerous reality of global warming and climate change. It is no longer “just a theory.” It is part of our world. It is reflected in the historic floods, fires, droughts, and hurricanes that have increased in strength and frequency around the globe creating catastrophic damage to property and loss of life. By now we have all experienced an historic climate related catastrophe or have friends or family who have. Some of the events that have impacted me and my friends and family are hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans (2005), fire in central Texas (2011), super storm Sandy in New York (2012), southern Alberta flood of 2013, the central Alberta fire of 2016, and hurricane Harvey and the Houston flood of 2017–all of these events were devastating, life-altering events for the communities, families, and individual impacted. I invite you to share your experiences with our growing climate catastrophe below, what floods, fires, storms, droughts have you experienced?

houston flood

The Houston Flood of 2017

What is the connection between our fossil fuel habit and storms, droughts, floods, and fire?

Scientists are very careful and conservative by training; as a rule they don’t jump to conclusions without carefully amassing and considering evidence. What we can say today is that climate change has increased the level of danger of such events, and ultimately, makes catastrophic events more likely. The proof that this is the case is the increasing length and devastation of the fire season around the world and the increase in catastrophic flood events around the world. The increase in the devastation of these events is why continued pumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has become a MORAL ISSUE. It is an unintended consequence of our fossil fuel habits, but it is wreaking havoc upon communities around the world. Support for the fossil fuel industry after all that we know at this point is support for the devastation of communities around the world. This is why  support for the fossil fuel industry is now a moral question. Making a living off of products that are so destructive is an immoral life choice.  The connection between warming and catastrophic weather events is the crucial link that makes fossil fuels a moral hazard. The strength of this argument rests on this connection, so let’s review the basics of how climate change impacts fires, floods and other events.

california fires 2018

California in flames, 2018

As the atmosphere warms up due to increasing levels of greenhouse gases, the air warms up. Warmer air over land causes more evaporation, leading to increasing drought conditions. The drier conditions increase the likelihood and severity of fire. The result has been longer and more destructive fire seasons. This increase in evaporation leads to an increase in rainfall in other areas, thus leading to more devastating floods in interior regions. Warming ocean water expands, which means coastal areas shrink and when storms come ashore more water is pulled over land, increasing the damage done through storm surges in coastal areas. Finally, wind patterns are responsible for the formation of storms such as hurricanes. Warmer water produces greater wind speeds which increases the likelihood of more powerful storms. For a more detailed explanation of the connection between climate change and hurricanes and other weather events see scientist Katherine Hayhoe’s video here. If you need a friendly intro to climate related questions I recommended checking out Katherine Hayhoe’s videos here, she is a scientist and educator who lives in Texas.

We Have a Choice

To say that we have reached a turning point means that we have a choice to make. For this to be a reasonable choice we must have alternatives. Fortunately, advances in science continue to make renewable sources of clean energy a real possibility. In 2014, Mark Jakobson developed a road map for the US to transition to 100% clean energy, see here.  A few years later he did the same for 139 countries (story here, map here). This is a difficult and complex challenge and will require monumental changes to transform the energy that drives our world (see here). One thing is for sure, the speed with which we need to make this change requires politicians and corporations and individual consumers to make decisions on moral and scientific considerations, not old assumptions about economics and energy habits. As far as economic considerations go,  renewables are quickly becoming cheaper than fossil fuels (see report here and here.).

evs w power

Vehicles powered by clean energy is the only viable future.

At the consumer level an individual or  family can spend money on a gas-guzzler OR buy one of the much more efficient electric vehicles (EVs) available or coming to market–this too is now a MORAL decision. Thankfully, car-makers are making this easy by developing a fleet of excellent EVs. The instant acceleration of EVs make them fun to drive and Procsche , for example, aims to make 50% of its vehicles electric in the near future. EV are very low maintenance: they never need gas or oil and produce no emissions. Viable EVs are currently being manufactured by Nissan, Chevrolet, Tesla, BMW, Kia, Hyundai, and Volkswagon. Other manufacturers moving into the EV market are  Honda, Mercedes, Ford, MitsubishiFiat, Volvo , and Audi. By 2020 we can expect more choice, longer ranges, and better prices. Places with the most widespread EV adoption and experience are California, Norway, and China. Consumers can also install solar and achieve partial or total energy independence (see benefits to home solar here and cost reductions here and here).

Religious Leaders See this as a Moral Issue Too

If this is indeed a moral issue we should expect religious leaders to speak out against our fossil fuel habit and that is exactly what we have seen with increasing fervor since 2015. Religious leaders across the religious spectrum from Catholics, Protestant Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and others have all recognized we are entering a climate emergency that calls for an immediate moral response. Pope Francis has been a strong advocate for a transition to a fossil free world (see here and here and divestment here). In 2015 Islamic leaders  called for a fossil free world by 2050 here.  Read the statement signed by a spectrum of religious leaders in 2015 here and Buddhist leaders here and a report on Jewish leaders here. A nice compilation of statements from religious leaders may be found here.

Of course leaders and individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life understand the nature of this climate crisis and urge everyone who can to push for a quick transition to clean energy. Read an open letter from CEOs from 79 companies in 20 economic sectors with operations in over 150 countries and territories generating over $2.1 trillion of revenue in 2014 here. Tragically, the issue has become politicized. Nonetheless, truth will prevail and the issue is recognized by both political parties in the US, Democrats and Republicans (see here). One of the reasons the issue has been politicized is simply the huge sums of money donated by the fossil fuel lobby (report here). As the Union of Concerned Scientists have said:

When corporations use their influence to obscure science and block effective climate policy, the public loses. (source)

As long as politicians and corporate leaders drag their feet, we are all losing. We must demand more.  Time is up. This is THE ISSUE of our time and we must get it right.

 


 

I will continue to explore this issue and its urgency in future posts. I will also share suggestions for how you can participate in this transformation. If that interests you please come back and consider sharing these posts.

 

Credits

houston flood

Image from arkansasbaptist.org

california fires 2018

In this photo provided by the Ventura County Fire Department, firefighters work to put out a blaze burning homes early Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Ventura, Calif. Authorities said the blaze broke out Monday and grew wildly in the hours that followed, consuming vegetation that hasn’t burned in decades. (Ryan Cullom/Ventura County Fire Department via AP)