A call for action
Updated 3 December 2015
The world is rapidly approaching COP-21, the 21st United Nations “Conference of the Parties,” the climate change convention taking place early December in Paris.
President Obama and other world leaders are preparing actions and arguments toward a truly meaningful new agreement coming out of that meeting — to take really significant steps toward reversing the introduction of greenhouse gases like CO2 into the atmosphere, which are accelerating global warming.
The industrialized nations of the world are emitting most of these gases and have the most power and ability to reverse the trend. So these are the primary parties to the conference. Many of the developing nations of the world will be there as well. It is hoped they will also subscribe to as many greenhouse gas emission strategies as they are able, since we all suffer from global warming effects.
One of the best ways to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is to replace fossil-fuel-fired power plants with solar-electric- and wind-powered ones, a process that has accelerated in recent years due to falling prices for solar and wind power coupled with rising prices for fossil-fuel sourced grid electricity. There is a growing number of cases in which investment in renewable energy makes much more economic sense than investing in fossil-fuel-sourced power plants.
In the U.S. and a few other countries, however, there are politically conservative opponents to the very essence of COP-21 and its goals. Some use outright anti-science arguments to try and stop the switch away from fossil fuel toward increased energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Others admit that global warming is really happening and a few even accept that much of the increase is human-caused, but they counter with a proposition that making this transition will damage the economy, meaning mainly the profits of the coal, oil, and gas companies.
The truth is that global warming consequences threaten serious damage to the Earth’s life-support system if allowed to continue for a few more decades. This problem, therefore, is an existential one, as U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders claims. It is the most serious problem facing the U.S. and all other nations of the world. (Terrorism is unlikely to cause the extinction of humanity, as long as nuclear weapons are kept away from the terrorists, but global warming, if allowed to continue unabated, surely can.)
Previously published at CounterPunch.org on 30 October 2015 Reproduced with permission.
The word is in from the wildlife biologists.
Say goodbye in North America to the gray wolf, the cougar, the grizzly bear. They are destined for extinction sometime in the next 40 years. Say goodbye to the Red wolf and the Mexican wolf and the Florida panther. Gone the jaguar, the ocelot, the wood bison, the buffalo, the California condor, the North Atlantic right whale, the Stellar sea lion, the hammerhead shark, the leatherback sea turtle. That’s just North America.
Worldwide, the largest and most charismatic animals, the last of the megafauna, our most ecologically important predators and big ungulates, the wildest wild things, will be the first to go in the anthropogenic extinction event of the Holocene Era. The tiger and leopard and the elephant and lion in Africa and Asia. The primates, the great apes, our wild cousins. The polar bears in the Arctic Sea. The shark and killer whale in every ocean.
“Extinction is now proceeding thousands of times faster than the production of new species,” biologist E.O. Wilson writes. Between 30 and 50 percent of all known species are expected to go extinct by 2050, if current trends hold. There are five other mass extinction events in the geologic record, stretching back 500 million years. But none were the result of a single species’ overreach.
I’ve found conversation with my biologist sources to be terribly dispiriting. The conversation goes like this: Homo sapiens are out of control, a bacteria boiling in the petri dish; the more of us, demanding more resources, means less space for every other life form; the solution is less of us, consuming fewer resources, but that isn’t happening. It can’t happen. Our economic system, industrial consumer capitalism, requires constant growth, more people buying more things. “I will go so far as to say [that] capitalism itself may be dependent on a growing population,” writes billionaire capitalist blogger Bill Gross, Forbes magazine’s Bond King. “Our modern era of capitalism over the past several centuries has never known a period of time in which population declined or grew less than 1% a year.” Growth for growth’s sake, what Edward Abbey called the ideology of the cancer cell. Continue reading
The Great Transition by Lester R. Brown
W. W. Norton & Company (April 20, 2015)
Review by Ross McCluney 22 OCT 2015
This is a terrific contribution from an experienced writer on environmental issues.
It has been a long struggle to bring the costs of solar energy and other renewable sources down to a point where they can actually compete in the energy marketplace, even without major government incentives.
That’s the case for wind and solar, as Brown describes so well in this new book. Other renewable energy sources are also making great strides, as are efficient buildings and efficient transportation — not to mention research accomplishments on energy storage technologies, efficient long-distance electricity grid designs, and massive new investments in green energy.
The only deficiency is the lack of graphics to support the text. But never mind that. Web searches on wave energy, tidal energy, ocean current energy, solar electric, solar thermal, energy storage, geothermal, wind turbines, electric grids, and renewable energy economics can put these images plus relevant charts and graphs at your fingertips.
For example, when I started out as a solar scientist in 1976, the holy grail in the photovoltaic world was getting the price of PV down to an amazingly low price of 50¢ per peak Watt (Wp) of electrical output. At that time the price was over $76/Wp. Take a look at this astounding bar chart of the price from 1976 to 2015.
It turns out that we passed the 50¢/Wp point in 2013 and now the price is an amazingly 30¢/Wp, thanks mainly to China’s recent burst in solar equipment manufacturing, aided along the way by the United States, Japan, and Germany. Continue reading
Most U.S. politicians running for and holding office seem rather oblivious to scientific evidence that could underpin (or cause them to reverse or modify) many of their decisions, policy suggestions, and justifications for bills submitted to the Congress — as well as their votes on those bills.
Well, somebody created a great web site on this subject and populated it with a few brief pages filled with useful information on science in politics.
The idea came from Shawn Otto in a TEDx speech he gave on “Why Not Have a US Presidential Science Debate?” To see it, go to sciencedebate.org and click on “WHY?” in the top command bar. Then watch and listen at least to the first few minutes of Shawn’s brief presentation.
If you don’t have time to watch the 12 minute TEDx talk, click on “DEBATE INFO.” Then you can go to this page to read a set of questions to be sent to the moderators of the next presidential election debate, in hope that at least one or a few of them will be asked of the candidates.
I did that and was given 10 votes I could assign to different questions in the list. You can do that too. Many of the questions are very good from an environmental standpoint.
The worst predicted impacts of climate change are starting to happen — and much faster than climate scientists expected
Current issue of Rolling Stone. See below for link.
“Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting the fan. Some snapshots: In just the past few months, record-setting heat waves in Pakistan and India each killed more than 1,000 people. In Washington state’s Olympic National Park, the rainforest caught fire for the first time in living memory. London reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit during the hottest July day ever recorded in the U.K.; The Guardian briefly had to pause its live blog of the heat wave because its computer servers overheated. In California, suffering from its worst drought in a millennium, a 50-acre brush fire swelled seventyfold in a matter of hours, jumping across the I-15 freeway during rush-hour traffic. Then, a few days later, the region was pounded by intense, virtually unheard-of summer rains. Puerto Rico is under its strictest water rationing in history as a monster El Niño forms in the tropical Pacific Ocean, shifting weather patterns worldwide.”
On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public’s attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren’t cut:
“We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-point-of-no-return-climate-change-nightmares-are-already-here-20150805#ixzz3hys9Wi1Y
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The Future of Humanity Web Blog
By Ross McCluney
In an amazing one-two punch of scientific understanding, the University of Georgia and Arizona State University have, independently, brought new insights into the root causes of accelerated climatic disruption, unprecedented species extinctions, resource depletions—all at the hands of humanity—plus a dramatic spurt of population growth in the last couple of centuries and the resulting threat of human self-extinction.
“You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years. The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished.”
In just the last few hundred years, humans extracted exploitable energy from these living and fossilized biomass fuels to build the modern industrial-technological-informational economy, to grow our population to more than 7 billion, and to transform the biogeochemical cycles and biodiversity of the earth.
This rapid discharge of the earth’s store of organic energy is what fuels the human domination of the biosphere, including conversion of natural habitats to agricultural fields and the resulting loss of native species, emission of carbon dioxide and the resulting climate and sea level change, and use of supplemental nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar energy sources.
The laws of thermodynamics, part of physics, govern the trickle-charge and rapid discharge of the earth’s battery and are therefore universal and absolute. In the long span of universe history, Earth is only temporarily poised on its outpost, some distance away from the thermodynamic equilibrium of outer space.
With the rapid depletion of the chemical energy stored in planetary biomass, however, the earth is shifting back toward the inhospitable equilibrium of outer space—with fundamental ramifications for the biosphere and humanity. Because there is no substitute or replacement energy for living biomass, the remaining distance from equilibrium that will be required to support human life is unknown.
Date: 19 June 2015
Source: Stanford University
Summary: Biologists have used highly conservative estimates to prove that species are disappearing faster than at any time since the dinosaurs’ demise.
Publication: Science Daily News Release
There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence.
That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
“[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event,” Ehrlich said.
Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss.
There is general agreement among scientists that extinction rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis.
The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.
“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.
Most of my scientist friends and colleagues, when they speak or write to each other about this topic, have a very dim view of humanity’s near term future on Earth. “Near Term” in this context spans the next several generations of humans.
The problem, of course, is the systematic taking apart of our life-support system, a global action in which we are all, collectively, embarked. Their dim view stems largely not from failures of science and other disciplines to identify, measure, and scope out the problems we are experiencing around the world, but from:
- failures of education regarding the Earth and how it works plus what we are doing to it,
- failures to accept the magnitude of the changes that must be made quickly enough to reverse the dangerous trend,
- failures of current political system design (and/or operation) to recognize the scope and immediacy of the problem, and
- failures to take actions of magnitudes worthy of the need.
(For a very effective short cartoon video, “300 Years of FOSSIL FUELS in 300 Seconds” showing what has brought us to the current turning point, check out this youtube link.)
Fortunately, academics in other fields outside science and many other educated and aware people have formed the same view of our future and are recommending a new movement to address the problem. This group has finally recognized the larger systemic nature of the problem faced globally — failures of governing systems to function on behalf of human sustainability, health, and general welfare. Two of four bullet points at the web site of this new attempt to create real change states the case thusly: Continue reading
Occasionally, the smart mind of a keen observer will see a political trend and hypothesize that it may be more than this, something that could crystallize into a new way of governing. Mr. Englehardt has just done this with respect to the U.S. political system, and offered it to us in a “Tomgram,” a description of what he sees, somewhat tentatively, at his TomDispatch.com blog. I have excerpted the most salient points from that below. As Tom said in his introduction to the original, “Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that.”
The following is reproduced by permission of Tom Englehardt.
Originally posted at TomDispatch.com
Excerpts by R. McCluney 27 MAR 15
There are five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new [political] system [in the U.S.] seem to be emerging: (1) political campaigns and elections; (2) the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; (3) the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; (4) the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and (5) the demobilization of “we the people.”