Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A depressing climate crisis update to all: When we fixed the ozone problem we made the greenhouse gas problem worse. Can humans solve the problem?


If you are old enough you might remember that hole in the ozone layer that appeared over Antarctica in the 1980s. In 2019, NASA announced the "ozone hole" was the smallest ever since it was first discovered in 1982.

The main cause of ozone depletion and the ozone hole is manufactured chemicals, especially manufactured halocarbon refrigerants, solvents, propellants and foam-blowing agents (chlorofluorocarbons referred to as ozone-depleting substances (ODS). We fixed it through the adoption of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, which bans the production of CFCs, halons and other ozone-depleting chemicals.

So we can fix things, right? Uh, well....

We first world humans didn't give up anything to fix it. We can't and don't. Instead we substituted hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) so that we didn't have to go a day without refrigeration or air conditioning and whatever. And third world folks embraced our selfishness brilliance by using HFC's in their expanding economies.

Funny thing. HFC-23 used in refrigerators, inhalers and air conditioners turns out to be a potent greenhouse gas. And after folks around the world agreed in 2015 to drastically reduce emissions of HFC, a study published this month in Nature Communications titled Increase in global emissions of HFC-23 despite near-total expected reductions tells us "atmospheric observations show that emissions have increased and in 2018 were higher than at any point in history."

Of course as noted here previously leaks of the little-known gas Sulphur hexafluoride, or SF6, are rising as an unintended consequence of the green energy boom and it is 23,500 times more warming than carbon dioxide (CO2).

And as noted here previously all the devices used by GenZ's and Millennials, and the rest of us, are supported by an infrastructure that spews out carbon dioxide, a key source of temperature increases in the past 10 years.

It really seems like when addressing environmental problems we don't understand what we are doing and what needs to be done.

It is tempting to accept the point-of-view of Donald Trump expressed at this week at World Economic Forum in Switzerland:

    This is not a time for pessimism, this is a time for optimism. To embrace the possibilities of tomorrow, we must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers.
    They want to see us do badly, but we don’t let that happen. They predicted an overpopulation crisis in the 1960s, mass starvation in the 70s, and an end of oil in the 1990s. These alarmists always demand the same thing: absolute power to dominate, transform and control every aspect of our lives. We will never let radical socialists destroy our economy, wreck our country or eradicate our liberty.

The problem is neither Trump nor I will live to see the real impact of the climate crisis. Truthfully it will be those of GenZ and their children and grandchildren. Speaking for them in Switzerland, Greta Thunberg said: “Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour,and we’re asking you to act as if you love your children more than anything else.”

Who is right? Perhaps we should consult some Koalas in Australia....


Monday, January 13, 2020

A depressing climate crisis update to all: Rising ocean temperatures will increase violent deaths!

One-third of the total human population lives within 60 miles of an ocean coastline, two-thirds live within 300 miles, and four-fifths live within 500 miles. Humans tend to not get far away from water. Historically, when they moved away from oceans they tended to follow rivers. So the story above matters to humans. It explains:

    The new analysis shows the past five years are the top five warmest years recorded in the ocean and the past 10 years are also the top 10 years on record. The amount of heat being added to the oceans is equivalent to every person on the planet running 100 microwave ovens all day and all night.
    The results show heat increasing at an accelerating rate as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere. The rate from 1987 to 2019 is four and a half times faster than that from 1955 to 1986. The vast majority of oceans regions are showing an increase in thermal energy.

An accompanying article is headlined Climate crisis likely to increase violent deaths of young people – report.  It asserts: "Rising temperatures caused by global heating are likely to increase deaths from road crashes, violence, suicides and drowning, according to new research, and will affect young people most."

By "young people" one can conclude from a graph in the article that its folks age 15-75 and far more men than women.

One might want to believe that the U.S. population is not as concentrated by the oceans as other parts of the world.

Yeah. Hey, Chicago a long ways from any ocean. Except, of course, the Great Lakes are right there. And, of course, as the Detroit News and others noted last year  Report: Great Lakes warming faster than rest of U.S. So if you add the states with beach frontage on the Great Lakes to those with beach frontage on the oceans, you have about 80% (aka four-fifths) of the American population).

As noted here in 2018 "no one is mentioning the many, many American billionaires quietly investing in expensive homes on hundreds or thousands of acres of ranch land in the area of the Eastern Slope of the Continental divide." They are buying for the future in states without beaches. Of course, most already own property in states with beaches - frequently homes on the beaches. But it doesn't hurt to have a little "get away" for their kids and grandkids.

You don't get to be a billionaire by ignoring facts like the oceans are heating more rapidly now that we missed the chance Al Gore gave us in the 1980's to do something about Global Warming, in fact heating four and a half times faster in the period from 1987 to 2019 than they did from 1955 to 1986.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A depressing climate crisis update to all. Victoria Police Facebook post: "You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive. It is too late to leave."

The 2019–20 Australian bushfire season is of cataclysmic proportions as it has burned an estimated 21 million acres (32,000 square miles), destroyed over 2,500 buildings (including over 1,900 houses) and killed 25 people as of 5 January 2020. Much of the burned land is bushland, forests and national parks, home to the country's beloved and unique wildlife. This event is due to the climate crisis created by 20th Century human civilization. But the victims here are koalas, kangaroos, and other wildlife.

For some perspective we should note that the 2018 California wildfires consumed 2 million acres and the 2019 Amazon rainforest wildfires burnt 2.2 million acres - each just 10%± of this year's Aussie bushfires. And, of course, the Australian fires are still burning.

In What Will Another Decade of Climate Crisis Bring? in this week's The New Yorker Elizabeth Kolbert, whose multiple award-winning (including a Pulitzer Prize) climate writings have been quoted here extensively, expressed frustration:

    ...If in the past year (or the past decade) the world began to understand how dangerous climate change is, it certainly didn’t act like it. In the past ten years, more CO2 was emitted than in all of human history up to the election of J.F.K.
    In 2015, in Paris, world leaders, including President Barack Obama, committed to holding the average global temperature increase to “well below 2°C.” They never committed to how they were going to do this, however, and last month, in Madrid, the creaky machinery of climate diplomacy came very close to breaking down altogether. The Trump Administration, which has filed to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, and the [Australian Prime Minister Scott] Morrison government, which wanted to use an accounting trick to fulfill its Paris commitments, were explicitly blamed for the stalemate. Many commentators noted the irony of the situation. A headline in the Guardian put it this way: “AUSTRALIA TOOK A MATCH TO UN CLIMATE TALKS WHILE BACK HOME THE COUNTRY BURNED.”
    Every decade is consequential in its own way, but the twenty-twenties will be consequential in a more or less permanent way. Global CO2 emissions are now so high—in 2019, they hit a new record of forty-three billion metric tons—that ten more years of the same will be nothing short of cataclysmic. Unless emissions are reduced, and radically, a rise of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) will be pretty much unavoidable by 2030. This will make the demise of the world’s coral reefs, the inundation of most low-lying island nations, incessant heat waves and fires and misery for millions—perhaps billions—of people equally unavoidable.

The climate crisis - Climate Change, Global Warming - is an ongoing worldwide cataclysm which in geological time is extremely fast- moving. It is an unprecedented speed, albeit not quite as fast as that ultimate bad day for the dinosaurs sixty-six million years ago when a devastating asteroid impact occurred near the Mexican town of Chicxulub. In geological time there is little difference between that event and the current climate crisis.

Unfortunately the common human perception of time considers a generation (20 to 30 years loosely defined) as a significant period of time. In that context, for the general population of the first world there can never be a generally accepted climate "crisis."

The term "crisis" means the "turning point." In the context of Climate Change it is a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future experiences will be worse.

As noted by Kolbert, it is true that "in the past ten years, more CO2 was emitted than in all of human history up to the election of J.F.K." But in the case of Climate Change, for the past 60 years every day has been, and every day hence will be, a "turning point" as pollutants have accumulate in the atmosphere making all future experiences worse.

In this context, the first knowledge of such turning points occurred decades ago for Al Gore's generation. In 2009 in an appearance on the NBC sitcom "30 Rock", using the term climate crisis Gore summarized what he had been saying for three decades:

    If we're going solve the climate crisis, we've got to change more than the lightbulbs and the windows. We've got to change the laws and the policies through collective political action on a large scale.

Another term is evolving in the legal community.  "Climatic Conditions" refers to the frequency and severity of hurricanes, tornadoes, fifty (50) year or greater floods as defined prior to the year 2000 by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), ecological drought as defined by the USGS,  heat waves, and other weather events such as temperature, wind, precipitation (rain, snow, ice, hail), lightning, etc. To the extent such events are similar, reoccurring, unusually severe events, and increasing in frequency, it can be said that Climatic Conditions have changed or were previously misrepresented.

The important thing to understand about the evolving legal term is that it is occurring within the American legal community. Along with the U.S. military acting to adapt to Climate Change, this should tell Americans that the climate crisis is real within the important institutions which sustain the structure of our lives despite politics and democracy.

Three responses to the climate crisis are possible:
  1. let individuals, families, and corporations adapt their lives to both weather events and economic disruption by making changes in where they live and changes in standard of living and by accepting the statistics and reality of poorer health and reduced lifespans;
  2. have society and government attempt to provide relief to those experiencing the impacts of the catastrophe; and/or
  3. have society, primarily through government, collectively attempt to reduce the scope and/or depth of the catastrophe.
In the past decade the first response has been the experience for millions of people and in the future will be the experience of millions of more people.

In the past decade the second response has resulted in limited relief and an increasing struggle to deal with an ever-greater number of events and the costs thereof.

In the past decade attempts at the third response have proved futile. Greta Thunberg notwithstanding, there is no indication that situation will change as new generations assume power and responsibility.

The overwhelming difficulty is that collective action would require a significant reduction in the standard of living for the first world population. And for first world people that would only happen if a clearly defined "crisis" or 'turning point" could be seen - a Germany invades Poland or Japan bombs Pearl Harbor type of event.

In geological time, it is becoming clear that an irreversible turning point occurred sometime around the beginning of this new millennium. There is no hour or day, or week, or month, year, or decade in which that happened. Scientists dealing with geological time frequently define beginnings and ends in terms of more than 1,000 years. It is nearly impossible for most people to shift their perception framework from months and days to millenniums and centuries. We do not live for or plan for a time in excess of 100 years from now. So we cannot adjust downward our current standard of living for someone who will be living in the year 2150.

Unfortunately, despite leadership efforts to deal with the climate crisis, much of the population of California lives in areas that already have exceeded the threshold set in the 2015 Paris climate accord provision to keep average warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius:


The truth is best expressed in the article referenced above by Santa Barbara County farmer Guner Tautrim while describing a weather event: “I call what’s happening here ‘global weirding,” His farm was deeded to his family as a Spanish land grant more than two centuries ago. No one believes that his family back then should have taken action to prevent the world from becoming what it is today.

The article also noted that offshore the warming ocean has depleted kelp forests and the shelled creatures that lived in them which are food for numerous larger species which relates to the fact that 13 dead whales washed ashore in San Francisco Bay in 2019, many of which had completely empty stomachs.

The difference between humans and the dinosaurs is that the dinosaurs did not knowingly cause their catastrophic event. Humans in the first world both individually and in groups are knowingly causing their event tweet-by-tweet. Those tweets symbolize something called "a lifestyle" which for thousands of people around the world each year results in "a deathstyle." The fact is "the internet" is the source of massive amounts of carbon.

As noted in last year in The Guardian, if every adult in the UK sent one less email each day it "would save more than 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year – equivalent to 81,152 flights to Madrid or taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road."

You see, Greta Thunberg's choice to sail rather than fly was truly symbolic. Yes, it was symbolic about the subject of transportation and the related carbon footprint.

Unfortunately, it was also symbolic of how just one person can stimulate millions of people to use electronic technology infrastructure to communicate about her thereby making the result of Thunberg's trip across the Atlantic the equivalent of hundreds-of-thousands of flights from London to New York.

"In the past ten years, more CO2 was emitted than in all of human history up to the election of J.F.K." Do you really think that is because of foolish people driving diesel vehicles? Or could it be because of smart phones and other devices? Who is to blame?

The inconvenient truth is that humanity will be unable to stop its inevitable ongoing progress towards a worldwide climate cataclysm which will leave not only whales but most larger mammal species extinct because of empty stomachs...well...only those that haven't been incinerated in wildfires.