The Impacts Of An Ice Free Arctic: A Climate Paradigm Shift?

The possibility of abrupt changes in Earth Systems provides a unique challenge for the scientific and policy-making community. The current scientific processes, and the way in which new knowledge is created and becomes generally accepted, were developed during a time when Earth Systems could be assumed to be stable over timescales of decades and centuries. The emphasis was placed upon painstaking verification, and attempted nullification of a given hypothesis, rather than speed. The peer-review process utilized by academic journals may in itself take years, after many years spent in the field and constructing and validating hypotheses from the underlying data. Continue reading

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CO2e Increases By 4 ppm For The Second Year In A Row

In 2016 the combined effect of all greenhouse gases (CO2e which includes the effects of such gases as methane and nitrous oxide) increased by the equivalent of 4ppm of CO2, to 489ppm, according to NOAA[i]. This is the second year in a row that CO2e has increased by 4ppm, and this decade the yearly increase has not been below 3ppm. The average increase is close to 3.5ppm CO2e, well above the rate of increase in CO2 alone. At this rate, the level of CO2e will hit 500ppm by 2020. In prehistoric times, such a level has been associated with temperatures 30C above preindustrial levels. The only thing counter-balancing these high levels of greenhouse gases are the atmospheric sulfate aerosols, produced by such things as burning coal, that help reflect back the Sun’s energy. Without those, the Earth would already be on a rapid path to catastrophic climate change. Continue reading

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Defending Soft Denial While The Arctic Ice Melts Away

There have been countless aggrieved comments from across the world about Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Treaty. There has also been much academic angst about Trump’s use of an MIT study that showed that the Paris emission reduction commitments will have reduced surface air temperatures in 2050 “by about 0.120C under all three scenarios”[1]. Instead of attacking the climate negotiations as being absurdly pathetic, the academics referred to it as being a useful step. This is what we have come to; facilitating soft denial in the face of impending disaster. On a monthly basis, global average temperatures in 2016 exceeded the 1.50C limit[2] that was so trumpeted as a new commitment at Paris, and on an annual basis temperatures were 1.10C above preindustrial times[3]. At least Trump and his acolytes are truthful about their denial, unlike the Canadian Prime Minister who says all the right words and then authorizes new pipelines and does not have the policies in place to back even his minimal emission reduction commitments[4]. Continue reading

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Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions

In a paper authored by Jim Hansen and a number of other climate scientists[1], the concept of “climate debt” is raised. This is the amount of carbon dioxide that will have be removed from the atmosphere at a future date due to a lack of emission reductions in the present. This can be seen as an intergenerational debt, run up by the present adult generations but to be paid out by the future ones. Global temperatures averaged 1.10C above preindustrial levels in 2016 (excluding the short-term warming impact of the 2015/16 El Nino)[2]. An extra 0.50C of delayed warming is baked in through the thermal inertia of the oceans, and up to another 0.50C may also be as the dimming effect of aerosols (produced by burning fossil fuels, especially coal, and land use changes) is reduced. Therefore an above 20C temperature rise may already be baked in at current CO2 levels. Continue reading

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Will Self-Driving Electric Cars Revolutionize and Decarbonize The Transport Sector By 2030?

There have been a slew of reports recently about the promise of self-driving electric vehicles to revolutionize the transport sector while massively reducing transport-related carbon emissions. One of the most bullish of these reports[1] is from the Silicon Valley think tank RethinkX, founded by entrepreneur and futurist Tony Seba. The breathless prose is evident from the first paragraph of the executive summary:

We are on the cusp of one of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruptions of transportation in history. By 2030, within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals, in a new business model we call “transport-as-a-service” (TaaS). The TaaS disruption will have enormous implications across the transportation and oil industries, decimating entire portions of their value chains, causing oil demand and prices to plummet, and destroying trillions of dollars in investor value — but also creating trillions of dollars in new business opportunities, consumer surplus and GDP growth.” Continue reading

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Why Greenhouse Gas Emissions Did Not Really Stabilize In The Past Few Years

Only counting CO2, not the other greenhouse gases 

Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas; the most important others are methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Methane has about 84 times the climate warming effect that CO2 does in the first twenty years (after 20 years the majority is converted to CO2)[i], a major issue as the climate moves toward possible positive-feedback tipping points. Over a hundred year period CH4 has a warming impact 34 times that of CO2[ii]. Nitrous Oxide has about 300 times the warming impact of CO2 and has an atmospheric lifespan of over 100 years[iii] [iv]. Continue reading

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Tar Sands: Building The Biggest Industrial Museum In History

At some point within the next decade or so the major nations of the world must start to make substantive progress in cutting the usage of fossil fuels. A major focus of such efforts would have to be within the transportation sector, which relies predominantly on oil as a fuel. The logical result would be that global demand for oil would start to fall year after year, creating a long-term downward pressure on oil prices.

With the decline in demand being a secular issue, rather than a short-term one, the viability of the highest cost operations would be fundamentally undermined. There would be no reason for producers to accept short-term losses in the hope of a later pick up in prices. A rational business option may be to walk away from currently unprofitable operations, and limit losses through declaring local operations bankrupt. Continue reading

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Climate Denial From An Oligarchic Perspective

I have been reading an excellent book by Jeffrey Winters, “Oligarchy”[1], which traces the history of oligarchs. By oligarchs, he means those with extreme levels of personal wealth that allow them to fundamentally affect a nation’s affairs. They both have an overriding need to defend that wealth and have the unique power resources for such a defence. As he puts it succinctly “this … helps explain why those most able to pay are also the ones most empowered to avoid doing so, and why ordinary democratic participation is an ineffective antidote.” Oligarchs are different to the political, business and military elites that may enjoy power through their positions, but may not have anywhere near an oligarchic level of wealth (although especially in the United States many senior executives have managed to amass oligarchic-style wealth). He identifies a U.S. oligarchy of the top 150,000 households (the 0.01%), which possessed an average income of $4 million per year in 2004. Even within this number there is a great concentration, the top 15,000 had an average income of $27 million, and the top 400, $345 million. Given the continuing outsized growth in the incomes and wealth of the rich since 2004, and the static incomes and wealth of the rest, their relative position can only have been enhanced further. Continue reading

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Exiting The Anthropocene

The beginning of the Anthropocene, the period when humanity became the predominant driver of changes in the Earth Systems, has been open to debate. Some argue for the period of the post-WW2 Great Acceleration, others for the beginning of industrialization, and some would perhaps go back as far as the European conquest and colonization of the rest of the world. What few seem to grasp is that the Anthropocene may last but a few decades, until the Earth responds like a boulder rolling down a hill. Humanity provided the push that overcame its inertia, but once in motion it accelerates away all by itself. Continue reading

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Societal Emergencies & Property Rights

Prior to the start of the Second World War, my grandfather ran a successful newsagent shop. Most of his profits came from selling sweets (‘candies’ for those in North America) to fill the voracious English appetite for tooth-rotting pleasures. Along came the war, and rationing. With a desperate need to feed the population in the face of the sinking of merchant ships in the Atlantic, sweets were just not a priority and the supply rapidly dwindled. My grandfather gave up his shop and became a printer for the newspaper industry. At no time did he think of claiming damages from the government for his “lost hypothetical future profits”. There was a war to fight and everyone had to make sacrifices, including him. Additionally, it was accepted that the sovereign government had the right to make such choices for the good of the country. Continue reading

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