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
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
There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about the remaining carbon budget. This is the amount of additional carbon dioxide that we can emit into the atmosphere that will give us a 66% chance of not triggering a “dangerous” increase in global temperatures of over 20C (450 ppm of atmospheric CO2). Yes, this is for only a “2 out of 3” chance of saving human society. At higher percentages, say 90%, there is no remaining budget. Continue reading
China accounts for more than half of global coal consumption, with the majority of that consumption within an electricity-generating sector that produces 73% of its power from coal. In 2015, China’s coal production was 1.83 billion tons, compared to 455 million tons in the United States. China’s recent focus on non-fossil energy sources has led to a short-term peaking of coal usage, but its current 5-year plan envisages a 19% increase in coal generation capacity. Renewables alone simply cannot provide the amounts of additional electricity production required to support the country’s rapid economic growth. This additional coal usage will be exacerbated by the rapid growth in countries such as India (407 tons) and Indonesia (147 tons) – both of which are rapidly expanding coal usage as they drive industrialization (India’s coal-fired generation capacity will have more than doubled in the decade up to 2022). Japan’s reduction in fossil fuel usage will only offset a small part of these increases. The most recent draft plans from India may produce a peak in fossil fuel usage by the mid to late 2020’s, but no such plans exist for Indonesia. Continue reading
Taking into account fugitive methane emissions from the production and distribution of natural gas, the U.S. electricity-generating sector may not reduce overall climate-warming emissions at all during the foreseeable future. Nor has it in the previous decade, as claimed by the U.S. government. With Canada already generating 84% of its electricity from renewables and nuclear, it can only play a small part in reducing overall North American emissions. Especially when the U.S. produces eight times the amount of electricity. Mexico may significantly increase its share of renewable and nuclear sourced electricity, but overall growth in electricity demand will mean that this will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Unless fugitive methane emissions throughout the natural gas production and distribution network can be significantly reduced, the North American electricity-generating sector may not provide any reductions in climate-warming emissions. Given that this sector has been at the forefront of emission reduction efforts, this does not bode well for any real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions – when measured on a CO2 equivalent basis (incorporating other greenhouse gases) rather than just a CO2 basis. Continue reading
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S.-led liberal international order has made incredible gains in Europe:
- East Germany taken over by the capitalist West Germany
- Yugoslavia broken up, with Croatia and Slovenia joining the European Union and NATO
- The ex-Warsaw Pact countries of Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia integrated into the European Union and NATO. Albania added to NATO
- The ex-Soviet Baltic Republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia joining the European Union and NATO
The dreams of turning Russia itself into a U.S. dominated capitalist playground may have been derailed by the Putin leadership, but the gains made have still been on a level that could not have been dreamt of in the mid-1980’s. In this context, the western-supported coup in the Ukraine can be seen as an overly risky act of hubris that gave Russia no option but to respond. After all the Ukraine has an extensive border with Russia, a large ethnic-Russian population, control over a large percentage of Russia’s gas exports, and housed the Black Fleet naval base. A parallel would have been a Russian-supported coup in Canada or Mexico. One can easily assume what the U.S. response would be to such an action. The attempt at regime change in the country housing Russia’s only military base in the Middle East, Syria, was also always going to run a high risk of Russian intervention. Perhaps a strategic retreat may be the best policy, especially if other objectives are of a higher priority. Continue reading
Western Europe and Scandinavia have been held up as leaders in moving to a low-carbon future in electricity generation, but the reality is very mixed. Scandinavia benefits from its large hydroelectric resources, relative to population size, and therefore has a very low electricity carbon footprint. France is low carbon due to its predominantly nuclear-based generating capacity.
With the expansion of Germany’s renewables going toward the retirement of its nuclear generating capacity post-Fukushima, there has been relatively little impact on the 50%+ share of fossil fuels (44% from hard coal and lignite), and its carbon emissions have not been reduced in the past 6 years. Together with other European countries such as Italy (fossil fuel share of 50%) and Spain (30%), there has also been a significant reduction in government support for renewables growth as the percentage share of renewable generation has increased. Continue reading
There have been innumerable pages of angst produced to bemoan the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. Presidency, together with his proposed administration full of climate deniers and “drill baby drill” advocates who have never seen an environmental regulation that they couldn’t hate with a passion. Backed up by Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, and a Republican Supreme Court once Trump appoints a right-winger to the open position on the court. Yes, this is awful, but how much better was the alternative? When we compare the supposedly “climate friendly” Canadian administration of Justin Trudeau, and the prospective “climate crazy” U.S. administration, the difference is only in the type of denial.
The irresistible inertial force of economic growth is colliding with the immovable object of the limits of the Earth’s systems. Positive feedbacks in the climate system are now being triggered, much earlier than had been previously assumed, that will make it increasingly difficult for society to find an escape route. Even just two of those feedbacks (none of which are taken into account by the United Nations climate change scenarios), soil carbon emissions and Arctic Amplification, may rapidly outrun society’s ability to change course. By the early 2030’s we may have already passed the historic milestones of 450ppm atmospheric CO2 and 20C warming. Continue reading
There is a genre of Hollywood “feel-good” disaster movie, where everything seems nearly hopeless until the end, and then suddenly, many times against all hope, the super-hero (or super-heroes) saves the day. Whether it be human heroes that blow up the Earth-killing asteroid just in the nick of time; good mutants that defeat the bad mutants just in time; bad mutants turned good mutants that destroy the stayed-bad mutants just in time; future humans and non-human allies that save the Galaxy from the Empire. Anyway, you get the general storyline. The bad people/organisms /things win for the first 95% of the movie then the good people/organisms/things win against all the odds in the last 5%. Continue reading