Monday, June 29, 2020

Pandemic Carbon Timeline

The Ted Talk Countdown on Climate series is underway with Al Gore's video presentation,  hosted by Chris Anderson.

The coronavirus brought much of the world to a standstill, dropping carbon emissions by five percent. Al Gore says keeping those rates down is now up to us. In this illuminating interview, he discusses how the steadily declining cost of wind and solar energy will transform manufacturing, transportation and agriculture, offer a cheaper alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear energy and create millions of new jobs. Stay tuned for a lively debate about geoengineering and hear Gore's thoughts about how humanity can create a clean, prosperous future through a focused global effort and a generation of young people committed to change. (This virtual conversation, hosted by head of TED Chris Anderson, was recorded June 23, 2020.)

Update 7/8/20: Netting Zero. A virtual event series on climate change from the NY Times

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Eye of the Needle

The coronavirus pandemic is reshaping our world. An article by William Rees points out that "clearing skies and cleaner waters should inspire hopeful ingenuity. If we wish to thrive on a finite planet, we have little choice but to see the COVID-19 pandemic as preview and our response as dress rehearsal for the bigger play. Again, the challenge is to engineer a safe, smooth, controlled contraction of the human enterprise. Surely it is within our collective imagination to socially construct a system of globally networked but self-reliant national economies that better serve the needs of a smaller human family. The ultimate goal of economic planning everywhere must now turn to ensuring that humanity can thrive indefinitely and more equitably within the biophysical means of nature."

This is impacting the schedule of the World Climate Foundation summit, as well as the COP26 date. "In 2020, climate action must take on a new format to ensure global momentum is maintained. Short and long-term objectives should aim to overcome the socio-economic disruptions of COVID-19 and kickstart the global economy through resilient and ambitious green agendas, prioritizing net-zero commitments and low carbon investments now and throughout the next ten years.

With the postponement of the COP26 to 2021, World Climate Foundation is equally postponing its annual World Climate Summit to 2021, and now offers an exciting new series of digital, regional World Climate Forums. At these Forums, governments can transform climate ambitions into successful markets for climate business and market players in major regions of the world and instigate collaboration on policy, innovation, and investments."For decades, scientists have been demanding that climate crisis be taken this seriously. But despite numerous international agreements, governments have been slow to take action to reduce carbon emissions."

The coronavirus pandemic may have one silver lining: the potential collapse of big oil. "As Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, recently pointed out,  the drop in oil prices also offers an opportunity for countries around the world to lower or remove subsidies for fossil fuel consumption,  which disproportionally line the pockets of wealthy individuals and  corporations with money that could go to education, health care or clean  energy projects."

Optimists are encouraged by people such as the director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, who last April called the crisis an “historic opportunity today to steer [energy] investments onto a more sustainable path.” With G20 governments already pledging around $5 trillion to stimulate their economies in the wake of the shutdown, Birol called on them to “put clean energy at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis.” Birol said he had urged political and global financial leaders to design “sustainable stimulus packages” that focus on investing in clean energy technologies and accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. In its latest short-term projections, the US EIA says that it expects the biggest hit to oil demand in the second quarter of 2020, but that the reduction will only “gradually dissipat[e] over the course of the next 18 months”

The Rocky Mountain Institute is issuing a series of stimulus white papers to respond to the climate crisis, the economic shifts and provide guidance to governments and industry for rapid decarbonization."As the effects of the COVID-19 crisis ripple across the globe, strategic stimulus and recovery investments can get world economies back on track now and help us build back in a way that ensures greater resilience to the disruptions and crises we will inevitably face in the future. The current pandemic shows many parallels to, and interconnections with, a looming climate crisis. A response that addresses both crises at once will advance a low-carbon economy that is more resilient and helps mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, while improving the economy, the environment, and our health and communities."

In response to the impact of the pandemic, the RMI's recommended programs aim to catalyze industries, technologies, and practices shown to improve public health, decrease costs, create enduring job opportunities, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The four programs are:
  • Build Back Better Buildings: A building retrofit program to catalyze residential and commercial building improvements at an unprecedented scale.
  • Enhance Access and Electrify Mobility: Investment to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit over the automobile, while also supporting the growth of the electric vehicle market.
  • Debt Forgiveness for a Sustainable Recovery: A financial incentive program to provide companies with debt relief based on verifiable emissions reductions.
  • Economic Recovery Facility for Financing Low- and Zero-Carbon Activities: A federal entity dedicated to facilitating the financing of clean energy and infrastructure projects.
A simple debt forgiveness approach can help industries and workers feeling economic pain now and build toward a more sustainable, low-emissions future.

Update 6/26/20: Degrowth: A Call for Radical Abundance

Update 7/23/20: Tom Steyer - Clean Energy as a job generator

Update 7/30/20:  Some Earth system tipping points may be linked together

Friday, April 24, 2020

Earth Day 50th

It's discouraging to look back at 50 years of environmental activism (an entire lifetime!) and see how little has been accomplished in spite of the overwhelming emergency that we're faced with in ecological destruction. The result of endless growth vectors in human culture and economics carried out in trade, the industrial carbon emissions over the last 200 years has finally impacted our planet in devastating ways. With no constraints on growth, a violation of natural processes and structures, human civilization has overrun the natural checks and balances that kept the planetary cycles in balance. But in the end there's always a reckoning because, well, physics.

Sierra Club recaps these issues in an interview with Dennis Hayes. "Fifty years later, we have different environmental challenges, some much larger, most notably global climate change. Despite the existential threat of climate change, today countries are rolling back environmental protections, failing to live up to the Paris Agreement and dragging their feet on climate action. Meanwhile, the environmental movement has gained momentum, thanks in no small part to an infusion of energy and outrage from the youth climate movement."

As described in Nature magazine, a new synthesis shows what a wasted decade means for the climate pact made in Paris. "In global climate projections, no single model can predict the future, and such analyses by necessity exclude the most recent developments. Nevertheless, it is clear that, collectively, current policies will not limit global warming to well below 2 °C, let alone 1.5 °C, as agreed in Paris. Clearly, the annual audit of the emissions gap has not altered poor performance. The gap concept has nonetheless proved useful. The reports and numbers have continuously informed the UN climate summits and the emissions gap was noted as a serious concern when parties were adopting the Paris agreement." This article includes a chart demonstrating the impact of this process.

Aubrey Meyer of GCI has continually emphasized that the global rate of the rise of temperature & CO2 concentrations is determined by the global contraction rate/weight/date of the future global CO2 emissions budget. An international carbon-sharing strategy is essential for UNFCCC-compliance if we are seriously risk-averse. "A lot of valuable time has been completely wasted over the last 25 years when total annual CO2 output was around 7Gt C/year. As it is now ~14 Gt C & temperature looks likely to be taken over the 2° C threshold, the situation is now obviously urgent." Insufficient climate action during the past decade means that transformational development pathways are now required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on time to meet the 1.5C Paris target.

Strategies for addressing this have been put forth. For example, Rocky Mountain Institute has proposed Decarbonization and Debt Forgiveness: A Path Forward. "A simple debt forgiveness approach can help industries and workers feeling economic pain now and build toward a more sustainable, low-emissions future."

Important legal precedents are being set in UK and US courts. The recent UK decision against allowing another runway to be constructed at Heathrow is a moment of truth. "That’s why the ruling sets such a powerful precedent, both in the UK and beyond. The message has gone out loud and clear that governments can no longer do what they’ve been doing for decades: claiming to be serious about tackling the climate crisis while marching us headlong towards disaster."

The recent impact of the coronavirus pandemic as well as a trade war in oil has produced an enormous shock to the fossil fuel industry. It has completely changed future projections for the industry, and has had had an immediate impact on its viability as an investment vehicle, as outlined in the article, The Beginning of the End for Oil?

It appears that the entire global population is facing a pivot point in which the need for serious, drastic climate action is clear to most people and governments now. One can only hope that this opportunity is not wasted as well.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Paean to Earth

Easter Sunday April 12, 2020
Andrea Bocelli solo: #MusicforHope
The great Duomo Cathedral of Milan - empty except for the performance. The blind singer spreads hope to a damaged world.

Over 2.5 million listened to the live stream broadcast in an eerily empty and quiet Italy - her gift to the planet suffering the viral pandemic

Track list:
Panis Angelicus (from “Messe Solennelle” Op. 12, FWV 61) César Franck

Ave Maria, CG 89a (arr. from Johann Sebastian Bach, “Prelude” no. 1, BWV 846)
Charles-François Gounod

Sancta Maria (arr. from “Cavalleria Rusticana”, Intermezzo)
Pietro Mascagni

Domine Deus (from “Petite Messe Solennelle”)
Gioachino Antonio Rossini

A Capella: Amazing Grace from the entry stairs, empty cities worldwide
"Was blind but now I see"

Sunday, March 22, 2020

AIA Carbon Positive Report

The American Institute of Architects, in cooperation with Architecture 2030, put on a very important conference in Los Angeles on March 2 - 4, 2020. Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030 was a great keynote at the conference kickoff, and his slide presentation is here. An additional video of a 2010 presentation of his is here. The sessions are presented as a very, very urgent timeline for the building profession to engage and get to net zero by 2030. This is based upon the adoption of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report, Global Warming of 1.5°C, promoted by Mazria's organization.

UN | Report of the Secretary-General  Dec. 2019:

September’s Climate Action Summit delivered important new actions, a surge in climate momentum, and a clear destination: 45% emissions cuts by 2030 on the way to a carbon neutral world by 2050. The Secretary-General’s report on the outcomes of the Summit highlights the way forward in 2020, and outlines ten priority areas of action. We are seeing unprecedented changes in the earth’s environmental and physical processes. Climate change, air pollution, reduced availability of clean water, and persistent toxic chemicals threaten human, animal, and environmental health and well-being.

A special guest presentation was made by Farhana Yamin, who is an internationally renowned environmental lawyer and Extinction Rebellion activist with more than two decades of experience advising nations and NGOs on climate change and development policy. An interview with her is here. As well as authoring numerous books and IPCC reports, she has played a key role in drawing up international treaties, including the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015. Farhana is also an associate fellow at Chatham House and visiting professor at UCL. In April she glued herself to Shell's London headquarters in protest at the oil firm's climate impact.

This has resulted in a formal challenge to the profession which was presented to the architects attending the conference. Some conference notes are here from Michael Malinowski. Ed Mazria provides further background from the conference in his message to AIA: "The numbers may be abstract, but the implications are firm: we must reduce global CO2 emissions 50% to 65% by 2030, and reach full decarbonization by 2040." A little more of the story is here on how this conference came to be through Mazria's efforts over the decades.

A full recap of the Carbon Positive '20 conference is here

Additional resources shared at the conference:
Climate Positive Design Challenge

Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) present transparent, verified and comparable information about the life-cycle environmental impact of products.

Beyond Net Zero

ARUP BioBuild is the world’s first self-supporting façade panel for building construction made of biocomposite materials.

Living Algae Buildings  Australia

World Green Building Council  Net Zero

International Living Future Institute  Zero Carbon Certification

Skanska Embodied Carbon Calculation Tool

Update 4/7/20: The AIA 2030 Commitment to transform the practice of architecture has resources for professionals.

Update 4/8/20: Architect Magazine has provided climate action resources to the profession.

Update 4/23/20: Buildings are responsible for 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Critical State

As an architect who has spent a career dealing with the physical and environmental impacts of investment calculations, I am acutely aware of the shortfalls of urban development and its destruction of the living biosphere. I've discussed these problems professionally as well as with people who are deeply concerned about our environment and trying to achieve a consensus about how to manage our existence across the planet via the 25-year-old COP mechanism of the UNFCCC. This has finally risen to the level of global discourse through scientific study and documentation of the critical state our planet and our civilization is approaching.

"A chain reaction in a sandpile that causes an avalanche is a critical state. The term critical state can mean the point at which water would go to ice or steam, or the moment that critical mass induces a nuclear reaction, etc. It is the point at which something triggers a change in the basic nature or character of the object or group. Thus, we refer to something being in a critical state when there is the opportunity for significant change," as is discussed in economic theory by John Maldin.

This holds true for the instable fingers of social media that move waves of social change. This is also true for the escalating climate damages and population migration due to the impacts of climate change that are more and more apparent to people across the planet. We are approaching a critical state that is based on the very real disintegration of the life support of our human civilization because of false GDP metrics embedded in corporate extraction supply chains that have no accountability to governments and their populations. These mechanisms are now larger than many countries, and invade their sovereignty with trade agreements, the pipeline through which wealth flows. The human reaction to this is governmental authoritarianism and a digital realm of chaos and rising conflict.

Climate researchers can measure in real time what happens to carbon emissions when one of the world's largest economies is suddenly stalled, with entire cities locked down, highways emptied, airplanes grounded, factories shuttered and millions of people confined to their homes. A continent away, from his base in Helsinki, Finland, Lauri Myllyvirta was able to piece together industry and financial data sources and satellite imagery to calculate the COVID-19 epidemic's impact on emissions in China: a decrease of about 25% in three weeks. "In terms of the absolute volume of emissions, this is absolutely unprecedented," he said. Clearly human behavior drives this and can be rapidly changed.

Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010-16, endorses Extinction Rebellion's civil disobedience campaigns to save the planet. To quote: “Civil disobedience is not only a moral choice, it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics. Historically, systemic political shifts have required civil disobedience on a significant scale. Few have occurred without it.” I think we're smart enough to tackle the damage we've done to our planet if we mobilize globally and rapidly engage in multiple strategies. I'm starting to see it move, and Figueres is adding fuel to it with her new book.

The top-down consensus COP model has been blocked by corporate fossil fuel money in the US and Britain, and because of it, there is a blowback mobilization by people all over the planet that is creating the instability that underlies an avalanche of change. Cornell University professor Robert H. Frank makes a far better case for individual action because he uses social science to do it. Individual action to protect the climate “is far greater than most people realize, for two related reasons,” Frank writes. “First, they have the power to shift how the people around us behave. Second, and more important, they change who we are, making us much more likely to support the large-scale policies needed for progress. “Conscious consumption alone certainly can’t stop the warming threat,” Frank adds, “but it’s an essential step on our path forward.”

Climate activist lawsuits are also making headway in the higher courts. Friends of the Earth and Plan B took the position that the Paris Agreement is in UK law, and they both argued policymakers should have to consider it.. David Wolfe, attorney for Friends of the Earth, said the government should have considered emerging discussions and evidence on climate change when making its decision. Plan B’s Tim Crosland told the court that the Paris Agreement’s aim of limiting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees C has been the “lynchpin of government and international policy” since December 2015, so the government was bound to take it into account. Britain’s Court of Appeal issued a landmark ruling on Feb. 27 that stymied plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport in London, declaring that the government illegally neglected its commitments to reduce carbon emissions and protect the planet from dangerously high temperatures.

This lawsuit is based upon the Paris Implementation Blueprint, authored by Tim Crosland, Aubrey Meyer and Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh. Aubrey Meyer has developed a framework proposed for adoption by the COP for many years that could possibly come alive again as the waves of social change give it the impetus necessary to bring all parties to the table, which argues for its rapid adoption rather than abandonment. He has kept track of the immense challenge ahead of us to keep our planet from moving into an extinction event under our current carbon emissions impacts. The rising awareness of this has spurred more collaborative initiatives to address the problem at the local level.

In September of this year, thousands of climate leaders are coming to San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit. The event will bring together governors, mayors, legislators, CEOs, investors, researchers, and more from around the world to demonstrate progress, set more ambitious and measurable goals, and encourage national governments to go further faster. They would be wise to look to the Paris Agreement as a basis for their actions.

Update 3/2/20: The UK’s first climate change refugees?

Update 3/27/20: Homer-Dixon’s synchronous failure framing. The economic impacts are going to go far beyond the stock market and surface measures such as GDP.

Update 4/9/20: The Heathrow decision: a moment of truth.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Deep Adaptation

Jem Bendell's  Deep Adaptation video (above) was posted a year ago on Jan. 27th, 2019. He talks about Resilience,Relinquishment, Restoration. His summary of "After Climate Despair" is here, dated April 12, 2019. His earlier paper of Dec. 2018, Deep Adaptation:A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy, is here.

His discussion of an inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change is the result of the input and dialogue by scientists and climatologists for over 30 years now, with an increasingly clear picture forming of the near-term impacts of the destruction of the ecosystem. The UN has issued serious alarms in its IPCC report of August of 2018, declaring that carbon emissions must rapidly go to zero. It's not just the increasingly obvious climate devastation that's happening right now, for example the massive fires in Australia that are dumping huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and the deepening global droughts that threaten water and food supplies in every country. The global heating is also responsible for the increasing acidity of the oceans and the destruction of life in its waters throughout the planet. The oceans have been storing the heat for several hundred years, and the impact of this is increasing rapidly.

Of greatest concern is the melting polar ice caps which are experiencing their hottest days on record. The issue going forward is the massive methane emissions that will occur as this process unfolds, which is a process that feeds upon itself as the emissions rise, leading to a runaway climate heating that could well lead to an extinction event.

First, the probability of this pulse happening is high, at least 50 per cent according to the analysis of sediment composition by those best placed to know what is going on, Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov. Moreover, if it happens, the detrimental effects are gigantic. . .the risk of an Arctic seabed methane pulse is one of the greatest immediate risks facing the human race. . .Why then are we doing nothing about it? Why is this risk ignored by climate scientists, and scarcely mentioned in the latest IPCC assessment? It seems to be not just climate change deniers who wish to conceal the Arctic methane threat, but also many Arctic scientists, including so-called ‘methane experts.” (Wadhams, pg. 127-28)

We have a clear responsibility to get emissions to zero from the human activities on our planet no later than 2040. However, the realities of this endeavor are daunting because we've delayed any action for over 50 years now, from the first Earth Day in 1970. This is our last decade to get it right. Our kids deserve a life, not the destruction of the only home we have.

Update 2/24/19: It doesn’t help matters that a feedback loop kicks in as the poles warm.

Update 2/25/19: “Doomsday Glacier,” is melting much faster than previously known.