Monday, June 26, 2017

Runaway Phase



Facing another very hot summer in Southern California, it's become a rite of spring to dread the inescapable heat waves that now roll in from the hot Arizona desert. What happened to spring and to fall? We now hit a wall of heat in May and don't see relief until nearly the end of October. People's winter wear now consists of a sweater, not a coat. Our landscape and forests are brown and bleached from the lack of water; millions of trees in the Sierras are dying. If we look at our scientific surveys and satellite studies, we see that polar sea ice is now at record lows in the summer.

We are seeing temperatures in the summer that are breaking all previous records. By a lot. If the Earth’s temperature increases by 2 degrees Celsius, the benchmark agreed upon in the landmark Paris climate agreement, the entire Greenland ice sheet could experience the same accelerated melting that the island’s coastal glaciers and ice caps are facing. At this point, Greenland's coastal ice caps have melted past the point of no return. We are losing our planetary ecological home that is supposed to support 7.5 billion of us.

This process is not immediately apparent, but the NASA studies show conclusively that Greenland is melting significantly. There is no question that the scientific consensus is that Earth's climate is warming, and this warming is accelerating. This accelerating meltdown is a critical red flag to our global civilizations, but like the endless wars in the Middle East, it's a profit center for those who mindlessly control fossil fuels and weaponry for money. The military budget for the USA, far exceeding those of all other countries combined, is the match held to the fuse.

This warming process from fossil fuels leads to an unstoppable, runaway climate change that is fueled by the carbon and methane emissons from the ice and permafrost melt at the poles, which is already observable by science teams and satellites, and puts the destruction of our ecosphere and our planet on an irreversible path. The pace at which species disappear is picking up as temperatures rise, and this is devastating in the tropics which are disproportionately impacted. We cannot stop this once it sets in, the processes ignite themselves with monstrous emissions from the melting poles.

So this is how the Anthropocene ends. In a blaze of greed and ignorance.

Update 6/27/17: Tipping points are real: Gradual changes in CO2 levels can induce abrupt climate changes

Update 6/28/17: Climate Change and Devastating Heat Waves

Update 6/29/17: Current emissions could already warm world to dangerous levels: study

Update 6/30/17: The looming catastrophe of feedback emissions

Update 7/1/17:  Seven facts about the Arctic methane timebomb

Update 7/2/17:  Top Scientists Warn of Catastrophic Sea Level Rise

Update 7/3/17: Experts warn: three years to save humanity from climate change

Update 7/4/17:  New study confirms the oceans are warming rapidly

Update 7/5/17: Warming hits 'tipping point' (from 2005)

Update 7/6/17: Hopes of mild climate change dashed by new research

Update 7/7/17:  Rising temperatures are curbing ocean's capacity to store carbon

Update 7/8/17: NOAA Study Confirms Global Warming Speed-Up Is Imminent

Update 7/9/17: High temperatures and extreme weather continue

Update 7/10/17: Earth faces "biological annihilation" in sixth mass extinction, scientists warn

Update 7/18/17: Carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere to avoid extreme climate change

Update 7/20/17: Today's Extreme Heat May Become Norm Within a Decade

Update 7/24/17: It’s fair to say we have passed the point of no return on global warming 


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Age of Consequences


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cF3_HwICHD0

First in a series of three lectures comprising the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series 2017, Baroness Bryony Worthington presents the dilemma that is unfolding now between the science and the politics of climate change dialogue:

"The evidence is clear that we are in an age of consequences...There is a constant stream of information now for those who are tuned to it that show us that many of the impacts that we were expecting to unfold over the second half of this century are starting to be felt now."

It's evident that our human civilization is losing the race to stave off catastrophic climate change in the face of its political inaction, and we need to drastically up our game. That takes us to net zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century, per the Paris agreement of 2015. She observes that the threat of Donald Trump had an impact on the Paris agreement in that it caused that agreement to come into force earlier than it might have otherwise done, thus Trump unwittingly helped bring about ratification.

Overcoming political headwinds involves the "Tragedy of the Commons" wherein inadvertent individual actions add up to destructive impacts that nobody takes responsibility for. A classic example is the Pacific Garbage Patch that exists in the Pacific Ocean that is strangling and poisoning sea life with tons of plastic garbage dumped in the ocean over decades. Except there's a Dutch guy named Boyan Slat who is doing exactly that.

"Tragedy of the Horizon" is a phrase that means that short-term thinking is unfortunately endemic throughout our politics, and also, unfortunately, our financial system. This is leading to very poorly informed decision-making, and where attention to only the bottom line by corporate decsion makers is destructive to the long view that encompasses systemic views of the world and addresses the very serious issues involving climate change. The antidote to this is to create and support independent apolitical institutions, such as universities and research facilities.

A third factor is the fossil fuel industry itself, which has contributed greatly to human civilization and its benefits inasmuch as their profits allow them to now wield a lot of power in the political sphere in the act of protecting their profits. The answer to this is a multivalent approach to problem solutions so that one factor doesn't override the entire dialogue; one simple tool like a carbon tax will not accomplish the necessary means to an end.

Having said all of this, there remains an approach to solving this problem via global scenario planning as it's employed by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), an independent apolitical entity:

RMI will release analysis results describing five scenarios to limit global average temperature increases by the end of the century to approximately 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, a goal that most analysts see as nearly impossible to achieve. According to the United Nations Environment Programme’s recently released Emissions Gap report, even if the pledges made by nations participating in the Paris Agreement are fulfilled, global emissions will put us on a path to temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4°C this century. Limiting temperature increases to less than 1.5°C will require more and deeper change in the years ahead than most analysts contemplate, with shifts not only in the energy sector but also in agriculture and land use. Surprisingly, their assessment indicates that such changes are still within reach, but only if global actions lead to a dramatic acceleration of the energy transition.

Their diagram of positive feedbacks that could accelerate the energy transition shows how multiple actors in many different markets spur the current renewable energy movement. Much of the growth in renewable energy globally is led by private companies and customers, who find compelling economic reasons to make the switch. This is in contrast to a traditional utility responsible for the planning and operation of a grid that supplies power from centrally owned power plants. Instead of large, capital-intensive projects, centralized decision making, and high-risk business-to-business transactions, much of the new energy revolution is diffuse, smaller scale, decentralized, and based on business-to-customer transactions.Renewable resources, on the other hand, are abundantly available worldwide, often in reasonable proximity to demand. RMI’s analysis describes a possible fast track path to a global clean energy future that is led by synergistic and compounding changes in key industries. Rapid scaling of low-cost manufacturing for solar PV, wind, batteries, electric vehicles, and other key technologies is at the heart of this transition.

So this different kind of thinking, in the corporate and political arena, can be driven by a multitude of actions from many players, rather than the top-down assumptions employed by the world's governments. Each player has a significant position and influence in this multi-level sphere of action, and all of them add up to an important resolution of this global problem that we all have to solve. This is a game-solution, not a dictated process, with an outcome that isn't predictable.

This is important because some global corporations have become bigger than many countries, and they have placed themselves beyond the reach of governments and global rule-making bodies. They have so far managed to shirk their responsibilities in solving this problem, but that's no longer an acceptable position because of the damages that they cause to the environment and all the people living in their countries all across the globe. Accountability is about to become the answer to the "Tragedy of the Commons."

Update 5/24/17: California has tried to forge international climate pacts, becoming a significant global player

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Environmental Economics



Let's revisit E.F.Schumacher's eco-bible that was published during the 1973 energy crisis: Small is Beautiful. It was radical for its day, and its time has now arrived, 45 years later and our planet is in crisis from unaddressed carbon emissions. Now our crippled EPA cites the following: economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources, including how markets function and how incentives affect people’s, businesses’ and institutions’ behavior.  Within this discipline, environmental and natural resource economics is the application of the principles of economics to the study of how environmental and natural resources are developed and managed.

Here in the US, we're currently stuck in a high-consumption lifestyle that keeps us from moving ahead with the critically needed structural changes to our economy that would turn upside down the old, polluting and destructive industries that are in the grip of the oil and coal industries. It's the leftover Cold War economy. The waste in these systems is prolific and toxic, and its reduction is a key strategy in the transference to energy sources from natural processes. However, making the transition out of these structures and their grip on our economic system will be the biggest challenge the US has had since World War II and the Sputnik era that put man on the moon. We see ourselves falling behind, without the resolve and initiative that it takes to mobilize a common effort that changes the face of business practices in this country.

The GDP Chimera becomes increasingly irrelevant in the new economy as energy and technology services shift to new business paradigms. This fiscal "measurement" being tossed about these days as a means of allocating global carbon emissions allowances with respect to climate change is unfortunately not an accurate or reliable means of establishing parity in these emission goals. Gross Domestic Product is actually made up of many financial banking ledger tricks, between countries as well as global regions. This economic model can't account for the important factors of ecology, resources and climate stability, because it's anchored to an obsolete framework, the petrodollar that has been sinking in value since clean energy has become cheaper and more available.

Over the past 15 years the United States has decoupled economic growth and carbon emissions, raising the GDP benchmark 30% while reducing energy-related emissions 10%. And climate action has created millions of jobs, including nearly 400,000 in solar power, over 100,000 in wind, and over 2 million related to energy efficiency. The top states for clean energy jobs are spread across the country from coast to coast. New research examines the climate-related risks facing the fossil fuel industry and conclude that the sustainability train has already well and truly left the station -- and is not coming back.

We can't address our predicament without a new worldview. We cannot use the models that caused our crises to solve them. We need to reframe the problem. This is what the most inspiring book published so far this year has done. In Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, Kate Raworth of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute reminds us that economic growth was not, at first, intended to signify wellbeing. It's a move into a sustainable economic framework.

Increasing evidence shows that a strong U.S. economy and a healthy environment are not at odds with each other, according to a new blog by the New Climate Economy on WRI Insights. And a new WRI paper raises an uncomfortable truth: many of today’s business models are not fit for tomorrow’s resource-strained world. It suggests that normalizing the conversation about consumption with companies will set the groundwork for the pursuit of new business models that allow growth within the planet’s limits and generate stakeholder value in new and exciting ways.

Update 5/4/17: From MAHB - What would an alternative to the pro-growth economy look like? In this week's post to the MAHB Blog, we are sharing a project to compile a list of resources and organizations relevant to the discussions of why a new economic system is needed, what might the system look like, and how do we make the necessary transition.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

All for a Buck



Just when the arc of US environmental policy began to align with the outlines of the Paris Agreement of December 2015, a new administration takes office in January of this year, one grounded in the denial of physics and science, and in thrall to the fossil fuel industry. The entire disruption of the UN agreement reeks of global oil deals, with the corporate influences reaching into the new administration as well as the tactics brought to bear at the UN table.

The potential future science advisor to the President, William Happer, is a contrarian Princeton physicist who views climate change as a positive factor. "While he has a distinguished career as an atomic physicist, previously serving the administration of George HW Bush as a science director, the 77-year-old’s views on climate science are outnumbered by all the credible evidence, all the credible science agencies and are also being laughed at by the Earth’s thermometers and its melting ice sheets and glaciers", as the Guardian has pointed out.

This, along with a cabinet full of fossil fuel-related corporate executives, seeks to create a triumvirate of oil deals with Russia and Exxon Mobil. “Imagine how much havoc Putin, Trump, and a new, oily Secretary of State could wreak on future negotiations by coercing other countries not to keep making new pledges to ratchet down their emissions, which is the cornerstone of Paris’s strategy to avoid catastrophic climate change.” per The Energy Mix. Perhaps all this results from pressure by the Russian oligarchs that the President is indebted to?

This is an old relationship going back to 2012, when Rosneft and ExxonMobil had signed an agreement to jointly develop tight oil production technologies in Western Siberia. This will enable the companies to later discuss undertaking joint projects to explore and develop prospective areas with unconventional oil potential in Russia.

The way it plays out is this: Exxon Mobil, under Rex Tillerson, brokered a deal with Russia in 2013 for 60 million acres of Russian land to pump oil out of, but all that Russian oil went through pipelines in the Ukraine, who heavily taxed the proceeds, and were applying for admission into NATO at the time. Putin subsequently invaded Ukraine in 2014, secured the routes to export the oil tax-free by sea, and took control of the port where their Black Sea Naval Fleet is based, by taking the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine by force and not giving it back. This was Hitler-tier imperialism that broke every international law in the free world. After Obama sanctioned Russia for the invasion, they could only pump oil from approximately 3 of those 60 million acres. But now Rex Tillerson is our Secretary of State, and as of today, there’s information circulating that Donald Trump will likely unilaterally remove all sanctions against Russia in the coming days or weeks. Putin will make half a trillion (500 Billion) dollars from that much untapped oil. All pumped tax-free through Crimea, stolen from Ukraine, now owned by Russia. Putin may have subverted our government just to become the richest man in the world.

The Republican congress subsequently has a hand in all this, as it moves to rescind the rule requiring Big Oil to reveal foreign government payments.

Since we now have a corporate takeover of our government for profit, it would appear that our chances for survival on our planet are dim. Unless the denizens of this planet can pull the rug out from under this Strangelovian scenario with extremely cheap local renewable energy that doesn't have to be transported or fought over, we're left to deal with this situation without any help from Houston.

But I think we still have a few smart humans left.

Update 2/27/17:  The timeline

Update 2/28/17:  Rachel Maddow explains it all for you - Wilbur Ross at Nexus of Trump Russian Deal

Update 3/2/17: 5 years ago - USA is moving from democracy to plutocracy and corporatocracy

Update 3/3/17: Relationships Between Team Trump and Russia

Update 3/4/17: How a Russian Steel Oligarch and Putin Ally Is Profiting from the Keystone XL Pipeline

Update 3/5/17: Bill McKibben - complete corruption of the fossil fuel industry

Update 3/6/17: Follow the money: the Time Magazine article of Aug 2016

Update 3/11/17: Trump Begins His War For Oil (with Cheney's fingerprints)

Update 3/12/17: In-Depth: Trump's deep Russian financial connections

Update 3/13/17: Democracy Now: A Corporate Coup d’État by Naomi Klein

Update 3/14/17: Leak reveals Rex Tillerson was director of Bahamas-based US-Russian oil firm

Update 3/17/17: Far-right political leaders praise Putin’s aggressive foreign policy

Update 3/23/17: Mercer and a disruptive candidate: Trade of the Century and a Foundation network


Friday, January 20, 2017

Rest of the World Moves On



Climate action in the US and the Rest of the World (ROW) continues apace, despite the machinations of the new and disorganized Trump administration. The global climate pact in Paris was the result of extraordinary turnarounds by the world’s two greatest greenhouse gas polluters, China and the U.S., which had long resisted climate action. A myriad set of strategies has been set in motion to put the world on the path to net zero emissions.

Six months after the successful Paris Climate Agreement of December 2015, two of the world’s primary city-led climate change and energy initiatives, the EU Covenant of Mayors and the Compact of Mayors, announced the formation of a new, first-of-its-kind global initiative  of cities and local governments leading in the fight against climate change. This single initiative will create the largest global coalition of cities committed to climate leadership, building on the commitments of more than 7,100 cities from 119 countries and six continents, representing more than 600 million inhabitants, over 8% of the world’s population. Then in November of last year, officials from Los Angeles (Mayor Garcetti), New York, Tokyo, Beijing and 82 other major cities — including more than 40 mayors —  met in Mexico City to share ideas about how to reverse course on climate change. The cities belong to C40, a network launched in 2005 to combat climate change. In an analysis released Wednesday, the group said that actions taken over the next four years will determine whether cities do their part  in meeting the goals of the Paris agreement on climate change signed by nearly 200 countries.

Back in December of 2015, the Compact of Mayors and the Covenant of Mayors partnership was founded on the shared goal of supporting cities around the world to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. The core principles of the partnership will be to recognize local governments as key contributors to a global climate solution, work with city networks as critical partners to support participating cities, capture city climate action plans from registration to implementation, and emphasize importance of reducing GHG emissions and fostering local climate resilience. In partnership, the Covenant of Mayors and the Compact of Mayors will work with cities around the world to ensure robust solution agendas, focusing on sectors like transportation and buildings where cities have the greatest control. The partnership will enable the Compact and the Covenant to streamline reporting systems that are working to help cities measure their work.

On December 1, 2016, the former UN climate chief, Christina Figueres, was announced as the vice chair of the new Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy. It is expected she will play a key role in running the coalition of more than 7000 mayors.“Cities are where the future is created,” Figueres tweeted after the announcement and said she is looking forward to her role in the new coalition. Figueres will work closely with former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg and EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefcovic, the co-chairs of the covenant. The Covenant of Mayors information website is here.

Deadline 2020 is the first significant routemap for achieving the Paris Agreement, outlining the pace, scale and prioritization of action needed by C40 member cities over the next 5 years and beyond. This report has been delivered through a collaborative partnership between C40 and Arup, the global consultancy firm. Ove Arup (ARUP) is an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists offering a broad range of professional services and is one of the premier engineering firms for the top major architectural design and planning projects across the planet.

ARUP issued a science-based global carbon reduction effort with the 'Deadline 2020' report. An analysis of the contribution C40 cities can make to delivering the Paris Agreement objective
of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

"This ARUP report has been delivered through a collaborative partnership between C40 and Arup, the global consultancy firm. Arup has worked with C40 since 2009 to develop strategic analysis and research that is central to progressing our understanding of how cities contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. This is why in June 2015, Arup announced a major partnership with C40, committing $1 million of professional support over three years to help cities take meaningful action against climate change. This partnership is founded on Arup’s independent and evidence-based approach, alongside C40’s longstanding belief in “measurement for management”. The partnership supports a strong analytical research agenda while helping city actors to identify opportunities, collaborate and develop practical solutions to accelerate and expand action on climate change."

Update 1/25/17: For Trump's crew, however, the past is forever prologue. If fossil fuel was good in the 18th century, it must be good in the 21st. The battle plan has shifted.

Update 3/5/17: Trump Can’t Stop This: Global Renewable Energy Booms

Update 6/28/17: Highlight the 2020 climate turning point at G-20

Update 7/9/17: G-20 USA in isolation and failed leadership


Saturday, December 24, 2016

What Might Have Been



The Bach/Gounod Ave Maria is a paean to the Virgin Mary, beseeching forgiveness for sins committed unto death. The sins against people, and against life on earth. That which we could have forestalled, in grace as put forth in Laudato Si, to protect and care for our home.

Hail, Mary, full of grace
the lord is with thee,
blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
pray for us sinners, now, and at
the hour of our death.

Not that the effort wasn't made in the USA. The Bernie Sanders program and policy on Climate Change issues, incorporated into the DNC platform in July of this year was to drastically cut carbon pollution, create a clean energy workforce, and impose a carbon tax. The Democratic platform ultimately called for a WWII-Scale Mobilization to solve the climate crisis, which involved the leadership of Bill McKibben in framing the platform.

Yet that was not to be. So, on Dec. 13, 2016 about 400 scientists and environmental activists gathered at Jessie Square Outside Moscone Center in San Francisco to stand up to Trump's position on climate change:

Science is under attack. President-elect Donald Trump is packing his cabinet with unapologetic climate change deniers with close ties to the fossil fuel industry. Last week, Trump falsely claimed that “nobody really knows” if climate change is happening, and then a member of his transition team actually compared modern climate science to the Flat-earth theory.  He has also made it clear that he wants to hand over our public lands and waters to the fossil fuel industry.

And in an unprecedented move, the Trump transition team sent out a questionnaire seeking the names of federal employees who helped implement President Obama’s climate change goals -- a move some called a witch hunt. Meanwhile, climate scientists are furiously working to archive public data because of the concern that it all could be erased under the incoming Trump administration.

Scientists aren’t usually ones to rally in the streets. As Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, said at the rally, "We don't want to be here...we want to be in our labs, we want to be in the field, doing the work that we were trained and educated to do...We are at a moment in time, a moment in history, where we have to do something else as well. And that's stand up and be counted."


So we stand on the edge of a tragic precipice, from which we don't seem to have the ability to engage our vision or embrace our humanity.

Updates 12/26/16:

An open letter to President-Elect Trump and the 115th Congress was sent by more than 2,300 scientists, Nov. 30, 2016

In the aftermath of the election results, a group of 500 women in the sciences has banded together to speak out, Nov. 17, 2016

376 members of the National Academy of Sciences published an open letter to draw attention to the serious risks of climate change, Sept. 20, 2016

Update 12/29/16: Are Climate Scientists Ready for Trump? Maybe not.

Update 12/31/16: Scientists at the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican on Nov 29, 2016


Sunday, December 18, 2016

An Eighth Year - Some Rain


We've had a recent winter rainstorm now, they're very infrequent in Southern California these days. Finally a series of cool days but not like there used to be. The winters are definitely changing, and this is creating issues around the globe. There's a dialogue emerging in Britain because climate change threatens ability of insurers to manage risk. Earlier this month, ClimateWise, a global network of 29 insurance industry organisations which is convened by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, has warned of the urgent need to address the growing $100 billion annual climate risk 'protection gap' in two new reports; Investing for Resilience and the ClimateWise Principles Independent Review 2016.

Bank of England chief Mark Carney is very clear that he has warned that the fight against climate change will be jeopardized unless companies with big carbon footprints come clean about their exposure to global warming risks.Carney, writing jointly with the former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said citizens, consumers, businesses, governments and international organizations were all taking action in response to extreme weather events. Bloomberg’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures has published its recommendations for a voluntary disclosure code. It will cover four areas considered by Carney and Bloomberg to be vital to how businesses operate – governance, strategy, risk management and metrics:

The FSB Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) will develop voluntary, consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for use by companies in providing information to investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders.

The Task Force will consider the physical, liability and transition risks associated with climate change and what constitutes effective financial disclosures across industries.

The work and recommendations of the Task Force will help companies understand what financial markets want from disclosure in order to measure and respond to climate change risks, and encourage firms to align their disclosures with investors’ needs.


Financial disclosure is essential to a market-based solution to climate change. A properly functioning market will price in the risks associated with climate change and reward firms that mitigate them. As its impact becomes more commonplace and public policy responses more active, climate change has become a material risk that isn’t properly disclosed. The areas America could abandon first is discussed by Bloomberg with respect to a managed withdrawal from disaster-prone areas that require frequent financial assistance from FEMA. It's becoming necessary even for the Federal government to limit its exposure to climate change events.

A broader discussion comes from an article published last year in the Financial Times about what's needed to tackle climate change. In his book Why Are We Waiting?, Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Review on the economics of climate change, lays out the challenges and opportunities with clarity and passion. Again, it's about the cost of not facing this most devastating issue of our time.

Update 12/18/16:  Why Doesn't It Snow in L.A. Anymore?

Update 12/31/16: Projected Sea Level rise in Los Angeles 2100

Update 1/1/2017:  Miami, as we know it today, is not going to exist