Update 11/28/23: Bill McKibben: A Corrupted COP - New revelations show just how bad the oil countries really are.
The acceleration of climate change continues apace, with no reduction in the total global fossil fuel emissions, per the EIA. We are seeing increasing impacts of climate damage as the carbon in the atmosphere grows exponentially larger. The storms, torrential rains and hurricanes are more intense; the massive, hot forest fires and expanding deserts across the planet are larger and more severe every season. The damages are increasing to the point that crops and timber are diminishing rapidly, and flooding is becoming widespread. This impacts the false metric, but still the only fully acceptable US measure of economic expansion, of the GDP.
It turns out that the financial cost of slowing down climate change can be reduced by some basic steps. It's not that hard physically to reduce carbon emissions, but it's the financial impact of taking these steps that resists change. However, the economics of climate change are shifting because of the increasing costs of damages that impact that silly GDP number.
GDP is a very skewed and incomplete measure of well-being, and that metric needs to reflect a more comprehensive score. There's alternative approaches to measuring economic health, such as the Human Development Index (HDI).
"When we talk about what makes a country a success or failure with respect to the SDGs, GDP simply does not reflect the progress of human development."
Peter Fiekowsky, an MIT-educated physicist and engineer, has written "Climate Restoration: The Only Future That Will Sustain the Human Race" to address the problem of the shortfall of the Paris Accords (COP21) which will not reduce emissions sufficiently to keep global temperatures at or below 1.5C. This will necessitate removing a trillion tons of excess CO2 from the atmosphere by 2050, and he proceeds to lay out the technologies for achieving this. He identifies four major technologies for greenhouse gas removal and storage: Ocean iron fertilization; synthetic limestone manufacture; seaweed permaculture; and methane oxidation.These technologies are existing practices and they require little if any government funding, since they can be financed largely through existing markets. These are necessary approaches because mechanical systems for removing carbon don't even come close, and building out these systems has a significant carbon footprint.
COP26 in 2021 did not improve on the emissions reduction quotas, but "Adaptation and Loss and Damage" was incorporated as another dimension of the accords. Philanthropies and country governments pledged funds for loss and damage. These efforts could be scaled up considering the mounting challenges of the most vulnerable communities. Last year's COP27 held in Egypt further incorporated the impact of climate change on water, food security and forests because of the increasing aridification around the globe that threatens the natural resources that we rely upon for life.
So there's a significant amount of work needed for policy development among the world's countries, which Fiekowsky has been instrumental in establishing. The Foundation for Climate Restoration (FCR), which works with scientists, innovators, policymakers, citizens, faith leaders, activists, and students to create the understanding and policy needed to further climate restoration. The Foundation has been instrumental in the adoption of climate restoration as a goal by both the Vatican and the United Nations.
Ecosystem restoration offers the opportunity to effectively halt and reverse degradation, improve ecosystem services and recover biodiversity. One interesting thought problem about natures' ability to reconstruct itself in the absence of humans is offered up by Emma Bryce. Her article, "What would happen to Earth if humans went extinct?". But this process would take millions of years to restore the earth to establish the original wilderness that existed before humans migrated out of Africa. It might behoove us to retain just a few million humans to get back to some semblance of balance in the ecosphere, and significantly reduce the human carbon footprint.
The critically important task for us at this time is dealing with the necessity of stopping carbon emissions from human activity almost immediately. The situation facing all of us is how to find the way to stop carbon emissions as soon as we can. The current level of carbon emissions can't continue because we've nearly crossed the climate thresholds that mark irreversible damage to the biosphere that can't be undone.
We are beginning to see a changing policy environment which is leading the manufacturing and supply chains to provide electrified buildings and electric cars, as well as power generation with wind turbines and solar panels. This is a necessarily massive shift, which will take decades to completely implement, but that can be an achievable effort by the first world countries to shut down their historically excessive carbon emissions. We're twenty years behind in this necessary effort, so it has become more difficult to accomplish. But it's still achievable if it's done as a rapid global effort to repair the damage that human civilization has done.
But can we do this in time? That task of rapid electrification that's facing us is daunting. America’s next big climate conundrum is the slow electric transmission project implementation that hinders rapid adaptation. It begins to look like the electric grid infrastructure will necessarily have to be rebuilt so that the added new clean power can take the place of fossil fuels without destabilizing the whole grid.
Congress has now passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and expanded the tax credits available to incentivize low-carbon electricity. Economics, policy, and public demand are now all aligned in favor of clean energy. This is just the first step in necessary legislation to implement solar and wind power and adapt the grid to handle this new energy. "If not addressed, transmission project delays caused by factors like an onerous permitting process could dramatically hamper America’s clean energy rollout and thus its ability to cut pollution fast enough to meet the country’s Paris commitments."
We need more than hope, we must begin significant work to change our way of life.
The western United States' drought continues to worsen. The garden is dry as a bone, and the watering restrictions make it difficult to keep the plants going. We are allowed to water our trees, which are struggling. That this is the inexorable result of burning of fossil fuels is no longer any doubt. It will continue to worsen, and in an accelerating pace. The heating of our planet will continue because the carbon content of the atmosphere is approaching levels not seen in millions of years, and emissions show no sign of slowing.
Exposing Massive Threats from Permian Basin Development: The six-part Permian Climate Bomb series explores the ongoing oil, gas and petrochemical boom in the Permian Basin, a story of runaway toxic infrastructure, environmental injustice and climate overshoot.
"This series analyzes the climate, public health, economic and social impacts of the Permian fracking boom. It illuminates the Permian Basin's link to environmental injustice and petrochemical expansion on the Gulf Coast. The report also follows the flow of Permian hydrocarbons to export markets. Finally, it gives voice to the impact fossil fuel infrastructure places on communities, spotlighting the individuals confronting the oil and gas industry in the region."
The Christian season of Advent countenances expectation, hope, joy and purity in the lighting of candles, culminating in a moment of reverence on Christmas Day. The hopes and expectations of the future during this century are continuing to be focused on the climate crisis of our time. It becomes more and more fraught as the COP climate summits pass without concrete actions and benchmarks.
The Wilson Center is a think tank that provides input and public education on policy positions. In its Environmental Change and Security Program, it lays out some high-level issues and possible engagement strategies on climate change as it is dealt with at the global level. The video interview with Ruth Greenspan Bell makes a very clear position that the US has damaged its influence and negotiating strategies with the four year intransigence of the Trump administration. Not only that, but as a result we have now lost the Arctic. As in "finis".
Her article in The Daily Climate makes the argument that the COP process via the UN hasn't produced any substantive agreements or strategies for reducing the carbon emissions that are destroying planetary systems.
"Carbon emissions might have been worse without this annual attention [COP meetings], but it’s hard to escape that the current pathway is essentially business as usual.
What is the return on value of almost 30 years of meetings? We’ve seen record-breaking increases in global average atmospheric carbon dioxide and little progress toward concrete support for poor countries that suffer the most from the climate’s radical changes, though they contributed the least to the destruction.
It might be time to strip away the parts of this annual ritual that have value and jettison the rest."
Emily Atkin is a blogger on Substack who is an environmental reporter and writer, best known for founding the weekly climate newsletter HEATED. It is dedicated to original accountability reporting and analysis on the climate crisis. Her article, "How fossil fuel influence choked climate talks" is very clear about how the climate talks have broken down because of interference by the fossil fuel companies. She has provided further background in the links below her article, it's very dismal. Her summation of COP27 is:
"We are fast-approaching the deadline for limiting warming to safe levels. Yet we are still living in a political and media environment where the vast majority of people don’t mention fossil fuels when they talk about climate change.
That’s not a coincidence; it’s by design. The fossil fuel industry is fighting tooth and nail to deny the truth of their responsibility. As long as they’re allowed at global climate talks, that’s what they’ll continue to do."
The biggest fear is that the fossil fuel corporations will completely derail any global consensus about how to stop the carbon emissions that are so destructive to our ecosystem. This isn't some kind of normal negotiation which allows for "compromise". It is complete and utter destruction of the biosphere; there can be no compromise on the goals and methods.
Ahead of COP27 in Egypt, it has dawned on everyone in the climate modeling refinement and measured data from all over the world that there isn't any more room in the carbon allowance space to stay within the parameters agreed to by the UNFCCC to keep the warming of the planet below 1.5C. This problem is particularly wicked because emissions have not even peaked yet, according to the stats provided by the EIA. World energy use via fossil fuels simply keeps increasing.
"UN finds ‘no credible pathway to 1.5C in place’ in the current climate crisis. Current pledges for action by 2030, if delivered in full, would mean a rise in global heating of about 2.5C and catastrophic extreme weather around the world. A rise of 1C to date has caused climate disasters in locations from Pakistan to Puerto Rico."
It remains to be seen if COP27 in Egypt in November brings any action to bear on carbon reduction processes or practices. It doesn't seem like things are going to change much. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she will skip next month's COP27 talks in Egypt, criticising the global summit as a forum for addressing climate change.