Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Pedal to the Metal

It's now become urgent to put policies into place where they have the highest probability of reducing carbon emissions very rapidly, given that we are at the threshold of of irreversible climate change. Here's a review about a new book from veteran energy analyst Hal Harvey that simplifies decarbonization. Basically it boils down to implementing specific large impact strategies in the top 20 carbon-emitting countries.

As David Roberts says in his review:

The overall message is that climate policy doesn’t have to mean doing everything possible, everywhere possible. It’s mainly about applying a toolbox of 10 energy policies to four economic sectors in the 20 top-emitting countries, plus a bunch of carbon pricing and land-use reform. That will get us most of the way there, and it’s a tractable task.

Policymakers at every level — perhaps even some of those newly elected Democratic governors — will find the book a practical help. It tailors recommendations to different geographies and levels of economic development and gets into nitty-gritty design issues for each policy.

And it reminds them again and again: focus. There are about a dozen policies that work, but “there’s a fast fall-off after that dozen,” Harvey says. “There’s tons of things that sound good but just don’t make much of a difference.”

 It's up to the citizens of these countries to elect policymakers and government officials that will make these actions a priority, going up against the corporate positions of denial and minimization for their own profit. We are seeing movements building towards that kind of accountability, such as Plan B in the UK, which leads in the use of lawsuits to hold corporations accountable for their climate impact, and the Extinction Rebellion movement that is igniting across Europe.

Whether this wave of activism has an influence in the upcoming COP24 climate change dialogue in Katowice this December remains to be seen, but we're entering a critical period of time where the most effective actions undertaken by the largest emitters will have a measurable impact on this global threat to our existence.

Update 12/16/18: What Can We Do?

Update 1/23/19:  Fossil Fuels on Trial: Where the Major Climate Change Lawsuits Stand Today

Friday, November 23, 2018

US Climate Assessment

The U.S. Global Change Research Program is pleased to announce the release of two major reports:

Fourth National Climate Assessment (nca2018.globalchange.gov)

NCA4 Vol II, Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States, assesses a range of potential climate change-related impacts, with an aim to help decision makers better identify risks that could be avoided or reduced. The assessment follows Vol I, the Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), which was released in November 2017. Together, these reports meet the requirements of the Global Change Research Act, which mandates a quadrennial assessment of our understanding of global change and its impacts on the United States. NCA4 Vol II can be viewed on its interactive website at nca2018.globalchange.gov.

2nd State of the Carbon Cycle Report (carbon2018.globalchange.gov)


SOCCR2 represents an important technical contribution to USGCRP’s sustained assessment process. The report provides an overview of how human and natural processes are affecting the global and North American carbon cycle, emphasizing advances in the understanding of carbon cycle science and associated human dimensions. Read the report at carbon2018.globalchange.gov.

 U.S. Global Change Research Program
1800 G Street NW, Suite 9100
Washington, DC 20006

Update 11/23/18: Climate report says damages are 'intensifying across the country'

Update 11/24/18: U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy

Update 11/25/18: A Grave Climate Warning, Buried on Black Friday

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A Reckoning

Bill McKibben has just published an article in the New Yorker: How Extreme Weather is Shrinking the Planet. With wildfires, heat waves and rising sea levels, large tracts of the earth are at risk of becoming uninhabitable. But the fossil-fuel industry continues its assault on the facts. However, the impacts of our changing climate have now hit home with a vengeance, and it's our collective responsibility to deal with its causes and the consequences of our civilization's activities on our planet.

With the Camp Fire in northern California two-thirds contained, the Woolsey Fire in southern California all but extinguished and a sky-cleansing rain, with possible flash floods forecast for Northern California today or tomorrow, Californians are now facing a grim reality: these staggering catastrophes are becoming routine. They've been dubbed the "new abnormal". By the century’s end, simultaneous disasters—three or more at once—could in fact be California’s norm, unless aggressive measures are taken, according to a major paper published this November in the journal Nature Climate Change.

California climate policies are currently shifting rapidly to address the impacts of climate change, as well as establishing carbon-neutral strategies as a result of these catastrophic events. These extremes are now occurring regularly, as well as the impact of a drier climate that reduces the availability of water in the state, which is also happening across the entire US southwest.

But the real work lies ahead in an immediate, aggressive reduction in the carbon dioxide emissions across the planet, in order to keep the temperature changes below the 1.5C threshold as negotiated via the UN Climate Change secretariat through the annual COP meetings. At the Global Climate Action Summit, which concluded in San Francisco this last September, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said: “This Summit and its Call to Action make an important contribution towards achieving our collective goal: to keep global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius in line with the Paris Agreement. It will encourage governments worldwide to step up their actions, demonstrating the vital role that states and regions, cities, companies, investors, and civil society are playing to tackle climate change.”

This summit was a preparation for the upcoming COP24 that will be held in Katowice, Poland this year on December 2 - 14. At this time, more commitments from all countries and worldwide corporations will need to be made so that global actions can be undertaken which moves our civilization into a radically different mode of energy use, transportation and building construction. Our forests on all continents must be restored and allowed to expand into healthy ecosystems as part of the climate mitigation that will have to happen. The preparatory dialogue for this collective action is being supported by some of the major corporations, as well. They are prepared to participate in Katowice and implement the necessary actions according to the framework and goals outlined at COP24. A good example is Iberdrola, a leading renewable energy company that exemplifies the benefits of moving rapidly to a non-carbon based economy.

It will take an enormous, unprecedented effort by all countries and corporate entities to engage in immediate and very radical transformations of our economy and our way of living in concert with the natural environment. It's the biggest challenge that humanity has ever faced, and will reflect our collective ability to undertake actions that regenerate our planet and reconfigure our cities to reduce humanity's footprint in favor of natural processes.

Update 12/13/18: Many mega-projects simply aren’t worth the risk to investors, host nations, or the environment.

Update 12/16/18: Major companies like McKinsey are pursuing business in countries with little regard for human rights.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Systems Approach To It

The article,"Systems Thinking and How It Can Help Build a Sustainable World", makes an important point about looking at the bigger global climate picture and identifying all the parts of a problem in order to solve it:

"Rather than asking why one should think in systems, perhaps the more piercing question is: why has holistic thinking been stamped out of us again and again over time, most vigorously so during the modern industrial age? The simple answer is that power and control are not compatible with a well-educated citizenry that sees the big picture. Modern industrial civilization is built upon the mechanization and commodification of society and nature, with those at the top benefiting from the enormous outputs generated by the “cogs in the wheel” toiling at the bottom. If we become aware of this vast, complex machine and start to understand how it works, we might want to break or change it! We might want to create a different system in which all parts of society and nature can flourish, not just those in power."

This kind of a conversation must involve everyone who is affected by it. A dialogue about the Sustainable Development Goals has to be undertaken at a global level. "The important and widespread understanding that was reached at COP22 in Marrakech is that climate change needs to be addressed systemically and not with carbon-myopia...We are facing a planetary emergency at the species level and we do need all nations — and what’s more all people — of this Earth to unite in a shared vision to redesign the human impact on Earth from destruction to regeneration."

This problem of tackling climate change requires a multivalent, systems approach to its solution, not a linear one. The primary concern is how to tackle the carbon-to-zero issue in our energy systems and our land use approaches. A framework focused on worldwide decarbonization is a first, major step that relies on economic system changes and global agreement. Then there's the rest of it, which involves fundamental changes in our society, its economics, and our culture.

I would outline the systems approach as a multiple-front strategy that focuses on key parts of the big problem: human population, intelligent organization, technology, human expansion and the methodology of this expansion. One thing I've always advocated since completing my graduate architecture thesis in 1979 on an Orbiting Space Base is that extractive industries should be exiled to on-orbit and lunar industry operations because humans will never stop exploring and reaching out for resources. Same process the animal kingdom employs, but there are natural ecological balance mechanisms for that, and unfortunately we've managed to escape those with technology. Animal populations crash in natural environments repeatedly, that's part of how the systems work when a population gets out of whack, with its checks and balances on resources driven by planetary cycles. This also applies to human civilizations across history, as well.

Humans must commit to a simultaneous ecological footprint and population reduction, with the economics grounded in making environmental restoration the most profitable industry. In other words, impose our own "smart crash" that does the least amount of harm. And it's not like we don't know how to do that. (birth control, limits to growth, restore the environment) It's a fairly socialist approach, think Sweden, but that's just fine. I've been to Scandinavia and they're happier than we are. Here's my specific points:

Human Population

But how do you achieve this preservation of the common global resources with a population that has already exceeded earth's carrying capacity since 1980? An interview with Bill Ryerson, founder of the Population Media Center, outlines how groups of people can be taught through stories to change their behavior. These stories are entertainment, soap opera, and educational documentaries. What this could do is help populations of people become self-limiting by choice, and thus diminish the demands on ecosystems that use up all available resources and diminish the critical diversity of species that is necessary for functioning ecosystems.

The fiscal reality check that we're currently experiencing on a worldwide basis has its parallel in natural system collapse, which is something that can be averted by the development of a steady-state system that produces a livable environment without consuming the world's common resources. That's the tragedy of the commons. Everyone's self-interests ends up devouring more than the planet can bear.

Intelligent Organization

The idea that human habitation can be used as a tool to regenerate ecology is finally coming into its own after experimentation with projects all over the world. It's not a zero-sum game, it's a way of bringing together all the environmental and engineering factors together in a place such that it renews natural processes instead of destroying them. It takes a great deal of skill, knowledge and experience to work out the systems that result in the creation of place that interconnects all these factors. Many major corporate engineering, design and development firms are investing in think tanks to take this to the next level, such as Arup, a global design, planning and engineering firm.


The building demonstrates how closed loop systems developed by space-based technologies can be applied to structures on this planet to bring their energy and carbon impact down to zero. Ideas such as the structural exoskeleton, use of natural light and processes, as well as a "bare-bones" approach to materials use can reduce human habitation demands on ecosystems as well as assist in the restoration of the natural world.

The planets we imagined exploring turns out to be the one we're living on.

Human Expansion

What about using a salvage yard in low earth orbit? It could provide a low-earth orbit platform for recycling and materials supply for providing industry outside of the atmospheric envelope, as well as conserving the metals used in the satellite construction which are already very highly processed. This is the essence of sustainability. We don't burn our trash in the back yard any more, why keep doing it out in the outer biosphere? Here's the online presentation of my low earth orbit base concept which could be used to develop industry and establish a foothold outside of earth's deep gravity well for interplanetary robotic launches and lunar mining processes.

Systems Design for Expansion

Key to this concept is understanding that to achieve this vision, there must be some major on-orbit infrastructure to support construction, development and launch of these exploration initiatives. My 1979 thesis outlines this strategy in a Relevance Tree and shows how a Low Earth Orbit platform, working in concert with lunar mining and large vehicle production outside of earth's gravity well allows for effective use of labor and materials, as well as providing "many futures" rather than just one projection line (dotted).

Update 11/12/18: A good climate policy rises above politics.

Update 11/16/18: Industrial agriculture and extractive industries must cease and be transformed.

Update 1/17/19: This systemic crisis is complex and requires new approaches

Friday, November 9, 2018


The blaze that erupted in London's Grenfeld Tower in June of 2017, resulting in the utter destruction of the structure inasmuch as its steel framework remained standing, is under examination by the government as well as media sources. The search for blame for the inferno resulting from cheap exterior cladding has unearthed a disingenuous claim by the Daily Mail that environmental requirements were the cause of the faulty design, as cited by the Carbon Brief analysis published in The Guardian.

"On page eight is a full-page commentary from Ross Clark, sitting under the headline question: “So did an obsession with green targets lead to inferno?” Clark, who has published various climate sceptic articles and written a book attacking regulations he believes to be “strangling” the UK."

The 2012 planning documents cited by the Daily Mail – and studied by Carbon Brief – show that its reporting of their content to be highly selective and misleading, per the article. This amounts to another systematic attempt to deconstruct environmental regulations with the critique that they are onerous and lead to dangerous building structures. This kind of position could only be taken if one dismisses the facts of the matter, which are that the retrofit did not include fire sprinklers, and that a non-flammable exterior was available for an additional few thousand pounds. It's actually a result of willful disregard for life safety because of cost issues, not environmental issues.

In fact, the position of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in their report on Grenfell is an emphasis on maintaining professional competency in the engineering profession with even more oversight of design and construction approaches in the building industry.

A documentary film by Jamie Roberts points directly at the impact of pro-business policies which have permitted these kinds of fires to continue to happen over the last half century:

"The Fires that Foretold Grenfell, a well-researched, powerful documentary, is essential viewing for anyone seeking to understand the causes of and background to the June 2017 Grenfell fire tragedy. It includes harrowing interviews with survivors of five fires across the UK over a span of 45 years, their families and firefighters.

It demonstrates that the inferno which claimed 72 lives was not an accident, but a social crime. It was the result of the pro-big business policies of successive governments which ignored the lessons of five tragic fires, resulting in many avoidable deaths."

This form of denial obviously needs to be thoroughly debunked before it becomes accepted as some kind of talking point, as it's clearly fueled by disinformation put out by the fossil fuel industry which supports people who say things like this. It is at the root of the obstruction of the necessary decarbonization of our built environment and energy production. Not only that, this kind of denial serves to confuse the issues and bury the facts in deliberate misinformation about physics and building construction.

For example, this fire is typical of what happens to steel structures that are fully engulfed in major fires; the building materials are consumed, but the steel frames remain intact. And yet another denial tries to construct an alternate reality about these kinds of structures in The 9/11 Commission Report and other reports by the NIST, which have been deconstructed by the 9/11 Consensus Panel, based upon further evidence obtained in many sources as well as accurate engineering analyses. This has been published in the book, 9/11 Unmasked, which points out that no other high rises have ever been structurally destroyed by fire. The Twin Towers came down at the speed of gravity on their footprints, which points straight at a demolition scenario in order to create a "Pearl Harbor" event.

As has been established extensively in the press, this event was used as a pretext for the Bush administration to instigate wars in the middle east on behalf of their Arab allies in order to procure further fossil fuel resources. Thus denial comes full circle as a tool in its deliberate destruction of human lives and our environment on an almost unimaginable scale of annihilation. That it may lead to the extinction of life on our planet by the end of this century is a responsibility that is shirked by the oil industry in its rapacious efforts to protect its profits.

Update 11/9/18: Bill McKibben - Up Against Big Oil in the Midterms

Update 11/14/18:  There is a huge fight by the fossil fuel industry against cheap renewables.

Update 11/24/18: Hunter Lovins - Capitalism v. Ecological Economics in a Hotter World

Update 12/9/18: Large coal holdings investments are held by some of the world’s largest pension funds

Update 3/2/19: Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are quietly helping Big Oil destroy the climate.

Update 10/8/19:  The money behind the climate denial movement

Update 4/3/20:  University of Alaska Fairbanks WTC 7 Final Report