Sunday, July 28, 2013

Too Stupid to Live - Literally

Mound of Sound has a post at Disaffected Lib about the likelihood of doubling GHG by 2100.  If we don't do something very quickly and very intentionally, then, based on temperature projections from the 1970s on, we won't be able to live in this part of the world sixty years from now.  Most of Canada and the U.S. will be basically uninhabitable - not to mention most of the world.

I commented there:
We're no longer at a point where we need contests or incentives to get people to recycle more. We need concrete restrictions - corporate and individual. I'm all for personal freedom, but not if it's costing us our lives. For instance, we could save millions of trees from being cut down each year if we just made disposable cups illegal, forcing people to remember their travel mug or go home un-caffinated. Fuck roll-up-the-rim! And that doesn't have to be a slippery slope to totalitarianism, like I'm sure some will suggest. It'll be a difficult road for politicians to face, but it'll be far worse for us all if they wimp out.

Then at Progressive Economics, Marc Lee wrote about the absurdity of our times: the North Pole melting, extreme weather, and the disasters caused by extracting and transporting oil.  There I commented (still in moderation),
I get flashes of pure panic now and again when I read about the atrocities happening worldwide – largely because I can’t fix it myself, and I don’t really know where to begin. We need collective action immediately, but I continue to merely spread the word. I ignore it all from time to time and get lost in house renos all the while recognizing that it’s just a way to distance myself from reality. How does the revolution begin? Where do I sign up?
Mound suggests the solution is a decarbonized economy.  I agree, but how do I encourage that along beyond blogging and letter-writing?  It just doesn't seem enough to provoke the powers that be who are in such intense denial that they can laugh and roll their eyes at the notion that there's a serious problem here.  In April, our Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, said,
"I think that people aren’t as worried as they were before about global warming of two degrees,...Scientists have recently told us that our fears [on climate change] are exaggerated.”
I'd like to exchange him for John Oliver, please.  He has better dimples.

According to The Breakthrough, the key salient factor in solving this crisis is "the active role of the state in driving energy technology development and deployment an the transformation of the national energy system."

What does this decarbonization economy look like?  It depends who you ask.  Some countries (Sweden and France) managed to reduce emissions by switching to nuclear power.  Do we want to go down that road?  We're at a crisis point, and it will solve the GHG issue completely without destroying the economy, but Fukushima anyone?  If we're having more severe and unpredictable "weather events," then is it wise to surround ourselves with nuclear power plants?  Are nukes our saviour, or will they merely take us out of the frying pan and into the fire of hellish radiation?  I fear the latter is the case.

ETA: Nuclear is NOT a low-carbon energy source.

Another option is to withdraw all subsidies currently going to fossil fuel extraction, production, and transport and shift all that cash, and then some, towards renewables (solar, wind, tides...).  We'll still need fossil fuels to make that all run well, but a tiny fraction of what we use now.  That's something that could start today if we can get our shit together.  But, if it's implemented gradually, so nobody's too inconvenienced by the shift, it might not get us to our goals soon enough.  But if it's implemented quickly, it will be a really rough change to manage economically.  Nobody will drive anywhere unless absolutely necessary.  People who need to drive as part of their job might be out of luck.  But electric cars that can be plugged into electricity generated by solar panels will have to be dramatically cheaper and more widely available.  They'll  have to be the only kind of car that's made anymore.  But worse that transportation issues, most people will suddenly be unable to afford to turn on their lights until the new system is in place,

Are we willing to sacrifice our present for our future?  Do we really have a choice?

Whatever we do, it has to be a worldwide change rather than a country by country challenge to decrease GHGs because one quick way for a country to get its numbers down is to outsource all their manufacturing.  But that won't help the big picture.  At all.

Munk School focus group came up with a few suggestions beyond shifting subsidy money.  They want to change the culture of our cities to make us more interested in being carbon-neutral, to "encourage low-carbon activities."  I agree a change in attitude is needed, something that makes us willing to keep that old table instead of tossing it for something shinier, but I also think we're so far beyond encouraging individuals to want to walk instead of driving.  At this point, we need to be made to conserve.  Creepy, I know.  But there it is.

The Munk group's last suggestion is to use LED lighting everywhere.  This seems laughably minor in comparison with changing the entire energy system of the world, yet it will have an effect.  It makes me feel less crazy for being obsessed with single-use cups.  An article in The Tyee says we use 50 million trees to make disposable cups every year.  (Elsewhere it's only 6.5 million - but still.)   That's a whole lot of trees that are destroyed because a travel mug is inconvenient.  Yes we need to change the energy system, but we also need to intensely protect the forests and oceans.  We need to figure out what's a necessary use of trees, not just what would be handy, and then legislate logging.  How many crappy IKEA dressers and desks do we really need??  Forests dramatically help absorb GHG emissions.  And it would be really nice if we could to keep the tar sands from leaking into the boreal forests at least!!

Timothy Garrett, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah, says we actually have to choose between civilization and earth:
"Effectively, it appears that civilization may be in a double-bind. If civilization does not collapse quickly this century, then CO2 levels will likely end up exceeding 1000 ppmv; but, if CO2 levels rise by this much, then the risk is that civilization will gradually tend towards collapse."  
Again I ask, to what extent are we willing to sacrifice our present for our future?  That's a decision we have to make - really soon!   And, unfortunately, according to Simon Fankhauser, "Achieving [decarbonization] is a question of policy competence and having the political will to drive economic and social change."  So nothing will even begin to happen until October 2015, if and when we can get the NDP or Greens in power.  (Liberals love oil too.)

At least there's Louis CK to help make it better by distracting us from it all as we laugh at our own abject stupidity (many swears),



Owen Gray said...

An excellent summary of the issues, Marie. The solutions are not easy to implement. Where we live there is a furor about wind turbines -- and the anti-wind forces are winning.

Lorne said...

A very thought-provoking post, as always, Marie. I really have nothing to add to what you said here except to say that I share the concern you express about how to promote change beyond blogging and letter-writing, although I do think those two mechanisms are important for the opportunity they give to disseminate information, just as your post does today.

Ultimately, I believe that any prospect for change must begin with an informed and engaged citizenry who will demand much more than we are currently getting from any of our political leaders. (Sure, it's nice that Trudeau wants to legalize pot, but is that really the burning issue of the day?)

Anonymous said...

There is nothing to worry about. Jesus will be arriving from heaven next December 24th, in northern Alberta. He will bring with him the plans, drawn up by God himself, of the Holy Giant Air Conditioner that is powered directly by unrefined bitumen. Once in operation, the Holy Giant Air Conditioner will be pointed towards the North Pole, just to make sure that Santa Claus, his wife, elves and reindeer do not drown. So you see, there really is nothing to worry about.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Marie. I did respond but my comment exceeded your blog's 4,096 character limit. Rather than jettison it altogether, I copied it and posted it to my own blog.

Anyong said...

It takes people standing up for the right thing to do regarding the total environment. However, Canadians are affraid to do so. Having spent many years in South Korea, I know what a population can do when it comes down to a crunch. A fairly long article which I will post here speaks about what people can actually do when they realize certain tack ticks taken by a government is not good for their country, their civilization nor the coming generations... South Korea’s global food ambitions: Rural farming and land grabs
Published: 19 Mar 2011

Richard said...

Some resources for you to ponder Marie, as several statements despite your positive intentions are erroneous and I feel largely add to the inability to arrive at a consensus on change such as...

"Some countries (Sweden and France) managed to reduce emissions by switching to nuclear power. Do we want to go down that road? We're at a crisis point, and it will solve the GHG issue completely without destroying the economy, but Fukushima anyone?"

It actually doesn't solve the GHG completely. You're not considering the requirements to build and implement nuclear power, nor the disposal of the waste (which we don't have an answer for yet). The enrichment of uranium, etc. Nuclear power is an oil derivative, it can not be implemented without oil.

"But electric cars that can be plugged into electricity generated by solar panels will have to be dramatically cheaper and more widely available."

Personal transport regardless of how its powered is out. Think of all the requirements for road maintenance and expansion, etc. Think of how many cars which require 3x their body weight in oil to produce are already on the road and would have to be replaced. Already the results of peak oil and infinite growth make road maintenance increasingly sparse and expensive.

More info:
- My blog:
- Peak everything:
- The collapse of the exponential function:
- Collapse:
- and the predication of collapse, the truth and lies of 9/11:

Richard said...

Sorry, here's one more a documentary called "Into Eternity". which shows exactly how much energy we are having to invest for long term nuclear waste storage:

It clearly is not a sustainable solution and never can be. It tracks the construction of a massive "underground city" being constructed solely to store nuclear waste.

crf said...

Fukushima could have been prevented. And wouldn't have happened with many reactors currently operating. And could not happen at all in 4th gen reactors.

So it's rather puzzling of you to fear a nuclear hell from future accidents at atomic power plants, should they be widely deployed. Maybe you could think it through more thoroughly?

The Mound of Sound said...

I agree with CRF. Gen 4 and 4+ reactors use liquid sodium. Fukushima was Gen 1. Besides, "fast reactors" are capable of cleaning up our stockpiles of nuclear waste. Old reactors only extract about 10-15% of the nuclear energy which is why "spent" fuel rods have to be securely and safely stored for thousands of years. Fast reactors can use up almost all of that wasted fuel. Better yet, they can also burn weapons-grade materials that present such an ongoing security problem.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Owen!

Marie Snyder said...

I hate that I actually agree with Harper that Trudeau's bid to legalize is just political pandering. He insists the pipeline is important for Canada, so he's lost my vote.

Marie Snyder said...

Awesome! Thanks for the Good News.

Marie Snyder said...

That's a good article! I'm hoping that kind of action can happen here, but I fear that right now, we have it too good to get off the couch and make waves. I think it'll have to get worse before people start demanding change, and by then it might be too late.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks for the clarification on those points. I'm hoping we avoid nukes anyway. This adds to the argument against them. If personal transport is out, then that affects a lot of jobs - or just affects how some people have become accustomed to their job - carrying tools and supplies in a truck instead of a wagon attached to a bike?

On "peak everything" - I don't think we have to worry about running out any more. I think we have to stop using fossil fuels long before that. There are some things that I can see still needing petroleum, though. Like plastic used in medical equipment. The big decision will have to be about what's necessary and what's not. I'm hoping they leave the hospitals alone, but I'm fine if they can get rid of most personal transportation. Just a side note - I live in a city where cyclists are often hit by cars, and the papers always suggest it's somehow the cyclist's fault - or even the pedestrian. Cars are still untouchable. It will be hard slogging to get people to protest against their own vehicle use.

Marie Snyder said...

Even if the risk of a meltdown or of any leaking is low, it's still possible. And any leakage of radiation kills. I'd rather an oil leak nearby than a radiation leak.

Even with new designs, there is still a concern with back-up power being wiped out in an earthquake. And then there's the problem with nuclear waste storage or disposal. And then there's a problem with possibly running out of uranium.

When there's a solar spill, it's just called a nice day.

Marie Snyder said...

Monbiot agrees too, but I'm still dubious. Any problem at all at a nuclear plant can be a life-threatening problem.