Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Climate Change Grief - It's a Bummer

Bill Nye created a 44 minute synopsis of climate change grief with weird interludes from Arnold Schwartzenegger playing the part of a psychiatrists taking Nye through the classic five stages, fudging them a bit as they go. There are some excellent pieces of information and ideas in here though (summarized with some of my own thoughts in a 4 minute read below):

Denial - "Isn't it a problem when science guys attempt to bully other people?" -  some idiot journalist

Denial is a natural reaction to any trauma, but it won't change the truth. Carbon [and methane] emissions are causing the planet to get hotter. Nye goes to Florida where 75% of residents will be submerged by 2100, yet they're in the midst of a construction boom. Dr. Ben Kirtman, Miami scientist, says, "There shouldn't be a debate anymore about climate change...The debate should be about how to design solutions to the problem." Public officials in Florida are not allowed to discuss climate change, so that's a problem.

Anger - "No country that found 170 billion barrels of oil would leave it in the ground." - Trudeau

Then we get angry at the reality of the situation and start chaining ourselves to machinery. If more pipelines are built, it will poison more air, land, and water, and increase the rate of climate change. Canadian companies and politicians know about climate change, yet continue to expand and exploit and devastate the area. What are they thinking?!! Without limits, if the tar stands continue as planned, we will emit more carbon than the USA and China have in their entire histories combined. Canada is a big part of the global climate change problem, and Trudeau thinks we can have our pipeline and decrease emissions too. He's just wrong. The tar sands must be shut down.

Bargaining - "A vain expression of hope that the bad news is reversible." - Changing Minds

Now we're trying to look for ways to cut a deal and negotiate a way out of the crisis without it being too inconvenient for us, but there is no easy way out. Cap and trade calls for emitters to keep emissions below a certain level. In principle, it's great, but there are ways to fudge it. (Story of Stuff has a great primer on it.) It requires strong oversight to work. Some of the biggest winners are landfills when they turn methane into fuel to power thousands of homes. And carbon capture can cut 1 million tons/year, but the tar sands at its current size produces 62 million, and global emissions are at 32 billion tons/year. While big business bargains with emissions, coastal villages are hoping engineers can help with raising homes another four feet and building seawalls.  They see it as being pro-active, but it really just buys time without fixing the underlying problem.

Depression - "I can't imagine there will be a human being on the planet in 2030." - McPherson

When we see the drawbacks of bargaining, we slip into a depression. We knew all this was happening decades ago, and we didn't act on it. I remember my grade six teacher teaching about the effects of a one degree temperature rise back in 1975, and Frank Capra made a documentary about it in the 50s! Yet here we are with evaporating water supplies, historic weather events, the California drought... Millions have already experienced climate change's effects first hand. Scientist and author (see his videos too) Guy McPherson has run the numbers to conclude that we're going to run out of habitat for our species. We'll collapse largely because of the death of many of the organisms that we rely on. McPherson lives with a basement of canned good that reminded me of my grade ten teacher who lived in a bomb shelter. We found our way to the other side of the cold war (so far), but this one will be even more difficult.

Acceptance - "I'm not dead yet; I think I'll go for a walk. I feel happy!" - Monty Python

We need to accept how terribly bad it all is, and work our asses off to change the system!  Science and technology have helped a bit, but we need everyone to change their living habits and pester politicians and CEOs worldwide, to get on board with renewable energy systems. Mark Jacobson has calculated that we can transition away from fossil fuels 80% by 2030 by using wind, solar, and water power (see his no nukes TEDTalk here). Wind is the cheapest form of electricity by far. The problem is that the existing infrastructure companies will fight it, and they have all the money and power. Too many politicians and CEOs have put all their pennies into one dirty basket, and they will kill any idea that loses their life savings. A huge attitude change is necessary.

Hope - "Emissions have plateaued, but we have to drastically reduce emissions further or we'll be remembered as the generation that killed the planet."

I love the paradox in that quotation - that we could be remembered at all after our species is gone. Nye gives us a sense of two 2050 scenarios: if we do nothing compared to doing everything. If we do nothing, we'll see a rise of six degrees, and global warming will be out of control. The Amazon rainforest will turn into a savannah; the western US will be dry and snowless; the Colorado river will dry up; hurricanes will increase by a full category; and the world food and water supplies will be decimated. If we do everything, we might live to see 2050.

Doing everything means petitioning the powers that be, but also distinguishing our needs from our wants, and only driving, flying, turning on the AC, eating meat, and buying plastics, etc. when it's necessary to our livelihood - not because it makes us a bit happier or comfortable or relieves boredom, but because we can't actually survive adequately without it. At the very least, whatever you're doing now that unnecessarily adds to emissions, cut it down dramatically. We need to walk, bike, and take trains more, acclimatize to the changing weather as much as possible without electricity, plant more trees, eat more vegetables and legumes, and all that jazz. We know what we need to do, we just have to wake up enough - we need to get that little shiver of panic running down our spine when we think about about all this - in order to actually save ourselves from ourselves.


  1. I enjoyed the video (aside from the McPherson segment), Marie, but I'm not buoyed by Nye's "we can do this" ending. As the Potsdam Institute's Schellnhuber put it at last December's climate change summit, our only hope now is for what he called an "induced implosion" of the fossil energy industry. That means collective government intervention to shut down hydrocarbon energy. The problem with this is that there is some $27-trillion in market equity in fossil fuel reserves. Bursting that bubble could wipe out 80% of that value from the markets triggering a global economic collapse that would make the Great Depression look insignificant. Our consumer lifestyle, to which we're so deeply attached (perhaps "embedded" is a better word) would abruptly end.

    Another problem that wasn't addressed is that we're running out of time. Alternative energy projects still take many years from study and policy decisions to planning, development and implementation. Market considerations aside, transitioning from fossil to alternative energy won't be fast nor will it be cheap especially if government revenues tank. It's going to take very powerful leadership with iron resolve to make that dream happen. There aren't many of that stature to be found today.

    This video skipped over the need for concerted effort by all governments. It's the Herculean dimension that mandates pretty high levels of stability especially among the developed and emerging economies. Climate change is already a destabilizing force in some of these economies and its only getting started. We have a weak, perhaps deliberately poor, grasp of our resilience - globally, regionally and nationally. We may "stress test" our banks but we never dream of putting our countries through a similar process.

    This video also imagines that we can tackle climate change in isolation. We can't. There are three connected and existential threats facing mankind - climate change, overpopulation and over-consumption of the planet's resources. The hard fact is you cannot solve any one of them without solving all of them. Jared Diamond discusses this existential Hydra in his book, "Collapse." The other fact is that, if we don't voluntarily solve these challenges, nature will remedy the problems for us.

    I try to avoid McPherson but he does make some compelling arguments. One is that we have already crossed many major climate tipping points. I think he's catalogued more than 60 of them. Some are obvious - the disappearance of Arctic sea ice and the resultant warming of Arctic waters and the atmosphere that, in turn, have energized this highly destructive Polar Jet Stream that contributes to the severe drought and flooding problems in temperate regions. When the theory of tipping points was introduced the idea was to avoid these phenomena from occurring. Ten years ago the IPCC warned if we didn't keep warming below 2C the Arctic could be ice free by 2100. Now it seems they were out by 84-years. These changes underway in the Arctic are the dreaded "natural feedback loops" we were supposed to be working to avoid triggering. Well, they've been triggered. How do you put that Genie back in the bottle? How do we get the Earth's population back down to 2.5-billion, max? How do we slash our consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources by at least 40%? How do our cash strapped governments persuade voters to pay more for less, enough to fund both mitigation (cutting GHG emissions rapidly), the long-term initiative, and adaptation, the immediate and short-term imperative? How do we disarm an increasingly bellicose world?

    I don't know. Not a clue. Perhaps it is true that all intelligent life is ultimately self-extinguishing. - MoS

  2. At this point, I'm grasping at any glimmers of hope I can find. I don't want to just lie down and wait for death. There has to be something to keep fighting for. The Jacobson TEDTalk does a better job of getting at the timing factor - that we don't have 20 years to build new nuclear facilities, but we can put up significant wind and solar arrays right away.

    Political will is a big stopper - and corporate will (same thing). We need everyone to become terrified enough to act in dramatic fashion immediately.

    We can stop population growth, but not without infringing on people's freedoms. We have to shift that understanding of freedom to reproduce being the ultimate right. Of the three (climate, population, consumption), I think curbing population will be the hardest sell. It goes against biological drives as well as a strong notion of personal autonomy over our bodies. Weisman's solution of sterilizing all woman after one birth event would work, except doctors would be slaughtered trying to follow those orders.

    How do we do it all while demonstrating and perpetuation compassion is another good question. We have to keep our heads while it's all going for a shit or it'll be even more of a bloodbath out there.


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