The solution to all our problems
Those who have recently criticised me for appearing to be on a single-handed mission to dismantle climate change denial have, of course, suggested that I am grossly over-ambitious; and/or that I need to focus on solutions. Well, today, I promise I will do that but, first a brief re-statement of the problems; courtesy of this 18-minute video of James Hansen’s recent TED talk (which I summarise and discuss below)…
Here is a summary of the problems we are now facing:
1. The Earth’s current energy imbalance is 0.6 Watts per sq.m.; a rate of energy input 20 times greater than the energy output of all human activity; and equivalent to the detonation of 400,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs every day.
2. Since measurements began in 2003, there has been a noticeable acceleration in the annual rate of mass loss from both the Greenland and Antarctica ice caps.
3. The last time atmospheric CO2 was 390 ppm, sea levels were 15 m higher than they are today, which implies even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow, this is where they would end up several centuries from now because the warming “is already in the pipeline” (i.e. because the Earth must warm-up in order to restore its energy balance).
4. Unless we stop burning fossil fuels soon, sea level rise will continue to accelerate, which is likely to cause between 1 and 5 metre rise by 2100AD (depending on how quickly we now decide to stop burning them).
5. Palaeoclimatology tells us that 350 ppm is the safe limit for avoiding significant disruption to the planet’s ecological carrying capacity (i.e. in terms of both populations of individual species and overall biodivesity); and it now seems likely that between 20%-50% of all species will be “ticketed for extinction” by the end of the century.
6. If we push the Earth beyond it’s “tipping point” (i.e. allow all the emerging positive feedback mechanisms to take hold); ACD will become unstoppable; and the ensuing socio-economic damage will be almost unimaginable. The total global cost of mitigation is already put at somewhere between 35 and 70 Trillion US Dollars depending on how soon we choose to act.
7. If we had started to get off fossil fuels in 2005, it would have required 3% reduction per year in order to restore energy imbalance by 2100AD. If we start next year, it will require 6% p.a. If we wait 10 years it will require 15% p.a.
8. Recent droughts in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico were 3 Standard Deviations outside the norm. Events such as these cannot therefore be ascribed to natural variability; anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is happening just as Hansen said it would 24 years ago (if we did not change course – which we haven’t).
9. Pursuing emissions limits (i.e. Cap and Trade) will not work because there is no actual incentive to reduce emissions without any self-imposed restraint being to the advantage of others who do not do the same (i.e. the Tragedy of the Commons problem).
10. Hansen uses the analogy of an approaching asteroid – the longer we wait to prevent it hitting us the harder it becomes to do so.
Some will no doubt respond to all of this by claiming that Hansen is just seeking to make money out of environmental “alarmism” (e.g. by citing his Blue Planet award for a lifetime’s work) but, it is no longer just Hansen that is saying these things. He is now joined by people like:
— the International Energy Agency; and
— William Nordhaus.
To those who respond in such fashion, I am bound to ask:
1. How much longer are you going to hold out against the tide of history, science and now economics? and
2. What are you going to say to your children and grandchildren when you are finally proven wrong? (You had better start planning those speeches because that is what is going to happen).
In this TED talk, Hansen re-states the argument he made in Storms of my Grandchildren very succintly that what we need is a Fee and Dividend system, whereby fossil fuel producers and refiners pay the government a fee that is distributed to all taxpayers; with governments keeping none of the money: This would ensure consumers received more than they had to pay for fuel (especially if they maximise efforts to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels). In other words this would incentivise reductions in consumption (i.e. something that market forces alone struggle to do).
So why is it not happening? You guessed it… It is not in the interests of fossil fuel companies to back such a system because it will ultimately see them put out of business. But they already recognise the need to diversify away from fossil fuels (or at least they did) so, if the asteroid is approaching, what are they waiting for?
This is the problem, the people at the top of the oil companies are either in denial of the fact that oil will one day run out; and/or that “the asteroid is approaching”; and/or they are just not looking beyond securing a decent profit to stick in the bottom line of next year’s Annual Report.
Two questions that remain unanswered
1. When are our politicians going to stop being led by the nose down a Cap and Trade dead-end? and
2. When are we (the general public) going to start demanding that our politicians change course?
We must all be mad if we put up with the business-led control of world politics much longer because… It is not going to end well!