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Climate Change and Human Extinction – A Personal Perspective  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

Climate Change and Human Extinction – A Personal Perspective  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

“Just one source, methane from the arctic…leads us [by 2030] to…a temperature beyond which humans have never existed on the planet.” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of University of Arizona in Environmental Studies, shares highlights from his compilation of recent reports on climate change effects. Their number and extent have grown exponentially since he began five years ago. In this interview, he shares his personal journey through despair and deep grief to recent acceptance. “I suspect we get to see the end of this movie… Nobody else in human history [has]… We get to see how humans act in the face of their own demise.” Episode 262. [guymcpherson.com] Watch Guy’s Climate Change presentation February 2014

Climate Change and Human Extinction – A Personal Perspective  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards

Climate Change and Human Extinction – A Personal Perspective  |  Peak Oil News and Message Boards.

“Just one source, methane from the arctic…leads us [by 2030] to…a temperature beyond which humans have never existed on the planet.” Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of University of Arizona in Environmental Studies, shares highlights from his compilation of recent reports on climate change effects. Their number and extent have grown exponentially since he began five years ago. In this interview, he shares his personal journey through despair and deep grief to recent acceptance. “I suspect we get to see the end of this movie… Nobody else in human history [has]… We get to see how humans act in the face of their own demise.” Episode 262. [guymcpherson.com] Watch Guy’s Climate Change presentation February 2014

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now. | Transition Network

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now. | Transition Network.

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now.

Has the climate debate stalled? Does extreme weather in the UK mean we’re talking about it more or less? When’s a good time to try to make the connections between climate change and floods? And is there anything Inner Transition has to offer to the questions about how and when to have these conversations?

Yesterday the Inner Transition group in Totnes ran a public event called “Weathering Change – a chance to talk about the weather”. We planned the event back in January just as the gales were starting to blow which took out the railway line by the coast, and the lashing rain was starting to build the large sea which still lies over the Somerset Levels. [This picture (left, below) was taken from the train, showing the Levels now more like a sea.]

Somerset Levels

As the floods and disruption worsened many people I talked to seemed really enthusiastic about the event – and I started to worry about numbers – what to do if forty people come? We offered guidelines for hosting a conversation to the local Transition Streets groups, imagining it might be a conversation others would want to have.

In fact just 8 people turned up, most already involved with Inner Transition. We had a rich and deeply connecting evening talking about how the weather has impacted us practically as well as at a feeling level. As has happened for me before, hearing others and having a space outside my daily life to be heard, enabled me to reach a deeper sense of how much feeling the changing weather brings up.

We also spoke about how we manage our responses in order to go on living. I could let myself feel how much anger I have at the destructive behaviour of our politicians and business “leaders” that I just don’t get in touch with – if I let all the anger through and tried to act on it I would burn out really fast. We acknowledged that we also live in a state of denial some of the time, carrying our lives on as usual.

happinessLast week I was invited to be part of the conversations at a conference called “Breaking the Deadlock: why the climate debate has stalled”. It brought together academics and researchers, “practitioners” – those involved on the ground of public engagement around climate change, and a couple of people involved in energy policy from the UK and Scottish governments. The aim of the conference was to look at whether “psychosocial approaches” can help move the debate on, starting with the interesting question of what kind of thing a human being is.

Underneath most ideas about our world are implicit assumptions about what humans are like and how we behave – and they often reflect our own inaccurate self perception. Two common misperceptions I’ve come across:

In classical economics humans are assumed to be totally rational, so that when they have full knowledge of a (supposedly perfect and fair) marketplace they will make rational choices. While the economic theory relies on this corporations and advertisers make good use of the fact that people are much more swayed by their emotions, identity, aspirations and aversions, and use this effectively to sell us stuff.

The second example is in movements for change which assume that once people get information they will take action based on a rational analysis of that information. “If I show you a film about peak oil or climate change you’ll join Transition to do something about the problem.” Many people who pioneer Transition may well be like this – when I heard about peak oil put together with climate change I changed the direction of my life. But I can see that for most people this isn’t how it works – there’s a long inner process between hearing information that can be shocking and overwhelming, making sense of it, and coming to some new way of acting in the world.

Here is one person’s definition of a psycho-social approach, and the insights it provides about how humans really work:

  • Our inner worlds are powerfully determined by emotions and the need to manage them, including defending against things which feel overwhelming.
  • We construct our inner world and understand the outer world through narratives and stories.
  • Humans are inconsistent and contradictory rather than rational and consistent.
  • Our sense of self and our behaviour is largely influenced by our social context and its norms, frames and values.

It was great to meet up with other “practitioner” organisations, including the Climate Psychology Alliance,Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN, who are developing an event to help places affected by flooding talk about what’s happened and link it to Climate Change) and Carbon Conversations.

Carbon Conversations designed an in depth process supported by a trained facilitator and workbook to give information and explore responses to Climate Change in facilitated small groups. Thousands have been through the process, and after the small number who came to the Weathering Change event I wonder whether we really need a smaller trusted group to open this emotional territory.

I read an article by Carbon Conversations founder Ro Randall several years ago, which described its focus on the process of loss, to help people work through the “Tasks of Mourning” as defined by psychologist J Worden from his model of loss. These include

  • acknowledging the reality of the loss,
  • working through grief,
  • creating a new identity in the changed circumstances,
  • and redirecting the energy of the old attachment to new relationships.

Looking at my own process I can see that the third task alone involved changing my work, living in a different place, starting a new relationship, renegotiating all my friendships – some of which I’ve lost as well as new ones I’ve found – and learning totally new skills like growing organic veg. All of this happened without a single gram of carbon being saved. It took a lot of time and internal energy. But it’s the foundation for all the changes in the way that I now live.

At the conference I could feel my disappointment that those working with limited models sometimes think that their way is the best. I’ve found that any model you use shows you a different facet of the whole picture. If we focus on loss and grief we may forget that actually the system we’re losing is in many ways more like a self destructive addiction than a beloved friend. Yes it’s supported life for many countries and many people, but only through huge destruction of our natural world, of many other cultures, and the creation of huge inequality. So an addiction lens helps us to see something else – that the end of the industrial growth system potentially has huge benefits if we can find a different system that’s rooted in something more healthy.

I found it really helpful that one of the key speakers at the conference gave us a much more complete overview of ways of understanding and taking action in the world. [It looked to me very like Wilber’s four quadrants, which I’ve also used to help teach a complete and integrated understanding of healthy and destructive human systems.] The four quadrants can roughly be defined as inner / outer and individual / collective. Here’s an abbreviated version of the model:

The Quadrant Approach To Engagement (Renee Lertzman, PhD)

Emotional experience

Feelings, construction of meaning, defence mechanisms, denial, narrative, empathy, dialogue, motivational interviewing

Activities: conversation / support groups, qualitative research, workshops, leadership development, arts

Behavioural

Movitiations, reasoning, probabilities, levers and drivers, cognitive processes, rationality, triggers, shift, switch, incentives, proactive change, quantitative research

Activities; Behaviour change programmes, energy efficiency, utlitities, transport (incentives / taxes), employee engagement

Socio-cultural –

World views, ethics, ideologies, beliefs, messaging, frames and values based engagement

Activities: faith based programmes, public opinion polls

Contexts: marketing, political messaging, policy segmentation,

Systems

Collaboration, design, social practices, systems thinking, resilience, infrastructure, solutions focus

Social innovation projects, pu blic / private partnerships, community based projects, participatory design, piloting

Activities; Resource issues (regional / watershed),

Renee, who brought this model suggested that these different modes of engagement tend to operate only within their own set of systems which then limits and weakens their practice, since the reality is that humans are operating in all four quadrants all the time. This strongly reflects what I’ve seen particularly in the two major movements for positive change that I’ve been involved with. In the personal growth movement the focus starts with personal inner experience – “The change starts with what’s inside me, to make positive change in the world I need to heal myself first”. Political and environmental change movements take the opposite view: “We can only act within the systems around us – the systems need to change before people can change”

switchesFor me this is a classic case of the need for “both / and” – arguments about which of these is more true are a waste of time. I think it’s part of the rare potential of Transition (some have told me that for them it’s a defining distinction which makes Transition worth giving time to) is that we attempt – despite difficulties – to include both ways of creating change.

Here’s why this inclusive approach is important. People who only see the personal inner quadrant can get stuck in their personal journey. Is it helpful that there are people with great inner peace and even accessing states of enlightenment if their personal practice includes unsustainable consumption of carbon through flying to workshops or particular diets? Surely at some point there has to be a connection between our inner practice and the needs of our community and the ecological systems that support life, or we’re living our own individual version of separation and denial.

And on the other hand, many social and political movements have ended up either burnt out, or split apart by conflict because they didn’t have the inner insights and process skills to deal with their own their unconscious process – which will naturally include unhealthy dynamics around power and privilege which permeate all of us however deep our aspiration to cooperation or equality.

So the strongest and most lasting movements will be those which truly practise inclusivity – by rising to challenge of understanding the different worldviews and language of those who focus on other quadrants, and who can truly embody the quality of peace and resilience that comes from valuing diversity.

A final word about Happiness!

A nice coincidence is that today, Thursday 20th March is International Happiness day. I’m not sure if the timing is deliberate, but on this day you can listen for free to a discussion between Hilary Prentice – who first dreamt up Inner Transition in Totnes – discussing exactly question. Starting from the perspective of why self awareness and inner disciplines are invaluable for activists – but I imagine also acknowledging that the bridge needs to go both ways.

My final meeting in London was with Mark Williamson from Action for Happiness, part of a growing movement that aims to make Happiness a political priority, the thing governments should focus on growing rather than our material or financial economy. I’m planning to write more about this, but the work that underpins the Happiness movement is key to Transition because it explains how it is possible to create energy descent – a steady, major reduction in our use of energy and resources – while creating a better way of living.

The key to this lies once again in understanding what a human being really is and what makes us happy. Increasing evidence shows that this does not come from material possessions or consumption beyond having our basic subsistence needs met – but rather from things like having happy, close, loving relationships, meaningful and connected work, and knowing that those around us are also in a state of well being.

Have a happy day of happiness!!

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we'd have it sorted by now. | Transition Network

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now. | Transition Network.

Sophy Banks: Climate change – if we were rational, we’d have it sorted by now.

Has the climate debate stalled? Does extreme weather in the UK mean we’re talking about it more or less? When’s a good time to try to make the connections between climate change and floods? And is there anything Inner Transition has to offer to the questions about how and when to have these conversations?

Yesterday the Inner Transition group in Totnes ran a public event called “Weathering Change – a chance to talk about the weather”. We planned the event back in January just as the gales were starting to blow which took out the railway line by the coast, and the lashing rain was starting to build the large sea which still lies over the Somerset Levels. [This picture (left, below) was taken from the train, showing the Levels now more like a sea.]

Somerset Levels

As the floods and disruption worsened many people I talked to seemed really enthusiastic about the event – and I started to worry about numbers – what to do if forty people come? We offered guidelines for hosting a conversation to the local Transition Streets groups, imagining it might be a conversation others would want to have.

In fact just 8 people turned up, most already involved with Inner Transition. We had a rich and deeply connecting evening talking about how the weather has impacted us practically as well as at a feeling level. As has happened for me before, hearing others and having a space outside my daily life to be heard, enabled me to reach a deeper sense of how much feeling the changing weather brings up.

We also spoke about how we manage our responses in order to go on living. I could let myself feel how much anger I have at the destructive behaviour of our politicians and business “leaders” that I just don’t get in touch with – if I let all the anger through and tried to act on it I would burn out really fast. We acknowledged that we also live in a state of denial some of the time, carrying our lives on as usual.

happinessLast week I was invited to be part of the conversations at a conference called “Breaking the Deadlock: why the climate debate has stalled”. It brought together academics and researchers, “practitioners” – those involved on the ground of public engagement around climate change, and a couple of people involved in energy policy from the UK and Scottish governments. The aim of the conference was to look at whether “psychosocial approaches” can help move the debate on, starting with the interesting question of what kind of thing a human being is.

Underneath most ideas about our world are implicit assumptions about what humans are like and how we behave – and they often reflect our own inaccurate self perception. Two common misperceptions I’ve come across:

In classical economics humans are assumed to be totally rational, so that when they have full knowledge of a (supposedly perfect and fair) marketplace they will make rational choices. While the economic theory relies on this corporations and advertisers make good use of the fact that people are much more swayed by their emotions, identity, aspirations and aversions, and use this effectively to sell us stuff.

The second example is in movements for change which assume that once people get information they will take action based on a rational analysis of that information. “If I show you a film about peak oil or climate change you’ll join Transition to do something about the problem.” Many people who pioneer Transition may well be like this – when I heard about peak oil put together with climate change I changed the direction of my life. But I can see that for most people this isn’t how it works – there’s a long inner process between hearing information that can be shocking and overwhelming, making sense of it, and coming to some new way of acting in the world.

Here is one person’s definition of a psycho-social approach, and the insights it provides about how humans really work:

  • Our inner worlds are powerfully determined by emotions and the need to manage them, including defending against things which feel overwhelming.
  • We construct our inner world and understand the outer world through narratives and stories.
  • Humans are inconsistent and contradictory rather than rational and consistent.
  • Our sense of self and our behaviour is largely influenced by our social context and its norms, frames and values.

It was great to meet up with other “practitioner” organisations, including the Climate Psychology Alliance,Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN, who are developing an event to help places affected by flooding talk about what’s happened and link it to Climate Change) and Carbon Conversations.

Carbon Conversations designed an in depth process supported by a trained facilitator and workbook to give information and explore responses to Climate Change in facilitated small groups. Thousands have been through the process, and after the small number who came to the Weathering Change event I wonder whether we really need a smaller trusted group to open this emotional territory.

I read an article by Carbon Conversations founder Ro Randall several years ago, which described its focus on the process of loss, to help people work through the “Tasks of Mourning” as defined by psychologist J Worden from his model of loss. These include

  • acknowledging the reality of the loss,
  • working through grief,
  • creating a new identity in the changed circumstances,
  • and redirecting the energy of the old attachment to new relationships.

Looking at my own process I can see that the third task alone involved changing my work, living in a different place, starting a new relationship, renegotiating all my friendships – some of which I’ve lost as well as new ones I’ve found – and learning totally new skills like growing organic veg. All of this happened without a single gram of carbon being saved. It took a lot of time and internal energy. But it’s the foundation for all the changes in the way that I now live.

At the conference I could feel my disappointment that those working with limited models sometimes think that their way is the best. I’ve found that any model you use shows you a different facet of the whole picture. If we focus on loss and grief we may forget that actually the system we’re losing is in many ways more like a self destructive addiction than a beloved friend. Yes it’s supported life for many countries and many people, but only through huge destruction of our natural world, of many other cultures, and the creation of huge inequality. So an addiction lens helps us to see something else – that the end of the industrial growth system potentially has huge benefits if we can find a different system that’s rooted in something more healthy.

I found it really helpful that one of the key speakers at the conference gave us a much more complete overview of ways of understanding and taking action in the world. [It looked to me very like Wilber’s four quadrants, which I’ve also used to help teach a complete and integrated understanding of healthy and destructive human systems.] The four quadrants can roughly be defined as inner / outer and individual / collective. Here’s an abbreviated version of the model:

The Quadrant Approach To Engagement (Renee Lertzman, PhD)

Emotional experience

Feelings, construction of meaning, defence mechanisms, denial, narrative, empathy, dialogue, motivational interviewing

Activities: conversation / support groups, qualitative research, workshops, leadership development, arts

Behavioural

Movitiations, reasoning, probabilities, levers and drivers, cognitive processes, rationality, triggers, shift, switch, incentives, proactive change, quantitative research

Activities; Behaviour change programmes, energy efficiency, utlitities, transport (incentives / taxes), employee engagement

Socio-cultural –

World views, ethics, ideologies, beliefs, messaging, frames and values based engagement

Activities: faith based programmes, public opinion polls

Contexts: marketing, political messaging, policy segmentation,

Systems

Collaboration, design, social practices, systems thinking, resilience, infrastructure, solutions focus

Social innovation projects, pu blic / private partnerships, community based projects, participatory design, piloting

Activities; Resource issues (regional / watershed),

Renee, who brought this model suggested that these different modes of engagement tend to operate only within their own set of systems which then limits and weakens their practice, since the reality is that humans are operating in all four quadrants all the time. This strongly reflects what I’ve seen particularly in the two major movements for positive change that I’ve been involved with. In the personal growth movement the focus starts with personal inner experience – “The change starts with what’s inside me, to make positive change in the world I need to heal myself first”. Political and environmental change movements take the opposite view: “We can only act within the systems around us – the systems need to change before people can change”

switchesFor me this is a classic case of the need for “both / and” – arguments about which of these is more true are a waste of time. I think it’s part of the rare potential of Transition (some have told me that for them it’s a defining distinction which makes Transition worth giving time to) is that we attempt – despite difficulties – to include both ways of creating change.

Here’s why this inclusive approach is important. People who only see the personal inner quadrant can get stuck in their personal journey. Is it helpful that there are people with great inner peace and even accessing states of enlightenment if their personal practice includes unsustainable consumption of carbon through flying to workshops or particular diets? Surely at some point there has to be a connection between our inner practice and the needs of our community and the ecological systems that support life, or we’re living our own individual version of separation and denial.

And on the other hand, many social and political movements have ended up either burnt out, or split apart by conflict because they didn’t have the inner insights and process skills to deal with their own their unconscious process – which will naturally include unhealthy dynamics around power and privilege which permeate all of us however deep our aspiration to cooperation or equality.

So the strongest and most lasting movements will be those which truly practise inclusivity – by rising to challenge of understanding the different worldviews and language of those who focus on other quadrants, and who can truly embody the quality of peace and resilience that comes from valuing diversity.

A final word about Happiness!

A nice coincidence is that today, Thursday 20th March is International Happiness day. I’m not sure if the timing is deliberate, but on this day you can listen for free to a discussion between Hilary Prentice – who first dreamt up Inner Transition in Totnes – discussing exactly question. Starting from the perspective of why self awareness and inner disciplines are invaluable for activists – but I imagine also acknowledging that the bridge needs to go both ways.

My final meeting in London was with Mark Williamson from Action for Happiness, part of a growing movement that aims to make Happiness a political priority, the thing governments should focus on growing rather than our material or financial economy. I’m planning to write more about this, but the work that underpins the Happiness movement is key to Transition because it explains how it is possible to create energy descent – a steady, major reduction in our use of energy and resources – while creating a better way of living.

The key to this lies once again in understanding what a human being really is and what makes us happy. Increasing evidence shows that this does not come from material possessions or consumption beyond having our basic subsistence needs met – but rather from things like having happy, close, loving relationships, meaningful and connected work, and knowing that those around us are also in a state of well being.

Have a happy day of happiness!!

Study: 2ºC Warming Is Enough To Seriously Hurt Crop Yields

Study: 2ºC Warming Is Enough To Seriously Hurt Crop Yields.

by Ari Phillips, originally published by Climate Progress  | TODAY

 shutterstock_154305545

As farmers sow this year’s crops, they may be distracted by the fact that by the 2030s — just over 15 years from now — crop yields in temperate and tropical regions will suffer significantly due to climate change.
Published on Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, a paper found that without adaptation, losses in wheat, rice, and maize production can be expected with just 2°C of warming. The study will sharpen the already-alarming findings of the Working Group II section of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, to be published at the end of March. Working Group II focuses on the environmental, economic and social impacts climate change will have and what level of vulnerability different ecological and socio-economic sectors will be subject to.
The Fourth IPCC Assessment Report, in 2007, found that regions with temperate climates like Europe and North America would hold up to a couple degrees of warming without a discernible effect on crop yields. Some studies even thought the increase in temperatures could boost production. However the new study, which pulled from the largest dataset to date on crop resources — more than double the number available in 2007 — found that crops will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected.
“As more data have become available, we’ve seen a shift in consensus, telling us that the impacts of climate change in temperate regions will happen sooner rather than later,” Professor Andy Challinor, from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Furthermore, the impact of climate change on crops will vary both from year-to-year and from place-to-place –- with the variability becoming greater as the weather becomes increasingly erratic. Climate change means a less predictable harvest, with different countries winning and losing in different years.”
According to the study, starting in the 2030s crop yields will experience an increasingly negative impact with decreases of over 25 percent becoming more common by the second half of the century. Climate change is already of high concern to those working in agriculture as changes in weather, land quality, and water availability reflect across the sector. Food prices for staple crops such as wheat and corn are high this year as global productionstruggles to keep pace with rising demand. Crop prices are subject to very localized impacts, and the crisis in Ukraine has caused corn and wheat prices to spike as the country is a top-ten exporter of both crops. Climate change will only act to amplify the precarious nature of the industry.
Another recent study found that climate change’s average effect on crop prices by 2050 will be a 20 percent increase, with some prices not changing at all while others rise over 60 percent depending on the region.
In California, where a record-breaking drought is an indicator of the hotter, drier norms that climate change is bringing to the region, nearly 500,000 acres of cropland — about 12 percent of last year’s acreage — could be cut back this year, causing billions of dollars of economic damage. Prices of vegetables like artichokes, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower could rise as much as 10 percent.
California produces around 80 percent of the world’s almonds, with production more than doubling from 912 million pounds in 2006 to 1.88 billion last year. With global demand booming for almonds, especially in Asia, the California drought is likely to have a negative impact on prices of almonds around the world. While almond trees are not ideal for California’s already-dry climate and require significant irrigation, the industry has taken root and will be forced to adapt to whatever growing conditions the future holds.
Dry wheat image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

The Radio Ecoshock Show: California Drought: Is this the big one?

The Radio Ecoshock Show: California Drought: Is this the big one?.

RADIO ECOSHOCK SPECIAL ON CALIFORNIA DROUGHT Despite recent rains, California’s reservoirs are near empty, snow-pack light, and groundwater depleted. Four experts on a drought that really started in 2006, impacts on economy, food, farming, and nature. Guests: Dr. Peter Gleick, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, David Schroeder, Dr. Reagan Waskom

http://tinyurl.com/lrqaxqe

THE CALIFORNIA DROUGHT IS NOT OVER!

Rainstorms finally arrived in California, after a 14 month drought with no significant rain. But the big reservoirs are still pitifully low, and snow pack is less than a quarter of normal. Hundreds of thousands of acres will not be planted, and food bills will likely go up in North America, and possibly around the world.

This is the Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, as a case study of what we can expect in many parts of the Earth. I’ve lined up 4 experts all with something new for you.

Dr. Peter Gleick is a climate and water specialist who has been warning this could happen for years.

Dr. Reagan Waskom is another water and agriculture expert from Colorado.

We connect with boots-on-the ground water conservation specialist David Schroeder in Montclair, right on the edge of thirsty Los Angeles.

Finally, we get back to the big picture, as Professor Jay Famiglietti at University of California Irvine warns of depletion of the ground water under one of the world’s biggest food producing areas. That’s a trend all over the world, as we race toward peak water.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

PETER GLEICK: Is the drought climate change?

Our first guest is Dr. Peter Gleick. He’s president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, one of the world’s leading independent think tanks on water issues. Peter is also a scientist known around the world.

Peter introduced the term “Bellwether Drought” for this event. We know climate change threatens the water cycle. Scientists believe the wet areas (like the UK!) will get wetter, and the dry areas like California, will get dryer. So the dice are loaded for more droughts to occur in this major food producing area.

Dr. Gleick points out we could say this drought started in at least 2006. There have been several drier-than-normal years since then. Scientists have found records showing California has experienced droughts lasting more than a hundred years in the past, in the 1100’s for example.

So we may be asking if human-induced climate change has triggered this drought cycle. The causes of regional weather events are complex. We have ocean currents, natural cycles like El Nino and El Nina, and changes to the Jet Stream. All of those, especially the Jet Stream (as shown by the work of Jennifer Francis et al at Rutgers) can be influenced by climate change.

It’s a Bellwether event because whether or not we can nail down direct causation by climate disruption – it’s a sure test of what is likely during the coming decades. As in Australia, it is possible Euro-humans arrived in California during a cyclical wet spell that was bound to end. But have we hastened that process?

I also talk with Peter about desalination, it’s promises and obstacles. A new desalination plant has been build to feed the San Diego water system. But really, it’s so energy intensive and expensive that desalination cannot save the whole California agricultural system.

Peter Gleick is an influential scientist in many places. He talks about the global work his institute is involved in, and it’s heavy-duty stuff. It’s cool he Tweeted this program link out to his 11,000 plus followers.

You can download or listen to this 18 minute interview with Dr. Peter Gleick inCD Quality or Lo-Fi.

DR. JAY FAMIGLIETTI: Looking at the drought from space.

When the rains don’t fall in California, every one checks their wallet for rising food prices. But rain or not, cities and farmers are pumping out California groundwater at an alarming rate. Thanks to new satellite science, now we know how much of that unseen wealth has been depleted. It’s a problem for farmers and all humans all over the world, as we grab water stored over the ages, to keep us alive right now. At some point, the water runs out.

Dr. Jay Famiglietti is a Professor of Earth System Science, and Director of the Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine. He’s an expert’s expert.

When the federal government, and state agencies cut off water supplies, as they did just this past month, farmers don’t just roll over and die. All those who can start pumping up groundwater furiously. They’ve been doing that for decades, always at an increasing level. You may think ground water gets replenished with rains, but some of it was captured and contained over millions of years. When I have a glass of water in my village, that water is 100,000 years old.

So just like oil, ground water is a limited resource. When you run out, that’s it.

Amazing to tell, scientists can measure the rate of groundwater depletion in California from space. The twin GRACE satellites have shown the loss of mass in Greenland as the glaciers melt. Now scientists at the University of California Irvine report that California is setting new records for groundwater loss. The state is literally getting lighter.

Find out about the GRACE satellites here. Oh, and by the way, one of their top stories is the discovery that climate change is causing the Earth’s poles to migrate. Don’t believe that? Read about it here.

One result is the land starts to sink, once the water below is removed. That’s serious in the Sacramento delta, where so much of North America’s fruits and vegetables are grown. Once it goes too low, a rush of salt water, say from a storm surge, can take thousands and thousands of prime acres out of production.

Jay Familietti describes what we know. He says the average of prediction of when California will run out of groundwater at current rates is 60 years from now. After that, the glory days of big populations and big cities may be done. Some experts say it will come sooner than that.

That same story is being repeated, even worse, in countries like China and India. India is pumping out the water tables at an alarming rate. In both countries, as thousands of wells go dry, they drill deeper, and burn even more energy with bigger pumps, just to keep up. Some places are already out of water, and out of production.

Keep this story in mind as you build the big picture: peak groundwater. It’s coming.

By the way, I ask Dr. Famiglietti what happens to all the water we pump out for our fields and cities. Some of it goes into the ocean, to become salt water. The warmer atmosphere can hold 4% more water vapor already, since 1970, and that’s a huge amount. Other water ends up falling in those places that are already wet.

Don’t miss this 12 minute interview with Jay Famiglietti. It’s short but powerful. Listen or download in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Read a key article by Dr. Famiglietti “Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?“. And check out his LA Times Op-Ed from 2013, “California’s water house of cards“.

DR. REAGAN WASKOM – Feeding the western food supply

I was referred to Dr. Waskom by Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute. Even though Waskom is the University of Colorado in Fort Collins, he’s one of the country’s wisemen when it comes to water supplies and our food system.

Reagan Waskom is the Director of the Colorado Water Institute, and Chair of the Colorado State University Water Center.

It turns out Colorado supplies much of the water to Southern California. We are not talking about the big food production areas, but more the heavy populations in places like Los Anglees. So what happens in Colorado matters a lot to California.

The good news is there is a heavy snow pack this year in Colorado. How useful that is depends on how fast the snow melt is, among other factors.

I ask Dr. Waskom what happens if California really is in a long-term drought. Could we replace all that food with farming somewhere else in the country?

Dr. Waskom has also been studying the big use of water by the fracking industry. We touch on that.

My final question is more personal: “You’ve taught a lot of students, and graduate students. Do you think young people are more disconnected from natural reality than when you were growing up?”

I learned a lot just talking with the man. You probably will too. Download this 17 minute interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

DAVID SCHROEDER on the ground outside of LA

I wanted to get you some reporting from right on the ground in southern California. Acting on a tip from a Radio Ecoshock listener, we’ve reached David Schroeder. He’s a Water Conservation Specialist with the Chino Basin Water District. That’s based in Montclair California, right on the edge of one of America’s biggest cities, Los Angeles.

We talk about where water for southern California comes from, and what to do when it doesn’t. Dave specializes in getting the public involved in tearing up grass to install natural vegetation, to use less water in the home, and so on. There isn’t much farming left in the south of the state. Now the challenge is huge cities and endless suburbs.

Dave lives in the mountains that used to be white with snow in winter, when I lived in L.A. many moons ago. No snow there this year he reports. That’s not good news for the coming fire season, for anything.

Download/listen to this 10 minute interview with David Schroeder in CD Quality

WRAP UP

That wraps up my Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, 2014. I hope you learned, as I did, about where our water comes from, where it’s going, and the dangerous tightrope we walk trying to feed a growing world population during climate disruption.

Radio Ecoshock is provided free to more than 75 non-profit radio stations. I depend on your financial help to keep going. Find ways to support this program in this blog, and at the show archive and web site, ecoshock.org

I’m Alex Smith. As always, thank you for listening, and caring about your world.

Posted by at 5:37 PM

Is Weird Winter Weather Related to Climate Change? by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360

Is Weird Winter Weather Related to Climate Change? by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360.

24 FEB 2014: ANALYSIS

Is Weird Winter Weather
Related to Climate Change?

Scientists are trying to understand if the unusual weather in the Northern Hemisphere this winter — from record heat in Alaska to unprecedented flooding in Britain — is linked to climate change. One thing seems clear: Shifts in the jet stream play a key role and could become even more disruptive as the world warms.

by fred pearce

This winter’s weather has been weird across much of the Northern Hemisphere. Record storms in Europe; record drought in California; record heat in parts of the Arctic, including Alaska and parts of Scandinavia; but record freezes too, as polar air blew south over Canada and the U.S., causing near-record ice cover on the Great Lakes, sending the mercury as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius in Minnesota, and bringing sharp chills to Texas.

Everyone is blaming the jet stream, which drives most weather in mid-latitudes. That would be a significant development. For what happens

polar jet stream

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
The polar jet stream may be driving a “hemispheric pattern of severe weather.”

to the jet stream in the coming decades looks likely to be the key link between the abstractions of climate change and real weather we all experience. So, is our recent strange weather a sign of things to come? Are we, as British opposition leader Ed Milliband put it this month while surveying a flooded nation, “sleepwalking to a climate crisis”?

The story gets tangled because trying to identify long-term trends amid the noise of daily weather is hard.

The U.K. Met Office, which keeps a global weather watch, said in a rushreport put out in mid-February that we are experiencing a “hemispheric pattern of severe weather,” and that the events are linked. The most extreme days of the U.S. cold event, for instance, coincided with some of the most intense storms over the U.K. And physically the connection is through the polar jet stream, which the report said showed a “persistent pattern of perturbations” — in other words, it ran wild.

The polar jet stream is a narrow stream of fast wind circling the globe from west to east at the top of the troposphere from 7 to 12 kilometers up, and usually between 50 and 70 degrees north. It forms where cold, dense air from the Arctic meets warmer and less dense air from mid-latitudes. At the

Climatologist Jennifer Francis links ‘this bizarre winter’ to changes in the jet stream caused by a warming Arctic.

boundary, winds rush in to equalize the pressure difference. The earth’s rotation diverts these winds to travel eastward.

As the jet roars around the world, it drags weather systems with it. Most of Europe’s weather rides in under the jet stream from the Atlantic, and most of the western U.S.’s weather comes from the Pacific in a similar manner.

This year, the jet has been unusually far north in the Pacific, bringing balmy weather to Alaska. But across the Atlantic it has been unusually far south, unusually persistent, and 30 percent faster than normal. It has sent more than 30 storms, many of them much larger and more intense than normal, crashing into the shores of Britain in the past three months. With the storms have come high winds and heavy rains almost every day, delivering amounts of precipitation unseen in records going back more than a century — and probably exceeding anything else in the last 250 years, according to the Met Office report.

At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago this month, climatologist Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University linked “this bizarre winter” to climate change, and in particular to changes in the jet stream caused by a warming Arctic. “Weather patterns are changing,” she said. “We can expect more of the same.”

Francis notes that the Arctic has been warming faster than the rest of the planet in recent decades, driven by melting ice that replaced reflective white surfaces with dark, energy-absorbing ocean. That is expected to continue. While lower latitudes will also warm, the result will be to reduce the temperature gradient between polar and mid-latitude air that drives the jet. So, says Francis, we can expect the jet to slow. A slower jet is generally more meandering and inclined to get “stuck,” delivering unchanging weather.

There is one problem with this analysis as regards recent events, says Tim Woollings, who researches atmospheric dynamics at Oxford University in England. While the jet stream has indeed been “stuck” for the past two months, delivering cold weather to North America and storms across the Atlantic, it is not slow and meandering. Across the Atlantic at least, it has been fast and remarkably straight. “That is the exact opposite to the weak meandering jet of your hypothesis,” Woollings told Francis in an email exchange last week that both shared with Yale Environment 360.

That certainly doesn’t prove Francis wrong. Woollings agrees that Francis’s prediction of a stuck meandering jet looks very like the situation in the Pacific this winter. But it does complicate claims that this winter’s

Britain’s Met Office says the real driver of recent climate patterns has been the jet stream over the Pacific Ocean.

extremes can be blamed on man-made climate change.

So what is going on? The Met Office came to the conclusion that the real driver of the action in recent months was not in the Arctic or the Atlantic, but far away in the western Pacific Ocean. The jet stream, remember, is a global wind, circling the earth. This winter, the jet stream over the Pacific has been deflected much further north than usual. This, according to the Met Office, is likely a consequence of some combination of heavy rains over Indonesia, warm Pacific waters, and unusual pressure systems.

The displaced Pacific leg of the jet stream dragged warm air up over Alaska. But, once east of the Rockies, it met the dense cold air of the Arctic and plunged south. A long way south — as far as Texas at times. This southward excursion of the jet brought freezing weather across much of the U.S. But it also brought that cold polar air into contact with warm southerly breezes. Thus the temperature gradient at the boundary between polar and non-polar air was exceptionally great. At times, says Francis, Arctic air was meeting tropical air as the polar jet coalesced with the sub-tropical jet, which forms where tropical air meets air from the north.

The scientists agree that this exceptional temperature difference dramatically speeded up the jet stream as it pushed out over the Atlantic on its unusually southerly trajectory. A fast jet stream is usually also a straight jet stream. And the southerly route allowed the surface air it pulled along to pick up unusual amounts of moisture evaporating from the warm waters of the Atlantic.

The result was that the jet slammed a long succession of intense storms into southern England, where they would normally hit Scotland or miss the U.K. altogether. The storms contained huge volumes of moisture. And, to add to the tumult, the fast winds across the Atlantic also whipped up big waves and tidal surges; so in places record flood flows coming down rivers met flood waters coming off the sea. Parts of Britain were submerged.

Where does this leave us on climate change? It is no great surprise that there is confusion. Weather is weather. It is always changeable, with a large

Scientists remain uncertain about how the major features of world’s weather will respond to global warming.

random element. Stuff happens. The Met Office notes that the winter’s weird weather has a range of causes besides the jet stream, including unusual upper atmosphere winds over the North Pole, and anomalies in the eastern Pacific that have delivered severe drought to California. There is, the Met Office says, no compelling evidence from this winter to suggest that there is a new emerging pattern.

But that doesn’t mean nothing is going on. Long-term trends are hard to spot, and natural variability is still generally dominant over the subtle changes in climate, or “average weather.”

Yet there are some instances where attribution is possible. For example, climate researchers have persuasively argued that a few intense heat waves — such as the one that killed 70,000 people in western Europe in 2003 — would have been highly unlikely without the added impetus of global warming. But for weather extremes other than rising temperatures, unambiguous attribution of even extreme events is very hard to make, whatever the suspicions that something is up.

Climate scientists remain very uncertain about how most of the major features of the world’s weather will respond to global warming. The climate will change, for sure, but exactly how is a tough call.

El Niño, the Asian and African monsoons, Atlantic hurricanes, the jet streams: The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), issued last October, puts a big question mark over the likely trends for all of them. And while Francis suggests the polar jet stream should slow as the Arctic warms, the IPCC noted that most climate models predict a faster polar jet.

Actual trends so far don’t tell us much. According to the Met Office, the number of storms crossing the Atlantic in a normal year is no higher today

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than 150 years ago. But Xiaolan Wang of Environment Canada, a government agency, last yearreported evidence that winter storms are becoming stronger over the North Atlantic. This may not have anything to do with the jet stream, however. These storms could just be picking up more moisture from an Atlantic that is now substantially warmer than in past decades.

Data from weather stations around the world reveal more extreme precipitation events — and more droughts, too. This is firmly in line with the predictions of climate models and is “what is expected from fundamental physics,” says the Met Office. A warmer atmosphere will contain more energy, and more moisture from evaporation, says Woollings. It already does. And, in general, more energy and moisture will mean wetter storms in many places.

Weird weather is definitely on the agenda, and the jet stream is very likely to be an important part of it. The nightmare scenario is that Francis will be proved right about the jet stream becoming more “stuck” in a particular trajectory, but that, as happened this winter, it will get stuck while traveling at express speed and bringing strong winds and heavy rain with it. The Met Office says the Francis scenario “raises the possibility that disruption of our usual weather patterns may be how climate change may manifest itself.” If so, that would indeed unleash the perfect storm.

How Climate Change Helped Decimate a 4,000 Year Old Megacity | Motherboard

How Climate Change Helped Decimate a 4,000 Year Old Megacity | Motherboard.

February 27, 2014 // 05:01 PM EST 

More than 4,000 years ago, three civilizations dominated South Asia and North Africa. Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia are names you’ll surely recognize, but the lesser-known Indus Valley Civilization was actually the largest of the three. During its height, at around 2600 BCE, the Indus spread across what is now India and Pakistan, and built large cities like Mohenjo-Daro, whose population is estimated to have been well into five figures.

Around 1800 BCE, the Indus civilization began to decline, and all but disappeared by 1300 BCE. The reason has been the source of controversy for decades, but new research adds evidence to the theory that climate change led to a sharp weakening of the key summer monsoon season, which left the Indus river valley drier and inhospitable.

Tracking weather patterns from millennia ago isn’t easy. The University of Cambridge research team first started by finding an ancient lake, called Kotla Dahar, that still existed in the Indus’ time. The dirt at the bottom of an ancient lake doesn’t offer many clues, but what it holds does: By identifying the species and chemical makeup of ancient snails buried in the former lake, the Cambridge team was able to calculate how much rainfall the region received thousands of years ago. The results are published in Geology.

They found that the paleolake in Haryana, India was a deep body of water between 6,500 and 5,800 years ago, which corresponded with a time of heavy monsoon action. But, in snail shells dating to around 4,100 years ago—right before the time the Indus when into decline—the researchers found an increase of an oxygen isotope, which suggests the lake was drying up due to a weakening of the summer monsoon.

“We think that we now have a really strong indication that a major climate event occurred in the area where a large number of Indus settlements were situated,” study co-author Professor David Hodell said in a release. “Taken together with other evidence from Meghalaya in northeast India, Oman and the Arabian Sea, our results provide strong evidence for a widespread weakening of the Indian summer monsoon across large parts of India 4,100 years ago.”

At the time, drought was spreading throughout much of Asia. “The 4.2 ka aridification event is regarded as one of the most severe climatic changes in the Holocene, and affected several Early Bronze Age populations from the Aegean to the ancient Near East,” the authors write.

A map of the spread of the Indus Valley Civilization, including Mohenjo-Daro (5) and Harappa (4), another large city. Image: Wikipedia

 

Such drought would certainly have had a destabilizing effect. And even given some wiggle room within the dates—again, dating isotopes of snail shells in ancient lake beds is a tall task—the authors argue such monsoon weakening corresponds with known times for Indus decline. “The resultant age of drying at Kotla Dahar is consistent with the suggested archeological dates for the onset of Indus de-urbanization within dating uncertainties,” the authors write.

As you might expect, drought wreaks havoc on agriculture. Feeding a megacity, even an ancient one like Mohenjo-Daro, takes a strong farm sector, and without one, people will disappear. “Our paleoclimate record also provides indirect evidence for the suggestion that the ISM weakening at ca. 4.1 ka in northwestern India likely led to severe decline in summer overbank flooding that adversely affected monsoon-supported agriculture in this region,” the authors write.

The Indus civilization collapse has remained a mystery for at least a century of archeological investigation, but the climate angle has been batted around for nearly that long. As V.N. Misra notes in a deep look at the subject, British archeologists Sir Aurel Stein and Sir John Marshall both posited in 1931 that the Indus lived in a far wetter climate, which was held as fact until the 60s, when an American team poked holes in previous evidence.

Since then, the evidence has largely been on the side of drought coinciding with the Indus collapse, although there have also been arguments to the contrary. Isotopic studies have provided more conclusive evidence. A 2003 study in Geophysical Research Letters also found evidence of drought occurring around 4,200 years ago. Combined with the most recent study, it’s becoming more clear that while drought alone may not have caused the Indus collapse, it does appear to have helped push things along.

“We know that there was a clear shift away from large populations living in megacities,” co-author Dr. Cameron Petrie said. “But precisely what happened to the Indus civilization has remained a mystery. It is unlikely that there was a single cause, but a climate change event would have induced a whole host of knock-on effects.”

And guess what? Research in the last few years has shown that the current warming climate will likely lead to a decrease in India’s monsoon season. A 2012 paper in Environmental Research Letters put it rather simply: “Indian monsoon rainfall is vital for a large share of the world’s population,” the authors write in their abstract, before noting that “monsoon failure is possible but very rare under pre-industrial conditions, while under future warming it becomes much more frequent.”

Compounding the problem, Pakistani media reported last fall that researchers have modeled a decline in Himalayan glaciers, which means that rivers already feeling the effects of decreasing monsoon intensity could also have less snow melt to rely on. For the hundreds of millions of people in the region, the coming drought may feel a bit too reminiscent of the Indus’ collapse for comfort. But there is one major difference: This time, the climate change is man-made.

The Purposely Confusing World of Energy Politics

The Purposely Confusing World of Energy Politics.

by Richard Heinberg, originally published by Richard Heinberg’s Museletter  | FEB 11, 2014

Life often presents us with paradoxes, but seldom so blatant or consequential as the following. Read this sentence slowly: Today it is especially difficult for most people to understand our perilous global energy situation, preciselybecause it has never been more important to do so. Got that? No? Okay, let me explain. I must begin by briefly retracing developments in a seemingly unrelated field—climate science.

Once upon a time, the idea that Earth’s climate could be changing due to human-caused carbon dioxide emissions was just a lonely, unpopular scientific hypothesis. Through years that stretched to decades, researchers patiently gathered troves of evidence to test that hypothesis. The great majority of evidence collected tended to confirm the notion that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gas) levels raise average global temperatures and provoke an increase in extreme weather events. Nearly all climate scientists were gradually persuaded of the correctness of the global warming hypothesis.
But a funny thing happened along the way. Clearly, if the climate is changing rapidly and dramatically as a result of human action, and if climate change (of the scale and speed that’s anticipated) is likely to undermine ecosystems and economies, then it stands to reason that humans should stop emitting so much CO2. In practical effect, this would mean dramatically reducing our burning of fossil fuels—the main drivers of economic growth since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Some business-friendly folks with political connections soon became alarmed at both the policy implications of—and the likely short-term economic fallout from—the way climate science was developing, and decided to do everything they could to question, denigrate, and deny the climate change hypothesis. Their effort succeeded: belief in climate change now aligns fairly closely with political affiliation. Most Democratic elected officials agree that the issue is real and important, and most of their Republican counterparts are skeptical. Lacking bipartisan support, legislative climate policy languished.
From a policy standpoint, climate change is effectively an energy issue, since reducing carbon emissions will require a nearly complete revamping of our energy systems. Energy is, by definition, humanity’s most basic source of power, and since politics is a contest over power (albeit social power), it should not be surprising that energy is politically contested. A politician’s most basic tools are power and persuasion, and the ability to frame issues. And the tactics of political argument inevitably range well beyond logic and critical thinking. Therefore politicians can and often do make it harder for people to understand energy issues than would be the case if accurate, unbiased information were freely available.
So here is the reason for the paradox stated in the first paragraph: As energy issues become more critically important to society’s economic and ecological survival, they become more politically contested; and as a result, they tend to become obscured by a fog of exaggeration, half-truth, omission, and outright prevarication.
How does one cut through this fog to gain a more accurate view of what’s happening in our society’s vital energy supply-and-support systems? It’s helpful to start by understanding the positions and motives of the political actors. For the sake of argument, I will caricature two political positions. Let’s personify them as Politician A and Politician B.
Politician A has for many years sided with big business, and specifically with the fossil fuel industry in all energy disputes. She sees coal, oil, and natural gas as gifts of nature to be used by humanity to produce as much wealth as possible, as quickly as possible. She asserts there are sufficient supplies of these fuels to meet the needs of future generations, even if we use them at rapidly increasing rates. When coal, oil, and gas do eventually start to run out, Politician A says we can always turn to nuclear energy. In her view, the harvesting and burning of fossil fuels can be accomplished with few incidental environmental problems, and fossil fuel companies can be trusted to use the safest methods available. And if Earth’s climate is indeed changing, she says, this is not due to the burning of fossil fuels; therefore, policies meant to cut fossil fuel consumption are unnecessary and economically damaging. Finally, she says renewable energy sources should not be subsidized by government, but should stand or fall according to their own economic merits.
Politician B regards oil, coal, and natural gas as polluting substances, and society’s addiction to them is shameful. He thinks oil prices are high because petroleum companies gouge their customers; nuclear energy is too dangerous to contemplate; and renewable energy sources are benign (with supplies of sunlight and wind vastly exceeding our energy needs). To hear him tell it, the only reason solar and wind still supply such a small percentage of our total energy is that fossil fuel companies are politically powerful, benefiting from generous, often hidden, government subsidies. Government should cut those subsidies and support renewable energy instead. He believes climate change is a serious problem, and to mitigate it we should put a price on carbon emissions. If we do, Politician B says, renewable energy industries will grow rapidly, creating jobs and boosting the economy.
Who is right? Well, this should be easy to determine. Just ignore the foaming rhetoric and focus on research findings. But in reality that’s not easy at all, because research is itself often politicized. Studies can be designed from the outset to give results that are friendly to the preconceptions and prejudices of one partisan group or another.
For example, there are studies that appear to show that the oil and natural gas production technique known as hydrofracturing (or “fracking”) is safe for the environment. With research in hand, industry representatives calmly inform us that there have been no confirmed instances of fracking fluids contaminating water tables. The implication: environmentalists who complain about the dangers of fracking simply don’t know what they’re talking about. However, there are indeed many documented instances of water pollution associated with fracking, though technically most of these have resulted from the improper disposal of wastewater produced once fracking per se is finished, rather than from the hydrofracturing process itself. Further, industry-funded studies of fracking typically focus on sites where best practices are in place and equipment is working as designed—the ideal scenario. In the messy real world, well casings sometimes fail, operators cut corners, and equipment occasionally malfunctions.
For their part, environmentalists point to peer-reviewed studies showing air, water, and human health problems associated with actual (far from ideal) fracking operations.
So, depending on your prior beliefs, you can often choose research findings to support them—even if the studies you are citing are actually highly misleading.
Renewable energy is just as contentious. Mark Jacobson, professor of environmental engineering at Stanford University, has co-authored a series of reports and scientific papers arguing that solar, wind, and hydropower could provide 100 percent of world energy by 2030. Clearly, Jacobson’s work supports Politician B’s political narrative by showing that the climate problem can be solved with little or no economic sacrifice. If Jacobson is right, then it is only the fossil fuel companies and their supporters that stand in the way of a solution to our environmental (and economic) problems. The Sierra Club and prominent Hollywood stars have latched onto Jacobson’s work and promote it enthusiastically.
However, Jacobson’s publications have provoked thoughtful criticism, some of it from supporters of renewable energy, who argue that his “100 percent renewables by 2030” scenario ignores hidden costs, land use and environmental problems, and grid limits (see herehere, and here. Jacobson has replied to his critics, well, energetically (here and here).
At the other end of the opinion spectrum on renewable energy is Gail Tverberg, an actuary by training and profession (and no shill for the fossil fuel industry), whose analysis suggests that the more solar and wind generating capacity we build, the worse off we are from an economic point of view. Her conclusion flatly contradicts that of this report, which aims to show that the more renewables we build, the more money we’ll save. Ecologist Charles Hall has determined that the ratio ofenergy returned to energy invested in capturing solar energy with photovoltaic (PV) panels is too low to support an industrial economy. Meanwhile the solar industry claims that PV can provide all of society’s power needsGlobal wind capacity may have been seriously over-estimatedBut then again, maybe not .
In sum, if you’re looking for quick and simple answers to questions about how much renewables can do for us, at what price, and over what time frame, forget it! These questions are far from being settled.
There’s a saying: For every Ph.D., there is an equal and opposite Ph.D. Does this mean science is useless, and objective reality is whatever you want it to be? Of course not. However, politics and cultural bias can and do muddy the process and results of scientific research.
All of this is inevitable; it’s human nature. We’ll sort through the confusion, given time and the hard knocks that inevitably come when preconceptions veer too far from the facts. However, if the more worrisome implications of climate science are right, we may not have a lot of time for sorting, and our knocks may be very hard indeed.
*          *          *
Here’s a corollary to my thesis: Political prejudices tend to blind us to facts that fail to fit any conventional political agendas. All political narratives need a villain and a (potential) happy ending. While Politicians B and A might point to different villains (oil companies on one hand, government bureaucrats and regulators on the other), they both envision the same happy ending: economic growth, though it is to be achieved by contrasting means. If a fact doesn’t fit one of these two narratives, the offended politician tends to ignore it (or attempt to deny it). If it doesn’t fit either narrative, nearly everyone ignores it.
Here’s a fact that apparently fails to comfortably fit into either political narrative:The energy and financial returns on fossil fuel extraction are declining—fast. The top five oil majors (ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, and Total) have seen their aggregate production fall by over 25 percent over the past 12 years—but it’s not for lack of effort. Drilling rates have doubled. Rates of capital investment in exploration and production have likewise doubled. Oil prices have quadrupled. Yet actual global rates of production for regular crude oil have flattened, and all new production has come from expensive unconventional sources such as tar sands, tight oil, and deepwater oil. The fossil fuel industry hates to admit to facts that investors find scary—especially now, as the industry needs investors to pony up ever-larger bets to pay for ever-more-extreme production projects.
In the past few years, high oil prices have provided the incentive for small, highly leveraged, and risk-friendly companies to go after some of the last, worst oil and gas production prospects in North America—formations known to geologists as “source rocks,” which require operators to use horizontal drilling and fracking technology to free up trapped hydrocarbons. The energy returned on energy invested in producing shale gas and tight oil from these formations is minimal.While US oil and gas production rates have temporarily spiked, all signs indicate that this will be a brief boom that will not change the overall situation significantly: society is reaching the point of diminishing returns with regard to the economic benefits of fossil fuel extraction.
And what about our imaginary politicians? Politician A wouldn’t want to talk about any of this for fairly obvious reasons. But, strangely, Politician B likely would avoid the subject too: while he might portray the petroleum industry as an ogre, his narrative requires it to be a powerful one. Also, he probably doesn’t like to think that gasoline prices might be high due to oil depletion rather than simply the greed of the petroleum barons. Motives can be complicated; perhaps both feel the patriotic urge to cheer domestic energy production, regardless of its source and in spite of evidence of declining returns on investment. Perhaps both understand that declining energy returns imply really bad news for the economy, regardless which party is in power. In any case, mum’s the word.
Some facts seem to fit one narrative or the other but, when combined, point to a reality that undermines both narratives. What if climate change is an even worse problem than most of us assume, and there is no realistic way to deal seriously with it and still have economic growth?
In the real world of US politics, many Democrats would agree with the first part of the sentence, many Republicans with the second. Yet both parties would flee from endorsing the statement as a whole. Nevertheless, this seems to be where the data are driving us. Actual climate impacts have consistently outpaced the worst-case forecasts that the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued during the past two decades. That means curbing carbon emissions is even more urgent than almost anyone previously thought. The math has changed. At this point, the rate of reduction in fossil fuel consumption required in order to avert catastrophic climate change may be higher, possibly much higher, than the realistically possible rate of replacement with energy from alternative sources. Climatologist Kevin Anderson of the UK-based Tyndall Centre figures that industrial nations need to cut carbon emissions by up to 10 percent per year to avert catastrophe, and that such a rapid reduction would be “incompatible with economic growth.” What if Anderson is right?
The problem of transitioning quickly away from fossil fuels while maintaining economic growth is exacerbated by the unique characteristics of different energy sources.
Here’s just one example of the difficulty of replacing oil while maintaining economic growth. Oil just happens to be the perfect transport fuel: it stores a lot of energy per unit of weight and volume. Electric batteries can’t match its performance. Plug-in cars exist, of course (less than one percent of new cars sold this year in the US will be plug-in electrics), but batteries cannot propel airliners or long-haul, 18-wheel truck rigs. Yet the trucking and airline industries just happen to be significant components of our economy; can we abandon or significantly downsize them and grow the economy as we do so?
What about non-transport replacements for fossil fuels? Well, both nuclear power stations and renewable energy systems have high up-front investment costs. If you factor in all the financial and energy costs (something the solar, wind, and nuclear industries are reluctant to do), their payback time is often measured in decades. Thus there seems to be no realistic way to bootstrap the energy transition (for example, by using the power from solar panels to build more solar panels) while continuing to provide enough energy to keep the rest of the economy expanding. In effect, to maintain growth, the energy transition would have to be subsidized by fossil fuels—which would largely defeat the purpose of the exercise.
Business-friendly politicians seem to intuitively get much of this, and this knowledge helps fuel their continued infatuation with oil, coal, and natural gas—despite the increasing economic problems (even if we disregard the environmental problems) with these fuels. But these folks’ way of dealing with this conundrum is simply to deny that climate change is a real issue. That strategy may work for their supporters in the fossil fuel industries, but it does nothing to avert the worsening real-world crises of extreme temperature events, droughts, floods, and storms—and their knock-on impacts on agriculture, economies, and governments.
So those on the left may be correct in saying that climate change is the equivalent of a civilization-killing asteroid, while those on the right may be correct in thinking that policies designed to shrink carbon emissions will shrink the economy as well. Everybody gets to be correct—but nobody gets a happy ending (at least as currently envisioned).
That’s because nearly every politician wants growth, or at least recognizes the need to clamor for growth in order to be electable. Because growth, after all, is how we currently define our collective, national happy ending. So whenever facts lead toward the conclusion that more growth may not be possible even if our party gets its way, those facts quickly get swept under the nearest carpet.
Masking reality with political rhetoric leads to delays in doing what is necessary– making the best of the choices actually available to us. We and our political “leaders” continue to deny and pretend, walking blindly toward environmental and economic peril.
*          *          *
We humans are political animals—always have been, always will be. Our interests inevitably diverge in countless ways. Further, much of the emotional drive fueling politics comes from ethical impulses: perhaps for genetic reasons, different people assign different ethical principles a higher priority. Thus one politician’s concern for fairness and another’s passion for national loyalty can glide right past each other without ever shaking hands. Religion can also play a role in partisanship, along with the legacies of economic and social exclusion, historic rivalries, disputes, and atrocities. None of this can be dispelled with the wave of a magic wand.
Moreover, political engagement often leads to welcome outcomes. When people organize themselves to effect change, the result can be expansions of civil rights, women’s suffrage, and environmental protection. On the other hand, when people fail to speak up, social power tends to become monopolized by a small minority–and that never ends well. So, let’s not withdraw from politics.
But how to work effectively in a politically polarized environment? Hyper-partisanship is a problem in approving judicial appointees and passing budgets, and failure to do these things can have serious consequences. But when it comes to energy and climate, the scale of what is at stake runs straight off the charts. The decisions that need to be made, and soon (ideally 20 years ago!), on energy and climate may well determine whether civilization survives. The absence of decisive action will imperil literally everything we care about.
Energy is complicated, and there can be legitimate disagreements about our options and how vigorously to pursue them. But the status quo is not working.
I’ve struggled to find a hopeful takeaway message with which to end this essay.
Should I appeal to colleagues who write about energy, pleading with them to frame discussions in ways that aren’t merely feeding red meat to their already far too polarized audiences, encouraging them to tell readers uncomfortable truths that don’t fit partisan narratives? I could, but how many energy writers will actually read this essay, and how many of those are willing to examine their preconceptions?
Perhaps the best I can do is point out the existence of a small but enthusiastic subculture that actually understands these issues. This subculture is exemplified by Transition Initiatives promoting “small-scale local responses to the global challenges of climate change, economic hardship, and shrinking supplies of cheap energy” and the premise that life can be better without fossil fuels. For better or worse, this subculture is practically invisible to political elites and the mainstream media (except perhaps in parts of the UK).
Perhaps it’s fitting that this essay leaves both author and readers unsettled and uncomfortable. Discomfort can sometimes be conducive to creativity and action. There may be no solutions to the political problems I’ve outlined. But even in the absence of solutions there can still be better adaptive behaviors, and judo-like strategies that achieve desired outcomes—ones that could conceivably turn the tide on intractable global problems such as climate change—without directly confronting existing societal power structures. These behaviors and strategies can be undertaken even at the household scale, but we’re likely to achieve much more if we collaborate, doing what we can locally while using global communications to compare notes and share our successes and challenges.
Cars and windmills image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.

Richard Heinberg is the author of eleven books including ‘The Party’s Over’, ‘The End of Growth’, and ‘Snake Oil’. He is Senior Fellow-in-Residence of Post Carbon Institute and is widely regarded as one of the …

Our take on the State of the Union address: It’s time for climate action | – Environmental Defence

Our take on the State of the Union address: It’s time for climate action | – Environmental Defence.

photo credit: 350.org

President Obama delivered the annualState of the Union address last night. And while we usually keep our attention north of the border, there are a few key reasons that we tuned in. As climate impacts hit harder and closer to home with floods, forest fires, heat waves and cold snaps, the time for ambitious climate action has never been clearer.

Last night the President reaffirmed his commitment to climate action through emissions reductions, clean energy, cuts to fossil fuel subsidies, and efficiency. But a ramping up of the ‘all of the above’ energy strategy, with increased natural gas and oil, threatens to hold the U.S. back as a climate leader. Nonetheless, the President’s determination to protect future generations from climate change stands in sharp contrast to what’s happening here in Canada, where the reckless expansion of the tar sands is making it impossible to do our share to prevent the worst of climate change.

Here are the key reasons we watched the speech:

  1. A tale of two countries and climate changeThe Canadian government claims, when it comes to action on climate change, we are harmonizing with the U.S., our largest trading partner. So when President Obama stepped up earlier this year (in the President’s June climate speech) by committing to tackle the U.S.’s biggest source of pollution (coal), it put pressure on Canada to finally take action to regulate the tar sands, our fastest growing source of climate change pollution.Rather than being harmonized, it seems our leaders are singing different tunes. Recently, Prime Minister Harper suggested that any rules to deal with tar sands emissions are still a couple of years away. In contrast, as we heard last night, the President remains dedicated to working to tackle carbon pollution and invest in clean energy and efficiency – commitments that are lacking in Canada.

    We’d welcome real cross-border collaboration on climate action, clean energy and efficiency. The U.S. is committed to taking advantage of the growing clean energy economy (solar got a shout out last night). If we don’t get on board soon with clean energy, Canada will miss out on the jobs and benefits of this growing sector.

  2. The Keystone XL tar sands pipelinePresident Obama holds the key to significant tar sands expansion (and climate pollution) through the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. While he wasn’t expected to – and didn’t – mention the pipeline in last night’s speech, the heat was still on the President with over 100 people gathered in the cold outside of the White House,demanding a rejection of this massive pipeline that would enable major industry expansion and significant climate pollution.The pipeline is in the midst of a final environmental impact assessment, which the State Department is expected to release in the coming weeks or months. The impact assessment follows the President’s June climate speech, where he was clear that the pipeline would not be approved if it significantly exacerbatesclimate pollution. Industry and governments have been lobbying heavily for the Keystone pipeline, precisely because it would open up export routes and allow for tar sands expansion.

    After the assessment is presented, the pipeline will go through a National Interest Determination process where the public can weigh in. But the final decision rests with the President. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is an example of the infrastructure we should not build if we’re serious about stabilizing our climate, which requires us to move away from polluting fossil fuels. Rejecting the pipeline would be yet another signal for investors who are coming to terms with the risks of investing in dirty fuels. And it would be very good news for the climate, which would be saved tens of millions of tonnes of carbon pollution.

  3. Our shared atmosphereBecause we share an atmosphere with the U.S, we care about what our southern neighbour does on climate change, pipelines, fracking, clean energy and energy efficiency. While we work hard every day to push for climate and clean energy policy in Canada, it isn’t just our pollution that matters. The U.S. is one of the world’s largest polluters and what it does or doesn’t do to tackle global warming pollution will impact us in Canada.Every country must try to do its fair share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here at home we will work even harder, because we have further to go. Some important change is happening in Canada, led by cities and provinces. Look at Ontario’s move to shut its last coal plant down for good or Nova Scotia’s impressive success at cutting energy waste. But as a country we need to grapple with the fact that expanding fossil fuel production is incompatible with action on climate change. If the tar sands are allowed to expand, pollution from them will cancel out every other effort in the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    The good news is that on both sides of the border there a diverse, powerful and growing  movement of committed individuals, organizations and communities standing up for a safer future for our shared environment and climate. This movement has made the tar sands the defining energy conversation on the continent, with many voices calling for an end to expanding the tar sands. As the impacts of climate change continue to hit close to home, this movement is only going to get stronger.

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