Monday, June 25, 2018

Climate scientists are NOT to blame for Climate Change

Climate scientists should not blame themselves for not making the case for Climate Change clear enough to the public several decades ago. The public should blame themselves for not taking the trouble to listen intently enough about such a moral, scientific, and existential issue.

Listening to James Hansen on Climate Change, Thirty Years Ago and Now On June 23, 1988—a blisteringly hot day in Washington, D.C.—James Hansen told a Senate committee that “the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now.” At the time, Hansen was the head of nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and though his testimony was certainly not the first official warning about the “greenhouse effect”—a report to President Lyndon Johnson, in 1965, predicted “measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate” in the decades to follow—it was the first to receive national news coverage. The Times ran the story at the top of the front page, with a graph showing a long-term rise in average global temperatures. (June 20, 2018) The New Yorker [more on Climate Change in our area]

Dr. Hansen is quoted in the above article:

A possible answer, which seems to be the one that Hansen himself, at least in part, subscribes to, is that scientists are to blame. Hansen is now seventy-seven and retired from nasa. He recently told the Associated Press that he regrets not being “able to make this story clear enough for the public.”

I think Dr. Hansen and many of the climate scientists at that time; the first (2000), second (2009), third (2014, and fourth National Climate Assessment (2017), the five Assessment Reports from the IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, were entirely clear. The writers, news stories, documentaries, and the efforts of many groups like the Sierra Club have made it abundantly clear early on that the science behind Climate Change was increasing robust and worthy of the public attention. But the public has not responded on a scale and time frame that is consistent with the science.

The public should get addressing Climate Change and taking the trouble to really listen to what climate scientists are saying. If you care to watch, here is a large collection of short videos by climate scientists bending over backwards to explain every aspect of the science behind Climate Change to the public. 

Is the answer to the public’s inertia on Climate Change for activists to reach across the political aisle and appease those who steadfastly refuse to admit what is obvious to most Americans and nations around the world? Is the answer to the rise in racism finding a middle ground? I think not.

Pushing the science does not seem to have moved the public forward towards solutions on a scale and time frame that will matter—but that doesn’t mean we should play down the role of science in an issue that is essentially science. We should work together for solutions, but we can’t have our cake and eat it too: we cannot address Climate Change and have endless growth, an economic system heedless of our environment, and hold ideological stances that don’t match the science of our climate crisis. The science behind Climate Change should be elevated to the position it deserves when addressing this issue—at the top. If it isn’t, then the other issues involved—politics, environmental and economic justice, and energy solutions -- will be moot.

Missed Dr. Hansen’s talk in Rochester, NY on April 21st in 2015 at Monroe County Community College? Watch the entire speech, with an introduction by Dr. Susan Spencer. Very high quality video.

Time passes.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Getting real about renewable energy

Governor Cuomo has some very ambitious green energy goals for New York State. This includes getting our state “Coal Free by 2020”:

Governor Cuomo Announces New U.S. Climate Alliance Initiatives to Mark One-Year Anniversary of President Trump's Decision to Withdraw from the Global Paris Climate Accord U.S. Climate Alliance Initiatives Draw on New York State's Leadership in Combatting Climate Change, Renewable Energy, Reforming the Energy Vision Initiative, and Nation's Largest Green Bank New Commitments Include Reducing 'Super Pollutants,' Expanding Clean Energy Financing, Storing Carbon in Landscapes, and Softening the Negative Impact of Federal Solar Tariffs U.S. Climate Alliance States Remain on Track to Meet Their Share of U.S. Paris Agreement Target for at Least 25% Emissions Reductions by 2025 (June 1, 2018 GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO)

But this ambition is low on specifics.

Also, New York State’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) #REV4NY is high on ambition and low on mapping just exactly what and where renewable projects can be located so that the goals are achievable. We cannot realistically evaluate the costs/benefits of any one project without a larger perspective on how it impacts our path to 100% renewables. This does not mean that we ignore negative impacts to local biomes or communities, but that negative impacts may in some cases be outweighed by larger needs (addressing Climate Change), or we may recognize that saying “no” to a particular project necessitates finding an alternative that can serve our 100% renewable goal as well.

Even the Assembly Bill A5105A, which “Requires the establishment of a one hundred per cent clean energy system by two thousand thirty”, which calls for climate action planning, still doesn’t specify a statewide analysis of energy needs and sources. This might be inferred from the text of the bill, but it could be interpreted in lots of other ways too.

The problem with many of the efforts of getting to 100% renewable is that many current proposals will never reach fruition. Barriers such as local opposition, going off budget, a drop in the renewable energy market, or failing an environmental impact statement can stop projects we were depending on to get us to 100%. Many solar and wind projects have failed when the public says ‘No!” Not to mention, one of the biggest NYS Off-Shore wind projects, Great Lakes Offshore Wind (GLOW) program in 2009, which died before it got very far.

The overall lack of planning leaves a strong impression that even the champions of these efforts are not really taking them seriously.  We’re like a college freshman who embarks on a degree program, but one in which the course requirements have not been spelled out, and grades are withheld until some years in the future.  The student has no idea if a particular course will satisfy the requirements of the major, and no idea if the work performed in the course is good enough for a passing grade. They also don’t know if some other course(s) that fit into their schedule better might satisfy the program requirements just as well.  And we are far from the point where the degree program undergoes constant re-evaluation to make sure it still satisfies current and projected conditions in the world.

As we go further into the Climate Change Bottleneck, where our past environmental abuses get cooked on a warming planet, the economic and fairness advantages of renewable energy will be amplified and further compelled by the urgency of this energy transition. Which is to say, the consequences of heating our planet are going to compel us to focus on renewable energy-whether it’s convenient or not. And, Dr. Hansen warns us that although many people are thinking we can still use fossil fuels but be rescued  from the consequences through carbon capture, we haven’t really thought that through either.

As Bill McKibben reminded us in his now famous article in Rolling Stone Global Warming's Terrifying New Math, the figures must add up. Dirty energy must go down and renewable energy must go up. When a community says no to a renewable project they must see it in the context of Climate Change. If renewable energy doesn’t add up to 100%, then we’re either deluding ourselves that we’re solving this problem, or we’ve somehow decided we won’t use as much or more energy than we do. Which doesn’t seem likely.

Time passes. 

Monday, June 04, 2018

Earth’s climate system doesn’t care about renewable energy, only fossil fuels

It won’t do humanity much good to increase renewable energy to address Climate Change and still back large fossil fuel projects. [See McKibben’s recent article in The Guardian “Stop swooning over Justin Trudeau. The man is a disaster for the planet”.  Our planet (any planet, really) only cares (responds) to how much greenhouse gases are in our climate system (our atmosphere and waters) to determine how much to heat up its surface. It’s physics. [See: “How Global Warming Works”.]

Earth couldn’t care less about how much renewable energy we generate because renewable energy doesn’t trap the infrared light energy produced when the visible light energy from the sun bounces off the surface of our planet. It’s we who should care about renewable energy because we should like our planet to be habitable for quite a while longer.

This is important to remember amidst all the articles on the rapid increase in renewable energy around the world and renewables’ dramatic drop in costs. At the end of the day, however much renewable energy we produce, if we haven’t stopped and even lowered our greenhouse gas emissions, we will fry—even if we have a planet full of wind turbines and solar panels buzzing away fulfilling all our wants and needs.

It’s important that environmentalist have heralded how renewable energy is lowering costs for households and providing jobs—even compensating for those whose fossil fuel jobs have been displaced by the renewable energy industry.

But we shouldn’t be focusing exclusively on the economics of renewable energy and dropping the moral and global warming aspects of this issue just because it upsets those bound and determined to end the Climate Change discussion. We cannot communicate around the people who don’t like ‘Climate Change’ to solve Climate Change.  

It’s immoral for developed nations to have become rich by the use of fossil fuels and not help the developing nations achieve growth with our renewable energy technology and support. If they grow like we grew, we’ll all perish.

If our growth in the past two hundred years due to the use of fossil fuel is going to end all civilizations, it’s immoral (and certifiably crazy) to continue down this path. 

Climate Change Judge's Homework: Was Industrialization Worth It? Attorneys for the cities of Oakland and San Francisco and Chevron Corp.have homework from Judge William Alsup: prepare 10-page legal analyses on whether a century of American dependence on fossil fuels was worth the global warming it caused. It’s due in a week. The filings will follow almost three-hours of proceedings on Thursday in a San Francisco federal court, where the cities and the world’s biggest oil companies sparred over lawsuits seeking payment for infrastructure to protect against rising sea levels. Alsup, who’s weighing a dismissal bid by defendants including Chevron and four other companies, focused many of his questions on the “broader sweep of history,” and the crucial role oil played in America’s successes in both world wars and its subsequent economic boom. (May 24, 2018)Bloomberg [more on Energy and Climate Change in our area]

Also, it's unrealistic to expect a bright future if we warm the planet beyond our capability to live on it.

Climate Change and Rapidly Intensifying Hurricanes Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1, and last year’s season was devastating for the U.S. Damage from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria cost the U.S. $267 billion. All three hurricanes went through a rapid intensification (RI) cycle, meaning the strongest winds within the storm increased by at least 30 knots (about 35 mph) in 24 hours. Harvey jumped from a Category 2 to a Category 4 just before its first landfall. Maria’s intensification was more dramatic, going from a Category 1 to a Category 5. This type of intensification is common in major hurricanes, as 79 percent of major tropical cyclones globally go through at least one cycle of rapid intensification. We consulted with Phil Klotzbach of the Colorado State Tropical Meteorology Project to examine the historic number of Atlantic named storms that have undergone rapid intensification and to acknowledge limitations in detection. As a result, we are using two starting points for this week’s analysis. The first is 1950, a few years after reconnaissance aircraft analyses began. The second is 1980, a year after regular satellite analyses were available. These data show the active period of the 1950s and 1960s, then a lull, followed by a bigger spike, with the influence of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) driving the lower values in the 1970s and 1980s. In a further analysis, one study earlier this year found an increase in rapid intensification from 1986-2015 tied to warming water east of the Caribbean Sea. While the study suggests the AMO is the primary influence, there has also been a net ocean warming on top of that cycle. (May 30, 2018) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

We must make sure that our push for renewable energy doesn’t get lost in a fruitless attempt to convince the public that its only about lowering their energy bills. Climate Change is an environmental problem that has festered through a long history of human environmental abuse topped off by a dramatic rise in the use of fossil fuels that has seriously warmed our planet since the mid-eighteen hundreds.

Increasing the use of renewable energy must occur if we desire to maintain the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to. If we think we can continue to do so while using fossil fuels, that is the only thing Earth will respond to. But not in a good way for us.    

Time passes.