The New York Times reported that 13 federal agencies turned in a report that the White House approved which says that human activity is indeed the cause of global warming, climate change, or whatever you want to call it. The report says that over the last 115 years global average temperatures have increased 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, a seemingly small amount but enough to account for the conditions that have led to severe weather events and forest fires we’ve experienced this year.
Since 1980 the report also states that the extreme weather has cost just the United States $1.1 trillion, a very high price for 40+ years of denial. Worse, it will likely cost many times that in lost revenues and remediation strategies to corral the condition to prevent a civilizational catastrophe.
This is no time for anyone to say I told you so. In fact, some amount of skepticism about big things like global warming might actually be good because they prevent us from running off in multiple directions every time someone yells fire in a crowded theater. But the time for skepticism is over and we need to turn our attention to remediation, a fancy word for finding solutions. Here are some of the issues to think about as we grope for what to do now.
The report puts the final nail in the coffin of deniability but, unfortunately, the time for reducing emissions as a means of stemming global warming is long passed. There is incontrovertible evidence that there is already too much carbon in the atmosphere and any solution that relies exclusively on slowing emissions demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the problem.
To be clear, yes, we need to reduce emissions down to a small level. As you can see by perusing the articles on this site, most of what we use fossil fuels for today can be supplemented with renewables and should be. One glaring exception is air travel. There’s no substitute for jet fuel for civilian air travel as well as for national defense so we need to prioritize what we use fossil carbon for.
At the same time, fossil carbon, a term we need to get used to, is a good way of acknowledging that coal, oil and natural gas also function as feed stocks for a variety of synthetics from rubber, to nylon, polyester, fertilizers, explosive and more. They are also essential in producing many other materials like cement, steel, and various kinds of glass.
At the same time that we need fossil carbon, we also have to acknowledge that all forms of it are running out and because of that, they are far too valuable to burn. Vladimir Putin has a lot of what’s left and if we don’t want to discover that we need to make deals with the devil in the not too distant future, it’s a good idea to find alternatives to burning carbon. That revolution has started and globally nations are adding renewable capacity at prodigious rates, but those rates have to scale up further.
Just a few years ago that was a tall order but some of the same technologies that gave us ultra fast computers have also been employed in making very efficient solar collectors. Moreover, there are other technologies in the offing, especially those involved in geothermal energy production, that are now available and about to cause a revolution in the energy sector. This will bring a new era of productivity and economic growth along with millions of new jobs.
Also on our site you’ll find a good deal of new information about the economics of fixing climate change. You’ll discover that humanity has been at this point many times before in our long history. But it is a curious fact of Capitalism that every 50-60 years we undergo a sea change in which, wittingly or unwittingly, we dive into a disruptive innovation and come up with a major economic driver. Sustainability is that driver today.
Finally, we have to tackle the issue of carbon removal. There are between 5 and 6 trillion tons of carbon in the atmosphere, about 40 percent of which has been put there by the human activity that the White House acknowledged today.
It would be foolish and a misreading of the available data to state that we need to remove all of that carbon. Green plants need it to make our food for starters. Each year green plants capture 130 terawatts of solar energy more than 6 times the power consumed by human civilization and make between 100 and 115 billion tons of biomass from carbon dioxide and water using just that sunlight as an energy source.
One of our goals now should be to double the amount of photosynthesis or green plant activity happening on the planet. Achieving this goal could remove a trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the environment in a decade. Even failing to exactly double that activity would have a significant effect on reducing the threat of climate change.
Finally, it is highly likely that there will be no single solution to climate change and although it looks like an emergency right now, one of the better things we can do to fix the situation would be to adapt and to consider fighting climate change an activity that we’ll be at for many years to come. There are economic models that can make this effort profitable and that will help drive the economy for the rest of this century. Some may not like the idea of focusing some economic attention on such an “unproductive” effort but the alternative is too scary to contemplate.
We invite you to help spread the word using this hashtag: #TrendClimate.
(Cross-posted @ The Age of Sustainability)