By John Lawrence and Frank Thomas
Each year there are more extreme weather events not only in the US but all over the world. Most scientists agree that, as more carbon dioxide is pumped into the air and the gaseous composition of the atmosphere is changed, extreme weather events are more likely to happen.
As the earth warms due to greenhouse gasses (GHGs), polar and glacier ice melts and more moisture is held in the atmosphere which is deposited in torrents of precipitation. The Arctic permafrost and subsea waters contain over 1.7 trillion tons of methane which will be released as the earth warms further. This could lead to deadly injections of highly toxic methane reserves into the atmosphere in the relatively near future.
Just a 3% release over a short time, or 50 billion tons of methane, is the equivalent of 1 trillion tons of CO2 emissions … sufficient to ecologically destroy Mother Earth.
Instead of doing everything possible to reduce the injection of GHGs into the atmosphere, well established corporations and vested interests are doing everything possible to proceed with business as usual. CEOs are driving their enterprises to maximize short term profits lest they get a bad rating from Wall Street analysts causing a reduction in their stock prices.
Advertising encourages consumers to consume more lest GDP drops. All of this fervent economic activity produces and releases more GHGs into the atmosphere. More cars powered by more internal combustion engines burning more gasoline resulting in more tailpipe emissions results in increased GDP and increased percentages of CO2, currently at 400 parts per million and rising. As Al Gore has pointed out, every day we relentlessly spew 90 million tons of man-made CO2 pollution into the atmosphere.
There is a collision course between rising GDP which is correlated with increasing energy use and the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere which at a certain point can lead to runaway release of both CO2 and methane making the earth unsuitable for human habitation.
As Kevin Moore says, “I’m afraid those who have managed to work their way into political positions are forbidden from making any decisions jeopardizing business-as-usual; but as the memes go, there is no business on a dead planet nor is there a planet B.The least these politicians and corporate heads could do is be honest with their own children by telling them their future is not as important as the short-term profits to be had right now by ripping up the Earth’s last remaining resources and fouling the biosphere. If they cannot be truthful to their own offspring, how could we expect them to be forthright and unbiased with us?”
The experts point out that reducing our consumption and energy output would doom the US to a recession or even worse. How can the Big Oil companies take a supreme hit without the stock market going kerflooie? Well, how did Germany manage to do it, solarize that is, and their economy is still OK, pretty good in fact. So there is a way. There just isn’t a way given the terms and constraints of American capitalism.
As Richard Smith points out: “Under capitalism, growth and jobs are more often than not at odds with environmental protection.”
The neat thing about photovoltaic (PV) solar is that energy from the sun can be produced by millions of solar panels on millions of individual rooftops. It turns farms, homes and businesses into energy producing entrepreneurs. For instance, Germany is awash in solar PV. In 2007 alone enough solar panels were installed throughout the country to power more than 1.2 million homes. The reason is that the German government has given people an incentive to install them. It’s called a feed-in tariff which allows individuals and businesses to sell energy so produced back onto the grid in such a way that it is profitable for them to do so.
Here in the US lobbyists for the utility companies are fighting a similar plan because, when individuals and businesses not only produce their own energy but also sell the excess back onto the grid, the utility company loses the exclusive right to sell energy and their profits are diminished.
The Koch brothers are now lobbying for legislation that would introduce not an incentive to solarize but a tax (a disincentive) on those who do so because they fear a reduction in their sale of fossil fuels. The fossil fuel purveyors are doing what they can to discourage the implementation of renewable fuels.
The GDP of the American economy is 70% consumption. If we stop or slow down over-consumption, we are out of work – so goes the propagated conventional wisdom. Of course, this flies in the face of independent studies which clearly show that cumulative job growth in the green industry in recent years now actually exceeds that in the petroleum industry – when the correct, not manipulated, comparative direct job growth data is used. And the ‘green’ industry is only in its ‘cradle’ stage of business growth. Scaling back unneeded consumption is an important step in reducing the need for energy to produce a bunch of superfluous items. Let’s produce and consume only what we need. This would ameliorate and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Back in the 1970s Denmark decided to become energy independent by developing their wind resources big time. Today a substantial share of the wind turbines in use throughout the world were manufactured in Denmark. Wind supplies about 30% of Denmark’s energy needs, and they intend to increase that to 50% by 2020. As far as storage goes, Denmark has encouraged the use of electric vehicles which are charged primarily by wind power. That power stored in car batteries can be fed back onto the grid at times when wind is not sufficient to generate all the power that is needed. The Danes have thus come up with a clever way to store energy that is wind generated.
In a democracy one would think that the majority of the people would band together and vote to place their children’s long term survival interests above their corporations’ short term financial interests. The fact that that is not happening in the US is a testament to the fact that the US is no longer a democracy. It is a corporatocracy where government policy and legislation is promulgated by an army of lobbyists representing the short term interests of corporations.
Lobbyists run Washington DC. They outnumber Congressman 25 to 1. For every member of Congress, as of 2012, there was about$12.5 million spent on lobbying. By comparison, the average 2012 budget for a member of the House of Representatives was only $1.3 million. So, in 2012 in a down economy, proclaimed lobbyists and shadow lobbyists accounted for more than nine times the typical House member’s official operating expenses. No wonder that becoming a Congressman is only a way station to becoming a lobbyist later on when it becomes time for the Congressman to “spend more time with his family.” That’s where they make the real money.
In addition ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, invites lobbyists and Congressmen to meetings in which legislation reflecting corporate interests has already been prepared. It is taken back to Washington and introduced verbatim and then passed into law. The”legislators” need not even “legislate” any more. That is done for them by the corporations whose only interest is short term profits. And the Congressmen can look forward to cashing in when they leave Congress and in turn become lobbyists.
Europeans, on the other hand, are for the most part in unity about the challenge of global warming and know the stakes are very high. They recognize and accept the science that recent climate changes and the buildup of energy heat content in the atmosphere cannot be explained by natural causes alone. That is why Europe has been for some time adjusting to the reality of climate change much more seriously and successfully than most US states with the exception of states like California, Colorado and Vermont.
What we can do:
The following are some critically important innovative actions – some in progress and some rather fresh – to stabilize CO2 emissions at no more than 450 ppm by 2050 (with 2020 and 2030 as key tipping points) and to avoid an increasingly dangerous release of Arctic methane (CH4) as warming continues with rising GHG emissions and the related treacherous positive feedbacks which eventually could trigger runaway global warming.
We need to (1) finalize as quickly as possible state-of-the-art capture and sequestration of CO2 and perfect the knowhow to capture CH4 leakages during hydrolic fracturing, using the same for burning in power stations; (2) develop a ZERO carbon release policy for coal-fired power generation and strictly enforce it with severe penalties for violations; (3) sharply reduce extensive CO2 and other toxic emissions coming from the chemical industry; (4) make sure that extracted natural gas displaces, rather than adds to, consumption of dirtier fuels.
We need to gradually begin eliminating gas guzzling, CO2 polluting SUVs; strengthen very weak CAFE (Corporate Averge Fuel Economy) standards which are a joke compared to EU standards and a scam whereby lower standards are allowed for bigger vehicles; switch quickly and extensively to smaller, economy vehicles as Europe has done over the years.
We should set as a top priority for vehicles the development of effective, safe alternate green fuels with an outstanding EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) performance. Green fuel options include the electric battery (which may be poorly EROEI efficient based on recent studies), and hydrogen or ammonia fuel systems now at an advanced stage of prototype testing and improving.
We should get serious on finally determining the potential of Algae as a green fuel – another fuel option that captures twice as much CO2 per one part of oxygen and can be used as a drop-in fuel to eventually substitute for any fossil fuel.
We need to transition far more aggressively to solar for heat and cooling of homes and commercial buildings; thermally insulate homes; develop smart rotor blade technology to optimize the power generation of single wind turbines; technically assess the benefits of natural photosynthesis versus artificial photosynthesis for producing clean energy.
We should plant millions of fast-growing trees in a program of massive reforestation and stop the slashing of forests (e.g., IKEA wiping out forests to make cheap furniture).
We need to transition as quickly as possible to organic grain agricultural systems (‘biochar’ farming) where CO2 can be sequestered in the soil organic matter; finds ways that absorb GHGs while growing more food and improving the lives of poor farmers by, for example, raising the quality of degraded soils so that they can absorb more carbon and, if possible, by planting valuable trees among the crops.
We should examine the feasibility and pros-cons of harvesting phytoplankton in mass to re-oxgenate seas where needed and neutralize carbolic acid in seas.
We need to redesign and make products that are truly durable (e.g., away with the planned obsalescence culture), easily repairable, and as long-lasting as feasible even though this would reduce sales and hence GDP. Also we need to get rid of plastic bags.
We should look into a technically new greenhouse food production system now in prototype testing in Africa using piped in salt water that is simply converted to natural water for planting in a process that also captures and recycles CO2 providing a very rapid growth of food products with little need for fertilizers.
Despite admitting to the role of climate change, Exxon Mobil is bound and determined to keep pumping out the fossil fuels and polluting the environment. Exxon was reported as saying the following: “Exxon Mobil predicts that carbon tax or no carbon tax, by 2040 global demand for energy is going to grow by 35%, 65% in the developing world (includes China and India) and ALL of this is going to be supplied by fossil fuels.”
This is from Exxon Mobil’s Carbon Disclosure Project:
ExxonMobil shares with policy makers, industry, and consumers the global challenge of addressing risks posed by increases in global greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions. While climate change remains extraordinarily complex, increasing scientific evidence makes it clear that rising GHG emissions pose risks to society and ecosystems. These risks justify the development and implementation of responsible actions by governments, companies, and individuals. ExxonMobil believes that the long-term objective of a climate change policy should be to reduce the risk of serious impacts on society and ecosystems, while considering the importance of energy to global economic development. Managing these risks will require effort and decisions over many decades.
The problem is we don’t have “many decades” to deal with this problem. While Exxon Mobil is taking a leisurely approach, the Earth will be a basket case in just a couple of decades unless something radical is done starting right now.
ExxonMobil earned $45 billion profit in 2012, a 9 percent jump over 2011. While racking up remarkable profits Exxon also received $600 million annual tax breaks. In 2011, Exxon paid just 13 percent in taxes. The company paid no taxes to the U.S. federal government in 2009, despite $45.2 billion record profits. It paid $15 billion in taxes, but none in federal income tax.
The company spent $12.97 million lobbying in 2012 to protect low tax rates and block pollution controls and safeguards for public health. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson received $24.7 million total compensation. Exxon is moving ahead with a project to develop the tar sands in Canada.
Exxon like most US corporations invests its money primarily in lobbying efforts, the result of which is to diminish regulation and allow it to pollute as much as it wants. This increases profits. US corporations locate in whichever country has the lowest environmental standards, the lowest paid workforce and the lowest tax rates.
The trouble is that pollution spewed into the atmosphere freely in a country with low environmental standards affects people in countries with high standards since the atmosphere is a universal system. It doesn’t matter where the GHGs are spewed. There is only one atmosphere for all Earthlings.
How do We the People wrest control of government back from the corporations whose interests are at odds with the interests of future generations? Can the world, whose history has been divisiveness, war and greed predating capitalism, come together and agree on one thing – that global warming requires that we all act in concert on a worldwide basis and make the necessary changes to control it? Or will the future of humans on the earth be written with the epitaph: For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.
Another way to discuss it with the mouth-breathers is that we are borrowing financially from our children. Speaking simply about money, short term financial gain (by not cleaning up our act) will have to be paid for many times over with the costs of, for example, access to clean water, higher food prices, increased medical costs, fewer places that are safely habitable or can be cultivated. And that’s not even beginning to mention the costs of the stuff that they want to deny, or claim is unemportant.
Paul Keleher says
I want to follow up on your comment about the Danes, “The Danes have thus come up with a clever way to store energy that is wind generated. “[in car batteries].
The Danes are not the only ones to have come up with ways to store wind generation. A US manufacturer in North Dakota has been making space heating equipment (furnaces, boilers and rooms heaters) for heating homes and non-residential building alike, that can be synchronized with the output of a wind farm to utilize the wind farms electrical generation to heat earthen ceramic bricks which store this heat for up to 24 hours to maintain a steady supply of heat to the building which the equipment serves. It’s called Electric Thermal Storage Heating and it was invented in Europe 70 years ago, and is in widespread use today throughout the northern tier of the US and Canada. Compared to the cost, both environmental (due to the exotic chemicals used) and dollar-wise, ETS can be implemented at a tiny fraction of the cost of battery banks. Why doesn’t ETS take off?
Frank Thomas says
Storing wind (and solar ?) energy in dense ceramic bricks sounds like a powerful facilitating green energy solution — especially as the number of onshore/offshore wind farms expand! In return for balancing the load on grids and reducing the long-term need for new power plants to meet electricity demand peaks burning fossil fuels, I understand utilities offer homeowners of ETS systems discounts on peak rates per kWh of up to 35%.
The idea may not have taken hold yet in a substantive way with wind due to early development phase of onshore/offshore wind energy installations in U.S. Today, less than 1% of U.S. electricity production comes from wind vs. 10% in Germany vs. 30% for Denmark. Another restraining factor is that U.S. ETS systems based on natural gas powered electricity are apparently more cost attractive for homes vs. systems using oil or propane? I’ve read about U.S. peak-hours rates for gas-powered electricity ETS systems running in a range of $0.145 per kWh to $0.120 per kWh with up to 35% discounts for off-peak electricity. I’m curious about what the current competitive wind peak and off-peak rates are for U.S. ETS systems based on wind energy ?
I’m perplexed as to why Denmark has chosen batteries for storage of excess wind energy rather than ETS systems. I do know Denmark has something like 4.5 gigawatts of wind capacity and about 5.6 million people. They are very energy efficient consuming less than 18 kilowatt hours a day per person. So the country believes that meeting 80-90% of electricity demand from wind is quite feasible under the right conditions by 2050!
Paul Keleher says
Off-peak discounts vary considerably, but in some cases they far exceed 35%. For example, in the Town of Concord, MA, where I have personally installed >100 of these systems in homes in that town, the peak rate (regular residential -R1) is 16.5 cents/kw-hr while the off-peak rate is 5.75 cents/kw-hr. That is a 65% discount off the regular rate! That regular rate is about average in MA, but 5.75 is an exceptionally low off-peak rate.
I am aware of several pilot programs currently underway in several areas in the northern US and in eastern Canada (where ETS is widely used and supported by the utilities) that aggregate many ETS users together through the internet and submit their aggregate load as a block to the local power grid operators for regulation (switching the aggregate load on and off) as needed by the grid manager.
So the technology is there, in use today, and I can tell you from my own direct experience that it does work. I too don’t understand why Denmark isn’t using lots of ETS since there are (and have been for many years) several European manufacturers of the technology.
Frank Thomas says
The ‘Ticking Gas Time Bomb’ is the loss of Earth’s albedo due to loss of polar ice, permafrost, and subsequent release of many billions of tons of methane (CH4) in the upper latitudes — where in the first 20 years one molecule of CH4 equates to 86 times the toxic effect of one molecule of CO2. We can’t wait for the perfect validation of the link between CO2 acceleration and related feedbacks to Earth warming as we will be dead or dying in the forseeable future if, under the worst scenario, the methane bomb goes off.
Waiting until climate change is “proven” is, in words of one commentator, “… the equivalent to saying that we have to let the fire consume us while we are ascertaining that there really is a fire.” Also, neither overwhelming consensus or peer-review science is a guarantee against errors of assumption or leaving something out.
Still, if a rational approach is taken to risk management of climatology which unquestionably is a grey, complex science, one has to respect that the preponderance of scientific observations, logic, model testing is saying — despite the huge number of interacting natural and human-induced variables affecting earth’s warming or cooling — that planet Earth is on a course of environmental extinction of unimaginable scale in the relatively near future unless and until we confront immediately the threat upon us.
In this regard on the positive side. the American Association for the Advancement of Science has finally just come out with key messages and a persuasive video that effectively counters the scientific disinformation circulating about the science of climate change. The Royal Academy of scientists and NSA have also been equally forthcoming recently on climate change’s life-threat to the survival of human beings, most biological species, and civilized society — and oceans due to increasing acidification.
Paul Keleher says
Hi Frank. You analogy to waiting until we get burned to decide we’d better do something about the fire is great! Makes me think of cancer… you have cancer and wait until obvious symptoms of the disease appear, the cancer will kill you before you can stop it. Global warming is much the same: if we wait to deal with it until the symptoms are so obvious that no one disputes them, it will be too late to reverse it.
John Lawrence says
There are 4 possible scenarios: 1) climate change is real and we do everything possible to stop spewing GHGs. 2) climate change is not real and we do everything possible to stop spewing GHGs. 3) climate change is real and we do nothing to stop spewing GHGs. 4) climate change is not real and we do nothing to stop spewing GHGs. #1 can possibly save the earth for human habitation. #2 results in nothing happening. #3 results in the destruction of the planet. #4 results in nothing happening. Even if climate change hasn’t been conclusively proven, why take the chance of scenario #3?
Paul Keleher says
Answer: (not mine, but to explain what all the fuss is about) because people are basically afraid of change and “doing everything we can to stop spewing GHG” means making deep-seated changes in the way we do things (like produce energy for example) . So, fearing change, the nay-sayers will try to prevent it wherever and whenever they can. There are apparently those who so fear change that they would risk the planet to resist change.