By Frank Thomas
California continues its remarkable legislative breakthroughs in going green under the SB 350 Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015. Legislation just passed sets two goals for 2030: 50% of state utility power from renewables and a 50% increase in energy efficiency of buildings. The provision for a 50% reduction in petroleum use for cars and trucks failed to pass as did the SB 32 bill that sets GHG emission targets for 2030 and 2050.
Still, the sweeping new mandates passed call for DOUBLING energy efficiency and using renewables for HALF of California’s electricity generation by 2030. It is uncertain how fast and to what extent transportation electrification will proceed California’s aim to step up its commitment to clean energy acknowledges the scientific reality we humans don’t have the luxury of lots of time to transition FAST to renewable energy and much improved energy efficiency. California, Germany, and Scandinavia are not being complacent about the critical need to act in big and little ways to counter Earth’s energy imbalance that’s intensifying global warming, recurring destructive drought and flooding weather events of scale – the huge costs of which are not included in the gasoline price.
Table 1 is a ‘big picture’ comparative look at electricity generation from renewables showing California to be among the world’s leaders:
California’s electricity generation from renewables and overall decarbonization rates were an impressive 26.6% and 36.6%, respectively, in 2013. Wind energy and biomass played a major role. The renewable share can be increased significantly by solar PV applications and electrification of vehicles bringing further improvements in California’s decarbonization levels.
Without a near term, effective, safe way to capture and bury carbon, Germany and Scandinavia are phasing out of CO2 pollution-intensive coal production. Germany is doing the same with nuclear. California, Germany and Scandinavia have resisted temptation to consider renewable energy as supplemental rather than the dominant contributors to energy consumption and energy security.
We are all affected by proliferating global CO2 emissions no matter what regions they come from. TABLE 2 shows the dramatic, near “exponential” growth of CO2 emissions since 1850 and particularly since 1950.
TABLE 2 forecasts CO2 emissions at only a 1% increase per year. This results in 52.8 billion tons of CO2 being emitted by 2050, leading to disastrous temperature rise of 3-4C. Many aspects of climate change will continue for some centuries even if CO2 emissions are stopped.
This is because up to 40%, some scientists say 80%, of emitted CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 800 years or more. This spells a substantial multi-century climate change development caused by past, present and future CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions must decline 6% annually starting in 2016 to have any hope of averting a 2C rise by 2050.
It’s difficult for humans to comprehend the concept, ‘exponential,’ or ‘exponential function’. This is a process where, for example, there’s a period of slow growth in global warming and ice melt that can then change to an accelerated build up at a 10 or 20 year doubling rate, intensified by various positive feedbacks.
In 1970, humanity was pumping 40 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere EVERY DAY – or 14.5 billion tons annually. In 2015, CO2 emissions will almost triple to 110 million tons EVERY DAY – or 40 billion tons annually. This astronomical growth has led to an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 400 ppm today and rising. This is 40% higher than the 280 ppm level over two centuries ago, a stunning 30% higher vs. 1960’s concentration level. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are higher today than at any time in at least the past 800,000 years. America with 315 million people has highest per capita emissions. China is 2nd highest with 1.3 billion people.
Human-induced carbon emissions are becoming ‘exponential,’ contributing also to a much faster rise in future sea level (see: Global CO2 Emissions 1751-2010 CDIAC and Catastrophic Sea Level Rise within Three Generations). Recorded history has never seen the CO2 atmospheric concentration rise so much in such an incredibly short time frame. In prior ice ages, such an increase would have taken thousands of years excluding an ultra-unique, massive natural event. The change since 1970 is so extraordinary that it overwhelms all natural forces including the sun (see: What’s Really Warming the World?).
Dr. James Hansen’s recent study, which must still be peer-reviewed, projects a 10 foot sea level rise before 2100. This is based on evidence that ice sheets that come in contact with warming oceans are vulnerable to a ‘non-linear’ as opposed to an assumed ‘linear’ melt down. Rising air temperatures are the main cause of recent dramatic disintegration of ice shelves. But Hansen’s study suggests that the warming of oceans may be playing a more significant role in destroying the ice shelves … as various positive feedbacks amplify the exponential rate of ice melt.
In contrast to Hansen’s calculations, the IPCC’s projected 3 foot sea level rise excludes ice sheet melt. The Greenland, West and East Antarctica ice sheets are evidencing considerable instability and rapid loss of ice mass in recent years. NASA has just announced that a sea level rise of 3 feet is already LOCKED IN – thus can’t be avoided by the younger generation and future generations.
Hansen concludes this all means the IPCC’s 2 degrees Celsius maximum target by 2050 is unacceptably high. We actually are now on a CO2 emissions trend leading to a 3 to 4 degrees Celsius increase by 2050 – driving the CO2 concentration to well above 500 ppm and thereby drastically escalating the Earth’s existing dangerously high energy imbalance. To avert this disaster scenario, global CO2 emissions must be rapidly reduced on average about 6% yearly to achieve at least a 350 ppm atmospheric concentration by 2100. (see: World on track for worst-case warming scenario).
The evidence of man-made CO2 emissions and correlation with global warming is obvious in the melting of glaciers, ice mass loss, multiple extreme weather events, acidic oceans, ecological disasters. It is unambiguous that the increase in CO2 concentrations is human-induced. We also know the human sources of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, cement production, agriculture, deforestation contribute half of the emissions that lead to an increase in atmospheric concentrations. The other half of the CO2 emissions is absorbed by the oceans and the biosphere. This is making the oceans more acidic and threatening sea life.
The reality is that “disruptive” technologies, lifestyle changes, stronger regulations and incentives, among other actions, are critical to achieving a “green friendly” capitalism … before Earth’s rising heat content and temperature become irreversible.
Congratulations California for recognizing the moral, social and economic necessity to exit out of fossil fuel CO2 emissions as rapidly and effectively as possible … including ambitious actions to improve energy efficiency. Congratulations California for recognizing that half measures won’t suffice in face of the most severe life-on-Earth risk the world civilization could ever imagine.