Day by day we threaten the planet we all live on.
It struck me recently that there is no easy journey of change. Must have been like that since time immemorial. Using the phrase ‘no easy journey’, is a safe interpretation! The reality for all thinking, feeling individuals when we look at the madness of where mankind has arrived and the journey ahead must cause us all to weep; not all that infrequently I suspect. Hence my choice of title for today’s Post on Learning from Dogs.
Maybe I am drawn to this reflective mood because I have finished James Hansen’s book, Storms of my Grandchildren. To say it has disturbed me is a massive understatement. But let me not wander off into some emotional haze but come back to the journey.
Let’s take coal. Here are Hansen’s thoughts on “Old King Coal” going back to 2007. Note: CCS stands for carbon capture and sequestration.
Scientific data reveal that the Earth is close to dangerous climate change, to tipping points that could produce irreversible effects. Global warming of 0.6°C in the past 30 years has brought the Earth’s temperature back to about the peak level of the Holocene, the current period of climate stability, now of nearly 12,000 year duration, and more warming is “in the pipeline” due to human-made greenhouse gases already in the air. The Earth’s history tells us that the world is approaching a dangerous level of greenhouse gases, a level that would produce accelerating sea level rise, extermination of many animal and plant species, and intensification of regional climate extremes, including floods, storms, droughts and forest fires. It is urgent to slow emissions, as another decade of increasing emissions would practically guarantee elimination of Arctic sea ice, accelerating disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and regional climate deterioration during coming decades.
The most important time-critical action needed to avert climate disasters concerns coal. Consider: 1) one-quarter of fossil fuel CO2 emission remains in the air for more than 500 years, 2) conventional oil and gas reserves are sufficient to take atmospheric CO2 at least to the vicinity of the “dangerous” level, and it is impractical to capture their CO2 emission as it is mostly from small sources (vehicles), 3) coal reserves are far greater than oil and gas reserves, and most coal use is at power plants, where it is feasible to capture and permanently sequester the CO2 underground (CCS = carbon capture and sequestration). Clear implication: the only practical way to keep CO2 below or close to the “dangerous level” is to phase out coal use during the next few decades, except where CO2 is captured and sequestered.
The resulting imperative is an immediate moratorium on additional coal-fired power plants without CCS. A surge in global coal use in the last few years has converted a potential slowdown of CO2 emissions into a more rapid increase. But the main reason for the proposed moratorium is that a CO2 molecule from coal, in effect, is more damaging than a CO2 molecule from oil. CO2 in readily available oil almost surely will end up in the atmosphere, it is only a question of when, and when does not matter much, given its long lifetime. CO2 in coal does not need to be released to the atmosphere, but if it is, it cannot be recovered and will make disastrous climate change a near certainty.
The moratorium must begin in the West, which is responsible for three-quarters of climate change (via 75% of the present atmospheric CO2 excess, above the pre-industrial level), despite large present CO2 emissions in developing countries. The moratorium must extend to developing countries within a decade, but that will not happen unless developed countries fulfill their moral obligation to lead this moratorium. If Britain should initiate this moratorium, there is a strong possibility of positive feedback, a domino effect, with Germany, Europe, and the United States following, and then, probably with technical assistance, developing countries.
A spreading moratorium on construction of dirty (no CCS) coal plants is the sine quo non for stabilizing climate and preserving creation. It would need to be followed by phase-out of existing dirty coal plants in the next few decades, but would that be so difficult? Consider the other benefits: cleanup of local pollution, conditions in China and India now that greatly damage human health and agriculture, and present global export of pollution, including mercury that is accumulating in fish stock throughout the ocean.
There are long lists of things that people can do to help mitigate climate change. But for reasons quantified in my most recent publication, “How Can We Avert Dangerous Climate Change?” a moratorium on coal-fired power plants without CCS is by far the most important action that needs to be pursued. It should be the rallying issue for young people. The future of the planet in their lifetime is at stake. This is not an issue for only Bangladesh and the island nations, but for all humanity and other life on the planet. It seems to me that young people, especially, should be doing whatever is necessary to block construction of dirty (no CCS) coal-fired power plants. No doubt our poor communication of the matter deserves much of the blame. Suggestions for how to improve that communication are needed.
OK, before I finish off, enjoy Hansen’s interview on CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman” which has found it’s way onto YouTube, (I found the sound level pretty low!)
All of us who embrace this beautiful planet and acknowledge the extraordinary set of circumstances that enabled man to achieve so much must now weep. Weep for what we have unwittingly done to Planet Earth, and hope our tears bring about change.