Category: Climate

Time marches on!

So we are now at the last day of July!

In many ways this has been a strange month in a somewhat strange year! No, more than that! We are at last seeing climate change come to the fore in terms of topics. Yves Smith, who produces Naked Capitalism (and it’s a great blog) had an item on climate change recently. Here’s an extract:

Yves here. As many of you know, I am considerably frustrated with Green New Deal advocates, because I see them as selling hopium. They act as if we can preserve modern lifestyles as long as we throw money, some elbow grease, and a lot of new development (using current dirty infrastructure to build it) at it. We’re already nearing the point where very bad outcomes, like widespread famines and mass migrations due to flooding, are baked in. And even that take charitably assumes that a rump of what we consider to be civilization survives.

There were many replies from a variety of people; I loved this one from Tom Stone:

A rational response to this crisis is not politically or societally feasible.

And the crisis is here, now.

The changes are not linear, a concept many of the people I talk to about climate change have difficulty accepting.

Large parts of the SF Bay Area are going to be heavily impacted (It’s my stomping ground, so I’m familiar with it) by salt water intrusion, levee failure, lack of water to to changing precipitation patterns in the Sierra’s…

A lot of Bay Area Housing is built on fill or in low lying areas, those homes will start to be abandoned within a decade if current trends continue.

Add the devastation from the inevitable Earthquake on the Hayward Fault which our local and State Governments are totally incapable of dealing with and it is going to be a godawful mess.

I looked at the Disaster planning for a quake on the Hayward Fault some years ago and all of the assumptions are for a “Best Case” scenario.

The quake won’t come in October during a drought and a high wind event, it won’t come at the wrong time of day, it won’t come in the spring during a high water period when Levee’s are stressed…

The Bay areas disaster response center was built in the 1950’s to withstand a nuclear attack, it is underground and was built smack dab in the middle of the Hayward Fault.

Have I mentioned that 20 years after 9/11 the various emergency responders do not have a commonality in their communications gear?

The more people that read this and other article the better.

Plus I am going to include my reply:

Your piece, Yves, that you published from Rolf was excellent and so was Tom Stone’s comment above. The scale of the issue is immense but at least climate change has now become a mainstream topic, and rightly so. National Geographic magazine published a special edition in May, 2020 to commemorate the anniversary of the fiftieth Earth Day. I think it was 1962 when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. So we can’t complain that this isn’t a new issue. But whether or not we make it to the one hundred anniversary of that first Earth Day depends on the myriad of actions that we, as in all of us, including especially our leaders and politicians, make NOW! Let me spell it out. NOW means within the next 5 years at the latest. I am 76 and a passionate advocate of a change in mass behaviors. For I have a single grandson, Morten, living with his parents back in England who is 10. I fear for his future and for the future of all of his age.

Anyway, to get back to the article about dogs that I wanted to share with you. It is from Treehugger.

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This 13-Year-Old Dog Has a Home Again

It’s heartbreaking when senior pets lose their families.

By Mary Jo DiLonardo

Mary Jo DiLonardo

Published July 29th, 2021

Magdalen in her new yard. Mary Jo DiLonardo

This weekend, my husband and I were the last step in a transport to get a dog to her new home. 

Typically, when we have a new dog in the backseat, it’s a raucous foster puppy (or two) in a crate. There’s usually barking and tumbling and playing until the motion of the car lulls them to sleep.

But this passenger was a much different story.

Magdalen is a 13-year-old border collie. Her owner gave her up temporarily when he was sick, but when he fully recuperated a few months later, he said he didn’t want her back. He had her since she was a puppy but now had no place for her.

The family who had given her a temporary home had children and other dogs and was unable to give her a permanent home. When Speak St. Louis, the rescue I work with, was contacted about the border collie, they offered to take her in. 

She went to the groomer for her very matted coat and to the vet for a basic health check.

The spa visit made her look (and no doubt, feel) much better. But the vet didn’t have great news. She had to have surgery for mammary masses and her mouth was swollen with all sorts of dental issues. One surgery later and she had six masses removed. Two teeth fell out during cleaning and 11 more had to be extracted.

Fortunately, the growths were benign and she slowly began to recover. 

Stressed and Resigned

Magdalen barely moved on the ride to her new home. Mary Jo DiLonardo

On the trip home, the sweet senior looked so resigned in our backseat. The last kind transporter gently lifted her from her car and placed her in ours, where she barely moved as she re-settled herself.

She had just spent several weeks in the care of a wonderful foster parent where she recuperated from her surgery and from being left by her family. 

I’m sure at this point she was just shut down and stressed and quietly rolling with whatever happened to her. She took the pieces of kibble we offered but her tail didn’t wag because it was tucked mostly between her legs.

It was heartbreaking to know that not so long ago she was someone’s pet and she was discarded.

It’s understandable that her owner needed some temporary help when he was sick and overwhelmed. But I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t have wanted her back now. I think of my own dog and dogs we’ve lost to old age in the past. They’re family and they stay that way forever.

Dogs aren’t disposable.

Why People Give Up Senior Pets 

Senior pets often end up in shelters and with rescues when their owners die and no one in the family is able to take them in. 

Or some people give them up when they become harder to care for. Seniors can have more health problems and often people can’t afford the costs. They also aren’t as fun as their younger counterparts, and sometimes get cranky or snippy around children.

For rescues and shelters, it’s much easier to get a cute, bouncy puppy adopted than a less active senior that might come with health baggage and who might only be with the family for a few years.

A survey by PetFinder found that “less adoptable” pets like seniors or special needs animals spend nearly four times as long on the adoption site before they find a home.1

But older dogs have lots of benefits. Unlike puppies, they usually arrive housebroken. Sure, there are the occasional accidents as they figure things out, but they mostly know they are supposed to potty outside.

Senior dogs won’t chew your furniture or your fingers. They don’t bounce off the walls and wake you up in the middle of the night to go outside. They don’t need as much exercise as younger dogs but will revel in all the attention you want to give them.

Mary Jo DiLonardo

As for Magdalen, she is coming out of her shell in her new home. She was adopted by a good friend of mine who is a dog trainer. She has a soft heart for seniors and a passion for brainy border collies.

Because the pup is very driven by food, her new mom is going to try nosework with her. That’s an activity where she can sniff out treats in all sorts of hidden places. That will give her a job and a hobby—and lots of food!

Magdalen doesn’t have her tail between her legs anymore and the resident dogs are figuring out that she’s here to stay. But the key is for her to understand that this is now her forever home and no one will ever leave her again.

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Of the six dogs we have here at home three are old. But they still remain happy and carefree which is a little different to yours truly who, as much as he tries very hard not to do so, worries about the big things in life and, frankly, the biggest of them all is climate change.

Resilience Thinking – a review

A book to make one think anew.

Let me make myself absolutely clear about this book, indeed I can do no better than to publish part of an email that I sent to the authors last Saturday:

To say that I was inspired by what you wrote is an understatement. More accurately it has changed my whole understanding of this planet, of the natural order of things, of the politics of the Western world, of vast numbers of us humans, and how precarious is our world just now. It has opened my eyes radically, and I thought before that I was fairly in touch with things.

Resilience is a simple idea but in its application has proved to be anything such. On page 2 the authors set out as they saw it The Drivers of Unsustainable Development. Here’s how that section develops:

Our world is facing a broad range of serious and growing resource issues. Human-induced soil degradation has been getting worse since the 1950s. About 85 percent of agriculture land contains areas degraded by erosion, rising salt, soil compaction, and various other factors. It has been estimated (Wood et al. 2000) that soil degradation has already reduced global agricultural productivity by around 15 percent in the last fifty years. In the last three hundred years, topsoil has been lost at a rate of 200 million tons per year; in the last fifty years it has more than doubled to 760 million tons per year.

As we move deeper into the twenty-first century we cannot afford to lose more of our resource base. The global population is now expanding by about 75 million people each year. Population growth rates are declining, but the world’s population will still be expanding by almost 60 million per year in 2030. The United Nations projections put the global population at nearly 8 billion in 2025. In addition, if current water consumption patterns continue unabated, half the world’s population will live in water-stressed river basins by 2025.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2004 Annual Hunger Report estimates that over 850 million people suffer from chronic hunger. Hunger kills 5 million children every year.

It goes on ….!

Now I want to quote from the end of the book, from their section on Resilience Thinking.

In our opening chapter we observed that there were many pathways into resilience thinking and suggested readers not worry too much if the finer details of a resilience framework are a bit obscure. We emphasized that what is of much more importance is an appreciation of the broader themes that underpin such a framework. Those broader themes revolve around humans existing within linked social and ecological systems. These are complex adaptive systems, and attempts to control or optimize parts of such systems without consideration of the responses that this creates in the broader system are fraught with risk. Much of this book has been spent on attempting to explore the consequences of such an approach.

In the broadest sense, optimizing and controlling components of a system in isolation of the broader system results in a decline in resilience, a reduction in options, and the shrinkage of the space in which we can safely operate. Resilience thinking moves us the other way.

It is our hope that readers who are persuaded of this basic premise will be encouraged to explore the inevitable consequences of such thinking. Even if you are not completely clear on the basins of attractions, thresholds, and adaptive cycles, if the concepts of ecological resilience and dynamic social-ecological systems have any resonance then you are in a better position to appreciate what is happening to the world around you.

The phrase complex adaptive system was new to me but intuitively I got what the authors meant. As they state on page 35: The three requirements for a complex adaptive system are:

  • That it has components that are independent and interacting,
  • There is some selection process at work on those components (and on the results of local interactions),
  • Variation and novelty are constantly being added to the system (through components changing over time or new ones coming in),

This was my eye-opener. It was now obvious that many processes, especially in nature, that I had hitherto regarded as constant were changing albeit usually on a timescale of many decades sometimes centuries.

And the other conclusion that was inescapable was that we humans were largely responsible for those changes because we couldn’t see the longterm consequences of what we were doing.

As I remarked in a previous post :

David writes that firstly carbon dioxide is not like other pollutants, for example like air particulants.  Then later goes on to say:

The second difference is that climate change is irreversible.

As Joe Romm notes in a recent post, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera slipped up in his latest column and referred to technology that would “help reverse climate change.” I don’t know whether that reflects Nocera’s ignorance or just a slip of the pen, but I do think it captures the way many people subconsciously think about climate change. If we heat the planet up too much, we’ll just fix it! We’ll turn the temperature back down. We’ll get around to it once the market has delivered economically ideal solutions.

But as this 2009 paper in Nature (among many others) makes clear, it doesn’t work that way:

This paper shows that the climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop. Following cessation of emissions, removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide decreases radiative forcing, but is largely compensated by slower loss of heat to the ocean, so that atmospheric temperatures do not drop significantly for at least 1,000 years. [my emphasis]

My last piece in this review is to republish a graph that is shown on the NASA Global Climate Change website:

For all our sakes, dogs and humans and many other species, let us all please change our behaviours! Soon!

Back to the book: It is a remarkable book!

I will close with quoting one of the praises shown on the back cover. This one by Thomas Homer-Dixon, professor of political science, University of Toronto, and director of the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Resilience Thinking is an essential guidebook to a powerful new way of understanding our world – and of living resiliently with it – developed in recent decades by an international team of ecologists. With five clear and compelling case studies drawn from regions as diverse as Florida, Sweden, and Australia, this book shows how all highly adaptive systems – from ecologies to economics – go through regular cycles of growth, reorganization, and renewal and how our failures to understand the basic principles of resilience have often led to disaster. Resilience Thinking gives us the conceptual tools to help us cope with the bewildering surprises and challenges of our new century.

Please, if you can, think about reading it.

COP 26

Alok Sharma on why COP26 is our best chance for a greener future.

I wanted to share the eight-minute video that appeared on TED Talks. But it hasn’t appeared on YouTube as yet.

But the link is embedded above so if you don’t want to watch the slightly longer version (just 22 minutes) then that is fine.

I will share the words that came with the TED Talks video.

Something powerful is happening around the world. The issue of climate change has moved from the margins to the mainstream, says Alok Sharma, the President-Designate of COP26, the United Nations climate conference set to take place in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. He unpacks what this shift means for the world economy and the accelerating “green industrial revolution” — and lays out the urgent actions that need to happen in order to limit global temperature rise.

Plus on the speaker, Alok Sharma.

Alok Sharma is a British politician, Cabinet Minister and President-Designate of COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference being held in Glasgow from 31 October until 12 November.

Sharma was previously UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Before that, he was UK Secretary of State for International Development. He has also served in ministerial roles in the Department of Work and Pensions, Department for Communities and Local Government, and at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Prior to politics, he worked in finance.

Please watch the video for all our sakes.

For the sake of our dogs, and for the sake of everyone on this planet.

Fire-wising call.

Normal service is being interrupted!

I have been reluctant to tackle the fire preparations. One of the issues is that daily temperatures have been excessive and that makes working outside difficult.

But we have to and it is going to take some planning and preparation to be ready to evacuate should we get the call.

So for a short while there is going to be a break in me offering posts to you all on Learning from Dogs. I don’t know how long and it could be just a quick break.

For information to any others who want to know more. the Oregon State University provide a fantastic Fire Program website.

Frankly it would be so much easier to ignore it all because what with our dogs and horses and our parakeets and preparing the home and so much more it is a great deal of work.

But I know that is not the answer.

Being prepared is!

This heat wave

It has broken records here in Southern Oregon.

We had a high of 112 deg F. (44.4 deg C.) here in Merlin on the 27th June, 2021. That is hot in anyone’s language.

Fortunately first thing in the morning it was cooler, down in the low 60’s (F), and our dogs were alright with that. But in the afternoon it was too hot for them.

So it seemed like a good idea to republish an article from The Dodo about walking your dog in this heat.

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How Hot Is Too Hot To Walk My Dog?

How to keep those little paws safe 🐾

By DANIELLE ESPOSITO

Published on the 20th August, 2020

Have you ever felt like it was just too hot outside to walk your dog?

To make sure you’re keeping your dog safe — and his paws free from burns or irritation — it’s important to know how to tell when it actually is too dangerous to take your dog on a walk.

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Jessica Romine, a veterinarian at BluePearl Pet Hospital in Southfield, Michigan, to get some answers and tips to make sure your walks are always safe — and fun — for you and your pup.

How to test if it’s too hot out to walk your dog

According to Dr. Romine, there’s a simple test you can do to check if it’s too hot out to walk — and all you need is your hand.

“A good rule of thumb is to place your hand on the sidewalk or asphalt for 5 seconds; if it becomes uncomfortable to the touch, it is probably also uncomfortable for your dog to walk on,” Dr. Romine told The Dodo.

Signs your dog is uncomfortable

If you do need to take a walk on a hot day — or if it starts to heat up after you’ve already left home — keep a close eye on your pup.

“Dogs can suffer burns from very hot surfaces, usually in direct sunlight,” Dr. Romine said.

Signs to look out for include your dog starting to slow down or limp, or not wanting to keep walking.

If this happens, Dr. Romine recommends “checking their paw pads for tenderness, redness, or erosions and try[ing] to get them into the grass or at least shade.”

Tips for walking your dog in the heat

If you live in an area where hot concrete is unavoidable, you can try a paw wax to protect your pup’s paws. If you’d like to try one, Musher’s Secret Paw Wax is highly recommended by one of The Dodo’s editors, who uses it on her own pup.

“If you dog tolerates them, they are a fine option,” Dr. Romine said about protective products, “but remember that prolonged contact can still cause damage, and dogs still need to be monitored for signs of overheating.”

So in general, try to stick to the grass or at least the shade on your summer walks — and going out in the morning or evenings, when most surfaces aren’t in direct sun, will be much more comfortable for your dog.

(We independently pick all the products we recommend because we love them and think you will too. If you buy a product from a link on our site, we may earn a commission.)

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I must say that is a good piece of advice about placing one’s hand on the sidewalk.

We are lucky here because there is only grass to play on but not everyone is so fortunate.

Our dear Brandy!

Read this, Please!

I need your input.

I am writing another book; my third. It is about the changing planet.

But first I want to tell you a story.

I know Scott Draper. He is the founder and CEO of the Club Northwest. It is the club that Jean goes for her Rock Steady class, and she has been going there for some time.

Indeed Scott and I have struck up a friendship and we now meet up at Scott’s home.

At our first meeting at Scott’s home he lent me the National Geographic’s Earth Day, 50th Anniversary Special Issue printed in April, 2020. It is a magazine that may be flipped and read from either end. On one side there is “A Pessimist’s Guide to Life on Earth in 2070”. On the flip side there is “An Optimist’s Guide to Life on Earth in 2070”. It was a very powerful read.

For on one hand the pessimist’s opinion was speaking of now, of current trends, of the fact that if we don’t change, and change relatively soon, say within the next five years, “our reckless consumption and abuse of resources have made the world a deadlier place for us and for the rest of life on Earth”. It conveys despair!

On the other hand the optimist’s opinion is that life will be different in 2070 and also warmer, “but we will find ways to limit carbon emissions, embrace nature, and thrive. It conveys hope!

I asked Scott which opinion he supported. Scott told me the following:

There is a legend of two people; a grandfather and his grandson. The grandfather explains to his grandson that there are two wolves fighting inside of him, that they will always be there as he grows up and becomes an adult.

“I have a fight going on in me, even at the age I am,” the wise old man says. “It is taking place between these two wolves. One is evil; he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

The grandfather paused and looked at his grandson, and then continued; “The other wolf embodies the best of our emotions. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. Both wolves are fighting to the death. It is a fight that is going on inside you and indeed every other person, too.”

The grandson thought for some time about what his grandfather had just said. Then he looked up at his grandfather and quietly asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The grandfather gave his reply: “The one we feed”

Now this is an image that serves as a metaphor for our inner sense of conflict. This parable is a powerful reminder of the fight that every human being must face. Regardless of the type of person you are or what kind of life you lead, you will find yourself battling two conflicting emotions at many points in your life. Whether the fight is between anger and peace or resentment and compassion, it is important to recognise the conflicting feelings inside you and to feed the values and choices that matter most to you.

Now I am of an age where I won’t be alive in 2070.

But I am interested in the opinions of others who will be.

I want to ask the following questions:

First Name: Surname: DOB:

Email Address:

Do You Support An Optimist’s Guide to Life on Earth in 2070: Yes / No (please circle one)

Do You Support A Pessimist’s Guide to Life on Earth in 2070: Yes / No (please circle one)

How Many Years Before It Is Too Late To Demand Change: (Please tick your answer.)

Less than 5 years

Between 6 and 10 years

Between 11 and 20 years

Between 21 and 50 years

More than 50 years

How concerned are you? (5 is highest, as in very) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (Please circle one.)

Please leave a message if you want to:

Please will you consider helping me.

I am not going to present another post this week. In other words, I will leave this up until the end of Saturday, 26th June.

If you are happy to help me then send me your email address (to paulhandover ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com) and I will send out the above survey on the 28th June, 2021. All the recipients will be a bcc.

The survey feedback will be required by a week later; July 5th, 2021.

I will publish the results just as soon as they have been collated.

Thank you very much.

That article

I said that I would publish the article before the end of the week.

So here it is:

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Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap

Thijs Stoop/Unsplash, FAL

James Dyke, University of Exeter; Robert Watson, University of East Anglia, and Wolfgang Knorr, Lund University

Sometimes realisation comes in a blinding flash. Blurred outlines snap into shape and suddenly it all makes sense. Underneath such revelations is typically a much slower-dawning process. Doubts at the back of the mind grow. The sense of confusion that things cannot be made to fit together increases until something clicks. Or perhaps snaps.

Collectively we three authors of this article must have spent more than 80 years thinking about climate change. Why has it taken us so long to speak out about the obvious dangers of the concept of net zero? In our defence, the premise of net zero is deceptively simple – and we admit that it deceived us.

The threats of climate change are the direct result of there being too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So it follows that we must stop emitting more and even remove some of it. This idea is central to the world’s current plan to avoid catastrophe. In fact, there are many suggestions as to how to actually do this, from mass tree planting, to high tech direct air capture devices that suck out carbon dioxide from the air.


Read more: There aren’t enough trees in the world to offset society’s carbon emissions – and there never will be


The current consensus is that if we deploy these and other so-called “carbon dioxide removal” techniques at the same time as reducing our burning of fossil fuels, we can more rapidly halt global warming. Hopefully around the middle of this century we will achieve “net zero”. This is the point at which any residual emissions of greenhouse gases are balanced by technologies removing them from the atmosphere.

This is a great idea, in principle. Unfortunately, in practice it helps perpetuate a belief in technological salvation and diminishes the sense of urgency surrounding the need to curb emissions now.

We have arrived at the painful realisation that the idea of net zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier “burn now, pay later” approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar. It has also hastened the destruction of the natural world by increasing deforestation today, and greatly increases the risk of further devastation in the future.

To understand how this has happened, how humanity has gambled its civilisation on no more than promises of future solutions, we must return to the late 1980s, when climate change broke out onto the international stage.

Steps towards net zero

On June 22 1988, James Hansen was the administrator of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a prestigious appointment but someone largely unknown outside of academia.

By the afternoon of the 23rd he was well on the way to becoming the world’s most famous climate scientist. This was as a direct result of his testimony to the US congress, when he forensically presented the evidence that the Earth’s climate was warming and that humans were the primary cause: “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.”

If we had acted on Hansen’s testimony at the time, we would have been able to decarbonise our societies at a rate of around 2% a year in order to give us about a two-in-three chance of limiting warming to no more than 1.5°C. It would have been a huge challenge, but the main task at that time would have been to simply stop the accelerating use of fossil fuels while fairly sharing out future emissions.

Alt text
Graph demonstrating how fast mitigation has to happen to keep to 1.5℃. © Robbie Andrew, CC BY

Four years later, there were glimmers of hope that this would be possible. During the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, all nations agreed to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases to ensure that they did not produce dangerous interference with the climate. The 1997 Kyoto Summit attempted to start to put that goal into practice. But as the years passed, the initial task of keeping us safe became increasingly harder given the continual increase in fossil fuel use.

It was around that time that the first computer models linking greenhouse gas emissions to impacts on different sectors of the economy were developed. These hybrid climate-economic models are known as Integrated Assessment Models. They allowed modellers to link economic activity to the climate by, for example, exploring how changes in investments and technology could lead to changes in greenhouse gas emissions.

They seemed like a miracle: you could try out policies on a computer screen before implementing them, saving humanity costly experimentation. They rapidly emerged to become key guidance for climate policy. A primacy they maintain to this day.

Unfortunately, they also removed the need for deep critical thinking. Such models represent society as a web of idealised, emotionless buyers and sellers and thus ignore complex social and political realities, or even the impacts of climate change itself. Their implicit promise is that market-based approaches will always work. This meant that discussions about policies were limited to those most convenient to politicians: incremental changes to legislation and taxes.

Around the time they were first developed, efforts were being made to secure US action on the climate by allowing it to count carbon sinks of the country’s forests. The US argued that if it managed its forests well, it would be able to store a large amount of carbon in trees and soil which should be subtracted from its obligations to limit the burning of coal, oil and gas. In the end, the US largely got its way. Ironically, the concessions were all in vain, since the US senate never ratified the agreement.

Aerial view of autumn foliage.
Forests such as this one in Maine, US, were suddenly counted in the carbon budget as an incentive for the US to join the Kyoto Agreement. Inbound Horizons/Shutterstock

Postulating a future with more trees could in effect offset the burning of coal, oil and gas now. As models could easily churn out numbers that saw atmospheric carbon dioxide go as low as one wanted, ever more sophisticated scenarios could be explored which reduced the perceived urgency to reduce fossil fuel use. By including carbon sinks in climate-economic models, a Pandora’s box had been opened.

It’s here we find the genesis of today’s net zero policies.

That said, most attention in the mid-1990s was focused on increasing energy efficiency and energy switching (such as the UK’s move from coal to gas) and the potential of nuclear energy to deliver large amounts of carbon-free electricity. The hope was that such innovations would quickly reverse increases in fossil fuel emissions.

But by around the turn of the new millennium it was clear that such hopes were unfounded. Given their core assumption of incremental change, it was becoming more and more difficult for economic-climate models to find viable pathways to avoid dangerous climate change. In response, the models began to include more and more examples of carbon capture and storage, a technology that could remove the carbon dioxide from coal-fired power stations and then store the captured carbon deep underground indefinitely.

Metal pipes and stacks at a factory site under grey sky.
The Tomakomai carbon, capture and storage test site, Hokkaido, Japan, March 2018. Over its three-year lifetime, it’s hoped that this demonstrator project will capture an amount of carbon approximately 1/100,000 of current global annual emissions. The captured carbon will be piped into geological deposits deep under the sea bed where it will need to remain for centuries. REUTERS/Aaron Sheldrick

This had been shown to be possible in principle: compressed carbon dioxide had been separated from fossil gas and then injected underground in a number of projects since the 1970s. These Enhanced Oil Recovery schemes were designed to force gases into oil wells in order to push oil towards drilling rigs and so allow more to be recovered – oil that would later be burnt, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Carbon capture and storage offered the twist that instead of using the carbon dioxide to extract more oil, the gas would instead be left underground and removed from the atmosphere. This promised breakthrough technology would allow climate friendly coal and so the continued use of this fossil fuel. But long before the world would witness any such schemes, the hypothetical process had been included in climate-economic models. In the end, the mere prospect of carbon capture and storage gave policy makers a way out of making the much needed cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

The rise of net zero

When the international climate change community convened in Copenhagen in 2009 it was clear that carbon capture and storage was not going to be sufficient for two reasons.

First, it still did not exist. There were no carbon capture and storage facilities in operation on any coal fired power station and no prospect the technology was going to have any impact on rising emissions from increased coal use in the foreseeable future.

The biggest barrier to implementation was essentially cost. The motivation to burn vast amounts of coal is to generate relatively cheap electricity. Retrofitting carbon scrubbers on existing power stations, building the infrastructure to pipe captured carbon, and developing suitable geological storage sites required huge sums of money. Consequently the only application of carbon capture in actual operation then – and now – is to use the trapped gas in enhanced oil recovery schemes. Beyond a single demonstrator, there has never been any capture of carbon dioxide from a coal fired power station chimney with that captured carbon then being stored underground.

Just as important, by 2009 it was becoming increasingly clear that it would not be possible to make even the gradual reductions that policy makers demanded. That was the case even if carbon capture and storage was up and running. The amount of carbon dioxide that was being pumped into the air each year meant humanity was rapidly running out of time.

With hopes for a solution to the climate crisis fading again, another magic bullet was required. A technology was needed not only to slow down the increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but actually reverse it. In response, the climate-economic modelling community – already able to include plant-based carbon sinks and geological carbon storage in their models – increasingly adopted the “solution” of combining the two.

So it was that Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage, or BECCS, rapidly emerged as the new saviour technology. By burning “replaceable” biomass such as wood, crops, and agricultural waste instead of coal in power stations, and then capturing the carbon dioxide from the power station chimney and storing it underground, BECCS could produce electricity at the same time as removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s because as biomass such as trees grow, they suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By planting trees and other bioenergy crops and storing carbon dioxide released when they are burnt, more carbon could be removed from the atmosphere.

With this new solution in hand the international community regrouped from repeated failures to mount another attempt at reining in our dangerous interference with the climate. The scene was set for the crucial 2015 climate conference in Paris.

A Parisian false dawn

As its general secretary brought the 21st United Nations conference on climate change to an end, a great roar issued from the crowd. People leaped to their feet, strangers embraced, tears welled up in eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep.

The emotions on display on December 13, 2015 were not just for the cameras. After weeks of gruelling high-level negotiations in Paris a breakthrough had finally been achieved. Against all expectations, after decades of false starts and failures, the international community had finally agreed to do what it took to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

But dig a little deeper and you could find another emotion lurking within delegates on December 13. Doubt. We struggle to name any climate scientist who at that time thought the Paris Agreement was feasible. We have since been told by some scientists that the Paris Agreement was “of course important for climate justice but unworkable” and “a complete shock, no one thought limiting to 1.5°C was possible”. Rather than being able to limit warming to 1.5°C, a senior academic involved in the IPCC concluded we were heading beyond 3°C by the end of this century.

Instead of confront our doubts, we scientists decided to construct ever more elaborate fantasy worlds in which we would be safe. The price to pay for our cowardice: having to keep our mouths shut about the ever growing absurdity of the required planetary-scale carbon dioxide removal.

Taking centre stage was BECCS because at the time this was the only way climate-economic models could find scenarios that would be consistent with the Paris Agreement. Rather than stabilise, global emissions of carbon dioxide had increased some 60% since 1992.

Alas, BECCS, just like all the previous solutions, was too good to be true.

Across the scenarios produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with a 66% or better chance of limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C, BECCS would need to remove 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. BECCS at this scale would require massive planting schemes for trees and bioenergy crops.

The Earth certainly needs more trees. Humanity has cut down some three trillion since we first started farming some 13,000 years ago. But rather than allow ecosystems to recover from human impacts and forests to regrow, BECCS generally refers to dedicated industrial-scale plantations regularly harvested for bioenergy rather than carbon stored away in forest trunks, roots and soils.

Currently, the two most efficient biofuels are sugarcane for bioethanol and palm oil for biodiesel – both grown in the tropics. Endless rows of such fast growing monoculture trees or other bioenergy crops harvested at frequent intervals devastate biodiversity.

It has been estimated that BECCS would demand between 0.4 and 1.2 billion hectares of land. That’s 25% to 80% of all the land currently under cultivation. How will that be achieved at the same time as feeding 8-10 billion people around the middle of the century or without destroying native vegetation and biodiversity?


Read more: Carbon capture on power stations burning woodchips is not the green gamechanger many think it is


Growing billions of trees would consume vast amounts of water – in some places where people are already thirsty. Increasing forest cover in higher latitudes can have an overall warming effect because replacing grassland or fields with forests means the land surface becomes darker. This darker land absorbs more energy from the Sun and so temperatures rise. Focusing on developing vast plantations in poorer tropical nations comes with real risks of people being driven off their lands.

And it is often forgotten that trees and the land in general already soak up and store away vast amounts of carbon through what is called the natural terrestrial carbon sink. Interfering with it could both disrupt the sink and lead to double accounting.

As these impacts are becoming better understood, the sense of optimism around BECCS has diminished.

Pipe dreams

Given the dawning realisation of how difficult Paris would be in the light of ever rising emissions and limited potential of BECCS, a new buzzword emerged in policy circles: the “overshoot scenario”. Temperatures would be allowed to go beyond 1.5°C in the near term, but then be brought down with a range of carbon dioxide removal by the end of the century. This means that net zero actually means carbon negative. Within a few decades, we will need to transform our civilisation from one that currently pumps out 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, to one that produces a net removal of tens of billions.

Mass tree planting, for bioenergy or as an attempt at offsetting, had been the latest attempt to stall cuts in fossil fuel use. But the ever-increasing need for carbon removal was calling for more. This is why the idea of direct air capture, now being touted by some as the most promising technology out there, has taken hold. It is generally more benign to ecosystems because it requires significantly less land to operate than BECCS, including the land needed to power them using wind or solar panels.

Unfortunately, it is widely believed that direct air capture, because of its exorbitant costs and energy demand, if it ever becomes feasible to be deployed at scale, will not be able to compete with BECCS with its voracious appetite for prime agricultural land.

It should now be getting clear where the journey is heading. As the mirage of each magical technical solution disappears, another equally unworkable alternative pops up to take its place. The next is already on the horizon – and it’s even more ghastly. Once we realise net zero will not happen in time or even at all, geoengineering – the deliberate and large scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system – will probably be invoked as the solution to limit temperature increases.

One of the most researched geoengineering ideas is solar radiation management – the injection of millions of tons of sulphuric acid into the stratosphere that will reflect some of the Sun’s energy away from the Earth. It is a wild idea, but some academics and politicians are deadly serious, despite significant risks. The US National Academies of Sciences, for example, has recommended allocating up to US$200 million over the next five years to explore how geoengineering could be deployed and regulated. Funding and research in this area is sure to significantly increase.

Difficult truths

In principle there is nothing wrong or dangerous about carbon dioxide removal proposals. In fact developing ways of reducing concentrations of carbon dioxide can feel tremendously exciting. You are using science and engineering to save humanity from disaster. What you are doing is important. There is also the realisation that carbon removal will be needed to mop up some of the emissions from sectors such as aviation and cement production. So there will be some small role for a number of different carbon dioxide removal approaches.

The problems come when it is assumed that these can be deployed at vast scale. This effectively serves as a blank cheque for the continued burning of fossil fuels and the acceleration of habitat destruction.

Carbon reduction technologies and geoengineering should be seen as a sort of ejector seat that could propel humanity away from rapid and catastrophic environmental change. Just like an ejector seat in a jet aircraft, it should only be used as the very last resort. However, policymakers and businesses appear to be entirely serious about deploying highly speculative technologies as a way to land our civilisation at a sustainable destination. In fact, these are no more than fairy tales.

Crowds of young people hold placards.
‘There is no Planet B’: children in Birmingham, UK, protest against the climate crisis. Callum Shaw/Unsplash, FAL

The only way to keep humanity safe is the immediate and sustained radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in a socially just way.

Academics typically see themselves as servants to society. Indeed, many are employed as civil servants. Those working at the climate science and policy interface desperately wrestle with an increasingly difficult problem. Similarly, those that champion net zero as a way of breaking through barriers holding back effective action on the climate also work with the very best of intentions.

The tragedy is that their collective efforts were never able to mount an effective challenge to a climate policy process that would only allow a narrow range of scenarios to be explored.

Most academics feel distinctly uncomfortable stepping over the invisible line that separates their day job from wider social and political concerns. There are genuine fears that being seen as advocates for or against particular issues could threaten their perceived independence. Scientists are one of the most trusted professions. Trust is very hard to build and easy to destroy.

But there is another invisible line, the one that separates maintaining academic integrity and self-censorship. As scientists, we are taught to be sceptical, to subject hypotheses to rigorous tests and interrogation. But when it comes to perhaps the greatest challenge humanity faces, we often show a dangerous lack of critical analysis.

In private, scientists express significant scepticism about the Paris Agreement, BECCS, offsetting, geoengineering and net zero. Apart from some notable exceptions, in public we quietly go about our work, apply for funding, publish papers and teach. The path to disastrous climate change is paved with feasibility studies and impact assessments.

Rather than acknowledge the seriousness of our situation, we instead continue to participate in the fantasy of net zero. What will we do when reality bites? What will we say to our friends and loved ones about our failure to speak out now?

The time has come to voice our fears and be honest with wider society. Current net zero policies will not keep warming to within 1.5°C because they were never intended to. They were and still are driven by a need to protect business as usual, not the climate. If we want to keep people safe then large and sustained cuts to carbon emissions need to happen now. That is the very simple acid test that must be applied to all climate policies. The time for wishful thinking is over.


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James Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Global Systems, University of Exeter; Robert Watson, Emeritus Professor in Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, and Wolfgang Knorr, Senior Research Scientist, Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science, Lund University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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I can’t add anything to this article because it is written by scientists and that is one thing that I know I am not!

But I can comment as a very concerned adult and really can do more that repeat what I said in yesterday’s post:

Thank goodness for our younger generation. Because these young people are coming together to fight for change. May they have universal encouragement from those of us who will never see our younger days again!

The Elephant in the Room

This is one of the most important posts since I started blogging!

I was born in 1944 and that makes me 76. I am reasonably engaged in the issues facing us but, in a sense, protected from the realities of the modern world because I have a loving wife, two loving young people, as in my son Alex and my daughter Maija, and a special grandson, Morten.

We are also very lucky in that my wife, Jean, and I are both retired and we live on 13 rural acres in a beautiful part of Southern Oregon and enjoy immensely our six dogs, two horses, two parakeets and feeding the wild birds and deer.

But it can’t stay that way because of the encroaching elephant in the room.

I am speaking of climate change that if not dealt with in the near future, say in the next 10 years, will lead to an unimaginable state of affairs.

Now one could argue that you come to Learning from Dogs to get away from climate change and the like. But this is too important and, also, involves all of us including our gorgeous dogs.

First, I want to include an extract from a recent Scientists Warning newsletter (and please read this extract carefully).

Recently, one article on the climate emergency above all others has cut through – with over ONE MILLION views, “Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap”  published in The Conversation is being talked about by many thousands, and led Greta Thunberg to tweet:  “This is one of the most important and informative texts I have ever read on the climate- and ecological crises.” 
So why is this article so very important?

In our latest interview, I talk with two of the authors – Dr.  James Dyke, global systems scientist at the University of Exeter and Dr. Wolfgang Knorr, climate scientist at Lund University. And the conversation does not make for comfortable viewing.  We discuss what led James, Wolfgang and Professor Bob Watson to write an article that they have described as being one of the hardest they have ever written. The article is *not* an attack on net zero, nor does it advocate a fatalistic position. Instead, as you will hear, the interview reveals the heartfelt concerns of two scientists who are profoundly worried about the failure of a climate policy system that suppresses the  voice of science and is fundamentally flawed. A climate policy system that year after year has failed.

But  it is not just the climate policy system that has failed. Academia has failed too, and continues to fail Greta and young people like her. And this *must* stop. Young people have become the adults in the room. We cannot place this burden on their shoulders. They have shown their courage and bravery. Now it’s time for academia to step up to the challenge and to critically examine why we are failing. 

Secondly, I want to share that interview with you. This is a 36-minute interview. Please, please watch it. If it is not a convenient time just now then bookmark the post and watch it when you can sit down and be fully engaged. You will understand then and agree with me that this is one of the most important videos ever!

Lastly, I would like you to read the article published in The Conversation. I have included a link to it but I am also going to republish it on Friday.

Because we have to listen to the scientists without delay and press for change now.

Thank goodness for our younger generation. Because these young people are coming together to fight for change. May they have universal encouragement from those of us who will never see our younger days again!

men's white and blue gingham dress shirt
Photograph by Zach Lucero

Lessons

Nothing to do with dogs but everything to do with the future!

An item in The Conversation recently was not only interesting from a scientific point-of-view but also it had real lessons for the way that we humans are interfering with the planet.

As The Conversation introduced the article:

A mile below the surface of the Greenland ice sheet, an ancient Arctic ecosystem is preserved in the frozen soil. How scientists discovered its leaves, twigs and mosses is a story in itself. It starts with a secret military base built into the northern Greenland ice.

Scientists Andrew Christ and Paul Bierman describe the discovery as something of a Rosetta stone for understanding how well the ice sheet stood up to global warming in the past – and how it might respond in the future.

So, for a change, read something that has nothing to do with our furry friends.

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Ancient leaves preserved under a mile of Greenland’s ice – and lost in a freezer for years – hold lessons about climate change

Remnants of ancient Greenland tundra were preserved in soil beneath the ice sheet. Andrew Christ and Dorothy Peteet, CC BY-ND

Andrew Christ, University of Vermont and Paul Bierman, University of Vermont

In 1963, inside a covert U.S. military base in northern Greenland, a team of scientists began drilling down through the Greenland ice sheet. Piece by piece, they extracted an ice core 4 inches across and nearly a mile long. At the very end, they pulled up something else – 12 feet of frozen soil.

The ice told a story of Earth’s climate history. The frozen soil was examined, set aside and then forgotten.

Half a century later, scientists rediscovered that soil in a Danish freezer. It is now revealing its secrets.

Using lab techniques unimaginable in the 1960s when the core was drilled, we and an international team of fellow scientists were able to show that Greenland’s massive ice sheet had melted to the ground there within the past million years. Radiocarbon dating shows that it would have happened more than 50,000 years ago. It most likely happened during times when the climate was warm and sea level was high, possibly 400,000 years ago.

And there was more. As we explored the soil under a microscope, we were stunned to discover the remnants of a tundra ecosystem – twigs, leaves and moss. We were looking at northern Greenland as it existed the last time the region was ice-free. Our peer-reviewed study was published on March 15 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Two men with the ice core
Engineers pull up a section of the 4,560-foot-long ice core at Camp Century in the 1960s. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Paul Bierman, a geomorphologist and geochemist, describes what he and his colleagues found in the soil.

With no ice sheet, sunlight would have warmed the soil enough for tundra vegetation to cover the landscape. The oceans around the globe would have been more than 10 feet higher, and maybe even 20 feet. The land on which Boston, London and Shanghai sit today would have been under the ocean waves.

All of this happened before humans began warming the Earth’s climate. The atmosphere at that time contained far less carbon dioxide than it does today, and it wasn’t rising as quickly. The ice core and the soil below are something of a Rosetta Stone for understanding how durable the Greenland ice sheet has been during past warm periods – and how quickly it might melt again as the climate heats up.

Secret military bases and Danish freezers

The story of the ice core begins during the Cold War with a military mission dubbed Project Iceworm. Starting around 1959, the U.S. Army hauled hundreds of soldiers, heavy equipment and even a nuclear reactor across the ice sheet in northwest Greenland and dug a base of tunnels inside the ice. They called it Camp Century.

It was part of a secret plan to hide nuclear weapons from the Soviets. The public knew it as an Arctic research laboratory. Walter Cronkite even paid a visit and filed a report.

Workers cover a trench to build the under-ice military base
Workers build the snow tunnels at the Camp Century research base in 1960. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Camp Century didn’t last long. The snow and ice began slowly crushing the buildings inside the tunnels below, forcing the military to abandon it in 1966. During its short life, however, scientists were able to extract the ice core and begin analyzing Greenland’s climate history. As ice builds up year by year, it captures layers of volcanic ash and changes in precipitation over time, and it traps air bubbles that reveal the past composition of the atmosphere.

One of the original scientists, glaciologist Chester Langway, kept the core and soil samples frozen at the University at Buffalo for years, then he shipped them to a Danish archive in the 1990s, where the soil was soon forgotten.

A few years ago, our Danish colleagues found the soil samples in a box of glass cookie jars with faded labels: “Camp Century Sub-Ice.”

Scientists look at the sediment in jars
Geomorphologist Paul Bierman (right) and geochemist Joerg Schaefer of Columbia University examine the jars holding Camp Century sediment for the first time. They were in a Danish freezer set at -17 F. Paul Bierman, CC BY-ND

A surprise under the microscope

On a hot July day in 2019, two samples of soil arrived at our lab at the University of Vermont frozen solid. We began the painstaking process of splitting the precious few ounces of frozen mud and sand for different analyses.

First, we photographed the layering in the soil before it was lost forever. Then we chiseled off small bits to examine under the microscope. We melted the rest and saved the ancient water.

Then came the biggest surprise. While we were washing the soil, we spotted something floating in the rinse water. Paul grabbed a pipette and some filter paper, Drew grabbed tweezers and turned on the microscope. We were absolutely stunned as we looked down the eyepiece.

Staring back at us were leaves, twigs and mosses. This wasn’t just soil. This was an ancient ecosystem perfectly preserved in Greenland’s natural deep freeze.

One of the authors looking excited
Glacial geomorphologist Andrew Christ (right), with geology student Landon Williamson, holds up the first twig spotted as they washed a sediment sample from Camp Century. Paul Bierman, CC BY-ND

Dating million-year-old moss

How old were these plants?

Over the last million years, Earth’s climate was punctuated by relatively short warm periods, typically lasting about 10,000 years, called interglacials, when there was less ice at the poles and sea level was higher. The Greenland ice sheet survived through all of human history during the Holocene, the present interglacial period of the last 12,000 years, and most of the interglacials in the last million years.

But our research shows that at least one of these interglacial periods was warm enough for a long enough period of time to melt large portions of the Greenland ice sheet, allowing a tundra ecosystem to emerge in northwestern Greenland.

We used two techniques to determine the age of the soil and the plants. First, we used clean room chemistry and a particle accelerator to count atoms that form in rocks and sediment when exposed to natural radiation that bombards Earth. Then, a colleague used an ultra-sensitive method for measuring light emitted from grains of sand to determine the last time they were exposed to sunlight.

Maps of Greenland Ice Sheet speed and bedrock elevation
Maps of Greenland show the speed of the ice sheet as it flows (left) and the landscape hidden beneath it (right). BedMachine v3; Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), CC BY-ND

Chart of CO2 concentrations over time
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today is well beyond past levels determined from ice cores. On March 14, 2021, the CO2 level was about 417 ppm. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CC BY-ND

The million-year time frame is important. Previous work on another ice core, GISP2, extracted from central Greenland in the 1990s, showed that the ice had also been absent there within the last million years, perhaps about 400,000 years ago.

Lessons for a world facing rapid climate change

Losing the Greenland ice sheet would be catastrophic to humanity today. The melted ice would raise sea level by more than 20 feet. That would redraw coastlines worldwide.

About 40% of the global population lives within 60 miles of a coast, and 600 million people live within 30 feet of sea level. If warming continues, ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica will pour more water into the oceans. Communities will be forced to relocate, climate refugees will become more common, and costly infrastructure will be abandoned. Already, sea level rise has amplified flooding from coastal storms, causing hundreds of billions of dollars of damage every year.

A rock and tundra with a glacier in the background
Tundra near the Greenland ice sheet today. Is this what Camp Century looked like before the ice came back sometime in the last million years? Paul Bierman, CC BY-ND

The story of Camp Century spans two critical moments in modern history. An Arctic military base built in response to the existential threat of nuclear war inadvertently led us to discover another threat from ice cores – the threat of sea level rise from human-caused climate change. Now, its legacy is helping scientists understand how the Earth responds to a changing climate.

Andrew Christ, Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in Geology, University of Vermont and Paul Bierman, Fellow of the Gund Institute for Environment, Professor of Geology and Natural Resources, University of Vermont

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The article is republished with the full permission of The Conversation.

I hope you read it because the way the climate is changing is affecting all of us now and sooner rather than later we have all got to amend our ways. Indeed, when I look at anyone who has potentially thirty or more years of life in them I ponder what their future is going to be like. And, of course, it won’t be a drastic change in thirty years it is already happening now albeit at times difficult to see.

But there is not one scintilla of doubt that we humans are the cause and we humans have to be the solution!