Please, let me use the power of the internet to spread the word!
On the face of it this has nothing to do with dogs. Or does it? Because the stream and the forest will most certainly be favourite walks for people and their dogs. (Indeed a very quick search online brought up the following picture🙂
So this post is to drum up support for this critically important area. Please also sign the petition. Thank you.
Protect Pipe Fork
Pipe Fork is a compelling example of lush, mature riparian forest in the Klamath-Siskyou Bioregion of Southern Oregon. Pipe Fork Creek originates from pure-water springs nestled in ancient forest on the east flank of Grayback Mountain, and flows cold and clear and abundantly year-round through a narrow canyon wilderness into the Williams Valley. There it provides generously for farms and homes as well as for rich spawning and nursery grounds vital to chinook and coho salmon.
Designated a Research Natural Area (RNA) of Critical Environmental Concern by the Bureau of Land Management, the upper reaches of Pipe Fork have also been nominated for designation as a Federal Wild and Scenic River. Rare Pacific fishers and martens, spotted owls, elk, bear, and many other animals, as well as numerous species of rare plants, live in the undisturbed forests of the RNA.
Josephine County has had plans to sell a 320-acre parcel right next to the BLM RNA that encompasses both sides of Pipe Fork, and to clearcut 114 acres on the north side of the creek. The devastation that would result from clearcutting on the steep slopes above Pipe Fork would do lasting damage to the sensitive riparian forest and would greatly diminish the quality and quantity of water that flows into the Williams Valley.
But we will not let this happen! We are determined and optimistic that by all of us working together, this precious place will be saved for the benefit of present and future generations.
Williams Community Forest Project invites you to watch our brand new 7-minute film showcasing the wonders of Pipe Fork and our efforts to preserve it, and to sign the petition at the bottom of the page. Please share this page with like-minded friends and family, allies and colleagues!
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.
This 13-Year-Old Dog Has a Home Again
It’s heartbreaking when senior pets lose their families.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Changewebsite:
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.
This came in yesterday and I thought for some time that I wouldn’t be able to publish it quickly owing to me getting my knickers in a twist.
But all was resolved and therefore I am delighted to republish it.
Donate to fund the dogs saving elephants
Ever heard of dogs saving elephants?
In the Serengeti, a small, specially trained team of rescue dogs sniff out poachers and sound the alarm. Just 4 dogs have helped arrest hundreds of poachers, saving countless elephants being murdered for their ivory.
Almost a quarter of the elephants in the park now live in the tiny area they protect — but poaching is on the rise everywhere else and there are thousands more elephants that still need protection.
That’s why the team behind this amazing project are asking for your help to train up more of these sniffer dogs — and save double the number of elephants.
With 96 of these gentle giants killed each day, every moment counts.
Can you chip in to help?
Whatever you can spare please contribute to the donation request.
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.
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:
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.
To be honest this is more about the Spitfire! The Spitfire SX336.
Raymond was working on the design of his dog tags and to nail stuff about the way to make them, the material thickness, how to work with it (2MM thick brass) and how to stop them failing, when he turned to a contact he had who is a Spitfire Engineer. At that point Ian, the contact, was up the road from Hertfordshire at The Shuttleworth Collection, getting AR501 back in the air.
However, mid-2019 he moved across the airfield to Kennet Aviation. That’s the home of Spitfire XVII.
At that point Raymond was still pestering for help with a fair few aspects of the manufacturing, from working with the five-ton fly-press that was recommended (from a closed aircraft factory south of Birmingham) to using high-speed polishing tools, but – above all – the position of the hole in relation to the edge of the tag, which is the same distance rivets are from the edge of the wing in a Spitfire.
In return, Raymond offered to build a few websites, one for Kennet Engineering and one for Kennet Aviation. Both the same company really, the Engineering one to try and get more work for a few huge and expensive CNC machines they’ve recently acquired to make spitfire parts they couldn’t get hold of.
Anyway, it was when researching regarding the Spitfire that he, Raymond, came across my Spitfire content and obviously noticed the title of the website he was looking at: LearningFromDogs.com, saw I had a tremendous-looking book and thought ‘hang on a minute!’ this is all too much of a coincidence, he must say hello AND introduce me (Paul) to the SX336.
So Raymond finally said ‘hello’ and let me know there is indeed another Spitfire still flying somewhere in the world.
At approximately 3pm on Tuesday 25 April 2017 The Shuttleworth Collection’s Spitfire under restoration fired into life for the first time in 12 years.
A first stage engine run took place on the airfield with volunteers who have been working on the project watching with fingers crossed. The Spitfire has recently been fitted with new propeller and spinner, with testing on all systems from hydraulics, electrical, coolant and air being undertaken in the engineer workshop where visitors have been able to follow the project’s progress.
Project engineer Ian Laraman expressed his relief that all had gone to plan, saying, “With any engine being tested for the first time you always hope it will run smoothly, and happily today the Spitfire’s first engine run couldn’t have gone any better. Higher power runs will now follow, which will give us a better indication of how close we are to flight testing, but for now hearing this aircraft powered up again after all the work that’s gone into it has just been fantastic!”
The coolant systems will now be flushed out, and checks carried out on the oil filters in advance of further testing of the Spitfire’s 1,440hp Rolls Royce Merlin V12 engine in the next fortnight. To follow the progress of AR501 as it moves toward the end of its restoration come along to see the aircraft in the engineering hangar or follow The Collection’s Facebook and Twitter pages!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I am going to republish it. Please help if you can.
Tell the USDA to protect puppies
Dogs suffer horribly in puppy mills. What’s worse is that over the last four years, The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is charged with monitoring, citing and revoking licenses of these breeding facilities if they sell to pet stores, brokers or online, stopped taking their job of puppy mill enforcement seriously and the agency did not take all the necessary steps to make sure that standards of care are improved to ensure that puppy mill facilities meet the basic needs of happy and healthy dogs.
Enforcement has plummeted at USDA since 2017 and citations for violations are down more than 65%. But we have a new Administration leading the United States Department of Agriculture, one that has already promised that they are going to take animal care seriously. Now is our chance to send a message loud and clear: you must protect dogs and puppies and take puppy mill enforcement seriously, and you must ensure that standards of care are improved in puppy mills to meet the needs of the thousands of dogs living in those facilities.
TAKE ACTION Please send a brief, polite message to the USDA using the form provided.