Humans are great inventors! Indeed, a better way to describe H. sapiens ever since we separated from the chimpanzees, some 5 or 6 million years ago, is to describe us as explorers both outwards and inwards constantly in search for new worlds and new insights into meaning.
Thus this naturally caught me eye as Doug Thron uses a modern device, a drone, to search for animals in distress, a very ancient behaviour!
Drone Pilot Rescues Animals After Natural Disasters
Doug Thron goes to devastated areas to save pets and wildlife.
For nearly three decades, seaplane and drone pilot Doug Thron has been a professional photographer and cinematographer, primarily for nature shows and magazines. A few years ago he was using his drone to film the devastation left behind after wildfires in California when he teamed up with rescuers to help find lost pets and reunite them with their owners.
A long-time animal lover and environmentalist, Thron realized he could combine those passions, using his aerial skills. He now travels wherever there is need, using his drone to help communities dealing with the destruction after natural disasters.
Thron is featured in a six-part documentary series “Doug to the Rescue”streaming on CuriosityStream beginning June 10.
He talked to Treehugger about his first animal rescues, his drones, and some of the challenges he’s faced.
Treehugger: Which came first: the animal rescue work or the drone?
Dough Thron: I was using drones for filming for TV shows, commercials, and real estate clients before doing the animal rescue work.
Were you involved in animal rescue and realized that your drone work could come in handy?
Definitely. I was doing animal rescue work after the wildfires in Paradise, California. I was working with an expert cat rescuer named Shannon Jay, and I saw him using an infrared scope at night to help find the cats. We talked about how incredible it would be to put one on a drone and when the opportunity came up about 10 months later in the Bahamas after the category 5 Hurricane Dorian, that’s what I did and it worked incredibly.
I had raised orphaned baby animals as a kid and worked with animals such as possums, raccoons, squirrels, beavers, and even mountain lions. I’ve been using drones since 2013 for cinematography, so I’ve used them for quite a while before I got involved in the actual rescuing of animals with drones.
What was your first big rescue using a drone?
My first big rescue using a drone was in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. I was there helping to deliver aid and film the destruction when I spotted a dog roaming around the mountains of debris. He obviously hadn’t had any water or much food for days. He was really apprehensive at first, but warmed up over the course of the day, as I just sat with him. Dog food and water helped! The next day, some animal rescuers came with me to get him. He’s such an incredible dog, and meant so much to me, so I adopted him and named him Duke after a sign I’d seen where I found him.
Where are some of the places you’ve gone to help stranded animals?
The Bahamas, Australia, Oregon, California, and Louisiana.
What were some of the most challenging circumstances?
In Australia, it was challenging because the hurt koalas were deep in burnt out forests, often with a dense canopy. It was so hot out you had to fly strictly at night with spotlights and infrared and fly the drone pretty far and often drop it down through the trees to see the animals, which takes a lot of skill. Koalas are also very aggressive and strong, and not always thrilled when you go to grab them out of a tree to rescue them. On almost all these rescues, Australia and everywhere else, it’s countless long hours of work—generally about 20 hours a day—which can certainly wear you down day after day.
What is it like when you spot an animal in an area of devastation where there is no other sign of life?
It’s great to be able to rescue these animals so much more efficiently and faster and, in many cases, find animals that never would have been found. It’s different everywhere I go—finding animals when there aren’t any others alive nearby is always really hard. But in places like Louisiana, where I was searching in so many neighborhoods, it gives you a feeling of hope when you find a cat or dog, knowing it was someone’s pet.
In other places, like Australia, I’d be covering dozens of miles a night, sometimes and only finding an occasional animal. It’s really sad because you realize how many thousands of animals didn’t make it. It’s also really hard to see how fires and other natural disasters as a result of climate change are taking out the last patches of unentered habitat and endangered animals.
How heart-wrenching can it be?
It can be really heart-wrenching to find animals that are severely wounded, but it’s wonderful to be able to save them.
How euphoric is it when you make a great save?
It’s awesome to be able to save people’s cats and dogs because frequently, that might be the only thing they have left after a fire or hurricane. Obviously, for the animal’s sake, it’s so incredible because without the infrared drone, in many cases, the animal would have never been found and would have died, sometimes a slow and painful death.
What is your drone like?
The Matrice 210 V2 are the drones I use with an infrared camera, spotlight, and 180x zoom lens. The combination of using those three attachments for animal rescue has never been done before.
How much time do you spend doing animal rescue work? What else do you do?
The rescue work is pretty continuous for 9 to 10 months during the fire and hurricane seasons. After that, there are occasional lost pets to be found.
What else do you want to accomplish?
I hope to make using infrared drones for animal rescue as popular as helicopters are for rescuing people after a natural disaster. So many more animals can be saved when you can find them so much faster and find ones that never would have been found on foot because there is just too much area to cover.
This account makes me want to choke up. Doug is clearly used to being a professional photographer and, also, works with others in the field of animal rescue. But this story is about Doug and he is engaged with animal rescue with his heart as well as his head!
Doug has been reported widely I am delighted to say and there’s a YouTube video that you can watch.
A report from BBC Future suggests there is a hidden reason
With six dogs feeding them is quite an exercise. I don’t really take much notice of what Jeannie does although I do know that we feed them kibbles, canned food and Jean cooks up beef for the dogs as well.
Recently BBC Future had a report saying that there is a hidden reason that processed foods are addictive. I am going to share that article with you.
The hidden reason processed pet foods are so addictive
From potently smelly additives to offal concentrates, pet food companies turn to some surprising ingredients in the quest to make kibble delicious.
The cue might be a hand in a pocket, the opening of a cupboard door, or even a word said carelessly aloud – “dinner”. Before you know it, you’re tripping over a pet excitedly awaiting a portion of… dull-brown dried pellets. What’s in these mysterious morsels, that makes them as delectable as roasted chicken, wild salmon, or bundles of fresh herbs?
Take my flatmate, a small black rabbit. For a large part of every day, he can be found sitting attentively with his paws on his empty food bowl, awaiting his next portion of kibble – even though it looks like his droppings and smells equally unappetising. He used to have an automatic dispenser with a timer, but he learnt to throw it across the room to access its contents prematurely. No matter what delicacies I place before him – home-grown parsley, soft-cut hay, fresh carrot-tops, organic kale – he would always rather eat processed pet food.
It seems that this is not unusual. Anecdotes abound about pets whose thoughts are largely preoccupied with kibble, such as the cat that has a daily panic attack when it realises it has eaten all its pellets and the pragmatic German shepherd found carrying a bag of dog food around the streets of Houston after Hurricane Harvey.
As it happens, this addictive quality is carefully engineered. Big Pet Food is a multi-billion-dollar industry which invests heavily in research into “palatants” – ingredients that make our pets want to eat their products. And from potently smelly chemicalsusually found in rotting meat to an additive commonly added to potatoes to stop them discolouring, the quest to make the most scrumptious pet food has led to some surprising insights.
“Big [pet food] companies have huge departments that make palatants,” says Darren Logan, head of research at the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, part of the company Mars Petcare. “Just like we make them for humans, we make them for pets as well.”
The first pet food was invented in 1860 by James Spratt, an enterprising lightning-rod salesman from the US state of Ohio. Legend has it that he had travelled to England for his business, and was looking out over the docks of Liverpool one day when he noticed stray dogs knocking back leftover hardtack biscuits.
This was a revelation for two reasons.
Firstly, hardtack were famously unappealing – loathed by generations of the soldiers and sailors who ate them, these simple slabs of baked flour and water were tougher than wood and sometimes hard enough to break your teeth. Their nicknames included “sheet iron” and “worm castles“, the latter because of the high proportion that were infested with maggots and weevils. The oldest piece of surviving hardtack was baked just nine years before Spratt’s dock visit, and still looks suspiciously well-preserved 170 years later.
Secondly, until that moment it hadn’t occurred to anyone to check what their pets would like to eat – or that this could be monetised. For as long as we had kept domesticated animals, they had been fed more or less the same food as humans, or expected to fend for themselves.
One striking example is the husky. In their native territory of Arctic Greenland, Canada and Alaska, Inuit hunter-gatherers have traditionally fed these dogs on seal meat, which comprises the majority of their own diet. Sled-dogs are so well-adapted to this that when the British Antarctic Survey brought them to Antarctica as a form of transport in 1945, they found that they struggled to digest commercial dog food. In the end, they had to kill a number of local seals each year, just to feed the dogs, before they were largely replaced with skidoos in the 1960s and 70s.
Spratt’s innovation coincided with a cultural revolution in the way people saw their pets
Meanwhile in Victorian London, dogs that were lucky enough to be looked after were either given table scraps or gruel. Even specialist exotic animals were fed everyday human food – the 20,000 or more tortoises imported from Morocco each year were mostly expected to survive on ordinary garden vegetables or bread soaked in water. Cats were considered street animals and rarely fed.
But Spratt had hit upon something entirely new. Over the coming months he developed the “Meat Fibrine Dog Cake”, a biscuit-like concoction of beetroot, vegetables, grains and beef of dubious origins that claimed to meet all the nutritional needs of his customers’ hounds. (While its packaging implied that it was the finest prairie beef, what it was actually made from was a secret he took to his grave.)
Spratt’s innovation coincided with a cultural revolution in the way people saw their pets – dogs and cats went from being viewed as mere utility animals or borderline-vermin to beloved family members to be coddled. Consequently, the Meat Fibrine Dog Cake was marketed as a luxury food for aristocratic pets.
The adverts labelled them “Dog’s Delight” and included gushing testimonials from wealthy customers. Ironically, Spratt’s also promoted the fact that they were chosen to feed the sled dogs on Captain Scott’s 1901 trip to the Antarctic, though we now know they would much rather have eaten seal.
Eventually the company branched out into cat food – “Spratt’s puts pussy into fine form!”, they said – and the rest is history. However, the science of pet food palatants still had some way to go.
Today it’s possible to buy specialised kibble for almost any kind of pet, from frogs to sugar gliders (a small marsupial). Most follow roughly the same formula – they usually contain some kind of base carbohydrate, assorted proteins and fats, sugars, a source of fibre, antioxidants or other preservatives, emulsifiers (which keep the fat in the food and prevent it from separating), vitamins and minerals, and colouring agents
More sophisticated versions may also contain probiotics or digestibility enhancers – such as chicory, which is often added to dog food – as well as enzymes, anti-parasitic compounds and minerals to prevent the build-up of tartar on teeth.
Oddly, there is very little relationship between how healthy a pet food is and its inherent deliciousness
To turn these ingredients into a dry pet food, it’s formed into a paste and “extruded” via a process that involves heating it up and forcing it through a plate with holes in it, to form an aerated product that matches the shape of the holes. It’s the same process that’s used to make puffed snack foods, with flavourings added in the final step – in the case of pet food, they’re either sprayed on or added as a powder.
Oddly, there is very little relationship between how healthy a pet food is and its inherent deliciousness. That’s because in the US, the EU and many other parts of the world, in order to describe one as “complete” – containing everything the body needs to be healthy – it must meet certain nutritional standards. These set out acceptable ranges for most ingredients, so manufacturers can’t just load up on sugar and fat to make it compelling.
“From my standpoint as a nutritionist, all pet foods are the same,” says Marion Nestle, professor emerita of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.
Instead, companies turn to chemistry.
Many animals rely heavily on smell to navigate the world around them, and this is often the main sense that’s targeted. While human noses contain around 50 million olfactory receptors, cats have 67 million, rabbits have 100 million and dogs have around 220 million. On the other hand, their sense of taste is generally less discriminating than ours – our relatively high density of taste receptors is thought to have evolved to help us cope with our diverse omnivorous diets.
The catch is that appealing to animals that find the smell of roadkill, sweaty socks, and vomit utterly enchanting – as carnivorous pets often do – while not making their human companions feel violently ill, is extremly tricky. “There is a slight paradox there, because the smells that cats particularly but also dogs seem to like are often the opposite of what humans like,” says Logan.
Nestle puts it more bluntly – “animals eat faeces”, she says. “They like strong animal odours and pet food manufacturers have a really difficult time, because they have to make it disgusting enough so that the animal will eat it, but not so disgusting that the owners won’t buy it.”
Pet food manufacturers have a really difficult time, because they have to make it disgusting enough so that the animal will eat it, but not so disgusting that the owners won’t buy it – Darren Logan
Examples include putrescine and cadaverine, colourless chemicals produced naturally by the breakdown of proteins. They’re largely responsible for the revolting smell of rotting flesh – and cats love them. While in human food, their levels are sometimes closely monitored as a way of ensuring the freshness and safety of meat, they’re often actively added to cat and dog food, either as offal extracts or lab-made additives.
In the case of naturally vegan animals, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, irresistible smells such as mint and oregano are sometimes added in the form of concentrates.
Other insights are arguably more surprising. A recent study identified nine volatile compounds in common pet food flavourings that are linked to how delicious they are to dogs, including heptanal, nonanal, and octanal, which all have strong, fruity odours.
However, taste is also important – and here the preferences of carnivorous pets are not so different from ours.
One of the most popular additives in human food is the enigmatic “hydrolysed protein”, which is formed by breaking down the long strands of proteins into their constituent amino acids, usually using enzymes or hydrochloric acid. It imparts a flavour similar to that achieved by meat or vegetable stock, and often comes with MSG, which is produced as a by-product of the same reaction and is responsible for the savoury taste of tomatoes, cheese and Iberico ham.
Though hydrolysed proteins are produced artificially, the process is similar to what happens when you cook food for a long period of time – it’s a kind of pre-digestion, and is thought to contribute to the enticing smell of many brands of kibble.
“The understanding of cat palatability is very similar to Japanese or Asian cuisine, where there’s a lot of focus on umami and another taste modality called kokumi,” says Logan.
Kokumi was discovered in Japan in 1989, and has been proposed as the sixth taste in humans, after sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, sourness and umami. It’s described as a kind of mouth-feel rather than a flavour per se – a texture that imparts richness and “thickness” to foods. Unlike the others, kokumi hasn’t yet been linked to a specific set of compounds, but foods that conjure this sensory experience include scallops, soy sauce, shrimp paste, yeast and beer.
While cats are particularly drawn to Japanese food, which is rich in meat and seafood, you’re unlikely to find them stealing ice-creams or doughnuts
But there are some flavours that you will never find in certain pet foods.
For example, most wild carnivorous animals lack the receptors for tasting sugar or carbohydrates. And unlike dogs, which have been living around humans and feasted off our scraps for up to 40,000 years, domestic cats have only been around for about 4,300. For the majority of that time, they were considered a kind of free pest-control that could fend for themselves.
So, while cats are particularly drawn to Japanese food, which is rich in meat and seafood, you’re unlikely to find them stealing ice-creams or doughnuts – unlike dogs, they simply haven’t been around humans for long enough to have evolved the ability to taste sugar.
On the other hand, because vegan animals eat exclusively vegetable matter, which is often rich in fibre and carbohydrates, they tend to prefer sweeter pet food.
Finally, no list of palatants would be complete without pyrophosphate, described in Popular Science as “cat crack”. This common additive performs a number of roles in human food, such as preventing potato products from going dark after they’re cooked – none of which involve improving its taste. Nevertheless, cats go nuts for it, possibly because it intensifies the flavour of amino acids.
Pet food companies are now so successful at making food delicious that they’re increasingly encountering a dilemma – it’s almost too good. “The danger for cats and dogs today is the same as for people, it’s overconsumption,” says Andrew Knight, a professor of animal welfare and ethics at the University of Winchester.
Pet obesity is a growing problem in the developed world, with one survey of veterinary professionals at a vet show in London suggesting that around 51% of dogs, 44% of cats and 29% of small mammals are now overweight or obese.
Pet foods made from more sustainable ingredients such as insects or soya are generally just as acceptable to carnivorous pets as the real deal
According to Logan, this is not down to the way pet food is formulated, but humans succumbing to their beloved pets’ pleading gazes. “The reason we make pet food palatable is that if they don’t eat all the food that we give them, it won’t meet the nutritional needs that they require,” he says. “The real problem is owners feeding them too much – pets can’t open the packets themselves.”
However, there is an upside. There are mounting concerns about the environmental impact of pet food, too – in 2009, two New Zealand scientists estimated the planetary cost of keeping a dog as roughly twice that of having a medium-sized SUV.
This is where palatants come in. Because most pet foods comprise a fairly tasteless base that is spruced up with delicious flavourings and smells, pet foods made from more sustainable ingredients such as insects or soya are generally just as acceptable to carnivorous pets as the real deal. (Though cats cannot be fed a diet that is meat free.)
“According to this really large-scale study that we’ve just finished, the animals on vegan pet foods seem to be just as happy as animals on meat ones,” says Knight, who is hopeful about their future potential.
“There is a broad recognition that the need to be more sustainable will have a big impact on the pet food business,” says Logan, who explains that the pet food company he works for has just released its own brand of insect-based pet food.
So, why do our pets find pet food so addictive? Well, because it’s been made that way. Just like us, our pets find it hard to say no to the food we have designed to be tasty.
* Zaria Gorvett is a senior journalist for BBC Future and tweets at @ZariaGorvett
That is a really useful article that goes a very long way to explaining how ‘big business’ interferes with the food that our pets eat.
And did you read right at the end of the article: “According to this really large-scale study that we’ve just finished, the animals on vegan pet foods seem to be just as happy as animals on meat ones,” says Knight.
I can’t remember when I first came to know Patrice Ayme; it was quite a few years ago. I followed him for years and then had to take a break simply because there weren’t enough hours in the day! Not because I disliked what he was writing – no siree!
Anyway, Patrice recently forwarded me an article that rightly deserved much attention. Here it is:
Saving The Animals, Thus Ourselves
Animals die in great numbers trying to cross human transportation systems.
When one provides the animals with crossings, they rush to use them (so are used even before they are finished, by a Noah’s ark of species).
Respecting nature is not just about the beauty and naturalness it provides us with, it is about respecting how we became who we are, at our best. We have to learn to share the planet with animals. Not just because we are smart, but also because they are smart and our smarts evolved from interacting with their smarts. So interacting with wild animals is smart all around… and it has made our species smarter! Wildlife interaction is how we evolved our smarts.
Not book smarts, but the deepest smarts.
Hence by respecting animals, we respect how we became human… and it keeps on being human to do so. Economy means managing the house, in particular, managing earth, which is our common house. As the greenhouse heating proceeds at an accelerating pace, we then have to reserve an increasing part of our economic activity to save the animals by helping them to cope with the changes we have brought.
Morality comes from the mores, the old ways, the ways which perdured, and thus, insure survival. Having a natural environment, full of animals, is the ultimate morality. If we can’t save them, how can we learn to save ourselves?
So it is not just smart and economic to save the animals, but also moral. The money engaged so far is quite small. But the price of an unbalanced environment tottering towards ruin, is incomparably higher. For a nice article with nice videos of animals using their smarts crossing freeways and roads, consider:
As a badger digs, say for ground squirrels whose burrows have many exits, could not it be that the coyote would seize a fleeing squirrel, and share the meal? This is basic economics and strategy, and it turns out that coyotes and badgers have figured out that behavior, and cooperate together.
The next question would be this: do the individuals concerned figure it out by themselves, as cephalopods do, or is the behavior culturally instigated, namely both badgers and coyotes learn elements of interspecific cooperation from teaching by their elders? I believe the latter.
After all, I trained the (wild) nesting birds on my balcony to benignantly ignore my weird and intrusive ways … which thus had to learn to be a bit more respectful than they usually are. But of course these ways tend to incite the red tail hawks to not land on this particular balcony on a determined culinary mission (as they have been seen doing…) And the birds know this .
Saving the animals is first of all about saving us… Not just our sense of beauty.
 Hummingbirds set their nests below hawks’ nests, as this protects them from gays. Local hawks do attack nests of birds who are big enough (like gays, crows, etc). And I have seen them pass 10 feet from me, eyeing me suspiciously… Their feathers can be two feet long…
We are all connected as I said in the title to today’s post.
The only way we are going to survive as a species on this planet is for all of us to recognise this fundamental law of nature. Or should I say this fundamental law of Nature!
It is a little over fifty years since the inaugural celebration of the first Earth Day; on the 22nd April, 1970. In other words we are just over halfway through if one imagines the celebration of the one hundredth Earth Day: 22nd April, 2070. In 1970 the planet was home to 3.7 billion people. Today there are nearly 8 billion people. But more than that these 8 billion people are living to an average of 72 years, up from 59 years in 50 years.
Our failure to address climate change is harming the planet and all the species, including us humans, who live on Planet Earth. I shall be dead by 2070 and also a great many of my fellow humans. But for all those born in the year 2000 and later it is increasingly going to become the number one priority: Saving the planet from a total catastrophe!
Since No More Pain Rescue doesn’t have a physical shelter, Mahnken and Favor needed to get Ashley straight into a foster home. They had friends in the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), and knew there used to be a dog at the Fort Pitt station. So Mahnken and Favor asked if the firefighters would hold onto Ashley until they found her a proper home.
Ashley seemed just fine with this arrangement.
“As soon as she walked into the firehouse, her tail was wagging, and she was licking and greeting everybody,” Mahnken said. “She was super happy. From where she came from, you wouldn’t really expect that. You would think that she’d be a little skittish, but she wasn’t at all.”
“They said, ‘We’re going to adopt her. We just love her so much. She is at home here,'” Mahnken said. “So I was thrilled. And as soon as I walked her in there, I knew that that’s where she belonged.”
Ashley now lives at the firehouse full-time.
“She’s constantly on the go – she goes on smaller runs with them, she goes on the fire truck with them,” Mahnken said. “They walk her about 30 times a day. They bring her on the roof to play. She’s constantly in the kitchen watching them eat. She has endless supplies of treats. She has the life over there.”
Ashley even has her seat in the fire truck, according to Mahnken.
“I’m so glad we got her into a home that will show her nothing but love, and not make her into the pit bull that people love to hate so quickly,” Mahnken said. “It was an unbelievable feeling to know that that’s where she belonged.”
Four years later, Ashley is still loving her life at the firehouse — and the fire fighters love her.
Just another example of what good loving people can do for a dog and the dog’s obvious pleasure at being loved.
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!
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!
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.
This week, a Massachusetts State Police trooper did just that — coming to the aid of a helpless young coyote pup who’d been found stranded all alone along a busy roadway.
Seeing that the pup’s mother was nowhere in sight, trooper Carlo Mastromattei contacted Lisa Cutting, owner of Ocean View Kennels, for help in safely removing the animal from that perilous spot.
The pup was now out of immediate danger, but Mastromattei’s kindhearted actions didn’t end there.
At that late hour, all nearby wildlife rehab facilities were apparently closed. So, the trooper then decided to go above and beyond his call of duty in order to keep the little coyote safe until morning.
Mastromattei brought the pup home, where he and his girlfriend kept him cozy and fed through the night.
The next day, Mastromattei brought the coyote to the Tufts Wildlife Clinic for a checkup. Fortunately, he was found to be in good health — thanks in no small part to the trooper having rescued him in time.
According to the Massachusetts State Police, the young coyote has since been placed under the care of a wildlife rehabilitator. With any luck, he’ll continue gaining his strength until he’s old enough to be released back into the wild to live life as nature intended.
For their efforts, those involved in the pup’s rescue are getting some much-deserved praise from police officials, who wrote in a post:
“The Department offers its sincere thanks to Trooper Mastromattei, his girlfriend, Ocean View Kennels, and Tufts for their compassionate care for this beautiful little creature.”
I would like to bet that Carlo Mastromattei has a dog at home. For this compassion shown by Carlo Mastromattei is surely brought about by having a dog or two in his life.
Unfortunately, all dogs die. There’s no easy way to do this, but it’s a fact of life as a pet owner. For me, the key decision was when is the right time to do it? I don’t want to wait too long so that Ryder suffers, but I’d feel guilty putting Ryder down too early.
We’ve talked about this many times, in fact. Often on walks or long rides in the car, my wife and I go through the bullets, like a checklist of emotional redemption. There are many “easy” decisions when owning a dog: which food? That bag of Purina over there. When do you pick up after the dog? At least twice a week in the spring and summer, sometimes every other day. Should you pet the dog? Well, it’s a German Shepherd, so if it wants to be petted, you better do it now because it may not want to be petted the rest of the day.
Deciding to euthanize is nothing so simple.
Years ago when we went through end-of-life with Mojo, a veterinarian recommended as a litmus test to pick the three things the dog enjoys most in life. When the dog can no longer do one or especially two of those things, it’s time to euthanize.
But that litmus test doesn’t apply to all dogs, and certainly not to Ryder. She’s always been a peculiar dog. She likes her backyard and playing with Koda, and she likes to eat*. She still does those things. For me, it is a pain factor based on arthritis and lack of mobility. People will talk about the dignity of life for a dog, and I think there is some truth to that. I remember laying in bed one day and Mojo walking in and telling me he was ready. A few months later, he again looked at me, and his eyes were full of truth. He wasn’t happy, he didn’t like this anymore. He was ready. Sometimes Ryder gives me that look, but I’m not sure. She’s always had a pained, scared-of-the-world emotion in her eyes.
But there is “pained” and there is “pain.” Ryder can’t put in words her suffering, so it’s up to me to observe her closely. Over the past few months, and certainly over the past year, my family and I have noticed changes to her behavior, physicality, and mental state:
-She had urination problems. She was diagnosed as a UTI and corrected. Alone, this is not a sign that she is close to dying, but I believe it may be a sign of the severity of her back arthritis. She’s not cleaning herself. This is especially troubling considering…
-She has problems holding in poop. Sometimes she’s sitting there, laying in it, and she doesn’t realize she’s pooped herself. Often, she can’t make it through the night without releasing her bowels in the house. If she isn’t able to clean herself, and she isn’t aware that she is going to the bathroom, this can lead to discomfort and additional UTIs.
-She stopped climbing the stairs. This was a subtle one because our dogs aren’t allowed upstairs. But last week we had a major thunderstorm, and as anyone who owns German Shepherds can attest, GSDs only want to be right next to you when the thunder booms and the lightning crashes. Koda busted down the dog gate and ran upstairs for solace. Ryder, who is usually the first one to bump against the bedroom door until we wake up, stayed downstairs and didn’t attempt coming to us. At least, I didn’t see her attempt it. She may have tried, failed, and gone back downstairs. That’s a first in her lifetime, and she wouldn’t have stayed down there if she didn’t absolutely have to remain on the first floor.
-She is stumbling. She often stumbles in the house, especially walking inside and out. She has fallen doing little playful jumps at my daughter. I’ve seen her fall to the floor and not be able to stand for thirty seconds or more.
-This will sound weird, but she sits a lot, and not on purpose. One of the things she does is get in the way of her people (helloooo, herding dog). She backs out when she realizes I want to get through. Now, she backs out, and her butt falls down, and she stares at me like “That wasn’t supposed to happen. What do I do now? Sorry!” until she can get back up.
-She is whining and yelping. This is the big one. My dogs don’t whine or yelp for no reason. They aren’t talkative dogs. For the past year, though Ryder will yelp when roughhousing with Koda. She wants to jump on him, but she’s incapable. Lately, she’s really reduced her roughhousing. Additionally, Koda is being a son of a bitch about this. A few days ago I noticed they were playing their favorite game of “I’ve got a thing and you don’t.” I posted about this when during one of these games, Ryder knocked the poop out of Koda. That old chestnut. But this last time when Koda wanted the random stick, he bumped her rear with his chest so that she went down. I scolded him, he didn’t understand, and eventually Ryder dropped the stick and guarded it with strong play-snaps. Koda wasn’t going to take any further action to take the prized random stick, but the fact that he knows to exploit this indicates to me that one day we could find out he’s hurt her, perhaps broken her back from bumping her, and now you have to put down Ryder immediately in your backyard. Nobody wants that.
So we have elected to euthanize Ryder.
Damn, there’s a lot of finality in that statement. She is a family member, and we lover her very much. I picked her up from the tiny town of Buda, Texas and drove her three or four hours back to Houston. She never liked car rides after that. We have a lot of memories with that dog, some I’m sure I will share in the coming weeks, but for now, I want to focus on the decision.
We are reaching out to companies that can euthanize at home. With all of Ryder’s fears, it seems like the best option. Of course, home euthanasias are the popular choice in the pandemic. Earlier in 2020, some of the vets we looked to wouldn’t allow owners to be present for euthanasias. So we will see if we can make the home euthanasia happen.
In the meantime, I give her half an aspirin to help with the pain, and my daughter purchased some CBD-infused peanut butter, too. We’ve had her on joint vitamins, but that only goes so far. We do as much as we can to keep Ryder comfortable, but it’s clear that she’s in near-constant pain and that her hips/back have greatly reduced function. She is an eleven and a half year old GSD, old for one. So as difficult as it is to decide to euthanize, I know that it is a necessary part of ownership. If I’m willing to own a dog, I must be willing to take care of it throughout it’s life, not just the happy puppy parts, but all of it, including her last days.
*Ryder only eats infrequently over the past few weeks. It is one of her three joys: play, eating, and protection/perimeter walking, and I would argue that food is her highest joy, so not eating is a big clue that her time is soon.
I met Jean in 2007 in Mexico. Jean was rescuing street dogs, looking after them for a while, and then finding homes for them in the USA; primarily Arizona. I was then living in Devon, England together with my German Shepherd, Pharaoh. Jean loves all dogs irrespective of size. I moved out to Mexico, with Pharaoh, permanently in 2008. Living with so many dogs around the home quickly brought an awareness of the integrity of dogs, of their ability to love unconditionally, and I started this blog in 2009.
Now Jean and I live in Southern Oregon. Indeed we have been here since 2012. We are down to six dogs: Cleo; Brandy; Sheena; Oliver; Pedi and Sweeny. That means we have had many dogs die in the past. I still miss Pharaoh who died in 2017. Or rather it should be said that the decision to euthanise him was in June, 2017.
In the end we have to make that final decision for our beloved dogs. It is, frankly, so much better than leaving dogs to die because the last few weeks or days can be very brutal.
So we know only too well what Doug is going through. Our thoughts are with Doug and Ryder.