I heard yesterday from Erik Hoffner who is responsible for the Mongabay website that Bill McKibben is stepping up to the mark in wanting to take action regarding climate change.
I very quickly signed up and received the following email:
Many thanks for signing up to be a part—and we hope a big part—of Third Act.
My name is Bill McKibben, and I’m one of the volunteers helping to launch this effort for Americans 60 and older who want to build a fairer and more sustainable nation and planet.
We’re very much in the early days of this, and we need your help—especially if you’re good at the behind-the-scenes tasks like administration, development, and project management. If you’ve got some time to donate right now, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And we will be back in touch as autumn rolls on, with some early campaigns focused on climate action and on ending voter suppression. As you can tell, we’re making this up as we go along. So it should be interesting, and also a little bumpy!
If you can assemble a sizable group of people, I’ll do my best to join you for a virtual talk to explain more about this idea. (And when the pandemic ends, we’ll try to do it in person!).
And if you can donate some small sum of money to help with the launch, here’s the place.
Thank you. This is our time to make some powerful change—we’ve got the skills, the resources, and the desire. So let’s try.
We’re over 60—the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. We have skills, we have resources, we have time—and many of us have kids and grandkids. We also have a history. In our early years we saw remarkable shifts in politics and society; now, in our latter years, we want to see those changes made real and lasting.
We were there for the first Earth Day, and we’ve been glad to see cleaner air and water—but now we know that the climate crisis presents an unparalleled threat. The heat is on and we must act quickly to turn it down.
We watched or participated in the civil rights movement—and now we know that its gains were not enough, and that gaps in wealth have only widened in our lifetimes. We’ve got to repair divisions instead of making them worse. We saw democracy expand—and now we’re seeing it contract, as voter suppression and gerrymandering threaten the core of the American experiment. We know that real change can only come if we all get to participate.
You are the key to this work. Maybe you’ve asked yourself: how can I give back on a scale that matters? The answer is, by working with others to build movements strong enough to matter. That’s why we hope you’ll join us.
Clearly I have signed up and I hope an enormous number of other people will do as well.
Because the time left is not very long and even me at the age of 76 fear for the near future if nothing is done urgently.
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 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!
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!
But recently BBC Future spoke of the bond that the guards and the abandoned dogs made.
Read it below: (Unfortunately you will have to go here to view the stunning photographs because the BBC prevents them being republished!But it is still a very interesting article.)
The guards caring for Chernobyl’s abandoned dogs
The descendants of pets abandoned by those fleeing the Chernobyl disaster are now striking up a curious relationship with humans charged with guarding the contaminated area.
It wasn’t long after he arrived in the irradiated landscape of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone that Bogdan realised his new job came with some unexpected companions. From his first days as a checkpoint guard in Chernobyl, he has shared the place with a pack of dogs.
Bogdan (not his real name) is now in his second year of working in the zone and has got to know the dogs well. Some have names, some don’t. Some stay nearby, others remain detached – they come and go as they please. Bogdan and the other guards feed them, offer them shelter, and occasionally give them medical care. They bury them when they die.
All the dogs are, in a sense, refugees of the 1986 disaster in which Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. In the aftermath, tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the Ukrainian city of Pripyat. They were told to leave their pets behind. (Read more about the long-term toll of the Chernobyl disaster.)
Soviet soldiers shot many of the abandoned animals in an effort to prevent the spread of contamination. But, undoubtedly, some of the animals hid and survived. Thirty-five years later, hundreds of stray dogs now roam the 2,600km (1,000 sq mile) Exclusion Zone put in place to restrict human traffic in and out of the area. Nobody knows which of the dogs are directly descended from stranded pets, and which may have wandered into the zone from elsewhere. But they are all dogs of the zone now.
Their lives are perilous. They are at risk from radioactive contamination, wolf attacks, wildfires and starvation, among other threats. The dogs’ average lifespan is just five years, according to the Clean Futures Fund, a non-governmental organisation that monitors and provides care for dogs living within the Exclusion Zone.
That dogs inhabit this ruined place is well known – some of them have even become minor celebrities on social media. Clean Futures Fund co-founder Lucas Hixson, who gave up a research career to look after the animals, offers virtual tours of the Exclusion Zone featuring the dogs.
But less is known about the local workers who interact with these canines on a daily basis.
Jonathon Turnbull, a PhD candidate in geography at the University of Cambridge, realised it might be worth collecting these people’s stories.
“If I wanted to know the dogs,” he says, “I needed to go to the people who know them best – and that was the guards.”
What he discovered is a heart-warming story of the guards’ relationship with the animals they encounter in this abandoned environment – a tale that provides insights into the deep bond between humans and dogs.
The guards sometimes go to the trouble of helping the dogs by pulling out ticks embedded in their skin, or by giving them rabies injections
For instance, the guards have given several of the dogs nicknames. According to Turnbull, there’s Alpha, whose name refers to a type of radiation, and Tarzan, a dog well-known to Chernobyl tourists, who can do tricks on command and who lives near the famous Duga radar installation built by the Soviets. Then there is Sausage – a short, fat dog that likes to warm herself in the winter by lying on heating pipes. These pipes serve one of the buildings used by workers in the Exclusion Zone who are part of ongoing efforts to decommission and decontaminate the ruined power plant.
Access to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone requires a permit, so guards are tasked with controlling checkpoints on roads in and out of the area. People who dodge these checkpoints to trespass in the Exclusion Zone are known as “stalkers”. Guards report them to the police.
When Turnbull, who lives in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, started making regular visits to the zone, he met Bogdan, and other checkpoint guards. They were reluctant to talk at first so he had to win them over. Then he offered them to chance to take part in his research, which he says was a “turning point”. His idea was to give the guards disposable cameras and ask them to take pictures of the dogs – not posed portraits but scenes of everyday life. The guards only had one other request – “please, please – bring food for the dogs”. So Turnbull did.
The photos taken by the guards revealed how much they had developed companionships with the wandering dogs of the Exclusion Zone.
Turnbull published some of the resulting images and material from interviews with the guards in a paper in December. More recently, he interviewed one of the study participants again on behalf of BBC Future. The guard in question has asked not to be identified to avoid disciplinary action at work, so we refer to him here by the pseudonym “Bogdan”.
When Bogdan walks around the abandoned streets of the zone to check for stalkers, the dogs happily accompany him, he says. They always appear eager to see whether he, or a passing tourist, might be carrying food. Should a companion dog get distracted or run off to chase an animal, it always eventually returns to Bogdan, he adds.
The loyalty goes both ways. Turnbull says the guards sometimes go to the trouble of helping the dogs by pulling out ticks embedded in their skin, or by giving them rabies injections.
Wolves, dogs and other animals could in theory carry radioactive contamination, or genetic mutations potentially passed on by breeding, to places outside the Exclusion Zone
Monitoring who comes and goes from the Exclusion Zone sometimes makes for a dull occupation. But there are always dogs nearby.
At some checkpoints, the guards have more or less adopted some of the animals. They feed them and give them shelter. But not all are so tame. During his research, one guard told Turnbull, “We can’t inject Arka because she bites.”
Another participant spoke of one dog that was even more difficult to approach. It refuses to be touched at all. “You should just give her a pan [of food] and go. She waits until you leave and then she eats,” the guard explained.
The dogs sometimes bark at strangers on first sight, that’s their nature, says Bogdan. But so long as they don’t feel threatened, they sometimes calm down and wag their tails. Occasionally it even seems as though they’re smiling, he adds.
There is wildlife living in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone besides dogs. In 2016, Sarah Webster, a US government wildlife biologist who was working at the University of Georgia at the time, and colleagues published a paper in which they revealed how mammals, from wolves to boars and red foxes, had colonised the Exclusion Zone. Camera trap data showed that the animals’ numbers were not noticeably lower in those areas where radioactive contamination is higher.
Animals living in the Exclusion Zone are not necessarily confined there. A later studyby Webster and colleagues, published in 2018, detailed the movements of a wolf tagged with a GPS device. It travelled 369km (229 miles) from its home range in the zone, taking a long arc to the south-east, then north-east again, eventually entering Russia.
Wolves, dogs and other animals could in theory carry radioactive contamination, or genetic mutations potentially passed on by breeding, to places outside the Exclusion Zone.
“We know it’s happening but we don’t understand the extent or the magnitude,” says Webster.
Turnbull says the guards do not generally worry about radiation, though they might occasionally use dosimeters to check a dog over.
It actually seems as though the dogs, through the companionship they offer, end up reassuring those who interact with them regularly, says Greger Larson, an archaeologist who studies animal domestication at the University of Oxford and who was not involved in Turnbull’s research.
“They’re kind of putting themselves in the shoes of the dogs,” he suggests, referring to the guards. “If the dog is fine, that means you’re fine.”
But in truth, this may only be a false sense of security.
“It’s an uncanny environment,” notes Turnbull. “You can’t see the danger. You’re constantly aware that it might be there but everything looks normal.”
Despite the fact that the dogs could pose a risk in terms of radioactivity, guards like Bogdan instead emphasise the benefits of having them around. For example, he claims to know dogs that bark in noticeably different ways depending on what they have spotted in the distance – a human stranger, a vehicle, a wild animal. Because of these helpful warning signals, Bogdan thinks of the dogs as “assistants”.
What’s happening in the Exclusion Zone is an echo of interactions with dogs that are known to have occurred within human civilisations for thousands of years, says Larson.
“We find this for the last 15,000 years or more, this is what people do, they make very close associations with not just dogs but a lot of domestic animals […] to sort of say, ‘this is our attachment to the landscape’,” he explains.
All over the world, there are dogs that inhabit a similar, in-between state – not quite fully domesticated, not quite fully wild. These are the feral dogs that roam cities and industrial areas looking for food, the ones that may become to some extent adopted by people but still wouldn’t be considered pets.
Chernobyl’s dogs also live in this sort of space, on the edge of domestication, but there is a difference argues Webster, who has participated in a separate study of Turnbull’s in the past.
“The Exclusion Zone is very different in that it’s abandoned by humans,” she says. “The only people in that landscape on a day-to-day basis, really, are the guards.” As such, the dogs’ opportunities for befriending humans are very limited.
While the outside world remains fascinated by the dogs, and their story, for many guards the connection runs much deeper. Bogdan says he is often asked why the dogs ought to be allowed to stay in the Exclusion Zone. “They give us joy,” he replies. “For me personally, this is a kind of symbol of the continuation of life in this radioactive, post-apocalyptic world.”
What is so fascinating is that this interaction between the dogs and the people is an echo of the first interaction between hunter/gatherers and wolves of, perhaps, 25,000 years ago or more. And the guards of today and the dogs, whom Larson calls his assistants, are perfectly bonded.
It just goes to show that ‘what goes around comes around’!