A scientific understanding is not necessary to accept climate change as real. However, it is a great stumbling block when trying to convice someone in authority of the enormous challenges we face and the extreme actions necessary to preserve a reasonable climite on earth. It may be the greatest stumbling block in the history of humanity and it may be a problem that is impossible to overcome.
To help in understanding this delima, I have chosen to make this page a basic tutorial in climate change as it currently affects the earth. To understand it some knowledge of science is required, not by intent but because it is inherent in the nature of the material. In a subsequent section I will discuss the problem of convincing leaders of the urgency of the situation.
I do not believe we have ever faced a situation where decision makers, such as presidents of countries, need such an understanding or a science advisor who can overcome the leader's limitations.
The essence of the problem is that we have backed ourselves into a corner in that urgent, difficult and expensive action now is required to avoid a calamatous future. Additionally, fossil fuel intrests keep pressing to use their products despite knowing the harm they will cause. And unfortunately, because of present economic rewards the companies and their leaders may be part of the impossible stumbling block.
I. IT IS LIKELY NOT HAPPENING where you are as you are explaining it.
II. EVEN IF IT IS HAPPENING, perhaps intense rain or excessive heat, relating it to "climate change" or "emissions" is difficult.
III. BIGGER PROBLEMS IN THE FUTURE don't matter, especially 100 years or more away.
IV. DIAGRAMS AND GRAPHS are meaningless to all but scientists, and the ones shown are usually more complex than necessary.
V. WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE is extremely urgent, possibely extremely expensive and disruptive.
VI. TO SAY IT WILL SAVE CIVILIZATION is not comprehensible.
TO EXPLAIN CLIMATE CHANGE requires several graphs and illustrations.
Figure 1: The atmosphere surrounds the planet Earth. The light from the sun either reflects from the surface or is abssorbed by the suface depending on the color. Light colors (especially white like snow reflect). When something is of a darker color it is warmed by absorbing light and converting it to heat. It then radiates part of the heat as infrared radiation. Carbon dioxide reflects the infrared back to the surface esseentially traping the head. The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the more heat trapped and the warmer the earth. Hence more carbon dioxide is a problem.
Fig. 2: This shows the amount of carbon dioxide over a very long period of time and the sharp increas (about 70%) beginning in the mid-19th century.
Fig.3: This is a projection of future heating. The time around 2020 is very critical and depends almost entirely on how much carbon dioxide is emitted by human activity.
Fig. 4: The baseline is the level of activity we have been maintaining (also the blue curve in Fig. 3). The large black arrow points to the reduction we should be achieving to meet the goals of the Paris Accords. Hoever there has been no significant reduction so far and an increase by the U.S. The reduction should be accomplished by about 2050. There is virtually no possibility of this and so the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosthere will continue to increase trapping more and more heat.
Fig. 5: This shows a recent finding that the oceans are much warmer than expected and likely to increase warming.
Fig. 6: This shows the large increase projected for 2018 due to the relaxation of EPA rules by President Trump. This is a major problem partly because it increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but it is of special importance because it sets a poor example for the rest of the world.
The red curve shows the temperature of the earth from 1860 to 2017. The data is supplied by NASA. The blue curve is my own projection of future temperature. This projection is typical of those from many climate scientists. It assumes that carbon dioxide will continue increasing as in the past. The blue curve is extremely important because it shows what will happen if we continue business as usual. The Paris Accords were intended to keep the earthis temperature increase to less that 1.5°C, an increase generally accepted as "safe." However, "safe" is relative. Horrendous damage has been caused already by an increase of less than 1°C. Additionally the anticipated difficultly of achieveing 1.5°C has many scientists accepting 2.0°C as a more realistic target, however a target that would more radically change the environment. However, it is easily possible that without drastic reductions in emissions the earth's temperature could reach 5°C to 7°C in 2100, a true disaster.
The figures below show the short fall in emissions reduction and the increase in emissions of the US in the Trump era. Note that reductions of 60% to 70% are necessary in the next 20 years. In the present state of complience this appears impossible and is the primary cause for concern.
If these reductions are not met then the higher temperatures will accelerate the melting of the tundra and the release of large quantities of methane. Once this happens, the climate will be out of control and will continue to warm further for the indefinite future ultimately resulting in a sea level rise of about 150'. This is the cataclism that is often spoken of.
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING
"We are, at best, now thinking decades into the future, while pressing our foot hard on a CO2 accelerator that virtually guarantees climate chaos for millennia to come.".....
"Because of our collective failure to rapidly decarbonize the global economy and slash CO2 emissions, we are poised to leave future generations a grim legacy of climate upheaval."
"The science is clear: climate change is the most serious threat to our natural world. To prevent irreversible damage to the lands and waters we all rely on, we must take immediate action now.
"We are already seeing the effects of a changing climate. The last three years have been the hottest on record and the problem is only going to intensify. As a rapidly growing global population puts increased demand on food, water and energy around the world, our planet is being pushed toward a breaking point.
"What will happen if we don’t act right now? Global temperature is projected to rise by 3.2°C, increased air pollution will affect 4.9 billion more people, and 2.75 billion people will be subjected to water scarcity."
"-- One central focus of this week’s gathering is climate change, but the world has backed away from collective action in the Trump era. Don’t forget that it was a fuel tax hike, intended to combat climate change, that precipitated the protests in Paris. And Trump has announced that the United States will no longer follow through with its commitments in the Paris climate accord."
END OF PART I
THE IMPACT HAS BEEN CATASTROPHIC. Although the earth has only warmed by an average of 1°C (1.8°K), this represents an enormous amount of energy warming the atmosphere, land and sea over the entire globe. The blanket of greenhouse gases is now too thick. There is too much carbon dioxide and more and more of the heat created by the sun is trapped and warms the earth.
But humanity has reacted in a strange way. Despite repeated warnings from the work of thousands of scientists, humanity for the most part has ignorned the effects of the carbon dioxide and moreover has kept adding more at a rapid pace when it is critical that the amount added should be drastically reduced.
This continues to this day in mid-January 2019 and there is no sign that it will chnge. Terrible wildfires, droughts, record storms and deadly high temperature have had litte effect on thinking about what is happening. Worse, and most unbelievable, the individuals and companies who sell the fossil fuels, despite being aware of the danger for decades, cover up their knowledge and keep working to sell more and more fossil fuel. And perhaps still worse the leaders of the world sit back as if nothing were happening.
We are at the critical point of the exponentional curve of temperature as the CO2 in the atmosphere increases. And in a very recent horrific discovery scientists announced that the oceans had absorbed 40% more heat than previous estimates. This will increase the speed of temperture increase even more.
AND THE WORLD IS NOT REPONDING.
Despite all the promises of Paris and Poland, the leaders of the world are not realizing this is a crisis that requires extremely rapid and drastic action. And...the United States is going backwards, abandening all caution and INCREASING greenhouse gas output.
As preposterous as this may seem, the United States may be the cause of loosing the climate battle. Why?
Because the battle needs a leader. A president who is a superwoman or superman of climate to lead and inspire, and to commit the resourses necessary for new technology. That, in a nutshell, is the story.
What should you do. Get active in the 2020 presidential election. And warn your children there will be hell to pay.
THERE ARE TWO CHOICES
1. Spend a few trillion dollars in the next 20-40 years to bring carbon dioxide back to 1980 levels.
2. Spend every dollar we have, hundreds of trillions of dollars, 100 years from now to make the planet livable.
To accomplish #1, we must replace Donald Trump in 2020 with a climate superman president. It is that bad. I would bet my life on it. If you keep reading, you might understand why I say this. Read carefully and think. Don't let your friends brush you off. If you live, you will regret it.
A CLIMATE OUT OF CONTROL was beyond comprehension. Scientists warned, meetings were held by the United Nations, articles were written in the most prominent journals and newspapers. And yet something was not getting through. "Out of control?" could not happen. A warning that the ocean could rise as much as 170 feet collided with a human memory of a constant and reliable earth. Looking out of the window of an airplane or sailing the seas seemed no different than before, and so what was needed was not done. It had come to a place where the behavior of every country on the earth had to virtually reverse itself, turn upide down, and the focus had to change from all other issues to climate. But that was beyond comprehension to the leaders where it mattered the most.
Scientists unfortunately spoke in clear, quiet and reserved tones, as they had been trained. The public and the politicians could not translate "it is highly likely" to it is "dead certain." Simultaneously many projects for renewable energy, electric cars, solar cells and wind mills were begun and were successful, but gave a false sense of accomplishment and security for there contribution was not sufficient to make the critical difference.
FOR THE TRUTH WAS HIDDEN. It was power generation and transportation that had to reduce their carbon output, and primarily in the largest nations. And they did not understand, did not listen and did not take the actions necessary. The habits of maintaining the momenta of economies and of keeping political power were entrenched. And so "out of control" began to happen. The temperature rose high enough to begin release of the methane in the tundra, and was the beginning of the end.
To stay in control, emissions had to be reduced drastically and quickly for too much time had gone by, and just as critically, it became necessary to augument the process by removing carbon dioxide from the air, something called "negative emissions," a process that was so expensive and challenging that it would not be attempted because it was felt it would hurt the present economy. The customary short-term thinking locked in the status quo. And so a failure to spend a trillion dollors now portended the spending of a hundred trillion dollors in an attempted rescue 50 to 100 years in the future.
As the blanket grew, more heat was trapped, the temperature rose and every minute counted. But the major countries of the world: China, India, Russia and the United States were unable to rise to the occasion.
I have struggled for years to find a way to picture the future, to create a kind of metaphor for what was happening. In the minds of almost all of humanity they were living in their secure homes and for the most part the weather was comfortable. But in fact they were being carried along in a current of inattention and blindness. There eyes were clear but their minds were captive to the past. I call the current The Infinite River.
Click above or below for the link
Sea level rise has shrunk India's Ghoramara Island from nearly 8 square miles to 2 square miles in recent decades. Sea level rise has shrunk India's Ghoramara Island from nearly 8 square miles to 2 square miles in recent decades. ZUMA PRESS/ALAMY
Yale Environment: 360, Opinion
BY ROB WILDER AND DAN KAMMEN • SEPTEMBER 12, 2017
BY RICHARD SCHIFFMAN • MAY 23, 2016
"For two decades, Klaus Lackner has pioneered efforts to combat climate change by pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Now, after years of watching the global community fail to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control, Lackner — director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University — is delivering a blunt message: The best hope to avoid major disruptions from global warming is to launch a massive program of CO2 “air capture” that will begin to reverse the buildup of billions of tons of carbon in our atmosphere."
Website author's note:
I have struggled for a year to summarize my view of climate change and to keep modifying that view as circumstances changed. The two articles above summarize my current view exceptionally well.
This is the pivotal moment of our civilization and we have been horribly, morally and stupidly lax. It is truly now or never.
The moral sins that we have committed are beyond the pale and they are getting worse. We could easily spend (and should) a trillion dollars now, in return for having a decent home for our civilization and saving a hundred trillion dollars in damages and repair for future generations, as well as likely billions of lives along the way.
The following is a collection of sections of this web site (there is much that is out of site) and does not comprise a coherent whole. However, much is important to lend credence to the above. Some can be accessed by clicking on the links at the very top. Others have become obsolete or need rewriting badly and I must get on to other projects. I am aware of terrible writing, many typos and misspellings. I have spent a year trying to get this in shape and a trace of optimism has turned to despair. So it is what it is. If my wife had written it the writing and spelling would be far better.
OTHER IMPORTANT LINKS and ISSUES
JAMES HANSEN HAS BEEN THE LEADING AUTHORITY and spokesperson on climate change for decades. He has just announced the "last chaper" in his comprehensive analysis of what is coming to the earth and its people. The blue link above is a pdf of his paper. Below is a brief ourline of that paper. You owe it to yourself to read both. Following that are my comments on risk.
1. Climate has always changed, but humans are now the main drive for change.
a. Rising atmospheric CO2 levels, primarily a result of fossil fuel emissions, have become the predominant cause of continuing climate change.
b. Climate change is driven by cumulative CO2 emissions. The United States has contributed a disproportionately large share of cumulative global emissions.
2. Current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs), mainly CO2, cause Earth to be out of energy balance. This imbalance is driving climate change.
a. Earth’s energy imbalance is now measured and large. As long as Earth remains out of energy balance, the planet will continue to get hotter.
b. If GHG amounts continue to rise unabated, the energy imbalance will drive global warming to levels with climate impacts beyond the pale (see Opinion 3).
3. If high fossil fuel emissions continue unabated, consequences will be predominantly negative for humanity, especially for young people. a. Sea level: Continued high fossil fuel emissions will eventually make coastal cities dysfunctional, with incalculable consequences.
b. Species exterminations: Shifting of climate zones, with other stresses, may commit many species to extinction, leaving a more desolate planet.
c. Regional climate: subtropics and tropics will become dangerously hot, if global warming continues. Emigration chaos may threaten global governance.
4. Required actions to avoid dangerous climate change are guided by Earth’s climate history and by the need to restore Earth’s energy balance.
a. Science can specify initial targets, sufficient to define policy needs.
b. Substantial emission reductions must begin promptly, or climate will be pushed beyond a point at which changes proceed out of human control.
5. The United States government, via both actions and inactions, is behaving with flagrant disregard of rights and wellbeing of the public, especially young people
a. Action: authorizing, permitting, subsidizing massive fossil fuel extraction.
b. Inaction: absence of any coherent, effective program to reduce emissions.
The problem of appreciating risk is what has driven the The Infinite River. It has been to explain something that cannot be explained unless you have had something you thought you understood blow up in your face.
There are two problems:
The climate of the earth is the most complex system anyone has ever tried to understand AND we are continuing to abuse it by feeding it more and more greenhouse gases. Our predictions are already catastrophic, and they are probably optimistic like all our others have been.
We need to be turning ourselves inside out. Every nation. But we are going to smooze like we have in the past.
You don't keep flying an airliner to its destination with smoke coming out of the engines.
The most likely realistic outcome, taking all factors into account, is a very warm planet able to support about one billion people, about 1/10 of its projected population.
Every trillion dollars we spend now will pay itself back and then some. Every trillion dollars we don't spend now will require at least a dozen trillion down the road and a far more hostile planet.
But if you haven't been in the risk business, you won't get it. And hardly anyone does.
A nightmare and an overview of getting the nations of the world to comprehend how serious the situation really is.
As of yesterday (December 15, 2018) the mood from Katowice was upbeat. Agreements were better than expected and there was optimism that the 1.5°C target was doable. However, there was and is a giant fly in the ointment.
If you look at the graph below, you see a sharp break in the 1.5°C and 2°C emission curves. which means something pretty drastic has to happen soon in order to turn things around fast enough. If such a drastic action were contemplated it would be big news and there was no big news.
The Paris Agreement, around which the Katowice meeting was based, is deeply flawed. A good summary is an MIT review of the agreement. The first and last paragraphs of this review are reproduced below. There are numerous other organizations that have made similar comments (including the US EPA), but this is among the clearest. The link is "Last Words from Me" above.
However, despite my favorable comments about the review, it focuses on 2°C which is unacceptable.
"An MIT analysis of the Paris climate agreement finds that—even if all the participating nations meet their pledges—global warming will exceed the 2°C maximum targeted for 2100 as early as 2050. To determine what else is needed, researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change calculated a series of global energy technology mixes that would meet future demand while generating greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the 2°C target. Depending on the assumed costs plus a uniform global carbon price, different technologies dominate, but all the successful combinations are markedly different from today’s global energy system. The researchers conclude that substantial R&D investment is needed to lower the cost of key energy technologies and help transform the global energy system—a shift that must be well under way within the next decade or so if the world is to meet its targets."
"The researchers conclude that the transition to a dramatically different global energy mix must be well under way within the next 10 to 20 years to prevent an excessive temperature increase by 2100. They recognize that such an undertaking will almost certainly require extraordinary political agreement or sudden and unforeseen breakthroughs in technology. They assert that since it’s not clear which technologies will take the lead, substantial R&D investment is needed to develop current technologies, explore new ones, and increase the efficiency with which we use energy so less is required in the future. The technological advances and cost reductions that result will help countries move forward on climate change and support the transition onto a 2°C energy pathway as soon as possible."
Below are two graphs. The first is the MIT projections, the second is my extrapolations from what is likely the same NASA data. The results are similar for the simple reason that there are a huge multitude of contributors to carbon emissions, and neither incorporates a major (and I do mean major) change in how energy is created and/or how emissions might be removed from the air. The most probable program would require immediately beginning to build a very large number of nuclear reactors with a damn the cost approach finananced by wealthly nations, especially the United States, China and the EU. However, nobody has the (exuse the language) balls to get in front of the plenary session, read them the riot act and get them to face a very harsh reality. 2°C will likely be hell on earth and is not likely to be met, barring a drastic shakeup. Instead, whenever nations feel they are doing significantly better than before, satisfaction sets in.
The MIT scientists used a sophisticated dual modeling approach (read the whole MIT report; the link is above) to model what was really going to happen.
It has been clear for years (actually decades) that something drastic was necessary. James Hansen said recently that "the shit has hit the fan." But getting in front of 150 or more nations and telling them that the engines on their jetliner are on fire and so urgent is an understatement just is not happening. If you add to that the ongoing construction of coal-fired power plants and the unspeakable behavior of the United States who would have to play a major role in building and funding a nuclear or similar program, then you can predict that the earth will be toast.
"Talk to leaders who are gathered in Poland. They acknowledge that we aren’t close to getting the job done in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet. People are dying today because of climate change, and many more will die and trillions of dollars of damage to property will occur unless America gets back in the fight."
In my opinion, we do not have a prayer of saving the earth with Donald Trump as president. He is doing absolutely everything he can to make the situation worse by INCREASING emissions, but also by taking America out of its essential leadship and motivating role to the rest of the world.
The United States is necessary as part of the process not only because of its enormous output of carbon dioxide but because only it has the resources and technical prowess to take on the high risk but essential negative emissions challenge.
We are currently trapped between two nightmares: not knowing how the warming process will evolve and a presidential lockdown and lockup of America's contribution.
Note: Much of the following is repetitive of the above and is reproduced from earlier versions of this website. However, some of the material is not covered above and I have decided not to delete it at this time.-JW
"The fuel taxes were less the cause of this wave of protests than the straw that broke the camel’s back. Macron has overseen a massive transfer of wealth to the country’s elites. His tax reforms will leave the bottom fifth of French households worse off as the top 1 percent — and corporations like Total, one of the world’s largest oil companies — reap massive gains, all while the cost of living continues to tick upward, public services are consolidated, and the unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent. Proposed fuel taxes were felt most acutely in rural communities that face cuts to both public transportation and speed limits, leaving many with longer and more costly commutes.The United States ranks in the lower 30 percentile in income equality.
"Just prior to President Obama's 2014 State of the Union Address, media reported that the top wealthiest 1% possess 40% of the nation's wealth; the bottom 80% own 7%; similarly, but later, the media reported, the "richest 1 percent in the United States now own more additional income than the bottom 90 percent". The gap between the top 10% and the middle class is over 1,000%; that increases another 1,000% for the top 1%. The average employee "needs to work more than a month to earn what the CEO earns in one hour."
Enormous sums will be needed to implement climate change mitigation, including negative emissions, and that money will have to come from the wealthy. Macon, as has been the govenrment in the United States, both conservative and liberal, has ignorned the enormous transfer of wealth to the wealthiest and Macon wants the poorest to finance it through a gasoline tax. This wealth transfer and the vicious power grab of conservatives in the United States represents a crossroads for humanity and for the earth.
FROM GRIST, 12 12 2018
"Our current rate of warming will quickly lead us back to a climate that predates the evolution of modern humans, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That kind of rapid change has no direct comparison in all of Earth’s multi-billion year history."
click on blue
"What Andrews didn’t know was that the Carr Fire — to that point a dangerous but rather ordinary California inferno — was about to spawn something monstrous: a fire tornado the likes of which the state had never seen.
The vortex of air ripped around a column of rising heat, flames licking its walls. A freak of meteorology, it would annihilate everything in its path, uprooting trees and crumpling electrical towers. For the men and women who spend their summers on the fire lines, the tornado was an ominous glimpse of the extremes our warming climate will bring."
To the United Nations:
we must have a permanent
World Wide Climate Authority
for making sure the right things are happening everywhere
and that everyone knows about it
we must have a permanent
World Wide Climate Authority
for making sure the right things are happening everywhere
and that everyone knows about it
for making sure the right things are happening everywhere
and that everyone knows about it
and that everyone knows about it
Engineers who have worked with power systems know of and have likely witnessed a phenominon called "thermal runaway" where rising temperature feeds on itself and runs out of control. Full thermal runaway is unlikely but something close enough that we would call "hell on earth" is not just a possibility, but a clear-eyed view says is likely because of what we are NOT DOING.
We already have flooding cities, vicious storms, record breaking wildfires and temperatures, mega-droughts, rising sea levels and despite all this and more THERE IS NO SENSE OF URGENCY OF THOSE IN POWER. There is no time left. In fact we are about 30 years late. What the hell is wrong with humanity? This is our only home. We have mega amounts of work to do to stave off a world none of us would like to live in. Let alone leave to our children's children.
Look at my graphs below. We are at what is known as the inflection point of an exponential curve. When we pass this, which we are doing right now, satan will seem like a friendly neighbor.
John Wawrzonek, MIT '63, '65, '67
A plan that is specific about each issue, need, goal for every geographic entity and every technology that is critical to success. The story in Climate Home News indicates why we are in a hopeless position without an authority and without US suasion there is little chance for one.
Each is in the context of the others so efforts do not compete, but reinforce each other. It is time to get moving. It is time to stop wasting time.
To reduce future damage, suffering, and loss of life we need specifics in these areas:
1. Get some engineers: who are a bit less meticulous but know how to get things done, and speak plain, forcful English. "It is highly likely...." does not get the point across as well as "If we don't do this we're dead."
2. Combine engineers with scientists to create ACTION PLANS.
TECHNOLOGY: The need and role of each.
1. Negative emissions: A research and evaluation plan so we can execute asap. "It is highly likely..." does not get the same action as: "If we don't do this we're dead."
2. Nuclear power: is now ABSOLUTELY SAFE and essential to provide large quantities of emission free power anywhere.
3. Wind Power: What is its role, where, how much, who does it. Wind power has become economical and is already a significant contributor. How do we optimize its contribution?
4. Energy storage: Evaluate new lithium technology as well as other approaches. Make recommendations.
1. Develop a working plan for each country and other appropriate geographic entities with assessments, targets, methods (i.e. nuclear, biomass, conservation) so leaders know what to do.
2. Develop financial plans for technology development and assistance to countries that cannot afford to do what they must do.
3. Work with mega-wealthly businesses and individuals to fund "SAVE THE EARTH" because that is where the money is now. Failure on the part of the wealthy to do their part will cause untold suffering and destruction. Develop an "encouragement plan" to get President Trump to do what an intelligent president would do.
1. Hold public hearings to make known to the world how good a plan each country has.
2. Hold "PROGRESS REPORT HEARINGS" every 6 months so everyone knows how everyone is doing.
3. Put a giant display in Times Square, New York that shows on an ongoing basis how each plan is going.
4. Put up a giant THERMOMETER in Times Square, New York to show how the earth is doing.
5. Put up a giant EMISSIONS GUAGE in Times Square, New York to show how the people of the world are doing.
WE ARE CONVINCED. LET'S GET TO WORK.
Spring Morning After Storm, Sudbury River, Ashland, Massachusetts