Post COP stories

Here I look at some stories around the edges of COP26. My pluses and minuses on COP26 itself are: 

+

  • More visibility of the problems and a shrinking cadre of outright deniers.
  • The China – USA effort to continue talks behind the scenes (which I think is the most important element in any possible solution)
  • The more enthusiastic actions by corporations (see Note 1) and 2nd level governments (states, provinces and cities)

  • Too little, too late
  • Backpedaling on coal and forests
  • The increasing polarization inside the USA (which threatens any progress made at COP26 and in the China-USA discussions)
  • We still do not have an inclusive view of the problems facing the biosphere.  Sure, climate change by itself is an overwhelming subject.  One could argue that including biodiversity, pollution and population in the discussion may weaken the focus on GHG emissions.  In my opinion however, inclusion would sharpen the need for urgent action on this and all the other fronts.

I guess we went into COP26 with low expectations and left with much the same.

COP26 was widely reported and analyzed. A little further down in this blog entry are some of the articles, positive and negative, that caught my eye.  But we also need to worry about the middle ground.  There we have all the distractions that stop the biosphere crisis getting the priority it needs, ranging from huge topics like big power competition (China of course) all the way to consumption and entertainment trivia (The best apple pie, the worst Diana interpretation).

But there is something in the middle that causes me to worry.  It’s the type of story that is not outright denial (although there is still enough of that), not even a call for inaction, but a wedge that can, and will be, used to justify inaction.  Some examples are in COP26: The truth behind the new climate change denial.  Another is this:

How Bad Will Climate Change Get?

The text below is from an article in The Atlantic, with direct quotes from Brian O’Neill, one of the lead architects of the IPCC’s “Shared Socioeconomic Pathways,” or SSPs.  [Square brackets indicate my insertions]

[Under SSP1, keeping global warming under 1.5℃], the global economy still expands but humanity “shifts toward a broader emphasis on human well-being, even at the expense of somewhat slower economic growth over the longer term.”

[Under SSP2, which most commentators see as the most likely result based on COP26] “social, economic, and technological trends do not shift markedly from historical patterns.”

So what does this SSP 2 world feel like? It depends … on who you are. … all the paths, even the hottest ones, show improvements in human well-being on average. IPCC scientists expect that average [!!] life expectancy will continue to rise, that poverty and hunger rates will continue to decline, and that average incomes will go up in every single plausible future, simply because they always have. … Climate change will ruin individual lives and kill individual people, and it may even drag down rates of improvement in human well-being, but on average , he said, “we’re generally in the climate-change field not talking about futures that are worse than today.”

But all the current physical impacts of climate change—drought, extreme heat, fire, storms, sea-level rise—would get significantly worse by 2100 under SSP 2. And say goodbye to coral reefs. “At 2.5 ℃ , it’s probably a world in which we don’t have them,” O’Neill said. “They don’t exist.” The Arctic? “My guess is that we would have a permanently ice-free Arctic in the summer. And so we would have all of the ecological consequences that would come along with that.”

But the world we are heading toward may be one in which the average human is living longer and making more money than ever, but some vulnerable humans and many nonhumans are collateral damage.

[Note the word “average” is used 5 times in the quotations above]

I find this a highly disturbing article.  Most important, and the article acknowledges, this is totally unjust to the “collaterally damaged”.  In addition there are some major flaws in the argument:

  • There is no accounting for the value of biodiversity; no coral reefs, no Arctic ice. More drought, fire and storm. They don’t count, apparently.
  • The IPCC report itself has some projection on the number of people expected to be in geographies outside the “human climate niche” – i.e. people who will likely become climate refugees (more in Note 2).  By 2050 those numbers range from 1 Billion to nearly 4 Billion.  Billions of climate refugees and “we’re generally in the climate-change field not talking about futures that are worse than today.” Really?

I may be reading things out of context, but “…not talking about futures that are worse than today”, in a journal with the reputation of the Atlantic, will be used by some to justify inaction.  Why is this published without a strong refutation?


And while I’m bashing the media, at a more trivial level; if we want to get our stories out we do need to make them easy to understand.

Here is the heading and subheading from an article in the Guardian:

‘Luxury carbon consumption’ of top 1% threatens 1.5C global heating limit. Richest 1% will account for 16% of total emissions by 2030, while poorest 50% will release one tonne of CO2 a year.

The use of mixed dimensions (% of emissions compared to emissions per capita) makes no sense.  

Why not use the excellent graphics, and the numbers, from the original study? – below:

We need simple “stories”, be they written, verbal, pictorial or in any other form of communication. They need to reach an audience outside our bubble. They need to be concise, while backed up by solid data. It’s an obvious statement, but so hard to achieve. When even media outlets like the Guardian and the Atlantic struggle to create these stories it lends support to my contention that we need to focus more effort, more brain power on the creation of these stories. (My next blog will, hopefully, look at this in a bit more detail)


STORIES AROUND COP26

Here are extracts that I thought most telling. [As usual my additions are in square brackets]

1. COP26 has to be about keeping fossil fuels in the ground. All else is distraction

“The handwaving and complexity obscure a simple truth: nation states must stop funding dirty industries”

“Even nations that claim to be leading the transition mean to keep drilling. In the US, Joe Biden promised to pause all new leases for oil and gas on public lands and in offshore waters. His government was sued by 14 Republican states. Though climate campaigners argue that Biden has many other tools for preventing such leases from being issued, he immediately folded, and his government has now begun the process of auctioning drilling rights in Alaskan waters and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s just the kind of weakness the Republicans were hoping to exploit”

“Germany [wearing the mantle of ecological righteousness] has promised to phase out coal production by 2038 (far too late, by the way). Yet it is still developing new deposits.”

“In the UK, the government still insists on what it calls “maximising economic recovery” of oil and gas. Last year, it offered 113 new licences to explore offshore reserves.”

[The Australian government approved three more coal projects shortly after being told they had a duty of care to the children of the world. Predictably, the Australian government appealed against the “duty of care” judgement.  Stripping away the legal niceties that means the current Australian government, and their supporters, do not care about the future of their children – or any children for that matter. No wonder young people around the world are so vocal on this subject] 

2. Climate Deals Unravel Under Closer Scrutiny: COP26 Daily

“A day after COP26 organizers celebrated a major pledge to protect the world’s forests, one of the most important signatories said it didn’t actually sign up to end deforestation by the end of the decade. Indonesia, the top producer of palm oil, said it only agreed to keep its forest cover steady over the period — meaning trees could still be cut down and replaced. Brazil, another key member, said it would only target “illegal” deforestation.” 

“Indonesia also signed up to a pledge aimed at ending coal use, but a closer look at the terms shows it will be able to continue building coal plants at home. The [organizers] highlighted Poland as one of the major signatories of that same deal, but Warsaw said it won’t phase out coal until the 2040s — the same timescale it was already planning — casting doubt on how much value the new accord adds.”

3. Never mind aid, never mind loans: what poor nations are owed is reparations | George Monbiot

At Cop26 the wealthy countries cast themselves as saviours, yet their efforts are hopelessly inadequate and will prolong the injustice

4. Make extreme wealth extinct: it’s the only way to avoid climate breakdown | George Monbiot

Bottom line: Stories will make the difference. Creating simple stories for a complex subject is hard.


NOTE 1

One example of corporations taking steps in the face of political skepticism is Ford and their plan to build electric vehicle factories in Tennessee and Kentucky. The irony of siting these plants in states represented by staunch deniers is the subject of this article: Why Are Republicans Now Loving the Sweet Sound of Electric Vehicles?

“If even dug-in science deniers …  can come around on climate issues when they are convinced that doing so would benefit their constituents in visible and measurable ways, then it’s conceivable that an environmentally sound future is possible even in regions now tightly tethered to fossil fuels. It’s even conceivable that renewable energy could cease to be a political issue and become simply a common-sense strategy for a country that doesn’t want to run the planet into the ground…”

NOTE 2

Shared Socioeconomic Pathways

The table below (from Wikipedia, but based on IPCC) shows 2050 projections of the number of people expected to live “outside the human climate niche” under various SSP and temperature rise combinations – i.e. Human individuals who will most likely become climate refugees to escape death. 

And finally:

See what three degrees of global warming looks like | The Economist

COP26 – no pressure…

No matter what the outcome at COP26

∃!Ⓑ – there exists exactly one biosphere – will still be true.


For more on the ∃!Ⓑ and C symbols go to my earlier page

BTW – COP stands for “Conference of the Parties”


As soon as I published my childish diagram above I read George Monbiot’s article of today (30 October 2021). It puts into words, so much better than I can dream of, what I’m trying to draw. And it points a finger at many of my own transgressions.

There is just one biosphere

Lots of talk happening.  Some action as well.  But not enough.

Don’t we realize that the problems of the biosphere affect us all?

We can learn a lot – good and bad – from the global response to Covid19.  Two quotes from an article on that subject, specifically on resistance to vaccinations, in the New York Times struck me:

  • “Science’s ability to understand our cells and airways cannot save us if we don’t also understand our society and how we can be led astray.”…..
  • “The assumption that some scientific breakthrough will swoop in to save the day is built too deeply into our national mythology — but as we’ve seen, again and again, it’s not true.”

If we substitute “the biosphere” for “our cells and airways” those quotes apply perfectly to the environmental, biospheric, crisis we are in.

So what is happening in our society, and how can we be led astray? 


The Countdown Summit –  TED’s first climate conference – is in session! On day one we were exposed to some big ideas; 

“ …We’re in the middle of a crisis, the alarm bells have been ringing, and we can’t keep hitting the snooze button. “We’re not sleepwalking towards a cliff,” …. “We’re walking in a minefield.” 

… [others]….”delivered some good news: We know what it takes to get to net-zero by 2050. All we need is the will and investment — from both the public and private sector — to put them into action. So what can ordinary people do to convince them? “Be political,” …. “Demand change from your leaders.

But isn’t that exactly the problem? “All we need is the will…” 

There is little sign we really have that will.  Even when we demand change from our leaders they refuse.  For instance the Australian government approved three more coal projects after being told they had a duty of care to the children of the world. 


As a distraction we have big power politics, with the US, UK, Australia nuclear submarine announcement as just one example.  How much could be achieved with regard to the biosphere if the intellect and money devoted to these submarines were used elsewhere? 

Why was this deal even contemplated?  Here’s part of the answer:

“For more than a decade, Washington has struggled to prioritize what it calls great power competition with China — a contest for military and political dominance.” – so starts an opinion piece in the New York Times.  It is clearly this competition along national, economic and racial lines that dominates the strategic thinking of our leaders.  Do we want to continue pretending that there isn’t a much greater power – the biosphere – at play here.  That is what we need to worry about, not political dominance. The biosphere does not care about nations, economies or races. Or any humans for that matter. But we better care about the biosphere.

[On a more irreverent note here is another explanation.  BTW the biosphere also does not care about satire – I think]


Even within the environmental “industry” we miss the big picture.  The upcoming Glasgow climate change event overshadows other such concerns as biodiversity and species extinction.  This headline says it well; “The most important global meeting you’ve probably never heard of is now. Countries are gathering in an effort to stop a biodiversity collapse that scientists say could equal climate change as an existential crisis.”

[Why the UN’s Biodiversity Conference Is So Important]

Even within the scientific circles the major report linking biodiversity and climate change was only released in June of 2021.

[Launch of IPBES-IPCC Co-Sponsored Workshop Report on Biodiversity and Climate Change | IPBES secretariat]

The issues need to be dealt with on the ground, in detail, of course.  But we need to keep the big picture in mind; the biosphere – the only one we have, in the whole universe – is becoming less “friendly” toward us.  We can do something about it.  It will take incredible will.  


In the meantime other living things go extinct.  Yes, extinction is part of the history of the biosphere.  [Note Well – we are not exempt from extinction].  But each extinction means something is lost forever.  Surely we can be bothered to minimize our impact. 

US to declare ivory-billed woodpecker and 22 more species extinct.

“Factors behind disappearances include too much development, water pollution, logging and competition from invasive species”

The official release listing the 23 species is in this poetically named document; https://public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2021-21219.pdf


Bill McKibben writes: “It’s easy to feel pessimistic about climate. But we’ve got two big things on our side. One is the astonishing fall in the cost of renewable energy. The other is the huge growth in the citizens’ movements demanding action”

He ends his article with a statement of faith; that we will win.  “But we don’t know if that win will come in time to matter. Glasgow, in other words, is about pace: will it accelerate change, or will things stay on their same too-slow trajectory? Time will tell – it’s the most important variable by far.”

And time, in the US, is going by awfully fast. Last I looked at the side bar (here, on the right) it was 388 days until the next major election.  The odds are that the Republicans will win the house and the senate. In effect that means a halt, or at least a significant slowdown, in US efforts to mitigate the damage done to the biosphere.  Unless of course we vote in a different direction.

Carbon Capture and Storage – sort of…

Here’s an Australien public service announcement about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

Warning: Children and Americans should watch this edited version.  Australiens have been known to use vulgar language in some of their videos.


Yes, yes. Of course we have to use CCS as part of an overall strategy. But we’ve let things slide for so long that the technical discussion, even if entertaining, is over. What we need is the will. Anything to convince our leaders to take some real action. If humor will do it, let’s use that.

Code Red and so forth…

Today (15 August 2021) the New York Times published an editorial titled “Finding the Will to Stave Off a Darker Future”.  A short quote gives the tenor of the article: “We knew, three decades ago, about global warming and its consequences. We suspected, even then, that the potentially catastrophic future forecast in the IPCC’s latest report, released on Monday — a report the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, called a “code red for humanity” — could well come to pass.

The IPCC report referred to is the 6th Assessment Report, (AR6) which was widely reported and commented on around the world.

On 25 July the Guardian published “Plans of four G20 states are threat to global climate pledge – ‘Disastrous’ energy policies of China, Russia, Brazil and Australia could stoke 5C rise in temperatures if adopted by the rest of the world”

None of this comes as a surprise to anyone interested in the Environmental Crisis.  At the same time we are flooded with more immediate news; The Taliban are in Kabul, Haiti had an earthquake to be followed by a tropical storm, Mediterranean Europe, Siberia and the US west suffer from fires and droughts, other places from floods.  Covid19 is getting out of hand again.

Is there still some hope of action?  Probably.  Just as we knew the dangers at least 30 years ago, so we also knew the solutions.  With technology improvements we have even more options now.

But, as with Covid, denial, doubt, appeals to rights and freedoms, and deference to “The Economy” persist.

Somehow we think the biosphere (or the Covid virus) cares about us.  It does not.  It just is.  Our actions produce predictable reactions from the biosphere (and the virus). 

If we mask, keep physical distance and vaccinate the virus becomes a manageable problem. If we claim “exemptions” the virus spreads and in spreading gives time for mutations, some of which become more of a problem for us.

If we keep pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, if we keep polluting, over-consuming, over-fishing, over-logging then the biosphere reacts in a predictable manner.  Tipping points are part of that predictability.

We must stop.  It is up to us to ensure we have the political and corporate leaders who can make that happen in an equitable manner.  No matter which actions we choose as individuals, nations or corporations, the biosphere does not respect any exemptions.  None.  Not freedom, rights, religions, nationality, paternal wisdom, economic wealth or hardship. It just is and does.

I guess we will see in early November, at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) at the SEC – Glasgow 2021 if we have the will to stave off a darker future.

Then on 8 November 2022 (one short year after COP26) the US elections will tell us if the USA will play a meaningful part in keeping the biosphere hospitable for us.


As the U.S.’s special envoy for climate, John Kerry has to comment on something like IPCC AR6.  I caught a short interview with him on NPR (the 7 minute audio and a transcript are at How John Kerry Hopes To Combat Climate Change)

My key take-aways:

  • We have to do something – major, now.  Just how this meshes with the moderate Democrat administration’s wish to also keep oil and gas supplies cheap and not impose any economic hardship on anybody remains unexplained.
  • The private sector is ahead of the government in moving to renewables and planning for the inevitable changes coming to the biosphere.
  • China is doing things to meet climate change.  We can’t use China as an excuse to stall action on our part.  I actually believe that China will become the world leader in battling climate change.  We may not like their methods but the results will be there.  I base this belief on some, albeit scant, experience:
    • The Chinese leadership, governmental and corporate, is technologically sophisticated and takes a long term view. (Unlike the US continual election cycle and quarterly number focus) 
    • China will do whatever is in China’s (i.e. the Han Chinese) interest.  Clearly a degraded biosphere is not in their interest (I guess that’s a tautology; it’s not in anybody’s interest)
    • Given their style of government, once decisions are made there will be no exceptions; rights of individuals and companies will be sacrificed for the greater good.

What’s the 1bio story?  Keep going, be active, hold our leaders accountable.

Waste

The amount of waste we generate is scandalous.  We know it’s wrong, but we go along with it.  During most of 2020 my wife and I had a lot of food and other supplies delivered.  The amount of plastic (and cardboard) waste just the two of us generated was embarrassing.

My particular annoyance is with trivial, beautifully engineered items that are designed to be thrown away. Like mechanical pencils, which are cheaper to buy and toss than to refill them with leads. Or those little white-out tape dispensers (see my previous comment about those) and what I found recently; a dimmer switch.

Now the switch itself is fine; it works, it saves electricity, we can change the mood of the room.

The packaging is OK. The instructions are OK, I guess, although nobody reads them and if they are needed they are online.  The same company prints instructions for other switches on the inside of the packaging.

But that little thing on the lower left? It’s a second rocker switch and dimmer slide in almond color. The actual switch comes with a white panel clicked in place.  If I wanted almond I would discard the white and insert the almond one. It’s a great idea!

BUT it means I must throw away a functional item of plastic (with a small steel spring). Somehow it grates. It indicates that the designers, engineers and marketing people have convenience, shelf space and ultimately profit as their leading criteria.  The reduction of waste should get at least equal, if not primary, consideration.


As I said, my preoccupation is with trivial things. White-out dispensers will probably go the way of ink wells and crank handles.

But in other things we do generate a lot of waste.  Suppliers and shippers don’t help. Do paper towels and toilet rolls really need inner and outer plastic wraps?  What happened to those biodegradable packing “peanuts”?  (Actually I see they are readily available.) So why not use those instead of single use air-filled plastic? (I know the answer to that as well: Cost/Profits!)


To be fair our individual contribution pales in comparison to industrial waste. 10% of all plastic waste in the oceans is associated with fisheries (abandoned nets and such).  In some locations the percentage is over 80%. (See ‘Zombie in the Water’: New Greenpeace Report Warns of Deadly Ghost Fishing Gear)

On land agriculture produces a large volume of plastic waste. See The biggest source of plastic trash you’ve never heard of and this World Bank Document for general background. This video: McHale Orbital High Speed Round Bale Wrapper shows one example of farm plastic use. (I understand wrapping hay bales is an efficient agricultural process and do not question the quality of the equipment.)

Our meat, dairy and other food products generate plastic waste – we need to be aware as we make our choices.


Here’ s another little gem. It’s convenient. It’s inventive. It’s useful. It’s waste.

The Colors Of Hydrogen

There seem to be two types of stories circulating about the environmental crisis right now.  There’s the “We’ve lost, we’ve passed the tipping point” style, and then we have the “This is exciting! Look at all the technological possibilities” set.

Both genres at least acknowledge the science and recognize a need for action.   It is so tempting to ignore the “It’s all a hoax / The economy is what matters” end of the spectrum.  Unfortunately we need to keep it in the picture because so many voters and decision makers inhabit that space.

Doom or bright new technological future?

My inbuilt pessimism leans toward doom and that is supported by some new reports.  But I also feel that is all the more reason to do more and do it now.  Not soon, but now!

The technology stories – more solar, more wind, more batteries, smarter grid (central or local), hydrogen (and ammonia) of various colors – are interesting and exciting.  They open up new possibilities and are necessary – but not sufficient!  All seem to miss some major points:

  1. They address climate change, specifically greenhouse gas effects, and ignore all the other factors like species loss, soil degradation, deforestation, pollution etc. Climate change is a cause of many of these other problems, but population growth, consumption habits, economic drives and political motives also play a major part.
  2. They tacitly assume that it is necessary to generate and distribute energy at the same, or even higher level, than at present.  At the limit that argument ends with all the world population consuming energy at the level of the industrialized nations. (And wouldn’t the profits from that consumption be great!).  I believe that without major reductions in consumption none of the technology stories will prevent a ghastly future.
  3. They are tailored for the people lucky enough to live in the rich, industrialized, countries (and if you’re poor in those countries they don’t apply either).  Arguments of a hydrogen vs. battery transport infrastructure have no meaning to a huge portion of the world population.

Can we do more, can we do it now?  And just how can we do it? That is exactly the point raised in the ghastly future paper: “…what political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action”?

There have to be answers.  In democracies it means we need a significant change in voting patterns.  It is not impossible; in times of war people have voted for leaders who have asked for, and enforced, sacrifices.  Time to do it again.  We can’t keep having “economic growth”, which means more consumption. The mathematics of the biosphere does not allow it.   

The Colors Of Hydrogen

The potential “hydrogen economy” has relatively little exposure in the USA. It is a more common topic in Europe and Australia. There is much discussion about green or blue hydrogen.  What does that mean?  The diagram below gives a quick overview:

Diagram from Energy & Infrastructure What are the colors of hydrogen?

Blue and Gray are the same process, but gray releases the “waste” CO2 into the atmosphere, while blue captures and stores the CO2. The gas people say that makes blue practically green, but there are lots of loopholes and problems associated with CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) – so not really green.

Brown (also called black) is worse than grey because of the additional pollutants.  And note how the diagram does not show the waste products for brown, or gray.

Green and pink are also the same process; electrolysis.  Which gets us into the “Is nuclear power green?” argument. (No, it’s not)


Ammonia (NH3) is produced in large quantities, primarily as a fertilizer.  Its role in the hydrogen economy is as a transport medium for hydrogen because it is much easier to store and transport than pure hydrogen.  Producing ammonia starts with the hydrogen processes above. The hydrogen is then combined with nitrogen to produce ammonia via the Haber-Bosch process.  When ammonia is referred to by color, it is based on the “color” of the hydrogen used to produce it.

If you are not familiar with the Fritz Haber story it is worth reading.  In a nutshell; Nobel prize for the Haber-Bosch process, which allowed vastly increased food production and arguably saved millions from starvation, development of poison gas weapons in WW1 and development at his institute of Zyklon A.)

At the point of use the ammonia is converted back to hydrogen, with the nitrogen released.  A promising process is described in this article.

The devil, as always, hides in the details. If you take truly green hydrogen and then power the Haber-Bosch process with more green electricity and transport the ammonia with gray fuels and then use pink electricity to release the hydrogen for end use, what color is that final hydrogen?

Further descriptions are: Potential Roles of Ammonia in a Hydrogen Economy (a technical paper by the US Department of  Energy, 2006) and Ammonia—a renewable fuel made from sun, air, and water—could power the globe without carbon (American Association For The Advancement Of Science, 2016)

Doom

OK – we have lots of fun technological solutions, including “a renewable fuel made from sun, air and water” – so why all the doom? Because of:

  • Fires, drought and heat in the western USA
  •  Smoke haze and smell all the way from the west of the continent to the east coast (Picture: Rt 84, CT, July 26, 2021)
  • Fires in Siberia, Brazil and seemingly everywhere else
  • The Amazonian rainforest turning from net CO2 sink to net emitter
  • Deadly floods in Germany, Belgium and Holland, etc.

All these items, and more, are referenced in World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency 2021.  Some key items from the report are in the graphs below.  It’s not all gloom; there are pledges, carbon pricing, fossil fuel disinvestments and so forth.  But these measures have yet to show a measurable impact.  Only Covid19 has had an effect – for all the wrong reasons.

A 2020 paper, by many of the same authors and cosigned by more than 11,000 other scientists, contains this statement: “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle. The most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions” 

Further reporting and analysis is at:  Climate tipping points are now imminent, scientists warn and Critical measures of global heating reaching tipping point, study finds

Doom or Technological Nirvana?

We better do something now, before the future becomes inevitable.  Sure, the rich will be OK.  They will bemoan the loss of their favorite dive site or ski slope.  They will complain of the exorbitant price of almond milk and the poor quality of the salmon.  But they will make do with their air conditioned houses, shaded pools and electric cars.

It’s not going to be so nice for most of our children and grandchildren.

For some huge majority of the world population it will be very, very unpleasant – “ghastly” may well be the proper word.


And finally, what can we really do?  Sure we can take steps to reduce personal consumption. But in a democratic nation the most potent action is – to VOTE – if at all possible.

California Water, the Central Valley and why the Delta Smelt?

I have tried for months to write a (1bio) story about the water situation in California.  I want to blame my procrastination on the amount of information I need to digest, the speed at which things change, new reports emerge and other tasks claim my time.

But those are not the real reasons. Unlike global topics like biodiversity or the latest IPCC report this subject is too close to home, too personal, too emotional, too complicated.  Decisions like where are we going to settle, what should we advise our family to do, will our health suffer if we stay where we are?

Questions like that must be similar for millions around the world.  For us it’s a reasonably simple problem; more or less comfort, more or less money. The climate refugees drowning in the Mediteranean have arrived at a different answer at the stark extreme of the equation.  Yes, that’s an alarmist view, but I hope it can lead to some tough questions – to ourselves and to our representatives.

What is the California water story?  In a nutshell (almond or walnut…):

  • Too little water supply – and likely to be less.
  • Too much water demand – and likely to be more.

The problems are fully documented elsewhere.  So what are the solutions?

  • Run some pipes from water rich states. (Initial reactions from those states are not entirely enthusiastic and the economics are not there yet.)
  • Move away – become water refugees

We need to ask some fairly simple questions:

  • Is our lifestyle sustainable? Must we have green grass in a desert climate?
  • Do we want to live in our air conditioned, comfortable little prisons as the heat and air-quality outside become unbearable?

We have the power to select our future. We can’t return to an idealized past. The idyllic Central Valley of marshes, lakes and pools, antelope and elk, bears, wolves and mountain lions is gone.  We do need industrial agriculture to survive, but we need an intact biosphere even more. Somehow, very soon, we need to find a balance.


Quotes and Links:

“How do you measure 100m dead trees and the risk to forest fires that could be attributed to that drought? How do you measure the death of 95% of the Chinook salmon? How do you measure the impact on poor communities who were left without water? We don’t put dollar values on these things, and so we don’t directly see or feel the impact.”

Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, (Quoted in From dust bowl to California drought: a climate scientist on the lessons we still haven’t learned “)


“Citing as a pretext the supposed need to protect a three-inch baitfish called the Delta smelt, environmental organizations filed a succession of lawsuits beginning in the 1990s that forced the state to divert billions of gallons of water away from farmers and families…80 percent of the water from the Sierra Nevada snowpack is dumped into the Pacific Ocean, but if that number were merely reduced to 75 percent, there would be plenty of water for everyone—farmers, cities, and the environment.”

Devin Nunes, U.S. Representative for California’s 22nd congressional district. (Quoted in A Warning from California)


“This land and its water have gone mostly to the proposition of making a few men very wealthy and consigning generations of others, especially farmworkers, to lives in the dust.”

Mark Arax, Fresno, CA writer (Quoted in California’s Central Valley, Land of a Billion Vegetables


And what about the poor Delta smelt?  His fate is in our hands. Unless it’s too late already? (Fresno-area candidate for Congress wants to declare the Delta smelt extinct)


What’s the 1bio story? – I don’t have one…

Would love to read yours

a DUTY of CARE – to our children

On May 27, 2021 the Australian Federal Court found something it never has before: a Duty of Care by the Minister for the Environment to Australia’s young people not to cause them physical harm in the form of personal injury from climate change.  Conservationists lauded it as “a landmark judgement on climate change, marking an important moment in our history”.  

Laura Kirwin, Izzy Raj-Seppings, Ava Princi and Liv Heaton pose for a photo outside The Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, Thursday, May 27, 2021

The language used in the judgement is graphic:

“It is difficult to characterise in a single phrase the devastation that the plausible evidence presented in this proceeding forecasts for the children. 

As Australian adults know their country, Australia will be lost and the world as we know it gone as well.

The physical environment will be harsher, far more extreme and devastatingly brutal when angry. As for the human experience – quality of life, opportunities to partake in nature’s treasures, the capacity to grow and prosper – all will be greatly diminished.

Lives will be cut short. Trauma will be far more common and good health harder to hold and maintain.

None of this will be the fault of nature itself. It will largely be inflicted by the inaction of this generation of adults, in what might fairly be described as the greatest inter-generational injustice ever inflicted by one generation of humans upon the next.

To say that the children are vulnerable is to understate their predicament.”


PLEASE NOTE: I am not a lawyer!  I advise anyone interested to read the full text  and some extracts at end of this post.

The Case

The class action case was brought on behalf of all Australian children and teenagers, against the Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley (and Vickery Coal Pty Ltd as a second respondent) .

Their aim was to prevent Ley from possibly approving a coal mine project, near Gunnedah in New South Wales. They argued that approving this project would endanger their future because of climate hazards, including causing them injury, ill health, death or economic losses.

The case – “Sharma by her litigation representative Sister Marie Brigid Arthur v Minister for the Environment [2021]” was heard by Judge Bromberg of the Victorian Registry of the Federal Court of Australia.

Judge Bromberg’s summary of the case is at the end of this post.

The Result

The judgement is narrow in one sense; it orders the parties to come back to court to answer questions and make suggestions. It denies the children’s request to stop development of the mine and leaves that decision to the Minister.

But the breakthrough (in my non-legal opinion) is in the following points:

The judge has formally declared that the Minister (i.e. the Government) has a Duty of Care to the children of Australia.  “By reference to contemporary social conditions and community standards, a reasonable Minister for the Environment ought to have the Children in contemplation when facilitating the emission of 100 Mt of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere.  It follows that the applicants have established that the Minister has a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing personal injury to the Children when deciding … to approve or not approve the … Project”.

The scientific basis for the findings is part of the judgement and now becomes legal precedent.  It is also a good primer on climate change for anyone still not convinced of the science.  (The diagram below is one of many in the judgement)

The Minister for the Environment (i.e. the Australian Government) did not challenge any of these scientific facts:  “Looking to the future, the Minister accepts that under all future emission scenarios, it is very likely that: (a) average temperatures will continue to increase and Australia will experience more heat extremes and fewer frosty days; (b) extreme rainfall events will become more intense; (c) southern and eastern Australia will experience more extreme fire-related weather; (d) the time in drought will increase over southern Australia; (e) sea levels will continue to rise throughout the 21st century, with increased frequency of storm surge events; and (f) oceans around Australia will warm and become more acidic. The Minister also accepts that the projected effects of climate change vary depending upon the extent of global emissions of greenhouse gases in coming years.

By logical extension the Duty of Care extends to ALL CHILDREN: “although the applicants did not press for relief in relation to children residing outside of Australia, those children remain represented persons in the proceeding”. 

And finally; the legal precedents for this judgement have been researched and recorded. I have not read this section of the judgement and do not intend to 🙂

The Future – Options – (Please note again; I am no lawyer!)

The Minister may approve the mine extension anyway. Certainly the company sounds optimistic. The minister may also be influenced in this decision by more immediate political reasons: “One of the Coalition’s most senior women, the federal environment minister Sussan Ley, is expected to face a challenge in her rural New South Wales seat of Farrer amid allegations of “toxic” branch-stacking by far-right conservatives in the seat” (from this article)

A possible appeal to the High Court of Australia

Some other agreement after the responses requested by Judge Bromberg.

The meme “Duty of Care” will remain !


The 1bio story is:  “We have a “Duty of Care” to the children of today”

I simply took the words of the judgement and extended it in two ways; first by including all children (which is already there) and second by including all adults as the holders of that duty.  Sure it is the Minister and her equivalent, elected or appointed, officials who have the power to make these decisions.  But it is us who have the power, through voting and other civil action, to influence the elections and appointments.

Time is short

The second half of this century, going into 2100, seems a long way off.  That’s how it feels.  Plenty of time to look at alternatives, develop new technologies, and do some more studies.

But it’s less than 80 years away!  Most of us expect to live close to, or beyond, our 80’s. In 2100 the children of today will be old and will have children and grandchildren.  All of them will have to cope with the decisions we make today. Today they are essentially powerless.  We owe them this Duty of Care and use our power to make the right decisions for them.  We adults are expected to care for our children and prepare them for life in general.  So clearly we also need to leave them a viable biosphere.

Looking backwards we are shaped by the decisions made 80 years ago.  1940 is not so long ago for those of us who are nearing, or in, our 80’s.  All of us are shaped by the decisions of those days; from Katyn, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dunkirk to Daisy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Captain America.

The adults of 2100 will be shaped by our decisions now, but in an additional dimension because the effects will not be confined to the universe of human ideas like nations, politics and economics, but will result in changes to “Nature” – to the biosphere.

The “trail of proof” for the story is the detail of the judgement and the extensive references to basic research and analysis.  It is telling that this scientific basis was not challenged by the government of Australia!


Other legal stories that came up as I was writing this post:

A duty of care similar to the Australian case  was found in the Netherlands in 2015, as a global first. In 2019, the Supreme Court upheld that duty – the Dutch government owed its citizens a duty to reduce emissions in order to protect human rights.  The Australian case follows that lead.

A report indicates that a proposed post-Brexit trade agreement between Australia and the UK includes an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) scheme, which allows firms to sue governments when they believe policies have left them out of pocket. ISDS is a system of private courts convened in private and arbitrated by judges, allowing firms to bypass domestic civil courts. The original intent was to protect international companies from seizure of their assets in the aftermath of a coup or by a rogue state, for example a mine being nationalized without reasonable compensation. Recent ISDS cases include a Swedish energy firm suing Germany for policies that cut water pollution; a US drugs firm suing Canada for trying to reduce medicine prices; a French multinational suing Egypt for increasing its national minimum wage and the Dutch government is being sued in these courts for phasing out coal power

A California politician is taking steps to declare a fish legally extinct. The Delta smelt originates in the San Francisco Estuary and grows to about 4 inches.  They are considered threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act.  The fish is at the center of a battle between farmers and environmentalists. Smelt species protections mean a larger water flow through rivers and eventually to the Pacific, and less for farmers. The fish has teetered on the edge of extinction for years. The politician argues there is no reason to wait any longer to call the fish extinct, not when water is so important in the central San Joaquin Valley.  “We can’t let a technicality or government regulation get in the way of what our whole economy relies on,” he said. “Our economy relies on water.”

Declaring a species legally extinct so that it needs no further protection is truly dystopian in scope. I leave it to you to explore how far that thought can be taken…


Note 1 – Quotes from the Judgement

[In 2016]”…, Whitehaven applied to the Minister to expand and extend the Approved Project in accordance with s 68 of the EPBC [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation] Act. Vickery replaced Whitehaven as the proponent of the Extension Project on 17 July 2018. If approved, the Extension Project would, amongst other things, increase total coal extraction from the mine site from 135 to 168 million tonnes (Mt).  When combusted, the additional coal extracted from the Extension Project will produce about 100 Mt of CO2.

The Minister has before her the decision to approve or refuse the Extension Project under s 130(1) and s 133 of the EPBC Act. This proceeding concerns that decision.

In this proceeding the applicants claim that the Minister owes each of the Children a duty to exercise her power under s 130 and s 133 of the EPBC Act with reasonable care so as not to cause them harm. That duty of care is said to arise by reason of the existence of a legal relationship between the Minister and the Children recognised by the law of negligence.

The applicants apprehend that the Minister will fail to discharge the duty by exercising her discretion in favour of the approval of the Extension Project. The applicants seek declaratory and injunctive relief designed to preclude the Minister from failing to discharge the duty of care they claim she has. 

The particular harm relevant to the alleged duty of care is mental or physical injury, including ill-health or death, as well as economic and property loss. The applicants assert that the Children are likely to suffer those injuries in the future as a consequence of their likely exposure to climatic hazards induced by increasing global surface temperatures driven by the further emission of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere. The feared climatic hazards include more, longer and more intense bushfires, storm surges, coastal flooding, inland flooding, cyclones and other extreme weather events

The applicants allege that such harm will occur in the future and mainly towards the end of this century when global average surface temperatures are forecast to be significantly higher than they are currently. Broadly speaking, it is at that time that, unlike today’s adults, today’s children will be alive and will be the class of persons most susceptible to the harms in question. Indeed, the applicants say that today’s children will live on Earth during a period in which, if CO2 concentration continues to increase, some harm is very probable, serious harm is likely and cataclysmal harm is possible. This seems to be the basis for the proceeding being directed to providing relief to children, as distinct from all persons. On this basis, the applicants say that the Children are vulnerable to a known, foreseeable risk of serious harm, which the Minister can control, but they cannot. In addition, the applicants say that by her position in the Commonwealth Executive, the Minister has special responsibilities to Australian children.The applicants say that if the Minister approves the Extension Project, carbon presently stored safely underground at the mine site of the Extension Project will be extracted, combusted and emitted as CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere and will materially contribute to CO2 concentration.

The Minister does not dispute that climate change presents serious threats and challenges to the environment, the Australian community and the world at large. However, the Minister denies the existence of a duty of care as alleged.

The risk of harm to the Children is not remote, it is reasonably foreseeable and it is therefore a real risk for reasons already explained. The Minister has direct control over the foreseeable risk because it is her exercise of power upon which the creation of that risk depends. To my mind, there is therefore a direct relation between the exercise of the Minister’s power and the risk of harm to the Children resulting from the exercise of that power. The entirety of the risk of harm flowing from that exercise of power is therefore in the Minister’s control.” 

Note 2 – Minister for the Environment

Given the different political systems in the USA and Australia it is difficult to draw an equivalence between the Australian “Minister for the Environment” and the corresponding position in the USA.  The closest may be the United States Secretary of the Interior. However Sussan Ley, the current Minister for the Environment, is also the elected lower house member of parliament for the rural New South Wales seat of Farrer. As such she is subject to the same election pressures as any other member of the Australian parliament.

Note 3 – Sister Arthur

As a result of the age of the applicants, the proceedings were brought by their representative, 86 year-old Sister Marie Brigid Arthur, who is a Sister of the Brigidine Order of Victoria.  She has been an activist in a number of cases including refugees, the treatment of juvenile offenders, solitary confinement and other matters.

Note 4 – Justice Bromberg

Justice Bromberg is part of the Full Federal Court (similar to a US Federal Court of Appeal).  The High Court of Australia, equivalent to the US Supreme Court, is the highest and final court in the land.

Judges on the Australian High Court, and the Federal Courts, have a mandatory retirement age of 70 (vs. lifetime appointments in the US).  There are formal qualifications for appointment and the process is similar to that in the US; i.e. nomination and, effectively, appointment by the government in power. However the Australian process has wider input and is a far less public process than in the US.

Note 5 – the case in Justice Bromberg’s words

“In a nutshell, the applicants’ case is that the scientific evidence demonstrates the plausible possibility that the effects of climate change will bring about a future world in which the Earth’s average surface temperature (currently at about 1.1°C above pre-industrial temperature levels) will reach about 4°C above pre-industrial temperature levels by about 2100. Supported by unchallenged expert evidence, the applicants contended that a 4°C future world may come about in one of two ways: first, where the greenhouse effect upon the Earth’s increasing temperature is driven by an approximately linear relationship between increased human emissions of CO2 and increased temperatures, and second,  in circumstances where continuing human emissions of CO2 will result in ‘Earth System’ changes, which diminish the Earth’s current ability to reflect heat, absorb CO2, and retain CO2 currently held in carbon sinks, triggering ‘tipping cascades’ which propel the Earth into a 4°C trajectory.”


Net Zero by 2050 – the mob rule of climate activists

“The IEA has surrendered its integrity to the mob rule of climate activists” was one response to a report released by the International Energy Agency on the 18th of May 2021.

Ah, yes, the mob, painted in druidish symbols, waving “∃!Ⓑ” banners, storming the concrete ramparts of 9 rue de la Fédération and smashing urns of priceless vintage crude until the IEA surrendered its integrity…

But seriously; given the IEA’s historically close association with the oil industry and the stark nature of the report – “Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector” – some strong reactions had to be expected.

Taken together, this Roadmap, the Dasgupta Review and the “Ghastly Future” paper  paint an excruciating picture of the problems we have created and also offer a path to solve them.  However success will call for major and urgent behavior change from the personal to the international level.  We have done it before – but only at times of war.  This fight for the biosphere is a step beyond.

In 224 pages, the Roadmap lays out a path for getting to Net Zero by 2050.  To me it appears like a Rorschach test; we all “see” something different.  Climate champions welcome the sense of urgency and call to action, while questioning a number of specifics.  Fossil fuel people react in more or less polite anger. The nuclear guys like what they see but want more. (See Note at end)


Let the Roadmap speak for itself:

“…the pledges by governments to date – even if fully achieved – fall well short of what is required to bring global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to net zero by 2050 and give the world an even chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C

“…clean  energy  transitions  must  be  fair  and inclusive, leaving  nobody behind.  We  have  to  ensure  that  developing  economies  receive  the financing  and  technological  know‐how  they  need  to  continue  building  their  energy  systems to  meet  the  needs  of  their  expanding  populations  and  economies  in  a  sustainable  way.  It  is a  moral  imperative  to  bring  electricity  to  the  hundreds  of  millions  of  people  who  currently are deprived of  access to it, the  majority of them in Africa”.   

The  transition  to  net  zero  is  for  and  about  people.  It  is  paramount  to  remain  aware  that  not every  worker  in  the  fossil  fuel  industry  can  ease  into  a  clean  energy  job … Citizens must  be  active  participants  in  the  entire  process,  making  them  feel  part  of  the  transition  and not  simply  subject  to  it.”

“Priority Action” items from the Roadmap are:

  • Make the  2020s the decade of massive  clean  energy expansion – All  the  technologies  needed  to  achieve  the  necessary  deep  cuts  in  global  emissions  by 2030  already  exist,  and  the  policies  that  can  drive  their  deployment  are  already  proven.
  • Prepare for the next phase of the transition by boosting innovation – Clean energy innovation must accelerate rapidly, with governments putting R&D, demonstration and deployment at the core of energy and climate policy.
  • Clean energy  jobs will grow strongly  but must be  spread widely – Energy  transitions  have  to  take  account  of  the  social  and  economic  impacts  on individuals and  communities,  and treat people  as active participants.
  • Set near-term milestones to get  on track for long-term targets – Governments  need  to  provide  credible  step‐by‐step  plans  to  reach  their  net  zero  goals, building confidence among investors, industry, citizens and  other countries.
  • Drive a  historic surge in  clean energy investment – Policies  need  to  be  designed  to  send  market  signals  that  unlock  new  business  models and mobilize private spending,  especially in emerging economies
  • Address emerging energy security risks now – Ensuring  uninterrupted  and  reliable  supplies  of  energy  and  critical  energy‐related commodities at  affordable prices will only rise in importance  on the way to  net zero.
  • Take international co-operation to new heights – This  is  not  simply  a  matter  of  all  governments  seeking  to  bring  their  national  emissions to net zero – it  means tackling  global challenges through co‐ordinated actions.

NUMBERS from the Roadmap:

[EJ = exajoule – 1018 joules, CAAGR = Compound Average Annual Growth Rate, CCUS = Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage]

  • Total energy supply – going down! IEA expects everybody in the world to have access to electricity, while saving enough through “behavioural” changes to have a net reduction.  [What a great goal. Is it realistic?]
  • Renewables – a big increase in all renewables (except Hydro).
    • Solar – “For solar power, it is equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park roughly every day. To reach net zero emissions by 2050, annual clean energy investment worldwide will need to more than triple by 2030 to around $4 trillion”.  [Wow…]
    • Bioenergy – this increase has drawn criticism from a number of sources.  [Can it be done and also ensure biodiversity, long term soil health, community integrity? See my previous post on biomass.]
  • Traditional biomass: “Some  40%  of  the  solid  biomass  was  used  in  traditional  cooking  methods  which is unsustainable, inefficient and polluting, and  was linked to  2.5 million  premature deaths in 2020.  The  use  of  solid  biomass  in  this  manner  falls  to  zero  by  2030 …”. [A laudable goal and in line with the goal of providing access to electricity to all.  Can it be done in less than 9 years?  In the face of tradition and poverty?]
  • Nuclear – The IEA has been a supporter of nuclear energy through its history and does not change in this report.  The word “nuclear” appears some 90 times in the report (to be fair so do the other fuels).  However the word “waste” does not appear anywhere near “nuclear”.  The report does state: “The  large  fleet  of  ageing  nuclear  reactors  in  advanced  economies  means  their decommissioning  increases,  despite  many  reactor  lifetime  extensions”.  [What happens to the waste from these reactors? The nuclear waste issue is not solved.  Of all the countries using nuclear power only Finland is in the actual construction phase of a High Level/Long Term Waste storage facility.  Many countries, including the USA, China, France and Sweden, have identified and planned sites. But all have run into roadblocks preventing construction – from my previous post on nuclear power]
  • Fossil Fuels – As expected these take the greatest hit in the roadmap.  Adding the “unabated” (i.e. with direct GHG emissions) and the “with CCUS” numbers the drop from 2020 to 2050, in exo-joules, is: Gas; 137 to 60, Oil; 173 to 42 and Coal; 154 to 17 – with the attendant loss of revenues and employment. [The problem here is that although CCUS is known technology, “rapid scaling up of CCUS are very uncertain for economic, political and technical reasons”]

KEY UNCERTAINTIES called out in the Roadmap are: “…behavioural  change,  bioenergy  and  CCUS  for  fossil  fuels.  These three  areas  were  selected  because  the  assumptions  made  about  them  involve  a  high  degree of  uncertainty  and  because  of  their  critical  contributions  to  achieve  net‐zero  emissions  by 2050″.

  • Behavior – This is mostly in flying, driving and heating/cooling behaviors
  • Bioenergy  – “….there  are  constraints  on  expanding  the  supply  of  bioenergy:  with  finite potential  for  bioenergy  production  from  waste  streams,  there  are  possible  trade‐offs between  expanding  bioenergy  production,  achieving  sustainable  development  goals  and avoiding conflicts with other land uses, notably food production”. [As stated before this does not address concerns re biodiversity, species loss, quite apart from the aesthetics of “wild places”]
  • CCUS – “The use of CCUS with fossil fuels provides almost 70% of the total growth in CCUS to 2030 in the NZE. Yet the prospects for the rapid scaling up of CCUS are very uncertain for economic, political and technical reasons”

Others, in my opinion equally uncertain are:

  • Innovation – “Innovation is key to developing new clean energy technologies and advancing existing ones. The importance of innovation increases as we get closer to 2050 because existing technologies will not be able to get us all the way along the path to net‐zero emissions. Almost 50% of the emissions reductions needed in 2050 in the NZE depend on technologies that are at the prototype or demonstration stage, i.e. are not yet available on the market
  • International Cooperation – “Take international co-operation to new heights. This  is  not  simply  a  matter  of  all  governments  seeking  to  bring  their  national  emissions to net zero – it  means tackling  global challenges through co‐ordinated actions”. 

BOTTOM LINE: Massive, urgent, international and personal change is needed to meet global warming goals.  Can it be done?  Yes.  Will it be done?  The probability is: No.  But let’s surprise ourselves.


Note 1 – The IEA NZE Roadmap

Note 2 – IEA history note

Note 2 – IEA history note

As an example of previous IEA positions here is a June 2014 report: World needs $48 trillion in investment to meet its energy needs to 2035 – News

  • “Of the investment in energy supply, $23 trillion is in fossil fuel extraction, transport and oil refining”   (Fatih Birol was the IEA Chief Economist at the time)
  • Comparing the 2014 statement ($23 trillion) to now “no new oil and natural gas fields are required beyond those that have already been approved for development” shows why the new Roadmap is such a departure for the IEA and why it has prompted such strong responses.

Note 3 – Dasgupta Review and the “Ghastly Future” paper

The “Dasgupta Review” may be found at Final Report – The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review and is also discussed in my previous post; It’s the biosphere, stupid! – 1biosphere.net

The “Ghastly Future” paper refers to Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future – by Bradshaw Corey J. A., Ehrlich Paul R., Beattie Andrew, Ceballos Gerardo, Crist Eileen, Diamond Joan, Dirzo Rodolfo, Ehrlich Anne H., Harte John, Harte Mary Ellen, Pyke Graham, Raven Peter H., Ripple William J., Saltré Frédérik, Turnbull Christine, Wackernagel Mathis, Blumstein Daniel T.  in Frontiers in Conservation Science.

The abstract from this paper, [with my bulleting and highlighting] is:

  • “We report three major and confronting environmental issues that have received little attention and require urgent action. 
  • First, we review the evidence that future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts. 
  • Second, we ask what political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action
  • Third, this dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business, and the public. 
  • We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future. The added stresses to human health, wealth, and well-being will perversely diminish our political capacity to mitigate the erosion of ecosystem services on which society depends. The science underlying these issues is strong, but awareness is weak. Without fully appreciating and broadcasting the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to achieve even modest sustainability goals.”

Note 4 – War

For whatever reason we are capable of banding together, even across national boundaries, to kill each other and cause as much destruction as we can during times of war.  Individual behavior can change to an extraordinary extent and somehow the money always seems available.  Sure, there are the profiteers and others who sit at the sidelines benefiting from the carnage all round, but they will always be with us.

This fight for the biosphere will need similar levels of behavior change and similar international cooperation.

But we need a leap of the imagination.  We have no problem demonizing enemies, providing they are human, in thrall to some perverse ideology or cowed by some monstrous dictator and his apparatus.  What if the demon enemy really is us and the perverse ideology is that of consumption, growth, waste and personal indulgence?

In my previous post I discuss the 6 world regions (China, USA, EU (including the UK!), India, Russia and Japan) that are most important to any healing of the biosphere.  Given the internal political status of those regions and the animosity between some of them them I wonder how they can come together with one goal.  There are some tentative moves.  Will they be enough?

Note 5 – Responses to the IEA NZE Roadmap

From the nuclear guysWorld Nuclear Association response to the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 report (18 May 2021)

“The IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 report, released today, concludes that nuclear energy will make a “significant contribution” to their Net Zero Emissions scenario, and will provide an “essential foundation” in the transition to a net-zero energy system.

[The IEA’s Net Zero Emissions scenario] “puts too much faith in technologies that are uncertain, untested, or unreliable and fails to reflect both the size and scope of the contribution nuclear technologies could make”. WNA notes that the NZE scenario’s projection for nuclear growth sees the share of nuclear energy in the global electricity mix falling from 10.5% to 8%. “Given that more than 60% of the world’s electricity is currently generated by fossil fuels, if we are to eliminate them in less than 30 years, the IEA’s assessment of the role of nuclear is highly impractical.”

“WNA notes that, in addition to electricity, nuclear energy can generate zero-carbon heat. “This is an opportunity that the IEA’s report barely touches on. Existing reactors are already being used to provide steam for district heating systems and to produce fresh water. New reactor designs under development and deployment could provide heat and feedstocks for industry (chemicals, steel, concrete, cement), fuels for heavy transport (shipping, aviation) or generate hydrogen directly.”

From the oil and gas guys (American Petroleum Institute) – API | API Statement on IEA Report on Pathway to Net-Zero by 2050

“IEA itself regularly acknowledges that half the technology to reach net zero has not yet been invented. Any pathway to net zero must include continued innovation and use of natural gas and oil, which remains crucial to displacing coal [way to go guys; kick coal while it’s down] in developing nations and enabling renewable energy. Our industry is committed to shaping a cleaner future by advancing technologies and policymaking to reduce emissions while providing the affordable, reliable energy modern life depends on.”

From Forbes –  New IEA Net Zero Roadmap Undermines America’s Energy Security

From the BBCClimate change: Ban new gas boilers from 2025 to reach net-zero

[I find it interesting that this analysis uses the issue of gas boilers as the headline.  But it is a very good example.  Today an entire industry segment – from gas suppliers, pipeline people, boiler manufacturers to the local plumber are selling and servicing high efficiency gas boilers as a cost effective heating solution.  To bring that industry to a full stop in 4 years is a big ask.  Of course, with 20/20 hindsight, if we had pushed (even more efficient) heat pumps 15 years ago life would be easier now. As part of the article the BBC simplifies items from the report, which I repeat here for background]

  • Fossil fuel use falls drastically in the net‐zero emissions scenario by 2050, and no new oil and natural gas fields are required beyond those that have already been approved for development. No new coal mines or mine extensions are required.
  • Emissions from electricity generation fall to net‐zero in advanced economies by 2035 and globally by 2040. Renewables drive the transformation, up from 29% of generation in 2020 to nearly 90% in 2050.
  • The number of public charging points for electric cars rises from around one million today to 40 million by 2030, requiring an annual investment of $90bn by the end of the decade.
  • By 2035, nearly all cars sold globally are electric, and by 2050 nearly all heavy trucks sold are fuel cell or electric.
  • Per capita income from oil and gas in countries that rely on fossil fuel production falls by around 75% from $1,800 to $450 by the 2030s
  • “The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5C – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.  “The IEA’s pathway to this brighter future brings a historic surge in clean energy investment that creates millions of new jobs and lifts global economic growth. Moving the world on to that pathway requires strong and credible policy actions from governments, underpinned by much greater international cooperation.”