Background on the general idea of 1 biosphere, the logic behind creating accessible stories AND supporting the stories by a rigorous trace back through scientific fundamentals, data, analysis and recommendations
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!)
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:
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.
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.
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:
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?
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”
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.
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?
Let “them” fight it out. They who have the most power will get the most water.
Who will we elect to steer us through this difficult and disruptive time?
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.”
“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.”
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”.
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.”
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 ” was heard by Judge Bromberg of the Victorian Registry of the Federal Court of Australia.
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)
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.
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.”
“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…
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.
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.
“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 “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?
“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.”
“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.”
[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.”
Schools, at every level, should change from ruled to square paper.
It will help to broaden thinking, from 1 dimension to 2. It will help in basic math and practically everything else. Scientific facts will become easier to understand, poetry easier to write, drawings easier to draw and doodles will reveal meaning.
In short; squared paper is a first step to conquering the environmental crisis.
“This year’s specials include a Greta Thunberg documentary, a David Attenborough extravaganza, James Cameron on whales and Cher rescuing an elephant.”
“In (a discussion between Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough from) “A Year to Change the World, ”Thunberg is unfailingly polite, but you can see what she’s thinking. When she asks if he has ideas for how to “activate” older people into environmental activism, he has nothing to offer, other than to praise her.” (New York Times)
Yes, that’s the issue; how to “activate” people? Older or not. Just maybe 1bio stories can do their little bit to help in that?
The report lists impacts on what UN secretary general António Guterres said was the planet’s “life support system”. Sea levels are rising, coasts are eroding, waters are heating and acidifying and the number of deoxygenated “dead zones” is rising. Marine litter is present in all marine habitats and overfishing was costing societies billions. About 90% of mangrove, seagrass and marsh plant species were threatened with extinction.
(The report authored by UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, excerpts above from The Guardian)
The report is downloadable in 2 volumes – totalling 1090 pages! It clearly is a comprehensive document and of value to professionals in the field. But for most of us the length and complexity make it essentially inaccessible. That is why we need stories woven from the findings of these reports, and solidly linked back to them.
“Researchers fear increasing energy in these eddies could affect ability of Southern Ocean to absorb C02” ‘“The world’s oceans soak up most of the carbon dioxide that humans dump into the atmosphere. The Southern Ocean in particular absorbs about 40% of the entire ocean uptake and much of that uptake is achieved by ocean eddies” Any change in the ocean eddies in the Southern Ocean can … “potentially impact the carbon sink and the ability to uptake carbon that we might continue to emit in the future”
Fox News is the leader in primetime viewership (in the USA) according to Nielsen Media Rating.Just one more reason why the trace supporting the 1bio stories needs to be accurate and complete. We will not sway the opinion of the committed Fox viewer by factual analysis, but we do need to solidify the opinion of the silent majority.
Sure it is “just” for the USA, but the tone set (t)here will affect decisions in other countries. The promising steps taken by the Biden administration will most likely be blocked if either the House of Representatives or the Senate change hands.
Historically mid-term elections have seen less voter turnout (voting in the US is not mandatory) and have swung against the party of the president.
The odds of Republican control from 2023 on are very high given the senate is held by a majority of just 1 (actually 0, but a majority of 1 with the casting vote of the vice president) and the House by 7 (out of 435 – Wikipedia)
Let’s look back at the 2020 election results; some 158 million people voted. Of those 81.2 million for President Biden, 74.2 million for the ex-President.
Despite the complexity and biases of the US system there is an obvious answer, and many very, very smart people are trying to make it come true:
We need to get some portion of the 81 million “No Vote” voters to vote, and to vote our way. It only needs a fraction of them, in the right locations, to create a landslide result and so set the conditions for real Environmental Healing – or not.
There are very few days to make a difference > see sidebar
“We are in an emergency. California is on the brink of drought, prompting fears of a new wave of devastating megafires later this year. Rising temperatures could soon make the planet’s tropical regions unlivable for humans. Yet a Guardian investigation recently found that only a small number of major countries have been pumping rescue funds into a low-carbon future.”
“Two years ago, the Guardian announced it was changing the language it uses to talk about the environment, eschewing terms like “climate change” for the more appropriately urgent “climate emergency”. Today, we are joined by others in the news industry, organizations that recognize that a global catastrophe is already here, and that without immediate action, it will get unimaginably worse.
Surprise, surprise; CEO’s think paying more tax is not a good idea.
Bottom line: Great move by the Guardian and all the other associated media organizations. My point re 1biosphere remains; These stories are not influencing enough of the people we need to reach – that silent majority who can move the political and social dynamics. That needs your help.
We are wounding the biosphere. We need to stop, and then heal
My use of the terms “Environmental Crisis” and “Environmental Healing” needs further explanation.
The subject of Environmental Crisis / Healing is huge. Trying to write short, sharp, accessible stories becomes very tough. Maybe I am trying to do too much?
But then that is exactly the point of “1biosphere” – not to reexamine the underlying research, or to once again produce another report, nor to rewrite an article about what we can expect and what needs to be done. Others, far more qualified, more eloquent and with far greater resources have done that valuable work.
What this site is about are 2 things:
First; find those very short stories that can capture the imagination of the currently silent majority and create a political, social and economic environment that will allow Environmental Healing, and
Second; underpin those stories by chains of fact – through those articles, reports and research – to show 1bio stories to be verifiably “true”.
And it needs your help.
In “The Idea” for 1bio I define the biosphere as being that closed system where all life occurs:
We humans are injuring every part of this system. Many of these cuts, burns and poisonings are beyond the capacity of the biosphere to repair. Some will set off a cascade of further problems if we do not stop making the wounds bigger every day. That is why it is a crisis.
The biosphere does not care. It will go on in one way or another. But we need to care, because each injury to the system will rebound on us – biologically, economically, socially and spiritually. The more we wound the system, the more we will be hurt in return.
We can’t escape that reality. There is no alternate biosphere. We are physically part of it. We are all inside it, together.
Of course there are deniers and vacillators. They are not stupid. They are intelligent, quick witted and can see where this is going. There will be costs! Costs not just in money terms, but in comfort, luxury, entitlements, rights. They can see these costs and are unwilling to pay the price. So they develop their own stories – sharp, compelling, vivid stories – promising an easy road to the future. Taken at face value their stories are more attractive than ours. But they lack the supporting chain of facts. And that is something we need to tackle as well.
By Environmental Healing I simply mean, first, stop harming the biosphere and, second, reverse the harm done – if that is even possible.
Practically every part of the biosphere is undergoing its own crisis. Each one of these interacts with the others, compounding the difficulty of description, analysis and prediction.
With that said here are some “bullet points” of the Environmental Crisis:
Global Warming with all the consequences; Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, Intensity of Weather Events and so forth, captures most attention. It is first because of the many negative effects and the size of the potential economic harm.
I also believe that this is top of the list because it can be treated as a technical problem. We speak of Gigatons of CO2, trapping of solar radiation, feedback loops, albedo and global average temperature changes in fractions of a degree. We speak of the remedies in equally technological terms; carbon dioxide sequestration, solar PV, pumped storage, electric vehicles, advanced SMRs, shoreline protection, disaster resilience, ESG, geoengineering.
MINING of MINERALS and COAL
Destruction of environment, pollution from the mining operation, tailing dumps and waste lagoons of toxic materials. Pollution of streams and groundwater. Health effects on the workers and the surrounding communities. Destruction of significant sites – biological, archeological and spiritual.
LIQUID and GAS FOSSIL FUELS
Quite apart from the CO2 released when these fuels are burnt (Really – we unearth these million year old treasures and burn them?) we have accidental releases of gas and/or oil during production, transport and refining. We have negative effects on all the living things near these sites. Fracking chemicals.
Agricultural practices, Deforestation, Salt pans when farming marginal land, Monocultures.
Falling aquifers, Changing rainfall patterns, Pollution from personal, industrial and agricultural sources.
Pollution, Greenhouse Gases, More intense weather, Changed weather patterns.
Deforestation, Monocultures, Loss of diversity, Species loss, Invasive species, Insect infestations, Wildfires.
Loss of diversity, Loss of species, Loss of habitat, Insect “collapse”.
Wild land animals exist only at our pleasure. Whales as well.
Too many of us – we have tripled since I went to school. It’s a hugely difficult subject but has to be discussed. We consume too much. We waste too much. We already have climate wars and climate refugees. There will be more. We cling to artificial concepts like nations, religions and politics. The biosphere does not recognize any of those things.
The biosphere has gone through crises before. Many in the long history of the planet, some within one human generation.
The ancient crises; climate change, ice ages, meteorites, did massively change the biosphere and cause vast destruction. But the repairs and adjustments were made over time spans we can barely imagine. We, with our frantic lives, do not have the luxury of evolutionary or geologic time.
Two recent examples are the acid rain problem of the 1970 to 1990’s and the ozone holes, which came to public attention at much the same time. Both were overcome, against resistance of course, but nevertheless with reasonable success and without huge economic impact.
For acid rain the answer was scrubbing the exhaust gases of coal fired plants to reduce the emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
The ozone holes over each pole were tackled by an international agreement to phase out CFCs and Halons. The task is not over yet; NASA predicts the ozone holes will not return to 1980 levels until 2075.
There are lasting scars from both crises; eroded stone ornaments, disrupted plant and animal life, health issues such as skin cancers, breathing difficulties etc.
If we could so “easily” resolve those crises why can’t we do the same for the current Environmental Crisis? Because:
The problems were essentially technical and had known technical solutions
The problem could be solved by a relatively small number of corporations acting under public and government pressure and in their own self interest
The problems, although widespread, were not global
Most people did not have to change their way of life (except in some trivial ways; e.g. if you had an old car and could not obtain CFC to recharge the AC then the repair was very pricey)
Politics was simpler; governments made binding decisions and enforced them
Sadly none of those conditions apply to what we face today.
We are wounding the biosphere. We need to stop, and then heal