August 22, 2008
Global Warming: Why We're Not 100% Doomed
Check out the National Clean Energy Summit, which was just held in Las Vegas. It was hosted by Harry Reid, with the opening speech by Bill Clinton.
It's things like this that make me believe human civilization will likely—despite current appearances—manage to mitigate global warming and survive. That's because this kind of event demonstrates climate change is one of the few political issues in which the Sane Billionaires are on the progressive side.
Almost all political conflict, especially in the US, boils down to a fight between the Sane Billionaires and the Insane Billionaires. It generally follows this template:
INSANE BILLIONAIRES: Let's kill everyone and take their money!
SANE BILLIONAIRES: I like the way you think. I really do. But if we keep everyone alive, and working for us, we'll make even more money, in the long term.
INSANE BILLIONAIRES: You communist!!!
So from a progressive perspective, you always have to hope the Sane Billionaires win. Still, there's generally a huge chasm between what the Sane Billionaires want and what progressives want.
This is not the case with global warming. Take Thomas Friedman, who is a pure distillation of Sane Billionarism. (And he is literally a billionaire by marriage.) On trade, foreign policy, etc., Friedman—unlike, say, Dick Cheney—doesn't want to kill everyone on earth. He's intelligent enough to understand blood is a big expense. However, he wants to keep us all working to make even more money for him and his fellow billionaires, and is certainly willing to kill anyone who gets out of line. There's a gigantic chasm between this and anything that could be termed progressive.
But with global warming, Friedman is to a large degree on the progressive side. He's like Marriner Eccles, an industrialist who later became Chairman of the Federal Reserve under FDR. Eccles said this about the Great Depression:
"It became apparent to me, as a capitalist, that if I lent myself to this sort of action [by his fellow businessmen] and resisted any change designed to benefit all the people, I could be consumed by the poisons of social lag I had helped to create."
What does this have to do with the National Clean Energy Summit? Well, many of the attendees were from the Sane Billionaire class: T. Boone Pickens, Robert Rubin, a Google representative, and Michael Bloomberg. (Actually, Rubin may only be a Sane Semi-Billionaire.)
This doesn't mean progressives will win on global warming. It's a gigantic challenge in any case. And dealing with it might require so much change that some of the Sane Billionaires will flip back to the other side. But as with people like Eccles, the threat of the Sane Billionaires' own personal destruction combined with huge social movements can push the SBs to places you might not expect. (Note that this conference got these SBs to the same location as the Vice President of United Steelworkers.)
Thus, we have more wind at our backs than it first appears. No one can know whether this will be enough, even with a huge social movement. And it certainly won't be enough without a huge social movement. But we're not necessarily doomed.
MORE GOOD NEWS: Giant evil utility Xcel is shutting down two coal plants in Colorado and replacing their output with newly-built solar and wind power.
Posted at August 22, 2008 12:06 AM
I'd say it's much more likely that humanity will not mitigate warming
I'd agree if the SBs were the only thing we have going for us. But there's a lot of other stuff, too. One particularly important one is that it's feasible to take co2 out of the atmosphere in mass quantities.
If all we could hope for was to reduce emissions, then we'd certainly be screwed, because there's no way we're going to do that fast enough. But between biochar and eventually artificial trees, I think we'll be able to capture lots of the co2 that's out there and sequester it more or less permanently.
And that technology basically exists today. When you consider how quickly technology moves, I'd strongly bet on our figuring out even better and more efficient ways to do it by mid-century. Remember that even James Hansen hopes that it's safe for us to bring the co2 ppm down below 350 by 2100.
The critical thing at this point, I think, is to put as high a price on co2 as possible as quickly as possible. Thanks in part to the SBs, that should be doable. And if it happens, all kinds of positive things should follow, many of which we can't predict.
Again: I'm not saying humanity WILL pull it off. And even under a plausible best-case scenario, I'd guess we're going to end up killing millions of people. Perhaps we've done so already. But if we work hard, I don't think it has to be hundreds of millions or billions.
you subscribe to a more dire view of the consequences
What concerns me is not just the climate changes in and of themselves, because I think we could partially adapt to those if humans were sane. But because we're crazy, the added stress will almost certainly cause lots of conflicts and war, which will in turn diminish our ability to cooperate on a large scale, which will in turn cause more conflict, etc. As you probably know, some people believe the killing in Darfur has been caused or exacerbated by climate change.
Yeah, agreed, that's how my doomsday scenario looks as well; it's not the droughts, hurricanes, floods, and other horrors that'll kill most of us, it's how other humans will react to the droughts, hurricanes, floods, and other horrors. I guess I just expect a lower body count. That's my optimism!
Mr. Schwarz, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But, I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, TOPS.
Life imitates, and then goodbye to all that.
Ha ha. Reminds me of something Chomsky says--He notes that we have two business parties running the country. The Republicans are the party of big business and small business, whereas the Democrats are just the party of big business.
+ water (ground and stream)
+ greater need for recycling
= impetus well beyond "we really ought to fix that carbon thing"
money, education, and power inequities are also crippling troubles, but the category we're playing in this round is things that worry billionaires.
All this sounds too good to be true. If we had to deal only with sane and insane billionares, the task would be simpler. How would you deal with the following?
National Black Republican Association Annual Black Republican Forum
It is worth watching. This a coservative republican group and just happens to be African American and Deneen Bordelli of project 21, an NGO, talks about the concerns of the urban poor with this Green Revolution. Personally, I have many suggestions to offer to her to reduce the burden on that segment of population but I guess, this is the conservative republican philosophy!!!
Are you sure global warming is real? And not due to solar flares or some other natural cooling/warming cycle that we, as insignificant human beings, can't see or grasp at this time in our intelligence?
I'm just saying...... because this has been one of the COOLEST summers I can remember....
typical republican thinking about the economy.
1) smart public investment and boat-rocking change are all costs, no benefits.
2) poverty is endemic and permanent.
3) progressive taxation and cost-abatement are out of the question.
greening the country will be enormously labor intensive. this has the potential of turning back the relentless tide of wage depression outside the top 20%, when compared to productivity over the last generation. "we hates-s-s-s-s paying people," says the monster in a suit.
but what a pleasure for the black republicans, for the environmentalists to enter the economic sphere! years and years they've been selling poverty as a moral failure. now they can be more positive: decry an inevitable system change -- leading to better wages, more employment, and better finanical security -- for causing the problems it hopes to address. instead of blaming the victim, blame the attending physician. anything but the disease!
project 21 isn't an NGO. it's a conservative think tank.
I think your "sane billionaires" ("progressive=good") vs. "insane billionaires" ("skeptical=bad") paradigm is a bit off the mark.
The "sane billionaires" may very well recognize how government intervention in the economy in the name of fighting climate change helps keep them billionaires, as said intervention with its attendant regulations and "carbon trades" and what-nots would restrict and hamper their competition, which would largely comprise of smaller companies with not as much market share or wealth, and therefore not as much political clout as the "sane" billionaires whom you seem to think are the cornerstone of our civilization.
Those you deem the "insane" billionaires would probably be more than happy to join in the chorus of the "sane" billionaires if they could be assured that the regulations and carbon trades would be arranged a certain way as to end up keeping their wallets good and fat, too.
greening the country will be enormously labor intensive. this has the potential of turning back the relentless tide of wage depression outside the top 20%, when compared to productivity over the last generation.
Yes—another reason for my muted optimism. The solution is appealing not JUST to the Sane Billionaires, but to a giant swath of Americans.
Not sane vs. insane, just an endgame.
Parts are warming from below, particularly under glaciers of Greenland and West Antarctica, which will produce ice shifting earthquakes under same, raising seas fast and accomplishing the much heralded reduction of we "useless eaters".
For more on subject, including $1000 offer for refutation of basic geology involved, google "plushtown $1000".
also, #21 should say "the beginning of the much heralded reduction of we 'useless eaters'." Inland is safe from the sea, not the sods.
HEY! Being insane does not make you automatically evil.
Basically I can't see why people focus on things like global warming, which is obviously easy to discredit. Why not scream about things like the huge pool of plastic in the Pacific? I mean, if that isn't a slam dunk case against mankind affecting nature, then nothing is.
I also don't see the problem with CO2. I mean I spout that crap all day long. Shouldn't we be more concerned with other gases that are also pollutants?
@tim: you're right, you exhale CO2. you probably also drink whisky. so go drink 10 bottles of whisky and write back to us about how safe it is to drink as much as you want.
I also don't see the problem with CO2. I mean I spout that crap all day long.
Exactly right. Likewise, I'm made of atoms. Why should anyone worry if some atoms a block away from them split in two in a so-called "atomic bomb"?
Ura is presumably somewhere in the Midwest, or Siberia, where it's been a pretty typical summer:
Which, relative to our memories of recent warm summers, would seem COOLER, but wouldn't actually reflect on global average temperatures in any way whatsoever.
"due to solar flares"
Changes in mean insolation (which fluctuates on an ~11 year cycle, with some trending one way or the other) are accounted for in the IPCC reports. From memory, they attribute a good chunk of early 20th century warming to increased solar forcing, attributing as much as something like 30% of total warming since the industrial revolution to it, or some such. So, yes, and no. Particularly not for the last 40 years. You can just eyeball these two graphs:
And immediately see what a buncha nonsense self-proclaimed skeptics are trying to sell, with the jibber jab about "cooling trends" and solar forcing.
"Shouldn't we be more concerned with other gases that are also pollutants?"
A classic concern troll! How dandy!
Shouldn't we be reducing the material intensity of product packaging to reduce the amount of plastic slurry finding it's way into the Pacific garbage patch while also reducing not just greenhouse gas emissions from industrial marketing firms, but also lowering their operating expenses and thus increasing profit margins?
Blah blah blah.
I'm trying to find the logical fallacy in the replies to my comment.... Ummm.. you forgot to use logic.
I mean there are almost 7 billion humans, and how ever many animals, all pumping out CO2. I am no disbeliever in global warming either, I just don't see what putting a price on CO2 is going to do. (I was kinda trying to be a smartass too, doesn't come through to well I guess)
I am no disbeliever in global warming either
Well, you should be. It's obviously easy to discredit.
I mean there are almost 7 billion humans,
supported by an ever-increasing number of machines,
and how ever many animals,
let's call it 30,
all pumping out CO2.
and methane, always mention the methane. people love the fart jokes.
I am no disbeliever in global warming either, I just don't see what putting a price on CO2 is going to do.
it's basic economics. when something is more expensive, people use it more carefully, or don't use it at all.
in this case there are other options to do what needs to be done but while we protect polluters from paying the price to clean up their mess, clean energy technologies can't compete.
I guess, it is my error. The speaker introduced herself as working for a non-profit organization and I changed it to NGO!
Well OK then, what happens when the "sane" billionaires recognize that they only get 90-odd years on the planet like the reset of us? Presumably Mr. Eccles is long dead - what actual benefit was there to him in his economic epiphany?
On another related note, I was listening to some financial news radio show (maybe CNN) and the question they were debating was "are water futures the next oil?" I didn't stick around for the exciting conclusion but somehow I don't think this line of thought will end well for us.
Capitalism is a self-destructive system. We just don't want to believe it.
That's nice. And just when I was beginning to wonder how far your misanthropy went...
'Water futures'? holy crap maybe the end of the line IS around the corner.
I am far less sanguine than you about the "san billionaires." Those folks have built their reality around the notion that, whatever catastrophes strike, their wealth and influence will insulate them and their loved ones from the fallout. Where have these "sane billionaires" been the past eight years, when the Bush administration was wreaking about as much damage on the country as global warming? If none of them were willing to use their influence to stop the gross erosion of civil liberties and the accelerated transfer of wealth to the richest Americans...oh, wait. OK. Tell me again why you trust these folks???
I fear you put far too much faith in the actions of these "sane billionaires." Where have these folks been the past eight years, while the Bush administration was trashing our civil liberties, ruining our international reputation, bankrupting the country, and oversee a massive transfer of wealth to the richest Americans...oh, wait. OK. I see. Tell me again why you place so much faith in the "sane billionaires?"
meant to say before: the benefits of real trees over artificial can't be overstated.
* real trees build themselves.
* real trees power themselves.
* real trees recharge and repair local water systems.
* real trees help restore the soil.
* real trees are their own carbon storage facility.
Tell me again why you place so much faith in the "sane billionaires?"
I don't place any faith in them. However, there are indeed some billionaires who have enough of a grasp on reality that they can see global warming is a threat to them -- just as there were billionaires in the thirties who understood communism and the depression were a threat to them, and hence were willing to support the new deal.
the benefits of real trees over artificial can't be overstated.
I'm all for trees, and in most ways they're superior to artificial ones. But artificial trees can capture more co2 more quickly than the real ones, and they don't die and then release the co2 back into the atmosphere.
So I say, bring on more of both, the real and the artificial.
per dollar spent, real trees are faster. artificial trees -- if you're talking about klaus lackner's -- are currently estimated to cost trillions to operate a year at a global-scrubbing scale. i don't think i need to say that an annual price of a hundred billion for giant forestry effort would be a surprise.
real trees do die. they also grow their own replacements. we know how that works. geosequestration, on the other hand, at a global-scrubbing scale, has no track record, no certainty, and no self-repair capacity.
all the people i've talked to or read, about the critical project "putting it back in the ground" give me the same feeling. "leaving it in the ground" and "restoring the carbon cycle on the surface" are so much more reliable and cost effective that talking about sequestration at large scale is a lot like talking about "atoms for peace."
i'm not one for dialectics but we should be talking about the next 25 years first. in that time scale, we are planting real trees.
Real trees live in forests which are themselves as alive the trees that compose them, along with uncountable organisms that live within on and among them. The mutual dependencies and necessities are complex and fragile and simple and resilient, all at the same time. But they don't appear overnight, or in one season, like cabbages.
Intestinal flora isn't a huge leap in most people's awareness. That same idea in large ecologies shouldn't be either. But it is,or it's trivialized.
Look at the landscape around you, esp. in the suburbs it's in bondage, tied up, trimmed and bent and held in awkward submissive posture, isolated, artificial, an example of the master's power.
Virtually none of the plants inside the modern human landscape have any relation to each other except current physical proximity - lots, most, of them plucked from the temperate band of the Southern Hemisphere, especially the ones in the Sun Belt and California - which means the lives that depend on the inter-relationships of local niche ecologies aren't there.
Bugs that evolved within those longstanding local systems, birds that eat the bugs, plants that need the birds and the bugs, trees that need the plants and the birds and the bugs. Adapted to local weather and soil.
The resilience and simplicity isn't shared across the board, but then neither is the complexity and fragility.
Like intestinal flora, you can limp along without them, but you won't feel good, and you won't last very long.
Degrees of health.
Arguing like sports fans over the numbers and the teams and the outcome of the game is not going to get done what needs doing.
We need to see where we went wrong. We need to see that the way things are isn't how it has to be, though it is for a minority, some of whom have to have it this way in order to survive. Others just because they benefit greatly from how things are. That contest isn't resolvable by reasoned plea.
Slapping up solar farms to meet the energy demand, or massive plantings of monocultured trees isn't the solution. But it isn't a binary choice. We can do some of those things and change how we live at the same time, change our attitude toward how, and where, we live.
Too much talk about strategies of correction, not enough about the vehicle, who's at the wheel, where we're headed, and how fast.
Why we're in the vehicle at all.
Drunk drivers trying to figure out how they got that ticket, or caused that wreck. It's more than an error of strategy.
Most of the debate seems centered on the immediate specific symptoms, how we can diminish those symptoms, while carrying the disease forward as if it wasn't there.
no one talked about tree farms.
let's go back to this.
[#1] If all we could hope for was to reduce emissions, then we'd certainly be screwed, because there's no way we're going to do that fast enough. [#2] But between biochar and eventually artificial trees, I think we'll be able to capture lots of the co2 that's out there and sequester it more or less permanently.
you have your fingers crossed that, as we pass through natural collapse and fuel crises, we'll maintain the industrial capacity to accomplish the second task. sounds like "breakthrough institute" stuff. am i right?
in all seriousness: do you think you'll live to see what happens, after 2030? are you invested in that future?
you have your fingers crossed that, as we pass through natural collapse and fuel crises, we'll maintain the industrial capacity to accomplish the second task.
Yes. I realize it's quite possible that that won't be the case, but if it's not, I don't see how we make it through.
sounds like "breakthrough institute" stuff. am i right?
No. I didn't know who they were until I searched for them right now. They seem mildly unpleasant.
in all seriousness: do you think you'll live to see what happens, after 2030? are you invested in that future?
Wait, what? I hope I'll still be alive after 2030. I don't see massive catastrophe engulfing the rich people in rich countries before then. Others, maybe.
Frantic uncritical use of technology got us into this mess, and by golly frantic uncritical use of technology will get us out of it.
Note that Xcel is the namesake of the convention center the GOP will be using in St. Paul next week. How to get extra bang for your greenwashing buck! Still, you're right, it's good that there's less coal energy and more wind energy, at least temporarily.