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Dispatches from the Front Line of the Apocalypse 
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Post Re: Dispatches from the Front Line of the Apocalypse
Robert Tulip wrote:
The Cold War ended as a result of western strength, not from the weakness inherent in peace movement policies of nuclear disarmament. The actual successful policy was the opposite of the advice of the left. Now I don’t think US military escalation has been sensible overall, but in terms of ending the Cold War it was the major factor.

We face a similar situation now with climate change, that global warming will be reversed through western strength, not western weakness. Major firms will work out how to make carbon mining a profitable industry in the framework of a well governed business enabling environment. The left-wing siren song of “just weaken your economy by making energy more expensive” offers no hope as a solution to climate change, any more than ‘weaken your security by unilaterally disarming’ served to deliver peace. Decarbonisation will just be ignored by all those growing nations who love burning stuff, while the virtue signalling snowflakes will get to feel smug in their futility.

I think all of our discussions are hampered by the dichotomizing left-right framing. For instance, meaningful arms reduction and control did emerge after the collapse of the S.U. Could one say that "the left" got through in some way to Reagan, who in a Nixon-in-China moment advanced world peace with the START agreements? I don't think that's really a coherent analysis, but it could be consistent with a flawed division of left vs. right.

You might be slighting the claims that a green economy of low emissions can be a more powerful generator of jobs than our now-passe carbon economy. If reliance on emission reduction to solve global warming is a type of stuck-thinking, so too might reliance on carbon fuels as the only way to maintain prosperity be an atavism. The hardest thing to accept is that we need to decarbonize, implement climate engineering (the term Taylor used, which I like better) if feasible and safe, and alter our lifestyles--all more or less at the same time. On the last point, altering lifestyles, this doesn't have to come about through lower standards of living. For example, an economy in which we buy services from makers of hardware, rather than own the hardware, will result in much less energy used to make new things. This products-as-services economy looks more attractive to millenials than it does to us, who are more likely to equate owning things with doing well.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
We're going to have to be satisfied with "lowering the warming rate of increase" in any case.
I disagree. It could well prove physically, economically and politically possible to mine fifty cubic kilometres of carbon from the air every year, converting this carbon into useful commodities such as fuel, food, feed, fish, forests, fibre and fertilizer. I call that the 7F strategy. It would rapidly cut the temperature back to Holocene norms, as long as we also reflect more light back to space.

Obviously whatever we do will phase in, so that carbon mining would not reach the level you forecast for a number of years. The key challenge is getting to this point where carbon mining on this scale "could well prove possible." Reaching that point implies an evolution, and in my mind the path starts with what nations have agreed they can theoretically do, even if, in chasing decarbonization, they find that they're not doing nearly enough. Then they shift goals. It's like Samuel Johnson said: "The man who gets up and walks north is more likely to walk south than the man who remains sitting." Simply waiting for a realization that carbon must come out of the atmosphere, while actually doing nothing different, isn't promising. If it's the business community we're waiting for, then forget it. Action on its part would only come way too late. The time horizons industry uses are very short.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Lowering temperature is so far from our reality now that we'd be stupid to pass up the chance to, say, cut the rate of increase in half.
This is a rather perverse case of making the mediocre the enemy of the vital. I was at our local kids “climate strike” rally today, and it was all just pathetic commo rhetoric about closing down the fossil fuel industry and even class war, with nary a word about how that is not nearly enough to stop dangerous warming.

We have two conflicting paradigms, science versus myth, carbon removal versus decarbonisation. The problem here is that the focus on slowing the rate of increase actually is on track to achieve a 5% slowing in temperature increase, from 4 degrees to about 3.8 by 2100, compared to the increase expected under business as usual, far less the 50% you mention. And that tiny amount of slowing comes at massive opportunity cost, diverting urgently needed investment from carbon removal and albedo increase.

I come back with: "The worst reason for doing nothing is that we can't do everything." What you are assuming is that climate engineering will easily get us past that 50%. That is unproven. It could be that with decarb and climate engineering we are able to cut the increase by half of the target. That we must do just on a utilitarian basis. As for opportunity cost, failure to pursue low emissions will ensure that we aren't ready for the end of fossil fuels. I haven't seen a satisfactory answer to what we will do when fossil fuels are exhausted, if we haven't greatly increased use of the technologies that we know are already greatly reducing reliance on oil, gas, and coal. Emission reduction is thus a marker of how well we are preparing for the end of the carbon fuel era.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
On the demand side, what often seems obvious to me is that if our economies don't become less energy-intensive, we're working at cross purposes. Any type of alternative energy potentially allows an increase in demand, which can mean that pollutants remain stable at best. The elephant in the room is economic growth.
Increase in demand does not mean pollutants remain stable. Rather, the extra wealth inherent in increased energy use provides the resources to transform CO2 into useful products and clean up our atmosphere, just as wealth enables countries to regulate sanitation to keep shit out of the water.

Another big assumption is the economy you create based on the carbon removed from the atmosphere. This could happen, but currently the way there is like getting across a stream with no stepping stones. The physical, economic, and political supports aren't there yet. Let the evolution of our response to warming happen, rather than stopping it until the world wakes up to the need for carbon removal, as that may never happen by that means.

The analogy with sewage treatment actually works better for emission reduction than for carbon removal. Just as waste-water treatment happens at the local level, so emission reduction happens through actions of cities and states. That is what they're able to do to contribute to the effort. They can't do climate engineering even if through greater energy use, i.e. consumption, they generate more tax dollars. The federal government would need to impose taxes to fund climate engineering, since there is very little money left in the budget after entitlements and defense are provided for. Otherwise the only way to fund is deficit spending.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
We don't have the right to use the atmosphere as a waste pit for our pollutants, only one of which is carbon.
Bringing the concept of rights into this discussion vagues it right out. I suspect the debate will only get real traction when it moves from the terrain of rights into the terrain of interests. Only when it is proved (which should be easy based on evidence) that melting the pole harms economic interests will the major powers agree to re-freeze it. Of course that requires a more enlightened concept of national and commercial interests than Trump or Putin are capable of.

Then rather than "we don't have the right" to use the atmosphere as our waste pit, say "we have the responsibility" not to. This implies a wider circle of ethical concern than what is seen as best for people. Fortunately the truth seems to be that our well-being and that of the environment are closely linked, if we can think over the longer term.
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No, that misses the point. We will fail if we do not work out how to keep and get emissions out of the air. That result can either be achieved by (1) not burning stuff, (2) immediately transforming emissions into something useful, or (3) collecting ambient emissions from the air and sea. I have seen scientists allege that (1) is cheaper than (2) or (3) but I suspect a good life cycle analysis will show the reverse.

Again, it's so easy to say that we'll create economic value for stored carbon, but the way to get there is totally up in the air, so to speak. Is this anything that excites visionary industrialists such as Elon Musk? It needs to have more sex appeal than rockets to Mars in order to get off the ground (ooh).
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
A proposal to increase emissions in order to supposedly mine the carbon later will be judged by nearly everyone to be wrongheaded or bizarre.
We don’t need a proposal to increase emissions, as BP and others tell us it will happen regardless of what anyone wants. Half the increased world energy use to 2040 will be fuelled by fossil sources, according to the BP 2019 Energy Outlook. Anyone trying to significantly change that trajectory is basically banging their head against a brick wall.

I believe you. What about by 2060? It should be possible to cut that % by at least half. As of now, 20% of world energy comes from renewables and nuclear (which will come into the picture again). All we can do is what we can do, even though it looks like getting up to 50% renewable/nuclear falls far short of the warming limits we'd like to see. The point I make is that there does need to be a transformation in energy as well as methods for removal that you advocate. I see you doubting that our energy regime needs to be changed fundamentally.

We should nominate a just-out book for discussion. I heard the author of The Prophet and the Wizard, Charles C. Mann, interviewed on NPR. He centers on two figures with conflicting philosophical approaches to global warming. I forget their names, but you could look them up. I suspect I'm more on the prophet side, you more on the side of the wizards.



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Post Re: Dispatches from the Front Line of the Apocalypse
I attended a talk sponsored by an area climate action group. The speaker was one of 1,300 people trained personally by Al Gore as educators on climate change awareness. He showed a kind of updated "Inconvenient Truth," which in the first part ran through the alarming facts, and in the second gave a motivating progress report on the world's response to the crisis.

That second part was almost a whitewash, in my opinion. In trying to be upbeat, the presentation neglected to say that no country of significance (in terms of size of economy) is on target to meet the modest Paris goals, goals which if met would still entail large disruptions to societies. It neglected to mention that global demand for energy continues to rise sharply, meaning that there is little chance that the touted growth in renewable energy will be enough to make feasible keeping most of remaining fossil reserves in the ground. In other words, the film perpetuated the delusion that our growth-centric economies are OK, in terms of allowing us to get a handle on the crisis. Now we hear that if we just make our economies circular, we can have unlimited, clean growth.

Almost needless to say, the film and speaker didn't tell us that the 415 ppm of carbon already in the atmosphere means that not making the Paris goals is inevitable. And of course climate engineering wasn't mentioned as a needed fix. Neither was nuclear power mentioned.

Most of the attendees had driven cars there, some (like me) from a considerable distance. This illustrates the full size of the problem: for at least 75 years, we've pursued lives supported by abundant and cheap fossil fuels. The houses we live in, the way we get around, the entertainment we like, the careers we pursue--all have depended on tremendous volumes of fuels. Even as we we speak and act on our concern for the warming earth, we engage in the very activities of consumption that have accelerated its warming. We can't help it. It's the good life.

At this same talk, held at a brew pub, I happened to take a book from a shelf of the free library there. It was "The Riddle of the Amish." I'll read it. There's something to be learned from the Amish example in relation to how 8 billion humans might have at least a slight chance of not trampling the earth with their footprints.



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Fri Nov 22, 2019 10:08 am
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Post Re: Dispatches from the Front Line of the Apocalypse
DWill, once again I find myself having to humbly apologise for leaving this conversation for an unforgivably long time, since last posting in September. Thanks for your replies, which raise major issues.
DWill wrote:
all of our discussions are hampered by the dichotomizing left-right framing.
This split frame mentality of good and evil interpreted against political alignments is the theme of Woodard’s book American Character. I routinely see this mentality in climate change discussions, for example with the argument that emotionally, whatever the science, public and institutional sentiment will bury any initiative that has fossil fuel money attached. I can see the rationale, and how the corrupting power of the oil majors has affected everything they have touched. Yet I still feel the apocalyptic situation for the planet is an ‘all hands on deck’ emergency, with the skills, resources, contacts and funds of the fossil fuel industry having immense potential to invest in climate repair solutions. Fossil fuel investment in geoengineering related technology, preferably mimicking natural cooling processes, is likely to be the ‘Nixon in China’ model for climate change, with the recognition that practical solutions must involve the major economic forces of the world.
DWill wrote:
You might be slighting the claims that a green economy of low emissions can be a more powerful generator of jobs than our now-passe carbon economy.
No I am not slighting that claim at all, I am just resolutely analysing its relevance to climate change. A green economy is great for efficiency and pollution control, but we have this lumbering beast loosely chained in the basement, the committed warming from past emissions. Renewables do nothing to address the danger of that monster wreaking havoc, whereas carbon removal can lessen the risk.
DWill wrote:
If reliance on emission reduction to solve global warming is a type of stuck-thinking, so too might reliance on carbon fuels as the only way to maintain prosperity be an atavism.
Atavism means reversion to an older trait. I see your point, that climate deniers are atavistic in that they dream of a lost fantasy world of the past. However, trying to speed up the shift from carbon fuels to renewables carries massive risks of delay, cost, futility and conflict. We should think very carefully about whether working with the carbon energy industry to develop carbon removal technology is actually a better option than trying to hasten the energy transition too quickly. Just as deniers are trapped in atavistic fantasy, so too activists fantasise about the potential for an energy transition to fix the climate, falling prey to magical mythical thinking. Fossil fuels provide about 80% of world energy so are hardly passe. The momentum and inertia and sunk costs of the energy industry, with the massive benefits of familiarity and efficiency, are simply not going away any time soon. Sure we would all like a stable climate tomorrow, but there has to be a practical realistic transition strategy.
DWill wrote:
The hardest thing to accept is that we need to decarbonize, implement climate engineering (the term Taylor used, which I like better) if feasible and safe, and alter our lifestyles--all more or less at the same time.
That is fine, but quantifying the impact of each of these three legs of the stool is far from clear. My rough estimate is that climate engineering will have to do about 80% of the work of climate repair, while decarbonisation and changing lifestyles covering the remaining 20%. On those Pareto numbers, the challenge of engineering is to make it feasible and safe as a necessary task of planetary cooperation for world peace and stability, not an optional ‘nice to have’.
DWill wrote:
On the last point, altering lifestyles, this doesn't have to come about through lower standards of living. For example, an economy in which we buy services from makers of hardware, rather than own the hardware, will result in much less energy used to make new things. This products-as-services economy looks more attractive to millennials than it does to us, who are more likely to equate owning things with doing well.
There are many areas of lifestyle where we can evolve to a more spiritual and enlightened and simple culture with a lighter footprint on the planet, which is a good thing in itself, but such social changers are only a medium-term agenda in the context of climate emergency, which requires radical immediate surgery. Think meditation versus chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer.
DWill wrote:
whatever we do will phase in, so that carbon mining would not reach the level you forecast for a number of years.
My view is that we need to aim for exponential growth in carbon mining. I have been doing some calculations on these numbers, using the helpful trillionthtonne.org and Climate Action Tracker websites for data for simple models. For example, assuming world emissions remain constant at 14 gigatonnes of carbon per year, and we worked out how to remove 0.5 gigatonnes of carbon from the air in 2021, and then increase rate of removal by 7% per year, the world would reach net zero emissions in 2071, and climate restoration (removal of all added carbon) in 2103. Achieving net zero by 2030 with those assumptions would require annual industry growth rate of 45%, while by 2050 the annual growth rate needed would be 12%. Decarbonisation at the rate of 0.5 GTCY would bring these dates forward by a decade.

The beauty of carbon mining compared to emission reduction as a climate strategy is that for carbon mining net zero emissions is just a milestone on an exponential trajectory toward massive net negative emissions, restoring the climate to stability, whereas emission reduction has a hard floor of unavoidable emissions, which are progressively more expensive and difficult to achieve.
DWill wrote:
The key challenge is getting to this point where carbon mining on this scale "could well prove possible."
The big challenges are in thinking, in the strategic story of climate change. If people took the view that establishing a carbon mining industry was a global security priority, it would happen rapidly.
DWill wrote:
Reaching that point implies an evolution, and in my mind the path starts with what nations have agreed they can theoretically do, even if, in chasing decarbonization, they find that they're not doing nearly enough. Then they shift goals. It's like Samuel Johnson said: "The man who gets up and walks north is more likely to walk south than the man who remains sitting."
Perhaps Johnson’s aphorism is sometimes true, but by the same token, the law of holes says the first rule is to stop digging. People use that to say stop emitting, but it equally applies to the pervasive false idea that the climate could be stabilised just by decarbonising the economy.
DWill wrote:
Simply waiting for a realization that carbon must come out of the atmosphere, while actually doing nothing different, isn't promising.
Well of course, which is why building prospective carbon mining industries is an urgent task.
DWill wrote:
If it's the business community we're waiting for, then forget it. Action on its part would only come way too late. The time horizons industry uses are very short.
Big changes are never delivered by communities, only by leaders who explain them and convince enough people to join in.


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