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Ch. 13: The state of the planet 
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 Ch. 13: The state of the planet
A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic
by Peter Wadhams


Please use this thread to discuss Ch. 13: The state of the planet.



Tue Jun 16, 2020 6:34 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 13: The state of the planet
The implication of all the melting is that the whole planetary situation is profoundly distressing, with a dangerous shift now underway between geological epochs due to human intervention. The technological basis of this shift is mining of carbon. It is by far the fastest ever geological shift on the planet, except perhaps for some big asteroid hits. That means it is highly unpredictable, except that we can readily see that allowing ongoing high CO2 levels will bring major disruption.

The increase of emissions is still accelerating, not slowing. And nearly all the past carbon that humans have mined continues to force further warming. Wadhams expresses extreme pessimism in view of population increase, especially the projection that Africa will gain an extra three billion people this century. The likelihood that such a population trajectory will fail to be durable is high.

Exponential growth is intrinsically unsustainable. Things that can’t be sustained stop. The response to the inevitability of major global change is cultural paralysis, a retreat into personal comfort. But a lack of planning is far more likely to produce something bad than something good. As Wadhams states, our salvation lies in our own actions.

This leads to an important analysis of what can be done. Emission reduction is marginal, since it offers prospect through massive cultural change of cutting energy use by up to 20%, when we need to reduce emissions by 200% by removing CO2 from the air. In an important statement of the futility of individual action on energy use, Wadhams observes that “if everyone does a little, we will achieve only a little.” Politicians respond with astonishing complacency, resolutely refusing to notice the simple climate arithmetic which shows that once things start to get worse their pace of change will accelerate.

In a key statement on the incoherence of current climate debate, Wadhams states that “reducing emissions is less useful than reducing carbon levels.” This simple observation is ignored and confounded by the political ideology which insists that reducing carbon levels will prevent reduction of emissions.

For sensible coherence, Wadhams is unrivalled. He explains that there are three basic things to do for the climate, CO2 removal, switching to non emitting energy such as nuclear power, and directly cooling the planet by what he calls the ‘sticking plaster’ solution, buying time by increasing reflection of sunlight.

Unfortunately, the main environmental organisations Greenpeace and WWF are “unhelpful to humanity” due to their corrupt and craven obeisance to their donor’s ignorant emotions. This ignorant popular attitude prevents serious public debate about climate change, with cutting emissions having a prominence way beyond its real potential contribution. And that unjustified prominence creates the right wing backlash of climate denial.

Wadhams gives the simple conservative calculation that if we had stopped all combustion in 2015 CO2 would not fall to 350 ppm until 2060. Other sources suggest it would take far longer than that, since CO2 has atmospheric turnover time far longer than the calculation Wadhams uses. But the point is that allowing such a vast quantity of CO2 to stay in the air is the global equivalent of storing thousands of tonnes of explosives together with fireworks in a city and forgetting about them. Surely people could not be that stupid…


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Mon Oct 19, 2020 8:36 am
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Post Re: Ch. 13: The state of the planet
Robert Tulip wrote:
The implication of all the melting is that the whole planetary situation is profoundly distressing, with a dangerous shift now underway between geological epochs due to human intervention. The technological basis of this shift is mining of carbon. It is by far the fastest ever geological shift on the planet, except perhaps for some big asteroid hits. That means it is highly unpredictable, except that we can readily see that allowing ongoing high CO2 levels will bring major disruption.

I'm not familiar with the term 'carbon mining' in the sense you seem to be using it, Robert.
Quote:
The increase of emissions is still accelerating, not slowing. And nearly all the past carbon that humans have mined continues to force further warming. Wadhams expresses extreme pessimism in view of population increase, especially the projection that Africa will gain an extra three billion people this century. The likelihood that such a population trajectory will fail to be durable is high.

A few, smallish countries are succeeding in reducing emissions, but the fact that perhaps only a global pandemic can produce a worldwide annual reduction is very discouraging. Something like a 7% decrease for 2020 has been forecast, but it's insignificant in terms of retarding temperature increase. Population increase is another factor that just adds to the degree of difficulty of getting to a sustainable planet. If we were looking at the population of any other animal growing as ours is, we'd objectively assess the effect of this pressure on all the rest of the planet's life and resources, but we're too close to the situation to be objective.
Quote:
Exponential growth is intrinsically unsustainable. Things that can’t be sustained stop. The response to the inevitability of major global change is cultural paralysis, a retreat into personal comfort. But a lack of planning is far more likely to produce something bad than something good. As Wadhams states, our salvation lies in our own actions.

Amen to that. The retreat into personal comfort is extremely hard to resist, for those of us who think, however unconsciously, that we will be on the 'winning' side.
Quote:
This leads to an important analysis of what can be done. Emission reduction is marginal, since it offers prospect through massive cultural change of cutting energy use by up to 20%, when we need to reduce emissions by 200% by removing CO2 from the air. In an important statement of the futility of individual action on energy use, Wadhams observes that “if everyone does a little, we will achieve only a little.” Politicians respond with astonishing complacency, resolutely refusing to notice the simple climate arithmetic which shows that once things start to get worse their pace of change will accelerate.

Yet Wadhams does, also, think that individual action is a necessary concomitant of the tech solutions that so many will still resist. It people are not personally committed to sustainability, willing to make significant changes in lifestyle, will they ever get to the point of supporting geoengineering or carbon removal? Furthermore, though emission reduction is marginal in avoiding the worst effects of warming, Wadhams advises that zero carbon emissions is still the goal to shoot for, largely because we can't continue to use the oceans as a carbon sink.
Quote:
In a key statement on the incoherence of current climate debate, Wadhams states that “reducing emissions is less useful than reducing carbon levels.” This simple observation is ignored and confounded by the political ideology which insists that reducing carbon levels will prevent reduction of emissions.

Maybe that attitude will change, as the mainstream media increases coverage of geoengineering/carbon removal. I don't see anyone offering tech solutions as a way to avoid the need to fundamentally restructure the energy economy, so maybe the moral hazard worry of environmentalists will diminish. If we all recognize the full urgency of the problem, we'll accept that micro and macro solutions are equally needed.
Quote:
For sensible coherence, Wadhams is unrivalled. He explains that there are three basic things to do for the climate, CO2 removal, switching to non emitting energy such as nuclear power, and directly cooling the planet by what he calls the ‘sticking plaster’ solution, buying time by increasing reflection of sunlight.

He would seem to be in favor of decarbonizing through not just nuclear power, but renewables, of which nuclear is not one.
Quote:
Unfortunately, the main environmental organisations Greenpeace and WWF are “unhelpful to humanity” due to their corrupt and craven obeisance to their donor’s ignorant emotions. This ignorant popular attitude prevents serious public debate about climate change, with cutting emissions having a prominence way beyond its real potential contribution. And that unjustified prominence creates the right wing backlash of climate denial.[/quote[]

Wadhams gives the simple conservative calculation that if we had stopped all combustion in 2015 CO2 would not fall to 350 ppm until 2060. Other sources suggest it would take far longer than that, since CO2 has atmospheric turnover time far longer than the calculation Wadhams uses. But the point is that allowing such a vast quantity of CO2 to stay in the air is the global equivalent of storing thousands of tonnes of explosives together with fireworks in a city and forgetting about them. Surely people could not be that stupid…

In our natures, we probably combine the features of riverboat gamblers and denialists. Overcoming what have been, in terms of evolution, beneficial traits will be the great challenge of the century.

By the way, on Oct. 28 in the U.S., PBS presents a "NOVA" show titled "Can We Cool the Planet?" This is another indication that the measures you have promoted are gaining some ground. Synopsis: "As global temperatures rise, scientists are exploring geoengineering solutions, from planting trees to sucking carbon out of the air to physically blocking out sunlight. But can it work? What are the risks of engineering Earth's climate?"

I hope you'll be able to access the program.



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Post Re: Ch. 13: The state of the planet
Continuing with my summary of this chapter before returning to reply to DWill, I see the latest grim news from the pole is that 2020 is the latest ever restart to winter freezing, with one major sea that used to be totally frozen at the beginning of October now still fully covered by open water.

And the news from the South Pole is equally dire, with rifts and fractures splitting up massive glaciers. Watch this 15 second video at half speed to see chunks of ice 50 km wide fall into the ocean. The visible retreat of the ice shelf edge loses 1000 square kilometres of ice in five years. This is largely caused by the combination of the glaciers now floating on a liquid river instead of grinding along the rock, together with the warmer ocean waters licking under the shelf to melt it.

Wadhams says we need a new worldwide Manhattan Project to clean up the air, a greater effort than any ever before. It is not possible to repair the climate by cutting emissions, so the options are to use technology for direct cooling and carbon removal.

The Geoengineering Manhattan Project advocated by Wadhams begins with what I have called a bandage for Gaia, buying precious time while permanent solutions are prepared. Blocking or reflecting sunlight can restore lost ice, reducing the risk of a giant methane burp. The best methods are Marine Cloud Brightening and Stratospheric Aerosol Injection. Here I just cover MCB.

I know the main MCB advocate Professor Stephen Salter very well. He is incredibly depressed by the blank refusal of the climate establishment to even engage in conversation about these issues, let alone to advocate for the required investment. Wadhams mentions Salter, calling him a brilliant marine engineer. I concur with that assessment, and with the tragic sense that this entire path of discussion I am presenting here is just entirely ignored in the political halls of climate policy.

The dominant thinking (leaving aside Trump’s total death wish insanity) is that this analysis undermines the war on fossil fuels so must be totally suppressed. The foolishness of that view is beyond belief.

Wadhams explains that Salter’s analysis is that increasing ocean cloud whiteness by 3% by spraying clouds with a fine mist of seawater would totally offset all emissions. Of course it would not stop the other dangerous effects of CO2, especially ocean acidification, but it stops the immediate accelerating feedbacks while other methods to remove CO2 are developed. As Salter explains, the failure to address acidification is used by all British funding bodies to insist MCB must be totally ignored in favour of things that demonstrably will not cool the planet.

At least Australia has some sense, as it is funding MCB technology to save the Great Barrier Reef from extinction by coral bleaching.

The global economic benefit of this method, just enhancing the natural movement of sea salt into the air, would be in the order of a thousand times its cost, but such analysis cuts no ice in current climate policy. For example, MCB would cut the sea surface temperature which is the main driver of the excessive strength of recent hurricanes. Why the insurance industry is not vigorously advocating for this simple technology is a great mystery, only to be explained by the mass catatonia that has our species paralysed in the face of looming collapse.

Wadhams concludes with the pointed remark that “if Britain were serious about fighting global climate change, this would be an area where it could take a lead.” The obvious conclusion five years later is that climate policy in the UK, as elsewhere, is not serious, but is all spin and no substance.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Fri Oct 23, 2020 11:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 13: The state of the planet
Maybe in Australia, the time has arrived when one can talk about geoengineering without being dubbed a mad scientist, but not here. There is still a fervent wish to believe that decarbonizing is the straight path to avoiding catastrophe. The hope is that if a leader fully respectful of science again leads the U.S. (and that has to happen or we're ruined), one or more of his advisors will educate him on the more effective ways to control temperature. Old Joe has shown an ability to learn and change, so he offers at least slim reason for optimism.



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Sat Oct 24, 2020 8:30 am
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Post Re: Ch. 13: The state of the planet
DWill wrote:
Maybe in Australia, the time has arrived when one can talk about geoengineering without being dubbed a mad scientist, but not here. There is still a fervent wish to believe that decarbonizing is the straight path to avoiding catastrophe. The hope is that if a leader fully respectful of science again leads the U.S. (and that has to happen or we're ruined), one or more of his advisors will educate him on the more effective ways to control temperature. Old Joe has shown an ability to learn and change, so he offers at least slim reason for optimism.

No, geoengineering is not much discussed in Australia, although there was one radio program about it this year - https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/pr ... g/12477026

The concept of geoengineering is almost universally reviled, as far as I can tell, except among the small band of courageous scientists who take a fact-based approach to the future of the planet. People who are applying geoengineering have to do so in secret, such is the popular revulsion at this necessary concept.

When people have tried to be open about geoengineering they have encountered an idiot wave of campaigning hostility, as Wadhams explains with the UK SPICE project. So the general path for researchers has been to accept this prevailing idiocy and instead conceal the idea that deliberate climate modification is the only way to prevent dangerous warming, but the effect is that no funding is available for work that is central to planetary security. I hope this stultifying barrier will dissolve soon.

The benefits from cooling projects include reduced hurricane intensity, reduced coral reef destruction and prevention of glacial collapse. These essential benefits are calculated to far outweigh possible negative effects, but the nature of algorithmic-induced rage in social media tends to exclude such subtleties from public focus.

Field studies are needed before geoengineering becomes necessary, in order to quantify likely side effects. For example, a marine cloud brightening study in 2014 suggested that cooling the North Pole might reduce rain in Africa. Unfortunately, baying idiocy means such findings are taken as an automatic cause for fatwa, with a total ban on research advocated by a range of well-funded organisations. Facts have as much bearing for these campaign groups as they do for President Trump.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Wed Nov 11, 2020 2:30 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 13: The state of the planet
Geoengineering remains a wizard-oriented solution, and for that reason alone it doesn't find favor with most people who claim commitment to act against global warming. I have modified my view to favor geoengineering if it can be proved safe, but there is still for me an attraction for the more prophet-inclined view. I'm not talking about reliance on emissions-reduction, but about revolutionizing agriculture and forestry, restoring the earth as a carbon sink. This lovely vision is put forward in the Netflix documentary "Kissing the Ground." That vision describes what prophets (in the Charles Mann sense) have always wanted: humans acting as true stewards of nature rather than alterers of it. It's easy to be captivated by such a highly romantic prospect. But I wonder if, in our current urgent state, placing faith in such a drastic change of consciousness is only another way of avoiding the reality--sounds nice, but what are the chances of that kind of viral spread among minds? Chances are very slim, I'd say, leaving the hope in that direction with evolutionary change, or, in other words, too slow a process.



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Post Re: Ch. 13: The state of the planet
It's pretty obvious that we need nuclear power, to charge all those electric cars, and we need geoengineering, to buy time, and we need buyoff of the fossil fuels industry (look up the Coase Theorem) and we need a major push to add insulation and heat pumps, and we need carbon harvesting, and we need more than all that. I find the infighting very frustrating, but it is not the real enemy. The real enemy just gets stronger every year, and like the virus, needs to be confronted full-on As Soon As Possible.



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