Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 13, 2014

Adding Natural Cycles to Man’s Effects

In a recent article posted at Skeptical Science (see http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-not-slowing-its-speeding-up.html), Jim Wight provides an excellent summary of some of the factors recently discussed on this blog – such as where the extra heat due to our elevated greenhouse gases is  presently going and how that will play out in the future.  With about 94% of that heat going into the oceans and only small fractions going into our atmosphere and land masses, observations of surface temperatures, alone, reveal only a small portion of that total heat content and can be grossly misinterpreted and misused by the deniers of man-caused global warming.  This is because  natural cycles of the sun and oceans currents can also have significant effects on surface and atmospheric temperatures.  During the last decade, for example, both of these natural cycles have been in the direction of cooling thus masking some of the surface heating caused by our continuously increasing greenhouse gas levels.  Cycles, however, are things that eventually go up as well as down. So hang on, Wight says, as we are about to go for quite a hot ride upward – as the release of that stored heat in our oceans and the natural cycles begin to go in the same direction.

I have provided below most of his summary for his full article. See the full article for more and for the appropriate references to the primary scientific literature.

 

“Rapid surface warming will be back with a vengeance

 In summary, the Earth is gaining heat faster than ever before. Arctic sea ice is melting at an astonishingly accelerating rate and could soon be all gone. Most indications of climate change are proving worse than scientists predicted. When you include the fast-changing Arctic, surface warming in the last 15 years has continued at only a slightly slower rate. This apparent “slowdown” in surface warming is temporary and can be explained by a combination of ocean and solar cycles, with a possible contribution from reflective particles emitted by volcanoes and/or Asian industry.

The apparent slowdown of surface warming is not only giving us a false sense of security; it actually indicates warming will accelerate in the future.

The “slowdown” of surface warming will not continue forever because natural cycles are just that: cycles. Although currently they are counteracting the underlying greenhouse warming trend, sooner or later the cycles will turn around and reinforce it, causing surface warming to catch up to where it would otherwise be. Solar activity is already ramping up again. And when the IPO inevitably shifts back into a warm phase, all the heat now being stored in the deep oceans will be released back into the atmosphere. Even if the cycles somehow get stuck, they will be overwhelmed by rising greenhouse gases as emissions continue (even if solar activity fell to its 17th-century low, the effect would be outweighed by just seven years of greenhouse gas emissions). Natural cycles are now merely waves on the rising tide of greenhouse warming.

Particulate air pollution also cannot continue sustainably because (by definition) it causes other harmful effects. In any case, it remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter timeframe than CO2, and cannot counter its ocean acidification impacts.

Temperatures over the next couple of years will be largely determined by the Southern Oscillation. Short-term models project it will either remain neutral or shift to an El Niño phase by mid-2014. In the latter case, 2014 will probably be warmer than 2013, and 2014 or 2015 is likely to be a record-smashing hot year.

Total cumulative CO2 emissions will be the main factor in the magnitude of long-term global warming. Under the world’s current climate policies we’re headed for >4°C warming by 2100, a temperature unprecedented for the human species and probably beyond our capacity to adapt. If we want global warming to truly pause, we must hit the pause button. We need to leave the vast majority of the Earth’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground, even just to have a good chance of limiting global warming to the unsafe level of <2°C. To have any hope of stabilizing the climate, we urgently need to phase out global greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. Most importantly, we must phase out the largest and longest-lived cause of global warming, fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

There is no time to lose. Rapid global surface warming will be back – faster than ever before.”

 Note of clarification added by EPG:

The two natural cycles referred to above are those of the sun and what’s referred to as the IPC.   The intensity of the sun varies slightly, only about 0.1% up and down in a cycle frequency of about 11 years.  During most of the last decade, it has been changing downward  but is now headed upward.

The main cause of slower atmospheric warming during the last decade, however, has been the ocean circulation cycle called the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO). Ocean cycles periodically redistribute heat within the Earth’s climate system (particularly between the ocean and the atmosphere), and are unrelated to long-term climate change caused by the heat entering and leaving our planet via it’s absorption of sunlight and it’s emission of infrared radiation.  This sort of internal variability is the reason climate scientists focus on long-term trends instead of short-term ones, and the total amount of heat building up rather than the rate of surface warming.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 3, 2014

John Kerry and the Iron Lady on Climate Change

I was extremely pleased with John Kerry’s recent speech given in Indonesia on the subject of global warming.  We have rarely seen to date a sitting high-level government official give such a strong speech on this subject in which he made clear the critical need for immediate international action concerning our emissions of greenhouse gases.  You can either read or listen to his entire speech at http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2014/02/221704.htm?utm_medium=App.net&utm_source=PourOver

In response to what I just said some might be thinking “wait a minute – how about Al Gore?”. Wasn’t he the first politician to sound the alarm on climate change? I will remind you, therefore, that Al Gore became a prominent leader of the climate change movement in the years following his exit from politics in 2000.  Prior to then, Al Gore and the President he served, Bill Clinton, were relatively quiet on the subject.  Thus, that recent speech by John Kerry constitutes a milestone event for sitting American politicians.

One might think it would be a waste of time to try to recall a similarly strong statement ever made by an American Republican – and it indeed would be.  This was evidenced in the last Republican nominating process prior to the presidential election of 2012.  Only one Republican aspirant even recognized the existence of a climate change problem and John Huntsman’s candidacy finished near the bottom partially for that reason.  The issue of climate change has never even been listed as an area of concern on the platform of the Republican Party.   

Thus, in order to find a standing Conservative Leader who had sufficient scientific savvy and a sufficient sense of responsibility to the overall good of the public that elected them, we have to look beyond the borders of our own country.  In that search, however, we have only to look to Great Britain and guess who we find there?  None other than the leading Conservative of the late 20th Century, the so called “Iron Lady”, Margaret Thatcher, who was the Prime Minister of Great Britain between 1979 and 1990.  Although she was the first and only female Prime Minister ever elected in GB, she took more pride herself in the fact that she was the first and only research scientist to ever become Prime Minister of Great Britain. She had previously received a degree in chemistry from Oxford University and had done research in British industries while simultaneously immersing herself in local and then national politics. 

Thatcher was clearly unique among the conservatives of her time and place and certainly would be among her American counterparts today.  She actually held the fields of science in high regard and actually did pay attention to the consensus views of scientists when dealing with issues involving science. Thus, by the end of her term as Prime Minister, about 25 years ago, she was already very concerned about the rising emissions of greenhouse gases and became the first high level public official anywhere to sound the alarm of greenhouse gas warming (see her speech delivered to the UN General Assembly in 1989 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnAzoDtwCBg).  We can be sure that she was also labeled an “alarmist” by the business-as-usual forces of her time.  Knowing Margaret as we now do (if you don’t, see the recent movie “The Iron Lady” with Meryl Streep), we can be sure she wore that alarmist label as well as did her favorite British politician, Winston Churchill, when he sounded the alarm concerning Nazi expansion in Europe during the 1930′s.

Thus, when I say I am proud of John Kerry for his recent statement on the greatest problem of our time, I am sure that Margaret Thatcher would have been also. Nevertheless, we can be sure that Kerry’s speech will be ridiculed by our modern American set of so called, “conservatives” and that does bother me.  I think the minds of conservatives today are continuously shrinking due to their self-righteous focus on narrow ideological points and trivial goals – almost always related to the embarrassment and removal of the person who was fairly and squarely elected in our last presidential election.  Unfortunately, the present leadership of conservative party does not include a Margaret Thatcher who is both scientifically literate and socially responsible – as the Democratic Party now clearly does.  It is ironic as well as sad to watch the conservatives of today doing their very best to confuse and delay the actions on climate change that their own leader did her best to initiate 25 years ago.      

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 27, 2014

Natural Gas is also a Dead End

There has been much enthusiasm in the last decade for the increased development of natural gas (NG) for general energy use in our homes and vehicles and for the replacement of coal in power plants.  Natural gas does, indeed, appear to be very “clean” relative to coal and non-traditional fossil fuels such as the tar sands.  Also, that attractive lady on the Chevron commercials assures us that natural gas is really good – better than puppies and rainbows – and that all will be fine if we just let Chevron and other fossil fuel industries look after our energy needs.

Unfortunately, however, this hype concerning NG is BS – for the following reasons:

First, natural gas is a form of fossil fuel, of course.  It consists mainly of methane (CH4) along with some ethane (C2H6) and propane (C3H8).  When burned, the carbon in all of these molecules is converted to CO2 and emitted into the atmosphere,  just as in the combustion of oil and coal. 

 Next, in the extraction, distribution, and use of NG, leaks occur resulting in release of large amounts of methane directly into the atmosphere.  It is commonly estimated that those leaks amount to about 7% of the total NG extracted and are largely unavoidable.  This is very bad news because on a molecule-to-molecule basis, methane is some 70 times more effective than CO2 in causing greenhouse gas warming.  Thus, that 7% leakage of NG causes far greater immediate warming than does the equivalent emission of CO2.  I have added the term “immediate” here because atmospheric methane is converted to CO2 in about 20 years by natural oxidative processes (after that conversion, the extra CO2 thereby produced simply adds to our total elevated CO2 level and lasts for several centuries).

In addition, our use of NG in power plants is not just replacing coal.  It is also replacing and retarding the use and development of the non-CO2 producing methods of power production, including wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear.   Even though the combustion of methane provides about twice the energy per CO2 molecule produced relative to coal, its continued use will lead us to the same “dead end” concerning greenhouse gas warming that is being caused by all of the other fossil fuels.  Only by the use of non-CO2 producing methods can that degradation be arrested.

Any detailed analysis of future NG use clearly supports what I have said here.  That is, the replacement of coal in power plants and gasoline in vehicles by NG is a losing proposition and you should not be taken in by the claims of that attractive lady in the Chevron commercials.  Increased use of (so called) “clean” NG is not a solution to global warming.  Instead, it is becoming one of the major causes of global warming.  For more on this topic with the numbers to support my message, see http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/02/19/3296831/natural-gas-climate-benefit/        

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 21, 2014

The Simple and the Complex aspects of climate change

In understanding the science associated with climate change it is very useful to separate the most basic and well understood parts from the rest which can be very complex and challenging even for professional scientists to fully comprehend. The easy-to-understand and most basic part of climate change concerns the overall total heat balance of the Earth.  

The crust of the Earth receives and emits energy almost entirely via electromagnetic radiation (EMR).  EMR emitted by the sun (sunlight) is absorbed by the Earth and EMR in the form of Infrared Radiation (IR) is emitted back into space by the Earth.  Only a small portion of the IR emitted by the surface of the Earth passes directly into outer space, however.  Most of it is absorbed and then reemitted by the IR-active molecules in our atmosphere that we call the greenhouse gases (GHG’s).  The net effect of the GHG’s is to act as the Earth’s “insulation” – warming both our atmosphere and the surface below.  The most abundance permanent GHG is CO2 and due primarily to our combustion of fossil fuels, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen from 280 to more than 400 parts per million over the Industrial Age.  This excess CO2 will stay there for several centuries because it takes a very long time for nature to convert biological carbon (that which cycles through plants, the atmosphere, and the oceans) back to its geological forms (fossil fuels and limestone). 

Thus, the Earth is warming up and will continue to do so for a very long time as the thermal inertia of the Earth (provided mainly by its oceans and glacial ice) is steadily overcome.  Furthermore,  the magnitude of expected future warming is increasing every year as we continue to add more CO2 to the atmosphere – causing its level to rise about 3 ppm per year.  In addition, the fraction of incoming solar radiation (about 30% over the entire planet, called the “albedo”) that is reflected back into space is decreasing as our planet’s surface ice is turned into either open ocean or ground.  This effect also warms the planet – especially in the Arctic regions.

Concerning the issue of average global warming, the above tells the story – it really is that straightforward.  But wait a minute!  In response to this comment we can expect to see the  deniers of the world try to muddy the issue as much as possible in an effort to make the science involved seem far more complex, less understandable and much more uncertain than I have related above.   You will also note, however, that all of these other issues will concern how that extra energy is being spread and distributed throughout the world – thus affecting local climates.  That is a different subject, however, called “meteorology” which is, indeed, exceedingly complex and not so well understood.  Thus, we will hear a lot about things such as local surface temperatures, the El Nino and La Nina effects of the  ocean currents, the unusually cold and snowy weather being experienced here and there, and proliferation of animal and plant species here and there.  Although all of these parameters and the exceedingly important discipline of meteorology are linked to the total global heat content of the Earth, they do not affect the total heat content of the Earth.  That is, our planet will continue to heat up as described initially no matter how, where, and when that extra energy is distributed.

So what can be done about stopping our ongoing increase in the total heat content of the Earth?  The answer to that question becomes very clear, does it not, when proper attention if given to central cause of that heat increase.  Concerning the CO2 we have already put into the atmosphere – probably relatively little can be done – we will undoubtedly have to learn to live with the heat increase we already have as well as  that which already is in the pipeline.   But concerning the additional CO2 we will be putting into the atmosphere in the future, we have the option of doing a lot – the future cumulative emissions of CO2 is, in fact, the only parameter we have any control over.

A potential rub here will depend on what sort of “solution” will be viewed as having the “least impact on our quality of life”.   If we are concerned only with our immediate, short-term future, we will undoubtedly continue to “party on” with business-as-usual for a couple of decades – and then just watch the Earth degrade at an even faster pace thereafter.  If we also care about future generations, however, life across our entire planet must change a great deal – starting with going “cold turkey” on our addiction to fossil fuels.  While science can certainly help us make it through that process, it is unlikely to offer easy and pain-free fixes.  The required changes will have to include that old-fashioned bit (stop the addiction) before other measures (development of carbon free energy sources) will have significant beneficial effects.  And if you happen to believe that there is no point in trying because of the increasing emissions of other countries, such as China and India, you have already given up and have effectively joined the “party on” group.

I realize that the obvious but tough solution to the global warming problem I am suggesting here will not be readily accepted my many who will continue to embrace the various “happier” versions of science being dispensed by the numerous pseudo-scientists in our midst.  You will note, however, that these deniers will invariably use details of “meteorology” rather than “the total average heat content” of the Earth in trying to confuse the issue as much as possible.  Sure,  we do not know exactly how, when, and where the effects of continuous additional heat will play out.  But we do know for certain that our planet is presently being heated up at a rate thousands of times faster than any previous point in the last  billion years.  As described in my previous post concerning “tipping points”, we also know what is sure to happen when heat-induced natural emissions of methane and carbon dioxide begin to exceed those of mankind.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 20, 2014

Tipping Points – are they for real?

When we consider the undesirable effects of global warming, the one that is by far the most alarming is the possibility of reaching a major “tipping point” beyond which Mother Nature’s response to the effects of man will be to drive our planet to such an extremely warm state that most forms of life will be driven to near or even full extinction.  A most distressing aspect of reaching that state is that future generations would not even have any hope whatsoever for future corrections and improvements.  The “game” of life, as we have come to know and love it, would, indeed, be over.

Wow!   That is truly an alarming statement is it not?  But is there any basis to it other than conjecture?  Unfortunately, there is, indeed, a great deal of historical basis for it.  Our planet has gone through several of these so called “extinction” events before and most occurred for exactly the same reason that we think another is in the works today.  That is, rising levels of carbon dioxide will eventually (and possibly even soon) warm the Earth enough to cause the release massive amounts of solid-phase methane that has been made and stored over the last several tens of millions years under our ocean floors.  An additional boost to methane and carbon dioxide levels will be provided by the melting of our tundra’s permafrost.

My statement above is superbly illustrated in a recent video that can be seen at lasthours.org    Please do have a look and when you do, try to remember that this is not science fiction.  It is based on geologists’ studies of the Earth’s crust.  Also recall that measurements of atmospheric CO2 levels have clearly shown that mankind is already pulling very hard on that “CO2 trigger” required for the onset of another extinction event and is capable of doing so in a “geological second”.   Our atmospheric level of CO2 is currently increasing – due mainly to fossil fuel combustion – at a rate thousands of times faster than all previous rate increases naturally caused by volcanoes. Again, have a look at lasthours.org and note the great resemblance of what is starting to happen today to the history lesson provided there.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 12, 2014

Critical moment in history just ahead

A couple of weeks ago, the State Department released its final environmental impact statement on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Both critics and supporters of the pipeline have awaited the report, ever since President Obama last year singled out carbon pollution as a parameter in Keystone’s national interest calculation.  That report, however, turned out to be distinctly disappointing to anyone who understands the basic science involved.  Its findings are internally inconsistent – it confuses rather than clarifies the issues.  Let me explain.

First and foremost, the report does recognize the obvious and most important factor associated with future warming by the greenhouse gases: that is, that “the total direct and indirect emissions” resulting from the development of the pipeline “would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions.”  If we can assume that the State Department knows about the extraordinarily long lifetime of the extra CO2 we put into the atmosphere, the word “cumulative” in this case means the CO2 emitted over all of the next several centuries.

Then, the report goes on to say that the proposed pipeline is “unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas,” and does not actually consider the overall cumulative  greenhouse gas emissions of the tar sands oil that would ultimately flow through it for the many years after it is built.  As has been pointed out many times on several posts on this blog, it is only the “cumulative” emissions (I might have added “stupid”) over the next several centuries that matter – rather than shorter term “emission rates”.  Thus, it appears that the authors of this report have been duped into an irrelevant and misleading representation of the problem that would be caused by the construction of a long-lived conduit to the tar sands of Alberta.  As has been also pointed out in several previous posts on this blog, the world cannot afford to use even a large portion its existing and relatively clean sources of gas and oil.  All coal and the relatively dirty and low-energy forms of fossil fuels – such as the tar sands –  must be left in the ground.

So what’s next on the tar sands question?  We can only hope that the Secretary of State,  John Kerry, and the President of the USA, Barack Obama, have the courage to do the scientifically responsible thing  and block the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  I know that both of these men are not scientifically stupid and realize how important this moment is with respect to the USA’s future role in addressing this global, not just regional, issue.  If they fail to do this, perhaps the only remaining significant points of potential resistance to all-powerful business-as-usual (even if scientifically mindless) forces of the USA and the world will have been bypassed.  A huge new spigot to continued global degradation will have then been turned on.

Personally, I don’t think that either of these two men will do that, however.  Both of these very well and broadly educated men do not wish to be future welcomed guests of only the Chamber of Commerce’s throughout the USA.  Also, I don’t think either of them want to be less than irrelevant footnotes in future historical accounts of how the USA failed to seriously address the most important issue of our time.  If they pass on this one, where else could a substantial stand be made?  Talk on this subject has become so cheap, it is meaningless.  A decision is due soon so get your own input in ASAP and if courage is finally demonstrated, celebrate it!

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 1, 2014

For whomever it may concern – my political inclinations

Often and apparently because of my interest in the Earth’s environment, it is assumed by those with opposing views that I am a political “liberal”.   Whatever that label means and whether or not it applies to me does not change the validity of the science I discuss, for course.  As I have said many times, Mother Nature will not pay any attention whatsoever to our political preferences.  Nevertheless, for those who suggest my environmental stances are politically motivated, I will provide here a brief summary of my political preferences.  Perhaps the simplest way to do that is to reveal who I have voted for in the past – with the assumption that you all recall the political stances of those candidates.

Throughout my life, I have done my best to identify and support those candidates for office who have had the most relevant experience and have shown themselves to be responsible and knowledgeable with respect to existing realities and problems.  I have paid less attention to candidate’s ideologies whether they be on the Right or Left of the political spectrum.  I think it is appropriate for the pendulum of political dominance to swing back and both as needed for correction of the controller’s excesses.  Following this guideline, I have supported individuals from both the Democratic and Republican parties.  In the process,  I have both gained and lost respect for both parties. While I have paid attention to politics since about 1960, events that have occurred since about 1992 have been particularly important  in determining my present respect for and lack of respect for both parties and the candidates they put foreward.

You will recall that George H. W. Bush (Bush Sr) had a commendable first Presidential term from 1988 to 1992.  The first war in Iraq (Desert Storm) had been an unqualified success and Bush Sr’s popularity was sky high one year before the election of ’92.  In addition, Bush Sr was one of the most experienced public servants of the USA, having served eight years as the VP for President Reagan, Director of the CIA and as a congressman. His international connections were invaluable in ending the cold war with the USSR during the first years of his Presidency.  He was also kind and universally respected.

Then in his last year prior to the ’92 election, he did something he deemed necessary for maintaining the financial integrity of the country  – he raised taxes, thereby reversing his previous “read my lips” stance of “no new taxes”.  While my own respect for him was increased by that courageous and responsible act made right before another Presidential election, too many within the GOP withdrew their support of him – for that same reason.  Now let’s consider what was happening on the Democratic side in the run-up to that election.

In the Democratic primaries, a race ensued between a set of experienced US Senators, including Paul Tsongas, Tom Harkin, and Bob Kerry, and a young governor from Arkansas, named Bill Clinton.  Among these candidates, I ranked Clinton at the bottom because he did not seem to be sufficiently realistic and responsible.  Unlike the other Democratic candidates, he boasted that he could solve all of America’s problems, including poverty, medical care and an economic recession, with relative ease and with little additional expense. This glad-handing approach was to earn him the nickname, “Slick Willy” among Republicans and I thought the term was appropriate at that time.

Bush Sr then lost that close Presidential race to Clinton in 1992 and for this, I placed the blame squarely at the feet of a GOP which did not provide sufficient support and enthusiasm for Bush Sr at that critical moment.  That election was also complicated by the presence of a strong third party candidate, Ross Perot, who collected about 19% of the popular vote.  Of those votes, an approximately equal number were stolen from liberals and conservatives and Perot also got about half of the votes of moderates.  I voted for Bush Sr and was proud to do so.  I thought  he richly deserved to continue as the leader of the USA at that time.  Because my view was not sufficiently shared by the GOP, however, we opted to do an experiment with a relatively unknown and much less-experienced Democrat.

As we now know, soon after being elected President Clinton  abandoned some of his most progressive projects, including public health care, and moved to the political center. He was then fortunate to be serving during the financially remarkable “dot com” era that persisted throughout the 1990′s.  Had Bush Sr won that election of ’92, he and the Republicans would undoubtedly have been credited with the prosperity of that decade.  Again, I feel that the Republicans have only themselves to blame for not having the Presidency during those financially golden years. Yet, what you mainly hear today from the ultra-conservatives is a lot of mindless bitching about Clinton’s dominance during that decade with essentially no recognition of why he won the election of ’92.

In the election of ’96, the GOP put up another excellent, very experienced, and responsible candidate named Bob Dole.  By then, however, Clinton was well entrenched, had earned strong broad-based support and his country was riding a wave of unprecedented financial well being.  While I liked Bob Dole a lot, by then I thought it best to allow Clinton to serve a second term and voted for him this time. The side-bar smearings of Clintons, such as the Lewinsky affair and the bogus Whitewater scandal served to show me that the Republicans were increasingly not able to focus on the substantial issues of the country.

Then in 2000, Bush Sr’s son, Bush Jr won the Presidency in an unusually close race with Al Gore. Gore was not as effective campaigner and Bush Jr managed to win in spite of his relative inexperience and a background that suggested he might not have been a sufficiently serious person until he was “born again” at the  age of 40.  At the same time he was the son of  George Bush Sr and there was hope that some of his parent’s maturity and wisdom might have rubbed off  on him.

I am now ashamed to admit that I voted for Bush Jr in that critically important election of 2000.  At that time, Al Gore (surprisingly today) did not come across as being any stronger than Bush Jr on environmental issues.  After that election, however, Bush Jr reneged entirely on his commitments to those environmental issues and, as we now know, Al Gore became a leader of the climate change movement.

Thus, we were stuck with Bush Jr  who led us through that most unfortunate first decade of the 21st Century.  Bush Jr had inherited a financially sound USA in 2000 and for that reason, quickly lowered taxes.  He then initiated wars in two middle eastern countries,  managing to “break” both of them but failing to establish  viable governments in either.  After thousands of deaths in those two wars and trillions spent, few benefits of our efforts are apparent today and the number of terrorists hostile to the USA has greatly increased throughout the middle east.  The enormous expenses of those wars were left on our national credit card for future generations to address.  Under his reign, a new pharmaceutical program – also not supported by tax increases -and the encouragement of poorly-backed home mortgages added to our nation’s financial obligations.  Annual surpluses soon turned to deficits during the Bush Jr era and in 2006, the USA fell into its greatest depression since 1929.  While blame for all of this can be spread to include others, Bush Jr was, in fact, our country’s President for those first eight years of that decade and the Republicans had control of both houses of congress for the entire first half of Bush Jr’s term.

Thus, the GOP’s orchestration of the first decade of the 21st century left a distinctly poor impression on most, including many within the Republican Party.  To add to this impression of irresponsibility, in the primaries of 2008, the GOP picked a candidate for the Vice Presidency whose qualifications were unbelievably weak and untested. At that moment, Independents such as myself suspected that the GOP was no longer a credible organization.  For that reason, it then appeared that the Democrats would be returned to the White House no matter which candidates they chose.  Thankfully that happened.  The Bush Jr era was finally over and there was hope that responsible adults might possibly begin the repair the mess that Bush Jr had left behind.

On the democratic side in 2008, I would have very much have preferred that Hillary Clinton would have been selected as a candidate for the Presidency.  She had far more experience than Barack Obama and the latter would have been better served by gaining more experience in less important posts.  It is ironic that Obama did to Hilary Clinton in 2008 what Bill did to his Democratic competitors back in 1992.  By skillful use of the youth and charisma, both of these men wrestled their Presidential nominations from far more experienced competitors.   But so be it – that is what happened on the Democratic side and that is where we are today.

So back to the central question of this essay. Where am I  politically at the present time?  While I still try to be an Independent open to candidates of both parties, since 2008 it has been increasingly difficult for me to consider the offerings and prevailing views of the GOP.  By 2008 I could not have held the GOP in lower esteem and my view of it has been lowered still more ever since.  The ideologists of its Tea Party wing have prevented the GOP’s backing of socially responsible candidates.  The likes of Palin, Bachman,  Limbaugh and Hannity remain the face of the GOP and that suggests that it will not be taken seriously by citizens who are interested in finding solutions to the real and enduring problems of our country. With respect to the most dire of these problems, that is climate change, a lingering requirement for the GOP’s endorsement of any potential candidate is that they either deny or ignore that issue! It is no exaggeration to say that the GOP of today is “scientifically brain-dead” on the subject of climate change and proud of it.

Thus, today I tend to give little support to GOP candidates. They suffer from serious self-inflicted wounds and have much improvement to do before the grown-ups in their midst will emerge as candidates.  While the GOP does have such people, they rarely get to first base within their selection process.

Still I also do not give automatic support to Democratic candidates, many of whom are far less than they could be due to the controlling interests of Corporate Powers and Big Fossil Fuels, in particular.  Thus, I guess I have become a skeptical Democrat who looks for what I perceive to be the most experienced and socially responsible candidates within their ranks.  Such people at least have a chance of achieving the support of their party.

The world is now a small place relative to the number of humans that inhabit it.  Both our national and international views can no longer be simply “us versus them”.  A far more comprehensive and enlighten ideology is needed if our planet is to continue in a manner that is suitable to human beings.  “We must all hang together – lest we hang separately” as Ben Franklin once said.  While I am not sure that the Democrats are capable of achieving this lofty goal, an even sadder admission is that the present day “Party of Lincoln” seems to be incapable of even envisioning it. In 1860, Lincoln squarely faced the greatest lingering issue of his country and moved towards its solution through an exceedingly painful process of compromise, persistence and sacrifice rather than via any rigid ideology. Thus, Abraham Lincoln remains one of my models for political leadership – even though I presently have so little respect for what’s left of the party he created.

Again, my own political views are of little consequence in affecting the future and I have related them here only because some consider me to be a knee-jerk liberal – which I am not.  For what it’s worth, of all 20th Century Presidents, my views are probably most like those of the Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, whose name is synonymous with the “Progressive Movement” of the early 1900′s and is also commonly called the “Father of the Environmental Movement”.  Both he and Lincoln faced down the real problems of their times using both conservative and progressive approaches.

I will finish here by declaring my favorite Presidential candidate during my lifetime who did not win the Presidency.  My vote there would have gone to Hubert Humphrey – who lost to Nixon in 1972 – if he had not become LBJ’s puppy dog at the end of his career and continued to support the war in Vietnam long after he should have known better.  It was sad to see his long and exceedingly productive career end on such a sour note.  He was a man of unmatched energy and commitment to our country’s long overdue social improvements set in motion by Lincoln 100 years earlier.  If not for his cold-war-induced miscalculations on foreign policy issues, he would have ranked among the our most successful politicians of the mid 20th Century.  In that election of 1972, I reluctantly voted for Hubert primarily because his opponent appeared to be very weak on the character/credibility scale.

Thus, my vote here will go to Humphrey’s 1964 replacement in the US Senate, Walter Mondale, who lost his quest for  the Presidency in the 1984 electoral landslide of Ronald Reagan (prior to Reagan’s second term) while receiving 44% of the popular vote. While Mondale was considered to be too liberal for many of my conservative friends, the extraordinarily high character and vast experience of both Walter and his spouse, Joan (affectionately known as Joan of Art) would have ensured that their presence in the White House would have been another high point in American history – even if a Mondale Presidency would have been quite different from that of the very popular Reagan.  Both of these men were oozing with charisma – one of the American Hollywood type and the other, one that would have played better in Oslo.  By that point in my own life, however, I had found that works such as those produced by Ingmar Bergman to provide much better reflections of modern  life than those of the Cowboy Westerns.  So, it goes without saying that I voted for the Norwegian.  While I consider it somewhat unfortunate that we had two such credible and experienced candidates running against each other in 1984,  I also wish we had that problem in every presidential election.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 25, 2013

Smartest Idiot of 2013 Award

In June of 2012, one of my first posts on this blog was entitled “Our Smart Idiots”  and related the documented fact that that among the politically conservative, those who have achieved higher levels of education are more likely to doubt the notion of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) than conservatives with less education.  As a scientist, I found this to be most disappointing, of course. The most credible scientific communities of our country have made their own opinions and recommendations on this topic very clear in the numerous position statements they have issued.  Apparently, among the brightest conservatives of the USA, respect for intelligence and professional competence does not extend into the sciences.

An excellent example of this phenomenon is Fox News commentator, Charles Krauthhammer , who is considered by many to be a leading visionary on many topics by the Right.  He is indeed highly educated and has achieved a multitude of professional accomplishments not only in journalism but also in his field of psychiatric medicine.  In a recent issue of the Washington Post, however, he mistakenly held forth on the subject of global warming.  That article can be seen at  http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-obamas-global-warming-folly/2013/07/04/a51c4ed0-e3fc-11e2-a11e-c2ea876a8f30_story.html

In this opinion piece, Krauthammer cast as much doubt as he could on the need for addressing man-caused global warming any time soon.  He  repeatedly used his cleverness to mislead rather than clarify. His article is literally riddled with erroneous and misleading “information” as was clearly pointed out in a follow-up article that can also be seen at:  http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/jul/10/global-warming-folly-charles-krauthammer

So one wonders,  why does Krauthammer say such scientifically stupid things – that are nothing more than repetitions of the junk science to be found everywhere on the Denier’s bloggeries?  As a well educated and intellectually astute person, he surely must know what he is doing.  My only guess is that, as in the case of Matt Ridley ( see my previous post at  http://ericgrimsrud.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/on-the-unwarranted-hubris-of-mankind-and-matt-ridley/ ), when the best scientific information available causes angst to one’s political ideologies, these smart idiots give priority to their ideologies.  This is most unfortunate because many people on the Right take their cues from their acknowledged intellectual leaders while Mother Nature pays no attention to the political preferences of anyone no matter how smart they are perceived to be.

So with apologies to Matt Ridley and also to columnist George Will (maybe next year guys), my vote for the Smartest Idiot of 2013 goes to Charles Krauthammer.

More seriously, however, one of my most fervent wishes for 2014 is that the leaders of the Republican Party (who I am willing to assume are reasonably smart) begin to understand and have more respect for the Laws of Nature and the professionals who study them.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 19, 2013

The Nitty Gitty of that paper by Hansen et al.

In my previous post entitled “Why the gloom and doom”, I referred to a very recent paper by Hansen et al. in which a group of climate experts described the present state of the Earth’s climate.  (To see the full paper again, click here.)  In that paper, they provide a figure that lays out the challenge before us.  It is shown below:

Image

In this figure the amount of carbon (in units of Gigatons) that has been emitted or will possibly be emitted into our atmosphere (in the form of CO2) from various sources of fossil fuels that are now available.  The sources include conventional oil, gas and coal and unconventional oil and gas.  The unconventional fossil fuels are those being recently developed by the extraction of oil from tar sands and the release of oil and gas following the fracking of shale deposits. The various colors in each column indicate the amount already used to date (purple), the readily available amount remaining (blue) and the amount probably available if we continue to look for more (yellow).

Before considering each of the columns in the figure, lets first consider the most important conclusion of this paper.  That is that in order to allow the Earth to remain in its present state of stability, mankind must not burn more than about 500 GtC total over its entire industrial period that began about 160 years ago.  With the emission of more carbon than 500 GtC, the authors expect that the Earth’s climate will leave its present stable state and enter into an unstable one that will subsequently drift into progressively warmer and distinctly untenable states in which human civilizations could no longer exist in their present forms.

OK, so we are allowed to emit 500 GtC total between 1850 and some unknown future date when we do manage to terminate all carbon emissions.  So next,  how much carbon have we emitted to date?  The answer to that question is provided by the sum of the three purple bars showing emissions to date of conventional oil, gas and coal.  These are 130, 60 and 180, respectively, for a total of 370 GtC.  Note also that so far we have used only a negligible amount of the newer unconventional forms of fossil fuels.  So what does that leave us for allowable future use?  The answer is 130 GtC (500 – 370),  right?.  With that number (130 GtC) in mind, let’s now consider the various fossil fuels we have left in the ground.

Let’s first consider the amount of readily available conventional oil and gas shown by the blue bars in the first two columns.  These indicate that we have about 140 GtC of conventional oil and 90 GtC of conventional gas readily available for our future use – for a total of 230 GtC.  Oh, Oh!  We already have a problem – we are allowed to use only 130 GtC.  Therefore, we already have about 100 GtC more  readily available gas and oil than we will be allowed to use – again, that is if we want our planet to remain in a stable condition.

So what does this mean?  It means that we will have to leave about 100 GtC of our most readily available and very valuable gas and oil in the ground.  That will be tough to do, of course, because these are the cleanest,  most portable, most  available, most energy rich and most valuable forms of fossil fuels that we have.

Next note the top yellow portions of the first two columns.  If we continue to try harder and drill more, we can almost double our future supplies of conventional oil and gas.  While the oil and gas companies would like you to shout “whoopee!” to these prospects and allow them to explored new regions of the world for its oil and gas deposits, anyone with a mathematically functioning brain should say “what the hell – why is anyone trying to find more sources of conventional gas and oil when we already have too much!”.

Now move on to the 3rd column concerning conventional coal.  Note that under its blue bar, we have  an enormous amount, about 550 GtC, of unused and readily available coal – just waiting to be scooped up and transported to power plants in the US or Asia.  So in response to that information, should we yell “oh no!” or “whoopii!” as do the coal companies? The answer is clear, is it not?  Since coal  generates only about half as much energy per CO2 molecule emitted as do gas and oil and because of the additional environmental and human health issues (associated with particulates and mercury) are raised by coal’s use, why would anyone who understands numbers want to use coal for power generation?  It is entirely clear, is it not, that no coal whatsoever should be used in the future. Gas and oil, only, and only 130 GtC of them can be used.  Nevertheless, we still see those countless 2-mile long coal trains leaving Montana and Wyoming every day and read about plans to greatly increase that flow of dirty carbon to Asia.

In moving on to the 4th and 5th columns, we see the basis for our relatively new and so-called “wonderful” prospects of the future energy independence that allegedly  promised by the development of our  unconventional sources of oil and gas. Again, the reaction of any intelligent and responsible person would be: what the hell – why are we bothering with the production of these more expensive and dirtier sources of gas and oil?  There is simply far too much of it already available and we can’t afford to use even the first one GtC that the unconventional sources provide.  Just how suicidal are we trying to be?  In short, we don’t need it and we can’t afford to use it.  All unconventional gas and oil must be left  in the ground.

At this point in this discussion one might wonder – why do we continue to use and export our coal?  And why are we seeking more sources of conventional oil and gas? And why are we developing unconventional sources of oil and gas? Besides insanity, what are the driving forces for these activities.  That reason is obvious, is it not?.  All of these activities are for the short term financial benefits of some – while we simultaneously screw young people and future generations.  So while the Chevron and  Exxon Mobile Oil commercials show how the developments of unconventional oil and gas in North Dakota are helping communities in that state build new and better schools, those ads do not mention the dire future the students of those schools will face a few decades hence.  If continued, the business-as-usual course is sure to provide our heirs with the distinctly rotten fruits being produced by this sort of labor.

There is only one way that mankind  can prove it is not so utterly stupid and shortsighted as to remain on its present course.  Obviously, that would be to limit his future use of fossil fuels to the available conventional sources of oil and gas and even leave about 100 GtC of that in the ground – along with all remaining sources of coal and unconventional oil and gas.  Whether or not mankind is capable of doing  that is the question. I provided my own guess in my previous post.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 15, 2013

Why the gloom and doom?

Up to now, I have always laughed at predictions of impending doom because they have usually been based on some sort of religious “insight” claimed by fanatics   rather than on science.  Nevertheless, it does now appear to me that civilization as we know it will very likely not survive the threat presently posed by climate change.  I am sure that many will also scoff at that statement – surely that just can’t be true, right?  While I also hope I am wrong, of course, I will carefully explain the set of reasons why I have come to believe this.

The First Reason, of course, is related to the underlying Science.  Historically, Science has proved the best way we have for predicting what Mother Nature is likely to do and Science is increasingly indicating that we are presently near an “edge” of the Earth’s range of climate stability beyond which irreversible perturbations are expected to drive our climate to very different states.  Because of the unprecedented rapidity of these changes, many existing forms of life, including a major portion of our human population, are not expected to survive possibly even through the next century. As evidence of this scientific view, have a look at the comprehensive paper just released by Hansen et al entitled “Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change : Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations, and Nature”.  While this paper is scientifically comprehensive most of  it is written in a manner that is readily understandable by the lay-public. Its 18 authors are all recognized authorities in the area of climate change. The full paper can be seen at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0081648 and a shorter and more user-friendly summary of it can be seen at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=dangerous-climate-change-imminent&WT.mc_id=SA_CAT_ENGYSUS_20131205

The difficulty made clear by this paper is that in order to keep Earth’s climate within that range of stability, the world must begin to reduce its CO2 emissions by about 6% annually starting RIGHT NOW!  Given that the rate of fossil fuel emissions increased exponentially at an annual rate of 1.5% during period between 1980 and 2000  and then at an annual rate of 3% between 2000 and 2012, it does not seem likely that any reductions in fossil fuel emissions will be occurring soon.  In addition, recent advances in the production of  nonconventional fossil fuels, such as oil from tar sands and gas and oil from the fracking of shale deposits, make it additionally difficult to envision a turnaround in our use of fossil fuels in the coming decade or more.

Thus, the first and most important factor for why we are probably doomed is that there is a total disconnect between the best science available on the subject of climate change and the worldwide forces behind “business-as-usual”.

My Second Reason for a prediction of doom is related to the Earth’s thermal inertia.  It takes too long for the effects of increased warming by the greenhouse gases to be witnessed by the humans that are causing them.  Thus, the increased warming that is now operative due to our 400 ppm level of atmospheric CO2 will not have its full effect for several decades.  Thus, we cannot even see today what we have already done.  This provides the Deniers of man-caused warming with the basis for their main argument -  it’s nothing more than “a theory” – and far too many are comforted by that erroneous thought.

My Third Reason is related  to the extraordinarily long life-time of the extra CO2 we put into our atmosphere. Today we have 40% more atmospheric CO2 than we had at the beginning of the Industrial Age and 30% more than we have ever had in the last 3 million years.  And even if we stopped all fossil fuel emissions today, that extra CO2 would remain in the atmosphere for several centuries.  In addition, the warming it causes will remain for several millennia. The only thing that man has any control over is the accumulated amount of CO2 that we have put into the atmosphere at the point in time when we finally do stop burning fossil fuels.  And every year we are adding about 0.6% (2-3 ppm) to that total.

The Forth Reason for a prediction of environmental doom is related to what I call the unwarranted hubris of mankind.  Human beings today tend to think their civilizations have survived for a very long time and that  they will be able to handle just about any future problem that confronts them.  Thus, we often hear  boasts such as “we have faced some tough issues before and will solve this one too” or  “I have heard these doomsday scenarios before and am not going to be taken in by this one either”.  The great fallacy in this line of thinking is that civilized forms of mankind have, in fact, only been around for about 6,000 years – which is essentially nothing on the geological time scale.  Furthermore, scientifically astute forms of humanity have existed for only a couple centuries and we are just beginning to understand some of the major long-term impacts of mankind on his  planet.

A Fifth Reason is that the subgroup of human beings that will be most impacted by the coming ravages of climate change are not yet in a position to influence and control public policy on this issue.  I am referring here to the younger humans and by that I mean to include children, adolescents, and even young adults.  Children, of course, wouldn’t be expected to understand the issue yet and while adolescents and young adults might understand, they tend to be fully consumed with the more immediate pressures of their lives, i.e. personal and professional development along with child-rearing.  I remember being in that state myself several decades ago when I did not spend so much time as I now do pondering and trying to influence the larger issues of our times. Furthermore, when younger, I probably trusted the more senior and experienced members of society who I assumed were looking after the big issues (much of that naivety was removed over the several subsequent decades beginning with the Vietnam War). Thus, it appears to me that only the older among us are likely to have the maturity, experience, and the time required to deal with the climate change issue in the timely manner required – while cutting our youngsters some slack for developing their personal and professional lives.

In summarizing all of this, predictions of doom are appropriate today because (1) the best science tells us that we are approaching the edge of our planet’s range of stability, (2) we cannot see in a timely manner the harm we are doing, (3) the culprit – extra atmospheric CO2 – will be with us forever on a human time scale, (4)  mankind is so scientifically immature that he does not  have the sense to heed the advice of its most accomplished scientific experts, and (5) the younger portions of our population who will be most affected by climate change do not yet have the  maturity, time and inclination to lobby forcefully for strong action on climate change.

For all of these reasons, it seems to me that there is little reason to be optimistic about mankind’s so called “fight” against the upcoming ravages of global warming. If I have overlooked something of significance here and am mistaken in this outlook, please do share with me and the readership of this blog what that might be. As we proceed with “business-as-usual” into and through the present decade, it would be nice to be able to envision any reason there might be for expecting a reasonably bright future for young people and our descendants.  I now fear that any predictions of long-term stability and prosperity is likely to come only from the more religiously and philosophically imaginative among us. Unfortunately, Mother Nature does not seem to share my own high regard for the Humanities.

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.