Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 14, 2014

Our military must operate in the real world

As evidenced by a report just put out by the Pentagon, we can be glad that our military branches acknowledge the dire need for both mitigation against and adoption to the changes that are occurring around the world due to our increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.  The title of this report is Department of Defense, FY 2014 Climate Change Adaption Roadmap and begins with following paragraph:

“Climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the Nation and poses immediate risks to US national security.  The Department is responding to climate change in two ways: adaptation, or efforts to plan for changes that are occurring or expected to occur; and mitigation, or efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   This Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap focuses on the Department’s climate change adaptation activities.”

The full document is 20 pages long and clearly written.  I urge you to read or at least scan it at  http://www.acq.osd.mil/ie/download/CCARprint.pdf .

What is made clear in this statement is that our military’s view of the climate change issue is very close to, if not identical to, the views held by our nation’s leading scientific organizations. Since the latter group has been widely dismissed as “alarmists” by the deniers of climate change – which has included most within the Republican Party – it follows that the Republican Party will now also consider our military to be overly alarmist. This, in turn, can be expected to lead to further actions by our Republican Congressmen to frustrate our military’s efforts to do their jobs. Note, for example, in May of this year, the Republican-dominated House passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) that would have forbidden the Pentagon from using any of its funding to address the national security impacts of climate change.  Can you believe that one?!

While the Republicans of the House have made it clear on this most important issue of our time that they live in some sort of “La La Land” of their imagination, we can be glad that our military forces operate in the real world and are in an excellent position for observing the changes occurring throughout it.  If the Republicans also gain a majority in the Senate via our upcoming November elections, let’s hope that the new set of Republicans show more respect for both the military and scientific organizations of their own country.  We cannot afford to dismiss the advice of either of these groups if we hope to prosper on this planet.  The present inhabitants of Earth need leadership that is both strong and wise.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 1, 2014

PERC, Montana’s Judas goat on climate change

Fossil fuel industries and the states in which they reside have a public relations problem. While they have vast supplies of coal and other fossil fuels that others want to buy, the retrieving and selling of these fossil fuels can cause them to be perceived to be “drug pushers” of a sort – that is, fueling the world’s addiction to these substances as the concentration of CO2 in our background atmosphere soars to levels well above any recorded over the last 800 millennia. Thus, that public relation problem is figuring out how to continue to reap the financial benefits of those sales while not being perceived to be intellectual morons with respect to what all of our legitimate scientific organizations consider the greatest environmental threat ever faced by mankind. Therefore, the fossil fuel rich states are in great need of what I will call here “intellectual verification” for their actions.

So to their rescue come various conservative “think tanks” who do their best to come up with whatever level of pseudo-intellectual verification they can muster – no matter how flimsy – and then sell it to their well-healed customers. We have an excellent example of one of these organizations in Montana. It is called the Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC) and is located in Bozeman, Montana (their website is perc.org). My comments below describes how PERC services the needs of fossil fuel interests in Montana and elsewhere.

My impressions of PERC to be related here have been derived almost entirely from my inspection of its website at perc.org and my from my previous email exchanges with PERC’s President, Terry Anderson. Those email exchanges have been summarized previously on this blog – see http://ericgrimsrud.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/678/). In essence, what I learned from them is that PERC does its very best to ignore our traditional and exceedingly well-established fields of science when their messages concerning climate change interfere with PERC’s financial preferences. So please do have a look at that previous post and then kindly return.

Next, let’s listen to a speech given by PERC President Anderson on June of 2014 to the Hoover Institute of Stanford West and take note of three of its major themes. These are: the trivialization of the climate change problem, the trivialization of conclusions drawn by scientists, and a masking of one of the most obvious solution to this problem. Anderson’s speech can be found http://perc.org/articles/adapt-adapt-adapt-market-responses-climate-change Please have a listen and return.

TRIVIALIZATION OF THE PROBLEM

Note how Anderson trivializes the issue of global warming by drawing analogies to several routine and far less substantial issues, such as house fires, bonds and real estate investments, and even the game of golf. “Would you buy fire insurance today in order to protect your home out to the end of the century?” Anderson rhetorically asks, for example. The use of analogies such as these for arguing against prompt action on climate change suggests that he has insufficient respect for the beast he is dealing with. Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress. She calls the shots and there will be no corrective negotiations with Her later for the excessive amounts of CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere today. The present issue of climate change is unique within the entire history of mankind. We have never before faced a problem of this magnitude and our prior experiences with house fires, financial investments, golf, or any other endeavor of mankind are of little relevance in solving it. Any serious solution must start with a far better recognition of and knowledge of the real science involved than Anderson clearly has.

TRIVIALIZATION OF THE CONCLUSIONS DRAWN BY SCIENTISTS

Anderson then goes on to display his contempt for those who do have considerable understanding of the science behind climate change by equating their conclusions and recommendations to the views held within the fields of religion – most of which are based on faith, of course, rather than reason. Thus, Anderson explains that he is neither a “believer” or a complete “atheist” on the subject of climate change, but is instead an undecided “agnostic” who is leaning a bit towards atheism. Anderson states that while he is trying to learn more about the science of climate change, at this point he embraces what he mistakenly thinks is the “scientific” view held by his personal friend and co-libertarian, Matt Ridley of Great Britain. Unfortunately, by his own admission in his recent book ” Rational Optimistic”, Ridley is also not a climate scientist. His background is in biology and he “publishes” only in non-peer reviewed magazines and books written for the general public (see my full post on Ridley at http://ericgrimsrud.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/on-the-unwarranted-hubris-of-mankind-and-matt-ridley/ ). Thus, while Anderson appears to have no credible intellectual links to the science of climate change, he is pleased to share and promote his views on the subject with the general public and potential customers of PERC. Moreover, his style is never to clarify the science and serves only to undermine the public’s confidence in science and scientists.

HIDING THE MOST OBVIOUS AND FAIREST OF SOLUTIONS

Towards the end of his speech, Anderson discusses the various methods by which CO2 emissions might be curtailed through government participation. In discussing these, however, he does not mention the one that has been favored by the many who think that the Earth’s atmosphere should not be used free of charge as a CO2 garbage dump. Anderson does mention a version of a Carbon Tax that would be “revenue neutral” and I agree with him that that version would be a looser.  The version of a Carbon Tax that  Anderson does not mention is the one called the “Carbon Fee and Dividend Plan” which does make excellent sense (see my previous post on it at http://ericgrimsrud.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/the-best-energy-policy/). He does not explain why he ignores it, but it might be because fossil fuel industries terrified by the possibility that this form of a Carbon Tax might gain traction. This is because the Carbon Fee and Dividend Plan would probably work very well, indeed, and would, indeed, greatly decrease our use of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions. By not even mentioning this plan and instead only mentioning the problematic “revenue neutral” version of a Carbon Tax, Anderson is showing most directly that he is, indeed, in the back pocket of the fossil fuel industries. While he might be excused for not being aware of all of the science associated with climate change, he cannot be excused for claiming ignorance of a credible economic plan that is widely favored. Again, for those of you who are not aware of the “Carbon Fee and Dividend Plan”, a description of it has is provided on one of my previous posts – see http://ericgrimsrud.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/the-best-energy-policy/

CLIMATE DENIAL AND WORSE

The definition of a global warming “denier” used to be one who does not believe in the science of global warming. Today, that definition has changed as the term, “denier”, has increasingly become associated with “stupid”. Therefore, the current stance of these obstructionists is typically more nuanced. They claim that they aren’t sure about the science behind climate change while they continue to obstruct and undermine the public’s confidence in real science – just as Terry Anderson now does. Thus, Anderson encourages us to in”sail on” with “business-as-usual” and get as “wealthy” as we can in the short term so that we will be better prepared later “when and if” the problem meets his unspecified standards for concern. In the meantime, I suspect that Anderson is getting as wealthy as he can from this service he is providing to our fossil fuel industries.

From my description of PERC and its President provided above, it might occur to many that the term “obstructionist” or “denier” is not sufficient for describing the harm organizations such as PERC are doing to their respective communities. Perhaps the term, “Judis goat” provides a better fit. This term refers to an individual or organization that intentionally leads other members of their community to their slaughter for their own unstated reasons or rewards.

I doubt very much that Anderson is so intellectually challenged as to not realize that the scientific community will very likely be proven in time to be largely correct with respect to their recommendations concerning cutbacks in our CO2 emissions. This issue has been studied for over 100 years and its basic tenets as outlined by Svante Arrhenius in 1896 have withstood subsequent tests of measurements and theory ever since. Today, the agreement among scientists who’s day jobs involve the study of climate change is as close the unanimity as any scientific topic of some complexity can be. I think Anderson knows all of this and, furthermore, has no interest in learning more about the real science of climate change because real science does not serve his needs. He has made it quite clear to me that he has only extraneous self-serving reasons for his stance on the subject of climate change which have nothing to do with science and the future welfare of the people that live on this planet.
So if something walks like a Judas goal and talks like a Judas goat, it very likely is a Judas goal. If I might also use an analogy to religion, PERC appears to place higher value on those proverbial thirty pieces of silver than it does on the well being of its community.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 29, 2014

How about a “good joke”

Here is a great cartoon – worth a thousand words.

Yes, our political system is, indeed, capable of focusing quite well on issues of importance – so long as they affect the next election.

My thanks go Heart Climate Scientists for the cartoon.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 23, 2014

Is anyone at PERC interested in the science of climate change?

As a follow-up to my recent post entitled “An economic philosophy versus scientific evidence” (see http://ericgrimsrud.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/678/), I sent the following email to the Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC) of Bozeman, Montana, on September 15, 2014. Unfortunately, it was instantly blocked presumably by the PERC central office managed by PERC President Terry Anderson and was returned to me without being read by him or any other PERC personnel. My email had been addressed to the PERC organization, in general (perc@perc.org) and not to Terry Anderson specifically. Since the blockage of this email is not consistent with a previous statement Anderson made to me – suggesting that his staff is free to think for themselves – I have decided to post that letter here in the hopes that some PERC employees might be able to read it and be free to respond. If so and if interested, my return email address is ericgrimsrud@gmail.com.
,
” To PERC employees:

I am a retired atmospheric scientist (see ericgrimsrud.com) who has been doing my best to instill a bit of peer-reviewed science into the brain of my old friend, Terry Anderson, who is the President of your organization.

I have gained the distinct impression from my communications with Terry and from his presentations on the website of PERC that either PERC’s or just my friend Terry’s understanding of the science behind the notion of global warming is far short of what it should be – given PERC’s interest in and participation in on going discussions of climate change..

Thus, as a professional atmospheric scientist, I would be pleased to provide PERC employees with a seminar. free of any charges, concerning the science of climate change. My credentials in this area are indicated on my website.

As I travel through Bozeman regularly, simply let me know when you might be inclined to learn a bit more about the science of this exceedingly important topic. Your timely response via return email will be appreciated.

Sincerely, Eric Grimsrud

PS: If this message makes it no further than to the head office of PERC, then please consider it to be addressed to President Terry Anderson. “

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 13, 2014

Still waiting for the next Churchill

In one chapter of my book (see ericgrimsrud.com), I discuss the type of leadership that will be required for effectively addressing the issue of global warming. In that chapter I used as a model, Winston Churchill of Great Britain, who more than anyone foresaw the menace posed by Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and was finally chosen in 1940 to lead Britain’s efforts to survive. I have received some feedback from the readers of my book, however, who did not like my choice of Churchill as a model of required leadership because of some of his well-known deficiencies of both personality and policy.

I was therefore struck by the concluding paragraph of a review (see it at http://www.nysun.com/arts/patrick-j-buchanans-know-nothing-history/79722/) by Adam Kirsch of a book entitled “Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War” written by the American politician, Patrick Buchanan. Kirsch disagrees strongly with Buchanan’s negative assessment of Churchill’s tenure as prime minister during WWII and points out why Churchill was uniquely well-qualified for addressing the relentless expansion of the Nazi empire. Kirsch’s final paragraph is provided below:

“Everything that was weak in Churchill’s character and objectionable in his politics was well-known during his lifetime. In the mid-1930s, indeed, he was one of the most unpopular politicians in Britain. The reason why he came back from exile to be named prime minister in May 1940, England’s darkest hour, was not because he was a perfect statesman but because he was indomitable: “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Pity the nation that reaches a point where it needs a Churchill to save it; but pity even more a nation that, needing a Churchill, fails to find one.”

Kirsch’s statement very clearly explains why I also believe we are presently in desperate need of a leader with Churchill-like insight and determination in addressing the greatest threat we have before us today. So, thank you, Adam Kitsch, for providing the words that explain this point so precisely. It will be a pity, indeed, if the world fails to find another Churchill during our present hour of need.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 29, 2014

Scientific Mischief at the US State Department?

Last year, I was both puzzled and disappointed by a statement put out by the US State Department concerning the impact of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on global CO2 levels. The main conclusion they drew from their in-house study of that proposed project was that its construction and implementation would have only a minor effect on global CO2 emissions. From my own rough estimates of the Keystone XL’s impacts, I had expected its effects to be much more substantial. I am not surprised, therefore, to note that more recent studies of the XL’s potential impacts are suggesting that the State Department’s estimate of Keystone’s impact was far too low due to a questionable assumption they made in their analysis.

For a thorough description of this issue, see http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2014/aug/28/state-department-underestimates-keystone-carbon-pollution. Key aspects of these new insights are that the climate change impacts of Keystone will be about three to four times that claimed by the State Department.

The State Department came to their very different conclusion by assuming that the tar sands oil would merely displace, barrel for barrel, some other oil extracted elsewhere on the planet. Therefore, the State Department analysis only counts the incremental increases of emissions for tar sands development and use. Tar sands are approximately 17% worse in terms of emissions than other fuels and the State Department only counted these extra emissions.

The more obvious and appropriate way to account for the additional carbon that the Keystone pipeline would be responsible for is simply to count the amount of carbon that would flow through that pipeline after it is built and refined on the gulf coast. We should assume that all oil of high quality and reasonable price will be used at some time after reaching the market and we know that it is the total accumulation of CO2 emissions over time that matters – as was explained in my previous post of Dec. 2012 on this blog called “Its our cumulative emissions, stupid” . Under these more realistic assumptions, the expected effect of Keystone becomes far greater than that suggested by our State Department.

In the reference cited above, a better way of thinking about all of this was suggested – starting with the following three alternatives we have before us.

1. Build Keystone and pump tar sands.
2. Not build Keystone but extract the equivalent oil somewhere else.
3. Not build Keystone and instead, use our energy more wisely, saving money and reducing CO2 pollution.

While economists seem to spend most of their efforts comparing option 1 with option 2, we should instead focus on comparisons of option 1 with option 3. It is only option 3 that offers the magnitude of climate change improvements we need and, at the same time, is likely to be cost effective if appropriately supported. The likely reason option 3 is not yet wholeheartedly endorsed is that option 3 is the one that is least like our existing methods of generating energy and the economic forces behind “business as usual” are well represented in all branches of our government, including our State Department.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 16, 2014

Montana: Big Sky Country, Big Climate Problems

Efforts by scientists of Montana to inform Montana’s reticent politicians of the relentless advance of climate change in Montana is described in a recent article by Elliot Negin of The Huffington Post (see it at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elliott-negin/montana-big-sky-country-b_b_5676971.html). Negin’s article bears the same title as used above and points to a letter written to Montana politicians and newspapers by a set of Montana scientists, including me, who have had considerable research experience in the field of climate change. That letter can be seen at http://missoulian.com/news/opinion/columnists/climate-change-is-a-scientific-reality/article_be9457f6-17fc-11e4-8692-001a4bcf887a.html.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 9, 2014

An economic philosophy versus scientific evidence

Recently (see it at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/09/opinion/krugman-interests-ideology-and-climate.html%5B/embed%5D) economist Paul Krugman provided an article entitled “Interests, ideology, and climate” that helps one understand the primary force behind climate denial and our efforts to arrest the advance of man-caused global warming.  That main force is NOT that we cannot afford to make necessary changes in our means of  energy production.  It is instead the ideological or philosophical view that the unrestrained pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem.  A name commonly attached to that ideology is libertarianism.  While I can appreciate some potentially good outcomes of that philosophy,  I have also personally witnessed how it can be used inappropriately when applied to the topic of climate change.

The rest of this post concerns one of those personal experiences.  About one year and a half ago,  I was listening to a conservative radio talk show out of Billings, Montana, where an old friend of mine  was being interviewed.  They were discussing issues related to climate change with my friend who had been a professor of economics at Montana State University, Bozeman, and Stanford University, Californa, and is now the President of one of those so-called “think tanks” going by the name of Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC) located in Bozeman, Montana (one of my friend’s recent articles from PERC can be seen at

http://perc.org/articles/adaptation-key-dealing-climate-change

During his radio interview, my friend’s answer to one question in particular drew my attention.  He was asked to provide his opinion concerning the advisability of a Carbon Tax. He replied by saying that he does not waste time studying a carbon tax because he thought it had no chance of ever being implemented.

That comment both surprised and disappointed me because, as I have pointed out before on this blog and the entire last chapter of my book (see ericgrimsrud.com),  I and most scientists believe that a carbon tax is the best, if not only way that CO2 emissions can be significantly reduced.  After all, if we use our atmosphere as a waste dump for the excess CO2 we are putting into the environment,  shouldn’t we assign to that process a waste disposal fee just as we do for the disposal of the nuclear wastes associated with nuclear power plants?  If one believes in the prevailing science associated with CO2’s role in the greenhouse effect, wouldn’t one then believe that a fee or carbon tax should be applied to its emissions?  Yet, my friend said that he was not wasting any time thinking about this form of taxation.

Obviously, I wondered where my friend was coming from and asked him to explain himself in subsequent email communications.  In those communications, I first asked him if he accepted the prevailing view of man-caused warming that has emerged out of the main-stream scientific literature.  His response was that he did not think the science related in those sources was as useful or relevant to the problem as that promoted by another scientist named Matt Ridley of Great Britain – who happened to be good friend of my friend and also was a fellow libertarian on economic issues.  I have discussed Ridley and his view before on this blog (see my post in Feb 2013 entitled “The unwarranted hubris of mankind and Matt Ridely”).  By his  own admission in his book, “Rational Optimist“, he is not really a climate scientist.   He is a biologist and well known writer in that field.  His overall views concerning our climate were not determined by way of real science but instead come from his personal philosophies concerning the historic economic concerns of mankind.  In essence, he believes that mankind will rise to meet whatever challenges face him in the future and in the meantime should arm himself with as much wealth as he can so as to be in a stronger position when the crunch eventually does comes.  In short, both my friend and Ridley appear to be ignoring the best science available today – which recommends that changes be made now in order to prevent disasters later.  The fact that my friend pointed to Matt Ridley as his favored scientific spokesperson of the subject of climate change was both disturbing and telling.

Therefore, I tried to extend my discussions with my friend to include specific irrefutable and obvious aspects of the science.  He was not interested in going there, however, and was clearly annoyed by the “help” I was trying to provide.  I suspected that any subsequent emails I might have sent him would have gone straight into his trash bin. Because I am sure my friend is very intelligent and because he is in a position to influence the opinions of his customers who come to PERC for advice on environmental issues, I was most disappointed to see that my old friend had essentially turned his back on the real science of climate change in order to retain his ideological purity.  In the process, he has become distinctly “anti-intellectual” with respect to one of the most important disciplines of mankind (science).

In pondering this personal experience, I was struck today by how precisely Paul Krugman explained all of this in his article referred to above.  Yes, indeed, the main hurdle to action on climate change is not the costs involved (Krugman is a Noble Prize winning economist whose research has made this point clear).  Instead that main hurdle is the anti-intellectual attack on science perpetrated by the likes of my friend and the pseudo-climate scientist,  Matt Ridley.

I will finish with a few words from Krugman’s article – the first paragraph 0f which seems to be referring to my friend.

“Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian

So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed.

Paul Krugman, New York Times, June 9, 2014″

As Krugman recommends, maybe I will continue to try to drill a bit of basic scientific common sense into the left side of my friend’s brain – he should pay more attention to what it would tell him if he allowed it to function. On the other hand, it is very difficult to convince someone of something if becoming convinced might result in the loss of one’s income. I am sure that the very generous Koch brothers, for example, would not like to see such a change of attitude by the President of PERC.  Nevertheless, my friend’s example represents the main barrier we have today for preserving a better planet for its future residents. My thanks go to Krugman for making this important point so clear.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 8, 2014

Looking for optimism

In posts I have placed on my blog during the last two years (see a full list of them at ericgrimsrud.com under the menu tab, author’s blog), I have painted a distinctly dark picture concerning our prospects for addressing CO2-caused climate change.  In a recent article entitled “Seven reasons why America will fail on climate change” columnist Ezra Klein, has done the same by listing the seven basic reasons why he believes “all” is essentially lost (see it at http://www.vox.com/2014/6/5/5779040/7-reasons-America-fail-global-warming  Like me, Klein would like to be more optimistic and would love to have someone point out why he could be more optimistic.  On my blog and in my book entitled “Thoughts of a Scientist, Citizen and Grandpa on Climate Change” I have previously discussed all of Klein’s seven reasons – which I have listed below – and agree with his assessment of each of them.  What I would like to draw primary attention to here, however, is his concluding statement concerning what might nevertheless be done for the benefit of future generations.  I also share Kein’s view on this point – concerning why it is important to continue to do whatever we can – even if “our best” will very possibly not be enough.

First, Klein’s seven reasons for pessimism:

1) We’ve waited so long that what America needs to do is really, really hard — and maybe impossible.

2) The people most affected by climate change don’t get a vote. (Here he is referring to the numerous poor countries of the world that will be affected first and most intensely by climate change).

3) We’re bad at sacrenificing now to benefit later.

4) The effects of global warming are not easily reversible and has a “game over” quality to it.  

5) The Republican Party has gone off the rails on climate change.  It was Palin’s position, not that of John McCain, that captured the Republican Party.  

6) The international cooperation required is unprecedented, and maybe impossible

7) Geoengineering is nuts.  (I agree that the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere is not financially possible.  The other geoengineering approach is to increase the reflection of incoming solar radiation.  While that one raises many serious and probably show-stopping questions, nutty, questionable approaches might turn out to be our only remaining options). 

Then,Klein concludes with his best attempt to envision why we should continue to fight this fight.  I totally agree with his view on this point also and have provided it verbatim below. :

A more optimistic view – by Ezra Klein

“I could add that section here, too. I could make up a more optimistic story. I just don’t believe it (though — and I mean this seriously — I would be deeply grateful to anyone who could convince me of it). The world is failing to do nearly enough on climate change nearly fast enough. That isn’t to take away from the incredible work of the activists trying to push politicians further and faster, or to deny the possibility that a once-in-a-generation storm will upend the politics or a tremendous technological breakthrough will render the problem moot. Pessimism shouldn’t be considered fatalism. And impossible fights have been won before.

Perhaps more to the point, climate change isn’t binary. There’s not a single state of success and a single state of failure. Warming the world by 2.5 degrees Celsius is a whole lot better than warming it by three degrees Celsius. Warming the world by three degrees Celsius is vastly less catastrophic than warming it by four degrees Celsius. There are manageable failures and there are unmanageable failures. We’re currently on track for an unmanageable failure. I think it’s possible that we can slowly, painfully pull ourselves towards a manageable failure, but I’m not willing to call that optimism.

On climate change, the truth has gone from inconvenient to awful. Right now we’re failing our future. And we will be judged harshly for it.”

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 15, 2014

Lincoln, Obama and Climate Change

Occasionally in US history, we have been faced with a particularly difficult problem for which we nearly all knew what the correct solution was but found it nearly impossible to implement  in a timely manner.  For example, even before the American Civil War was fought, most well-read  Americans, in the South as well as in the North, surely realized that the institution of slavery would eventually have to be discontinued if the USA hoped to be one of the premier countries of the world.  Can you imagine, for example, that some of our states today might have remained potential customers in the sale of those 300 girls recently kidnapped in northern Nigeria?  By one means or another, the institution of slavery would certainly have been discontinued in the US by now if it had not been removed relatively quickly during the American Civil War.

A similarly obvious but difficult issue faces us today.  Most well-read people know by now that the heat content of our planet is rapidly increasing due largely to the combustion of fossil fuels.  In addition, they know that if something close to the human-friendly conditions mankind has enjoyed during the last seven millennia are to continue into the next century and beyond, we must stop CO2 emissions as soon as we can – at least within the next few decades.  But yet, we are presently stuck in a state of grossly insufficient action while the only score card that matters –  the level of CO2 in the atmosphere – still increases at an increasing rate every year.  Our planet has never seen such rates of CO2 increase before and we know that changing CO2 levels have been the primary cause of temperature changes in the past.  The task at hand is taunting and little headway is being made on a scale large enough to matter.  Thus, it is useful to consider more closely how America’s previous problem of enormous magnitude – the institution of slavery – came to be so suddenly addressed after the election of Abraham Lincoln.

First,  it is important to note that the US President who is universally credited with abolishing slavery in the US did not actually set out to do that when elected in 1860.  President Lincoln’s stated intention at that time was simply to set a new path for the US by which slavery would not be allowed to spread into the new states being added.  While Lincoln abhorred slavery, he was not yet an abolitionist when first elected.  He believed that slavery should not be precipitously abolished in the southern slave states by a federal decree but that it would be abolished eventually and gradually over time as that was increasingly perceived by all to be the “correct” and “just” thing to do.  The slave states did not accept Lincoln’s offer of compromise in 1860, however, and chose instead to try to withdraw from the Union – an act that Lincoln would not tolerate.

Only after two years of horrific warfare over the question of Southern succession, Lincoln decided to expand the significance of the Civil War by taking an action on the slavery issue. By use of his power as Commander and Chief of the military during a time of war, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation by which all slaves living in the rebellion states would be free as of Jan. 1, 1863.  This then led to a migration of former slaves from those rebel states to the North where they joined  the Union forces.  This greatly strengthened the Union side and caused the North and border states to be more sympathetic to the plight of American slaves.  Thus in 1865, the 13th Amendment was passed by votes of 2/3 majority in both the US Congress and House, thereby freeing all slaves within the US. Thus, the institution of slavery came to be abolished throughout the entire USA far sooner than expected because Lincoln set his country on a new path in 1860 directed at the long-term solution to the problem.

I think and hope that our current President, Barack Obama, is following in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln as he approaches our nation’s greatest unresolved problems.  On the national health care issue, for example, he has already managed to move our country onto a new path towards universal coverage.  That first act, merely of setting a new path,  is likely to be of far more historic importance than any specific details of the subsequent plans that have emerged so far.  Continuous refinements and improvements are sure to follow.

The primary concern of this blog, however, is climate change and on that front I again think and hope that President Obama is proceeding in a Lincolnesque manner.  With respect the termination of fossil fuel use, Obama is not yet an abolitionist.  He resides still in the “all of the above” camp in which he and his administration has so far promoted the development of  both fossil-fuel-based and alternate (wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear) sources of energy.  As in the case of slavery in 1860, however, most of us probably realize that distinctly harmful habits should eventually be eliminated.  That is, we simply must stop adding CO2 to our atmosphere each year and the only way to do that is to stop ALL conversions of geological carbon (fossil fuels) to biological carbon (CO2).  The dire need for this course of action is amplified by the fact that once added, we have no means of removing that excess atmospheric CO2.  It stays there for many centuries.

Therefore, it should be clear to all that Obama’s present “all of the above” strategy must gradually change into one in which “all of the above” no longer includes fossil fuels.  The suppliers of fossil fuels know this, of course, and for their own financial reasons are likely to push back even on Obama’s initial “all of the above” strategy – just as the slave states of the South did in 1860 in response to the compromise Lincoln offered them. Everyone knows what happens when a ball gets rolling in a correct and needed direction and the multitude invested in our reserves of fossil fuels are undoubtedly doing their best to prevent that initial motion.

To fully appreciate the great resistance to the abolition of fossil fuel use today, one needs only to reflect on the following facts.  The Earth today still contains at least 10 times more fossil fuels than have been used, to date, over the entire Industrial Age.  If we use more than a very small portion of that huge remaining supply, we will be setting a course for future genocide on an unprecedented global scale.  On the other hand, if and when we do manage to agree to leave most of those fossil fuels in the ground, that act will cause the greatest loss of personal wealth ever experienced in the USA since the abolition of slavery.  While the fossil fuels in the ground presently have considerable value, we must now declare them to have essentially no value and, in addition, assign a stiff penalty to their continued use.

Since the financial stakes associated with the elimination of carbon emissions and the communal need to do just that are both so high, a world-wide battle of some sort very likely lies before us.  Whatever form that battle takes, it will be one that simply must be won by the one and only side that is supported by science.  In response to the impacts of Man on our planet, Mother Nature will call the shots and, to our knowledge, she will pay no attention whatsoever to our personal preferences concerning politics or economics.  Without victory in this conflict, there will be no level of survival on which viable political and financial systems can be built.  So, President Obama, please do continue to hold your course. Enormous beneficial changes occurred in the USA under President Lincoln’s wise and steady leadership and that can happen again.

In 1860, President Lincoln first drew his line specifically at the spread of slavery to the new states.  He did not allow it and that simple, but forceful act changed everything.  You, President Obama, can draw your line at the spread of North America’s vast supplies of fossil fuels throughout the world.  You should block all such actions beginning with a cancellation of the pending Keystone XL pipeline project.  That one clear act of hindrance to an outdated and unsustainable path could change everything.

Hope isn’t the kind of thing that you can say either exists or doesn’t exist.  It’s like a path across the land that’s not there to begin with, but when lots of people go the same way, it comes into being.”  Chinese writer, Lu Xun.

 

 

 

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