Global Warming and Climate Change, What to Believe?
After reading and hearing all kinds of conflicting information about global warming and climate change, many people don’t know what to believe about what may be the most important issue civilization has ever faced. Climate scientists are saying ”The greenhouse gases that we are releasing into the air are causing the climate to change due to global warming. The changed climate will likely have devastating consequences for life on Earth”. But then there are many influential people who claim the scientists are wrong. These contrarians are saying in effect “It is not getting warmer, and even if it is, climate change is just natural and humans are not causing it.”. How can we decide which version to believe?
Another Way To Look At It:
The scientists’ message came from many years of work in developing an understanding of the physics of climate to the point where they think they can predict future climate, and it’s effects on the planet. The contrarians’ perspective was primarily derived from anecdotal history, philosophical doctrine, and parochial economics. Attempting to understand all the complex technicalities behind these two positions would take a lot of time and effort. So how else might we go about deciding what to believe? Perhaps by simply looking at the credentials and motivations of the holders of each position could tell us which side more likely has the story right. So lets do some digging into the backgrounds and minds of the people in each group, and see why they say what they say.
The Yes Side:
First for the “Yes, humans are causing the climate to change in a bad way” side, what about the credentials and motivations of the advocates of this position? Let’s start with the climate scientists who came up with the message. They consist of many thousands of professionals, both past and present, from all over the world who worked hard to try to understand how the climate operates. That work included many years of advanced education, internships, and often field work in uncomfortable locations. That experience eventually allowed them to lead their own climate studies, where they tried to verify and refine the understanding of how things work. What they found in their studies were then submitted as reports for other climate experts to review. If the information in a report was considered well-founded and viable by the reviewers, it was then published in respected scientific journals for others to make use of. This process, called peer review, is considered by the scientific community as a way of assuring quality, because the conclusions have been looked at and accepted by a number of different experts with multiple points of view.
Even then, climate scientists are the first to admit they don’t understand everything there is to know about climate. They know there are just too many variables to deal with in the extremely complex global climate system. So they make sure an “uncertainty factor” is included in everything they say, by using terms such as “90% probability” or “very likely”. And the graphs they present usually show a range of possible values which indicate that there is some uncertainty. Reducing that uncertainty by collecting more data, doing more research, and continual refinement of their theories is an on-going part of the scientific process.
The existence of knowledgeable skepticism in the science community is welcomed too, and is part of how the scientific process works, as it often raises more questions that need to be explored. The scientific process is designed to reveal any shortcomings in what they come up with so they can be corrected.
Having a number of peer-reviewed papers published helps establish the scientists’ reputation and credentials. That also attracts funding to keep their work going. That funding is needed because much of the work is being done at academic institutions with limited finances. The additional funding comes from a variety of sources, both government and the private sector, and mostly goes towards research project expenses.
The career scientists don’t expect to get wealthy from their work, they are motivated by curiosity, and the enjoyment derived from doing careful research, making new discoveries, and being able to contribute what they can to the body of scientific knowledge.
The scientific process has lead to the development of nearly every modern technical advance we have made, such as in medicine, disease control, computers, increased food production, modern transportation, wireless communications, satellite navigation, many others. Science has also warned us about serious unseen threats so we could take preventative action on them, such as various disease epidemics, the ozone hole, acid rain, leaded gasoline and paint, cancer from smoking, mercury poisoning, certain pesticides, nuclear radiation, earthquakes, etc. The study of weather and climate is another area of science that we benefit greatly from. It has helped us produce food in abundance, prepare for threatening storms, plan activities, and to know what we might expect in the future. No one could dispute that we have all benefited greatly from science.
The Reasoning Behind the Scientist’s Climate Message:
First off it is important to understand that weather is what we experience on any given day, while climate is the average of the wide range of daily weather over a long period of time, like 30 years. If the average weather changes over that span of time, they say that shows that the climate has changed.
The physics of weather is very complex because all weather is interrelated all over the world, i.e. what happens in one place affects and is effected by what happens everywhere else. Meteorologists with the help of computers do a great job with the short term local weather forecasts, but we all know predicting the weather in detail more than a few days out has a lot of uncertainty due to the complexity of it all.
Longer range climate trend projections on a global scale is actually easier to do. Along with the daily weather data, climate scientists include the many other factors that come into play such as changes in sun brightness, atmospheric composition, ocean temperatures at various depths, ocean and wind currents, polar ice coverage, planet wobble and orbital variations, volcanoes, etc. After a lot of research and study of past climate, they have developed theories of how it works. And that understanding has been tested and verified by incorporating their theories into computer programs, called models, and then loading the models with historical data. They found the models were able to produce “hind-casts” of past climate, that is, the models using the historical data predicted what really happened. Furthermore several versions of theses climate models developed by different groups all showed similar results. And the results of the first predictive runs a number of years ago turned out to be true in later years. See https://youtu.be/ox5hbkg34Ow for a short discussion about the models. These test results created confidence that these same computer models using more recent data could also project future climate trends.
The Bad News From the Scientists:
From analyzing the vast amounts of collected data, climate scientists have found solid evidence that over the last 130 years or so, since the start of the industrial age, the Earth’s average temperature has gotten significantly warmer. The warming is mostly due to human activity. And that the rate of warming is faster than any seen in the geological record for thousands of years.
They point out that even though the average temperature has gone up what seems to us laymen as only slightly over that time, due to the Earth’s large size the increase represents a huge amount of new “heat energy” that has accumulated in our planet. A small portion of that heat shows up in the air near the Earth’s surface, but most, around 90%, has accumulated in the oceans, because of the large surface area and the huge volume of the water.
Then using that data in the computer models, they show that this new heat energy may seriously disrupt the world-wide circulation of air and ocean currents, which directly effect our daily weather. The added energy will likely cause our weather to become more and more extreme. On top of that, the high rate of warming means we will have very little time to adapt to the new conditions it will cause. And the worst of all, the models show that once it gets to a certain point, there will be nothing we can do to stop the heating, it will continue to increase no matter what we do.
Some scientists say the disrupting effects have already started, as seen in the greater number of weather extremes and unusual weather being experienced nearly everywhere, with more violent storms, more flooding, worse droughts, etc. Polar ice is melting at unprecedented rates, the oceans are getting more acidic, sea level is rising, plants and animals are creeping farther north or higher up the mountains, and numerous other signs. Some recent reports say that in 2015, the Earth experienced the warmest year in recorded history. And the 14 warmest years in the recorded history have all occurred in the last 15 years. And now 2016 has beaten the 2015 record.
Nearly all of the thousands of climate science experts world-wide, over 97% of them, agree that this global warming and climate change episode, and how fast it is happening, is a real and major threat to us and other life on our planet.
(From here on in this essay I’ll call the issue “GW/CC”, for global warming and climate change).
This episode of GW/CC is a different problem than anything we have ever encountered as a civilization in several ways:
>It is sneaking up on us, not easily noticed in our daily activities.
>It will get much worse over the years.
>It will change the climate that life has adapted to and thrived in over thousands of years.
>The problem can’t be isolated, the emissions in one region will spread over the entire world in a short time.
>It will seriously affect everybody and every living thing.
>The related problem of increased ocean acidity will disrupt the food chain.
>It is happening so rapidly there is little time to fix it or adapt to it.
>It could soon get so far along that there will be nothing we can do to stop it.
>It will last thousands of years once it gets going.
>Unfortunately, at least for right now, GW/CC is mostly just a trend in the data only seen by the climate experts, and thus it is easily ignored in our daily lives.
Among the many serious repercussions of the disrupted weather that GW/CC will cause is that it could substantially reduce world-wide food production. World grain reserves fluctuate and sometimes get dangerously low even in normal times, GW/CC would make the situation much worse. A recent study shows that harvest losses of major crops of 20 to 50 percent can be expected at the end of our century if things don’t change. That likely would lead to famine and mass migrations of starving people, and fighting over dwindling food sources. Some experts say that it is already happening in the Middle East and Africa, such as the recent migrations from Syria into Europe, basically caused by unusual drought.
We in America would not likely be spared, and possibly would be hit even harder because of our house-of-cards economy and our industrial food supply system. Dust-bowl effects are expected to rapidly expand from the south-west into our mid-west bread basket. That would likely cause shortages of wheat, soybeans, and corn, the few crops that are the base of most of the foods, including meat, we depend on. That would result in many empty shelves and shockingly high prices at the grocery store. That could lead to scuffles, as we scramble to eat and feed our families, then panic as it got worse. That likely would turn into looting and destruction by gangs of armed marauders of the businesses that provide the things we need. An economic melt-down would soon follow and our money would become worthless. All this has happened before in other regions of the world. But this time it won’t be us just sitting in front of the TV watching it on the news, it likely will us who are starving, looting and marauding.
They Say There is Hope:
Fortunately the scientists say there is hope we can deal with GW/CC. In the past millions of years major climate changes have happened due to natural unstoppable forces. However nearly all of the thousands of climate experts say this GW/CC episode is happening due to human activities, primarily from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. These are called fossil fuels because they were formed millions of years ago from decaying plants and animals. Burning them like we now do releases the carbon that was stored in them all that time. That released carbon becomes carbon dioxide gas when mixed into the air. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is a heat trapping gas which the Earth needs to stay warm enough to be livable, like the way green-house glass works. But the excess amount of CO2 we are releasing is causing the Earth to overheat by holding in more of the sun’s heat than normal. In addition, some of the excess CO2 is being absorbed into the oceans, causing them to become more acidic, which will disrupt the marine ecosystem. Also methane, another green-house gas which is released from some of our activities like “factory” meat production, landfills, and from gas and oil well leakage, is a significant part of the problem. Then they say there is the possibility of a run-away situation with methane, where the warming will cause vast amounts of frozen methane at the bottom of the northern seas and in the tundra of Canada and Siberia to start to thaw and get into the air, which will then cause more warming, releasing even more methane.
The good news from the experts is that if we could cut back enough on the release of these gases, we could greatly reduce the GW/CC problem. Obviously one of the main ways to do this is to transition away from burning so much fossil fuel, and replace it with carbon-free sources of energy, often called renewable or sustainable energy. Another is we need to substantially reduce the leakage of methane we are causing.
The above discussion represents the main points of the climate scientists themselves. What about the non-scientist lay-people who accept and believe what the climate scientists are saying about GW/CC? They are sometimes referred to as “believers”.
There are many of them, recent polls show that at least 70 percent of Americans believe that global warming is real, and something should be done about it. But many of them consider it low on the list of important issues that need attention.
These people as a whole are not very outspoken about their belief in the science. The Sierra Club has more than two million members and supporters, but we don’t hear all that much from them individually. There are a few popular pro-GW/CC blogs, like Dot Earth and Climate Progress, that have some followers. Main stream media like PBS, NPR, the networks, (not biased outfits like FOX) occasionally feature pro GW/CC pieces.
There is a small number of fervent believers who have serious concern about what we are doing to the environment, and who are bothered about the adverse effects on the next generations. They push for corrective action initiated by the government, the public, and individually. and show up as part of several prominent activists organizations. They put on occasional organized demonstrations in public places that draw some attention.
One thing the believers tend to do is over-sell the science. They often say things that are not supported by real science, such as “this bad weather is caused by GW/CC”. (Climate scientists do not make that claim, but just say GW/CC can make bad weather worse and cause it to happen more often.) And they in general don’t do nearly enough in their daily lives to reduce GW/CC, maybe just some recycling, maybe they switched to low energy lighting and appliances. But they likely still drive too much and probably in over-sized vehicles, often live in over-sized houses, are probably over-sized themselves, etc. All this would indicate that even though believers accept the GW/CC message, they have not taken it seriously enough to get active in doing what needs to be done to fight it.
The Climate Science Contrarians:
Now let us consider the position held by those who adamantly maintain that the climate scientists are wrong about GW/CC. What are their credentials and motivations?
There are a small number of prominent contrarians who espouse this view. Among them are a few real climate scientists who say that the conclusions of the other scientists are wrong for various reasons. That is not unexpected and is part of how science works, skepticism by credentialed experts helps assure science quality.
However none of the remaining group of prominent contrarians have any of the necessary scientific expertise to legitimately oppose the science at that level, but they act like they do anyway. They base their pronouncements on what is called “pseudoscience”. Pseudoscience is not real science, but it can sound like it to us laymen. It is a claim, belief, or practice presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to the scientific method, often uses conjured-up and/or cherry-picked “facts”, ignores established theories, makes claims with absolute certainty, and other misleading activities. No real scientist would do any of that.
So why do these notorious contrarians push this fake science? Do they really believe the pseudoscience, or are there other reasons? It turns out there are a number of other reasons, but the main one is that they are trying to make big money off of a bad situation, at the expense of others. That is called profiteering.
The GW/CC Profiteers:
At the top of this pack of profiteers are the fossil fuel barons, the directors of the big corporations making up the massive fossil fuel industry. Like any corporate director, their one overriding goal is to maximize financial gains. They know that less use of fossil fuel would cut into those gains.
Even though recent investigations show that the barons know there are serious problems with the use of fossil fuels, they go ahead with pushing their products anyway. And they use what ever methods they can to stymie any threats to their money-making. Among their methods is to pay some “rogue scientists” and heavily fund some special interest groups to muddle the GW/CC issue by raising doubts about the science, the data, and the scientists themselves. (See some bothersome interviews of targeted scientists at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=aeSNhayqGcI ). These same tactics were used during the smoking-cancer battle and the leaded gasoline fight. The truth eventually came out about smoking and lead after years of wrangling, but not until many lives were ruined.
Another ploy of the barons is to “green-wash” their image by making large donations to respected institutions, which then influences what the institutions say about global warming and climate change. There are many others. These ploys have been effective so far, as seen by our limited response to the GW/CC threat.
The tentacles of the barons extend down to infect those below, where their free-flowing money creates plenty of fossil fuel “advocates”. These include the many self-serving politicians who are willing to do anything to get elected to a prominent and lucrative office. Even though these politicians are probably smart enough to understand the GW/CC threat, they would rather pander to the fossil fuel industry in exchange for large campaign donations and favorable political ads.
And the “big money speaks” in Congress, for at one time not long ago the Republican party was pro-environment, now most are GW/CC deniers. These turn-coats now promote and support legislation favorable to the fossil fuel barons’ interests, as evidenced by the barrage of industry friendly bills and amendments passing thru Congress. However recent polls show that well over half of Republican voters and almost all Democratic voters think GW/CC is real and should be addressed, so it is easy to see who these politicians really serve.
Then there are certain prominent individuals who get well compensated to deny GW-CC, people like we find on popular “conservative” radio talk shows, biased TV “news” programs, “skeptic” web blogs, and others. These people have no climate expertise, they are just snake-oil-salesmen, frauds, quacks, and charlatans. They get rich from the advertising in their programs or blogs, the bigger the audience the more money they make. They use various ways to attract followers, such as:
>Entertaining their gullible audience by trashing the science and the scientists.
>They often claim they have some bit of information that undermines the whole case the scientists make. (But the case for GW/CC is solid).
>One of their favorite claims is that climate change is a giant hoax, the product of climate scientists in collusion to get more funding. (But that is a completely absurd claim if you stop and think about it, —– requiring tens of thousands of scientists, from all over the world, for over 50 years, to not “spill the beans”).
>They concoct anti-GW/CC pseudoscience arguments that seem reasonable and believable to their eager audience. (But a little investigation shows that what they come up with are just deliberate half-truths, contorted facts, and cherry-picked data, all easily debunked).
>They continue to repeat their bogus and debunked claims knowing that most loyal followers won’t bother to look into it, and just accept what ever is put in front of them.
None of these tiresome and baseless claims stand up to critical scrutiny. Searching on ”denialist talking points” on the web will bring up a number of claims these professional deniers use, all points long ago debunked by real science but still popular. See skepticalscience.com/argument.php or realitydrop.org/ for a debunking of these claims with real science.
The Everyday Denier:
The money-grubbing profiteers described above are motivated by greed, as in making as much money as they can, as fast as they can, no matter what. Of course from the small, everyday, energy consumer is where their plunder comes from. There are millions of us.
Some of us small consumers are honest workers who’s livelihood is dependent on fossil fuel use, like truck drivers, farmers, manufacturers, pilots, etc. They worry about how their jobs and income will be affected by any governmental attempts to reduce fossil fuel use. Deep down they are probably realistic enough to know that GW/CC is likely true, but outwardly feel they have to deny it is happening to protect their incomes. (Fortunately for them there are now better ways of making a living with renewable energy than having to deal with dirty fossil fuels, as described later in this essay.)
Many of the remaining small energy consumers though, judging by how they act and what they say, indicate they are not giving any serious thought to the GW/CC issue. They don’t care about what the science experts say, they just go by whatever makes them feel better. But that makes them vulnerable to manipulation, and the GW/CC profiteers are there to manipulate them. The profiteers have spent millions of dollars to get them to go along with what they want them to believe. And their propaganda has been effective, as there have been enough deniers to obstruct progress in fighting GW/CC, and that allows the profiteers to thrive.
Studies have identified some of our underlying proclivities that are being exploited by the profiteers to manipulate us to their way of thinking, such as:
A. There are those who don’t like bad news, so they just flat out reject the notion of GW/CC.
B. Unrestrained denier talk, with it’s wild speculations, is more entertaining to listen to than dull facts from climate scientists.
C. We don’t want our “fun” interrupted by needing to deal with GW/CC, so we just say it isn’t so.
D. Some people are already maxed out with bad news, so ignore any more.
E. Some think that GW/CC is just a pretense for more government control and higher taxes.
F. Just deciding GW/CC is not happening is an easy way to not have to worry about it.
G. Some try to cover their guilt of an energy-guzzling life-style.
H. Some are so egotistical as to think they actually know more than the climate experts.
I. There are people who simply don’t know how to think logically.
J. Some like to make a “sport” out of being a denier, “trolling” just to stir up some fun.
K. There are those who just go by “intuition”, not by reason.
L. Some are to intellectually lazy to try to understand the issues.
M. There are the stubborn “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts” types.
N. There are people who like to entertain with far-out conspiracy theories.
O. For some it is an emotional reaction from fear their established way of life will have to change.
P. Some are persuaded to be deniers by popular “religious” leaders who have their own get-rich agenda.
Q. Their are those who feel a “higher power” won’t let it happen to them if they pray hard enough.
R. Some just go along with what others around them say, to maintain family and social harmony.
S. There are some who are selfish and simply don’t care about anything other than themselves, and go by what works for them.
T. Some people behave as though stupidity were a virtue.
U. Some just can’t be persuaded with logic and facts, “you can’t have a rational discussion with an irrational person”.
V. Some people are bored or unhappy with their lives, and look forward to any change.
W. People tend to trust their own perceptions over what scientists tell them.
X. Those who know very little about the GW/CC issue, but to avoid looking dumb use anecdotal evidence to claim it is not happening.
It is tempting to subconsciously allow ourselves to fall for some of these attitudes that let us go on living our relatively affluent lives while oblivious to the problems we are causing. But that is the wrong answer. For the sake of ourselves, our families and communities, and for all life on Earth both present and future, the right thing to do is to reject the bogus claims of the profiteers and deniers, accept what the climate experts are saying, and get on with fixing the GW/CC problems we are causing.
Why should I care, I’ll be long gone?
By now you might be thinking: “Okay, maybe the scientists are right about global warming and climate change (GW/CC), and how bad it might get. But why should I worry about it, I’ll be long gone before it gets very bad?”. Here are some thoughts that you might consider:
>Are we so selfish that trading a livable future for a few trivial pleasures right now seems okay?
>Cause the least damage possible to the future, it is just as important as now.
>We all have the right to live as comfortably as we can, but we shouldn’t do it at the expense of others.
>We know that people with different backgrounds have different outlooks on life, which dictates what they think is important to them. But the GW/CC issue will be a major part of everyone’s life, and we all will have to deal with it.
>We are the first generation to realize the damage and devastation that burning fossil fuels can cause. It will likely be by far the worst human caused tragedy ever. Yet many just ignore or deny it. Can we really be that callous?
>The GW/CC problem that our modern culture is primarily responsible for affects everybody world wide.
>If we just let GW/CC go, will we deserve the punishment it will render on us?
>Yes there are those who have too many immediate problems to worry much about GW/CC, but most of us could make the time and effort to do our part.
>The fossil fuel barons appear to have “bought” Congress. That is not the way democracy was to work.
>At a time when we desperately need honest and bold leadership to avert the worst of the GW/CC problem, what do we do but vote into Congress a pack of self-serving politicians.
>The past generations advanced the culture and technology they received, and left it for the next generation to enjoy and add to. Should we not do the same for future generations, rather than squandering it all as fast as we can?
>Today’s middle-agers will likely experience some of the first really bad effects of GW/CC, but their kids and grand-kids will probably bear the full brunt. Is that what we want for their future?
>Right now the younger generation knows they have a lot more at stake with GW/CC than the older generation now in power. Shouldn’t the geezers just get out of the way and let the “youngsters” get on with fixing it?
>The developed countries, like the USA, have caused most of the problem due to our high use of fossil fuels over the years, so we have the biggest obligation to fix the problem.
>The USA is by far one of the worst greenhouse gas offenders on a per-capita basis. The people of most other modern nations use just a fraction of what we do. How can we feel okay with that?
>The USA is a notable laggard in reducing per-capita green-house gas emissions, so the excuse that “if we slow it down other nations will just do it more” does not apply. Many other nations are already committed to reductions, and others will follow their lead, leaving us further behind.
>The recession over the last few years helped with greenhouse gas reductions slightly, but the economy is recovering and gasoline prices are way down. Now people are buying gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks again. Don’t we get it yet?
>Pay a little in comfort now to fix GW/CC, or pay a whole lot more in misery later. Is that the smart thing to do?
>Cheap fossil fuels allowed us to advance and grow. But that can’t go on for ever. Wouldn’t it make sense to establish a new sustainable energy base and appropriate growth rates while we still can?
>We know there have been some really messed up people in the world who have done terribly evil things. Good people eventually dealt with them. But are there enough good people to stop what may be the worst evil ever, the self-destruction of civilization caused by GW/CC?
>There are all kinds of transient problems around the world, but this one will seriously affect everybody for thousands of years. It needs serious attention.
>We have met the enemy, and it is us. Are we really going to be our own worst enemy?
>We got ourselves in this fix, it is up to us to get ourselves out of it. No outside force is going to help.
>How can we, as intelligent beings, ignore the science put forth by the worlds best climate experts? We know deep inside who is most likely right about the GW/CC issue.
>GW/CC may destroy civilization. How can we just sit back and let all the technical advancements we have made and will make in the future be lost without trying our best to stop GW/CC?
>How can we let all the wonderful world of nature that we share this planet with, be lost due to our callousness and greed? Other creatures like to live too.
>Even the Bible says we are charged with taking care of the Earth. We are not doing a very good job of it though.
>Are we really basically just animals after all, watching out for our own immediate interests, and unable to use our so-called “gift of intelligence” to foresee and solve future problems?
>We as individuals are just a short segment in the continuum of human life on our Earth. Our main duty is to try to make things better, not just to exploit whatever we can so we can enjoy life to the max in the present.
>The deniers response to the ethical and moral issues of GW/CC is to just casually dismiss them by pretending that “since GW/CC is not really happening, there is no problem”. But the “inconvenient truth” is that it is happening, and any conscientious, caring person would feel we have an obligation to try to fix it. Please give some honest consideration to what is being said here. We need to stop messing around and get on with fixing the problem while there is still time.
To get on with fixing the GW/CC problem, there are some other impediments to get around besides the deniers. These include pessimists who feel that “the problem is just too big to do anything about, so why bother trying”. That is an easy trap to fall into, especially after we learn more about how extensive the needed changes are. But we have to keep trying as best we can to fix GW/CC, in hope that when the problem finally becomes clear to enough people to start taking serious action, there will still be time to get the job done, because some have already started working on it. If we quit trying now, it will be hopeless for sure.
Some say the planet is overpopulated by humans, and that is causing the GW/CC problem. We for sure have overpopulated, by a factor of at least three. But if two thirds of the worlds population somehow disappeared, that would not solve the GW/CC problem, because it is likely to be the poorest people who would parish. It turns out that the world’s richest 10% of people, like most of us in America (relatively speaking), produce half of Earth’s climate-harming fossil-fuel emissions, while the poorest half contribute a mere 10%. The most egregious users, like us, are causing the problem, not the poor people.
Or there are those who say: “Lets just wait and see what happens, we can fix it then if it proves to be a problem”. For fixing it, they are referring to geo-engineering, techniques such as blocking the sun by spraying reflective particles in the upper atmosphere. At best something like that might slow down the warming some, but more likely it would mess up the weather even more. And the excess CO2 still accumulating in the air would continue to acidify the oceans, ruining the food chain that much of life relies on. There are other proposed plans, none of them without side-effects. For sure they all would cause all kinds of new social-political problems as some geographical areas would benefit, others hurt by the effects. And once we take the path of geo-engineering, it would become a on-going and increasing maintenance burden for thousands of years.
There are those who say it would be impossible to suddenly stop using fossil fuels, we are just too dependent on them. But “cold turkey” stopping is not required, we just have to gradually, but seriously and substantially, reduce our use of them over a period of time. Fortunately the technology to get started already exists, and there is still enough time if we start now.
Then there are people who think “renewable energy is not affordable, we can’t cover the costs of it”. But they are wrong too. Wind and solar energy are already cheaper than coal fired energy in some areas. And the costs of wind and solar are coming down fast, while the cost of coal and natural gas will go up as more of the rising hidden costs get exposed, and have to be paid one way or another. Then consider that we won’t have the on-going costs of refueling wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, and other renewables, the fuel is free. We would have just the job-producing first costs to build and deploy them, along with some minimal operational costs. Renewable energy also would mean more stable future costs because of no fluctuation in fuel prices. And it would be a reliable domestic energy source for the long term. By the way, the energy invested in building some renewable energy projects, like a wind farm, is recovered in only about 6 months, from there on it is a “plus”. The energy invested in building coal and natural gas power plants takes many years to recover, if at all.
Another positive of renewable energy is there would be no more of the awful despoiling of the Earth from mining, mountain top removal, drilling, transport, leaks, and air pollution associated with the production and burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. In contrast, renewable energy facilities can be easily dismantled and the area restored when their useful life is finished.
And then the development and deployment of that new energy technology would stimulate our economy, and many new solid jobs would be created from it. A study estimated that investing in renewable energy development would yield about three times more new clean jobs than existing dirty fossil fuel jobs lost. In fact that is already happening.
Also consider that if fossil energy sources didn’t have so much of their costs hidden, called external costs, the positive economics of renewable energy would be much clearer. Some researchers say that the real cost of a gallon of gasoline is close to $15.00, which we pay indirectly without knowing it. The hidden costs of burning gasoline, diesel, oil, coal, and natural gas come from dealing with the cleanup of oil spills and coal ash storage failures, health problems from breathing polluted air, contamination of drinking water, damage from gas pipe line explosions and oil train wrecks, wars and foreign involvement needed to keep the world’s oil flowing, guarding against terrorist attacks on the concentrated fossil fuel infrastructure, disaster preparedness, the costs of stabilizing an uncertain energy source, etc. And then there are the big disasters that are likely coming, such as the mega flooding, droughts, famine, and fighting that climate change will cause.
Attacking the Problem:
Even though it seems the general public is not very concerned about it, polls show that most agree about the need to address GW/CC once it has been honestly explained. So we are not that uncaring, it is just that so many of us are misinformed, thanks to the profiteering fossil fuel industry. But with all the big money behind them, and because much of our elected “leadership” have sold out to the fossil fuel barons, not enough is happening to deal with it. So it will be up to us, we the people, to change things.
The public needs to be informed and imbued with a sense of urgency about the issue. How to get a message out to people? One way is to join activists organizations like the Sierra Club, 350.org, and others. They have millions of members and supporters, and know how to get the attention of the political leadership. Another is to get the message out to a few key people who each then use the local newspapers, TV, Internet, or whatever to get it out to more people. You could even refer to this essay if you want to at https://agw-cc.com/ .
We need to throw as much support as we can towards more development and deployment of clean energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, wave and tidal, etc. We must fight any more expansion of fossil fuel extraction and it’s transport infrastructure, and insist that capital be poured into clean energy development.
We also need to reduce our personal consumption of fossil energy in our daily activities. Some studies show the average carbon emissions per person in the USA is about 20 metric tons per year. The world-wide per-capita average is about 4 metric tons. It is obvious from these figures who has caused most of the problem, and who has the capacity to most easily fix it. We need to get our carbon emissions way down to an environmentally sustainable level, at least an 80% reduction. It is doable.
On a small scale, a few pioneers have been able to make that reduction in their own households. In my case I took it on as an an interesting do-it-yourself project. I installed some solar thermal panels for hot water, enough to get hot water completely free 10 months of the year. I installed some solar PV panels to charge a small battery bank for supplemental (and backup ) power. I run my TV, computer, refrigerator, and other small items off-grid with it. I arranged to buy my grid electrical power from wind farms at no significant increase in price. And I also use that wind generated electricity to run a heat pump to help heat my house, which I supplement with a wood pellet heater. I also enrolled in a “peak time rewards” program where I get rewarded for reducing my grid power usage during high load periods.
I also got a lot more efficient with the energy I do use, with energy efficient appliances and lighting, and I keep the use of them to a minimum. My small hybrid car (Toyota Prius C) routinely gets better than 50 mpg. A plug-in hybrid car I drove for awhile was getting 80 mpg on short trips, and I charged it mostly from solar panels. I recently bought a low cost used factory-built electric car (Nissan Leaf) for local trips, and will be doing most of it’s battery charging with solar panels.
Other things helped: I tightened up my small house, added more insulation, and installed a white metal roof on it. I eat mostly simple foods, and not much meat (helps keep my weight way down too). I minimize purchasing frivolous stuff, get a lot of “bang for the buck” from what I do buy, and recycle what I can when I’m done with it. I retired from full time work, so no regular commutes, and now work mostly from home. I do a lot of bike riding for fun and health reasons. For the fun of it I even built an electric bike that does 25 mph and goes 25 miles on a charge.
There was no loss of any quality of life from what I did, in fact it got better in many ways. I can’t say if I’m saving any money or not, but that wasn’t the point. There are other ways to measure the value of something other than just monetarily.
There would be a lot more needed to solve the GW/CC problem than just what I did, but at least it shows that part of what we need to do is doable. Nearly anybody can do some of what I did right away, which would help get you started down the right path. Simply changing routines to be more efficient would be helpful. Solar panels for hot water are no big deal to install in many situations by hanging a few of them on a sunny south wall, and they have a short pay-back period. Grid-tied PV solar panels are being set up on home roof-tops, car ports, and back-yards everywhere, as well as on commercial, educational, and institutional buildings. In some states, just a few clicks at a certain web site can convert you over to wind generated grid electricity. Household size battery packs are now available to help provide grid stability. Another way to fill the gap from clouds or a lull in winds is to use “demand response,” which involves paying commercial, industrial, and even residential customers to reduce electricity demand during those hours. For transportation, much more efficient personal vehicles are readily available. Going from a 20 mpg SUV or pickup truck to a 50 mpg hybrid car makes a big difference in CO2 emissions, electric powered cars for local trips even more. Bio-fuels made with clean processes are becoming available for freight and agriculture uses, and the costs are reasonable compared to fossil fuels when external costs are factored in.
Of course building up the nation-wide clean energy system that we need will be a major endeavor, requiring a huge expansion of renewable energy generation capacity and infrastructure. We as a nation can do it if we want to. But we need to avoid letting the government pick and choose how to do it, we need to let the free market work. The government’s role is to establish goals, along with fair and effective rules for the markets to work within.
However here is a possible scenario, at least to get us started right away, as most of the technology already exists: A vast increase in the number of renewable energy collection devices like wind turbines and solar PV will need to be deployed in appropriate locations. Large scale energy storage systems, like pumped hydro, flow batteries, solar-thermal storage tanks, will be needed to deal with the variability issues of solar and wind. Load scheduling will help reduce peak demands, thus reducing generation costs. Also new long distance HVDC electrical transmission lines to move the energy from where it is produced to where it is needed will be required. There are several HVDC lines already planned for the USA (but are encountering bureaucratic obstacles). Some new smaller, safer modular nuclear reactor power stations may also be needed to supplement renewable power and for emergencies, and should work well on the new HVDC grid. Small natural gas “peaker” plants and home generators, which can power up on short notice, will probably be needed for awhile to help get thru dark and/or calm days. Probably some petroleum fuel will still be needed for defense, industry, and emergencies, but could be tolerable if we reduce our routine use of them enough.
Studies show that if we start right away it is economically feasible to make the needed changes on a national scale and get enough of it in place within 30 years to be effective, which is about all the time we have. To help get things going, in addition to what we can do ourselves, we need to get our elected representatives to create and pass legislation so the economic advantages of renewable energy would be more apparent. That would stimulate it’s development. Some experts say the best way would be to require a more direct payment of all the now hidden costs of burning fossil fuels, by putting in place a rising-rate carbon emissions tax. After all, we pay to have all our other wastes, like trash and sewage, be properly dealt with, so why not the carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels? The tax would address the external costs of burning fossil fuels that we pay thru other means. Some experts say that all the revenue from the tax should be returned directly to the tax payer, with each getting an equal amount back. So those who reduced CO2 emissions would make out, as they would pay less carbon tax than they got back in refunds, and so would start seeing a financial benefit right away. Those who didn’t reduce CO2 emissions would come up short in their refunds. That setup would level the playing field with fossil fuels, which gets $20,000,000,000 a year in tax advantages. It would enable and encourage natural market forces to reward efficiency and innovation. And it would spur new economic growth right away from the development and deployment of the new clean energy systems we will be wanting sooner or later anyway. And who knows what other wonderful new things might come from it. It would be like what the space race did for us in stimulating the development of computers, satellite navigation, wire-less communications, etc.
Lets Get On With it.
Fixing GW/CC will require big changes in how we think and operate. And because so much of what we do now is unsustainable, things will change anyway whether we like it or not. Our task is to try to steer the changes in a direction that we can live with.
Still you might think that expecting the USA to go full speed with the conversion to renewable energy and have it in place within 30 years is not likely to happen with all the obstacles in front of us. But once we start backing off on fossil fuel use, and begin to seriously deploy renewable energy systems, more people and financial interests will get involved when they see the value of changing how we do things. It would be a snowball effect, starting out small, but building up rapidly.
We need to start attacking it like we did with our race-to-the-moon program during the 1960s. We got started as soon as we saw the need, and a very concentrated effort got the job done on time. If we wait until we are forced to deal with GW/CC because bad weather, food shortages and conflicts have already set in, then it might require something much more severe, like a government mandated World War II level of mobilization to deal with it. If so it would be a very costly and rushed all-out effort to slash CO2 emissions, including bringing on the end of our affluent lives, everybody would need to sacrifice in a big way. And even then we could only hope it was not too late. A preemptive race-to-the-moon type program would be a vastly better way of tackling it.
Or we could just let GW/CC happen and then try to live with the result. The Earth has already experienced environmental degradation. The oceans are already losing productivity due to CO2 caused acidity. People are already suffering and fighting due to drought and flooding from extreme weather in the Middle East, some claim made worse by GW/CC. Those kind of catastrophes are going to spread everywhere, and things would get tremendously worse for everybody, including us. Are we just going to sit back and let it happen without trying to stop it, just party-on until all hell breaks loose?
We have plenty to gain if we start right away making the changes needed, and nearly everything to lose if we do nothing and it happens as expected. Right now we have a unique opportunity that may not come along again, —- to use our collective wisdom, resources, and concentrated efforts to avoid a likely major world wide disaster, rather than just let it happen to us. We can fix the problem if we want to bad enough.
Please seriously consider what is being said here, time is running out. We need to rise above ourselves, and do what is needed to keep the environment livable for our young ones, and for the future generations we are leaving this planet to. Lets get on with it.
by J. Rodney Booker