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The Environment: Increasing Waste - Crash Course Chapter 24

We are killing the ecosystems we depend on
Friday, December 5, 2014, 7:54 PM

Chapter 24 of the Crash Course is now publicly available and ready for watching below.

Following up on the previous chapter focusing on human-caused resource depletion, the other disheartening part of the story of the environment concerns the things we humans put back into it, and the impact they have on the ecosystems that support all of life -- ours included.

Like the economy, ecosystems are complex systems.  That means that they owe their complexity and order to energy flows and, most importantly, they are inherently unpredictable.  How they will respond to the change by a thousand rapid insults is unknown and literally unknowable. 

Like any complex system, an ecosystem will tend to remain in a stable form until the pressures become too great and then they will suddenly shift to a different baseline and exist there for a while. That is, instead of having some magical preferred equilibrium, they have many -- and some of those will be decidedly less or more awesome for humans to exist within.

If the world tips from a stable climate to a less stable one, as it has done many times in the past, then growing enough food for everyone will become difficult if not impossible.

An ocean acidified will remain that way for possibly hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.  Overly-depleted cod fisheries will take many decades to recover, if and only if they are not fished in between.   A species wiped out remains that way forever.

An overpumped aquifer may take thousands if not tens of thousands of years to recharge.

There are a hundred flashing red warning signs coming to us from the environment, the Earth, and all of its supporting ecosystems.   Either we get off the 'growth at any cost' express train or we risk wrecking important, valuable, essential and beautiful species, ecosystems and support systems that we rely upon for our health, our wealth, and our happiness. 

Once again, you and I do not have any particular need for constant exponential economic growth. It is only our money system that has that demand.

Either we figure out a way to live on our own terms or we'll simply default into doing the things that our money system demands of us.  The former has a possible future; the latter does not.

For the best viewing experience, watch the above video in hi-definition (HD) and in expanded screen mode

Coming next Friday: Chapter 25: Future Shock

The full suite of chapters in this new Crash Course series can be found at www.peakprosperity.com/crashcourse

And for those who have yet to view it, be sure to watch the 'Accelerated' Crash Course -- the under-1-hour condensation of the new 4.5-hour series. It's a great vehicle for introducing new eyes to this material.

Transcript: 

The other disheartening part of the story of the environment concerns the things we put back into it and the impact they have on the ecosystems that support all of life, ours included.

Going by the overly-broad name of ‘pollutants’, the sorts of disruptions and disrupters that we are introducing to the environment are extraordinarily diverse.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the massive trash gyre in the pacific, which we can clearly see killing marine animals as they ingest or get entangled in the plastic remnants of our lives.  While tragic, many fewer are aware that these same plastics eventually erode into tiny bits that are wonderful at adsorbing a variety of toxins that then get ingested by the smaller players such as minnows, plankton and marine worms – resulting in concerning die-offs at the bottom of the ocean food chain.

Or perhaps you’ve heard that the monarch butterfly -- which has migrated by the tens and hundreds of millions from Canada and the US to overwinter in Mexico each year -- is in danger of its first ever recorded migration failure.  A migration pattern that's been in place for millions of years has fallen apart in just a few years.

What’s causing this is not yet well-understood, but it's a safe bet the habitat destruction and the new and overly powerful classes of pesticides we are using in the name of so-called modern farming are big parts of the story.

Or perhaps you are aware that honeybees and wild pollinators are dying off precipitously.   There again we strongly suspect a combination of new pesticides, herbicides and fungicides combining with a loss of wild pollen sources to stress the bees into an exhausted, confused loss of vitality. 

By the time the bees and the butterflies are disappearing, we should be urgently asking ourselves; what other lesser known, less obvious -- but just as important -- organisms are disappearing too?

In the Pacific ocean, mammals and starfish, sardines and sea salps are dying en masse and nobody really knows why.  But here we not that the organisms mentioned cover the gamut from invertebrates to fishes to echinoderms and mammals.

When such a wide range of creatures are dying off, isn't it time to sit up and take notice?

Here's one possibility for all of the observed stresses, on land and at sea.

Each year, we release hundreds of thousands of different compounds into the environment which are either intentional or accidental disrupters of everything from sexual hormone regulation to fertility to mood control. 

Some of these we put into the environment on purpose, as part of our industrial farming and chemical production practices,. We introduce others accidentally, as well as incidentally, as part of our daily lives

And the awkward part of that story?  We don’t have the slightest clue what the combined ecosystem effects are of all those thousands and thousands of human-created and released compounds. And we don’t know what the impacts, in terms of human health, are either.

But we do know that there are lots and lots of signs that increasing damage is being done.  Whether we measure that damage in disappearing butterflies, or in the rise in obesity, or in the soaring rates of clinical depression, we should own up to the reality that the waste we wantonly dump into the world we live in has consequences.

Our situation is not so much the result of any one particular insult, but rather it's a case of death by a thousand cuts.  A little pollution can be handled by the earth's natural disposal and clearing mechanisms, but too much can overwhelm even the most robust of systems. 

Our own bodies can handle a little bit of lead, a dash of chromium, a pinch of pesticides, and the occasional lack of food.  But not all at once.  The combined stresses can add up and lead to an overwhelming event.

Again, we have to confront the idea that the earth is not limitless in what it can provide or what it can absorb.   The World Bank projects that global waste levels will triple by the end of this century. How much is too much? And what will it take to change our ways before we do something really harmful and effectively irreversible?

And so, this brings us to the issue of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere. This is a direct result of our exponential consumption of fossil fuels, namely coal, oil and natural gas.

I get asked a lot to weigh in on the global climate change story. It's an enormous subject that's quite complicated, which to-date has allowed for opponents to question the validity of the data, and the climate change thesis, in general. But there is one facet of the story that is direct, observable, and scientifically irrefutable - and concerns me enormously.

And that’s ocean acidification.

The science is crystal clear on this; the more carbon dioxide that exists in the atmosphere the more acidic the ocean becomes.  This is simple chemistry.

CO2 dissolves into the ocean and forms carbonic acid.  More carbon dioxide = more acid = more acidity.   This process is mathematically linear and not subject to any sort of debate. 

Because of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the world's oceans are now acidifying at a rate faster than at any time in the last 300 million years.

Higher ocean acidity destroys coral reef formation and inhibits repair. At current rates of carbon dioxide release and ocean acidification we may lose all – all -- the world's coral reefs by the year 2050.

The tiny creatures of the ocean that form the base of the food pyramid, the various planktons that are the literal base of the food pyramid, have tiny shells made out of material that is very sensitive to oceanic acidity levels.  The more the Ph changes, the harder time they have making their shells.

Why should we care?  Because nearly half of all the oxygen we breathe comes from the phytoplankton floating about in the ocean.

Frighteningly, the amount of plankton in the ocean has dropped by about 1% per year for the past forty years, which means that there is 40% less phytoplankton in the ocean today than in 1950.

Soon we will have lost half of the very foundation of the ocean's food chain. And we're on track to lose even more.

So if anybody is wondering why there are fewer salmon swimming in the ocean these days, it’s because there are fewer baitfish. And there are fewer of those because there’s less plankton for them to eat.  At least that's part of the story – there are also issues like overfishing and terrible resource management exacerbating the situation.

Along with ocean acidification, there cannot be any doubt that climate events are becoming more and more extreme.

In the United States, some 2,284 high temperature records -- records! -- were broken in June 2013.

In all the many, many decades of keeping careful temperature records, these were the highest ever recorded on certain days in June.

If various animals were already on the edge of survival because of the thousand cuts already inflicted by environmental contaminants, then record high heat at a sensitive time of the year may have pushed them too far.

Just seven months later, new records were set in January 2014, this time for record cold and snow in the east, and record heat in the west.

On the other side of the world, Australia suffered through both its hottest year and it's hottest summer in the 2013-2014 season shattering old records.  With temperatures of over 115 degrees Fahrenheit, reports of bats literally dropping from the sky unable to properly keep cool and trees dying even when watered as they were no longer able to function metabolically. 

Ecosystems and their intricately linked webs of animal and plant life are clearly no longer able to handle the combined insults of temperature variability outside their adapted ranges, loss of food and habitat, and thousands upon thousands of new chemical toxins and disrupters.

Humans are disrupting entire ecosystems to the point of failure. We’re doing this without really taking into account the possible consequences, which is no real surprise because the consequences are virtually unpredictable.  But our failing lies in not appreciating that we cannot predict what will happen, and that we might do something that is irreversible.

Wiping out the bottom of the ocean’s food chain certainly qualifies in my mind as a very bad thing to do; and simple common sense suggests that we should avoid such a disaster at all costs.

In fact, so many specifies are being driven to extinction by human activity that biologists are calling the age in which we live the “Sixth Mass Extinction”. So, “Congratulations” humans, your global contribution is now on part with a gigantic meteor slamming into the Earth.

Like the economy, ecosystems are complex systems.  That means that they owe their complexity and order to energy flows and, most importantly, they are inherently unpredictable.  How they will respond to the change by a thousand rapid insults is unknown and literally unknowable. 

Like any complex system an ecosystem will tend to remain in a stable form until the pressures become too great and then they will suddenly shift to a different baseline and exist there for a while.  That is, instead of having some magical preferred equilibrium, they have many -- and some of those will be decidedly less or more awesome for humans to exist within.

If the world tips from a stable climate to a less stable one, as it has done many times in the past, then growing enough food for everyone will become difficult if not impossible.

An ocean acidified will remain that way for possibly hundreds of thousands or even millions of years.  Overly-depleted cod fisheries will take many decades to recover, if and only if they are not fished in between.   A species wiped out remains that way forever.

An aquifer overpumped will take thousands if not tens of thousands of years to recharge.

So where some might be tempted to think, yeah, well, who needs pollinators anyways?  We need them because we need intact ecosystems and bees and butterflies are simply the canaries in our coalmine. We need them because they essential for growing one-third of the world’s crops  - and 80% of those in the US.

But we need them, too, because they are beautiful and a world without beauty is a world diminished.

There are a hundred flashing red warning signs coming to us from the environment, the Earth, and all of its supporting ecosystems.   Either we get off the 'growth at any cost' express train or we risk wrecking important, valuable, essential and beautiful species, ecosystems and support systems that we rely upon for our health, our wealth, and our happiness. 

Once again, you and I do not have any particular need for constant exponential economic growth, it is only our money system that has that demand.

Either we figure out a way to live on our own terms or we'll simply default into doing the things that our money system demands of us.  The former has a possible future, the latter does not.

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12 Comments

HarryFlashman's picture
HarryFlashman
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 1 2008
Posts: 53
Ocean Acidification

I did know about this,but I didn't realise that it was so crucial.Like many people who have taken the time to learn about Peak Oil,Overpopulation,The Sixth Great Extinction and The coming destabilisation of the climate system,I see no way around it.

 

People are stupid,and if they're not stupid,they're venal and will accommodate and exploit stupidity.

 

I have lost count of the number of times I have gotten into arguments with scientific illiterates about climate change or faith-based believers in the dismal science of economics or religious believers.There is no winning with these people.No amount of data,no studies and no objective facts can shift them.We're doomed.

 

On the bright side,I stopped fighting the climate change fight as the waters had become so muddied,but I will weigh in again now with the ocean acidification line of argument,as I'm sure it will gain some traction.At the very least then I can leave the argument feeling I've scored a few hits.Much good it will do.

 

 

KennethPollinger's picture
KennethPollinger
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 22 2010
Posts: 650
For BUZZ, once more

Hope this helps:

How to Buy Copper Stocks

One option for establishing exposure to copper involves purchasing stocks of companies engaged in mining and selling the metal. Because the profitability of these firms depends on market prices for the metal, these stocks have been known to demonstrate a strong positive correlation to spot prices. Moreover, investing in stocks avoids the potential complexities of a futures-based strategy.

Many companies that mine copper are also engaged in mining for gold, nickel, and other precious and industrial metals. There are, however, some pure play miners that focus primarily on copper:

  • Jiangxi Copper Company
  • Freeport Copper
  • Equinox Minerals
  • Lundin Mining Corp
  • XStrata PLC

For a longer list of copper mining companies, see the holdings of the Global X Copper MinersETF.

 

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3097
Thanks Chris for...

...mentioning climate change as an environmental problem.  Hopefully this can open the discussion of what to do about it on the forum.  Time is short if we hope to stop climate change before the results become too catastrophic.  We've already locked in a lot of deterioration over the next few decades.

Doug

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 7 2007
Posts: 5353
Climate Change
Doug wrote:

...mentioning climate change as an environmental problem.  Hopefully this can open the discussion of what to do about it on the forum.  Time is short if we hope to stop climate change before the results become too catastrophic.  We've already locked in a lot of deterioration over the next few decades.

Doug

Doug, one of the big problems with climate change as a place to start is that by addressing it we need to confront a few very uncomfortable facts.

  1. 80% of the world's primary energy comes from fossil fuels
  2. We have an exponential money system and associated economy
  3. There are at least 10 calories of fossil fuels baked into every food calorie
  4. There are 7 billion and someday 9 billion people on the planet.

Given fact #1, climate change requires us to address facts 2, 3, and 4 if by 'addressing it' we mean that we have to simply stop burning fossil fuels, then we have to confront the idea that we cannot do everything at once.  To the extent that some groups gloss over these uncomfortable facts is the extent to which I don't believe they'll be taken seriously.  

We cannot have a robust expanding economy and feed everybody while cutting fossil fuel use drastically.

Something has to give and that's pretty much the economy given the other options.  While you and I know the economy was going to have to fall someday regardless, I can't think of anybody in the political realm willing to stand up, say as much, and then make it happen.

I mean, maybe we could, in theory, but that would require a massive shift in priorities and real leadership to explain what, why and how.  I simply don't see that anywhere on the political landscape right now.

Heck, we cannot even get Las Vegas to seriously confront the ever-increasing bathtub ring in lake Mead marking its eventual demise as a city, and that's pretty straightforward.

Without said leadership, there's no chance of refashioning our lives in the structurally enormous ways that would be required to live on a fraction of the current CO2 emissions in time.

Given all that I come back to we must become the very simple idea that we must become the change we wish to see.  If people need to begin living lower carbon existences, either for reasons of scarcity of fuels or an overabundance of carbon in the atmosphere, then the next question is how to best go about making those changes in my own life first? 

After than the next question is how best to influence other people to do the same?  

To answer that I'll re-post a comment I made last year in the Climate Change thread:

+++++++++++++++++++++

My relative absence from the Climate Change arena reflects very little about my own views on the matter scientifically, but quite a lot about my views on the utility of the AGW story to lead to the sorts of changes I desire to see in the world. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely convinced me that humans have a certain amount of hard wiring and that wiring responds better to some threats than others. If we want people to take something seriously enough to change their behaviors, then the threat we are describing is most powerful if it:

  1. Has a face. We combat things like Hitler, Saddam, even wolves because they are easy to identify in our brains. We are less successful with things like climate change because their's nothing we can see and touch directly. Their is no single foe to defeat. Worse, the only face we can legitimately attach to the issue is the one we see in the mirror every morning.
  2. Is immediate and visible. The nearer, and more immediate the threat the faster we respond to it. A saber tooth tiger gets more of our attention than a slowly advancing (or retreating) glacier. We will dive into a body of water to save a drowning child we see, but barely give a second thought to children dying half way round the world from fully preventable causes. Evolutionarily this makes perfect sense, but it is a distinct liability for a species with the ability to fundamentally deplete resources that took hundreds of millions of years to accumulate over a few hundred years. Similarly, discussions about potential changes in 2100 tend to lose a lot of people
  3. Is concrete. Statistical arguments really lose most people. Even the idea of smoking, with its very high statistical chance of leading to illness and premature death is not compelling enough to get people to quit or to not take it up at all. The point here is that humans do better with certainty than with uncertain arguments, even though statistical methods are really solid and businesses and financial people use them every day to great effect. Uncertain, or statistical, arguments are far less effective than you might expect based on the (severity) x (likelihood) outcome of some things like climate change.
  4. Is something we can control. This means we have some sense of agency in the cause. If it's something that we feel we have very little control over, that serves to blunt our tendency towards action. The things we can control are the ones we react to best and with the most vigor. What sense of control does any one person have in the climate change story given that most think that even if their entire nation gave up burning fossil fuels that China would simply do it instead?

As I've said many times, I am completely agnostic as to why somebody does something, only that they do it. If one person installs solar hot water because it is a good investment, and another does it because this is a great way to put less carbon in the atmosphere, those are completely identical actions to me. No difference.

If I put in fruit trees because I wish to bolster my neighborhoods food security (true) and my neighbor has put in fruit trees after seeing mine because they remind him of how much he enjoyed their blossoms as a boy (true), these are completely identical actions to me. No difference between them.

By dropping my requirement that people do things for the same reason that I do them, and let them do them for their own reasons, I have opened up a much wider set of possible avenues to engage people and to support their concrete actions.

Of course, once people discover that there are many changes that one can make that require very little in the way of modifying living habits, save money, save energy, and are good for the environment then I believe that there's a far greater chance that more and more people will resonate with these actions and want to try them out for themselves.

So....I happen to believe that all of the myriad ways that 7 billion people are changing the ecosystems of the world are quite serious and deserve our very best attention, and that it is my job to discover and continue to refine the very best ways to reach the most people and support their taking concrete actions. As it happens, personal resilience and community engagement are very neatly aligned with the same actions that climate change would have us undertake, but it seems to offer a tougher path to personal change than other ones.

 

Mark Cochrane's picture
Mark Cochrane
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: May 24 2011
Posts: 1215
Tour de force

Chris,

You provide an incredibly clear and lucid explanation of the environmental predicament that we find ourselves in. Rarely do the combined aspects of environmental chaos that we have wrought get told in a coherent narrative. We generally focus on singular aspects without a thought of how they fit together.

Unfortunately, few people in the industrialized world even experience the natural world as we flit from 'environmentally controlled' home to work places and back again in our climate controlled cars. Even those who contemplate the monumental environmental issues that we face have a hard time focusing on them because the mind simply shears away in disbelief.

One day we will all wonder how we could have ever been so stupid and short sighted, but, until that day, we will blissfully run errands to keep our fossil fuel-dependent lives on track. Is any one else amazed by just how time consuming all of our so-called labor saving devices have become? I sometimes wonder if we are all being intentionally over stimulated with one distraction after another precisely to keep us from ever stopping to think about anything?

Thanks for doing more than most to open eyes and stimulate positive responses to our growing list of predicaments.

Mark

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3097
The bigger picture

Chris

I don't disagree with really anything you wrote, but think there is a larger role we must play if we wish to rein in climate change short of catastrophe.

I totally get your 4 uncomfortable facts, but argue that we cannot wait to fix Nos. 2,3 and 4 before addressing No. 1.  We must reduce use of fossil fuels first and foremost of the many climate change contributors.

There is no question that adequately addressing climate change is going to require fundamental changes in our way of life, but what is the alternative?  The effects of climate change are becoming more and more obvious every year.  We living in the northeast US should recognize that singular fact. 

I heard Chris Gibson, Republican Representative of New York’s 19th district, a district in which I used to live, speak to the issue.  He is swimming upstream in his party by trying to change its intransigent denial of climate change.  He noted that his district has experienced three 500 year storms in the past few years.  One of those flooded the Schoharie valley, a large heavily agricultural region.  I remember the news reports showing the entire valley flooded to at least 4-5 ft deep.  It was a disaster.  Do you think Rep. Gibson is going to fix your problems 2,3 and 4 before addressing the direct causes of climate change?  I don’t.

I have posted before about, I have been recently informed, a 200 year flood in my watershed in 2009.  It wiped out a sizeable portion of the village at the bottom of the watershed and closed all access to the village from the south, where I live, for several weeks.  They are currently trying to change the course of the responsible creek to avoid more of these floods, another milder form of which we had last year.  A recent study found that the northeast has had 86% (I believe that’s the correct number but can’t find the link) more strong storms over the last several years than previously was normal.  We can safely expect that number to get larger.

To put off addressing climate change in favor of fixing those other problems will do nothing to address those problems whereas failing to address climate change will certainly exacerbate Nos. 3 and 4 and is probably related to No. 2 only tangentially.  I know your concentration tends to be on economics, but you really need to recognize that economies collapse with some frequency.  I certainly agree with most on this site that our, and in all probability the global, economies are in for some rough sledding ahead.

“We cannot have a robust expanding economy and feed everybody while cutting fossil fuel use drastically.”

As far as I can tell, we aren’t going to have a robust expanding economy whether we cut fossil fuel use or not.  The ugly truth is we can no longer afford an eternally growing economy.  I thought you held the same view.  All four of your uncomfortable facts are aspects of the unsustainable world we live in.  I’ll add another uncomfortable fact, they all must stop if we hope to create a livable world.

The science is increasingly showing that we can expect 2 degrees C by mid-century if we don’t start substantially reducing greenhouse gases soon.   Mainstream science is telling us we have a huge problem, perhaps the most complex problem ever, that needs to be dealt with soon and on a global scale.  The reasons why people disbelieve science are numerous; personal livelihoods, scientific ignorance, political affiliations, peer pressure or just plain apathy.  Unfortunately, getting many of these people to face the facts requires the kind on national unanimity that sends a generation off to fight and die for their country.  We may not have a human face to put on this predicament, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

The kind of efforts we need are on national and global scale.  That means collective actions to influence legislators and government leaders around the world; national and international agreements to reduce greenhouse gases, logging of the world’s forests and destruction of the world’s reefs; ending destructive extraction of non-renewable resources, particularly fossil fuels; and restorative agricultural methods.  These are all directly related to the climate.  That singular fact is inescapable and overriding.

These kinds of transitions will be painful and many people are likely to die.  But again, what’s the alternative?

Doug

Thetallestmanonearth's picture
Thetallestmanonearth
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 28 2013
Posts: 317
These kinds of transitions

These kinds of transitions will be painful and many people are likely to die.  But again, what’s the alternative?

Doug, I agree with most of what you said, but pragmatically I don't think it's possible to mobilize people on the premise that you end with.  Unfortunately any honest well thought out conversation about how to mitigate climate change will end with exactly that point (or outright denial - "nuh-uh....you made that up cause you hate freedom!")....We have to quit using fossil fuels.  Without fossil fuels, we cannot support the population we have. Cities will no longer work. Food will become scarce. We will not be able to control nuclear fall out from poorly designed plants like Fukushima. Medical care and emergency services will go away. Tax revenues will plummet and governments will fail. Billions of people will die.

If we do nothing, business as usual can continue for a while longer, then due to declining net energy most of those things will happen anyway. Well I agree that addressing it is the right thing to do for the planet and is our ethical responsibility, I don't think there is any realistic way to get people to make the changes needed in time.  Therefore, the best course of action is to make individual choices that are inline with your beliefs, lead by example and be spiritually prepared for the inevitable end result.

In my life that looks like this.  I still work in the chemical industry despite the fact that I find it morally reprehensible. It's hard for me to face that everyday, but frankly it would be a lot harder to look at my wife and tell her we can't make the bills anymore.  Besides, even if I left my job someone else would fill my role in the market so the only gain is personal, it wouldn't impact the larger market demand for chemicals (the China dilemma).  I negotiated a work from home arrangement so I hardly ever drive reducing my footprint. When I do, it's in a hybrid....not a solution, but a little less bad than a SUV.  I am concerned for my future prosperity (call me selfish) so I moved out of the city and bought a place with a small house (by western standards) on couple of acres.  I am planting trees and growing/raising a decent portion of the food we eat.  We buy some from local farmers, but frankly, without our once a month costco run we'd be malnourished at best.  My wife and I don't have kids yet, but despite everything that's happening in the world, we want a family.  I don't want more than two (replacement population) but how many people in the world understand demographics or have that much control over their reproductive choices?  Point is, by historical standards even after making all the changes I am comfortable making, my life is still hugely energy intense and ecologically damaging.  I won't pretend that doesn't bother me, but short of dropping out, leaving my wife and living as a hermit in the woods, it's the best I can do.  I can't really expect others to make changes I'm not even willing to make.

I am learning to propagate trees and planning to start a small nursery.  Given enough time with a stable economy, I may be able to align my income with my belief system, but again, that is a personal gain and does little to solve the larger problem.  For now I plant fruit and nut trees as my apology to the planet and to future generations.  Hopefully that will help somewhat offset the other damage I have done and continue to do.

Doug's picture
Doug
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 1 2008
Posts: 3097
Tallest
Quote:

Doug, I agree with most of what you said, but pragmatically I don't think it's possible to mobilize people on the premise that you end with.  Unfortunately any honest well thought out conversation about how to mitigate climate change will end with exactly that point (or outright denial - "nuh-uh....you made that up cause you hate freedom!")....We have to quit using fossil fuels.  Without fossil fuels, we cannot support the population we have. Cities will no longer work. Food will become scarce. We will not be able to control nuclear fall out from poorly designed plants like Fukushima. Medical care and emergency services will go away. Tax revenues will plummet and governments will fail. Billions of people will die.

I should have added that in a bau future lots of people are going to die also, probably more than if we confront climate change.

I keep goiing back to Chris's 4 uncomfortable facts:

1.  Fossil fuels - Yep we will continue to use them for some time.  The sooner we move to renewables, the less petroleum we use.  And, solar is rapidly becoming cost competitive with fossils.  Pay attention to what Elon Musk is doing.  But still, I yhink conservation has more bang for the buck than anything else in the short term.

2.  Exponential money system and associated economy - Yes, true, but I see that as temporary and just one more economic system doomed to failure.  We won't go extinct and will probably muddle through until someone comes up with a new economic system that will probably be born doomed to extinction.  Becoming more resilient to such things is what this site is best for.

3.  10 calories of fossil fuel in every calorie of food - I follow your and this site's model of growing our own with a little left over to give or sell to others.  We grow more every year and are learning a lot along the way.  We don't burn much fossil fuel, but have to figure out more composting methods and find fertilizers like manure.  We're getting better at it.  As I see it, all of us learning such skills is the only way we will wean ourselves from factory farms.

4.  Overpopulation - The only reliable way of bringing down  birth  rates is educating women.  That's a long term prospect in the third world where most of the new populations are being born.  That is probably where most of the dying will be done absent some kind of environmental disaster or war.  I fail to see how anything we do to combat climate change will significantly change those odds.

All that being said, however, we collectively really must put pressure on tptb to do the right things.  That may be the biggest job of all.  We do tend to elect dunderheads.

Doug

Sterling Cornaby's picture
Sterling Cornaby
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Joined: Sep 6 2012
Posts: 151
How to eliminate fossil fuels...

So, great comments; I am in agreement that a very good solution is an individual one; we have got to make personal changes and adapt to such a world. (I always really appreciate you comments thetallestmanonearth). 

The way I see fossil fuel usage going down is we simply run out of the stuff over the next several decades, and we get the results that we get, from the mean temperature of the earth changing to ocean acidification.   I believe carbon emission reduction will be forced on us by nature herself, by running out of it, just like a dead animal on the African plains, the feeding on fossil fuels will stop when there is no more left to get.  I don't believe humans have the collective will too make a collective transition to avoid these long term risks; I would love to be wrong on this.   

I don't know if it exists, but I would love to see a CO2 climate model including "peak oil" and "peak coal" which uses decline in oil and coal burning over the next 100 years.  What is the amount of carbon we can realistically get into the atmosphere and how fast?  I would love to see this because most models I have seen have the "worst case" of exponential increase of CO2 emissions forever, which I do not believe is realistic.   

Some places in the future I hope will find a new normal and may even be prosperous (with prosperous being defined in a better way).  Other places and people will go through hell, (many already do).  We will continue having a mass extinction (Personally, I hope the American plains bison makes it, humans almost did this beast in once already ).  Anyway, I do have sort of a sick 'poetic justice' thought that we send all this CO2 in the air, eventually algae take over in oceans, dies by lack of oxygen in the water (killing lots more stuff in the water), sinks to the bottom and in millions of years we get oil reserves again. 

Sterling   

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reddgreen
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What we can control vs what we cant

The climate change warnings look much different, although no less dire, after you've started reading the work by paleoclimatologists.  I was very surprised that if we go back far enough, 7,000 years or so, these climatologists have found that the region around California has had droughts lasting up to 240 years in length, and similarly biblical flooding inbetween.  Their timeline presents a much more variable climate than the 100 years data we see quoted in typical articles on global warming.   I don't believe that there is much debate in the genuine scientific community as to whether or not human activities have and are continuing to impact the earth's climate.  But, if all this is all true, the impacts of human induced land clearing, pollution, and CO2 and methane release into the atmosphere, coupled with the probability of another 100 to 200 year long drought that would have occurred, and have occurred in the past, naturally, then the dire predictions of a 1.7 vs a 2.0 degree global temperature changes aren't our biggest worry.

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Mark Cochrane
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Clearing up a few points

Sterling,

The running out of carbon fuels approach is a recipe for unpleasantness. While the case for peak oil is compelling where we will face diminishing returns in the very near future, the question of just how strenuously we fight that trend in terms of other fossil fuels may determine the fate of our species and a whole lot of others. We will not go quietly into the night which is why we have deep sea platforms, tar sand oils, and fracking. We’ve also got a lot of coal and oodles of methane hydrates that we could burn (assuming we can figure out how to get them without killing ourselves). The point being that peak carbon need not be at the same point as peak oil. The main issue seems to be whether or not we can maintain complex enough economies of scale on the downside of Hubbert’s curve to exploit the remaining resources?

The climate models do not have a simulation for peak oil but the way they work is by having a series of so-called Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) which is a fancy way of trying to bracket what humanity may do in terms of future carbon emission-based forcing of the climate system. The four are RCP 8.5, 6, 4.5, and 2.6 W/m2 which respectively range from basically the worst we can do (the current trajectory) to the best we can expect if humanity has an epiphany and dramatically cuts energy use. The point here is that none of the scenarios are trying to 'predict' what we are going to do. No one can. We are currently riding the 8.5 line but could switch to any other value at any time in the future (say when the global economy crashes). The scenarios are generally only looking out until 2100, which is hardly forever. Incidentally, we’ll keep warming for a long time after that. However, the only RCP that actually comes down in the amount of forcing in the RCP 2.6 which will peak and come down before 2100. RCP 6 and 4.5 stabilize some time after 2100. RCP 8.5 is burn baby burn... probably not sustainable over the long haul (thankfully) but maximizes the damages over all time periods. So just to clarify, there are many climate model runs that are not just the worst case scenario. You may only see those ones because it is currently the path we are on and the press emphasizes very simple arguments. No one wants to get bogged down in the complexities of reality.

 

Redgreen,

You are right that California (and everywhere else) has periodically experienced major droughts or wet periods. What is at issue with climate change is the frequency with which a given location ends up in either bin (drought or flood) and the variability of conditions overall. In the case of California, the current drought has been related to the so-called Triple-R (Ridiculously Resilient Ridge) which is basically a blocking ridge of air that has forced much of the normal rainfall away from California over the last three years. This condition is not some new creation caused by our fossil fuel carbon emissions but these emissions do make this situation more likely to happen.  Under current conditions such events are at least three times as likely to occur as they would have in preindustrial periods with less greenhouse gases (link). Places like the southwestern US are probably in for a much drier future. Las Vegas and Reno should be able to calculate the odds, and they do not favor the house...

Lastly, don’t be so dismissive of 2 degrees of warming. It only took 5-6 C to move from the last ice age to our preindustrial climate and that happened over a period of thousands of years. Warming by 2 C in less than a century is kind of like going from 80 mph to zero in about 10 ft. Survivable (maybe), pleasant (definitely not). FYI, we already have 1.6 C baked into the system even if we miraculously stop burning all fossil fuels tomorrow.

Mark

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cmartenson
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Posts: 5353
Death by a thousand cuts

Well, here's another article reporting on a study that links very common household chemicals with what amounts to birth defects, but this time in brain development:

Prenatal exposure to common household chemicals linked with substantial drop in child IQ

Children exposed during pregnancy to elevated levels of two common chemicals found in the home--di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) and di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP)--had an IQ score, on average, more than six points lower than children exposed at lower levels, according to researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

The study is the first to report a link between prenatal exposure to phthalates and IQ in school-age children. Results appear online in the journal PLOS ONE. DnBP and DiBP are found in a wide variety of consumer products, from dryer sheets to vinyl fabrics to personal care products like lipstick, hairspray, and nail polish, even some soaps.

Since 2009, several phthalates have been banned from children's toys and other childcare articles in the United States. However, no steps have been taken to protect the developing fetus by alerting pregnant women to potential exposures. In the U.S., phthalates are rarely listed as ingredients on products in which they are used. Researchers followed 328 New York City women and their children from low-income communities.

They assessed the women's exposure to four phthalates--DnBP, DiBP, di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate, and diethyl phthalate--in the third trimester of pregnancy by measuring levels of the chemicals' metabolites in urine.

Children were given IQ tests at age 7. Children of mothers exposed during pregnancy to the highest 25 percent of concentrations of DnBP and DiBP had IQs 6.6 and 7.6 points lower, respectively, than children of mothers exposed to the lowest 25 percent of concentrations after controlling for factors like maternal IQ, maternal education, and quality of the home environment that are known to influence child IQ scores.

The association was also seen for specific aspects of IQ, such as perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed. The researchers found no associations between the other two phthalates and child IQ.

Phlatates are extremely common and we are surrounded by them.

As I detailed in this CC Chapter, it is not just any one toxin, but the thousands we have surrounded ourselves with...not very smart if you ask me.

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