Written by Bru Pearce Bru Pearce
Published: 01 October 2012 01 October 2012
Facing up to climate change, repairing the system and looking forward to a bright future
by Bru Pearce
I find myself talking about climate change a lot, explaining the consequences of rising atmospheric CO2 and Ocean acidification, of how it is a here and now problem, that is getting exponentially worse year upon year as weather all over the world gets more extreme. With the result that I’m often seen as a prophet of doom delivering a message that no one really wants to hear or is prepared to believe. Far too often the retort being; “that the problem is too big to deal with, what can anybody do about it, better to carry on as normal”?
The truth is that most people are far more concerned about the immediate economic pressures that they have on them. They hide behind the thought that the current recession is part of the normal cycle and that recovery is just around the corner. They fail to realise that on our present course there can be no recovery, the cycle is over. We have dumped our pollutants in the atmosphere and in the oceans, the damage is done, the climate is destabilising and starting to shift to another state. Global food security is already becoming a real issue that is driving us towards economic and social collapse.
At which point I say “the good news is that changing our energy economy is also the key to ending our economic worries” which produces the response, “So how does that work and what would you do?”
So now I have to lay out my thoughts on the solutions.
1) We have to persuade the vast majority of people of the dire need to start taking action now and convince them of the benefits. People need to connect the extreme weather events that are occurring now with increasing intensity and frequency with the imminent danger we all face. Plenty of groups are attempting to do that. – But it is a most unpalatable message, if not enough is also said about our ability to avert disaster. We associate the solutions to climate change and a complete switch to a renewable energy economy with a return to economic prosperity.
2) So we have to present the choices
a) Inaction – has brought us to the brink of total disaster, famine, starvation, war, heat and drought, intolerable mad weather – leading to economic collapse and a potential end to 90% of life on earth.
b) Take action now - to restore a stable climate, by managing the oceans and atmosphere – leading to an end of the recession and a secure and prosperous future for us, and for generations to come.
That should be a no brainer!
3) The problems that are taking us to disaster
a) Our emissions of green house gasses to the atmosphere from burning hydrocarbon fuels (oil gas and coal) have to be stopped (we have to get to zero emissions)
b) The worlds current economic structure is driven by the hydrocarbon industry which makes huge profits and is therefore very resistant to change
c) We are allowing Arctic Sea ice to melt which means that more and more heat is being absorbed by the dark open ocean and warming the arctic air, this is accelerating climate change by reducing the temperature gradient between equatorial regions and the Poles leading to a slowing of the Jet Stream and more extreme weather.
d) Much of the security behind corporate and national debt is based on not yet extracted hydrocarbons, oil, gas and coal reserves. If these are extracted it is a 100% certainty that we will kick off runaway climate change. It is very hard to see how civilisation and 90% of life on earth could survive this.
e) Although Earth’s climate is naturally in a state of constant change, the scale and the speed of the change that man has caused to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels goes massively beyond any of the changes that have occurred in the past 12,000 years. In fact we appear to be changing things faster than happened 57 million years ago when the last great extinction event occurred.
f) The inertia in the system means that whatever we do, further warming and sea level rise is already committed to; therefore adaptation is going to be required.
4) Identify what needs to be done
a) Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have to be brought back down below 300 ppm as quickly as possible. Requiring the capture and sequestration (storage) of 250 Gt of CO2. This cannot be done overnight it is going to take years to bring CO2 concentrations back down.
b) Power has to be delivered and transportation has to continue, the global economic structure cannot be allowed to collapse
c) Time that we do not have is required in order to convert to a renewable energy economy and repair the climate – a stop gap solution will have to be employed.
d) Hydrocarbon securities are going to have to be written off and the debts restructured.
5) Take Control
a) We are now faced with the necessity of re-geo-engineering the planet and it is therefore vital that we are able to fully understand and monitor Earth Systems. Huge efforts and resources need to go into Earth system modelling. This needs to be the world’s priority scientific endeavour on a scale to match the Hadron Collider at CERN. Work on this project has been begun by The ICES Foundation www.icesfoundation.org
The economic value of this project will be incalculable as its results will affect every business on the planet.
b) The changes we have already made by burning fossil fuels probably mean that the earth systems will never return to quite the same state of relative equilibrium that has been enjoyed for the past 12,000 years. There will be positive and adverse effects to geo-engineering which will lead to a need for regional climate management. (Such as storm and drought management). We therefore have to be able to accurately monitor the full effects of our actions. This opens the opportunity for positive intervention and will improve our ability to feed the world’s population.
i) Note; we are now suffering the effect of mans inadvertent big geo engineering experiment, that of adding 250 Gt of CO2 and other green house gasses to the atmosphere over the past 150 years.
ii) We started geo-engineering some 6,000 years ago when we began clearing the forest for agriculture. (we have loads of experience)
c) The Arctic has to be cooled now to restore the albedo effect and prevent radiated heat from the sun being absorbed by the dark oceans which will lead to methane release and run away global heating.
It is absolutely critical that we cut our CO2 emissions and remove the excess Carbon from the atmosphere. This is going to require time, firstly to make the change to all renewable energy generation and secondly to draw CO2 down out of the atmosphere. Time has already run out, by allowing the Arctic sea ice to melt we have changed the climate dynamics and we now face the further horror of runaway climate change as methane hydrates trapped in the tundra and under the Arctic Sea defrost and release to the atmosphere. Therefore we have to immediately embark on reflective geo-engineering activities to treat this symptom of global warming. However reflective activities will do nothing to prevent further CO2 absorption into the oceans which raises their acidity. Reflective geo-engineering is only a stopgap solution while we remedy the cause of the problem and return to stable atmospheric CO2 levels.
6) There are some solutions that we can all get on with (that’s all 7 billion of us).Regulation will help, but there are no major impediments to us taking action as individuals!
a) Take our heads out of the sand and face up to what’s happening, acknowledge the problem, accept it, talk about it, and be part of the solution.
b) Reduce emissions – a lot of what we do is entirely unnecessary and many of the reductions we make will have minimal effect on us, indeed in many cases we can make big financial savings:
i) Control thermostats so that there is no excessive heating or cooling
ii) Cut out unnecessary travel and massively reduce recreational use of hydrocarbon fuels
iii) Increase thermal efficiency of buildings
iv) Cut out unnecessary lighting
v) Mange carbon foot prints – educated and act accordingly
vi) Accept that use of hydrocarbons is directly impacting billions of people who are feeling the first effects and that our collective actions are already causing the starvation of millions! Connect with those people because if we don’t act it may be your turn next.
c) Make a positive effort to restore the atmosphere “Capture carbon” - Start planting and growing long living biomass (trees and shrubs) where ever possible. Adding 10 or 20% to the land based biomass of the planet would make a huge difference to atmospheric CO2 levels
d) Geo-engineer to cool the planet by reflecting solar radiation (heat) away – individuals and corporations should paint every roof and available reflective surface white! This is a stop gap effort, while we make the switch to renewable energy to help prevent runaway climate change.
7) Solutions requiring Governmental legislation and international cooperation
a) Buy time by implementing large scale projects to cool the Arctic reflect heat away and increasing the planets Albedo – cloud whitening.
b) Implement and strengthen existing carbon markets.
c) Change the ground rules so that it becomes mandatory to clean up or pay others to clean up carbon pollution. (Note this has to be 100% + to recover emissions already dumped in the atmosphere). Making CO2 pollution a crime will eventually alleviates the need for carbon markets. The Eradicating Ecocide campaign which proposes making major environmental damage a 5th Crime Against Peace, provides a ready to go structure for this.
d) Enact legislation to support voluntary CO2 reduction actions
e) Promote and support alternative energy systems, wind, solar, wave...
f) Support the conversion of hydrocarbon based companies to geothermal and other renewable energies.
g) Support the rapid implementation of the next generation of nuclear power stations, (ensure that these are built with increasing extreme weather events, sea level rise and increased geological activity taken into account).
h) Support the massive implementation of Pyrolysis technologies to lock up CO2 captured by the biosphere. Pyrolysis all agro waste to create renewable energy and char or bio char for carbon sequestration and soil improvement.
i) Research and implement other biological carbon capture and systems such as diatom fertilisation in the oceans.
j) Stimulate long term thinking by supporting long term financial structures.
8) Finance the transition to a new sustainable renewable energy economy
a) Once the real cost of Hydrocarbon energy is imposed by adding the cleanup cost renewable energy generation will become competitive.
b) Transfer and recognise the financial security potential of yet to be implemented renewable capabilities. i.e. geothermal capability and solar capability.
c) The potential for a long term future will revive confidence in the markets and long term leading will become attractive with much higher levels of investor security.
d) Increased efficiency will bring profits over time across all sectors.
9) Adaptation – Even reducing CO2 levels back to pre-industrial levels will not stop the effects of climate change already set in motion, due to the inertia of the earth systems. Sea level rise will continue and accelerate until at least the end of the century. This will require huge infrastructure projects to protect or move coastal town and cities. This presents wonderful opportunities to produce new cities that are vastly more efficient in every respect.
10) Embrace Science
a) Bio engineering for new drought resilient crops and crops with greater biomass potential
b) Nuclear energy – based on Thorium and other non weapons materials that are less polluting and have the potential to eradicate existing nuclear waste.
c) Support research and development of fusion energy systems
d) Micro climate engineering
e) Water recovery and management systems
11) Cease the pointless and unnecessary
a) Cut back dramatically on unnecessary use of world resources and appreciate that these are finite and have far greater value than we place on them at present.
b) Reduce working hours and create time for arts and science, recreation and caring. Work for works sake is pointless we need to recalibrate. 4 billion people are seeking to bring their life styles up to 1st world levels.
12) Education and values – outside of religion expand on United Nations Charter to:
a) Teach that life is a lease with a requirement for environmental improvement
b) Value bio diversity
c) Expand on human rights to include the rights of all living things and the rights of generations to come. (Built into the 5th law of Peace)
13) Public relations
a) Get the show on the road by engaging in an international public relations effort to promote the advantages and benefits of taking action now. Associate the change to a renewable energy economy with positive messages that highlight the benefits so that the people demand action and make taking action the political imperative.
Economics of the Sustainable Age
The work required to enact the above will require huge resources to be employed, it will be the biggest economic generator ever and because the result is a secure and stable future, confidence will soar, as efficiency not growth becomes the deciding factor.
"Too hard to do you say?"
So now who is the prophet of doom?