Interviews And Articles by Nick Breeze
- Published: 24 November 2015 24 November 2015
In addition, we have, with many others, shaken our heads as political leader after political leader puts the short-term interests of yesterdays economic consumerist world before the emergency measures that have to be implemented today to preserve, perhaps only fragments of life, for tomorrow's world.
That being said, we take no credit whatsoever for the content of this video clip of Jeremy Grantham, the billionaire cofounder and investment strategist of Grantham Mayo van Otterloo (GMO), one of the largest asset management funds in the world. He, with his wife, established the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment among many other philanthropical interests, routinely supporting endeavours to tackle some of the biggest challenges that humanity currently faces. He was described to us by one of his friends as a “zealot” when it comes to climate change. The following messages are not only poignant but confirm this view.
We are now preparing to leave for Paris where solutions to the "climate problem" are being sought and, most likely, the successes that will be celebrated, will fall far short of what is needed to avert an outright catastrophé. That said, all is not lost. There is muich that can be and will be done in the ensuing decades. Among the many people we will be interviewing and talking to in Paris, it will be a shame if we don't get to ask one question of Mister Grantham himself: If one has a plan, a really good one, that could tip the scales in favour of survival, what would be the next step to implement it?
The video clip is short and is a clear message by someone who is very well informed. The rest of the article is taken from Grantham’s own quarterly GMO newsletter, reflecting on some of the key issues that we should all be looking to tackle together, peacefully and constructively. The link to the full GMO newsletter is at the bottom of the page.
As an intro to the GMO Quarterly letter excerpt, I will set the tone by quoting the opening lines of the classic poem, 'East Coker', by T.S. Eliot:
In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur, and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
4. Climate Problems
Both the actual climate and the associated politics seem to be changing more rapidly these days, with the seriousness of the situation becoming better appreciated. Visible changes in the climate have also been accelerating, with many more records than normal of droughts, floods, and, most particularly, heat. Last year was the hottest year ever recorded, and this year, helped by an El Niño, has gotten off to a dreadful start. January was the second hottest January ever. February and March were outright records. April was in third place, but both May and June were back in first place. This consistency with volatile climate is unusual and ominous. If kept up, 2015 will be the hottest by a lot. Angela Merkel, a chemist by University training, arm-twisted the G7 countries, especially Japan and the recently rogue Canada, into a statement committing their countries to decarbonizing their economies completely by 2100 and making some increased effort by 2050, a respectable improvement but still very insufficient for the long term. It was probably the first time for several decades, by the way, that it was reasonably clear that someone other than a U.S President was the natural leader: at least on some issues.
Pope Francis weighed in with a brave encyclical, which was bound to cause trouble with his flock, making the clear case that it is a Catholic’s duty to help protect our home planet and that man- made climate change from excessive burning of CO2-producing fossil fuels is an urgent problem. He was advised by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which includes several Catholic, as well as non-Catholic, Nobel Prize winners and several of the world’s leading scientific authorities on climate change. How did he arrange this? If only our politicians had such advisors and availed themselves.
Several developed and developing countries, including Ethiopia and Brazil, made unexpected unilateral commitments to reduced CO2 targets. Imagine a country as poor as Ethiopia and with so small a carbon footprint making any commitment without a clear recompense. Things really are changing.
A) A very silent spring
Climate damage is proceeding far faster than predicted 5 or 10 years ago, as regards deteriorating farming conditions, sea level rises, ocean acidification, and species die-off. A recent report estimates the disastrous decline in total animal life: In general it has halved in the last 40 years, with bird populations down 40%. Based on the loss of almost all megafauna in North America shortly after humans arrived and of millions of buffalo and billions (down to the last one) of passenger pigeons (perhaps the most numerous bird that ever existed), not to mention the stories of the quantities of fish in the oceans and salmon in the rivers in Colonial times, it is reasonable to guess that we humans have already at least halved it once before in our history. And the negative effects of climate change are only now kicking in. See the new report from the Audubon Society on the damage likely to be inflicted on future bird populations by climate change. It is easy to imagine that in another 40 years we will have springs that are very silent indeed.
Disturbingly, some changes look likely to last forever. It was recently announced, for example, that the Thwaites Glacier[4 in the Antarctic has “gone irreversible,” as I like to say. It will apparently collapse in the next century (or several centuries if we are lucky) even if we never burn another gallon of gas. Fortunately, the sea level rise from this event may take up to hundreds of years, but it just might be much quicker. It should be noted that this is explicitly not accounted for in the United Nations’ reports (IPCC). There is something especially disturbing about irreversible events, and other dangerous, irreversible or self-sustaining changes are likely to occur: When arctic sea ice melts, the dark ocean absorbs more sunlight than reflective ice had and therefore more ice melts, etc. Potentially far worse, the melting of frozen tundra gives off methane, which in the near term (20 years) is over 80 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. And the ultimate worst is the possible melting of the frozen undersea methane clathrates, notably on the Siberian continental shelf. These deposits are said to contain as much greenhouse gas potential as all fossil fuels combined. This could, at worst, make for a very finite lifetime for our very favorite species, homo not so sapiens.
C) The effects of climate change on extreme weather events
Two new articles appeared this past June on this topic in Nature Communications and Nature. They both deal with the direct thermodynamic effects of a warming climate, which account for most of the increase in extreme temperature events. Their argument, simplified, is that climate change may not cause more hurricanes or more droughts, but when they do occur, the higher ocean and air temperatures will guarantee that these events will be worse than they would have been in a lower-temperature world. (Hurricane Sandy had warmer water supplying more energy and California’s drought has near-record temperatures further drying up waters already reduced by a near-record lack of precipitation, with the combined effect exceeding any such event in over 1,000 years.)
The Nature article adds a second variable: the shifts caused by climate change to air and ocean currents. These changes cause a minority of extreme weather events, mostly hot extremes, but a few of them cold extremes, due mainly to “blocking,” wherein extreme weather patterns can be sticky and last longer than normal as was the case of the infamous “Arctic Vortex.”
D) Oceans under stress
In the July 3, 2015 issue of Science, 22 scientists led by Jean-Pierre Gattuso made the case that even relative to the substantial land-based problems of climate change, oceans were not receiving their appropriate share of concern. Ocean life, they say, is diminishing at the fastest rate since the so-called Great Dying of 250 million years ago. The oceans have absorbed 90% of all of the extra heat generated, and this makes it harder to hold oxygen in their waters. They also have absorbed 30% of the extra carbon dioxide, which forms a mild acid in water and makes life more difficult for shell-forming creatures, many of which are critical food supplies at the bottom of the chain. Their main addition to the field from this report, though, is this: a species might be able to adapt to less oxygen, or to a higher temperature, or to more acidity, but it is the three stresses arriving together that is the killer. In a different context (e.g., coral reefs and mangrove swamps, which act as critical nurseries for fish), they could have added that if those three factors don’t get you, overfishing, coastal pollution, and reef destruction will.
For coastal and ocean-going fish alike, the stresses increase and populations fall. Wild fish from the oceans will decline as a source of protein, further threatening the global food supply situation. Our future behavior will decide whether the declines are catastrophic or merely painful.
E) Water, stress, and the Middle East
Outside of the world of scientific papers, Andy Lees, a financial analyst in London, wrote a disturbing paper on the particular stress that insufficient overground water and rapidly declining water tables, exacerbated by warming temperatures, is putting on Middle Eastern countries from Syria and Iraq to the Yemen. These stresses are destabilizing these societies and several others as you read. The full article can be read at http://goo.gl/yAlXAS.
2 World Wildlife Fund, “Living Planet Report,” September, 2014.
3 National Audubon Society, “Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report: A Primer for Practitioners,” Contributors:
Gary Langham, Justin Schuetz, Candan Soykan, Chad Wilsey, Tom Auer, Geoff LeBaron, Connie Sanchez, and Trish Distler, Version 1.2, New York, 2014. 4 Science Magazine, “Marine Ice Sheet Collapse Potentially Under Way for Thwaites Glacier Basin, West Antarctica,” Vol 344, no. 6185, pp 735-738, May 12, 2014.
5 Kevin Trenberth et al., Nature Communications, April 26, 2015. 6 David Horton et al., Nature, April 30, 2015.
To read the full GMO quarterly newsletter click here: https://goo.gl/UnU7Zr
MS MITCHELL: Mr. Grantham, at a time where we are in such a slow-growth economy, where there are warnings – including some of your own – about financial crises to come, how do you persuade investors that this is good business, that this makes economic sense?
MR GRANTHAM: We were talking earlier that the best thing to do in a forum like this is to ignore the question and get to the heart of the matter.
MS MITCHELL: Please do. (Laughter.)
MR GRANTHAM: And I have less career risk than my colleagues sitting with me and probably any of you, and therefore I’m a good person to try and rouse the rabble. Secretary Kerry said that you didn’t need converting, but I wonder if there’s anyone here who feels he couldn’t be a little more outspoken on this issue, which is existential – it will determine the success of our stable society or not. I wonder if there’s anyone here who couldn’t do a better job and speak out a little more.
And let me just give credit to the enemy, the obfuscators. They are much better at speaking out. They have people like Richard Lindzen, the infamous professor at MIT who supported tobacco as doing no harm and now supports fossil fuels as being healthy. We have Viscount Ridley and what I call the looney lords in England who – even yesterday, he had a new article in The Telegraph saying that there was no such thing as carbon dioxide, it was good for you. We have the Koch brothers and the Cato Institutes – they do a very good job at obfuscation. They speak out all the time. And we’re not so good; our climate scientists are too nervous protecting the dignity of the science – we have a Jim Hansen here and somebody over there. But in general, they don’t. I have yet to meet a climate scientist who doesn’t think the situation is much worse than is generally understood and that it’s accelerating. We have politicians – one here, thank heavens, Secretary Kerry, and one there – but in general, much more silent than they need to be.
A quick word on Trudeau: Hallelujah. Canada, who used to be good, was captured by Alberta and the fossil industry, and unexpectedly, the Albertan fossil fuelers were thrown out by liberals and now we have a much greener unexpected prime minister.
We have the odd mayor of great cities here and there. They’re not actually bad at all, but – a Bloomberg here and someone over there – but not enough. The pension plans – no direct ownership yet of wind or solar. Where are they? We have a CalPERS here and someone over there, but not too many. They’re not pulling their weight. Corporate offices – we have a Unilever here and let me think – yes, one or two.
If you get it, you have to state it loudly and clearly and often, or we will fail. University presidents – well, not yet, present company excepted – but we have high hopes that someone soon will get it and speak out and set a good example. We have a Pope here and there – well, there’s only one Pope, but – (laughter) – and thank heavens for Pope Francis. That’s career risk. He knew he was going to get hammered and he still did it. We have a Bank of England governor here and there. I mean, what an achievement that was for him to speak out and say what he did about the climate.
The future for all of us will depend on a few thousand people taking some career risk and putting it on the line and making it clear that they see this as a real crisis – people like you. So that’s my harangue.
The original filmed source of this clip can be found at: https://youtu.be/v2WBfftQF-s
The video was taken from the 'Secretary of State and Clean Energy Investment Forum': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2WBfftQF-s
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