Is Human Progress a Myth?

 

On This Page We Examine Some of the Critical Problems Listed Above

Progress is the Realization of Utopias – Oscar Wilde

We will have an ongoing heavy discussion of the topics in the box above. And you will discover whether you are an optimist or a pessimist relative to the future of the human condition.

(See the origin of our Question, “Is Human Progress a Myth“)


Global Climate Change: Part I—The Problem

Eastern Hemisphere from Apollo 17

Credit: Image courtesy NASA Johnson Space Center- from Apollo 17

There is no “controversy” about global climate change (GCC); it is occurring and is largely caused by human mining and burning of fossil fuels. Animal and general agriculture causes approximately  9% of emissions through management practices , livestock (particularly cattle), manure management, rice cultivation, etc. These human causes are empirical observation, objective fact. Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, build up in our atmosphere causing the “Greenhouse Effect” which traps heat over time.  See a simple diagram to help you understand how this happens.

The term “climate change” is more precise than “global warming” because the general heating of the Earth will cause some areas to actually cool and moisture pattern extremes will also vary in different regions of the Earth — from drenching rainfall to drought. There is a consensus among climate scientists regarding all the statements above and in this paragraph. Numerous other hypotheses for a changing climate have of course been analyzed– output of the sun, changes in the Earth’s axis, Earth’s orbit, volcanic output, etc., and it is concluded that man’s emissions from burning fossil fuels is the largest contributing factor.

(You can see a shorter review of this existential climate change problem on our website.)

The first scientist presented the idea of global warming in 1896 (Svante Arrhenius). He attempted to calculate how changes in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect. He was the first person to predict that emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other combustion processes were large enough to cause global warming. The basic understanding of the physics of the impact of greenhouse gases on the atmosphere was further refined in the 1930’s  and studies continued throughout the 20th Century. See a review for more detail of GCC history in the 20th Century and another concise listing of milestones on that subject.

The scientific community now has enough data to clearly indicate that this greenhouse effect is causing very serious effects on the Earth’s climate systems. Such effects will continue to become more and more profound and destructive, altering our ecosystems including agriculture, shifting the distribution of species, continuing the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, causing  climate/weather extremes and seriously affecting the physical and economic condition of human communities.  Scientists believe that unless certain limits are placed on greenhouse gas emissions  within the next several decades, by the end of this century serious economic, agricultural, health, coastline disruptions and destructive weather patterns will alter civilization in very serious ways such that corrective measures will become essentially economically impossible.

A common misunderstanding of global temperature rise centers around the fact that small increases in temperature, such as 0.14° C, 1.57° F, or even 2° C, does not sound problematic in the sense of ordinary weather temperature measurements. But an average increase of one degree, ON AVERAGE, across the entire surface of the globe means huge changes in climatic extremes. The generalization is that small changes in WORLD TEMPERATURE can have very large changes in local weather conditions as described in several places on this website. Scientists now highly recommend, and the Paris Accord agreed upon in December 2015 states, that the nations of the world will work together to try to keep the world temperature from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and if possible keep that rise down to 1.5° C. It has already risen almost 1° C (1.8°F). This is partially responsible for climate change denial; people have problems understanding this concept that small changes in world temperature can result in large local changes. It is worth remembering that active climate scientists are also usually very conservative in their statements. Read here for one interpretation of how this warming could become a disaster. 

From the United States Environmental Protection Agency:

Our Earth is warming. Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6°F over the next hundred years. Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the worlds, largest scientific society believes there is also the possibility that changes in the climate system will not be incremental but could be abrupt; not arithmetic, but logarithmic or worse.  This means that a given amount of greenhouse gas emissions might not produce a simple smooth, equal “matching” amount of change in the climate system, but that “pushing global temperatures past certain thresholds could trigger rapid, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes that have massively disruptive and large scale impacts.” 

There are no uncertainties about the science; the “uncertainties” arise with the complexity of climate and the related policy making decisions that are needed. The problem lies in the social, political and economic aspects of this critical dilemma. Like all scientific predictions in complex systems, we cannot predict exactly when we will reach a “point of no return” or better stated, a “point of no corrections possible.” We are talking here about the rate of change now occurring, or as science would say, the “shape of the curves” in the diagrams that you will see below. Exactly how fast the climate will change and when will we get to the point of no returnWe will definitely get to those critical, dangerous points if we continue with the rates of emissions seen in this century and make no correctons.

From the NOAA website: 

Scientists continue their efforts to better understand the many complex issues associated with climate change, including the rate of warming in the future, the specific climate impacts local areas will face, and the future rate of ice melt and sea level rise. The basic, fundamental facts that climate change is occurring and its central cause is human-made emissions are no longer subject to meaningful scientific debate: climate change is real, it’s caused by human activities, we are already seeing the effects, and our current path has put us on course for dire results in the not-too-distant future.

Not knowing the exact rates of warming, the intensity at which we must move with corrective policy and what those policies must be are contributing to the unfortunate “denial” by the public and policy makers. Add in the very significant changes that will have to be made to our economic system, the regulations that will have to be put in place sooner or later and the behavioral/psychological adjustments that will no doubt have to be made relative to dealing with this crisis and we have a horrendous existential situation.

Using critical thinking we rapidly come to a conclusion that we need to move on it now because obviously if we pass the  point of no return” certainly the younger generations living now and future generations would by this scenario, face uncontrollable, rapidly deteriorating conditions. Possibly even most of those persons living now could see incredibly expensive and damaging climate changes caused by storms, droughts, agricultural and other events described here. Worst case scenarios are real possibilities and spell the possible doom that Friedrich Nietzsche predicted for mankind as well as the great weaknesses of Democracy discussed by Plato. This is not exaggeration or alarmism but a very real possibility of scenarios out of classic dystopian fiction:  creation of an utterly horrible or degraded society that is generally headed to an irreversible oblivion.

More on this below under the section on “Denial.” For a review of the history and politics leading up to the current situation just described, we recommend Naomi Klein’s profound book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.”

Climate patterns have changed over geologic time periods, BUT THE MAJOR PROBLEM OF GCC is that the man-made changes of GCC will happen so rapidly, in the sense of geologic time, that the evolutionary process, wherein living organisms, including humans, adapt to change will be impossible.

Hurricane Sandy-USA-Breezy Point, Queens, NY--2012-2nd most costly hurricane ever

Hurricane Sandy-USA-Breezy Point, Queens, NY–2012-2nd most costly hurricane ever

Here is a good summary of what to expect in terms of coastline alteration:

While seas are rising globally, the phenomenon is not occurring at even rates around the world. A 2012 study by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that sea levels along the East Coast will rise three to four times faster than the global average over the next century. While levels worldwide are expected to rise an average of two to three feet by 2100, they could surge more than six feet along the Atlantic seaboard. The study named Boston, New York, and Norfolk, Va., as the three most vulnerable metropolitan areas.

Another study (National Climate Assessment-2014) found that just a 1.5-foot rise in sea level would expose about $6 trillion worth of property to coastal flooding in the Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Providence, R.I., areas. That raises huge questions about the fate of Boston Harbor, where developers have poured millions into construction projects. Planners are steeling for a future in which storm surges flood huge swaths of Boston. They have put together a climate action plan outlining how the city can better prepare for disaster.

Miami, one of the nation’s most populous cities, is built atop a porous limestone foundation on the South Florida coast, making it extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels, according to the federal government’s 2013 draft National Climate Assessment. As Arctic ice continues to melt, the waters around Miami could rise up to 24 inches by 2060, according to a report by the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. Residents say they are already experiencing the effects as roads and outdated sewage systems flood. The porous limestone creates a unique threat as seawater seeps through the city’s foundations.

“You’re not necessarily getting water pouring up over a barrier — instead, it’s seeping through the limestone and coming up through drains,” said Leonard Berry, co-director of the Climate Change Initiative at Florida Atlantic University. “It’s already happening. And it’s not very pleasant.”

A study by the Florida Department of Transportation concluded that over the next 35 years, rising sea levels will damage smaller roads in the Miami area, and that after 2050, major coastal highways will also experience significant flooding and deteriorate as the limestone beneath them becomes saturated and crumbles. (New York Times: AUG. 26, 2014)

Consider the effect on world agriculture. Thousands of species, including microscopic forms such as bacteria and fungi, live in agricultural soil. There are also thousands of species of adult and larval species of insects, other arthropods (spiders, mites, millipedes, etc.), rotifers, tartigrades, protozoa and nematode worms found in this sensitive mono-culture human ecosystem. There can be 10,000 to 50,000 species in less than a teaspoon of soil. In that same teaspoon of soil, there are more microbes than there are people on the earth. In a handful of healthy soil, there is more biodiversity in just the bacterial community than you will find in all the animals of the Amazon basin. 

For those wanting more scientific data on the microbes in soil see this excellent article.

The simple diagram below can demonstrate the diversity and immense number of organisms in these systems. Soil food web

Over millions of years of evolution these soil species have adapted to certain tolerances of temperature, moisture, pH, nutrients, salinity, etc. and are also adapted to interactions with each other. Each species has its own “niche” ecologically speaking. Rapidly altering the aforementioned  tolerance levels of these organisms and their interactions with each other could cause large scale problems in agriculture and essentially in all ecosystems. Species are interdependent – if a sufficient number are eliminated, ecosystems collapse.

In this discussion, we need not confine ourselves to a soil, agricultural ecosystem. These concepts apply to ecosystems in general.

American FarmWe can easily predict, that rapid alterations in the environmental parameters to which these species are adapted would cause many to become  maladapted, decline in number or disappear from an area; other species could become better adapted and surge in population growth. Changes in species interactions could further disrupt the food chains and food webs in the soil/agricultural ecosystem or any ecosystem.  The geographic range of some species are currently seen  to be changing due to climate change; this will no doubt continue; some species will likely become “invasive species” in some geographic areas. Food crops would become seriously affected by these complex changes disrupting food supplies worldwide. A 2013 article on climate change and food supplies makes this statement: 

A large body of research in recent years has shown how sensitive crops appear to be to heat waves. The recent work also challenges previous assumptions about how much food production could increase in coming decades because of higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. 

One of the articles cited at the top of this page indicates agricultural problems as a major factor in the decline of civilizations:

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy. These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or “Commoners”) [poor]” These social phenomena have played “a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse,” in all such cases over “the last five thousand years.”

Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by a third since the Industrial Revolution began. The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for June 2014 was the highest on record for the month, at 0.72°C (1.30°F) above the 20th century average of 15.5°C (59.9°F). See the NOAA web site where these facts are stated and for a concise scientific review of the entire GCC issue; the evidence, causes, effects, consensus, etc. NOAA also announced that the summer of 2014— the months of June, July and August — was the hottest on record for the globe. 2014 did in fact break the record for the hottest year, set in 2010. (this kind of information is updated on the home page)

Here is the now classic carbon dioxide graph showing the buildup of this critical GCC gas over hundreds of thousands of years: (from NOAA). This graph with July 2013 data is already outdated; parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now 402.8. 

Carbon Dixoide graph-

The graph below shows CO2  as 401.03 parts per million of CO2 as of September 2016 recorded at the NOAA HI station. See details below chart.

noaa-co2_trend_mlo-sept-2016

The NOAA description explaining this graph above:

The graph shows recent monthly mean carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii.

The last four complete years of the Mauna Loa CO2 record plus the current year are shown. Data are reported as a dry air mole fraction defined as the number of molecules of carbon dioxide divided by the number of all molecules in air, including CO2 itself, after water vapor has been removed. The mole fraction is expressed as parts per million (ppm). Example: 0.000400 is expressed as 400 ppm.

In the above figure, the dashed red line with diamond symbols represents the monthly mean values, centered on the middle of each month. The black line with the square symbols represents the same, after correction for the average seasonal cycle. The latter is determined as a moving average of SEVEN adjacent seasonal cycles centered on the month to be corrected, except for the first and last THREE and one-half years of the record, where the seasonal cycle has been averaged over the first and last SEVEN years, respectively.

The last year of data are still preliminary, pending recalibrations of reference gases and other quality control checks. The Mauna Loa data are being obtained at an altitude of 3400 m in the northern subtropics, and may not be the same as the globally averaged CO2 concentration at the surface.

The graph below is as labled: Global Land and Ocean Temperature Anomalies from 1880 to 2015. From NOAA, where you can see all data when  you plot the graph using the factors in the previous sentence. 

noaa-1880-2015-global-land-and-ocean-temp-anomalies

NOAA-1880-2015-global-land-and-ocean-temp-anomalies. Global and hemispheric anomalies are with respect to the 20th century average. The anomaly (change from 20 Century yearly Average) for 2015 is 0.9 degrees C (left vertical axis) or 1.6 degrees F (right vertical axis).

As would be expected with a huge global climate system, the physics and chemistry that scientists incorporate into their computer climate models rapidly becomes very complicated and there is much work being done to make these models more and more precise. Debate in this area becomes very intense but this is how science proceeds. It is not our goal here to enter into much technical detail; one can locate many excellent links to sources of information on GCC on this page and elsewhere. However, examples of variables affecting  climate modeling include:

Numerous other complications and interactions within and between the atmosphere, land, ocean and biotic (living) systems could be listed.

Below is a NOAA graph showing how trends in billion-dollar weather disaster events are increasing over time. See NOAA for details. The NOAA web site states:

“Americans’ health, security, and economic well-being are tied to climate and weather. In the last 2 years, the United States experienced 25 climate- and weather-related disasters that claimed 1,141 lives and each exceeded $1 billion ($175 billion total) in damages.” 

 

How the different types of identified U.S. Billion-dollar disaster events have changed over time. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

How the different types of identified U.S. Billion-dollar disaster events have changed over time. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

An international group called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was IPCC Bannerestablished by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. At the end of 2007 the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

In April 2014, the IPCC published a critically important report: The New York Times summarized this report:

The I.P.C.C., composed of thousands of the world’s leading climate scientists, has issued three reports in the last seven months, each the product of up to six years of research. The first simply confirmed what has been known since Rio: global warming is caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels by humans and, to a lesser extent, by deforestation. The second, released in Japan three weeks ago, said that profound effects were already being felt around the world, including mounting damage to coral reefs, shrinking glaciers and more persistent droughts, and warned of worse to come — rising seas, species loss and dwindling agricultural yields.

The third report may be the most ominous of the three. Despite IPCC_Report_Cover_webinvestments in energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources in the United States, in Europe and in developing countries like China, annual emissions of greenhouse gases have risen almost twice as fast in the first decade of this century as they did in the last decades of the 20th century. This places in serious jeopardy the emissions target agreed upon in Rio to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial level. Beyond that increase, the world could face truly alarming consequences.

Avoiding that fate will require a reduction of between 40 percent and 70 percent in greenhouse gases by midcentury, which means embarking on a revolution in the way we produce and consume energy. That’s daunting enough, but here’s the key finding: The world has only about 15 years left in which to begin to bend the emissions curve downward. Otherwise, the costs of last-minute fixes will be overwhelming. “We cannot afford to lose another decade,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”

Some who analyze climate scientist publications believe the IPCC’s reports are too conservative.  They offer evidence that, in an effort to avoid seeming “alarmist,” the climate scientists over-correct by weakening conclusions that the data actually demonstrate. Another detailed example of this can be found here.

According to Bill McKibben, a well-known thinker on global warming, “Thomas Lovejoy, once the World Bank’s chief biodiversity adviser, puts it like this: ‘If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.’ NASA scientist James Hansen, the planet’s most prominent climatologist, is even blunter: ‘The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.'”

This new IPCC report finds a 95 to 100 percent chance that most of the warming of recent decades is human-caused, up from the 90 to 100 percent chance cited in the last report, in 2007.

In May of 2014, a team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced a United States Government report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. The Report is called the National Climate Assessment and  is summarized here:

The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States, scientists reported May 6th, 2014, with water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects.

Such sweeping changes have been caused by an average warming of less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit over most land areas of the country in the past century, the scientists found. If greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane continue to escalate at a rapid pace, they said, the warming could conceivably exceed 10 degrees by the end of this century.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the scientists declared in a major new report assessing the situation in the United States.

The report was supervised and approved by a large committee representing a cross section of American society, including representatives of two oil companies. It is the third national report in 14 years, and by far the most urgent in tone, leaving little doubt that the scientists consider climate change an incipient crisis.

See that full summary here and the actual report here.

A common misunderstanding of global temperature rise is that small increases, such as 0.14° C, 1.57° F, or even 2° C, does not sound problematic in the sense of ordinary weather temperature measurements. But an average increase of one degree, ON AVERAGE, across the entire surface of the globe means huge changes in climatic extremes. Scientists now highly recommend and the Paris Accord agreed upon this month, states that that nations of the world will work together to try to keep the world temperature from rising more than 2°C (1.5°F) from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and if possible keep it down to 1.5° C; it has already risen almost 1° C. This is partially responsible for climate change denial; people have problems understanding the concept. Read here for more explanation.

From the United States Environmental Protection Agency:

Our Earth is warming. Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6°F over the next hundred years. Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.

And a map from that EPA site:

ScenarioUSTemp-EPA

 The scientific consensus  for GCC relies on the scientific method which, over time, rids the process of science of as much human prejudice, opinion, bias, guesswork and even deceit as you will ever remove from any area of human endeavor. See the discussion of the scientific method on this web site if you need a review of that process. Any scientist can present new data and ideas on climate change and challenge existing concepts and theories in that field by using the normal open, scientific process of data presentation in peer review journals where the scientific community, using the scientific method, presents and debates evidence for various hypotheses, theories and laws of science.

DENIAL

Most persons in the United States accept the scientific consensus on GCC. So called GCC denial represents a fascinating socio-psychological phenomenon often seen surrounding progress in scientific thought. For political-economic reasons certain individuals or corporations promote GCC denial for selfish, self-promoting reasons; even retired scientists will sometimes promote this denial for selfish reasons (e.g. payments from the fossil fuel industry) but they rarely submit their thoughts for scientific scrutiny, often simply holding a press conference for sensational release of their “thoughts.”

Any competent scientist can submit new research and ideas to scientific journals; those looking for publicity for ego or financial reasons waste our time and the media do us a disservice by giving them a platform. Scientists who come up with new ideas and break-through scientific work win Nobel Prizes and minimally advance their careers. Yes, scientists are humans with all the weaknesses that are inherent therein, but science slowly moves forward and rewards truth and data when it allows prediction and rational conclusions. The public and our representatives need to understand the process of science if the profound problem of global climate change is to be solved. 

See an interesting YouTube review of the history of GCC by Naomi Oreskes , a historian of science at Harvard University. Iincludes a review of the deception promoted by organized groups on the subject of GCC and other health and environmental threats.  Her coauthored book on the subject of GCC denial and related deceptive propaganda is also recommended as is her latest, coauthored, 2014 fictional story based on her fear of humans not coming to grips with our current global climate change crisis. 

Ignorance, anti-Intellectualism, general identity fixations or religious beliefs may cause persons to reject any number of scientific conclusions. Cognitive Dissonance may play a large part (see below).  Deniers may not question most fundamental scientific conclusions but may reject other selected areas of scientific consensus. For example they may welcome medical treatments from their own doctor, accept the fact that the Earth is round and not flat, that gravity is a universal force, that genes are real chemical entities and that their cell phone operates by sending and receiving invisible electromagnetic waves. They have not proven those scientific points to themselves but simply have accepted the conclusions of the work of thousands of scientists over hundreds of years.

But when it comes to thousands of scientists accepting and providing irrefutable evidence for GCC, they have a block.  Why? Of course humans rationalize and filter information to fit their ideological worldview. Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort felt by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas or values at the same time or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values. People solve this stress by either (1) changing behavior or cognition; (2) justifying behavior or cognition by changing the conflicting cognition; (3) adding new cognitions or (4) by ignoring or denying any information that conflicts with existing beliefs.

In developed cultures, the case of Global Climate Change presents a conflict between all the scientific data on climate change and the guilt felt by the individual being a part of the problem by using fossil fuels on a regular basis to maintain their high standard of living. To reduce or remove this cognitive dissonance stress persons will often find the need to DO ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING:

  • Cut down considerably on fossil fuel use in the sense of all mechanical, heating, cooling, transportation and electrical devices and suffer some loss of luxury, convenience and perfect comfort (unlikely)
  • Justify their use of fossil fuel by telling themselves that everyone does it, or my small contribution to climate change is insignificant or that I’m careful with my use of electricity or drive a Prius, or technology and engineers will find a fix for this problem, or the politicians will finally see the problem, etc.
  • Deny what scientists are saying by accepting unscientific statements including the acceptance of any or all of these myths (see these decapitated below) 
    • Myth 1: Slowing the pace of climate change would be prohibitively difficult
    • Myth 2: A carbon tax would destroy jobs
    • Myth 3: The cost of reducing CO2 emissions would be prohibitively high
    • Myth 4: It’s pointless for Americans to reduce CO2 emissions, since unilateral action won’t solve global warming
    • Myth 5: Penalizing greenhouse gas emissions would violate people’s freedom
  • State they are not scientists so don’t know what to believe; accept the thought that “all the evidence is not in” or that there is conflicting evidence and they will ignore the problem until more evidence is available. (We currently hear many American politicians using the “I’m not a scientist” excuse.)

As Naomi Klein puts it in her book, This Changes Everything, the serious deniers with their intense, irrational, fundamental beliefs, feel a great threat and hence must trick their minds into believing that:

“……thousands upon thousands of scientists are lying and that climate change is a hoax; the storms really aren’t really getting bigger it’s just our imagination. And if they are it’s not because of anything humans are doing or could stop doing. They deny reality, in other words, because the implications of that reality are quite simply, unthinkable.”

What would such a person with this Climate Change Cognitive Dissonance do if they had a serious heart attack and a new study of medical research stated that 97% of doctors recommend that with their particular type of heart attack a stent must be placed in some heart arteries to prevent another attack and 3% of doctors said taking certain vitamins would probably prevent future attacks? Doctors are highly trained professional  as are climate scientists. In fact both the complexity of the human body and climate models justify the metaphor. Denying the professional view of 97% of doctors could be disastrous if not highly illogical as is denying the scientific analysis of 97% of climate scientists.

Remember that the remaining 3% of scientists can present their hypotheses and theories to the other 97% in open discussion in meetings and journals. There are no secrets in science and it proceeds  independent of egos and hubris, even when those appear to get in the way.

Recently it was concluded in one study that even persons with superior knowledge of a subject like GCC may reject that knowledge if it does not fit some rigid mental framework or ideology that supports the psychology of their personal identity. From that study:

Mr. Kahan’s study suggests that more people know what scientists think about high-profile scientific controversies than polls suggest; they just aren’t willing to endorse the consensus when it contradicts their political or religious views. This finding helps us understand why my colleagues and I have found that factual and scientific evidence is often ineffective at reducing misperceptions and can even backfire on issues like weapons of mass destruction, health care reform and vaccines. With science as with politics, identity often trumps the facts.

So what should we do? One implication of Mr. Kahan’s study and other research in this field is that we need to try to break the association between identity and factual beliefs on high-profile issues – for instance,by making clear that you can believe in human-induced climate change and still be a conservative Republican like former Representative Bob Inglis or an evangelical Christian like the climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.

 Regardless, as history has often demonstrated, the relatively small percent of “deniers” among the public will no doubt decline with time as climate change continues and becomes more and more obvious in every day life.

The problem is obvious; is there enough time?  Educating the public on their perception of these global climate changes should be a priority. The study above suggests we need to think carefully about how to do that education.  

Many politicians are seriously hindering this education effort. A recent vote in the U.S. Senate on the reality of climate change and the necessity to design serious policy to control it, FAILED. It was a vote on whether senators accepted the facts that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity, that it’s already causing significant problems and that it is “imperative” that we actually do something about it—specifically, that we transition our economy away from fossil fuels. SEE HOW YOUR SENATORS VOTED

Some data suggest some positive trends are developing in GCC education and a broader more recent poll also confirms this is happening. Another poll has found that Climate Change Is of Growing Personal Concern to U.S. Hispanics.

 


“Climate change represents one of our greatest challenges of our time, but it is a challenge uniquely suited to America’s strengths…the Administration has continued, through the U.S. Global Change Research Program, to support science and monitoring to expand our understanding of climate change and its impacts.”
– The President’s Climate Action Plan, June 2013

From: The U.S. Global Change Research Program for Fiscal Year 2014)


Above, you have seen the horrendous facts of Global Climate Change and, if you are just discovering these details, we will assume you are startled and looking for solutions. Remember: the cause is primarily the mining and burning of fossil fuels. Hence the questions entering your consciousness:

    • How do we stop or seriously reduce burning fossil fuels or not put the greenhouse gases from their combustion into the atmosphere ?

    • Which fossil fuels are the biggest problem? Yes, all of them is the answer–certainly coal must be phased out rapidly. As noted above, considered scientific opinion indicates we have  a very small time frame-perhaps several decades at maximum– in which to act or we will be locked into irreversible climate changes affecting everything.sun rise

    • And what are the current obstacles of getting serious about renewables and nuclear energy? Solar for example sounds like a miracle waiting to happen; but look at this energy use graph:

      Primary Energy is that energy found naturally, such as being directly extracted from the earth (e.g. coal) or used directly as found (e.g., ind, geothermal) and a secondary energy source is one that is made using a primary resource. Electricity is secondary resource which can usually be made by burning or otherwise extracting energy from a primary source. Chart labels for sources show the primary source, the amount in quadrillion BTUs and the percent of the total primary sources. Rounding by EIA and here may not add up to 100% total. Original EIA data may be seen here with details.

      Primary Energy is that energy found naturally, such as being directly extracted from the earth (e.g. coal) or used directly as found (e.g., wind, geothermal) and a secondary energy source is one that is made using a primary resource. Electricity is a secondary resource which can usually be made by burning or otherwise extracting energy from a primary source. Chart labels for sources show the primary source, the amount in quadrillion BTUs and the percent of the total primary sources. Rounding by EIA and here may not add up to 100% total. Original EIA data may be seen here for details.

       

      solar is currently a minuscule portion of our energy use. Why? If it is the miracle people rave about, what is the problem? Some of our best thinkers state what we all are afraid to say including the media– who dare not speak of the elephant in the room: That our problem is unregulated capitalism and incredible power in the hands of energy companies– the politics of power and the need for new economic models. An Existential Problem!

    • What other choices are open to us? Certainly you think of reducing energy use in general by greater efficiency and conservation. And what else should be explored?

See the climate scientist James Hansen’s “open Letter” to President Barack Obama on the eve of Obama’s election (Nov. 8, 2008) which contains the essence of the political, economic and energy events which need to happen to start correcting global climate change. Those possibilities are renewable fuels, nuclear fuel, a reconstructed power grid, research into advanced fast and thorium reactors including the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor, a carbon tax with 100% dividend (not cap and trade), carbon capture and sequestration and eliminate coal use as soon as possible. Getting these physical transformations started will require profound political, educational and economic efforts. Some such as “carbon capture” are in their infancy, do not look encouraging and may in fact be fanciful thinking.

We examine more of these questions in the next section and elsewhere on this site by looking at myths and technical solutions surrounding this immense problem.

Obviously, we see that global climate change is locked in with world energy usage and solutions likely will need to involve an immense transformation of that usage including human economic systems, habits and behavior. You should begin to judge the physical/political/economic probability of that happening—a fascinating discussion of critical historical importance!

Modern societies depend heavily on cheap energy. Historically man first had his own body energy and wood along with domesticated horses and cattle. Wind and water energy for moving boats and grain mill wheels etc. were harnessed to a significant degree throughout history. The moral abomination of Slavery, was a form of cheap energy in many early cultures. But then the marvelous discovery of “black “stone,” much of which was  just lying on the surface; cheap, in large quantities, readily extractable, transportable and burnable to make steam and allow iron production and molding. 

Machine Hall_industrial revolution_1868It is useful to remember the industrial revolution started in England in the late 1700s and the first half of the 19th Century and was heavily dependent on coal and iron ore and the development of those industries. Kerosene, for lighting and heating helped drive the development of new drilling techniques, launching the world deeper and deeper into petroleum extraction.


Global Climate Change: Part II—The Solution? A Synopsis of Critical Thinking on the Subject with Links to Details–a Work in Progress

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MYTHS: Part I

Robert H. Frank—-economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

“Each new climate-change study seems more pessimistic than the last.  2015, for example, was the hottest year ever for the planet. Storms and droughts occur with increasing frequency. Glaciers are rapidly retreating, portending rising seas that could eventually displace hundreds of millions of people.”

“Effective countermeasures now could actually ward off many of these threats at relatively modest cost. Yet despite a robust scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are at the root of the problem, legislation to curb them has gone nowhere in Congress. In response, President Obama has proposed stricter regulations on electric utilities, which some scientists warn may be too little, too late.”

“Why aren’t we demanding more forceful action? One reason may be the frequent incantation of a motley collection of myths, each one rooted in bad economics:

      • Myth 1: The enormous uncertainty of climate science argues for a wait-and-see strategy
      • Myth 2: Slowing the pace of climate change would be prohibitively difficult
      • Myth 3: A carbon tax would destroy jobs
      • Myth 4: The cost of reducing CO2 emissions would be prohibitively high
      • Myth 5: It’s pointless for Americans to reduce CO2 emissions, since unilateral action won’t solve global warming
      • Myth 6: Penalizing greenhouse gas emissions would violate people’s freedom”

Dr. Frank examines each of the myths above with excellent critical thinking. 


MYTHS: Part II

Below are two quick rebuttals to the myth that it is not feasible to replace fossil fuels with renewable fuels:

The first item from an article about engineers at Standford University:

“It’s absolutely not true that we need natural gas, coal or oil — we think it’s a myth,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and the main author of a study published in the journal Energy Policy. “You could power America with renewables from a technical and economic standpoint. The biggest obstacles are social and political — what you need is the will to do it.” “No new technologies are needed.”

“Converting to wind, water and sunlight is feasible, will stabilize costs of energy and will produce jobs while reducing health and climate damage,”

Jacobson and other scientists from Cornell and the University of California-Davis did an intense study to show New York State could meet all power needs by 2030 with renewable energy and they are working out plans for all states.

MAPPING studies by Dr. Jacobson and colleagues have concluded that America is rich in renewable resources and (unlike Europe) has the empty space to create wind and solar plants. New York State has plenty of wind and sun to do the job, they found. Their blueprint for powering the state with clean energy calls for 10 percent land-based wind, 40 percent offshore wind, 20 percent solar power plants and 18 percent solar panels on rooftops — as well as a small amount of geothermal and hydroelectric power.

Dr. Jacobson said that careful grid design and coordination of power sources would ensure a stable power supply, although a smidgen of natural gas would be needed for the 0.2 percent of the time that renewables failed to generate sufficient electricity. The report claims that the plan would create 58,000 jobs in New York State (which now imports much of its power), create energy security and ultimately stabilize electricity prices.

The authors say the substantial costs of enacting the scheme could be recouped in under two decades, particularly if the societal cost of pollution and carbon emissions were factored in. The team is currently working on an all-renewable blueprint for California.

See the full article here.

The second item on the potential for renewable fuels is from a 2012 study by the European Renewable Energy Council and Greenpeace International (pages 9 and 11):

The EU 27 Energy Revolution 2012 presents a blueprint for how to achieve a more sustainable energy system in Europe now and for generations to come. Such a profound change translates into a wide variety of skilled domestic green jobs in a Europe struggling with record levels of unemployment. At the same time, renewable energy technologies are becoming increasingly competitive with conventional fuels (which have been heavily subsidised for decades), which will, in turn, save energy consumers significantly in the long run, at a time when financial stringency and planning has become an imperative for citizens at large.

The Energy [R]evolution scenario describes development pathways to a sustainable energy supply for the 27 countries in the European Union, listed as one of the world’s economic regions in the International Energy Agency’s modelling. The scenario projects what is needed to achieve the urgently needed CO2 reduction target and a nuclear phase-out, without unconventional oil resources. The results of the Energy [R]evolution scenario would be:

Electricity generation: A dynamically growing renewable energy market compensates for phasing out nuclear energy and fewer fossil fuel-fired power plants and reduces the number of fossil fuel-fired power plants required for grid stabilisation. By 2050, 96% of the electricity produced in EU 27 will come from renewable energy sources. ‘New’ renewables – mainly wind, solar thermal energy and PV – will contribute 75% of electricity generation. The Energy [R]evolution scenario projects an immediate market development with high annual growth rates achieving a renewable electricity share of 44% by 2020 and 67% by 2030.The installed capacity of renewables will reach 989 GW in 2030 and 1,480 GW by 2050

 The group above has produced a valuable and similar, detailed, 2014, 3rd edition of a USA energy scenario study.

See more recent thoughts on this topic on this site.

A quote from the introduction of this USA Energy Scenario  shows severe criticism in regard to the Obama Administration’s policies on controlling climate change:

It is incredibly frustrating that the first President to make climate a rhetorical priority has decided to embrace extreme fossil fuel extraction.The President may accept climate science in theory, but he appears to deny the required time line for action to avoid runaway climate change. Scientists give the global community maybe to the end of the decade to peak global emissions.The great weakness of President Obama’s climate policy approach is that it remains insular rather than global, which includes overt support for increasing global supply of fossil fuels.

President Obama’s quintessentially pandering energy platform of ‘all of the above’ has done little, if anything, to forestall climate denier attacks on timid use of administrative authority to help the climate – assuming, optimistically, this is the President’s reasoning. His administration has expanded drilling into new parts of the outer-continental shelf, including into ultra-deepwater. As the pristine and fragile Arctic melts, rather than increase emphasis on protection of the ecosystem the President has begun permitting on production drilling for the first time. He has opened public lands to fracking. He has increased subsidized sales of publicly-owned coal. His administration is overseeing an historic rise in development of new terminals for export of coal and methane gas, considering crude oil exports, while his diplomats lobby foreign governments to increase imports. None of this can be justified in exchange for an international commitment to reduce US territorial emissions by 17% below 2005 levels (4% below 1990). Emissions are falling, but most of it is not due to the President’s policies. By the time the Obama Climate Plan was announced in his fifth year in office, emissions were already down 12% from 2005. EPA has not yet established pollution limits on existing power plants.

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APPENDIX:

Useful details on U.S. Sources of Carbon Dioxide Emissions, U.S. Household Carbon Emissions and one of the dirtiest fossil fuels.

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A pie chart seen above show that in 2015, the United States used fossil fuels for 82% of its energy consumption. That refers to energy used to produce electricity, to fuel our vehicles and to drive industry.

We are interested here in the generation of greenhouse gases by fossil fuels. Examine the chart below showing greenhouse gas production by sector. The largest sector in the United States with the greatest production of carbon dioxide (38%) is the generation of electricity by fossil fuels: And coal is the largest contributor in that sector!

US Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Source*US Environmental Protection Agency for 1990-2013     ** US Energy Information Administration for 2014

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For a more personal view of carbon emissions, below is a graph of the average U.S. Household emission of carbon dioxide.

A visual representation of where the 48 tons of a typical U.S. household's carbon footprint comes from. Legend: blue = direct | green = indirect Source: Jones, Kammen "Quantifying Carbon Footprint Reduction Opportunities for U.S. Households and Communities" ES&T, 2011, 45 (9), pp 4088–4095 DOI: 10.1021/es102221h

A visual representation of where the 48 tons of a typical U.S. household’s carbon footprint comes from. Legend: blue = direct | green = indirect. Source: Jones, Kammen “Quantifying Carbon Footprint Reduction Opportunities for U.S. Households and Communities” ES&T, 2011, 45 (9), pp 4088–4095 DOI: 10.1021/es102221h

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THE DIRTIEST FOSSIL FUEL—COAL

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Open Pit Coal Mine, Wyoming-the state with the highest coal production

HORRENDOUS WASTE PRODUCTS OF COAL ARE NOT ONLY CARBON DIOXIDE BUT AIR POLLUTION CAUSING HUMAN PREMATURE DEATHS AND ONE OF THE LARGEST TOXIC WASTE STREAMS IN THE UNITED STATES—COAL ASH

See what Physicians for Social responsibility say about Coal Ash: A fact sheet on coal ash. What is it? How dangerous is it?