Archive | June, 2015

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Politics & Pope Speak to Failure of Climate Efforts

Posted on 28 June 2015 by Jerry

The fact that greater promises came from the G7 countries (without specifics) and pointed religious pleas from the Pope are at the forefront of our news show we are running out of time.  These pronouncements indicate the growing fear of the world’s leaders that not enough is being done to respond to climate change.  It marks an effort by those concerned about the rising temperatures of the world to drown out the climate deniers who have so far successfully blocked meaningful progress to limit the use of fossil fuels.

In rapid-fire succession on June 8, 2015 the G7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and United States) agreed and announced a target of reducing greenhouse emissions to 70% of 2010 levels by 2050 to help the world achieve its climate goals.  In a very short number of days, on June 18, 2015, the Pope released his climate change “Encyclical”, a wide-ranging document that called for immediate progress on Climate Change.

It is easy to be critical of both efforts, those of the G7 and the Pope.  The G7 objective can be criticized as not as ambitious as it sounds.  Both the United States and the United Kingdom have already announced cuts that would be bigger.  The United States committed to an 83% cut of greenhouse gas emissions based on 2005 levels by 2050 and the U.K. has said it will reduce emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by mid century.

This criticism ignores that the G7 objective commits Japan and Canada to major cuts.  Both countries have been identified as laggards and have here-to-fore not lined up to fight climate change.  This agreement at least gets both countries committed to progress in controlling global warming.

Detractors further cited the International Energy Agency (IEA) that recently stated the present agreement only provides the planet another 8 months of runway compared to projected increases in the absence of these reductions.  The IEA observed that the present commitments will only keep the world’s temperature under the 2° C objective until approximately 2040 when it will continue rising.  Unless further progress is made, the world’s temperature is estimated to rise to a minimum of 2.6° C.

The Pope’s climate change Encyclical can be criticized by detractors as taking the Catholic Church into an issue that is primarily political and not religious.   It can also be said to be an opportunistic move to attack capitalism’s profit motive, a rich country refusal to help the world’s poor and various plans for cap and trade systems.

These criticisms aside, the Pope’s Encyclical does reiterate the scientific conclusions that the temperatures of the world are rising, climate change is the cause and mankind’s commitment to burning fossil fuels is the major contributing cause of climate change.  It is useful to remember that the Pope’s college training is in chemistry.  The hope is that the Pope’s position, if not silencing the opposition, will cause the deniers to keep their doubts to themselves.  The hope is that it will move deniers out of the way of meaningful progress to slow climate change.

A recent article appearing in the Guardian on June 18, 2015 states, “Even among Catholics in the US, views on global warming are sharply divided along political lines.  A recent survey by Pew Research showed that Catholic Republicans view the nearly universally accepted scientific facts with deep skepticism.”

The article continued, “Overall, the survey found that 71% of US Catholics believe the earth is warming, and about half (47%) believe humans are the cause and it is a serious problem.  But while eight in 10 Catholic Democrats say that there is solid evidence that global warming is real, only about half of Catholic Republicans agree.  Far fewer – just a quarter of Catholic Republicans – believe that global warming is caused by humans.”

It is hoped the Pope’s Encyclical will help convince the bulk of the world’s Catholics to support the steps necessary to make progress on climate change.  There is common belief the Pope’s pronouncements will constructively lead to what needs to be done.

This does not obscure that the world is not making enough meaningful change to keep us at or under the scientific goal of keeping our average world temperature rise to less than 2° Celsius.  Many scientists believe that if nothing changes we are on a course to go up to or over 4° Celsius by the end of the century.  When speaking about the G7 goals Jennifer Morgan, director of the global climate programme of the World Resources Institute said that hitting the 2° Celsius target would depend on how quickly reductions could be implemented.

She said, “It totally depends on the pace of decarburization.   You either need to be there by 2050 for CO2 and a bit later for all greenhouse gases if you want a high chance of staying below the 2C.  If you’re up for a 66% chance then you go longer out into the century.”

We are still waiting for actual action to show a worldwide, united approach to climate change.  After all it has been 18 years since the last formal world “agreement” to limit climate change.  Some progress has been made as a result of Obama’s actions but much more needs to be done by the politicians who claim they are running things.  So far, in my mind the European Union has been the clear leader in making progress to limit climate change.  However, everyone needs to do more.

Use the following links to gain further information of the Pope’s Encyclical or the G7 commitments or see the source documents used to prepare this article.

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World Population to Skyrocket, Hunger is Dropping

Posted on 27 June 2015 by Jerry

Revised estimates of the world population show it growing to a whopping 10.9 billion people by the year 2100.  This is a significant adjustment upward of over 2.5 billion people over an estimate prepared a few years ago.  World hunger or undernourishment is shown to be decreasing from 1.011 billion to 795 million in the space of 15 years.

The two reports would seem to contradict each other.  The devil however, is in the details.  The reports are from two sources within the United Nations. The population forecast is from the United Nation’s Population Division.  The hunger report compares the years of 1990-92 to 2014-16 and was prepared by the United Nation’s Agriculture Organization.  The two reports represent two different views of time, one is a projection of future population growth and the other is looking back at what has happened to hunger.

While the hunger statistics show significant reductions in the developed countries, those in sub-Saharan Africa and western Asia show sizable growth in malnutrition.  The statistics show that in the sub-Saharan area undernourished people grew from 176 million in the early nineties to about 220 million people in 2015.  The number of hungry in western Asia grew from eight million to nineteen million people in the same period of time.

Coincidentally, the greatest population growth over the next eighty-five years takes place in sub-Saharan Africa that is believed to grow from under a billion people to more than four billion people.   As a simple example, the population of Nigeria at 174 million is forecast to quintuple by 2100 to more than 900 million people.  Maintaining the same rate of growth in malnourished people the statistics show over a billion hungry people in the sub-Saharan area by the turn of the century.

While estimates may vary from one group to the next as their assumptions change, there is consensus the largest growth in population and the hungry will take place in the sub-Saharan area.  Unfortunately for the rest of the world this will also be one of the areas hardest hit by temperature rise from global warming.  This will lead to even more wholesale migration of Africans seeking relief from drought and certain death.

These statistics beg many questions but two must weigh the heaviest on each of us.  First, why do the Africans in the sub-Saharan area continue to have children when they have such starvation and death?  We must remember that children are still economic assets to farmers and hunter-gatherers.  They help raise food or find it for the family.  These children are to provide for their families and replace children that are dying in the region.

The second question is more serious and that is are we going to accept the numbers of displaced or dying people in the sub-Saharan region?  Will we do nothing?  I don’t believe we will find the amount of affected people acceptable.  We will attempt to help them.  For these reasons we must be ready.

These conditions in sub-Saharan Africa should be of great concern to the world’s governments and each of us who will have to give shelter and sustenance not only to Africans who stay in their native lands but those who also seek to migrate to other places.  We must begin conditioning our own countries to provide a welcome environment for the best of these who seek to immigrate.  Further we should prepare our neighbors and politicians to give necessary aid to support the continued sustenance and shelter of those remaining in their homelands.

Use the following links to gain more information on our growing population or the hungry or see the source documents that were used for this article.

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Waiting Means Being Too Late

Posted on 10 June 2015 by Jerry

We have a few researchers talking about how to put something in our atmosphere to protect us from the sun’s warmth and rising temperatures and/or how to remove carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere and sequester it safely somewhere.  These are the main two areas of emphasis of ‘climate engineering’.

Most scientists believe that climate engineering, or intentionally manipulating the global climate, is not desirable and would be our last option.  While they completely discount removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequestering it underground as ineffective given the size of the effort involved, they are concerned that putting something in the atmosphere to increase reflectivity will be tried and be very dangerous.

A broad range of options have been suggested as to how we can modify our atmosphere to increase its reflectivity where sunlight is directed back into space.  These include injecting sulphate particles into the stratosphere mimicing the natural cooling effects of volcanic ash and/or spraying seawater into the air to brighten clouds and reflect more sunlight back into space.  Thoughts have gone so far as even to suggest placing giant mirrors into orbit to reflect sunlight before it reaches Earth.

One of the first suggestions was from Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize for his work to understand the stratospheric chemistry to which our ozone is subject.  He suggested we inject tiny particles of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to shield Earth from solar radiation that would warm our planet.

The problem is that while Crutzen’s suggestion has spawned much talk of research, according to Anders Levermann (see article below), a Berlin-based climate scientist and Physics Professor, while it might cool the planet on average, it would do nothing to reverse the effect of greenhouse gases.  In a Huffington Post article published on May 8, 2015 entitled “Why Climate Engineering Won’t Work” he outlines the problem as he sees it.

He states, “The reason is as simple as fundamental: The extra abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere does not change our climate in a uniform manner.  The Arctic, for example, is warming almost twice as much as the tropics.  This has to do with a well-known effect called polar amplification.  The main reason for this is that warming enhances the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, which then snows-off in the dry and cold polar region where it releases energy and warms the atmosphere.  Now if this sounds too complicated, one just has to hold up a thermometer in the Arctic and another one in the tropics:  They show that temperature up North rises faster than at the equator.”

He continued, “Now reflecting sunlight back into space would have the exact opposite pattern.  It would do a lot in the tropics where sunlight is strong, and less in the Arctic and Antarctic.  This is fundamentally true and cannot be fixed.  So, reflecting radiation back into space could cool the planet on average, but it cannot reverse the effect of the greenhouse gases – not even remotely.”

A recent New York Times article quotes Newt Gingrich, our former House speaker, in 2008 as saying “Instead of penalizing ordinary Americans, we would have an option to address global warming by rewarding scientific invention.”  He later added it would “Bring on American ingenuity.”  No matter how uninformed his observation, it is attractive for all since it removes the burden of changing anything, instead replacing it with a false hope.

A concern is that the political forces will rally around climate engineering or putting something in the atmosphere because it is “new business” for someone as opposed to reducing existing greenhouse gas emissions through changes in energy sources or usage that is costly for existing industries.  Existing industries are powerful lobbying sources that will use their political influence to focus efforts on others or push for climate engineering.  Companies small and large, researchers far and wide and entrepreneurs will vie for money and opportunity.

In February of 2015 a committee of the National Academy of Science (NAS) called for study of geoengineering options including federal funding for demonstration projects to test assumptions.  This does not mean however that the NAS views geoengineering positively.

In fact, the committee chairwoman, Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science Magazine and a former director of the U.S. Geological Survey, is quoted as telling The Associated Press on an Opinion Page of the New York Times “The public should read this report and say ‘This is downright scary.’  And they should say, ‘If this is our Hail Mary, what a scary, scary place we are in.’ ”

Ms. McNutt’s concern echoes that of futurist Jamais Cascio.   He suggested, “Global delays in reducing carbon emissions will likely force the human race to embark upon a set of geoengineering-based responses, not as the complete solution, but simply as a disaster-avoidance measure.”

Both have undoubtedly read a February 25, 2014 study published in Nature magazine that showed that geoengineering would not work.  They used an Earth system model and looked at the effectiveness of afforestation, artificial ocean upwelling, ocean iron fertilization, ocean alkalinization and solar radiation management during a high carbon dioxide-emission scenario.

The study team stated, “We find that even when applied continuously and at scales as large as currently deemed possible, all methods are, individually, either relatively ineffective with limited (<8%) warming reductions, or they have potentially severe side effects and cannot be stopped without causing rapid climate change.  Our simulations suggest that the potential for these types of climate engineering to make up for failed mitigation may be very limited.”

The evidence is in, existing geoengineering approaches will not work because the costs are too high, the approaches have been proven to be insufficient or with the complexity of the world atmosphere, we will certainly exchange one group of problems for another.  This only serves to delay the inevitable until it is too late.

There is a lot of talk about climate change and a lot of delay between discussion and action.  We all know we can control climate change by changing the way we live.  There is a serious question of whether we will.  The big questions are when will we act and what option will we choose.

We must follow our best scientific advice.  The scientists have said that “mitigation” or reducing the carbon dioxide modern society puts into the atmosphere is our best option.  It unfortunately requires a large change in how various industries conduct their business and in how we live.  But we must choose this option and we must do it now.  We cannot wait any longer.

Use the following links to access additional information or the source documents for this article.


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