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Where Is the Climate Effort?

American wartime propaganda poster produced by J. Howard Miller in 1943 for Westinghouse Electric

American wartime propaganda poster produced by J. Howard Miller in 1943 for Westinghouse Electric

A May, Nature Climate Change Letter, The climate response to five trillion tonnes of carbon suggests the planet could be warmed 10C and the Arctic twice that much by 2300 if all known fossil fuels reserves are burned.

The planet doesn’t have that long and those fuels can’t be burned.

Stephen Hawking has warned that humanity could destroy itself in the next 100 years as we rapidly progress in the realms of science and technology by creating “new ways things can go wrong.” In a BBC article in January he highlighted nuclear war, global warming, and genetically-engineered viruses as possible harbingers of doom but a few days ago he warned that it is climate change that is the issue humanity should be worrying about immediately. “A rise in ocean temperature would melt the ice caps, and cause the release of large amounts of carbon dioxide from the ocean floor,” he said and, “Both effects could make our climate like that of Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees.”

Countries globally committed at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference in Paris to create a new international climate agreement to publicly outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take to put the planet on a path toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient future by declaring their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to that future. The problem is, as Anthony Hobley of the Carbon Tracker Initiative points out, “We have to acknowledge now that with currently levels of political ambition (improved as they are on recent years) it is highly likely that sum of all the INDCs will not deliver the 2C ambition we need to deliver us to net zero emissions by 2050. If we are lucky it may add up to something between 3-3.5C and if this is the case, it will be the subject of much justified criticism because we will be storing up trouble and a need for more stringent and expensive action later.”

Hobley points out, “As all international lawyers know, public international law generally does not push nations beyond what they are already doing. Except for times of great change such as the end of WWII, it codifies existing state practice but generally does not overly stretch sovereign states to break new ground. Put simply the truth is that nations do not like to commit themselves to “legally binding” international obligations unless they know they can be certain in advance of complying.”

What is called therefor is a period of great change tantamount to a war effort to push nations beyond what they are doing, which isn’t enough to prevent the potential immolation of a significant portion of the life on the planet.

The concept of a “war effort” was pioneered during the 20th century to denote people doing other things than fighting to help their country to win a war; principally throughout World Wars I and II.

These “great” wars involved most of the world powers and were fought over multiple continents in multiple theaters of conflict and to fight these wars no expense was spared on manpower, natural resources and materiel.

During the six years of World War II armed forces, guerrillas and clandestine units fought from Norway to the Solomon Islands, from Iran to Alaska and an estimate 50 million military personal and civilians died.

The web site http://caseagainstbush.blogspot.ca/2005/04/financial-cost-of-world-war-ii1u.html estimated in 2005 the total cost to the major combatants between 1939-1945 was $1.075 trillion, which in 2005 equated to  $11.3 trillion, which according www.in2013dollars.com would today be 21.93% higher for a total of $13.8 trillion.

War

As costly and as destructive world war was, ideas and information also flourished as politicians and policy makers were pushed beyond the bounds of their innate restraint. As in the prospect of a hanging it is said, the mind is focused.

World War I brought airplanes into widespread use, along with tanks, and resulted in advances in electronics. It took the Second World War however to usher in the concept of the military-industrial complex to advance these technologies and subsequently nuclear power, missiles, computers, jet engines, and television ensued. But as world war made these advances possible the Atomic Age subsequently made the concept of all out war all but unthinkable.

We are now nonetheless confronted with mutually assured destruction due to climate change but we don’t seem able to adapt past lessons to the new circumstance.

It is as if the notion of nuclear assured destruction inured us of any of other kind of threat. Even the scientific community dedicated to climate change are for the most part fixated on understanding the dynamics of warming and trying to demonstrate to government and the public that the dangers is real rather than working on mitigating the problem.

As Joseph Heath has suggested, climate change is a collective action problem that is hard to solve so we need to stop freaking out and just get to work on it.

A climate effort is needed but this generation seems not to be up to the job.

Hopefully the succeeding one can do it because time is running for the prospects for the others, if any, to follow.

It is time for great change to save millions of lives and to develop new economic potential.

Jim Baird's picture

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Discussions

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Jun 10, 2016 10:44 pm GMT

The disconnect between what’s possible, in terms of physics and engineering, vs. what’s possible in terms of the state of the socioeconomic system is frustrating. A war in which a society’s survival is truly threatened by an external enemy can work wonders in removing that disconnect.

The problem we have is the proverbial “frog in a pot” problem. When the water temperature rises slowly, the frog doesn’t notice. Or doesn’t see that the effort needed to escape from the pot is worth it. Eventually it’s too late; the frog is too lethargic or too weakened by the heat, to be able to escape.

Just this week, I saw a posting by a perennial AGW denier, commenting on the record high global temperatures last year and so far this year. It amounted to “Hey, look, we’ve crossed that dreaded 2 C temperature anomaly that was supposed to be such a disaster, and look, no disaster. Nyeh, nyeh, stupid warming alarmists.”

“Croak, croak” said the frog, smugly swimming in its pot on the stove.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jun 11, 2016 5:43 am GMT

It’s worse than mere inaction.  We have powerful forces fighting against anything resembling action on the problem, and trying to destroy our best existing measures against it… with considerable success.

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