Discover more from God's Spies by Thomas Neuburger
New Notes on an Old Problem
Global warming is accelerating faster than what our best minds are planning for, if indeed they’re planning at all.
“Everything new is old again.”
—Yours truly, here.
As you can imagine, there’s news on the climate front. And as you can also imagine, it’s both shocking and more of the same. I’ll characterize the latest reports with three snippets and an afterthought.
1. The world of “infinite growth” — which the wealthy call “infinite profit” when speaking privately — has decided that burning “biofuel” (ethanol) and “biomass” (wood pellets) is a route to climate salvation.
First, in what world is burning anything made of carbon a route to falling CO2? In case you’ve forgotten, this is what a fire looks like:
Note the wood. The chemical formula is this:
Wood plus oxygen yields ash, CO2 and water. Note the CO2.
Yet there’s a world of wealth-friendly science people to tell you it’s OK to burn this stuff. Some of those people work for Biden’s EPA:
A new EPA proposal is reigniting a debate about what counts as ‘renewable’
The agency wants more ethanol, biogas, and wood pellet power in the nation's fuel mix. But is that actually a good thing?
The EPA is being pretty aggressive about this push:
The EPA’s recent proposal aims for nearly double the amount of the use of these fuels [ethanol, biogas, wood pellets, biomass diesel] by 2024. Then a 50 percent increase the year after, equivalent to 2 billion gallons.
That's money in the bank if you own forests and corn fields. If you want to know who’s behind this push, look no further than this fellow:
“We are pretty pleased with what the EPA proposed for 2023 through 2025,” Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuel Association, an industry group whose members primarily include ethanol producers, but also represent biogas and biomass producers, told Grist.
2. This madness, of course, is making the problem worse. James Hansen and colleagues have released another stiffening study, this time about the rate of climate change and why it’s accelerating. The paper is titled “Global warming in the pipeline” and it's a good read. I recommend looking at it if you’re the least bit scientifically inclined.
But to boil it down: The concept of global warming “in the pipeline,” as Hansen explains, is a result of the “climate’s delayed response and the need for anticipatory action to alter the course of fossil fuel development.” What he means is, when you pull the meat out of the oven, it’s not done cooking.
In the Abstract, the authors state the problem succinctly:
Global warming in the pipeline is greater than prior estimates.
At this moment, humanity is taking its first steps into the period of consequences. Earth’s paleoclimate history helps us assess potential outcomes.
The piece contains two stunning graphs. Here’s the first:
The red lines represent global temperature change from the 1850 baseline if our air contained no aerosol pollution — sulfides, particles, and all the other poison that industrial life throws into it. The black line is the global warming we see. If the air were clean, we’d already see +2°C global warming. The pollution, which we’re rightly getting rid of, is keeping the planet cooler than it otherwise would be, perhaps by a full degree.
A second chart in the paper is even worse:
The dotted green line is the projected “best linear fit” for the measured data so far. The yellow cone, however, shows where we’re headed. Global warming is accelerating faster than what our best minds are planning for, if indeed they’re planning at all.
We could see two degrees warming “on the ground” by 2040. If I’m not mistaken (carry the 2) most of us will still be living in 2040. We can't kick this can down the road, passed to the next generation. There’s no road left.
3. But wait, there’s hope; the current system may yet produce a solution. Or so the UN believes:
UN Secretary-General to Convene “Climate Ambition Summit” in 2023
UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced he will convene a Climate Ambition Summit in September 2023, to generate “new, tangible and credible climate action” to “accelerate action at the mid-way point” of the SDGs. Going forward, he said he will push for a Climate Solidarity Pact, for all big emitters to “make an extra effort” to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with the 1.5°C goal and provide support for those who need it.
Of course the industry lobbyist in my first point above will listen to the polite UN leader asking for help. But only when the rich are rich enough. Till then we’ll have to wait.
4. Which brings me, snippets done, to point number four, my afterthought. You should be able to draw these conclusions for yourself:
Asking won't get this job done. The people in charge need telling.
Someone not seventy or eighty will figure that out, that only telling will work.
Maybe a bunch of someones will figure it out together. And maybe they’ll act.
What “no longer asking” could look like, when a whole lot of people all do it, is messier than anyone I know is willing to contemplate.
We may someday pray for the day, soon to be long in the past, when contemplation was something we could have done, when action wasn't forced on all of us because others are acting with force and won’t be stopped.
We may pray to return to the day when our choices weren’t bound by chaos on the ground, when a sun that will never re-rise hadn't already set.
The time to forestall that day is to act strongly now, before the madness begins. That’s a heavy lift; I recognize that. But I fear it’s all we have left.