Monday, November 26, 2012
For about five years in a row in the early to mid aughts, I would go on an annual pheasant hunt the day before Thanksgiving about an hour due east of Colorado Springs. I remember it being below freezing a few times and always very cold.
Growing up in New England, Thanksgiving was always the biggest day of the year for high school football. I remember playing defensive end my senior year in below freezing temperatures. Friends and family tell me it's been in the 50s and 60s this year in the weeks and days just before Thanksgiving.
I have never "doubted" either the fact of global warming or the scientific consensus that it is man-caused (or at least, man-exacerbated). But it was never an issue that troubled me very much. I was certainly no alarmist. That is starting to change. Something is really off-kilter out there.
I recently read Bill McKibben's Rolling Stone article: "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math." The crisis is astonishingly (and frighteningly) easy to understand when reduced to three simple numbers:
1. It is widely accepted (by politicians, too, not just by climate scientists) that an average global temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius would have devastating environmental consequences. Actually, the 2 degree figure is thought too generous by many scientists; it is the political compromise number settled upon in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. In the past few generations, our planet has already warmed .8 degrees Celsius -- we're almost halfway there -- wreaking already observable havoc.
2. There is also broad consensus that we will blow past the 2 degree barrier if we allow ourselves to put another 565 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere.
3. Known reserves of fossil fuels represent 2,795 gigatons of stored carbon waiting to be pumped into the air.
The way that McKibben puts it: think of 2 degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit. 565 gigatons is what we can drink without getting drunk. The 2,795 gigatons in the ground are like three 12-packs of beer sitting on the table waiting to be consumed.
Stated differently, we need to leave 80% of this fossil fuel in the ground to avoid crossing the (probably too high) 2 degree threshold. Yeah, right! As if! It'll never happen. Those reserves represent both the booked wealth of the energy companies and the abolutely essential ingredient of future economic growth. It is impossible to believe we will not burn through most of it -- if not all of it.
By some estimates, burning most of it will raise average global temperatures 4 to 6 degrees Celsius. McKibben says this would create a planet "straight out of science fiction." No doubt it would.
So yes, after years of ambivalence born of apathy and ignorance, this topic is very suddenly starting to alarm me. I am somewhat embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I had no idea how serious the situation is.
The Interantional Energy Agency ("IEA") just released its annual World Energy Outlook for 2012. It caught my attention due to its headline-grabbing forecast that by 2020 "the United States is projected to become the largest global oil producer" due to the shale oil boom. (I am actually quite skeptical of that claim but for present purposes assume it is true.)
What should have grabbed headlines is the IEA's cry of lament that "successive editions of this report have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius is becoming more difficult and costly with each year that passes." "Costly" in the sense that more and more drastic cuts to emissions are required with each passing year. "Costly," in other words, to economic growth -- our country's religion. (And you thought it was Christianity?)
That statement gave me the idea to go back and look at prior years' reports.
In 2008, the IEA said: "Preventing catastrophic and irreversible damage to the global climate ultimately requires a major decarbonization of the world energy sources." But since non-carbon forms of energy are utterly inadequate to run civilization the way we have been running it for the past 100 years, this statement seems to mean that we have the choice between global economic collapse (i.e. massive lifestyle sacrifices for ourselves) or leaving a nearly inhospitable planet to our grandchildren.
Gee, I wonder which choice we will make.
In 2011, the IEA stated that "the door to 2 degrees Celsius is closing." Reading the fine print, however, the door looks for all intents and purposes to already have closed. Under what the IEA calls its "New Policies Scenario," the planet is heading for an average 3.5 degree temperature increase. And worse, "without these new policies, we are on an even more dangerous track, for a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius or more."
I am just a lowly history major. But it sounds to me like the IEA is saying the world will blow past the 2 degree barrier even if nations adopt the recommended "New Policies." And if we stick with business as usual, as we probably will, we are looking at that planet "straight out of science fiction."
The IEA apparently knows what everyone who follows this knows: the global-industrial economy is not going to just cut its fossil fuel consumption by 80%. If anything, global demand is increasing as people across Asia and other previously underdeveloped regions contiune striving for the obscenely high-consumption lifestyles we take for granted in the West. We simply will not do what is required -- massively reduce our standard of living. ("Pro-growth" progressives give aid and comfort to the enemy on this score.)
My generation -- to say nothing of the loathesome baby boomers who came immediately before us -- cannot conceive of consuming less. But consuming less -- much, much, much, much less -- is the only solution. We won't make that choice. We will exit the stage having wrecked the joint. Our grandchildren will hate us and curse us.
This rather depressing thought brings to mind the final stanza of Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem "Justice Denied in Massachusetts:"
Let us sit here, sit still,
Here in the sitting room until we die;
At the step of Death on the walk, rise and go;
Leaving to our children's children this beautiful doorway,
And this elm,
And a blighted earth to till,
With a broken hoe.
Millay was expressing the hopelessness she felt after the Sacco and Vanzetti trial. But the lines would appear to work well here too.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Barone is forecasting that Romney will defeat President Obama by a wide margin, 315 electoral votes to 223. He predicts that Romney will win nearly every swing state, including Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado and Virginia. Barone admitted, however, that he is going out on a limb with some of his calls.