Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Friday, April 27, 2012

Field reports from a catastrophe, continuing

Arctic Ocean, 2008.

A non-random sampling of recent scientific findings on climate change.

* * * * *

1) New evidence of methane outgassing from the Arctic Ocean, apparently from supersaturated methane in the surface waters being freed by ice breakup. See E.A. Kort, et al, "Atmospheric observations of Arctic Ocean methane emissions up to 82° north, " Nature Geoscience (April 22, 2012). The article is behind a subscription wall, but see this summary in Scientific American. Methane traps far greater quantities of heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, making it a more potent greenhouse gas. It falls out of the atmosphere more quickly. But there is a vast storehouse of it in the Arctic Ocean and permafrost. 

2) Evidence is accumulating of possible methane emissions from the Arctic Ocean floor, as opposed to the supersaturated methane near the surface. Large sea floor methane releases appear to be underway, but whether they are a recent event caused by human activity or a natural phenomenon has not been established. Scientists involved in the research believe an abrupt, massive release of Arctic methane on the order of 50 gigatons is possible in our lifetime. This would represent an approximately 12-fold increase in total atmospheric methane levels, virtually guaranteeing a dramatic escalation of global temperature increase. 

3) New evidence of accelerating melt of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, driven by warming ocean temperatures resulting from anthropogenic climate change. See H.D. Pritchard et al, "Antarctic ice sheet loss driven by basal melting of ice shelves, " Nature (April 25, 2012). Commentary on the implications from the Center for American Progress. The eventual breakup of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will commit the planet to a long term sea level rise of about 10 feet. The collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet, also under stress, will add another 10. 

4) Barring that eventuality, research by NASA indicates that global sea levels are currently on pace to rise about one foot by 2050. See E Rignot, et al., "Acceleration of the contributions of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to sea level rise," Geophysical Research Letters (March 4, 2011). 

5) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cites research by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, estimating that a one foot rise in sea level will cause an annual increase in storm damage to U.S. coastal areas of 36-58 percent. 

6) A new suite of multi-model climate projections sees a near certainty that global temperatures will increase by a minimum of one degree Celsius by 2050, with a much higher than anticipated 15% chance that global temperatures by 2050 will rise three degrees Celsius. See I. Held, "Climate science: constraints on the high end," Nature (March 25, 2012). Two degrees Celsius is currently regarded as extremely dangerous, creating high probabilities of widespread ecosystem disruption, extreme weather, ice sheet breakup, food shortages, fresh water depletion, and climate-driven disease outbreaks.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Towards a movement of green Reds.

Hey folks,

Sorry for my long hiatus! I've been AWOL around here for the last six months or so, but not because I've grown discouraged with activism surrounding the Long Emergency. Far from it! In addition to my usual rabbling with my trade union, I've been working on a new project, which is now reaching a level where I can go public with it. And you heard it here first!

 If you've read much of my writing here on Seldon's Gate, you know that my biggest concerns about peak oil and climate change are a lack of community activism addressing both, and the complete absence of serious conversation about EITHER in political circles. So, as fall descended into an unseasonably warm winter here in Oregon, I discovered a leftist organization of old standing, with great organizing resources and enthusiasm, concerned with the plight of the working class and long a proponent of sensible environmental policy. An organization with a history of embracing ideas before their time, even when they are unpopular, their proponents labeled crazy or worse. An organization with resources and activists to throw into the fight to help our communities prepare for the coming storms, if someone is willing to make an effort to bring it to their attention.

That's right, folks, I joined the Communist Party. And I've spent the last six months yelling about peak oil and climate change at the top of my lungs. And comrades are listening.

Over the next few months, I'll be talking more about efforts to get peak oil and climate change into the broader conversation, through coalition building between the political chops of the Party and the knowledge and experience of community resilience activists. For now, here's a link* to a video that my activist club has put together over the past couple of months, a video version of a talk I gave to some fellow Communists back in January, which was the genesis of the broader project I'm working on now.

It's about an hour long, but in it I make an effort to completely and succinctly summarize the findings of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in a format accessible to to as many people as possible. My hope is that anyone, after watching the video, will have a strong basic understanding of the science behind climate change projections, because scientific literacy is the only weapon we have against the lies and half-truths told by our corporate masters. I also introduce Peak Oil to an audience that probably hasn't heard about it, perhaps even OF it, and lay out in the broadest possible terms some of the concerns my co-bloggers, especially Kir'Shara, have dissected with such precision since the founding of this blog.

This is still a work in progress; there's still some polishing to do, and the IPCC recently released another report that I have yet to get a gander at. I'd also really appreciate some technical input on the peak oil side of things; climate change is definitely more my area, and I hope to eventually be able to devote as much time to peak oil. I've got a microphone, folks, and it's getting louder all the time; I could really use some help with knowing what to say!

*(There was a slight mix-up with the headings of the videos, so start with part 2/7; hopefully we'll have that fixed as soon as I can get in touch with our editor and webmistress!)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The deadline for climate change action

Excerpts from David Roberts, "The Brutal Logic of Climate Change," Grist, December 6, 2011.

For today’s inconvenient truths (ahem), we turn to Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change who was, until recently, director of the U.K.’s leading climate research institution, the Tyndall Energy Program.

This year, with his colleague Alice Bows, he published a paper called “Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world” [PDF].

Let’s walk through Anderson’s logic.

[I]f we delay the global emissions peak until 2025, we pretty much have to drop off a cliff afterwards to avoid 2 degrees C. Short of a meteor strike that shuts down industrial civilization, that’s unlikely.
How about 2020? Of the available scenarios for peaking in 2020, says Anderson, 13 of 18 show hitting 2 degrees C to be technically impossible. (D’oh!) The others involve on the order of 10 percent reductions a year after 2020, leading to total decarbonization by 2035-45.

This, then, is the brutal logic of climate change: With immediate, concerted action at global scale, we have a slim chance to halt climate change at the extremely dangerous level of 2 degrees C. If we delay even a decade — waiting for better technology or a more amenable political situation or whatever — we will have no chance.

It might seem that, given the extraordinary difficulty of hitting 2 degrees C, we ought to lower our sights a bit and accept that we’re going to hit 4 degrees C. It won’t be ideal, but hitting anything lower than that is just too difficult and expensive.

The thing is, if 2 degrees C is extremely dangerous, 4 degrees C is absolutely catastrophic. In fact, according to the latest science, says Anderson, “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.”

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The illusory value of fossil fuels

"Why Fossil Fuel Abundance Is An Illusion,"
by Jonathan Koomey
Consulting Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University

Even with estimates of the fossil fuel resource base at the low end of what the literature says, the amount of carbon embodied in just the conventional sources of these fuels is vastly larger than the amount of fuel assumed to be burned in...our “business-as-usual” future, assuming no major efforts to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels...
One implication of these results is that the current estimated value of fossil fuel reserves (as capitalized in the stock prices of fossil fuel companies) is an illusion, as Dave Roberts of Grist points out.  We quite literally can’t burn it all and continue the orderly development of human civilization, so the trillions of dollars of “value” in those reserves is a mirage (and a major impediment to progress on this problem, given how hard the fossil fuel industry is fighting to preserve its profits).