Calling Jenny Carbon: I need to lose 10 tons by Christmas (and so do you, and you, and…)
(photo by Broken Haiku)
When you were a kid, would you ever wait for the Sears Christmas catolog to arrive…and then look at the wonders it promised..and wonder if Christmas would everrrr get here? Our catalog would come right around Halloween, and my brothers and I would “share” it (while our parents donned their blue helmets to enforce the peace – ain’t advertising grand?) We’d settle down for the long wait … almost two months off…nearly sixty whole days!
And we’d wish we could speed up time and jump right ahead to the future.
My brothers and I never found out how to speed up time……or slow it down.
But hey – we’re only three of six billion humans – and we’re all such clever monekys that – working together – we’ve made a time machine.
Pretty cool, right?
Well….uh…not so much. It’s actually far too hot.
The time machine only goes one direction….forward.
As recently as last year, this future looked to be decades away – as far off in the distance as Christmas is for an eight year old on Halloween.
The trigger for that future – that lethally hot future – isn’t decades away.
That trigger is our now. We’re living it. So far. Most of us.
To understand this, we need to have a little info about the big blue planet that is our home world.
Fortunately for us oxygen breathing animals (and our friends the plants, who breathe carbon dioxide, or CO2), our planet is big enough that Earth’s gravity traps gas on the surface on the planet, instead of letting the oxygen and CO2 float off into space. Our poor moon is too small to hold much of surface gas in the weak embrace of her gravity, which is why the moon is – well – close enough to airless that we’d all die there.
Just like a sealed car on a sunny day traps the sun’s heat and warms up, our planet in its mantle of transparent(ish) gases and water vapor traps enough of the sun’s light that our little ball of rock in space is warm – far warmer than the airless ball of rock that is our poor moon.
We’re lucky – just like our friends the plants, we’ve evolved on this friendly blue ball, so the mix of gas and heat and air has been just right for us – as it
has been once was for the plants who had the place to themselves for a long time before our earliest relatives started grubbing around their roots.
Now – with six billion of us human monkeys running around the planet and burning things to:
drive and fly around the planet
grow our food
move our food, and cook our food
heat the houses we eat our food in,
heat the water we wash our plates (and us) in
pump the water we use
pump the stuff we burn to do all this
…and (oops – almost forgot!) and to kill people who live over stuff in the ground that we want to burn more of.
Now we busy monkeys have covered so much of the planet we’ve changed the comfy mix we and the plants have come to know and love – and require for survivial.
And we’ve done it faster than anyone imagined possible.
WIth the Sears card, everyone had a finite spending limit – try to put more on the card than the limit allowed, and the card wouldn’t let you. Now I’m a science nerd, not an econ nerd, but this hard limit is what IIRC econ folks call inelastic – the fancy word for “no give”.
We human monkeys like to tell stories – and for a long time we told ourselves the “no limits” story. We told ourselves the lands were limitless – amd when we could jump from the crowded places we grew up in and go live on some other humans’ land, we told ourselves stories about the other humans….something to the effect of the “others” weren’t really using the land, or weren’t really people – or needed us to take their land, or…
When the “endless lands” story wore thin, we told ourselves we had “endless seas”. The neat thing about the sea is that most of it has no people, so we could just grab what we wanted (fish) and dump whatever was killing us (our trash, nuclear waste, chemical wastes, and sewage) in the endless seas.
Hey, it worked great on America’s endless frontier – except for those pesky Indians. They have the bad luck to live (after we’d pushed ’em around the country a bit) over the oil and uranium we wanted, living next to big open spaces where we want to put all the stuff we make that kills us.
Unlike the First Peoples, fish can’t talk – and when some humans got uppity enough to talk on the fishes’ behalf, some thoughtful colonial power…say, France – would simply murder the pesky humans.
While France can (and did) blow up the Rainbow Warrior, all the bombs on Earth won’t blow up our carbon dioxide. There’s too much of it, and it doesn’t burn well.
Well, we can burn it, bury it, or dump it – in the Thames.
And all the other waters of our blue planet.
Those endless seas – well – for a long time we clever monkeys could count on the seas to just swallow a big old portion of our waste gas.
And for a long time, they could.
When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, the result is a very slight acid. Together, all six billion of us (and our recent ancestors) have made so much carbon dioxide that we’ve changed the chemistry of the entire planet – we’ve made our oceans more acidic.
Now how’s that for a chemistry lab?
Well – pretty sucky, it turns out.
We can make a big mess in high school chemistry lab and still go off to the cafeteria for lunch.
In the real world – our real world – we’re doing the chemistry experiment in the only room in the global school: our biosphere.
And the homeroom is our blue planet, all alone in the night – the only home we have.
The world’s top climate scientists – and their governments – came together to create the IPCC ( Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and I’ve been sharing the IPCC’s findings with you all in the uber-nerdy mega comments I leave cluttering up the threads.
I’m convinced the climate scientists in the IPCC are straight and honest – but the “Intergovernmental” part of the IPCC muffles their alarms – the IPCC reports are the consensus that survives passage through all the political reps (one from each nation) who can vote yay or nay.
Like the Saudis. And like the US under Shrub and Darth.
Most of us six billion human monkeys heard of the IPCC a few weeks ago when they shared the Nobel with Vice President Gore.
And just a few weeks ago a very clever human monkey at the IPCC made a lot of us monkeys very give big alarm cries – but not as loudly as we need to.
Tim Flannery, a world recognised climate change scientist and Australian of the Year in 2007, said a UN international climate change report due in November will show that greenhouse gases have already reached a dangerous level.
Flannery said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report will show that greenhouse gas in the atmosphere in mid-2005 had reached about 455 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent — a level not expected for another 10 years.
“We thought we’d be at that threshold within about a decade,” Flannery told Australian television late on Monday.
“We thought we had that much time. But the new data indicates that in about mid-2005 we crossed that threshold,” he said.
Just another climate gasbag, right?
Well, not quite – not at all.
Tim Flannery, a world recognised climate change scientist and Australian of the Year in 2007….said he had seen the raw data which will be in the IPCC Synthesis Report.
So who cares about 455 ppm of CO2 equivalent?
Well, only those of us with physical bodies.
All you deities and demiurges don’t have to sweat it – if you can sweat it.
The rest of us – the mortal folk – have to make a few changes.
Well – a whole biosphere’s worth.
Which is just what we clever imitative monkeys are good at doing.
Ever since Siggy Freud’s avaricious nephew teamed with up Manhattan’s ad men, every year more and more of us clever monkeys have pulled all sorts of levers…
so we could get the physical objects the ad men told us to get…
and make the life choices (and value systems) we needed to purchase the objects…
the ad mens’ owners chose for us to have.
Just one of the whole “industries” we monkeys obey – fashion.
Hell, we’ll even eat toxic crap – if we see enough pictures of other monkeys eating it.
Like we monkeys would have come up with platform shoes and SUV’s on our own?
No way – that’s why advertising costs big bucks – you have to distract us constantly to get us to pull the levers when even we can see they’ll just hurt us.
What does any of this have to do with car windows and 455 ppm and The Australian of the Year?
Oh – that.
We’ve burnt so much stuff for so long the oceans won’t swallow as much as they used to. And the earth won’t bury as much as it used to. And the plants have eaten so much gas from our burning they have to do less – so they’ll eat less of the gasses.
Oh – and the blue planet under those very, very thick windows made of the gasses from all the stuff we’ve burnt – and burn?
That’s why The Australian of the Year is worried
Flannery said global economic expansion….was a major factor behind the unexpected acceleration in greenhouse gas levels.
“We’re still basing that economic activity on fossil fuels. You know, the metabolism of that economy is now on a collision course, clearly, with the metabolism of our planet,” he said.
Drat those pesky gases from all the stuff we clever monkeys burn!
In January 2007, the European Commission [said] “the European Union’s objective is to limit global average temperature increase to less than 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels”.
Andrew Weaver and colleagues at the University of Victoria in Canada say this means going well beyond the reduction of industrial emissions discussed in international negotiations.
They modelled the reduction of industrial emissions below 2006 levels by between 20% and 100% by 2050. Only when emissions were entirely eliminated did the temperature increase remain below 2°C.
A 100% reduction of emissions saw temperature change stabilise at 1.5°C above the pre-industrial figure. With a 90% reduction by 2050, Weaver’s model predicted that temperature change will eventually exceed 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures but then plateau.
The researchers conclude that governments should consider reducing emissions to 90% below current levels and remove what is left in the atmosphere by capturing and storing carbon.
There is a stark contrast between this proposal and the measures currently being considered. Under the UN’s Kyoto protocol, most developed nations have agreed to limit their emissions to a minimum of 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.
[bold – kjm]
The researchers say their study highlights the shortcomings of governmental plans to limit climate change.
A warming of 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures is frequently cited as the limit beyond which the world will face “dangerous” climate change. Beyond this level, analysis suggests the continents will cease to absorb more carbon dioxide than they produce. As the tundra and other regions of permafrost thaw, they will spew more gas into the atmosphere, adding to the warming effect of human emissions.
The end result will be dramatic ecological changes, including widespread coastal flooding, reduced food production, and widespread species extinction.
How do we get from here to there? How much of a cut must we make?
Oh – only around 90% in twenty-three years.
While the carbon dioxide concentration currently stands at 380 parts, the other greenhouse gases raise this to an equivalent of 440 or 450. In other words, if everything else were equal, greenhouse gas concentrations in 2030 would need to be roughly the same as they are today.
Unfortunately, everything else is not equal. By 2030, according to a paper published by scientists at the Met Office, the total capacity of the biosphere to absorb carbon will have reduced from the current 4 billion tonnes a year to 2.7 billion(8). To maintain equilibrium at that point, in other words, the world’s population can emit no more than 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon a year in 2030. As we currently produce around 7 billion, this implies a global reduction of 60%. In 2030, the world’s people are likely to number around 8.2 billion. By dividing the total carbon sink (2.7 billion tonnes) by the number of people, we find that to achieve stabilisation the weight of carbon emissions per person should be no greater than 0.33 tonnes. If this problem is to be handled fairly, everyone should have the same entitlement to release carbon, at a rate no greater than 0.33 tonnes per year.
In the rich countries, this means an average cut by 2030 of around 90%. The United Kingdom, for example, currently releases 2.6 tonnes of carbon (9.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide) per capita(9), so would need to reduce its emissions by 87%. Germany requires a cut of 88%, France of 83%, the United States, Canada and Australia, 94%.
Hey – we only have to lose 10 tons of CO2 equivalent a year?
In the UK, they only have to lose about 9.2.
Should be easy – it only takes 2.0 tons per person per to year to power:
the UK’s streetlights
the UK’s hospitals
the UK’s wars.
How do we get from 10.0 to 0.33?
We can – and the next series of posts discusses how.
In the meantime, what does the MSM have to say about Brittany and toes?