Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Forty Days to Save the World (Part 1): Overview, Paris and Energy

The November issue of National Geographic is devoted to the climate crisis, and it is well worth checking out.  There's an  online version, which has the advantage of some moving pictures, in both senses.  But the print magazine itself has its own visual splendors, and thoughtful articles and reporting to savor.  It's a keeper.

  It clarifies the crucial questions and what answers there are.  There are maps and charts and so on, but the photos of people in places makes it real, for it is the ultimate story of humanity in the natural world.  Robert Kunzig's opening essay, "This could be the turning point," sets the stage for Paris.

Meanwhile, as the Paris climate talks approach, the dialogue gets more specific.  The UN issued an assessment on levels of carbon reduction pledged by nations so far, and found (in the words of the Washington Post): "And the upshot is both that countries have raised their climate ambitions greatly, but also that even by 2025 or 2030, global emissions are expected to still be rising despite their best efforts."

More to the point, these pledges are unlikely to result in staying below the 2C limit.  As the story points out, all this is based on assumptions that could be off, but by the usual measurements, the global temp will rise to 2.7C, at best.  The good news is that the rate of growth will drop (and in fact is dropping.)  Nobody really knows where the tipping point might be for runaway global heating--it might even be below 2C, or above it.  But that's the announced goal.

  A day later, Eric Holtshaus at Slate opined that the pledges meant that: While most close climate watchers—myself included—have bemoaned the fact that the 2-degree goal is probably no longer possible, there’s a huge achievement on the horizon in Paris that’s clearly worth a victory dance: The nightmare worst-case scenario, in which the planet warms by 4.5 degrees or more, is now likely off the table."  But the lesson he takes from this is dangerous in a way I will write about later. 

So the UN says nations must try harder in Paris.  The more positive spin, from the White House and some environmental groups, is that this is a good start:

“The foundation has been poured, but to build from this the Paris agreement must deliver transparency and accountability against these pledges, and ensure that countries accelerate their ambition over time,” added the Nature Conservancy’s director of international government relations Andrew Deutz in reaction to the new report.

Or, as Kunzig writes, "We don't have to be able to see the whole road ahead to a happy end--but we have to believe we can get there."

More generally, support for climate action seems to be solidifying.  This Detroit column sums up the case pretty well.  Activists are gearing up for a big climate march in Paris November 28, with other demos etc. around the world.  After the Dalai Lama's statements on the climate crisis, an organization that goes beyond Buddhism in one country or region--the Global Buddhist Climate Collective--produced a declaration encouraging action signed by leaders of Buddhists everywhere.

Ending the carbon era requires replacement by clean energy.  Making this kind of a world happen has become the mission of Bill Gates, as explained in this interesting interview in the Atlantic.  (Though National Geographic seems more optimistic on the prospects for a clean energy future.) Progress and expansion in renewable energy is still ongoing, says this analysis, despite falling oil prices that might make staying with fossil fuels more attractive.

It is probably not a coincidence that oil prices fall when clean energy threatens to achieve a self-perpetuating growth.  Oil companies are hardly above that kind of manipulation.  Or apparently above attempting to intimidate journalists who report on Exxon's supression of its own climate crisis research, and paid millions to deny what they knew.

The latest desperate, cynical move in that industry comes from Canada, where builders of the Keystone pipeline suddenly requested that the State Department put off deciding whether to approve the pipeline in the US--perhaps (it seems obvious to many) long enough to allow the possibility of a Republican President who might approve it.  Update: Nice try.  President Obama announced he will make the Keystone pipeline decision before he leaves office, rejecting the request for suspension.

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