Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Weather, Water, Energy 5-16-07

Big snow melt in Antarctica in 2005. More melting beneath surface, faster breaking and movement of ice sheets toward the ocean? Stay tuned. And on high ground. . . . Via Governing's blog, 13th Floor, we hear that Technology Review has a great two-part series up on the need for greater specificity and localization in ghe climate forecasts that are coming out as cities and states try to get ready for the predicted consequences of the warming that’s already growing. . . . But for those wanting to know their own individual carbon footprint, this will get you to Internet carbon calculators that will give you a bit more control. . . . Of course, this may be a little too individualized, Greenpeace's rebuilding of Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat as a PR move. I'm betting this ends up one of those "seemed like a good idea at the time" things. . . . No more lawn-watering at all in Australia's capital (quick, what's its name?). They're calling it "the big dry" now. But no fear. Their idiot PM has called on everyone to pray. Which they may be crazy enough to do down under, given they voted him into office AND they apparently have started drinking coffee from cat poop. (I'm not kidding.) . . . David Roberts at Grist has a good meditation on facts, fear, why the latter trumps the former in any political debate, and why scaring people with global warming plays to authoritarian power. . . . More on US business types recognizing that their futures are facing giant screwing by global warming. Long article, really worth reading. Here are some highlights:

. . . many business leaders are galvanized by two forces: the desire to have a seat at the table when policy is written, and the desire for certainty about the regulatory environment.


Among companies on record as favoring action on climate change, many are nonetheless preparing to lobby against proposed solutions that they worry could harm the economy – or their particular business. This is a delicate question that will be central to the debate.


Who will win and lose? Some policies involve choices that favor some companies over others within an industry. Under cap-and-trade, for example, utilities that operate coal-burning plants would want the industry's initial emissions allowances to be based on their current output of greenhouse gases, Holmstead says. Utilities with cleaner fuel sources, by contrast, would gain an edge if the allowances were based on current output of electricity, not carbon.


A cap-and-trade system may be easier to impose, politically, than a new tax on carbon. But since the price of fossil fuels can fluctuate widely, some experts say that one form of carbon tax could serve a crucial purpose: setting a price floor, so that alternative energy can be nurtured by a predictable price environment.

Finally, a scary, scary report by a Swiss guy that actually projects the planet’s “carrying capacity” concept into the global warming future. Here are some key quotes:

In order to move towards a sustainable world, we all must become … not Berliners, but Cubans.

So, what is the carrying capacity of the planet? If we wish to live in a sustainable fashion like the Cubans, we’ll need to reduce our numbers by 20% to 5 billion people. If we wish to all live like Americans, we shall need to decrease our numbers to roughly 1 billion people. Finally, if we decide to live as poorly as the people of Madagascar, then we can triple our numbers to 20 billion and live unhappily ever after.

Using the “proven” energy sources only, Switzerland will have available only 1 kW of per capita energy by 2050, i.e., even the envisaged 2000 Watt Society is a pipe dream without additional sources of energy. The hidden message was that we cannot afford shutting down our nuclear power plants. In order to meet our goal of 2 kW per person, we would need to double our nuclear power and increase the efficiency of these power plants from currently 33% to 50% by using the excess heat for heating the houses in nearby villages rather than our rivers as we do now.

The system lives off the exponential growth and is designed to go broke once the exponential growth pattern comes to an end.
Yet, this is not only a problem with social security. It is one of the main driving forces behind our entire economical system. Our economy has been optimized to exploit exponential growth, and once exponential growth ends, it is designed to fail.
For this reason, we cannot rely on market forces to get us out of the exponential growth dilemma. Our business managers and politicians have every (short-term) interest in preserving the exponential growth for as long as they can. . . .
We can rely on our business managers and politicians to fix the exponential growth problem as much as we can rely on junkies to fix the drug abuse problem.

There is an old proverb: when you are already in a hole, stop digging. We have documented that we are already consuming an ecological footprint larger than that provided by planet Earth in a sustainable fashion. Thus, increasing our population further can only hurt us.
In order to avoid the collapse, we need to get out of the exponential growth pattern as fast as we can. We ought to behave as if fossil fuels had already become essentially unavailable, using this precious commodity only for purposes where they are absolutely essential and to help us create a sustainable energy infrastructure for the future.
Such an approach will immediately make us poorer. It will be uncomfortable; but remember, this will happen sooner or later anyway, whether we like it or not, and the longer we continue in our current exponential growth pattern, the more painful the subsequent adjustment will be.

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