2013: The Year of Climate Decision

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"2013: The Year of Climate Decision"

by Kevin Matthews

Either by action, or by inaction, it’s most likely that the climate decision will be made this year.

The decision, simply put, is whether to step aside from business-as-usual, and fully mobilize, or to generally continue business as usual, and condem humanity to a thousand years of torture.

The decisiveness of this particular historical moment is highlighted by an important new paper in Nature (with the classically obscure name, Probabilistic Cost Estimates for Climate Change Mitigation) which finds first, that when we start serious change is the most important factor in limiting the damage from climate change, and second, that we have to start serious change now, with policy shifts comparable to an international carbon price of $60 a tonne by 2015, to, essentially, save the day.

The study further finds that if we wait until 2020 to make our pivot to serious change, the effort would have to be equivalent to an international carbon price of $150 per tonne.

If we wait until 2025, then there’s no realistic level of effort modeled by the researchers that would have a reasonable likelihood of preventing devastating (and multiplying) impacts.

Climate Change: All in the Timing, an accompanying interpretive article to the paper at Nature, describes the approach used in the study:

“The authors quantify the importance of five ‘uncertainties’ that are thought to influence the chance of limiting global temperatures to different levels, using a suite of models to generate around 500 scenario variations. They find that the timing of international action to limit emissions has by far the largest impact. Furthermore, the models show that the impact of timing is highly nonlinear, and that delaying emissions limits by only five years, from 2020 to 2025, would dramatically cut the likelihood of limiting warming to 2°C.

“The five major uncertainties assessed by Rogelj and colleagues were the following: the responsiveness of the physical climate system to cumulative emissions; the deployment of energy- and land-based emission-reduction technologies; the global demand for energy (which includes combined uncertainties about population, income growth and energy efficiency); the global carbon price that the international community is willing to impose; and the timing of substantive action to limit emissions (phased in from 2010)…

“These scenario comparisons revealed timing of global action to be the uncertainty with the greatest effect. For example, the authors find that bringing forward global action on emissions from 2020 to 2015 would improve the chance of limiting temperatures to 2°C from 56% to 60%, all else being equal. To put this another way, achieving the same 60% chance of success with action starting in 2020 would require a 2020 carbon price of around US$150 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) — more than double the $60 per tonne CO2e required if action begins in 2015. However, delaying emissions limits from 2020 to 2025 would bring the chance of success down to 34%, and the authors found no scenario in which a feasible increase in carbon price or improvements in energy technology could make up for these five years of delay.”

These findings are entirely consistent with the overall thrust of the latest strong climate research.

National Climate Assessment Draft

Another new piece of the puzzle is the Draft U.S. National Climate Assessment Report (NCA), just released, which opened for 90 days of public comment on Monday, January 14, 2013.

Initial media coverage has focused on the climate science chapters of the draft report, which are excellent, as well as foreboding:

Report Says Warming is Changing US Daily Life — Guardian, 2013.0111

“‘Human-induced climate change means much more than just hotter weather,’ the report says, listing rising-seas, downpours, melting glaciers and permafrost, and worsening storms. ‘These changes and other climatic changes have affected and will continue to affect human health, water supply, agriculture, transportation, energy, and many other aspects of society.’

“The report uses the word “threat” or variations of it 198 times and versions of the word “disrupt” another 120 times.

“If someone were to list every aspect of life changed or likely to be altered from global warming, it would easily be more than 100, said two of the report’s authors.”

At Climate Progress, the leading U.S. climate policy blog, Joe Romm cuts to the chase with a posting titled Draft Climate Assessment Warns Of Devastating 9°-15°F Warming Over Most Of U.S..

“The Assessment, put together by dozens of the country’s top climate experts, makes clear that if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path, we are headed towards a devastating 9°F to 15°F warming over most of the United States (this century), with ever-worsening extreme weather, heat waves, deluges and droughts. As the report notes ‘generally, wet [areas] get wetter and dry get drier.’ Future generations will be wishing for the boring ‘moist’ and ‘cool’ days of 2012 (when they aren’t cursing our names).”

In addition to its review of climate science up to a mid-2012 cut-off date, the 1,146 page draft NCADAC report has chapters on climate mitigation, and on 12 specific sectors, from Urban Systems, Infrastructure, and Vulnerability, Energy Supply and Use, and Forestry to Land Use and Land Cover Change and Transportation, as well as chapters describing impacts specific to 10 regions of the U.S.

The report is a big deal. It is destined, with revisions, to become the “Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) Report,” to be published perhaps in 2014. The two previous national climate assessments were published in 2000 and 2009.

This, therefore, is the round of climate assessment and documentation, from the current draft NCA onward, that will be a primary official reference for the immediate critical period — during this period, in which which we will determine the general feasibility of civilization for our children and grandchildren.

Missing the Big Boat

The draft NCADAC report clearly recognizes the basic fact that mitigation (the net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (adjusting infrastructure and systems to avoid damage from climate change) are directly connected:

“This ‘systems approach’ tries to connect, for example, how adaptation and mitigation strategies are themselves dynamic and interrelated systems that intersect with the sectors described here, like the way adaptation plans for future coastal infrastructure are correlated to the kinds of mitigation strategies that are put into place today.”
— Draft NCA p105, Introduction to the Sectors

However, based on an initial review, the mitigation and sector-specific chapters of the draft report — where the rubber hit the road — are badly substandard — lost inside the box of business-as-usual — compared to the excellent and more mature climate science section.

The President’s science advisor, John Holdren, writes that the report “does not make recommendations regarding actions that might be taken in response to climate change.”

Yet, given that mitigation, adaptation, and impacts are “themselves dynamic and interrelated systems,” what kind of relevance can the sector analysis provide without addressing mitigation?

What kind of relevance can the mitigation chapter have, relative to the needs of the nation inj 2013, if it doesn’t define specific strategies to meet specific scenarios? If the concept of climate wedges, for instance, is not even discussed in the abstract?

At this stage of draft, hundreds of contributing authors and the 60-person NCADAC advisory committee, considered as a team (whatever their individual perspectives) appear to be still keeping their heads buried in the sand with regard to what has to be done.

If we’re in 2013, pretending to add up potential damages due to climate change as if industrial business-as-usual can actually continue indefinitely — as if, for example, an issue to be concerned about is a shortened Arctic oil drilling season due to melting permafrost — well, I guess we really have our work cut out.

If the draft report acknowledged the technical reality that there is now in effect a fixed budget of CO2e that can be put into Earth’s atmosphere — a fixed total carbon budget with a size somewhere in the range of half to one-fifth of the stated reserves of the top 100 fossil fuel companies — then perhaps with a little “systems thinking” it could determine that obstacles to oil and gas drilling that has to be stopped anyway are not in themselves a big cause of concern.

Granted, to say that we’re actually going to leave 50%-80% of already-known reserves in the ground is probably one of those dreaded “policy issues,” at times considered off-limits to the rank and file of federal science and bureaucracy.

However, in 2013, to simply say that we have to leave 50%-80% of already-known reserves in the ground, in order to have a reasonable chance of stabilizing the global climate at a survivable level, is not policy. In 2013, this is simply science.

If the U.S. “Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) Report” doesn’t define what we need to do technically, in order to meet reasonable potential policy goals, then what federal project will?

At the same time as the draft NCADAC report shows stunningly how bad things will get if we don’t act, it seems to embody the very institutional blinders that tend to prevent us from acting.

If not us, then who?

Global greenhouse gas emissions need to be permanently shrinking by 2015 or 2016, and then drop by about 5% per year, every year, for the next four years or more.

The global shift we need, away from fossil-fueled growth-as-usual, will not happen without the leadership of decisive action within the U.S.

It takes real time to turn the ship of state, to first make concrete policy projections, to turn policy projections into policy proposals, to enact strong policies, and finally to implement them. If the U.S. somehow manages to decide in this critical year to mobilize effectively for change, then significant physical results can still show up, as permanently and substantially shrinking greenhouse gas emissions, just in time.

Activating local, state, and national elites in government, business, and media is absolutely critical to achieving this decisive change. With huge institutional inertia to overcome quickly, it will probably take everyone, who can help to make the case for change, each giving their own best push, to break things loose.

This means us — in our work as design professionals, and in our engagement as citizens. And this means now.

Kevin Matthews is Editor in Chief of ArchitectureWeek.

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80 Responses to 2013: The Year of Climate Decision

  1. Superman1 says:

    If I had to bet the mortgage, I would bet the climate actions in 2013 would be remarkably similar to those in 2012. Proposals like the above are wishful thinking, at best. There is no evidence they will be pursued, or those in power have any interest in pursuing them. Whenever I see a scenario where actions, statements, and responses make no sense superficially (as in the official response to climate change), I try to reverse-engineer the problem and generate a strategy/ policy/ explanation that does makes sense and closes the loop. A more ominous explanation, and probably closer to the truth, is that Obama has been told by the ‘black’ community that we have passed the point of no return. Telling the horrific truth to the nation would do nothing to solve the problem, and would only create unimaginable chaos and anarchy. McPherson may be right after all.

    • John McCormick says:

      Superman, I’m coming around to your thinking on the CIA, et.al. warning the President we passed the point of no return and response to the chaos is the only course available to the military and FEMA.

      One contribution of the mile high stack of AGW papers, articles,science reports, studies, projections is their carbon sequestration from this point forward.

      Nature will issue its own reports from now on.

    • prokaryotes says:

      The future depends on the steps and actions we take today. Once we move into the right direction a lot of synergies will form and a CO2 tax which benefits those who reduce emissions, directly will help to be very innovative.

      • Superman1 says:

        We need to eliminate fossil fuel emissions now. Today, not tomorrow! A carbon tax sufficiently large to have the same effect as severe rationing will drive the lower middle class and the poor directly into poverty. It will still allow the rich to waste energy. We need mandated strict rationing to save this planet, and under a democratic system, the electorate will never go for it. Show me specifically how we move in the right direction, and on what specific evidence and trends do you base your proposal?

        • wili says:

          Exactly.

          If any of our kids were locked in a burning house and people were throwing gallons of lighter fluid on the flames, would any of us propose a tax on lighter fluid as an adequate solution to that crisis.

          Those who _are_ still advocating this now-totally-inadequate approach should keep in mind that it will only be when there is a viable probability that carbon rationing is imminent or all but inevitable that most businesses will seriously consider the woefully inadequate measure of a carbon tax.

          So if you want a carbon tax, you should also be supporting much more stringent–and much more appropriate to the situation–measures of rationing, restriction, and curtailment.

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    • Artful Dodger says:

      You could, for instance, buy an old Harley-Davidson, which in 1908 got 188 miles per gallon:

      http://www.harley-riders-guide.com/harley-davidson-history.html

      The point is that we are here by CHOICE. The choices made by our Industrial overseers. Convince them they can make more money on green, and things will change.

      Better yet, show them! But watch out for the saboteurs. Old ways of thinking are the hardest things to eradicate.

      • Mark E says:

        Except they can’t make money going green, longterm, because that is (still more) economic-growth-is-the-answer thinking. Global warming is merely a symptom of the real problem – our addiction to economic growth. If capitalist corps go 100% green, they still have to continue to grow, forever, because growth is one of the required engines of capitalism. Ecology always snaps the spine of anything that attempts to grow, forever. We are not immune. So the approach of harnessing the engines of capitalism is just like jumping from a nearly-sunk ship to rapidly-sinking-but-not-as-far-along ship.

        Perhaps we should plug the leak?

        • wili says:

          Nicely put.

          But of course most of what everyone is doing is bashing more holes in the hull of the boat.

          That is what industrial civilization is founded on.

          Of course, those on the upper decks are most immune from the consequences of all this hole-bashing, for now. But as the boat lists ever more dangerously, waves are starting to wash over the gunwale even onto the top decks occasionally.

          But still almost no-one anywhere (except in small cabins called things like “Climate Progress”) are talking about the fact that we are on a sinking ship or the preoccupation with bashing holes in the hull.

          At this point it is hard to see how we could patch the holes fast enough to keep her afloat, but in any case, over all we are still bashing bigger holes than ever at a faster pace than ever, so even talk of slowing down the pace of hole bashing seems futile.

          • Mark E says:

            It is not futile because we organize our societies around stories.

            If the survivors clearly understand that growth addiction was the heart of the Greek’s mythical Hydra, and that global warmings woes are just many of the beast’s heads, then the stories those survivors tell will embrace steady-state economics as one of the highest of all goods. Indeed, steady-state economics is the ultimate Right-to-Life issue, if we have equal concern for all people everywhere.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          I agree 110%. We cannot solve the ecological crises caused by market capitalism and its inescapable pathologies of unlimited growth, unbridled greed, growing inequality and debt (including ecological debt) etc, by using capitalism to address them. We need a steady-state economics where huge fortunes are forbidden, where equity and equality prevail, where ecological preservation, not profit maximisation, is the absolute priority and where the time horizon is at least several generations ahead, not next quarter’s profit results. That cannot be capitalism.

  3. gingerbaker says:

    Does anyone actually think that we are going to make serious progress toward 100% renewable energy through the use of a carbon tax?

    You can’t switch from oil or gas or coal if there is no capacity to switch *to*.

    And if you already had the renewable capacity and infrastructure, you are now producing energy which has no cost for the fuel itself. It would be very cost-effective to subsidize the price of this energy to the public (if we charge for it at all), because every calorie switched from carbon-based to renewable energy will save society from mitigation costs which are 1000 fold higher than the energy-production cost of renewables.

    So, it seems to me, that carbon taxes are putting the cart before the horse – we need a heck of a lot more renewable energy infrastructure than we have currently for carbon taxes to make any sense at all.

    And the renewable energy infrastructure is what we will need exclusively for all our energy needs in the future, anyway.

    So why are we not talking about spending Federal money to build that infrastructure?

    Carbon taxes are just another market-based reshuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic; it is our whistling of a happy tune as we walk to the gallows.

    Over the last thirty years, we have tried market-based solutions to encourage a transition to renewable energy. These efforts have FAILED. CO2 output in 2012 is higher than it has ever been in the history of civilization.

    We do NOT have time anymore to squander with market-based schemes. We must start building a new national renewable energy system *now*.

    • wili says:

      “We do NOT have time anymore to squander with market-based schemes. We must start building a new national renewable energy system *now*.”

      Well put. But the fact of the matter is that a vast new renewable energy system cannot be built “now.” What can be done within a year is to vastly reduce the amount of energy our society uses.

      Curtailment is immediate.

      We have heard the countdown for years. Now it’s “Ready or not, hear I come” time.

      We can no longer wait till we are “ready” to switch to non-Carbon fuels. We now have to just stop using nearly all carbon fuels and make do the best we can with whatever non-carbon sources we have in place–which are relatively tiny, especially if you leave out nuclear and hydro. Even biomass has to be looked at very critically given what we now know about black carbon.

      Yes, ramp up alternatives, but at this point, we no longer have the luxury of waiting for the ramp up to get off ffs.

      • Superman1 says:

        “What can be done within a year is to vastly reduce the amount of energy our society uses.”

        You’ve got it! But, the ‘true believers’ here will never buy it. They think that somehow a painless and seamless transition can be made to renewables, and no sacrifice will be required. In truth, the rapid curtailment that is required, which you have identified, will involve much sacrifice and loss of life. That is the price to be paid for our inaction over the past thirty years.

      • Roger Lambert says:

        But we can’t just “stop using” almost all carbon fuels – that would be disastrous. We don’t need even to suffer through a transition period.

        If we were to start an ambitious federal project whose aim is to supply our complete national energy needs with 100% renewable energy, we could complete that project within the window of safety that we have left to us.

        My hope is that all that renewable energy would be supplied to consumers at no charge – to ensure 100% compliance, and because it is only fair. After all the American taxpayer would be footing the bill for all the infrastructure and the sun and wind are free.

        With an inexhaustible supply of free clean energy, there is no reason to succumb to the Calvinistic impulse to punish us for our previous environmental sins with a cruel regimen of forced suffering.

        And this would stymie the Republican politicians and deniers, who have been stubbornly trying to depict a green economy as equivalent to enforced misery, when the opposite is almost certainly the case.

        • wili says:

          Was it a Calvinist impulse to impose rationing in WWII?

          As Joe just said, please state your own views without making assumptions about others’.

          “But we can’t just “stop using” almost all carbon fuels – that would be disastrous.”

          I agree that it would be at least deeply disruptive.

          Recall first that humans have been living on this planet for millions of years without access to fossil fuels.

          We have never lived with an unlivable global climate.

          Second, in the second world war, Britain reduced domestic consumption of petrol by 95% essentially immediately and went on to win the war.

          If we has started 40 years ago, perhaps a ‘soft’ path would have been possible.

          It no longer is, particularly given the uncertainties of sudden slr and rapid temperature increase recently discussed by Hansen, Alley and others.

        • Superman1 says:

          Roger states: “If we were to start an ambitious federal project whose aim is to supply our complete national energy needs with 100% renewable energy, we could complete that project within the window of safety that we have left to us.” If we had a ‘window of safety’, I would agree with you. My statement is based on the belief that we have no ‘window of safety’ left. Kevin Anderson estimates that we will have to start negative growth fairly soon, and stay on a path of ‘planned austerity’ to reach even 2 C. And, he admits that, from a scientific/technical perspective, the 2 C target has no meaning. It was based on a number with which the diplomats could agree. He believes 1 C would be a better target. We are at 0.8 C, and we’re about to lose the Arctic ice cap in the Summer, we’re seeing accelerated methane releases in the Arctic, and many other unnerving events are happening. We may, in fact, be in dangerous territory now. Any more fossil fuel combustion, for any reason, places us further in the danger zone. So, your ambitious Federal project, while well intended, could conceivably throw us over the line, and not only result in the suffering you would like to avoid, but effectively eliminate our civilization. Convince me we have a window of safety!

          • gingerbaker says:

            My Federal project would condemn humanity?

            Are you serious? You DO realize that we need to develop a renewable energy future, don’t you?

            Your plan is that we should skip that and move directly to the end of civilization, the end of economic activity, mass starvation?

            We have a decade to act and still save humanity. Large-scale renewable projects can solve this crisis without suffering, without crashing our economy. SOLVE it, not succumb to it.

            Your bald assertion that such a project would produce too much CO2 to make it worthwhile is not just unfounded, it is dangerous. If you don’t know what you are talking about, please don’t make such reckless accusations.

          • Superman1 says:

            Gingerbaker,

            “We have a decade to act and still save humanity.”

            On what evidence do you base this statement? Show me the credible and validated climate model that includes positive feedback mechanisms and allows us to expend fossil fuel liberally for any reason while not producing ‘runaway’ temperatures. You have zero basis for making such a claim. With the future of civilization in the balance, the most prudent course is zero emissions now; we don’t have the margin to guess wrong.

          • Superman1 says:

            Gingerbaker,

            You have no basis for stating we still have a decade to act. Any useful prediction will depend on a trustworthy model of climate that includes the known major positive feedback mechanisms. Such a model has to be validated to be credible. How are such validations done? Well, the Rowlands model published earlier this year showed that it back-predicted many important climate results using the past fifty years data. So, it was validated after the data were generated. That’s what will be required for any forward-going model that includes positive feedback mechanisms (which the Rowlands model did not). Here’s the problem. By the time enough positive feedback data is available for validation, it is probably way too late to make a difference (except for the extremely low probability case that the feedbacks are shown to progress extremely slowly). So, none of the predictions about climate where positive feedback mechanisms could be important have any basis in evidence. All that we know is that the dire predictions of existing models (which don’t contain positive feedback mechanisms) are conservative and best-case assumptions, and reality will be worse, probably far worse. Under these conditions, it seems to me the only prudent step is to insure that we leave the maximum safety factor that we can, and hope that will be adequate. This means end fossil fuel use today, whatever the cost and sacrifice required, if we want to see our civilization continue beyond this century.

          • Superman1 says:

            Gingerbaker,

            “You DO realize that we need to develop a renewable energy future, don’t you?”

            The first step is to insure we have a future. That may (I can no longer say ‘will’) occur only if we essentially eliminate fossil fuel combustion now. At some point, when we have the temperature trajectory under control, we can think about how to construct a renewables-based society without destroying it through fossil fuel combustion.

  4. fj says:

    Remember hearing quite some time ago that climate could flip suddenly in less than ten years; maybe an even shorter period; and, climate Pearl Harbor pending.

    Typical of unstable equilibriums.

  5. fj says:

    just in time should be qualified: just in time to start catching up . . .

  6. Joan Savage says:

    Let’s sledge-hammer away at those wedges that seem like they might loosen up other categories. If 2013 is the decision year, let’s pick smart start points.

    Examples that come to mind:
    Insulate new and remodeled structures, instead of boosting HVAC, to cut demand for more gas and electricity.

    Reward transport that doesn’t emit black carbon, or much CO2.

    It would be a big project, but what about labeling products not only by ‘organic’ or ‘fair trade’ but also by ‘GHG footprint’ that would capture the consequences of HFCs, methane, black carbon, etcetera, as well as CO2?

    Surely there are several wedges where we should take a closer look at the tip, the starting point, that can leverage other shifts.

    • fj says:

      carbon zero mobility and housing are a huge chunk effecting large system positive disruption.

      carbon zero mobility depends on vehicles less than human weight

      carbon zero housing depends on superinsulation

      both achievable by very simple.means

      • Roger Lambert says:

        Carbon zero motility does not have to rely on less-then-human-weight vehicles. It can work just fine with a 100% electric transportation fleet.

        If we inductively-charge our highways – a technology which is nearly ready to go as we speak – we would not even need large, expensive, heavy batteries in our vehicles. Our cars and trucks could arrive with more charge in their batteries than when they left.

        • Artful Dodger says:

          True that, Rodger!

          And solar roadways can provide enough energy to power all the vehicles on that road. 8^)

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_roadway

          • fj says:

            The build out emissions for going photovoltaic solar are quite large as will building roads and infrastructure for vehicles over one ton; not so for vehicles that weigh less than one-hundred pounds capable of replacing cars virtually immediately eliminating otherwise decades of increased build out emissions.

            And, in many cases for these vehicles less than 100 pounds the human power option is the most practical and convenient way to provide power.

        • fj says:

          An analysis of the entire system that you are proposing would clearly show that the energy requirements and emissions are huge.

          • gingerbaker says:

            What are the emissions of a PV installation? Zero, isn’t it?

          • fj says:

            gingerbaker,

            Reference Ken Caldeira’s report as detailed on Climate Progress on the build out emissions required for building solar and wind to replace fossil fuels projected to last something like a couple of decades.

            Or, just do it yourself “cradle-to-cradle” for a specific project to get an idea of the required energy and emissions resulting from making and deploying solar.

            Kind of suspect you’ll not see an awful lot of photovoltaic installations popping out of thin air although it would be fun to watch.

    • wili says:

      All too slow.

      How ’bout–

      Abandon poorly insulated buildings.

      Put more people in per-unit in existing well insulated buildings.

      Discourage nearly all transportation, especially long-distance.

      Discourage most new purchases of anything.

      Discourage purchase and eating of meat and dairy (especially industrially grown).

      Discourage purchase and growing of anything processed and anything non-local.

      • Superman1 says:

        As someone who lived under rationing in WWII, how about mandated drastic reductions in the items you mention, rather than ‘discourage’?

        • Joan Savage says:

          Rationing GHG units seems farfetched for 2013, but seems possible down the road.

          What a learning curve that would be, comparing pounds of conventionally grown food to gallons of gas or to synthetic clothing.

          We might have a resurgence of Victory Gardens.

          Back when Joe posted about the New York Times losing its Environment desk, I looked up the Times’ policy during the period of Isolationism, 1939-1941. One of the Times editors at the time proclaimed that the United States had all the materials it needed, should the US enter the war. Hindsight, hindsight.

          • wili says:

            Good connection. Much as I hate anything having to do with war, this is exactly what we have to compare our situation–an existential threat on our doorstep.

            Again, if it were discovered in 1940 that companies were sending arms and ordinance to the Japanese and Germans, I very much doubt that the hue and cry would be:

            “We must impose a small but steadily rising tax on these munitions production and export businesses.”

            In fact, such a demand would have been properly seen as criminally insane.

            So why, I wonder, is the same approach taken toward an even greater and more fundamentally existential threat seen as common sense (if not far too radical) today?

        • fj says:

          Superman1

          Apologies for my current smiley face addiction but disruptive waste elimination and efficient ways of doing things may easily eliminate much of the austerity you and wili mention.

          Just prefer the easy way if possible.

          • Superman1 says:

            “Just prefer the easy way if possible.” If I believed there was an easy way then, yes, by all means, let’s pursue it. There’s no virtue in needless suffering. But, see my response to Roger Lambert in 3 above. At this point, I’m not convinced there’s any way out, much less an easy way. Your approach would inolve a substantial amount of fossil fuel combustion, although a good deal less than business as usual. As I asked Roger, convince me that we have any margin of safety left that any amount of fossil fuel use can be justified, no matter how good the intent.

        • fj says:

          superman1

          going from systems based on cars to those based on bicycles and similar technologies the energy and emissions savings are disruptively huge and virtually immediate.

        • fj says:

          superman1

          similarly, retrofitting or building with superinsulation methods, materials, and apparatus whole systems energy and emissions reductions — with structural insulation panels (SIPs) for example — are also dirsuptively huge.

    • Great perspective, Joan!

      There’s concrete evidence that if the organizations (of all types) that see the need for serious climate action now will get organized, coordinate broadly and deeply, and do all we can along the lines you’re brainstorming here, then enough GHG emissions could be saved to buy as much as five years of time for the international regulatory structure to come along.

      Thus, in effect, _we_ could decide to make this the decisive year.

      • wili says:

        Of course, ‘we’ is mostly all it’s ever needed. If the vast majority of the developed world walked away from most use of ff tomorrow, we wouldn’t have to wait for a divestment campaign to affect ff company profits.

        Stop flying.
        Stop (most) driving.
        Stop (most) meat and dairy eating.
        Stop buying most crap.
        Stop buying almost anything non-local.

        If nearly everyone did these five things, much would change quickly. Add to that more people per sq foot in the best insulated structures with little heating in winter and cooling in summer, and a few other minor adjustments, and we would have a mostly happier and healthier populace on a planet that just might have a distant chance of supporting us for more than a generation more.

        • Superman1 says:

          All the species on this planet, with one notable exception, use the resources footprint that had from day one. This involved satisfying all their needs with what they could obtain locally. The one exception, which will go unnamed, has expanded both the definition of what is necessary to satisfy its needs and the area from which to draw materials to satisfy its needs. We even live in climates completely mismatched to our natural state, and which require enormous energy expenditures to keep us comfortable. The required steps you mention are excellent suggestions, and move us back toward the state of local satisfaction of simpler needs in which we were placed originally.

        • Passionate and well-intentioned, it’s clear, but also, technically incomplete.

          What proportion of American driving is essentially required for family economic stability and survival? It is not practical to ask people doing that driving to just walk away. There has to be a positive transition, or it will not happen until collapse.

          And that list doesn’t appear to reduce the very roughly half of US GHG emissions that are related to operations of the built environment.

          The contemporary reality is that Americans are integrated into an industrial system. Many are not in a position to be able to just walk away without severe hardship. We need to transition that system, decisively, at the systems level, to have a reasonable chance of avoiding collapse.

          Let’s try to prevent the most severe hardship, to the extent that is still possible. That’s the critical point were are at, according to the best available science.

          We still have a plausible chance, if we get cracking.

          • Superman1 says:

            You are making the assumption that we can afford the transition from a CO2 emissions perspective. Where is the evidence for that? We may end up, as was said in Vietnam, having to destroy the village to save it.

          • Mark E says:

            Superman….. social science! Hollering about what everyone must instantly do, without actually taking time to listen to their needs and priorities, is just as ignorant of social science as saying we’re actually cooling reveals ignorance of climate science.

          • wili says:

            Mark E, “social science” is something of an oxymoron.

            Physical reality will trump social reality.

            All sorts of things can change social behavior radically and suddenly.

            After the stupid Atkins book came out, tens of millions of people responded to what had been considered “The Staff of Life” for thousands of years with utter revulsion.

            If people start seeing getting in their cars as equivalent of driving over their own children’s futures, perhaps a similar revulsion can be inspired about this much-more-recent behavior.

            (Although the Atkins example suggests that appealing to Americans’ sense of vanity is far more effective than appealing to their sense of basic morality.)

            And obviously, revolutions, coups, and wars can change basic institutions in a society rather abruptly.

            All that those like Sup and I are saying is the latest science is saying that some such abrupt change is required right now, however it can be implemented. Gradualism of any sort will not do it.

            If you haven’t yet, please watch Kevin Anderson’s video on these points:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RInrvSjW90U

      • Joan Savage says:

        Yay!
        That made my day. Let’s do it.

  7. fj says:

    climate will ignore the inertias of governance

  8. fj says:

    we have designed civilization around high density energy.

    once we eliminate that requisite things get a lot simpler.

    • wili says:

      fj, I’m enjoying your short, pithy maxims (brevity does not seem to be my strong suit, recently). But this one, imho, is your best yet.

    • Superman1 says:

      Meanwhile, what happens to those who are stuck in the infrastructure that requires high density energy to survive? That’s a real problem in the USA. Instead of self-sufficient communities, we have self-insufficient communities. Anything we use requires long transportation logistics links and the attendent large energy cost.

      • fj says:

        Developed-world high-energy-density infrastructures are extremely wasteful and costly. Eliminating them makes good economic sense as are no-risk financial instruments if required.

        High-energy density transport systems are probably the worst as feedback systems that amplify waste and costs as distances traveled increase.

        Local monopolies inhibit growth and do not comply with the rule of law. This is the major problem with transportation.

        Replacing manmade stuff is easy. Replacing natural stuff is often impossible since we have much to learn.

  9. PeteJacobsen says:

    Gingerbaker is right, except that the Federal Government has no money. The Carbon tax will provide the funds to implement renewable energy.

    • Artful Dodger says:

      Pete, what do you think money is? It’s just 1’s and 0’s in a Federal Reserve computer now. There is no gold standard. The money supply is infinite.

      What we don’t have is a Government willing to stand up to Wall Street, Big Oil, and Ol’ King Coal.

      Ironically, it’s because the Politicians compete for the money which their Masters create out of nothing. So we’re stuck in the ultimate race to the bottom.

      But lack of money is not a problem. Money, and the way it betrays intrinsic value, IS the problem.

  10. prokaryotes says:

    And now factor in the hurdles from relocation based emission generation (People who used to live at the coast have to move further inland).

    • Superman1 says:

      Far worse than that:

      Relocation-based emission generation;
      Transition to renewables-based emission generation;
      Cleanup and restoration after extreme events emission generation;

      The list goes on. And, according to Kevin Anderson, plus the addition of some positive feedback effects, the atmosphere contains all the CO2 needed to enter the Extremely Dangerous regime (read ‘runaway’ temperatures). So, even though the above might be ‘good’ or ‘necessary’ or ‘critical’ uses of fossil fuel, any of them increase the probability of ‘runaway’ temperature. We need to ‘cut the cord’ ASAP.

      • prokaryotes says:

        Yes, but we don’t, because everybody is shy and keeps on driving emissions up.

        The main culprit, a lack of media coverage and the government to form needed policies.

      • John McCormick says:

        Superman1, in two days or less we lose this thread to the archives forever so I’d like your response either in a reply or future comment.

        I get your drift. Really, I do.

        You talk with a near-certainty the turning point was passed many years ago. You appear not to be a climate scientist but a man of science and technology..a forward looking profession.

        When you get graphic about what we already know and have no reason to believe it will all reverse naturally (as the weasels are certain to say..its natural, happens all the time) you are provoking a great deal of thought because so many of us are either with you or not far behind.

        So, lets turn up the volume on the whole issue of ruining our childrens future. We say it, here, in public, on billboards, in churches, stockholder meetings, talk radio and blogs. Make people come to their senses by any peaceful means because it is very bad now with climate destabilization and margins of safe and sorry are a few degrees C. Make the casual visitor to CP scared not to do something to stop this. If a million of us rationallly and reasonable project what this changing climate will mean in our own (over 30, 40, 50, 60 and maybe) age group.

        Things are going to happen and without warning. A rain might look typical when they went to bed but by morning are being evacuated; a real wakeup call for that family and for all of us. Rather than debate paying for the cost of Sandy, the Dems should be making the conversation relate to cost of prevention.

        Enough.

        Offer more measured and reasonable ideas of how you see this being played out in the ag, tourism, fishing, etc. parts of the US economy. Oh, please relate how South Asia, Africa and other vulnerable countries figure into the impacts on US economies.

        Anyone can do this. Footnotes, references should be respected so email addresses might not be appropriate.

        • Superman1 says:

          John,

          I don’t even know how to begin to address your very thoughtful question. In the community where I live, which is very wasteful of energy and completely car-dependent, I can’t even get a discussion on climate change going. We’ve had pretty good weather the last couple of years, albeit a few extra warm days, and climate seems to be off the radar screen. Now, the community will get up in arms about a ten buck increase in homeowners’ fees, but climate change – forget it. And, I suspect, this is true in other parts of the USA that have had little impact today from climate change. If people really understood the science issues and the lag times, they might have a better appreciation of the downstream consequences, especially to their progeny. But, for most people, the impact point is too far in the future for them to radically shift how they live today.

          “You talk with a near-certainty the turning point was passed many years ago.” In truth, based on the unclassified literature, we do not know whether a turning point was passed or not. McPherson believes it was, Archer et al believe we still have time. Opinions range all over the map. Until we have models that incorporate the effects of positive feedbacks and are trustworthy, it’s very difficult to be more definitive.

          I looked at the Arctic ice physics this past Summer when the record melt was occurring. It became clear to me that once a certain amount of open water was generated, many positive feedback mechanisms were triggered to further melt the ice as rapidly as possible. Basically, once Mother Nature had decided to eliminate the ice, she was pulling out all the stops to make this occur as rapidly as possible. It seemed to me this ice melting process was a microcasm of the larger climate change process, and it would be playing out on a global scale. I believe (and it’s just a belief at this point, based on the Arctic ice analysis) that once the eight or ten major positive feedback mechanisms that have been identified already kick in, they will operate synergistically must faster than anyone is predicting, just as they did in the Arctic. I think this is how Nature operates, and that is why I believe we need to avoid triggering these positive feedback mechanisms in any serious way (assuming it is not too late). Fossil fuel CO2 emissions have to be ended now! But, this is completely incompatible with where the larger public’s mind is on this issue, and that’s why I see no voluntary democratic solution to this problem.

        • Superman1 says:

          While awaiting approval of my response to you, I will expand on the section about whether we have passed the point of no return. Any useful prediction will depend on a trustworthy model of climate that includes the known major positive feedback mechanisms. Such a model has to be validated to be credible. How are such validations done? Well, the Rowlands model published earlier this year showed that it back-predicted many important climate results using the past fifty years data. So, it was validated after the data were generated. That’s what will be required for any forward-going model that includes positive feedback mechanisms (which the Rowlands model did not). Here’s the problem. By the time enough positive feedback data is available for validation, it is probably way too late to make a difference (except for the extremely low probability case that the feedbacks are shown to progress extremely slowly). So, none of the predictions about climate where positive feedback mechanisms could be important have any basis in evidence. All that we know is that the dire predictions of existing models (which don’t contain positive feedback mechanisms) are conservative and best-case assumptions, and reality will be worse, probably far worse. Under these conditions, it seems to me the only prudent step is to insure that we leave the maximum safety factor that we can, and hope that will be adequate. This means end fossil fuel use today, whatever the cost and sacrifice required, if we want to see our civilization continue beyond this century.

  11. Solar Jim says:

    RE: Global greenhouse gas emissions need to be permanently shrinking by 2015 or 2016, and then drop by about 5% per year, every year, for the next four years or more.

    The peak date for emitting carbonic acid gas has passed for any feasible hypothetical global ramp-down in BAU economics. Thus we certainly need a different political economy in the provision of energy services. Also, the four year reference should be indefinite, or at least forty years.

    Thanks for a good post.

  12. The challenge with implementing any carbon reduction program–carbon tax, rationing, massive retrofitting, massive renewables deployment,or the all-of-the-above wedge reduction–is gaining sufficient popular legitimacy.

    That is Step One: persuading the public (enough of it, anyway) that very bad things are all but certain to happen if we don’t take these dramatic measures. As I’ve said several times in the past few days, I have many aware, intelligent friends INSIDE THE GHG MANAGEMENT INDUSTRY who do not want to confront the urgency of the matter.

    The vanishing ice cap seems like the most easily communicated and visible harbinger. It’s the idiot light at the top of the world.

    ff and Superman1 are right–the measures we’re discussing mean an immediate and substantial reduction in everyone’s standard of living except the rich, even if putting them all in place drives unemployment to zero. Simply put, our wealth and its yardstick the dollar are the direct expression of the how much fossil fuel we control. Without fossil fuels, there is much less to buy, at least until the transition is well underway.

    So how to get people to tolerate (or embrace) doing with less? They have to be persuaded that the alternative is imminent and much worse. Let’s think of how to do that without being labeled “alarmist” and thusly dismissed from serious conversation.

    I keep coming back to Obama and Inhofe side by side on tv from the Oval Office, surrounded by Pentagon brass and labcoated scientists, laying it out.

    If you can dismiss that as a fantasy, then we are lost, because it’s a microcosm of how hard it will be to convince the public that the end is near but for their sacrifice.

    • Shrinking global greenhouse gas emissions permanently shrinking by 2015 or 2016, and continuing to shrink them by about 5% per year, every year, for the next forty years or more, does not mean mean an immediate and substantial reduction in everyone’s standard of living except the rich.

      In the long run, I agree that we will need to reorganize around prosperity without growth. But that’s not a direct obstacle to starting real change in the fossil fuel hegemony now.

      Polling and similar indicators, reported often here at Climate Progress, show that there is solid majority support for strong climate action. I think the evidence shows we’re well past the point where popular opinion is a key obstacle.

      Elites who have much more individual influence, however, and typically are much more deeply invested in the status quo – including fossil fuel economics – these are the people who need to make change, not just hold a favorable opinion. These are the people who need to shift, and/or somehow be shifted.

      • prokaryotes says:

        And particular Hedge fund manager…

      • wili says:

        “Reduction in standard of living” is a tricky concept. Is getting more exercise, eating a better diet and being in closer contact with your community a reduction in standard of living?

        Those things are exactly what are needed–more walking and biking, less driving; more fresh, local, vegetables, less processed crap and industrial meat and dairy; more farmers market and local ‘stay-cations,’ less flying.

        These are all things that track with happier, healthier, and more contented people as well as a healthier planet. If they are ‘reductions in standards of living’ that is because we have been convinced by endless advertising that lifestyles that are toxic to ourselves and to the planet constitute ‘high standards of living.’ Let’s not be in the business of promoting that lie here.

      • Markets are anticipatory mechanisms, and as soon as it is obvious that assets will be stranded (e.g., coal and oil) investors will flee for the exits. Also, one year is not long. In five years, 25% of the fossil fuels will be out of the economy, with replacement power seriously lagging. There will be a decided diminishment of the economy, and it’ll have an amplifying feedback effect.

    • Superman1 says:

      “I keep coming back to Obama and Inhofe side by side on tv from the Oval Office, surrounded by Pentagon brass and labcoated scientists, laying it out. If you can dismiss that as a fantasy, then we are lost, because it’s a microcosm of how hard it will be to convince the public that the end is near but for their sacrifice.”

      I’ve often dreamed that an Inhofe or oil company CEO(s) would stand before the public and admit that climate change is real and potentially disasterous. And the question that bothers me is: why don’t they? They have access to the best climate science minds in the world, and many of them have access to what the ‘black’ world is doing and projecting in climate science. Many of the rich and powerful leaders and decision-makers have small grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and they have a good idea of what awaits their progeny in middle-age if we stay on the present path. So, why are they not using their influence for the public good, given that their own progeny will suffer if we remain on the present path? The only two reasons that hang together for me are 1) they don’t believe the public is willing to make the sacrifices required, and they (the leaders) would only lose their present advantages and gain nothing by making the plea or 2) they have been told by the ‘black’ community that the game is essentially over, and no matter what the public does, the final outcome will be roughly the same. If you have an alternative explanation for their inaction, I would like to hear it.

    • fj says:

      Carbon Zero Cities by Alex Steffen addresses this.

      Yes, very large scale social and societal change issues must be addressed and Poor People First seems to one of the best places to start for several really good reasons.

      • fj says:

        Carbon Zero is available free from Grist

        http://grist.org/carbon-zero/

      • fj says:

        Poor People First

        Are immediate highly motivated stake holders in positive change

        Most bang for buck:

        Costs are minimal to upgrade and deploy the technology and infrastructure for China’s half billion cyclists.

        Poverty eradication provides terrific and immediate whole system benefits.

    • fj says:

      It should be obvious that very large-scale social, societal, and technological change on the orders greater than tens of millions of people at a time can come from using strategies using cities and poverty eradication to spearhead the transition.

  13. prokaryotes says:

    Norway to double carbon tax on oil industry
    Extra funding for climate change mitigation and forestry programmes also part of oil-rich nation’s radical programme http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/11/norway-carbon-tax-oil

  14. fj says:

    A large part of the problem is the concept of affluence currently defined around large scale waste rather than quality of life.

    Most assuredly we can create high quality of life for the vast majority of people on this planet with minimum waste based on the rule of law and human rights; and its seems that nature is forcing us to do just that.

    Basic Principle for Designing the Future:

    Profound integration with natural capital where human capital is the most important component.

    • wili says:

      Nicely put.

      Changing definitions, identities and perceptions to start to resemble the real world is a large part of the work we have before us, imo. Unfortunately, there is little time for it.