Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Great Pause Week 23: Toppling Towers

"The pandemic is just the sound of one shoe dropping."



At 8 am on the morning of August 10, a storm passed out of the Dakotas and crossed the Missouri River near Sioux City. By the time it exited Iowa 6 hours later, almost every structure it had passed over, including homes, schools, and businesses, had been damaged. Passing on into the Southern Great Lakes Region in darkness, it wreaked havoc for another 8 hours. 

Over a hundred cars parked near a factory had their windows blown out. In Iowa and northern Illinois, winds touched hurricane strength at 130 mph (209 km/h; 58.1 m/s). Sustained winds in excess of 60 mph (97 km/h; 27 m/s) were endured for half an hour in many places, and 17 tornadoes spun off along the route. Hospital emergency rooms were overwhelmed, cell service was spotty, and thousands of electrical poles and miles of electrical wiring were knocked down, blacking out millions of homes and making many roads impassible. Flooding closed the East-West Interstate. Half or more of the tree canopy between Cedar Rapids and Marion simply fell to the ground or was blown away.

 

A derecho is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind associated with a mesoscale convective system. A strong vertical wind shear, driven by surface heat convection pushes the winds into a distinctive bow echo (backward “C”) form of squall line. Its outflow boundary can be sustained for hours, even days, and extend from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico as it moves, like a Vogon Constructor Fleet, clearing an intergalactic bypass across the North American continent. 

The hotter the land surface, the more fuel, the greater extent and ferocity. As climate hyperwarms midcontinental regions in summer (and hypercools them in winter), we can expect more derechos. In recent years, they’ve also struck Bangladesh, Germany, Estonia, China, India, Russia, South Africa, Argentina, and the Amazon Basin of Brazil. 

Within this August derecho’s swath lay 66% of the corn and soybeans planted in 2020. Early estimates are that 3.57 million acres (14,400 km2) of corn and 2.5 million acres (10,100 km2) of soybeans were moderately-to-severely damaged, just weeks before harvest. Iowa’s production estimate for 2020 has been cut in half.

In some areas, people are still without power. So much unrefrigeratable milk has been dumped into rivers the government has begun fining shops and dairies for pollution discharges. Homes and businesses are experiencing typical late summer heat with no electric fans or air conditioners. In other words, they are getting a taste of the future — the soon-to-be normal. Iowa now averages fewer than 5 dangerous heat days a year. By 2050, the state is projected to get 40. In 2014, Climate Central reported:

By the end of the century, assuming the current emissions trends, Boston’s average summer high temperatures will be more than 10°F hotter than they are now, making it feel as balmy as North Miami Beach is today. Summers in Helena, Mont., will warm by nearly 12°F, making it feel like Riverside, Calif.
 
In fact, by the end of this century, summers in most of the 1,001 cities we analyzed will feel like summers now in Texas and Florida (in temperatures only, not humidity). And in Texas, most cities are going to feel like the hottest cities now in the Lone Star State, or will feel more like Phoenix and Gilbert in Arizona, among the hottest summer cities in the U.S. today.
In some cases, summers will warm so dramatically that their best comparison is to cities in the Middle East. Take Las Vegas, for example. Summer highs there are projected to average a scorching 111°F, which is what summer temperatures are like today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. And at 114°F°, living in Phoenix will feel like summering in sweltering Kuwait City.

As I write this, thermometers in Kuwait City are showing 107°F (42°C) at 5 pm, down from 112°F at midday. On June 8 this year, Gulf News reported that Kuwait recorded the highest temperature on Earth at 145.4°F (63°C) under sunlight and 126°F (52°C) in the shade.

Thirty years ago Al Gore [elected President in 2000 by both popular vote and electoral college total, but denied office by GOP subversion of the process — factual historical note] whistle-stopped with his slide show comparing global warming to a frog in a pot of water slowly being brought to a boil. The story was based upon popular mythology but scientifically groundless. No frog would sit quietly in a pot of water and be boiled, unless it were already dead, or anesthetized. But wait, maybe that’s the unintended simile. USAnians are the frogs that have been anesthetized, by Twitter, Facebook, Fox News, MSNBC, the tabloid press, and public school systems starved of fundamental resources and staffing for decades.

The tale of the national response to our gathering climate apocalypse is a sordid one, filled with evil-doers and thwarted rescues. If elected president, Joe Biden will inherit a United States even more ruined and divided than when Barack Obama acceded to a financial crisis and eight foundering wars. Biden and his team will take the reins of a country in the throes of a crippling pandemic, in foreign policy retreat, and having lost its fatuous claim to moral authority. He will, to borrow the words of former Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, have to revive the United States’ sense of its purpose in the world. 

Climate change is just the kind of existential threat that could supply that national sense of mission. But alas, there is no hope for our slow-boiling frogs on the horizon. The Biden climate plan is decades late and many dollars short. It could have been written in 1979, when Jimmy Carter told Congress:

“Advances that can be made in understanding climate change, in predicting it — and perhaps in influencing it beneficially — will be of enormous help to us and the rest of the world.”

Carter proposed reducing energy consumption by more than 2 percent and gasoline consumption by 10 percent by 2000. Carter of course, was a democrat. He believed in the Rooseveltian values of conservation of natural and human resources, a fair shake for all, and engaged multilateralism. Those values fell by the way when Ronald Reagan became the new sheriff in town, in cowboy hat, mounted on a palomino. Like the present POTUS, Reagan coveted only the appearance, or IMDB screen credit, without assuming any real duties. 

At the 1990 World Climate Conference and the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, his Veep and successor, Bush 41, ostentatiously refused to sign any mandatory carbon dioxide emissions reduction agreement, making the United States the only industrialized country to formally go rogue.

The Clinton/Gore climate plan, would have been a good start, involving a carbon tax and dividend scheme, but it faltered as Republicans, some Democrats, and a mainstream media controlled by the fossil fuel industry combined to thwart it. They opposed the Kyoto protocol negotiated by Gore and mounted attacks on the Clean Air Act and a host of other environmental laws. In 1997, the Senate voted 95–0 in favor of the Byrd-Hagel Resolution that opposed support for voluntary climate pledges.

In his 2008 State of the Union message, Bush 43 told USAnians they should develop new “technologies that [could] generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions” and “emissions-free nuclear power.” That sounds so lame now, but it is the same “all of the above” climate strategy practiced for 8 years by the Obama/Biden Administration. 

At COP 24 in Katowice in 2018, governments adopted the rules for the Paris Agreement, the toolbox for its full implementation. Action happening around the world demonstrates that these tools are useful: 186 Parties have submitted their first nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement, more than 90 countries are preparing national adaptation plans, the clean development mechanism has facilitated more than 8,000 emission reduction projects, the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action is catalyzing a new era of ambition among non-Party stakeholders, and more than 17,000 actors have shared their projects on the NAZCA global climate action portal.

— Patricia Espinoza, UNFCCC Executive Secretary

Joe Biden’s climate policy 2020 is little changed from Obama/Biden 2008. Either might have made sense in 1970, but now? 

“We can export our clean-energy technology across the globe and create high-quality, middle-class jobs here at home. Getting to a 100% clean energy economy is not only an obligation, it’s an opportunity. “
 — The Biden Plan

If elected, Biden/Harris promise to complete their target setting process by 2025, a year after the 2024 election. One of those targets, they hint, will be to invest in more climate research.

To pay for clean energy goals — C-neutral by mid-century — Biden/Harris will seek a budget line item of $1.7 trillion over the next ten years. For comparison, that amount is 10 percent of the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) passed in April or about 20 percent of the financial crisis bailout bill Obama passed in 2009. But remember, the CARES emergency spending, on top of record Trump deficit budgets, on top of tax cuts, will augur intense austerity and tax increases by the next POTUS, whomever she is. The US treasury is running on fumes now, if not smoke and mirrors.

The Covid-19 pandemic is just the sound of one shoe dropping. As I pointed out last week, the pandemic is forecast to drop global carbon emissions to around 47 billion tons (gigatons or Gt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2020, instead of the 51 billion GtCO2 released in 2019, even overlooking for this analysis our inability to factor fugitive fracking emissions and melting permafrost. But, sustaining that laudable rate of decline, the world could achieve precisely what scientists have called for and the Paris Agreement demands: 24 GtCO2 by 2030, 12 GtCO2 by 2040 and 6 GtCO2 by 2050, or approximately the Green New Deal target of 0 GtCO2 by 2050.

But, scientists and the Paris Agreement tell us, we cannot rest there. Because of our 50-year delay in getting anything done, we‘ll require negative emissions for the rest of the century. We’ll need to hit minus 6 GtCO2 by 2060, minus 12 GtCO2 by 2070, minus 24 GtCO2 by 2080, minus 48 GtCO2 by 2090, and minus 96 GtCO2 by 2100, even as methane clathrates, growing desertification, and any number of climate black swans combine. We have to get some 800 GtCO2 of legacy greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and ocean* to recover climate geostability.

* As CO2 is reduced in the atmosphere, CO2 dissolved in the ocean begins to outgas until a new kinetic balance with the atmosphere is restored. Because of this effect, the amount of carbon removed must equal total anthropogenic CO2 emissions that have been released before the time of removal, or roughly twice as much as the excess of atmospheric CO2 attempted to be removed.

 In these posts, and in 20-some books and publications now, I have described precisely how this sort of ecosystem recovery could succeed. The strategy is community-led, grass-roots upward, by all manner of experimental urban and rural ecovillages and transition towns. It involves microenterprise hubs feeding a circular economy based upon donut economics. It uses nature-based drawdown tools like biochar, remineralization, marine permaculture, and animal-integrated agroforestry in place of coal scrubbers, CCS, DACCS, BECCS, and nightmarish nuclear fantasies. Most importantly, its math pencils out. It delivers carbon withdrawal at necessary scale while retaining, and even growing, climate resilient food production, soil restoration, freshwater preservation, biodiversity, and by gainfully employing resettled refugees by the millions. It does not poison the genetic pool with radionuclides and GMOs. It cannot be turned into atomic bombs. It is inherently antifragile. It pays for itself. It does not depend on fairy dust or inventions still and forever half a century in the future. The plan is all open source, vetted in prototype, and has been steadily iterating in a virtuous cycle of design since I published Climate in Crisis (foreword by Al Gore) in 1990.

Biden/Harris need to up their game. They are still in the Bush League.


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