Sunday, January 22, 2023

Foggy Forecasts for Clean Energy Futures

"Can we build out renewable energy fast enough to avoid some nasty tipping points?"

When the climate changes that quickly we’d like to know what the most likely outcomes are going to be for us. As I write this, there are thousands of incredibly knowledgeable and intrepid researchers around the world running complicated AI climate simulations through advanced supercomputers whose processing speeds are accelerating all the time. Their answers get better by the week and day, and the questions get more sophisticated. More and more data is being fed in from field instruments and newer generations of satellites and depth buoys — everything from seawater salinity to permafrost melt, and fugitive methane from pipelines and abandoned wells to the sunlight reflectivity of urban sprawl.

  • The rate of acceleration in technologies like direct air capture (DAC) and bioenergy with carbon capture (BECCS).
  • The rate of acceleration in agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU).
  • Potential future carbon intensity of energy production.
  • Potential changes in the global level of demand for energy itself.
  • Trends in non-CO2 emissions, predominantly methane.
Then in 2022, the IPCC published its Sixth Assessment, Working Group 3 Report (with an ecovillage on the cover) that contained another 1202 potential future pathways. Both Potsdam and IPCC concluded, ominously, that the vast majority of projections predict increases far higher than 1.5°C by 2100.

Bending the Curve

One part per million (ppm) CO2 in the atmosphere is equivalent to 2.12 billion tons of carbon (GtC). Thus, an excess of 280 ppm accumulated in the atmosphere since we went from wood to coal and oil means there are (2.12 x 280) 600 billion tons too much that will remain up there for many centuries. Think of a wall of compressed seaweed 1 km high, 1 km wide, and 6000 km long. When the expert researchers looked at the 26 pathways that assume our ability to withdraw and permanently store that carbon they came to the conclusion that the world will most likely run out of all the easy options by 2025 or 2030. Avoiding the nastiest tipping points between now and mid-century will require the removal of something like 2 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year by the end of this decade and doubling and tripling that rate in the out years.

Accomplishing this removal by artificial forests (DACCS) will require a lot of additional, renewable energy, but there is another snag. We are already depending on a lot of additional, renewable energy to replace dirty coal and nuke plants, automobiles and gas cooking ranges.


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Kobayashi Maru Aerosols

"No one has solved the McPherson Paradox because it cannot be hacked. The only solution is doing something completely counterintuitive."



In 1970, while I was busy moving into an artist’s loft in Noho, James Hansen was returning to Columbia University, on the upper East Side, from a six-month sabbatical in Holland. He wanted to do post-doc work on the atmosphere of Venus, so he took a fellowship at Goddard Institute for Space Studies—GISS. Climate scientists had known since Tyndall that increasing CO2 levels causes global heating, but Hansen’s work on Venus gave better models and improved empirical evidence.

In 1981, he became the director of GISS and in a paper published in Science, according to Elizabeth Kolbert

…forecast that the following decade would be unusually warm. (That turned out to be the case.) In the same paper, he predicted that the nineteen-nineties would be warmer still. (That also turned out to be true.) Finally, he forecast that by the end of the twentieth century a global-warming signal would emerge from the “noise” of natural climate variability. (This, too, proved to be correct.)

Later, Hansen became even more specific. In 1990, he bet a roomful of scientists that that year, or one of the following two, would be the warmest on record. (Within nine months, he had won the bet.) In 1991, he predicted that, owing to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, in the Philippines, average global temperatures would drop and then, a few years later, recommence their upward climb, which was precisely what happened.

On December 13, 2022, James Hansen and Makiko Sato with 14 co-authors submitted “Global Warming in the Pipeline” to Oxford Open Climate and invited criticism. The paper validated the McPherson Paradox:

Growth of population, agriculture and land clearance produced aerosols as well as CO2. Wood was the principal fuel for cooking and heating. As today, the largest aerosol forcing would be via effects on cloud cover and cloud brightness. This aerosol indirect effect tends to saturate as aerosol amount increases, so aerosol effectiveness per aerosol amount was greatest as civilization developed. Thus, it is unsurprising that human-made global aerosol forcing approximately offset human-made CO2 forcing.…

McPherson retired from his tenured professorship after discovering the paradox for which he is named and went to live in a mud hut in the desert. To quote one anonymous blogger:

If we don’t cut global emissions we all die. But if we do cut global emissions we all die too, but sooner. So humanity needs to solve the McPherson paradox if it’s going to survive. There doesn’t seem to be a solution, but there has to be or we all die. …

It seems to be that humanity can only survive if the vast majority of people do something that doesn’t make any sense… I think I’m going to plagiarize [McPherson’s] statement and create a payload of my own: “At the edge of madness, only laughter remains.”


Contrail Mitigation: Friend or Foe?

Airline contrails have generally been viewed as contributing to the greenhouse effect and therefore to have a positive forcing, or warming effect. According to recent work, contrails may cause a warming effect comparable to an additional 61 percent of total aviation CO2 emissions (629 of 1034 MtCO2e/y). Building off alliances and partnerships to decarbonize aviation, Amory Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) assembled a cross-sector task force of aviation tech from Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic, as well as Airbus, Boeing, Flightkeys, Google Research, and Imperial College London to try to do something about it.

Strategies include cleaner burning fuels and optimizing routes and altitudes according to water vapor and temperature. However, sulfate aerosols in engine exhaust increase the reflectivity of low-altitude clouds, thus cleaner fuels would reflect less light back to space and reduce aerosol cooling. Rerouting to avoid contrail formation incurs a fuel cost that might offset the benefit of cooling through greater CO2 and methane emissions.

At 32-42,000 feet, small particles such as soot exhausted by aircraft engines serve as condensation nuclei suitable for water droplet formation. As the particles cool and mix with the surrounding atmosphere, the water droplets freeze into ice crystals, creating contrails. The contrails are short-term clouds but they can also form cirrus clouds that persist much longer. As clouds, they reflect sunlight back into space, reducing the heat of the sun and cooling the planet. Instead of routing planes to produce fewer contrails, perhaps we should be routing them in ways that produce more.

We don’t yet know whether contrails are net heating or net cooling, but the consensus leans towards more heating. A deep dive by an international team of 21 scientists led by D.S. Lee at Manchester Metropolitan University in UK, and D.W. Fahey at NOAA have concluded that “the aerosols and water vapor represent minor contributions” compared to the CO2 and non-CO2 warming effects of air travel.

The same paradox confronts cargo and cruise ships, which are notorious polluters but in recent years have been forced by tougher regulations to burn less sulfurous and soot-producing fuels. As a result, ocean-blanketing aerosols have been in decline, more sunlight has been reaching Earth’s surface, and the top layers of the ocean have been undergoing accelerated heating.

Damned if we do

The time window we have to solve the paradox is shrinking. Hansen’s group concluded that what is in the pipeline was not 2 degrees of warming, or 1.5, but ten. Nearly all of it is masked by aerosols.

The pandemic revealed that these aerosols are sensitive to disturbance. A drop in global cargo ships and commercial air travel in 2020-21 meant lower CO2 emissions but it also reduced stratospheric aerosols, and the latter effect was more significant. Even as fossil emissions declined by more than 5 percent, global temperature went up. The paradox had kicked in.

Hansen and his team say we should have already warmed ten degrees, but seven of those degrees are masked by aerosol cooling, one degree by orbital tilt pushing us toward the next ice age, and one degree by a time delay of a few decades due to mixing of greenhouse gases in the upper ocean layers.

The entire debate at the UN for the past 30 years has been about limiting warming to one or two degrees, knowing that 5 degrees is potentially a human extinction event and 3 degrees may cross tipping points that make 5 degrees unpreventable. Hansen just let us know that 10 degrees is already baked in the cake, just masked by aerosols, orbital cooling, and time lag, mainly from ocean mixing. Moreover, the dimming caused by aerosols is already in decline and will decline more as the world cuts fossil emissions and electrifies with renewables. Doomed if we don’t. Doomed if we do.

I can hear Professor McPherson saying, “I told you so.”

Back in 2009, Hansen told Elizabeth Kolbert,

If we burn all the fossil fuels and put all that CO2 into the atmosphere, we will be sending the planet back to the ice-free state,” Hansen said. “It will take a while to get there—ice sheets don’t melt instantaneously—but that’s what we will be doing. And if you melt all the ice, sea levels will go up two hundred and fifty feet. So you can’t do that without producing a different planet.

Hansen plans a second article soon on the likely acceleration of sea level rise.

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, the Kobayashi Maru training exercise was introduced as a simulation designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario. Cadet James T. Kirk was famously the only one to ever conquer the exercise. He did it by hacking the sim and changing its rules.

Meanwhile, at Rocky Mountain Institute, they are still trying to find ways to help pilots reduce their contrails. They are not solving the Kobayashi Maru problem. They are ignoring it. That is what humans are best at.

No one has solved the McPherson Paradox because it cannot be hacked. The only solution is doing something completely counterintuitive. What we need to give up to save ourselves is clean tech. We need dirtier tech to save us.

Dirty Home Heating

Compare, for instance, a village powered by a solar-PV farm or small nuclear reactor that removes the carbon footprint of residents plus legacy emissions using direct air capture amide technology. The system is relatively clean (setting aside for the moment, radioactivity) in the sense that it does not emit aerosol pollutants while it supplies the needs of residents for light, heat, coolth, and reversing climate change. Except that it doesn’t… because it's too clean. The absence of aerosols means it is speeding the warming of Earth.

Grist: Mid-size direct air capture plant Third Way





Now suppose we attend to the needs of that same village with one or more pyrolysis reactors powered by agroforestry wastes and sewage. A significant portion of the carbon that was removed from atmosphere by photosynthesis is retained afterwards as biochar, useful in many more products and services. The needs of residents for light, heat, coolth and reversing climate change are still met, but with one major difference. Because the reactor is allowed to return part of its effluent to the sky, aerosol cooling is managed and kept in balance until it can be gradually reduced over time. That is as elegant a hack as any James T. Kirk might devise.

Going back to firewood for heating and cooking may seem like the wrong direction, but it is sustainable into the indefinite future in ways that energy-intensive steel, aluminum and rare earth devices are not. Managed as mixed-age, mixed-species ecologies at a village scale, forests are full employment industries. They make their own replacement parts and clean up their own wastes. They sequester carbon deep in their root zones over millennial time periods. Perhaps most importantly, they make sunlight reflective aerosol clouds.

Here is another example. The search is on for cleaner burning fuels to replace jet fuel, which is similar to kerosene. Ethanol and hydrogen are being tried. The difficulty with ethanol is that it is cleaner than jet fuel and although that may not seem like a problem, if what we want are more clouds, not less, the better choice would likely be hydrogen, whose byproduct of combustion is water vapor, a.k.a. clouds. Instead of trying to find ways to make fewer contrails, perhaps RMI should be trying to make more of them.

The same idea can be applied to ocean-going vessels. Alginate (a natural byproduct of some carbon-dioxide removal technologies) might be buffered with calcium and added to propeller wash to foam it. Leaving a long reflective wake astern would reflect a large fraction of solar energy back to space, especially if deployed early in the day. It would also help to rebalance ocean pH.

History is rife with great examples of successful civilizations that lived within an ecological budget and thrived. People were happy. Children were well-fed. The streams ran clean and clear. What seems at first a great sacrifice will, once there, seem such an obvious choice we will all wonder why we waited. I am not advocating diving over the Seneca Cliff. If we act now, there is still a winding path down that preserves the best of what we have.

We imagine increasing the size of human population to tens of billions. We fantasize glistening cities with autonomous air taxis and personal jet packs powered by clean fusion. If you think people are angry because their Christmas flight on Southwest Airlines got canceled and they still don’t have their luggage back, just imagine how they will feel when they find out that the growth of that SciFi future cannot be realized without the utter destruction of a habitable Earth.

Few will agree with me. Denial of our true situation is strong. Impossible solutions are preferable to the kind of appropriate technologies I advocate. But paradox is a bitch. Hacking the McPherson Paradox, even if it is impossible, is not something we should avoid trying.


Sunday, January 8, 2023

Neanderthal Tartar and the Anthropocene

"Cooking with firewood and domesticating plants and animals changed Earth’s climate"

Humans have biological and cultural inertia that keeps them from making quick changes that might upset gains from the past. That is entirely understandable and there is a genetic wisdom in that. Trouble is, genetic wisdom is garnered in thousand-year and ten-thousand-year adjustments, — the normal time it took climate change to unfold before the Anthropocene. Homo is adapted to that slow process. Consider this chart of the Vostok cores: 

At the left end of the chart, 800,000 years ago, atmospheric CO2 was below 200 ppm and Earth’s average temperature was 9 degrees colder than today. Over about 20,000 years, CO2 rose, primarily by volcanic activity, to 250 ppm and that warmed Earth to approximately the same climate we have today. Both CO2 and temperature then declined for 40 to 50,000 years and bottomed out in another ice age, which we emerged from 700,000 years ago. That process was repeated about ten times before the present era. All the while, humans were evolving.

It is difficult to provide a detailed description of the humans that existed 800,000 years ago because the fossil record from that time period is limited. It is generally thought that they had similar physiology to modern humans. There were a few more species within the genus. They occupied a range of habitats, including grasslands, forests, and coastal areas, and relied upon a variety of wild sources for their food, some of it now extinct. The oldest known evidence of the controlled use of fire comes from sites in Israel and Georgia that are approximately 1 million years old. When it got very, very cold, fire would have been our ancestors’ most important tool.

Neanderthal Tartar

Archaeological evidence from South Africa 100,000 years ago indicates Homo sapiens ate crushed wild grass seeds. In Shanidar Cave (Zagros, Iraqi Kurdistan), occupied by Neanderthals around 70,000 years ago and early modern humans around 40,000 years ago, wild mustard and pistachio were garnishes on salads of wild grass seeds mixed with pulses such as bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia), grass pea (Lathyrus spp) and wild pea (Pisum spp). There are traces of these grass seeds in the tartar on Neanderthal teeth.

The people who lived in these caves during the ice ages ground, pounded and mashed the seeds into a mixture that was heated up with water to make a porridge. Using fire changed things. These humans were no longer just living alongside nature. Now they were actively altering the landscape, a little at first, but then more and more. Soaking, heating and de-hulling reduced the seeds’ bitterness and toxins, but because seed coats weren’t completely removed, researchers think that these people wanted to retain a little of the bitter flavor. Cooking was a bittersweet gift.

Foraging for plants does not change the climate. Subsistence fishing and hunting when clan numbers are small does not change the climate. Cooking and heating with firewood or charcoal and domesticating plants and animals does. We know humans have been doing this for tens of thousands of years.

On December 13, 2022, James Hansen and Makiko Sato with 14 co-authors submitted “Global Warming in the Pipeline” to Oxford Open Climate and invited criticism. The paper was science-shattering in its findings. Going on Twitter, I gushed it was like watching James T. Kirk beat the Kobayashi Maru simulation — Hansen and team validated both the Ruddiman Apostasy and the McPherson Paradox.

The Ruddiman Apostasy

In Copenhagen during UN COP15, I asked Stephen Schneider, IPCC’s Lead Author in Working Group II, if he was willing to concede that Ruddiman and others were correct in believing that human influence on climate extended back to the last Ice Age. He was not. I pushed. He dug in his heels. Founder and editor of the journal Climatic Change, he had authored or co-authored over 450 scientific papers and other publications. He stood for the IPCC and mainstream climate science.

Some background: this was not our first rodeo. Schneider’s 1989 book, Global Warming, came out within a few months of my own book, Climate in Crisis. Schneider’s book, while getting favorable reviews, read a little like a ChatGPT transcript — very middle of the road. Nonetheless, it was the first book on climate science written for the general public (nine months before McKibben’s End of Nature). Two years later Schneider received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius Award.”

In 1971, while a post-doc fellow with Hansen at GISS, Schneider had been second author on a Science paper that concluded:

[I]t is projected that man’s potential to pollute will increase six-to eightfold in the next 50 years. If this increased rate of injection of particulate matter in the atmosphere should raise the present background opacity by a factor of 4, our calculations suggest a decrease in global temperature by as much as 3.5 °K. Such a large decrease in the average temperature of Earth, sustained over a period of few years, is believed to be sufficient to trigger an ice age. However, by that time, nuclear power may have largely replaced fossil fuels as a means of energy production.

While Schneider’s analysis of the exponential increase in greenhouse pollution was spot on, and prescient for 1971, his prediction of a coming ice age in 50 years (2021) was laughable. He retracted the paper in 1974 and got the part about aerosol/emission balancing right in a subsequent book, The Genesis Strategy, in 1976. Hansen has now weighed in (at last!) and solved the equation definitively.

Hansen shared Schneider’s qualms about unexplained imbalances but was not willing to predict a coming ice age. He thought the aerosol data was wrong, and it has taken him nearly 50 years to prove it. The new paper says:

A warm LGM [Last Glacial Maximum] suggested by CLIMAP and MARGO [climate model] data (~3°C cooler than the Holocene) can be firmly rejected, because it is now certain that their SST data (sea surface temperature) yield a planet out of energy balance by more than 2 W/m2, as discussed above. An energy imbalance of +2 W/m2 is enough to raise the temperature of the upper kilometer of the ocean 2.2°C or melt ice to raise sea level 22 m [72.2 feet] in a century — and 10 times those amounts in a millennium. Such change rates did not occur, so the LGM was more than 3°C cooler than today. As discussed above, we accept the recent paleo analyses concluding that the LGM was at least ~6°C cooler than the Holocene.

Stated more simply, the modeling of the 1970s that put the last Ice Age 3 degrees colder than present was wrong, otherwise the greenhouse gases we’ve added would have raised sea level 700 feet per thousand years and that didn’t happen. Instead, the last Ice Age was twice as cold — 6 to 7 degrees — and sea level has risen more slowly.

“Ruddiman’s thesis is more viable than it may have seemed.”

Hansen then went on to agree with what I have reported in several books over 30 years — that the comfortable Holocene in which civilization evolved is a human artifact.

The Holocene is an unusual interglacial. It began as expected: the maximum glacier melt rate was at 13.2 kyBP [kiloyears before present] and, after peaking early in the Holocene, GHG amounts began to decline as in most interglacials. However, several ky later, CO2 and CH4 began to increase, which raised a question of whether humans were beginning to affect GHG amounts. Ruddiman suggested that CO2 began to be affected by deforestation 8 ky [8000 years] ago and CH4 [methane] by rice irrigation 5 ky ago [5000 years].

One addition Ruddiman has made to his original 2003 work in recent years is to look at methane from cattle across Asia and Africa, announcing in 2016 “that the rising CH4 concentration after 5000 years ago was anomalous compared to previous interglaciations and likely anthropogenic.” Ruddiman concluded that when all sources were summed, human activity added 343 billion tons (equivalent to an anthropogenic CO2 input of ∼24 ppm) to the atmosphere before the industrial era. Hansen concluded that it began to change the climate about 8000 years ago.

According to Hansen’s paper, in the normal orbital cycle and oscillations of the tilt of the Earth we should have warmed an additional 1 degree and begun trending towards the next ice age 6000 years ago. Instead, both land and sea temperature stabilized and gave the second half of the Holocene such unusually stable weather that civilization could arise. Hansen’s team now agrees with Ruddiman — another climate-forcing factor was at work, beginning with the cooked seeds evidenced in the tartar of Neanderthal teeth.

Once you comprehend how elegantly and intricately humans are interconnected to Gaia, regulating surface temperature, precipitation and weather by our activities even when our population was one tenth or one hundredth of its present size, then you must appreciate how much greater our capacity to make profound disruptions has grown, while, at the same time, our ability to understand and modify our own behavior is unchanging.

That is the really scary part.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Science Bomb Cyclone for the New Year

"The model proposed by Hansen reveals ten degrees of heating is already baked into Earth’s surface temperature, but has been masked by aerosol cooling"

James Hansen has always been a good climate scientist searching for an even better editor. Scientists, engineers, writers and poets all train differently and may even have different thought patterns and gut microbiomes. Occasionally you get a hybrid—Neil deGrasse Tyson; Carl Sagan; James Burke—who can both do the nerdy computations and communicate to receptive ignoramuses. Hansen is not one of those. He follows the orthodox scientist cast—defensive; assertions couched in equivocation; tentative conclusions; arcane arithmetic and acronyms.

When President George W. Bush, in his second week in office, created the National Energy Policy Development Group, headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, the Veep realized NEPDG would need to mention the risk of climate change in its report. His predecessor Al Gore had bequeathed him that as a job description. So, Cheney asked Hansen to come to the White House and make his best case. It was a disaster. Cheney, an oil man like the President, had no interest in recommending anything other than more drilling. Hansen played right into that, giving a mind-numbing powerpoint about Watts per square meter, forcing and feedbacks, percentages of confidence, framed with the usual caveats of uncertainty and asking for more research funding for NASA, NOAH, and NAS. Committee eyes glazed over. He was politely ushered out. He was no Carl Sagan.

Cheney’s committee then unrolled the map of Iraq’s oil fields across the NEPDG conference table and lamented the lack of pretext for taking control of that. That was seven months before Saudi kamikaze pilots crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Hansen can be forgiven this missed moment in history because his token appearance had been a set-up to begin with. He redeemed himself by getting arrested outside the White House and at the Keystone pipeline as a climate protester, over and over.

An extraterrestrial geosystems expert, his work for NASA Goddard Inst. for Space Studies (GISS) comparing Earth’s global temperature to that of Venus was first published in 1981 and updated in 1988. He risked his career testifying to Congress that year over the orders of his superiors. His testimony, that Earth had warmed 0.5-0.7°C in the previous 100 years, that the four warmest years on record were all in the 1980s, and that this warming was mostly man-made, poked a hornets’ nest. In June 2006, Hansen appeared on 60 Minutes stating that the George W. Bush White House had edited climate-related press releases reported by federal agencies to make global warming seem less threatening (like the phrase “global warming” itself). Physicist Freeman Dyson criticized Hansen's climate-change activism, alleging he “consistently exaggerates all the dangers.” New York Times columnist Andrew Revkin wrote, "Dr. Hansen has pushed far beyond the boundaries of the conventional role of scientists.” They tried to push the toothpaste back into the tube.

I have my own disagreements with Hansen, as I have said here before. He is absurd in his claims about safe, clean, nuclear energy. He underestimates the terrawatt potential and cost reductions of renewables at scale. But I respect his integrity and willingness to be jailed to make a dramatic point. I applaud his wordsmithing of the “Faustian Bargain” and “Young People’s Burden.” This is perhaps why I am a bit disappointed that his latest research paper, placed in the public domain for early review before formal journal peer-review has been completed, is so opaque and poorly crafted. It is 49 pages of superdense U-238 surrounding a plutonium core.

Here are the top takeaways from Hansen’s latest and in future posts I will dive a little more deeply and bring in a few other recent papers to lend color and texture. Warning: this is not for the faint at heart.

Takeaway #1

From Robert Chris, Visiting Fellow at the Department of Geography, The Open University, UK:

The core message is that both the magnitude and response times of human causes of climate change and responses to it have been seriously misrepresented by the scientific community.  This has been due largely to inadequacy in the manner in which climate models have handled uncertainties relating to both the warming effect of a doubling of atmospheric greenhouse gases and the impact of human-generated aerosols. 

The model proposed by Hansen and 14 co-authors drawn from the top ranks of the required specialties brings in previously neglected externalities and paleoclimate data to show ten degrees of heating is already baked into Earth’s surface temperature but has been masked by aerosol cooling (“global dimming”), delayed ocean mixing, and lag response time for large systems. 


They estimate that by 2050 surface temperature will have increased by 2°C and 65% of the remaining 10°C could occur within a century assuming current CO2 and trace GHG emissions levels are maintained and the aerosols continue to be reduced until they are largely eliminated.

Takeaway #2

Equilibrium heating will not be reached by 2100, which is as far as the IPCC AR6 report and most studies go. By the end of this century, only half to two-thirds of the heating caused by our past emissions will have been felt. Full equilibrium heating will not be reached for approximately 6000 years.

Hansen writes:

Our pragmatic evaluation based on real-world data is an essential antidote to assessments associated with the annual United Nations COP (Conference of the Parties) meetings, which give the impression that much progress is being made and it is still feasible to limit global warming to as little as 1.5°C. Once governments and the public understand Fig. 1, they should recognize it as a wake-up call about the untenable situation that we are creating for young people.

Takeaway #3

Since anything above 5 degrees likely portends human extinction and anything above 3 degrees might irrevocably trigger tipping points that cascade to 5 degrees, urgent removal of the climate-forcing agents is required. Thus, carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management are recommended.

While these are popularly labeled “geoengineering” and carry unquantified risks, Hansen points out that what we have been doing for the past 8000 years is also geoengineering with heretofore unquantified risks, so you should ask what is the risk of not acting to stop the forcing?

Personally, I think the term “geoengineering” has become politically charged and should be retired. Painting streets and buildings white, as they do in the Greek islands, is solar radiation management. Turning sewage sludge into biochar is carbon dioxide removal. What we want to avoid is uncontrolled experimentation with the entire planet’s homeostasis. Hansen agrees.

Takeaway #4

One key number is the rate of heating that can be expected once the concentration of greenhouse gases doubles. Svante Arrhenius was the first person to predict that emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and other combustion processes were large enough to cause global climate change. He calculated in 1906 that any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the Earth's surface by 4°C; and if the carbon dioxide were increased fourfold, the temperature would rise by 8°C.


As shown in Hansen’s Figure 2 chart taken from ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica, Earth's average temperature, including during ice ages, corresponds to 225 ppm CO2e (CO2e means for all greenhouse gases, including trace gases, expressed as equivalent to CO2). Average concentration at peak interglacials is about 278 ppm. The doubling threshold for a warm state would therefore be 556 ppm. Hansen’s paper calculates present CO2e to be 561 ppm. In 1979, Charney et al refined Arrhenius’s calculation to estimate a doubling temperature of 3 degrees. Hansen refines it again and arrives at 7 to 10°C, experiencing half of that this century and the remainder in later years.

Takeaway #5

Humans have been geoengineering the climate for at least 8000 years. The reason we are not entering another ice age now and had all those millennia of gorgeous, predictable weather and unvarying coastlines upon which to build cities and found civilizations was because we warmed the Earth ever so slightly by conversion of forest to farm starting 8000 years ago and the methane released by rice farming starting 6000 years ago. We also mined and burned peat, killed the great whales that ran the deep ocean carbon mixing, and domesticated animals. We actually, accidentally, achieved a beneficial climate stasis for the first time in Earth’s history. We just couldn’t leave well enough alone. We had to dig and drill up Earth’s stores of fossil carbon and litter the atmosphere and ocean with that, which is what got us into our present predicament.

With most of the heat due and payable but masked by air pollution, we are damned if we keep emitting and damned if we don’t. That’s the Faustian Bargain. In one fell stroke, Hansen and team validated both the Ruddiman Apostasy and the McPherson Paradox.

The release of these findings, soliciting public comment ahead of peer review, has been met with howls from scientists, influencers, and various interested parties. That firestorm is still raging at this writing. I will describe more about all this in our next installment.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Professor Cobblepot's Marvelous Final Engagement in the Freeverse Theater State

"When you have two competing narratives, each hermetically sealed and intractable, about all you can do is live by your own best lights."


In April 2019, when the Mueller Report dropped and PBS NewsHour/Frontline ran a one-hour special, I began calling Trump “President Cobblepot” because of the uncanny resemblance to Batman’s nemesis, Penguin, who manages to get himself popularly elected Mayor of Gotham and then uses the position to continue building his crime empire and eliminating rivals.

This American drama is a four year series, eight if it gets renewed, and the duel between narratives is what keeps the audience.… Time will tell whether Cobblepot’s short game is as good as Mueller’s long game.

As it turns out, Cobblepot’s short game was every bit as good as Mueller’s long game, and he survived not one but two impeachments and later, the fraud conviction of his real estate company, and now is running again for President. As the January 6 Committee Report alludes, Cobblepot could be POTUS today had he been able to muster just a little more support from other gangs during and immediately after the 2020 election.

In my 2019 post, Professor Cobblepot’s Marvelous Purple Fog News Machine, I closed with the scene of Sunrise Movement youths paying an unwelcome call on Senator Diane Feinstein:

The Senator rebuffed their appeal for the Green New Deal by trying to school them in her reality — political compromise, baby steps, scaffolding, the power of seniority, million-vote pluralities. “It’s not going to get turned around in 10 years,” she pronounced.
They weren’t buying that. Their reality is dying polar bears, sinking coastlines, famine, war, a significant reduction in their own life expectancies. “Senator, if this does not get turned around in 10 years you’re looking at the faces of the people who are going to be living with these consequences.”
When you have two competing narratives, each hermetically sealed and intractable, about all you can do is live by your own best lights, keep educating yourself, and do as best you can to help the children prepare. The light of hard physical reality may eventually be discovered by those of Feinstein’s fogginess, stumbling along, but if you can already see the light, you should be moving to high ground, building a fire perimeter, growing food and storing water. And vote out the fossils.

A year later, after a couple more Frontline specials, my post, Thugs and Circuses: President Cobblepot’s Season Finale dissected the Russiagate hoax, the Hunter Biden counternarrative and the more tedious, soon-to-be-forgotten historic details of Cobblepot’s mental pathology.

Readers who have been with this blog for some years may recall my posts about the stages of empire collapse. One early-stage common to both the Roman and the Mayan Empires has been termed the “Theater State.” In this phase immediately preceding contraction and disintegration, the ruling classes are bored and jaded with their wealth, so much so that they engage in brutal spectacles like throwing Christians to lions, pitting top-ranked gladiators against one another, disemboweling slaves on top of pyramids, or having sporting Super Bowls requiring the losing team be sacrificed. As the world watches, our circus moves to the floor of the Senate next week, pitting a real-estate-grifter-turned-reality-TV-host against the US Constitution. Best of all, even if Cobblepot is removed in this season’s finale, viewers can vote to renew the show for another four years, come November.

Cobblepot was not removed. He was impeached a second time, with the same null result. Then he lost the election. Now he has been investigated and referred to the Justice Department for prosecution, but the man is 76 years old. He will die before he serves a day for any of the crimes of which he stands accused. And honestly, doesn’t it serve the Democrats more to ride in, count coup, and ride off whooping, than to deal a death blow?

The January 6 Committee report Executive Summary listed 17 specific findings “on the full extent of the ongoing planning by President Trump, John Eastman, Rudolph Giuliani and their associates to overturn the certified election results” resulting in six deaths, destruction of portions of the Capitol, and hundreds of later arrests and prosecutions. In painstaking detail, the Committee rehashed Trump’s statements in tweets, phone calls, and discussions with aides and others to provide his mens rea (criminal intent). Knowing his narcissistic personality disorder, we can easily predict his response to the Committee report and any legal action that may flow from it. There is no suspense in this melodrama.

Not to seem too cynical, the US judicial system has been corrupted in much the same way that its public health system has. They are broken. Pay-to-play has replaced rational social goals. Immigration is broken. Gun laws are broken. Education is broken. It is not atypical of the terminal phase of empires. In getting out of political scrapes, the coin of the realm is coins of the realm.

The first bold heading in the Committee Report after “Executive Summary: Overview of the Evidence Developed” is “The Big Lie.” This phrasing is more important than the Committee may suspect. When histories are written by archaeologists from Mars sifting through the carbonized layers of North America, they may well mark the Trump Presidency as the start of the Post Truth Epoch in the lead-up to the Great Human Extinction (also called The Jackpot). As the editorial page of The New York Times asked readers on December 7, 2022:

How, in a matter of less than a decade, could this once-proud country have evolved to the point that there is a serious debate over choosing a presidential candidate who is a lifelong opportunist, a pathological and malignant narcissist, a sociopath, a serial liar, a philanderer, a tax cheat who does not pay his bills and a man who socializes with Holocaust deniers, who has pardoned his criminal allies, who encouraged a violent insurrection, who, behind a wall of bodyguards, is a coward and who, without remorse, continually undermines American democracy?

On March 4, 2020, a Wednesday of no particular significance, the president of the United States told seventy-three lies. The day before that, he lied forty times. By one count he lied 30,573 times over 4 years. A magazine writer noted,

That an elected official plays loose with the truth is hardly shocking — the idea of a lying politician is so commonplace as to be a cliché. What is remarkable, though, is the number of people who, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, don’t seem to think Trump is lying at all … an NPR/PBS NewsHour poll showed that 37 percent of Americans, more than a third of the country, said they still had a good amount or great deal of trust in Trump as a source of information….

One of the sacrifices we made when we switched to the cyber “freeverse” model of defining truth — everybody has their own, go ahead and freak freely — is that we cast off moorings that turn out to be pretty important for keeping a society organized. Will we ever again agree on what is real and who is qualified to decide? Remember that question a year from now, when the Committee to Investigate the January 6 Committee holds its hearings in prime time.

Truthfully, the post-truth meme is not especially new or original. In ancient cultures, it was personified by the character of the Trickster, El Coyote, Punch. The Trickster portrays himself as a guide, but he is a false guide, there to lead you astray. In our context, The Trickster is the claim that in modernity liminality is a permanent state, that there are no valid moorings, or that modern life is patently absurd. We’ve seen this before — the Dada movement in Switzerland and Paris 1916–24 (“Dada” from what a Swiss child calls a rocking horse); Hegel’s democratic, history-is-over utopia; Camus and Kierkegaard’s absurdism.

The way back from post-truth is straightforward but not simple. We should not trust Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post any more than we trust Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal or Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times. We must train to diversify to better discern. Your poor dental hygienist, forced to an 8-hour daily diet of Fox and Friends, is clearly brainwashed and should not be trusted to even tell you directions to the washroom. The Villages in central Florida should not have their own representative in Congress.

The digital Big Bang that liberated the world from the tyranny of news has imposed its own forms of oppression, including woke pronouns and cancel culture. Recognize the illegitimacy of algorithmic governance, whether in the ideological predilections of Silicon Valley progressives or the availability of Cambridge Analytica to compel a political agenda. Anything that can game the Facebook ad structure can as easily game you, if you let it.

Former CIA Analyst Martin Gurri who predicted Brexit and the rise of Trump via social media manipulation, writes: “The waning of post-truth will not mean that we hold hands in a vast circle of universal agreement about the nature of the world.” Rather, the world is the way that the Peacemaker revealed it to the Haudenoshaunee — that there is no peace without justice, and that justice itself is never complete but rather a never-ending process of making daily judgments and decisions from your highest moral position.

As above so below. For nations as for people there is no peace without justice, and it is a process, not an end. It had seemed for a while that as the US empire overreached its energy foundations and went into decline that China — or Asia more generally — would supplant El Norte as global hegemon. That illusion is crumbling. The world as a whole is deglobalizing into regional fiefdoms as it moves into the Age of Limits. The Trump drama is soup du jour for the Mayan Theater State or the Roman Colosseum, but honestly, the World Cup final was better entertainment.

This is what the young people tried to tell Diane Feinstein. This is what the latest paper from climate scientist emeritus Jim Hansen is all about. I will start a longer series on Hansen’s forecasts next week. We should pay more attention to what is really going on than being distracted by the farcical choreography.

“All of humanity is in peril if each one of us does not dare, now and henceforth, always to tell only the truth and all the truth, and to do so promptly — right now.”

– R. Buckminster Fuller

Meanwhile, let’s end this war. Towns, villages and cities in Ukraine are being bombed every day. Ecovillages and permaculture farms have organized something like an underground railroad to shelter families fleeing the cities, either on a long-term basis or temporarily, as people wait for the best moments to cross the border to a safer place, or to return to their homes if that becomes possible. There are still 70 sites in Ukraine and 300 around the region. They are calling their project “The Green Road.”

The Green Road is helping these places grow their own food, and raising money to acquire farm machinery and seed, and to erect greenhouses. The opportunity, however, is larger than that. The majority of the migrants are children. This will be the first experience in ecovillage living for most. They will directly experience its wonders, skills, and safety. They may never want to go back. Those that do will carry the seeds within them of the better world they glimpsed through the eyes of a child.

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The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed climate change, a juggernaut threat to all life, humans included. We had a trial run at emergency problem-solving on a global scale with COVID — and we failed. 6.6 million people, and counting, have died. We ignored well-laid plans to isolate and contact trace early cases; overloaded our ICUs; parked morgue trucks on the streets; incinerated bodies until the smoke obscured our cities as much as the raging wildfires. We set back our children’s education and mental health. We virtualized the work week until few wanted to return to their open-plan cubicle offices. We invented and produced tests and vaccines faster than anyone thought possible but then we hoarded them for the wealthy and denied them to two-thirds of the world, who became the Petri-plates for new variants. SARS jumped from people to dogs and cats to field mice. The modern world took a masterclass in how abysmally, unbelievably, shockingly bad we could fail, despite our amazing science, vast wealth, and singular talent as a species.

Having failed so dramatically, so convincingly, with such breathtaking ineptitude, do we imagine we will now do better with climate? Having demonstrated such extreme disorientation in the face of a few simple strands of RNA, do we imagine we can call upon some magic power that will change all that for planetary-ecosystem-destroying climate change?

As the world emerges into pandemic recovery (maybe), there is growing recognition that we must learn to do better. We must chart a pathway to a new carbon economy that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backward — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience. We must lead by good examples; carrots, not sticks; ecovillages, not carbon indulgences. We must attract a broad swath of people to this work by honoring it, rewarding it, and making it fun. That is our challenge now.

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“There are the good tipping points, the tipping points in public consciousness when it comes to addressing this crisis, and I think we are very close to that.”

— Climate Scientist Michael Mann, January 13, 2021.

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