Is Our Situation Dire, or is it Over

Apr 30, 2016

How some Near Tern Human Extinction people are saying there is nothing we can do to fix the predicament we are in so we should stop trying. In this blog I am pointing how from a cost point of view alone we should not abandon the quest to switch to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reducing our impact on the planet even if it will not make a difference in the end. Besides there is a philosophical component to at least acting like or trying to be a man even in our last hours.

It looks like “Abrupt Climate Change” has started kicking in with a vengeance in the last few years, but especially in 2016. On a television show originally aired in October of 2014 called the Newsroom, which is a dramatization of the news business they portrayed a newscaster interviewing a climate scientist who proclaimed our collective situation was not dire, it was over.

I like this particular video for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it is essentially a correct diagnosis of our situation. Climate change is a ratchet effect and as a species we have been cranking on the ratchet collectively for over 250 years. The Ocean/Atmosphere/Land system of the Earth can collectively hold a lot of heat. All this extra energy greenhouse gases stop from being radiated back to space have to go somewhere, it just cannot disappear. That is the nature of thermodynamics.

Many of our top scientists have come to the same conclusion given the technological trap human civilization finds itself in. That is,we will probably go extinct in the 6th great extinction we are driving the rest the planet towards. We are after all a large mammal like any other and are rather dependent on habitat for our survival which we have been destroying at a record pace. More and more scientist are reaching the same conclusion privately if not publically with each passing year.

The thing that persuaded me the most cogently was when I read about the scientific adventure of drilling the Greenland ice cores and how the climate change community discovered Abrupt Climate Change. In a period as short as 13 years they seen a 5C warming in two different ice cores hundreds of miles apart in Greenland. Since this was so unusual they ask other disciplines to look into the proxy records from around the planet. Sure enough, these dramatic changes were not a one off, they we wide spread.

It seems the atmosphere, our climate system, likes to be in stable states, so when it is forced or pushed if you will, it will oscillate in ever greater amounts until all of a sudden it reaches a tipping point, then it can move rapidly to a new equilibrium state within a decade or two before it settles down in a new state. The analogy given was that the climate was like a drunk who was okay sitting down if you left him alone. However, if your prodded and pushed on him, and made him get up he was liable to stagger around a bit.

When I read about this discovery we shall call Abrupt Climate Change I said to myself, we are totally screwed here, we are going to get hammered.

So here we are watching the Arctic Sea Ice cover in a death spiral for the last 30 years and 2007 comes along and there is a dramatic one year loss of sea ice. Then again in 2012 another dramatic down tic in sea ice volume. The Naval College is predicting a Blue Ocean Event for as early as September2016. This albedo flip from white ice to dark ocean is not good. Then there is the latent heat of the ice. It takes 144 BTU’s to melt one lb of ice with no sensible temperature change. But it only takes one BTU to raise the temperature of one lb of water one degree.

So there is major trouble brewing here. It rained at the North Pole in December of 2015 and it was warmer at 90 degrees north then it was at 32 degrees north here in Radium Springs, New Mexico. I know because I checked. Something is seriously broken in our climate system. Both the Jet Stream, and the NAMOC (North Atlantic Meridinal Overturning Current), both are either slowing down or becoming fractured.

So I am on board as a climate worrier, a doomer, call me what you will, I have been for decades. None of the signs are looking good. We won’t stop pouring green house warming gasses into the atmosphere and the atmospheric CO2 content is steadily climbing every year. Then there is the steady and unrelenting increase in human numbers. At last count I heard over 7.3 billion people. We are in major population overshoot by a factor of ten or more.

Below is another link to a You Tube Video, only this time including Dr Guy McPherson, and Mike Sliwa. They are discussing their Nature Bats Last radio show and why they have decided to cut back to once a month starting in July of this year.

Too hard to get guest they say. The complaint is they can’t find any guest radical enough to get the root cause of the issue. We collectively are in a predicament they say, and climate change is not a problem that can be solved. What is it they want their guest to say one wonders, if there is no solution to the Near Term Human Extinction predicament we have gotten ourselves into?

I have been visiting various climate change face book pages for some time now (several month) and I have started seeing more and more of this thread of thinking that we are in runaway climate change and there is nothing we can do to fix it. Switching to renewable energy sources, more energy efficiency, reducing not only our carbon footprints, but our consumerism, changing our diet, our house size, nothing is going to make one wit of difference.

I am inclined to agree with the doomer crowd on this one too as far as it goes, but I think they are handing out bad advice.

While Guy McPherson was visiting me on 4/22 (before giving a talk) I showed him a Paleolithic Lamp. I explained how all chemical lamps like this (including kerosene lanterns) only produced light at 80 watts per lumen. Then I gave him a 8.5 watt LED light bulb to take home that produces light at 94 lumens per watt. If you do the math the LED light bulb (94x80 = 7,500) more energy efficient then the caveman lantern. Even if you factor in grid losses it is 2,500 times more efficient. The fact that there are billions of more humans today is a completely separate issue. We just can’t abandon a superior way of lighting our caves like this in our despair over NTHE. They might as well as be advising people to throw away every third or forth dollar they earn or burn it.

Another example I can give you is the coming transition to electric drive in transportation. Lets say you have a 32 MPG ICE car and you decided to trade it in for a Nissan Leaf. The engine in your ICE car is about 30% thermally efficient on a good day. Your new electric drive train in your Leaf will be about 90% more efficient, or three times better. Range and the cost per KWH of the battery pack has been the big issue up until now. We are finally reaching an inflection point where the cost per KWH of battery pack is becoming competitive with the internal combustion engine. This is why we are going to see 200 mile range electric cars coming on the market over the next two years.

If we can get a used Leaf this year it would be operating primarily on excess solar power I would normally sell to the electric company at 8 cents a KWH. The range would be at least 3.5 miles per KWH. Meaning I could go 32 miles on 9.14 KWH’s times 8 cents = 73 cents. Even gasoline at $2.00 cannot compete. My cost per mile would be 2.28 cents versus 6.25 cents per mile. I will be actually displacing miles driven on a Ford F 150 XLT 4x4 which can only average 18 mpg, so my actual cost would be 2.28 cents per mile versus 11.1 cents per mile. To turn your back on such an 80% improvement in transportation efficiency would just be plain crazy. As a side benefit my electric transportation would be carbon emission free. We could electrify most of our transportation fleet in the coming decade and would be foolish not to do it.

Lets say we pulled out all the stops and plowed half of our resources into climate change mitigation. We reduced our population to .73 billion people a.s.a.p., got rid of Capitalism, and economic growth. Let’s say we switched 100% to renewable energy sources, and turned back over 70% to 80% of the planet back to nature. Let’s say also we begin to earnestly draw down the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Would all this be enough to save the human race from extinction? No one knows enough about the climate system and how all this Abrupt Climate Mayhem we just entered into plays out, to say.

I for one think we should not throw away any of the tools in our collective tool box just because we are depressed and are saying fuck it just yet. As I messaged Guy before he left for his California tour, his video reminded me of the news story interview with the great movie director John Huston at an airport before he died. They ask him how he felt about reaching the end of his life, and he said the following. “I feel like a steam ship of old that has struck a reef and got a hole in my hall. I am taking on water, I still have a fire in my belly, and smoke coming out my stack, but I am going down.”

This is, as it should be, with the human race! If we are going screw the Cosmic Pooch, cause our own extinction, along with the extinction of a myriad of life forms on this planet, lets at least go out with a fire in our belly, to the last. Lying down in a coal powered bunker waiting for the end with an “I told you so” on your lips just doesn’t cut if you are human. Do something; just don’t go out with a whimper. Or, just fake it, if you have to, but try be a man, even if you are the very last one.

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