Another Inconvenient Truth: It’s Hard to Agree How to Fight Climate Change

Jul 15, 2016

By John Schwartz

By just about any measure, the movement to battle climate change has grown so large that the truths of Al Gore’s decade-old movie now seem more mainstream than inconvenient.

In Paris in December, 195 nations agreed to reduce greenhouse gases. In the United States, 70 percent of Americans say that climate change is real. Pope Francis has joined the call for action. Hundreds of thousands of people have come together for climate marches in Paris and New York, and demonstrators recently held fossil-fuel protests on six continents.

“That’s what I call momentum,” Daniel R. Tishman, the chairman of the board of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in its recent annual report. “This isn’t just the wind at our backs; these are the winds of change.”

But the movement that started with a straightforward mission — to get more people to appreciate the dangers of climate change as a precursor to action — is feeling growing pains. What may seem like a unified front has pronounced schisms, with conflicting opinions on many issues, including nuclear power and natural gas, that are complicating what it means to be an environmentalist in this day and age.


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13 comments on “Another Inconvenient Truth: It’s Hard to Agree How to Fight Climate Change

  • Sustainability, should be the goal that undergirds all political efforts here. Don’t use what you can’t put back. Don’t steal from your kids or theirs.

    Legislate, tax and set standards to favour long term sustainable markets then big company assets and financial institutions will do the work needed.

    With sustainable technology developed to move and work and eat, there is no climate risk to help the poorest (the mass reproducers) out of their poverty. (Africa and the Indian sub-continent are the explosive areas of population growth…Africa peaking at 400% above current levels by UN figures.) Helping people join the richest (the below replacement rate reproducers…rich educated women don’t choose grief) will directly address climate concerns and ease us on to a sustainable downward population slope far earlier.

    Carrots work faster than sticks. Sticks turn people into obstinate mules.



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  • @OP link – Universities and institutional shareholders like pensions and church endowments are being pressed to sell their stock in fossil-fuel companies, to fight projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and to disrupt construction of fossil-fuel facilities.

    This is already happening and needs to be rapidly extended.
    Let the Luddites and deniers take the losses – not the public’s money held in trust by the banking and insurance sectors!

    This approach animates the “keep it in the ground” campaign led by groups like Mr. McKibben’s 350.org, which argues that many of today’s fuel reserves are “unburnable” if climate change is to be slowed, and so must be considered “stranded assets” — a notion that oil giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron reject.

    Once renewables and probably (Thorium?) nuclear, take over the energy markets and governments take a genuine approach to real costs including pollution costs, Exxon Mobil and Chevron can sit in denial on an unmarketable product with a fanciful price tag on it, for as long as they like, – while they go bust!

    Some legal awards to make the polluter pay, would help speed the process!

    eg. – BP’s big bill for the world’s largest oil spill reaches $61.6 billion



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  • I put on solar hot water a few years ago and we are saving to put on photovolatics now. We saw a drop in our electricity costs to about 1/3 as the house came with a very large electrical hot water tank. But our bills not many years latter are now about where they were before we put on solar hot water. Coal is greatly diminishing in profits in my country, it’s coughing up blood, it’s at deaths door and the more people shift over to solar the less profitable it becomes. What we need is a Government that sees the writing on the wall and starts apply smarter grid technology and wiring up the states to share power for our wobbly base load. We need governments to support the numerous ways in which we can even out the grid and supply 24/7 electricity without fossil fuels. That now is our hold up. The energy companies if they care to exist in a few years had better get with the program before people just go completely off grid, which won’t be too far off if centralised power continues to be such a rip off – environmental concerns aside.



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  • What is often surpassed in public media is that climate change is not the only problem we created that we have to handle. There are a lot of serious issues we have to face. The best answer to any of these problems is one that mitigates them all.
    I am talking about ( in random order )
    depletion of natures resources, like: fresh water, wood, minerals, fossil fuel, oxygen and clean air
    wasting the space to live in, quality and health of ecosystems, quality of the invironment, by utilising for roads, buildings, storage, commercial area
    fragmentation of living area, destroying habitat of ecosystems
    pollution with oils, chemicals, finedust and soot, plastic and microplastics, medical waste, heavy metals, radioactives, salt and minerals, strange bio species
    alternating the geography and fysics of the environment by altering water drainage, paving surfaces, creating barriers, digging through natural barriers, ploughing and scarring the soil surface, eroding the landscape, filling up depressions like lakes, pools, straightening streams, draining rivers, flooding valleys and plains, exploiting all natural resouces, melting the polar caps
    destroying life wherever we go, hunting down, overfishing, poisoning, infecting, accidentally killing, displacing, scaring, neglecting, not caring, exploiting
    changing the evolution of species, ourselves included, by artificial selection, changing environment, taking away natural selection, exploiting species in bio-industry, creating environment for specific opportunistic species, parasites and diseases and plagues
    replacing nature with technology
    justifying all this because of human-centralism, religion, nihilism, consumptionism, wealth, status, lazyness, capitalism, cowardry, pride, destructivism, or whatever human weakness and misconception one can think off

    The final answer to climate change should pay respect to all of these matters. There is no justification to sacrifice a single peace of our planet just for the sake of saving our own ass out of this mess.

    The final answer is to replant all the forests we have cut, replant those we did not have cut, then even plant more, let the earth become greener then we have ever seen, and do not touch it again.



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  • S. Clement

    Could you expand on this.

    – changing the evolution of species, ourselves included, by artificial selection, changing environment, taking away natural selection, exploiting species in bio-industry, creating environment for specific opportunistic species, parasites and diseases and plagues
    – replacing nature with technology

    There are surely risks here, but this is the naturalistic fallacy, plain and simple.

    “Meant to be” is not a thing. Sometimes we can do better. Agriculture can be sustainable. The unfettered, (more natural) tendency to rape resources is Malthusian Nature.



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  • I live in a region (province of Québec, Canada) where 96% of the electricity is produced by hydro power (dams), while the remaining 4% mostly comes from wind farms and biomass. We recently closed our last oil plant and our only nuclear plant, and we decided not to build a natural gas turbines plant.

    This relatively “clean” and totally renewable electricity is used by a population of more than 7 million, and we manages to export approximately 30 TW per year. Despite the high energy needs in winter due to electrric heating, we still export a lot, which helps close coal and oil power plants in neighboring areas.

    That was the bright side.

    Now let’s talk about gas. The total amount of energy spent in fossil fuels (mostly cars) in Québec is EQUIVALENT to the amount of clean electricity produced. I’m not even sure we could convert 25% of all our cars to electric cars and still have enough electricity to heat our homes in winter, let alone export electricity and make a profit.

    If we want to do that, convert public transit systems, trains, buses, cars to electricity, then we will have to radically reduce the amount of electricity we waste in inefficient heating, A/C, incandescent lights, commercial lighting, urban lights, etc.



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  • Hugo Dufort #8
    Jul 21, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    If we want to do that, convert public transit systems, trains, buses, cars to electricity, then we will have to radically reduce the amount of electricity we waste in inefficient heating, A/C, incandescent lights, commercial lighting, urban lights, etc.

    There is indeed great potential in increased efficiency, – ground heat storage built up during the summer as part of air conditioning, smart grids, LED lights, regenerative braking on vehicles, etc.
    Bio-fuels can also offer a carbon neutral recycling of carbon to and from the atmosphere.



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  • phil rimmer: don’t get me wrong, i am not saying that we can’t modify some things for the sake of a good benefit. Talking about geneticcly modified crops, bio-engineering, artificial food processing with think like algae and yeast. If done right there is not real harm in there. But, it is not something that will add much weight in the (in)balance we created. It is just another way to serve ourselves. With a bit less strain on the environment maybe. It is the same thing as with all other technologies that will help us mitigate our effect on the planet. I embrace them, i think they are good things… wind and solar power, alternative food sources, digitizing our work environment. But, it is not an answer to the problem. In fact, it will solve nothing of the problem.

    The problem is the human nature. The human nature drives us toward exploiting every niche we can find. Yes, even space. This has been going on for 50000 years and is an unstoppable force. It is not about our individual choices, it is about what humans do when they have no other choice left, to leave their children to die or to kill that last bit of environment.
    Yes, here in Europe we are currently doing a lot to correct ourselves. Not enough tough, by far not enough. More important: the measures we take are restricted to place and time, bound by economical feasabilty and political will. The developing countries, in South Asia and Africa are not so eager to cut their emissions. Will Europe still want this in 20 years time?

    I think it is a moment of luxury, of economical surplus that allows us to organize a (pseudo-) green economy. It is no co-incidence most of these measures have to be enforced and stimulated by government action. The main weakness off any human-driven settlement and measure is that it is dependent on the human will and continious execution and maintainance. I do not believe humanity will be stable and wise enough to make the choices needed.

    Because the troubles we are in must be seen in geological scale. We have 1,335,000,000 km³ of ocean water that is acidifying. We have 14 months of record breaking world temperatures in a row, 20 years of record breaking world temperatures. The CO² level averages above 400 now, and there is no sign that this will stop rising any time soon. That is 510,072,000 km² of surface area of atmosphere.

    It is reckless to believe we can handle this with our own technology. Technology will not save us from what is moving now. It is like trying to stop a moving oiltanker in 5 meters with a small outboard motor.
    It is reckless to assume science already has the right prediction about what this is gonna bring us. If we look at what the world looked like the last time CO² levels were between 400 and 500 we get an idea. Any scientist involved into climate prediction will know, they dont know enough to say anything certain. Apart from that temperatures will rise. And they will do so for the next 100’s of years. Even if we stop adding CO².
    We have people living everywhere, in every nook and cranny of the planet, taking all the sweet spots.

    What humanity must do is make choices that goes against our nature. We have to take steps back.
    Because the fundamentals are in danger now. The great blind spot of modern man is that he is not aware any more how much his existence relies on the well-being of natural processes. We can not allow ourselves mass-extinctions, deforestation, monocultures, nature in isolated patches. We can not allow us to be the dominating force.
    This is not a naturalistic fallacy, it is the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the earth we walk. We are going to loose it for sure, starting with the most unlucky people. I agree that technology can help save people that are not having issues like poverty, social unrest, political turmoil, ilness, economical tension, pride and religion. But in the end, when the basics are scarse, humanity will turn against itself. It is already happening. Look at the refugee problem, the “arabic spring”, water and food shortage in africa. It is all caused by our inability to garantee life essentials to all people.

    In the end, humans will not save each other, nor will they save the planet. Nature will save the planet, and the sooner it does, the better it will be for us. We can help this process by reforesting and stop exploiting and consuming. Mass storage of carbon by vegetation has ever been the only answer to CO² surplus.

    This is what i see and what i believe.



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  • S. Clement #10
    Jul 22, 2016 at 8:16 am

    What humanity must do is make choices that goes against our nature. We have to take steps back.

    The two key problems, are the unwillingness to curb the human population explosion, and the tradition of conspicuous profligate consumption, as an indication of high status and well-being.

    We can help this process by reforesting and stop exploiting and consuming. Mass storage of carbon by vegetation has ever been the only answer to CO² surplus.

    Reforesting is one of the answers to CO2 reduction, but let’s not forget fossilisation of plant matter as peat or coal in addition to living plants, and the vast amounts of carbon which are absorbed by plankton and deposited as skeletons and seashells in beds of limestone and chalk on the sea bed.

    The former are under threat in a heating drying climate from peat fires and forest fires, and the latter, under threat from ocean acidification.

    Of course humans continuing burning large quantities of fossil carbon simply escalates the problems.



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  • S. Clement #10
    Jul 22, 2016 at 8:16 am

    Any scientist involved into climate prediction will know, they dont know enough to say anything certain. Apart from that temperatures will rise. And they will do so for the next 100’s of years. Even if we stop adding CO².

    They do know about the climate belts moving towards the poles, further desertification in the tropics, increased rainfall/precipitation in the temperate zones, and the continued massive melt of icecaps.

    However, knock-on and feedback effects do make detailed predictions difficult!

    We can help this process by reforesting and stop exploiting and consuming. Mass storage of carbon by vegetation has ever been the only answer to CO² surplus.

    It will certainly help IF natural changes don’t wreck the plans!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36856428

    A recent drought shut down the Amazon Basin’s carbon sink by killing trees and slowing trees’ growth rates, a study has shown.

    The term carbon sink refers to the ability of a natural zone to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

    In the first basin-wide study of the impacts of the 2010 drought, data showed trees’ mortality rate went up while growth rates declined.

    The findings have been published by the Global Biogeochemical Cycles journal.

    The Amazon Basin is a key player in the Earth’s carbon cycle, holding 17% of the terrestrial vegetation carbon stock.

    He told BBC News that the droughts had effectively shut down Amazonia’s function as a carbon sink.

    “Our plots across the basin indicate that this forest became carbon neutral, so they were not taking up more carbon than they were losing,” he explained. “This was regardless of whether the plots had experienced a drought or not.

    “The second thing that we found was an impact in 2010 on the growth of trees. This did not happen in 2005. Those trees that had the most intense precipitation anomalies also had lower growth.

    “Mortality was also affected. We saw mortality go up and growth go down, which – again – we did not see in 2005.

    “The final key point was that we did not find some sort of compound effect between the 2010 events and previous droughts.”

    Dr Feldpausch said the study’s results showed that the response of trees to droughts was complex and dynamic.

    “It certainly does raise a new set of questions because something did change in the way that these trees responded to drought, so it raises questions about other environmental conditions that are changing across the Amazon basin, such as the temperature increasing,” he suggested.

    “This is one area that we need to investigate in the future; is there going to be some sort of interaction between precipitation deficits and increasing temperature?”

    Fellow co-author Oliver Phillips from the University of Leeds, UK, explained that the Amazon had provided a “tremendous service, taking up hundreds of millions more tonnes of carbon every year in tree growth than it loses through tree death”.

    But Prof Phillips added: “Both the 2005 and 2010 droughts eliminated those net gains.”

    Dr Feldpausch did highlight that it was not all bad news: “We do find that these forests are fairly resilient, and we do need to keep that in mind.

    “We did have this reduction in carbon uptake but then between those drought years, such as prior to 2005, we had a carbon sink.



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  • Humanity has to unite in this quest. As i said, everything here is against human nature.

    Second thing is: humanity will have to do less: less consumption, less travel, less children…

    Then we will have to do everything to kickstart a recapturing cycle, by massing trees. One bottleneck here is fresh water supply. Huge volumes of fresh water are drained into the oceans by the big rivers. One thing that can be done is to catch excess water and store or bring it where it is needed.

    One example: the Congo river is called an inland sea, for the vast amounts of water it carries. At its mouth it is tumbling down the African continental shelf so violent that no ship can enter it from sea.
    At its most northen point however it is just 500 km away from the watershed towards Tsjad. On the Tsjad side of the watershed lies a marginal watersystem, riverbeds with ample water that flood into Lake Tsjad, which once was a rich inland sea.
    What could be done if one would have the will and power, is dig a watertunnel straight through that watershed, from the most northern point of the Congo system to the most southern point of the rivers flooding into lake Tsjad. If only 1% of Congo’s water reach this place what a bliss it will be. The area that can be developed into green forests is immense.
    Australia has places with the same potential. For countries with moderate climate are different possibilities, especially Russia and the US.

    Yet, i believe, its not in man’s power to control the things he has started.



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