Thursday, October 11, 2018

The latest IPCC Assessment meets Republican Luddites



Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a new assessment of the speed and scope of human-caused temperature rise.  It is indeed a sobering report, a responsible and soundly based set of recommendations as to the steps that must be taken if the limits to warming spelled out in the Paris Accords are to be met, and warnings of what is to come if they are not.  Predictably, some find it a scare tactic, lacking in sober analysis of the realities.   The report is controversial in terms of its assessments of some potential directions for mitigation.  Peter Shellenberger writes in Forbes that it is unreasonably critical of the potential of nuclear power to partially address the need for energy from non-greenhouse gas emitting sources.  From what I can see of the matter, I agree with him.  It’s important to look toward new nuclear technologies that bypass most of the issues the reports frets about, including safety.  This is an area that deserves more, not less investment.  But the report as a whole is compelling and frightening to those with the imagination to look beyond the immediate present. 

The Guardian has an extensive coverage of reactions to the report. The most disheartening aspect of reactions to the IPCC report is the reaction of Republican party politicians.  Since the Republicans voted in 2011 to no longer accept the recommendations of the IPCC, the party line has been to unreservedly reject IPCC recommendations.  In the wake of this latest assessment, one after another Republican politician has eagerly reached for a microphone to mock it.  What is so sad about this display is that this very real threat to human society should not be a matter of local US politics.  The IPCC is an agency of the UN, a global alliance of nations. To turn everything that comes from UN into a political football is irresponsible.  When the fruits of their short-sighted blockage come home to haunt this nation, these tinhorn so-called representatives of the people will have faded from view, leaving it to their progeny to try to figure out how to make their way in vastly changed world.   Ignorance is bliss, they say, but not forever.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

What Happens in the Arctic leaves the Arctic!

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It seems that there’s been a lot of research news of late about the arctic climate.  It’s something to think about because we’re mostly not in a good position to make the connection between what’s happening in those frigid, icy domains and the climate we experience on a daily basis.  Here are a few things I’ve run across lately:

It's getting warmer up in the Arctic.  Look at this graph, above.


It shows the average temperature measured at about 6 ft from the surface at a large number of arctic sites.  The dotted line is the averages of those numbers over the period 1981-2010.  This graph tells us that the temperature has been steadily rising, as measured by several different groups and organizations.  The temperature has gone up about a degree Centigrade, or about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, since 1900. This does not seem like all that much.  Notice however that the rate of warming has been accelerating alarmingly.  In just the most recent two decades, it’s jumped up about two degrees Centigrade, about 3.5 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit.  The message here is that a future warmer Arctic climate is arriving on an ever faster schedule.


   
      A new article in Scientific American covers some of the consequences of what’s happening in the Arctic “A new study finds that rapid warming in the Arctic—where temperatures are currently rising faster than anywhere else on Earth (the italics are mine)—may be altering certain summertime atmospheric circulation patterns in ways that affect the weather in North America, Europe, and other mid-latitude regions.” Because this warming is relatively new and coming on strong, all the answers as to what will happen to mid-latitude weather as a result of the warming are not yet in evidence. But some things we’ve already seen, and models furnish predictions of what may come. One strong effect is showing up: more persistent hot-dry extremes in the mid-latitudes. 
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      Some of the observed winter effects are counter-intuitive. A warmer, more ice-free Arctic can produce anomalously cold conditions further south, especially over Eurasia. There is a lot more to learn about the global climate effects, but we can be sure that the trends will accelerate in the years ahead.  Just because climatologists have an incomplete understanding of how Arctic warming affects weather in the mid-latitudes, we can’t take the view that nothing much is likely to happen.  Our recent summer and winter experiences are a mere warning of what is coming as the Arctic ice shrinks and then disappears, and Atlantic Ocean currents push warmer water into the Arctic.
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     Then there’s the problem of the permafrost.   I recently learned from an article in National Geographic that nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere’s landmass sits atop permafrost. The figure that shows a view of Earth looking down on the North Pole shows  us where it is.  The darkest shade is permanent permafrost, and the lighter shades depict areas in which the permafrost may thaw to some degree seasonally.  As you can see, there’s a lot of permafrost. The deepest parts have been there more than half a million years.

It’s estimated that twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere is stored in the permafrost.  But it's beginning to melt.  As it does, microbes will begin to digest the stored vegetative matter, releasing carbon dioxide and methane.  Just about everyone is now aware that methane is about 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, though it has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere. These processes will add substantially to the increasing levels of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and the many other sources we talk about.
To add to the problems associated with melting of the permafrost, measurements show that permafrost regions contain relatively large amounts of mercury, Hg.  As melting occurs over the next century, that trapped Hg could be released.  Not a good thing!!

The world’s oceans are warming. Even without El NiƱo, oceans surged to record-high temperatures last year as they absorbed the bulk of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and farming. The increased evaporation at the surface that results is “fuel for hurricanes and other storms,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.  Hurricane Lane is giving Hawaii a near miss as I write this. Catastrophic flooding has hit the big island and much more seems in store. Trenberth compared the storm in Hawaii to the floods in Kerala, India, that left at least 324 dead and 220,000 homeless a month or so ago. “The ocean heat content globally was at record high levels last calendar year and now it is higher still and the highest on record,” Trenberth said. “The hurricanes that do occur can become more intense.”

Unprecedented wildfires continued to scorch western states, choking cities like Seattle with smoke, a  year after back-to-back storms wreaked havoc on Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and a wave of historic wildfires helped cause a record $306 billion in damages.  No wonder then that  James Temple dubbed 2017 in his article in the MIT Technology Review  “The Year Climate Change Began to Spin Out of Control.”
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a proposal to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with a rule that, by the agency’s own calculation, could cause 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 due to increased emissions. Optimists think that much of this eventuality is not likely to come to pass; coal is coming to the end of its run, despite Trump and his coal-friendly allies. “The world has shifted dramatically in the last few years to the point where we are going to get pretty close to the targets in the Clean Power Plan even without it,” said Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.  Anyway, just to make their point again, the White House has also put forward a proposal to gut fuel economy standards. It would allow vehicles to spew an additional 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide ― equivalent to the annual emissions of Canada ― by 2030.  I expect that there will be pushback against this absurd ruling on a state-by-state basis.  The intransigence of climate change deniers is a thing to behold. United States Senator James F. Inhofe (R, Ok) is living demonstration that it is possible to be incorrigibly wrong-headed. Here he is: “I maintain that the best course of action remains to completely overturn the endangerment finding so that there is neither statutory nor legal need for any greenhouse gas regulations. I will continue to work with President Trump and Acting Administrator Wheeler toward this goal.”
We get caught up in the daily dueling and take cheer in whatever steps are made toward mitigating the emissions of greenhouse gases, but the fact is that a lot of damage already done will make itself felt far into the future.  Even if we could stop immediately the emissions of all greenhouse gases, we’d still have something like the present 410 ppm of CO2 to contend with, an ocean that has warmed significantly, and glacial melting at a harrowing rate. And of course, we’re not stopping, or even abating the rate of additions of greenhouse gases.
I’m writing this from our summer home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The headwaters of the Tahquamenon river lie about 35 miles to the east.  Think of human society as a person in a canoe, moving with the beautiful dark waters of the river, which flows eastward through vast tracts of cedar.  There is a future somewhere downstream, but there’s no reason to be concerned about it. Just lately, though, there’s been this slowly building sound of water rushing. How curious!  What could it be?  The Tahquamenon falls, the third largest falls east of the Mississippi River, has a drop of about 50 feet, and is 200 feet across.  It will be tough to negotiate the falls in a canoe. Subscribe to This New World

















Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bye-bye, Three mile Island


Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported on the decision of the energy company Exelon to close the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in September, 2019.  The company gave as its reason the inability of the nuclear plant, located in Pennsylvania, to produce electricity at a cost that's competitive with cheap natural gas, a product of the shale boom, which ironically is a big deal in that very state.  I would not presume to argue with the short-term economic argument offered by the company, but in terms of the social welfare of society, this looks like a bad decision.

Let’s put to one side some of the timeworn arguments in opposition to nuclear power plants as a source of electricity.  Three Mile Island is famous, or infamous if you like, for having the only meltdown occurrence in a US nuclear plant.  The incident occurred in 1979, and produced a meltdown of the nuclear fuel in one of the reactors.  The accident garnered national media attention, and the anti-nuclear energy forces went on the offensive.  When all the dust had settled, and after seemingly endless investigative studies, comprehensive investigations and assessments by several well respected organizations, such as Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, have concluded that in spite of serious damage to the reactor, the actual release had negligible effects on the physical health of individuals or the environment.  The approximately 2 million people around TMI-2 during the accident are estimated to have received an average radiation dose of only about 1 millirem above the usual background dose. To put this into context, exposure from a chest X-ray is about 6 millirem and the area's natural radioactive background dose is about 100-125 millirem per year for the area. The accident's maximum dose to a person at the site boundary would have been less than 100 millirem above background.  All the studies mean that the only thing that got hurt as a result of the meltdown was the operating company’s wallet.   

Since its return to operation without the damaged reactor, the facility has operated safely, is well-maintained and not at the end of its operating lifetime.  Three Mile Island is a major factor in the economy of the region.  Last year it sent $1.5 million in taxes and other payments to the local township, county and school district.  It employs 675 workers, many of whom are skilled engineers and mechanics, some of whom have trained with the U.S. Navy or in universities. Shutdown of the facility will be a big blow to the local economy.  But the deeper reason why it should not be closed has to do with climate change, and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Replacing the nuclear reactor with a fossil fuel-burning substitute means that more carbon dioxide will be emitted, whereas we should be focused on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.  In addition, while natural gas power plants are relatively free from the many harmful emissions that characterize coal-fired plants, such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, there is no guarantee that a company that bases its choices of energy source for electricity solely on current costs of production won’t be tempted to switch to coal at some point down the line, especially given the push for coal on the part of Trump’s agency heads (see my previous blog).  Furthermore, the production of natural gas from shale deposits is rife with stories of damaged ecosystems, especially fresh water sources, and pollution around wellhead operations.  

It’s been argued that nuclear energy now plays a less important role in our energy mix as wind and solar power continue to grow in importance. But this argument misses an important factor: the variable capacity of wind and solar to deliver power at a given time and place.  We need sources such as hydropower with pumped storage and nuclear, which are continuously available to balance power demand loads. Neither is without weaknesses that must be carefully considered, but until some radically new way of utilizing the sun’s energy or perhaps capturing the energy in ocean currents comes to fruition, we need these sources.  Most of all, we sorely need a political and economic system free to think and act long-term, not at the mercy of the stock market or political demagoguery, to guide our way to a drawdown of greenhouse gases.   How do we get there?

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Our anti-environment administration; renewing hydropower with pumped storage


The figure at left summarizes the various sources of greenhouse gases for the US.  Notice that electricity is a substantial contributor.  The reason, of course, is that about 63 percent of electricity generation is produced from plants employing fossil fuels, which upon combustion, convert to carbon dioxide.  Most of us have every reason to wish this dependence on carbon were much smaller.  Solar and wind power have come increasingly into the mix, and we can expect those contributions to increase rapidly in the years ahead.  But so much potential progress is being blocked by appointees in the Trump administration. Rick Perry’s time as the head of the Department of Energy is severely hamstringing the country’s economic development and energy security.  The detestable Scott Pruitt has finally been kicked out at EPA, but Trump has replaced him with Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who worked for Murray Energy, the nation's largest coal producer.  Its CEO, Robert  E. Murray,  has been  an avid backer of Donald Trump.   Then there’s the appointment of  Daniel Simmons, a conservative scholar and renewable energy critic to be the head of the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).  EERE’s mission is to create and sustain American leadership in the transition to a global clean energy economy.  It’s difficult to imagine a less appropriate person to pursue this important mission. Simmons recently served as vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, a notoriously conservative think tank, supported primarily by fossil fuel money.  It advocates greater fossil fuel use and opposes the international climate agreement signed in Paris. If Simmons’s views on renewable energy, and his mindless favoring of fossil fuel over renewable energy enterprises in the US budget and environmental policies, find their way into practice, it would be a shameful betrayal of the public trust.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote in this blog about hydropower. In retrospect, I think I may have been more skeptical of its promise than I need have been.  Since that blog appeared, the New York Times published a beautiful interactive article on a $3 billion plan to combine the virtues of renewable but variable solar energy with the stored energy capacity of hydroelectric power. This is long-range, and years from completion, but the story is instructive and a pleasure to read and watch. In brief, the idea is that during the daylight hours a pumping station downstream from Hoover Dam would pump water that has already run through the hydroelectric station back upstream to Lake Mead.  The pumping station would be powered by a gigantic solar farm. The solar energy would in effect be stored by raising the water back up to the lake level so that it can be utilized again for electric power generation. While the solar farm is inactive, during nighttime, the energy it collected from the sun would be recovered in the dam.
This is not a new idea.  Pumped storage, as it is called, is already practiced at about 40 locations.  But this would be larger than any currently in operation.  It needs to be said that pumped storage is not going to be a huge factor in the nation’s energy budget, but, every bit helps. That philosophy is inherent in Project Drawdown, an imaginative approach to mitigating the increase in greenhouse gas levels via many different actions, some potentially very large, such as reforestation, regenerative agriculture, reduced reliance on animal protein and education of women and girls in developing nations.  
I must say that writing about pumped storage and Project Drawdown makes me feel refreshed after having to write about the visionless, narrow-minded and ultimately selfish machinations of our current executive leadership in Washington.  I only hope they don’t succeed in doing irreparable damage before the American people wake up.
         I urge you to have a look at the Drawdown site.  Watch Paul Hawken's interviews--he's inspiring.




Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A world too hot to handle


Some people choose not to believe that global warming exists, that in fact such a thing cannot be said to exist.  On an exceptionally cool day in the middle of summer they may say, “Feel this great air, the cool breeze. Last year on this date it was hot, a real corker. What’s all this talk about global warming?”  One could agree that a single day’s—or even an entire season’s—weather cannot address the question of what is happening at a global level.  Weather is local; by itself it’s but a piece of much larger and more complex phenomena.  The local weather by itself can’t help us decide whether or not the planet is warming.  For that we need a lot of measurements, point-by-point, over the globe, and over time.  And we need realistic models of how the atmosphere is affected by a host of different factors, including large scale movements of air masses, the interactions of the atmosphere with the oceans and other large bodies of water, Earth’s rotation—the list goes on.  The ability of the weather experts on the Weather Channel to predict with some assurance the general features of the weather in any major city on the planet several days into the future derives directly from these models.  They run on powerful computers such as those at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), located in Camp Springs, Md. that are constantly being updated with new observational data collected from land, sea and air.  The fact that the weather can be predicted reliably for several days in advance, is… well, you should be amazed, considering the incredible complexity of  the problem.  

In a similar way, climatologists build models for the global climate, to forecast what’s in store over longer periods of time for the planet as a whole.  Scientists have been collecting data and other observations for many years, and have developed ever more realistic mathematical models of the climate. They incorporate land and water features of the planet, solar radiation, lunar effects, the transport of energy from tropical zones to toward the pole, oceanic currents, the exchanges of gases between sea and atmosphere, the effects of Earth’s rotation, events such as volcanic eruptions when they occur—the list goes on and on.  These calculations are carried out on multimillion dollar supercomputers, testing this or that factor—for example, the size of the Arctic ice cap throughout the year—to learn just what does make a difference in climate, and where. There is no presupposition as to what the calculations will reveal, When the results are in, everything is analyzed and checked for possible errors. 

I find it bewildering beyond measure that people in power, in government and the private sector, who should be rational, intelligent, with the best interests of society at heart, can dismiss all the hard-won science as unimportant, or even conniving on the part of some people with murky motives. Meanwhile, the weather at many places on the globe is whispering to us, not so subtly. Here are a few summer heat stories from around the world:

·       Greece has just experienced a terrible forest fire, its worst in more than a decade.

·       Over 70 people have been killed by the heatwave in Canada's Quebec providence, as temperatures rose up to 95 degrees. There's not a lot of air conditioning in Quebec.

·       The longest heat wave in Britain since1976, along with drought, has turned the landscape to brown from its customary green.


·       In Japan, an unprecedented heat wave has been judged responsible for 65 deaths, and more than 22,000 were hospitalized due to the extreme weather.
 
The World Weather Attribution Project  has just released a damning report arguing that the sizzling heat and wildfires burning the planet are largely anthropogenic in origin—human caused.  It's tiresome, having to repeat these facts and findings, knowing that most people aren't paying attention, don't really care, or lack the background to read such materials and incorporate them into their own worldview and daily life practices. But let's keep keeping on, in whatever ways we can. 
 
Our extended family is gathered this week up in Michigan's upper peninsula. Twenty three of us, spanning four generations. Two of our great grandchildren, twins, are celebrating their sixth birthdays today.  A beautiful day in the UP. May it ever be so, but I just don't know.


















































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































·       Wildfires have been raging through the Swedish forests above the Arctic Circle, where temperatures have risen to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

·       Portland recently broke three consecutive daily record temperatures. Thursday's 99 degrees was the hottest August 18 in their recorded history. Friday's 100 followed suit. Saturday also broke 100 degrees, rounding out the streak.










































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Ah, it’s just the weather.  Comes and goes. Meanwhile the concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons continue to rise, putting a bit more heat in the bank, as it were, for still faster melting of glacial ice, more violent weather events, shifting climate that brings drought and extreme heat to places that are becoming less and less friendly to human habitation. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Hydropower: renewable? Ecofriendly?


Anyone interested in the important issues around global climate change quickly comes to appreciate that the modes of energy generation vary greatly with respect to the extent to which they contribute to global warming.

Fossil fuels make the largest contribution to global warming for a given amount of energy produced, because greenhouse gases are formed as the fuels are burned, as in coal-fired or natural gas fired power plants that generate electricity.  Fossil fuels of course also power cars, trucks and other things.  Ethanol, a component of automobile gasoline is in the same league; not only is carbon dioxide produced when ethanol is burned, enormous amounts of energy, mostly derived from fossil fuels, is needed to produce the ethanol. The notion that ethanol is a renewable source of energy is a distraction. True, it is a plant product; carbon dioxide was taken from the atmosphere by the corn plants. But the expenditure of all the energy required to get it to the gas pump, and the environmental costs of producing the corn and getting ethanol from it, more than null out that argument.

The urgent need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide drives the effort to replace fossil fuels with alternative sources of energy. We speak of renewable sources, but what does that mean?  Renewable energy is generated from natural processes that are continuously replenished, such as sunlight, wind, oceanic tides. It's common to include biomass such as wood, plants such as corn or soy and other crops in this category, but the points I made with respect to ethanol apply to many of these sources as well.   

If we had a government more inclined to advance the long-term welfare of the people who put their faith in it, we would have continuing, substantial investments in developing newer, more effective means of generating renewable energy. Unfortunately, government often gets in the way of progress. Nonetheless, the private sector has made substantial advancements in achieving ever more efficient conversion of sunlight into electrical energy, and more efficient and environmentally friendly wind generators.  If we could get certain state governments to enact progressive policies and regulations for deploying solar panels more extensively, we could be even farther along than we are.  What is clear is that the technologies of both solar and wind power are making huge gains.  Our dependence on fossil fuels is shrinking steadily, despite powerful corporate and political fossil fuel interests bent on slowing progress.

 But, we have yet a long way to go, and there remains one big problem with both wind and solar: the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun sometimes is not to be seen.  It is devilishly difficult to store electrical energy in large quantities so that it can be used later.  Rechargeable batteries might seem like a good solution, but on a large scale, it just isn’t going to work.  We need energy sources that are capable of getting us through the night, as it were. Of course, the sun’s always shining somewhere, and the wind’s always blowing somewhere, but transport of electricity across long distances is difficult, and has its own environmental challenges.

Until now, the two major alternatives to fossil fuels have been hydroelectric and nuclear power. Each of these deserves a discussion. In this blog I’ll confine my comments to hydropower, as it’s commonly called.

Despite increased deployment of solar and wind power generation, hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy worldwide. You get it by creating a large basin, placing a dam at the outlet end of it, and using the energy created by the water’s fall from the top of the dam to the lower level to generate electricity.  As long as we can keep enough water in the basin, and a suitable flow for the water once it’s gone over the top, we should be good.  But there are problems, starting with the fact that the land required to form the basin sometimes displaces people and is taken out of use for food production. Nevertheless, power-hungry China has already built more than 200 gigawatts of hydroelectric power generation, and another 230 gigawatts is under construction, development or permitting.  Taken together this amounts to the capacity of about 85 of the largest coal-fired power plants ever built. Other Asian nations, especially India, are following China’s lead.

In the US, hydropower has long been the most important renewable source of electricity.  It’s interesting in light of this fact that the US is low on the list of nations with large dam projects.  Worldwide, according to size, Grand Coulee Dam is #7, and only 5 other US dams are on the list of the top 70. Many of our largest ones have been controversial in terms of their impacts on the environment and the uses of precious water resources affected by their presences. Hoover dam and Lake Mead, its associated water reservoir, is one of the earliest and largest dam projects.  The dam was completed during the 1930s, and is still the 6th largest hydroelectric facility in the US. This project is often in the limelight because of the heavy demands made on Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir in the Colorado River system that irrigates Southern California crops and provides drinking water to some 40 million people. A protracted drought in the Southwest has resulted in a drop of more than 140 feet in the lake’s level, to 1080 feet above sea level.  In January 2017, Hoover dam was operating at about only 39 percent of capacity.  Improvements in the design of the turbines will make it possible to operate the dam at lake levels as low as 950 feet, but competition for the water will be vicious.  

The example of Hoover dam illustrates the connection between hydropower and global climate change.  A signature characteristic of global warming is drought in many of the world's settled regions. The Yangtze, China’s longest river, is at its lowest level in the history of recording it. There are water shortages in many parts of China, affecting agriculture and the availability of water for human consumption.  What happens when there’s not enough to sustain needed water levels for the big new dams? Hydropower is a renewable source of energy in that the water it requires is transported globally by the global climate machine, driven by solar energy, that ultimately moves water from tropical regions toward the poles. The workings of that machinery are being altered by global warming, with results that may be dire for humankind.

Before we leave the topic of hydropower, here’s another problem:  dams accumulate silt over time and lose their effectiveness as power sources if that sediment is not removed. Add up all the existing and potential problems, and it’s clear that hydropower is far from a panacea for our energy needs.  Life can be difficult!  The next blog I post will concern itself with the vexing pros and cons of nuclear power. There's some interesting stuff going on in this area.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

When will it be too late?

Elizabeth Kolbert is one of the journalist stalwarts of the environmental movement. In her incisive book, The Sixth Extinction,  she shows how human beings have altered life on Earth in ways that no other species has done before. She argues that a massive extinction of higher planetary life forms is likely to be mankind’s legacy. A dozen years ago, in Field Notes from a Catastrophe, she attempted to bring attention to the causes and effects of global climate change.  Her account provides little cause for optimism, nor does her 2017 piece in the New Yorker on the intransigence of human judgment in the face of evidence and logical thought.  The increasing flow of warning signals from climatologists, oceanographers, and soil scientists, to name just a few of the many scientific disciplines involved, gives us strong reasons to believe that the global climate is changing and that the space we have for responsive action is shrinking. But how substantial is this evidence?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2018. Scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC, lending their expertise to the many working groups studying one or another aspect of climate change. Individual groups of scientists also publish the results of their studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The result is a staggering amount of information that must be correlated and brought into coherence to form a model as reliable as possible of how the global climate is changing, particularly in response to anthropogenic influences—man-made effects. Many of the findings published by the IPCC, inherently conservative because of the need to accommodate different perspectives, point to a dire future unless steps are taken to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the next couple of decades.  
So we have on the one hand a chorus of voices calling for changes in the ways human society lives, in all locations, and at all levels of wealth, to cooperatively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, the developed world is so heavily invested in carbon-based fuels as sources of energy, and the design of the energy economy, that a massive shift into renewable sources seems out of reach.  It seems that at best, we can anticipate a gradual increase in the use of renewables, a less than forceful research agenda aimed at new ways to store renewable energy, and weak policies addressing energy efficiency.
If we keep on as we have, nature will eventually have its way. For starters, sea levels will rise to drown most of the Solomon Islands, coastal regions all over the globe will suffer frequent disastrous flooding, hurricanes will be more frequent and nastier than ever, heat waves and drought will become regular summer visitors to formerly more verdant and livable lands.  If human society waits to take remedial action when all that has come to pass—well, good luck! The damage will already have been done. Ocean levels will be several feet higher than at present and continuing to rise. High levels of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, will persist for many decades—we won’t be able to just suck it all back and bury it underground.   I say “we”, but I don’t mean you and me, dear reader. We will have departed and left our progeny with the challenges of coping with a much smaller and poorer world.
Maybe the source of the vexing lack of public interest in global warming, aside from propaganda from the fossil fuel industries, lies in our moral torpor:  it’s not going to be our problem, at least not to a great extent. Someone else will have to deal with it.  Heck, we don’t even know those great-great grandchildren!  They’ll figure something out.  But we can do much better than that.  In my next blog I want to return to a topic I mentioned earlier and bring us up to date on Project Drawdown; a movement of great promise that we can all get behind.