Friday, November 18, 2016

Global Warming: It is too late to stop us from stopping it

Recently I've read several articles that excite me regarding climate change.

If you know me, you probably know that I have a pet peeve for climate alarmists.  There is a famous scene in Aaron Sorkin's show "The Newsroom" in which a scientist informs the protagonist that the literal apocalypse has occurred, and we are now living in the brief delay between when it happened and when the events foretold in the Book of Revelations unfold.  The concept of the scene is clear: Sorkin is trying to shock his audience with the knowledge that global warming is not something which is coming, it is something which has come.  And that's true.  It's effects have already begun, and by all projections it is too late to shift course before we see catastrophic weather events that may kill thousands.  Which sucks.  But 1.25 million people died in car accidents last year, so lets not confuse what's coming with the literal end of humankind.

Panic among those concerned about climate change however, has indeed reached a hysteria that goes far beyond anything else than an existential threat.  Especially since the surprise results of the election, there appear to be many who believe that we almost hit the big red 'Save the World' button, and then were shot in the head.

The thing is, global warming is not going to end life on Earth.  It's not even going to end our species.  Although it's true that we will be forced to confront our hubris and many lives will be lost or changed, we are on a track that leads us away from these end of the world scenarios.  And Donald Trump is simply not powerful enough to stop it. 

Nice going, humankind.  Good job.  Not to oversell it, but we've got reasons to be excited.


Whether or not we expressed it in these terms, many of us have long assumed that global warming was inevitable because if humans were forced to choose between 'saving the planet' and our own comfort and materialism, we'd obviously choose the later.  Well, over the last 7 years, our production has continued to rise while our emissions have begun to fall.





Obviously, this isn't the end of the problem.  We're still emitting a lot.  But it is clear that we have now decoupled our economic growth from our carbon dioxide outputs.  It isn't an either or any more.

It's clear why.  Half of the states get more than a quarter of their energy from renewable sources.  Eleven states already get 90% of their energy from renewable sources.  These clean energy sources still benefit from federal subsidies, but they're rapidly becoming competitive in price with traditional fossil fuels, and they are employing 600,000 people.  This isn't a pipe dream any more: it is clearly the future of American energy production, whether conservatives want to support it or would rather piss off those 600,000 American workers.

It's a shame to point out that we will still see the sea level rise.  Coastal communities around the world will be displaced.  People will die of floods, hurricanes, and heat waves.  The Obama administration just released an outline of strategies to address climate change aggressively when we get ready to muster the political will (spoiler alert: step one is to Put A Price On Carbon).  Some of the comments on that article bemoan that this is going to be a darkly funny document when our race dies out, as though we can't just implement these in four years, or hell, start now, since a lot of the work doesn't actually require the US government.  Investors just approved Elon Musk's merger of the largest producers of home-scale batteries and the largest producer of solar panels.  And the EU and China have both declared their intention to proceed with the Paris Climate Agreement, regardless of whether Trump decides to cede a massive chunk of the US's influence.  Like some kind of loser president who weakens our international standing.

Lastly, researchers published an article today about their successful design of a new carbon fixation pathway.  For the last three and half billion years or so there have only been six ways for life to eat carbon dioxide.  Only one is actually effective in plants.  Now there is a seventh, and it's 20x more efficient chemically.  The potential that lies in our creative and technological resources cannot be understated.  We will absolutely survive climate change.  That's not even a question.  The only question is how long it takes us to embrace and celebrate the clear path to success that lays before us.



1 comment:

  1. Well expressed, Andrew. The UK puts us to shame with its low comparative carbon footprint, and honestly I've never cared about economic growth, so the US high GDP makes me cringe, thinking of all the Kohls, Targets and Marshalls filled with crap that represents what counts as economic growth. But your points are in line with Obama's recent article (or vice versa); bravo on that :-)
    Write more about that carbon fixation pathway? That was totally news to me--

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