Archive for Climate Change

2040 Movie Review

2040 Movie Review
Robert Tulip (1000 words)

Damon Gameau is the writer, director, narrator, genius and star of his superb new movie 2040. Constantly friendly, engaging and upbeat, Damon enlists his sweet four-year old daughter Velvet as his model for the comparison between life in 2019 and 2040, with his innovative positive vision of how our world could be transformed over the next two decades to produce sustained abundance and peace, especially through innovative methods to stop climate change. The principle is to examine the best ideas of today to see how scaling them up can address the massive risks facing our planet, flicking between the present and the imagined future.

Damon’s last movie was That Sugar Film, in which he humorously confronted the sugar-industrial complex by switching for a month to a diet of processed “health food” that is high in sugar. The rapid collapse of his health, measured under careful medical supervision, proved how corrupted our advertising standards are when such a dangerous poison as sugar can be marketed as benign on a mass scale. Sugar causes our planetary epidemics of obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease and cancer, co-opting our incompetent political systems using the powers of money and instinct.

2040 uses similar analysis to attack the fossil fuel-industrial complex, showing the scale of deception and propaganda involved in maintaining our current energy system with its trajectory to conflict and collapse. Despite this scene setting, the main focus of the movie is positive, on new alternative ideas that offer practical solutions to primary global problems such as climate change, with the philosophy that a solution must be emerging before a problem can be solved.

The two big ideas explored on climate are soil and seaweed. A farmer, Fraser Pogue, tells the story of how industrial agriculture left him with fields with no worms, and how that scared him into adopting regenerative farming methods that can shift massive amounts of carbon from the air to the soil while delivering higher yields and fertile soil and retaining water.

The most important story in 2040 is Marine Permaculture. Brian Von Herzen is the brilliant genius inventor of methods to grow giant kelp on industrial scale in the world ocean to shift carbon out of the air and reduce ocean acidity while solving problems of food, fertilizer and fuel. Damon interviews Brian at his pilot kelp farm, and provides clear simple depiction of suitable places around the world where permaculture arrays could be deployed, such as in the Bay of Bengal and off the coast of East Africa.

The big theme here is carbon dioxide removal, that we need to work out how to remove more carbon from the air than we add, and how this requires practical profitable strategies that work with mother nature rather than against her, using the vast area, nutrients and energy resources of the world ocean. Seaweed forests are the fastest growing trees in the world. The proposed permaculture system will pump nutrients from the deep ocean to create biomass on a scale large enough to help achieve global carbon neutrality by 2040 while feeding ten billion people and starting a path to draw down excess CO2. Marine permaculture should be the start of a pioneering frontier use of the world ocean to restore climate and biodiversity, catalysing investment from governments and the private sector.

Damon Gameau is a card. He films his interview with Paul Hawken, author of the important climate restoration book Drawdown, apparently sitting high on top of a wind turbine, enough to give the viewers a highly disturbing case of vertigo. And his other expert speakers in the movie, such as Tony Seba, Kate Raworth, Eric Tonesmeier and Colin Seis, pop up as midgets sitting on tree branches or with other computer generated imagery, keeping their serious stories entertaining. Other innovative ideas covered include autonomous electric cars and decentralised solar power grids, showing an optimistic vision for how technology can transform our world for the better, through bottom up rather than top down solutions.

2040 is a conversation starter, with potential to help tip us over the edge into recognition of the need for global climate action, recognising that emission reduction is nowhere near enough. A theme I am eager to discuss in this context, having worked on carbon removal ideas for over a decade, is that methods of confrontation in climate politics pose unacceptable risks of proving too small and slow. Climate analysts need to do much more tactical and strategic work on political economy, philosophy and theory of change, for example recognising the urgency of solar radiation management, and the potential for carbon dioxide removal to enable a slower path to decarbonisation than some climate models suggest.

I would like to see the fossil fuel industries engage constructively on ways to transform their business models, but that seems to be a very difficult task. 2040 only mentions Exxon to demonise them for funding the Heartland Institute, showing how badly world politics are now polarised. The difficult but essential question is whether entry points can be found so forces of destruction can be converted into forces for good, for example through tax rebates for investment in carbon removal technology. We need to encourage an end to climate denial and more discussion of climate security problems in the media, while recognising that speeding up the decarbonisation of the economy is likely to only be a small factor in stabilising the climate compared to geoengineering methods.

Rather than using political confrontation, effective solutions often involve dialogue and reconciliation. A provocative theme I would throw into the 2040 mix is religion – opening discussion about how the seemingly obsolete patterns of thought involved in supernatural fantasy could actually still have some power to save us. Old ideas like the Christian myth of the apocalypse could be reconciled with modern scientific understanding to generate political will for action on climate change, building on religious values of faith, love, forgiveness and hope.

2040 is a visionary movie of hope and action. But the fact is, as a review in The Conversation notes, we are in a dire climate emergency, consumed by a vast and fearful blindness that seems unwilling to respond to the danger. The great ideas offered in 2040 may not be enough to solve the strategic security and stability situation facing our fragile planetary home. 2040 offers a framework of thinking, a starting point on this journey of transformation, a recognition that despite our flaws, humanity has the potential to rebuild the earth and restore the climate, finding the courage and honesty to evolve into a stable and sustainable global civilization.
Robert Tulip

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Cut Emissions Or She Gets It!

Moral Blackmail over Emission Reduction
The challenge posed by this new IPCC warming report is to intrude an authentic ethical perspective into public conversation about the existential realities of climate change.

Unfortunately, the IPCC report is morally bereft on several points. Its key message is moral blackmail – decarbonise or the planet gets it. The alternative strategy, immediate focus on cooling through Solar Radiation Management coupled with massive research and development of Carbon Removal, is ignored and belittled. The IPCC simply refuses to discuss the risk-reward analysis of this alternative strategy for political reasons, regardless of the scientific evidence.

Seeing the horrendous damage from Hurricane Michael makes me deeply angry at the inability of the political system to engage with the urgent need to cool the ocean to deal with the symptoms of global warming.

The medical system does not say to patients ‘just put up with the symptoms to give us a moral incentive to find a cure.’ But somehow that immoral line is accepted when it comes to the immense global problem of climate change with its consequences of extinction, hothouse earth and other grave risks.

A range of geoengineering technologies including marine cloud brightening and newer ideas on iron salt aerosol could cool the waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic to reduce hurricane intensity.

Where is the insurance industry in engaging with this major damage factor in its actuarial risk projections?

The political strategy of shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy should be an important component of climate action, but instead in this report the demand to cut emissions drives and corrupts the entire logic of the IPCC argument, leading to a series of false claims.

The morally coherent path, prevented by UN politics, would instead be the scientific approach of weighing the evidence for feasible alternative options. That is excluded because it would reduce the political pressure for decarbonisation of the world economy, regardless of feasibility, safety and efficacy.

The Summary for Policy Makers opens with an egregious blunder, saying (A2) “warming from anthropogenic emissions from the pre-industrial period to the present will persist for centuries to millennia (high confidence).” This mode of thinking is so pervasive that its falsity just gets ignored. As stated, it logically excludes the possibility of carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management at scale sufficient to end the persistence of warming from previous emissions. The report should include the caveat ‘unless methods for carbon removal are developed.’ No such caveat is applied to the categorical high confidence of its false assertion by the IPCC. Their unstated reason is that UN politics sees the war on fossil fuels as the only climate strategy, and censors from view anything that could cause hazard to the decarbonisation approach.

Unfortunately, this recipe for political conflict against the current economy will leave the climate and our grandchildren as the losers. While we bicker over the alleged immorality of climate restoration, and governments such as the US, Brazil, China, India, Australia and Russia continue to drive ever higher emissions, ignoring climate science, the peril of a hothouse security catastrophe grows by the day.

The muddled thinking in the IPCC Summary is reflected in its blatantly contradictory graphs Ib and 3a. Fig SPM 1.b is titled Stylized net global CO2 emission pathways. It presents emissions growing to 2020 then a linear fall to “net zero” by either 2040 or 2055, followed by a flatlining at zero over the next century. As I have pointed out at HCA before, the absurdity of this “net zero” concept reflects its pure political origins.
Net Zero makes no sense

Net zero means positive emissions are exactly balanced by an equal amount of negative emissions, removing carbon from the air. But negative emissions could be a lot bigger than positive emissions, so the stylised straight line of exactly net zero emissions after achievement of a decarbonised new world is absurd. If net zero is good, then net negative is far better, and indeed essential to remove embedded warming. But Figure 1b ignores this simple logic.

The Net Zero graph 1b is contradicted at Figure SPM 3a, which corrects the absurd flatlining involved in net zero thinking by showing the moment of Net Zero as followed by Net Negative emissions of up to 20 GT per year. It shows the toxic politics of the IPCC that these contradictory graphs could survive its alleged rigorous peer review process. The real issue behind this absurdity is the failure of IPCC to advocate to governments for least cost abatement, which would shift funding from renewable subsidies to CDR R&D.

When Negative Emissions is discussed at Section C3, the Summary downplays the urgency by saying “CDR deployment of several hundreds of GtCO2 is subject to multiple feasibility and sustainability constraints (high confidence).”

The IPCC dismissal of Solar Radiation Management (SRM) at C1.4 is peremptory, saying “SRM measures are not included in any of the available assessed pathways. Although some SRM measures may be theoretically effective in reducing an overshoot, they face large uncertainties and knowledge gaps as well as substantial risks, institutional and social constraints to deployment related to governance, ethics, and impacts on sustainable development.”

This IPCC dismissal of SRM is a purely ideological position, calculated to minimise political opposition to emission reduction by wrongly suggesting there is no alternative. SRM advocates can easily see that SRM alone is not sufficient to stabilise the climate, and only propose SRM as critical to buy time to prevent dangerous tipping points while the optimal mix of CDR and emission reduction can be developed. Instead of such a practical approach, the IPCC just rules out SRM in order to support its gun at the head insistence on an immediate end to coal.

Against the ideology of emission reduction alone, Ocean Pastures could be a least cost abatement strategy. Astoundingly, the Summary completely fails to mention ocean fertilization. And yet, it does point out at SPM C1.2 that cooling aerosols, now added to the air by iron-rich dust and fossil fuels, have mitigation effects that decarbonisation would reduce. Surely we should be looking at how to retain these important mitigation effects, especially if in doing so we can restore the climate at far lower cost than any other method of abatement?

Robert Tulip

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Ethics of Carbon Removal

A climate policy comment published in the leading scientific journal Nature presents widely shared views about the ethics of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) as a response to global warming (Lenzi et al, Weigh the ethics of plans to mop up carbon dioxide, Nature Comment, 20 September 2018).

My view is that their approach is misconceived, and fails to place CDR, and by extension climate restoration, in a balanced and realistic ethical framework. This problem illustrates the strategic political challenges obstructing key programs supported by Healthy Climate Alliance.

The lead authors of this paper are from the Mercator Institute, whose close involvement with IPCC analysis of possible 1.5° pathways illustrates the importance of their analysis. For the reasons discussed below, their assessment of the policy context is deficient, and their emphasis on CDR dangers is unbalanced. The unfortunate result is that following their recommendations would worsen the risks of dangerous warming.

The policy context for debate about climate ethics should start from the recognition that failure to stop climate change poses high risks of catastrophe for human civilization and planetary biodiversity.
Global warming is the primary planetary security threat over the next century, with climate stability highly fragile under the impact of strong expected carbon forcing. Every delay in formulating effective response worsens the impact of the sixth extinction and the risk of a permanent phase shift in global climate to a new hothouse stability, with grave risks of extinction, conflict and collapse. The moral imperative is to find practical ways to step back from this hothouse precipice.

Neglecting CDR is far more dangerous than embracing it. Ethical analysis should recognise the urgency of research and development of CDR within the broader discussion of climate science and politics. The passionate moral cause underpinning all CDR advocacy is to save the world from unchecked warming. The ethical focus should be to determine whether that passion is matched by evidence, requiring expanded analysis and testing, not the barriers suggested by these authors.

The big problem behind this discussion is that opponents of CDR believe that ramping up emission reduction could be an adequate response to climate change, even though the science flatly contradicts that dangerous false assumption. The New York Times study of the numbers showed that Paris Accord commitments if fully implemented would only slow the increase of CO2 and its equivalents by 10%, to an annual growth of about 54 GT in 2030. Putting all our eggs in the emission reduction basket is therefore a highly risky and ethically dubious strategy.

Full implementation of current Paris commitments, even with the proposed ratchet mechanism, cannot stop dangerous warming without CDR. The strategic vision of emission reduction will not be enough for a number of reasons. Widespread opposition to emission reduction makes the decarbonisation model subject to strong political conflict, and in any case, emission reduction can only marginally slow the increase of warming, doing nothing to reverse the danger from accumulated emissions. By contrast, if CDR is given political leadership and resources, the world could potentially slow CO2 increase by more than 100% in the next decade, starting a practical planetary path back to climate stability and restoration, and helping to remove the partisan politics from climate change.

Looking at climate action in the context of moral philosophy, two rival ethical frameworks can be considered. These frameworks focus respectively on consequences and on principles. The moral theory of consequentialism assesses the moral worth of an action by its results. This means when an action is demonstrated to have harmful consequences, with risks outweighing rewards, alternatives should be examined to define an optimal path. Ethical justification of CDR uses this consequentialist line of reasoning, examining a range of climate responses against likely outcomes and impacts, looking for ways to abate warming in the most safe, fast and economic way possible.

By contrast, advocacy of emission reduction alone is more a principle-based morality. The organising moral principle in the thinking behind emission reduction is economic decarbonisation, the idea that if only the world could shift from fossil fuels to renewables then our climate problems could be solved. Unfortunately, the problem with this principled approach is that it treats results as secondary to the moral principle. The strategic primacy given to emission reduction in the thinking reflected by Lenzi et al and dominant influences in the UN system places decarbonisation as an overriding duty. This approach sees shifting away from fossil fuels as even more important than the goal of stabilising temperature. Decarbonisation should be viewed as a means to the end of climate stability, but has come to be viewed as an end in itself, thereby crowding out discussion of other strategies such as CDR, preventing robust analysis of the weaknesses of the decarbonisation strategy. The practical urgency of stopping climate change should cause us to debate such principles if evidence indicates they are likely to produce suboptimal consequences.

In their Nature Comment, Lenzi et al make a welcome call for systematic evaluation by the climate assessment community and professional philosophers of the ethics of carbon removal methods. They rightly focus on human rights, sustainable development and environmental protection, but do not assess these important themes in a robust risk framework where all scenarios are given due weight. Such analysis of carbon removal methods in the context of climate policy pathways is exactly what is needed to develop a sound strategic vision of climate priorities, but it should be considered against all alternatives, including the ethics of continued failure to reduce emissions.

The policy context requires broad public dialogue on the ethics of continuing to rely solely or even mainly on emissions reduction. This article does not discuss this ethical problem. If governments only provide lip service or worse to emission reduction, and do nothing to support CDR due to arguments such as this critique, then the world will face an existential problem over the next decade, with no effective response.

In my own research field, ocean carbon sinks, the misconceived ethical framework of these authors lead to wrong conclusions. They assert that seeding the oceans with iron could undermine marine ecosystems, using unproven claims of environmental harm as a reason not to conduct field research, ignoring research on how expanding ocean carbon sinks would deliver ecological benefits. Sound ethical approaches need to weigh options, for example by recognising that ocean fertilization could help protect biodiversity in ways that outweigh any risks.

In moral theory, risks must be weighed against rewards. In this case, the failure to weigh options means the claims of likely risk from ocean research unfortunately have the appearance of a political scare campaign, motivated only by perceived moral hazard to the principle of decarbonisation. Such claims need to be tested through science-based analysis. As the London Protocol stipulates, ocean climate research must be scientific and incremental, but the absence of field research over the last decade illustrates that the political signals have induced excessive caution on this topic.

The dismissive attitude in this Nature Comment reflects a wider lack of engagement with calls to use the world ocean to reverse climate change. A coherent ethical critique would engage with how the scale, resources and energy of the world ocean could make it the primary location for CDR research.

The main moral argument against CDR, termed a moral hazard, is that it could reduce pressure on governments to force decarbonisation of the economy. Lenzi et al use moral hazard language to describe CDR as “an unjust gamble that uses future generations as collateral”. Sadly, this claim is not a sound approach to moral philosophy. Putting the shoe on the other foot, the gamble that emissions reduction alone could deliver climate stability is a far worse bet than encouraging the diversity of approaches supported by CDR research. The authors allege risks in designing climate policy around unproven CDR technologies. They are in effect saying we now have all our eggs in the emission reduction basket, and should not diversify this strategic investment portfolio, despite the poor prospects of emission reduction.

The realistic analysis is that CDR will be far easier to scale than emission reduction and has far greater potential to contribute to climate stability and deliver least cost abatement. A useful analogy here is a bathtub with the taps turned on full and the drainplug in place. Emission reduction partly turns down the taps while leaving the plug in, whereas CDR pulls the plug. On this model, emission reduction can only briefly delay overflow, while CDR can prevent flooding by draining the bath.

The moral hazard critique of CDR is fundamentally confused. Lenzi et al display this confusion by citing IPCC scenarios that exclude relevant data and posit implausible options. With CDR, they say the target would be annual emissions of 32 gigatonnes of CO2 in 2030. Without CDR, they say CO2 emissions would “have to be reduced” by 40%, to 23 gigatonnes. This analysis is highly arbitrary. For a start, their target of 23 GT CO2 is less than half the UN estimate of global warming potentials arising from full implementation of Paris Accord commitments, which as noted above will result in 54 GT of CO2 equivalents in 2030. Focus only on CO2 ignores that other GHGs provide a third of all warming (IPCC Fig. 8.6). But even more worrying is the air of unreality in these scenarios. Their assertion that emissions would somehow “have to be reduced” lacks any mechanism for compulsion. What if major governments simply refuse to enforce emission reduction? The UN is impotent against nation states. A realistic ethical strategy is needed, which means CDR.

The even more pointed problem with the moral hazard scenarios is that CDR could potentially deliver a net emission result far better than their 23 GT scenario if R&D is funded at scale. CDR methods such as iron salt aerosol could remove atmospheric methane and other potent GHGs, which now cause one third of all warming but are largely ignored under CO2 emission reduction analysis.

Taking the full picture into account makes calls to delay CDR immoral. Failure to halt climate change would overwhelm these imagined ethical issues with CDR. As Klaus Lackner has argued, the real moral hazard is the reverse from the Mercator argument, arising instead from the perverse incentive to obstruct research into CDR. The false messages that CDR won’t be needed undermine effective climate action.

The bottom line is that we have a real if difficult potential for good results from CDR versus an atmosphere of spin and denial within the official climate movement, as demonstrated by the recent disgraceful climate speech by UN Secretary General Gutierrez, who totally failed to mention CDR. The most urgent moral cause in climate politics today is to broker large investment in CDR as the best option to restore and stabilise the climate and give our grandchildren a liveable planet. If the Mercator authors open a conversation that enables that result, they will have delivered a great ethical service.

Robert Tulip

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UN ignores carbon removal

Last week, UN Secretary-General Gutierrez delivered a major speech on climate change that was utterly stunning for its vacuous failure to engage on key issues in climate science, by completely leaving out any mention of Carbon Dioxide Removal.

While the IPCC recognises that removing carbon from the air is essential to stabilise the climate, the Secretary-General apparently has not heard this new science, since he completely failed to mention it in his 3200 words of fatuous pieties, except in an oblique reference to net zero emissions. The impression created by this failure is that the United Nations has been corrupted by vested interests in renewable energy, leading it to accept the false moral hazard argument that carbon removal undermines emission reduction.

It appears Gutierrez is signalling that the UN has made the political decision to ignore any suggestion that carbon removal is the key security agenda for climate stability and restoration. This is a highly disturbing and dangerous situation, since carbon removal can achieve far more than emission reduction in preventing warming.

Gutierrez presents the political war on fossil fuels as the only climate strategy acceptable to the UN, along with rather forlorn efforts to raise a hundred billion dollars in alms for the poor. Sec Gutierrez says “The mountain in front of us is very high. But it is not insurmountable. We know how to scale it. Put simply, we need to put the brake on deadly greenhouse gas emissions and drive climate action. We need to rapidly shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels. We need to replace them with clean energy from water, wind and sun. We must halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and change the way we farm. We need to embrace the circular economy and resource efficiency. Our cities and transport sectors will need to be overhauled. How we heat, cool and light our buildings will need to be rethought so we waste less energy. And this is exactly where this conversation can become exciting.”

No, this is not where the conversation becomes exciting. These established strategies miss the central point that addressing climate change requires investment in the lowest cost scalable methods to abate CO2. The scientific message that the UN should be promoting is that preventing dangerous warming requires carbon removal. It is completely astounding that such a major element of climate politics can be so comprehensively ignored by the UN, even in a speech devoted to raising alarm about the dangers of inaction.

Gutierrez rubs salt in the wounds by hypocritically saying “we will have to muster the full force of human ingenuity,” while failing to mention the primary area requiring ingenuity, carbon removal, and then repeating the nonsense that “net-zero emissions by mid-century” is an adequate target, ignoring that embedded warming means negative net emissions are crucial.

Finally, we see the nostrum that “it is important to note that, because carbon dioxide is long-lasting in the atmosphere, the climate changes we are already seeing will persist for decades to come.” It might help if the Secretary-General recognised that a primary research focus should be to reduce this problem through carbon dioxide removal.

Sadly, this speech will be a major factor in setting the tone for investment priorities in climate response, making it far harder to get engagement on the critical needs. This speech is a political and scientific disgrace, setting the stage for global failure to stop the many dangers of climate change that Gutierrez lists. The diplomats and sycophants will admire the emperor’s new clothes, but the UN policy framework on climate change is bereft of strategic vision.

Robert Tulip

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