Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 23, 2016

Why was climate change ignored in the Presidential debates?

This week, we listened to the last of three presidential debates. In them, I had expected to hear some questions concerning the most important issue of our times. That, of course, is the global warming being caused by mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases and especially the emissions of carbon dioxide by the combustion of fossil fuels. The citizens of our country had every right to expect such questions. In upcoming years we are going to be hit like a ton of bricks by the relentless advance of warming. Since we are generally considered to be a leader of the free world, all citizens of the world would have a keen interest in our future President’s views on this topic. Four examples of questions we might have expected to hear in those debates are the following:

“An overwhelming majority of climate scientists say that climate change is real, caused by humans and constitutes a growing threat to our way of life. All of the top 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1998 – the year when the deniers say that warming stopped. If elected President, what would you do to address this problem?”

“The Pentagon has said that climate change is a national security risk due to the destruction caused by rising seas and displacement of people. Millions of people will become “climate refugees” as crops fail and drinking water supplies are contaminated by seawater. What would you do to prepare the USA for this?”

“Rising sea levels are already causing whole cities to be put at great risk within the next few decades. What plan will you put in place to ensure that areas such as New York and Florida aren’t inundated?”

“Addressing global climate change requires international participation and cooperation. What efforts would you make as President of the USA to ensure that an effective level of international cooperation does occur?”

But now consider the fact that not a single question of this sort was asked in any of the three Presidential debates. Nor was one asked in the Vice Presidential debate. Thus, the American public was denied the latest thoughts of our candidates on this most important issue. Given this, another question must be asked: “why were such questions not included?” Since no explanations have been provided by the debate moderators, we are left to our own guesses. Four of mine are provided below.

Corporate domination: The fossil fuel corporations provide both of our political parties with vast amounts of financial support. Those same corporations would undoubtedly prefer that open discussions of the role of fossil fuels in causing climate change not be held in front of the enormous audience viewing the Presidential debates. Staying below the radar is a good strategy when one knows one is involved in questionable activities. So perhaps the enormous financial leverage the corporate world has over both our political parties and our media was sufficient to silence all questions concerning climate change.

Cowardice of the candidates: It is also possible that both candidates, Clinton as well as Trump, preferred not to remind voters of their stances in this issue. In the case of Trump, who has said on numerous occasions that he believes man-caused global warming in largely a hoax, he would have to say the same if asked in a debate. In doing so, he would lose a lot of votes among political independents who are scientifically literate. If Hillary were asked such questions, she would have to honor her previous commitments made in her run against Bernie Sanders to forcefully address the problem. And if pressed further, she would then have to get into the details of what must be done – that is, how we would significantly cut back on our use of all fossil fuels. While a large fraction of the US public believes climate change is occurring, a distinctly smaller fraction is willing to suffer some of the sacrifices that will be required in order to do something about it. Rather than lose those votes, I suspect that Clinton would prefer not the be asked about specific plans for cutting greenhouse gases. In other words, on the subject of climate change, it is difficult to pander to the audience by offering painless, easy solutions and both candidates seek issues in which they can effectively pander to large and receptive portions of the electorate.

Scientific ignorance of the media: When the Commission on Presidential Debates Executive Director Janet Brown was asked why the subject of climate change was not included in the debates, she said. “The commission leaves the editorial discretion to moderators for both the selection of topics and questions,” and added “there are dozens of issues that unfortunately don’t fit into the time allotted for the four debates.” Really, are there actually “dozens of issues” as important as climate change? And really, does the media not know how to fit this topic into the “time allotted”? Clearly our schools of journalism and public media need to include more environmental science in their curricula. Either that or the media should hire more people who are scientifically literate.

My hope for days ahead: If any significant action on climate change is to occur during the next Presidential term, it is now apparent that Clinton must defeat Trump in the upcoming election and after that her attitude concerning climate change must quickly swing to that of Bernie Sanders. Bernie was the only candidate in the primaries who really “got it” and hopefully he has subsequently taught Hillary what must be done for the sake of future generations including her own grandchildren.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 25, 2016

Power Point Slides for recent presentation

This is a collection of the slides I used in a presentation at St. Olaf College, Northfield,  MN, in the Viking Theater of Buntrock Center on Sept 27, 2016, from 7 to 9 pm, entitled “An assessment of Climate Change, past, present and future”

The best way to view this slide show is to click on the first figure and then scroll through the rest.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 21, 2016

Another reason why St. Olaf College should divest

Those of you who have followed this web site know that I have used my own alma mater, St. Olaf College, as an example of American Colleges and Universities that continue to invest in companies and corporations whose operations depend on the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels for energy production (see previous posts on April and May of 2016 and June of 2015). Up to now, the argument I put to them was essentially one of a moral nature. That is, the science associated with global warming is now as clear as any complex scientific issue can be. Our continued extraction and combustion of fossil fuels is increasing the thermal insulating properties of our atmosphere to a point well beyond environmentally safe levels. We are nearing an onset of temperature instability thereby risking future catastrophic changes that would be in compatible with existing forms of human civilization. Thus, we must divest from fossil-fuel related corporations for the sake of our planet, all of its inhabitants, and all future generations.

To my knowledge, however, this argument has failed to change the attitude of St. Olaf College concerning its fossil fuel investments. When asked if St. Olaf has any intentions of divesting, its President simply told me “no” about one year ago and I have heard of no changes since then. Therefore, in this post I would like to provide the leadership of St. Olaf College with another reason for divesting, as explained below.

The campaign to hold Exxon accountable for their climate cover-up just took a big step forward. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) just announced that they’re opening an investigation into whether Exxon has failed to account for the risk that climate change and climate regulations could pose to the future financial success of their company. This investigation, which has now moved up from state to federal level, could fundamentally reshape how Exxon and the entire fossil fuel industry does business. If the SEC finds that Exxon has lied to its shareholders, the company could face major penalties. Moreover, a ruling that forces Exxon to account for its climate risks in the future could help shut down new fossil fuel development and industry expansion.

So while it appears to me that St. Olaf College has not so far been sufficiently bothered by the moral implications of their investments in fossil fuels, my hope is that the additional reason for divestment related here will provide them with the bit of additional courage needed to do the right thing.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 27, 2016

Not to worry – BECCS will save our grandchildren! ??

Oh goody, goodly – we finally know how our planet is going to be saved from future degradation by global warming. It increasingly appears (see my June 2016 post entitled Post Paris Accord assessment) that our global leaders, such as those who attended the Paris conference in December 2015, think this will happen via a technology known as BECCS (Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration).  So, what is BECCS?  With the aid of the following figure, it can be easily explained:


The basic idea is that we feed our power plants with biomass (wood, grass, plants, etc) instead of fossil fuels (coal, oil or natural gas) and install carbon sequestration apparatus to the smoke stacks of those power plants by which a large portion of the combustion product, CO2, is captured. That near-liquid form of CO2 is then transported via pipelines to voids deep in the Earth where the CO2 can be deposited and stored for many thousands or even millions of years.  In theory, this technology offers both power generation and a means of removing carbon from the biosphere.

The next question, of course, is will it work? Yes, it is true that each of the individual steps shown in the figure above have been demonstrated and shown to work on vastly smaller scales.  They are presently being studied and used throughout the world.  The remaining question, however, is whether or not BECCS can be scaled up enormously to a magnitude that could actually result in significant decreases in atmospheric CO2 levels over the limited period of time we have left for preventing the worst outcomes of greenhouse gas warming.

With such a massive BECCS system, a point of concern is that huge sections of arable fertile land and associated water supplies would have to be dedicated to making the amount of biomass required. It is estimated that the equivalent of one to three “India’s” would be required and these chosen biomass farms would preferably be located near both the associated power plants and the burial sites of the captured CO2 in order to minimize transportation costs and additional greenhouse gas emissions.

Upon learning just this bit about BECCS, you are perhaps already somewhat skeptical of both the technical and financial feasibility of this technology and I would expect you to be. Yet, if you have followed the debates and conferences concerning climate change being held throughout the world – such as the recent one in Paris – one definitely gets the feeling that we will be betting our futures on BECCS implementation by the middle of this century – when atmospheric CO2 levels will have soared well above the present already dangerous level of 401 ppm.

So the question then arrises, why are we headed in that direction – rather than trying ever harder to simply cut in our continuing emissions of CO2?  After all, we know how to do the former and know that it would work, but do not yet know very much about the feasibility of the latter.  Answers to this question seem to include the following:

  1. The Business as Usual (BaU) forces of the world and the USA especially like the BECCS plan because it allows continued use of fossil fuels in the up-coming decades. According to this plan, the additional CO2 that will be thereby deposited into the biosphere during the next few decades will simply be removed by bigger and better BECCS systems later, right? So easy to say while so difficult to do.
  2. And let’s face it, almost all of us want to do something for those “future generations” that we are always reminded of in climate change debates. Even though the BECCS plan does little of substance now, it does provide “a plan” and some hope for those future generations. That is, we will at least be offering our grandchildren something – even though they, and not us, will have to pay for it. And who knows, maybe “something will come up” by midcentury, right? Such as great improvements in carbon capture technologies or biomass production.  Of course, yet another description of what I am saying here is that we will be continuing to “kick that can down the road” – an activity our generation has become very good at.
  3. Also you should note that the closely related technique of CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration) is sure to be promoted as an intermediate stepping stone to BECCS in that it seeks the removal of the CO2 emitted by fossil-fuel-fired power plants (often referred to as “clean coal”). While this technique does not result in a net reduction of carbon in the biosphere, it seeks, at least, to be carbon neutral. Thus, CCS is the big hope for the continued use of fossil-fuel-fired power plants including those that still rely of our abundant supplies of coal. Never mind the facts that other pollutants, such as mercury and cadmium, are also emitted by coal-fired plants and that large quantities of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane, leak into the atmosphere in the mining and transport of natural gas to power plants.  It should also be noted that CCS has not yet been shown to be technically or financially viable on the large scale its proponents like to envision.

So here we are in the new post-Paris Accord era – proceeding with BaU modes of operation and lifestyles – thinking that future generations will be able to develop techniques such as BECCS in order to remove the excess CO2 that first began to show up in about 1850 and is still being added today at an unprecedented annual rate of about 2 ppm. By 2050, the biosphere can be expected to contain at least 50% more carbon than it ever has had naturally over the last 3 million years.  It now contains 40% extra carbon. The last time our atmosphere had 450 ppm CO2 in it, the Earth was almost a “water world” with very little ice anywhere on it.  Therefore by BECCS, the plan is to remove over 500 billion tons of carbon (that is, 2,000 billion tons of CO2) from our biosphere and permanently park that carbon dioxide deep in the geosphere. That’s an awful lot of carbon to be removed – approximately equal to all of the carbon that has been burned, to date, in the entire Industrial Age. And if this endeavor is to be effective, it would have to be done relatively promptly, that is, during the remainder of this century.  Whether this “gift” of the BECCS plan to our grandchildren turns out to be anything of value to them or is presently being favored simply to soothe the consciences of those of us who will be allowed to continue our extraordinarily pleasant  fossil-fuel- driven lifestyles remains to be seen.


Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 12, 2016

Learning to Love Negativity

It’s about time for a needed bit of humor – which is so very hard to find when discussing the science of climate change. A St. Olaf College classmate of mine named Jeff Strate is the producer of  “Democratic Visions”, a community cable access program featuring interviews, stories, satire and commentaries about and by Minnesota progressive lefties and moderates.  Democratic Visions is handcrafted by volunteers from Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Bloomington and other suburbs of Minneapolis.. In one of their recent programs, Jeff interviewed an alleged “Professor of Negativity”, played by humorist Jon Spayde, who does his best to help us understand the value and beauty of embracing the abundance of bad news that is right at our fingertips every day. While I am sometimes accused of seeing only the down sides of climate change (assuming for the moment that there are, indeed, some up sides), I am not, at heart, a pessimist.  I would, in fact, like to see the problem of climate change be successfully addressed.  Since that is not happening, however, I am also ripe for conversion to the dark side, a transition that the Professor would like to help the likes of me with.  See Jeff Strate and Jon Spayde’s satirical  attempt to serve this function in the U-tube video below.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 10, 2016

State-aided deception continues in Florida

While sea levels continue to rise, a building boom proceeds in several cities of South Florida.   As an example, see the article entitled “Rising Seas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s Building Boomtown, Toward a Bust” by Katherine Bagley at

The construction of seaside homes and condos is at an all-time high in that city, which has already been negatively impacted by the eight inches of sea level rise over the last century. Scientists expect future sea level rises to be much greater – up to about two feet by mid-century and up to about six feet by 2100.  If so, sea level rise will render countless homes and condos in South Florida uninhabitable within a single cycle of a typical home mortgage.

And in South Florida, there is little the residents can do to protect their homes against rising water levels. Due to the porous nature of the limestone bed on which it sits, invasive water cannot be held back by the type of dikes that can protect other coastal regions of the world.  Water simply passes under such barriers in South Florida.

Another unfortunate fact facing the residents of South Florida’s coastal cities is that their state government is controlled by Republicans who prefer to deny the occurrence of climate change and provide no help whatsoever to coastal residents. Florida Governor Rick Scott, for example, has eliminated all of his state’s climate change programs and has banned government employees from using climate-related terms in official business. Both of Florida’s nationally prominent Republicans, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, deny that the climate is changing because of human activity.  Thus, little notice of South Florida’s huge coastal problem occurs in Florida’s state capitol and Florida realtors have no obligation to share sea level information with potential customers.  Look, for example, at the listings of for properties in the coaster cities of South Florida. They say nothing about the future risks of flooding , the increasing cost of flood insurance, and associated declines in home values.

In the article referred to above, a quote from a University of Miami scientist summed up what’s happening in South Florida: “we are building like crazy, like there is no tomorrow – which is true, unfortunately. The plan is to build these homes and sell them to Iowa pig farmers who have worked all their lives to live here, and to get a nice investment for their grandchildren.  They are being hoodwinked.”  It does not surprise me that this honest assessment of the “business plan” of South Florida came from one of Florida’s private universities that is not obliged to comply with the gag rules of its state’s government.


Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 30, 2016

Intergenerational malfeasance in Zumbrota?

First, what and where is Zumbrota? The only “Zumbrota” in the world is a community of about 3,000 souls located 20 miles north of Rochester Minnesota. It also happens to be my home town in which my father ran the local newspaper starting in 1946 and passed it on to one of his sons and then a grandson – so that I still get complementary issues of the paper every week.

During the past few years I read about the big windmill controversy of Zumbrota and its county of Goodhue. Because a major national power grid runs through that region and because that region has consistently strong winds, a windmill company tried to get local farmers to allow them to put some windmills in Goodhue County. After a few years of resistance to this idea by the good folks of the county, the windmill company gave up and dropped those plans. While the proposed windmills would have brought considerable wealth to the region and would have provided a major source of carbon-free power, it was not liked by many apparently for aesthetic reasons.

Then, in my last issue of Zumbrota’s News-Record it was reported that a similar proposal for a solar panel farm near Zumbrota was also turned down by the community’s city council. I am guessing that the reason was again claimed to be aestheric since I can think of no other.

As a result of these reports, I used my influence with Peter Grimsrud, my nephew and now publisher of Zumbrota’s News-Record, to run the letter to the editor shown below under the same title as used for this post.

“A 2014 poll (Washington Post, Nov. 19, 2014) found that 74% of Americans under the age of 30 support government policies to cut carbon pollution, as compared to just 58% of respondents over the age of 40, and 52% over the age of 65. The problem set in motion by this divide is that younger generations will have to live with the consequences of the decisions we make today for much longer than older generations. Older generations prospered as a result of the burning of fossil fuels for seemingly cheap energy and tend to look fondly on how things were done back in “the good old days” – while our youngsters will not appreciate how slowly their parents and grandparents came to understand what they were thereby doing to all future generations.

With the above trends in mind, I have observed the resistance in Zumbrota and Goodhue County, in general, to the installation of first windmills and now solar panels. While such installations seem to be “no brainers” to me – I have made extensive use of solar panels on my homes and windmills in my states of residence – I have been surprised at the resistance shown to them in the Zumbrota region where I grew up and still visit regularly. In pondering this, I suspect that the reason has a lot to do with the information provided in my opening paragraph. Moreover, I wonder if the average age of Zumbrotans has significantly increased over time. In any case, it appears to me that Zumbrota has become part of the intergenerational crime being committed almost everywhere in the USA by my own baby boomer generation on all future generations. The only argument against what I just said is that the science behind it is wrong – another unfortunate notion more commonly embraced by the more aged among us. Needless to say, I hope the Goodhue County Board shows more sense concerning its apparent “solar panel controversy” than did the Zumbrota Council.    

Eric Grimsrud, Grand Rapids, MN”

While I hope that by this letter I have not worn out my welcome in my beloved home town, I hope it is also recognized that “what goes on in Zumbrota does NOT, in this case, stay in Zumbrota”. With respect to the global warming problem, Zumbrotans affect the future of the entire planet.  


As those who have followed this blog know, I have occasionally used my own alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield Minnesota, as an example of an institution of higher learning that does not yet “get it” with respect to the latest requirements for combating the relentless advance of climate change (see my previous posts in May 2015 and April 2016 if you need to be reminded of the scientific basis of this). One of those requirements is to completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels for energy production immediately, if possible, and at least within the next couple of decades.  For that purpose, I have encouraged the President of St. Olaf and its investments advisor on its board of regents to divest St. Olaf’s substantial endowment funds from fossil-fuel-related industries.  I think I can already see where my efforts are going in the near future at St. Olaf  – most likely nowhere. Therefore, I was struck by an account of a recent physics graduate of Harvard University named Ben Franta concerning his efforts to encourage Harvard to divest itself from fossil fuels. Many of his thoughts concerning what has happened at Harvard mimic what I suspect will happen at St. Olaf.  The forces at work are the same. Therefore in the remainder of this post, I will provide some of Dr. Frana’s comments and thoughts.  His entire article can be seen at   Also note that a previous letter Ben Franta wrote to Harvard’s President is shown in the first comment at the end of this post.

Divestment’s controversy

Essentially all of the climate change controversy at Harvard has revolved around divestment. The idea of reducing investments in fossil fuels as a matter of policy began as an audacious suggestion designed to shock people into seeing the contradiction between our words and our actions on climate. After institutions began adopting the idea, it became a method to call attention to the obstructionism and denial propagated by fossil fuel companies. Institutions that were afraid of making enemies in industry—like Harvard and MIT—were, rather predictably, reluctant to take a public stand. But since the Paris climate agreement in 2015, the idea of divestment has evolved into something much more fundamental and unignorable.

In polite society—at least the kind that self-identifies with science—the Paris agreement is applauded, in essence, universally. Yet the implications of the agreement for investments are beginning to be reckoned with, and they are stark: by the IPCC’s most recent estimate, $100 billion per year needs to be disinvested from the fossil fuel extraction industry for the next twenty years. And when it comes to infrastructure, a recent study has found that no new fossil-fuel-using power plants can be built after next year (unless they are decommissioned prematurely—making them a bad investment). In other words, if we are serious about the Paris agreement, then there needs to be a deliberate shift of investments out of fossil fuels and into clean replacements at this moment. This is, technically speaking, the definition of divestment.

The catch, though, is that this is something that Harvard’s administration has vowed never to do. To analyze why is an exercise in theorizing—it may be due to the logic of economic Darwinism that underlies Harvard’s culture and wealth, a psychology of indignant authoritarianism among Harvard’s governing board, pervasive conflicts of interest (Harvard trustee Ted Wells is currently legal counsel for Exxon Mobil, for example), or nothing more than simple bureaucratic group-think—but regardless of the reason, the fact that the richest private university in the world openly defies the Paris agreement with its investment policies—while praising the agreement with words—is troubling.

And this brings us to an uncomfortable but unavoidable question: does Harvard actually want to fix climate change, or does it merely want to look like it wants to fix it? And perhaps more troublingly: do we actually want to fix climate change, or are we just going through the motions to save face, to avoid admitting to ourselves that, deep down, we aren’t who we thought we were, that we actually don’t care that much what happens to our children—or what happens to the world?

Fake it ‘til you make it

What does it look like to pretend to care? Harvard has announced that “green is the new crimson” and, to much fanfare, spends a special $1 million per year on climate research. But in the face of a civilizational crisis—and for an institution whose research spending is on the order of a billion dollars per year already—what is the intended purpose of this much-publicized $1 million? Harvard spends the same to pay its president (more than the president of the US)—and fifty times more just to pay half a dozen of its money managers. Meanwhile, Harvard likely has hundreds of millions—or more—invested in fossil fuels. If we look past the fanfare and see the world’s richest private university spending $1 million per year to address a civilizational crisis, congratulating itself while investing hundreds of times more in the root cause of that crisis, are we supposed to feel reassured? Or can this only be interpreted as the most illuminating kind of satire of all—that is, the kind that is real?

It might be suggested that universities are places of discourse, not action. Yet when confronted with its stake in and connections to the fossil fuel industry, the discourse at Harvard rapidly morphs into non-sequiturs and censorship. Harvard’s president suggested to me that if we were to move investments out of fossil fuels, then we might have to do the same for sugar, because sugar is harmful, too. Is this real? For those dying around the world, for those living in cities or societies that face destruction from climate change, how is this anything other than a modern-day “let them eat cake”?

When faced with calls for divestment, another Harvard trustee suggested that we should instead be thanking oil companies like BP for investing in renewable energy—which is awkward, because there’s not a lot of that going on. At what point does “daddy knows best” become “I think daddy might be losing touch with reality”? Have we arrived?

In court, Harvard has formally argued that students’ desire for reduced investments in fossil fuels is as trivial and arbitrary as the desire for a new academic calendar or different housing options. Again, does Harvard truly believe that the existence of species, the stability of societies, and the lives of the vulnerable around the world are choices on the same level as whether to start classes on a Wednesday or a Thursday? When we play dumb, are we being clever and bluffing—or are we fools telling the truth? Which is more terrifying to the future of human society?

Harvard staff members have told me they are prohibited from discussing the issue of fossil fuel divestment at all—even outside of work. Imagine if staff were prohibited from talking about greenhouse gas reductions. When the future depends on our actions today, why is a university suppressing discussion?

At a research staff meeting at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, my colleagues and I were instructed by our research director not to speak to journalists who inquire about our funding from the fossil fuel industry. At this moment in history, doesn’t the public deserve to know?

And perhaps the atmosphere of censorship is best summarized by a senior professor in environmental economics who told me that he was willing to discuss any topic under the sun (even “the ballet”)—with the single exception of fossil fuel divestment. I love ballet, too, but don’t we owe the next generation some—any—duty of care? Why is it that reducing emissions is blasé, but reducing investments is taboo?

The need to change

The crucial thing I’ve learned from working on climate at Harvard is that when it comes to climate change, we—even those who profess to care—are not doing everything we can—far from it. While people die around the world, those with the privilege of choice confuse comfort with necessity in order to justify inaction when it serves them. This is our central cowardice, from individuals to institutions. And at Harvard, it has assumed forms of absurdist logic and suppressed discussion.

Divestment—though central to fixing climate change conceptually and perhaps practically—is one issue of many. Yet it has revealed the tip of an iceberg, demonstrating that words of concern on climate only go so far—that when educated and privileged institutions like Harvard are asked to make a sacrifice or take a risk, they too cower behind any rationalization they can find for the status quo—one that loads risk onto the next generation and especially the poor. This indicates that the struggle to fix climate change is not simply partisan but is a deeper test of who we are; it is to be found within even our most enlightened institutions—and within ourselves.

In a sense, there is an absurd irony—a real-life satire—to Harvard’s insistence on investing in a product that will, through sea level rise, ultimately destroy much of its campus, as well as the proud and historic city of Boston. In our enlightened age, our best minds apply themselves mightily—debating the differences between fossil fuels and sugar and academic calendars—simply to achieve mismanagement. If today’s youth wish to save themselves, they will have to rebel against both the powerful and the respectable.

Ultimately, in the history of climate change, Harvard and its kind—privileged, insulated, and foolishly clever—may not matter other than to embody a cautionary tale. But insofar as Harvard does matter, I implore it to change. It can align itself with the Paris agreement instead of defying it. It can accept difficult discussions instead of suppressing them. It can face climate change with the directness and sobriety—the courage—the world dearly needs. Yet it may choose not to. Either way, we can bear witness. And either way, today’s youth must keep fighting to save their generation from the last.

Benjamin Franta has a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University and from 2014—2016 was a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  If there are reasons why the present and future behavior of St. Olaf College will differ from that displayed so far by Harvard, I have not yet seen any evidence of that. Thus, Dr. Franta’s criticisms of Harvard would seem to apply directly to St. Olaf College as well.


Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 28, 2016

Post Paris Accord assessment by Kevin Anderson

As I explained in a previous post entitled “Is the Paris Accord better than nothing?” in December of 2015, the recent Paris Accord provided little comfort for those looking for immediate action against climate change. While it provided a statement reminding us that future temperature increases should not exceed 2.0 degrees Celsius, it said nothing about the specific changes that need to be made in order to achieve that goal. Instead, the climate modeling that was implicit in the Accord assumed that after we have used up our allowed +2C carbon budget (about 1,000 gigatons of total carbon emitted), probably at about midcentury, some presently unknown Negative Emission Techniques (NET’s) will be used to compensate for our continued emissions thereafter. Thus, instead of making modifications to our present carbon intensive lifestyles, the Accord simply assumed that various Dr. Strangelove schemes for removing CO2 from the atmosphere will be invented and successfully implemented later in this century.  In other words, future generations will “simply” have to deal with the mess that ours has made and will very likely continue to make in the coming decades.

After studying the various methods of Geoengineering that might provide the envisioned NET’s, I regard this assumption of the Accord to be little more than a cop-out designed to soothe the collective consciences of our generation. In order to amplify and verify my view here I will refer the reader to a U-Tube interview with Dr. Kevin Anderson, an international leader in the field of climate modeling.  It can be seen at Please be sure to watch at least the first 6 minutes of this interview.  The U-tube format will also lead you to other presentations and interviews with Dr. Anderson.  His recent full lecture on the subject called “Going beyond ‘dangerous’ levels of climate change” at  is particularly recommended.

Bottom line: The only viable opportunity we are likely to ever have to prevent the worse outcomes of global warming in the future is the one we now have before us and that is by doing all we can NOW in this and the next decades to drastically reduce our emissions of CO2. This remedy especially requires the participation of the more wealthy among us because we have the highest carbon footprints and are financially most able to quickly make necessary changes.  Ironically as well as sadly, this fact also might help explain why the Paris Accord put so little pressure on the present well-off inhabitants of the Earth and, instead, put that pressure primarily on our grandchildren.  Because the Accord “plan” is very likely to be little more than a pipe dream, it is absolutely imperative that the relatively wealthy persons of the world carefully consider the real and latest assessments of the science involved here – as related in the references to Kevin Anderson provided above. So unless you find comfort in the lie, “but nobody told me about this problem”, please put on your thinking cap and carefully listen to Kevin Anderson.

First, a definition of the word “strident”: it is “presenting a point of view, especially a controversial one, in an excessively and unpleasantly forceful way”. In discussing and writing about the global warming problem, I am sometimes accused of being too strident and exaggerating the dire nature of our present state. The more I learn about this problem, however, the more strident and concerned I get. In this post, I will share yet another reason why I am indeed exceedingly strident on this topic and believe that you should be too.

In point #5 under the “science basics” tab of this website, I previously explained why addressing the global warming problem should have mankind’s highest priority. In making that point, I illustrated the importance of when the “peak” of world-wide CO2 emissions will occur – with the help of the following Figure 1.


The CO2 emissions of the world since the beginning of the Industrial Age to Today are shown on the left side of this figure. Those total cumulative emissions are represented by the area under this curve, shown by the red hash marks.  We also know that those previous carbon emissions were about 500  gtons (one gigaton is equal to one billion metric tons) of carbon and that they will increase the average surface temperatures of the Earth by about 1.0 degrees Centigrade (1.8 degrees F).  The political leaders of the world have set a goal of limiting total surface average temperature increase to 2.0 C (note also that most scientists believe that this allowance is too high and should be more like 1.5 C).

Therefore, in order to limit future temperature increase to an additional 1.0 C, the world will be allowed to emit no more than 500 gtons more carbon in all of the next decades and centuries.  Note that when, exactly, future carbon is emitted does not matter.  It is only our “cumulative” emissions that matters because the extra carbon we add to the biosphere lasts essentially forever on a time scale of relevance to human civilizations.

Next, we previously focused on the three curves on the right side of the Figure 1 that represent three different scenarios for future emission.  The blue curve shows one that would apply if the peak of carbon emissions was being achieved today.  In that case note that over the next 100 years we could limit future emissions to 500 gtons (the area under this curve) by using the realistically doable annual reductions of about 6% per year shown in CO2 emissions.  Yes, that scenario for future emissions is conceivable and doable. but unfortunately, we are not currently on that scenario. Instead, we are more likely on one of the other two scenarios shown in which peak emissions are envisioned to be either 15 or 25 years into the future. The 25-year scenario is shown to be virtually impossible to follow through on because after those 25 years of increasing emissions, we will have used up our allowed quota and all global emissions would then have to stop immediately at that point in time in order to limit total future emissions to 500 gtons (the area under this curve).  We can also see that even the 15-years-to-peak scenario would be very challenging to live with after that peak year because of the sharp, but possibly doable decreases required after that peak year in order to limit total future emissions down to 500 gtons.

We don’t know what scenario we are on yet, but let’s assume for the moment that we are on the +15 year peak scenario and then add to it one more important point illustrated in Figure 2 below.


emis figureIn addressing the global warming problem, we must recognize that the countries of the world will have differing abilities of making necessary changes. The more developed and wealthy countries of the world will be in a much better position to install alternate means of energy production, such as wind mills, solar panels, and nuclear power plants, than the less developed and poorer countries. Therefore, in Figure 2 I have divided the total emissions shown in Figure 1 into two parts – one for the developed and one for the developing countries.

In the Past section of Figure 2, we see that the emissions of the developed counties (black curve) far exceeded those of the developing countries (red curve) and constituted the lion’s share of previous total global emissions. We also see in Figure 2 that those emissions of the developed countries have finally leveled off and are now expected to decrease in future years. During the last couple decades, however, the emissions of the developing countries, including China and India, have increased so rapidly that their total emissions are now approximately equal to those of the developed countries and do not yet show signs of decreasing or even leveling off. An optimistic view for the developing countries might be that their emissions will reach a peak in +15 years from Today and we will tentatively make that assumption here. As to their emissions after year 15, I have assumed in Figure 2 that they will be equal to the total global future emissions shown in Figure 1 after year 15.

Lastly, we can then see in Figure 2 the very small emission allowance that will be left for use by the developed countries in the future   This portion of the black curve shows that the developed countries of the world must immediately begin a sharp decrease in their CO2 emissions by magnitudes that far exceed anything that is being discussed in the public domain today. As shown in this figure, our goal should be to reach near-zero emissions within the next 10 to 15 years. And recall that this is to limit future temperature increases to 2.0 C while an increase of only 1.5 C is recommended by ongoing scientific research.

Therefore, what we are doing today versus what we should be doing is as different as black and white and certainly merits an extremely strident expression of problem.  The only reason for not adopting this strident view would be that one does not trust the prevailing view of the problem that modern climate science is currently providing.  Yet the American public, their elected officials and even our institutions of higher learning do not seem to be well-aware of what I have described here. The most common response coming from them is to claim ignorance of these latest findings of science and to ignore them. Too many in the public domain also appear to have derived comfort from the erroneous claims of the fossil fuel industries that they are squarely addressing the problem and that all will be OK if they are allowed to remain in charge of our energy sector.

The last decade has shown that the clear and calm expressions of the issue provided by our very best scientists have not moved the public to the required levels of action.  Therefore, what other styles of expression remain for scientists other than very strident ones?  That is, “presenting a point of view, especially a controversial one, in an excessively and unpleasantly forceful way” now seems to be the most appropriate and possibly the only manner remaining when explaining the latest insights of science.  Hopefully the membership of that choir will greatly increase ASAP so that their screams are heard over the soothing, “don’t worry, be happy” melody of our  business-as-usual forces. The future of our descendants depends on it.

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