Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 7, 2019

How we got from solving in 1980 to acquiescence in 2019

My career in atmospheric science began in 1973 when I began a post-doctoral position the Air Pollution Research Group of Washington State University and is now in its 46th year as an independent advocate for action on climate change (my complete resume can be seen on this web site, ericgrimsrud.org). My choice of atmospheric science as an area of concentration was a fortunate one in that so much has been learned about our atmosphere during my own working years – and much of it pertained to important environmental issues, such as stratospheric ozone depletion, photochemical smog, acid rain, and climate change. In looking back at all of the work done and insights achieved in these areas I am very pleased that it led to solutions and improvements in most of the problematic areas. At the same time, however, that research has not led to sufficient improvements concerning the global warming / climate change problem. That fact constitutes an emerging human tragedy unmatched by any other.

How that failure occurred is a story very well told by Nathaniel Rich in the August 2018 issue of The New York Times Magazine. His article, entitled “Losing Earth: the decade we almost stopped climate change” can be seen at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/01/magazine/climate-change-losing-earth.html

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 4, 2019

Thanks to Middlebury College!

Middlebury is a nationally top-10 ranked college, home to about 2,600 students in Middlebury, Vermont. In January 2019, it announced that it would divest its endowment of about one billion dollars from fossil fuels, thereby yielding to years of pressure by students and professors.

In April 2018, the college’s student government sponsored a student-wide referendum in which almost 80 percent of respondents voted in favor of divestment. A faculty resolution on divestment was also passed in November 2018 with over 90 percent voting in favor.

Middlebury’s divestment is especially notable because the environmental activist, Bill McKibben, who helped found the divestment movement, works as a scholar-in-residence at the college. When the matter first came before Middlebury’s Board of Trustees in 2013, the college declined to commit to divesting its endowment from fossil fuel companies. Six years later, the college is now reversing course. “This is great news because it’s one of the first institutions to reject divestment and then change its mind,” McKibben recently tweeted.

In its announcement, Middlebury committed to stopping all new investments in fossil fuels by June 2019, and pledged to phase out all of its current investments within 15 years – a timeline that it believes would protect the value of their endowment. Middlebury now joins over 100 other educational institutions worldwide that have committed to some form of fossil fuel divestment (according to the Burlington Free Press).

My own alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota, has told me (via its President, David Anderson) that St. Olaf has no intention of divesting its endowment funds from fossil-fuel-related industries. Nevertheless, my hope is that the example set by Middlebury College will help St. Olaf and many other colleges to reverse their courses.

Student and faculty votes on the issue provide a useful starting point. Afterall, who other than students and faculty are in a better position to define the fundamental purpose of their colleges. While the college trustees and upper level administrators generally view their institutions as “businesses” requiring primary attention to their financial bottom lines, the students and faculty of high quality institutions tend to view their institutions as “centers of academic excellence”. The actions being taken by Middlebury College affirm that Middlebury is, first and foremost, a center of academic excellence.

So, as an alumnus of a college that has not made that affirmation, I congratulate Middlebury College for still knowing itself in an era when the “business model” has been applied to far too many institutions of higher education. It has been suggested that by making that choice, Middlebury will lose its “seat at the fossil fuel table” (as St. Olaf President David Anderson has put it). If so, good! As history has repeatedly shown, behaving in a credible, responsible, and forceful manner has great benefits in difficult times. That is how real progress is usually made. Martin Luther, for example, was not asked by the Catholic Church to reform it.  He set an example all by himself that others then followed.

Go Middlebury!

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 25, 2019

Underappreciated point made by Greta

Concerning her scientific knowledge, Greta Thunberg appears to know a lot more than most. For example, at about 3.4 minutes into her speech, Greta made a very important comment that I believe is not generally understood by many. Therefore, I will take this opportunity to explain it further.

While addressing the paucity of media coverage concerning global warming, one of her examples was “nor does anyone in the press mention that existing air pollution is hiding a warming effect – which when we stop burning fossil fuels, will add an additional increment of warming, perhaps as high as 0.5 to 1.1 degrees Celsius”. Wow! Think about that for a moment. If true, and there is no reason to think it is not true, even if we stopped all fossil fuel combustion today, we would then immediately add the amount she states to the 1.0 degrees C of warming we have already caused. That would mean that the new global temperature average would immediately be between 1.5 and 2.1 degrees C of warming! Wow again!

So, what exactly was she scientifically referring to by that profound statement? It is this. In addition to the greenhouse gases, our lower atmosphere today also contains pollutants in the form of particulate matter. They have been formed primarily by the oxidation and then condensation of the sulfur dioxide that is emitted from fossil-fuel-burning power plants. Ironically, these sulfate particulates actually have a beneficial cooling effect. They increase the reflection of incoming solar radiation, thereby cancelling out roughly one-third of the heating caused by our excess greenhouse gases. Therefore, as we manage to reduce and then eliminate fossil fuel use, we must also realize that we will be progressively losing that cooling effect – resulting in an increase in temperature on top of that produced by the greenhouse gases.

In addition, increased particulate matter also affects our clouds, causing them to also reflect more incoming solar radiation back into outer space. The effect of these clouds on heating constitutes one of the least well understood aspects of global warming. This fact leads to the large uncertainly of expected additional heat stated by Greta, from 0.5 to 1.1 degrees C. In any case, that is a lot of additional expected heating – as a consequence of stopping fossil fuel use – something we must nevertheless do in order to prevent increased levels of CO2.  Oh what a web we have woven!  No wonder Greta is so concerned – she knows the science involved.

My point in this post is to compliment Greta on her consideration of even the scientifically complex aspects of climate change.  Hopefully, discussions such as this one of Greta’s comments will increase the public’s knowledge of the global warming problem.  Perhaps even the media is now aware of the very important point Greta made’.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 21, 2019

Go Greta and don’t sweat the old farts!

This post has been motivated by several feedbacks I have received concerning the speech of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old girl from Sweden, that I drew attention to in my previous post (see Greta’s speech again at https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/greta-speeches#greta_speech_tedx). I am addressing these feedbacks immediately here because I do not think their authors understood what Greta was saying and, therefore, wish to clarify a couple of points for their benefit.

All of the critical feedbacks I have read questioned Greta’s scientific knowledge. Of course, at age 16 Greta has not yet developed a complete scientific grasp of the science of climate change. But she was not claiming to have extensive scientific experiences. She was simply saying that she is aware of the recommendations that have been put forth by the real climate scientists who do have that knowledge and experience. And, just because there are so many scientifically deficient adults out there who don’t know where our very best science comes from, that does not mean that Greta doesn’t.  Nor does it mean that Greta should share their skepticism of our scientific communities. She knows where the best science of AGW can be found and has, indeed, found it.

Another silly comment I have heard or read too often is that this “poor little girl” is being unwittingly “used” by the  political forces “of the Left”. The facts suggest, however, that Greta is an extraordinarily serious, responsible, and self-motivated young person who would not be easily “trained” or “manipulated” by the adults in her life. In addition, many (including me) have learned how one’s battles with depression can cause one to develop an unusually strong reliance on one’s own independent sense of reality. Greta’s life history and present personality is that of someone who has, indeed, achieved a stable and mature state the hard way. Bravo for Greta!

So, my main point here is to explain why the critics I mentioned above did not understand what Greta was saying. She was not trying to teach them new aspects of the science. Most of that science has been known for some 30 years. What she was doing was giving the adults of the world a bad time for not doing what they clearly should have been doing in recent decades. Being on the receiving end of such clear and appropriate criticism can be difficult for many to handle, however, especially for those of us who have reached the classic “old fart”, “full of hubris” stages of our lives. I doubt that Greta even expects to achieve any converts among that group. Instead, she is wisely focusing on the involvement of youngsters such as herself and with them, is going directly to our national and international branches of government. Perhaps the adults, who have already had their chances (in spades, actually, and have always failed miserably), should now just get out of the way and not continue to screw things up. After all, we of my generation will be fine during the rest of our undeserved, exceedingly high environmental impact existences.  While our great lifestyle will have to be paid for by all future generations, my own generation has still not contributed a pittance and deserves the term I have assigned them here.  Read More…

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 19, 2019

Youngster speaks truth to adults

I recently noticed what is perhaps the most compelling short presentation on the subject of climate change that I have ever heard. See it at https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/greta-speeches#greta_speech_tedx

It is provided by a 15-year old Swedish girl named Greta Thunberg. She speaks with extraordinary clarity and purpose – two characteristics Greta believes she acquired in the process of dealing with her personal malady of Asperger’s Syndrome in childhood. Please share Greta’s video with others of all ages.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 7, 2019

A debate at Harvard on divestment

On this website, I have repeatedly requested the administration and faculty of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, to provide the reasons for why the endowment funds of that college should be invested in fossil-fuel producing industries as they currently are. I have even asked the President of St. Olaf College, David Anderson, if St.O has any intention of divesting itself from those industries and his answer was simply “no”. Therefore, I have made some effort in the last few years to get my alma mater to think more deeply about this issue and, if not devest itself, at least understand and explain why they intend to continue those investments.

So far, I have heard of only a couple of trivial reasons for St.O’s actions and will not embarrass them again by repeating them here. Instead, I will ask them to watch the video I will refer to below. It is a visual and verbal recording of a debate recently held at Harvard University between two faculty members, one is for divestment and the other is against. Like St. Olaf College, Harvard has chosen not to divest itself, so far, but the issue remains a highly contested one on its campus. As evidenced by this video, the quality of intellectual thought on this issue at Harvard appears to be couple tiers above that at St. Olaf College. Therefore, my object in sharing this video here is to raise the quality of discussion at St.O to above that of the “too small to matter” defense. In addition, I hope that St.O viewers note that at Harvard University, the students in attendance are entitled to a question and answer session following a presentation concerning the difficult, but most important subject of our time. This simple observation contrasts with one of my own presentations at my alma mater in September of 2016 when the faculty moderator in charge announced about half way through my planned interaction that the students needed to get back to “their studies” and thus prevented any discussion with the students. Apparently, Harvard students are allowed to stay up past 8 pm.

As a graduate of St. Olaf (class of “66 – back when we did, indeed, have to get our dates back to the women’s dorms by 10 pm), I, for one, care very much about the degree to which the most important problem of today is being understood and addressed at St. Olaf College.

Thus, I refer you the promised debate at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGL_3pVWjKc

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 5, 2019

Initial thoughts concerning the Green New Deal

I applaud the GND movement for the attention it is generating on the subject of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) and for the sense of urgency it conveys in addressing it. Given the magnitude of the problem, any successful plan might, indeed, require the extraordinarily rapid changes that the GND recommends. We don’t really know for sure yet how rapidly the ravages of AGW will unfold and it will be better to error on the conservative side. At the same time, however, there are two specific aspects of the plan that I fear might lead to a failure of the GND at its very onset. If so, that failure might then also damage other, alternate plans that might follow.

So, what are the potential show-stoppers of the GND as it now exists? One is that in its most aggressive form, its proposed time frame for bringing all CO2 emissions of the USA to zero is 2030, just eleven years hence. Very few knowledgeable scientists and policy makers are likely to consider this time-line to be possible. So far, our scientific leaders have been challenged to envision how the world can get to zero emissions by 2050, 31 years hence. The sad fact is that over the last 150 years mankind has dug itself into a hole that is very possibly much deeper than the GND acknowledges. From now going forward, we must address the problem with complete honesty and not just wishful optimism.

Another potential problem with the GND, as it presently exists, is that it also includes various social issues, such as universal health care and guarantied federal jobs. This is a huge mistake. The climate change problem, all be itself, will challenge us to our limits and should be placed front and center all by itself. We should not share that spotlight with other ongoing issues even if the others are meritorious and long-overdue. Immediate action on the AGW problem is of paramount importance. We will have the time and inclination to address other issues either sooner or later – but only if the big one is being successfully addressed. Just as there would be little point in replacing the windows of your home if the house itself was on fire.

In a world warmer than 2 degrees C, organized efforts and even organized civilizations, as we know them today, are likely to no longer exist. Due to what we have already done to our atmosphere, we are already half way to that 2 degree C limit. In addition, it should be noted that many scientists believe that the exceedingly dangerous temperature limit that we must not exceed is closer to 1.5 degrees C than 2.0.

Our next swing at this approaching fast ball might very well be our last. So, for the sake of your children, grandchildren and all of our other descendants that manage to be born prior to the onset of uninhabitable conditions on this planet, please pay very close attention to the plans presently being formulated for the stabilization of our planet’s temperature. For starters, I believe that the GND should be modified as suggested here so that it has a snowball’s chance of public acceptance in our rapidly warming world.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 22, 2019

Still waiting for St.O’s response

In addition to my occasional posts at ericgrimsrud.org in which I use St.Olaf College as an example of weak academic leadership on the greatest problem of our time (that is, global warming, of course), I have also occasionally sent private letters to St.O President Anderson concerning this issue. For example, two years ago I sent the following letter to President Anderson via email. Because President Anderson appears to be ignoring them, I feel free to share one of them here with the general public.

To David Anderson, President of St. Olaf College, March 12, 2017

Dear David

On the issues of racial, gender and individual rights, your recent actions have shown that you take alleged offenses in those areas very seriously. Your actions concerning the cases of former Professor Dittman and the St. Olaf baseball team, for examples, have shown that you are willing to do more than just “talk the talk” at St. Olaf on these issues. Not that these actions necessarily solve any issue – but they do send a message concerning the ethical and moral principles St. Olaf College embraces.  

At the same time, I wish you could also find the courage to be similarly proactive on the far more important issue of global warming – as I have repeatedly explained on my website, ericgrimsrud.org. Concerning that enormous problem, you have been able to “talk the talk” by pointing to your non-CO2 producing means of electricity production on the StO campus, but have not yet recognized the need to wean the world, including St. Olaf College, of essentially all CO2 emissions within the next couple decades. Concerning that point, you have been silent about how StO might make environmentally responsible changes in its extremely carbon intensive programs such as those involving the transport of a large fraction of its students, faculty and even alumni to distant locations. Note that there is no such thing as “good” or “ethical” CO2 emissions – all of it is “bad”.  Therefore and unfortunately, we can no longer afford to give “travel indulgences” to those claiming to be doing “good works”.  

Given this blind spot at St. Olaf College (and, I should add, in most other colleges and universities) in both action and acknowledgement, I am left to wonder if the administrators of St. Olaf College, including its President, are actually aware of the perils posed by our increasing greenhouse gases and especially that of CO2.  For this reason, I would ask you to reread my post of January 31, 2017 at ericgrimsrud.com, entitled “Power Keg Earth, ready to go off”. It describes the science that dictates much stronger and immediate action on reducing emissions of CO2. Then I would ask you to explain why this science does not have the same effect on you as it does on me.  Because you are not a professional scientist please feel free to include in the preparation of your response any persons at St.O or elsewhere who are knowledgeable climate scientists and whose advice you appear to be taking. Surely you are in touch with such people, right?

I am guessing that the reason for our differences on this issue might be one of the following?  Perhaps you think the science I relate is wrong or exaggerated? Or is it because you think scientists will be able to solve the excess CO2 problem later when its effects become even more obvious? Is it because the Board of Regents of St. Olaf College does not include anyone who understands and appreciates the role science plays in understanding what Mother Nature does?  Is it because the issue of climate change is too serious and difficult for little St.O College to take a public stance on. Is it possibly because the administration of St.O is so focused its problems associated with student and faculty misconduct that it does not see the more important issues of our times?   

All of this reminds me of another time in history exactly 500 years ago when a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg, Germany, came to realize that the business-as-usual forces of his time (the Roman Catholic Church, that is) had turned Christianity into a business in which wealth was more valued than service to mankind. That state of affairs might have continued if it had not been for the courage shown by Martin Luther. Luther literally risked his life for an important point of principle on which the meaning of his religion depended. Apparently, we need another Martin Luther today to remind us of the difference between a religion and a business. Selling one’s soul to our business-as-usual fossil-fuel-driven industrial complex is just as abhorrent as selling indulgences providing immunity against God’s punishments. Both of these activities interfere with service to the real needs of mankind.

I would be pleased to see your response to my questions and, if you would feel comfortable doing so, please share this letter with other members of the St.O. Board of Regents. In my opinion, the topic addressed here merits the highest level of consideration St. Olaf College can provide.

Sincerely,

Eric Grimsrud

President Anderson has not responded to this letter over the two years since it was sent. As of Feb. 22, 2019, I am still waiting for that response. As a result, I fear that any honest responses to my questions might require admissions that St.O does not want to make in a public forum. For example, I fear that the St.O College of today is more inclined to serve the needs of its corporate donors than it is to those of its students and the general public. As Dwight Eisenhower finished his last term as US President in 1960, he warned the US public of a Military – Industrial complex that he thought threatened our representative democracy. Since that time, another union between our Industrial Complex and our universities has also increasingly threatened our democracy. Even at Harvard University where much of the best research on climate change has occurred, its controlling Board of Regents has refused to divest its enormous assets from the fossil fuel industries. St. Olaf College has chosen to the same.

As I have illustrated in this and other interactions with my alma mater, it appears that St. Olaf College cannot adequately explain its behavior in public. It either “stonewalls” questions on this issue or provides simplistic responses not worthy of serious consideration in view of the magnitude of the problem.  In the meantime, I suspect that St.O has placed its bets on the likelihood that our “business as usual” forces will continue to overwhelm conscientious and responsible discussions on this subject.  As I said in my original letter, Martin Luther would, indeed, not be impressed with this institution that was rooted in the branch of theology that Luther gave rise to.  As I recall, one of Luther’s main points was to show that a religious institution should not degenerate into a business.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | February 16, 2019

An update on warming and negative emission technologies

Over the last 3 years, I have used my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota, as example of the lack of understanding of climate change that still exists even within our colleges and universities. In those interactions, the stance of St.O has become increasingly clear. In the view of its main representative, President David Anderson, St.O is doing its part to combat climate change primarily via wind mills and solar panels which now provide all of the electrical needs of the St.O campus. Sure, St.O is also financially invested in fossil fuel industries and promotes some very high carbon footprint programs, such as their extensive studies abroad programs, but these environmentally detrimental activities are offset by their wind mills and solar panels – so President Anderson’s argument goes.

These interactions with President Anderson have caused me to question whether or not he understands how dire our real state of global warming actually is today.  Modest half-measures and gradual changes will no longer suffice. In addition, we must have all segments of society involved – especially our colleges and universities who have great influence on the younger portions of our society.

For these reasons, I will refer below a recent presentation by one of the world’s leading climate scientist, Kevin Anderson, without additional comment. Hopefully the great differences between the views and attitudes of these two Andersons, Dave and Kevin, will be made clear and show that St.O College has barely begun to do its part.

The Gordon Goodman Memorial Lecture 2017 – Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester and Deputy Director of the internationally Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. This talk provided the main event at this climate change conference in Sweden. It can be seen at www.science.su.se/english/about-us/calendar/the-gordon-goodman-memorial-lecture-2017-kevin-anderson-1.341476

And be sure to rise as Her Royal Highness of Sweden enters the room!

 

 


 

Unless you and the institutions you represent have been scientifically out to lunch in the last decade, you know very well that:

  • Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are causing the heat content and average temperatures of our planet to increase
  • These changes have been occurring continuously and increasingly since the beginning of the Industrial Age – largely due to the combustion of fossil fuels, a process by which geological carbon is converted to its biological forms (CO2 and plants).
  • That new, additional biological carbon does not get converted back into its geological forms for a very long time – it takes millions of years to convert CO2 to limestone and plant material to fossilized carbon.
  • Mankind has not yet discovered a means of removing that excess biological carbon on an industrial scale at a feasible cost.
  • While great advances have been made in the means of energy production by non-polluting alternative methods (such as solar panels and windmills), the atmospheric content of CO2 is still increasing and is doing so at an increased rate each year. It is clear that fossil fuel use is still increasing, not decreasing.
  • In order to have a chance of successfully arresting continued warming for the sake of future generations, we need to reduce CO2 emissions to absolute zero within the next few decades.
  • Given the above information, a central requirement of arresting the advance of additional warming is the elimination of all anthropogenic emissions of CO2 in the next two or three decades. This means the elimination of natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, and coal use for providing the energy we require for work, heat, and transportation.
  • These changes have and will continue to cause consternation in many sectors of our economy that have developed a dependency on fossil fuels.
  • Nevertheless, Mother Nature does not give a hoot about the maintenance of our present lifestyles. She does things one way – Her way – in response to the changes we are making in our atmosphere.

So what is my “beef” with St. Olaf College? In their actions and their publications, they do not seem to recognize the list of concerns I posted above. Instead, they seem to be ignoring the calls for aggressive action against global warming. Most egregious of their actions is the fact that they continue to invest in fossil-fuel-related industries. If one wishes to reduce fossil fuel use to zero as rapidly as possible, all investments in the industries that either produce fossil fuels or make extensive use of them must be stopped.

When the President of St. Olaf College was recently asked why they continue to invest in these companies, he offered two reasons. One was that the resources of St.O are too small as to make a difference in the US markets.  In other words, he seems to think what St.O does doesn’t matter.  The other reason he offered was that being invested in the fossil fuel industries provides St.O with a “seat at the table”. Concerning his first reason, he is throwing away his opportunity for leadership on this issue. Concerning his second reason, he is suggesting that the fossil fuel corporations will be receptive to the recommendations of an institution that “talks the talk” better than it “walks the walk”.

Let’s face it. St. Olaf College, like many colleges in the USA, are essentially “business as usual” partners of Corporate America. While they do their best to appear to also be centers of intellectual thought, their inaction on the greatest problem of our times suggests that they are not. They appear to be sitting this one out for fear that their industrial donations might be damaged if they become too active – better to focus instead on civil rights issues that no longer take a lot of courage to endorse.

In closing, one might ask, where are the students, faculty, and alumni of St. Olaf College on the issue of global warming? Have they also been cowed into silence? Do they really believe that their windmills and solar panels allow St.O a pass on participation in the more substantial and possibly more painful changes that will also be required in order to bring emissions to zero in a couple decades? Shouldn’t all fossil-fuel intensive activities sponsored by St.O College be more carefully examined starting right now?

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