Posted by: ericgrimsrud | January 10, 2021

Why we haven’t stopped global warming

First, let’s make the point clear that human beings are very probably “smart enough” to solve the global warming problem. Over the last couple of centuries, we have developed a very high level of understanding of how things work – including the details of the complex natural systems that populate our planet and how they have evolved over time in response to changing conditions. 

That store of knowledge is now sufficient as to enable us to maintain human friendly conditions on our planet for a very long time – if we decide to do that. In other words, it is not a lack of intellectual knowledge that will limit the duration of livable conditions for humans on our planet. It is another force that threatens to do that and it’s that other force that will be discussed here.

In an all-encompassing nutshell, the strongest force that prevents us from doing what needs to be done is what has been appropriately called ”the tyranny of the contemporary” (see my previous post by this name in the archives of January 2016). During the fossil fuel era in which we have lived since the onset of the Industrial Age, we have learned how to raise our standards of living immensely by use of the energy released when a fossil fuel, such as coal, oil, or natural gas, is combusted by oxygen thereby producing the seemingly harmless substances, carbon dioxide and water vapor. Over that period of use (or should I say overuse), so much fossil fuel has been burned that the carbon content of the biosphere (into which the released CO2 goes) has dramatically increased well above the natural level it previously had throughout the preceding 10,000-year period of the human-friendly era known as the Holocene.  One of the most important details of this is that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has been increased by 45% and that number is continuously rising. This, in turn, is causing the retention of extra heat on Earth because atmospheric CO2 acts as a heat insulator making Earth’s temperature significantly greater than it would otherwise be. If we continue to live in this fossil-fuel-driven manner, we might be able to continue to enjoy the “good life” of the recent past – but only for a short period of time as our planet becomes progressively warmer and less inhabitable.

Our present dilemma is primarily a moral one – which generation’s welfare, that of the present or that of the future – will dictate the actions take today? That is, will we continue our use of fossil fuels for energy production – as many in the present generation prefer – or will we honor the obvious preferences of future generations whose very survival requires that we move on to completely different ways of producing the energy we need. An important and probably determining factor in making this decision is that many of those who will be living in future decades and centuries do not presently vote, of course, in our contemporary political system. In addition, a huge portion of our younger citizens today are not even mature enough yet to understand the global warming issue.

Thus, we can now understand the apt expression, “the tyranny of the contemporary” in dealing with climate change. This is, indeed, a tyranny in that the dominant preference of the existing inhabitants of the Earth has generally been to continue our business-as-usual ways provided by our still abundant fossil fuels. While we might acknowledge the problem of global warming and continue to “talk the talk” concerning it, when it comes to actually doing meaningful things about it, we have invariably chosen to kick that can down the road – for future generations to deal with at a later date when the problem will be even more difficult to solve. We have thereby shown that we have not been ethically “good enough”, so far, to take our intergenerational responsibilities sufficiently seriously as to embrace a more comprehensive plan of action that will effectively solve the problem for future as well as present generations. Instead, we have simply wished our future generations “good luck” in solving this problem at some later date which by then will be even much more difficult to do.

So yes, we are, indeed, still immobilized today by a “tyranny of the contemporary”, a fact that might very well turn out to be the greatest tragedy of the human experience on this planet. This is needlessly so because the fields of science and engineering have provided us with both an understanding of climate changes and the technologies required to combat them. What is needed for more appropriate actions to be taken is an adjustment of our ethical standards so that our intergenerational responsibilities are taken much more seriously than they have been so far.

So, the central question remains: will human beings suddenly and uncharacteristically become ethically “good enough” as to do the right thing for the preservation of their own species on this planet? Your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that the time allowed for effective corrective action is almost gone and the tyranny of the contemporary continues.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 28, 2020

Uncivil behavior and saving our planet

We Americans now live in a world where many of us have distinctly carbon-intensive lifestyles that are considered to have been fairly and honestly won by the hard work that created them. Feelings of this sort are so strong in many quarters that those lifestyles often are considered to be one of our fundamental ”rights” not to be disturbed by anyone including our government.

But then along come new scientific insights into how the world really works and some of these new insights constitute a threat to some of those lifestyles. A clear example of our resistance to new scientific information has been provided by the Covid-19 pandemic during which too many of us have not strickly followed the prefered guidelines for containing its spead.  Another example is that many of the means of transport we have fallen in love with are now  known to be responsible for the emission of huge amounts of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) that contribute significantly to global warming.

Long distance travel by aircraft is a particulary problematic issue because it requires the transport of a liquid hydrocarbon fuel for propulsion. We are now so thoroughly dependent on transport by air that long-distance air travel has come to be considered an absolute necessity, in spite of the harm such travel does to our environment. This view of essential flying is so strongly felt that anyone who expresses an opinion concerning the clear relationship between long-distance air travel and global warming runs the risk of being labeled “uncivil” or “disruptive” in our present social and commercial settings.  After all, the argument goes, huge investments in the airline and travel industries have been made in recent decades in order to accommodate what is claimed to be the insatiable need of the public to travel.

In recent decades even our colleges and unverisities have eagerly responded to this need by setting up countless “studies abroad” programs that seek to get as many students, faculty, alumni and parents as possible to all corners of the Earth. For example, my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield Minnesota, has embraced these educatiomal travel endeavors so strongly that  they simply ignore the comments of “uncivil” people such as myself whenever we remind them that a college’s financial investments in fossil-fuel-related industries and replacements of on-campus courses with studies-abroad programs contribute to global warming.

You might have also noted that whenever the subject of climate change comes up in polite society that well-meaning individuals might share some of their efforts to address global warming via the electric cars they now drive or the solar panels they have added to their homes. But if you ask those same individuals how they have modified their travel plans so that they will require less air travel in the future, you are unlikely to get any responses. Instead, the fliers of that influencial  group are likely to be offended by the question and suggest that it is the examiner that is the uncivil party here, not the frequent flyer.

A recent article from the United Nation points out that the top 1% of our world’s population (with respect to wealth) emits about twice as much greenhouse gases as does the entire bottom 50%.  One reason for this, of course, is the excessive use of air transport and other carbon intensive activities by that wealthier group. So, do the relatively wealthy among us contribute disproportionally to global warming? Note that if you provide the obvious answer to that “uncivil” question, you are likely to be branded a “troublemaker” within our “technologically advanced” society.

I often wonder what our planet will be like in 30 years when my seven grandchildren will have reached their middle ages.  I sincerely hope that the most dire thoughts of our scientific communities concerning the impending changes to our planet caused by its warming will turn out to be much overstated or just plain wrong.  The great problem with this sincere wish, however, is that there is absolutely no scientific support for that happy outcome – unless human beings can make enormous changes in the way they live. Therefore, as someone who is cursed with a thorough knowledge of the science involved here, my only option seems to be to continue to speak what I believe is the truth to the power of the status quo – in the fading hope that what needs to be done will be done. For this reason, it seems to me that we actually need far more “uncivil” behaviors of the type described here than we presently have.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 9, 2020

A 100% Solution to global warming

We now know that we are running out of time for fixing the our out-of-control forces (mainly greenhouse gases) that are driving a catastrophic level of warming on our planet.  To date, suggestions for corrections of global warming have focused on a few, but not all of things we need to do.  A new book just published is therefore novel in that it attempts to identify everything that we must do by the year 2050 in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. No other single plan has addressed the full scope of the problem as this book does.

In The 100% Solution, Solomon Goldstein-Rose – a young (age 27) climate activist and a former Massachusetts state representative – makes clear what needs to happen if we are to hit the 2050 target just 30 years hence. His plan will require manufacturing booms we must spur, novel inventions we must come up with, the amount of CO2 we’ll have to sequester from the atmosphere, and much more. He also shows us the more prosperous and equitable world we could build by uniting the efforts of activists, industries, governments, scientists, and voters to get this formidable global task accomplished.

This is the guide we’ve been waiting for. It calls for a WWII-scale mobilization intensify–especially among youth activists. This book arms us with specific demands, sets the stakes for what our leaders must achieve, and suggests that with this level of comprehensive thinking we can still take back our future. This plan is for a 100% correction and not just one aiming at a 10% correction as most other plans do. Since 10% correction plans will not stop global warming, we must not allow them to put the 100% plan on the backburner. Given the limited time allowed for solutions the author shows that we must get on a 100% plan immediately rather than waiting for the effects of warming to become more obvious.

The basic elements of the 100% plan include the five following five pillars. 

  1. Create vast amounts of clean electrical power.  All means of producing electrical power without emission of CO2 must be perfected and amplified to the extent that electrical power is increased several times that of today.  These methods include hydroelectric, solar, wind, fossil fuel combustion with carbon capture and sequestration, nuclear, geothermal and other new methods of generating and storing clean electrical energy.  Along with the above methods of energy production, methods of energy storage will have to also be expanded.  These will include both battery-based systems and physical systems such as hydro pumping near river dams.
  2. Electrify all equipment that can be electrified. For example, support the further development of electric cars, but not cars that still use fossil fuels even though they offer improved efficiency.  The goal is to reach a point of no emissions by 2050.  Don’t let mere increases in efficiencies be the goal.   
  3. Create synthesized fuels for things that can’t be electrified.  An example of this is long-distance travel by aircraft. For such travel we need to develop alternate carbon-neutral fuels that do not result in greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Implement various non-energy shifts, especially in agriculture. There are many carbon intensive technologies not related to energy production that we must change to other less carbon intensive ones.  An example of this is the beef industry which is very carbon intensive.  A change to more vegetable-based food sources will significantly decrease CO2 emissions. 
  5. Via carbon sequestration, make up for remaining emissions by reducing atmospheric CO2 at rate equal to or greater than ongoing emissions.  We can’t expect to reduce all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.  Therefore, in order to create zero or negative net emissions from that time forward, we must then be pulling an equal amount of CO2 out of the atmosphere and permanently storing it.

Other important points of the plan:

  1. The majority of future emissions will come from 2nd tier countries such as India which has achieved modern life styles using the cheapest sources of energy available to them – that is, coal.
  2. In order for them to move away from all fossil fuels, the 1st tier countries must help other nations develop new technologies that will offer cheaper-than-coal alternatives for energy production.  We cannot expect them to ignore coal, their cheapest source of energy, merely for altruistic reasons.
  3.  We cannot reach our 100% goal by simply making our fossil fuel methods “more efficient”, thereby allowing the continued use of fossil fuels.
  4.  We must instead develop methods that do not depend on fossil fuels. All of this means that new concepts and technologies need to be discovered and expanded if we hope to reach the 100% Solution by 2050.
  5. Also note that we cannot afford to delay the proposed due date of 2050 because of the inevitability of irreversible global CO2 emissions caused by our constantly increasing global temperatures. 
  6.  We must overcome our unwarranted fear of nuclear reactors which can provide a dependable source of continuous power not matched by any other power source.
  7. We must impose a Carbon Fee for the use of fossil fuels for energy production.  We can no longer afford to let fossil fuel industries use our atmosphere as a free-of-charge waste dump for CO2 emissions.  This will create a level playing field in which non-carbon-polluting methods of energy production will be more competitive with the fossil fuel methods.  

Solving climate change is more important for our future than tackling many other worthwhile causes, because so many issues such as poverty, disease, and immigration politics, cannot improve if climate change worsens. The point of The 100% Solution is to tie together previous research and knowledge into a framework that gives us a comprehensive perspective on what is needed so that we can be more focused and effective in our advocacy. The transition to a new energy system described here is complex, to be sure, and requires no less than a full replacement of the fossil-fuel-driven era we have enjoyed throughout the last two centuries. With respect to the future well-being of the humans living on Earth, however, it appears no other options for a 100% solution have been envisioned so far.  

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 18, 2020

The environmental scene without Trump

Fortunately, I can now use the above title for an article concerning our immediate future.  If Trump had been given another term, our environment would certainly have been badly damaged even more than it already is.  So, with President Trump soon to be escorted (or literally dragged) out of the White House, what improvements in our environment can we expect to see as a new democratic administration comes on board?

First, with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is already clear that the new Democratic administration will put a much higher priority on combating this pandemic by providing far greater financial and moral support to both the heath-care professionals and the victims of this plague. With potential vaccines now coming on board, the possibility looms that we might see a turn-around and even an eradication of this disease within the next year.  Only time will tell when and what happens in this battle, but we are at least now making the efforts that a scientifically advanced country such as ours should have been making since the very first appearance of this dangerous virus.

Next, with respect to the relentless warming of our planet by our continuous addition of greenhouse gases (CO2, in particular) to our atmosphere, any changes expected to accompany the new Democratic administration are much more difficult to predict. This is primarily because the fossil fuel lobby is so incredibly well-entrenched in both the USA and abroad, that their war chest and resulting death grips on all corners and niches of the world make this battle very difficult to win. Did you notice, for example, that in the recent presidential election that Joe Biden’s side did not clearly say that one of their ultimate goals would be to eliminate the use of all fossil fuels and emissions of CO2 by some specific time in the future. They simply said that they were concerned about global warming and would endeavor to find solutions to it – without including relevant details.

So yes, in the next few years we have reason to hope that many important aspects of our lives will be improved by the replacement of the Donald and his cowardly set of Republican facilitators.  These aspects will certainly include civil rights, health care, our economy and virus protection, but probably not so much improvement in the fight against climate change, a problem that is far more difficult to address. Hopefully, by the next election cycle, we will finally be in a position to do much more to face the central cause of climate change; that is, the amount of greenhouse gases we continue to accumulate in our atmosphere.

So, what more could Biden do now to significantly help out in the fight against climate change?  Turns out, there is a litmus test for examining the depths of one’s claims to be fighting climate change and neither the Republicans (of course) nor the Democrats have passed this test so far.  That litmus test is to favor a strong fee for the production and use of fossil fuels. The rationale for a Carbon Fee of this sort is that it would provide a charge for use of our atmosphere as a garbage dump for the disposal of the carbon dioxide. We should start that program immediately with the intention of continuously raising those fees in the future so that the alternate renewable forms of energy production become competitive with fossil fuel use as soon as possible. Our attempts to save our planet from overheating cannot happen until that change is made. To continue to use our atmosphere as a free of charge dumping ground for CO2 is sure to prove to be suicidal for most forms of life presently on this planet. Mass extinctions of this sort have occurred before on Earth due to abrupt changes in atmospheric CO2 and, in case you haven’t heard, our atmosphere already contains almost 50% more CO2 than the natural level it had prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 16, 2020

The advice of Ma Nature versus that of the Internet

Because of my life-long involvement in science, I have learned a bit about the numerous “Laws of Nature” that have been continuously tested against the physical observations mankind has made.  The Laws that have survived that scrutiny have come to be known as “The Laws of Mother Nature” and, they provide the best means possible of predicting what will happen in the future in response to any changes we make to our planet.  

In my discussions concerning the specific problem of climate change, I have done my best to follow the Laws of Mother Nature – as is typically done by other professional scientists. This approach is often not used, however, by the group that I will call “skeptics” here.  In order to come up with the answers they prefer, this group tends to regard comments and conclusions found in the unrefereed public domain (newspapers as well as the internet) to be of equal importance to those that appear in the refereed scientific literature that were derived in accordance with the Laws of Mother Nature.

A great difference in these two approaches when applied to our climate change problem is that the one derived from the Laws of Mother Nature clearly leads to the conclusion that we must eliminate all conversions of geological carbon (such as fossil fuels) to biological carbon (such as carbon dioxide).  This will admittedly be no easy task because of the great dependence on fossil fuels man has acquired over the last 200 years.  Today, Americans still uses fossil fuels for the generation of at least 70% of their energy and the worldwide accumulations of carbon emissions over the last 200 years have caused the total carbon contents of our biosphere to increase by almost 50% above the prior natural levels.

At the same time and for no valid reasons, the skeptics claim that we can continue to burn fossil fuels without doing significant harm to our biosphere.  Furthermore, they claim that the amount of heating thereby caused will be very small and harmless. According to the Laws of Mother Nature, however, a continuation of these carbon conversions will have catastrophic consequence for the present and future inhabitants of Earth because of the excessive greenhouse gas warming it will cause.  Again, the Laws of Mother Nature indicate that the effects of that additional warming will be catastrophic if the problem is not forcefully and immediately addressed.    

Now, consider which of the two views described above would you hope is correct? The answer to that question is obvious, is it not?  Of course, we would prefer that the view of the skeptics is correct – it demands very little action from us and, in addition, we have already converted so much geological carbon to the biosphere that, if the Laws of Mother Nature are correct, we might not even be able to survive the CO2 and other greenhouse gas levels that we have already added to our atmosphere. Therefore, a view of the future based on the Laws of Mother Nature is indeed extremely sobering especially if one is concerned with the future of our grandchildren as well as that of all future generations.  It takes a mentally strong person, indeed, to accept the predictions of Mother Nature and it is easy to understand why so many people choose to bury their heads in the sand and embrace one of the friendlier but mistaken predictions of the scientifically challenged sceptics that hold forth on the public domain. 

One hears a lot these days about the decreasing level of respect our citizens have for the sciences, in general.  Perhaps much of this is due to the difficult path ahead such as I have described here if we chose to address the climate change problem in the only manner that has a chance of success – that is, by following the dictates of Mother Nature.  The only remaining question – is the human species up to this task?

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 17, 2020

Will the public’s view be too close to that of President Trump?

Why does a person like Donald Trump get any support from the citizens of the USA? By most of our time-honored standards for human behavior, President Trump has come up decidedly short. He has repeatedly shown himself to be little more than a superficial salesman whose only interest is “making a deal” that is beneficial to himself without a detectable level of concern for the citizens of our country whose interests he promised to serve. Nor has he shown any respect for our time-honored relationships with the other democracies of the world. The people whose interests he has served tend to be those of the criminal element in the USA and the autocratic leaders of other countries, such as the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin. The primary goal of Trump and those rouge nations is to weaken the democracies. In addition, President Trump appears to believe that his prospects for retaining the highest office of our country will be facilitated by inflicting as much damage as he can to our core democratic values. Thus, he considers any branch of our government that retains a high regard for the rule of law to constitute a threat to his personal control.   

In an attempt to get more Americans on his side, President Trump has held a mirror up to our faces and tried to show that “we are the same as him”, no better or worse. For example, he has tried to demonstrate that we are every bit as much polluters of the environment as he is.  That is, he has encouraged us to increase our use of fossil fuels – without getting much pushback from the typical American who does, indeed, have a high carbon footprint.  By challenging us in this manner he is attempting to show that the character of our President should not be given the highest priority by the voters because the average American is just as unlikely to be dedicated to actually addressing many of these environmental issues as he is. This nefarious point of view is illustrated in the following example.  

President Trump has apparently been somewhat better supported by the rural portions of the USA than by the urban portions. Therefore, I have made some effort to learn why that is by monitoring reports from the rural sectors.  In doing so, I found that a primary reason for some favorable rural views of Trump is related his unsubstantiated promise that the prices of the farmer’s produce, such as wheat, will be higher under his presidency. Compared to that issue, that of character, to many, seems to be of little importance.  This potential reason for supporting Trump is disturbing in that the highest regard is not reserved for the preservation of our democratic principles. This simple example helps one understand why the supreme panderer of our times, Donald Trump, is able to get so many votes in our American political system even though he has no respect for it or the group he is conning and only wants to manipulate our system for his personal advantage.

Hopefully, by November, all Americans will come to see Donald Trump as the wrecking ball he is, and not the builder he claims to be, and will deny him further access to our democracy.  In short, please do not bet the farm on this guy.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 25, 2020

Environmental issues: which party “gets it”?

We have always been confronted with issues concerning our physical environment, but today two stand out above all others: the pandemic caused by the covid-19 virus (CV) and our changing planetary conditions caused by global warming (GW).  These two issues will have profound and long-lasting effects on all aspects of our future and, if not solved, will render all aspects of life on this planet exceedingly problematic within a few decades.

In addressing both of these issues, we have recently seen two very different approaches favored by our two political parties.  The Democrats have tended to favor approaches that take into consideration the predictions of modern science – even though they don’t always follow those guidelines to their full extent. For example, the Democrats believe that we must drastically reduce our future emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) while also recognizing the financial difficulties associated with doing that (fossil fuels are both cheap and abundant).  The Republicans, on the other hand, deal with this problem by simply ignoring them and denying the validity of our predominant scientific literature.  That is, they tend to believe that the additional CO2 and CH4 we are adding to our atmosphere does not have a significant effect on the Earth’s temperature, as is claimed by the preponderance of modern scientific literature and research scientists.

Similarly, concerning the issue of the CV, the Democrats have tried to follow the advice of our scientific community while the Republicans and their leading spokesperson, President Trump, have again tended to downplay the predictions of modern science and embrace a view that considers only the immediate short term effects of any actions on our economy.

In assessing which of these distinctly different approaches to our environmental problems is the better one, we now can already clearly see which one has been superior in addressing the CV problem.  By ignoring the advice of our scientific experts, the policies implemented by the Republicans of the USA have been disastrous – we now have not only a full-fledged virus pandemic on our hands, but also one of the very worst financial depressions in modern history. At the same time, by following the advice of the scientific community, many other countries have done much better and have avoided the pandemic we now face.

In answering the question posed in the title of this piece, need I say more? Only the Democratic party takes our fields of science seriously and, therefore, is the only one within our 2-party system that has a chance of addressing our environmental issues effectively. In view of the fact that both of the issues highlighted here are currently the most important on the table, it is clear that we really have only one choice – nothing less than the future of mankind on this planet requires that Democrats be brought into positions of leadership in November.

 

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 5, 2020

Very Tough Times

It’s difficult to know what to say during these dark times – which involve not only the unchecked advance of global warming, but also now the more immediate concerns presented by the global spread of the Covid-19 virus. And in the meantime, we have also witnessed the undermining of our traditional democratic institutions of governance in the USA – including all of our federal agencies dedicated to the preservation of our natural environment and public health. In addition, we have seen an alarming increase in the use of our military for political purposes, and a deterioration of our relationships with the other democracies of the world. And perhaps worst of all is the fact that all of these setbacks have been facilitated by our very own president and his Senate-controlling enablers of the GOP who seek to divide rather than unite Americans.

The simultaneous occurrence of all of the above problems demands that we think broadly about the solutions required for the preservation of our republic and the Earth, itself – and it is unlikely that such thinking can occur with the mix of politicians presently in our executive and legislative branches of government. For these reasons, I agree with the conservative commentator, George Will, that both President Trump and his enablers in the Senate must be removed from office as soon as possible (see Will’s column bearing this title in the Washington Post of June 2, 2020).  Using his term, our “Crybaby in Chief” and his GOP caretakers simply must go if we expect to successfully address the myriad problems before us.  

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 22, 2020

Democratic Visions video for Earth Day

The following video was made 3 years ago by Jeff Strate of Democratic Visions, Eden Prairie, MN.  Jeff is a St. Olaf College classmate of Kathy and me (class of 1966).  The video contains some serious science along with a good dose of humor (of the dark variety).  Learn and enjoy!

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 14, 2020

Informative film on Global Warming

This is a heads up notice of the upcoming BBC film “Climate Change – The Facts” by David Attenborough.

It’s going to be shown nationally on public TV with the “premier” being broadcast on most PBS affiliates on 4/22 at 7pm central time, 5 pm pacific time.  After that date, it can be seen at https://www.pbs.org/video/climate-change-the-facts-ua6lmf/

It is a very impactful film, and I’m hoping that you can also spread the word of its broadcast time far and wide and get lots of people watching it.

After watching this film, you will realize that our future well being is all based on adhering to the science involved – both the scary parts about the damage we have already done and are still doing to our planet and the uplifting parts concerning the solutions we know exist and are attempting to put in place. Hopefully, our present battle with the corona pandemic is teaching us that we absolutely must adhere to the dictates of science in our environmental problems and not so much the “wish-lists” of our preferences.  Mother Nature does things one way – Her way – and we must figure out how to survive in Her world.

 

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