Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 28, 2021

A house divided against itself cannot stand

Two years prior to his presidency, Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “house divided” speech, part of which went as follows:

“A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

It will become all one thing or all the other”.

On the then controversial issue of slavery, he reasoned that the USA would have to decide one way or the other – would it allow the enslavement of the black portion of its population in order to meet the energy needs of America or would it insist that all US citizens be free of such bondage? Lincoln claimed that this was the most important issue of the USA at that time, because he believed that a house divided against itself on fundamental issues such as this one cannot stand for long.

Prior to taking office in 1861, he also stated that if it would save the Union, he would go along with a compromised plan in which slavery would be allowed to continue in the South if the new states being added to the Union be free of slavery. Lincoln reasoned that with such an agreement, the USA would still eventually join the other emerging nations of the western world that were abandoning all forms of slavery.

Unfortunately, the southern states refused to consider any such compromised views on this issue and, instead, tried to withdraw from the Union. This, President Lincoln would not allow and it took a horrendous civil war to get the USA reunited and the 13th amendment to our constitution in 1865 to declare that all citizens of the USA would thereafter be free.  Thus, Lincoln’s prediction that the USA would become “all one thing or all the other” came to be sooner than he expected due to the inability of the North and South to come to any compromised view such as that offered by President Lincoln.   

 In the USA today we have a very similar division of opinion that is sufficiently contradictory as to again bring into question the survivability of the USA as a functioning entity.  As in the Civil War era, the main difference between these two groups is related to the means of energy production preferred by each group. As in the Civil War era, one side today favors an existing well-entrenched means of energy production based on fossil fuels that has become exceedingly problematic and, if continued, is sure to be recognized as such in the next decade or two. The other side favors the expansion of alternative, non-polluting  methods of energy production that are sustainable into the foreseeable future.

Those who recognize that global warming constitutes a real and grave threat to the future of humanity tend to accept the advice provided by our most respected scientific organizations who say that we must discontinue our use of fossil fuels because our atmosphere is already overloaded with the major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. The other group strongly favors policies and solutions that will not threaten existing business interests that rely on fossil fuels – even though modern science tells us that we must leave them in the ground.

Because this climate change issue is by far the most important one on the table today, it would be most beneficial to get the participants of this debate onto the same page with respect to the basic approaches they will take in coming to their decisions. The fundamental question in this case is: are we going to follow the recommendations of modern science or are we not? As with Lincoln prior to and in the Civil War era, we can be sure which approach to our problem will win out in the long run. In the next decade or two, monumental changes in our climate will continue to show that the dire predictions of climate scientists have been essentially correct.  As those changes continue to occur year after  year, at some point even the fossil fuel advocates of today will finally be forced to abandon their support of fossil fuels and our “house” will no longer be divided. The critically important point then will be –  will it be too late at that future point for even forceful actions to stop the advance of global warming? While we do not yet know the answer to that question, we do know that the sooner we commit ourselves to a fossil-fuel-free world, the better our chances of survival will be.  

The recently elected Biden administration is committed to the creation of carbon-free economies throughout the world. While achieving that goal will be challenging, it will also be greatly facilitated as both sides of our divided house accept the time-honored notion that modern science provides our best forecasts of what Mother Nature will do in response to mankind’s activities on our planet. While we do need a thriving economy, it must also be one that is predicted to be sustainable for at least several centuries. We, who have contributed so much to the greenhouse gas warming of our planet, should now help President  Bidon do what we can to preserve livable conditions on Earth for our grandchildren and their descendents.  

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 8, 2021

Are US citizens going for the Darwin Award?

The Darwin Awards salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from the human gene pool in a spectacular manner. By the various actions it has taken during the recent Covid-19 pandemics, the citizens of the USA have become dangerously close to receipt of this dubious honor.

US citizen’s case for “winning” this award is based on the following observations. The US government and its scientific communities have been strong driving forces behind the development of Covid-19 vaccines and have made these readily available to the American public at no cost. Nevertheless, the total number of deaths in the USA due the Covid-19 viruses have been the highest of any nation in the world due to the fact that a significantly large number of the American citizens have refused to be vaccinated. Their reasons for this behavior generally defy conventional scientific logic and tend to be based, instead, on various conspiracy theories or political affiliations. These folks appear to have forgotten the great accomplishments our country has already made in fighting infectious diseases, such as Polio for example, in the past.

 After Jonas Salk’s vaccine was licensed in 1955, the annual number of polio cases in the USA fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,600 by 1957, and down to only 161 by 1961. Thus, the dreaded disease of my 1950s childhood was eliminated by the timely actions taken by our government and its scientific community. A half century later, our scientific knowledge and capabilities in this area has been further expanded.

So why would a citizen of the USA refuse to protect himself or herself today from a virus that is likely to do great damage to all members of their species? After pondering some of the possible answers to this question (other than legitimate medical reasons), abject stupidity and a propensity to embrace wingnut conspiracy theories come to mind.  Hopefully US citizens will come to their senses faster than the viruses can spread throughout our population. Any country that boasts about being “exceptional” should not be in the running for a Darwin Award.    

In addition, the covid conundrum we now face poses a threat to our democratic means of governance. Do we need to force our citizens to comply with vaccine regulations by the authoritarian methods commonly used in China? If so, that step would further distance ourselves from the free democratic society we have tried to maintain for the last 250 years. If US citizens want to maintain our version of democracy, they must remind themselves that “freedom” in the USA does not include an escape from our responsibilities to the welfare of all citizens of the world. The version of freedom offered by the USA requires a strong sense of responsibility and a thorough education.  

(Note: Charles Darwin was a 19th century scientist who proposed that changes to all forms of life on Earth have occurred via natural evolutionary processes in which the fittest members of those life forms have higher rates of survival.)

A large fraction of Americans believes that there is an almighty God who is aware of their individual personal lives and is capable of affecting them in either a positive or negative manner whenever He feels such actions are warranted. It is a common practice, for instance, for religious fundamentalists to ask their God to help others or themselves when a particular need arises. It is also common practice within a wide range of fundamental religious groups to promote specific views on controversial issues of society and to insist that the word of God as revealed in the scriptures of their religions represent the wishes and directives of God.  The potential problem with all of this, of course, is that it sometimes leads to public policies that differ greatly from those derived from the fields of science. This, in turn, can lead to unfortunate outcomes because modern science has repeatedly provided our best predictions of future events. 

The influence of fundamental religious views on our two most important scientific issues of today are very apparent. Concerning one of them, we have today an uncontrolled pandemic throughout the USA due to the spread of covid-19 viruses primarily by individuals who have chosen not to be vaccinated – contrary to the recommendations of science. Many of these uncooperative individuals have been influenced by the evangelical and fundamental branches of their churches, which often suggest that we should leave some of our most important issues for God to decide.  As we now know, however, this approach to the Covid-19 problem has failed to stop this pandemic which now threatens to take over almost all available intensive care facilities of our country.  We are now belatedly trying to make corrections by following recommendations of science that should have been put in place much earlier.

The second example of the unfortunate influence of fundamentalists on public policy today concerns mankind’s attempt to stop the relentless advance of global warming. Far too many of us buy into the view of many fundamentalists who claim that weather and climate are set to the preferences of God who they are certain, designed and created the entire universe. Thus, those among us who accept that religious notion are more easily persuaded by the CEO’s of the fossil fuel industries who also try to  assure us that the influence of their fossil fuel products on our climate is too minuscular to be of importance. Unfortunately, notions such as these are turning out to be contrary to the predictions of science as well to ongoing observations. Therefore, the fundamentalist’s view is very likely to be exceedingly harmful to the future welfare of human beings on this planet.

I have described here the unfortunate influence of religious fundamentalists on the two major scientific issues facing mankind today – one dealing with the efficacy of vaccines and the other dealing with the greenhouse gas warming of our planet. Sadly, in both cases, viable solutions and actions concerning these enormous problems are being frustrated by individual citizens who subscribe to the fundamental branches of their religions. Since many of those citizens lack the scientific knowledge required to thoroughly understand these issues, they must then decide whose advice are they are going to accept. Going forward, more of them will hopefully choose the advice provided by science which has the far superior record of correctly predicting the paths to be taken by Mother Nature.  If we don’t choose the advice of science, we will continue to be in a losing battle against Mother Nature and, as we should know by now, She bats last and always wins. We will have a far better chance of winning this battle if we use all of the gifts either God or the evolutionary process has given us – including our reportedly superior brains.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | September 4, 2021

Making logical decisions on global warming

The 2021 report of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change provides a clear scientific message to the entire world.  In doing what needs to be done in order to stop the ravages of global warming, we have no chance of success if we continue to dwell on the “good times” we have enjoyed on our planet over the last 150 years – all made possible by the Earth’s plentiful and low-cost supplies of fossil fuels along with free of charge waste disposal into our atmosphere. The ease with which we learned to use fossil fuels for our transportation, heating, and material needs was astounding and it is, indeed, challenging to now imagine how we can manage without them. Yet we now know that the laws of Mother Nature clearly tell us that managing without fossil fuels is exactly what we must do if we hope to provide our children, grandchildren, and their descendents with a chance of wellbeing and even survival on our planet. 

By the combustion of fossil fuels, we have added far too much of the  critically important greenhouse gas, CO2, to our atmosphere thereby creating far too much heat retention on the Earth’s surfaces.  In the last decade, we have already witnessed many of the initial effects of global warming and know that they will continuously get worse in the future. Note, for example, the catastrophic flooding in New York this week delivered by Hurricane Ida which first landed in Louisiana well over a thousand miles away and still had the power to do what it did in New York.  Carbon dioxide is a particularly troublesome greenhouse gas in that once emitted into the biosphere, the excess it creates remains there for several centuries. Thus, atmospheric CO2 is our “gift” to our descendents “that will keep on giving” for many generations. 

So, if we want to retain human-friendly conditions on Earth, Mother Nature very clearly tells us that we must abandon our use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible and use other means of energy production that don’t add greenhouse gasses to our atmosphere.  And, if we can’t do that for all of the functions that fossil fuels have made possible (think long-distance air travel, for example), then we will have to learn how to live with greatly reduced use of those functions.

The long overdue actions we must now take have been made unnecessarily difficult by the fact that we have actually increased our use of fossil fuels during the most recent decades – well after climate scientists have sounded the alarm concerning their detrimental effects.  It is also disturbing to note that some of the top climate scientists in the 1970’s were employed by the  prominent  fossil fuel industries of that era and those scientists quickly discovered that future warming was, indeed, likely to occur via the combustion of  their fossil fuels. Upon receiving those reports, however, the CEO’s of those industries decided to terminate their research programs in climate change and spend that money, instead, on the promotion of doubt concerning the research of others who were coming to the same conclusion. Even today, the fossil fuel lobby continues to do its best to promote the use of fossil fuels.

As a result of that unfortunate history, we now find ourselves in a very deep hole with respect the climate change problem.  We now must figure out how to stop the world’s high emissions of CO2 and how to deal with the CO2 emissions accumulated over the entire Industrial Age. Both of these tasks are truly formidable and will require the full application of all of our mental and physical resources. In order to have a snowball in hell’s chance of success in this endeavor we will, at last, have to make decisions that are based squarely on scientific logic rather than our emotional attachments to how we used to do things in our fossil-fuel-saturated world. 

It is fortunate, therefore, that we do have a clear picture of what a logical approach would be – thanks to our many years of scientific exploration in this area. We know that our global warming problem is primarily due to increased levels of greenhouse gasses. Therefore, we must stop emitting them and remove as much of our historical CO2 emissions as we can. Simultaneously, we must develop alternate means of energy production that are driven by either electronic means or by combustion schemes that do not result in the emission of greenhouse gasses.

In deducing what is going to happen in the future, the most important variable yet to be determined is simply what mankind will do. Will we continue to make matters worse or will we begin to solve the problem?  That is, will we take the path based on scientific logic or the one based on our emotional ties to habits of the past? There really is just one choice that provides any hope for the future. Expecting a different result by repetitions of the past is the very definition of insanity. Only by following the dictates of Mother Nature will there be a light at the end of the tunnel we choose to pursue.  

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | August 9, 2021

Earthlings are now under palliative (going on hospice?) care

The ability of our planet to sustain life for its human inhabitants can now be described in the terms we normally use for the type of health care we provide for our exceedingly ill. One of these is hospice care in which care and comfort is provided to our very sick when they do not expect to live much longer.  That is, the patients in this case have reached a point where it no longer is considered possible to cure them and, therefore, the objective is simply to make the patients as comfortable as possible during the rest of their lives.

Palliative care is similar, but significantly different in one respect. It also provides comprehensive comfort care, but is offered while attempts to cure the person’s illness are continued. Thus, a person under palliative care remains in that state while he or she is either cured of the disease or finally acknowledges that no cure will be found and thereby enters the hospice state of care.

The world’s top climate scientists on the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported today that our planet is presently in danger of reaching a turning point temperature after which automatic, irreversible warming would push our planet over the brink into a new hot-house state intolerable to human beings. In other terms, this report suggests that we Earthlings are in need of palliative if not hospice care due to the present condition of our planet. This need has arisen in recent decades because the Earth has lost its ability to provide the physical conditions that allowed human beings to thrive over the last 10,000 years (a period known as the Holocene). The great threat to our continued existence on Earth is presently due to the huge excesses of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide and methane, we humans have emitted into the atmosphere over the Industrial Age.  A major cause of these unnatural emissions is our overuse of fossil fuels for energy production.

This well-known problem should come as no surprise in view of the fact that the population of human beings on Earth is now greater than seven billion and is still increasing exponentially – along with the fact that a large portion of these human beings have become addicted to the use of fossil fuels for energy production. Throughout most of the 10,000 year-period prior to the Industrial Age (beginning in the 19th century), the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere was about 280 ppm (parts per million). Today, it is about 420 ppm, almost 50% greater. The additional retention of heat caused by these excess greenhouse gases has led to increased global average temperatures, now more than 1.0 degrees Celsius greater than it was during the preindustrial era. The IPCC report unequivocally states that irreversible, runaway processes are likely to occur if the Earth’s average temperature increases by one more degree C.  In that case stable human civilizations, as we know them, will no longer be able to exist (due to sea level rise, climate-induced migrations of people, increased violent weather, and the collapse of ocean and terrestrial ecosystems.)  While all of this has been predicted for many decades by climate scientists, those alarms have yet to be taken as seriously as they need to be.

It would clearly be helpful if we had a way to remove the excess man-made CO2 from our atmosphere.  But unfortunately, we presently don’t know how to do that at the enormous scale required.  While it is very easy to add CO2 to the biosphere by the combustion of fossil fuels, it is very difficult to remove it. The natural processes that normally provide this service occur very slowly, taking several centuries to accomplish that task.

In addition, all previous attempts to reduce mankind’s emissions of CO2 by reducing our use of fossil fuels for energy production have not been successful on the scale required. Instead, we continue to find and develop new sources of gas, oil, and coal throughout the planet. This, of course, further increases the carbon content of the biosphere thereby further increasing the Earth’s average temperature. If “business-as-usual” trends such as these continue in the future, we Earthlings will be in need of hospice-like end-of-life care while we wait for the ravages of global warming to render our lives untenable.  

On the other hand, if mankind takes aggressive action against global warming soon enough, then a form of palliative care might remain possible by which the survival of our species is conceivable. This would have to happen prior to the start of irreversible carbon emissions from the vast carbon reservoirs of the Earth such as the frozen permafrost tundra of the Arctic, the methane clathrates of the ocean bottoms, and the peat deposits of the northern hemisphere. 

So, what are these aggressive actions we need to take? They include the reduction and then elimination of CO2 and CH4 emissions by our combustion of fossil fuels, the elimination of other greenhouse gas emissions, the removal of some of the existing atmospheric CO2 by artificial means and the complete electrification of our means of energy delivery. While these required tasks will, indeed, be formidable, if we fail to do them, we will be changing our heath care needs on Earth from that of palliative to hospice – an outcome that would be unacceptable to all.

In the past, we have taken our human friendly conditions on Earth for granted.  We can no longer afford to do that. For this reason, please read and carefully consider the IPCC report of 2021 being released today.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 8, 2021

Biden’s FDR-like leadership on climate change

In his recent address to the joint chambers of congress, it was most refreshing to hear President Biden declare that his administration will put a very high priority on combating the relentless advance of global warming. This constitutes a great improvement over the expressed goals of all previous presidents and especially those of Biden’s predecessor.

As we all know, however, the passage of progressive legislation concerning this issue will be strongly opposed by the powerful fossil fuel lobbies. We have already seen some efforts along these lines by various Republican legislators and I will describe one of these below that is indicative of the tactics Biden’s adversaries will use.

All components of our economic system will have to allow its greenhouse gas emissions to be assessed, of course, and this includes our agricultural sector in which the huge beef industry resides. And it is well known that the production of beef is extremely carbon intensive relative to the production of plant-based foods. In spite of this fact, President Biden has not yet revealed any specific suggestions for addressing agriculture’s contributions to global warming. The high carbon footprint of beef production is, indeed, difficult to deal with due to the popularity of beef among the public as well as its producers. For this reason, I suspect that the Biden team is already discussing this issue with all concerned parties including the representatives of both the ranching and farming industries. 

In spite of Biden’s careful approach, his adversaries are already providing Fox-news-like misinformation on this topic by claiming that Biden is actively trying to deny Americans their beloved hamburgers and steaks. The GOP’s reason for this misrepresentation is undoubtedly to encourage the beef lobby to add their support to the fossil fuel lobby as soon as possible so that they can prevent timely actions concerning greenhouse gas emissions – before discussions are given a chance to find clarity, resolution, and points of compromise. Food production is, after all, a huge industry in which a multitude of options are continuously being discovered.    

The tactic described above is frequently used by the climate change inactivists. Instead of addressing the central question of whether or not some specific changes are feasible in order to combat global warming, they skip that part and exaggerate the difficulties that some needed actions might possibly present. However, when a literal “war” is required in order to effectively address a problem, unpopular, but necessary, changes will sometimes have to be made. When WWII was forced on us by Japan and Germany in 1941, for example, we immediately took the actions that were required – even though those actions would result in the deaths of many young Americans whose lives were just beginning and who had done nothing to create the problem. We reluctantly did that, however, in order to fight that all-out war by the most effective means possible. And, if you think that the war against global warming is going to be any less challenging than that fought against our opponents in WWII, you are mistaken.

Prior to the forcing event of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had been in a very difficult spot politically. He couldn’t declare war on Germany at that time even though Germany was overrunning most of our traditional allies throughout Europe. FDR was boxed in largely because of the popular “America First” movement of the USA that insisted we not send our boys off to another European war. So instead, FDR got the Lend Lease program started and did his best to prepare the American public for what he knew lay ahead.

Our current President Biden is now walking a similar tightrope. While he knows that a full-fledged war against global warming will be required, he has to proceed with considerable caution so that he retains sufficient support from the public. That is a difficult task, indeed, that is not at all helped by the business-as-usual inactivists of today.

Needless to say, I am extremely proud of President Biden for courageously taking on this most difficult leadership role. In doing so, he will have a very tough row to hoe because of the technical and political problems he is sure to encounter. He could have easily avoided this greatest of all problems, as most of his predecessors did, but he didn’t because he realizes that we simply must finally face the reality of our greatest existential threat, just as FDR did in the 1940’s. We now have a President who is willing to lead this absolutely essential quest. Many thanks for that Mr. President!! All of us should now join him in his effort to pass a livable world on to future generations.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 1, 2021

But where’s the beef in Biden’s climate plan?

While I have been very pleased to see that President Biden intends to give high priority to addressing the world’s greatest problem, climate change, I have also noted that he has not yet mentioned in his concerns the contributions of agriculture and, more specifically, our need to change a large portion of our diets from meat-based to plant-based foods. His reason for this omission is most likely due to political rather than scientific considerations. The agricultural lobby of the USA is very strong and firmly entrenched.  Asking them for their support in reducing beef production is probably about as difficult a task as asking the fossil fuel industries to support reductions in our use of gas, oil, and coal. President Biden is already facing strong push-back from the fossil fuel industries and, I am sure, would prefer that the agricultural lobby not add its great strength to those forces for non-action on climate change.

Nevertheless, in pondering an argument that would explain why changes in agricultural are needed, I happened to see an op ed by Stephanie Feldstein which serves this purpose very well. Therefore, I have included a portion of it below.  Her entire article can be found at the source cited.   

Opinion by Stephanie Feldstein in Washington Post, April 29, 2021

Stephanie Feldstein is the population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity.  A portion of her op ed follows.

“Americans eat four times the global average of beef. This is particularly troubling since domestic livestock animals and their manure are responsible for more U.S. methane emissions than any other industry. Those emissions, which have much higher warming potential than carbon dioxide, have been increasing, even as the importance of reducing methane gained recognition. Since 1990, methane emissions from manure alone have risen to 68 percent. We can’t meet climate goals without reducing meat and dairy consumption.

Among this week’s angry tweets claiming Americans were losing their right to a rib-eye, there was little argument over whether meat reduction is an effective and necessary climate strategy. That’s because the science is clear on the climate footprint of meat-heavy diets. But Republicans have an appetite for destruction when it comes to the climate, and they’re more than willing to ignore the facts in favor of fueling the culture war over occasionally eating one fewer burger.

The American way of life isn’t threatened by replacing a beef burger with a veggie version. But it is threatened by the climate crisis, which puts Americans at risk as temperatures and sea levels rise and as drought and disease diminish our ability to grow nutritious food.”  

So, there you have it.  It’s another case of a well-established custom facing a clear dictate from science – somewhat like the tobacco wars of previous decades except that in the present case, it’s all of us and our descendents and not just the offending individuals that are at risk.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | April 4, 2021

My response to “The Big Question”


While studying and teaching the science associated with climate change for many years, I am sometimes asked “The Big Question”: that is, what is my best guess as to the fate of planet Earth due to our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In this post, I will try to answer that question as well as I can – with the understanding shared by the great baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, who admitted that “predictions are hard to make – especially about the future.”  Nevertheless, here goes my attempt.     

First, I will break my response into two parts, each of which is determined by what mankind choses to do or not do in the next decade. I will call the simplest of these “Scenario A” in which we essentially make no changes and continue with business-as-usual methods of energy production. This scheme requires little changes in our economy but, unfortunately, is sure to lead to distinctly disastrous consequences. This outcome of Scenario A has been predicted many times based on mature and time-tested laws of science.

The amount of CO2 we have already emitted over the Industrial Age has increased the level of CO2 in the atmosphere to about 50% greater than it was prior to the Industrial Age and higher than it has ever been in the last 3 million years. In addition, it should be noted that the extra CO2 we have added to our atmosphere during the Industrial Age will not come out quickly, but will remain in the biosphere for several centuries. That means that our planet is already in dire straits due to its elevated and long-lasting concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Within Scenario A, CO2 levels and the temperature of the Earth will continue to increase well beyond current levels – eventually leading to a runaway condition in which higher temperatures will cause additional natural emissions of greenhouse gases from various carbon deposits (such as those in the permafrost of the Arctic and methane clathrates of the ocean bottoms). These massive natural emissions will add to the emissions of mankind. This is expected to change conditions of Earth so much that they will become incompatible with existing forms of civilization. This distinctly disastrous outcome is inevitable under Scenario A. Sorry, but that is simply what Mother Nature is expected do in response to our continued use of fossil fuels.  

Another detrimental aspect of Scenario A is that it would quickly lead to “gloom and doom” attitudes under which all efforts for climate recovery would be thought to be useless.  “Enjoy the fossil fuel party while it lasts” would become our motto – as it already is among the fossil fuel advocates.

It should also be noted that the advocates of Scenario A will do their best to offer various “painless” options in which continuous fossil fuel use would be allowed -while claiming to solve the AGW problem in other ways.  These proposals generally involve the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere or making weather modifications, such as would result from increasing the Earth’s reflection of the Sun’s radiation. These proposals appear to be motivated mainly by their potential for selling Scenario A to the public more than to actually solving the AGW problem.  Therefore, if we bet the entire farm on any of these supposedly less painful options, I suspect that we would still be headed for the same disastrous outcomes forecasted in Scenario A.     

Fortunately, there also is a Scenario B that is scientifically feasible and would be much less harmful to future conditions if undertaken before that irreversible runaway event described above occurs. This option would require a great deal of work made especially so because of the fact that we would be starting this corrective action so late in the game.

Scenario B requires that we “decarbonize” our entire means of energy production in a manner that does not cause the emissions of greenhouse gases. This option will require the “electrification” of nearly everything (cars are just one example) that was previously powered by fossil fuel combustion.  A massive increase in the generation of the electrical power and its storage will also be required. For this purpose, more nuclear reactors might be required throughout the world. While the development of an “Electronic Age” of this sort is thought to be technically possible (see my post of Dec 9, 2020 called the “The 100 % Solution”), it will surely run into great resistance from the multitude of people and industries that are addicted to fossil fuels. In frank terms, Scenario B would require nothing less than a complete change from our present well-entrenched Fossil Fuel Age to a new Electronic Age. The technical challenges associated with the creation of a new Electronic Age would be formidable and the focus required to achieve it would be similar to that needed for winning WWII.  And, like WWII, there would be no guarantees of success.   

So, what is the answer to the Big Question initially posed – “what is going to happen?”  A major portion of that question can be answered by any well-informed citizen just a well as a climate scientist because a critical portion of Scenario B depends on our communal and intergenerational sense of values.  Will the present set of human beings on this planet be able to say goodbye to the Fossil Fuel Age in which they have lived all of their lives AND will they have enough faith in the fields of science as to jump into the totally new era that climate science recommends?

So, you tell me what the answer is to The Big Question.  If your answer is no – the citizens of Earth will not be able to make that transition – then my answer is that we are headed for the disastrous outcome associated with Scenario A.  If your answer is yes – we can make that transition out of the fossil fuel age and into an Electronic Age – then my answer is that we might be able to achieve tolerable rather than disastrous consequences.

In conclusion, the future of our planet is currently in the hands of its inhabitants and their leaders. While the relevant scientific parts of the problem are relatively clear, we don’t know yet what people and their political leaders will choose to do. Thus, what mankind chooses to do – probably within the current decade – will very likely determine whether future conditions on Earth will be either disastrous or manageable. My own preference is that we do our best to achieve that new Electronic Age. We have kicked this can down the road for much too long and we might not get a second chance to retain manageable conditions on Earth. In the process, we will also be performing a great service to our grandchildren.   

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 30, 2021

The deniers are now “progressive inactivists”

The nature of the ongoing arguments concerning anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming (AGW) has recently changed, as is thoroughly explained in Michael Mann’s new book entitled, “New Climate Change War”.  Mann is an American climate scientist who has been on the front line of the AGW war throughout the last three decades. In this post, I will relate one of the major points made by Dr. Mann.  

A few years ago the climate change debate was largely between those who believed in the science behind AGW and those who denied that possibility.  Today, the argument has changed due to the overwhelming evidence for warming that has been observed in the most recent decades.  The former deniers of AGW now tend to agree that it is occurring and should be addressed in a timely manner.  At the same time, however, they now promote only those techniques and policies that would not reduce our use of fossil fuels (FF) and, therefore, remain strong spokespersons for the FF industries.  

Unfortunately, the policies they promote for addressing AGW have not been proven to be safe and effective. Thus, this group can now be more appropriately labeled our environmental “inactivists” who promote dubious technologies for fighting AGW in order to take attention away from the most sensible methods that focus on the heart of the matter – that is, the reduction of FF use. 

An example of this is the inactivist’s strong promotion of coal-fired power plants that are modified so that they capture and store a fraction of the CO2 emitted deep in the Earth where it is hoped that it will never be released back into the atmosphere. While this concept has been intensely investigated, it has not been shown to be viable at anywhere near the scale that is required. Nevertheless, the inactivists repeatedly suggest that this carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) scheme could eventually eliminate CO2 emissions from the multitude of coal-fired power plants presently operating throughout the world.  Again, what’s missing in this CCS scheme is any evidence concerning its applicability at the massive scale required. Nevertheless, CCS is presently used by the inactivists as a sales gimmick to mislead the public into believing that coal-fired power plants have a bright future in our attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, these same inactivists refuse to support a long-overdue carbon fee that would be charged to fossil fuel producers for their use of our atmosphere as a garbage dump. This carbon fee is entirely appropriate because it will cost a great deal to remove that extra CO2 that still is being added to the atmosphere by FF combustion. This fair and logical manner of reducing FF emissions is not supported by the inactivists merely because it would, indeed, reduce FF use throughout the world. It would also create a more level playing field for other non-polluting methods of energy production.     

Meanwhile, those who have been long-time believers in the science of AGW have not changed their tune and can still be appropriately labeled “activists” who not only believe in the science behind global warming, but also favor the direct actions that are required to successfully arrest its advance.   

With the relabeling described above, we can better understand the views most recently promoted by the inactivists.  They now claim to be very concerned about AGW and are allowed to weigh in on the question of what should be done about it. However, they do this in a manner that is likely to do more harm than good. 

Another example: the inactivists now promote the “gloom and doom” view suggesting that it is too late to do anything meaningful to address the AGW problem. This view implies that we should simply try to enjoy the fossil-fuel “party” while it lasts – thereby allowing the FF advocates to continue to sell their deadly wares until that addiction makes conditions on Earth much worse than they already are. The “gloom and doom” attitude is promoted by the inactivists simply because it would allow the FF industries to squeeze every penny out of FF sales for as long as possible.

Fortunately, this view of gloom and doom is not supported by science. That is, there is no scientific evidence that indicates that the Earth has already entered a run-away, irreversible state of change at this point in time. Our progression towards warming can still be arrested and reversed – but only if we stop burning fossil fuels – which, of course, is exactly what the inactivists are trying to prevent.   

Another example of the duplicity behind the recommendations of the inactivists is their promotions of various means of “geoengineering” of our climate. For example, it is well known that the intensity of solar radiation at the surface of Earth can be decreased by putting reflective sulfate aerosols into the upper atmosphere thereby cooling the Earth. Again, however, this idea and the numerous side effects that are sure accompany it have not been sufficiently tested and might do far more harm than good to our natural environment. Still the inactivists promote it simply because it would allow the continued use of fossil fuels for energy production – even though it would do nothing to reduce our emissions of CO2.

In summarizing the points made above, the AGW war is now being fought between the activists who favor action directed at the heart of the matter (fossil fuel combustion) and the inactivists who promote unproven possibilities simply because they would allow the continued use of fossil fuels at business-as-usual levels. In deciding which of these two choices we should take, it is clear that one is focused on returning the Earth to the natural conditions it had prior the Industrial Age and the other is driven mainly by the profit motivations of our exceedingly powerful fossil fuel industries. So, yes, the former deniers of AGW have now joined the ranks of people concerned about climate change. But most unfortunately, their motivations are mainly to create distractions and chaos within the climate change community so that no meaningful action is taken.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 16, 2021

We must get better at discussing our most important problem

The relentless greenhouse gas warming of our planet is clearly the most important problem facing us today.  No other issue comes close in its importance.  One of the main reasons why it has us in dire straits today is that the problem has been largely ignored in the past and still is today in many quarters. The science behind global warming is clear, however. And, if not attended to in a prompt manner, it will change our planet so much – even within the current 21st century – that we will never have the opportunity to address it or any other issue again.

Thus, it should be clear that we have no viable options available to us other than to do our very best to resist the further advance of this global malady. Giving up and resigning ourselves to acceptance of whatever happens is not an option – that is akin to suicide on a species level. Those of us that are alive today have a shot at reducing the worst impacts of warming to the point where survival might be possible for many and possibly even most.  And please don’t buy into the latest message from the fossil fuel industries that it is too late to do anything about it.  We still have a chance of turning things around.

So yes, indeed, we as a species are presently in very big trouble and my apologies go out to any of you who don’t know or want to accept that fact yet. Perhaps one of the main reasons why so many of us do not know about or accept our present tenuous state is because so many of us who are in positions of leadership or public influence find the subject very difficult to accept as a possibility and do not want to talk about it in an open and honest manner. This common preference to “see no evil” in this instance is one of the most unfortunate side effects of this daunting problem and I have repeatedly observed it in many of our companions whose children and grandchildren will be just as affected by future warming as mine. 

I have found that the automatic freeze-up of our minds that occurs when this subject is brought up in polite company causes otherwise intelligent and knowledgeable people to behave in illogical, irresponsible manners. An example of this is provided below in which the setting is a well respected college – a place where open and honest discussions of the world’s biggest problem should occur on a regular basis.  

Over the last few years, I have tried to engage the President and Board of Regents of my alma mater, St. Olaf College in Northfield Minnesota, in a conversation concerning the divestment of that college’s endowment funds from fossil fuel industries. In the process, I have also tried to learn more about the reasons for their point of view which typically go against the grain of our best science on this subject. The college responses have generally been of a narrow financial nature and included very little about the obvious ethical questions that should arise when assessing activities that are sure to cause great damage to mankind’s welfare in the future. The responses of the college’s leadership generally imply that they think it is not their responsibility to support or not support issues that that lie within the domain of governmental politics. Their responses also suggest that their own obligations to the global warming problem are being satisfactorily met by the fact that their college facilities now include sources of renewable energy (wind and solar) that provide the electrical needs of their campus. They do not discuss, however, other popular programs of the college that involve distinctly high carbon footprints – such as their studies abroad and travel programs which they are doing their best to increase via their promotional literature.  

While their efforts to provide the electrical needs of their campus by renewables is a good start that many home owners, including me, have also taken, I don’t believe that it excuses either the colleges or home owners from doing much more than that.  The world needs to bring all of its greenhouse gas emissions to near zero in the next few decades. What is currently missing from our colleges and universities is strong leadership and the promotion of more open and honest discussions of the total global warming problem – that include the ethical as well as financial aspects of the problem. Our educational institutions are well poised for undertaking that task.   

The ethical questions I have put to my alma mater would seem to be obvious and fair enough and the subject is exceedingly important. And, I have had a hard time believing that these college representatives don’t also recognize the ethical aspects of the issue which they refuse to discuss.  As leaders of academic institutions, these individuals should be promoting open discussions of all aspects of this issue including those of an ethical nature.      

It is my understanding that many colleges and universities of the USA took strong ethical stances against South African companies associated with the apartheid policies in the latter part of the 20th century.  If those stances were based on perceived injustices to the non-white populations of that country, why would we then encourage similar injustices being perpetrated on all future generations by our continued investments in fossil fuels? Is this because the administrations of today’s colleges and universities don’t see these injustices being done today to future residences of Earth or is it because they think that injustices based on racial differences require correction while those based on intergenerational differences do not?

My own conclusion regarding the question of divestments from fossil fuel industries by our educational institutions is that the ethical aspects of the decision should be determining factors when the underlying science is clear. Therefore, discussions of those ethical questions should be promoted by the colleges and universities, rather than discouraged as they now often seem to be – even though open discussions of our ethical responsibilities might lead to recommendations concerning institutional investments that are the opposite of those taken by the President and the Board of Regents. Sadly, free and open discussions of the type I am advocating presently appear to be discouraged on the campus of my alma mater and that of other colleges (read about similar events at Harvard University, for example, on my post of June 29, 2016) because the financial preferences of the college’s financial managers are overriding the ethical aspects of the issue that might be of greater concern to the wider campus community.  

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