Posted by: ericgrimsrud | July 10, 2019

Rick Steves needs to think again

Rick Steves has just announced his new idea for making up for the negative environmental effects of the air travel prompted by his popular PBS program, “Rick Steves’ Europe”.

His new idea can be seen at https://blog.ricksteves.com/blog/clim,,ate-smart-commitment/

Starting this year, Rick Steves’ Europe will invest $1 million a year in a portfolio of nonprofits that fight climate change and help the people it’s hitting the hardest. They figure it takes about $30 of careful investment in environmental initiatives in the developing world to mitigate the carbon emissions created by one tourist traveling from the United States to Europe and back. About 30,000 people travel on tours sponsored by Rick Steves each year. Therefore, they believe that their $1 mlllion donations will make up for the damage to our atmosphere done by their travelling customers.

Steves’ explains the rational of this program as follows: “Travelers face a dilemma: While international travel is one of the best ways to become a better global citizen, every flight emits damaging carbon into the atmosphere. Fortunately, it’s possible to mitigate this environmental toll. Each year, Rick Steves’ Europe invests $1 million in a portfolio of nonprofits that are making a big difference. That means that each traveler who takes a Rick Steves’ Europe tour can enjoy the peace of mind that they are traveling climate smart.”

Unfortunately, Steves’ logic needs at lot of work. It is not, in fact, possible to effectively mitigate enormous additional emissions of CO2. The world is on the brink of catastrophic global warming and it needs to cut global emission now! period. Steves is trying to sooth the consciences of his travelling customers while he is promoting more travel and more emissions of carbon. In addition, the carbon footprint of poor people in third world countries is already very low relative to the more developed countries. Steves’ new program will not lower the C foot prints of those poor folks. Thus, global CO2 emissions will not thereby be diminished by his program and, instead, they are more likely to be increased as more travelers learn from Steves how to overcome their consciences.

I am therefore disappointed by Steves’ witless proposal. I had hoped that he would adopt a much better plan such as the following. Rick Steves’ Europe already provides the public with many “trips” of sorts to all places in Europe. His existing TV programs provide a virtual visit to places that I am not likely to travel to because of my own interest in low C emissions. I can stay home and still undergo the virtual visits he provides in each of his programs.

So, the question I have is why is Steves doing this and why does he end each of his programs with his “keep on travelling” directive to his audience? He is doing a good job of “taking us along” via his existing PBS programs. So why is it necessary for him to encourage his multitude of listeners to literally duplicate in person the virtual trips he is providing?

Sadly, I suspect that the main reason for this is that Steves’ PBS programs are at the very least partially financed by our extensive airline and travel industries which desperately needs to keep the American public “on the move”. While I have some sympathy for industries that have painted themselves into a corner by their addiction to fossil fuels, I have much more sympathy for the rights of future generations to not have to bear the mistakes of their predecessors. Steves would do us all a great favor by releasing himself from the death grip of our fossil-fuel and travel industries and think again about how he can better serve the present needs of society.

 

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 14, 2019

Some overdue criticism of the airlines

The article referred to below is a “must read” for the multitude of Americans that are so in love with and/or dependent on travel by aircraft that they ignore its great contribution to global warming.  See it at:

http://www.politico.eu/article/the-popular-revolt-against-flying-climate-european-airlines-carbon-emissions/

This article explains why air travel is not about to be rescued by any of the technological developments that have been envisioned, to date.  So, if you or your institution of employment are “frequent flyers”, you will be one of the major contributors to future global warming and there is no remedy for that offense that is either in the works or in the planning stage.

Sorry, but the Earth is, indeed, a finite place that does not have the ability to rid itself of all pollutants.  Concerning that of CO2, we are already well past that limit with little chance of its removal. In case you don’t know, travel by aircraft produces a lot of CO2 and is doing so more every year. Surface transport alternatives are much better with respect to addressing this problem but, of course, that would require changes in lifestyles that might not be considered worthwhile for many.

Unfortunately, this message applies to everyone, even the extensive Studies Abroad Programs of St. Olaf College in Northfield Minnesota, for example, that apparently thinks their CO2 emissions are of an ethical type that don’t matter. It is most distressing that even our institutions of higher education need to be told this.  The reaches of the airline travel and the fossil fuel industries are, indeed, long and strong constituting a literal “death grip” on American society.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | June 6, 2019

Arresting the advance of global warming in 2020

The sorry state of our planet today with respect to its continuous heating by man-made atmospheric greenhouse gases can be attributed to the lack of attention given this problem by all administrations of the USA since 1988 when the scientific case for troubles ahead was clearly spelled out to the administration of George H. W. Bush by America’s leading climate scientist, James Hansen.  If action against climate had been begun then, we would have been able to avoid the worst consequences of warming. Most unfortunately for all of us and our decedents, that did not happen.

While professing concern about global warming in 1988, the first Bush administration decided to take no action at that time – that is, to “wait and see” seemed to be the prudent thing to do to George H.W.  It is also true that John Sununu, Bush’s Chief of Staff had inappropriately assumed the role of in-house science expert and believed that Hansen’s view was fraught with error (which time has shown not to be the case).  Unfortunately, the President tended to defer to Sununu’s view in this matter.

It was also most unfortunate that at that time the major oil companies, who up until then had provided some of the best research concerning greenhouse gas warming, decided to stop doing that research because it was suggesting troubles ahead for the use of their products. So, instead, they decided to use their resources for spreading doubt concerning the science being undertaken on this topic by others.  As a result of these events in that critical year of 1988, the world lost its best chance to take effective and timely action.

The following Clinton administration also expressed some concern but provided little, if any, action – in spite of the fact that Al Gore was the Vice President at that time.  The next President, George W. Bush got elected by claiming to be just as concerned as his competitor, Al Gore, but then pulled the rug from under his progressive new head of the EPA, Christine Todd Whitman, as soon as the fossil fuel industries pushed back on the initial actions of Ms. Whitman.

Thus, during the first critical decade of the 21st Century, essentially nothing was done to arrest the alarming increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Sad to say that during the following administration of the Democrat, Barack Obama, very little, other than talk, also occurred. Obama’s first priority was to institute a national health care system and the Republican’s opposition to that issue seemed to consume almost all national attention during Obama’s two terms.

And now we presently have a president, Donald Trump, who is probably the most ill-focused and least progressive US president of all times. One of the few things we know for sure about this man is that he is one of the world’s strongest deniers of the science behind global warming and is one of the fossil fuels industry’s greatest supporters, strongly advocating more oil and gas exploration and extraction.

Because of the above, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has now risen to about 410 part per millions – which is about 50% higher than it was prior to the fossil-fuel-driven Industrial Age.  Life as we know it today cannot be sustained with that level of atmospheric CO2 and still, we are adding an additional 2-3 ppm CO2 to it ever year. While the best science tells us that we need to reduce the atmospheric CO2 level to about 350 ppm within the next few decades, we haven’t even managed to level off man-caused annual emissions yet, much less reduce them.

So, what should be the greatest priority of a new Democratic administration should we manage to get one after the upcoming elections of 2020. In my opinion, it is obvious that it has to include very strong action against the further advance of global warming. If we are not successful in that endeavor, which now has indeed become a very formidable task, no other issues of humanity will matter within a very few decades.

Some good news is that, finally, the issue has become one of highest priorities for one of our political parties – the Democrats. Most of their candidates for the 2020 presidency appear to be of that opinion.  As usual, however, the Republicans will not be supportive and are sure to hammer the democrats for supporting the great system changes that will be required.  It is true that success in the battle against climate change will require major changes to the fossil-fuel-drenched business- as-usual system that we have become so addicted to.

So, even though this battle is sure to be very difficult, it appears, at least, that the issue will now finally be put to the electorate in the primary and national elections of 2020.  Note that in the present year, the issue of climate change will be front and center, as opposed to it not even being mentioned in the candidate debates prior to 2016. Thus, what we do about this all-important issue will finally be up to the voting public.  Hopefully, they will prove to be more responsible than their elected officials have been for the last 30 years.

Posted by: ericgrimsrud | May 22, 2019

What exactly is that “seat at the table”

In attempts by myself and others to get my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minnesota, to divest itself from fossil fuel dependent industries, the president of that institution has countered with the argument that being so invested provides St. Olaf with a seat at the fossil fuel CEO’s table. Apparently what President Anderson is asking you to believe is that he and Board of Regents at St. Olaf College support action against global warming and that their partial ownership via their modest investments in fossil fuel companies will induce them to take appropriate actions against climate change.

I will admit at the onset that I view this “seat at the table” argument to be laughable and even insulting to the intelligence of the St. Olaf community. Don’t the President and the Board of Regents at St. Olaf College realize that the purpose of fossil fuel industries is first and foremost to make money for their investors by the production, sale, and use of their product? Wouldn’t any CEO of such an industry who does not promote the continued use of fossil fuels be replaced immediately by those investors. So why would the administration of St. Olaf College be so naïve as to think that they could decrease fossil fuel production simply by their presence at fossil fuel board meetings. And, why would the fossil fuel industries pay any attention to a party that talks the talk concerning the fossil fuel reductions but, in fact, is thoroughly addicted to them themselves and is promoting increased fossil fuel use.

And the logic behind this “seat at the table” nonsense gets worse. St. Olaf College is actually a major consumer of fossil fuels even though, like many other businesses and even private residences, they are also increasing their use of alternate means of electricity generation (wind mills and solar panels). These latter changes are relatively easy to make because they are now financially competitive with electricity generation by fossil fuel combustion. The net carbon footprint of St. Olaf College remains very high, however, due to other functions dependent of fossil fuel, such at the heating of their campus facilities and their unusually high level of international travel associated with their studies abroad programs.

By their own admission the studies abroad programs of St. Olaf send more students, faculty, alumni and friends to the far reaches of our planet than any other college or university of its size. In addition, a major goal of the college is to increase the fraction of their student body that take advantage of these travel programs. In addition, St. Olaf aggressively encourages alumni and friends to join these excursions. Without question, studies abroad programs have considerable value for those who can afford them. At the same time, however, does St. Olaf College not realize that all unnecessary activities leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions must now be rigorously reexamined as never before with respect to their environmental impacts. And does St. Olaf College not know that long distance travel by aircraft is among the greatest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions today. Does St. Olaf really think that its seat at the headquarters of Delta Airlines will lead to a reduction in the number of Delta flights while St. Olaf’s own promotional literature strongly encourages increased enrollment in their extensive travel programs. And why would St. Olaf’s plea at that table for an aggressive attack on global warming be viewed as credible when its own behavior is not in that direction.

If St. Olaf College is the center of intellectual activity and moral conviction it claims to be, it should consider standing on its own against the forces of climate change and not float the silly notion that it is doing its part by occupying some sort of poorly defined seats at various of fossil fuel related industries. It appears to me that St.Olaf College could learn a bit from the history of its Norwegian founders. Vidkun Quisling was the Prime Minister of Norway during its occupation by Germany from 1942 to 1945. By his cooperation with the Nazis, he claimed to he providing Norway with a seat at the Nazi table, but in the end was perceived to be a traitor to his country. When dealing with issues that are of central and determining importance to a given institution, one should first and foremost clearly decide which side of the issue you want to be on – even if that decision might require going up against the powerful. Cozying up to the fossil fuel industries today might be a short-term winner for St. Olaf College but is sure to eventually become a long-term looser that future Ole’s will become ashamed of.

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

 

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