Posted by: ericgrimsrud | March 27, 2016

The Four Horsemen of this Apocalypse

We are painfully aware of what we are doing to our atmosphere. It now contains over 40% more CO2 than it ever has in the last three million years and we are still adding more to it every year.  We also know that this man-caused excess CO2 will stay in the atmosphere for many centuries heating up the Earth for several millennia into the future. We also know that sea levels will be rising quickly in the current century rendering vast coastal regions and major coastal cities uninhabitable.  We also know that a warmer atmospheric carrying more water vapor will greatly increase the frequency of extreme weather events. We also know that global warming has weakened our Jet Stream thereby creating prolonged warmer and prolonged colder periods all across the Northern Hemisphere. We also know that 9 billion people will be living on our planet by midcentury and that massive levels of human migration and starvation will follow. We scientifically understand all of this and are also well aware of technical changes that could significantly reduce the chances of the most dire outcomes if we chose to aggressively combat the buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.  Because of our past neglect we now also know that we need to cut man-caused emissions of CO2 to near zero within the next several decades.

In spite of all of this knowledge, our global annual emissions of CO2 have not yet begun to decrease. In fact, they are still increasing every year.  So why is this? How can mankind be so utterly foolish and irresponsible as to do this to his planet?  In pondering that question four reasons stand out to me.  I will call them the Four Horsemen of our Apocalypse because like those described in the Book of Revelations they promise to bring Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death.

The first of these is: but we can’t “afford” to address this problem – because doing so will do too much damage to our economy.  This line of reasoning is extremely common in our country today as evidenced by a column recently written by economist Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post.  For a full account of his column and my response to it, please see my post of  December 2015 entitled “Robert J. Samuelson needs to meet Mother Nature”.  While Samuelson acknowledges that man-caused global warming constitutes a very serious problem, he nevertheless argues that we can’t afford to change our business-as-usual dependence on fossil fuels because of the ill effects he believes that would have on our existing economy.  Apparently, he and many others think that a damaged economy would be worse than a 4 degrees C warmer world.  Alternatively, maybe Samuelson thinks that “something will come up” on the science and technology fronts that will save us from the ravages of warning – even though we do not yet know of any such safety net. While such thinking is scientifically insupportable, the notion that our economy is more important than our environment is widely shared by controlling forces of US business and government.

The Second Horseman of this Apocalypse is that the public thinks we are addressing the problem. This is partially due to the ubiquitous TV advertisements of the fossil fuel companies which erroneously assure us of this. Sadly, however, this same notion is also perpetrated by a large portion of our more environmentally conscientious politicians and even scientists who prefer to provide “good news” to the public rather than being appropriately blunt.  I have previously related these point on this website in a January 2016 post entitled “Yes, indeed, too many scientists are biased”.  While it is relatively easy to envision why politicians who want to be returned to office in the next election cycle pander to the public in this way, it is more difficult to understand why scientists are now “self –censoring” their own research – in an attempt to be on the same page as well-meaning politicians and sources of research funding. Thus, for example, the public has the impression that the recent Paris Accord on climate change produced a meaningful path forward that is supported by both civil and scientific authorities on the subject.  By decreasing angst among the public, the Paris Accord has possibly done more harm than good.

The Third Horseman of this Apocalypse is the notion that we cannot trust other nations. The elevated CO2 level we presently have in our atmosphere was created primary by the developed countries of the world during the Industrial Age.  It is the energy they derived from fossil fuel combustion that made possible most of the technological marvels they enjoy today.  In recent decades, the developing countries of the world, such as China and India, have been catching up. Their CO2 emissions are now just as large as those of the developed countries and are increasing as greater rate. Therefore, the challenge before us today is to convince the developing world that they should not “take their turn” in enjoying the energy that is still so readily provided by fossil fuels. Many in both the developed and developing countries have so little hope for the prospects of this notion, however, that they argue that it will fail and, therefore, there is no point in reducing their own emissions.  In short, the great spread of fossil fuel use throughout the world has caused many to believe that the problem can no longer be addressed, no matter what the developed countries do.  In short, many have no faith in the prospects for international cooperation concerning this as well as other issues.

Finally, the Fourth Horseman is the fact that our atmosphere provides a free-of-charge garbage dump for waste CO2. That is, we have still not done the obvious – assign a fee or carbon use tax to the production and combustion of fossil fuels – one that continuously increases each year until the emissions of CO2 have been driven down to near zero.  I have previously discussed this point also in several posts on this website such as “We need either much better people or a carbon tax” in October 2015 and “The NFPTFCPFM Energy Plan” in November 2014.  Obviously, our unconscionable means of CO2 waste disposal will continue to be used by fossil fuel users as long as it remains free of change.  In addition, this century-old gift to the fossil fuel producers has inhibited the development of the alternate, non-CO2-producing means of energy production.  Only by charging the full costs of all means of energy production can a level playing field be created in the energy sectors in which there would be no need for federal “gifts” to any energy producers.

Now let’s be brutally clear here about one important point. The overall object of an increasing carbon tax would be to drive CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use to near zero over the next few decades.  Yes, that does mean putting the fossil fuel companies out of the energy business.  Given that fact, are you still on board with the carbon tax concept or are you too wedded to fossil fuel use to go along with it?   And can you think of any industries or stock holders that might object to this overall objective?  Yes, indeed, resistance to this essential and eminently fair change in our tax laws constitutes the most formidable of our Four Housemen.

Others? There are other candidates for this Horsemen designation than can be envisioned, of course. But the ones that I can think of at the moment are merely the ever present foibles of mankind that underlie the ones I have listed above.  Foremost among these would be deficiencies in our respect for our environment and the forces of Mother Nature, deficiencies in our scientific acumen, and a moral lapse concerning our intergenerational responsibilities.  They say it helps to know who your real enemies are and we have indeed met them. They are these Four Horsemen of this Apocalypse who, by the way, are us.




  1. “Now let’s be brutally clear here about one important point. The overall object of an increasing carbon tax would be to drive CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use to near zero over the next few decades.” Just what do you propose to use as a substitute for your hated fossil fuels, Eric, or do you ever think of that?  
    What will bring these poor people out of their misery? An estimated 1.2 billion people or 17% of the global population, did not have access to electricity in 2013; & also in 2013, more than 2.7 billion people or 38% of the world’s population, are estimated to have relied on the traditional use of solid biomass for cooking, typically using inefficient stoves in poorly ventilated spaces.
    We have these kind of unprincipled, self proclaimed elitist s who care not one iota about humanity, claiming that they are “saving the planet” from the destructive devil that they believe is CO₂, because they want to close down the Colstrip Coal Plant. We must see the truth about this “saving the planet” from what H L Mencken so correctly observed: “The desire to save humanity is always a false front for the urge to rule it”
    Eric Grimsrud should be brought up on charges of crimes against humanity for attempting to take away the thing that has elevated human kind more than any other commodity, fossil fuels, and they need to dealt with for what they are, criminally insane people with no principles, just like these two below exemplify.
    “We’ve got to ride this global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy.” – Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation
    “No matter if the science of global warming is all phony… climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.” Christine Stewart, former Canadian Minister of the Environment

    [Response from EPG: I am not so concerned about what happens if the concept of global warming by greenhouse gas warming is not essentially correct. I am more interested in what we do “if” that concept is correct. This is because I am very familiar with the science of this issue (theory and measurements) and I am sure that the concept is as correct as that of gravity. In addition, I have grandchildren, so have “skin in the game”. John, you are free to believe whatever you like in our free country, but it is you who is not facing the “brutally clear” concept. Have a look at my “science basics” tab and tell me what part of it you don’t get or think is not correct.”

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