Sunday, October 7, 2018

Whistling...no, partying...past the graveyard.

Perhaps the most bizarre part of the infamous National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) draft EIS is not that it advocates easing up on the emissions standards for American-made vehicles. Comforting business at the expense of the public is, after all, the preferred approach of the Republican Party and the current Administration in particular. The GOP has become not just explicitly the Party of Calhoun but the Party of John D. ("the public be damned!") Rockefeller.

No, it's the part that's buried on page 37 of this sucker. It reads:
"Global mean surface temperature is projected to increase by approximately 3.48°C (6.27°F) under the No Action Alternative by 2100. Implementing the lowest emissions alternative(Alternative 7)would increase this projected temperature rise by 0.001°C (0.002°F), while implementing the highest emissions alternative (Alternative 1)would increase projected temperature rise by 0.003°C (0.005°F) the No Action Alternative."
(NHTSA, 2018)
I want to just stop and think about that for a moment.

This is the U.S. government - and not just the U.S. government, but a U.S. government headed by a man who insists that anthropogenic climate change is some sort of gimmick cooked up with the nefarious yellow Reds to kneecap the Trump Organization's profits - saying casually that the mean surface temperature of the Earth is going to climb almost 4 degrees C in roughly 80 years. Ho, hum. Nothing to see here.

This is not sane or sensible. This is a "What the fucking ACTUAL fuck!?!" moment.

To put this in perspective, historians strongly suspect that considerably more limited climatic fluctuations contributed in large measure to economic and military problems in the Roman Empire in both the Third and Fourth Centuries:
"(t)he crucial development was the severe drought of the fourth century that lasted nearly forty years, one of the worst in 2000 years. Documented by the Dulan-Wulan tree-ring chronology, prevailing drought conditions began in 338 a.d. and continued until 377, when wetter conditions returned. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (enso) Pacific Ocean climate pattern is a candidate as a broader climate system cause.Both the Douglas Fir data from New Mexico and the kauri data from New Zealand are sensitive to tropical Pacific enso forcing,the most geographically pervasive mode of climate forcing on earth. The extent of this drought in time and space suggests that it played a critical role in driving the mobile pastoral federation that coalesced around the name of “Huns” somewhere east of the Don River, to seek pastures and predation farther to the west and south. The dendrodata confirm speculation about an environmental factor in the Hunnic invasion that goes back at least a century. Historical sources indicate that the Huns reached the Don River by the 370s and crossed it c. 375. Their attacks in the area north of the Black Sea drove the Goths to flee into the Roman Empire and ultimately to attack it, destroying an emperor and his army in 378 at Adrianople (now Idirne, Turkey), one of the greatest military defeats in Roman history."
(McCormick et al, 2012)
This drought was probably the result of a slight cooling period that is estimated to have been less than 1-1.5 degrees C.
(from McCormick et al, 2012)

The temperature change offhandedly predicted by the NHTSA EIS, on the other hand, is closer to the lower bound of what we call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which began approximately 55 million years before present. This event is tied to some fairly spectacular changes in terrestrial and marine ecosystems:
"The onset of the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum has been linked to an initial 5 °C temperature rise and to extreme changes in Earth's carbon cycle. Fossil records for many organisms show major turnovers. For example, in the marine realm, a mass extinction of benthic foraminifera, a global expansion of subtropical dinoflagellates, and an appearance of excursion, planktic foraminifera and calcareous nanofossils all occurred during the beginning stages of PETM. On land, modern mammal orders (including primates) suddenly appear in Europe and in North America. Sediment deposition changed significantly at many outcrops and in many drill cores spanning this time interval." (Wikipedia, 2018)"
I mean, we're talking about the rise of an entire ecosystem. The evolution of a small Labrador-sized forest critter into Mister Ed. The emergence of what would eventually become Mitch McConnell and other, intelligent, hominids.

A normal, intelligent-human-being response to this sort of change would be to scream and run around in circles like your pants were on fire.

I honestly have NO idea what a world 4 degrees hotter than this one would look like, but it sure as hell will be different. Wetter, certainly; most if not all the sub-polar land ice will melt, and sea levels will rise some measurable degree. Many major cities, located along the coast or in low-lying coastal plains, will have to be relocated, effectively rebuilt, or be flooded. Coastal structures of all sorts will have to be moved, or protected. Storms will become larger, and more intense, and Infrastructures will have to be hardened to protect from them. Out current global food supply system that provides bananas in the winter and lettuce year-round will have to change in ways it will be difficult to anticipate and may be impossible to sustain.

These costs in money alone will be immense.

Croplands will change; some becoming too wet, some too dry, others simply "migrating" to find climatic conditions suitable for the types of crops, and those may have to change, in some cases dramatically. Some will not be capable of such short-term adjustment, and humans may find that, for example, apples or cherries are luxury items, grown in tiny amounts and offered to a tiny, ultra-rich minority.

Huge portions of the tropics may become effectively uninhabitable, with summer temperatures rising to levels beyond which unprotected humans can reasonably work outdoors. Rainfalls will shift, with some areas getting too much, some too little. Humans will have to move towards, or away, from those areas which can no longer sustain practical agriculture, lack accessible potable water, or are just too hot, too wet, or too dry to live without heroic engineering accommodations.

This is - or should be - a national-emergency-type scenario, a WW2-level sort of national mobilization but against an "enemy" that cannot be defeated. The entire world will change in ways that are nearly impossible to predict with great confidence, other than "it's going to be a really, really big fucking change". Wars will erupt over access to water, or cropland, or DRY land. Entire populations may migrate, with all the associated horrors - Google "mfecane", if you have the stomach for it - and there's no guarantee that any particular military, or political, solution will be effective responding to those migrations. But one would think a prudent, normal intelligent human reaction would be to 1) try and do everything possible to avert the result, and 2) do what one can to anticipate and mitigate the harm if it does occur.

But we are not seeing a normal-intelligent-human-being sort of reaction to this.

The people that run the United States - and I'm not sparing the "liberals" of the Democratic Party here; if they had the sense God gave a goat they'd be running around like their hair was on fire about this - seem uninterested in this coming World War C.

And that, as much as anything else, is what this reminds me of. If you haven't yet, read Max Brooks World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie Apocalypse First, just because it's a cracking fun read, a classic horror tale.

But mostly because of the point that it makes: that human nature hates to look brutal truths straight on. The book is full of "good people" - doctors, soldiers, politicians, scientists - who hide or deny or evade or just refuse to scream for help in the face of what is increasingly obviously a desperately terrifying future. Unlike the Trumpkins, who are simply doing this to make money before the disaster sweeps us away, they all have good reasons; they fear panic, or political collapse, or dictatorship, or being wrong, or causing a backlash. But the book makes the horrible point that, in the words of one of the characters: “Most people don't believe something can happen until it already has. That's not stupidity or weakness, that's just human nature.”

The Trumpkins are just the weapons-grade stupid endmember. The entire human race, nearly every human government, seems eager to avoid the inevitable conclusions made evident by this scientific prediction. The collective response seems to be at best a massive yawn, at worst a deliberate fingers-in-the-ears-la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you denial.

The entire business is just depressing as hell.
Maybe we'd respond sooner, and better, if it was Huns.

21 comments:

  1. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes I think it's the same as pissing in the wind...sure, I said my peace, but fuck sakes...why do I feel like I'm the one getting peed on?

    I'm thinking shit's gonna get real far sooner than 2100...already 2030 is like the magic, "welp, there it is!" time-marker.

    Pacific ocean rise is suppose to be about 9"...or so I looked last time, don't know what the current prognostications are, but with the loosening up of regulations I think will see a slight increase before we pass titration and we get the unrelenting cascade reaction that puts on the oh-shit slide to change.

    Personally, I'm thinking between 2025-to-2040 we're all going to see some environmental shit go down...and there won't be a damn thing we can do about it but try and survive.

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    1. I wish I could blame this on the Trumpkins - and their "oh, well, let's just party until the asteroid arrives!" attitude IS pretty vile - but this isn't a political problem so much as a human one.

      The changes we need to make - economic, social, political - to head this off are enormous, costly, and uncomfortable. It would be bigger than the accommodations that were needed to mobilize the northern hemisphere for WW2. And longer; practically indefinitely, in human terms.

      And the danger isn't visible. No bombs are falling, no invaders parading under the Arc. There is no visible reason to makes all those changes.

      So there's no real force driving the various publics, and no impetus to make political leaders lead. That's why I think the planet may be screwed. Humanity is the only solution to this, but human thought processes are perfectly designed NOT to solve it.

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    2. "That's why I think the planet me be screwed."

      If it's any consolation...life goes on.

      Maybe not in the way we thought it would, but it goes on.

      Humanity "could" be the solution, but as you correctly point out...not designed for, or hard-wired for solving these sorts of long term issues.

      I think part and parcel of the problem is the mentality of immediacy in human perception, time, if you will.
      A fire?
      Human's will recognize the fire as either...
      A:Too big, must put out!
      B:Too small, must make bigger!
      C:Just right, lets cook burgers!

      But take something that is long term, and humanity has to experience the shit-storm first in order to be motivated to change behaviors, or circumstance.
      Flooding?
      Flooding fields? Okay!
      Flooding roads? M'yeh!
      Flooding House/barn/job? Gotta do something bout that!

      So the motivation to change circumstance usually follows the, "well, that was unfortunate." before action is taken to prevent or mitigate future occurrences.

      I point to Katrina, and Louisiana's levy's which were known to not be up to specifications, and then after the systematic failures, corrections were put in place.

      However, if an entire region is scrubbed off the surface of the earth after one storm...it's a little late to do anything to stop that.

      hence, I fear Florida pan-handle may get scrubbed by 2030 with a massive hurricane...which are now considered normal.

      We're in deep shit...and no amount of cash is going to undo that.

      sheerahkahn

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  2. You ain't seen nothing yet. Just wait for countries forced to "do something" by their desperate population. Say, blow up a mountain of sulphur with a nuke to kick start a nuclear winter. And if their traditional enemies are immediately downwind, so much the better.

    Imagine the possibilities.

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    1. I am certain that the US DoD has some nightmare contingency plans for just that sort of situation.

      What is beyond likely is the political consequences of the environmental deterioration. Peoples faced with starvation or societal collapse are unlikely to be picky about the welfare of anyone outside their group. If we wanted to set up a Hobbesean war of all against all I can't think of a better way to do that.

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  3. Effects of future warming are pretty hard to predict, even if we knew how much warming there will be, which we don't with much accuracy.

    More importantly is human nature. Even if these predictions about future effects were less uncertain, it would still not change the way our monkey brains act. I think the notion that there is any chance the people of the world will come together and agree to the required economically painful carbon reductions is a pure fantasy. Adaptation is what we'll do, we ought to start planning now.

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    1. "...which we don't with much accuracy."

      I think that it's fairly easy to predict in general, Andy. We have the historic data, we have the models from the PETM, and we have a very good handle on the current temperature trendline, which, unfortunately, has been extrapolatable using predictable CO2 loads. The indiosyncratic effects in local microclimates, yes; those will be more difficult to predict, and the temperate regions in particular are where the real uncertainties will come in.

      So as a general trend, yes, we do know. No, I don't think that 3-4 degrees C is unrealistic, and yes, we DO know how much warming there will be under the current conditions. What we don't know is how much reduce that trend if the industrial takes it seriously enough to fund and engineer changes.

      Unfortunately we, as in the global political "we", have no indication that we have thought about adaptation, not in any significant way. We've done denial in a big way, and some pushback, but nobody has been willing to really consider what the cost-benefits (or the practicalities) of the sorts of political and economic - as well as subjects as arcane as social and as concrete as engineering - adaptations might be required to prevent the sort of massive dislocations that have accompanied much smaller climatic changes in the last millenium.

      So I don't doubt that when World War C arrives that humans will "adapt" as we always do to catastrophe. The infuriating part is that this ISN'T "World War C"; it's not like some random dictator suddenly invading. We know this is coming, how it's coming, and why. We COULD choose to act, and spare a hell of a lot of unnecessary death and misery by "start(ing) planning now".

      But we won't; partially because of people like the current climate-change-deniers that rule a significant part of our political world. But also because, yes, you're right; "the people of the world" will set up those deaths and that immiseration rather than agree to any sort of economic changes. Better you die tomorrow than I go short half a slug today.

      Ain't that just how people are, eh?

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    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

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    3. Carbon output in the US has gone down since 2006. We remain the on the high-side on a per capita basis but that is it. By every other measure, especially carbon per GDP, we're in the lower half. China, for example, produces 4X the amount of carbon per GDP compared to the US and they are growing 6-7% a year. The lowest is France thanks to lots of nuclear power.

      The fact is the future of climate change doesn't hinge on the US as we're at our peak and already pretty efficient. Same with Europe. We can make further gains in carbon reduction with more renewables but if we want to get serious we need to embrace nuclear. Of course the environmentalist luddites will have none of that.

      So the future of climate change isn't in our hands and I think the fact that the impact of our auto fuel standards policy is "measured" in terms of thousandth of a degree is pretty telling. Cars are a 1/4 of our country's emissions!

      The presence of "deniers" in the US is, in that context, a rounding error on a thousandth of a degree at most.

      The future belongs to the PRC, India and, maybe later this century, Africa. What they do matters most and the skeptic in me is convinced there isn't anything we can do to convince them to put carbon reduction ahead of economic development and their own political fortunes.

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    4. Well, we can rest assured they won't if the US and Western Europe make it clear that they have no interest in making that reduction a priority.

      Your skepticism is likely justified, and, yes, the developed world has cut down emissions. But less than we could, and the impact of the deniers here certainly help the emerging world rationalize THEIR lack of urgency.

      I'm not sure if there's a way out of this trap. Human nature, and political and economic structures, don't lend themselves to the sort of long-term collective actions we will need.

      I just hope it's not as bad for my kids as I think it will be.

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    5. "(...)as we're (...) already pretty efficient." looks like some specific American humour from a European perspective.
      ------
      I'd like to point out the second economic science concept besides tragedy of the commons that's driving the climate change megaproblem; externalities.
      In my personal experience the only adult humans on earth who don't believe that free markets have market failures when you shove them in their face are Americans.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality

      The accords to limit CO2 emissions were astonishing successes. The method was correct from a scientific standpoint. There's not much room for error in methodology in such affairs; no magic asterisks ever work in such cases.

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    6. And it's worth noting that that phrase "on the high side on a per capita basis" is doing a lot of work there; Sven has a point - we could be doing a lot more. We're a phenomenally wealthy economy on a global scale. We have the excess capacity to make some pretty huge reductions without the sort of economic pain less wealthy politics would suffer.

      If we're not willing to make even that small sacrifice, why should they make the larger ones?

      To take that even further, since we're all going to cook in the same pot, why are we getting all Trumpy and "America First" NOW, when it looks increasingly like we should, rather, be figuring out ways to hang together rather than hang separately?

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    7. Wealth reductions are not going to be tolerated.
      It's political wisdom that it's fairly easy to distribute economic growth, and extremely difficult to redistribute existing wealth.

      Hence the stagnating real wages over the past up to 45 years (depends on which country you look at), and hardly ever real wage reductions in OECD countries. The latter only happens in economic collapse (Greece around 1990, Argentina, currently Venezuela). Look at how much Putin is in trouble for some de facto pensions cuts now.

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  4. Consider this:

    https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=26252

    The US and Europe are not going to change much. All the growth in CO2 this century is going to come from other parts of the world. That would still be the case even if we were to go hard and fast for nuclear power, renewables and force the quick adoption of electric vehicles. If we did all that we might reduce our carbon by 25% over the next several decades. That reduction effort would be eaten up in about 5 years of growth from China and India alone.

    Of course, the US isn't going to do that because the right doesn't want to force renewables and electric vehicles and the left is completely opposed to nuclear power. The reality is incremental change and that isn't going to amount to a rounding error. And we're already trending down.

    Point being, we know where the carbon growth over the next century is going to come from - the growth that will potentially have the catastrophic effects that some predict (that I'm also skeptical of). Anyone who wants to stop that potential needs to address how to stop CO2 emissions rise from developing nations.

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    1. See, that's the typical American and almost Trump-ish view.
      Projecting one's shortcomings on others, thinking in "everyone for himself" mode.
      The Paris Accords and the earlier Kyoto Protocol were just as the previous super-successful Ozone layer protection effort based on COOPERATION, on doing things TOGETHER.

      (U.S.) Americans have devolved as society and culture towards a level where they often cannot at least imagine the benefits of actual cooperation. Instead, many appear to mistake submissiveness of others as the only worthwhile form of cooperation.

      You guys won't get your shit together again until you learn that doing things together usually pays off. You have no real patriotism (which is all about doing things together) and no working strategy for any major problem until you get your shit together on this and re-learn about the benefits of win-win cooperation.

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    2. I don't think Trump should have nixed the Paris accord. But it's also true that it is completely aspirational. If it weren't, China would not have signed on.

      And you dodged my point. If there is a plan for the US and Europe to reduce global carbon output TOGETHER by helping the third world, let's hear it. Platitudes won't cut it.

      And look, I'm ultimately a realist, pragmatist and even cynic. As I said, I would like the US to do more, but I don't see it happening.

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    3. ??? You know the plan. It's the Paris accords, countries agreeing on a common goal and trying to meet it.

      The Chinese scrapped their giant (and believed to be economical) CtL plan, for example.

      They've also become a solar power superpower. You may not notice in American media, but the Chinese actually do a lot about the environment, and not only because of smog.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_China
      Their coal consumption was expected to stagnate back in 2015 already. I saw a study from that time with projections and the PRC is already vastly exceeding solar power's share of electricity generation from that study. There's a huge dynamic; the Chinese may be about to turn towards stagnating CO2 emissions.

      Well, what would happen if the Paris Accords falter? The Chinese would be encouraged to limit their efforts to what's economical and to what's needed to combat health issues.

      The plan to curb CO2 emissions is that no country of note tries a free ride - everyone mounts an effort, nobody drops out. Except antisocial societies where "me, me, me first!" rules. Those are exactly the freeriding a*holes that can sabotage the one plan that may defeat THE global externalities and tragedy of the commons problem.

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    4. You have a lot more faith in the Chinese than I do.

      A relative of mine is an executive for a company that supplies additives to the steel industry. They have a plant in China. He complains because Chinese authorities crack down on his plant for minor environmental infractions - meanwhile, state-owned industries can do pretty much whatever they want.

      Also,

      http://www.climatechangenews.com/2018/08/07/china-restarts-coal-plant-construction-two-year-freeze/

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    5. Such behaviour is well-known, but the solar power boom, the near-total crash of the CtT program, the measures against air pollution - that's real and not about faith.

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  5. "But ice cubes melt!"

    There comes a moment when physical reality trumps personal argumentation.

    For example, Glaciers.

    Nice thing glaciers, lots of bluey ice, makes this really loud cracking sound that, if one is standing in front of said glacier...is a wee bit disconcerting.
    Especially when a slightly small chunk of ice lands a few feet from one, and one remembers the calving of a significantly large chunk off the Hubbard Glacier that created a significant bow wave.

    But here's the facts...glaciers are melting.

    Mendenhall Glacier has been tracked in it's melting for the last 70 years.

    Nice little markers with dates on them...but do the math...last 70 years.

    Shit's been melting for 70 years.

    Greenland...melting.

    Arctic...melting

    Antarctic...melting.

    So...if we apply the Law of Conservation of Energy to this situation, ice melting transforms into two possible outcomes, water or vapor (or maybe three if one dumps a fuck-ton of energy into the system to produce plasma)...

    All that former glacier ice, now water from the north to the south is being dumped into the oceans...shit's going to happen. Newton said it, and we're seeing it.

    But for me, the big issue is ocean rise...for the record, the ocean is a carbon sink, which, if we conclude that with the ocean expanding in depth, it's ability to absorb carbon would increase too.

    Which makes me think measuring Carbon is a good, but it won't tell us how fast that ice is melting...and it is melting.
    http://nsidc.org/greenland-today/

    as is the Antartic...
    https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

    which brings me to the ultimate question...

    How long can you tread water?

    Tidal surges will scrub a coastline far faster than Carbon increase will cause a heatwave, and a surge has the unfortunate side effect of drowning people as it pushes in.
    Sure, one can rebuild, but there comes a point where even common sense says, "you're done here, move to high ground."

    But the key point, and this is one that bear repeating...potable water.

    Drinking water.

    The US does not have a plan, and does not have a plant to make clean, potable drinking water from sea water.

    And one thing a tidal surge brings is salt water.
    lots of salt water.
    And salt water will contaminate fresh water, and make it unpotable.

    We're ill prepared, and all it's going to take is one.good.sized.tidal.surge and millions of East Coasters are going to be fleeing inland.

    A millions of refugees needing water, food, shelter.

    Katrina was a test, and we failed.
    Maria was a test, and we failed.
    Pretty much every hurricane has brought tidal surges...

    How many more tests do we need before we realize this is going to be our new normal, and we're not prepared for any of it?

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  6. FDC -

    Good post! Thanks.

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