Current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere

Nowhere to hide from ourselves

From Paul B. Farrell’s WWIII: Great commodities war to end all wars (emphasis added):

Yes, WWIII: The Great Commodities War to End All Wars. We’ve heard that before. Remember WWI, known as The War to End All Wars, 37 million casualties. WWII was bigger, 60 million. Will WWIII finally end all wars? Or end the world, civilization, planet?

And it’s already started folks, ending the Great American Dream.

Fasten your seat belts, soon we’ll all be shocked out of denial. Some unpredictable black swan. A global wake-up call will trigger the Pentagon’s prediction in Fortune a decade ago at the launch of the Iraq War: “By 2020 … an ancient pattern of desperate, all-out wars over food, water, and energy supplies is emerging … warfare defining human life.”

And that’s also the clear message in “The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources,” the latest book by noted international security expert Michael Klare.

Earlier, about the same time as the Pentagon’s prediction, Klare published his classic, “Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict,” a look ahead to a world that he now hopes will not “end in war, widespread starvation, or a massive environmental catastrophe.” Although they are “the probable results of persisting in the race for what’s left.” Unfortunately, hope can’t trump reality in today’s race for what little is left.

We need men who pull no punches in describing what’s dead ahead, whether labeling it “Resource Wars” or “WWIII, The Great Commodities War That Can End Everything.” Klare does just that with this warning:

“It is true that eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels and other finite materials cannot be accomplished overnight — our current reliance on them is just too great,” warns Klare, well aware that the forces of capitalism are trapped in denial, cannot see the dangers dead ahead, focusing only on getting richer no matter the consequences to the planet.

“But no matter how much corporate or government officials wish to deny it, there is not nearly enough non-renewable resources on this planet to perpetually satisfy the growing needs of a ballooning world population.”

We are, in our uniquely human way, simultaneously emptying the planet of its nonrenewable and not-quickly-enough-renewed (e.g. freshwater) resources and filling it with our waste in various forms (chemical, nuclear, CO2, etc.).

I have made the point countless times here and elsewhere online that the fundamental problem with climate change is that it so subtly and so thoroughly invalidates the assumptions underlying all of our worldwide infrastructure that we don’t even notice the horrific situation into which we’re locking ourselves. Combine this with the inherent latencies of our situation — the time needed for enough of us to recognize the mess we’ve created and then respond, given how far into unsustainability we’ve dashed already — and we are in deeper trouble than even most dedicated environmentalists realize.

So while I certainly don’t like the message from writers like Farrell and Klare (and, in a different vein, Michael Lemonick), I’d much rather see them sounding the alarm than being yet more voices claiming that we can magically “save the world” by getting enough people to “just do one little thing” or some similar inanity.

To be clear, I am not saying that I think we’ll unavoidably wind up in the world of bare knuckle resource conflicts that Klare describes; one undeniable characteristic of our situation is that we still have considerable control over what happens in the coming years and decades. Everything from our emissions of CO2 to our consumption of various resources to how we deal with the immense, complex, looming challenges of climate adaptation are yet to be determined. Looking realistically at our recent history and the pathetic state of international relations and the ongoing freak show of US politics and governance certainly doesn’t give one reason for hope, unless one has been indulging in copious amounts of recreational chemistry.

Simply put, we’ve run out of new places to exploit as sources and sinks, given the combination of our worldwide population and consumption patterns. And with population projected to rise from just over seven billion people to upwards of nine billion by mid-century, something has give, a lot, and quickly.

All of which, once again, brings us back to that nagging question of what it will take to wake us up so that we take this swift and focused action to help ourselves. I have nothing more to add on that front, as I’ve made it very clear in the past that I think our chances of that happening in the near future are exceedingly slim.

T-minus 207 days.[1]

[1] T-minus 207 days? What the heck is that, some sort of count down? Why yes, it is. That’s the time until March 15, 2013, which will be approximately the ten-year anniversary of my blogging about energy and climate issues. (I don’t know the exact date I started, but I know it was March 2003. Having taken two years of Latin in high school, the Ides of March seemed like a natural pick for an inexact, exact date.)

More to the point, what, one might ask, is to happen on March 15, 2013? Oh, please — you really want me to simply blurt it out? (And you assume that over 200 days from the newly selected magic date I’ve figured it out? Tsk tsk, you haven’t been paying attention if you think I’m that coordinated…)

2 comments to Nowhere to hide from ourselves

  • The longer we wait, the worse it will be. However we’re not totally just waiting. We have been ramping up renewable energy production much more quickly in the past few years than before. It clearly has a long, long, way to go. But specifically solar has been starting to follow Moore’s law. We’re only about 7 doublings away from completely powering the world with solar. Two years ago, it was 8 doublings. If it happens under Moore’s Law, we’ll be at 8TW of solar less than 14 years from now. And that ignores wind and other renewables.

    The more the resource crisis bites, the less it well remain deniable. That’s the silver lining in this horrible cloud.

  • Lewis Cleverdon

    First, its wishful thinking to project past growth on a token capacity scale onto future prospects of significant market share. What planet supplies the investment, the materials and production equipment at such a rate as you propose ? What government accepts almost its entire fossil energy workforce being slung onto welfare in that period ? Let alone the crash devaluation of fossil industry share values ?

    Second, it ignores the market response of renewables doing more than just helping ensure a cushion between energy supply & demand that avoids energy prices spiking to yet more damaging levels. The market responds by cutting fossil fuel prices, thus hitting renewables’ competitiveness. It also brings on stream cheaper options such as coal-seam gasification, with potentially vast coal resources in reserves that would be uneconomic to mine, thereby further depressing prices. There is thus no serious prospect of new solar plant displacing extant fossil capacity on price grounds. And the rusting-out of fossil capacity is a 40yr process, starting the day the last fossil station is built.

    Third, electricity is only a fraction of fossil fuel usage, and fossil fuel usage is only a fraction of CO2 emissions, and CO2 emissions are only a fraction of our problematic GHG outputs.

    Fourth, ending our GHG outputs does not end the problem of warming – we have 20 to 40 years of timelagged warming and resulting climate destabilization in the pipeline (due to ocean thermal inertia) and that will be counted from the day we end GHG outputs.
    We also lose the cooling sulphate parasol by ending fossil fuels’ sulphate emissions, which then unveils an additional 80% to 140% of received warming.
    We also have interactive mega-feedbacks in view, of which six out of seven are already accelerating, and several have the potential to dwarf our anthro-GHG emissions. They are now accelerating on less than 1.0C of warming, and we are committed to many decades of increasing warming – thus they are on course to take over and make our emissions cuts wholly irrelevant.

    The hype somebody has sold you about solar’s growth prospects is not just about getting progressives votes for Obama, nor about fooling people into complacency that leaves the fossil lobby facing less protest. It is about fooling people into complacency that renewables will resolve the warming problem simply with the aid of market forces. This is a double deception – first that renewables deployment can resolve the issue, second that collective global legislative action is unnecessary.

    In reality it is only global legislation that can address the warming issue in a commensurate manner. Without the confidence it provides, why should investors and govts believe that their outlay on GHG cuts will be matched by industries in other nations ? This has been the core issue for over thirty years. With the US having repeatedly reneged on its solemn word, very few nations have any trust left in its integrity.
    Moreover it is only through a UN climate treaty that there is any prospect of the necessary additional global actions of Albedo Restoration and Carbon Recovery being co-ordinated to halt the warming driving the feedbacks and to return the atmosphere to its pre-industrial state.

    The third level of deception is the meme that the US wants the warming problem resolved. It doesn’t. It has no other means in view to retain its global economic dominance than the climatic destabilization of its Chinese rival.
    This is not Obama’s policy; Cheyney launched it in 2000, and Obama signalled his adoption of it within a few weeks of taking office. It’s not only reckless but also genocidal in committing us to global crop failures and serial mega-famines. Even with only current impacts plus the US ethanol mandate spiking food prices, four million people in Mali are facing death by hunger in the coming months.

    All of which has not I hope caused any offense, but the one place I think we should all be trying very hard to install the latest solar panels – is right up Obama’s arse.