Current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere

In case you were wondering, this is why

I am not exactly optimistic about the climate chaos mess we’ve created for ourselves over roughly the last 250 years. So, why fight the good fight?

Let me explain, and see what kind of conversation I can stir up, possibly in the style of a support group of like-minded people.

First, the ugly stuff. Regular readers of this site can probably cite the arguments and explanations for pessimism as well as I can, but the ones that eat at me the most are:

  • The time lags are large in size and number, and they all add up to making our situation vastly more difficult than it would be otherwise. Those lags, in no particular order, are: The time to get lay people focused on this as an issue worthy of their attention and action, both economically and politically; the time between public awakening and political course change; the time between the implementation of new public policy and when CO2 emissions drop by a significant amount; the long atmospheric lifetime of CO2; the very long lifetime of oceanic heat; the time to do something (and I have no idea what it will be) about ocean acidification.
  • I see no reason to think that anything but multiple, brutal kicks in the teeth from the environment will spur mass numbers of consumers and voters to take action. And we simply aren’t there yet. We’re certainly seeing impacts, but not nearly enough people are connecting the dots that say droughts and floods and coastal storms and freakish weather are all amplified by climate chaos. And even fewer people understand how we’re locking in decades and centuries of far worse impacts with our current emissions. Again: Timing is everything, and it’s not our friend in this matter.
  • One of the main reasons we’re making so little progress toward this desperately needed mass epiphany and activation among the general public is the immense expenditures by the fossil fuel companies to buy politicians and run insane ad campaigns about “clean coal” and other myths.
  • The mass media, especially here in the US, either utterly clueless or as easily and completely purchased as some of the more disgusting members of the political class.
  • Of course, people don’t want to change. They like their SUVs huge and shiny, with multiple DVD players, dual-zone climate control, power everything, and enough horsepower to pull tree stumps. And they love their McMansions and all the energy-sucking frippery that they include today.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

As for what props me up, let me share some anecdotes, both from the last few weeks, both while I was having lunch, alone, while on break from home remodeling work.

  • While sitting in the cafe in a local grocery store, I noticed a 30-something man with his three- or four-year old daughter entering the seating area with their lunch. The little girl was dancing to the background music. By “dancing” I mean she was whirling around, swinging he arms up and down, and generally having a great time. Every 10 seconds or so she would come to a complete stop, reach out one foot, and tap it three times, then go back to spinning and arm waving. Many adults in the cafe were watching this ongoing demonstration, and many were smiling and laughing. This little girl was in a world of her own imagining, oblivious to adult angst and responsibilities, and having a blast.
  • A few weeks earlier, I was in a local sub shop, and while eating I saw a high-school-aged guy come in. While he was ordering his sandwich and answering all the questions about what he wanted on it, I saw that the young lady taking care of him, who was roughly the same age, was flirting with him. And by flirting, I mean 50 megawatt, visible from low Earth orbit, flirting. The guy was painfully shy, and was obviously not going to so much as strike up a conversation with her beyond saying yes to lettuce and tomato and no to hot peppers on his sandwich. The whole scene lasted no more than a couple of minutes, but it was painfully endearing.
  • Those of you who have been with me on this weird adventure for years must be wondering where the obligatory mention of my three virtual daughters, my nieces is. Well it’s here, in the form of every contact I have with them, via phone or online, and how much I want them to have a chance at a good life that’s not warped by the need to respond to and pay for one climate-fueled disaster after another.

And these things, Dear Reader, are what keep me going. These are why I can look at our situation and say, “I’m convinced we’re unbelievably screwed”, and then say, “But no matter how ugly the situation is, there’s so much at stake that we have to keep fighting and doing everything we can to keep it from getting even worse.” After all, Just Because Climate Change Is Irreversible Doesn’t Mean It Is Unstoppable.

10 comments to In case you were wondering, this is why

  • Mark E

    I try to dance like that myself, at least once a week.

    But what really keeps me going is the power of myth and storytelling. Lessons are repeated until learned (like boom/bust growth-addicted economics always end up bust); The lessons that “stick” are the ones learned the hard way. And that’s the birthplace of a whole new cultural mythos to pass on to your nieces nieces grand nieces great grand nieces. See Joseph Campbell “The Power of Myth”, anything by Noam Chomsky, etc

  • Lewis Cleverdon

    Lou – while I share your aspiration, regardless of the odds, I have to challenge your repeating of the highly disempowering ‘irreversibility’ myth.

    Its origin, in Solomon’s 12/16/08 PNAS paper (para 1, sentences 7&8) reads:
    “Future carbon dioxide emissions in the 21st century will hence lead to adverse climate changes on both short and long time scales that would be essentially irreversible (where irreversible is defined here as a time scale exceeding the end of the millennium in year 3000; note that we do not consider geo-engineering measures that might be able to remove gases already in the atmosphere or
    to introduce active cooling to counteract warming). For the same reason, the physical climate changes that are due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere today are expected to be largely irreversible.”

    The author (in keeping with poor modern grammatical standards) then uses the simple future tense throughout the paper – “will . . be irreversible” rather than the correct conditional future “would . . be irreversible – if we fail with the requisite geoengineering”. This should have been corrected under peer review, so this fault is not solely Solomon’s. The paper’s proper conclusion, which she entirely failed to provide, is that geoengineering is now the only means of restoring the pre-industrial atmosphere and temperature.

    Romm, Dave Roberts, Climate Central and others have been pushing the myth of irreversibility despite its very obvious flaws. To what extent this is about adopting Solomon’s agenda of trying to keep geo-engineering out of any respectable activists’ conversations remains to be seen. But in practical campaigning terms, pushing a lie (that the position is worse than it actually is) is never a good idea – it will backfire and aid guess who ? – The delayer-in-chief in the White House.



    • Lou

      Everything I’ve read about geoengineering tells me that such efforts will be either too small to make a significant difference or very expensive (especially if we try to address ocean acidification and not just warming), at least somewhat risky, and require a very long-term commitment in conjunction with unprecedented international cooperation.

      Also, we have to (dare I say it) think like economists when talking about geoengineering. If we employ one or more techniques then it will lessen the perceived urgency to reduce GHG emissions, which will almost surely result in more emissions than we would have had in the absence of geoengineering. (Note: Not necessarily an absolute increase, just an increase relative to the alternative case.)

      I desperately want geoengineering to be a viable answer, just as I desperately want to see people wake the hell up and pressure governments, corporations, and other large concentrations of power to address climate chaos with the seriousness it deserves. Right now, I don’t see a way to be optimistic about either of those possibilities, at least not until our perceived CC impacts become much more painful and expensive.

  • JV

    Worst issue is water depletion and contamination, secondary is fossil fuel depletion, tertiary is global warming.

    • Lou

      Sorry, but that’s exactly the kind of compartmentalized thinking we have to avoid. Energy, climate, and water are in a tight nexus, with food production and state stability immediately connected.

      For example, burning fossil fuels creates climate change, which dramatically alters the hydrological cycle, making it tougher to generate electricity (there have been numerous shutdowns of coal and nuclear fueled power plants in the US and EU over the last decade because of insufficient cooling water).

      We live in the center of a complex of interconnected systems, with many of the most obvious pieces, like our built infrastructure, being created based on assumptions about the natural environment. Those assumptions are increasingly being invalidated.

  • JV

    Lou, are you even aware how bad the water issues are in , e.g, China ? It’s even worse than you think, are civilizations are collapsing, now.

    • Lou

      I’ve been following the situation in China, largely through Circle of Blue, plus the usual outlets for environmental news.

      Water issues will be an immense problem for China for a very long time, even before we see significantly reduced flows from the Himalayan glaciers.

  • JV

    should of read “our civilisations are collapsing, now”.