Thursday, March 16, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Cost of Climate Change

I believe that climate change is real, and that humans are a primary cause of that change. I was alarmed yesterday when I read this New York Times article about the Great Barrier Reef:

Huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater. More southerly sections around the middle of the reef that barely escaped then are bleaching now, a potential precursor to another die-off that could rob some of the reef’s most visited areas of color and life.

“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” said Terry P. Hughes, director of a government-funded center for coral reef studies at James Cook University in Australia and the lead author of a paper on the reef that is being published Thursday as the cover article of the journal Nature. “In the north, I saw hundreds of reefs — literally two-thirds of the reefs were dying and are now dead.”

The damage to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest living structures, is part of a global calamity that has been unfolding intermittently for nearly two decades and seems to be intensifying. In the paper, dozens of scientists described the recent disaster as the third worldwide mass bleaching of coral reefs since 1998, but by far the most widespread and damaging.

The state of coral reefs is a telling sign of the health of the seas. Their distress and death are yet another marker of the ravages of global climate change.

The Trump administration seems dead-set on reversing efforts to limit climate change. That isn't surprising-- he promised as much-- but I am surprised that there does not seem to be much resistance in Congress.  

To my mind, the turning point was the failure to pass cap-and-trade legislation on carbon production. That would have both limited emissions and raised money for the government, and I am baffled as to why it wasn't adopted. 

Is there a reason for hope?

The thing is that changing processes, sources of energy, etc., can all be accomplished with relatively minimal social disruption IFF (if and only if) we apply our economy to do the necessary replacements of processes that cause pollution with ones that are emission efficient. Otherwise, we will lose the environment that makes seafood possible, that makes raising food crops possible. Example -- losing bees means losing food crops.

People talk about Trump having little hands. The big problem is a little mind focused on his own wealth and pleasure, rather than the continued existence of life on this planet.
There is always hope.
Maybe the Republicans will throw up their hands, tell us how wrongheaded they have been and all leave office. Maybe the Democrats will start to talk about the opportunities that this potential crisis offers. Maybe the American voter will wake up and offer to work collectively to save our world.
Right now I would say: fat chance.

Oh, you knew I couldn't sit on the sideline for this one!

There's definitely hope. I frankly think, though, that the federal government is pretty useless on this issue (not that I'll stop pressing to see positive change). Where I see hope is in the state and local governments (particularly city governments), in the leadership of other countries worldwide, and in, believe it or not, industry. Many city governments are acting decisively to move toward renewable energy (ie. the 2015 Mayors Climate Action Pledge) because they realize that renewables have a short pay-back period and are fiscally responsible. Many industries are also switching to renewables for the same reason -- see Amazon's new solar array in VA. "Wind energy turbine mechanic" is the fastest growing career field in the U.S. The cost of solar panel installations is becoming so low that installers can't keep up with demand -- our main problem is that many of the panels are made in China, because the U.S. has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to renewable R&D. Farmers and landowners in the midwest and west are realizing there's gold in them thar hills, and it comes in the form of wind and solar. Even geothermal energy holds great promise in the U.S.

Unfortunately, our government and many of the largest lobbyists are living in the past. Coal is not coming back -- there's not enough money to be made. The foolish and shortsighted opening of more pipelines throughout the U.S. will not bring permanent jobs. As climate change progresses, and it will, we're going to see loss of habitat as you mentioned (we're already in the Anthropocene, the 6th extinction event). But we're also going to see many more environmental refugees due to sea level rise and water scarcity (Kiribati is the canary in the coal mine).

The only fossil fuel we need to expand, slightly, right now is natural gas, and that's only as a gap fuel. But natural gas needs to be much more severely regulated than is currently the case (see the "Chaney loophole" for fracking in the Safe Drinking Water Act). Renewables make sense for the environment AND for the economy, and that's why I feel hopeful.
More on climate change, which I also believe in, later. Its terrifying.

For now, however, as I have been predicting here in the Razor and elsewhere, Trump and the GOP are headed for a collision on the budget:

Desiree, I agree on all that you have said. Today in the US twice as many Americans are working in the alternative energy sector than in the fossil fuel sector. This is a result of,as much as was possible,there were incentives. Without these incentives,without nationally funded R&D, and without regulations on the fossil fuel industries we will fall behind in our global responsibility.
The world will not wait for us.
As in health care, alternative energy is being addressed by most nations. Universal healthcare and a single payer system has kept good health affordable. The world's big idea often is to go small, as you point out. Included in their plans is to bring energy creation and storage to be more of a local responsibility. In building by building,home by home, county by county, city by city and neighborhood by neighborhood unique solutions can be used. Already there are blocks of neighbors organizing to build solar systems and storage to be shared. They will be up against the large utilities and need help. This is where I get discouraged. The mostly hidden conservative in me cries out to make energy local. The savings in distribution seems to make sense. I know to succeed we will need powerful allies. I do not think we can look to short term thinkers in the Republican leadership nor industry. We have to move the silent majority fears to real concerns.
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