Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A Climate of Immediacy

We need an aggressive response to Climate now.

Scientists last year identified a “12-year window” (time marches, and the window is less now) during which we must decarbonize by 50% (reducing fossil fuel use, etc) if we are to still be able to affect Climate in this way at all. The problem is accelerating, though, and if we wait, we will lose this option and wish we had it back. It seems hard and expensive and disruptive now, but what will follow will be much, much worse.

In his book, The Uninhabitable Earth, author David Wallace-Wells describes the problem this way: “If we had started global decarbonization in 2000, when Al Gore narrowly lost election to the American presidency, we would have had to cut emissions by only about 3 percent per year to stay safely under two degrees of warming. If we start today, when global emissions are still growing, the necessary rate is 10 percent. If we delay another decade, it will require us to cut emissions by 30 percent each year.”

No one should be fooled into thinking the actions proposed in the Green New Deal, including Beto’s recent variant, are “radical.” They are anything but. If anything, they may be insufficient. But they are a credible start.

No one should be fooled into thinking more “moderate” approaches offered by so-called “centrist Democrats” are, in fact, moderate. They are moderate like the idea of treating an aggressive cancer in a lazy way is moderate. Moderation in treating Climate is delay. And delay is catastrophe, or worse, just as certainly as not treating at all.

Some have proposed market solutions, like a carbon tax (such as H.R. 763). Nothing wrong with a carbon tax, but it doesn’t address all of complex issues of Climate, and if we adopt one, it’s important to understand that a “greed is good, everything is accounted for now, you can stop caring about climate” theory of the world will not save us. It will need heavy oversight and regulation to make sure nothing is falling through the cracks, and there are elements of climate change like food safety, disaster preparation, disaster recovery, disease control, and other matters that need to be managed as well.

Nuclear power is considered by most serious scientists to be an important aspect. There is risk to nuclear power, but that risk is manageable and long term. Our problem right now is surviving long enough to get to the long term. Modern nuclear is safer than traditional nuclear, and can solve important load problems that presently justify continued use of coal or oil. We should use it only where necessary, and with proper safety regulations, but we need not to rule it out. Climate is a big problem that needs all available tools. Different regions will need different solutions.

There are many things to do. But we must start now. And we mustn’t waste time discussing whether there is a problem and whether a mostly-status-quo approach will be “good enough.” It will not be.

Author’s Note: If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

Want to learn more about the science of Climate change? The University of Exeter offers a short online course (MOOC) called Climate Change: The Science that is taught at a very nice level of abstraction—full of good science that will help you reason qualitatively, but without getting bogged down in any detailed math. I took this course and really enjoyed both the teaching material and the class discussion. A new round of this course just started April 19, so you could join late and catch up. It's free (subject to certain pretty reasonable terms) and involves about 3 hours a week for 4 weeks.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Angry Ocean

She had forgotten the sound of the ocean, living now as she did inland from the unreliable cities, which daily faced a pounding that anyway was not the sound she yearned for.

There had been talk not so many years back of sea level rise, always expressed in millimeters, like the drip drip drip of a tub that wouldn't quite shut off. It had sounded gentle, even aggravatingly slow, like the sequel of a movie announced five years out that you're not sure you'll even live to see.

No one had said the water wouldn't just rise but come from every other angle, too—as deluges from the sky above, as floods rolling down from the mountains or as walls of water crashing in from an angry sea. The gentle, relaxing lapping of waves, and with it any sense that the ocean was ever even benevolent, had fallen away.

Why hadn't they said? OK, they said. But they didn't cry out, like you would if a tidal wave was coming fast. And this was really that—a tidal wave—just slowly, to be assembled in parts, like a jigsaw puzzle.

But unlike a jigsaw puzzle, there was no order to the pieces. Just a box full of leftovers, a chaos that was refuse of many once-orderly puzzles belonging to lots of people, and a prayer just to happen upon a couple of pieces that sort of fit.

The rain was pounding, but the weatherman didn't think it would flood too badly in the next few hours. So maybe this was a time to sleep and prepare for the onslaught anew. At least she was high up, away from the ocean.

But she missed the ocean, and she worried her memories of its once gentle nature might one day drown in a flood of too much reality.

Author’s Notes:

If you got value from this post, please “Share” it.

In early June 2014, my wife and I attended a writing retreat hosted by Cary Tennis at Le Santucce in Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy with a dozen or so other writers and soon-to-be friends. Last Saturday, almost 5 years later, some of us tuned in for a virtual reunion, and of course we did some writing as part of it.

The prompt to which this was a response, was “She had forgotten the sound of the ocean.” As today is Earth Day, it seemed a good day for me to share the piece with others.