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Climate Change Inaction

arctic-iceThe world is witnessing terracidal climate change inaction both from explicit, anti-science, corporate-fostered climate change denialism and from craven effective climate change denialism. The world is facing a worsening climate emergency but remains committed to an ever-expanding carbon economy and is unable to take requisite effective climate change action.

Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the atmospheric CO2 continue to inexorably increase and it is becoming clear that we are rapidly running out of time to deal with the climate emergency [1-5]. This inaction derives not just from anti-science climate change denialism fostered by climate criminal fossil fuel companies but also from the effective climate change denialism of politicians and climate activists who understand the problem but are simply too cowardly or inept to bite the bullet and act effectively in the interests of Humanity and the Biosphere.
 
We know what we have to do in the little time that remains. We must urgently reduce atmospheric CO2 back down from the current dangerous 400 ppm CO2 to a safe and sustainable 300 ppm CO2 [6] by re-afforestation, massive biochar production, stopping greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution [2] and rapid conversion to 100% renewable energy [7]. But it is not happening; it is still Business As Usual (BAU) with an expanding Carbon Economy. This stasis derives from the collective economic self-interest of powerful corporation-dominated Establishments in the Western democracies that have become Murdochracies, Lobbyocracies and Corporatocracies in which Big Money buys people, politicians, parties, policies, public perception of reality and political power.
 
Scientists of the Australian Climate Commission (now re-formed as the privately- and self-funded Australian Climate Council after being abolished by the effective climate change denialist conservative Abbott Coalition Australian Government) have despairingly estimated that at current rates of pollution the World has only 14 years left (relative to 2014) before it exceeds a Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget of 600 Gt CO2 (600 billion tonnes CO2) that must not be exceeded if we are to have a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2C temperature rise [8] – but a more stringent analysis estimates that we have only 4 years left [9].
 
Outstanding anti-racist Jewish Canadian humanitarian writer Naomi Klein has condemned the effective climate change inaction and effective climate change denialism of ostensibly pro-environmental groups who are too scared to accept and advocate the urgent action that is required: “Well, I think there is a very a deep denialism in the environmental movement among the Big Green groups. And to be very honest with you, I think it’s been more damaging than the right-wing denialism in terms of how much ground we’ve lost. Because it has steered us in directions that have yielded very poor results. I think if we look at the track record of Kyoto, of the UN Clean Development Mechanism, the European Union’s emissions trading scheme – we now have close to a decade that we can measure these schemes against, and it’s disastrous. Not only are emissions up, but you have no end of scams to point to, which gives fodder to the right. The right took on cap-and-trade by saying its going to bankrupt us, it’s handouts to corporations, and, by the way, it’s not going to work. And they were right on all counts. Not in the bankrupting part, but they were right that this was a massive corporate giveaway, and they were right that it wasn’t going to bring us anywhere near what scientists were saying we needed to do lower emissions” [10].
 
This is no better illustrated than in look-the-other-way, neoliberal, climate criminal Australia that is a world leader in annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and in climate change inaction. Thus “annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution” in units of “tonnes CO2-equivalent per person per year” (2005-2008 data) is 0.9 (Bangladesh), 0.9 (Pakistan), 2.2 (India), less than 3 (many African and Island countries), 3.2 (the Developing World), 5.5 (China), 6.7 (the World), 11 (Europe), 16 (the Developed World), 27 (the US) and 25 (Australia) - or 74 in 2010 for Australia if its huge Exported CO2 pollution is included [1, 5]. However, Australia’s prosperity currently heavily depends upon huge exports of coal, gas and iron ore to Asia – exported GHG pollution that is greater than Australia’s Domestic GHG pollution and set to be 3 times greater by 2020 [1]. Already about 7 million people die annually from carbon burning pollutants [4] and it is estimated that about 10 billion people will perish this century in a near-terminal Climate Genocide if man-made climate change is not properly addressed [3, 5].
 
Even though former Labor PM Kevin Rudd declared that “climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time”, successive Australian Labor Governments have failed to act in a substantial way. Indeed the significantly climate change denialist conservative Liberal Party-National Party Coalition (currently in Government) and equally pro-coal and pro-gas Labor (currently in Opposition) have exactly the same climate change inaction policies of a derisory “5% off 2000 GHG pollution by 2020” coupled with unlimited coal, gas and iron ore exports that would see Australia exceed the whole world’s Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget by a factor of three (3) [11]. Global fossil fuel reserves are such that CO2 pollution from their use would exceed the Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget by a factor of 5 [3].
 
This extraordinary Australian refusal to face up to the reality of the worsening Climate Emergency is illustrated by a recent debate between leading Australian climate economist Professor Ross Garnaut (who advocated action by a Carbon Tax and an Emission Trading Scheme as implemented by the previous Labor Government) and Independent MP Clive Palmer (a mining billionaire who has just been given the green light for a massive new coal mine and a rail-linked port dangerously impinging on Australia’s iconic, World Heritage-listed but critically endangered Great Barrier Reef). Non-scientist ABC journalist Tony Jones (who evidently accepts the Garnaut and Labor position ) compered this debate on climate change action between non-scientist economist Professor Ross Garnaut and non-scientist mining billionaire Clive Palmer [12]. It should be noted that the Coalition Australian Government led by PM Tony Abbott hopes to shortly dismantle Labor’s Carbon Tax and ETS with the help of Clive Palmer. The following 2 key exchanges in the debate illustrate the extraordinary ignorance of those overwhelmingly non-scientists permitted effective free speech to the exclusion of scientists in the public discussion about climate change action.
 
EXCHANGE #1. ROSS GARNAUT: Yes, the world's been taking substantial action… [Advocacy of Carbon Price by an EU-style Emissions Trading Scheme]… Well, for thousands of years, for thousands of years there was a balance between natural emissions and natural absorption of emissions. The big increase in human emissions from burning fossil fuel since the Industrial Revolution and chopping down trees has changed that balance. So it's the human-induced changes that create the climate change problem. It's why there's been nearly a degree of warming in the last half century.

CLIVE PALMER: It's just not true.
 
EXCHANGE #2. CLIVE PALMER: Well we should show leadership. The fact of the matter is we want to reduce carbon. 100 per cent of the carbon, 97 per cent of it’s from nature. If we reduce it by 20 per cent from industry, that's about 0.6 per cent of the 100 per cent overall because industry's only three per cent, so why don't we try to get a 0.6 per cent reduction of carbon from all sources of carbon? In New Zealand, they've got a fart tax because sheep give out the most methane. They've introduced things like that ...

TONY JONES: Yeah, that's not - well that's not carbon, that's methane.

Non-scientist Professor Ross Garnaut was WRONG in stating that “the world's been taking substantial action”.

As summarized in the latest IPCC AR5 Report Summary for Policy Makers, the atmospheric CO2 is higher than it has been for 1 million years and it is increasing at a rate of about 2.5 ppm CO2 per year that is over 2 times that in1960 when measurements by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) commenced at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, USA [13, 14]. Further, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports and projects correspondingly remorselessly increasing global energy-related CO2 pollution [15]. The Australian Climate Commission has estimated that (relative to 2014) the World has only 14 years left before it exceeds the Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget of 600 Gt CO2 that must not be exceeded if we are to have a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2C temperature rise [8]. However a more stringent analysis realistically considering the GWP of methane and the huge impact of livestock on man-made GHG pollution indicates that the World has only 4 years left (relative to 2014) at current rates of pollution before its Terminal Carbon Budget is exceeded [9].

Non-scientist Professor Ross Garnaut was WRONG in supporting a disastrous EU-style Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) for Australia and the utility of the present Labor-installed Carbon Tax and ETS arrangements (Carbon Price $23 per ton CO2-e but falling to a derisory $6 per ton CO2-e in 2015 as compared to an expert UK assessment that a Carbon Price of $150 per ton CO2-e is needed for effective climate action). Thus the ETS approach is empirically ineffective, is accordingly counterproductive and is inherently fraudulent in that it involves, for example, the Australian Government selling licenses for corporations to pollute the one common atmosphere and ocean of all countries in the world. Many climate scientists, climate activists and climate economists favor a transparent and substantial Carbon Tax and slam the ETS approach [16-19]. Thus Dr. Chris Hope (Judge Business School, 90-Nobel-Laureate University of Cambridge) (2011): “If the best current scientific and economic evidence is to be believed, and climate change could be a real and serious problem, the appropriate response is to institute today a climate change tax equal to the mean estimate of the damage caused by a ton of CO2. emissions. The raw calculations from the default PASGE09 model suggest that tax should be about $100 per ton of CO2 in the EU. But correcting for the limited time horizon of the model, and bringing the calculations forward to 2102, in year 2012 dollars, brings the suggested tax up to about $150 per ton of CO2” [19].

Non-scientist Clive Palmer was utterly WRONG in rejecting “human-induced climate change” by saying “It’s just not true”.

The expert IPCC AR5 report, Summary for Policy Makers, based on the work of thousands of expert research scientists, has summarized the observed changes so far: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased… Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding the climate system” [14].

Non-scientist Clive Palmer was utterly WRONG in his pronouncement that “[of] 100 per cent of the carbon, 97 per cent of it’s from nature”, stating:

“[of] 100 per cent of the carbon, 97 per cent of it’s from nature. If we reduce it by 20 per cent from industry, that's about 0.6 per cent of the 100 per cent overall because industry's only three per cent, so why don't we try to get a 0.6 per cent reduction of carbon from all sources of carbon”. The reality qualitatively familiar to high school science students is that annually photosynthesis converts about 170 Gt C (624 Gt CO2) to carbohydrate (120 GtC terrestrially and 50 GtC in the ocean): nCO2 + nH2O -> (CH2O)n + nO2 . However of this all but about 4 GtC is re-oxidized back to CO2 by plants and plant-eating aerobic organisms deriving requisite energy from this catabolic process : (CH2O)n + nO2 -> nCO2 + nH2O [1] (anaerobic organism make things worse by generating methane, CH4, which is 105 times worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas (GHG) on a 20 year time frame and taking aerosol impacts into account [1, 20, 21]),. Non-scientist Clive Palmer evidently does not understand the basic high school biological chemistry that nearly all the carbohydrate generated by photosynthesis on Planet Earth is subsequently re-oxidized to provide energy for the survival, repair and replication of photosynthetic organisms and of all ultimately photosynthetic-consuming organisms.

Non-scientist Clive Palmer was utterly WRONG in his pronouncement that “[of the 100 per cent overall… industry's only three per cent]”.

World Bank analysts have re-assessed annual man-made (anthropogenic) GHG pollution taking livestock into account as 17.4 GtC (64 Gt CO2-e or CO2-equivalent ), this being 50% bigger than the FAO estimate of 11.4 GtC (42 Gt CO2-e). Man’s annual GHG contribution is thus about 17.4 GtC out of an annual biological GHG pollution total of 17.4 + 170 - 4 = 183.4 GtC or 9.5% (over 3 times greater than Clive Palmer’s estimate of 3%) [22].

Non-scientist Clive Palmer was nevertheless qualitatively CORRECT in suggesting “why don't we try to get a … reduction of carbon from all sources of carbon?”

Eliminating all aspects of livestock production from land clearing to eructation (belching) by methane-generating animals could, according to World Bank analysts, save 32 GtC , nearly 2 times the present annual anthropogenic GHG pollution [22]. Conversion of forestry waste and agricultural straw waste to biochar (carbon, charcoal ) through anaerobic pyrolysis at 400-700C and then putting it into fire-proof holes in the ground (like old coal mines) could save 12 GtC annually but this would be associated with a minimum cost of the order of $200 per ton C. Thus the cost of conversion of cellulosic waste to biochar in the US mid-West is about US$49-US$74 per ton CO2 (US$210-US$303 per ton CO2 in the UK ) i.e. $180-272 per ton C (US-based) or $771-1,112 per ton C (UK-based) [23, 24]. The current price of Australian thermal coal is about $90 per ton or $90 per t C x (12t C/ 44 t CO2) = $24 per ton of CO2 released on eventual combustion [24]. Thus at the cheapest US-based rate, for every $1 coal miners like Clive Palmer get for coal, future generations will have to pay $2-3 to clean up the atmosphere. Ergo, future generations would like us to keep coal (and oil and gas) in the ground [4, 24].

Non-scientist compere Tony Jones was utterly WRONG in absurdly stating “That's not carbon, that's methane”.

The carbon compound methane (CH4) is a major, naturally-occurring greenhouse gas and derives from anaerobic degradation of biological material e.g. in swamps, waste dumps, and livestock digestion: (CH2O)n + 4H (derived from reduced coenzymes) -> nCH4 + nH2O or, overall: 2(CH2O)n -> nCH4 + nCO2. Global warming is already releasing CH4 from thawing H2O-CH4 clathrates in the tundra and in shallow parts of the Arctic Ocean. CH4 is the major constituent of natural gas and fugitive CH4 emissions occur from coal mines, coal seam gas (CSG) extraction, and conventional natural gas extraction, from coal seam and shale fracking and from systemic gas reticulation leakage. It is estimated that 50 Gt CH4 will be released from the Arctic Ocean sea bed in coming decades [25]. From a global warming and greenhouse gas pollution perspective, methane is not just a carbon compound but the worst such naturally-occurring compound in terms of Global Warming Potential, (GWP). The GWP of CH4 on a 20 year time frame and with aerosol impacts considered is 105 times that of CO2 [1, 21, 22]. The German WBGU (2009) and the Australian Climate Commission (2013) have estimated that no more than 600 billion tonnes of CO2 can be emitted between 2010 and zero emissions in 2050 if the world is to have a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2C temperature rise [1, 3, 8]. The 50 Gt (billion tonnes) CH4 expected to be released from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf in coming decades is thus equivalent to 50 billion tonnes CH4 x 105 tonnes CO2-equivalent/ton CH4 = 5,250 tonnes CO2-e or about nine (9) times more than the world’s Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget. We are doomed unless we can stop this Arctic CH4 release [3]. In the public arguments in Australia and elsewhere about what an effective Carbon Price should be, the Carbon Price is expressed in terms of dollars per ton CO2-equivalent (CO2-e), noting that CO2-e expresses total greenhouse gases (mainly CO2 and CH4) as CO2 equivalents.

Conclusions

The world is facing worsening climate emergency and may have as few as only 4 years before it exceeds the Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget that must not be exceeded if we are to have a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2C temperature rise. Global fossil fuel reserves are such that CO2 pollution from their use would exceed the Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget by a factor of 5. Yet there is overall global climate change inaction as evidenced by remorselessly increasing energy-linked CO2 emissions and atmospheric CO2 increasing at over twice the rate of half a century ago.

The public debate largely sidelines scientists and is dominated by (a) climate change denialist conservative politicians and commentators backed by corporations committed to a continuing Carbon Economy and (b) politicians, journalists, and environmental groups who are effective climate change denialists in that they refuse to back the strong climate change action required to save Humanity and the Biosphere. The consequent massive misinformation is illustrated here by the serious errors in a major Australian public debate involving (a) a highly influential , non-scientist Australian economist who backs the demonstrably ineffective ETS approach and mistakenly asserts that the the world's been taking substantial action”; (b) a non-scientist climate change denialist mining billionaire and highly influential MP who doesn’t understand the basics of the Carbon Cycle by Life on Earth in which nearly all the carbohydrate generated by photosynthesis is subsequently re-oxidized to provide energy for the survival, repair and replication of photosynthetic organisms and ultimately photosynthate-consuming organisms; and (c) a highly influential, non-scientist journalist who does not appear to understand that the carbon compound methane is a major greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 105 times greater than that of CO2.

What is needed to save the Planet is: (1) a change of societal philosophy to one of scientific risk management and biological sustainability with complete cessation of species extinctions and zero tolerance for lying and misinformation; .(2) urgent reduction of atmospheric CO2 to a safe level of about 300 ppm from the current dangerous 400 ppm CO2 as recommended by leading climate and biological scientists; and (3) a rapid switch to the best non-carbon and renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tide and hydro options that are currently roughly the same market price as coal burning-based power) and to energy efficiency, public transport, needs-based production, re-afforestation and return of carbon as biochar to soils coupled with correspondingly rapid cessation of fossil fuel burning, deforestation, methanogenic livestock production and population growth.

What can humane, civilized, science-informed people do in the face of massive climate change denialism and massive effective climate change denialism by even ostensibly pro-environment groups? We are badly running out of time to save the Planet. Science-informed people – and especially the young who are most threatened by climate change, climate injustice and intergenerational inequity [4] - must (a) inform everyone they can, (b) vote 1 Green or Socialist, and (c) exercise zero tolerance for climate criminals by urging and applying Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against all people, politicians, parties, countries, companies and corporations conspicuous in the War on Terra, the greed-driven, terracidal destruction of the Biosphere through unaddressed, man-made global warming.

References

  1. Gideon Polya, “2011 Climate Change Course”.
  2. “Cut carbon emissions 80% by 2020”.
  3. “Are we doomed?”
  4. “Climate justice & intergenerational equity”.
  5. “Climate genocide”.
  6. “300.org – return atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppm”.
  7. “100% renewable energy by 2020”.
  8. Australian Climate Commission, “The critical decade 2013: a summary of climate change science, risks and responses”, 2013, p7.
  9. Gideon Polya,”Doha climate change inaction. Only 5 years left to act", MWC News, 9 December 2012.
  10. Naomi Klein in interview, “Conversation. Naomi Klein”, “Earth Island Journal”, 2013.
  11. Gideon Polya, “Australia’s Huge Coal, Gas & Iron Ore Exports Threaten Planet”, Countercurrents, 15 May 2012.
  12. “Live from Perth: Ross Garnaut and Clive Palmer”, ABC TV, Lateline, 3 April 2014.
  13. US NOAA, “Trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide”. 
  14. IPCC AR5 Report Summary for Policy Makers, 2014.
  15. US EIA, “Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions”, Table A10.
  16. “Science and economics experts: Carbon tax needed Not Carbon Trading”, 300.org.
  17. James Hansen, “It's Possible To Avert The Climate Crisis”, Countercurrents, 29 November, 2009.
  18. Dr. Chris Hope in “Climate economist warns of impact of climate change”, Lateline, ABC TZV, 29 July 2013.
  19. Chris Hope, “How high should climate change taxes be?”, Working Paper Series, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, 9.2011 .
  20. Drew T. Shindell , Greg Faluvegi, Dorothy M. Koch , Gavin A. Schmidt , Nadine Unger and Susanne E. Bauer , “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science, 30 October 2009: Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718.
  21. Shindell et al (2009), Science, 30 October 2009: Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718, Fig.2.
  22. Robert Goodland and Jeff Anfang. “Livestock and climate change. What if the key actors in climate change are … cows, pigs and chickens?” World Watch, November/December 2009
  23. Simon Shackley, Jim Hammond, John Gaunt and Rodrigo Ibarrollo, “The feasibility and costs of biochar deployment in the UK”, Carbon Management, 2(3), 335-356 (2011).
  24. Gideon Polya, “Expert Witness Testimony to Stop Gas-Fired Power Plant Installation”, Countercurrents, 14 June 2013.
  25. Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope and Peter Wadhams, “Vast costs of Arctic change”, Nature, 499, 25 July 2013.

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