Why Climate Change and Energy?

Why Concentrate on Climate Change, Carbon, and therefore Energy?

What are the key elements of the rationale, that requires this unprecedented concentration on Climate, Carbon, and Energy?

The Problem

  • Climate Change poses an unprecedented threat to the continuation of human civilization
  • Climate Change refers to the disruption of the Earth’s atmosphere by human actions
    • This is fortunate: Because this threat is human-caused, it can be human-cured, if time allows
  • Urgency: We have at most a generation to avoid a “Tipping point”, the point of no recovery
    • Scientists are increasingly certain we cannot afford to exceed a 2 degree surface temperature increase
    • Beyond 2 degrees, it is not plausible that the Earth could nourish – or allow – human civilization
    • We have already reached 0.6 degrees, and another 0.8 degrees would occur if no more carbon is emitted
    • And global carbon emission rates continue to increase (excepting 1-2 years in an economic downturn)
    • Burning even a small fraction of fossil fuel proven reserves will drive us far beyond the 2 degree limit
    • Most investors in new fossil fuel recovery and combustion projects will be losing most of their investment
  • Scientists in the disciplines that address Climate Change are in near total consensus on the above assertions
  • Yet, even now, few people understand or accept the magnitude or timing of this threat to their Earth-Home

The Crucial Role of Science

  • Homo sapiens lacks the intuitive apparatus to directly perceive, and act on, slowly varying phenomena
  • Scientists engaged in their calling, using the scientific process, can provide our Early Warning System
  • Thus the importance of scientific inquiry, to provide a substitute for this intuitive limitation
  • We must accept (not deny) and incorporate the findings of Science; otherwise we’re “driving without headlights”

Earth Mechanisms

  • The dominant mechanism underlying Climate Change is unprecedented global warming
  • As the Earth warms, its critical stabilizing systems are losing resilience, and extreme responses emerge
  • Global warming is a result of atmospheric Greenhouse Gas build-up, dominated by persistent carbon dioxide
  • Roughly half the carbon emitted remains in the atmosphere for many decades, most of the rest goes into the ocean
  • This oceanic “sink becomes more acidic, rapidly destroying key marine nurseries, such as coral reefs
  • Meanwhile, ocean heating causes expansion, reflected in rising sea levels (a different mechanism than melting ice)

So what is required of us: Homo sapiens, human civilization, the parents and grandparents of future generations?

  • The dominant driver of this disruptive global warming is the human use of “fossil fuels” through combustion
  • Thus we require a solution to an Energy Challenge: We can restore the balance by transforming our energy systems
  • The Energy Challenge Solution IS carbon-free, always renewing, global, adequate, accessible to all, and affordable
  • Timing: We have at most a generation to guarantee reaching an Energy Challenge Solution, at energy levels twice those of today
  • The possibility of achieving this requires a rapid and dramatic increase in energy-use efficiencies of all types
  • For this monumental undertaking, local actions by dedicated people are required: Modern political “leaders” only follow

 What will sustain those of us who understand, accept, and act to meet the climate/carbon/energy Challenge?

  • Local action by teams of people who accept the climate challenge are required: It is too exhausting to “go it alone”
  • Metrics: Local action outcomes must be measured, with the metrics linked to global carbon/energy results
  • PLUS A Fundamental Asset: The ever-restoring Sense that We are One; one ligament in the Universal Web-of-Life. We are not alone, we do not work just for ourselves but for all who gave us our legacy, giving our generation the chance to re-energize and pass on the torch to those who follow us. We will use the tools of science and engineering, and our own intellect, but in the end, it is our love for – and commitment to – all Life, in all Creation, in all Times, that is our real power source.

Surprise: The Victory Scenario

  • The greatest motivator possible is inherent in accepting the Climate/Energy Challenge
  • The Chinese character for “crisis” means “dangerous opportunity”: This is what each and all of us are facing today
  • If we meet this unprecedented, awesome Global Climate/Energy Challenge, humankind will have achieved a milestone in the evolution of human civilization that few if any people now alive even dare consider. But imagine a world, our Earth, which provides protection and nourishment, with enough energy to ALLOW each human being the opportunity to live a meaningful, joyful, HUMAN LIFE. Terrorism and greed would be sad memories like slavery and war. A sense of brother/sisterhood would pervade our lives, our family would be the Earth family, and all creatures would be neighbors. This is not wishful thinking, it is the prerequisite for our very existence as a species; Our enabling process is exactly our very reward.
  • But if we do not meet this Climate/Energy Challenge, then the Earth, and all Life will be sad, but she will go on, and once more look longingly for the emergence of a species whose knowledge and wisdom and love and commitment matched its growing knowledge and power.

What is the role of Climate/Energy-Based and guided initiatives within the complete spectrum of Earth Care concerns and actions?

  • Climate and Energy concerns are the key to meeting the Climate Challenge, on which human civilization depends.
  • But this is not an argument for replacement of your passionate commitment, long pursued; it is a request that the Climate/Energy Challenge take its place in the first magnitude echelon of your priorities.


Note to Reader: The following outline contains placeholders to use in organizing the growing knowledge base, to be offered for ongoing confirmation and support for the above Rationale, eventually for deeper research and stimulation for continuous learning about the universe and our purpose in it. It is initially only an outline, but will be filled-in and expanded through inputs from people visiting and using the Repository.

  • Energy is conserved, neither created nor destroyed (1st Law of Thermodynamics)
  • Energy transformation involved in EACH & ALL processes, natural and human, therefore good tracer
  • Sustainability
    • Definition
    • Common sense requirements for sustainability vs. fossilized sunshine
    • Earth’s atmosphere and oceans becoming less resilient, and therefore less nourishing
  • Energy Flow Rate is called Power: It is the best way to frame energy assessments (local and global), and policy responses
  • The Climate/Energy Crisis (Dr. Smalley calls it The Terawatt Challenge)
    • Energy deserves to be our top priority: 3 reasons why
      • The magnitude of the challenge: The new oil
      • Solving the Energy Problem = meeting 3 conditions (adequate, accessible, affordable)
      • The 3 Candidate Energy Technologies that can Possibly Solve the Energy Problem
  • The Victory Scenario: The Opportunity inherent in the Climate/Energy Crisis (Crisis=Dangerous Opportunity)
  • Climate Change is caused by the cumulative actions of human society, hence “Human-Caused Climate Change”
  • The primary human cause is the combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas (“fossil fuel”); the products of combustion are water vapor and carbon dioxide – the primary driver of climate change and ocean acidification.
  • “Fossil Fuels” are actually fossilized sunlight, but by burning them at an increasing rate (over the two and a half centuries of the Industrial Age) we’ve upset the natural balance in the atmosphere and oceans, thus the warmer climate and more acidic ocean.
  • “Our” Earth (God’s local creation, our Earth’s Web-of-Life, “Mother Nature”) will survive mistakes made by humankind (barring nuclear war or unmanaged genetic engineering), but human civilization may not.
    • Mother Nature’s capacity to nourish and protect human life has been crucial throughout human history to the present day, but that capacity is already diminished by the cumulative effect of our actions, and may soon be lost.
    • Mother Nature does not excuse ignorance.
    • Mother Nature does not negotiate: Human civilization has a choice, practice what we know about the Rules of The Web-of-Life on Earth, or suffer the punishment – possibly including extinction.
  • If enough people don’t try hard enough, soon enough, human living conditions will deteriorate to the point when people will begin to refuse to bring a child into the world. i.e. human civilization will go out with a whimper, not a bang.
  • If this happens, some will accuse a malevolent Deity of treachery, some will blame other humans and their organizations. But many honest people who tried desperately to avert disaster will recognize the true source: Each and all of us; no one did his/her best to overcome the threat, when we had the knowledge and still had the time to do better.
  • The Scientific Consensus
    • PNAS article on scientific consensus [97+%] (Anderegg et. al., PNAS)
    • World’s leaders sign in
    • Orestes: No authors publishing in peer-reviewed publications (between 1992-2004) do not accept ACC
    • When it comes to their personal health, no sane person would ignore the advice of 97 doctors in favor of 3 contrarians, but it is obviously possible to get some people to do just that in the realm of climate science [but say it in how many second opinions would be sought, seeking one doctor who would say you have nothing to do or worry about].
  • Observed phenomena, plus knowledge easily understood by anyone with a high school education
    • Central Texas
      • Record drought
      • Closure of last cattle feedlot
      • Persistent low lake levels
      • Devastating Bastrop Fire
      • Shift in natural growing zones (from Joep’s early slide)
    • Dr. Parmesan’s research findings on response of wild life to climate change
    • Devastating drought in the Midwest grain belt,
    • Snow level rise and reduced snow pack in Sierra Nevada and Cascades
    • Rapid die-off arboreal conifer forests in western North America from Pine Bark Beetle attack
    • Thinning of the Arctic Ice Sheet
  • Human Suffering from Climate Change
    • Losses from Himalayan glaciers, the source of the six major rivers of SE Asia
    • Flooding of Bangladesh and Pakistan
    • Escalating damages from hurricanes (cyclones) and tornadoes – observations of the insurance industry
    • Super storms like Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, plus who pays for the recovery that’s possible
  • The Case for Concentrating Our Limited Efforts on Meeting the Energy Challenge (Smalley’s Terawatt Challenge)
    • Threat = Climate Disruption renders Earth unsuitable for human civilization
    • Climate (and Ocean) Disruption caused by CO2 and other GHG’s build-up
    • GHG buildup caused by burning fossil fuels, which moves carbon from the crust into the atmosphere much faster than the Earth can render it harmless
    • Managing the effectiveness of human actions to control and reduce the GHG emission rate can be measured by the carbon footprint of all human actions
    • What gets measured gets managed, what does not get measured cannot be managed.
    • The Climate Challenge is an Energy Challenge: We need much more carbon-free energy, and we need to replace the fossil fuel energy dependence very rapidly – less than two generations at most.
  • Inspiration:
    • Churchill’s Dedication, and ‘so many owe so much to so few’, applied to today’s Earth Caretakers
    • Margaret Mead
    • Carson to NEPA
  • The human power source needed to make and honor our commitment to Life:
    • Understanding who we are, and where we are in the Sacred Web-of-Life
    • Accepting the responsibility we have to the Sacred Web-of-Life, and all who may follow us
    • Focusing our human energies on solving the Energy Challenge, the key to meeting the Climate Challenge