I have begun to believe my mind is full of tiny little topics that act like pimples.

No one can predict the order they start to fester in, or when they’ll get ripe and burst.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Return of Al Gore to the Circus



The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate

It's time to accelerate the shift toward a low-carbon future




This is almost sheer plagiarism in that it is a condensation of a 6000+ word column in the Rolling Stone by Former US Vice President Al Gore on June 18, 2014 9:00 AM ET.
 It can be seen in its entirety at


I stole it because it is a ray of hope that everyone should read but won’t: primarily because of its length. I chopped out the excess verbiage and shrank it to 2750 which is still long but a hell of a lot easier to read. Please do so!
It’s an important analysis of what Global Warming is bringing to this earth in the not too long different future that he describes in an excellent presentation of interlocking events to come.

To Begin

In the struggle to solve the climate crisis, the only question is how quickly we can accelerate and complete the transition to a low-carbon civilization. Al Gore has come to believe the truly catastrophic damages that have the potential for ending civilization as we know it can still – almost certainly – be avoided. Moreover, the pace of the changes already set in motion can still be moderated significantly. The cost of electricity from photovoltaic, or PV, solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources. By 2020 more than 80 percent of the world's people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources.

There is a huge difference between "more expensive than" and "cheaper than.
Germany, Europe's industrial powerhouse now generates 37 percent of its daily electricity from wind and solar; Germany's two largest coal-burning utilities have lost 56 percent of their value over the past four years, and the losses have continued into the first half of 2014. According to the Swiss bank UBS, nine out of 10 European coal and gas plants are now losing money

Last May, Barclays downgraded the entirety of the U.S. electric sector, warning that "a confluence of declining cost trends in distributed solar ­photovoltaic-power generation and residential­ scale power storage is likely to disrupt the status quo" and make utility investments less attractive.
The widespread belief that natural gas will continue to be the chosen alternative to coal is mistaken, because it too will fall victim to the continuing decline in the cost of solar and wind electricity and the cost of battery storage has also been declining 

Enough raw energy reaches the Earth from the sun in one hour
To equal
All of the energy used by the entire world in a full year.

In poorer countries, photovoltaic electricity is not so much displacing carbon-based energy as leapfrogging it altogether. The newly elected prime minister of India announced a stunning plan to rely principally upon photovoltaic energy in providing electricity to 400 million Indians who currently do not have it. The former utility regulator of India, added that the industry he once oversaw "has reached a stage where either we change the whole system quickly, or it will collapse." Bangladesh is installing nearly two new rooftop PV systems every minute — making it the most rapidly growing market for PVs in the world.
Some scoffed at projections that the world would be installing one gigawatt of new solar electricity per year by 2010 but this year the world is on pace to exceed that benchmark 17 times  and expected to reach as much as 55 times over in the near future. The cost of solar electricity has dropped by an average of 20 percent per year since 2010. Some energy economists are now predicting energy-price deflation as soon as the next decade.
The cost of wind energy is also plummeting, having dropped 43 percent in the United States since 2009 – making it now cheaper than coal for new generating capacity. In the United States alone, nearly one-third of all new electricity-generating capacity in the past five years has come from wind, and installed wind capacity in the U.S. has increased more than fivefold since 2006.

There is precedence for the speed with which this impending transition has been accelerating that help explain it. Remember the first mobile-telephone handsets?
In 1980, a AT&T conducted a global market study and came to the conclusion that by the year 2000 there would be a market for 900,000 subscribers. They were way wrong: 109 million contracts were active in 2000. Barely a decade and a half later, there are 6.8 billion globally.

The Opposition
The utilities are fighting back, of course, by using their wealth and the entrenched political power they have built up over the past century. In the United States, brothers Charles and David Koch, who run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned corporation in the U.S., have secretively donated at least $70 million to a number of opaque political organizations tasked with spreading disinformation about the climate crisis and intimidating political candidates who dare to support renewable energy or the pricing of carbon pollution. One of the most effective of the groups financed by the Koch brothers is the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which grooms conservative state legislators throughout the country to act as their agents in introducing legislation written by utilities and carbon-fuel lobbyists. The Kochs claim to act on principles of low taxation and minimal regulation, but in their attempts to choke the development of alternative energy, they have focused on persuading state legislatures and public-utility commissions to tax homeowners who install a PV solar cell on their energy in a variety of novel schemes.

The Koch brothers are losing rather badly. In Kansas, their home state, 91 percent of registered voters support solar and wind. In Georgia, the Atlanta Tea Party joined forces with the Sierra Club to form a new organization called – wait for it – the Green Tea Coalition, which promptly defeated a Koch-funded scheme to tax rooftop solar panels. Meanwhile, in Arizona, after the state's largest utility asked for a tax of up to $150 per month for solar households, A compromise was worked out – those households would be charged just $5 per month. The Koch brothers and their allies have been using secretive and deceptive funding in Arizona to run television advertisements attacking "greedy" owners of rooftop solar panels – but their effort has thus far backfired, as local journalists have exposed the funding scam.

Last year, the Edison Electric Institute warned the utility industry that it had waited too long to respond to the sharp cost declines and growing popularity of solar: "At the point when utility investors become focused on these new risks and start to witness significant customer- and earnings-erosion trends, they will respond to these

The most seductive argument deployed by the Koch brothers and their allies is that those who use rooftop solar electricity and benefit from the net-metering policies are "free riders". The second reality ignored by the Koch brothers is the one they least like to discuss, What about sewage infrastructure for 98 million tons per day of gaseous, heat-trapping waste that is daily released into our skies, threatening the future of human civilization? Is it acceptable to use the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet as an open sewer? Free of charge? Really?

Last April, the average CO2 concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere exceeded 400 parts-per-million on a sustained basis: the highest in 4.5 million years (a period that was considerably warmer than at present). The accumulated man-made global-warming pollution already built up in the Earth's atmosphere now traps as much extra heat energy every day as would be released by the explosion of 400,000 Hiroshima-class nuclear bombs. It is that heat energy that is giving the Earth a fever and thirteen of the 14 hottest years ever measured with instruments have occurred in this century. Many scientists expect the coming year could break all of these records with a boost from the anticipated El Niño. The past decade was by far the warmest decade ever measured and it is the heat absorbed by the oceans that is the cause of the four dangers we now face: Storms, Sea-level rise, Floods, and Droughts.
Kevin Trenberth said, "The environment in which all storms form has changed owing to human activities."
Storms

Supertyphoon Haiyan crossed the Pacific and gained strength across seas that were 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they used to be because of greenhouse ­gas pollution
Superstorm Sandy traversed the areas of the Atlantic Ocean in 2012, the water temperature was nine degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal and the sea level was higher than it used to be, elevated by the melting of ice

Similarly, the inundation of Miami Beach by rising sea levels has now begun, and freshwater aquifers in low-lying areas from South Florida to the Nile Delta to Bangladesh to Indochina are being invaded by saltwater pushed upward by rising oceans. Where will the climate refugees go?


Eighty percent of the warming in the past 150 years (since the burning of carbon-based fuels gained momentum) has occurred in the past few decades. The AAAS noted this year "there is a possibility that temperatures will rise much higher and impacts will be much worse than expected. Moreover, as global temperature rises, the risk increases that one or more important parts of the Earth's climate system will experience changes that may be abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible, causing large damages and high costs."

Sea-level Rise

The long-feared "collapse" of a portion of the West Antarctic ice sheet is not only under way but is also now "irreversible” and some people still find it hard to accept the fact that human beings have become a sufficiently powerful force of nature to reshape the ecological system. No matter what we do, sea levels will rise by at least an additional three feet and the Greenland ice sheet dissolving will contribute to significantly more sea-level rise than scientists had previously thought.
The heating of the oceans also evaporates around 2 trillion gallons of additional water vapor into the skies: where it is funneled into land-based storms that are releasing record downpours all over the world.
Floods

Nashville in May 2010.
Torrential rains in Afghanistan in April triggered mudslides that killed thousands of people.
An “April shower" came to Pensacola, Florida, this spring: two feet of rain in 26 hours.
Flooding swamped large portions of England this winter, Serbia and Bosnia this spring.

Droughts

In the planet's drier regions, the same extra heat causes record-breaking droughts. As of this writing, 100 percent of California is in "severe," "extreme" or "exceptional" drought. Record fires are ravaging the desiccated landscape.
Syria- From 2006 to 2010, a historic drought destroyed 60 percent of the country's farms and 80 percent of its livestock. Syria warned us the social and economic impacts of the drought are "beyond our capacity as a country to deal with."

There are so many knock-on consequences of the climate crisis that listing them can be depressing – diseases spreading, crop yields declining, more heat waves affecting vulnerable and elderly populations, the disappearance of summer-ice cover in the Arctic Ocean, the potential extinction of up to half of all the living species, and so much more. And that in itself is a growing problem too, because when you add it all up, it's no wonder that many feel a new inclination to despair.
Last March, a Pentagon advisory committee described the climate crisis as a "catalyst for conflict" that may well cause failures of governance and societal collapse. Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald. "Now we're saying it's going to be a direct cause of instability." Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told the press, "For DOD, this is a mission reality, not a political debate. The scientific forecast is for more Arctic ice melt, more sea-level rise, more intense storms, more flooding from storm surge and more drought."
In November 1936, Winston Churchill in the face of disaster said: "Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. . . . The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays is coming to its close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences. . . . We cannot avoid this period; we are in it now."
The Capitalization of Democracy
Democracy is accepted in theory by more people than ever before as the best form of political organization, but it has been "hacked" by large corporations (defined as "persons" by the Supreme Court) and special interests corrupting the political system with obscene amounts of money (defined as "speech" by the same court).
Capitalism, for its part, is accepted by more people than ever before as a superior form of economic organization, but is – in its current form – failing to measure and include the categories of "value" that are most relevant to the solutions we need in order to respond to this threatening crisis (clean air and water, safe food, a benign climate balance, public goods like education and a greener infrastructure, etc.).
Pressure for meaningful reform in democratic capitalism is beginning to build powerfully. The progressive introduction of Internet-based communication  is laying the foundation for the renewal of individual participation in democracy, and the re-elevation of reason over wealth and power as the basis for collective decision ­making. And the growing levels of inequality worldwide, combined with growing structural unemployment and more frequent market disruptions (like the Great Recession), are building support for reforms in capitalism.
We need to establish "green banks" that provide access to capital investment necessary to develop: renewable energy, an electrified transportation fleet, the retrofitting of buildings to reduce wasteful energy consumption, and the full integration of sustainability in the design and architecture of cities and towns. While the burning of fossil fuels is the largest cause of the climate crisis, deforestation and "factory farming" also play an important role. Financial and technological approaches to addressing these challenges are emerging, but we must continue to make progress in converting to sustainable forestry and agriculture.
The Politics of It All
In order to accomplish these policy shifts, we must not only put a price on carbon in markets, but also find a way to put a price on climate denial in our politics. We already know the reforms that are needed – and the political will to enact them is a renewable resource. Yet the necessary renewal can only come from an awakened citizenry
Three years ago, in these pages, I criticized President Obama for his hesitation at the disastrous meeting in Copenhagen four and a half years ago, but now it is abundantly evident that he has taken hold of the challenge with determination and seriousness of purpose. The president is clearly changing his overall policy emphasis to make CO2 reductions a much higher priority now and has made a series of inspiring speeches that should guarantee a good reception at the meeting in Paris at the end of 2015
And there are signs that a way forward may be opening up. In May, I attended a preparatory session in Abu Dhabi, UAE, to bolster commitments from governments, businesses and nongovernmental organizations ahead of this September's U.N. Climate Summit. There were welcome changes in rhetoric, and it was clear that the reality of the climate crisis is now weighing on almost every nation. Moreover, there were encouraging reports from around the world that many of the policy changes necessary to solve the crisis are being adopted piecemeal by a growing number of regional, state and city governments.
I believe there is a realistic hope that momentum toward a global agreement will continue to build in September and carry through to the Paris negotiations in late 2015. I am among the growing number of people who are allowing themselves to become more optimistic than ever that a bold and comprehensive pact may well emerge from the Paris negotiations late next year, which many regard as the last chance to avoid our civilization’s catastrophe while there is still time.

It will be essential for the United States and other major historical emitters cooperate and that is a beginning:

1.    European Union has announced its commitment to achieve a 40-percent reduction
2.    Finland has pledged to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050
3.    China's new president, Xi Jinping is changing things and China and the U.S. have jointly reached an important agreement to limit another potential threat.
4.    The prime minister of India announced the world's most ambitious plan to accelerate the transition to solar electricity.

There is indeed, literally, light at the end of the tunnel, but there is a tunnel, and we are well into it.

The End



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Blaine Barrett