Jun 16, 2016

Life's Maximum Peril Is Locked-in

From a Million Miles Away, NASA Camera Shows Moon
Crossing Face of Earth - A (now NOAA) camera aboard the
Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite
between the earth and sun captured unique view of the moon
as it moved in front of the sun-lit side of Earth in August 2015.
The series of test images shows the fully illuminated dark side
of the moon that is never visible from Earth.
The DSCOVR satellite is in orbit around the sun,
932,000 miles sunward from Earth.
Cameras on DSCOVR give a constant view of
the fully illuminated Earth. Over the coming
decades, new blasts of methane and other climate-changing
gases will become visible, and we can watch via satellite
as Earth enters a point-of-no-return phase featuring climate
change-induced catastrophes, including massive loss of human life,
caused by increasing concentrations of fossil fuel gases
altering the climate. Superstorms will become more frequent
and severe. We can watch the demise of human and
much other life via cameras on satellite DSCOVR. Very cool.
'Young people will not get a do-over,' as humans lock in superstorms, sea rises exceeding 20 feet, disaster-inducing feedbacks and amplifications

Updated: "With a little help from that natural cyclic phenomenon El Niño and a lot of help from humans, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere will exceed 400 parts per million (ppm) not just for the rest of the year, but probably for a lifetime."

And as carbon dioxide levels rise, so will temperatures. Scientists say that summers 50 years from now will be far hotter than any experienced by anybody now," (Radford, Climate News Network).

As often as responsible minds such as Tim Radford, James Hansen, the host of climatic scientists around the globe, Noam Chomsky, and other rational-minded folk warn of the dire consequences of systemic, massive injection of carbon and methane into the Earth's atmosphere, the truth is most people and policymakers will not comprehend or care.

Not that the subject matter is difficult, it's just that thinking and acting are enterprises that do not reach the corrupt, nihilistic, or plain stupid—most of the planet's population, and virtually all of the policymakers in government and corporations.

James Hansen is spending his semi-retirement in a living acknowledgement to his grandchildren that the world we, this generation, is leaving our future is one we would not recognize.

Hansen is the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and author of Storms of My Grandchildren, (Bloomsbury, (2011)).

America’s first operational deep space satellite orbits some one
million miles from Earth. Positioned between the sun and Earth,
it is able to maintain a constant view of the sun and
sun-lit side of Earth. This location is called Lagrange point 1,
(L1). - (Illustration is not to scale)
Credit: NOAA.
"If you prefer to remain in the land of the blissfully ignorant, you will have lots of company. … But if you are willing to expend a modicum of effort, you can take a big step toward appreciating the degree to which we are living on a planet in peril," writes Hansen in 2011.

The White House is leading the way among the blissfully ignorant.

Perhaps President Obama will offer an address after November stating 'we should do something.'

Won't be enough.

There is no policy urgency in the White House to enact emergency measures to mitigate and halt what appears to be point-of-no-return positive feedbacks and amplifications.

"Humanity is rapidly extracting and burning fossil fuels without full understanding of the consequences," say climatic scientists in a widely ignored paper, (Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations that 2°C Global Warming is Dangerous). The authors in the above-linked paper do not conclude we have reached the point-of-no-return, but this is an obvious inference.

What about 10s°C global warming that Radford warns about? The authors of the above paper, as good empirical scientists, leave it to readers to extrapolate.

Those interested can read the public release of papers from the Pentagon warning about the coming dangers of global warming, (Global Warming and Pentagon), but the lack of public urgency from the presidency makes one wonder why the business-as-usual posture.
The earth's biosphere "refers to the regions of the surface, atmosphere, and hydrosphere of the earth occupied by living organisms," (NOAA).

Earth is 4.5 billion years-old, and will remain long after humans have altered the biosphere and surface systems supporting life.

The threat of systemically injecting fossil fuel gases into the atmosphere is to living things.

To reject the need to protect living things by planning for humanity and life’s future as a species and on a planetary scale is to reject, for one, the consequences humans have on the biosphere by burning massive amounts of fossil fuels over a short time scale.

Human beings are a successful species, but this will change.
Mr. Buffett's Ark
April 26, 2016

Dear Mr. Buffett,

As America’s most revered businessman and investor, you have a singular opportunity for good.

When you speak, millions listen. And they trust your judgment.

In the time I am granted to speak at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting on April 30 my remarks will focus on the world we are leaving to young people, the prospects they will inherit.

I believe that you and I share optimism about the future, but also concerns.

You are in a singular position, via the respect you command, to help the public see through special interests. Indeed, I will argue that you could, and that you should, do your best to influence the course of history this century and beyond.

To help make my case, let me first note that we share Midwestern roots.

I worked for the Omaha World Herald for years, thus earning a chance to study at the University of Iowa under renowned physicist James Van Allen.

That career path, the study of other planets and Earth’s history, led me to realization of the dangers posed by human-made climate change as we burn fossil fuels.

Recent scientific data indicate that continued high fossil fuel emissions will lock in sea level rise of at least 6-9 meters (20-30 feet).

Almost all coastal cities, including most of the world’s largest cities, would be lost.

Large impacts may not begin for several decades, but this delayed response of the ponderous climate system spells danger for young people.

We can pass a point of no return, where it becomes impossible to avoid future Antarctic ice sheet disintegration and loss of coastal cities. Economic devastation and refugees could make the world ungovernable.

So, Mr. Buffett, I am heartened by the words in your last annual report, where you conclude that continued inaction on climate change “is foolhardy.” You wrote: “Call this Noah’s Law: If an Ark may be essential for survival (your emphasis), begin building it today.”

Your Ark’s characteristics will need to be informed by science and practical matters.  Fossil fuel energy, encouraged and subsidized by our governments, has powered our economic development for more than a century. 

Science now informs us, unambiguously, that fossil fuel emissions must be phased out rapidly, or our children will inherit a climate system out of their control.

I recognize and salute your commitment, with Mr. Gates and others, to invest in development of clean energy technologies.

Such Research and Development is an essential component of sound energy policies. Yet even your resources are tiny in comparison to the total fossil fuel economy.

We need good national and global energy policies to move the world off fossil fuels onto clean energies.  However, the Paris climate accord, signed with pomp and circumstance, is only a precatory, [wished-for or requested], agreement, based on the hope that each of 190 nations will choose an effective “cap” for their emissions.

But when a U.S. citizen is responsible for 25 times more emissions than an Indian citizen, what cap can we expect India to ad opt and how would it be enforced?

I suggest, Mr. Buffett, that your Ark will need to include two fundamental timbers.

And unless the public understands these basic matters, it will be difficult to achieve a vessel for salvation.

First, there will need to be an across-the-board gradually rising carbon fee or tax.  This is the underpinning needed to provide incentive for rapid innovation and investment.  Without this fee, fossil fuels continue to appear to be cheap to the consumer, as their price does not include their costs to society arising from air pollution, water pollution, and climate change.

Second, these funds should not be grabbed by the government or used to fund politicians’ favorite subsidies, which would depress the economy.  Economic studies show that a revenue-neutral carbon fee stimulates the economy and creates jobs.

Returning all funds to the public garners wide public support, helping avoid later over turning by subsequent political leaders.

These concepts are not rocket science.

Yet communication of such basic information to the public is nearly impossible when the media are saturated with propaganda such as the fossil fuel industry’s “I’m an Energy Voter” campaign, designed to keep the public hooked on fossil fuels.

Mr. Buffett, the public needs advice from trusted sources.  You have done a useful service with your remarks about climate change and your advice to begin building an Ark.

If you believe that the Paris climate accord has put us on a path to rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, if you believe that the sun and wind will soon provide all the world’s energy needs, there is little reason for you to say more.

But I suspect you agree that more is needed.

You have no obligation to advise the public about effective policies, but as a much-respected business person, you have an opportunity.

Recently my oldest grandson, as an 11-year old, made the astute observation about climate change: “unless we can figure out a time machine that actually works, there will be no way to go back in time to fix it.”

Mr. Buffett, young people will not get a “do-over.” 

They urgently need us to start building your Ark.

James Hansen, Director
Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions
Columbia University Earth Institute

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