Calvin Cuts to the Core: Climate Change

I've been trying to figure out what's up and down when it comes to climate change. For years, something's felt off with the religious nature of the people who advocate drastic action against climate change.

The first time this happened was back in 2001 when Bjørn Lomborg had just burst onto the scene with his book The Skeptical Environmentalist. His argument was basically that, sure, the world is heating up, but trying to fight this by reducing CO2 through switching to wind and solar and cutting growth is going to be hugely costly, and this money could save many more lives if we use it to fight malaria or aids, build dams, invest in innovation, and other similar things.

I couldn't find fault with this argument, but already back then, that was dangerous to say among friends, as you would likely be socially ostracized. My friend said to me, in a quiet voice: "Yes, that's true, but if we admit that, then people won't take action. We have to exaggerate the facts in order for people to do something."

It seems to me that this sentiment is still active.

Nonetheless, I want to find out for myself what the facts are.

But first, the questions:

Is the world heating up?

That's a good question. What would be a trustworthy source for data on this? UN?

This begs the next question, though:

How do you measure the earth's temperature?

If we're going for an average temperature, then average of what? Each measuring station? Obviously they're not evenly distributed. Average per square mile of earth's surface? There's gotta be many places with no measuring station.

Also, some stations are closer to cities than others, and we know cities are warmer than non-cities.

How about the technology used to measure the temperature, that must have changed over time. So how accurate are comparisons of historical data going back tens of thousands of years to more recent measurements?

This wikipedia article seems to go through some of this.

If the world is heating up, what is the cause?

CO2 certainly sounds like it's part of it. But other factors could be the earth's location relative to the sun. I've heard people talk about Milankovitch cycles. This seems like an important question.

What about other greenhouse gases? What impact do they have?

What's the optimal temperature for Earth?

Historically, the world has been a lot cooler than it is now, and it's been a lot warmer. How do we know which temperature is best for humans? Which is best for the Earth? Which are we optimizing for?

I'm assuming the planet will be fine in the long run, it's human life we're concerned with.

What about the historical figures showing temperatures rising first, then CO2 follows (and then comes an ice age)?

I've heard people say we should be more worried about an ice age than warming, and for this reason.

I've also heard people say that yes, temperatures rise first, then CO2, but then the CO2 makes the temperatures rise even faster. And then cooling? I'm not sure. This seems like an important question, too.

Is there a point of no return after which we'll all die? If so, what is it? How do we know, and with what degree of certainty?

Clearly a point of no return would be a problem re Lomborg's argument. Sure, the money might be better spent in the short term on fighting malaria, but if we're all going to die in 50 years if we don't get rid of all CO2, then that might be the better option, after all.

How accurate and useful are our climate prediction models?

A big question underlying the previous question is, of course, how accurate we are at predicting the future. We can't know that, obviously. What we can know is how accurate we've been at predicting the past. That should be figureoutable.

What positive effects are there?

Seems like CO2 is great for trees and plants, no? Or maybe it's insignificant in the grand scheme. I don't know.

What can we do about it?

Assuming catastrophic global warming is happening, and we must do something right away, what should we do?

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is something we hear a lot. But how, and at what cost, and to what effect? Lomborg claims it'll cost $100 trillion, and do little. Nathaniel Keohane says he's wrong. I don't know who's right.

It does seem clear, though, that what we've been trying for the past 30 years isn't working. Governments keep getting together, promising to cut emissions, and nothing changes. Time to try something new, it seems.

What other alternatives can we come up with?

It seems to me that the one unique feature of humans is our creativity and ingenuity. We're pretty good at figuring things out and coming up with solutions to problems, especially when our lives, and then lives of our loved ones, depend on it.

Maybe we can suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. Maybe we can come up with fuel that works just as well as coal and oil, and at lower cost, but doesn't emit greenhouse gases.

Natural gas emits half the CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity, so that helps, obviously, but we can do better.

What other options exist? Are there technologies that make oil and coal emit less CO2?

The wikipedia article on greenhouse gas mentions some "natural sinks" that have consumed a lot of the CO2. Maybe we can somehow engineer more of those?

Can we build something that captures the CO2 output from burning oil and coal and packs it very compactly into containers that get stored underground the way we do with nuclear waste?

Speaking of, what about nuclear energy? That seems like a very obvious and clean alternative to oil and coal. Sure, there's the nuclear waste, and the risk of accidents, but it seems like that's a solvable problem at this point in time, if we have the will.

Alternative energy sources

According to Bjørn Lomborg's documentary Cool It, there's lots of promising technologies.

  • Nuclear power plants that consume nuclear waste and turns it into something with a much shorter half-life.
  • Devices that create energy from the movement of waves.
  • Water splitting as a way to store the energy from solar and wind so it can be used later, because the obvious problem with solar and wind is they're only on when there's sun or wind, and that's not necessarily when the demand is there. Side-effect: Purifying water, because water is split into H and O and then energy is created by bringing them back together, which creates pure water.
  • Algae fuel which grow from waste water, suck CO2 out of the air, and generate a fuel that could be used for energy and be carbon neutral.

Adapting to a changing climate

The climate is always changing, and always has been changing, whether caused by man or not. And we've always adapted to our environment. Without the technologies we now take for granted, most of us would be dead in a couple of days, if not hours.

According to "Cool It", Sea levels rose by about a foot in the past century, and barely anyone noticed. We adapted with ease.

  • Levees and dikes can keep areas from being flooded, and it's a solved problem. Holland's got it.
  • Houses that float if water levels rise.
  • Make cities more white by painting streets and rooftops, etc., so they reflect more sunlight back. This could make cities 5 degrees Fahrenheit cooler.

Geo-Engineering

Then there's more drastic things we can do to impact the environment. We're already changing the environment by emitting these greenhouse gases and other things. So maybe doing something that would pull in the opposite direction would be a good idea.

Again from "Cool It":

  • Pumping an aerosol into the stratosphere which would reflect sunlight away from the earth, thus cooling it. We can pretty easily control how much we pump up there. Can be done quite effectively with a hose that runs all the way from earth up into the stratosphere. No real technical challenges here.
  • Cloud brightening, where we cause clouds to form smaller drops, which cause them to be whiter, causing them to reflect more sunlight away from the earth. Can be done effectively with boats that take sea water and spray it up into the clouds.
  • Plantations on degraded lands that consume CO2
  • Pump water out of the sea onto the ice shelf using snow blowing machines, so the ice sheet thickens
  • Tying up carbon in the soil using plants with deep roots, called "regenerative grazing"
  • Other ways to suck CO2 out of the air.

What about that claim that 97% of scientists agree?

What exactly do they agree on? How were they sampled? Was there selection bias involved?

I think I'd feel more comfortable if there was less agreement. It just seems a bit massive.

Are climate scientists trustworthy, or do they have their own activist agenda?

There was the story of fraud in the IPCC. What's the skinny on that? How widespread is such fraud? What's the impact on the trustworthiness of the findings and recommendations?

Conclusion

These are the questions I have. Obviously, there's a lot more questions than answers. Trustworthy answers are hard to come by, because everyone seems to have an agenda, and they're going to be making their case, rather than being open minded and curious.

My favorite place to be is "I don't know".

"The climate is going to be destroyed and we'll all die unless we do something now!" You could be right. And I'm here right now, sitting in my chair, writing. When I believe that thought, I feel stressed. When I don't believe it, I feel relaxed.

"Climate scientists are a bunch of fraudsters that just want to scare us all so they can get more funding". That could be right, too. Ultimately, I cannot know.

So let's just take a moment, breathe, and be grateful and full of love for where we are now.

Love the world as it is. Love the climate. Love the people who are worried about the climate, and the people who aren't.

Then from that place of calm and peace and love, do what you feel called to in the moment.

Really listen to someone who sees the world differently than you. Understand their point of view, their thoughts, their feelings, their dreams and desires, if you feel called to do so.

When you feel yourself get defensive, take a breath, and connect with your feeling of love in the moment. Then share honestly what you're afraid of that would make you act defensively. Defensiveness is always a sign that there's an unexamined belief that causes us to feel threatened. Identify that belief.

Thanks for reading!

If you can help me with answers, or with more questions, I'd love to hear from you!

We live in exciting times, and I love that people see the world differently.

—Calvin

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