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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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How much time do we have left?

Uploaded: Jul 12, 2020
Welcome back! I hope everyone had a good Independence Day weekend and is staying healthy and hopeful. After a little holiday break we are back at it with today’s topic of the week...

A month ago I was watching a video from the Stanford Global Energy Forum and was struck by an audience survey done at the beginning. The question posed was as follows:

In a (pre-pandemic) “business-as-usual” scenario, how many years do we have left before the world exceeds the CO2 emissions budget to keep the global average temperature rise below 2C with a 50% probability? (1)
1. Less than 10 years
2. 10-20 years
3. 20-30 years
4. More than 30 years

Think about your answer before continuing.

The audience response was:
51% Less than 10 years
32% 10-20 years
16% 20-30 years
1% More than 30 years

The moderator revealed the answer as 20-30 years. (2) 83% of the audience thought we had less time, with half the audience thinking we had much less time. In a way this is a trick question. The question is more often posed with 1.5C as the target, at least recently, in which case the answer is indeed around 11 years. But still, the responses were illustrative to me.

Global warming is a serious problem requiring large-scale change in the way we do things. It is important to understand the timeframes we have so that we can plan accordingly. What struck me here was not that the audience was off on the answer. I think that was expected. What I appreciated was that the moderators asked this particular question, presumably to make the point that details matter and we can and should do better than reflexively thinking “This is an emergency, there’s no time left!”

To be clear, delay hurts. The longer we take to address climate change, the more risk we incur and the more our likely costs go up, both economically and socially. Take a look at the two curves below. The area under the curves is the same, which means that the same amount of CO2 is emitted in each case. It is the largest amount we can emit while likely limiting temperature rise to 2C.

If we had begun reducing our emissions in earnest in 2000, we would be needing to reduce emissions at about 2% per year to hit that target, assuming no negative emissions. That is doable, though not easy.

This curve slopes down at 2% each year 2020–2050 (Source: CICERO)

But if we start now, only twenty years later, we would need to reduce emissions at a rate of 4%, which is much more difficult. (3)

This curve slopes down at 4% each year 2020–2050 (Source: CICERO)

Each year we delay, emissions accumulate, temperatures increase, the problem we need to solve gets harder and more expensive to address, and our reliance on negative emissions grows, though we have no technology to achieve those at scale.

We need to get moving. But what is the best way to spur action sooner rather than later? Are deadlines like “We have X years left” an effective rallying cry? Do they encourage progress by alerting more people to the need to act now? Or do they impede progress by damaging credibility as deadlines come and go without observable disaster, as they have been doing?

One problem with many of the climate deadlines we hear is that both specificity and uncertainty are omitted from the sound bites. You have heard people say “We only have twelve (eleven) years left.” Some of you may have asked “Until what?” (That is the lack of specificity.) But even more is left unsaid. That particular 12-year deadline is derived from a recent IPCC report. You can find what the IPCC actually says about the 1.5C deadline in footnote (4). The authors are pretty confident about how fast we are emitting CO2, but they are much less sure about our carbon budget—how much we can emit to stay under 1.5C. So they give a wide range of estimates. The sources of uncertainty include how much of a role Earth’s feedback processes will play (e.g., melting permafrost and wetland emissions), how much of a cooling effect aerosols (e.g., from pollution) are having and will have, and the role methane will play. You can get a sense of the uncertainty in this diagram from CarbonBrief, which shows estimates of how much CO2 we can emit to have a two-thirds chance of staying below 1.5C. It’s possible we have already passed the deadline or it may be almost 20 years in the future.

Range of carbon budget estimates to stay below 1.5C with two-thirds probability (Source: CarbonBrief)

This is why the IPCC says it has only “medium confidence” in its estimate of 420 Gt CO2 for this target. And even so, all of this skirts the issue of whether we might prefer to consider a 50-50 chance of success rather than a two-thirds chance, which would give us additional years. At the end of the day, does it really matter? Would it change what we would do?

Rallying cries like “We have only twelve years left” are over-simplified to the point of being meaningless (“until what?”). They incorporate false precision (“twelve but not thirteen?”). And the lack of an immediately obvious consequence when we fail to hit them damages credibility (“crying wolf again?”).

One of the coordinating lead authors of a relevant chapter in the IPCC report, Myles Allen, comes out a hard “no” on deadlines of this form. “I appreciate that headlines have to be snappy, but they also have to be true, and effective. And ‘the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change’ is neither.” He argues that we should focus instead on the cleanup costs we are incurring (negative emissions) as we delay, which he estimates at today’s rate to be around $250,000 per second. “Surely if we have been trying the same (planetary emergency) message for 20 years with almost no success it is worth trying some alternatives?” He urges “Please stop saying something globally bad is going to happen in 2030. Bad stuff is already happening and every half a degree of warming matters, but the IPCC does not draw a “planetary boundary” at 1.5C beyond which lie climate dragons.”

Environmental social scientist Shinichiro Asayama and others writing last year in Nature Climate Change worry about the effect of these sound-bite goals. They caution that a narrow focus on hitting a number can lead to the neglect of long-term costs and values like justice and sustainability. They also argue that deadline-oriented messages can be alarming and even polarizing, “restricting the possibility for crafting enduring bipartisan solutions”. An environmental policy researcher from UCLA, Jesse Reynolds, points to the credibility hit of missed deadlines and notes that the inevitable moving of the goalposts afterwards can be deflating and self-defeating. (5)

We have delayed meaningful climate action for decades. The time to act was yesterday. But it is also today, and it will be tomorrow. The problem only gets worse the longer we wait. How do we get people to understand that even though deadlines have come and gone, the urgency has only increased? As Myles Allen suggests, it may be time to nix the deadlines and try a different approach. Cost seems like a good one, and the financial industry is coming around to that. I will talk more about the costs of climate change in some future blog posts.

In the meantime, how much time do we have left? The question is not well specified, but it is useful to know that the IPCC asserts with high confidence that emissions need to be about 45% of 2010 levels by 2030, and zero’d out around 2050, to stay below 1.5C. (6) These are very difficult goals to achieve. So my answer would be “It’s never too late, but sooner is better. There’s no time like the present!”

Notes and References
0. Thank you to my daughter Emma for her artwork.

1. Not sure you understand the question? As you may remember from these two blog posts, when we add insulation (greenhouse gases) to our planet, we create an energy imbalance: more energy comes into our ecosystem than leaves it. The temperature of the planet rises until reaching a new equilibrium that balances energy-in and energy-out. Scientists have studied this and can estimate how much more CO2 we can emit while still staying below a certain temperature. They then translate that into a time period (“How much time do we have left?”) by dividing by the rate at which we are emitting CO2.

2. FWIW, I’m not entirely sure that is the correct answer. The answer given aligns with this graphic from 2017. But carbon budget estimates have gotten more generous lately and the newer IPCC report says in Table 2.2 that the remaining carbon budget for this scenario is 1500 Gt CO2, which maps to 36 years based on the rate we are emitting it (42 Gt CO2/year from that same report). Even if you subtract a few years to account for the budget’s starting year of 2018, that still gives the answer as (d). Either way, the overall point being made is the same.

3. For perspective, the International Energy Agency expects emissions to drop about 8% this year, during which global changes in behavior led to precipitous drops in travel, economic activity, and energy use.

4. Section C.1.3 of the report summary enumerates both how much CO2 we can emit to stay “within budget (around 420 Gt for a 66% chance or 580 Gt for a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C), and how fast we are emitting CO2 (around 42 Gt per year), along with the sizable uncertainties associated with those estimates. Here is the relevant text: “The associated remaining budget is being depleted by current emissions of 42 ± 3 GtCO2 per year (high confidence). The choice of the measure of global temperature affects the estimated remaining carbon budget. Using global mean surface air temperature, as in AR5, gives an estimate of the remaining carbon budget of 580 GtCO2 for a 50% probability of limiting warming to 1.5°C, and 420 GtCO2 for a 66% probability (medium confidence). Alternatively, using GMST gives estimates of 770 and 570 GtCO2, for 50% and 66% probabilities, respectively (medium confidence). Uncertainties in the size of these estimated remaining carbon budgets are substantial and depend on several factors. Uncertainties in the climate response to CO2 and non-CO2 emissions contribute ±400 GtCO2 and the level of historic warming contributes ±250 GtCO2 (medium confidence). Potential additional CO2 release from future permafrost thawing and methane release from wetlands would reduce budgets by up to 100 GtCO2 over the course of this century and more thereafter (medium confidence). In addition, the level of non-CO2 mitigation in the future could alter the remaining carbon budget by 250 GtCO2 in either direction (medium confidence).” Article 2.2 has more detail.

5. Jesse Reynolds gives an example of a 3-year deadline posited three years ago by some climate leaders, then shows how we haven’t met it (“According to the latest data that I found, none of their specific criteria have been achieved, many fall dramatically short, and none are on track to be met.”), and asks “So what?” It’s a good read.

6. See section C.1 of the report summary.

7. InsideClimate News has an easy-to-read overview of carbon budgets.

8. Tangentially related, CarbonBrief just published a summary of work by social scientists that categorizes rationales that have the effect of delaying action on climate, along with some real-life quotes exemplifying these types of arguments. It’s worth a read, as I’m sure you will recognize many of these types of commentaries. Here is a diagram from it, in case it’s readable for you in our 600-pixel-maximum format...

Current Climate Data (May/June 2020)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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What is it worth to you?


Posted by ASR , a resident of College Terrace,
on Jul 12, 2020 at 6:53 am

We must take actions as if we have no time left. We must reduce carbon emissions.

Posted by Game Over, a resident of another community,
on Jul 12, 2020 at 8:10 am

20-30 years remaining before CO2 emissions raise global temperature +2C (with a 50% possibility of this eventually happening) is critical food for thought but it will be difficult to
ensure the preventative measures as global manufacturing, transportation and energy usage are all on the increase + these factors represent the 'trademarks' of a modern advanced nation.

Even the most backwards of countries are striving towards the concept of modernization and the emergence of a potentially new and cheaper labor force fuels the fire of capitalism.

Capitalism is very eco-unfriendly but for countless dreamers, an idyllic lifestyle filled with material goods and surplus monetary resources to buy even more stuff is very alluring regardless of socio-economic status, culture/ethnicity and/or religious background.

China is now a socialist-capitalist society (albeit a repressive one) and enroute to becoming the #1 economic power of the 21st century.

The torch is being passed as Great Britain (the 19th century world economic leader) eventually gave way to the United States (20th century) and now our country is begining to play second fiddle to the People's Republic of China.

Industrial success is the natural enemy of the environment and it is too late for a mass return to a village style of life where things are hand-made and homegrown leaving minimal impacts on the surroundings.

And chances are, there are few individuals would who want to lead a simpler life with fewer modern conveniences and goods once they have been exposed to them.

Capitalism is like a cocaine addict...on a never-ending quest for the next 'rush' and this economic mindset in turn will eventually destroy Mother Earth.

Extinction is a part of evolution and humans are on their way out.

There's no point in losing any sleep over a natural phenomenon as REPLACEMENT
whether it be emerging global powers/nations or adaptive life forms comes with the territory.

Eventually life on Earth will adapt to climate change with or without humans around.

Posted by Tom, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jul 12, 2020 at 11:24 am

One way to look at the time question is: When should we take certain actions?

I agree the whole climate damage issue is on a continuum that gets worse in compound ways and that damages compound as we over-insulate the atmosphere with pollutants from human activity (even before taking into account the feedback loop releases caused by humans).

So every reduction we can muster matters, as it reduces that feedbacks that otherwise accelerate us toward where we don't want to put our children.

So when should we act on various matters?
I'm very proud of the cities who are seeing the wisdom in adopting building Reach Codes that make sure we stop building fossil fuel dependent buildings now that our area has clean electric policies and super efficient heat pumps to heat and cool us. It makes sense now for all cities to adopt those Reach Codes for new construction, additions and remodels so we no longer strand environmentally obsolete fossil fuel devices in homes and buildings.

I'm encouraged to see several cities starting to look at the next easy reduction opportunity of not replacing burned out air conditioners with single direction air conditioners but instead requiring the replacements to be the two way type (called heat pumps) that both cool you in growing summer heat and heat your home in winter. This same type of requirement can be applied to replacing burned out furnaces with efficient two way heat pumps at time of replacement. And it can be applied to replacing burned out gas water heaters with efficient heat pump water heaters.

This issue is being examined now by cities looking to make effective climate action plans that help their residents and businesses avoid business as usual replacements that strand new fossil assets in a changing world.

Even PG&E is asking the state to save it the expense of running new obsolete gas lines to new buildings in the 2022 building code, by making all-electric new construction the new baseline everywhere. I think PG&E and the state both get hints from our local city actions. The time to support strong climate action plans for our vulnerable cities is now while it can signal even bigger players in time to avert the worst damage down the road.

The answer to the time question is:
Now is the time to act to avert the worst of the problems for the lowest total cost.
The prudent speed is full speed.
No more assets should be stranded.
All new devices should be chosen with the best possible future in mind.

We should be the people demonstrating this leadership. This looks like the path to a satisfying life of showing the leadership of how we can meet our needs while transitioning so the future generations have a viable climate to meet their needs too.

There is no escaping change. Something is going to change. Either it's: 1)How we do things,
2)The climate (and then how we do things given whatever the exacerbated climate and rising sea level allow)

I advocate that we get involved and go for #1)... instead of waiting for costly #2).

Posted by DIana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 12, 2020 at 11:27 am

DIana Diamond is a registered user.

Sherry --

Has our recent coronavirus global partial shutdown had any effect on the CO2 environment.
With industry halted in many countries, and traffic at a minimum in parts of the U.S.,has this made any difference? If so, perhaps the percentage fits may be off. And if his is true, despite the terrible personal and financial effects of the coronavirus, could this be a clue that partial shutdown for temporary periods might help alleviate our CO2 output levels and put our world in a safer place?


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 12, 2020 at 12:38 pm

Thank you once again Sherry.

I cringe when I hear, “We have only twelve years left" or, "Save the planet". You, and the others you quote, are spot on: "Please stop saying something globally bad is going to happen in 2030. Bad stuff is already happening."
Unfortunately the IPCC set this ball rolling. Millions die from air pollution every year - in the present tense.

Saying we're all going extinct is another way of avoiding the pain of realizing we are responsible for creating pollution and it's difficult to get many people to give up money or jobs or time, in some kind of way, to prevent creating more. Putting a focus on clean-up costs may help, but I feel putting a focus on those suffering today (the more local the better) may help more.

There's no single social communication solution, but blogs like yours are a step in the right direction. Being able to process grief, and developing better public health are other areas that I think are worthwhile.

I agree with Tom, "every reduction we can muster matters".

Posted by Margie, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jul 12, 2020 at 3:35 pm

I just read an interesting article by a guy called Bjorn Lomborg that says that the estimated 8% decline in carbom emissions in 2020 due to the Covid 19 shutdown will have an infinitesimally small effect on temperature in 2100 ("less than 1/500 degree"). Web Link He seems to say that people will be unwilling to put up with the kind of economic deprivation required to make a meaningful difference in future temperatures, especially in the developing world where people aspire to a first world lifestyle. As someone who is tired of the consumption restrictions caused by the Crona shutdown, I think I sort of see what he means. Maybe the tradeoffs in human welfare are too steep for democracies to implement.

The author cites a paper by Nordhaus who won the Nobel Prize in economics related to climate science. According to the author, the economic cost of dealing with climate change if no actions are taken now is 1% to 4% of GDP by 2050. But the cost of getting to net zero emissions by 2050 is 16% of GDP - a very large number.

He recommends that rather than try to use today's expensive technology to reduce emissions, we should instead invest n research to see if the cost of low emission energy can be reduced to something closer to the cost of the higher emissions currently expected.

This way of thinking is different from what I have read on this blog (which I greatly enjoy!) I thought the author's perspective is something that should be considered when thinking about the important topic of climate change.

Posted by Fantastic Daydreams need not apply, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Jul 12, 2020 at 5:03 pm

Another great post, Sherry.

It highlights the need for solutions that produce immediately. Immediate implementation will drive some costs down as production ramps up, and power along ancillary technologies through their 'hockey-stick' phase (ie.. storage, etc..)

A modified GND should start in February, 2021. Employ Americans building green solutions, asap. A win/win for the economy and climate.


Your graphic from "carbonbrief: discourse of climate delay" is fantastic.

A quite cogent look at the "daydream" element as noted in the comment from Margie - see "Technological Optimism". It's much more detailed than simply lumping former Deniers into categories such as Concern-troll ("gosh - I'm concerned it's too expensive") or Delayers (we should wait and just "instead invest n research".)

The Delayers (like the crowd that supports "Bill Gates will have something in 25 years" in the last thread) will insure we never conquer Climate Change. They will delay until they can say: "welp, too late/too expensive now! Shucks, guess we have to live with it!"

Hope they have a mountain cabin.

Posted by eileen, a resident of another community,
on Jul 12, 2020 at 6:21 pm

The Carbon Brief summary is worth squinting to read. Maybe we will all find ourselves at least partly described.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jul 12, 2020 at 9:25 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Tom: The recent International Energy Agency (IEA) report on a green recovery is pretty bullish about building retrofits and low-emission buildings more generally. That's because the projects can happen right away, they create a lot of jobs that don't require a huge amount of skill, and the changes themselves are very cost effective. It just seems so wrong and backwards if the "recovery" simply digs us further into our climate hole.

@Diana: Great question! The IEA expects that in 2020 energy-related global CO2 emissions will be down about 8% because of the changes in behavior that led to precipitous drops in travel, economic activity, and energy use. That is down to 2010 levels and is certainly a nice drop. Here is what that looks like.

Source: IEA

But I don’t think anyone is proposing that we repeat this kind of shutdown. The big hope/desire instead is to build on the improvement we are seeing by managing a “green recovery”. When countries are giving their economies a boost, for example to create jobs and encourage investment, they should ensure that funding is directed towards more sustainable efforts and away from fossil fuels. That’s why Time magazine calls this a “defining year” for the planet. It’s a terrific opportunity to change direction and commit to a more sustainable future.

On top of that, absolutely, maintaining some of our newer habits would help as well. For example, if we can continue to fly and drive less, it would certainly help to lower emissions. Plus I think many people have enjoyed the calmer skies, quieter cities, and reduced commutes.

Posted by David Coale, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 12, 2020 at 11:53 pm

Hi Sherry, Thanks for your blog. As you mentioned, the details matter. Everyone focuses on the years we have left and not on the words that follow, “with a 50% probability". We humans are very poor at assessing risk and how to deal with it. For instance, all homeowners are required to have fire insurance, but almost no one can think of anyone that has had their house burn down. The risk is low, but the consequences are unacceptable, so we all have fire insurance; and car insurance, etc. Or put in another way, would you board a plane that has a 50% chance of reaching its destination? No one would even think of this, yet for absolute certain catastrophic world changes for all life on earth we are willing to give this a 50% chance of success and think this is acceptable. This is ludicrous!

I agree with Tom, anything we can do now we must do �" and more. As you mentioned, the curves get steeper the longer we delay. The real question is now many years do we have left doing business as usual to avoid 1.5 degrees change with a 95% probability of avoiding disaster? Who wants to do less than this and bet the world on this? This is an experiment we should not even think of doing.

So, yes, the wording around this must change if we are to really get our rears in gear to motivate the change that is needed because so far we are way behind and time is running out. This is why people call it a climate crisis, because it is! While the financial consequences might motivate some, this is also not likely to do much as the we have seen with the national debt, so I am not sure how to really address this accept to say, the children of today will not have the planet we enjoy now with a 95% probability.

Posted by Game Over, a resident of another community,
on Jul 13, 2020 at 12:06 pm

Putting things in perspective...if people are not willing to make certain sacrifices (and 90% aren't), this environmental topic/concern is going nowhere.

Large scale lifestyle changes are warranted to circumvent the impact of global warming and all things considered, many/most people either don't care and/or perceive the overall threat of climate change and global warming.

As a result, nothing is going to change except gradual human extinction or the emergence of newer and adaptable mutant life forms.


Posted by Game Over, a resident of another community,
on Jul 13, 2020 at 12:13 pm

Not sure where that stupid 'Hi' came from in my previous post but all things considered, further education and/or scientific fear mongering is needed in order to enlighten the ignorant and the blind to the detrimental environmental impacts being discussed here.

Posted by Margie, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jul 13, 2020 at 1:06 pm

So many here seem to have a defeatist attitude, arguing that it will be close to impossible to convince people that sacrifice will be necessary to keep catastrophic climate change at bay. This seems to be the case in the rich US (although the 90% figure cited by "Game Over" seems extreme.) And there's likely even more resistance in developing countries to measures that would reduce growth and growing consumption patterns there. In short, the "hair shirt" approach to dealing with climate change is unlikely to fly: in that sense, the pessimists here are correct.

So why not try something like that proposed by Bjorn Lomborg? He proposes a massive research effort on clean(er) energy with the hopes of driving its cost down below fossil and nuclear fuel. You won't have to force or fool people into adopting technology that offers more for less: they'll do it out of self-interest, which is the biggest motivator of all for most people.

This may not offer people with the extreme alarmist view of climate change everything they are looking for, but isn't it better than wringing one's hands and lamenting the coming end of the world?

Posted by Balder -, a resident of another community,
on Jul 13, 2020 at 1:31 pm

A lot of what is written here is supposition. I would rather the discussion deal with what is known about the warming planet as opposed to what is unknown or concentrates on the past compared with trying to speculate on what could happen regarding the future. As I was saying: supposition.

That said, I read the article: "Let us reduce carbon emissions through a common agenda," this morning by Sakib Hasan at: Web Link

In that article the author in essence expressed that as reported by NASA's GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies) the global mean surface temperature since 1980 has risen 0.8 degrees Celsius. I haven't verified this, but, if true, this means that the bulk of the global average surface temperature rise has occurred over the past 40 years - there has been approximately 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming total since about the introduction of the Industrial Revolution circa 1760.

And, this got me thinking: The warming appears to be increasing exponentially. Question is: What's the reason for this? Also, is the exponential rise in atmospheric greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide, methane, sulfur hexafluouride, perfluorocarbons, chlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and nitrous oxide) concentration resulting in a concomitant rise in global mean surface temperature, is it other way around or is it both? How can any of this be determined definitively?

What I know for sure is that fossil-fuel burning is itself an air-polluting process - in other words, a process which adds pollution to the air. That deals in the exact, not the abstract (or supposition).

Ultimately, and, in the final analysis, if air pollution (air toxicity) is mitigated, then, by extension, climate disruption and global warming are solved for also.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jul 13, 2020 at 3:56 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Balder: The warming stems from the build-up of greenhouse gases, which basically insulate our planet and keep it warmer. Those gases have increased as we have used more fossil fuels. This is all well established. I’m not sure how much you know, but maybe this overview is helpful?

@GameOver: You know, though, that we can reduce our emissions an enormous amount without any real “sacrifice”, right? Most people have no clue what type of plant is providing their electricity. But they do appreciate cleaner air. Most people don’t care how their cement is made. Many people prefer quiet, fast electric cars that you can “fill up” at home. They like trees, and well-insulated houses. They don’t object to getting an air-conditioner free with their heater. They also wouldn’t mind having jobs in a growing industry as opposed to one that is fading away.

We have an incredible range of ways to clean up transportation, buildings, industry, and more, that would be delightful for people. And the animals that are being forced out of their habitats as they get warmer or drier or .... are also pretty game for us to get moving. They have no tech to rely on, and many have no other places to go.

The key is to make cleaner options affordable relative to dirtier options, and there are lots of ways to do that. We may not be the “greatest” generation, which did indeed show everyone how to sacrifice. But certainly we are good enough to teach our kids more sustainable ways and to leave them a planet that is in better shape than we found it?

@David/Tom/Neighbor: Yeah, this blog is less about time and more about communication and what is most effective. David suggests talking about the next generation. Neighbor suggests talking about effects we are seeing here and now. Tom suggests looking to the future and not the past (“stranded assets”) and taking action today to choose the path that we want. All sound plausible, right? I’m not sure what works best, but the Earth needs a good marketing department...

One thing I wonder is whether it is better to have a bigger tent with a more moderate message, or a smaller tent with a more aggressive message. I think I’m for bait-and-switch. Big tent, moderate message, then “in for a penny, in for a pound” as my grandmother used to say, and rally people to do more. Is that slower or faster than another approach? Hard for me to say.

This is why I’m so glad to see social scientists involved. I see this as much a social/cultural/political challenge as a scientific one or an economic one. I’m glad some of you liked that “discourses of delay” breakdown.

Anyway, thanks for all the great comments.

Posted by justjoan, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 13, 2020 at 9:34 pm

"massive research effort on clean(er) energy with the hopes of driving its cost down below fossil and nuclear fuel"

Renewables are already cheaper than coal. They'll soon be cheaper than other fossil fuels. Renewables offer more immediate power generation than the long-term investment in expensive nukes.

We don't need a long-term, pie in the sky vision in order to start building sustainable power production today.

Posted by Balder -, a resident of another community,
on Jul 14, 2020 at 7:24 am

@Sherry: So, I checked out the CC "overview" via the link provided. Thank you for bringing to my attention.

For a "guide" that purports to be "simple," well, that, in my opinion, is not so much the case.

For starters, it appears CC and GW are used interchangeably - the two cannot and should not be conflated.

Next, the blue and red bar graph shows an approximate 3 degree Celsius average annual surface temperature swing (1800-2020? plot). If you look closely, you'll notice that the plot's last two years shows an average temperature decline. However, the trend appears to be one of warming overall.

That the Earth's mean surface temperature is roughly 15 degree Celsius, that information is new to me. What is already familiar, on the other hand, is that Earth has both a glacial (think: ice ages) and interglacial (the periods betwixt and between) past.

Lastly, the site basically confirmed what I alluded to that the surface temperature of the Earth has risen approximately 1 degree Celsius total since the beginning of industrialization.

Posted by Margie, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jul 14, 2020 at 9:33 am

I think some commenters here have missed the point that Lomborg is making. While it is true that most people don't know where their electricity or cement is coming from, most people's primary concern is the cost to them. If it's true that renewables cost less than other energy generation methods, then people will gladly use them in preference to fossil fuels without subsidies or mandates. This is especially true in the developing world where incomes are lower and sensitivity to prices is greater. So while I respect the work that Sherry L has done here, I don't think it's really responsive to write about people liking trees, insulated houses and "free" air conditioning, etc., without addressing the economics Lomborg is writing about. If clean energy can be generated at lower cost than fossil fuel energy, it will be voluntarily adopted. So if justjoan is right that renewables will soon be cheaper than fossil fuels, we really have nothing to worry about. And the doomsayers here should rest more easily.

Sherry says correctly that the key is to make renewables more affordable relative to other options. She's kind of opaque on how that might be done other than allude to the greatest generation and the legacy we will leave our children. One of these options might be Lomborg's idea of investment in research to reduce the cost of low carbon energy generation. If Lomborg is correct, this holds the promise of widespread voluntary adoption of low carbon energy. The alternative visions all seem to rely on mandates and subsidies which will face a lot of political opposition in the US and will be scoffed at by poorer developing economies - making them virtually impossible to implement in a way that will reduce GHGs enough to make a difference in the climate change path we're on. (This seems to be the primary lament of the doomsayers here.)

By the way, in our house we have two electric cars, which we love because they are more convenient and cheaper to fuel than gasoline cars. We bought them because the economic trade-offs made sense to us. The environmental cache is a nice fillip, but except for the truly committed, I don't think it makes much difference. My husband follows the Tesla forums and he says that while people are super excited about Tesla, the environmental benefits are almost never mentioned. But the lower prices of the newer models are discussed a lot. Maybe that's a clue on how to sell a lower carbon future.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jul 14, 2020 at 4:53 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Balder: I'm sorry the link wasn't helpful. If you look around, I'm sure you will find plenty of material to answer your questions. It seems like you may think that 1C is a small amount. In that regard this post may be helpful. The vast majority (93%) of excess heat to date has gone into the oceans, but the little that is left is still heating up the land area up to 5C or 9F, much of which has happened in just the last few decades. Every post has links to quantitative climate information under "Current Climate Data".

Posted by BruceS, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jul 14, 2020 at 7:24 pm

BruceS is a registered user.


Several things to consider (on why people aren't going 'green'):

People don't (usually) make the decision about how they get their energy, just that they get it. The problem is that many (but not all) electric utility companies don't want to take the trouble to change over to renewables. It's work for them and many are lazy and conservative and don't want to change. Also, financial incentive isn't there for many to change. Even though in the long run the utility may be better off changing, there's too much short term thinking out there.

Another factor is that the cost of renewables is location variable. e.g. in the southwest and California solar electricity is insanely cheap, not so much so in say New England (much cloudier). One thing to help on that would be a national grid (to distribute excess energy where it's needed), but that takes money and government 'muscle' to force land use.

Also, electric cars are fast approaching gas powered on cost, but many people can't afford any new car, so are stuck for the time being.

And finally, a lot of energy can be saved just by building more well insulated buildings, and retrofitting existing ones. But that again takes short term money, in order to save in the long run.

Basically, reducing use of fossil fuels can be done efficiently now, but short term investment is necessary for long term savings. (I was going to add some political 'propaganda', but in the spirit of this blog decided to pass. However, one should consider government's place in all this)

Posted by BruceS, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jul 14, 2020 at 7:40 pm

BruceS is a registered user.

(After my last comment, back to the 'theme' of this blog post...)

One thought I had is that it's very depressing and demotivating to keep track of global fossil fuel use. Perhaps do accounting by state and let people know what's happening (or not) locally, especially compared to other states. That's where people can have more say, and get more motivated. I've seen some stuff along that line, so it seems possible and useful. It would mostly track electricity generation, heating sources, and gasoline usage for cars and trucks.

Yes, that doesn't get that far on world carbon generation, but it's a significant start. It's true that if the rest of the world doesn't join in, then our going green won't be nearly enough. But the fact of the matter is that if we don't do it then nobody else will. And if we do succeed then that provides both motivation and a useful framework for everyone else. Also, as has been noted, that would give us an edge selling green expertise to the rest of the world. Go green and make money off it, such a deal!

Posted by Balder -, a resident of another community,
on Jul 15, 2020 at 8:03 am

@Sherry: What I can do at this juncture is offer two articles (press releases really) for reading that show how emissions affect temperature and climate, respectively - this is really eye-opening and thought-provoking stuff.

- "The lingering clouds: Study shows why pollution results in larger, deeper and longer lasting storm clouds, leading to cooler days and warmer nights" a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Nov. 25, 2013 news release. Web Link

- "Falling levels of air pollution drove decline in California's tule fog," by Kara Manke, a University of California, Berkeley, Apr. 10, 2019 news release. Web Link

The first deals with how pollutant emissions can alter cloud composition and how, by extension, this can affect temperature - warming and cooling. The second deals with how with the reduction in the atmosphere of just two pollutant emissions (oxides of nitrogen and ammonia) climate - not weather - but climate in California's central valley has been altered. And, each article is backed by science.

I hope you find these are helpful.

Thank you for taking time to provide explanation.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jul 15, 2020 at 10:05 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Balder, oh, I'm sorry, I did not understand what you were getting at. Yes, there are absolutely things that affect climate that are not CO2, including both anthropogenic (e.g., air pollution) and non-anthropogenic (e.g., volcanic eruptions).

These are generally called "radiative forcings", and you can see a diagram from the most recent full IPCC report on climate below. You can read more on page 13 of the summary, or take a look at this EPA site (make sure to look at both diagrams).

I also wrote a brief blog post on clouds here. As you suggest, they have a big impact on climate and one that is not fully understood yet.

@BruceS et al, on the topic of cost, there is so much terrific news on this, I'm not even sure where to begin. Prices are dropping so quickly for renewables and storage, and the economies of scale will continue to push down prices. One challenge is longer-term storage, so I will be talking about that next, and what to do about costs there. This is really an incredible time for the planet, and for policy-makers, technologists, investors, and others who are working to make our economy more sustainable.

If we have learned anything from the coronavirus, can't one thing be that nature works on its own path and hoping that it will go away or not be that bad isn't going to cut it? If we had acted earlier and more effectively, as did much of the rest of the world, our economy and our schools and our kids would be better off. Let's open our eyes and figure out that maybe listening to science and taking meaningful, determined action is a better approach.

Posted by Thanks for Discorse, a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood,
on Jul 16, 2020 at 10:59 am

This was a very nice high-data detail discussion. And it is good that many are into the fine points of the data. The world-wide floro-carbom ban by international agreements shows that CO2 reduction agreements are not entirely impossible. I would agree with several posters - people are mainly thinking of their own (short-term) cost and not the must-decade / multi-century benefits.

Local agencies for instance, often just build infrastructure and buildings for 'the loudest public clamor' and not for the half-century climate effects (Net Zero design targeting).

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