I’m terribly worried about how my children — and humans in general — are going to deal with catastrophic global warming in the likely case that the average global temperature spike is somewhere in the 2°-4°C range. I want to highlight a couple of weekend stories on the biggest news story of the twenty-first century: The tragedy of the deniers, and likely consequences for the perpetrators.
Like most literate people whose livelihood doesn’t depend directly on the fossil-energy industry, I believe the evidence is overwhelming that anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 overload has a strong greenhouse effect whose results are already visible in receding ice and flurries of “hundred-year” natural disasters.
I’m also convinced that we can move the needle further and faster, with less economic dislocation and pain, than many others believe. The energy-economics picture has been changing so fast that unless you’re paying close attention and are open-minded about new energy sources, you might think it’s reasonable to doubt the plausibility of wholesale replacement of fossil-fuel-based power generation by renewables.
Yes, it would require massive investment on a wartime-like scale, but Lord knows there’s plenty of surplus capital out there looking for a profitable home; just consider how effortlessly SoftBank has raised tens of billions to squander on lies and fantasies. It’s pretty obvious that “carbon disinvestment” has become a prudent mainstream financial strategy, and that the renewable-generation sector is the single biggest and best investment opportunity of the next few decades, with paybacks to be had like those harvested during the rise of the Internet.
If you’re interested in modern energy economics (and you should be) a good place to start is with Gregor Macdonald, who stays on top of the numbers and is particularly good on what’s happening in China, and with electric vehicles.
Tragic Alberta opera · Consider this CBC story: Alberta wants to flip the script in oilpatch’s favour — it won't be easy.
A few words of background: Alberta, Canada’s second province from the left, has the nation’s highest average income, no sales tax, and generally fabulous social services, all in large part based on its petroleum revenue. Until some point in my forties, I was still getting a few bucks a month in royalties from the natural-gas well on the old family farm. As a result, Upton Sinclair’s famous soundbite applies to Alberta in spades: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Bearing all this in mind, I found the language about Alberta’s “war room”, whose objective is to “shift unfavorable views of the oil and gas sector”, oddly evocative. Here we have a chorus composed of successful members of a rich society’s elite singing a chorus that nobody believes, outside of a small and shrinking fraction of society. They inveigh against outsiders who are impugning their industry: “these same organizations trying to misinform prospective investors about our environmental performance” and “the political agenda emanating from Europe, which is trying to stigmatize development of hydrocarbon energy”.
One feels that there’s material for an opera or formal Noh play in these people fighting what seems to them like the good fight, all they want to do is protect their home-towns’ livelihoods. And they’re not wrong: A whole lot of people all over the world, including me, are indeed stigmatizing the development of hydrocarbon energy. Where by “stigmatize” we mean “slam on the fucking brakes before we wreck the world.”
By the way, the “war room” has terrible Google juice despite its $30M budget, but I managed to turn it up: Welcome to the Canadian Energy Centre, an alternate reality where you fight climate change by pumping high-carbon tar-sands crude.
The experience of the crisis · To most people, it all feels so abstract; Bad things are going to happen, but to other people a long way away, and it’s not obvious what it’ll be like. Here, in Paolo Bacigalupi’s beautiful, terrible story A Full Life (interestingly, published in MIT Technology Review) is what it will feel like for a very ordinary young person in the heart of America. Seriously, if the climate crisis feels a little abstract to you, read this. It’s more important than my words that you’re reading now.
Up against the wall! · Which brings me to this little two-tweet sequence from Greta Thunberg:
Ms Thunberg says her message is 100% non-violent and I believe her. But when the water levels start rising; when a hundred million people start walking north, empty-handed and hungry, out of the Bengal lowlands; when Mar-a-Lago is smashed and it wasn’t even an official hurricane; when California’s inland crops fail; when the fires burn a third of Sydney; when Arizona real estate goes to zero; and especially, when some climate-change surprise nobody thought of wreaks deadly havoc in a place nobody expected, people are going to be put up against walls and not in Greta’s “Swenglish” sense, no not at all.
Alberta should really stop calling their operation a “war room”.