Thursday, December 31, 2015

Climate change—the year in review

On Christmas Eve, I did two things I almost never do.  In the afternoon I actually went to see a movie in a theater.  My curiosity about the attempt to make a movie out of Michael Lewis' The Big Short was far too intense to wait for it to show up on Blu-Ray.  And before I attempt to write a review, I intend to see it again because as moviemaking, this thing is beyond brilliant.  The other uncharacteristic thing was that I sat through most of the Midnight Mass from the Vatican.  No matter what what one thinks of those centuries-old rituals, there is no denying that as high theater, it's pretty hard to top the Vatican on Christmas Eve on a stage designed by folks like Michelangelo and built by Producer royalty with bleeding-edge skills.

Not surprisingly, I awoke the next morning with a nasty Leisure Class hangover. I had one about The Big Short.  It is utterly unfair to criticize a magnificent attempt to explain in a little over two hours something as complex as the 2007-8 financial meltdown for what is left out, but I really wish the movie had addressed a few obvious issues.  Such as:
  • The movie's heroes are the folks who discover that the hottest investment instrument is constructed on bullshit assumptions.  While this was an interesting bit of sleuthing, the really interesting folks are the ones who dreamed this scam up and managed to get most of the world to believe that garbage mortgages could be packaged in a AAA investment.
  • There was no discussion of what causes otherwise intelligent people to believe that such magic as compound interest over a long term is possible.  Our heroes merely confirmed that math works.  That such a tiny sample of the financial business community was actually able to count is scary as hell.
  • There was no discussion of what happens when finance grows from 6% to 24%. Just imagine what could have been done with that money spent on useful projects.  I keep beating the drum around here that this money should all go towards building the zero-carbon society but in truth, almost anything that would have shut down the party the banksters threw for themselves would have been a major improvement.
  • Etc.
As for the Vatican...Pope Francis made a big splash last summer about climate change as a moral issue.  Apparently that sermon does not apply to the conspicuous waste of his Christmas celebration.  I can only guess at the carbon footprint of the Midnight Mass, but I would imagine it is something on the order of a medium-sized Indian village for a year—especially if one adds in the CO2 loads of the pilgrims traveling to this event.

This Leisure Class hangover proved mostly beneficial, however.  Yes it annoys me that anyone with a realistic agenda for addressing the greatest threat the human race has concocted for itself has to operate in the cultural sewage created by an obviously entrenched Leisure Class.  The Vatican high theater is a harmless amusement compared the rituals surrounding the awarding of the Riksbank Prize (Nobel) to some of history's biggest economic charlatans, conmen, and fools in Stockholm.  When you are glorifying an economics of plunder, it helps if you know how to pull the cultural levers.  These people may in fact be ridiculous but ridiculous people are also extremely dangerous.  As the Pops used to say, "Any jackass can kick down a barn!"  So in the coming year, I will attempt to better understand their crazy.

Of course, leading the fool's procession are the folks who deny climate change is even happening.  This is possible in USA because the vast majority slept through their 7th-grade science classes so they have no tools to separate valid claims from BS.

No Denying It, Climate Change Is Happening Now


The leaves came off the last trees — a crabapple, a willow and a hardy Norway maple — during the first week of December this year, surely the latest I can remember seeing leaves on trees since we moved to the Philadelphia area 18 years ago. But it’s not just that.

A rhododendron bush beside the house has huge blooms ready to burst open, the white petal tips pushing out of their scaly looking egg-sized buds. And our garden is still boasting a surprisingly fast-growing crop of chard, sweet kale and perhaps most surprisingly, tall fava bean plants that, while they didn’t produce any beans this year, saute up to make a beautiful doumiao — one of my favorite Chinese vegetable dishes.

On a micro level, it is nice to be able to harvest fresh veggies pest-free from our garden a few days before the new year (and, judging by the 10-day forecast, well into 2016!), thanks to our not having had one below-freezing day yet this fall and winter, and only a few nights when the temperature dipped into the high 20s, not enough to kill hardier vegetables like kale and chard. But viewed through a climate-change lens this is pretty scary.  more
And really, only someone with a hopeless Leisure Class mentality can believe that commands from on high will fix things.  So it probably doesn't matter what happened in Paris.  Tokar points this out pretty well.

Inside the Paris Climate Agreement: Hope or Hype?


It has become a predictable pattern at the annual UN climate conferences for participants to describe the outcome in widely divergent ways. This was first apparent after the high-profile Copenhagen conference in 2009, when a four-page non-agreement was praised by diplomats, but denounced by well-known critics as a “sham,” a “farce,” and a mere face-saver. UN insiders proclaimed the divisive 2013 Warsaw climate conference a success, even though global South delegates and most civil society observers had staged an angry walk-out a day prior to its scheduled conclusion.

So it was no surprise when this happened again on December 12th in Paris. Francois Hollande praised the Paris Agreement as “ambitious,” “binding,” and “universal.” Ban Ki-moon said it ushers in a “new era of global cooperation,” and UN climate convention executive secretary Christiana Figueres described it as “an agreement of solidarity with the most vulnerable.” Barack Obama waxed triumphant and proclaimed the outcome a testament to American leadership in diplomacy and technology.

Friends of the Earth International, on the other hand, immediately denounced the agreement as a “sham of a deal,” adding that the most vulnerable people around the world would “feel the worst impacts of our politicians’ failure to take tough enough action.” The renowned elder climate scientist James Hansen called it a “fraud,” adding, “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words.” British climatologist Kevin Anderson, among the most politically forthright of current scientists, described the agreement as “weaker than Copenhagen” and “not consistent with the latest science.” More moderate in their criticisms were key figures such as Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace International, who described the agreement as “one step on a long road …, but it is progress,” and’s Bill McKibben, who emphasized the agreement’s underlying challenge to the supremacy of the fossil fuel industry. “This didn’t save the planet,” McKibben wrote, “but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet,” in part by challenging the growing climate justice movement to keep moving forward.

Perhaps the most realistic assessment was posted by Guardian columnist George Monbiot on the day of the final deal. “By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle,” he wrote. “By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.” It is clear that those who are praising the agreement and those who emphasize its shortcomings live in almost entirely different worlds. more
And easily the story of the year—the fact that the world-class scientists employed by the oil companies understood the issue of climate change in the 1970s.  And yet they chose to cover up their findings—a naughty thing to do in the world of science.  The question is why.  They answer most likely is—they don't know what to do about climate change either.  But guys, did you really have to muddy the intellectual waters?  Really?

Exxon's Oil Industry Peers Knew About Climate Dangers in the 1970s, Too

Members of an American Petroleum Institute task force on CO2 included scientists from nearly every major oil company, including Exxon, Texaco and Shell.


The American Petroleum Institute together with the nation's largest oil companies ran a task force to monitor and share climate research between 1979 and 1983, indicating that the oil industry, not just Exxon alone, was aware of its possible impact on the world's climate far earlier than previously known.

The group's members included senior scientists and engineers from nearly every major U.S. and multinational oil and gas company, including Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Phillips, Texaco, Shell, Sunoco, Sohio as well as Standard Oil of California and Gulf Oil, the predecessors to Chevron, according to internal documents obtained by InsideClimate News and interviews with the task force's former director.

An InsideClimate News investigative series has shown that Exxon launched its own cutting-edge CO2 sampling program in 1978 in order to understand a phenomenon it suspected could harm its business. About a decade later, Exxon spearheaded campaigns to cast doubt on climate science and stall regulation of greenhouse gases. The previously unpublished papers about the climate task force indicate that API, the industry's most powerful lobbying group, followed a similar arc to Exxon's in confronting the threat of climate change.

Just as Exxon began tracking climate science in the late 1970s, when only small groups of scientists in academia and the government were engaged in the research, other oil companies did the same, the documents show. Like Exxon, the companies also expressed a willingness to understand the links between their product, greater CO2 concentrations and the climate, the papers reveal. Some corporations ran their own research units as well, although they were smaller and less ambitious than Exxon's and focused on climate modeling, said James J. Nelson, the former director of the task force.

"It was a fact-finding task force," Nelson said in an interview. "We wanted to look at emerging science, the implications of it and where improvements could be made, if possible, to reduce emissions."

The group was initially called the CO2 and Climate Task Force, but changed its name to the Climate and Energy Task Force in 1980, Nelson said.

A background paper on CO2 informed API members in 1979 that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was rising steadily, and it predicted when the first clear effects of climate change might be felt, according to a memo by an Exxon task force representative.

In addition, API task force members appeared open to the idea that the oil industry might have to shoulder some responsibility for reducing CO2 emissions by changing refining processes and developing fuels that emitted less carbon dioxide.

Bruce S. Bailey of Texaco offered "for consideration" the idea that "an overall goal of the Task Force should be to help develop ground rules for energy release of fuels and the cleanup of fuels as they relate to CO2 creation," according to the minutes of a meeting on Feb. 29, 1980.

The minutes also show that the task force discussed a "potential area" for research and development that called for it to "'Investigate the Market Penetration Requirements of Introducing a New Energy Source into World Wide Use.' This would include the technical implications of energy source changeover, research timing and requirements."

Yet by the 1990s, it was clear that API had opted for a markedly different approach to the threat of climate change. It joined Exxon, other fossil fuel companies and major manufacturers in the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a lobbying group whose objective was to derail international efforts to curb heat-trapping emissions. In 1998, a year after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted by countries to cut fossil fuel emissions, API crafted a campaign to convince the American public and lawmakers that climate science was too tenuous for the United States to ratify the treaty.  more

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