by Judith Curry
First we discuss the interlinked problems of climate change, peak fossil fuels and the credit crunch and then grounds for some optimism, including means of adjusting energy and commodity markets to start to address these ills, and other measures to deal with non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions. – Richard Douthwaite and David Knight
I spotted this article at the blog Sharing for Survival: Restoring the Climate, the Commons and Society, entitled Time for some optimism about the climate crisis.
If you think that there is no climate crisis, the title of this may put you off from reading this. It is an extensive and comprehensive essay, with some new ideas I hadn’t previously come across, including the concept of ‘cap and share’. To give you the flavor of the article, I reproduce the Conclusions here:
This analysis leads me to think that while the climate crisis is alarming it is by no means hopeless provided we break down the problem and the solutions into their component parts and tackle the easiest, rather than the toughest, first. That can buy valuable time. So my suggestions for fellow climate campaigners are as follows.
- Stop being negative. Fossil fuel use may start declining quite soon anyway, climate deal or no climate deal. Talk about the advantages of investing in non-carbon energy sources sooner rather than later, because the energy required for the switch will never be as cheap again in terms of what has to be given up to get it.
- Insist on the highest environmental standards and compensation arrangements being put into place before any further shale gas or underground coal gasification licences are issued. This might be a more productive approach than fighting for an outright ban.
- Campaign for a set of international arrangements that recognises that fossil fuel CO2 is not the only problem and that a range of programmes is needed to tackle all the causes of warming, even the minor ones.
- As the safe level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has already been passed, plants seem at present the only realistic way to extract the excess carbon from the air and sequester it in the soil. So work to prevent further forest loss and to protect the carbon in soils, mires and peat bogs. Advocate re-foresting vast areas, changing grazing methods and using biochar to speed the rate at which long-lived forms of soil carbon can build up. Giving indigenous people an incentive to maintain woodland and plant more trees for example by encouraging the development of high value sustainable woodland products such wild silk and honey could help. Millions of people will need to be involved in this effort but increased rural prosperity should result. Moreover the spin-off from new forests could be more abundant water supplies and slower warming as a result of increased cloud cover.
- Talk about the health gains that would come from reducing black carbon emissions and dealing with low-level ozone. Of the rural prosperity that should come from increasing the soil’s carbon content and thus its fertility through better farming methods. Of the new, local industries than will spring up making plastics and other organic chemicals out of biomass rather than oil.
- Work to convince people that the global economy will never run properly again unless the benefits of using all scarce resources are fairly shared. Support the setting up of a Global Climate Trust so that the scarcity rent from fossil fuel use gets properly allocated.
Leaving the effects of climate change aside, the main danger that humanity faces is that it will not invest enough of the fossil energy it can extract with a reasonable net-energy gain into making the transition to renewable energy sources. Every post-credit-crunch year that the global economy stays stalled with its engine idling and burning fuel leaves less in the tank to get it anywhere once the clutch is depressed, the gears engaged and a definite direction taken. Future generations will be hungrier, poorer and probably much smaller because of the delay.
Now, for the first time, if we can get people to internalise the implications of oil peak and the other resource constraints, we have a chance to go beyond Lord Stern’s mildly-negative position that the cost of dealing with climate change is not very high and move on to the positive position that no costs, and no self-denial are involved. Instead, rationing energy use in order to share out its benefits is essential for the proper working of the economic system and will create millions of jobs and commercial opportunities now.
In particular, campaigners should refute the uber-negative position adopted by Clive Hamilton in his 2010 book Requiem for a Species that it is now too late to do anything about the climate except to resign ourselves and die with dignity. The main reason Hamilton thinks this is the case is that he believes that the institutions and thought processes which would need to change to make a better outcome possible will not do so in time to save the day. If, as he assumes, economic growth was still possible, he might be right. The promise of higher incomes for the next few years would almost certainly continue to place an effective block on proposals to cut fossil fuel use, and thus incomes, now. But that block is cleared away by the recognition that regulating fuel demand means much higher incomes in the medium to long term than those that would result if a market-free-for-all led to an economic collapse. Environment and business can walk hand-in-hand and once the limits to the fossil energy supply and thus to economic growth are recognised their interests become aligned.
So there are strong grounds for believing that the climate crisis can be overcome and that many people’s lives, particularly in the poorer countries, could be materially better than they are now because of the work the production of biofuels and biochemicals to replace their fossil equivalents should bring, coupled with the additional fertility that biochar should create. Since the alternative is industrial and societal decline and, after increasing unrest, an eventual collapse, there’s every reason to think the system will incline the right way. But one thing is necessary first: the twin myths that there’s plenty of energy and that economic growth can continue must be exposed. If climate campaigners can get that message over, their battle would be as good as won.
JC comments: I like several of these ideas. We’ve battled over some of the topics raised here previously, but I think this essay provides a comprehensive big picture look at the broad issues. I look forward to your discussion of this.