Tuesday, April 22, 2014

EARTH DAY 2014: What Needs To Be On Everyone's Radar

Earth Day 2014 is today, and it is well - given the parlous indicators - to be aware of some of the more pernicious threats we face. If this planet is to be in any way salvaged for future generations - as opposed to being used up by this one - then action needs to be taken. (I will get around to some concrete actions Americans can take at the end.)

Now, what needs to be on every sentient citizen's radar:

1) According to a new study published in Nature, climate-change will “lock” into place by the year 2047 (plus or minus 14 years, when the uncertainty is factored in). Once that happens, every year after 2047 will be hotter than even the current hottest year on record.

By 2047, the study concludes, our current record temperatures will become the new normal temperatures.    The point was brought home in the first episode of Showtime's 'Years of Living Dangerously' where NASA scientists at the JPL showed progressive temperature maps for the next 50-70 years with Fargo, North Dakota seeing the same regular high temperatures as Phoenix (in the 100s) by the end of the century.

2) Population continues to increase to critical catastrophic levels. While four years ago we were consuming the resource equivalent of 1.5 Earths per year  it is now approaching 1.6 because of the added humans - more than eighty million per year (1 million added every 4.5 days according to Alan Weisman).  No surprise then that population growth is at the core of 90 percent of our environmental problems - from the greenhouse effect, to mounting air and water pollution to reduced food quality via overuse of GMO foods and nitrogen fertilizers.

Most experts (e.g. Alan Weisman, ('Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth' ) believe our numbers are nearly 3.5 times greater than Earth's carrying capacity - that is, the capacity or numbers that can be supported in a sustainable way by the existing, finite resources.

One cannot be a conscientious environmentalist and at the same time ignore population growth or the need for dramatic family planning. This would be roughly analogous to professing one is against war, but having mostly defense industry related funds in one's investment portfolio. It doesn't add up and betrays cognitive dissonance and philosophic inconsistency.

Even now, 1 billion people live in water-stressed conditions, meaning that renewable water supplies have dropped below 1,700 cubic meters per capita. One notable ‘State of the World’ report (2000, pp. 46-47), warned that the ever increasing water deficits will likely spark “water wars” by 2025. We are already seeing low level water wars emerge here in the mountain West, with fracking competing for scarce water in a severely drought prone region.

3) The fracking craze continues - it is not your 'friend':   

The insane practice of fracking, spurred by fossil fuel industry propaganda, continues to rend communities apart as half usually sell out while the other half fights to retain property rights. Meanwhile, bought out state legislators from Pennsylvania to Texas are considering laws that "pool" fracking properties after a majority agree to sell-  and which can  then override any citizens that object.

Beyond this, pols and poltroons are pushing the trope of fracking's  energy "promise" and helping to solve global warming - but this promise is false. Snake oil!   Kerogen is the product emerging from shale oil, for example.  As Richard Heinberg notes (Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise Imperils Our Future', page 110 ):

"Kerogen is not oil. It is better thought of as an oil precursor that was insufficiently cooked by geologic processes. If we want to turn it into oil, we have to finish the process nature started: that involves heating the kerogen to a high temperature for a long time. And that in turn takes energy- lots of it, whether supplied by hydroelectricity, nuclear power plants, natural gas, or the kerogen itself. Therefore the EROEI in processing oil shale is bound to be pitifully low."

As for fracking for natural gas, that's no savior either. As Heinberg puts it (p. 116):

 "No evidence suggests that the technology of fracking has actually raised the EROEI for natural gas production. It temporarily lowered prices but only by glutting the market."

4) Too many Americans continue to be hoodwinked by Climate change deniers:

By 'deniers' I mean the whole constellation of blowhards - many on talk radio - who claim that there is no 'proof' or that the consensus of climate scientists isn't "real" or is some kind of PR stunt pulled off by the scientists themselves, to get more research money. I will deal with this in a separate blog - later today.

Sadly, and incredibly, these deniers even appear on education sites supposedly dedicated to addressing questions on science, such as allexperts.com. A number even  operate in the astronomy question forum - if you can believe it. Thus, while I might provide correct answers to questions, these propagandists undermine those efforts with their codswallop and distortions at every turn.

5) Americans continue to be the world's biggest 'energy gluttons, and are doing little or nothing about it.  What do I mean? Well the graphic below can provide some insight, including what you can actually do to mitigate carbon deposition. One example of what you might do: turn your router off when not in use, especially at night! Otherwise, it uses more kilowatt-hours per year than the average Tanzanian does for all his energy needs.

Energy use by Americans.
The graphic above shows the energy output of typical appliances used by Americans. This ought to give some clue of what else can be done to reduce energy gluttony, and hence carbon deposition. Short of very high carbon taxes imposed on all energy use, not likely to come about given our bought out political establishment, it's up to each of us to voluntarily do what we can to mitigate CO2 into our atmosphere.

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