CO2, global warming, is another matter - as Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. Climate Change argued this morning. Basically, as Klein told Scarborough & Company, capitalism is unable to affect or alter the course of climate change due to its dependence on fossil fuels and need for continuous growth. Also, the time for marginal fixes has expired, thus forcing us to now make radical changes in how we live.
We simply don't have the luxury of using all the carbon that lies in the Earth. Yet capitalism's never ending growth engine would demand we do so to support the expansion of new markets for exploitation. The issue, then, is whether we can avoid the 2 C tipping point, beyond which lies a REAL Hell, an Earthly climate hell. Enter Bill McKibben. He is the real deal. A climate scientist who does the math to prove his point. McKibben's mathematical limits have been carefully parsed and worked out: we have roughly 550 gigatons (gT) left of carbon we can extract and inject anthropogenically into the atmosphere before the first phase of earthly Hell is unleashed. As rising sea waters, hellish temperatures and heat waves, prolonged droughts and dozens of superstorms.
Give a current 30 gT/year deposition rate - and assuming we don't add to it, don't increase its rate - that leaves us roughly 18 years before give or take a fraction, before we end up in a likely runaway greenhouse world. It's a world you don't want to be living in, as Ms. Klein told Scarborough.
But an even more treacherous limit to cross, which will make the ISIS threat look like a kindergarten dustup is 2, 750 gT. Once we cross this, we will usher in the maw of the runaway greenhouse and be on our way to converting the Earth to another Venus. The problem? The energy- and fossil fuel empires that govern most of our economic system don't see it that way. McKibben cites the fact that Exxon's share price, for example, is based on a total carbon deposition of at least 2,800 gT - which also conforms to expectations set by hedge funds, et al including Peabody Global.
Why doesn't any of this make it into people's heads and arouse more fear - and demand for action - say than attacking ISIS? It's because ISIS and its perpetrated evil - like carving a journalist's head off using a specialized knife- exists in the 'here and now' and their imagery stirs the brain's amygdala into instant fear and visceral reaction. Climate change doesn't because the pace and scale of the impending disaster isn't large or near enough to affect enough brains. For the latter to be the case, we'd need the equivalent of 12,000 F5 tornadoes striking every area of the country almost simultaneously - leaving massive, 'terror' level destruction in the wake. But, of course, this will not occur. Instead we are faced with gradual disaster creep: glaciers more or less slowly recede and vanish, sea levels more or less slowly rise - and not so fast - unless you're on certain islands like Kiribati, see e.g.
And the Arctic ice more or less slowly melts reducing the reflectivity of Earth's surface and leading to greater absorption of solar radiation and ramped up greenhouse effect.
The net result of the (relative) slow pace, compared to instant images of ISIS beheadings? The brains of too many go into sleep or tune out mode when they see or hear the words "climate change" or "global warming". Alternatively, they rationalize being climate change sluggards by the specious appeal to "natural variations" which lets humans off the hook. These disturbing reactions were superbly described by George Marshall in his book, 'Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change'. Once again, the brain enters as the culprit because evolution has tuned it to respond only to immediate threats. We needed this type of brain while hunting or foraging as saber tooth tigers lurked and a quick rustle of leaves might save our lives. The quick reaction to the immediate threat allowed us to continue. But it's a liability now, because we allow the more deadly slow threat to recede while our brains become preoccupied with the lesser human threat of ISIS.
And so, because of this distraction, this preoccupation whereby fear incepted from the immediate human threat trumps attention to the far greater natural threat, we demand our government launch attacks and raids on ISIS (and its sister terror outfits like Khorosan) even as it pumps out gigatons of deadly carbon each year - speeding us toward a genuine catastrophe. Alas, we are so entrapped within the immediate fear matrix, most of us can't see how our brains have gamed us, deceived us - or our leaders- when we ought to be attending more to preventing the 2,750 gT limit from occurring.
But what can be done? A lot! And as usual Europe, especially Germany, is leading the way. This includes a profound push to renewable energy such as wind and solar (Germany now sports the most massive solar energy infrastructure outside of China) and imposing very high carbon taxes on the use of gasoline. (In Switzerland, we found - as we helped pay for Rolf's gas, that one liter of gasoline there costs almost as much as a gallon does here.) As noted in today's Denver Post (p. 13A) Europe has cut a much bigger proportion of its carbon emissions (13.9 % vs. 10%) than the U.S. since 2005. This is mainly because the U.S. pollutes more.
Meanwhile, in the Swiss Alps, we beheld steam trains, powered by steam engines - as opposed to oil-driven trains. An image of one near Rothorn and Brienze, is shown below:
As opposed to fossil-fuel, internal combustion engines, Steam engines are external combustion engines where the working fluid is separate from the combustion products. The use of these types of engines means that a trip to Rothorn peak, for example, will be much longer (as much as 2 hours from the town of Brienze) but the pollution is minimal.
We need to begin some kind of consistent action to minimize CO2 production, but most importantly - as Naomi Klein notes - we need to regulate capitalism and prevent it from taking us over the runaway Greenhouse tipping point.
The images of ISIS? Yeah, they are scary all right to most normal brains. But no matter what these assholes do it will not be as devastating as what climate change does if we don't wake up and re-direct our brains' priorities!