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I am conscious that a week long Blogathon on Climate Change has just started. I didn't submit this to the Diary Series, but climate change has been in the news, and discussed on Daily Kos.

What follows is my article in The GOS Weekly Review, for the week just gone. I post this as an example of the material available in the iPad App, and in support of the Blogathon.


There are two forms of “denial” that crop up when one begins to discuss the behaviour of humans, and our activities that appear to be having a significant effect on the physical characteristics of the Green Planet.

The more common of these is the accusation leveled at politicians and others, who deny that we are having any effect at all. That the changes we are witnessing in the climatic trends are cyclical, normal, simply part of the wondrous tableaux that is Nature at her finest. That those politicians and pseudo-scientists often derive much of their income or influence from fossil fuel companies is, they say, entirely irrelevant. There are many prepared to believe those assertions, which simply leaves me ruing the fact that I don’t have a handy stock of bridges for sale.

We turn to our favourite US Senator, Jim Inhofe (R-OK) for clarity on this point. Talking to the Voice of Christian Youth, he opined:

“Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there [his book] is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous”
The logic behind Senator Inhofe’s position is simply that climate change is not happening, because he believes that it is not happening. We keep re-electing Inhofe by the way. I just thought that I would point that out! Even accepting the Senator’s position, surely it is Biblically permissible to argue that, given free-will, we are free to damage our planet; and equally free not to. Like so many others, however, Inhofe is not paid by God, but by oil companies, so I rather suspect that this line of attack might fall upon stony ground.

The second form of ‘denial’ is on a more personal level for each of us. If we accept that burning fossil fuels, at an ever increasing rate globally, is causing or contributing to climate change, then what must we deny ourselves that we might slow, halt or reverse the trend?

Would we have to manage without air-conditioning? Are our SUVs under threat? Do we need to go back to living in caves, or teepees; a particular problem now that we have lost the skills and killed all the bison.. Taking a brief look at the society we live in, the super-sized meals, the large cars and trucks and the fact that the US consumes more than 20% of the global use of fossil fuels suggests that we are not very good at denying ourselves the finer things in life, if that is how you define “finer things”. I think an argument could be made that the “finer things in life” could also include such trivial items as health care, education, pensions, leisure time, employment protections and equal opportunities.. but that’s just me.

It does leave a whole area of potential deprivation for those opposed to the idea of climate change, and the related area of alternative energy to whip up scare stories about our future lifestyles, should we be silly enough to explore these ideas.

There is a further complication encountered when we attempt to discuss these matters. While it is clear that the US has been experiencing a series of record-breaking weather events, none of these events can themselves simply be attributed to climate change. That heat wave you are currently experiencing, the record snowfall, the previously unrecorded rainfall … the EF5 tornado that recently destroyed your town. All serious situations, and all probably contributed to by climate change, but none of them are evidence when taken by themselves. When we do that, we hand the debate over to the naysayers who simply point to previous examples and deride us for scaremongering.

The simple answer is to understand that those situations are not climate change, they are the weather. Extreme weather events have always happened, and that is what they are, events. Each is unique and, taken in isolation they are either spectacular, or tragedies. Sometimes they are both.

It is not the events that signify climate change, although they may be symptoms of it, it is the trends that demonstrate the issue. Both the empirical recordings of temperature, pressure, rainfall etc, and how they are changing over time. That is where we look for evidence of changing patterns, and that is where the climatologists are finding them.

However important it is that we consider trends and patterns, and relate both those things to history, and projection for the future, the actual events are indeed impressive. Daily Kos contributors are frequently minded to use such events as the basis of a wider discussion. This is a constant topic on the site, and is one that has been addressed this week:

Brooklyn Jim is first up, with a post about a polar storm of an intensity that is rare at this time of year.

“A remarkably intense low pressure system formed in the Arctic north of Alaska Monday, bottoming out with a central pressure of 963 mb at 2 pm EDT. A pressure this low is rare any time of the year in the Arctic, and is exceptionally so in summer. The storm is stacked vertically with the upper-level low, and will spin in place and slowly weaken over the next few days, but remain unusually strong.”
Timaeus made a comment that is a reminder to us all:
“This kind of thing is one of the main reasons I read at DKos: real news that never gets covered in the MSM.”
The well-presented piece proved to be a popular inclusion in Community Spotlight, and from a slow start managed to achieve 180 Facebook Shares. It is a subject that people are minded to share and discuss.

Beach babe in fl shared with us the findings of NASA Climatologist, James Hansen. In this post, James Hansen is going further than scientists have previously dared, and this time is suggesting that the recent heat experienced across large parts of the US can not be explained by anything other than climate change. The brief piece was well received, spawning over 200 comments and more than 350 recommends.

“This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.”
Drofx surely expressed the sentiments of many who feel the frustration of government torpor, with this comment:
“I'm so sick of these effing ignorant dupes it's a 10e6 alarm fire raging planetwide but the bimbo on faux says forget about it's a liberal conspiracy, so they do.
As for those who know better and still promote denialism, they are criminals.”
bnasely chips in with a somewhat sardonic hint at solutions. Those pesky liberals, and their reality based solutions!
“yup. its to bad there wasn't a nearby source of energy, like, oh, i dunno, a star or something, that was constantly sending joules or wattage or whatever our way that maybe some really smart people like engineers or scientists couldn't figure out a way to harness.

Or maybe a way to tap into all that heat that Gaia seems to have a ways down under the surface”

Al Gore, long an activist in his attempts to concentrate the mind of governments gave the following talk in 2009:

We can look again to NASA for more analysis. A January 2012 Press Release had this to say:

“The difference between 2011 and the warmest year in the GISS record (2010) is 0.22 degrees F (0.12 C). This underscores the emphasis scientists put on the long-term trend of global temperature rise. Because of the large natural variability of climate, scientists do not expect temperatures to rise consistently year after year. However, they do expect a continuing temperature rise over decades.”
If it is the case that the burning of fossil fuels, and the associated release of greenhouse gasses is a primary cause of climate change, and the credible sources suggest that it is (pdf), then are there alternatives that do not demand that we return to a pre-industrial civilization?

Yes, and no is the answer to that thorny question. More precisely, yes, there are alternatives but no, they are not available immediately. Like every other issue we face, we need to transition away from fossil fuels. We will not replace them immediately, but we can replace them eventually. This is good news for future generations because the traditional oil, coal, gas approach is finite.

It is the case that man relied upon renewable energy sources for the vast bulk of our history. We use solar energy to grow our food, we always have and likely always will. Equally, solar heating was the only form of heating available, supplemented as it was by open fires burning wood. Wood burning is carbon neutral, if renewable forests are used to provide the fuel. Dead trees decompose and release CO2 as the natural cycle. We can utilize this for heating, and many do, provided that we replace the trees that we burn. There are issues to do with particulates, but we have better stoves than were available in the past, and this problem is reduced.

The main issue is the generation of electricity. Without it our lives come to a grinding halt. Indeed, life as we know it would end. Power generation is achieved with turbines. Specifically “steam turbines”, and the fossil fuel bit is simply the way we have chosen to generate the steam. If we have another way to turn the turbines, then we do not need that fuel.

Equally, we have the ability to generate electricity directly from sunlight. We can also use the sun to heat water, and if you heat water sufficiently, you get steam! We can, for now, heat much of our domestic water directly from the sun. That reduces the demand for electricity produced from fossil fuel, and cuts household utility bills considerably. Here in Oklahoma we have estimated that we could probably save $70 per month, every month, forever, by installing a solar water heater. The cost is modest compared with the installation of photo-voltaic panels for power generation. It’s not much if we do it, but if we ALL do it ….

Folk all over the world are taking the opportunity to install their own power generation. I’m pretty sure there are a number of motives for this, the financial savings over time being the obvious one. Equally, for those with a social conscience, there is a clear double benefit.

User Bondibox is exploring this aspect:

“During the past year, southern Maryland has had several power outages, most recently one at the beginning of July which lasted 4 days.  A handful of the neighbors have invested in ginormous diesel backup generators which cost $30,000 and burn 30 gal of fuel per day.

So I wondered aloud if solar couldn't be an optimal solution.  And thus began my journey.”

Among other things, the comments touched upon the impact on the wider economy, were the government to make this issue a priority. This from jimstaro:
“We could have been out of this economic depression long ago if the bush admin and congress had recognized what was happening, I did as to the construction industry especially commercial some five years before the residential mortgage collapse, and did capital investments, partnered with the private sector Reagan capitalist, i.e. trickle down, on infrastructure upgrades and especially into alternatives and micro-grids, they didn't as the special interests controlled. The Obama administration did see the need but the tepubs in congress obstructed then the Dems gave them more numbers to control even more obstruction including states.”
On a larger scale, wind farms are now producing significant amounts of electricity. They are not without controversy, but neither do they appear to be threatening the planet. Again, the lack of an integrated energy policy, and an equivalent lack of Congressional will is slowing progress compared even to countries with rather less available sunlight than the United States. According to figures from the American Wind Energy Association, wind power recently went through the fifty gigawatt mark:

“The 50 gigawatts (GW) online today means that U.S. wind turbines now power the equivalent of nearly 13 million American homes, or as many as in Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Alabama, and Connecticut combined.”

These wind farms are expanding, as are the efforts to bring the transmission lines that can better carry this power to our national grid.

Writing for Daily Kos Labor, Meteor Blades was at least able to show that this is an issue that affects all Americans, and does have some high profile support:
He [Bill Clinton] pointed to all the construction workers he met in California working on building the 392-megawatt Ivanpah solar project—people of “all races” with some of the “best tattoos” he’d ever seen. Those construction workers are the people who are going to make the difference in moving the clean energy industry forward.

“Think about the tattoos. You win the tattoo vote, we’ll have the damnedest environmental policy you ever saw.”

The elephant in the room of the climate change discussion is nuclear energy. While this form of  power is free from greenhouse gasses, it cannot be considered “clean”. The obvious issues relate to the safe operation of the facilities themselves. Beyond that is the disposal of the highly toxic waste they produce. Nuclear power may be part of the solution, but it is likely to be only a temporary part, and new licenses are not currently being sought by any power companies.

For the sake of some completeness, in what can only ever be a brief look at the issues involved, it is worth mentioning the subject of transport.  Cars and trucks consume a vast amount of oil. There are ways to reduce this consumption significantly, but they involve regulation which appears to be a dirty word on Capitol Hill. Not, I imagine, as dirty as the result of burning so much oil, but a significant obstacle nonetheless. Engine efficiency can be improved, and an integrated rail network could shift much of the truck transport off the roads. It’s a big subject, but so are the benefits if we could find the will to address it.

We can leave the world a better place but we have to start now, and we have to produce an integrated energy policy, and stick to it.. The many contributors at Daily Kos are doing their bit to both highlight the issues, and propose reasonable and workable solutions.


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Comment Preferences

  •  If anyone from the Blogathon (10+ / 0-)

    wishes to add, subtract or in any way change my Tags, please feel free.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    by twigg on Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 02:44:08 PM PDT

  •  The 2nd Most Important Denial is Political: (7+ / 0-)

    In the US we have one party that denies the phenomenon, but the other party denies that we can address it appropriately at any foreseeable time. For that reason it's a low priority issue for incrementalism of the type that in other policy areas has appeared to be moving forward while in actual fact it's moved backward.

    This is why I offer the admittedly very-minor position that government can't address the problem in time, and that we need to take it direct person-to-person to whatever sympathetic or potentially sympathetic top economic ownership we can find.

    If government can do anything major at all on this, I'd think that in the area of alt generation, rooftop solar as Germany did would be by far the easiest. It would involve by the biggest participation of the public, making millions of individuals producers. Because it's distributed it doesn't have to wait for a smart grid either.

    It's even cheaper than purchased electricity once the investment is paid off. Really all we need to provide is finance, and as Germany demonstrated we can begin replacing fossil fuel plants by the dozens. There's no chance we'll reach levels soon where the absence of nighttime generation becomes a problem.

    I don't see that there'd be a need to give up on mass generation projects or a smart grid, I'm just saying this would create a lot of capacity for the buck since the buck is mostly financing.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 05:28:13 PM PDT

  •  I've read about 50% to 60% of the U.S. (3+ / 0-)

    population doesn't believe climate change is for real...

    And in Canada that percentage is only 1%....Sad because if we don't do anything we will never solve it and some believe may be too late.

    As a member of Courtesy Kos, I am dedicated to civility and respect for all kossacks, regardless of their opinions, affiliations, or cliques.

    by joedemocrat on Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 05:58:07 PM PDT

  •  Actually, the number of new nuclear (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg, Louisiana 1976

    plant applications isn't zero. There are applications for something like 28 reactors, although the review has been suspended on several. There are two reactors currently under construction, Vogtle units 3 and 4. Moreover, they will be built with passive safety features that will allow them to keep the core cool for up to three days in the event of a station blackout, unlike Fukushima. The spent fuel disposal issue is more a political football than a technological problem.

    •  Thank you. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Louisiana 1976

      I read incorrect information.

      OTOH, that is a very small number, but it's better to be accurate.

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      by twigg on Tue Aug 21, 2012 at 06:24:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  While Fukushima certainly has had an (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        twigg, Louisiana 1976

        effect on enthusiasm for new nuclear, the real killer for nuclear and renewables alike in the US is cheap fracked natural gas.

        All forms of power generation have their advantages and disadvantages. All that renewable power generation in Germany is causing problems, although perhaps some of that will be alleviated with additional transmission capacity and updated technology. Otherwise they are going to lose a chunk of their industrial base if they don't figure it out.

  •  Senator Inhofe, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I will tell you the same thing I have told other people about various issues: the fact that you believe something to be true does not make it true.

    Thanks, twigg, for all the links. This is a good compilation of information and resources for us.

    Two other things: First, Jim (jim in IA) has a diary coming out this morning focused on the climate change research of James Hansen, showing the change in the mean and the spreading deviation from the mean temperature over the last 50 years. He always includes some great charts and graphs, so I expect it will visually illustrate some points a lot of us haven't seen before.

    Second, use of wood and fossil fuels is damaging in small as well as in large. Son is writing his master's thesis on development of a solar-powered cooker that could be used in India, in an area where the women and girls spend full days harvesting and hauling wood to run their stoves. Deforestation is happening at a quickening pace, and of course the girls never get to go to school. Solar power seems like the easiest thing in the world for an area that gets that much sun. However, the solar cooker must work for how they actually cook, or they will not use it. First, it must be useful INSIDE. Second, it must store heat sufficient to cook the morning meal as well as the evening meal, not during the bright time of day. Third, it must be able to be implemented locally, not imposed from outside. This has been quite the challenge for him as he considers all the variables both within the household and community, as well as greater environmental ones.


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