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Climate choices

Written By: - Date published: 7:15 am, September 24th, 2019 - 16 comments
Categories: climate change - Tags: , , ,

I have this weird vacillation with climate change at the moment. Despite having written a fair bit about the need for human civilisations to power down, and that green BAU will not save us from runaway climate catastrophe, I find myself often looking at the fast tech change happening and wondering if I am wrong, that we will build electric planes in time, and find a way to transition the industry that underpins our lives to post-carbon.

Then I get brought back to the sharp but still hard to believe reality. Our hope is in a fast transition off fossil fuels, and we cannot do that and retain a growth economy with all the mod cons.

The United In Science report was released yesterday,

The world’s leading climate science organizations have joined forces to produce a landmark new report for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, underlining the glaring – and growing – gap between agreed targets to tackle global warming and the actual reality.

If you’re interested in the science and the maths of how bad things are, there’s plenty of reading there in the tweet thread and in the report itself.  I don’t have the headspace to delve into the detail so I’m going to raise some questions instead. We need good science to base actions upon, but our problem here isn’t that we don’t know what is needed, or what to do, it’s that we’re not yet taking that seriously.

Global Carbon Budget

Carbon dioxide emissions grew 2% and reached a record high of 37 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2018. There is still no sign of a peak in global emissions, even though they are growing slower than the global economy.

Current economic and energy trends suggest that emissions will be at least as high in 2019 as in 2018. Global GDP is expected to grow at 3.2% in 2019, and if the global economy decarbonized at the same rate as in the last 10 years, that would still lead to an increase in global emissions.

Despite extraordinary growth in renewable fuels over the past decade, the global energy system is still dominated by fossil fuel sources. The annual increase in global energy use is greater than the increase in renewable energy, meaning the fossil fuel use continues to grow. This growth needs to halt immediately.

The net-zero emissions needed to stabilize the climate requires both an acceleration in use of non-carbon energy sources and a rapid decline in the global share of fossil fuels in the energy mix. This dual requirement illustrates the scale of the challenge.

Natural CO2 sinks, such as vegetation and oceans, which remove about half of all emissions from human activities, will become less efficient at doing so. This underscores the need to reduce deforestation and expand natural CO2 sinks, particularly those in forests and soils that can be improved by better management and habitat restoration.

Here’s how I understand that,

  1. we need to be reducing GHG emissions globally, and instead we’re increasing them
  2. Part of that is because global energy use is increasing.
  3. Natural carbon sinks are now being taken seriously, and humans can increase the capacity of them via our actions

The first needs no discussion. Unless one is still a climate denier, it’s a given that we need to reduce GHGs and we’re not. That global energy use is increasing tells us a lot about the problem here: perpetual growth.

I want to know how much of that increased use is because of transitioning to renewables, and whether what we need to do (reduce fossil fuel use) is incompatible with that transition.

I also want to know how much of the increased energy us is due to increasing population, and subsequent increasing lifestyles of the global population. Before any lefties jump up and say we can’t talk about population because it’s unjust, let me be clear: the solution here is for industrialised nations to take a drop in their standard of living.

The third point is crucial. Whatever natural carbon sinks are capable of doing, and how much we can work with that by changing land use (regenerative agriculture and recreating/protecting natural forest systems), we cannot afford to squander that advantage by treating it as carbon offsets to keep burning fossil fuels. This sequestration advantage may be the difference between climate crisis (a drop in standard of living) and climate catastrophe (collapse of human societies and mass death).

In case it’s not obvious, I believe it is still possible for us to prevent the worst of the catastrophe. The good news is that the science supports this,

Technically, it is still possible to bridge the gap in 2030 to ensure global warming stays below 2 °C and 1.5 °C.

A substantial part of the technical potential can be realized through scaling up and replicating existing, well-proven policies that simultaneously contribute to key sustainable development goals. Remarkably, the potential available in just six relatively well-developed areas as shown (below left) present a combined potential of up to 21 GtCO2e per year by 2030.

This is Climate Strike week, coinciding with the UN Climate Action Summit. I’m more interested in the potential of social tipping points than I am in relying on what the politicians and bods are doing. What we need is a willingness from many ordinary people to change, then the politicians will follow. If we’re feeling overwhelmed or powerless in the face of the need for that change, then one thing we can do this week is take part in the New Zealand marches that are closing the end of Strike week this Friday.

Planned NZ Climate Strike events across the country are listed here.



16 comments on “Climate choices ”

  1. Pat 1

    Im interested to see if our PM uses her platform at the UN to commit to something more concrete re CC, as demanded by the General Secretary….I suspect there will not be.

    • weka 1.1

      When asked about Thunberg's speech she said the message was for other countries not doing the right things, implication that NZ is doing the right things. Maybe that was a dig at Trump (given she had just come out of a meeting with him), but it's not like NZ is doing enough either.

      Another good thing about getting a L/G govt next year is to bring into focus Labour's actual position on climate action, rather than viewing it all through the Peters influence lens.

      • Pat 1.1.1

        Didnt realise she had already spoken but just listened to RNZ clip with her and Greta Thunberg….quite some contrast.


      • Wayne 1.1.2


        You might want a L/G government. I suspect the reasons you do will be used by NZF as the very reasons why people should vote NZF. That is NZF will be able to stop a L/G government from doing the things you want.

        In essence it was the NZF campaign last election, and it will be their campaign again. I suspect it will be successful in getting NZF across the line again.

        So unless L/G gets 50% of the vote, I reckon the next government has a good chance of looking pretty much like the current one.

        • weka

          Or Labour pick up enough of the NZF vote and the Greens pick up some of the Labour vote and we get a L/G govt. /shrug.

          Your point about why people vote NZF is a bit obvious Wayne. I'd more ok with the current govt if NZF weren't dragging the chain on climate change. If NZF voters don't believe that we are in a crisis by the time we get to the next election, then this will harm NZ medium and long term. This should be outweighing party politics now.

          • gsays

            I agree with your comment

            "If NZF voters don't believe that we are in a crisis by the time we get to the next election, then this will harm NZ medium and long term. This should be outweighing party politics now."

            I used a my mother's car after my brother had used it and changed the radio station. I had the misfortune to hear Sean Plunkett in full flight, ranting against Greta Thunberg.

            The venom and passion were shocking. Clearly this opinion has it's constituents.

            What is going to make NZ1st voters think we are in a crisis?

            I doubt it will be more reports, children addressing the UN or school kids on strike.

            I think it will be when consequences hit them personally e.g. petrol hits $3 a litre, the coastal bach is claimed by the sea or there is another lane on their commute given to buses and bikes.

            At the moment Labour seems to be closer aligned to NZ1st than the greens. Fiscally conservative with some socially impractical gestures – winter fuel allowance.

            • weka

              aye, both NZF and Labour are a worry. As people are pointing out, there's too many climate conservatives in Labour too 🙁

            • george.com

              Plunkets knee jerk curmudgeonly rants. Listen to his show long enough and you get a reasonable handle on CC ignorance. For example, apparently it's all the fault of volcanos, stop all the eruptions and we are sweet. He treats anti vaccers* with contempt, berating them for a lack of evidence based debate and using obscure or fringe/discredited 'evidence' to bolster their arguments. Yet in the next breath he does exactly what he condemns when discussing climate change. Ignore the evidence, ignore the expert opinions and draw on 'alternative' experts' to justify his position.

              * I dont have a problem with his approach to anti vaccination by the way, I just see the incredible irony of his approach to CC

  2. Robert Guyton 2

    Southland local body candidates tackle climate change topic


    "The time for patiently explaining climate change is over.

    Environment Southland councillor Robert Guyton says Southlanders who want action on climate change will unite in Invercargill on Friday, coinciding with marches throughout New Zealand."


    • Formerly Ross 2.1

      Nothing like a bit of shameless self promotion. Good for you, Robert, and I mean that most sincerely.

  3. Cricklewood 3

    It's so difficult to tackle this on a world scale… population rising by 80 000 000 per year different govts doing different things.

    Really need some world wide type commitments that every country can deliver regardless of politics etc as even with fines etc negotiated targets dont really seem to help.

    Planting billions of Trees seems a good place to start.

    Also along time ago a engineer of some description was advocating the painting of every roof space in a reflective white to help replace the reflective surface of the lost ice. Made sense to me also seems something practical that it shouldn't be hard to get agreement on.

    • greywarshark 3.1

      I have thought of a pale roof rather than a dark one absorbing the sun and making the house hot, but hadn't thought of replacing lost ice effect. Can you explain what you remember about how that would work?

      What effect would having grass, a herb garden, growing on the roof of buildings do viewed as a climate change move? If you know anything about that, or come across it, perhaps you could put that up on Sunday's How to Get There as we have got philosophical there but need practical ideas too.

  4. soddenleaf 4

    Wage war against the private automobile. Free public transit. Car sharing, when you share one car between five you don't build four cars, roads, etc. It's the private car stupid.

  5. barry 5

    I have given up on the idea of people choosing to go without, rather than pollute. In my case, I work on polluting less than 80% of those around me.

    The only way we will stop climate change is if renewables become cheaper than fossil fuels. The plan was that the rich world would advantage renewables so that people would use them and they would get cheaper faster, but the denialists and fossil fuel companies killed that idea.

    So 2 degrees of warming by the end of the century is inevitable, but some time in the next few decades, the oil and gas runs out, and we gradually stop using coal for our health. So probably the worst it gets is 2-3 degrees total warming. That still means sea level rise in the meters eventually.

    Humans are so dumb!

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