Sunday, December 13, 2015

196 Places Where It Can Go Terribly Wrong

Global climate change issues are a mess. China and India scream that they are still developing nations that deserve an exemption from emissions targets until they catch up, uniformly across their entire populations, with the Western nations accused of having grown fat and rich from well over a century of dumping pollutants into the atmosphere. The West, many in the developing world believe, needs to go to zero emissions immediately, regardless of the economic cost to those fat rich countries. In the United States, we get the most inane statements from political leaders, uniformly representing the controlling but religiously ultra-conservative Tea Party/Evangelical wing of the Republican Party, who continue to argue that whether human-generated emissions are remotely the cause of climate change has not been proven, even though applying virtually any established scientific standard available, there is well over 95% certainty that humans have indeed been the principal cause.
Meanwhile, massive and unexpected glacier melts have slammed the water system in the Himalayas (which impacts all the nations in the region), unprecedented flooding has devastated in southern India, the worst air pollution in Beijing’s history (shutting down schools, business and even the airport) continued unabated, and huge storms (not El Nino-related) lashed the United States. California’s in a horrible drought as east coast states face horrible storms and flooding.
But internationally, it get much worse. “There are countries like Bangladesh where millions likely will be displaced by rising seas… Scientists say we easily could warm the atmosphere by 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century -- and if you call up a scientist like Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of ocean physics from Germany's Potsdam University, he'll say ominous things like this: ‘Even limiting warming to 2 degrees [Celsius], in my view, will still commit some island nations and coastal cities to drowning.’ In other words: See ya, Marshall Islands [one of many island groups in the Pacific who face the same fate].”, December 6th.
We do have globally accepted uniform air pollution metrics, called the Air Quality Index (AQI). “The AQI measures five criteria air pollutants (particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone), and converts the measured pollutant concentrations in a community's air to a number on a scale of 0 to 500. The intervals on the AQI scale relate to the potential health effects of the daily concentrations of each of these five pollutants. The most important number on this scale is 100, since this number corresponds to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard established under the Clean Air Act. An AQI level in excess of 100 means that a pollutant is in the unhealthful range on a given day; an AQI level at or below 100 means that a pollutant reading is in the satisfactory range.”
Under 50 using the AQI is good, 50-100 is moderate, 100-200 means unhealthful, 200-300 is very unhealthful, and over 300 is hazardous. 500 pins the official needle. China does not report officially beyond that number, although comparable measuring devices in Beijing recently recorded an AQI reading of 630, or more than 12 times the most lenient “good” level! While Beijing shut down the polluters within its urban reach, the massive number of coal-fired power stations to the east continued to belch their toxins into the air without being stopped. China is completely dependent on “there’s no such thing as clean” coal powered electricity generation.
So after 13 days of intense negotiations in Paris, 196 nations ratified a new, U.N.-sponsored climate change accord on December 11th. The document has lots of “will try” and “the goal is” language, often without a specific target date. As the signing leaders were extolling its “historical merits,” as various countries, including the United States, pledged targeted reductions, a plain review of the effort suggests that while a few countries will meet their pledges, the lack of penalties or clear enforcement structures and the deep resistance of the business/economic communities across the board to pay for the necessary compliance costs, there is little or no probability that the underlying vectors of the accord will be implemented in time to stop or significantly moderate that global warming to limit “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels.” Oh, by the way, the accord provides that richer nations are to provide voluntary financial support to poorer countries.
“The countries that sign the agreement pledge to ‘reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible,’ but the text doesn’t specify a date. It says the parties to the pact will ‘undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.’…
“The text pledges all countries to delivering, every five years, a new national pledge to reduce emissions. Each pledge, it says, should represent a ‘progression’ over the prior one, and should reflect the country’s ‘highest possible ambition.’ Climate watchers see this process as crucial, because current country pledges aren’t strong enough to limit warming to below 2 degrees C much less 1.5 degrees C.” Washington Post, December 12th. Yeah, even India and China accepted an abstract responsibility to lower toxic emissions.
We seem to be able to provide lots of neat language in these accords, set cool goals, but we really have little in the way of mandatory and measurable targets that must be met. The only binding requirement is for nations to meet every 5 years for a climate-change-effort show-and-tell. If the GOP secures the U.S. presidency or manages to get a Congressional vote on these issues, it’s pretty clear that they will not allow such climate change limitations to impact the United States.
“That system depends heavily on the views of the future world leaders who will carry out those policies. In the United States, every Republican candidate running for president in 2016 has publicly questioned or denied the science of climate change, and has voiced opposition to Mr. Obama’s climate change policies.
“In the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, who has led the charge against Mr. Obama’s climate change agenda, said, ‘Before his international partners pop the champagne, they should remember that this is an unattainable deal based on a domestic energy plan that is likely illegal, that half the states have sued to halt, and that Congress has already voted to reject.’” New York Times, December 12th. To the rest of the world, we are an increasingly rogue nation with too many guns, too much arrogance and too much ignorance with little care for anyone else… but this is clearly one very large reason why this new climate change initiative may well be less than even climate change pessimists believe. We are still very big polluters, even as things are getting better… just not remotely fast enough. Cheap coal, oil and gas are definitely not helping.
Pollution has gotten so bad in China and India that growth may finally take second place to environmental concerns (already the policy of China’s leaders, which has not yet taken hold at the provincial level). But the massive resistance to capping pollution, the impact of corruption on implementing bona fide compliance initiatives and the anger of poorer nations (who are impacted the most by climate change) at the rich nations who got that way by polluting cannot be underestimated. It’s a continuing story of too little, too late with no compliance teeth to “make it so.” As political leaders the world over cheered at the “historical” global accord, I have to wonder exactly what will get done in the immediate future.
I’m Peter Dekom, and nature truly does not care what we do… it started with nothing and can do it again if we insist on killing ourselves and the plant and animal life around us.

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