There is no future in fossil fuels

As they are a non-renewable source of energy, this is obvious. However, unless we leave a large proportion of them in the ground (just as we decided to do with asbestos), we will be history – as may well be our ‘Goldilocks’ planet. This is the ultimate message of James Hansen’s Storms of my Grandchildren. However, before getting to this point, Hansen set out in exhaustive detail all the palaeoclimatic data that validates the early assumptions of Tyndall and Arrhenius. This tells us that the Earth has always regulated its temperature by moving CO2 between the atmosphere and the oceans in order to restore energy imbalances. Therefore, by adding a whole lot of fossilised carbon we have unbalanced the system. This is why, albeit slowly at first due to the massive inertia in the climate system, the Earth is now warming-up. The second important message of the book is that which I summarised yesterday (i.e. the reasons why current policies to address the problem are not going to work). However, in the final chapter of his book, Hansen finally takes the gloves off to deliver the knock-out blow: All previous changes of global average temperature (comparable to that now anticipated as a result of human activity) have taken thousands of years to occur. However, Hansen says (and over 97% or relevant experts agree) that humanly-irreversibly climate change could now start within the next 50 years because: — The climate forcing now being applied is an order of magnitude (i.e. ten times) greater than all previous natural forcings. — We are now very close to the tipping point at which ice sheets will melt (i.e. due to the break-up of the ice shelves that have been holding them back). — There is very strong evidence to suggest that the further the climate system is pushed out of balance the greater its sensitivity to additional CO2 becomes. For all of these reasons – and more – Hansen reaches the astonishing conclusion that, unless humanity takes radical and rapid steps to de-carbonise its energy generation systems, we could trigger the kind of runaway greenhouse effect that has crippled the planet Venus and, by the time the inertia in the system allows it to become obvious, it will be too late to stop it happening: Hansen clearly believes that the runaway greenhouse effect could lead to an ice-free planet within two centuries and, if not prevented, this will lead to a lifeless and waterless planet within six centuries. Is Hansen for real? Has he lost his mind? I don’t think so. The critical thing to remember – apart from the inertia and global dimming effects of atmospheric pollution that are preventing us from yet appreciating the full effects human activity is having – is that we are dealing with a range of non-linear phenomena. For example, the rate at which the Greenland Ice Cap and West Antarctic Ice Sheet are losing mass has doubled in the last ten years (it has already reached the rate of 250 cubic kilometres of ice per year). If it keeps doubling in speed every ten years it could all be gone very quickly indeed! Does the fanaticism that drives people to climb smoke stacks and oil platforms to demand that we stop burning coal and drilling for new sources of oil make sense now? If we do not change course, it is not only fossil fuels that may be history, we may bring about the eventual extinction of life on Earth. It all leaves me wondering whether this is what the apostle John, exiled on the island of Patmos as a very old man, saw in the apocalytic vision of the future that we have come to know as the Book of Revelation. Was someone up there trying to send the current generation of humanity a message? Either way, Hansen’s message is much simpler, if we don’t want this stuff to happen we must take steps to get atmospheric carbon dioxide back to less than 350 ppm as soon as practical, and we must start now. This is what he told Bill Mckibben in 2007. This is why Bill set up 350.org. If this all comes as a bit of a shock – don’t worry – you are in good company. To my great shame, I was not aware of the direct connection between Hansen and McKibben until I read this book. However, now that we know, we are surely duty-bound to take action to support the only truly sustainable development there can be – one in which fossil fuels have no future?

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About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Anthropocene, Civilisation, Climate Science, Environment, Greenpeace, Intergenerational Injustice, IPCC, James Hansen, Mass Extinctions, Politics, Storms of my Grandchildren, Sustainable development and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to There is no future in fossil fuels

  1. Donald says:

    Hmmm! , but isn’t it strange though that the very governments who say they agree with global warming and are taking steps to reduce CO2 are also the very same ones who recently removed all incentives and subsidies for non-fossil fuel technology? 😦

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    • klem says:

      Yup, that’s correct. They tell the greenies that they care about CO2 emissions, and the greenies beleive every word. Then they take the money from big oil while they quietly slash the subsidies. I love being a climate denier. We have won.

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      • pendantry says:

        Yes, congratulations. You have successfully redefined ‘winning’. By ‘winning’, the deniers have assured a loss — possibly a total loss — for us all, including you. WTG, well played.

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  2. klem says:

    “West Antarctic Ice Sheet are losing mass has doubled in the last ten years (it has already reached the rate of 250 cubic kilometres of ice per year). If it keeps doing doubling in speed every ten years it could all be gone very quickly indeed!” What?! The antarctic ice sheet is 30 million cubic km, and the west sheet is 2.2 million cubic kms. So 250 cubic kms a year is nothing, it is irrelevent, its so small I’m not convinced it can be confidently measured. And there is no way it will double every 10 years, that is merely wishful thinking by the greenies. Durban will be an epic failure. I’m getting my beer and popcorn ready, this is going to be fun. cheers

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  3. Rick_Altman says:

    Donald, as James Hansen points out, our governements have been guitly of greenwash for years and the IPCC/UNFCCC process has been a complete failure because emissions reductions won’t happen by magic; they actually require some effort be put into funding alternative energy sources. I don’t want to pre-empt next week’s posts so will leave it at that for now but, suffice it to say, your cynicism is entirely understandable.

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  4. Donald says:

    An article worth reading …. it appears we’ve gone over the edge. 😦 http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/25/science/earth/25arctic.html?ref=thebigmelt For Klem…. I too have a few doubts about CO2 but only a fool would say the world is not warming and … considering it would do no damage … why not reduce out CO2 output?

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    • Rick_Altman says:

      Skeptics who use the uncertainties to justify delaying such actions forget that uncertainty cuts both ways, and things could be far worse than forecast…” Regrettably, Donald, this warning was all too prescient. Forget “end of century“, the summer Arctic sea ice may be gone by the end of this decade!

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  5. Donald says:

    One more for Klem …………. If 130 years worth of temperature measurements alone (since 1880) cannot tell you that the world is warming then nothing ever will; regardless of the cause, it is obvious that we are in a clear and present stage of warming unparalleled in world history. I invite you to look at my figures and tell me what might be wrong with them, btw, these figures are all mine, it took me over a year to collect and verify each set of values, (no grants, all paid for by me) they do not come from source which are either pro or against AGW but rather, ones which were neutral in their stance. If you disagree with them perhaps you can show me where I’m wrong. 😦

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