Watching MSNBC this morning and there is a segment on climate change with Bill Nye. It’s good to hear Bill not pull punches like others are doing. He’s got a new series on Peacock where he explores various threats to life on earth.
In the interview, Willie Geist was gently minimizing the risk. So many couch questions and comments with lots of uncertainty about temperature increases. The impression is that this current heat wave is an outlier and everyone can just cross their fingers that next year will be back to normal.
The current weather used to be outlier behavior but as temperatures have increased, what used to be normal weather has become the outlier and excess heat has become the norm.
This animated chart by climate scientist Ed Hawkins and shows the issue. The temperatures have been increasing for a century but most of the increase has come recently. The year to year changes have been getting bigger. The heating is accelerating. Note how the last few years in that graph almost stand alone. That trend indicates the coming years will also be radically warmer. Anyone hoping the climate will spontaneously cool is pissing into the wind. That is not going to happen. We may have a cooler year every now and then but those are now the outliers. This chart is actual global temperatures. Real data in the can. It’s not a simulation.
Our only solution to this is to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. That’s the heat engine that feeds everything else. We can shade the earth with aerosols or even space shades but crop yields will suffer.
If we want temperatures to return to the normals we had 10-20 years ago, that means pulling the CO2 back out that we pumped in over the last 20-40 years. That is gigatons of CO2. If we leave the CO2 in the atmosphere, it traps more heat and further acidifies the oceans. I don’t want to give the impression this is easy. It’s not. And it takes a lot of energy to do. It’s expensive.
We have two huge hurdles and the more we do now to mitigate this, the less CO2 makes it into the atmosphere and the less we have to remove.
But the people who add uncertainty to what is coming do a disservice. Not attacking Geist and he wasn’t overly optimistic. But he left the door open for uncertainty and there is none. Uncertainty lets others think there is wiggle room. Maybe it’s not even true? It lets others think we have time to waste. We don’t.
Anything we do to reduce CO2 emissions buys time but the way things are going, we will probably run out of time as more ecosystems collapse, more species disappear, etc. If we want the environment to survive - which is necessary for us to survive - we need to get busy.
Back in 1973, OPEC embargoed oil to the US and we immediately went into a lower energy state. Auto manufacturers started making smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles. People started adding solar panels to heat air and water directly. People pushed for expanded public transportation, bikes, etc.
The difference was that was forced on us and we responded. Now it’s a “choice” (kind of like getting vaccinated). I'm not hopeful but maybe the people of earth will surprise me.
But there is no uncertainty except that around when enough ecosystems collapse that countries start starving or if we will have the will to prevent that - if we aren’t already past the point of no return. We can get far enough along that nothing we do changes the outcome. Those are the tipping points and why we are flirting with absolute disaster. If we don’t act, though, all that bad stuff will come true. It just will. You can only turn the heat up so much before we kill the planet.
Edit - And for anyone who might be wondering how this could be? How could a whole planet have let things get this bad? Money. The fossil fuel industry was flush with cash when the consequences of global warming were first looked at in depth - at Exxon under Rex Tillerson. They turned their standards organization (American Petroleum Institute) into a propaganda mouthpiece and invested heavily in republican campaigns. Oilmen and other fossil fuel candidates even landed high offices where they could influence and control legislation. It’s why the oil industry is STILL subsidized with taxpayer money.
It wasn’t just here. Various oil/coal/gas producing nations have heavily fossil fuel supported governments. Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Russia, etc. The fossil fuel industry has kept a stranglehold on governments to prevent any reduction in use. Ask Joe Manchin, Dick Cheney, or George W. Bush about their stances on fossil fuels and we got off lucky with fuel efficiency standards, clean air laws, etc. It’s far worse in other countries where you have Putin and MBS controlling things.
The world is facing a very dim and expensive future now. We can’t just stop using fossil fuels. We now are to the point that we will also need to scrub many gigatons (see graph) of CO2 out of the atmosphere. The earth is too hot now and even if we stopped all fossil fuel use today, because we aren’t at equilibrium, the planet will still continue to heat for years. This is all thanks to the total disregard for the planet’s future and the blood lust for money and the ability to live like kings - for a while. And what’s worse is they knew what they were doing. Rex Tillerson sure knew - Even now when you see the ads talking up the fossil fuel industry where they brag about taxes and jobs - it’s all excuses to keep the money coming. They know it yet they continue to lie and deceive while sentencing the planet to a heat death.
1000 million metric tons = 1 gigaton