As I’m sure you’ve learned from the media, the news on climate change is not good. Past readers of my blog have perhaps thought me the Grinch of a hopeful future in presenting climate science data and news reports, along with my cautiously pessimistic interpretations. However, with the release of this report, which is a synthesis of dozens of long-term studies interpreted by a large panel of climate scientists, the next twenty to thirty years portend really disastrous consequences if we don’t achieve zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions AND carbon capture.
So, why am I cautiously pessimistic even though the climate scientists say this is technically feasible? After all, aren’t we making great strides on renewable energy? Yes, but new technologies, alone, won’t save the day! Take the automobile, for example. By 2035 nearly all-new vehicles will be electrically powered. This is good, right? Well, what about all the older fossil-fuel-driven vehicles that will still be on the road? Will all the power generation to manufacture new vehicles be fossil-fuel-free? How about the additional mining of heavy metals necessary for batteries? Will mining production be fossil-fuel-free? How about the processing and shipment of these materials? All these might be possible, but not in the near future. Instead, what we need to do is eliminate most cars and light trucks and rely on public transportation (made even less by the pandemic) and delivery vehicles.
Government and industry need a more activist push to make the needed changes to zero emissions. Although our youth are far more environmentally activist than the rest of us, most people don’t want to give up the creature comforts and conveniences of the industrialized era. And these issues run across all manufacturing, services, and transportation. This transformation is what I’ve called, micro-industrialization.
I think our more likely destiny is to heat the planet past the 2.0 C increase since the 1880 average BEFORE the end of the century, leading to disastrous changes to our biosphere. Our lack of sufficient political will is not our only political challenge. We are already at the point where increased temperatures are releasing methane (a far more potent GHG) from industrialized animal farming, the distribution of natural gas, tundra, peat bogs, and the oceans.
Furthermore, pollution from industry and the growing frequency and intensity of wildfires settle on snow and ice, particularly in the Arctic regions. This particulate reduces the ability of snow and ice to reflect heat and contributes to the acceleration of their melting. As if these factors aren’t bad enough, we will eventually run out of natural resources for manufacturing in the not too distant future. One way or another, large-scale industrialization will end as a blip in the Earth’s history. But a very impactful blip, indeed.
Citation: IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S. L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M. I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J. B. R. Matthews, T. K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.
The full report can be found here.