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Cole writes: "It strikes me as darkly humorous that we, the most intelligent species ever to have evolved on earth, homo sapiens (evolved circa 190,000 years ago), were so clever that around 1750 we started burning so much wood, coal and later on oil and natural gas that we started changing our own climate so much that it may threaten our survival."

Daniel Nazarian, of American Solar Energy Solutions, with a new installation in Los Angeles. (photo: Ann Johansson/NYT)
Daniel Nazarian, of American Solar Energy Solutions, with a new installation in Los Angeles. (photo: Ann Johansson/NYT)

Fate of 190,000-Years-Old Human Race Depends on Massive Greening Effort Over Just 30 Years

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

08 October 18


t strikes me as darkly humorous that we, the most intelligent species ever to have evolved on earth, homo sapiens (evolved circa 190,000 years ago), were so clever that around 1750 we started burning so much wood, coal and later on oil and natural gas that we started changing our own climate so much that it may threaten our survival. And, in a new scientific report, scientists’ hair is on fire, and they are warning us as vehemently as these polite researchers know how that we have to be net zero carbon by 2050, and we have to jump on getting there RIGHT NOW, during the next decade. Or else, Very Bad Things will happen.

We have to go to war, folks. This challenge is like when Hitler took over all of mainland Europe and the US geared up to go defeat him. The climate crisis is also a genocidal maniac.

The IPCC report says that if we push the global average surface temperature of the earth up only by about 2.7 degrees F. (1.5ºC), it will be *much* better than if we push it up to 3.6º F. (2º C.) or more (and it can go up 10 degrees F. if we really want it to). Remember, we are talking about an average increase of 3.6 degrees F. That includes the surface of the oceans, which is cold, and the two poles, etc. So in Alabama or Arizona, it will be *way* more than a 3.6 degrees F. increase.

The difference between a 2.7 degrees increase and 3.6 could be 4 inches that the seas don’t rise. Four inches don’t seem like that much, but if you live in Palm Beach it is the difference between your house flooding or not.

The IPCC says that coral reefs would decline by 70 – 90 percent with global warming of 2.7 degrees F., whereas virtually all (more than 99 percent) would be lost with a 3.6 degrees F. increase. Coral reefs are where fish hide from predators and multiply and feed. They also help protect coasts from storm surges. You need coral reefs way more than you know and it is better NOT TO KILL THEM ALL.

Here is a graphic from Carbon Brief that shows the difference:

The IPCC press release says, “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5 ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long – lasting or irreversible changes, such as the los s of some ecosystems,” said Hans – Otto Pörtner, Co – Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

We still have the opportunity to shape our climate future (and if you love that toddler in your life you’d better try). But some change has already been built in, since we put the parts per million in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide (CO2) up from 170 ppm to 410 ppm since 1750, and CO2 is a powerful heat-trapping gas. We are on track to go on up to 600 ppm of CO2 and maybe more if we go on drive gasoline cars and generating our electricity with coal. In my state, Michigan, 37% of our electricity still comes from coal, which is a crime against humanity and against the earth. Natural gas is now cheaper than coal and is replacing it, but burning it puts CO2 up there, too. Only 8 percent of our energy is renewables, for which our supposedly high-tech governor Rick Snyder and AG Bill Schuette are directly responsible, since they are in the back pocket of big oil.

The earth gets heat from the rays of the sun striking its surface, but a great deal of that heat just radiates back off into outer space. Some gases, like methane and carbon dioxide, if they are present in great amounts in the atmosphere, stop the heat from radiating away, and keep it on earth. That is why Venus is a boiling hell where lead runs in streams on the surface–it has *a lot* of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere. We’re not in danger of making ourselves Venus, but we could give the whole world a sweltering tropical climate with mega-storms and big time sea-level rise that will submerge a third of the land mass and make civilization much more difficult.

h/t NASA: “The atmosphere radiates the equivalent of 59% of incoming sunlight back to space as thermal infrared energy, or heat. Where does the atmosphere get its energy? The atmosphere directly absorbs about 23% of incoming sunlight, and the remaining energy is transferred from the Earth’s surface by evaporation (25%), convection (5%), and thermal infrared radiation (a net of 5-6%).”

It isn’t so hard, folks. And it isn’t expensive. It will actually save us all massive amounts of money.

Above all, elect Green politicians. Government has the levers necessary to make things happen quickly.

If you can, take public transportation to work.

If you have to drive and can afford one, get an electric car as your next vehicle. They aren’t expensive any more. The average transaction price in the US this year for light vehicles is $35,000. There are EVs that start at $22,000. If you can afford more, you can get a Chevy Bolt or similar for $35,000 and can deduct $7,500 from your taxes, so it gets down into the $20ks. The Bolt has a range of 250 miles on a charge and has great pick-up. A lot of cities have free electric stations in parking lots so that your fuel is free.

If you are a homeowner, put solar panels on your roof. They’ve come down *a lot* in price. If you combine panels with an electric car, you get free fuel for the car and a much reduced electric bill and pay off the panels in about 6 years. After that the free electricity is cream. My average summer electricity bill with solar panels is like $14 a month. If you are going to be in your house more than 10 years, you are costing yourself money by not having solar panels.

Give up eating beef. (Chicken and other fish and fowl are o.k.)

As individuals, most of our carbon footprint is electricity and transportation. But we have to take collective action. If you are a renter, propose panels on top of the building to the landlord. Try to get electric charging stations in your parking lot. Lobby your city and state to put in pro-green legislation. As consumers, we should be buying from corporations that aren’t polluting, like IKEA, rather than from ones that do. Look it up before you go shopping.

Students should lobby their universities. I am ashamed to say that my own, the University of Michigan, has no significant plans to reduce its over 600,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually below 500,000 tons any time in the near future. I doubt if more than 3% of its electricity comes from green sources. They greenwash this as a 25% reduction goal but it is a trick since it is based on 2006 after a huge run-up in emissions. The baseline should be 1990.

In contrast, the University of Hawaii and Stanford have plans to go 100% green on the timeline that the UN scientists recommend. The University of Michigan just raised $5 billion from alumni, and could easily get them to pay for a net carbon zero university.

If the intellectual cream of the country at a “Public Ivy” like Michigan can’t get off its duff and address the climate emergency with more urgency than this, then we almost deserve to go extinct.

The students at universities that drag their feet like this should be in the square protesting and screaming bloody murder. We geezers who are in charge of universities just have a prospect of milder winters in our retirement years, around the corner. You 20-year-olds are going to get slammed with the hurricanes and droughts and wildfires and sea level rise and ocean acidification that threatens sea life.

The IPCC report concludes with Things that Must be Done:

    “some countries have adopted clean energy and sustainable transport while creating environmentally friendly jobs and supporting social welfare programs to reduce domestic poverty. Other examples te ch us about different ways to promote development through practices inspired by community values. For instance, Buen Vivir , a Latin American concept based on indigenous ideas of communities living in harmony with nature, is aligned with peace, diversity, solidarity, rights to education, health, and safe food, water, and energy, and well-being and justice for all. The Transition Movement, with origins in Europe, promotes equitable and resilient communities through low-carbon living, food self -sufficiency, and citizen science. Such examples indicate that pathways that reduce poverty and inequalities while limiting warming to 1.5°C are possible and that they can provide guidance on pathways towards socially desirable, equitable, and low-carbon futures.”

This Vox article has useful graphics for seeing the difference.

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-5 # indian weaving 2018-10-08 16:23
Wishful thinking and calculations are worthless. All life on earth will be extinct soon, a dead planet burning up everything and maybe even itself as the 40+ synergistic heating cycles so far identified go nuclear with accelerating heating, thereby melting down and turning to ash the entire planet. This is not your run of the mill extinction by natural causes. It is the final extinction of life on this incredibly beautiful planet. Too bad it's over. I'm glad I'm too old to see the coming horror and tragedies.
+1 # AldoJay69 2018-10-09 09:49
+4 # economagic 2018-10-09 15:28
For now, you are making your own horror and tragedies.

Yes, the situation is dire, especially the abased consciousness of most world leaders. But as the IGPCC report makes clear, even at this late date there is still a fairly certain path to a maximum average rise of 2 degrees C, possibly even to only 1.5 degrees, BUT . . . ONLY if those "leaders" can be replaced or be convinced to undertake a worldwide mobilization that is metaphorically that for the Apollo Project MULTIPLIED by that for World War II, beginning now. A coordinated effort on that scale has never even been imagined--until now.

The future is unknown and unknowable. Trying to predict it in advance is a fool's game, and insisting that doom is inevitable before it happens is just another stick on the fire that brings it about.
0 # DudeistPriest 2018-10-09 15:29
The horror and tragedies are already here, you just happen to live in the middle latitudes where the effects have not been as severe. The major effects now are hitting the tropics and the poles. Those in the tropics are seeing the failure of subsistence farming, and, no longer able to feed themselves, driving the migration pushing into Europe and the US. It will get worse. The worst effects are being seen in the polar regions where no one lives, so many of these effects go unnoticed and unreported.
As far as fixing the problem, I expect little to be done. Hell, the MSM is hardly even reporting it, let alone pushing for a solution. Cole's 30 years is a joke, it's more like 10 to 12 years. We really are just boiling frogs. So unless you're planning to die real soon, you'll get to see plenty of horror and tragedy.
+1 # DudeistPriest 2018-10-10 12:04
Read it and weep.

Nature always bats last.
+2 # DudeistPriest 2018-10-10 13:12
Just 90 companies are to blame for most climate change, this 'carbon accountant' says.
+2 # jwb110 2018-10-08 22:51
If the human race goes extinct in 10 years we might make the 2050 dateline.
0 # janie1893 2018-10-09 00:52
Human beings are the most intelligent creatures in the universe!!! And we are special in the eyes of God!!! Ergo, we can continue to be parasites on the planet!!!
+1 # economagic 2018-10-09 15:31
Kurt Vonnegut's 1985 novel "Galapagos" imagines a distant future in which the Big Brain Experiment has been proven to be a failure, and humans have devolved into more gentle creatures on the order of manatees.
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-09 20:41
yeah -- and who calls this intelligence? Oh, it is the humans.

Reminds me of an Aesop's fable about a man who is telling a lion that humans are braver and stronger than lions as he is showing the lion a picture of a human stabbing a lion to death. The lion responds, "who painted the lion?"

Is lying about one's condition intelligence? Or is it ignorance.
+1 # randrjwr 2018-10-10 12:22
You ask: "Is lying about one's condition intelligence? Or is it ignorance."

Look at Trump; the answer is obvious.
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-10 20:56
Who accused Trump of being intelligent? He's a con artist and they have a certain knack for reading people. He seems about to get the best of a lot of media types. But that's not intelligence. It is corruption and con artistry.

You can't have intelligence without a moral sensibility. Amoral people cannot be intelligent. They are missing the key quality of intelligence.
+1 # draypoker 2018-10-10 18:28
"Human beings are the most intelligent creatures in the universe!"

We know nothing about other inhabitants of the universe - though I am sure there are many. I suspect we may well be a rather undeveloped species, still learning and perhaps in quarantine until we show some signs of intelligence.
0 # randrjwr 2018-10-10 20:34
Reminds me of a quote from a long-ago "Calvin and Hobbs" strip. They are stargazing and Hobbs wonders aloud if there is intelligent life "out there." Calvin replies: "The best evidence for intelligent life in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." Works for me.
+9 # futhark 2018-10-09 07:33
Almost everyone has been taught in school about the 15th and 16th century explorations that gave humanity a comprehensive idea of Earth's geography. Much less well taught or learned are the concepts of Deep Space, recognized only about 100 years ago and Deep Time, again only confirmed within the past century. Consequently, much of the thinking and planning of our economic institutions of industry and agriculture are carried out by people who just have not integrated these kinds of long term perspectives into their thinking. Being in the black during the current quarter or fiscal year takes precedence over the viability of productivity for centuries and generations to come.

The Trumplican approach to economics plainly reveals the dangers of such a myopic view: exploit fossil fuels to the max for short-term gain, depriving our descendants of access to them as chemical feedstocks, and setting up a tax system that causes the national debt to skyrocket, burdening future generations with higher taxes to support this debt, but with no recourse at the polls to discipline the legislators that enacted it (taxation without representation) . If industrial pollution causes long term environmental damage, tough! The stockholders, corporate board members, and CEOs won't be around when the hammer drops on that one, either. We need leaders who are better educated and can articulate approaches that factor in Deep Time.
-1 # DudeistPriest 2018-10-09 15:38
There is no time to find and elect better educated leaders. What is needed is a revolt against a system that doesn't give a damn about anyone who is not in the one percent. Not just here, but worldwide. I am not counting on it, people are too distracted and too disorganized. The politicians will continue to act like circus clowns, distracting the people with their petty disagreements over bullshit while the world burns.
+8 # economagic 2018-10-09 08:53
A couple of small beefs regarding the science: The problem with methane is not so much its carbon, a little less than oil, but methane, which is not as persistent in the atmosphere but is some 80 times as potent as CO2 while it's there. Also, the actions required will indeed be VERY expensive in the short run, but nowhere near as expensive as if we start trying to do it a decade from now, just as it will be much more expensive starting today than it would have been had we started a decade ago.

But Cole is an historian, not a scientist, and the article is fundamentally sound. There are several other summaries including one from the IGPCC itself (33 pages, for policymakers). I will post links later today if no one else has done so.

+9 # Kootenay Coyote 2018-10-09 09:25
Every one jumps to work when war is declared, no one jumps to work for Climate...yet.
+3 # economagic 2018-10-09 15:33
"Our mission, should we decide to accept it. . . ."
+3 # AlexG 2018-10-09 17:02
Unfortunately, because of the USA's huge physical contribution to the AGW problem plus our de facto status as an allegedly-human ist & rational, 'exemplar' nation, the leadership that the USA now undertakes --or fails to quickly undertake -- on this all important global issue, may well be decisive to the outcome.
I say "unfortunately" because the USA's political economy is presently/struc turally incapable of generating such rational-humani st leadership internally, or of thus projecting or credibly exemplifying anything resembling said leadership, internationally , anytime soon.
There is, though, some realistic ground for hope that other powerful political economies, that're less mass deluded about the AGW crisis than we deeply unconscious Yanks are, will act internationally -in-concert to isolate and supervene the USA's planet-risking, narcissistic hubris.
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-09 20:30
I've never thought that the apocalyptic fear mongering of Cole and the scientists did any good for the problem of carbon fuel consumption. He says we have to get to zero carbon burning or life on the planet will end. No one can imagine that. No one has any idea of what zero carbon use would be.

Cole does get to practical remedies later in the essay. This is where the focus should be. Only a puritanical zealot thinks you can scare people into being good. I think most people would conclude from the climate apocalypse predicted here that there is no use -- why not live as large as possible until the end comes. Go out in a blasé. We can't fix the errors of the last 1000 years anyway.

I would say give up on the puritanical bible besting about fire and brimstone. I think Cotton Mather actually produced more atheists than zealots like himself. Focus on the real material things that can be done. There are model cities and institutions that need publicity. It is better to talk about them and leave the scare mongering out of it.
0 # Caliban 2018-10-15 22:43
"Go out in a blasé"? Don't you mean a "blaze"? As in -- a fire caused by global warming?
0 # economagic 2018-10-10 08:18
Well said, but the very nature of the situation you describe (complex systems, chaotic behavior in the technical sense of "chaos") makes it impossible to rule out unforeseeable emergent phenomena. It could never have been predicted that either Churchill or FDR would have emerged as the brilliant orator and leader that each of them became in extremis. Of course that does not in any way guarantee that we will be "saved" by the emergence of such a leader, here or elsewhere.
+5 # Adoregon 2018-10-09 21:24

Too Many People (exacerbate all of the above)

Chill on reproducing.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-10-10 21:02
ador -- I'm not sure it is the quantity of people that is the problem. 70% of all greenhouse gas is produced by 20% of the people on earth. These are people who are very wealthy and can afford 10,000 sq foot houses, yachts, many cars, and all the rest.

The real environmental problem is wealth, and the extreme inequality in wealth. The wealthiest nations have negative population growths but positive growth in carbon fuel use.

The second biggest problem is militaries. They are the #1 polluters on earth and #1 consumers of fossil fuel.

Poor families with lots of kids use very little carbon fuel.
+3 # Allears 2018-10-10 12:32
RR 'go out in a blasé' that is exactly what the so-called developed world is doing, unbeknownst to themselves, because they're not thinking too hard about it. Just go to any parking lot in North America and observe how many unnecessarily large gas-guzzling vehicles are taking up a lot more than their fair space.& #Adoregon-FINAL LY!someone else who dares to name the number one problem-too many of us humans. Mother Nature will soon, and has perhaps already begun to, take care of the oversupply of us. The small pockets on the planet where people become environmental refugees will keep blooming into larger and larger areas and as pointed out, the large numbers of persons fleeing to Europe is just a tip of the iceberg. When the developed world realize they no longer have sufficient resources to can no longer support the influxes of climate refugees, that is, without changing their comfortable resource-glutto nous lives, the picture will not be pretty. If our world population was even half of what it is, I wonder how long before the strain of over-consumptio n on the planet would irrevocably break the systems that have supported life here for millions of years.

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