Base Economics, Finance and Governance on Reality says UN
Welcome to the latest issue of Need to Know: Science & Insight, a new form of personal journalism that looks at what we Need-to-Know at this time of pandemic, existential crisis of climate change and unravelling of nature’s life supports.
Making Peace With Nature is a new United Nations blueprint on how to tackle climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution. It’s based on a year-long synthesis of several major UN scientific assessment reports. I asked co-author Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AND Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), to sum up our situation here on planet Earth.
“As scientists the more we learn about what is happening, the more worried we’ve become,” said Watson.
“The risks humanity faces are far worse than they were 20 or even 10 years ago.”
Ok so things aren’t great and getting worse.
Humanity’s to do list
What’s to be done to end the multiple threats to civilization? Just achieve these three things:
How to improve your BS detector about Texas Blackout lies and other distortions
We’re in the middle of a storm of lies, distortions and misinformation. It’s going to get worse when it comes to vaccines, climate change, alternative energy, and other solutions to bring about a transition to a sustainable, zero-carbon future.
I’ve been navigating through this mire for 25 years, including the recent Texas blackout. A subscriber prompted me to share with you some Need-to-Know tools I use to keep my BS detector robust and well tuned
Recently a subscriber asked me about an “intriguing and somewhat disturbing” video from Prager University about renewable energy.
First rule: Find out who is behind the curtain
Second rule: Find out if they have an agenda
Here’s two primary tools from my BS detector kit that has a dozen more.
Sourcewatch identifies who is behind and who funds various think tanks, institutes and other organizations. They document their research and I’ve found them to be reliable.
DeSmogBlog maintains an extensive database of both individuals and organizations who try to confuse the public and stall action on climate change. International in scope. There are far more than you think — I use the search function a lot.
This week in Stephen Leahy’s Need to Know: Science and Insight
I’m happy to report that EVs are doing fine in most places. Last year car sales were down 20% in 2020 due to Covid-19, but EV sales jumped 43%.
The reason? EVs are better technology. They have better acceleration, cheaper to fuel and maintain, and there’s no noise or pollution. The Need-to-Know about EVs is that they’re just a big battery with an electric motor.
EVs are far less complex, with just 20 parts in their drive train compared to 2,000 parts in gasoline-powered car. They don’t have multi-speed transmissions, radiators, fuel injectors, gas tanks, valve trains, exhaust systems, etc. This simplicity means they are easier to manufacture. Consider the fact that Tesla’s first-ever EV sedan rolled off the production line less than 10 years ago and now Tesla is considered the most valuable automaker in the world.
Simplicity also means EVs require little to no maintenance other than brakes and tires. Electric motors are also more energy efficient which helps reduce their fuel costs. Driving an EV instead of a comparable-sized gas car can save up to $2,000 in fuel costs every year. Over five years, the savings on fuel and repairs will easily top $10,000.
Range anxiety is over!
Improvements in batteries have boosted the median range for 2020 models beyond400 kilometres on a single charge, with maximum ranges topping 650 km according to the US EPA.
Hello again, I hope you and yours are well. There’s been considerable press about the cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline but much of it lacks context and some is plain wrong. So let’s start at the heart of this 12 year saga, a school bus in Canada’s tar sands. ✓
I wasn’t going to stop for the school bus stuck in the mud outside of Fort McMurray, Alberta in the heart of the Canada’s tar sands industry but my kids insisted. It had been raining most of the week and the grassy field was soaked and slick. We stopped and got out and looked at the 12,000 kilogram bus uselessly spinning its wheels, digging deeper into the mud. Someone got the driver to stop, essentially saying you’re making a bad problem worse.
No one had a vehicle large enough to tow or push the bus which would have likely become mired as well. A few other people came by, and collectively, we came up with ideas. I thought it an impossible task for a handful of people barely able to stand in the muck ourselves. A few trials, some planks of wood and a gleeful bouncing up and down inside the back of the bus produced the unexpected result of freeing the vehicle.
I was surprised we’d done it and by my own feelings of intense satisfaction at what we strangers had collectively accomplished. By not making a bad problem worse, we figured out a way to solve it together.
Keystone XL would have added 110 millions tons of CO2
President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL (KXL) oil pipeline is an example of not making a really bad problem worse. The Need-to-Know here is that KXL would have added 110 million tons of climate-heating CO2 into the atmosphere every year for at least 50 years a study in journal Nature Climate Change reported in 2014. That’s country-sized emissions — enough to put it on the list of the top 35 worst carbon-polluting countries in the world, as I wrote in Vice at that time.
I first learned of KXL more than ten years ago and ended up writing a dozen articles about it, including how Canada’s spy agencies were monitoring KXL protestors as potential threats to national security. The 36-inch diameter pipe was intended to pump 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day from the Alberta tar sands down to US Gulf Coast for refining. Calgary-based TransCanada Pipelines, now renamed TC Energy, originally claimed the pipeline was needed for US energy security, but environmentalists said it was to be refined into diesel and exported to Europe. An interesting Need-to-Know today is that the US doesn’t need the oil and Europe doesn’t want dirty diesel. In fact, Europe bought nearly 1.4 million electric vehicles in 2020, more than any other country in the world.
In this issue of Need to Know I spent Saturday at the United Nation’s Climate Ambition Summit 2020. It was a virtual event to mark the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement on climate change. I’m happy to report there was a game-changing announcement.
When the Paris Climate Agreement was signed December 12, 2015, I wrote an article that said, with some sarcasm: ‘The Paris Agreement is a historic plan for at least 3.0 degrees C of warming’. To be clear, 3.0C would be disastrous for much of humanity, but that is what countries’ Paris commitments to cut CO2 emissions would result in. That’s a long way from their agreement to keep the heating of our atmosphere to “well below 2.0C”.
When challenged about this huge gap, many countries said they would have plans to improve their CO2 reduction efforts by 2020.
Well, 2020 is nearly over, and most countrieshaven’t put in the effort to meet their original Paris reduction pledges, never mind improving their plans. Four countries have submitted plans to improve their reduction targets. Today’s big need-to-know is that one of those ‘countries’ has the potential to be a climate-action game changer: the European Union (EU).
The EU, a 27-member country union, just made a legal commitment to cut its CO2 levels at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. Equally significant is the United Kingdom new pledge to cut emissions by 68% by 2030. And then there’s Denmark; Europe’s largest oil and gas producer. They’ve announced a phase out of all oil and gas production by 2050 and legally committed to a 70% reduction below 1990 levels by 2030.
All fossil-fuel producing countries need to phase out their production by 2050 said the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at the UN Climate Ambition Summit 2020.
“We made a promise in Paris. The children of the world are depending on us to keep that promise,” said Frederiksen.
To read more go to Need to Know: Science and Insight.
This chart shows where economic stimulus money went in a few select countries. (Green is for low carbon, red is for high carbon fossil fuels; yellow is for social and health care.)
We’re in a state of planetary emergency. And yet hardly anyone seems to know or be bothered by it. This week’s Need to Knowtakes a brief look at why we aren’t rolling out the solutions we already have to end the emergency and how having guiding principles could help.
In the immortal words of Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “Things Are Only Impossible Until They’re Not“.
In this issue of Need to Know: Science and Insight I look at how politically realistic” and “political will” maybe finally coming to together to give hope for a 1.5C to 2.0C climate future. And how 2020 proves this can be done.
The moon has no atmosphere so it is scorching hot (+100C) during the day and bitterly cold (-150C) at night. The Earth has an atmosphere made up of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases. Over 150 years ago scientists proved that CO2 traps heat from the sun. We also know without any doubt that burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal emits CO2.
Measurements, not computer models or theories, measurements show that there is now 46% more CO2 in the atmosphere than 150 years ago before massive use of fossil fuels. That extra CO2 is like putting another blanket on at night even though you are already nice and warm.
The Earth is now 1.0 C hotter on average according to the latest measurements. Heat is a form of energy and with so much more energy in our atmosphere our weather system is becoming supercharged resulting in stronger storms, worse heat waves, major changes in when and where rain falls and more.
The Carbon Law says human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must be reduced by half each decade starting in 2020. By following this “law” humanity can achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by mid-century to protect the global climate for current and future generations.
A “carbon law” is a new concept unveiled March 23 in the journal Science. It is part of a decarbonization roadmap that shows how the global economy can rapidly reduce carbon emissions, said co-author Owen Gaffney of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, one of international team of climate experts.
“Coal power plants under construction and proposed in India alone would account for roughly half of the remaining carbon budget.” –Steven Davis
To keep the global temperature rise to well below 2°C, emissions from burning fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) must peak by 2020 at the latest and fall to around zero by 2050. This is what the world’s nations agreed to at the UN’s Paris Agreement in 2015. Global temperatures have already increased 1.1 degrees C.
“After the Paris agreement we began to work on a science-based roadmap to stay well below 2C,” Gaffney told IPS.
The “carbon law” is modelled on Moore’s Law, a prediction that computer processing power doubles every 24 months. Like Moore’s, the carbon law isn’t a scientific or legal law but a projection of what could happen. Gordon Moore’s 1965 prediction ended up becoming the tech industry’s biannual goal.
A “carbon law” approach ensures that the greatest efforts to reduce emissions happen sooner not later, which reduces the risk of blowing the remaining global carbon budget, Gaffney said.
This means global CO2 emissions must peak by 2020 and then be cut in half by 2030. Emissions in 2016 were 38 billion tonnes (Gt), about the same as the previous two years. If emissions peak at 40 Gt by 2020, they need to fall to 20 Gt by 2030 under the carbon law. And then halve again in 2040 and 2050.
“Global emissions have stalled the last three years, but it’s too soon to say if they have peaked due largely to China’s incredible efforts,” he said.
“In the last decade, the share of renewables in the energy sector has doubled every 5.5 years. If doubling continues at this pace fossil fuels will exit the energy sector well before 2050,” says lead author Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
The authors pinpoint the end of coal in 2030-2035 and oil between 2040-2045 according to their “carbon law”. They propose that to remain on this trajectory, all sectors of the economy need decadal carbon roadmaps that follow this rule of thumb.
“We identify concrete steps towards full decarbonization by 2050. Businesses who try to avoid those steps and keep on tiptoeing will miss the next industrial revolution and thereby their best opportunity for a profitable future,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
Elements of these roadmaps include doubling renewables in the energy sector every 5-7 years, ramping up technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and rapidly reducing emissions from agriculture and deforestation.
The immediate must-do “no-brainer” actions to be completed by 2020 include the elimination of an estimated 600 billion dollars in annual subsidies to the fossil fuel industries and a moratorium on investments in coal. Decarbonization plans must be in place for all cities and major corporations in the industrialized world.
Rapidly growing economies in India, Indonesia and elsewhere should receive help to take a green path to prosperity. They cannot use coal as China did because CO2 emissions are cumulative and there is little room left in the global carbon budget, said Gaffney.
This is an extremely urgent issue. India is already on the brink of taking the dirty carbon path.
Davis, who was not involved in the carbon law paper, agrees that rapid decarbonization to near-zero emissions is possible. Cost breakthroughs in electrolysis, batteries, carbon capture, alternative processes for cement and steel manufacture and more will be needed, he told IPS.
All of this will require “herculean efforts” from all sectors, including the political realm, where a cost on carbon must soon be in place. Failure to succeed opens the door to decades of climate catastrophe.