The Next Environmental Crisis – Watts Up With That?

Reposted from Dr. Judith Curry’s Climate Etc.

by Judith Curry

Are our present options solely a brief time period repair?

On Monday November 15, I might be taking part in an iaiLIVE debate on The Next Environmental Crisis. From the iai web site:

The brand new clear vitality economic system, endorsed by governments and campaigners, guarantees to avoid wasting usfrom environmental catastrophe. However worries are rising that we could possibly be heading to a new future disaster.  In a long time to return some argue we might be struggling to comprise the big environmental harm attributable to billions of extremely poisonous and unrecyclable photo voltaic cells and automobile batteries, together with newly commissioned nuclear crops, whereas the web itself, bitcoin mining included, consumes uncontrollable quantities of vitality.

Are the issues of the surroundings much more difficult than we predict? Will the brand new economic system save us, or are the present technical options a quick time period repair? Is relentless consumption and progress itself responsible for our environmental points?  Or can we depend on humanity’s capacity to clear up the following disaster that we could also be within the strategy of inflicting now? 

Cosmologist, astrophysicist, and Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, award profitable economist and Professor of Environmental Economics Thomas Sterner, and controversial climatologist Judith Curry be a part of us to ask if we’re heading in direction of a brand new environmental disaster.

This must be a really fascinating occasion. Every of the panelists has been requested to answer the next questions

Will the brand new, inexperienced vitality economic system ushered in by governments save us from environmental catastrophe?

  1. Is the environmental disaster the best menace that humanity faces, and in that case, how can we determine this?
  2. Is relentless consumption and progress responsible for our present predicament?
  3. Can we depend on humanity’s capacity to unravel future crises of this type?

A draft of my responses is appended beneath:

Will the brand new, inexperienced vitality economic system ushered in by governments save us from environmental catastrophe?

For the previous century, fossil fuels have been the spine of our vitality and transportation programs, offering the engine for our ever-increasing prosperity.

Even with out the mandate related to international warming and different environmental points, we’d anticipate a pure transition away from fossil fuels over the course of the 21st century, as they grow to be extra costly to extract and proceed to contribute to geopolitical instability.

The issue is with the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels, pushed by fears about international warming.  By quickly transitioning to this so-called clear vitality economic system, we’re taking a giant step backwards in human growth and prosperity. Nations are coming to grips with their rising over dependence on wind and photo voltaic vitality.  Considerations about not assembly electrical energy wants this winter are leading to a close to time period reliance on coal in Europe and Asia. And we ignore the environmental impacts of mining and poisonous waste from photo voltaic panels and batteries, and the destruction of raptors by wind generators.

To thrive within the 21st century, the world will want way more vitality. Of course we favor our vitality to be clear, in addition to low-cost.  To get there, we’d like new applied sciences.  Essentially the most promising proper now’s small modular nuclear reactors.  However there are additionally thrilling advances in geothermal, hydrogen and others. And the expertise panorama will look completely different even 10 years from now. 

For the previous twenty years, folks have equated environmental catastrophe with artifical international warming.  We’ve been listening to concerning the local weather disaster, local weather disasterexistential menace and most lately a code crimson for humanity.  Be aware that the IPCC itself does not use the phrases ‘disaster’, ‘disaster’, and even ‘harmful’; quite it makes use of the time period ‘causes for concern.’ Aside from the scientific uncertainties, the weakest a part of the UN’s argument about artifical international warming is that it’s harmful. The hyperlink to hazard depends on linking warming to excessive climate occasions, which is a tenous hyperlink at greatest.

I’ve an old style view of environmental issues, targeted on air pollution of air, water, soils and the oceans, and in addition on land use that destroys habitats and diminishes species range.

In 50 years time, we could also be trying again on the UN local weather insurance policies, and this so-called inexperienced economic system, as utilizing chemotherapy to attempt to remedy a head chilly, all of the whereas ignoring extra critical ailments.   In different phrases, the local weather disaster narrative will get in the way in which of actual options to our societal and environmental issues.

Theme 1: Is the environmental disaster the best menace that humanity faces, and in that case, how can we determine this?

In 2018, World Well being Group acknowledged that “Local weather change is the best menace to international well being within the twenty first century.”  From the attitude of 2021, after virtually two years of combating Covid with over 5 million deaths, this assertion appears unlucky at greatest.  We must be asking the query as as to whether the WHO’s give attention to local weather change contributed to the world being unwell ready for Covid-19.

Local weather change is only one of many potential threats dealing with our world at the moment, a degree made clear by the Covid-19 pandemic. Why ought to local weather change be prioritized over different threats? There’s a big selection of threats that we may face within the twenty first century: Carrington occasions are photo voltaic electromagnetic storms that may take out all space-based electronics together with GPS and electrical energy transmission traces; future pandemics; international monetary collapse; a mega volcanic eruption; a cascade of errors that triggers a thermonuclear, biochemical or cyber battle; the rise of terrorism.  It’s virtually sure that we’ll be stunned by threats that we haven’t even imagined but.  Huge sums spent on trying to stop local weather change come from the identical funds that successfully maintain our insurance coverage in opposition to all threats; this give attention to local weather change may general improve our vulnerability to different threats.

So, how can we prioritize among the many threats dealing with humanity?  For essentially the most half, we can’t.  The perfect insurance coverage in opposition to any and all of those threats is to attempt to perceive them, whereas growing the general resilience of our societies.  Prosperity is the most effective the indicator of resilience.  Resilient societies that study from earlier threats are greatest ready to be anti-fragile and reply to no matter threats the long run holds.

Theme 2: Is relentless consumption and progress responsible for our present predicament?  

I’m undecided what our present predicament really is, aside from the one manufactured by the worldwide politics surrounding local weather change.   Extra affluent societies general have a smaller impression on their surroundings than nations that interact in whole-scale exploitation of their surroundings simply to survive.  

Environmental issues have been outlined as issues of inhabitants progress.  Inhabitants increase has been enabled by technological and medical developments.  Within the early 21st century, inhabitants is rising most quickly in much less developed nations, whereas Japan and lots of nations in western Europe having fertility charges which are effectively beneath substitute.  Aside from modifications in inhabitants, as nations develop, their consumption will increase.   

Growing nations don’t simply need to survive, they need to thrive. We want a lot extra electrical energy, not much less.  Occurring an vitality weight loss plan like we did within the 1970’s is off the desk.  We want extra electrical energy to assist innovation and thrivability within the 21st century.   Consumption and progress will proceed to increase all through the 21st century.  We have to settle for this premise, after which determine how we will handle this progress whereas defending our surroundings.  

 Theme 3: Can we depend on humanity’s capacity to unravel future crises of this type?

People are essentially the most adaptable species that has ever existed on Planet Earth, a species so refined that it will probably survive in outer area.  The planet has been warming for greater than a century.  To this point, the world has achieved an honest job at adapting to this alteration.  The yields for a lot of crops have doubled and even quadruped since 1960. Over the previous century, the variety of deaths per million folks from climate and local weather catastrophes have dropped by 97%Losses from international climate disasters as a p.c of GDP have declined over the previous 30 years.

It’s an unlimited problem to attenuate the environmental impression on the planet of 8 billion folks.  I’ve no query that human ingenuity is as much as the duty of higher offering for the wants and desires of Earth’s human inhabitants, whereas supporting habitats and species range.  However this difficulty is the key problem for the following millennium.  It’s a fancy problem that extends effectively past understanding the Earth system and creating new applied sciences – it additionally contains governance and social values.

To make progress on this, we have to disabuse ourselves of the hubris that we will management the Earth’s local weather and stop excessive climate occasions.  The urgency of transitioning from fossil fuels to wind and photo voltaic vitality underneath the auspices of the UN agreements has sucked the oxygen from the room. There’s no area left for imagining what our 21st century infrastructure may appear like, with new applied sciences and better resilience to excessive climate occasions, and even to take care of conventional environmental issues.

Below the auspices of the UN Framework Conference on Local weather Change, we’ve oversimplified a really complicated downside. The causes of local weather variability and alter are complicated, and any predictions of 21st century local weather change are related to deep uncertainty. We stand to make the general state of affairs worse with the simplistic resolution of urgently changing fossil fuels with wind and photo voltaic, which could have a barely noticeable impression on the local weather of the 21st century.

People do have the power to unravel future crises of this type.  Nevertheless, additionally they have the capability to make issues a lot worse by oversimplifying complicated environmental points and politicizing the science, which might result in maladaptation and poor coverage selections.

JC word: It’s worthwhile to register (and pay) to listen to this stay. I perceive {that a} youtube might be ready of the highlights, and the complete recording will finally be made out there on the iaiLive web site.

I look ahead to your feedback on my remarks.

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