A New Angle on Climate Change

Atmosphere of Hope

Pirate TV (2015)

Film Review

Atmosphere of Hope is a recent talk in which Australian environmentalist Tim Flannery summarizes the prospects for limiting and reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. Flannery is a new breed of environmentalist who questions the value of climate alarmism.

The upcoming COP21 conference in Paris will be very different from past climate conferences in that participating countries have already committed to specific emission reduction targets. Because these commitments have been made public (see How COP21 commitments stack up) environmentalists can already predict the effect they will have on total CO2 levels.

Thanks to the recent “decoupling” of reduced fossil fuel use and economic growth, Flannery is extremely confident that most governments will keep their commitments. While these targets are inadequate to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade (and preserving civilization as we know it), Flannery is extremely confident that new carbon capture technologies will make up the shortfall.

Successfully Decoupling Fossil Fuels and Economic Growth

The main argument our political leaders give against reducing fossil fuel consumption is the negative effect on economic growth. Thanks to a big drop in the cost of renewable energy (and a big increase in energy efficiency), this argument no longer holds water. Between 2013 and 2014 there was no increase in global fossil fuel consumption (causing an oil glut that dropped prices to $40 a barrel). Yet the global economy continued to grow, thanks to the substitution of cheap renewable energy for fossil fuels.

Flannery also believes that “wavy energy” technology also played a big role in this decoupling. “Wavy energy” refers to a distributed grid technology (developed in Germany) that compensates for the intermittent nature of solar and wind energy – at any given moment some place in Germany is generating some form of renewable energy.

The Role of Carbon Capture Technologies

For me the most interesting part of the talk was the discussion of all the new carbon capture technologies being developed. Flannery divides geoengineering technologies into two categories. The first, which he refers to as “second way, “involves blocking sunlight by injecting sulfur based chemicals into the stratosphere. In his view, this is highly dangerous due to the risk of climate rebound effects (to say nothing of the health effects of the chemicals).

In contrast, “third way geoengineering” technologies remove CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it. There are further subdivided into biological (natural) and chemical (industrial) based technologies. The latter require external energy input, which means they only reduce CO2 concentrations if they employ renewable energy.

Examples of biological third way technologies include
• Reforestation
• Biochar (charcoal produced from plant matter and stored in the soil as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere)
• Wood waste based plastics
• Carbon farming – Australia rewards farmers for replacing annual grasses and crops with perennial varieties that store carbon.

Examples of chemical third way technologies include
• Carbon negative concrete which absorbs CO2 over its lifetime
• Crushed serpentinites – minerals that capture CO2 as they weather and can be used for beaches, playgrounds, smoke stacks and carbon negative roof paint.
• CO2 based plastics
• CO2 based carbon fiber (used in the Boeing dream liner and carbon fiber cars) – would be cheaper than current carbon fiber, aluminum or steal
• A South Korean technology that employs used coffee grounds to capture methane.
• Chiller boxes in Antarctica – powered by wind energy, they would cause CO2 to solidify and fall as snow and then bury it under regular snow.

14 thoughts on “A New Angle on Climate Change

    • Hi Ron,

      You sum up my opinion succinctly on the CO2 issue.

      I think that there are good reasons to be suspicious of the drive to curtail emissions: the creation of profit based carbon credit trading; tighter control over far flung resources by the already monopolistically dominant economic Western block; the current trend in fossil fuel divestment resulting in the cheapening of fossil fuel extracting assets – that is, working class investments, pooled in retirement funds and such, managed by establishment professionals, are being unloaded on the cheap on the pretext that enforced emission reductions will drastically erode the value of the investments in the future, while in the present, the divestment drive itself is undermining the value of the assets, and where someone is liquidating, someone is buying (I wonder who?). In other words, the panic over CO2 may be designed to aid and abet outright theft.

      And then there is the question of climate science itself. See, for example, Judith Curry’s blog, http://judithcurry.com/ , where you will learn that climate science is still only at its clumsy beginning, not to mention that the purported ‘scientific debate’ has by now been hijacked by political/bureaucratic factions whose livelihoods and received largesses very much depend upon adhering to the anthropogenic line.

      It is curious to me how people so aware of how we are being manipulated on so many issues — how in matters of war, for example, they easily recognize the purpose of the whipping up of fear and bogeymen — do not consider that the CO2 issue being flogged far and wide in the mainstream as the imminent destruction of life on the planet might not be another means of herding compliance and even a calculated distraction from more important issues, such as war or the poverty inducing effects of capitalism, not to mention that it is in itself a psychological displacement of outrage redirected toward a safer, more socially acceptable target.

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  1. Ron and Norman: I honestly think it would be extremely worthwhile for both of you to watch this video, given that it doesn’t mention the IPCC or carbon trading once.

    I have made an in depth study of the Hartland Foundation and their efforts to introduce scientific skepticism in this debate. I think if you follow the money, you will find there is far more corporate money (most of it by the Koch brothers and Exxon) being invested in climate denial than in limiting global warming.

    While it’s true that the insurance industry (which is suffering major losses owing to catastrophic climate events) is spending some money to promote carbon trading (which is a scam – there are no free market solutions to global warming – this is a neoliberal myth), it’s nowhere near the billions the Koch brothers are spending on climate denial – which is pretty much limited to the US I might point out.

    The current pushback against fossil fuel companies is not coming from corporate money but from the climate justice movement – from poor and indigenous people in India, China, Greece, Germany, Canada. I just saw the film This Changes Everything Last Night. Prior to seeing it, even I had no idea how massive the global movement is. The renewable energy revolution in Germany wasn’t led by corporate money – it was led from below by an extremely effective mass movement.

    Besides the fact that it’s funded by fossil fuel barons, the other major problem I have with the climate denial movement is that it exploits the really poor basic science training Americans receive in high school – putting them in a situation where they can only argue about whether the scientists are telling the truth or not. They are also really insulated – even with the Internet – from the mass movements being built in the rest of the world.

    In Europe and New Zealand, people seem to have a more commonsense attitude towards the empirical science. We see our glaciers melting, sea levels rising for our Pacific neighbors and we’re suffering severe droughts and floods. Our fish stocks and coral reefs are dying because of ocean acidification. People here are less hung up on IPCC (I doubt many Kiwis know what it is). However they do understand the carbon cycle because they learned about it in school.

    When scientists tell them about past geological history – when the planet was warmer because there was lots of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere and none locked up in fossil fuels – they believe them because it’s easily verifiable. They refuse to be drawn on the IPCC debate because it’s irrelevant. They just know that continuing to burn fossil fuels and filling the atmosphere with more greenhouse chemicals is a really bad idea.

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  2. I watched and listened attentively to Flannery’s disquisition. He is a person already convinced of the hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change. On that basis, he makes a lot of (other) arbitrary assertions about the more than likely consequences of global warming as he believes them to be, all of them dire, and ends up with proposals for developing ‘third way’ technologies for mitigating anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

    What to my mind discredits Flannery is, in the first instance, that the postulates of climate science are as yet both unverified and, at least for now, unverifiable, that is, hypotheses about what factors significantly force climate and the extent to which they do very much remain tentative in their formulations, and the methods of their verification are consequently even less worked out or elaborated. Again, an exploration of Judith Curry’s website will more than amply corroborate my assertion.

    But to offer merely one example: consider the work of Henrik Svensmark. It is known that cloud cover has a pronounced forcing effect on climate: when it is persistent, temperatures cool; when it is highly intermittent or insubstantial, temperatures rise. Clouds have an immediate and pronounced and easily observable climate forcing effect.

    Svensmark hypothesizes that the earth is, on time scales measured in the thousands of years, subject to periods that oscillate between persistent high density and intermittent low density cloud cover. This hypothesis is currently being investigated. Methods for its verification have been worked out and deployed. There is, for instance, “the cloud experiment at CERN.” There are teams making direct environmental observations, both of an astronomical and atmospheric nature. The data accumulates and is even now being parsed for a reading that will incontrovertibly either prove or falsify the hypothesis.

    But here is the rub: if Svensmark’s hypothesis is correct, it is as yet unknown to be so, and likewise if it is incorrect. But since the proof of Svensmark’s hypothesis would pretty well account for most of what we experience as climate change, the anthropogenic hypothesis might thereby be rendered more or less null and void. If this is the case, if Svensmark’s hypothesis has yet to be proven or discarded – and this is very much the case — then as a matter of elementary logic, it simply cannot be that climate science is in a position to assert that anthropogenic CO2 is the primary driver of climate change. (For reference, see: http://www.kaltesonne.de/neues-vom-svensmark-wolken-solarverstarker/ ; http://normanpilon.com/2014/01/05/the-cloud-experiment-at-cern-jasper-kirby-follows-up-on-henrik-svensmarks-work/ ; and http://normanpilon.com/2014/01/02/henrik-svensmark-cosmic-rays-solar-magnetic-radiation-and-cloud-formation-as-drivers-of-climate-change/ )

    What to my mind discredits Flannery, in the second instance, is that the probable consequences of increasing anthropogenic CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are also, at least for now, unknown and unpredictable, and yet he asserts without reservation, for example, that the Great Barrier Reef is certainly marked for extinction. Alan Longhurst, however, asserts something altogether differently qualified:

    “In the light of the studies discussed above it would appear that a reduced rate of calcification is, at least at present, a negligible factor in whatever it is that ails Great Barrier Reef corals. It is not helpful to suggest, as some have done, that the Barrier Reef of 2050 will be no more than rubble of carbonate rock.

    The entire subject of the response of the marine ecosystem to increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 IS IN SUCH AN EARLY STAGE OF INVESTIGATION [my emphasis] that I believe it is not yet possible to achieve any level of certainty about what the future holds for the marine ecosystem, but one has to conclude that alarmism is premature. It seems clear from these few examples of recent studies that our opinion on the consequences for marine biota of increasing ocean acidification should be more nuanced than it was 10-¬‐15 years ago.” Source: http://judithcurry.com/2015/09/23/ocean-acidification-discussion-thread-2/

    Elsewhere (@ 15:24), Flannery asserts, as if he knows this, too, to be ‘fact,’ that we are already heading toward 4 degrees or more of warming by 2100. On the basis of what ‘proven’ scientific postulate is Flannery making this assertion? Is this the same postulate that underpinned his assertion in 2005 as Climate Commissioner that “. . . the Warragamba catchment – if you look at the Warragamba catchment figures, since ‘98, the water has been in virtual freefall, and they’ve got about two years of supply left, but something will need to change in order to see the catchment start accumulating water again…. So when the models start confirming what you’re observing on the ground, then there’s some fairly strong basis for believing that we’re understanding what’s causing these weather shifts and these rainfall declines, and they do seem to be of a permanent nature[?]” Source: http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/flannery_denies_what_he_actually_said/

    Apparently, Flannery’s climate prognostications cost Australian tax payers an initial $10 billion investment plus $1 billion yearly in maintenance costs for desalination plants no one ever used or uses. On this matter, Jo Nova opines:

    “If only climate models worked. Until then, the insurance bills are “eyewatering” with ten billion dollars poured into Australian Desal plants that aren’t used, and which cost another billion each year to keep being not used.

    Imagine if one of these states had spent a hundredth as much on research as they did on building white elephants. They could have brought in top maths-heads, engineers, physicists and modelers and developed independent climate models that used solar factors, cosmic rays, lunar factors and even neural nets. The productivity growth could be flat-out fantastic — with the right information farmers could pick the right crops, plant at the right times, and destock or restock, and not waste seed on dry ground. Town planners could manage dams, floods and droughts without turning taxpayer dollars into mushroom clouds. The CSIRO Budget is $1.2 billion (of which the taxpayer pays $780m) and BOM $360 million (taxpayer: $212m) but the real cost of strangled government science is far more.” Source: http://joannenova.com.au/?s=tim+flannery

    Flannery’s “certainty” proved in that particular instance to be somewhat illusory; given that his ‘scientific basis’ remains exactly what it was then, why would his “certainty” be any less illusory now?

    To my mind, the ‘science’ simply has some way to go yet before we can begin to rely upon it for forecasting what is more likely than not to happen as a consequence of anything we might be venting into the atmosphere, whether in the short or long run.

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    • BTW: do note the astronomical sums of money involved in realizing the policies advocated by Flannery while he was Climate Commissioner. It is a fallacy to believe that the only for profit lobby deeply invested in the ‘climate debate’ is the one represented by the challenge of ‘big oil.’ Australia’s Desal plants were built and are operated by ‘for profit’ developers and operators. Flannery, in other words, lobby’s for moneyed interests, for when governments act, whatever their action, there is money to be made and, therefore, arguments urgently to be won, publics to be persuaded, marketing campaigns to be conceived and deployed.

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      • Well Norman (and Ron), thanks for watching the video.

        I guess all I can say is that when communities mobilize against the forces of capital and oppression, each individual has to make a decision whether they will join the mobilization or sit on the sidelines. At the end of the day, those of us seeking to dismantle capitalism will by necessity reflect and respond to the realities in the communities where we live.

        In my community (New Plymouth), there is strong opposition to the efforts of foreign fossil fuel companies to corrupt our government and dominate our media in their efforts to block a speedy transition to an economy run on renewable energy. These foreign oil/gas companies are polluting our air and water and destroying our pristine agricultural land with totally unregulated fracking rigs.

        Thus as a member of both the New Zealand Green Party and Climate Justice Taranaki, I will be joining the global Peoples Climate March on Saturday, along with tens of thousands of other New Zealanders. The members of our group – Maori, farmers, teachers, retail clerks – are basing their decision less on the scientific certainty of climate change (the purpose of science has never been to guarantee certainty but to pose and test hypotheses) than on the documented behavior of the fossil fuel industry.

        For me, as for many others, climate justice has become a major anti-capitalist issue. I realize this is not true in the US (to be honest, I don’t see much of an anti-capitalist movement in the US), but it sure is in Germany, Greece, India, Britain, Canada and elsewhere.

        I trust you will respect my decision to participate in this movement – just as I respect your decision to look for strategic organizing opportunities in your own regions. I will continue to post articles about our activities – for readers who do have major concerns about global warming and catastrophic climate disruption.

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  3. Energy corporations decades ago were buying the world’s best inventions/patents for renewable energy and putting them on the shelf. There’s no reason to think that renewable energy self-sufficient homes and commercial buildings is not possible on every square inch of the Earth. The late Hermann Scheer of Germany, who led the renewable energy revolution in that country, said time and again that a solar revolution could only come about through the efforts of ordinary citizens; that government and corporate officials would never allow it.

    Politicians and the corporate owners who own them don’t do anything to promote renewable energy because after initial investments are paid off home and building owners will receive energy for free – in other words, no more monthly bills.

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