The following is a presentation by climate activist Bill McKibben about the global Break Free from Fossil Fuels movement. This is a global civil disobedience campaign directed at fossil fuel companies rather than government policy. Its aim is to pressure these companies to leave untapped coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground.
It’s a bad news/good news presentation. First McKibben gives us the bad news: despite all the hype, the outcome of the Paris climate change conference in 2015 was pure rhetoric. The treaty signed at the conference won’t lower carbon emissions sufficiently to prevent catastrophic climate change. See Global Civil Disobedience
However there is good news on two fronts: the speed at which many countries are transitioning to renewable energy and the remarkable success of the global Break Free campaign.
Among the successful actions McKibben describes: the 2015 Keystone civil disobedience at the White House that persuaded Obama to cancel the pipeline; the Australian campaign that blocked construction of the largest coal mine in the world; the Washington State campaign blocking construction of coal terminals in Longview and Cherry Point; the Seattle blockade of Shell’s Arctic drilling rig; and the global anti-fracking movement, which has led to a ban on fracking in New York, Quebec, Wales, Scotland and France.
The best part of the presentation concerns the recent Columbia School of Journalism expose revealing Exxon knew about climate change in 1977 and funded a massive public relations scam to convince the public it was a hoax. According to McKibben, the attorney generals of New York, California, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands are investigating Exxon for fraud over their role in the climate denial movement.
Disobedience is about the global movement (on six continents) to shut down the fossil fuel industry. The primary aim of the Break Free from Fossil Fuels movement is to end fossil fuel mining and shut down gas-fired power plants.
A major premise of the documentary is that the COP21 climate conference in December 2015 was a public relations stunt. Climate activists believe it accomplished virtually nothing towards preventing catastrophic climate change for two main reasons: 1) the national emissions targets agreed are purely voluntary and unenforceable and 2) despite agreeing to limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees C, the treaty’s carbon budget will result in 3.5 degrees warming.
President Lyndon Johnson was the first to warn the world, in 1965, of the link between heavy fossil fuel combustion, CO2 emissions and global warming. Ten years later, Exxon began planning for global warming by making their drilling rigs “climate proof.” In 1989, they switched tactics by co-founding the Climate Coalition and hiring a public relations firm (the same one that promoted the health benefits of smoking) to launch the climate denial movement.
Filmmakers include coverage from mass civil disobedience actions to shut down coal fired power plants in the Philippines and Turkey, tar sands production and export in Alberta and British Columbia and an open pit coal mine in Germany. Given that Germany is one of the world leaders in renewable energy production,* I was extremely surprised to learn they burn more lignite* *coal than any other country, including China and India.
The film also features footage from the Seattle blockade of a Shell Arctic oil exploration rig – which helped persuade Shell to abandon their plans to drill the Arctic for oil.
For the most part, these actions succeed by increasing the cost of doing business – especially now when low oil and gas prices are already denting profits.
*On May 16 Germany got nearly all its power from renewable energy.
**Lignite is often referred to as brown or “dirty” coal due to the high level of particulate and heavy metal pollution it produces.
In this presentation, Professor Kevin Anderson carefully dissects a number of the conclusions reached at the Paris COP21 climate change conference in December 2015. Anderson is particularly critical of what he refers to as “policy based science.” He also makes an urgent case for scientists to ignore “vested interests” if there’s to be any chance of preventing catastrophic climate change.
Despite all the hype about the COP21 agreement limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Centigrade, a close look at the math reveals all the emission reduction pledges add up to 3.5 degrees of warming (which is incompatible with human civilization).
According to Anderson, the major flaws of the Paris agreement are its reliance on carbon sequestration, an extremely expensive technology that doesn’t even exist yet; its failure to monitor carbon emissions produced by aviation and global shipping; and its failure to call for deep cuts in energy demand.
He also dismisses the fantasy of “green growth” as a public relations exercise. It will require decades to ramp up renewable energy production to support the lifestyles of the 10% of the population who produce 50% of the emissions. By this point, total atmospheric CO2 will be too high to prevent catastrophic global warming.
Anderson maintains it’s too late to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees (Centigrade) and that we only have a 33% chance of limiting it to 2.0 degrees – provided the developed world cuts energy use by 10% per year for the next seven years.
He calls for a total moratorium on fossil fuel mining and airport expansion, government programs to make homes energy efficient, electrification of all public car fleets and progressive metering tariffs on all CO2 emissions, including aviation, shipping and agriculture.
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
• 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.