Scientist Tobias Friedrich says Earth could heat up 6 degrees C., almost 11 degrees F, in a single lifetime. Richard Heede finds 83 companies, plus 7 countries, are responsible for 65% of all greenhouse gases. He names names. Then restoring carbon to the soil, with Murielle Trouillet from the Government of France.
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REPORTING A PLANETARY FIRE
There is so much going on, as climate change unfolds world-wide. As a climate reporter, I feel like a town with two fire trucks and ten fires. Until just this week, North America has been unseasonably warm, as though winter might not come. Now it has, but it’s late. We had a bear in our front yard when they should have been asleep.
In another sign of the times, King Tides on top of higher seas invaded streets of American coastal towns.
But the biggest story is in the Arctic. Last week it was 36 degrees above normal, occasionally rising above the freezing mark, in the polar darkness. The sea ice coverage has never been lower at this time of year. Unusual storms broke it up even further. Nobody knows what this will mean, for sea ice next year, for changes in the Jet Stream and weather further south, for the future of the planet.
The cold that should have been at the pole slipped down into central and eastern Siberia. Schools closed down, when daytime highs were minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Almost 200 record lows were set in the region. The weather system has become twisted out of shape. We’ll have more on the developing Arctic emergency next week with our guest scientist Paul Beckwith.
According to NASA, 9 out of the last 12 months from October 2015 to September 2016 were above the 1.5 degree C mark, which is 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer as a global average. We’ve already passed the safety line the Paris climate agreement hoped to avoid by 2100. And that doesn’t count the added warming power hidden by air pollution.
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TOBIAS FRIEDRICH – HOTTER FASTER
Despite foot-dragging and threats of obstruction from the arriving government of Donald Trump, the vast majority of countries recognize that climate change is a huge threat to the human project. Their plans for a response are based on models that project a fairly predictable ramp of warming, according to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It’s all under control, and nobody talks about the possibility of a genuine climate catastrophe this century.
But what if that neat carbon logic is wrong? Could we have underestimated both the severity and the pace of climate change? New science has emerged. A headline in the UK’s Independent newspaper November 9th reads: “Climate change may be escalating so fast it could be ‘game over’, scientists warn”. The sub-head says, quote, “New research suggests the Earth’s climate could be more sensitive to greenhouse gases than thought, raising the specter of an ‘apocalyptic side of bad’ temperature rise of more than 7C within a lifetime.”
The Independent’s Environment Correspondent Ian Johnston is writing about a new study also published November 9, 2016 in the journal Science Advances. The subject is difficult, the paper isn’t easy, and this interview may not be easy. But with stakes this high, I think you want to know.
I’ve reached the lead author Dr. Tobias Friedrich. He’s a Postdoc, researcher and lecturer at the International Pacific Research Center. That’s part of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
A CLIMATE OFF-THE-CHARTS HOT!
If we do not manage to reduce emissions substantially, or capture carbon back from the atmosphere, the IPCC says Earth could warm anywhere between 2.6 degree C., considered very dangerous, up to 4.8 degrees C, – that’s about 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and off-the-charts dangerous. That is pathway 8.5. Friedrich explains that pathway, and how his team calculated temperature changes over the most recent 800,000 years, as glaciers and hot periods came and went.
We’ve been talking about the paper “Nonlinear climate sensitivity and its implications for future greenhouse warming”. It’s newly published in the journal “Science Advances”. The paper is available to the public as a free full text.
For me, essential point is simple: warming does not follow a simple ramp. When it begins from a very cold point, it can warm slowly. When it starts from a relatively hot time, like the current interglacial period we live in, the Earth can warm much faster. The pace of global warming is relative.
I would add that the rate of warming would be simpler to measure if we lived on a dead planet. The physics of oceans, sun, and land are fairly well known, although the oceans still require a lot of study. The ice-world, the cryosphere, is much more fluid. A lot is unknown there. It seems like a new study on Greenland or Antarctica comes out every week.
For example, I just learned from a science alert service that a new study shows the Pine Island Glacier began an accelerated warming around 1940. That Antarctic glacier is the largest single glacial source of rising seas on the planet.
But now we have to add the plant systems, from gigantic plankton pools in the sea, to all the forests and grasses on land. Plus the frozen plant life in the permafrost. Once these natural climate regulators are accelerated or reduced, the whole climate can be altered. Perhaps a wild swing (or two) awaits us.
In any event, Tobias Friedrich tells us their calculations reinforce the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC). That surprises me, since global leadership just meeting in Marrakech Morocco, seem oblivious to the risk of a mega-shift possible this century. Surely we would talk and act on nothing else if we knew?
The British author Mark Lynas wrote a book called “Six Degrees, Our Future on a Hotter Planet“. But he concluded there was little future for humans in a world six degrees warmer. And he was using science at least ten years old. We’ve found out much more since then, including this research. We are talking about a wrenching change, something beyond human experience or imagination.
If you only listen to one Radio Ecoshock interview for the rest of this year, listen to this one! You can listen now…
I expect reverberations from this paper for some time to come. There may be a long delay before the general public understands what’s in it – even though the results are cause for immediate alarm and action.
RICHARD HEEDE – LESS THAN A HUNDRED MADE MORE THAN HALF THE POLLUTION OF THE ATMOSPHERE!
We’ve heard of the 1%. But the number of corporations and countries who produced 65% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is far smaller. According to our next guest, just 90 CEO’s and state leaders are responsible for the majority of pollution which is wrecking the climate known throughout civilization. They could, Richard Heede says, fit on two Greyhound buses. He names names, at least corporate names.
I find Richard Heede hard to describe. He’s a consultant with his own company called “Climate Mitigation Services“. Richard has a long list of studies and reports he’s published for cities and towns mostly in the Western United States. He’s written short helpful guides for consumers to understand their carbon footprint. He’s a one-man carbon tracker with a warehouse mind able to reconstruct the carbon footprint of the global industrial world, piece by piece. I reached Richard in Snowmass Colorado.
You can listen to this 23 minute interview with Richard Heede right now.
We’re talking about Heede’s 2014 work “Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010“, as published in the journal “Climatic Change”.
This report from Heede comes as a dose of reality in a world which has just turned darker, when it comes to climate change action. It’s a bit shocking, because the press always talks about national responsibility. We hear what each country emits, and we are all guilty. But now we draw back the curtain, and find only a few corporate actors.
Of course there are the usual suspects, namely the largest oil, gas and coal companies. Heede, supported by student researchers, went back decades (in some cases over a century) through company production records and other sources, to add it all up. Exxon/Mobil and the other “seven sisters” companies from the break up of Standard Oil top the list. That includes Chevron, Texaco and all that.
Historically, the Rockefeller family made the greatest profits from Exxon, and from Standard Oil before that. What about going beyond corporate accountability. What can we say about accountability of persons? That isn’t in Heede’s report. Maybe it’s work for future scholars, or maybe no one will ever be held responsible.
Then we have Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands and UK), Total (France) and Saudi Aramco. America’s Peabody Coal is the largest coal source, but there are others, including China. China and 6 other countries had to be listed as countries rather than corporations, because there are no reliable records for corporations from those countries. Coal, Heede says, is responsible for 39% of all greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As Trump would say, it’s huuuge. (As Trump doesn’t say, coal needs to stop.)
Heede also reveal this shocking fact: “Half of all the CO2 emissions in the industrial sector from fossil fuel and cement use have come since 1988.”
Of course, as the “developing world” developed, using fossil fuels, we had even more stuffed into the atmosphere since the year 2000. That really matters, because there is at least a ten year time delay before those greenhouse gases fully manifest as global warming. When it comes to the impact we’ve already made, it’s yet to come!
AN EARLY CARBON COUNTING PIONEER
Richard Heede has been studying this subject for much longer than most people. His online biography lists the title of his 1984 thesis: “A World Geography of Recoverable Carbon Resources in the Context of Possible Climate Change.” That lines up almost exactly with his report published in January 2014 in the journal “Climatic Change”. Heede was one of the very early pioneers of carbon in what we now know is the era of climate change.
Heede has also written consumer guide books. One example is “Carbon in Our Daily Lives: an exploration of everyday greenhouse gas emissions sources.” His bio says Rick “designed and built a passive-solar rammed-earth home at 2,300m in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It saves two-thirds of the energy and four-fifths of the carbon emissions of typical homes in this climate zone.”
It’s true that millions of people profited directly from fossil fuel companies. That includes employees, and investors, like pension funds. We all profited from the energy slaves made available to us in just a couple of generations. But some people definitely made more than others. There really are a small number of billionaires from fossil fuels, including the two wealthiest Americans as a pair, the Koch Brothers. Will anyone take this study further, making it more personal to come out and say WHO contributed most to the destruction of the climate?
It’s not polite to talk about the people who profited most from loading up the atmosphere. But I believe, even in dark times of Trumpian denial, this personal accounting will happen. After many climate disasters, people will ask: Who led us here? Who gained from planetary suffering? It’s not beyond possibility that a severely damaged society will ask for that wealth back, to be used for disaster repairs and relocation costs. What do you think?
Now that we know the small number of major conduits of human greenhouse gases to the sky, does that give us some hope that if we could assemble them into a small action group, to save the planet with a rational end-of-business plan?
THERE’S SNOW BUSINESS LIKE SNOW BUSINESS…
Richard has also written reports by and about Aspen Colorado. He is a passionate skier. Near the beginning of Radio Ecoshock, in December 2006, I played an interview by Betsy Rosenberg with Auden Shambler of Aspen. Then I interviewed Arthur Dejong of Whistler/Blackcomb, Canada’s best ski resort. Both resorts were really early in the game to realize global warming was a threat to their business. I asked in my show title, “Will Global Warming End Show Sports?” People are still skiing. I ask Richard for his prognosis.
Find another good article about this study here, from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
SOIL FOR CLIMATE AND FOOD SECURITY: MURIELLE TROUILLET
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has crossed another dangerous threshold, going above 400 parts per million for the first time since humans appeared on Earth. To avoid a punishing climate shift, experts are searching for a large-scale way to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it. Instead of the industrial solution advanced by some, the government of France proposes to capture CO2 with better agricultural and land management. It’s called the “4 per thousand” program. We’ll find out why, and how it works.
Our guest is the Project Manager for the 4 percent initiative and sustainable, for the Ministry of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry in the Government of France. Murielle Trouillet has been the Ministry lead for the 4 per thousand carbon-to-soil program, and other climate affairs. She is a graduate of AgroParisTech.
You can listen to this 12 minute interview with Murielle now.
Or download it in CD Quality (only).
The French Government are way out in the lead in this program to put more carbon into the soil. For example, in March of 2015, the French Minister of Agriculture was at a meeting in Montpellier, about “climate-smart agriculture“. As far as I can see, no other national government is so advanced in changing agriculture to benefit the climate.
But as Murielle tells us, it’s not just about climate change. There is a whole element of this program devoted to “food security“. All of us should pay attention to that, and demand it from our own governments. The official name of the program is: “4‰ Initiative : soils for food security and climate”
The English version of a French government web site says, quote:
“A ‘4‰’ [4 parts per thousand] annual growth rate of the soil carbon stock would make it possible to stop the present increase in atmospheric CO2.”
I’m not sure whether 4 in a thousand aims at leveling off our current emissions, or can it go farther to actually reduce CO2 in the atmosphere?
For those who keep track of the international agenda, and the role of the global south, this French project appeared in the hand-over of the Presidency of the COP climate talks, from Peru to France. I am speaking of the “Lima-Paris Action Agenda”. We briefly discuss that. You can find a full description of that agenda here.
Of course, any proposal draws it’s critics. Perhaps “climate-smart” agriculture is not the same as “agroecology”. Specifically, they worry that agricultural multinationals will use our climate fears as a business opportunity. Perhaps they will push super-fertilizers, herbicide tolerant crops as “green” climate-friendly products. Murielle tells us there is protection against that, as companies are not allowed to be a direct part of this government program. No lobbyists need apply, I suppose.
Read this in-depth article by Sara Velander and Jenna Farineau for an in-depth criticism of the possible perils of the 4 per thousand plan. It includes some juicy stuff on corporations pushing “green” fertilizers (with links to Norway and Wal mart) – plus a lot of stuff you need to know.
A key question, often overlooked by environmentalists, is the cost, and who is going to pay? Murielle talks to us about the economics behind a successful implementation of “4 per thousand”.
I think you may find these soil/carbon facts from the French government web site useful:
24 % of global soils are degraded at various levels, including 50 % of agricultural soils [source: Bai et al., 2013]
1 500 billion tonnes of carbon are stocked in soil organic matter, which is twice more carbon than atmospheric CO2 [source : IPCC, 2013]
1,2 billion tonnes of carbon could be stocked every year in agricultural soils which represents an annual rate of 4‰ compared to the surface soil horizon [source : IPCC, 2014]
Every years crop production in Africa, Asia and South America could increase by millions, by increasing 24/40 soil organic matter by 1 tonne/ha [Lal , 2006]
1,2 billion USD is the economic loss in crop production due to soil degradation [FAO, 2006]”
You can find out more about the use of soil as a weapon against climate change in this Yale 360 article “Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight?“.
ANOTHER FULL WEEK
That’s another big week for Radio Ecoshock. Stay tuned for our next program where I’ll talk with climate scientist Paul Beckwith about the Arctic emergency. Plus you’ll hear a leading scientist in the field of carbon capture and storage – as he answers critic Kevin Anderson.
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