Top UK scientist & truth-teller Kevin Anderson: the dangerous fantasy built into the climate narrative. Plus the awful story of the Texas nuclear parking lot with Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, and Trump’s secret backer for climate wrecking. Radio Ecoshock 161116
Sometimes, my research for Radio Ecoshock gives me a sickening feeling, like I’m falling into a bad hole. We all are, when it comes to the developing climate shift. This time, it’s a new article published in October by Kevin Anderson. In the UK, he’s a Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester, and Deputy Director of the renowned Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. His co-author is Glen Peters, a senior researcher for CICERO, the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway.
The title of the paper is deceptively simple: “The trouble with negative emissions.” It’s big trouble.
We’ve had Dr. Anderson on Radio Ecoshock before, and I’ve run a speech or two by him. He’s a truth-teller who is somehow tolerated by the highest levels of established science, in the UK, and now in Sweden. Anderson has recently become the second person to hold the Zennström visiting professorship in Climate Change Leadership at Uppsala University.
It’s not that we are being lied to on a massive scale. We are, but that’s not the point. We are lying to ourselves on a massive scale. The agreement reached by our political leaders in Paris reflects our own unwillingness to make deep changes now to save the climate. As we see in this paper, it also marks our very human way of answering a real threat with procrastination and fantasy.
But first of course, we fell into talking about the climate impact of the election of Donald Trump. Kevin suggests we get out of the fixation with 320 million people in the United States, and look toward the almost 7 billion other humans on the planet. According to the Paris accord, and countless national and local actions, they believe climate change is real.
BTW, the government of China took the trouble to point out the American roots of climate change discovery. Trump’s claim that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese to gain an economic advantage is as preposterous as it sounds.
Still, I’m feeling the Trump effect even in interviews. See my expose of the secretive billionaire who helped fund Trump’s campaign, and wants payback with anti-climate policies. Don’t miss it, scroll down if you can’t wait. By the way, I published this before Salon or anyone else.
THE TRUMP CHILL: THE U.S. COAST GUARD STOPS TALKING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
The shadow of Trump may have killed off an interview I thought was arranged. I’ve been back and forth with the U.S. Coast Guard to get their preparation for climate change. They’ll have the challenge of shipping in the Arctic, more icebergs further south, more violent storms, and both storm surges and rising seas around their ports and bases. The base as Sandy Hook will simply go under the sea.
After several emails back and forth, and then sending them my questions, they just wrote today saying they won’t do the interview. I’m sure they can see which way the winds blow, and if they want funding from The Donald, this isn’t the time to talk about climate change, even though it’s happening…
Ah well. I have another report about the US Military and climate change coming up. They know it’s real.
THE PLANTS GIVE UP?
One thing I discuss with Kevin Anderson is the new science emerging about the role of plants as carbon sinks (a factor that has kept us from melting away…).
On Radio Ecoshock, I’ve been working my way through a series of scientists with new papers on the reaction of the plant world to climate change. In recent interviews, Scotland’s Dr. James Curran and Dr. Isabel Montanez from UC Davis both conclude we face significant risks of escalating greenhouse gases due to changes in the plant world.
Along with a large team of scientists led by C.D. Jones of the UK Met Office, Kevin’s co-author Glen Peters also released a paper this year which said, quote:
“…Earth system models suggest significant weakening, even potential reversal, of the ocean and land sinks under future low emission scenarios.”
My point is: whether or not we manage to get negative emissions technology working some time in the future, there are very large feedbacks looming on land and sea. Officials have wildly underestimated likely emissions.
There is a tipping point when emissions from disturbed nature might overwhelm emissions that humans cause and can cut. If that happens, how likely is it we’ll find a technology even larger than mass natural systems like plants, ocean life, and ocean currents?
THE NEGATIVE EMISSIONS SCAM
But the main message of my talk with Kevin is the way governments and the IPCC simply ASSUME that humans will be capture and storing vast amounts of carbon, in order to relieve the overloaded atmosphere. Look at the future pathways in the IPCC reports, says Anderson, and you will find very large assumptions that carbon capture and storage will happen.
We don’t have a workable technology to do it yet. So that’s a big gamble.
Even worse, warns Anderson, these projections allow world leaders, even through the Paris climate accord, to put off painful (and unpopular?) carbon cuts now. We’ll put all that tough action off to 2030 or beyond. That means we are not cutting emissions nearly enough now.
When I suggested to Kevin Anderson that perhaps four years of Trump will persuade people we need real climate action he sighed. That’s because the next four years are thought to be critical to what happens on this planet during this century and beyond. We don’t have another four years to wait!
I can picture a reality where the see-saw of climate action and denial plays out on the political and economic stage over many decades. Humans need time to adjust and adapt. Sadly, that is NOT the reality we inhabit here on Earth. We don’t have time to play games, before Nature plays here very large scale game. That game is where the planet swings from having ice caps (the conditions where mammals and many forms of life thrive) to an ice-free world. The ice-free world has great bands of deserts around the sub-tropics, where most of humanity now live. It’s not a place we want to go – but if we keep up the fantasy that carbon capture and storage is here and working now, we’re literally doomed.
Kevin describes various technologies, and hints at their side-effects. It’s like strong pharmaceuticals, the side-effects can be as serious as the disease.
A BIT OF CONTROVERSY ON NEGATIVE EMISSIONS
There were immediate critics of this paper by Anderson and Peters. They critics are mainly from other scientists who are working on negative emissions tech, or who think we need geoengineering as quickly as possible. I’m thinking of Klaus Lackner, the director of the Center for Negative Carbon Emissions at Arizona State University, or Professor John DeCicco from the University of Michigan Energy Institute. Incdentally, this Energy Institute received funding for research into carbon capture tech from Bill Gates.
I’ll be speaking with Klaus Lackner soon, to get his response, and to find out more about the state of research into carbon capture and storage. Stay tuned for that on Radio Ecoshock.
Meanwhile, Lackner’s criticism, and Kevin Anderson’s response, have just appeared (November 11th) in “Science Advances” as a letter. This subject is hot, and Radio Ecoshock is right there.
Just to be clear, as Anderson is in this interview, he is NOT saying we should abandon research into how to grab and store carbon. We should, we need to know how. The immorality, Anderson says, is for scientists to advise policy makers, who advise government leaders, that this technology can be counted on. What if it doesn’t work? What if it’s never deployed? Then we get a wrecked climate, because we were deluding ourselves.
During the interview, Kevin references this study, showing that academics who show personal action on climate are given more credibility. Anderson says climate scientists who fly all over the world are not setting a good example. After all, if you know, you must act. Anderson went on a ship (much lower emissions per capita) to a conference in Iceland. Now that he’s a visiting professor in Climate Change Leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden, I ask if he’s flying there. No, Anderson is taking the train every couple of months back to the UK. It’s a long trip, but he gets lots of work done, he tells us.
There is a good article about all this at Climate Central here.
Or watch this video of Kevin Anderson on negative emissions on You tube, posted Oct 13 by Carbon Brief.
Personally, I see a parallel between the steady promises of carbon capture and storage, with the long-standing promises humans would find a safe way to store nuclear waste. They’ve been saying that since the 1960’s, and it’s not here yet.
KEVIN KAMPS – A HOT NEW PARKING LOT FOR TEXAS
As an example that “it’s not here yet” – we go to the great State of Texas, where a corporation is pushing a national “temporary” “parking lot” for nuclear waste.
The State of Texas, as mandated by Federal law, had a nuclear storage facility in Andrews County, way over on the West Panhandle side of the State, near the New Mexico border. That facility was shared with two New England states.
The site was privatized, under very suspicious circumstances. The right-wing Texas billionaire, the late Harold Simmons, bought it out, with a company called Waste Control Specialists, or WCS. Simmons was the man who funded the “Swift Boat” propaganda saying presidential candidate John Kerry was not an honorable war veteran (he was).
Simmons also donated a lot of money to the Texas campaign for Governor for Rick Perry, who was elected. After that, all the permits flowed easily to Waste Control Specialists. Now the company wants to take in waste from all over the United States. They want any kind of waste, including the highest level “spent” nuclear fuel rods from reactors, and even nuclear weapons waste. In fact, they’ve already taken some nuke weapons waste.
We reached nuclear waste specialist Kevin Kamps from the non-profit group Beyond Nuclear. That’s one of four groups, two of them based in Texas, fighting this proposal.
Guest Kevin Kamps
It’s a crazy scheme. The waste won’t be sheltered in any underground caverns. It will just sit there on site. Kevin Kamps told us that some high level waste arrived in black cement canisters. They sat out in the blazing Texas sun for a couple of years, before the company thought to bury them a few inches under the ground.
The whole site is a ripe terrorist target. There is practically nothing to stop someone with a TOW anti-tank shoulder-fired missile from blowing up one or several nuclear canisters. The radioactivity would be the same as a nuclear bomb, flowing over Dallas and the U.S. South, if the prevailing winds are blowing east. Or an aircraft could hit the site.
Oh, and by the way, Kamps says this nuclear parking lot is directly above the all-important Ogallala Aquifer. That’s the underground water that feeds many Western states. WCS says their site is not above the Aquifer, but the Texas Waster Management Board said it was.
The other grave danger is the number of nuclear-loaded trains required to flow through America. Some nuclear trains, which Kamps calls “mobile Chernobyls”, even move through Chicago! Again, a terrorist could attack, or an accident may happen. It’s unlikely anyone can protect thousands of miles of train lines.
The communities along these nuclear transport corridors are not consulted, have no say in the matter, and are not even warned when a nuke train is rolling through. Many of my listeners are in danger, and don’t know it.
The long-term storage plan for Yucca Mountain has been shelved. Nevada doesn’t want it, and it may leak out radioactive materials in the future. So there is no place for all the nuclear fuel in America to go. Most of it is being stored in overloaded fuel pools on the site of the reactors. There are more tons and tons of highly radioactive fuel rods that are orphaned at nuclear power plants that have been closed.
You can see how this stupid “parking lot” could become the real non-solution for nuclear waste. Once it collects there, no one will have the political will to move it. So the real answer being offered by the nuclear industry is to just shove all this dangerous nuclear waste into some open acreage in West Texas. Leave it for the next generation to figure out.
Which is exactly what is happening with greenhouse gas emissions right now. We don’t have the guts to fix it now, so we’ll leave all that to our kids!
The groups fighting the WCS “parking lot” are: Beyond Nuclear, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), the Texas branch of Public Citizen, and the Texas-based Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. Help them if you can!
The letter from the four groups can be found here.
WHY DONALD TRUMP DENIES CLIMATE CHANGE
Why did Donald Trump promote climate change as a hoax and conspiracy? He doesn’t read much, and certainly doesn’t keep track of climate science, so he’s an easy target for the deniers, just like his rural voters.
But Trump isn’t quite that dumb either. The other answer may be: he needed the money and an alternative media to capture the crown. So let me introduce you to the real multibillionaire behind the Donald’s bluster about dismantling the Paris climate accord and closing down the EPA.
Maybe you’ve heard about the big-spending casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson spending obscene amounts on Republican candidates. Surely you’ve heard America’s richest brother the Koch’s spend their fossil profits on other Republicans. Nope. Here’s a new one coming out of the shadows: it’s Robert Leroy Mercer. The the Center for Responsive Politics says Mercer is the #1 donor to federal candidates in the 2016 election cycle. Mercer gave failed candidate Ted Cruz 11 million dollars. Then he supported Donald Trump.
Mercer funds the usual right-wing think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the CATO Institute. He also spends a lot of the fringe media outlet Breitbart.com. Andrew Breitbart worked for The Drudge Report, and even after Breitbart’s sudden death in 2012, the two sites linked back and forth with outlandish articles against Hilary Clinton, and for Donald Trump.
Robert Mercer made his billions using computer power and mathematical skills to suck profits out of financial transactions: stocks, bonds, derivatives and all the gambling of Wall Street and international markets. With his PhD in computer science, Mercer joined a secretive company called Renaissance Technologies. That company is worth about $65 billion – most of it owned by the employees, including now co-CEO Robert Mercer. In a word: he’s co-head of one of the world’s most successful “quant” hedge funds. He’s reshaping the Republican Party.
The employee investing vehicle at Renaissance Technologies, called the Medallion Fund, brags it has made about 35% annually over it’s 20 year span. The company doesn’t make any useful product. It siphons off money based on complex computer analysis making automated bets. It’s like a kind of legal cyber piracy of the financial system.
Robert Mercer pays some strange people. Donald Trump of course, but he seems to want the death penalty, no gays, and lots of conspiracy theories tossed into the American population. I don’t know if he believes these wild ideas himself, or if he merely thinks a population so distracted won’t notice his money game, and won’t be able to make rational decisions to protect themselves from people like Robert Mercer.
The Heritage Foundation, which Mercer helps fund with other billionaires, has been a hotel for climate deniers. But Mercer funds the weirder ones too. In just two examples, he bankrolls a shadowy Arizona-based operation called Doctors for Disaster Preparedness and, according to Wikipedia, Fred Kelly Grant, an Idaho activist who encourages legal challenges to environmental laws.
Doctors for Disaster Preparedness hands out annual awards to climate deniers and climate confusers like Fred S. Singer, Willie Soon and Marc Marano. Mercer also funds a tiny group with an officious name “Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine”. They also fund “reports” against climate change and environmentalism.
Robert Mercer is also a financier of Steve Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute. According to Bloomberg:
“a prominent conservative says Robert Mercer, the reclusive co-founder of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies and a major donor to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, has invested $10 million. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, is listed in 2013 tax documents as a GAI board member.”
Here is how influential Mercer has been in the Donald phenomenon. According to Wiki:
“Mercer is a major supporter of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president. Mercer and his daughter played a role in the elevation of Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway into senior roles in the Trump campaign. Mercer also finances a Super PAC, Make America Number One, which supports Trump’s campaign.”
So The Donald owes Robert Mercer. Apparently part of that price is to deny global warming, and dismantle any world progress to fight off the coming climate catastrophe. You’d think a computer quant guy could figure out that science, and those odds, but apparently not. Which shows a person can be very, very smart, and still quite twisted.
The world will survive. I’m Alex Smith.
Thank you for listening again this week. Please help me keep going, if you can. My heartfelt thanks to all those who have contributed so far!