Science has already predicted when we will leave our former climate behind. Somewhere between 2033 and 2070, nothing will be the same in a hotter world. Camilo Mora from U of Hawaii. Then Tim Judson from NIRS on super bankruptcy of the last commercial maker of nuclear reactors. Why even the White house is worried.
CAMILO MORA: THE TIME OF CLIMATE DEPARTURE
At some point our climate will change so much – it will be a whole new system, different from anything known in human history. But when? There’s a paper for that. In 2013 a team of 14 scientists from the University of Hawaii published their work titled “The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability“. That was in the journal Nature. Be sure to check out the maps in the Appendix to this paper. They are pretty clear even for the non-scientist.
To learn more, we’ve reached the lead author Dr. Camilo Mora. He’s with the Department of Geography at the University of Hawaii, and heads the Mora Lab.
Dr. Camilo Mora, University of Hawaii
Download or listen to this 31 minute interview with Camilo Mora in CD Quality or Lo-Fi
TWO PATHWAYS AND THE TIMING OF CATASTROPHE
The RCP 4.5 path, laid out by the IPCC, finds CO2 concentrations of 538 ppm by 2100, (essentially one doubling of CO2 over pre-industrial times). But the RCP 8.5 path lands at 936 ppm by 2100, which is more than triple, and almost quadruple, the pre-industrial levels. Scientist used to spend their time calculating the impacts of CO2 doubling. Now, with our increasing emissions and retrograde dismantling of climate actions in some countries, science is becoming more pre-occupied with the impacts of quadrupling greenhouse gases. But is that even survivable for (a) a complex over-populated civilization and (b) the ecosystems that feed us? Could we survive 5 or 6 degree C change?
If the answer is “no” what is the benefit of reducing emissions sooner, only to reach the same mass die-off result a few decades later?
Can that delay buy us time for carbon removal and storage? Does Camilo think geoengineering will be necessary?
Has anyone been able to study what happens if we actually reduce CO2? Let’s say we go back to 350 ppm, as Bill McKibben wants. Would the Poles begin to refreeze? Can we stop the release of more greenhouse gases from melting permafrost or ocean release? It’s hard to picture what that new climate-the-brakes-on would even look like. I suspect it would be a hotter hybrid, but maybe not a wholesale mass extinction…? Camilo Mora says this study has not been done, perhaps because it seems so unlikely that humans will be reducing carbon in the atmosphere anytime soon.
HOW WILL THIS AFFECT HUMANS?
It seems to me that our longing demands to know “when” (the aim of this paper) and less about “how” or “what will it actually be like”. But the paper does consider many aspects of “what it will be like”: the impacts and possible responses of both animals and plants; plus a wide variety of impacts on humans. As per the introduction to the paper, these human impacts include:
“Changing climates could also affect the following: human welfare, through changes in the supply of food13 and water; human health, through wider spread of infectious vector-borne diseases, through heat stress and through mental illness; the economy, through changes in goods and services; and national security as a result of population shifts, heightened competition for natural resources, violent conflict and geopolitical instability“.
All of these impacts depend upon previous research papers by other scientists.
What is “normal”? The climate may always be changing, within certain limits in a period of 10,000 years or so. This paper uses the period 1860 to 2005 as the baseline. And it sticks mainly to near-surface air temperatures and sea surface temperatures, because these have been measured pretty reliably during that period. Even in the 1800’s, sailors began to measure and record sea surface temperatures from ships.
However, more accurate actual measurements were only available from 1986 to 2005, the age of satellites. Their “multi-model averages” were tested against that known data, to help determine the margin of error.
TWO ESSENTIAL POINTS
There are two essential points. First is the concept of “climate departure”. What does that mean? After that date, the climate averages seen in the past, in our lifetimes, will never be seen again.
Second, everybody wants to know “when”, and particularly “how soon”. Compared to the 1860-2005 base period, the global mean for climate departure of “near-surface air temperature under an emissions stabilization scenario is 2069 (+/- 18 years s.d.). 2069 is the year when the whole world, more or less, will have passed into a whole new climate, not known in the time of humans keeping history. That’s the good news, although it could come as much as 18 years sooner, at 2051.
For a “business-as-usual” scenario, that new climate approach date becomes 2047 (+/- 14 years s.d.). The earliest date, and this is for a global shift, could be up to 14 years earlier, in 2033. For those keeping track, we could be just 16 years away for a whole new climate world.
But these are global averages. Like most things in climate change and nature, the timing is uneven. The introductory summary says “Unprecedented climates will occur earliest in the tropics and among low-income countries”. And according to the maps in the Appendix, a bit later in Peru, and a couple of decades later in Australia.
That seems odd, because so far Australia seems at the front lines of climate change. The heat waves increased to levels requiring new colors on the temperature maps. Massive land fires and droughts have appeared, along with giant flooding in Queensland and northern Australia. Meanwhile the ocean temperatures became so hot the coral in the Great Barrier reef are bleaching and dying. How can all these signs become now, if Australia is behind the rest of the world in climate departure time?
But the important point is: the countries where people contributed the least to global warming gases, and have the fewest resources to deal with a climate shift, will be hit hardest and first. That is where the discussion of “climate justice” comes in.
THE NEW OCEAN
For the ocean, the historical bounds of sea surface temperature will be surpassed on average by 2072 under RCP 4.5 and by 2051 under RCP 8.5.
I’ve interviewed several scientists about the impact of warming seas on plankton, as the basis of the global food chain, and source of about half of all oxygen we breath. The most memorable for me is Sergei Petrovskii from the University of Leicester in the UK. His models showed that plankton can crash, likely later this century, if the seas warm as much as Mora et al project. What might happen to sea life, given we are already over-fishing, damaging the sea bottom, changing the acidity, loading the seas with plastics and fertilizer and all that. Add in this warming of the surface, and what happens?
Here is a helpful introduction to this paper, published in the Huffington Post.
TIM JUDSON: THE BANKRUPTCY OF NUCLEAR POWER
Remember the “nuclear power renaissance”? It just died. Westinghouse Electric, the maker of a new design that was supposed lead the future – has filed for Bankruptcy. The multi-billion dollar cost overruns for nuclear plants under construction in Georgia and South Carolina will probably be paid by the taxpayers, …again. Is it finally the end of this dangerous scam?
Tim Judson is the Executive Director of the Nuclear Information Resource Service in Washington D.C. Before joining NIRS, Judson was a major player in the successful effort to close the old Connecticut Yankee reactor. The dome for that was demolished in 2006. Judson took over from long-time nuclear activist Michael Mariotte, who recently passed away. Find my song in tribute to Michael here.
Tim Judson of NIRS
Our guest Tim Judson wrote this free report: “Too Big to Bail Out: The Economic Costs of a National Nuclear Power Subsidy”. Tim Judson tells us about some of the ways the public is paying big private corporations hidden subsidies for nuclear energy.
THE WESTINGHOUSE BANKRUPTCY AS A NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT
Westinghouse Electric is a household name and a legend in establishing the grid. Now it’s going under.
Bloomberg reported just last week that Trump officials see a new national security issue in this Toshiba/Westinghouse bankruptcy. This failure is so big and so dangerous that it’s involving hurried meetings with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. It sounds like an all-hands on deck emergency for the White house. Why?
The Trump Administration fears the Chinese may buy the company. The Chinese have already taken a lot of Toshiba/Westinghouse technology as three AP1000 Westinghouse plants are closer to completion in China. Judson tells us the Chinese have already more-or-less pirated a lot of that data to develop their own reactor design. But more information about American reactors (and how to shut them down) may be in the Westinghouse records. All that would go to China, if they buy the bankrupt company. Perhaps the Trump team will find more billions to buy into the dying Westinghouse (it’s like the nuclear equivalent to bankrupt coal companies). Or maybe Trump will simply forbid the sale to China. Who knows?
We do know the U.S. government is on the hook for $8.3 billion in federal load guarantees for the Vogtle plant alone, in Georgia. And we know rate-payers in North Carolina are already paying at least 20% more on their power bills for a nuclear plant that is not built, and now may never be completed. Nuclear is just a scam. It was never a viable business, just a scam to soak up taxpayer money, while paying it out to executives and stock-holders that have long since run away.
THE BANKRUPTCY OF NUCLEAR POWER IN EUROPE
Toshiba isn’t alone drowning in nuclear debt. What is the situation with the French nuclear power builder Areva? They went bankrupt last year. The French government owned utility EDF bought some of the business, and some of it is just closing up shop.
Toshiba planned to build more nuclear plants in the UK. That’s out the window. Nuclear builders have simply bailed out of billions of dollars in planned reactors in the United Kingdom. According to the Daily Mail:
“The Moorside power station in Cumbria was set to deliver 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity from around 2025. It was being built by NuGen – a tie-up between Japan’s Toshiba and the French firm Engie.”
The French firm Engie has already walked out on this project, and Toshiba is now questioning whether it can even survive as a company – due to the fantastic debt it’s accumulated from the Westinghouse subsidiary nuclear construction debacle.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the official nuclear regulator in Britain gave the OK to build the Hinkley C reactor in Somerset England. A major shareholder is a Chinese company, but the designs are for Areva reactors. Now that Areva has gone bankrupt, it’s questionable whether Hinkley C will ever be built. And who needs them at those over-blown prices? England has much more accessible wind energy just waiting off-shore.
THE GENERALS WANT NUCLEAR POWER
History is quite clear that the nuclear power industry was developed to keep materials and skills flowing into the nuclear weapons program. Does the Pentagon still need civilian nuclear power? Maybe they think they do, now that Donald Trump has been promising new nuclear weapons.
As Tim Judson tells us, a British non-profit did a report on why the UK government is so determined to build the Hinkley C reactor – pretty well at any cost! The report found the real reason is to keep enough nuclear skills to maintain Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet. That’s why.
YEARS OF WARNING NUCLEAR IS DANGEROUS AND FINANCIALLY CRAZY
For a couple of decades Tim and I have been fighting off craven nuclear promoters like Bjorn Lomborg and the Breakthrough Institute, and well-meaning greens like James Hansen and Mark Lynas. We said the nuclear industry is super dangerous, badly regulated, and bound for bankruptcy. Now that has all come to pass. It doesn’t feel like a win. People everywhere are saddled with risky, run-down reactors and hundreds of billions more public debt. Is this a case where nobody wins?
I try to look into the future twenty years or so. A few dozen reactors will have shut down, but it sounds like scores more will still be limping along, unless there are more Fukushima-level accidents. I’m assuming that future will be dominated by alternative energy sources, while a huge chunk of our taxes will go toward the nuclear power dream that made a few men rich, and the public poor.
HOT NEWS ABOUT THIS NUCLEAR BANKRUPTCY
OK, here are just a few of the headlines I collected while research this story. Have fun with these links.
MATTHEW HUBER: THERE IS NO CLIMATE THERMOSTAT
In our opening interview, you heard Camilo Mora warn that extreme heat already kills more than terrorist attacks, and will become very widely spread in the coming hotter climate. His team have a paper in review about that.
I’m chasing another guest who has written related papers on the reality of heat making more of the world uninhabitable for humans, mammals, and even most plants. In the journal Science, in July 2008, Dr. Matthew Huber wrote a technical piece called “A Hotter Greenhouse?” It should be on the front pages of newspapers and new sites. The article discusses problems in the limited tools to assess how hot it was in the great warming extinction event called PETM – the Paleo-Ecocene Thermal Maximum 56 million years ago.
Without going into details, the methods analysing the minerals and isotopes in specific sea shells may have fostered a mistake. Scientists were puzzled how sea temperatures could show so low in these tests, even when the land air temperatures were killing hot. The idea was formulated and widely accepted that some kind of “thermostat” regulated the gross amount of heat that could accumulate in the tropics.
Matthew Huber says there is no thermostat. The tropics got so hot that a lot of plant life died off. The plants were so busy fighting off the heat, they didn’t get enough photosynthetic processing to survive. That great die-off of tropical plants released yet another burst of carbon into the air. Global temperatures soared at least 5 degrees C, or 9 degree F. for at least 200,000 years. We are talking about utter disaster that has already happened on Earth due to extreme climate change.
Our guest Camilo Mora says a 5 degree C rise in global temperature is possible this time around, but not really survivable for us.
Then in 2010, Huber came out with another blockbuster in PNAS, titled “An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress.” We have no time to cover that now, but let me give you a few lines from the summary:
“Any exceedence of 35 °C for extended periods should induce hyperthermia in humans and other mammals, as dissipation of metabolic heat becomes impossible. While this never happens now, it would begin to occur with global-mean warming of about 7 °C, calling the habitability of some regions into question. With 11–12 °C warming, such regions would spread to encompass the majority of the human population as currently distributed. Eventual warmings of 12 °C are possible from fossil fuel burning. One implication is that recent estimates of the costs of unmitigated climate change are too low unless the range of possible warming can somehow be narrowed.”
I’m going to keep in correspondence with Matthew Huber, in the hope we can get him to explain. We all need to know.
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Thank you for listening, and let’s meet up again next week.