The dominant minority plan to flood the Earth with far more fossil fuels this decade. Countries and corporations pour trillions into a new glut of oil and gas. Hear Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck from Global Witness. Then the brilliant Daniel Rothman from MIT examines past mass extinctions – only to discover a new threshold approaching, hidden deep in the ocean.
I’m Alex Smith. This is climate crisis radio.
WITNESS TO AMERICA FLOODING THE WORLD WITH CLIMATE DISRUPTION
From the world of climate suicide, major announcements of new oil and gas discoveries appear almost daily. Iran says they found another 50 billion barrels, Canada is expanding delivery, along with Brazil, Russia and many more. But one country alone promises to drown the world with oil and gas in this decade: The United States of America.
The bad news comes from analysis by a respected Norwegian firm. It is reported by the international non-profit group Global Witness. And it all matches figures coming from the UN’s International Energy Agency, from the American Energy Information Administration, and press releases handed out by major oil and gas corporations.
Is this climate nightmare real? We have reached Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck. She is US Communications Manager for Global Witness.
Julie-Ann Miranda-Brobeck, Global Witness
The Global Witness report is titled “The US Is Set to Drown the World with Oil“. It was released last summer. This is not about some time in the distant future, but the coming decade – from 2020 to 2029. And this report is only about new production. Aren’t we doomed to a warming well beyond the 2 degrees C if we burn the fossil fuels we have already?
The report and interview are a true bombshell for anyone who cares about climate. For example, Julie Anne says:
“Our report alarmingly shows that the U.S. will skyrocket from this 18% [of current global oil and gas production] and with it’s new oil and gas production they are set up to make up 61% of all new production in the next decade – and this is increasing overall production by 25%. That is 20 times that of Russia and 40 times that of Saudi Arabia’s new production.”
I have beaten up poor Australia time and again over expanding coal and gas there. But really, it sounds like the fate of the world depends on whether the U.S. fracking bubble collapses in time (like really, really soon).
WILL THE SHALE BUBBLE BREAK FIRST?
Everyone in the energy forecast business has their angle. Iran wanted to announce their new 50 billion barrel find to assure their remaining customers under U.S. Sanctions. The big companies want everyone to keep investing in their stocks, and banks plan to loan out trillions for development.
The American government’s Energy Information Administration, the EIA, is famous for bullish predictions. Their former rosy outlook for coal was wrong, that’s for sure. Now Canadian geologist David Hughes is questioning the future of the whole fracking model. He says trillions in new investment still cannot maintain that kind of production. His reality calls the EIA projections “crazy”. So there are doubts. Some market watchers even call for a slow-down in U.S. shale production.
Julie Anne tells us:
“Most analysts acknowledge a U.S. shale bubble, and it’s only a matter of time when it will burst. Yet it keeps going. The question is: will that financial bubble burst in time to save us from this horrific climate catastrophe that we face?”
She adds the current administration made it’s policy of energy dominance clear. In past 2 months, President Trump made two appearances in Pennsylvania supporting the oil and gas industry. U.S. Government subsidies to oil and gas range from 4.6 billion dollars at least, to much more. Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck says half of new oil and gas production relies on government subsidies to be viable.
Global Witness uncovered a huge conflict of interest regarding the relocation of the Department of Interior away from D.C. in the person of Susan Combs.
UK AND SCOTLAND RAMP UP FOSSIL FUEL PRODUCTION
Global Witness called on UK and Scotland to end oil and gas exploration. Developed countries need to take the lead. When you think about it, UK taxpayers are funding their own climate destruction. Julie-Anne tell us:
“Our analysis shows that in the last two out of three years, the UK has paid out more in subsidies to oil and gas companies than they have paid in UK taxes. So therefore, taxpayer money is subsidizing climate change-causing energy resources, and the companies that ultimately extract and profit from them.”
BYE BYE PEAK OIL?
In any case, it sounds like the Peak Oil movement will have to go back to sleep for another ten years. And OPEC, the organization of oil producers, will have to rethink what they will do in a glut of production from non-member the United States. The latest figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA) also expects more new oil and gas from Brazil, Norway and Guyana.
It is hard to imagine a market so flooded with oil and gas. Maybe we’ll go back to 15 cents a gallon at the pumps. Everybody can drive SUV’s or tanks forever. It sounds like great news for the consumer and the economy. What could go wrong?
According to an article in the Guardian newspaper, the top 50 fossil fuel companies will dump another 225 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2030. About 35% of that comes from ExxonMobil and Shell. These companies plan to profit by creating an unstoppable climate disaster. And that’s OK with politicians and everybody who drives a car I guess. Right now, US government regulatory agencies are openly staffed with former oil and gas people, investors and campaign donors. These agencies work with industry to increase production, not to limit it.
A NOTE FROM ALEX AS FOLLOW-UP TO THIS INTERVIEW
I have to disagree with one response from our guest Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck. She said “Our analysis assumes that current production over the next decade will not put us over 1.5 degrees [C] warming“. Technically, Julie Anne is not wrong, because that is what authorities like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been saying. But I think there is no “carbon budget” left. We have already crossed 1.5 degrees warming in many parts of the world, and may have topped it globally once the shield of air pollution is cleaned up.
I checked this point with Radio Ecoshock guest David Spratt from Australia. David has several articles about this, and I will put those links in my show blog. David sent this quote from American scientist Michael Mann: “We have no carbon budget left for the 1.5°C target and the opportunity for holding to 2°C is rapidly fading unless the world starts cutting emissions hard right now.”
Our previous guest Yangyang Xu also warned we would cross 1.5 degrees C by 2030 as countries like China succeed in cleaning up air pollution. The point is, we should have slashed greenhouse gas emissions a couple of decades ago, and have no remaining burn permit for a safe planet.
BLOGS FROM DAVID SPRATT OF CLIMATE CODE RED: THERE IS NO “CARBON BUDGET” LEFT TO BURN
Climate change: 1.5°C is closer than we imagine
FILLING UP THE SKY WITH FOSSIL FUELS
As I said, the Global Witness report was published last summer. This activist group was way out ahead of recent news. The United Nations just released a report in November called “The Production Gap“. They say, quote: “Governments are planning to produce about 50% more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway and 120% more than would be consistent with a 1.5°C pathway.” Here is a good article about the Production Gap report from Common Dreams.
Most countries that can produce fossil fuels plan to make a lot more of them. Canada wants to build more pipelines from the dirty tar sands; Russia is always busy in their exploration; governments from the UK to Australia are funding their own coming disasters; and everyone wants to drill in the Arctic. But we learn from Global Witness that the key is now America. Our fate may depend on new oil and gas coming from the United States over the next decade! If the fracking revolution is allowed to proceed in America alone, we are all toast. That is clear.
While Global Witness did not study coal, the Reuters news agency reports China is still expanding coal burning and coal emissions even while the rest of the world turns away from it. China has enough new coal power under construction to power the whole of France. China added another 42 gigawatts of coal power in just the last 18 months. So that hasn’t gone away, and India still plans a major expansion of their coal dependency.
As a result, the Global Carbon Project just reported human carbon emissions hit yet another record high this year. So we are still going up, still heading toward a climate shift that will test the survival of humanity and all species. This is no time to sink into false optimism. This is time to make major changes in our lives, our economy, and our politics. This is the climate emergency.
DANIEL ROTHMAN FINDS MASS EXTINCTION DEEP IN THE OCEAN
There is a lot of interest in extinction lately. Species from birds to bees are disappearing and we hope humans are not next. Where are the limits? When is it too late?
Daniel Rothman is Professor of Geophysics at MIT and Co-Director of the Lorenz Center. His 2017 paper “Thresholds of catastrophe in the Earth system” was a startling new look at the role of carbon in the ocean. Now he’s published Part Two, with the somewhat obscure title “Characteristic disruptions of an excitable carbon cycle”. If you are wondering how it all could end, this quiet MIT mathematician and theoretical scientist has a rude warning for us all. We last spoke in November 2017.
Various scientists on this show say Earth has gone into a hot-house state many times. In fact, a much hotter climate is more “normal” for this planet than the ice ages we evolved in. But sometimes the transition can be rough, and a majority of species get wiped out. What leads to a mass extinction during warming some times, and not others? It seems pretty important to know! That is what Daniel Rothman set out to answer.
There are several ways people can misinterpret Daniel’s recent work. He is not really talking about increases in temperature, not about global warming per se. The new limit discovered, related to mass extinctions, is really about ocean acidification.
Rothman’s theory could blow up one of the key arguments for cooling the planet with geoengineering. Proponents suggest we cool the planet artificially, say by shooting sulfates into the air to reflect the sun, or brightening marine clouds. Sure ocean acidification would keep building up as we burn more fossil fuels, but that isn’t a great price to pay. But now research says temperature isn’t necessarily the key, and yes ocean acidification can lead to a disastrous mass extinction on its own.
Daniel stirred things up in his 2017 paper by saying we could hit a previously unknown carbon barrier in the ocean as early as the year 2100. This past summer, he published a follow-up paper in PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The title is “Characteristic disruptions of an excitable carbon cycle“.
The theory here is hard to grasp. There is a stable system in the ocean. It can become unstable, but somehow it can become “excitable” and really go off the rails. Rothman now says the planet may now be “at the precipice of excitation”.
Suppose we go ahead and put 300 gigatonnes more greenhouse gases into the ocean by 2090 or whenever. What happens then? We “launch” the instability that leads to mass extinction. But that can take a long time to show up, due to buffering by the ocean. He says “it will take another 10,000 years to reach maximum die-off of the species”.
This is from my 2017 blog of our earlier interview:
“At least with this study, Rothman is able to tell us what the threshold is – the level of carbon that could trigger the big slow release. That threshold can be measured in gigatons of carbon added to the ocean. He says 300 gigatons of carbon added to the seas would do it. We’ve added 150 gigatons since the industrial revolution, and most scientists expect we will put the last 150 gigatons by the end of this century. My take on this interview is that by 2100 we will indeed reach the trigger point for a release of those deep ocean stores of carbon, even though the release may be thousands of years later!”
But it’s important to realize Rothman’s new pathway to mass extinction does not require any force outside the ocean – no asteroid strike or volcanoes are required. The ocean acid cycle itself has grand cycles and disruptions that can lead to extremes where many species die.
Rothman never said humans will go extinct by end of this century. I expect someone to abuse this. He said mass extinction (which presumably includes humans?) BEGINS with a process in the global oceans that often ends up in mass extinctions, or at least always seems to accompany mass extinctions. But the Extinction Rebellion movement should be able to use Rothman’s work to reinforce the call for rapid cuts to carbon emissions to avoid extinction. We need to be under the 300 gigs of carbon into the ocean limit at the year 2100.
You can read a good introduction to Rothman’s new work in this MIT press release.
Here is a You tube report on the new 2019 paper on You tube from Real News
MORE TERROR FIRES IN AUSTRALIA – CAN THE KOALAS SURVIVE?
The terrible fire season in Australia continues. Among the victims, one of the most lovable animals, the Koala Bear. These vegetarians depend on leaves from the Eucalyptus trees which burn like oily flares in the fire. Forbes’s Trevor Nace reports on November 23rd, quote: “The chairman of the Australian Koala Foundation, Deborah Tabart, estimates that over 1,000 koalas have been killed from the fires and that 80 percent of their habitat has been destroyed.” Experts say the iconic little bears are now “functionally extinct” – although that is disputed by others. The worry is the population has dwindled below the numbers needed to keep reproducing new generations, and could easily be wiped out by disease or further fires.
When frightened, Koalas try to climb up into their Eucalyptus trees even though they are on fire. Perhaps you have seen the Guardian video of a brave woman running into the fire to save a Koala with her blouse and water bottle. It is heart-breaking in the extreme. If we cannot control ourselves and our emissions, we are entering the time of saying goodbye to many of our story book creatures. And countless creatures we don’t see will also disappear.
There are two great crisis in Nature today: climate change and mass extinction of living things.
We cannot lose sight of either one as we struggle to re-arrange our great hunger for more and more space and power from the limited resources on this planet.
I began the show with a quote from Noam Chomsky, recorded by Medhi Hassan in 2019.
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