Atmospheric rivers and record heat appear at both Poles. Scientist Paul Beckwith on latest IPCC report. From France, global climate action: Nicolas Haeringer of 350.org on activism despite compound crisis of war, pandemic, instability.
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POLE TO POLE WITH PAUL BECKWITH
Both Poles are strangely hot. Eastern Australia just had biblical rains; the Pacific Northwest too. Storms and record-setting numbers of tornadoes hammer the U.S. mid-west. This sounds like a good time to figure out what to do. From the results of thousands of scientific papers, experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just issued the last part of their every-five-years reports. It is called the Working Group III report – but who cares? The world is sick, broke, and at war right now.
Why is weather so strange so soon? What does the IPCC say we can do about catastrophic climate change? Paul Beckwith is the Canadian climate scientist who tracks all this. Paul has attended a couple of international climate conferences, including COP26 in Glasgow last November. He makes summaries of science for the rest of us in his popular YouTube channel.
Of course we begin with the strange coincidence of warm atmospheric rivers striking both Poles in the same time period. The extreme high temperatures in Antarctica shocked scientists around the world. Paul covers that, and root causes in the Jet Stream, in this YouTube video.
Last week, I interviewed American scientist Samantha Stevenson about her study of wildfires and floods. She told us “mega drought” has arrived in the U.S. Southwest, and is coming to the Mediterranean. But Stevenson also warned of “megapluvial” periods in other places.
Sydney Australia just surpassed their normal one year’s worth of rainfall on April 7, with another record-setting 24 hours right after that. Extreme flood warnings were posted last week for all of New South Wales. But that could be a temporary extreme event, rather than the prolonged state envisioned by the word “mega-pluvial. Some places will get much wetter, whether rain or snow, not just for the next few years, but possibly for hundreds of years. Think about that.
The Working Group III report has more worrying news for us. For example, greenhouse gas emissions have risen quickly over past two decades. They say: “Global net anthropogenic GHG emissions were 59±[6.6] Gt CO2-eq in 2019, [and that is] about 12% (6.5 Gt CO2-eq) higher than in 2010 and 54% (21 GtCO2-eq) higher than in 1990.” Our massive emissions got even 12% larger in just the last decade.
So despite the Paris Accord, and loads of green talk from governments and media, emissions are just getting worse. My own country Canada just announced approval for the Bay du Nord oil drilling mega project off Canada’s east coast. This was announced by Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault, who was once a Greenpeace climate campaigner. What is wrong with Canada?
BIT OF GOOD NEWS
In the good news from WGIII, the cost of solar energy has fallen 85% in just the last decade. Wind energy is 55% less expensive, and lithium-ion batteries cost 85% less to produce. And yet, it seems with wind and solar we just add to the growing pyramid of energy use on this planet. It’s good, but can renewables ever be enough?
NO GOING BACK
New in this IPCC WGIII report, for the world governments signing off at least, is an admission that after 2030, there is no way to stay at the safer climate disruption of 1.5 degrees C of warming. They say: This implies that mitigation after 2030 can no longer establish a pathway with less than 67% probability to exceed 1.5°C during the 21st century.”
As UK scientist Kevin Anderson points out, there are still a lot of unicorn solutions in these intergovernmental reports. For example, this third report envisions an “overshoot” – where global average mean temperature goes over 1.5 degrees C in the next few decades, but then magically humankind manages to bring that overshoot back down.
HEADING TO 3 DEGREES
This new IPCC report is massive. Even the Executive Summary is 69 pages of very dense and technical material. Buried in there is this reality:
“Without a strengthening of policies beyond those that are implemented by the end of 2020, GHG emissions are projected to rise beyond 2025, leading to a median global warming of 3.2 [2.2 to 3.5 range] °C by 2100 “.
So, without revolutionary changes to our energy economy, world governments and scientists know where we are heading, and it’s not good.
The latest report offers eight categories of scenarios for a hotter world, depending on human responses. The lowest best-we-can-hope-for Category One promises just a 50% chance of staying at 1.5 degrees C warming by 2100. But listen to Category 8, the ultimate risk for our current behavior: “Category C8 comprises modelled scenarios that exceed warming of 4°C during the 21st century with a likelihood of 50% or greater. In these scenarios warming continues to rise beyond the 21st century.”
They are saying, on our current path of emissions (which might keep on increasing!) – it is just as likely as not warming on Earth will surpass 4 degrees C by the end of this century.
Many experts worry organized human civilization cannot survive past 3 degrees of warming. Nobody knows if the ecosystem humans depend on can survive 4 degrees C of warming. We do not know at what point humans will go extinct along with most large mammals. How much warming does it take for a mass extinction event to occur? Research on mass species die-offs in past ages suggest that great dying barrier may be below 4 degrees C of warming.
According to the IPCC Working Group III report, there is no way to stay below the super dangerous 2 degree warming level – without abandoning existing fossil fuel infrastructure, including all the new investments being made now. Not just coal mines, but oil wells and fossil-powered generating stations need to close down to save a livable climate. Why do you think governments and big banks are still financing more oil, gas and coal?
One suggestion in this report: move industries that require a lot of energy to places that can make power from safe and renewable sources. The aluminum industry has done this, moving their manufacturing to Canada for hydro power, and Iceland for geothermal power. But to rationalize the world for climate safety, a lot of industries, jobs, and people would have to move where the new energy can be found. It sounds like science-fiction don’t you think?
The U.N. report says we need to change residential and commercial buildings to Net-zero standards. Back in 2008, I ran interviews and workshops on building Passivhaus buildings that did not need a furnace or air-conditioning. New building, or retrofitting places is a slow process over decades. Should that be part of our program, or is it too late?
This report from the IPCC is super-conservative as always. For example, they say carbon dioxide removal is “unavoidable if net zero CO2 or GHG emissions are to be achieved.” And yet they have little confidence in natural approaches, like storing CO2 in forests or soils. They question any benefits from biochar. What is this bias that high-tech solutions are good, and natural ways are not?
The WGIII report dives into policy documents almost unknown to the public. For example, they plan to evaluate climate action using Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted under the UN 2030 Agenda. Few people know what those goals are, but anyway a paper published in March 2020 points out “The world is not on track to achieve many human-development related Sustainable Development Goals.” How can we evaluate climate success or failure based on another set of goals that are also failing?
As we go further into this WGIII report, the language is all about policy and very light on meaning. For example, this bit of prose: “Attention to equity and broad and meaningful participation of all relevant actors in decision-making at all scales can build social trust, and deepen and widen support for transformative changes. (high confidence).” In what world, in what country, is there a lot of social trust, and participation in decisions? I never thought the IPCC could be too idealistic…
CONNECTIONS FOR BECKWITH
Paul Beckwith already posted his first impressions video about the WGIII report on YouTube. Find all his videos here at the Paul Beckwith YouTube channel, or use his blog here.
In the interview Paul talks about being on this podcast, with Peter Wadhams
Episode 434 Help! The Ice is Melting – host Metta Spencer
IN THE END: FAILURE
The last section of the new IPCC report is where we should be getting the big plan. It’s not there – just a collection of the usual green ideas, but expressed in language only lawyers could love. There was a lot of last-minute delay and haggling about this report. Read this disturbing bit from ClimateChangeNews.com:
“Language on risks and feasibility concerns about carbon dioxide removal techniques was toned down. References to shifting away from coal, oil and gas were qualified with the word ‘unabated’ and ‘fossil fuels with CCS’ was identified as a way to cut emissions in line with global climate goals.
A whole section was introduced on CCS, describing the technology as ‘an option’ to cut emissions from fossil fuel use and in the industry sector. It notes that CCS has the capacity to store more carbon under ground that what is needed by 2100 to limit warming to 1.5C, albeit with some regional limitations.
And the report makes clear that CCS technology is the way to keep the oil and gas industry alive: ‘Depending on its availability, CCS could allow fossil fuels to be used longer, reducing stranded assets,’ it states.”
“alarmingly reserved, docile, and conservative”
Some scientists fear it was all watered-down. In the first week of April, the climate group Scientist Rebellion held a week of actions around the release of the new IPCC Summary for Policy Makers. The Science Rebellion people said the WGIII report is “alarmingly reserved, docile, and conservative.” I will have an interview from a scientist who is part of that “rebellion” next week.
So here’s the thing. Science has been great tracking our climate past, and modelling most likely futures. The first two Working Group reports were conservative, but still a great resource. But when it comes to finding solutions in a complex, nasty world, science can’t go there. This last Working Group report on what to do seems weak. They really don’t have a vision to get us out of the climate crisis. Does anybody at this point see a way out?
Let us assume that big corporations and governments are not going to act, in time, to save us from climate Hell. We can also assume that writing big summaries every five years, and getting it all approved by the same fossil fuel producing nations, isn’t going to work either. If we really want to stop devastating climate disruptions, do we need a new kind of institutions, a global awakening, revolution, or what? What do you think?
One of my recent themes on this program: climate action can’t wait for a quiet spot in the news. The pandemic is back for another wave, food prices are worrying billions of people, and war has taken over the mainstream news. We need to get ready for killer heat waves, historic storms, and coastal cities flooding out. We need ideas and bodies to keep the spotlight on climate action – even with other crisis going on and on.
CLIMATE ACTIVISM IS ALIVE: NICK HAERINGER, 350.org
Let’s get a perspective from European activism. For many years, Nicolas Haeringer has been a voice for peace and climate justice. He organizes, publishes articles, connects people, and speaks to media. Nicolas is Associate Director Movement Partnerships for 350.org. From France, we welcome Nicolas Haeringer to Radio Ecoshock.
When I told Nicolas the Third Working Group Report lacked clear vision of what humanity must do – Nicolas said the vision is now up to us. We have the facts, and some tools are laid out. The choices of what to accept and what to avoid are on the table. Now the visionaries and activists step in, along with whatever governments decide the climate threat is real and actionable.
We talk about activism in this new decade. When the pandemic struck, it was risky to bring crowds together for protests. We thought: wait a year and then resume climate action. Now over two years later we still have the virus, AND the war in Ukraine is eating up most media time and public attention. So the last two IPCC reports went almost unnoticed and disappeared into media dust. This is the challenge: how can we work for climate action even during multiple other crisis?
VISIT 350.ORG’S NEW SITE
The International People’s Platform for Climate Justice
Stories of resistance and people-powered solutions from the global climate justice movement
Nicolas recently published an article titled “We must turn solidarity with Ukraine into the new normal for all refugees”. Is there a climate connection. Yes indeed. We hear predictions that global warming and climate disruption in the next decades could force unheard of waves of refugees: more millions of people searching for safer places to live. Can the world-as-it-is keep going when so many humans are on the move?
Nicolas points out possibilities even in the suffering of Ukrainians. The war in Ukraine has brought new conditions that many thought impossible before, including new looks at the perils of depending on fossil fuels. This time, activism on Ukraine spread even to sports and corporate behavior.
In our interview, Nicolas raises protests against construction of the East African Crude Pipeline, a multimillion dollar project headed by the French oil giant TotaleEnergies. I hope to bring you more on that under-reported mega-project next week.
BACK-SLIDING TO FOSSIL FUELS IN TIME OF CONFLICT
As a response to Russian forces in Ukraine, and the rocky European dependence on Russian gas, many governments and big oil companies announce major new projects to bring more fossil fuels out of the ground. Canada, which talked so green after COP26, just announced approval the Bay du Nord oil drilling project in the stormy ocean off Newfoundland on the East Coast. Canada is among a rush of backsliding into old and deadly energy exploits.
Canada’s environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault was a Greenpeace climate activist in the 1990’s. He hung off Canada’s highest tower to protest lack of climate action. But now he promises this giant ocean oil project will be net zero emissions by 2050. This is a sad joke. How can there be “net zero” after bringing up millions of gallons of oil to be burned into the atmosphere?
The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres just tweeted this:
“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.”
So the “truly dangerous radicals” are fossil fuel giants. We are not just talking about Russia or religious dictatorships of the Middle East. Democracies, supposedly the “good guys”, are the biggest fossil Mafia: the United States, Australia, Norway, and my own country Canada, all sell out the future. We sell lethal drugs, lethal for humans and all our living companions. Is that too extreme to say?
CAN WE MAKE IT?
The latest IPCC report says we are in a race to make major, major changes to all levels of society, in every corner of the world Our emissions need to peak by 2025. Then greenhouse gas emissions need to be drastically reduced by 2030. So far, we don’t see any of that happening. Greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 set another new record. So honestly, personally, I don’t think humanity can avoid 2 or 3 degrees of warming by end of century.
Too many people long to get back to “normal”, which means flights, cruises, and buy everything – no matter what it costs the environment. Even the possibility of world war doesn’t seem to end our climate suicide cycle. Will change be a long slog, or could we be surprised by a revolution in our lives?
From 350.org in France, Nicolas Haeringer was our guest. Listeners can get climate action stories, learning from bright minds around the world, at ourclimateimpact.org. And of course you should plug into 350.org on a bunch of social media platforms, including their Twitter feed @350.
Thank you for listening again this week, as our guests help us navigate strange times. Please don’t forget to help Radio Ecoshock in this time of need!
Stay tuned. I’m Alex Smith. Keep on caring.