William Calvin – Treating Climate Fever
Although it is certainly worthwhile and honorable to generally reduce our William Calvin is trying to get out. He wants you to know exactly what is really at stake and exactly how much time we have to do something about it. To summarize it in one sentence, Calvin says that carbon sequestration must be big and it must be quick. Unless the public, business and goverment are informed about the real impact of nonaction and the short time frames involved before the next major weather events may unfold, we cannot mobilize to lobby effectively for the required solutions., if we are not aware of the real danger of our situation, we may be squandering precious time on finding the right solution. This is exactly the message that Dr.
Dr. Calvin is a highly knowledgeable and respected researcher in the field of climate change and what he knows causes him incredible concern. He knows the impending danger so he doesn’t mince words when he speaks. Dr. Calvin has chosen to contextual the climate change problem we are facing as a Global Fever , a term taken from the name of his book Global Fever: How to treat climate change. Dr Calvin potrays the earth as a sick patient with an acute disease that requires immediate attention. Given his persuasive argument, his analogy is not far off. While long term solutions that address the cause of climate change are indeed necessary, he argues that we do not have the luxury of losing sight of the immediate short term needs.
The Basic Evidence
Dr Calvin argues that treating the current sources of CO2 emissions is not enough. The danger lay in the 350 Gigatons ofCO2 that we have already spewed into the atmosphere. There is already so much additional CO2 in the atmosphere that unless it is removed immediately, it will have disasterous impact on the planet. The graph in Fig.4 and Fig. 5 sums it all up.
To understand Calvin’s argument, look at Fig.4 first.
In Fig. 4, the graph plots the exponential rise in(man-made) CO2 in the atmosphere from 1950 to 2005. From 1950 to 1976, Fossil Fuel emissions tripled while excess CO2 doubled.
The key thing to note is that up to 1976, the global mean temperature did not track this change, but rather remained constant. When did average global temperature start rising? ….After 1976. Why? Look at the Fig. 5 to understand the answer.
Fig. 4: Exponential Growth of
In Fig. 5A, we see a graph showing El Nino and La Nina. This is a multi-variable index that roughly represents the temperature in the central Pacific Ocean. Up until 1976, the colder La Nina event’s dominated. The warming El Nino events were not very large or very long. After 1976, this situation effectively flipped; the El Nino’s become big and long and the La Nina’s became short and small.
Miller AJ, Cayan DR, Barnett TP, Graham NE, Oberhuber JM (1994) The 1976-77 climate shift of the Pacific Ocean. Oceanography 7:21-26.
In Fig. 5B, we see a graph of the land temperatures. No temperature trend is observed from 1950 to 1976, in spite of fossil fuel emissions tripling and CO2 doubling. The temperature wasn’t rising until in 1977, it began escalating at 3 deg./century, as predicted for global warming for some time. One likely reason the temperature ramp follows the flat period is that the ocean has a natural control system that regulates the temperature (things like increased cloudiness or evaporative cooling) but at a certain point it runs out of cooling capacity.
Fig. 5 Correlations: Ocean Currents, Temp & Drought
Fossil Fuel and CO2 emissions are acting to perturb the system but the built-in mechanisms help to regulate this temperature until like an overworked air conditioner, it runs out of cooling capacity and the temperature begins to now rise linearly. This correlates well with the flip observed in Fig. 2A.
In Fig. 5C, we see a graph showing drought. From 1950 to 1982, major drought as a percentage of land surface is about 14%. However, after the big El Nino in 1982, drought doubled and stayed there for the next 15 years until the next major El Nino which tripled and stayed there for 6 years and returned to double. The system appears to be latching up to double or triple the drought as existed in the earlier period.
Droughts cause huge forest fires, like the ones in Southeast Asia and the Amazon during the 1997 El Nino. Emissions tripled during the burning. In 2005, at the end of a long El Nino there was another severe drought in the Amazon aggravated by the Carribean heat wave that created the hurricane alley for hurrican Katrina and Rita. If these 1982 or 1997 El Nino’s were just one year longer, it could have burned and rotted most of the trees in these two tropical rain forest. The excess CO2 would have taken a 50% jump and there would be little recovery. Once all these trees are gone, they don’t grow back quickly. They never get back to trees….just grasslands and shrubs. This is a permanent loss of biomass and it would have been a mass extinction event affecting half the species in the Amazon.
How Much CO2 to Remove?
The total of this amount between 1950 and 2010 is the integral under the curve between these two times and amounts to 350 Gtons. The graph also shows that if emissions continue at a 3% rate, by 2030, there will be an additional 250 Gtons.
Calvin gives us a time window of about 20 years…from 2011 to 2030 to remove the sum total of all CO2:350 + 250 = 600 Gigatons of CO2. Dividing this by 20 gives us a sequestration rate of approximately 30 Gigatons/year for the next 20 years.
Fig. 6 Gigatons of CO2 emitted annually from 1950 to 2030
According to Calvin, it is the persistence of the 350 billion tons of existing GHG in the atmosphere that is responsible for the abrupt climate events. The current paradigm of Carbon Credits and the subsequent carbon market is only designed to slow down the rate of annual pollution; it does nothing to treat this very large already existing mass of GHG in the atmosphere.
Global Carbon Markets – Solution or no Solution?
The Global Carbon Market is the UN’s solution for reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions to acceptable levels. The basic concept is that industrial polluters are forced to offset their pollution by investing in projects that reduce emissions that would otherwise occur. There are 3 different mechanisms that create this market:
- Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – developed countries buy credits for projects that reduce emissions in developing countries – trades in Carbon Emission Reduction (CER) units – originated from the 2007 Kyoto Protocol
- Joint Implementation (JI) – developed countries buy credits for projects that reduce emissions in other developed countries – trades in Emission Reduction Units (ERU)
- Emissions Trading – European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) – a Cap and Trade scheme, Voluntary Carbon Market (ie. Chicago Climate Exchange) – Mostly US based Cap and Trade
During the United Nations 2010 Climate Change Conference in Cancun, countries agreed to keep the average global temperature warming below 2 Degree C in comparison to pre-industrial levels. So how successful has the global community been at achieving this target? Not very. In fact, the World Banks The State and Trends of the Carbon Market 2011 reports that the best case analysis from the 2010 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report estimates that developed and developing country pledges are 60 percent of what is needed by 2020 to place the world onto a trajectory that will keep global temperature rises to less than 2˚C in comparison to preindustrial levels. The International Energy Agency (IEA 2010) also estimates that the 2˚C goal will only be achievable with a dramatic scaling-up effort, particularly from major emitters.
According to the same report, CDM offset credits known as Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) have dropped 48% from $7.4 B in 2007 to $1.5 B in 2010. The ending of the Kyoto Protocol’s first compliance period at the end of 2012 will produce an unavoidable regulatory gap in the CDM market. There is no way to avoid this gap as ratification from all the member nations will probably continue beyond 2012. This hiatus means that there will be a great deal of uncertainty in the market about the future of CDM trading. There will also be little international pressure for comprehensive domestic climate change legislation.
In the aftermath of such uncertainty, the fossil fuel industry has returned to an attitude of self-regulation while believers of climate change are simply trying to do their best to create a more eco-friendly planet….all done without any incentives to reach the scientifically established targets. Add to that the media fatigue and increasing apathy and cynicism that the prolonged climate debate has incurred and we are not sitting in a very empowered position should the warnings of the majority of climate scientists be true.
Emergency Repair Plan
While Deforestration and Fossil Fuels got us into trouble, it does not follow that fixing them will get us out of trouble. Locking the barn door after the horse has gone does not recover the horse.
- William Calvin
Clearly, the UN’s solution does not go far enough in addressing what Calvin sees as the main problem. To avoid the increasing frequency and magnitude of abrupt climate change events, Calvin has proposed a large scale engineering solution that can remove most of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere for a surprisingly reasonable cost. Calvin considers this “putting the Genie back into the bottle” and expects that it can be accomplished within the next 20 years. We need a low carbon diet in the long run but we need to implement emergency repairs in the short run. This, according to Calvin, is analogous to a patient overdosing on Aspirin. The patient needs emergency dialysis to remove all the toxins in the system before they induce a heart attack.
What’s the time scale Calvin is discussing?…very short. In the next few years, we can easily spiral up to a catastrophic climate events that would overpower existing global resources to deal with it. Extrapolating from current patterns, we can expect to have up to half a dozen abrupt climate change events occur in the next 20 years. There could be even more, if we consider that the excess CO2 has doubled since 1976. Any one of these future events can have the dubious honor of being the first globally devastating one. With the world economic system at a point of near collapse, an extreme weather event of a global scale can induce a global depression. Abrupt climate change events are like heart attacks…they can range from mild to catastrophic. We can ignore the scientific data but that will be tantamount to gambling with humanities future. The only reasonable approach is to stop stressing the system so hard and reduce levels to reduce the probability of such abrupt changes from occurring.
How can we achieve 30 Gigatons/year of CO2 Sequestration?
So the question now becomes, how do we practically achieve this emergency repair? Calvin has analysized just about everything out there and found that most solutions are not big enough, not quick enough or are untested and insecure.
The current remaining global stocks of forests can sequester about 600 Gton however, the forest used to be much larger. Could we plant more trees to sequester an additional 600 Gtons? No, says Calvin, climate forecasts call for more drought and high wind, making it insecure against fire and rot.
Freeman Dyson, the famous physicist and climate change critic proposed in 1977 to plant a trillion fast growing trees to stop climate change. While that may have worked back then, is not feasible in todays climate with all the doubling that has happened.
Scrubbers can take as much energy to remove CO2 that to build them may require the equivalent of many more coal fired plants to supply them with energy.
What else? …..Oceans!
The only solution that Calvin can see that is big enough, fast enough and secure enough to sequester 600 Gigatons of CO2 in 20 years is the ocean.
Calvin’s proposal is to use a low tech solution: create plankton plantations in parts of the ocean that have access to the deep ocean. Vertical pipes filled with plankton would carry the carbon into the deep ocean, where it can circulate anywhere from 400 to 6000 years. It is a technique of basically burying a carbon-fixing crop much like a farmer plowing under a nitrogen-fixing cover crop of legumes. Calvin proposes creating massive offshore colonies of plankton farms….fertilize via pumping up and sink nearby via bulk flow.
Fig. 7: Proposed Solution of Plankton Plantations
Instead of sinking only the debris that is heavy enough, this system would be sinking the entire organic carbon soup of the wind-mixed layer of the ocean.
He emphasizes that this is only an emergency solution to displace 600 gigatons of CO2 into the deep ocean between now and 2030. It is not sustainable to continue pumping 30 Gigatons/year into the deep ocean. If sustainability technologies have reduced theCO2 significantly byt 2030, it may be feasible to pump the much lower annual levels into the ocean. This local vertical loop for fertilization and sequestration is relatively low-tech and merely mimics natural up- and downwelling processes. Research has also shown that the Earth’s recovery from the last major greenhouse episode 55 million years ago also involved sinking the excess carbon into the ocean depths (Bains et al 2000).
How much ocean surface and money does such a project require? Calvin calculates 0.8% of the oceans surface (or roughly the Carribean ocean) would be the required space while the required cost for a million vertical buoyed pipes at approximately $1,000 USD each would be a billion dollars. A benefit of the Plankton plantations is that they will draw a huge number of fish. Governments can then issue fishing licenses to help pay for the capital expenditure.
To put this one billion dollars in context, he compares that cost to the equivalent cost spent each month by dog owners in the United States on dog food. And to those who say that a massive geo-engineering project of this scale is tampering with nature, one could easily argue that pumping 600 Gigatons of CO2 into the earth’s atmosphere is a far greater, more dangerous and unpredictable human experiment.
(Click the picture to play the video)
The Horse has Left the Gate
Climate change denialists protest that (man-made) CO2 has no effect on increasing temperatures. They argue against the consensus of most scientists that 350 Gigatons (that’s 350,000,000,000 tons) of man-made CO2 now in the atmosphere has no effect on global warming. Unfortunately, their strategy of misinformation has been effective due to its impact on a voting population that is scientifically uneducated and easily confused. This delay tactic has brought civilization to the brink of disaster.
Fig.9: Climate Change (from www.williamcalvin.com)
The unwillingness for fossil fuel polluters to pay along with an effective misinformation campaign has rendered the Kyoto Protocol ineffective and has allowed the fossil fuel industry to continue spewing pollution unabated into the atmosphere. The ongoing publicity and confusion propagated in the media has also had a negative effect on the public, who are showing signs of media fatigue and apathy regarding the issue…exactly how the opponents of climate change like it.
The challenge to win the hearts of a misinformed public is proving as challenging as the technical challenge of solving the problem itself. There is no time to lose, however. Calvin claims that there is only a short time window of approximately a decade to make major changes. He and other proponents are proposing technological solutions that are global in scope and have environmental ramifications as well so the sooner a debate is started, the sooner the global community can decide if it’s something worth pursuing.
Regardless of what happens with CDM and the Kyoto Protocol, from Calvin’s perspective, the existing Carbon Credit solution does not address the main problem. To Calvin, the source of real danger lay in the large mass ofGHG already in the atmosphere and the Carbon Market mechanism does not sequester enough GHG compared to Calvin’s calculations.
Abnormal amounts of abrupt climate events are already a reality and each year, they seem to be growing in magnitude. This is due to the already existing levels of GHG in the atmosphere. ANY additional increase to the existing mass will simply add to the instability.
Clive Hamilton has a different view than Calvin. He believes we are past the point of being able to do anything. The UN has set a target of 2 Deg. C rise in global average temperatures as the bare minimum target we must reach to avoid the onset of even greater abrupt weather events. Hamilton, armed with the latest climate science statistics argues that we will easily exceed this.
If we target an Optimistic Projection, what would ourstabilize at? How hot would this be?
- Global Emissions peak in 2020 and thereafter decline
- 3% annually in developing countries
- 6 – 7% annually in developed countries
How optimistic are these?
Major historical comparisons:
- Britain’s Dash for Gas in the 1990′s reduced emissions by 1% per annum
- France’s nuclear program starting from 1970′s reduced emissions by 1% per annum
- Soviet Union a decade after fall of Berlin Wall reduced emissions by 5.2% per annum (but at the expense of a 50% drop in GDP)
therefore, these projections are looking VERY optimistic!
If we assume we can achieve this target, the latest science shows that we would stabilize emissions at 650.
- 450 – 2 Deg C of warming
- 550 – 3 Deg C of warming
- 650 – 4 Deg C of warming (or 5 to 6 Deg on land)
Warmer than at any time since the Miocene Era 15 million years ago
This book is about why we have ignored those warnings, so that now it is too late. It is a book about the frailties of the human species: our strange obsessions, our hubris, and our penchant for avoiding the facts. It is the story of a battle within us between the forces that should have caused us to protect the earth, like our capacity to reason and our connection to nature, and our greed, materialism and alienation from nature, which, in the end, have won out. And it is about the 21st century consequences of these failures, and what we can do now.
Clive Hamilton is an Australian author and public intellectual. In June 2008 he was appointed Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, a joint centre of the Australian National University, Charles Sturt University and the University of Melbourne.
For 14 years, until February 2008, he was the Executive Director of The Australia Institute, a progressive think tank he founded. He holds an arts degree from the Australian National University (majoring in history, psychology and pure mathematics) and an economics degree from the University of Sydney (majoring in economics and government, with first class honours in the former). He completed a doctorate at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex with a thesis titled ‘Capitalist Industrialisation in Korea’.
Before establishing The Australia Institute he taught in the Graduate Program in the Economics of Development at the ANU then joined the Australian Public Service, first with the Bureau of Industry Economics and then at the newly formed Resource Assessment Commission. He also worked as a resource economist in Indonesia.
Clive has held visiting academic positions at Yale University, the University of Sydney, the Australian National University, and the University of Cambridge.