Friday, January 18, 2013

575 Gigatons

Five-hundred-seventy-five gigatons is how much carbon dioxide we can put into the atmosphere without the Earth’s temperature going over 2º C (3.6ºF). The total carbon stored in the ground is about five times that much. In other words, 80% of known reserves of fossil energy has to stay in the ground if we’re not to exceed that number.

Australia has recently sweltered in a heat wave so intense its weather service had to add two colors to its temperature map to represent temperatures over 50ºC (122ºF). High temperatures and brisk winds have spawned vast wildfires there. Hurricane Sandy brought the lowest barometric readings ever recorded in the Northeast and had hurricane force winds that stretched for about 950 miles. Sixty percent of the contiguous US is experiencing drought; about half of that is categorized severe, extreme or exceptional.

The extreme weather we are now experiencing is the result of ‘only’ 0.8ºC so the impact of a 2ºC increase has to be daunting if not almost incomprehensible. And yet we are not only headed in that direction but our emissions are actually accelerating. Whereas we, the world, need to reduce our emissions by 5% a year to save ourselves, emissions rose by 3% last year, the fastest rise ever!

China is opening a new coal-fired power plant every week. By 2020 it will double its coal consumption. (This is not without its immediate environmental consequences – Beijing of late experienced extreme pollution levels.) It’s also damming every river in the country and is the world’s largest producer and consumer of solar installations, but that doesn’t change the fact that its emissions are rising very fast as a result of its high growth rates. It’s not the only culprit, new coal plants are opening all over the world, including here in Cambodia. And in total contradiction to common sense, the consensus in the financial community is that China needs to wean itself from exports and encourage its people to consume more. The elite who run the world are living in a 20th century bubble and are completely divorced from reality.

The US media has been gushing uncontrollably of late about how fracking is opening up large new reserves of oil and gas and the country may be self-sufficient in ten years. That is mostly hype since yields from fracking wells fall precipitously after the first year – 60 to 90% in most wells, but regardless, that fossil fuel needs to stay in the ground to save the world, and that would be true even if fracking didn’t cause permanent groundwater contamination. The idea that permanent loss of groundwater is a worthy tradeoff for 5 or 10 years of cheap fossil fuel is ludicrous, stupid and insane, but that’s exactly what’s happening.

To make it clear where the US stands on climate change, at the recent Doha climate conference it worked its damnedest to scupper, stymie, put a spanner in the works to prevent any meaningful global action on climate change. (It was also beyond ironic - but telling of the political world’s real attitude towards climate change - that the conference was held in Doha which has the highest per capita emissions in the world.) Obama has made clear that doing anything serious about global warming is less important than dealing with unemployment, etc. And yet… the economic conversion necessary to tackle the climate problem would be the best way to put people to work. Mr. Compromise doesn’t understand that the climate is not negotiable, that it cannot be fixed with a political compromise. It’s a real-world engineering problem which portends certain catastrophe if not dealt with immediately and is not at all like making sausage.

I greatly admire those activists who’re putting their life into trying to make a difference, and I guess, by writing this, I’m doing it too in my own limited way, but still it’s hard not to feel pessimistic. Regardless, we need to be apprised of what’s happening, active in trying to change the paradigm and aware of the consequences of continuing on our present path… even if we can’t do anything about it. In this case we are, by being active, working for our own personal salvation even if the world, as we know it, is doomed.

And a short comment on packaging…

100% Ain’t What it Used to Be

I always liked V-8 juice; good taste, 100% vegetable juice. There are juice companies here in Asia that do veggie juice but they always add fruit to the mix. Orange juice is added to carrot, Apple juice added to green veggies, etc.  So occasionally (because it’s relatively expensive) I’d buy a can of V-8… until I discovered 100% ain’t what it used to be. Underneath the easy-to-read words, 100% vegetable juice, in script that is partially obscured, that you might not notice right off, it says, with added ingredients. How ingenious to create something that’s 100% and not 100% at the same time!

I recently bought a container of grated parmesan cheese made in America. On the front it says 100% real cheese in one place and 100% grated parmesan cheese in another. On the list of ingredients, however, it says powdered cellulose added to prevent caking. Somehow the powdered cellulose (most likely ground up wood) doesn’t count as part of the 100%. All the more reasons why I try to avoid any type of packaged food produced in America… not that I trust foodstuffs produced in Asia (honesty in packaging from China?) but when it comes from the US, it’s almost certain to be tainted.

Food labeled organic is usually a good bet, but now that major corporations have taken over the larger organic food producers they’ve started pestering the FDA to loosen organic standards so they can legally adulterate their ‘organic’ products. Since Obama recently appointed a Monsanto hack to head an important FDA office, that loosening is very likely to happen.

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