Tag Archives: Anthropocene

Friday Linkage 7/17/2015

Where do the days go during the summer? Maybe it’s the lament of the modern age, but time does seem to just fly by.

On to the links…

We Broke a Whole Lotta’ Climate Records in 2014—For the record, it is not a good thing to be breaking these climate records. The world is getting hotter. The oceans can no longer absorb the excess heat. Weather is local and climate is global despite what clowns like James Inhofe say. Something is broken and we need to fix it. Fast.

How To Talk To A 5-Year-Old About Climate Change—What do you say, really? I am sorry that previous generations were selfish fools who stupidly left you with a big god damned mess to clean up?

Price of Solar Hits Record Low Again!—I keep looking at getting a solar panel installation on my roof and every time that I come back to the idea it seems like solar has hit a new price record.

Can Installation Innovations Keep Cutting Solar Soft Costs?—While panels have gotten a lot cheaper in recent years, the soft costs of a solar system have been a lot stickier. It just costs a lot of money to put people on your roof installing panels.

Gas Surges Ahead of Coal in US Power Generation—Nobody wants to be associated with coal anymore. The companies that mine coal are losing value like crazy. Power companies want to transition away from the dirty fuel. Customers do not want to pay for an energy source that is killing the planet. Can we finally start playing taps over the body of coal?

Wind Power Generates 140% Of Denmark’s Power Demand—Sometimes these numbers are a result of locally favorable conditions and not a product of long term trends. I still love seeing a country generate so much green power that it almost has to give it away to neighbors.

23% Of New Cars In Norway Now Electric Cars—I know Norway subsidizes the hell out of EVs, but I am impressed by the adoption rate.

Solar Provided 2.4% Of Australia’s Power Generation In 2014—2.4% might not seem like a big number, but it is huge for solar.

Australian Government Curbs Investments in Wind and Solar Energy—About the time you think Australia is on the right path deploying renewables and protecting the environment the government goes all retro on you.

‘Before and After’ Satellite Imagery Shows how Earth’s Prominent Features Change—I could spend hours looking at similar photo sets with sliders showing change over time. We live in the Anthropocene for sure.

Rotterdam may Pave its Roads in Recycled Plastic—Maybe there is finally a use for all of those single use plastic water bottles that seem to multiply when the weather gets hot.

SeaWorld Accused of Sending Employee to Infiltrate Animal Rights Protests—Really SeaWorld? Really?

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You Must Read—The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Any event that has occurred just five times since the first animal with a backbone appeared, some five hundred million years ago, must qualify as exceedingly rare. The notion that a sixth such event would be taking place right now, more or less in front of our eyes, struck me as, to use the technical term, mind-boggling. [Page 7]

The extinction of a species is an extraordinary event—think about a child learning that the dodo was essentially wiped off the face of the Earth by human behavior—yet there is a cycle where mass numbers of extinction events occur. For all intents and purposes, the evidence points us to a conclusion that human beings are about to witness a mass extinction of species.

9781250062185Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is the most accessible book that I have ever read dealing with the science behind the extinction of species. Generally, books on this topic are dense academic or scientific works that quickly bore and confuse the general public with detail that is not of interest to the general public. Making scientific knowledge accessible to even an educated general public is no small feat and should be considered a success in and of itself. Furthermore, Kolbert weaves a rapid paced tale that engrosses the reader with both the amazing variety of natural life on the planet and the very precarious nature of so much of that life.

The story is quite simple. Humans are the weediest species on the face of the planet. As a species we inhabit all forms of habitats and manipulate those habitats to suit our preferences. Furthermore, through industrial development and behavior we have begun to fundamentally alter the chemistry of the entire biosphere. The end result is that as the conditions around the planet change a great number of species will be unable to adapt or move leading to their extinction. All that will remain will be the weeds of the plant and animal worlds.

How many species will go extinct? We do not know because “Yet another possible explanation for why observations don’t match predictions is that humans aren’t very observant.” [Page 187] We do not even know how many species exist at this moment in time, so if something is lost that was never discovered how will we account for its loss? The answer is that we will not and the world will be a less amazing place.

What frightens me the most in reading this book and others on climate change’s impacts is that we have no idea how forthcoming changes will impact the livability of the planet. It’s one thing to talk about aggregate temperature increase or species going extinct or sea levels rising, but it is another thing entirely to imagine the collapse of entire ecosystems because the connections between species are lost. The web of life seemed like such an easy concept to grasp when you are a middle school student in your first real biology class. It seems like a scary ass concept now that you are an adult staring at human derived climate change that is messing up the basic operating rules for the entire Earth.

I do not know if it is all doom and gloom. I would like to think that for the sake of my small children the world will not be such a grim place by the time they reach adulthood with children of their own. I just seem to lose hope the more that I learn.

You Must Read—Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming

If you spend enough time around researchers or market analysts you will learn one adage—it’s not what a company says that is important, it’s where a company puts its money that matters. This is not just about “following the money” per se, but trying to determine where a company thinks it is wisest to invest for the most return.

9781594204012As you read McKenzie Funk’s Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming it is readily apparent that there are a lot of people all around the world who are betting on a very different climate in the near term.

Whether it’s the coming thaw in the Arctic that will allow for reliable shipping through the famed Northwest Passage or the inevitable fight that will occur over the oil and minerals long buried beneath ice choked landscapes there are companies and governments betting on that future. It is telling that they are not betting on a future where the potential warming stalls out and the landscape looks like it does today. How does that make you feel about international climate accords? Thought so.

The business of global warming is actually pretty frightening. As wildfire season begins again in the American west—if it ever really ends anymore as persistent drought is the rule of the day—insurance giants are turning to private fire companies to protect high value properties. It’s a libertarian’s wet dream in warmer world. Private fire companies pale in comparison to what the business of water in a hotter and drier world looks like. Parts of the world will also get wetter, but the amount of potable freshwater will decline so it is not really a net gain.

Funk’s book is not just about the business of global warming, but the radical restructuring of our complex civilization that may occur because of climate change. Some places will witness sea levels rise more than others because of plate tectonics, ocean sub-floor, etc. It’s not fair because the places most likely to be dramatically affected are the same places that emit very little carbon on a per capita basis. No one in Bangladesh is responsible for global warming.

Apparently there are winners in this global reordering as Greenland will likely move closer to independence based on the fact that it has rich resources which will become viable for extraction as glaciers melt into the sea. Greenland’s gain, Denmark’s loss, and the world is just screwed in general.

The one real takeaway from Windfall was that the people who are most likely to see their lives washed away are the poorest and least responsible for the changes brought about in the Anthropocene. Rich people in the developed western world will build flood barriers and desalination plants and move to higher ground, but there are billions of people who cannot. How chaotic will our future be when we have displaced hundreds of millions if not billions of people? That is really scary.