Can we curb our carbon emissions in time to stop climate catastrophe?

The odds are bad.

Heroic, extraordinary action is required. Are you ready?

chat Posted Jul 07, 2015 by Rezwan | Category : Obstacles Narrative
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This post is heavy. If you like, you can skip the bad news and leap straight to action! Remeber, the worst thing you can do in the face of bad news is nothing. The best thing you can do is take all necessary action.

And now back to the bad news in progress.

Awful Skies Ahead

Things are bad. Very bad. In “The Awful Truth About Climate Change No One Wants to Admit”,  David Roberts gazes in wonder at our impending doom.

The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit.

How awful?  Check out The world’s most famous climate scientist just outlined an alarming scenario for our planet’s future. 

Google Engineers Agree: We Need Miracles

As Ross Koningstein & David Fork, the engineers who headed up Google’s renewables division discovered:

Even if every renewable energy technology advanced as quickly as imagined and they were all applied globally, atmospheric CO2 levels wouldn’t just remain above 350 ppm; they would continue to rise exponentially due to continued fossil fuel use. So our best-case scenario, which was based on our most optimistic forecasts for renewable energy, would still result in severe climate change, with all its dire consequences: shifting climatic zones, freshwater shortages, eroding coasts, and ocean acidification, among others. Our reckoning showed that reversing the trend would require both radical technological advances in cheap zero-carbon energy, as well as a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering the carbon.

And now it seems that the technology isn’t even advancing as quickly as possible.

Wait, what’s this about Atmospheric CO2 levels continuing to rise exponentially? How is that possible?

The Carbon Bathtub: the Key to understanding our predicament

National Geographic has developed a brilliant “Carbon bathtub” infographic to show us what we’re dealing with. Click on the image. Take a good look. Read the fine print. Digest.

As the post notes, most people, even “very bright and schooled in calculus” have a difficult time grasping system dynamics. Think of aquifers. When you drain your “aquifer bathtub” faster than it is recharged, you end up with a drought-doomed California. It’s a fundamental systems accounting and budget balancing problem. Think of debt - unless you earn more than you spend, the debt piles up. And the creditors come.

Right now, they are standing at your door.

The Carbon Bathtub makes it clear. Even if we hold emissions steady at present rates, we continue to fill the atmosphere with ever more CO2. Feedback loops are kicking in. What we take for granted now will go away.

Action is required: The only way to reverse this is to get to ZERO emissions, and BEYOND: to take additional carbon out of the atmosphere. As soon as possible, NOW.

What do you mean, “As soon as possible”? Like by 2050?

Now means NOW

Make the decision NOW.  Take the shot NOW.

2050 is too late. 2030 is too late. We need to flip the switch TODAY.

Concentrate. Go over what needs to happen, the choices you need to make, your best options. It doesn’t take long to think this through.  You can do it. We can do it.

We can set into motion TODAY all the things that need to be set into motion. And then hold our breaths and hope it works.

Remember, we have never had as much prosperity and capability in history as we do today. We have at our disposal billions of highly educated people with marvelous communications networks and breathtaking tools and innovations. We have never been more able to make dramatic, conscious, collective, globe-altering, quality-of-life-improving decisions.

The steps required to change things are straightforward. In a flat out push, we need to shut down fossil fuel burning power plants and replace them with zero carbon power plants; electrify our transportation, heating, cooking; reconfigure the economy to…

Whoa there! Easy with the radical talk. It can’t be that bad. All the official plans are for reasonable emissions reductions by 2030, 2050, 2100. It looks like we’re meeting our targets.

The Officials Don’t Want to Upset You. They Want Your Vote.

Do you think the official plans are “reasonable”?  Take the NJ State Energy Master Plan. The “Renewable Portfolio Standards” (RPS) targets for the State are: electricity 22.5% renewable by 2021 and 70% by 2050.

Note that electricity is just 40% of energy used by the state. So this is 70% of 40% (that’s 28%) by 2050.

Is that “reasonable”?

No. It’s not. You still have 70% fossil fuels in 2050. The carbon bathtub is bubbling over.

If it’s not reasonable, why don’t the official plans say so? Per the David Roberts article

Politicians, he says, want good news. They want to hear that it is still possible to limit temperature to 2°C. Even more, they want to hear that they can do so while avoiding aggressive emission cuts in the near-term — say, until they’re out of office.

Climate scientists, Geden says, feel pressure to provide the good news. They’re worried that if they don’t, if they come off as “alarmist” or hectoring, they will simply be ignored, boxed out of the debate. And so they construct models showing that it is possible to hit the 2°C target. The message is always, “We’re running out of time; we’ve only got five or 10 years to turn things around, but we can do it if we put our minds to it.”

That was the message in 1990, in 2000, in 2010. How can we still have five or 10 years left? The answer, Geden says, is that scientists are baking increasingly unrealistic assumptions into their models.

Those @#$%& politicians and the enabling climate scientists. It’s all their fault.

Who do you think they are enabling?

Politicians Avoid Bad News Because They Want YOUR Vote. YOU are the one with the power.

Do you recognize your own power? You are the player. You have the most power in this game.

Politicians are your representatives. They are afraid of angering you, the voter, so they want good news to give you. And they don’t want to make any hard choices for you. (Yes, they are also fueled by money from special interests. Your votes, letters, angry phone calls, trump special interests.) 

Politicians need to hear from YOU about what to do. This means you need to be informed and have a clear list of options you want them to act on. This is a democracy. Do your part.

My part? I don’t have time to wade through all the information.

To Help You Wade Through All the Information, We’re Producing the Zero Carbon Playbook

It IS a lot of work to wade through the information. That’s why we started Footprint to Wings - to do a lot of this work for you. We’re systematically compiling and evaluating the options - the full suite of effective, adds-up-to-net-zero-carbon actions - to help you pick your best moves and…YES! Take action.

We are putting all this information into the Zero Carbon Playbook and setting up the Zero Carbon Scoreboard to track it.

We need funds to finish this work ASAP. Donate to make it happen

What? Give you money?

Yes. That’s how we’ll get the work done. We’re a 501c3. Your contribution is tax deductible. More information here.  Don’t delay, Donate today!

Of course, whether or not you donate to this initiative, you need to take action. Feel free to borrow a copy of the book when it’s done, or piece through the information on your own and decide on action. And then take the action.

Your action is is required to get us to zero carbon, and beyond

Contemplate the big moves. Start with the contradictions. Are you against fracking? Is your house heated with natural gas? Awkward.

What would it cost to switch to electric heating? Geothermal?

Say you want to make a switch, but some other things are in the way. What are those things? What could happen to facilitate the switch? Financing? More sources of clean energy to power the electric heat system? Now we’re getting into teamwork. Switching takes coordinated effort. It’s much easier to coordinate that effort when every player knows their moves.

How about transport. Have you been tracking the improvements in electric cars? At what point do you plan to switch over? What could make it happen faster and who can you bug about that?

Wow, those are big switches. And “teamwork”? What if it’s too much? What if we can’t do it?

You can do it. We can do it. Don’t sell yourself or your fellow humans short. We’re a pretty capable, resilient, inventive lot. There IS a lot to do, but it’s inspiring, invigorating action that makes the world ever more delightful to be in. When we’re through, “The Greatest Generation” will apply to us, for the amazing achievement that will unfold.

What if I don’t want to do it?

You’ll have a list of the things you didn’t do. May it haunt you.

Thanks a lot! You know, I still think you’re overstating the bad news. There’s lots of great news out there. Read the headlines.

I think you’re stalling.  (No, wait!  You’re bargaining! That’s the 3rd stage of grief! Excellent!)  Since you mention it, check out how “Good Climate News” Headlines Bury the (Bad News) Lead.

Well of course they’re burying the lead. The news is “our best isn’t good enough.”  Why try if everything will fail?  I’m so depressed.

That’s not our best. We have a range of options. Also, “depressed” is the 4th stage of grief. We’re doing great here.

Will this zero carbon playbook just say we should be more vigorous in switching to 100% renewable energy?  Because those Google Guys said that wasn’t possible.

While technically possible, a pure 100% Renewable solution is pretty hard core. In our playbook, there’s no need to confine yourself to one solution. There IS a need to get familiar with the solutions and choose something NOW, before you run out of options.

Feel free to research your options on your own. Feel free to help us with The Zero Carbon Playbook. Indeed, if you’re researching a particularly effective play, feel free to write a chapter of the playbook. This is a collaborative project! I may have forgotten to mention that. 

The purpose of the Zero Carbon Playbook is to present multiple options and the probable costs, benefits and impact of each of them on your life. This will help clarify your choices, let you pick your portfolio. You could go with 100% Renewables. You could add Nuclear. You could explore Lifestyle Change (“universal basic income,” anyone?). It’s all about your choice and power. And teamwork.

With reality checks and math.

You have Options. Explore them. Now. And Make Choices. Now. And let’s get to Zero Carbon, ASAP.

You’ve heard the bad news. The best part of this news is that you know you can do something about it. If you don’t do anything - that will be the worst part of the news.

What’s your choice?

Hit it hard. Let’s get it done.

Bonus: Not only will your action get us to zero, it will make you feel better.

As David Cain illustrates in “How to get yourself to do things,” when you know what you need to do, but balk at doing it, your anxiety, fear and shame only grow. Once you actually start doing something about it, the energy shifts. You are working on the solution, and the bad feelings go away.

Is the graph above true for you?


Right NOW, we need to hit this problem with everything we’ve got.  The good news is there are a lot of bold, decisive ways to fix this.

There are three main levers you need to weigh in on:

Your conscious decision on the following are required. Your job is to consider the portfolio of options, take action where you can, and communicate clearly to the rest of your team (friends, family, pension plan administrators, companies you do business with, politicians) what your decisions are and what actions of theirs you encourage and support. The levers are:

1) Renewables + Energy Efficiency
You’ve heard a lot about these options. Have you taken them as far as you can?

2) Lifestyle Change
We don’t hear enough about this option, and it’s often presented as a “sacrifice”. In fact, it’s the best one of the lot because - do you really like living in a dog-eat-dog world?

3) Nuclear Energy
We can literally nuke this problem. Does the idea intrigue you or fill you with horror? Consider a Renewables + Nuclear conversation to explore the option.

Additional Levers
There are a number of other levers and tips for moving the levers (financing mechanisms, for example). There are “Hail Mary Passes” we need to take as well (funding research into long shot energy ideas). Carbon sequestration and other geo-engineering solutions are required to go past zero. 

Unless you can prove otherwise, we’re going to need all of the above. And we’re going to need it all to kick in right away. If we hit it hard, we just might make it into the end zone in style and in time to do the victory dance.

Donate to Get Zero Carbon Playbook

We’re clarifying each of the levers above. We’re listing and clearly describing each of the options. These are real, move-the-needle, get-to-zero action items. We’re systematically evaluating them and adding them to the Zero Carbon Playbook.  This book will help you quickly grasp the steps you need to take, and the people you need to bug to take their steps (TEAMWORK!). Please make a generous donation to Footprint to Wings to help us complete this book ASAP.


Please don’t wait for publication of this book to start taking action NOW on the things you know you could be doing.

Notes & Related:

The Book that Explains Why People Avoid Thinking About Climate Change

By George Marshall:

“Bearer of Evil Tidings” Syndrome (BETS)

In “When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job” Esquire reports: “Among many climate scientists, gloom has set in. Things are worse than we think, but they can’t really talk about it.”

To all the conflicted people grappling with how to deliver bad news:

Excerpts from the poem, The Bearer of Evil Tidings by Robert Frost

  The bearer of evil tidings,
  When he was halfway there,
  Remembered that evil tidings
  Were a dangerous thing to bear.

  So when he came to the parting
  Where one road led to the throne
  And one went off to the mountains
  And into the wild unknown,

  He took the one to the mountains.
  It had seemed discreet to remain there
  And neither go on nor back.
  As for his evil tidings,
  Belshazzar’s overthrow,
  Why hurry to tell Belshazzar
  What soon enough he would know?

Antidote to BETS

All BETS are off, folks. Unlike Robert Frost’s protagonist, you can’t hide in the mountains. Climate Change won’t just overthrow Belshazzar, it will overthrow all of us. We need to hurry and do our jobs right. Deliver the evil tidings, and quickly engage people in working on the solutions.

Everything depends on this.

Stay conscious.

Renewables + Nuclear Energy: It’s Time to Talk.
You are The Player

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