Scientific & Technological Hopium

It’s time to examine, if only briefly, the list of assumptions being made today that will allegedly solve our climate crisis. This is only a brief (incomplete) but important list. Blog articles need to be short (so that they’re actually read) so I’ll try to be brief. Here is the short list:

a) The IPCC reports, assessments and estimates accurately portray the current state of the world’s climate and what might occur in the future.
b) Technology will be developed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere before catastrophic changes occur.
c) Zero carbon, and / or negative carbon ‘activities’ will be developed to halt human emissions into the atmosphere.
d) Stop burning fossil fuels and we’ll stop the planetary warming.
e) Human population will manage to sustain sufficient food production in a warming world.
f) Cooling technologies will be developed, in time, to slow or even halt planetary warming.

a) The IPCC reports, assessments and estimates accurately portray the current state of the world’s climate and what might occur in the future.

This is false. The IPCC only reviews published papers which do not reflect all that is known by science. The IPCC does not perform any science itself. Moreover, the process by which the IPCC evaluates and then publishes its report is plagued by a number of notable problems. It is a tiny organization of a few dozen people who must review thousands of papers (there are a lot of unpaid volunteers). The review process takes over 5 to 7 years, and writing the assessment takes roughly 3 years. The IPCC does not consider anything outside of these parameters (such as the latest science and measurements) making its report already out-of-date long before actual publication. There are many elements of climate change that are not even included in its reports, such as the “speed and ferocity of climate change are outpacing IPCC projections on many fronts, including CO2 emissions, temperature rise, continental ice-sheet melt, Arctic sea ice decline, and sea level rise.” (1)

“Materials from scientists are only accepted for consideration after they have been peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal. This process in itself can take up to three years. Then another requirement is that such materials cannot be submitted beyond an early cut-off date. The goal of instituting an orderly process is laudable, but the severe problem is that the pace of climate disruption is most assuredly accelerating. If vital information at the cutting edge of these frightening changes cannot make it through these hurdles in time, there is a huge gap of five or six years before it can be integrated into the next report.” (2)

“It is already clear IPCC AR5 under-represents the rate and the extent of the climate changes that are now increasingly likely to occur. At the heart of this ‘conservatism’ is the omission of major feedback effects from the climate-models used to inform the AR5. In fact the entire suite of the climate change projections in AR5 for the next 100 years come from models that omit significant ‘positive feedback’ effects from what are already starting to become potentially major sources of non-human carbon-emission releases.” (3)

An important climate model actually “omits modelling major feedback effects, such as the increased atmospheric water vapour & CO2 & CH4 from permafrost melt & the loss of positive albedo & the increase of negative albedo from Arctic ice melt.” (3)

None of the IPCC reports included the melting permafrost. “The scientific models mostly leave out dangerous feedbacks/tipping points. At 6°, 5°, 4° C or below, the probability of passing some tipping points, such as melting of permafrost, may be high. If modellers cannot capture or model effects ‘sufficiently clearly’ they are omitted, but best guess surely not zero.” (3)

“As the planet warms, a steady rate of feedback acceleration in the years ahead makes it possible to contemplate a scenario where positive feedback is driving the system as a whole from a point after which ‘human-budget-emission-control’ becomes irrelevant. To continue, after twenty years, to ignore this anywhere, let-alone in ‘climate-science-policy modelling’ community is another form of ‘climate-denial’.” (4) [emphasis mine – Admin]

Unfortunately, world leaders use the IPCC estimates as the guiding assessment and are seemingly oblivious to the real state of the climate. This is one reason why the false 2°C “still safe” warming meme has continued to this day. (2°C Projection as a Tolerable Limit)

b) Technology will be developed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere before catastrophic changes occur.

This is false. Catastrophic changes have already occurred, such as the massive Arctic melt, methane hydrate release, permafrost melt, ‘pingos’ recently discovered in Siberia, Greenland melt, Antarctic melt, glacier melt, ocean acidification, coral reef bleaching, plankton and phytoplankton die off, carbon releases discovered in the boreal and tropical rainforests, etc., all at “just” .85 – .95 degree average warming.

The notion that we’re “not too late” to “prevent catastrophic changes” due to human carbon emissions is untrue. The reality is we now have to deal with all of the above and the many more effects not mentioned.

Secondly, the assumption that a technology will be devised to “suck carbon out of the atmosphere”, ostentatiously to reduce carbon dioxide to below 350ppm is a fantastical claim. So far, there is absolutely no evidence at all that this will be possible, yet this is an implicit goal in the COP 21 ‘agreement’.  Participants (and governments) have assumed that such future technology will come online, in time, and at a sufficient scale, operational capabilities, funding and distribution to perform this magical vacuuming of atmospheric carbon dioxide (nothing has been devised for ocean saturation / acidification either, a even larger problem in terms of technical difficulty, and of course, the ‘missing ice’ problem).

Total cumulative carbon emissions are estimated at about 545 GtC (gigatons) which is distributed throughout an atmospheric, however, carbon dioxide is not evenly distributed over the globe; it is patchy with high concentrations in some places and lower concentrations in others. The gasses transport and distribution through the atmosphere is controlled by the jet stream, by large weather systems, and by other large-scale atmospheric circulations.

Humans do not have easy ‘access’ (from anywhere on the planet or even from the atmosphere) to this distributed concentration of gasses in order to ‘clean it up’. Both mixing and distribution is variable over the planetary surface and in the atmosphere. The technical difficulty of this issue is beyond ‘monumental’. It’s also beyond ‘time’ – as these gasses (carbon dioxide AND methane) must be removed immediately – not in 20, 50 or 100 years time.

c) Zero carbon, and / or negative carbon ‘activities’ will be developed to halt human emissions into the atmosphere.

This is false. All human activities in the developed world generate carbon dioxide from farming, transportation, industrial activity and business. There is nothing we do that is currently “zero carbon”. The whole of civilization today rests upon the expenditure (burning) of fossil fuels, even with solar, wind, hydro, nuclear power generation (none are built or maintained without fossil fuels). None of these energy providers are ‘carbon zero’ as claimed or even ‘carbon neutral’.  This term is totally bogus by the way – it implies that it’s okay to produce carbon as long as it’s no more carbon then what’s already ‘out there’, but fails to account for all carbon sources in the creation of the new energy.

Only natural sunshine is ‘zero carbon’ from a human perspective (but even sunshine produces carbon emissions from warmth and decay), but modern humans have yet to devise a living standard that really only uses sunshine a it energy source. Everything within civilization (1st, 2nd and 3rd world countries) really heavily upon fossil fuels for the production of ‘stuff’, including food, housing, clothing, transportation, industry and business. The only human communities on the planet that could be considered ‘zero carbon’ are primitive tribal communities that exist independently of the modern world. Everybody else will continue to produce a ‘carbon footprint’ (emissions) just by being alive.

Zero carbon technologies, or negative carbon technologies do not exist. The claims being made today do not demonstrate a clear “no fossil fuel inputs” in their design, development, manufacture, production cycle or maintenance. In reality, since “nothing mined out of the ground is truly sustainable” (coined here) and it’s not being done without machinery (ignore the slaves being used in Africa and South America for the moment), nothing “produced” using raw minerals, or turned into any kind of technology, machine or invention, will ever be ‘carbon free’. In other words, these claims are all entirely deceptive and are being used to continue the present civilization despite their ongoing contribution to human emissions.

Civilization is not carbon free. Civilization will never be carbon free again. Modern civilization is simply incompatible with any notions of ‘carbon free’ or ‘zero carbon’ or ‘negative carbon emissions’.

d) Stop burning fossil fuels and we’ll stop the planetary warming.

This is false. If all human activity “stopped” (completely, which means nothing moves, we grow nothing, we power nothing, etc.) the suspended aerosols in the atmosphere from human emissions will disappear (be absorbed by oceans, soil or trees or natural processes) – and the planet will warm up, rapidly (weeks to months). These aerosols are presently keeping warming slower then it would be without them. So humanity is in a classic Catch-22 situation in regards to fossil fuels – how to stop using them before it’s “too late” (already is) and how stop using them will prevent accelerated warming (can’t be done to my knowledge) and how to avoid starving to death in the meanwhile (unlikely for billions).

This is actually pretty well known – we can’t stop cold turkey. The global economy (especially these past two weeks) has SERIOUSLY tanked (slowed down) and this will cause a temporary drop in emissions if it last long. However, we’re still seeing a catastrophic rise in temperatures, even during the ‘busiest’ season of the winter. (4)  We’re also seeing a huge jump still in CO₂ emissions. (5) All which is no good for the future, ie., making an intractable problem ever the worse.

e) Human population will manage to sustain sufficient food production in a warming world.

This is false. Crop production / food production is in decline worldwide due to heat stress, drought, aquifer depletion, pest infestation, soil losses, extreme weather events and human conflicts. In a warming world, all of these effects increase. Currently, 795,000,000 people are considered hungry or starving (2015) (6). This is expected to increase to several billion as ocean acidification (a carbon dioxide ‘by-product’) worsens the already collapsing food chain in the world’s oceans.

The reality is our world is headed for a massive food crisis, with poorer nations (as always) being the first and most severely affected. In turn, food will increase in price and become scarce for those that cannot afford it or gain access to it. The ability of small-scale farming to grow food is also being severely impacted at just .95 °C average warming, this will only worsen as the warming continues. Large scale farming operations have already achieved any expected ‘gains’ from plant propagation, yields are now expected to decline.

Water (and location) is now a growing and severe issue for food production. With agriculture emitting 1/3 of all greenhouse gasses by humans (6), how we produce food matters and is likely to be intensely scrutinized for ways to reduce its carbon footprint. Warming temperatures also make food storage a bigger problem – “Increasing temperatures and the likelihood of flooding will challenge farmers’ ability to safely store and distribute food, boosting the risk of food-borne illnesses and diarrhoeal diseases, they add.”

There is also a severe problem globally with bee pollination (colony collapse disorder) which has found widespread bee colony deaths of over 80%, an essential contributor to human food production. Additionally, crop disease vectors are also on the rise (7).

There is a notion that small-scale farms (“grow local”) will supplant large factory farms in a warming world. This is only partly true, but failures are very common. (8). It is actually unlikely that the “grow local” movement will actually produce enough food for our population dense cities and stay in business. The majority of people will stay dependent upon large-scale agriculture as long as possible, which as noted before, is one of the largest human contributors to warming (classic Catch-22, there are dozens of these). Either we eat a lot less, reduce populations or starve. Most likely, it will be all three.

f) Cooling technologies will be developed, in time, to slow or even halt planetary warming.

This is false. The human effect contributing to planetary warming has unfolded over several hundred years. This is not something that can be “undone” quickly, or even within a few hundred years no matter what technological wizardry we might come up with. The scale of the problem is beyond massive, even ‘gargantuan’ doesn’t begin to describe the scale and scope of what needs to be done. The whole of civilization is not only addicted to fossil fuel consumption and burning – its survival (intact) completely depends upon it. However, we do not have a few hundred years to stop planetary warming. We do not even have a 20 years in reality. (9)

It’s incredibly disingenuous and revealing of our hopium that we place so much trust on our human abilities to solve intractable problems such as this. No studies have shown that we have the necessary resources to pull this off. No large scale experiments have demonstrated that any attempts will even work. There are various proposals being promoted – none are proven, and without great risks to the planetary environment (they could even make the situation worse).

All these and more have been proposed; Zero carbon technology, carbon capture and storage, carbon taxes, ocean seeding, atmospheric seeding, cloud whitening, radio emissions to destroy methane, etc., with none proven safe or effective. The current rage is to pretend that physical processes will respond economic pressure (carbon taxes) which is ridiculous. (10) Nature doesn’t ‘respond’ to economic pressure, which itself is a component of human activity, and this activity is not changing in meaningful ways (it’s worsening) and thus it remains carbon intensive as the evidence of civilization actually shows.

The reality is humans will most likely fail to halt planetary warming because of the following points: civilization, and fossil fuel burning will continue for as long as possible; the technologies desired don’t exist and even if they did, they could probably not be developed and deployed on a sufficient scale in time to make much of a difference.

We may be able to slow warming down somewhat – and this is the most likely scenario (if tried), but it will involve something quite severe to civilization – collapse of all economic and industrial activity, resulting in massive job losses, failures of industry and businesses and widespread famine and war (competing for remaining resources).

The painful irony of all this is truly hard to stomach – all these terrible things will happen anyway since we really don’t have what it takes to stop the warming and these are going to be the effects of our ignorance. Sooner or later (10 or 20 year time period, it will probably happen quickly), civilization will go through severe upheavals and the world we know today will cease to exist. These upheavals have already begun, we’ve already entered into the period of serious decline. We may yet delay the total severity a bit, but not for long.

I do not advocate giving up and never have. Despite knowing the most likely outcome of our current efforts, our proposed “best efforts” and those to come, and the endless optimism and hopium being expressed by some of the brightest minds on the planet, we should still try. We have an obligation to try. This is just as unavoidable as the most likely outcome is. We will try no matter what. It’s what we do as humans and always have.



admin at survivalacres dot com

5 thoughts on “Scientific & Technological Hopium

  • January 21, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    Stephen Hawking Warns Humanity: Leave Earth Before the Ruling Class Destroys It
    Some people say he’s exaggerating, others say he’s completely right.

    Counterintuitively, the only ‘thing’ capable of preventing human extinction within the next 30 or less years would be a global thermonuclear war. Seriously. Maybe an engineered super “Andromeda Strain” virus from a lab in … anywhere. BAU = DieOff (at a profit).

    OTOH, if everyone believing in a Sky Daddy were to volunteer to ‘go over’ and crash at his place, well the rest of us misery monkeys might have a FKN chance – well … and … feed the banksters to the mutant giant rats of NYC
    Would anyone have a spare space ship that they could ‘loan’ to a good cause?

    • January 22, 2016 at 9:24 am

      The sea shipping crash is quite astounding. It’s as if Americans are deer in the headlights, waiting to get run over before responding. Almost nobody is “doing” anything to become self-sufficient. It’s going to be a horrible time for 99.99% of Americans. I want to be near food production. I want to be away from crowds. I want to be on another planet.

  • January 26, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    I’m not sure if this is the right post to put this on, but you have to see this. I often think that you overestimate how little people are thinking – how many “sheeple” there are. After watching this video, I am convinced you’re right.

    at 4:15, you realize there are people LIVING in the apartments that are falling into the sea.

    • January 26, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      I think I need to say more about the mindless zombies that are wrecking the world! Those that are losing their homes to the sea aren’t necessarily part of that still-too-large group. No idea why they’d still be living there unless it’s all they had (probably).

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