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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Guardian calls for the nationalisation of the oil companies in order to tackle global warming

oilfields

Owen Jones, writing in the Guardian, discusses what measures British politicians can take in order to respond to the XR demands made over the Easter period:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/apr/25/climate-change-oil-companies-extinction-rebellion

He states that Extinction Rebellion has got the ball rolling but more radical action is needed if changes are to be made.  He believes that the focus must now shift to the fossil fuel companies and the banks and states: “As long as they remain under private ownership on a global scale, humanity’s future will be threatened.”

Apparently, ExxonMobil plans to “pump an astonishing 25% more oil and gas in 2025 than it did in 2017″

According to the United Nation’s IPCC, oil and gas production has to fall by 20% by 2030, and 55% by 2050.  But Owen Jones states that the economic self-interest and political power of the fossil fuel industry is deliberately sabotaging this goal. He provides evidence of vast sums of money being spent in the US 2016 elections, to lobby for subsidies to continue for the fossil fuel industry.

And the banks do not have clean hands either. Since the 2015 Paris climate agreement, 33 global banks – led by big US financial institutions such as JP Morgan Chase – have provided $1.9tn in finance to the fossil fuel industry. HSBC is funding the expansion of coal plants in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam; while Barclays bank has shelled out $85bn of financing for fossil fuels since 2015 alone.

bankimage.JPG

Owen Jones believes that the banks and the fossil fuel companies must be brought under public ownership, if the Paris targets are to be achieved. Otherwise, “they will continue to place short-term profit for elite investors ahead of the future of the planet and continued existence of humanity.”

He ends his article with the words:

 What do we value more: an economic system which privileges profit above all other considerations, or the continued existence of human civilisation as we recognise it? A reckoning is coming.”



 

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Can we achieve zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2025?

One of the demands being made by Extinction Rebellion (XR) is that the government act to reduce the use of fossil fuels, so that carbon emissions fall to zero within six years. Other XR groups across the world are also asking the same thing of their governments. But, is this achievable?

David Cameron signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, on behalf of the UK, but since then the government has approved fracking licences and agreed to extend Heathrow airport.  Both of which will add to the use of fossil fuels, not reduce it to zero.  This is why people are taking to the streets to protest.

Horizontal; Crowd; Kettle; Police; State

XR demonstration in Oxford Circus, asking the Government to “tell the truth” about the severity of the threat facing the world at the moment, as a consequence of global warming

The Observer’s Science Editor, Robin McKie, discussed whether XR’s demand is achievable in last Sunday’s Observer:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/21/long-road-to-zero-emissions-uk

Last year 6.8 tonnes of greenhouse gases were emitted into the atmosphere per head of population in the UK. To decarbonise the nation, that figure will have to be reduced to zero. It will mean massive curtailment of travel by car or plane, major changes in food production, especially red meat, and the construction of many more wind and solar plants, to replace fossil fuels as sources of energy.

The government’s climate change committee is shortly to publish a report on how, and when, Britain can achieve this status and play its part in the battle against global warming. It is expected that the committee will opt for a different target as Britain’s  decarbonisation date, 2050 rather than 2025. According to this scenario, developed nations, including Britain, would aim to achieve zero-emissions status by 2050 and then use other technologies to achieve this goal, such as hydrogen plants, carbon dioxide storage vaults and advanced renewable generators.

There has been some progress in reducing Britain’s use of fossil fuels to generate energy. In 2013, 62.5% of UK electricity was generated by oil, coal and gas stations, while renewable provided only 14.5%. In 2018, the figure for oil, coal and gas had been reduced to 44% while renewables were generating 31.7%. And, during the Easter weekend, whilst the XR demonstrations took place, it has been reported that the country was able to rely on only renewables for a short period – this was probably because we were undergoing a heat wave – the hottest Easter on record, so there was not much demand for extra heating.  Also, I suspect that when when calculations are made about the use of renewables, nuclear power generated electricity in included in the figures.  We all know the risks associated with nuclear power and the difficulties in disposing safely of nuclear waste.

We have yet to be given a date when engineers expect the last UK fossil-fuelled power plant to produce its final watts of electricity and to emit its last emissions of carbon dioxide.

The problem is that 90% of the British people use gas boilers to heat their centrally-heated homes, producing hot water and heating at the flick of a switch. Getting people to change from this will be difficult.  One solution would be to price gas out of common use, by putting increasingly heavy carbon taxes on household supplies so people can no longer afford them and are forced to change heating systems.  Would this be popular?

28.4.19

This article in the Observer generated a couple of letters published in the paper the following week.  The first from Dave Lewis, Cornwall was as follows:

“Robin McKie’s piece correctly identifies Extinction Rebellion’s demand for a zero-carbon UK by 2025 as being hugely costly and politically difficult… He provides a detailed examination of what some experts prefer as a more realistic target of 2050, though even this is difficult. The IPCC’s most recent warnings about the dangers of a temperature rise exceeding 1.5ºC abobe pre-industrial levels surely mean that avoiding this must be the key global policy objective.

The articles last two paragraphs show that at current carbon dioxide emission rates (42 bn tonnes per annum) the world will exceed the limit (420 bn tonnes) at which there is a ‘two in three chance of keeping global warming down to around  1.5ºC’ in just 10 years’ time. If the aim is to meet this target, 2050 doesn’t seem in any way ‘more realistic’ as a target for a zero-carbon Britain.  It does seem ‘more realistic’ if the aim is to avoid costly and politically difficult decisions by kicking the can further down the road. Which is how we got where we are.

No wonder people are rebellious. It looks like a bit more rebellion is still required.”

The other letter, from David Watkin, Leicester, drew attention to the spreading interest of US firms in developing space travel and space tourism. He suggests that the arguments put forward in Robin McKie’s article should include an assessment of the potential future contribution of space rockets to CO2 output.

space rocket

launch of space rocket at Kennedy space centre



Another journal reporting on the zero carbon target is the New Scientist (27th April 2019):

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2200269-climate-protesters-want-net-zero-carbon-emissions-is-it-possible/

This article has a different take from the one in the Guardian.  It talks about the changing targets for zero emissions, as the 2050 figure was set when 2º of warming was the target, rather than 1.5º, which is the new target, since the IPPC report.  It lists those countries which are trying to make the target, some earlier than 2050: Sweden, France, Norway, Portugal, Costa Rica, Marshall Islands and New Zealand.

It also discusses what “net zero” means. Is it just about carbon dioxide or does it include all greenhouse gases? He also talks about measures introduced to absorb excess carbon dioxide, such as reforestation and carbon capture.

There is also an interesting graph, which compares total carbon emissions between the UK, Sweden and New Zealand.  The UK is currently far higher than the other two countries, so has a lot more work to do to reach net zero.

Further discussion on the 2025 XR target can be found at:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2200755-the-science-behind-extinction-rebellions-three-climate-change-demands/



 


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Glaciers in the Alps, Himalayas and Andes are set to disappear by 2050

An article in today’s Guardian reports that glaciologists at ETH Zurich have been studying glaciers in the European Alps and they predict that to thirds of the ice in these glaciers will have melted by 2100, as climate change forces up temperatures.

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/two-thirds-of-glacier-ice-in-the-alps-will-melt-by-2100/ar-BBVLhlO?ocid=spartandhp

The researchers said the loss of the glaciers would have a big impact on water availability for farming and hydroelectricity, especially during droughts, and affect nature and tourism.

Another study on the ice fields in the Himalayas found that these also will melt, with serious consequences for almost 2 billion people in the valleys below.  In addition, to the glacier concern, Nepal is sending a group of expert climbers to remeasure the height of Mount Everest amid concerns that the devastating 2015 earthquake in the country caused the peak to shrink. It is the first time the country has sent its own government-appointed team to conduct a survey of the world’s highest mountain. Officially, Everest stands at 29,029ft – but this figure was calculated by an Indian team back in 1954. Since then its actual height has been widely debated.

Another study reported in 2009, showed that Switzerland’s glaciers had reduced by 12% of their volume in the previous 10 years. Switzerland’s glaciers equate to about two thirds of the volume of Lake Geneva. Similar reports come from researchers studying glaciers in the Andes.

Swiss glacier

A Swiss glacier

See:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090622064813.htm

The Himalayan glaciers may have an even more important function, as they are reducing at a similar rate to those in the European Alps, despite being higher and therefore colder. More than 700 million people in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan get their water from rivers that come from the Himalayan glaciers. India has been ranked the most vulnerable country to climate change by risk analysis company Verisk Maplecroft. 113 million people in the country are vulnerable to dangerous levels of flooding. More than 300 million are vulnerable to drought and more than 700 million to extreme local storms.  The melting glaciers just compound all these issues.

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/why-the-indian-himalayan-glaciers-may-be-the-most/

Glaciers are unique because they are reservoirs of fresh water, have sheer mass and their ability to move, as they flow like very slow rivers.



20.6.19

Financial Times report states that glaciers have been melting twice as fast as they were during 1975-2000.  This was taken from a report on 19th June 2019 in Science Advances:

https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/6/eaav7266

entitled “Acceleration of ice loss across the Himalayas over the past 40 years” by J.M. Maurer, J.M. Schaefer, S. Rupper and A. Corley.  The abstract for the article states:

“Himalayan glaciers supply meltwater to densely populated catchments in South Asia, and regional observations of glacier change over multiple decades are needed to understand climate drivers and assess resulting impacts on glacier-fed rivers. Here, we quantify changes in ice thickness during the intervals 1975–2000 and 2000–2016 across the Himalayas, using a set of digital elevation models derived from cold war–era spy satellite film and modern stereo satellite imagery. We observe consistent ice loss along the entire 2000-km transect for both intervals and find a doubling of the average loss rate during 2000–2016 [−0.43 ± 0.14 m w.e. year−1 (meters of water equivalent per year)] compared to 1975–2000 (−0.22 ± 0.13 m w.e. year−1). The similar magnitude and acceleration of ice loss across the Himalayas suggests a regionally coherent climate forcing, consistent with atmospheric warming and associated energy fluxes as the dominant drivers of glacier change.”

glacierHimlayas

Imja Tso, a glacial lake in the Mt. Everest region, did not exist on trekking maps 30 years ago. Today it is 2 kilometers long and the region continues to warm. Credit: Kunda Dixit/Nepali Times



14.8.19

A Guardian report from Iceland about the loss of a glacier there, written by Andri Snaer Magnason, about how they are mourning the loss of the OK glacier.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/14/glaciers-iceland-country-loss-plaque-climate-crisis?CMP=share_btn_link

A plaque has been developed to remember the OK glacier, which has now lost its status as a glacier:

Iceland plaque

According to current trends, all glaciers in Iceland will disappear in the next 200 years. So the plaque for Ok could be the first of 400 in Iceland alone. The glacier Snæfellsjökull, where Jules Verne began his Journey to the Centre of the Earth, is likely to be gone in the next 30 years and that will be a significant loss. This glacier is for Iceland what Fuji is for Japan.