by Robert Hunziker
The worldwide effort to harness, slow down, lessen, reduce, remove the threat of global warming is epitomized by the Paris ’15 climate accord. This agreement calls for nations of the world to implement plans to slow down greenhouse gas emissions, specifically CO2 from fossil fuels, and to take other remedial actions necessary to hold global temps below 2°C but preferably 1.5°C relative to the start of the industrial revolution over 200 years ago.
That task may be an overwhelming one, more so than realized, due to the simple fact that, according to YaleEnvironment360: “Frighteningly, this modern rise of CO2 is also accelerating at an unusual rate. In the late 1950s, the annual rate of increase was about 0.7 ppm per year; from 2005-2014 it was about 2.1 ppm per year.” (Source: Nicola Jones, How the World Passed a Carbon Threshold and Why It Matters, YaleEnvironment360, January 26, 2017).
“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted… CO2 will need to be reduced… to at most 350 ppm,” according to Columbia University climate guru James Hansen. We sailed past that target in about 1990, and it will take a gargantuan effort to turn back the clock,” Ibid.
Meanwhile, year-over-year CO2 numbers continue a relentless march upwards, unimpeded.
Monthly average CO2 Readings in Parts Per Million (“PPM”)
1850 (Ice Core Data) 285.20
1959 (Mauna Loa readings start) 316.18
February 2017 406.42
February 2018 408.35
March 2018 409.97
A return to 350 ppm is looking very distant.
For perspective on the challenge ahead, Wally Broecker (Columbia) aka: the Grandfather of Climate Science, discussed the outlook in a July 2017 interview:
“In 1950s, when I was in graduate school, we got 15 percent of our energy from renewables and nuclear, and 85 percent from fossil fuels. Today it’s the same. Both of them have been increasing at 3 percent a year.” (Source: David Wallace-Wells, The Man Who Coined the Term ‘Global Warming’ on the Worst-Case Scenario for Planet Earth, Daily Intelligencer, July 10, 2017).
Remarkably, according to Broecker, the ratio of renewable-to-fossil fuel energy has not changed one iota in almost 70 years. That’s all the more remarkable because, since the 1980s, global warming has been pinpointed as an existential threat. Yet, the renewable-to-fossil fuel energy ratio stays the same. According to Broecker, that ratio needs to change or all bets are off.
“Renewables and nuclear are not changing in their percentage share. And in order to stop the CO2 from rising we have to go to a factor-of-ten reduction in fossil fuel burning — at least a factor of ten. And that means changing all the world’s infrastructure,” Ibid.
The world relies upon trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure to source, create, and deliver energy. However, if renewables take over as the primary source of energy creation, a lot of fossil fuel infrastructure will be worth zero. So far, based upon the record over the past seven decades, fossil fuel infrastructure looks solidly in place, in fact, growing in size, and there are some powerful forces in the world that want to keep it that way, which, in turn, makes it doubly difficult to achieve Paris ’15.
One problem in confronting the global warming issue is participation, by whom and to what extent? Scientists such as James G. Anderson of Harvard states it takes a WWII type of effort to overcome the global warming problem, which implies all hands on deck, as well as within 5 years in a substantive way.
But, there are major obstacles: One year ago President Sauli Niinistö of the Republic of Finland met with President Putin of Russia at the International Arctic forum in Arkhangelsk, Russia, March 29-31, 2017.
In his opening remarks, President Niinistö stated: “My starting point today is the growing threat of climate change. Tackling this challenge is crucial if we want to ensure that the Arctic remains the place it is today. But the issue is of global significance: If we lose the Arctic, we lose the whole world.” (Source: Opening Remarks by the President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at ‘The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue’ Forum, Arkhangelsk, 30th March 2017).
He continued: “This catastrophe will not be limited to the Arctic. There will be enormous consequences worldwide. As the ice melts, sea levels will rise. As the ice melts, solar radiation will not be reflected back – instead, its energy will further warm the water and accelerate global warming,” Ibid.
He mentioned Russia’s 7,000 methane-infused pingos that have suddenly popped up throughout Siberia, in his words: “A further concern is the recent report made by Russian scientists that in Siberia there are some 7,000 methane-filled pockets waiting to release content. This will create danger and disruption to infrastructure and humans in the area. What is worse, once released, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide,” Ibid.
At latitude 66°33′47.1″ N, the Arctic Circle intersects Finland at its midpoint. President Sauli Niinistö knows the Arctic. He lives it.
Thereafter, President Putin’s speech at the same forum emphasized: “Russia, which makes up almost a third of the Arctic zone… includes over 150 projects with estimated investment of trillions of roubles… and creation of so-called development support zones… and the development of offshore deposits… we devoted special attention to the Northern Sea Route… almost a year-round artery….” (Source: Vladimir Putin’s Speech at the ‘Arctic: Territory of Dialogue’ International Arctic Forum, About the Forum, International Arctic Forum, March 2017).
No mention of global warming. However, Russia can’t wait for open blue waters in the Arctic for development of fossil fuels and open sea routes over the North Pole for transportation purposes.
Furthermore, in interviews following the forum, Putin stated his opinion that humans are not responsible for climate change: “Icebergs have been melting for decades, started in the 1930s” when, according to him, “there were no serious anthropological factors at work.” He says global warming cannot be stopped because “it’s tied to global cycles on Earth. The issue is to adapt to it.”
Russia adapts by spending trillions of rubles to explore for fossil fuels. Similarly, the United States follows in lockstep by opening up national parks all across the country to big oil, including Arctic Wilderness refuges.
Climate change deniers lead the world’s largest economy (United States) and Russia, the sixth largest. They are at the top of the pyramid of fossil fuel production at the very moment when the infrastructure of the Arctic, i.e., multi-year ice, is crumbling apart right before everybody’s eyes. Therefore, the question is whether a disintegrating Arctic is good or bad. Obviously, by their actions alone, both America and Russia want collapsing Arctic infrastructure. They are banking on it!
President Niinistö succinctly summed up the risks of a collapsing Arctic, on January 2nd 2018 when he was sworn in for a second six-year term, after a landslide victory at the polls: “Combating climate change is the most important issue in the coming years. That’s just how it must be, so that humankind won’t have to endure the destruction of the planet.” (Source: President Niinistö Emphasizes Climate Change at Inauguration, UUTISET News Jan. 2nd, 2018).
At that swearing-in ceremony, Maria Lohela, Speaker of the Parliament, praised President Niinistö’s first-term and specifically mentioned his initiatives to combat the use of coal, which accelerates the melting of polar ice caps.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s frantic delirium over coal, oil and gas exploration/production is only surpassed in exuberance by an historical event, John D. Rockefeller’s heartfelt passion for turning nature’s bounty into a fortune, growing Standard Oil Company from the world’s largest refinery in 1870 into the world’s first and largest multinational in 1911, indeed, a record pace for capitalistic development.
But, with America’s national parks opening up carte blanche to big oil, Trump has a shot at exceeding Rockefeller’s record pace. His emphasis, like Rockefeller of 100 years ago, is drill everywhere, far and wide, pole to pole.
Meanwhile, it’s nearly unimaginable/unbelievable contrasting Middle Eastern ethos to American and Russian, all major oil producers. As for example, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s biggest solar farm currently in operation covers the parking lot of the National Oil Company, Saudi Aramco.
“The Saudi government wants not just to reshape its energy mix at home but also to emerge as a global force in clean power. (Source: Stanley Reed, From Oil to Solar: Saudi Arabia Plots a Shift to Renewables, The New York Times, Feb. 5, 2018).
By the end of the year, Saudi Arabia aims to invest up to $7 billion to develop seven new solar plants and a big wind farm.
In September 2017, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched plans for the world’s largest Concentrated Solar Power project, including the world’s tallest solar tower.
In August 2017 Kuwait launched a $1.2B solar power plant project.
As of January 2018, Oman completed its feasibility plan for a huge solar park of 500MW.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is making plans to build a 100MW solar plant as part of its renewable energy agenda.
OPEC is turning green for practical purposes, but more importantly, they’re demonstrating an intellect and foresightedness above and beyond boorish accretion of oil as a way of life. They see the future.
Meantime, similar to John D. Rockefeller’s race to oil glory 100 years ago, the U.S. and Russia are in a trillion-dollar race competing for newly exposed riches of oil and gas but in frigid waters sans ice and in Arctic wildlife refuges, pounding on the door of the final frontier where a mistake magnifies ten-fold. It’s a dicey future.
Back in the day Rockefeller was a visionary. Today, the Rockefeller Family Fund is divesting all of its holdings of fossil fuel companies.