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Published on November 9th, 2012 | by James Ayre

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Collapse Of Maya Civilization Strongly Linked To Climate Change, Finds New Research

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November 9th, 2012 by  

 
Modern climate change could have a devastating effect on the habitability of large parts of the planet. Through the effects of higher temperatures, quickly rising seas, agricultural failure, drought, increased warfare, rapid climate fluctuations, and shifting weather patterns, modern civilization could be forced through some drastic transformations, or to complete disintegration.

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The collapse of the Maya civilization is likely a good mirror for what may occur in the modern world when climatic changes lead to failures in the highly specialized and delicate framework of modern civilization. Modern research has found that the classic Maya civilization collapsed at the end of a long period of wet weather, as it gave way to drought. As the local climate changed, the civilization and its products disintegrated, leading to widespread famine, endemic warfare, and the collapse of cities.

And now new research that has just been finished is providing more insight into the effects that climate change had on the Maya. The research very accurately details a climate record spanning over 2,000 years in the area of modern-day Belize, revealing more about the changing periods of wet and dry weather in which Maya cities developed from 300 to 1000.

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The research was done by using the climate data that is contained in stalagmites and the large amounts of archaeological evidence left behind by the Maya. Stalagmites are the mineral deposits that are left behind by the slowly dripping water in caves.

“Unlike the current global warming trend, which is spurred by human activities including the emission of atmosphere-heating greenhouse gases, the change in the Central American climate during the collapse of the Maya civilization was due to a massive, undulating, natural weather pattern.”

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“This weather pattern alternately brought extreme moisture, which fostered the growth of the Maya civilization, and periods of dry weather and drought on a centuries-long scale,” said the study’s lead author, Douglas Kennett, an anthropologist at Penn State University.

During the wet periods agriculture expanded and allowed the population and urban centers to grow. This process reinforced the centralized power that the kings of these centers possessed. The kings are known to have claimed credit for the things that the region was dependent on but had no control of, such as the rains and the weather. The supposed mechanism of this influence over the elements were the ritualized public blood sacrifices for which the Maya are well known. Because the power of the kings over their subjects was largely dependent on a favorable climate for agriculture, their rule could be greatly influenced by changes in the climate. It’s very easy to argue that modern civilization is no different — without large-scale agriculture, it’s hard to imagine any semblance of it persisting for long.


 
When the rains finally did stop, around the year 660, the kings’ power is known to have been largely diminished, and correlated very closely with a large increase in warfare over the now scarce resources.

“You can imagine the Maya getting lured into this trap,” he said. “The idea is that they keep the rains coming, they keep everything together, and that’s great when you’re in a really good period … but when things start going badly, and (the kings are) doing the ceremonies and nothing’s happening, then people are going to start questioning whether or not they should really be in charge.”

“The political collapse of the Maya kings came around the year 900, when prolonged drought undermined their authority. But Maya populations remained for another century or so, when a severe drought lasting from the years 1000 to 1100 forced Maya to leave what used to be their biggest centers of population.”

The Maya also had their own hand in the collapse of their agricultural system. Their farming (like modern farming) led to soil erosion and nutrient depletion. They combated this by intensifying their farming. Using more land and more irrigation, and that in turn caused greater erosion.

“When the climate in the area shifted toward drought, in a long-running pattern called the intertropical conversion zone, it exacerbated human impact on environment,” Kennett said.

“There are some analogies to this in the modern context that we need to worry about,” he said.

It’s predicted that modern climate change could very well undermine agricultural systems throughout large sections of the world, causing widespread famine, warfare, and disease… which these affected populations then export to the surrounding and otherwise unaffected territories, “just as it may have happened in Maya civilization.”

The research was just published in the journal Science on Thursday.

Source: Reuters and Penn State
Image Credits: Martha Macri/UC Davis; Penn State

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • mds

    @Michael Jacobson & Bob Wallace,
    Stupid argument, you are both wrong and both correct. Obviously, it is both natural cycles AND AGW. Read “The Weather Makers”. The author explains about the Milonvich cycles, the natural climate cycles resulting from the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit, precession, and I forget what other cosmic effects. Go watch Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth”. His graph shows us on the temperature spike at the end of a repeating global warm period.
    As for Anthropomorphic Global Warming (AGW), look no further than satellite temperature data for earth temperatures under smog cover southern China and southern California. That shows a very clear man made cause and effect.
    Now Mr Jacobson, Does it make sense for us to continue to create pollution that heats up the Earth, if the old bitch is already starting to have a hot flash anyway? I think it is just about as smart as yeast making alcohol in a closed environment cask. Gee, I wonder why all those yeasty beasties die off in there?
    Btw The earth’s temperature has never been stable for very long. It is an intermittently unstable system. Further, there are cyclic extinction events that have taken place and one of the very worst, the Permian extinction, has been linked to events causing massive releases of CO2 into the atmosphere. As the Earth continues to warm up, we risk the release of huge amounts of methane, a much worse global warming gas then CO2, from the artic tundra and from ocean shelf deposits. Both are already increasing their methane output. This could start a positive feedback effect and runaway heating of the Earth. Like I said, the Earth’s climate is not stable for long. “It’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature.” Do you really want to make it worse than it needs to be?
    Wakeup yeasts and stop secreting waste into your own little world! There is another way! Solar, wind, storage, LEDs, and EVs/EREVs/PHEVs will be the more cost effective solution by the end of this decade anyway. God is looking down and telling you: “Here is the answer I have provided you.” Seriously, it is right there to see. …or we can keep killing in the Middle East and keep polluting the air till it kills us all.

    There is very good evidence of human deforestation increasing flooding during wet cycles and reducing water during dry periods. This caused some areas in South-Western North America to become uninhabitable during drought cycles. Trees are amazing in their ability to hold water in the ground. So there are other examples in North America of anthropomorphic damage combining with natural effects to make areas uninhabitable. Do we want to do this to the whole Earth? Well Mr. Jacobson?

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’m finding it a bit difficult to figure out what argument I made you think is stupid.

      I’m not saying that I’ve never made a stupid argument, but I can’t put my finger on what offends you in this discussion.

      • mds

        Bob,
        I’m generally a fan of your comments, a big one, your comments are excellent! The argument I think is stupid is Natural GW (NGW) OR Anthropomorphic GW (AGW). It is not one or the other it is BOTH. I think this needs to be emphasized Rommney did the Texas 2 step on this issue. He said yeh GW, but is it anthropomorphic? This allowed him to dodge the issue in a way that many found ok. This is the argument Mr. Jacobson is making: It might not be AGW and if it is NGW, then “what can anyone do?”. This is a false argument because AGW acerbates NGW. The first thing we need to do is stop the AGW, so we don’t make the problem worse. Then we may also need to do some environmental engineering beyond this. Stopping the AGW should be enough and it can be done AND it can be done economically thanks the solar and EV revolutions.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Where did I make that argument? Best I can tell I posted nothing on this page about global warming. I’m tired of arguing with “the last 20%”.

          Clearly there are changes in temperature that are not human caused. The Sun warms and cools slightly on an ~11 year cycle. ENSO cycles (which may be driven by the solar cycle) warm and cool the planet. Changes in Earth orbit cause very long scale changes in planet temperature.

          Best I can tell we should be cooling toward a distant ice age at the moment left only to “natural” forces.

          We’ve not only raised the temperature from what it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (or perhaps since the dawn of rice agriculture), we’ve overridden the natural cooling that was underway.

          • mds

            Bob,
            Didn’t mean to get into an extended discussion on this. I guess you are correct, you didn’t make that argument. Jacobson is making it. I guess you are side stepping. I understand not wanting to waste time on the blind 20%. I usually like to point out we need to just get off of fossil fuels for reasons of national military security, reduction of national debt, and economic security/benefit. Reducing AGW can be just an accidental benefit if you don’t believe it’s a real problem.
            It is interesting the argument over AGW has progressed from no GW, to we don’t know how much AGW and can’t do anything if it’s NGW. We know there is AGW and we can do something. These are cop outs for cowards. That new blindness cannot last long.

            I am interested in your figuring the earth should be cooling down. One of the questions I’ve had, since watching Gore’s movie a number of years ago, is how wide is that spike? …when should the earth be cooling down? Recent cooling of Northern Hemisphere in response to the historically very long absence of sun spots was very interesting in this respect. Do you have any good links/references on the earth starting into a cooling period by now?

          • Bob_Wallace

            It’s what I get from reading about Milankovitch cycles. (But I could be reading wrong.)

            You could start here –
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles#Present_and_future_conditions
            Make sure you pay attention to “anthropogenic effects
            may modify or even overwhelm orbital effects”. I’d say we’re way into overwhelm mode.

          • http://www.facebook.com/michael.jacobson.39589 Michael Jacobson

            Mds – I’m not even sure where to begin. I will pass on the obvious softball that you floated my way by mentioning Al Gore’s movie as a source
            reference. You’ve incorrectly assumed that I’m arguing something that I’m not. I never stated that climate change has to be NGW or AGW. I simply asked if it is possible that the changes we are experiencing now are caused by natural
            forces (NGW) to a greater extent than we know or understand. Isn’t it possible that there are unknown or undiscovered forces that dwarf any impact that man could have on global climate? Why does that question always seems to be met
            with such unusual hostility?

            As for your comments about solar and wind energy, look we are talking about what the earth’s climate will be like in 2100. If you asked someone in 1900 what they worried about people in 2000 they would probably say: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do with all the horse dung? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses.

            But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80% of its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. People in 1900 didn’t know what an atom was. They didn’t know its structure. They also didn’t know what a radio was, or an airport, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, a satellite, an interferon, speed dialing, genes, CDs, airbags, ultrasound, fiber optics, laser surgery, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet.

            Now. You tell me you can predict the world in 2100. Tell me it’s even worth thinking about. Our
            models just carry the present into the future.
            They’re bound to be wrong. Anyone who gives a moment’s thought knows it.

          • Bob_Wallace

            ” Isn’t it possible that there are unknown or undiscovered forces that dwarf any impact that man could have on global climate? ”

            Of course. There is always a possibility that a brand new physical force totally unknown at the present time will be discovered. The real question is how likely it that to happen?

            Right now we have a very well confirmed reason for the observed warming. We have know since the 1800s that CO2 allows visible wave length energy (light) but blocks other wave lengths (heat).

            We’ve been directly measuring CO2 in the atmosphere since the middle of the last century and find that the increase in CO2 concentration is sufficient to account for the observed warming. We can use techniques such as sampling air trapped in ice cores to measure CO2 levels for many centuries back.

            We can determine from the makeup of that CO2 that much of it comes from burned fossil fuels.

            Therefore, since we have a “forcing event” that is well measured and well documented, finding two previously unknown physical forces, one which warms the planet and another which neutralizes the blocking force of CO2 becomes a very long shot. I’d say the discovery of either is certainly no more than 1/one billion likely. To get the odds of both multiply 1/one billion times 1/one billion.

            We’re talking a very small number. Rick Perry had a better chance of being elected president.

          • http://www.facebook.com/michael.jacobson.39589 Michael Jacobson

            Bob – You incorrectly assume that the only thing that could affect the predicted climate change is the discovery of a new unknown physical force. That’s obviously ridiculous.

            A more accurate way of looking at it would be to compare the scientific knowledge of mankind 100 years ago to the present. Look at the amazing and unimaginable scientific advances that have taken place over that time period. To assume that we are near to knowing all there is to know is the height
            of arrogance. Making predictions of the state of the planet and mankind 100 years from now using our current scientific knowledge is absurd.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “You incorrectly assume that the only thing that could affect the predicted climate change is the discovery of a new unknown physical force. That’s obviously ridiculous.”

            No, that is not an assumption that I make.

            A large meteor strike, or a series of meteor strikes could throw up a “sunshade” which would cool off the planet.

            In the same way a massive super volcano or a series of
            volcanic eruptions (especially close to the equator) could cool off the planet.

            A prolonged global nuclear war could cool off the planet, but it’s hard to imagine how a nuclear war could be prolonged. I suspect if one got touched off it would be over in a few days and then a couple of years later the dust would have settled and we’d be back to warming.

            I don’t think we should count on any of those known forcing events saving our bacon.

            We’re doing something we should not continue to do. We need to change what we are doing rather than rely on something not predicted and totally out of our control.

            Now, your argument that some new solution might be discovered. That’s different than the earlier argument I think you were making, that global warming might not be due to rising CO2 concentrations, but some yet undiscovered force.

            Yes, something new might be discovered. That argument has no merit.

            Consider. You are on a small boat in the middle of the ocean and one of your trough-hulls snaps off. Stuff happens. Do you:

            1) Start bailing and try to figure out what you can jam in the hole?

            2) Sit back and wonder if something else might turn up? You know, a submarine might surface and loan you a pump or a big fish might cruise along and get stuck in the hole. Or something you’ve never heard of before, a truly world unique event might happen.

            I’m thinking we should bail….

          • http://www.facebook.com/michael.jacobson.39589 Michael Jacobson

            “Consider. You are on a small boat in the middle of the ocean and one of your trough-hulls snaps off. Stuff happens. Do you:

            1) Start bailing and try to figure out what you can jam in the hole?

            2) Sit back and wonder if something else might turn up? You know, a submarine might surface
            and loan you a pump or a big fish might cruise along and get stuck in the hole. Or something you’ve never heard of before, a truly world unique event might happen.

            I’m thinking we should bail….”

            If the leak was going to take 50 to 100 years to sink my boat, I don’t think I would work up too much of a sweat with the bailing bucket just yet. I imagine you would scream “We’re all going
            to die!” and frantically claw at the few drops of water that were running down the side of the boat.

            To each his own…

          • Bob_Wallace

            How would you feel if your grandchildren and great grandchildren were on board?

            Willing to drown them as well?

          • Bob_Wallace

            “As for your comments about solar and wind energy, look we are talking about what the earth’s climate will be like in 2100. If you asked someone in 1900 what they worried about people in 2000 they would probably say: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do with all the horse dung? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses.

            But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport.”

            Correct.

            Had we continued to use horses and continued to grow our population we would have had a serious problem. IIRC, there were some 30,000 horses in Chicago doing “taxi” service. Thousands of privately owned horses on top of that, I would assume.

            But we changed courses. Away from horses. We dodged the Poop Mountain issue. Henry Ford gave people an option to horses and people changed how they hauled themselves around.

            Fast forward to the early days of the next century. We’re facing something even worse than Poop Mountain. What science is telling us that if we don’t change course and do it fairly quickly we’re going to cook ourselves.

            So, do we keep burning coal, oil and natural gas or do we switch to energy sources which don’t increase the temperature of the planet?

          • http://www.facebook.com/michael.jacobson.39589 Michael Jacobson

            Bob – Let’s assume your assertion that fossil fuels will cook the planet is correct. Making drastic and costly changes to our current energy
            consumption and needs would be the same as the people in 1900 Chicago spending billions of dollars on a new technology designed to turn horse poop into fresh potting soil. At the time it would seem perfectly reasonable to them and a good (although costly) investment. They would have no idea that the time, energy, and money they were spending were essentially being wasted on something that would be of no use to them in 20 years.

            When we “Fast forward to the early days of the next century” we are taking the present and assuming it will be the same in 100 years. We
            have no way of knowing that the billions of dollars we are spending to stop the predicted “poop mountain” will be looked at by people 100 years from now as a total waste.

            We have real and present problems with pollution, hunger, war, and a myriad of other issues that could use those billions of dollars. In
            my opinion it would make more sense to spend that money on real and present problems rather than wasting it to avoid a prediction generated by computer models that will take place 100 years from now.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yes, we do have real and present problems with pollution, hunger, war, and a myriad of other issues.

            What the climate scientists are telling us is that if climate change continues to get worse hunger and war will increase. The US military agrees with this finding.

            Pollution, obviously coal and oil are two of our largest pollution sources, if not the two largest.

            We’ve got immigration problems. If we let the climate change enough to destroy water and food access for hundreds of millions more then the pressure on our boarders will increase.

            We’ve got employment problems. A 20 to 40 year program to build a renewable energy system would create a lot of good jobs. Additionally we need to put a lot of people to work making our buildings more efficient/replacing the worst with new very efficient ones.

            We’ve got overcrowded highways and airports that need expanding. We could move our medium distance to electrified high speed rail, cut our energy/oil use while making travel cheaper and more comfortable.

            We’ve got debt problems. Getting off imported oil and increasing tax revenues by putting more people to work will greatly help our debt problems. Remember, someone who is working not only pays taxes, they don’t cost us unemployment/welfare money.

            We’ve got over crowded schools, infrastructure that needs fixing. More tax revenue would fix those problems.

            We’ve got crime problems. Fewer unemployed young people would help that problem.

            You seem to be attempting to argue that we should wait and see if something totally unforeseen comes along to save us. That, IMHO, would be dumb.
            We are in trouble. We have solutions for getting ourselves (largely/somewhat) out of trouble. They work, they are affordable, they have few/minor downsides. We should, IMHO, get moving at warp speed to implement what we have at hand. If a better solution appears a year from now, twenty years from now then we can switch over. In the meantime we will have decreased the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere over doing nothing.
            Remember, Henry Ford did not invent the car, the car had been around for many years. Some ran on petroleum, some electricity, and some steam. What Henry did was take an existing alternative to the horse and figure out how to build an affordable version.

            Wind and solar have been around for 30 to 50 years. We’ve now figured out how to make them affordable. It’s now time to install and cut back on fossil fuels with the goal of getting >95% of fossil fuels out of our energy stream.

          • mds

            “I never stated that climate change has to be NGW or AGW. I simply asked if it is possible that the changes we are experiencing now are caused by natural forces (NGW) to a greater extent than we know or understand.”
            Ah, sorry. Yes, it’s possible, BUT we already have a good explanation of what is happening to the planet. Where is your evidence of another force at work? You are implying, intentionally or otherwise, that AGW might not the problem. Instead there could be a secret undiscovered NGW force at work. I am saying this is obfuscating nonsense, because it is simply very unlikely. I can’t prove it’s not space aliens either, but it’s not space aliens.

            “Isn’t it possible that there are unknown or undiscovered forces that dwarf any impact that man could have on global climate? Why does that question always seem to be met with such unusual hostility?”
            It’s a dumb question that’s why. We already know what’s cooking us and the possibility you speak of is unlikely. Look up Occam’s Razor. If it looks like a fish and is wet and slippery like a fish, then it probably isn’t a porcupine. If you are not speaking of an unknown cause of GW and are instead talking about an undiscovered solution (it’s not clear which), then Bob has already answered below, you can start fixing the known problem or you can wait for science fairies who may or may not come.

            “As for your comments about solar and wind energy, look we are talking about what the earth’s climate will be like in 2100.”
            I say your science fairies are already here and they are called: solar, wind, geothermal, EVs/PHEVs/EREVs, LEDs, and energy storage.
            Those are the Ford automobiles or our age. …and we’re going to be driving them because oil is just too expensive to dig up now. Since we’re going to be driving them anyway then let’s get on with it …and no it they are not more expensive they are already dropping below parity in many areas, all except energy storage and it will get there soon.
            BTW we are not talking about earth’s climate in 2100, it’s now! We’re talking about the current drought in the USA and across Africa. We’re talking about Katrina and Sandy. We are talking about retreating and disappearing glaciers all over the world. We’re talking about a new Northern Passage were there used to be ice. Open your eyes my friend. …and it will take 20 to 30 years to convert to mostly solar and wind, so it would be good to encourage a faster transition now. The start of this disruptive transition is where we can push it along. After that it will be wild fire burning, like cell phones and PCs.

            You seem to be an existentialist. I’m an engineer. You and Rossi keep working on that cold fusion thing and theorizing about unknown natural forces. I’ll be over here installing solar panels and selling EVs/EREVs.

          • http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

            Michael, the matter has been studied extensively, for decades upon decades. To ignore the work of thousands of climate scientists is simply absurd. For an examination of NGW or AGW, see: http://planetsave.com/2012/01/19/what-is-causing-global-warming/

          • mds

            Thanks Bob

          • http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

            Here’s something from a review of studies examining if the warming is from natural or human causes:

            “Over the most recent 25-65 years, every study put the human contribution at a minimum of 98%, and most put it at well above 100%, because natural factors have probably had a small net cooling effect over recent decades (Figures 3 and 4).
            Read more at http://planetsave.com/2012/01/19/what-is-causing-global-warming/#tLOvIHiwzVZKmyS7.99

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.jacobson.39589 Michael Jacobson

    So let me get this right. The Maya people suffered through century long periods of drought and extreme moisture. It was a normal cycle and not “spurred by human activity”. How can we be certain that we are not currently experiencing a similar normal cycle of climate change? If the weather at the time of the Maya was being experienced today it would be pointed to as proof of AGW. Anyone who would dare suggest otherwise would be called a “climate denier” or “anti-science”. We have the benefit of hindsight and can look at what happened during the time of the Maya people and see the big picture. Isn’t it possible that we are currently in the middle of a similar unknown climate cycle and we’re substituting CO2 emissions and carbon credits for the blood sacrifices of the Maya kings?

    Are we so certain in our intellectual superiority that we’re willing to dramatically alter our lifestyles and economy for something that we may actually have no real control over? Billions of dollars and untold man hours have been spent to change the climate. Are those efforts as wasted as the lives that were sacrificed by the Maya kings to effect the same change?

    • Bob_Wallace

      “Are we so certain in our intellectual superiority that we’re willing to dramatically alter our lifestyles and economy for something that we may actually have no real control over? ”

      No one is suggesting dramatic lifestyle changes. What is suggested is that we quit using fossil fuels and turn to renewable energy sources to provide the power for our electricity, transportation and heat.

      Furthermore, if you take a look at the numbers we’ll end up with cheaper electricity, transportation and heat than what we have now. Additionally we’ll avoid the >$2 billion we pay every day for the costs of fossil fuels that we pay via our tax dollars and health insurance premiums.

      • http://www.facebook.com/michael.jacobson.39589 Michael Jacobson

        To “quit using fossil fuels” would have a monumental impact on our lifestyle and economy. If the technology was readily available and economically feasible I would welcome it. I even believe that there should be some reasonable changes to the way we live our lives to move us in that direction. But with so many people claiming we are doomed if we don’t act immediately (and there are vast multitudes of “respected scientist” who have been shouting that for years) our elected officials are inclined to force the changes upon us if we are ready or not.

        I also have to respectfully disagree if you think our government is going to let $2 billion worth of tax revenue disappear from the government coffers. They will have their pound of flesh one way or another. If it was truly possible to make the change to a fossil fuel free economy, and save money at the same time, the free market would have brought it to us already. Even with huge government subsidies most of those enterprises that have popped up in the last few years have failed miserable or would quickly fail without continued government intervention.

        • Matt

          The free market is not really totally free. Cost are hidden ($.5 trillion in health cost from coal in US). One power group will distort the market to make more money (see lost of trains in the US). There are many examples, many in the power market.

        • Bob_Wallace

          First, I think you misunderstood what I was talking about when I mentioned $2 billion dollars per day.

          That’s what we spend, not what the government takes in. Burning coal causes significant health and environmental damage. That costs us about $1 billion per day from the federal coffers and from our pockets in higher health insurance premiums. You can read the details in this study.

          http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05890.x/full

          Then we spend another $1 billion per day keeping our military in the Middle East protecting “our” oil supply, fighting the Afghanistan war and on homeland security.

          If we quit burning coal (very doable) and cut our oil usage to what we can produce inside the US (about 30% to 50% of what we now burn) we could tell the rest of the world to work out their own oil issues.

          That’s money saved.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Now, how can we get off fossil fuels?

          First, build a lot more wind farms. Wind is the cheapest way we know to generate new power. It’s running $0.05/kWh and falling.

          That ‘5 cents’ is misleading. It’s the cost during the 20 years that the wind farm is paid off. After that we should get another 20 years or so of really cheap electricity from the paid off turbines.

          Then, we add a lot more solar. Solar is getting close to $0.10/kWh and falling fast. Solar at ten cents is actually a bargain because it produces when demand is highest. Right now we’re using a lot of very expensive single cycle natural gas to provide for those hours, solar is cheaper.

          The ’10 cents’ is also misleading. After the 20 year payoff those solar panels should give us another 20, 30, ? years of almost free electricity. Our oldest installed solar panels are now 30 years old and producing close to what they gave us when new.

          Yes, the wind does not blow 24/365, but no generation source runs 24/365. We build our grid to take care of us when, for example, a nuclear or coal plant goes offline. We have to engineer the storage and backup generation to fill in when wind and solar aren’t contributing.

          Short term we use natural gas as our fill-in. And we keep developing storage technology to replace NG.

          A wind/solar/natural gas grid would be cheaper than a coal/nuclear/natural gas grid.

          Those coal and nuclear plants are going to wear out, some are almost worn out now. One way or another we are going to have to replace their capacity. If we replace with wind and solar we end up with very large savings.

        • mds

          @Michael Jacobson,
          Bob is correct. We do spend more for diminishing supplies of oil. The change-over to renewable energy is ready and has actually already started. You are not correct. Renewable energy is almost ready to stand on its own. If you took away subsidies now it would not go away, it would just grow more slowly and the USA would lose its lead for manufacturing and exports of renewable tech. GE exported 70% of its wind turbine products last year. Wind is a large and growing business. Solar will pass it soon enough.

    • Nathan

      The climate changes that the Maya experienced were to their local climate, due to shifting weather patterns. The global climate didn’t change. Modern human-caused climate change is likely going to greatly exceed anything that’s seen the climate record of the past few million years.

      • http://www.facebook.com/michael.jacobson.39589 Michael Jacobson

        Then let’s substitute the “local climate”, which apparently only affected one part of the globe for several centuries, with any one of the multitude of small ice ages and subsequent warming periods that have taken place in the earth history. Isn’t it possible that the only difference with the continuing changes to our climate is that there happens to be a species alive during this period of change that can measure and record it?

        • Bob_Wallace

          We’re pretty skillful about measuring things for those time periods when there weren’t humans around to record the data.

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