Clean Power UNPRECEDENTED cover

Published on February 9th, 2015 | by Sandy Dechert

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A Complete Field Guide to Climate Change: UNPRECEDENTED

February 9th, 2015 by  

UNPRECEDENTED coverIn this critical year for climate, the United States has just obtained a superior information and action tool in UNPRECEDENTED: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? David Ray Griffin spent almost three years researching and compiling this excellent summary of climate disruption and what people can do about it.

Read UNPRECEDENTED, and you will discover the most complete, up-to-date news about effective kinds of clean energy, the reasons why we need to transition very quickly from fossil-fuel power to deep decarbonization, and how the US and the world may be able to achieve 70% clean energy by 2035 and 100% before 2050.

The book is up to date as of six weeks ago, January 1, 2015. Its central question is whether humans can keep climate disruption from obliterating civilization as we know it. These times involve world instability perilous enough without a global danger. We’re feeling upsets in the Middle East and north Africa, growing pains elsewhere, serious stress in the European Union, sparking and rekindling of conflict in Ukraine, and ISIS, with its bloody Nouveau-Inquisition tactics.

However, Griffin has very good reason for arguing that the climate crisis eclipses all these events. The author, a philosopher, theologian, anthologist, and longtime professor at California’s Claremont think tank, has considerable expertise in researching profoundly disturbing history. If you’ve followed international news, listened to last year’s all-nighter in Congress about the risks the US faces, or seen the award-winning documentary series Years of Living Dangerously, you already have some idea of what you’ll find in his wide-ranging book.

David Ray Griffin, author of UNPRECEDENTEDGriffin brings to the topic cardinal abilities to digest and order masses of relevant information. Influential for his microscopic though controversial analysis of the 9/11 World Trade Center destruction, as well as the more mainstream academic assemblage of SUNY’s 31-volume Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought, Griffin describes this almost three-year effort as his personal tour de force. It covers “a much more important issue than any of my previous ones.”

UNPRECEDENTED presents up-to-the-minute science of  climate disruption and its likely effects on world ecosystems and human life as we know it. It’s one of the most extensive treatments of climate change phenomena I have seen in decades of covering the topic. As well as the science, Griffin touches on many of the social obstacles involved, including industry-funded denialism, media failure, abysmal political misjudgment, and moral, religious, and economic challenges.

Dr. Griffin also pointedly discusses mobilization. In that Griffin is not a scientist (heard that line before?), his treatment of technology does have occasional gaps. Too, rapid technological discoveries in future will quickly outpace it. However, his dissection of the consequences of climate change should remain sound over at least five or ten years, if not until the 2050 benchmark.

Fast readers can absorb UNPRECEDENTED‘s 450+ pages at a gallop. Those who spend more time at a book will find it very comfortable reading, and anyone with special interests can easily scan the contents table and pick out individual sections to explore. Though we now live in an infographic and multimedia world, and this manuscript was produced with speed in mind over illustrations, Griffin’s prose consistently entertains. It wouldn’t take much effort to compile a brief multimedia treatment of  major discussion points.

Griffin arranges the book sensibly along these three lines of thought:

  • The nature of the threat posed by climate disruption,
  • How and why humanity has so far failed to act and embraced indefensible complacency, and
  • What needs to be done from here on out.

Each chapter of Part I, “Unprecedented Threats,” highlights an unprecedented hazard and three possible responses: Plan A (business as usual), Plan B (mobilization), and Plan C (wait and see). The winning strategy in most cases goes without saying. The threats:

  • Extreme weather
  • Heat waves
  • Drought and wildfire
  • Severe storms (rain, snow, hurricanes, and tornadoes)
  • Rising sea level
  • Fresh water crises
  • Famines
  • Refugee migration
  • Climate wars, and ultimately,
  • Ecosystem collapses (including the present sixth mass extinction, which may or may not come to include humans).

In Part II, Griffin addresses the ticklish question of why, after decades of warnings from the best scientists around the world and repeated international meetings, we have chosen to turn our backs on the problem—or worse. The “or worse” section focuses on the role of fossil fuel companies, which dominate the world’s top ten, and on sumo-wrestling politics in the US.

Briefly, the author believes that we’re dealing here with the least-precedented ever challenge to human intelligence and the largest mass deception our human flock has experienced in recorded history. Griffin points his finger directly at climate change denial. He does not relent until he has compiled an exhaustive catalog of unrepented sins.

Scientists and some thoughtful segments of the media, including this blog, have exposed palliation and disinformation about climate disruption for years. We’ve been roundly vilified for it. The roar of vested interests with unfathomably deep pockets has drowned out a strong and growing body of evidence about climate disruption. It has also diffused attempts proposed by the brave to mitigate and adapt to the phenomenon. UNPRECEDENTED is not a “get-you-back” effort, however; it’s an attempt to clear the board and present cogent strategies for near-term action.

The middle section of Griffin’s work examines cons that the fossil-fuel industry, its dependent downstream corporations (more than meet the eye), and compromised politicians have used to blunt and divert public opinion from the near-unanimous scientific conclusion that coal, oil, and natural gas are changing the face of our planet, ultimately not for the better.

Alongside the subterfuges corporations have used to discredit top scientists like Dr. Michael Mann, trip up leaders such as Vice-President Al Gore, and derail promising international efforts—the 2009 UN Copenhagen summit comes to mind immediately—Griffin takes the media to task. Its thoughtless embrace of shallow arguments and its overall inattention to the imminence and vastness of potential climate change, with false balance as a major weapon, have put civilized humanity in danger.

UNPRECEDENTED goes on to expose the history of political failures to address global warming successfully. There’s also a wonderful discussion of environmental decisionmaking by US presidents since Lyndon Baines Johnson and a welcome inclusion of ethics and religious culture coming direct from a prominent 21st-century theologian and philosopher.

Griffin points out how fundamentalist ideologies based on the omnipotence of a supreme being often result in climate complacency: the world can only be destroyed by global warming if God wants it to happen, and humans who profess otherwise exhibit ungodly arrogance of the worst kind.

The author parallels his hopes for political outcomes with past campaigns for global justice that have succeeded, like the abolition of slavery and termination of apartheid. Intergenerational justice may be the bottom line in the case of climate disruption—whether the adults of today can act effectively enough to save earth’s current bounty for our children and grandchildren.

False economic ideas undermine our ability to cope with global warming, Griffin says. He starts with the complacency of Yale’s William Nordhaus and continues through the thinking of Oxford’s Lord Nicholas Stern and Harvard’s Martin Weitzman. Those familiar with economic thought will likely applaud the author’s conclusion that we need to tax carbon immediately and eliminate all fossil-fuel subsidies.

Core components of 2015 Paris climate talks (WRI.org)

Core components of year-end 2015 Paris climate talks (WRI.org)

In Part III, “What Is To Be Done” (the shortest section), UNPRECEDENTED refutes fossil industry red herrings that clean energy costs too much and lacks the capability to power modern power civilization. That may have been true in 25 or even 15 years ago, but it’s hardly the case today, particularly in light of abundant supply, open-tap economics, increasingly iffy hydraulic fracturing, and other costly efforts to get at previously inaccessible hydrocarbons or sequester their byproducts.

I would have liked to see more on kinder, smaller-scale hydro projects like run-of-river generation and use of streams and constructed waterways. The transportation section excels in describing fuels and noting electric vehicle, high-speed rail, and air travel efficiencies, including the popular topic of Mach 4 transcontinental journeys. Griffin also discusses modification and transformation of electricity transmission.

Very importantly, UNPRECEDENTED covers needed change and modernization of our existing power grids. However, distributed energy, minigrids, and off-grid technologies—so game-changing for rural areas, isolated industrial operations, and less-developed countries—receive comparatively little attention.

Nuclear energy—as either zero-carbon or environmentally hazardous, and traditional or small-scale—is not covered, even in the index. However, Griffin does detail carbon budgeting and debunk the “bridge fuel” argument for natural gas as potentially harmful, especially considering the now evident and emerging risks of fracking. He also notes the increased danger of working with bitumen and other extraheavy crude, “tough” oil not anticipated in existing pipeline, railcar, or infrastructure design.

Like other recent analysts, the author concludes that clean power can provide far more than enough energy to support civilization at its current or foreseeable levels. Bottom-line figures: the planet’s energy could be 70% clean by 2035, and 100% clean by 2050. Now that we have numerous alternative power sources, Griffin argues, we should have no compunctions about phasing out fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

In just the past six weeks since completion of this extraordinary book, new lights have started shining on the climate struggle where before there were only glimmers. Narendra Modi’s White House visit, the Pope’s trip to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, and Norway’s huge divestment of coal holdings have all occurred during this brief timeframe.

Lester Brown, author of Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, says that deep decarbonization “will take a massive mobilization—at wartime speed.” Griffin predicates the success of slowing climate disruption on US leadership, proposing that President Obama should declare a national climate emergency and implement related policies on an appropriate scale.

US delegation at Lima COP20 conference (screenshot)

US delegation at Lima COP20 conference (screenshot)

Having just returned from the UN’s Lima COP20 conference last December (right), I differ with Griffin’s position somewhat. President Obama has shown executive leadership at home with the multifaceted EPA Clean Power Plan and initiatives from the Departments of Energy, Interior, and Defense, and other Cabinet agencies. However, internal American politics and continued Congressional stonewalling will likely hamper legislative efforts and limit our power to lead by example.

On the other hand, the president has recently propelled the international dialogue with alacrity. His collusion last fall on environmental goals with President Xi Jinping of China (our partner in almost half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions) and his recent exchanges with Prime Minister Modi of India, the third major contributor to worldwide emissions, bode well for the world’s atmosphere.

Secretary of State John Kerry rightly points out that challenging climate disruption is not an appropriate or attainable task for any single nation. In fact, the true world debate centers on the ability of developed and developing nations to negotiate common ground. Lima restated goals, recognized plurality, and clearly laid out the options proposed by all parties. It remains for nations to prepare realistic commitments (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) and make some tough compromises within the coming year.

Dr. Griffin concludes the way he started, with the concept that the world is facing an unprecedented challenge. His final chapter drives home the need for Americans—and all nationals—to devote ourselves to shifting energy modes in coming decades until we achieve deep decarbonization and a true clean-energy world economy. The editor of CleanTechnica, Zachary Shahan, and this writer must praise Griffin for producing “a great service to humanity.”

UNPRECEDENTED is a must for government regulators and groups and organizations working to protect the earth. Highly recommended for high school level through graduate and professional study, business leaders, community groups, and book clubs. It was released as an ebook on January 1, 2015. You can purchase the ebook (ISBN: 978-9-9860769-1-6) from Amazon and other online venues, and paperback shelf copies debut on February 15 (ISBN: 978-0-9860769-0-9, 506 pp.) for $34.95. Bulk orders of 10 copies or more are also available. In this reviewer’s mind, they should be utilized widely.


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About the Author

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."



  • Buzz S

    When a perceived “group” of people go against common-sense
    logic, there is a predictable “push-back” response against that group’s ideology
    in general. And unfortunately sometimes the baby is thrown-out with the bath
    water. Support for cap-and-trade, and objections to the Keystone pipeline are
    perfect examples of group-identity perception. Cap-and-trade was nothing short
    of a thinly veiled tax on utility consumers…Obama’s only pro-active
    perception/deception of helping the renewable energy industry.

    Resistance to the Keystone pipeline, defies logic at any level
    of thinking.

    I wonder if the people that blindly oppose the Keystone XL pipeline
    project feel “hypocritical” every time they put gasoline in their car. Do they
    think that gasoline just magically appears at the pump; with no exploration,
    drilling, processing, refining, and with transportation required in every step
    of supplying this fuel. Or if they realize that almost “every” product they
    purchase, contains a transportation component associated with supplying that
    product. Do they not realize that America is required to purchase over 20-million barrels of
    oil a day from foreign countries to meet America’s demand for fuel, to keep our
    country operating and our economy strong.

    The 1,179-mile Keystone XL Pipeline is proposed to go from Canada through
    Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing
    pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries
    along the Texas Gulf Coast. The Texas refineries will “buy” the crude oil,
    refine it, and distribute it for consumption. This means American distribution,
    and many more American jobs. The US currently consumes more than 20 million
    barrels of oil per day “over” what it currently being produced in America. The
    question is, who do we want to buy this excess oil from…and why not Canada,
    our friendly neighbor?America currently has over 2 million miles of
    “functioning” pipelines as a part of our essential infrastructure. Oil has to be
    moved once it is pumped. If not by pipeline, our only choices are over-the-road
    trucking, and/or rail. Both of these methods result in increased diesel
    air-pollution, increased costs, and increased potential for spills. Lets deal
    with facts, and not blind hysteria. The Keystone XL pipeline is our obvious
    intelligent choice.

  • Buzz S

    When a perceived “group” of people go against common-sense
    logic, there is a predictable “push-back” response against that group’s ideology
    in general. And unfortunately sometimes the baby is thrown-out with the bath
    water. Support for cap-and-trade, and objections to the Keystone pipeline are
    perfect examples of group-identity perception. Cap-and-trade was nothing short
    of a thinly veiled tax on utility consumers…Obama’s only pro-active
    perception/deception of helping the renewable energy industry.

    Resistance to the Keystone pipeline, defies logic at any level
    of thinking.

    I wonder if the people that blindly oppose the Keystone XL pipeline
    project feel “hypocritical” every time they put gasoline in their car. Do they
    think that gasoline just magically appears at the pump; with no exploration,
    drilling, processing, refining, and with transportation required in every step
    of supplying this fuel. Or if they realize that almost “every” product they
    purchase, contains a transportation component associated with supplying that
    product. Do they not realize that America is required to purchase over 20-million barrels of
    oil a day from foreign countries to meet America’s demand for fuel, to keep our
    country operating and our economy strong.

    The 1,179-mile Keystone XL Pipeline is proposed to go from Canada through
    Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing
    pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries
    along the Texas Gulf Coast. The Texas refineries will “buy” the crude oil,
    refine it, and distribute it for consumption. This means American distribution,
    and many more American jobs. The US currently consumes more than 20 million
    barrels of oil per day “over” what it currently being produced in America. The
    question is, who do we want to buy this excess oil from…and why not Canada,
    our friendly neighbor?America currently has over 2 million miles of
    “functioning” pipelines as a part of our essential infrastructure. Oil has to be
    moved once it is pumped. If not by pipeline, our only choices are over-the-road
    trucking, and/or rail. Both of these methods result in increased diesel
    air-pollution, increased costs, and increased potential for spills.
    Lets deal
    with facts, and not blind hysteria. The Keystone XL pipeline is our obvious
    intelligent choice!

    • Bob_Wallace

      Oh, come on. That Canadian oil is headed offshore. Plus there’s no market for it. The world is awash in oil.

      Building the pipeline would create a few jobs for a some months.

      Here’s an idea. Let’s do as little as possible to keep the oil going. Let’s put our money and effort into building wind and solar capacity and bless this country with abundant, clean, low cost electricity.

      Let’s quit spending between $140 billion and $242 billion of taxpayer dollars every year treating coal-produced illnesses.

      Let’s divorce ourselves from Middle East oil forever. Let’s never get sucked into another round of $9 trillion oil wars just to keep the black stuff flowing.

      Let’s quick screwing up our stream, lakes and coasts with spilled oil. Let’s rebuild the wildlife and fishing we used to enjoy.

      Let’s supply America with lots of cheap energy in order to strengthen our economy and make our industry more competitive.

      There’s a point at which it becomes time to quit doing the stupid over and over and over. It’s time to quit being stupid by using fossil fuels. It’s time to move on to energy that makes sense and leave a better world for our children and grandchildren.

      • Coley

        I know this is a bit late, but in the short term,forget keystone and encourage imports of relatively clean ( and at the moment, cheap) Saudi oil, using it as as a stop gap to satisfy oil requirements while moving on to RE, we will need fossil fuels for a few more years, far better exploit the cleaner ones in order to force the filthy dirty ones to the wall? thinking tar sands here.

  • Larry

    Wow! I can’t wait to hear what the morons at FAUX “News” will say about this tome. The corporate owned Congress will, of course, disregard the book and all it’s suggestions and warnings. If only the next megahurricane would make landfall on Washington D.C. and trap most of the Congress in a building subject to major flooding.

  • Leslie Graham

    It will be interesting to see what happens when between 6 and 20 million people run out of water in a major western city in the next couple of months.
    Watch carefully because how the city of Sao Paulo reacts so will we when our turn comes.

  • 196ski

    IPCC AR5:
    “The rate of warming over the past 15 years (1998–2012) is 0.05 [–0.05 to +0.15] °C per decade) which is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951 (1951–2012) of 0.12 [0.08 to 0.14] °C per decade.”
    RSS and UAH satellite data agree with that assessment although it must be noted their data does not stretch as far back. This rate of warming has happened in the past and is not alarming.

    Ocean temperatures are not rising at the predicted rates:

    ARGO-Era Vertical Mean Ocean Temperature Anomalies
    NODC (0-2000 meters)
    2003 – 2014

    Indian Ocean Trend = +0.067 Deg C/Decade
    South Atlantic Trend = +0.061 Deg C/Decade
    North Atlantic Trend = +0.007 Deg C/Decade
    Pacific Trend = +0.009 Deg C/Decade

    The arctic is in a rebound, the antarctic is growing at above average rates.

    None of these things should be happening if the correlation between CO2 and rising temperatures was correct. This science is far from settled. Clearly we are missing some key components of this equation despite the massive amounts of money we have spent on the science.

  • Brooks Bridges

    The urgency can’t be emphasized enough. In Nov 2012, Kevin Anderson gave at talk in which he refers to predictions from the International Energy Agency and Price Waterhouse Cooper, both about as conservative as can be imagined:

    “Right, this is from that well-known left-wing think tank the International Energy Agency, so this is from their Chief Economist so this is the conventional wisdom here, “We’re on track for a three and a half degrees C temperature rise by 2040 and then looking at that compared with todays compared to pre-industrial times that’s a four degrees C or so rise by around the middle of the century. That’s what we’re on track for at the moment according to the IEA”

    And:
    “So the IEA are saying we’re heading towards a six degrees C future, six degrees C global mean surface temperature rise. Today I think or yesterday PWC – Price Waterhouse Cooper – put out a report where they’re saying also that we’re online for six degrees C” (2100).

    This is Nov 2012! Over two years ago! Google Real clothes for the Emperor for video, transcript, etc.

    That’s just 25 years from now for disastrous climate change – civilization killing climate change.

    Much as I love Zach’s encouraging news we don’t have time for supply side to prevent this. Each and every one of us must cut our carbon contribution drastically now! And convince friends, neighbors, etc., to do the same.

  • ThisNameInUse

    I wish the citizens of this country could collectively shove this book down the throats of the hordes of Republican fossil fuel owned “representatives” in Congress who still think they can deny this and collect their 30 pieces of silver. They are mass murderers, and are allowed to keep walking around free as if they haven’t done anything.

    • Dragon

      Indeed. Republicorp and the Kochtopus should be the target of the war on terror.

  • RobMF

    22 million climate change refugees and growing. The world sees extreme floods and doughts with increasing frequency. People in Miami pay to have their roads pumped of ocean water at high tide. 70,000 Hampton Roads properties are now only insurable by FEMA due to sea level rise.

    And these are the easy years…

  • Michael G

    I have come to the conclusion that the desired results will only happen when it is in the obvious economic self-interest of everyone in the supply-demand equation. Preaching, facts, science – none of that matters.

    EVs will only happen when they are cheaper than ICEs and produce higher profit margins, (wind+solar) will replace (coal+gas) for the same reasons. They can’t just be equal – they have to be inescapably, undeniably, demonstrably, significantly cheaper to overcome inertia and vested interests. Individuals may replace light-bulbs but cos won’t do anything unless their spread sheets can justify it.

    Fortunately, that is happening.

    • Will E

      true
      time state administrations find out the possible tax profits of Solar and Wind as big money creating industries.
      cities can install Solar and Wind and provide an income for the citizins,
      EV cars with community solar charge stations,

    • wattleberry

      Absolutely, couldn’t agree more.

  • Marion Meads

    I am not sure if such a guide would be able to change the minds of even just a few GOP members. They can’t read beyond the first paragraph unless it is their own propaganda crap that they’re accustomed to.

    • Michael G

      I like to think the GOP pols aren’t as stupid as they make themselves out to be (it’s the romantic in me) – just trying to keep the money coming. I blame “Citizen’s United” – the “Dred Scott” of our day

    • Dragon

      Republicorp knows exactly what they’re doing. At least most of them do. There’s no other explanation for how they can stand united on every major issue. You can’t get 100% of people to agree on anything, yet they mysteriously do. And yet they’re also willing to flip flop when some internal network signal tells them to. Ie this week it seems to have suddenly dawned on every Replublicorp mouthpiece at the same time that Sarah Palin is crazy and suddenly she went from around 100% GOP support to around 0%.

  • JamesWimberley

    Obama can be blamed for too cautious rhetoric in his first term, including the “all of the above” framing. The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill got a fair shot during the brief period of full Democratic control of Congress in Obama’s first term, and failed. It’s not clear that a higher rhetorical priority from the White House would have helped. So far Obama has been sound on Keystone, though the chosen tactic of endless delay invites suspicions that approval is ultimately on the table for some deal.

    He has prepared the ground for Hillary Clinton to be the “climate president” if she chooses. What else is there for her? ACA only needs minor tinkering; the next major overhaul is a decade ahead. Reversing inequality is just too difficult – even Piketty doesn’t believe his wealth tax prescription stands a real chance. That leaves an energy transition, entirely doable technically and with broad if shallow political support in the electorate.

    • Michael G

      Obama is in the same position as Lincoln was in the early days of his presidency. You can’t get too far out in front of the public or you lose them and your effectiveness goes to zero and stays there no matter what you say later. FDR also could only be a tad out in front of the public – constantly pushing slightly forward at home and abroad.

      FDR had unprecedented majorities in congress to work with. Lincoln too (once the southerners went home). Obama & congress? If he can do anything at all it is too his everlasting credit. He got car fuel economy set to double(!!) in a few years after decades of not moving at all. No more coal plants(!!!) in the US. Politics is the art of the possible.

      • Bob_Wallace

        FDR came to the White House only after people had been suffering for several years. People were desperate for relief.

        It’s too bad the crash didn’t happen earlier in Bush’s term. With him and the Republican House unwilling to make improvements Obama would likely have been able to move more. Unfortunately the crash happened soon before Obama took office and Republicans were able to put some of the blame on him, although totally undeserved.

    • Bob_Wallace

      There’s lots of work to be done. We must do something about educational quality and funding. We are putting our youngest students at a great disadvantage and badly damaging the futures of many of our higher level graduates.

      Our infrastructures are in major need of improvement.

      We need to boost manufacturing. Now that China is facing labor shortages and wage prices have risen we have an opportunity to bring some industry back on shore.

      And someone is going to have to deal with the new Republican-hate issue. Muslims.

      I think the country is ready to move on climate change. If the next president is willing I suspect a lot will be done to cut FF use. Wind and solar prices will be down. It looks like utility scale storage will be affordable. EV prices should start dropping in a year or two as large battery factories come on line. The economics should be lined up to make pushing for FF reduction not a difficult chore.

    • Calamity_Jean

      Back in 2008 I thought that she was slightly better on climate than he was.

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