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Published on October 14th, 2018 | by Steve Hanley

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It’s Time For The Adults To Take Charge — 100 Corporations Responsible For 71% Of Carbon Emissions

October 14th, 2018 by  


The 6th IPCC Climate Assessment Report makes it crystal clear: Human society is facing a life or death. The only way to save ourselves is to drastically, dramatically, and deliberately reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There are two ways to do that — put less carbon dioxide in and/or take carbon dioxide out. Those are the choices. Deal with it like adults or suffer the consequences. End of story. Full stop.

Monkeying Around With Reality

Volkswagen factory

In 2015, Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW commissioned a study to determine what health effects, if any, resulted to humans and monkeys from breathing diesel exhaust. As part of that alleged research, a Java monkey was locked in a glass cage while diesel exhaust was pumped in. Today, every person on Earth is like that monkey. We are little more than lab rats in a grand experiment designed to see how much carbon dioxide it will take before the Earth’s ability to support human life is extinguished.

What the VW experiment proved beyond any reasonable doubt is that the captains of industry will do anything — lie, cheat, steal, or bribe — in order to save themselves and the companies they control from economic hardship. When it comes to leadership, they are not the adults in the room. They are the infants with full diapers squalling for their mothers to come minister to their every needs. To advance their agenda, they have bought and paid for most of the national leaders and legislators around the world.

Here’s What We Should Be Doing

Vox this week published a story with this title — “What Genuine, No Bullshit Ambition On Climate Change Would Look Like.” The list is long and detailed, with frequent reference to the book Drawdown which we reviewed here last year. Most of us are familiar with the basics.

Transition to 100% renewable energy, dramatically increase the energy efficiency of buildings, stop using fossil fuels in the transportation sector (including airplanes), electrify everything, stop eating meat, stop cutting down trees, and empower women. Actually, that last one is not high on most people’s list, but it should be, as we will see soon.

Here’s What We Are Doing

The struggle is going to be long and difficult. Last week, Andrew Wheeler, the acting head of the Environmental Destruction Agency, told NPR that climate change was nothing to worry about. When needed, people will simply start removing carbon dioxide from the air and everything will be fine. Royal Dutch Shell has a similar plan. It intends to grossly overshoot the Earth’s carbon budget now so we can practice carbon removal techniques later — assuming they exist when needed.

Shell climate change strategy

Shell’s plan is to burn every drop of oil and gas in its proven reserves and then do something about carbon dioxide. Which leads to this question: Why are the leaders of Shell and all their colleagues in the fossil fuel industry not on trial for crimes against humanity right now, this very minute? Their plan is to poison the world with the pollution their business creates to the point where millions of people start dying, and they are okay with that? These are the so-called adults in the room?

100 Corporations Responsible For 71% Of Carbon Emissions

The Carbon Majors Report, prepared by CDP and the Climate Accountability Institute in July 2017, finds that just 25 corporations are responsible for one half of all carbon emissions since 1988. ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron lead the list. 71% of all such emissions can be traced to the activities of just 100 corporations. The report warns if fossil fuels continue to be extracted at the same rate over the next 28 years as they were between 1988 and 2017, global average temperatures can be expected to rise by 4° C by the end of the century. That, folks, is a lot. It’s enough to kill lots of living things, including most humans.

Mary Annaise Heglar, writing in Vox, tells us we don’t need to feel that we are responsible for climate change because we use plastic bags, don’t grow our own food, or left the lights on when away from home. Her words are passionate and worth quoting here.

“Whether we admit it or not, we’re all in the middle of one big, giant mourning process. We’re mourning our futures. We’re mourning the children we’re afraid to have. Our bucket lists. Our travel plans. Some of us are mourning homes already lost to fires or flood, or savings accounts wiped out helping relatives recover from hurricanes. Some of us are mourning our todays, even our yesterdays.

“Denial is part of the traditional mourning process, but we have collectively spent way too long there. It’s time to snap out of it. Given the sheer enormity of climate change, it’s okay to be depressed, to grieve. But please, don’t stay there too long. Join me in pure, unadulterated, righteous anger.

“The dominant narrative around climate change tells us that it’s our fault. We left the lights on too long, didn’t close the refrigerator door, and didn’t recycle our paper. I’m here to tell you that is bullshit. If the light switch was connected to clean energy, who the hell cares if you left it on? The problem is not consumption — it’s the supply. And your scrap paper did not hasten the end of the world. Don’t give in to that shame. It’s not yours. The oil and gas industry is gaslighting you.

“That same IPCC report revealed that a mere 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of global climate emissions. These people are locking you and everything you love into a tomb. You have every right to be pissed all the way off. And we have to make them hear about it.”

BECCS Will Save Us

The Andrew Wheeler/Shell strategy basically comes down to this — BECCS. That stands for “bio-energy” coupled with “carbon capture and sequestration.” Plants absorb carbon dioxide when they grow, then release it when burned. Just capture that carbon dioxide and sequester it somewhere underground. Voila! Problem solved.

BECCS diagram

Yes, Virginia, that’s the game plan for keeping the Earth’s environment from collapsing. There’s only one problem with the BECCS approach, says Vox.

“There is currently no commercial BECCS industry. Neither the BE nor the CCS part has been demonstrated at any serious scale, much less at the scale necessary. (The land area needed to grow all that biomass for BECCS in these models is estimated to be around one to three times the size of India.) Maybe we could pull off a massive BECCS industry quickly. But banking on negative emissions later in the century is, at the very least, an enormous, fateful gamble. It bets the lives and welfare of millions of future people on an industry that, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t yet exist.”

In other words, BECCS is BS.

Empowering Women Through Education

In addition to the usual suspects — more renewables, fewer vehicles with internal combustion engines, more high efficiency buildings, transitioning to a vegetable based diet — Vox also cites with approval an idea included in Drawdown that is seldom discussed — the education and empowerment of women. Why? Educating women results in lower fertility rates. Fewer people means fewer emissions.

In addition to withdrawing from the Paris climate accords and embracing the coal industry in a bear hug, the Trump maladministration has also reinstated the global gag rule that forbids any funds supplied from US sources going to any programs anywhere in the world that promote family planning. The stunning stupidity of that rule is another example of how the anti-abortion crazies have infected the political debate with a virus that is contrary to common sense. As Barney Frank once observed, “Conservatives believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

No Time Like The Present

Nissan LEAF

The IPCC 6 report is clear. We must commit to dramatic lifestyle changes immediately. That means not buying cars with internal combustion engines starting now. It means closing coal-fired generating stations and eliminating fracking now. It means stopping the cutting down of forests now. The odds of those things happening are less than slim.

The approach to climate change so far has been somewhere between a yawn and a ho hum from most people. Yes, we know more powerful storms are happening more often and that South Miami is experiencing flooding at high tide on a regular basis, but does that mean we can’t buy that new Super Duper Duty pickup with leather, 17 cup holders, and a sunroof? C’mon, things aren’t that bad, are they?

Yes, actually, they are. In fact, they are much worse than most of us realize.

It’s All About Power

We owe our high standard of living to fossil fuels and internal combustion engines. They power the machines we depend on to build our buildings, travel to distant locations, grow our food, and enjoy the benefits of a digital economy. They are also slowly killing us. In the movie Apollo 13, a roomful of engineers are loudly debating how to get a crippled spacecraft and its crew safely back to Earth when one of them points out, “It’s all about power. We need to shut everything down — now.”

The world faces a similar dilemma. It’s not that we have to go back to picks and shovels. Our economy needn’t suffer a meltdown. We just have to change how we get the power we need. Every engine in use today could be replaced with a far more efficient electric motor. Every coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plant could be replaced by renewable energy. It’s the will to do so that is lacking.

And it’s not like doing so will crash the global economy. A report in April 2018 from the International Renewable Energy Agency entitled “Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050” claims switching to a low-carbon economy will actually produce an increase in global GDP compared to today.

IRENA global GDP chart

The Politics Of Power

There is another kind of power in play here — political power. To keep the world from becoming an overheated cinder will require bold leadership — something that Americans aren’t getting. The Trump maladministration has failed to respond in any meaningful way to the IPCC 6 report. Even the Head Buffoon hasn’t bothered to tweet about it. Its strategy is to simply ignore the whole thing. Last year, Trump ordered the government to stop designing federal buildings to withstand major flooding. Tell that to the people in the Carolinas or Houston, or the Florida Panhandle.

If the world is to survive, the electric car disruption and the autonomous driving disruption and the renewable energy disruption won’t be enough. The most critical disruption of all will be the one that breaks the stranglehold fossil fuel companies have on politics.

How do we do that? Simple. Don’t vote for people who are beholden to the fossil fuel crowd for their political careers. That would include virtually every Republican member of Congress today. Ever wonder why they all seem to sing from the same song book? It’s because they know they must toe the party line set forth by their masters from the fossil fuel industry, particularly Koch Industries, or face losing their seat.

Political power is addictive. Once elected, people will do virtually anything — including risking the lives of their constituents — to stay in office. As Jimmy Buffett tells us, “Power is a dangerous drug. It can maim; it can kill.” Boy, howdy. 
 
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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.



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