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Out Of A Million Headlines, This Is The One I Find Most Frightening

Originally published at Green Energy Times

Yes, I meant “a million.” It was not hyperbole.

Every day, I search the news for articles on energy and climate change. I gather news items, with links to the original articles, put them up in a daily post on my blog, geoharvey.com. I have done this every day since June 2, 2012. As of June 23, 2021, I have put up 3,309 posts, with links to 43,774 articles.

On four occasions, I counted the number of headlines I had to read to find the news I posted. Every time I found that I had to look at an average of over 27 headlines to find each article. Doing the math, I find that for my blog, I may have looked at well over a million headlines.

Many of the stories I see make me hopeful. We are making a lot of useful progress. Of course, some of the stories I see are not at all hopeful. Last week, I came across one that frightened me the most of any I have seen.

CNN carried the story with the title, “The amount of heat the Earth traps has doubled in just 15 years, study shows.” A few other news sources carried the story, but I did not see many. Clearly, the media think other things are more interesting.

This story tells us that the Earth is cooking under an atmosphere that is out of balance, and the imbalance is getting measurably worse, all too quickly. It is increasingly well suited to trapping heat, and that ability doubled in just fifteen years. One thing that makes clear to me is that achieving net-zero by 2050 will not do, if we want to survive. In fact, I had already seen that going to net-zero by 2022 would not do by itself to stop climate change. We have to go beyond that.

I will use an analogy to explain. Suppose you want a soft-boiled egg. It is to cook for three minutes, so you can get the luscious yolk you crave. In a way, the heat of the boiling water is like the heat from carbon emissions. Pay attention here: carbon emissions are not like the fire heat under the pot. They are like the heat in the water in the pot. And the Earth is like the yolk. When you turn off the gas, the boiling stops, but the egg just keeps on cooking because it is still warming up inside. To get an egg the way you like it, you have to be proactive and remove it from the boiling water, not simply turn the fire under the pot off and leave the egg in it. If you do that, your egg will be hard-boiled, and the yolk (Earth) will not be what you want it to be.

Carbon emissions don’t heat the Earth. They make the atmosphere more able to trap heat, which heats the Earth. Once emissions are in the atmosphere, they will keep on heating the Earth for a long, long time. And now, what we learn is that the atmosphere is twice as able to trap heat as it was fifteen years ago. Furthermore, we can be sure that since the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere is still going up, the ability to trap heat is going up.

Now, look at the West. The entire, huge state of California is in drought. According to the US Drought Monitor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 94.75% of California is in severe drought or worse. In fact that site lists 85.44% of the state as being in extreme drought, and 33.32% as being in exceptional (worse than extreme) drought. The drought is part of an exceptionally dry period that has been going on for many years, and there is no forecast of any relief on the near-to-mid term. The last break came from an “atmospheric river” that caused some scary flooding. And then a new drought period started.

Until we start restoring the Earth and its atmosphere, I cannot see this drought getting any better over the long haul. The news about increased ability of the atmosphere to trap heat is frightening, because it implies that things will continue to get worse. As bad as things are right now, they will probably get worse, unless we can act to stop them.

Stopping the use of fossil fuels is an important step, but it will not suffice because we have allowed things to go much too far already. That is why I said I thought that net-zero by 2022 would not be enough.

Sadly, not only have we not started getting close to net-zero, we haven’t even started reducing our emissions. Because we have delayed so long, we will have to start going into a net-negative scheme of pollution and emissions. We will have to start both drawing down carbon dioxide and restoring the soil. And we have to do that NOW. If we don’t we will suffer for it.

I rather suspect we will suffer, and sooner rather than later. One reason for this is that the drought is a severe threat to US agriculture. California, where there is no prospect of things getting better, is the source of about two-thirds of the US supply of vegetables and about one-third of its nuts and fruit. But almost the entire West is in severe drought, as are the Dakotas, a Drought Monitor map of the country shows. That represents a lot of food.

There is no long-term forecast predicting any change in the drought situation. The rain will come, I am sure, but it could be next year, and it could be another flood cycle, after which the drought will likely return. What I am suggesting is that the US could easily face a shortage of food that would last until we find alternative ways to grow it. And we cannot assume that we will be able to import food, because we are not alone in having unfortunate changes in weather due to changes in the climate.

You might ask, “What can we do?” Please don’t despair. There are things we can do.

If the thought of a food shortage scares you, one thing you can do is to start raising your own vegetables. In Vermont, where I live, people are even growing citrus trees in pots that are put in shelter for the winter. You might organize your community to have community gardens. Commercial gardening is already being done in shipping containers under artificial lights, and you can bet that type of production will increase in a shortage of food.

All that is already being done, and it would be good for it to spread before a famine hits. But we have to do more to stop carbon emissions, and to restore the Earth. And actually, one bit of good news is that we have lots of opportunities to do better.

For example, we could find ways to stop wasting wastewater. If you look at the map of drought in California, you will be able to see that the watershed of the Sacramento River, which runs north and slightly eastward from San Francisco bay, is now in exceptional drought. San Francisco can be taken as an example in the ways it collects and treats wastewater, which it explains at a web site. We find this quote at that site:

“Each non-rainy day more than 80 million gallons of wastewater is collected and transported to one of three treatment plants (Southeast, Oceanside, and NorthPoint), where harmful pollutants like human waste, oil and other pesticides are removed before reaching the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.”

San Francisco already has a number of programs for recycling wastewater, ranging from use for fighting fires to keeping park lawns green. But it is putting about 80 million gallons per day into the bay and the ocean. And it is not alone in that. A large majority of the people living in California live close to the ocean, and much the waste water is not being recycled. I could guess that the total could be the better part of a billion gallons per day. Finding an effective way to use that may not be enough to stop the drought, but it could be enough to put a dent in it. It would take time to implement, but this ongoing drought period might not end in our lifetimes, unless we start thinking about it wisely.

Please note, depending on how it has been treated, the wastewater may not be water you would want to drink, or even used to grow your lettuce. But it is considered safe to release, and it could be put it into unlined ponds, from which it could filter into the ground and raise the water table. Plant those ponds with peat moss, and they will draw down a multiple of what a forest the same size would.

The CNN headline was frightening to me. But it is a reminder that saving the Earth, the air, and ourselves is a matter of identifying things we can do and implementing them. If we do that wisely, we will succeed.

Featured image by National Drought Mitigation Center

 
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Written By

A retired computer engineer, George Harvey researches and writes on energy and climate change, maintains a daily blog (geoharvey.com), and has a weekly hour-long TV show, Energy Week with George Harvey and Tom Finnell. In addition to those found at CleanTechnica, many of his articles can be found at greenenergytimes.org.

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