November 13, 2017 12:36 PM   Subscribe

The Union of Concerned Scientists is on the phone again. You going to get it this time? In 1992 the UCS issued the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity. Now, 25 years later, many things have changed. They've gotten worse.
posted by crazylegs (13 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Nope. The world is not going to get it this time, either.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 1:04 PM on November 13 [1 favorite]

Related, from Ars Technica: Some state-level policies really do curb energy sector emissions -- Hint: “Mandatory” rules always produce better results than “voluntary” ones. (Megan Geuss, Nov. 13, 2017)
In an assessment of 17 climate and energy policies enacted by US states between 1990 and 2014, researchers from Emory University found that mandatory policies usually had a positive effect on emissions reduction while voluntary policies always had negligible or no effect.

What may be more interesting, however, is to look at which policies worked best. Such an analysis has growing practical implications. This year, the Trump administration reversed many of the Obama administration’s federal emissions-reducing guidelines, rules, and regulations, meaning states that want to curb emissions are left to their own devices. Legislators who are serious about crafting good environmental policy would do well to look at what has worked for others before making proposals.
And 2017 to see carbon emissions rise for the first time in years -- Global emissions to rise two percent over last year. (Scott K. Johnson, Nov. 13, 2017)
Last year’s global human emissions projection for 2016, an increase of just 0.2 percent, held up when the final numbers came in. But the projection for 2017 shows an increase of 2.0 percent—a disappointing bump.

China has been the most important variable in this number ever since it surpassed the United States as the country with the highest emissions. That came during its explosive growth in the 2000s (though per capita emissions remain much lower than the US, which has about a quarter of China’s population). China’s massive economy and tight state control make its annual emissions pretty volatile. After slightly declining by about 0.3 percent last year, China’s emissions grew by 3.5 percent this year.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:04 PM on November 13 [1 favorite]

Nope. The world is not going to get it this time, either.

From the 2017 projection link, EU is doing well, bringing down emissions, but India is coming up, the US was going up since the 1980s but despite some bumps is actually heading down, and the elephant in the room is China, whose emissions have skyrocketed since 2000.

tl;dr: it only matters if everyone tries to reduce emissions.

(Note: this is only regarding emissions, while this "second notice" is calling out all environmental destruction.)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:08 PM on November 13 [5 favorites]

This is good and all, but what's the point? In the US, at least, the people who are receptive to this view already accept it. The people who believe global warming is a liberal lie or a secret attempt at government control are going to keep believing that. The corporations will keep opposing any preventive measures to the maximum extent possible without bringing bad PR, whether they believe it's true or not.

In fact, a good chunk of the US populace has been conditioned to believe that scientists are engaged in a massive conspiracy to lie to the public about global warming. If anything, this will just reinforce that.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:09 PM on November 13 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'll be sure to file this away with all my student loan overdue-payment notices.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:10 PM on November 13 [4 favorites]

Written in 1949:

"One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise."

― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac


"The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces."
-- Round River: from the Journals of Aldo Leopold , 1953

I suspect there's an ecosystems analogy to the aircraft flight "coffin corner" and we're flirting with that kind of situation, where the safe space gets narrower and narrower and any sudden move leads to disaster. Where have all the insects gone, and why should we worry?

When was the last time you had to clean your windshield during a long road trip, eh?

"Coffin corner occurs from the interaction between stall speed and critical mach speed, which are both caused by pressure over your wing. So, "Q Corner" is the techie name, but coffin corner sounds more dramatic.

The region is deadly. Get too slow, and you'll stall the jet at high altitude (not something you want to do). Get too fast, and you'll exceed your critical mach number. The air over your wings will go supersonic, you'll pitch down, the aircraft will accelerate, and your wings will fall off. Also bad."
posted by hank at 3:11 PM on November 13 [3 favorites]

Obviously the current political situation in the US is, uh, well, not ideal, but I am not sure that it it's the thing that's going to make or break us as a species.

Carbon emissions in the US peaked in the early 2000s and have been going down ever since, mostly because of natural gas replacing coal for power production. And despite Trump's paean to coal, it's not coming back. (First, because the economics are wrong for it, which is why the "coal jobs" thing was always a lie; second, because even if regulations were the barrier to mining that Trump et al falsely like to claim they are, significant coal consumers like power plants have a ROI horizon that's longer than a single Presidential administration.)

Whether or not the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is really significant on a global, species-level scale depends largely on whether or not you think it will affect Chinese emissions. That doesn't seem to be the case; the Chinese emissions targets seem to be about the same since the US pullout as before—and I've heard speculation that they're probably the same as they would have been without the Paris Agreement at all, because the Chinese government is doing emissions-reduction for its own reasons, largely because it's become a net importer of coal (principally Australian, I believe) and this isn't to their liking for a variety of reasons. Their 2030 goal for peak carbon, which in some quarters is read as environmental leadership, is likely based on domestic coal reserves and how fast they think they can get themselves over a heavy-industrial development "hump", rather than a sudden interest in atmospheric CO2. (Which isn't to say that they're not interested in atmospheric CO2, but that level of interest is probably baked into their targets and would be with or without the Paris Agreement.)

Though I can understand the frustration at the cultural backsliding that's seemingly occurred in the US on environmental issues, I think it's important to put the issue in context, which is that the US just isn't that big a player, and perhaps not even all that influential.

Sidenote: Most of the Appalachian mines that Trump seems to love so much produce metallurgical coal, anyway; their markets are driven by the global demand for steel, not energy policy. So what they'd actually benefit from, ironically enough, is the sort of big public infrastructure spending that the 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. brain trust is allergic to. The big mines out in Wyoming that produce energy coal, mostly in the Powder River Basin, make their production decisions based on the global market price net of transportation.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:37 PM on November 13 [5 favorites]

When was the last time you had to clean your windshield during a long road trip, eh?

I'd seen those articles, and it chilled me when I realized my adult children have no idea that "bugs on the windshield" was not a rare, noteworthy event for people of my generation. They've seen them in movies & tv, of course, but have absolutely no experience with windshields that need to be washed every time you stop for gas.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:59 PM on November 13 [3 favorites]

I don’t know where you’re getting your numbers from Kadin2048–apart from pledged reduction targets, claims, etc., I’d feel a lot better if I was confident we even have a decent mechanism for tracking actual carbon emissions. There were lots of reports of excessive methane flaring and other industry practices that can have big impacts in aggregate being studiously overlooked under W. The devil is in the details. We should have robust systems for directly monitoring realtime carbon emissions by now. The fact funding and developing such systems isn’t even a talking point among the political set at this late stage suggests the game plan is to double down on emissions and cover up the evidence until that doesn’t work anymore because we slipped past the point of no return and now Earth is on its way to looking more like Venus in the long run.

I’m suspicious about how dilligently the industries and pols still seem to be working to prevent any more direct methods of measuring emission outputs. We don’t really have to guess and let this play out like a he said/she said argument and as long as that’s the best we even try to do, we don’t really know how much better or worse the emissions are regardless of stated estimates and reduction targets. Those things might as well be angels dancing on the head of a pin at this point for all the good they do us without verification and any mechanisms for accountability.

Hell, we just learned not that long ago a whole line of low emission vehicles were rigged to only make it appear they reduced emissions. I predict that’s the case pretty much anywhere there’s money to be made on selling the appearance of improvement only because ultimately sufficiently convincing appearances of deeper improvement is all that the contemporary form of American capitalism is optimized to produce.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:26 PM on November 13 [3 favorites]

my adult children have no idea that "bugs on the windshield" was not a rare, noteworthy event for people of my generation. They've seen them in movies & tv, of course, but have absolutely no experience with windshields that need to be washed every time you stop for gas.

To be completely fair, most of the automotive fleet now has better aerodynamics than it did when I was a child.

I drive a 1995 Daihatsu Mira. Its windscreen is raked back to a far greater extent than those on my father's 1956 VW Beetle or 1972 Holden Kingswood were. I get about as much bug spatter on the nose and the headlights and the back of the wing mirrors as I remember seeing on his, but my windscreen stays much clearer.
posted by flabdablet at 11:18 PM on November 13 [1 favorite]

I wish I shared Kadin2048's optimism that coal is on the way out.
Here in Australia we have seen gas prices more than triple as a result of exporting LNG, and the US is on track to open its own gas market to international export on a similar scale.
If the same happens there, it will bring back a huge chunk of thermal coal demand as marginal coal power becomes competitive again.
We have renewable wind and solar resources that are cheaper for new electricity, but the US has a fleet of coal power plants that can ramp back up if gas prices rise due to LNG export.
And, of course, we have our own disastrous new coal mines on the drawing board (Adani) that will add to the seaborne coal supply.
Without global leadership to price in coal's emissions externalities there will remain too much coal being burnt.

A couple of years ago I met with a climate scientist, who mentioned in a sad tone that he felt there was nothing to be realistically done to counter the decisions already 'baked in' to current and future CO2 emissions adequate to get close to the Paris targets, and things have gone downhill since.

I live in a rich country that is already behaving appallingly to the first victims of climate change and related resource disruptions as refugee numbers grow. We'll likely be able to absorb the immediate costs of climate troubles that turn up as extreme weather, wild fires, storms etc. But the 3/4 of the world that don't have the wealth to deal with these disasters are already beginning to suffer.
The most depressing part for me, is that the financial benefits of this last hurrah of burning fossil fuels are so meagre - business as usual is not even providing the monetary benefits it has previously, so we seem to be just throwing away our future for unprofitable strip mines, fracking, tar sands and other garbage that enriches few but a handful of the mega wealthy, but distributes the misery of a broken biosphere all over.
posted by bystander at 3:16 AM on November 14 [5 favorites]

"by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological
and even societal threats" - and now a rising tide of politicians and wonks are afraid of a baby bust. They want to encourage (some of) us to have more children.
posted by doctornemo at 6:03 AM on November 14 [1 favorite]

They want to encourage (some of) us to have more children.

Of course they do; our entire economic system is based on the premise that we can borrow money from the future because there will be more of it then. If our population stops growing, that falls apart.

And while we know, intellectually, that our survival is entwined with our environment, there is nothing in our government nor economic system that acknowledges environmental costs. We have regulations that require people to pay attention to them, but that's considered auxiliary accounting. We may say that "a house takes 5000 boards to build;" we don't say "a house requires 3 acres of destroyed forest to build;" we don't say, "a house requires 150 acre-years of natural production to build." (Or whatever the numbers are.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:12 AM on November 14 [1 favorite]

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