Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Musings: One Chance

Waking in the night to complete and utter stillness, I marvel at the beauty of silence. Later, I wake and hear the distant roar of the surf, and think the tide must be high now. Still later, rain arrives, and I listen to it dripping onto leaves, falling from the eaves, and fall back into sleep again.

I wake again to intermittent flashing, and Koko and I emerge from the house into darkness, the sky chock a block with stars. Venus and Jupiter hold down opposite sides of the heavens, but the moon has not yet risen when we set out walking, with lightening playing peek-a-boo behind clouds in the north.

Before long the lightening has extended its range, stretching from north to west, across the interior mountains, and then it is in the south and east, too, encircling me, and the stars have disappeared. I can hear the rain coming before it actually arrives, softly at first, then picking up intensity, until Koko and I are both fully drenched. Then it stops, the clouds part briefly, and I look up to see the thinnest sliver of golden moon.

Things change quickly in nature, and it seems that’s the case with the global warming trend, which appears to be progressing far more rapidly than predidcted.

Already, UN chief Ban Ki-moon is warning of dire consequences if the world doesn’t get serious about this pressing issue at climate change talks set for December. According to an
article by AFP:

Ban said unchecked climate change would intensify drought, floods and other natural disasters and bring water shortages and malnutrition -- aggravating tensions and social unrest and even sparking violence.

"The human suffering will be incalculable," Ban said.

He said he was confident the world could avert catastrophe but time was running out. "We have the power to change course but we must do it now."

He’s not the only one warning that we’re down to the wire on this one. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, created the world’s first climate models and is sometimes referred to as the “father of global warming.” According to a New Yorker profile entitled The Catastrophist:

Hansen has now concluded, partly on the basis of his latest modeling efforts and partly on the basis of observations made by other scientists, that the threat of global warming is far greater than even he had suspected. Carbon dioxide isn’t just approaching dangerous levels; it is already there. Unless immediate action is taken — including the shutdown of all the world’s coal plants within the next two decade— the planet will be committed to change on a scale society won’t be able to cope with. “This particular problem has become an emergency.”

What is now happening, Hansen said, is carbon dioxide is being pumped into the air some ten thousand times faster than natural weathering processes can remove it. There’s no precise term for the level of carbon dioxide that will assure a climate disaster; the best scientists have come up with is “dangerous anthropogenic interference,” or D.A.I. Hansen estimates the dangerous amount of carbon dioxide to be no more than three hundred and fifty parts per million. The bad news is that carbon dioxide levels have already reached three hundred and eighty-five parts per million.

In scientific circles, worries about the D.A.I. are widespread. During the past few years, researchers around the world have noticed a disturbing trend: the planet is changing faster than had been anticipated. Anartica, for example, had not been expected to show a net loss of ice for another century, but recent studies indicate that the continent’s massive ice sheets are already shrinking.

At the other end of the globe, the Arctic ice cap has been melting at a shocking rate; the extent of the summer ice is now only a little more than half of what is was just forty years ago. Meanwhile, scientists have found that the arid zones that circle the globe north and south of the tropics have been expanding more rapdily than computer models had predicted.

I couldn’t help but reflect on that article, and others I’ve read on the topics of global warming and climate change, when skimming through a report on Sunday’s annual KIUC membership meeting in today’s The Garden Island:

[KIUC President and CEO Randal] Hee told KIUC members that one of the co-op’s key components is to become more energy efficient. KIUC is working together with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to figure out how much the co-op can reduce usage on Kaua‘i.

The co-op’s long-term strategic plan says that by 2023, 50 percent of its electricity has to come from renewable sources, without burning fuel fossils.

So we’re looking at another 14 years before our utility is even half-weaned, and that’s if all goes according to plan. Thus far, it seems like pretty much everything is still in the “study” phase.

Meanwhile, according to The New Yorker, Hansen is sufficiently alarmed by the current unraveling of the global climate that he’s moved outside the comfort zone of the scientific world and begun engaging in political action and civil disobedience in an effort to wake us from our stupor.

Speaking before a congressional special committee last year, Hansen asserted that fossil fuel companies are knowingly spreading misinformation about global warming and that their chairmen “should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.

He’s compared freight trains carrying coal to “death trains,” and wrote to the head of the National Mining Association, who sent him a letter of complaint, that if the comparison “makes you uncomfortable, well, perhaps it should.”

Hansen insists that his intent is not to be provocative but conservative: his only aim is to preserve the world as we know it. “The science is clear,” he said, when it was turn to address the protestors blocking the entrance to the Capitol Power Plant. “This is our one chance.”

Somehow, I just don’t think we’re going to take it — or make it.


Anonymous said...

Kinda puts the "Hawaiian question" and "the public option" of health reform in perspective.

Free clinics on the tops of Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, etc...Hawaiians now own Hawaii, reduced to a few square miles still above the ocean...

It's all like a few ants fighting over a crumb while a steamroller is slowly coming their way.

What's the point?

...and I saw a gray horse and his name was hunger, pestilence. And I saw a white horse and his name was death.

Anonymous said...

Hawaii may not be reduced to a few square miles, but if the seas rise one meter, the beaches will be scrubbed free of sand and all of the roads adjacent to the ocean will be gone. We'll be dead by then, right?

Anonymous said...

Well, if it can hold off for 25 years tops, I'll be dead. The rest of you can then sort it out.

Anonymous said...

You all know that 100% of coal use will not end in the next 20 years, right? I'd bet not even 30% would end.

So, rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic if it makes you happy, deludes you that such changes are "meaningful" and "progressive" and serve "social justice"...ie, makes you happy.

I'll just sit here in my first class seat and await the destruction. As the line from the movie Armageddon stated: "Embrace the horror!" (I love Steve Buscemi).

Anonymous said...

25 years? Kauai has been steadily eroding for millions of years, but during my lifetime, it seems to be accelerating. El Nino year, big waves, lots of rain, less Kauai. Can't do much about it from here.

Anonymous said...

"Well, if it can hold off for 25 years tops, I'll be dead. The rest of you can then sort it out."

And if it happens in 10 well you will just be dead sooner which should not bother someone as self satisfied as yourself.

He had white horses
And ladies by the score
All dressed in satin
And waiting by the door

Ooooh, what a lucky man he was

Anonymous said...

"The co-op’s long-term strategic plan says that by 2023, 50 percent of its electricity has to come from renewable sources, without burning fuel fossils."

hmmmm.... correct me if I am wrong but KIUC is moving at a glacial pace, currently producing only 8% renewable with 1% coming from solar grid inter-tie and 7% from hydro installed in 1910!

KIUC is six years old which means if our "co-op" doesn't go into hyper-drive by 2023 only around 11% of our electric energy will be from renewable sources.

We need to be at 80-100% by 2023 because global warming is like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease with a long incubation period.

Anonymous said...

I'll be 85 in 10 years, if I make it. Chances are not great.

10 years would be just fine, too. Anytime, actually...I'm just crusin'

Anonymous said...

That should have been
85 in 25 years".

Shouldn't comment after 3 pints...

Anonymous said...

"We need to be at 80-100% by 2023 because global warming is like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease with a long incubation period."

Are you referring to the US as a whole or just KIUC? KIUC could be using 100% renewable energy today and the impact on global warming would be minimal.

Anonymous said...

I think the reference was the world overall...everything.

Thus, a realistic impossibility.

OK, OK...it has a non-zero probability of attainment, but then so does being hit by an astroid the size of Manhattan by 2023.

I wouldn't bank on either.