Felix Rambles

Another step to taking back control

Chronicling climate catastrophe

10 November 2019 — Felix Pleşoianu

Remember when people could still deny climate change with a relatively straight face? It wasn't really that long ago. Halfway through this decade, say in 2015, it was still mostly visible in statistics. Then news sources started reporting on just how bad things really were becoming. Sparsely at first, more and more often as time passed. And today?

Maybe you've heard that we just lived through the hottest October ever recorded, but then (articles in French) so was June and for that matter also July, not to mention the past four years. And while Indonedia has reduced forest fires, in the Amazon they were stoked on purpose. More recently, California's led to a massive blackout, and that looks likely to be just the beginning. Heck, last summer even the Arctic was burning.

Meanwhile, also in June India was melting, with the drought chasing many farmers to the city (if not driving them to suicide), not that cities weren't also struggling. Think the developed world is doing better? Turns out, Americans drill ever deeper for fresh water these days, not least because food giants are sucking the wells dry. (And yes, that happens in America as well.)

Oh, we'll have more humidity than we can handle soon, just not the kind we need. Turns out, heavy rains are getting common everywhere, while oceans are rising faster than estimated, which in turn endangers more coastal areas. Add to that the melting permafrost (article in French again; here's the same story in English), not to mention all that ice in Greenland, and we're all going to end up in literal hot water. Full of plastic, no less. Most of which won't be so easy to clean up, though people are trying.

Meanwhile, we have more CO2 in the air than in the last three million years, and methane emissions are 100x higher than we thought (an even more dangerous gas). You'd think people would be at least trying to slow down, but no, we keep emitting more crap.

Still expecting a miracle?

Tags: climate, disaster, links

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Technology will not save us, part 2

13 May 2019 — Felix Pleşoianu

This morning, a friend linked me to this article about a carbon sequestering technology being tested right now in Iceland. They can suck CO2 out of the air and capture it in layers of rock deep underground. Hooray! We're saved! We can stop and even reverse climate change!

Not so fast.

For one thing, I wouldn't use the word "forever" if I was them. Permafrost was also supposed to be, you know, permanent. Now it's melting so fast scientists can't keep up. Remember that scene in Ghostbusters where they turn off the ghost prison and all the malicious spirits go free at once? Imagine that at planetary scale.

Second, pay attention to the numbers. As they freely admit:

The CarbFix project reduces the plant's carbon dioxide emissions by a third, which amounts to 12,000 tonnes of CO2 captured and stored at a cost of about $25 a tonne.

By comparison, Iceland's volcanoes spew out between one and two million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

Wake me up when they can do something about the remaining 99.5% of emissions in their country alone. Or at least those of other facilities than the very powerplant generating the electricity needed for this energy-intensive process. Speaking of which.

The main drawback of the method is that it requires large volumes of desalinated water, which, while abundant in Iceland, is rare in many other parts of the planet.

Around 25 tonnes of water are needed for each tonne of carbon dioxide injected.

At least they're smart enough to use desalinated water rather than the precious natural freshwater they need to, you know, grow crops. And that stuff is becoming more valuable than gold in many parts of the world. But you know what the problem is with desalination? It's also energy-intensive. In other words, you need to build even more powerplants to sequester all the CO2 you wouldn't be generating if you just did nothing instead. Congrats, geniuses! And they know it, too.

You think that's just theory? Check out the end of the article:

Under the Paris climate agreement, Iceland has agreed to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030.

Yet its emissions rose by 2.2% from 2016 to 2017, and have risen by 85% since 1990, according to a report by Iceland's Environment Agency.

Yep... just like in countries like the UK or Germany, where decades of massive investments in renewable energy just led to overall demand growing much faster than solar and wind can provide, meaning the difference has to be covered with... coal. In other words, even more CO2 emissions. Good job breaking it, hero.

Is it clear yet that new shiny toys aren't going to help us out of a hole we dug ourselves into by building far more technology than we needed in the first place, then wasting the vast majority of its potential? The only hope for human civilization is to downsize massively. And nobody's willing to even entertain the possibility: corporations because they'd have to give up their obscene profits, people because they've been conditioned to think they all somehow deserve to live like kings. Too bad you can't bribe, sue or intimidate mother nature.

We have 12 years to clean up our act. Tick tock, tick tock.

Tags: climate, technology

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Possible apocalypses

03 November 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

What will climate apocalypse look like? Mad Max? Waterworld? Fallout?

It's a trick question. The oceans will rise, and the continents will desertify. What's left of them, anyway. And then the nukes could still fly. Not that they'll make much of a difference anymore once the world's biggest, richest cities are already underwater.

But what will that be like for you? Ever thought about it?

For one thing: migration. The New York City metropolitan area has more population than Romania at this point. They'll all have to migrate elsewhere. Every single one. And at least New Yorkers have somewhere to go. People in Tokio, not so much. That's one third of Japan's population. Every single family in the rest of the country will have to take in a refugee. And that's not counting all their other coastal areas.

If you're an only child like I am, you'd better take a crash course on living with siblings, and soon. Because if you're not among the refugees, you'll be among those who have to take them in. There won't be a "none of the above" box.

So much for the cozy apocalypse where we all settle down into a peaceful agrarian life. Or rather, we'll have that too, except with all the unpleasant sides we conveniently forget today: breaking our backs to barely make enough food, living with a dozen other people in two or three tiny rooms, and being grateful when that turns out to be the only source of heat towards the end of a long harsh winter.

Oh, you know what else will fall out of that? Disease outbreaks that will make the Black Plague seem tame. Which at least will alleviate population pressure. Too bad you won't live to enjoy it.

No, seriously. Do the math. Say a billion people die out of the world's current population of seven billion and a half. Now roll two ordinary dice. If the total comes up a six, you're among the victims. Feeling lucky today?

At least you won't have to deal with the ensuing societal breakdown. Because with that many dead, a lot of things that need done will no longer get done for lack of enough people with the right skills. Which in turn will only amplify all the other issues, much like climate change feeds on itself in the first place.

On the bright side, we won't have to deal with zombies, or Terminators. What a relief.

Tags: climate, science, society

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Climate change versus optimism

01 November 2018 — Felix Pleşoianu

When the Paris Agreement was formulated in 2015, the idea was that if we could rein in CO2 emmissions by mid-century, we could avoid dealing with a climate catastrophe by 2100. That's plenty of time, right? A good reason to be optimistic about it.

We should have known it was too good to be true when polar ice caps turned out to be melting much faster than expected, while scientists had to overhaul their models every six months just to keep up with developments. Three weeks ago, a UN report revealed that we only have until 2030 to clean up our act, or else we'll face climate catastrophe by 2040. In other words, the doomsday clock jumped forward by six decades. Still optimistic about climate change?

Turns out they missed one. A new study that made the news yesterday reveals that Earth's oceans have been soaking up much more heat than expected lately. Like, several times more.

Those twelve short years we thought we had? We don't have them.

If you're wondering how we ended up in this mess, the answer is optimism. Being optimistic is all we've been doing in the forty-odd years since the first alarm bells. We kept driving our cars, running our AC units, flying around the world, wasting plastics, cutting down forests... After all, scientists were bound to come up with a miracle invention that would erase all the consequences.

They tried to tell us it doesn't work that way. We didn't listen.

But hey, look on the bright side. Soon there will be no-one left to point fingers at you. Won't have to live with the guilt. Soon we'll all be equally dead and none of this will matter anymore. So keep driving your car. It makes no difference.

How's that for optimism.

Tags: science, climate

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