Climate and Energy
"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy.
What a source of power!
I hope we don't have to wait 'til oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
- Thomas Edison
 

Stormy Weather Ahead

by Guy Dauncey

After ten thousand years of relative climatic stability, Planet Earth is beginning to experience increasingly extreme and intense snowstorms, windstorms, downpours, floods, heatwaves, droughts and wildfires. If you want to talk about the weather, there’s plenty to talk about.

But why is it happening? Are we responsible? If so, what can we do about it? And at a deeper level, is there a connection to our deeper sense of purpose?

For all my adult life, I have worked to integrate my inner vision of the way human life on Earth could be (so much potential for cooperation, trust, shared endeavour, and love) with the confusion and suffering we so constantly create. The vision is stable, since my heart’s inner knowledge does not change, but the confusions come and go with each generation.

The warnings about the climate are dire. The scientists at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research have said that if we don’t get things under control, the average global temperature could rise by as much as 8o C by 2100, and that the Amazon rainforest will begin to dry out and die by 2040. Temperatures in the western Arctic are already 2-3 oC above normal, causing the Arctic sea-ice to have lost 40% of its thickness since the 1950-1970 period. If this trend continues, there may be no summer sea-ice by 2040. Tell that to the polar bears: they need the ice to hunt from, just as we need farms and orchards.

It was in the mid-1980s that I became aware of dangers inherent in global climate change, and the potential for catastrophe. Up until then, my work had been concerned with issues of unemployment, and ways to build community-based economies, expressed in my book After the Crash: The Emergence of the Rainbow Economy (Greenprint, 1986). The more I learnt about environmental issues, however, the more I realized that if we were going to build a new economy and a new heaven on earth, we had to do so in a way that would harmonize with nature, not destroy her.

In December 2001, scientists with the British Antarctic Survey said there was a 1 in 20 chance that the giant West Antarctic Ice Sheet would collapse sometime in the next 200 years, raising global sea-levels by 1 metre per century; that’s in addition to the up to 0.3 metre rise predicted from thermal warming of the ocean. 1 in 20 may not seem a high level of risk, but if you were flying from London to New York, and the pilot told you there was a 1 in 20 chance the plane would crash before arrival, would you take the flight? A one metre rise in sea level means goodbye to much of East Anglia, 60% of Holland, 60% of Bangladesh, and large parts of Florida, China, and Egypt; it also means goodbye to many of the world’s seaports, including parts of London.

Must it always be like this; must we wait until after the disasters strike before we act? That has usually been humanity’s way. This time, however, for the first time in human existence, we possess a revolutionary means of high-speed, global communication – the Internet. Maybe we can use it to mobilize our awareness, and to act before it is too late?

We know that the levels of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere are rising dramatically; we know that increased CO2 comes from burning fossil fuels; we know that CO2 and methane trap heat in the atmosphere. For the past 420,000 years, and probably for the past 20 million years, CO2 has never risen above 298 parts per million. This year, it will reach 373 ppm. The 2,500 scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have sought for possible explanations apart from human activity, but they have found none. Only a handful of scientists, most of whom have been paid off by the fossil fuel industry, believe that it stems from natural causes.

If we are going to sustain the vision of Earth as an emerging paradise, a place where, as human consciousness evolves, we can face our darknesses, defeat our evils, learn to share and co-operate, and overcome our problems, we need to get a grip on this one – and fast. In 1999, I decided to write a book on the range of solutions that were needed to address global climate change, and sustain the vision of what is possible. This was published in 2001 as Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers).

When my co-author Patrick Mazza and I crunched the numbers, we saw that we needed a 80% reduction in global emissions by 2025 to prevent global warming from getting out of control. This could be caused by a variety of feedbacks. As the forests die back, for instance, they stop absorbing carbon. As the ice melts, the sun’s heat is no longer reflected off the ocean by the albedo effect. As the ice melts, the decrease in ocean salinity off Iceland causes the warm Gulf Stream to switch off, tipping northern Europe into frigid temperatures. These scenarios stem are all scientifically valid, but they are not yet included in the world’s climate models: the warnings we are receiving from the IPCC are not telling the full story.

So is an 80% reduction in emissions by 2025 possible? First, we looked at the energy numbers, to see if there was the potential to meet the world’s energy needs, by combining increased energy efficiency, renewable energy, and a shift to more sustainable lifestyles. The answer was a clear yes. Using today’s technologies, every fridge, stove, lightbulb, car, house and factory could be twice as efficient as it is. Using tomorrow’s technologies, they could be four times as efficient – and there are proven policies that cities and nations can use to stimulate greater efficiency. By making our lifestyles more sustainable - shifting to more buses, trains, cycling, car-sharing and walking, recycling 100% of our wastes, consuming less, and sharing more - we could reduce our climate impact further yet.

Next we asked "Could solar energy meet our needs?" The sun provides the Earth with 2,000 times more energy than it needs every day, and solar technologies work. The only obstacle to a worldwide solar revolution is the price. Solar currently sells for 17- 52 cents/kilowatt hour (11–36 pence/kWh; 0.19-0.58 Euro/kWh). With mass production, in factories that can produce 500 MW of photovoltaic cells a year (compared to the 2001 world production of 350 MW), the price would fall four-fold, and everyone would start installing solar shingles on their roofs. It’s totally do-able – it just needs encouragement.

If the world’s nations were to decide to accelerate the purchase of solar energy through a Global Solar Treaty, they could max up demand, enable mass production to kick in, and cause prices to fall. They could write a solar compact, agreeing to introduce regulations obliging their power utilities to produce 5% of their energy from solar by 2010, rising to 20% by 2025. City governments could bring in ‘future-spective’ building codes, making it mandatory for every new house built after 2005 to have a 2kW solar system on the roof, and every existing house to have one before it was sold. Combined with tax credits, transitional price subsidies, solar mortgages, eco-taxes on energy from fossil fuels, and net metering (enabling householders and businesses to sell their solar surpluses back to the grid), such a treaty would soon make solar roofs as normal as regular plumbing.

The same approach can be taken to the acceleration of energy produced from the wind, biomass, geothermal, microhydro, the tides and the waves. Taken together, Earth has all the capacity we need – and that includes the use of these energies to create hydrogen for use in our vehicles, ships, airplanes and factories, by splitting fresh water or growing hydrogen-producing algae.

It is amazing to realize that we have all the solutions we need to tackle the crisis of global climate change – and that each of the solutions will make our Earth a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable place. The same applies to the release of methane, the second most powerful greenhouse gas, where the solutions (less garbage, less meat-eating, phasing out fossil fuel extraction, better animal husbandry practices) all make for a better world. The golden rule also applies to forestry, where ecoforestry and tree-planting store more carbon, and to agriculture, where organic practices do the same. Why would we not want to solve this problem, when all the solutions point to a better world?

The answer lies in the politics. In a nutshell, the fossil fuel corporations have out-maneuvered us. In most of the world’s nations, they have lobbied, bribed, and carved out for themselves a privileged place, lined with subsidies and friendly policies. I call them the carbon barons, with their own set of carbon minstrels (the nay-saying scientists), carbon journalists, carbon lobbyists (eg the Global Climate Coalition), carbon politicians and carbon bankers (eg the World Bank) to support their dirty work. If it were not for them, the world might have agreed to a 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions below the 1990 level at Kyoto, not a measly 5%, now reduced to 2.5% by fine-print weaseling.

But what is new? Do we not have to confront our personal fears, needs and self-centredness before we can dedicate ourselves fully to the wellbeing of humanity and the Earth? The outer world is just a mirror of the inner. If we want to prevent the enormous tragedies and losses that climate change will cause over the coming years, we have to engage in active dialogue and conflict (however friendly) with those who are seeking to slow and obstruct the solutions.

When we wrote Stormy Weather, it was with a conscious awareness that we were placing the tools of change in everyone’s hands. We wanted to eliminate forever the belief that we do not know what to do. With that purpose, we organized the book into sections, detailing the best solutions for everyone from individuals, churches, schools and colleges through to cities, businesses, utilities, auto corporations, governments and developing nations, ending with the global solutions.

In 1833, after many years of effort, Britain abolished slavery. Later, we abolished child labour, and won the vote for women. In each of these campaigns, the movers and shakers were motivated by a determination and an instinctive belief that success was inevitable. They knew in their hearts that slavery, child labour and the oppression of women were offensive to our whole sense of humanity, and our continued evolution. They were driven by an instinct, however poorly formed, that Earth could be an emerging paradise.

Now we have to follow in their footsteps, and engage ourselves in a similar struggle to phase out the climate-harming fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), and phase in the more sustainable, friendly alternatives. The British government has effectively endorsed this goal in its recent energy review. Now it is up to us to get out there, and campaign our hearts out.

Even at the darkest of times, it is possible to light a candle. Courage is the heart’s way of saying "Go on – you can do it". The alternative is awful, both for the world, and for ourselves. What would our lives be, without hope, love and courage? How many years of disillusion can a soul take before it finally rebels, and sets out on the quest it has been so long denying? Once on the journey, it can join hands with so many others who share the same instinctive knowledge: this world can become a paradise.

Guy Dauncey is the author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers) (ISBN 0-86571-421-5). It can be ordered in all bookshops, and is distributed in Britain by Jon Carpenter Books (carpenter@oxfree.com). Guy is currently engaged in ‘The Solutions Project’, which seeks to address all of the world’s major social and environmental problems in a similar manner to "101 Solutions". He lived in Britain until 1990, when he migrated to Victoria, Canada, where he lives now. His website is www.earthfuture.com

Climate Action Resources in the UK:

Friends of the Earth: www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate

Greenpeace: www.greenpeace.org/~climate

Rising Tide UK: www.risingtide.org.uk