Why Zero Carbon is the only solution to global warming and climate change

I’ve been writing a lot about the Zero Carbon economy, one of the two methods we have of dealing with the coming economic scarcity, and the only one of those ways that provides us a solution to climate change — “global warming” (though some of that warming may produce extreme cooling, in fact a new Ice Age, in some parts of the globe).

But that information, about the coming scarcity and the argument for Zero Carbon as the solution, is part of a longer essay, and the second part of it at that. So I want to bring these ideas to the forefront, and not by just linking to them.

You have two ways to get this — either via YouTube or by reading. The YouTube discussion, with Matt Filipovicz, is immediately below. If you’d prefer to read, just skip past the video and start. Either method will get you there.

Here’s the bulk of my discussion with Matt (my whole discussion with him is available on his site).

Matt made an excellent point midway through this, by the way. One scenario for managing the scarcity is, we manage it for our benefit. The other scenario is, the 1% manage it for theirs. Nicely put.

Now the writing that this discussion refers to, all via this this essay. First, about the coming scarcity. I noted that Chris Hedges and economics historian Avner Offer predicted scarcity. From Hedges piece on Offer, he writes (my emphasis):

Our current economic model, [Offer] said, will be of little use to us in an age of ecological deterioration and growing scarcities. Energy shortages, global warming, population increases and increasing scarcity of water and food create an urgent need for new models of distribution. Our two options, he said, will be “hanging together or falling apart.” …

Offer has studied closely the economies of World War I. … He holds up these war economies, with their heavy rationing, as a possible model for collective action in a contracting economy. … “These war economies were relatively egalitarian. These economics were based on the safety net principle. If continued growth in the medium run is not feasible, and that is a contingency we need to think about, then these rationing societies provide quite a successful model.”

From this I think we can conclude the following (my writing here):

Climate will give us a scarcity world

There’s more in the [Hedges] piece about the implications of this thinking for the economics profession, but let’s look at one other aspect of his thought. While Offer says that the scarcity world is coming, he doesn’t elaborate how. Allow me.

Aside from the obvious, that at some point population growth will outstrip food production, there’s a factor that perhaps no one but the geniuses in the bowels of the Pentagon have considered. The climate.

Modern human society depends on sufficient production of a number of commodities. Let’s just consider three: food, water, energy. First, there’s no question in anyone’s mind that climate changes will affect global supplies of food. (Click to see how, or search on the phrase “will climate change affect food production?” No one says, “We’ll be just fine.”)

The same with the water supply. In fact, I can almost bet that these commodities will go into scarcity because of one factor alone — the psychopaths in the investment community are giddy over the prospects. Everything from new shipping lanes through the formerly iced Northwest Passage, to opportunities for military contractors, to drilling for even more carbon (oil) in the formerly iced Arctic Ocean, to — you guessed it — profiting from drought and famine by cornering the market on food and water (pdf). …

But power — energy — scarcity is a special problem, because energy scarcity is also the solution. There is absolutely no question that we’ll enter a world of energy rationing in the next ten years, if not sooner. The question is, do we do it by choice or necessity?

Which leads to the solution, a voluntary Zero Carbon economy. Here’s what that looks like and why it’s needed:

The Zero Carbon economy, a rationing regime that works

I’ll be plain — we can solve the energy crisis with extreme energy rationing now. We need to put the brakes on the carbon car hard and soon. That’s the only way to keep the world below the original +3°C “game over” scenario. That’s the only way to keep the world at or below the newer +2°C “life between the Ice Ages” scenario:

In studying cores drilled from both ice sheets and deep ocean sediments, [James] Hansen found that global mean temperatures during the Eemian period [a prehistoric warm period between two of the Ice Ages], which began about 130,000 years ago and lasted about 15,000 years, were less than 1 degree Celsius warmer than today. If temperatures were to rise 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times, global mean temperature would far exceed that of the Eemian, when sea level was four to six meters higher than today, Hansen said.

“The paleoclimate record reveals a more sensitive climate than thought, even as of a few years ago [when he made his +3°C “game over” prediction]. Limiting human-caused warming to 2 degrees is not sufficient,” Hansen said. “It would be a prescription for disaster.”

And it’s the only way to mitigate the +1°C disaster we we’re experiencing right now. We need a Zero Carbon economy — now. Not Obama’s “carbon neutral” (“keep the Kochs in walking money”) economy, a Zero Carbon economy. The following was written in 2011:

Wartime effort reduction path

Emission reductions can still be the route to doing that, Hansen states. Based on these insights an American Environmental Coalition led by 23 high-ranking officials of American energy, climate and environmental NGOs, recently wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao, calling for wartime-like mobilisation by the governments of the United States and China to cut carbon emissions 80 percent, based on 2006 levels, by 2020, in order to reach the 350 ppm atmospheric CO2 stabilisation level [indeed, that’s just nine years – the price of having done nothing before].

The bracketed comment was the author’s, not mine. It’s now 2014. We just wasted three years. The longer we do nothing, the worse it will get, the less time to put on the brakes, and the more drastic the rationing — either voluntary or forced — will be. Let’s look at what that means:

Voluntary rationing means the U.S. government steps in, absorbs all the excess capital from the economy it needs, and builds out a Zero Carbon energy regime at a man-on-the-moon rate, a wartime-rationing rate. It does so with zero-carbon goals, not comfortable-rate-of-change goals. To go to Zero Carbon use in, say, five years has to mean rationing, hard “wartime” rationing. Tough luck, but time marches on. Best to start now.

Forced rationing means that the Exxons, Rex Tillersons and David Kochs are allowed to dump all the carbon they can into the gas tanks and carbon-fueled generating stations of the world at the fastest rate they can, for the highest price they can get. Then die rich.

Meanwhile, South Florida will flood in the next “Haiyan”–scale hurricane event, development will cease, property values will crater, insurance costs will soar, drinking water will go salty, and everyone who can get out, will. That will put fear into the eyes of every other American, and we’re off to crisis time as panic and disaster feed on each other. From that day on, it’s a whole new world.

Water will be rationed by its scarcity — food by the inability and unwillingness of owners to grow or deliver it — and energy by high prices (pricing power, baby!), crumbling infrastructure, and mounting social chaos in a world run by … yes, “just deserts” overlords who won’t give up a thing so the rest of us can survive.

Voluntary rationing means that we’ll have it very hard, World War I and II hard, for five-to-ten years, and then we’ll be carbon-free forever. Forced rationing means that the chaos and the population decimation of the next half century will play out, and most of who’s left will be hunter-gatherers in a post-Holocene world. Forced means “forced by circumstances and our own bad choice of whom to listen to.” Even vengeance won’t be an option; David Koch will be dead.

You can read the two bottom lines here, including what we should do.

But first things first. If we have any shot at all at fixing this mess, we need to have our eye on the right goal. So-called “carbon neutral” is a climate-caused death sentence. Zero Carbon, on a crash agenda is the only work worth doing. As a great man once said, it doesn’t make any difference how fast you climb the ladder, if it’s the wrong ladder.

Thanks for your attention to this important issue.


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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