Archive for the 'Global Climate Change' Category

Acknowledge this Symptom of Overpopulation

Monday, October 29th, 2018

By the time  you read this it will be too late to attend the Climate Change Symposium. However, there are several points I want to make by broadcasting information about this symposium:
A small group of committed activists can make a difference in their communities. The Fort Lewis College Environmental Center is a wonderful organization that has reached hundreds of students through the years; their two person staff has taken on this large project with some volunteers and great aplomb.
It is important to involve young people–by the latest count, we will have over 300 high school students attending
Top speakers are willing to come to a little community such as Durango. Katharine Hayhoe will be in Canada, but she will reach us by a video made just for this symposium. We will also be showing one of her YouTube videos. Travis Rieder will be at his office at Johns Hopkins University but communicating by Zoom. Dr. Rieder spoke in Durango a couple of years ago and won a lot of praise for his presentation on the ethical imperative of having small families.
Thank you for reading!
Richard

 

“Humans are at the centre of global climate change: …social change is key to effectively respond to climate change”   IPPC Special Report

Do you remember the politicians in North Carolina who passed a law in 2012 that prohibited calculating sea level rise based on climate change predictions? They said only historical trends could be used.

That law, promoted by real estate developers, postponed planning for the consequences of climate change. Only 6 years later they were visited by a wrathful storm that dropped 3 feet of rain on parts of the state!

I wonder how the legislature feels now that they have been visited by reality in the form of Hurricane Florence. (Although the law concerned sea level rise, immense precipitation caused the damage.) My hope is that legislators have learned that they cannot mess successfully with the laws of nature and physics.

Many of the changes we’re experiencing now are due to anthropogenic (human caused) climate disruption. The list includes more destructive hurricanes; the estimated cost of Florence is 38 billion dollars and the human toll is 53 deaths.

Michael is the most recent hurricane; it was another monster. Almost a category 5 storm, it hit with terrifyingly destructive winds. There was “unimaginable destruction”, to quote Florida’s Governor Rick Scott. “So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything. Homes are gone. Businesses are gone.” 

Yet Scott does not believe in climate change. Apparently staff at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection were told not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” after he became governor.

Why have we been punished with so many destructive storms recently? Part of the problem is that governments are failing to recognize that climate change is increasing the frequency of these deadly and costly storms. Even a slight increase in the air and water temperatures gives significantly more energy to form cyclonic storms.

Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma wrote a book about climate change titled “The Greatest Hoax”. I don’t think that people in Florida and the Carolinas will be reading that book much now.

How is it possible that some people who don’t believe that climate change is real, or think that it is all just natural cycles that are causing it? How is that possible when these people know that humans are increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? How does one talk with someone who denies climate change?

“Climate Change Solutions” is the second symposium at Fort Lewis College on the subject. It will be held Tuesday October 30th. Last year’s meeting focused on the science, this year will focus on ways that individuals can help deal with this global problem.

The symposium is coming just in time! Evidence is mounting that there is urgent need for solutions to climate change. Earlier this month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report which can be summarized: “…drastic action must be taken in limited time to avoid severe and worsening consequences.”

Highly respected climate scientist Kevin Trenberth was one of the speakers last year. He wrote: “…humans are the main agents of change.” This is a bit ambiguous; in context, he meant that climate disruption is anthropogenic. It can also mean that we can also solve this global problem. Trenberth explained the destructiveness of this summer’s storms thusly: “While hurricanes occur naturally, human‐caused climate change is supercharging them and exacerbating the risk of major damage.”

Climate Change Solutions will have 2 sessions, starting at 12:30 and 6:30, at the Community Concert Hall on the Fort Lewis College campus. Because cimate change will affect today’s kids much more than my generation, we have invited several hundred students from area high schools. All College people will have free admission.

A member of US Senator Michael Bennet’s staff will urge people to vote for politicians who don’t deny climate change, and update us on what is happening in Washington to fight this global disruption There will be suggestions about effective ways to talk to climate change deniers.

Another speaker will tell us about the most effective way to quell climate change. You guessed it! Climate change is really a symptom of overpopulation and of overconsumption. Choosing to have a small family is the most effective action in the long run an individual can take. We also need actions that will work in the short run.

For more information about Climate Change Solutions and tickets search the calendar at: https://www.durangoconcerts.com. I hope to see you there!

©Richard Grossman MD, 2018

Compare Climate Change Strategies

Monday, November 6th, 2017

 

Recently I asked some authorities on climate change: “what is the most effective way of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions?” They gave stock answers about decreasing consumption. “If you were my students, your grades would all be D’s” was my response.

They are, unfortunately, not alone. A recent study listed the 4 most effective activities that people can do to decrease their emissions. Three of them are what you might expect, while the most effective one—by far—might be unexpected.

The measure used by the authors of this article is tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year. The average person in the USA causes about 16 tonnes of CO2 to be released annually. (a tonne is a metric ton; roughly equal to our ton of 2000 pounds) Here are the 4, listed from least to most effective.

Eat a plant-based diet. This has health benefits as well as aiding the environment. It is clear that eating meat, especially red meat, is bad for your health. The effects on the world around us are also negative—excessive use of water, sewage lagoons that pollute ground water and dead zones in the ocean from animal waste. An individual’s annual saving by avoiding meat is almost a tonne.

Our transportation system depends on fossil fuels, which generate CO2 when used. It makes sense that avoiding air travel and not driving a car would decrease carbon emissions. Giving up both air travel and your car would keep 4 tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Buying “green” electricity is quite effective, and is inexpensive—thanks to our electrical cooperative. Switching from power produced with coal to renewable sources prevents 1.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions—and makes our air healthier.

The most effective thing that an individual can do to reduce his or her carbon footprint is to have one fewer child. The effect is strong because of the “carbon legacy” of a child born in a rich country. The carbon footprint of the individual child is significant, but the legacy of all that person’s progeny (who will go on for many generations) is huge. A child not conceived reduces a person’s carbon footprint by 58 tonnes! Yes, the one best action an individual can take to reduce his or her carbon footprint is to choose to have a small family—or no children at all.

Unfortunately, most people who study, write and teach about greenhouse gas reduction don’t consider the impact of childbearing. The authors of the paper mentioned above also studied governmental recommendations to reduce emissions from the EU, the USA, Australia and Canada. Not surprising, they found that the recommendations all focused on less effective actions.

Likewise, the paper examined the content of science textbooks. They searched several textbooks used in Canada for suggestions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Very few of the recommendations were for the 4 most effective actions named above.

To quote from this paper: “It is especially important that adolescents are prepared for this shift [to reduce carbon emissions]. They still have the freedom to make large behavioural choices that will structure the rest of their lives, and must grow up accustomed to a lifestyle that approaches the 2.1 tonnes per person annual emissions budget necessary by 2050 to meet the 2 ° C climate target.” They went on to write: “Furthermore, adolescents can act as a catalyst to change their households behaviour.”

They also compared less effective and highly effective interventions: “…a US family who chooses to have one fewer child would provide the same level of emissions reductions as 684 teenagers who choose to adopt comprehensive recycling for the rest of their lives.” The paper concludes: “Some high-impact actions may be politically unpopular, but this does not justify a focus on moderate or low-impact actions at the expense of high-impact actions.

I hope that the importance of childbearing gets across at the Climate Change Symposium to be held Thursday afternoon, November 9th. This Symposium will be a new venture for Fort Lewis College Lifelong Learning programs. It will feature 5 outstanding experts speaking on a topic of major importance. The keynote speaker is internationally known scientist Kevin Ternberth.

The Symposium is now history for most people reading this. I hope that the importance of population growth has been driven home by the article by Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas that I used as the basis for this column. It is “The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions” and can be found at: https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541

© Richard Grossman MD, 2017

 

Terminate Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Craig Generating Station, Craig, Colorado

            During a break at a renewable energy meeting sponsored by LPEA (our electrical co-op) several years ago, a friend and I discussed the pros and cons of generating power with coal. She said that she would favor renewable generation of our energy if it didn’t require subsidies.

We both are plagued by asthma and carry expensive inhalers to use if we have trouble catching our breath. My friend admitted that our air would be better if we weren’t downwind from coal burning power plants. However, it bothered her that some of the taxes she paid went to support a photovoltaic manufacturer that had recently declared bankruptcy.

She expressed surprise when I told her that fossil fuel companies also received tax support. Indeed, subsidies for fossil fuels are more than 5 times larger than subsidies for renewable energy! Worldwide subsidies cost an astounding $444 Billion. In the USA $24 Billion in taxes go to fossil fuel subsidies. That is more than $73 of our tax money for each American, every year!

But subsidies are not the only cost we pay to support the fossil fuel industries, which include coal, oil and natural gas. Burning fossil fuels also costs us all because they are one of the largest causes of climate change—but even that is not the most immediate cost. The most serious cost of fossil fuels is to our health.

It is estimated that 91,045 people die annually as a direct result of air pollution in the USA. In addition, air pollution increases the number of people who suffer from emphysema, heart attacks and strokes—and asthma. Figures from the World Health Organization state that 36% of lung disease deaths, 27% of deaths from heart disease and 34% deaths from strokes are caused by air pollution. That is a huge toll—much larger, but more insidious, than the death rate from terrorism.

What does this have to do with population? My goal is for people to be healthy and to have healthy children. Ideally children should be planned, loved and well cared for. This means that we need to keep our planet healthy, too. Access to voluntary contraception is one of the best ways of assuring these goals. It is also important to minimize our impact on the planet, for our children’s sake.

When people think that they are saving money by having inexpensive electricity, they don’t know the true cost of their power. What is on the bill from LPEA is only a small fraction of the real cost. It is estimated that health care necessitated by the air pollution from fossil fuel-generated power costs over 9 times what we pay the power company! The rate LPEA charges is 12.56¢ per kilowatt-hour. Therefore, the true rate is $1.14 per kilowatt-hour if you include the cost of health care necessitated by air pollution from conventional power sources.

What does this mean to our country? If you look at the period from 2007 to 2015, during which there was rapid growth of solar and wind generation, almost 8000 lives were saved by not generating electricity with fossil fuel. About $70 billion in health care costs was saved by this renewable energy rather than business as usual.

In addition to more immediate health costs, climate change is already causing damage through storms, forest fires and other destruction. It is difficult to put a value on money saved by averting greenhouse gas emissions, however the value of keeping 1 metric ton of CO2 out of the atmosphere is in the range of $35. The savings from slowing climate change in this 8-year period of increasing wind and solar is estimated to be $56 Billion!

Only about 7% of our nation’s “juice” currently comes from wind and solar. Think what a difference it would make to our health if 20% or even 50% of all the electricity used in the country came from renewables. A first step is to get rid of subsidies to the unhealthy fossil fuel industries.

I agree with what Davin Montoya, board president of LPEA, wrote last year: “In fact I think the entire board supports renewable energy; but it should be done in a responsible way. I will only support a program that benefits the entire membership not a select few.” My conclusion, knowing the hazards of air pollution from burning coal to generate electricity, is different from Montoya’s. Renewable energy benefits us all in helping us to be healthier and to spend less on medical care.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2017

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.