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The Psychology of Climate Change Action vs. Inaction

by John Brian Shannon | June 18, 2015

The incompetence thus far displayed by politicians and corporate leaders is directly proportional to the size of the Tragedy of the Commons problem.

History has shown that the bigger the civilizational problem, the less likely it is to be dealt with by human beings.

And the inexorable destruction of our biosphere, (the only part of the planet in which we live) is the biggest problem we’ve yet faced as a species.

But, big as that challenge is, we will likely continue to fail in preventing catastrophic damage to our biosphere due to the built-in mediocrity factor present in human beings.

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” — Albert Einstein

If the status quo continues, there will be no major adjustment to the ongoing destruction of the planet.

Yes, there will continue to be major talk, talk, and more talk. But little action. We will ride the bus right over the edge of the cliff, talking all the way to crunch time. And if there are any survivors, they’ll still be talking.

Because that’s who we are as a species. We solve small and medium-sized problems, and we talk, talk, talk, about solving large problems — but never succeed.

And it may well end in the demise of our civilization. If not from the climate, then from something else.

The Cost of Climate Action vs. Climate Inaction

The Cost of Climate Action vs. Climate Inaction

Meanwhile, some very dedicated people (Hi! Christiana Figueres, et al) are working on it and have proposed very workable solutions (which for the most part are being ignored) none of it requires any technology or economic models that we don’t already have.

We have it all, except the will to act!

From: ‘On Care for Our Common Home’ — the encyclical written by Pope Francis.

“Humanity has entered a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads.

“We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change: steam engines, railways, the telegraph, electricity, automobiles, aeroplanes, chemical industries, modern medicine, information technology and, more recently, the digital revolution, robotics, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies.

“It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us, for “science and technology are wonderful products of God-given human creativity.”

“Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it.

“We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.” — Encyclical by Pope Francis 2015

Read: The Pope’s Memo on Climate Change Is a Mind-Blower (Wired)

Taking all of the above into account, we have the wherewithal to solve the problem, just not the will to act. Therefore, we will fail. It is inevitable. Unless we change the nature of the problem

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” — Buckminster Fuller

One way to do that, is to get rid of all fossil fuel subisidies, which hit $583 billion dollars last year. (That’s over $1 trillion dollars of subsidy every 2 years)

That’s the direct subsidy… the externality subsidy might be as high as $2 trillion dollars per year globally for fossil fuels.

On the externality subsidy… according to a highly-regarded Harvard study the burning of coal in the United States causes $500 billion of health, crop, and infrastructure damage annually, within the U.S.A. alone. That’s just coal.

Read: Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal (Harvard)

A better way, is by matching fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy subsidies based on energy output — for example, by Barrel of Oil Equivalent (BOE)

In that way, a level playing field will allow renewable energy to flourish in regions where it is viable and it would receive the same level of subsidies that fossil fuels are already receiving — and have received every year since the 1930’s.

A third way, although likely to be unpopular would be the most effective; Using the ‘command and control’ model — where each nation legislates that coal burning is thenceforth illegal (that would solve the largest part of the atmospheric pollution problem right there) and that half of all new cars sold in each country must be electric (EV) or hydrogen fueled vehicles

We all ‘get’ that manufacturing electric vehicles causes some amount of pollution at the time of manufacture (just like any car manufacturing process) but it is the daily exhaust fumes from millions of cars that pollute the air, which is orders of magnitude greater than the amount of pollution generated by the initial manufacture of any car, whether electric or gasoline powered.

My entire case rests on this; If we continue bumbling along the status quo path, we won’t ever properly address the problem.

We need to; ‘build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.’ Just like Buckminster Fuller said.

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The Geopolitics of Renewable Energy

by John Brian Shannon | January 19, 2015

What’s lacking in the world these days is a grand overriding global vision, one that large numbers of people can buy-into.

"What if we don't change at all... and something magical just happens."

The entire world bought-into Perestroika and Glasnost, culminating in the end of the Cold War and the only reason it ended, is those policies appealed to large groups of people worldwide.

The imagination of the global public was captured *and only thereby* did the Cold War end. Ergo, voters put the people into office who shared their dream of ending the Cold War.

Similarly, did South African apartheid end.

Someone created a vision to which many millions of South African and global citizens could buy-into and people voted into office those who would carry out their wishes on the matter.

So many other examples exist; ‘The New Deal (FDR), Victory in WWII (Churchill), the Moon Shot (JFK), civil rights (MLK), Playing the China card (Kissinger), the PC (Steve Jobs / Bill Gates), I could go on at length. But you get my point.

Stifling individual visionaries is non-productive. Yet it seems to be the new norm.

Not all visionaries are perfect, not all visions are inspired, but it was a visionary who created the wheel, not an incrementalist. We can all see the profundity of that vision.

He or she, may not have created the best wheel at the time, but the manifestation of that vision has moved our civilization by orders of magnitude.

Under the umbrella of a grand and popular vision, the will of millions (perhaps billions) of citizens can be galvanized toward a common cause. The Moon shot is a great example of this — but in the absence of a grand overriding vision, civilization eventually falters. Everyone on the planet can be ‘part of the solution’. Unless we bungle it, that is.

Presently, the grand overriding vision is to attack suspected terrorists and to degrade the status of ordinary Muslims in our own, and their own, countries. That’s not a vision. Nor is it wise.

And slamming Vlad Putin in the media is not visionary.

“Demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” — Dr. Henry Kissinger

What we need now is a real vision that most everyone can buy-into. We need ‘Larger than Life’ stuff — not this B-movie script stuff.

One script that millions and perhaps billions of people could buy-into, is an accelerated change-up to renewable energy and high fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks.

For example, 50% of all electricity produced in the world by 2020 should be sourced from renewable energy. And a 95 MPGe standard for new vehicle fleets.

Let’s not fool ourselves, doing so would NOT be as difficult as the Moon shot, NOT as difficult as ending the Cold War in practically a matter of months, and NOT as difficult as ending South African apartheid within a handful of years.

Energy consumption by energy type. Image courtesy of EIA

Energy consumption by energy type. Image courtesy of EIA

Still, it would be a grand enough and difficult enough vision to capture the world’s attention and galvanize people towards a unifying and noble cause.

Reaching 50% of our energy needs with renewable energy is a vision and a goal that everyone could feel good about and thereby want to buy-into.

We can take a profound step towards this worthy goal by acting on one of the following choices:

  1. Remove the $600 billion dollars of annual fossil fuel subsidies over 10 years
  2. Dramatically ramp-up renewable energy subsidies to match fossil fuel subsidies
  3. Institute a carbon tax that reflects the actual cost to society of fossil fuel use

Any one of these plans would work.

I favour the (2) option — “Dramatically ramp-up renewable energy subsidies to match fossil fuel subsidies” — with equal subsidy amounts for renewable and non-renewable energy in every year to 2050. To be followed by complete cessation of ALL energy subsidies (renewable and non-renewable) on January 1, 2051 for a truly level energy playing field after that date.

We’d be leaving a cleaner world to our future generations and saving our economies trillions of dollars in environmental costs and healthcare costs.

And all that’s stopping us from that worthy and noble goal is a lack of vision and will.

Carbon dioxide emissions by region. Image courtesy of EIA

Global CO2 emissions by region. Image courtesy of EIA

In 20 years, wouldn’t it be great to look back and say;

‘By replacing fossil fuel use with renewable energy, billions of people are now breathing clean air, enjoying increased lifespan and quality-of-life, and we’ve saved trillions of dollars in carbon/climate mitigation costs.’

And those old enough at the time could say; ‘We built that.’