IF WE DON'T COOL IT, A NASTY NUCLEAR WORLD WAR WILL DO IT. HOW TO MITIGATE WITH FRENCH RECIPES FOR MILDER PLANETARY COOKING.
Abstract: All projections on climate change have proven over optimistic: so far the heating and CO2 have been increasing at a faster rate than any predictions, for reasons that are made clear below. Added to this dismal record, is the tremendous danger presented by the worse imaginable case, a runaway greenhouse (reasons are also given for such so far unimaginable catastrophe below). It's silly to cry about Auschwitz, when we are busy preparing even worse. The Principle of Precaution requires to act according to the worst imaginable case (as in aviation, except now about spaceship Earth). Mitigation has to be started immediately, in the most ferocious way. The sort of cap and trade scheme as in the Kyoto protocol is ridiculous, because it allows to augment CO2 . It’s necessary to mitigate right away, and it can be done: using only Twentieth Century technology, France has been able to cut her CO2 emissions to one-third of the US emissions, per person, with more gain than pain. Even with massive immediate mitigation we are absolutely sure to pass the threshold making Antarctica’s icecap unstable, within two decades. We can’t wait until 2050, and the effort to curb carbon emission has to embrace the entire planet. Besides, the huge effort to be made would reduce some of the problems of globalization, by putting brains in the most advanced countries to work.
Overview: It is often asserted in that obstinate greenhouse perpetrator, the USA, spastic procreator of 25% of the world's CO2, that science fiction technologies need to be developed BEFORE the emission of greenhouse gases can be mitigated. Hence, thank you Jesus, thank you Lord, nothing can be done now, except "taking a vacation from" (the quasi inexistent) US taxes on gasoline, Sen. McCain suggested.
But McCain also said: "My friends, I will have an energy policy that we will be talking about, which will eliminate our dependence on oil from the Middle East that will prevent us from having ever to send our young men and women into conflict again in the Middle East.” (May 2, 2008). "Again"? Wow. Yesterday's leftist critique is now today's conservative truth. Progress.
If "No more war for oil!", how? Energy has pretty much defined human mental capabilities since there are men, and they think.
As human beings became hunters, they were able to satisfy the increasing energy requirements of their growing brains. The human brain is an energy guzzler taking 20% of energy, at rest, by devouring animals and their fat, and also, increasingly, by using the technology of fire, not just to warm up, but also to cook and eat vegetables as if it were a cow, and grains, as if it were a bird. In the last 10,000 years, genetic engineering created almonds, beans, corn, rice, etc., allowing the rise of cities, that is, civilization.
We went from the conquest of fire, to the over consumption of fire. Our civilization, a giant machine, has an energy problem: too much is used by too few, for no good reason, ravaging and cooking the planet, although there is hope we will run out of it all too soon, heading back towards cannibalism before we destroy the biosphere.
Energy solutions have been deployed in Europe which should be used worldwide. A big country such as France, in no way less exuberant than the USA, emits less than a third of carbon dioxide per person that the US does, although enjoying an arguably much higher per capita income of the good stuff (best health care, good food, freedom and giant vacations).
The USA has shown little interest for technologies already massively deployed in France. Clear and present French technology became American science fiction. The USA is bitterly clinging to a world, and technologies, it once dominated, at the cost of everyone's future.
The only way the planet is not going to jump into its HOT MODE is by stopping carbon emissions, IMMEDIATELY. The way to do this is by developing advanced technologies, and then IMPOSING them worldwide. The globalization of higher energy (and related higher moral) standards is already happening, in spite of US opposition at every turn.
US obstructionism is understandable: in the old scheme, the USA sat at the top of the heap, because it controlled most of the world's energy supply (e. g., US oil was sold to Hitler to conquer Spain; in exchange Hitler gave juicy monopolies to US capitalists, like IBM). Present US strategy audaciously despairs of keeping the USA on top. Just one oil field in Saudi Arabia (Ghawar) produces as much as the entire US. US energy procurement the old fashion way is getting murderously expensive: the USA spends $15,000 EACH SECOND IN IRAQ, to occupy what may be the world's largest reserve of light sweet crude. Iraqis are harder to subdue than the Amerindians. Reversing the flow of civilization can get prohibitively expensive (as Romans and Islamists found out earlier).
In a Nature article of 3 April 2008 "Dangerous Assumptions" (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v452/n7187/full/452531a.html) R. Pielke Jr, T. Wigley and C. Green argue that "the technological advances needed to stabilize carbon-dioxide emissions may be greater than we think". We disagree with that pessimistic conclusion (pointing at France to prove the case). What is true, though, is that stiff energy regulations are needed immediately, worldwide.
(In particular, the carbon cap system of the Kyoto Protocol, which allow developing nations to pollute more, should be scrapped ASAP.)
KEEP AUGMENTING THE CO2 DELIRIOUSLY AND EARTH COULD TURN INTO VENUS:
Earth's climate oscillates within the ICE MODE, in which she has been for millions of years, but has also known the (ancient) HOT MODE. Greenhouse gases turn hot by capturing escaping infrareds. They interact with life, volcanoes and the geography of the continents, to create climate. The ice mode is self limiting, THE HOT MODE IS NOT. That's why Mars, with a very weak greenhouse, is cold as a cold day on Earth (minus 55 Celsius), whereas on Venus (which intercepts twice the sun's energy as Earth, but reflects a lot away), a tremendous greenhouse has blown the oceans into space, and melts lead (temp: plus 460 Celsius on the surface, although less sunlight reaches the ground than on Earth).
In the hot mode, gigantic amounts of CO2 are up in the air (not only the more CO2, the hotter it gets, but the hotter it gets, the more CO2). The hot mode results into having warm polar oceans (22 Celsius), as happened under the dinosaurs. The absence of ice cover makes the planet's dark ground absorb a lot of heat. Dinosaurs ambled in Alaska, crocodiles lurked in Greenland. Glaciations have been particularly virulent in the last three million years, maybe because the closure of Mesoamerica attenuated heat transfer from the tropics by oceanic currents.
The Carboniferous era, piled up, over dozens of millions of years, huge carbon deposits that we are frantically burning all of a sudden. This giant conflagration puts back up in the air the entire Carboniferous, when CO2 levels were eleven times higher, and sea level is said to have been 400 meters higher. Some Siberians may look forward to the hot mode, and sure the poles will open to human activity (there are huge deposits of goodies in the Arctic, for example natural gas). The seas would go up at least 75 meters. Some of the pseudo wise will mumble: ‘we will see when the oceans rise many centimeters a year’. But then mankind would be busy building giant levees and dams all over the planet, and thermonuclear plants to raise rivers above them, desalinate and irrigate continental areas in the tropics threatened with desiccation. That would use a huge proportion of the world energy. We would be pumping all day long (imagine the Amazon, 100,000 tons a second, going up 100 meters!). Besides we do not have tame thermonuclear fusion. Civil and thermonuclear, that would be the rosy scenario. More probably there would be a world war when the rats fight for vanishing resources (even now we are running out of copper and steel).
Alarmism, will say those who love to rearrange chairs on Titanic Earth, as she speeds towards hell. But we have oceans, and the oceans have life, because the seas contain oxygen, because the seas are cool enough. The cooler, the more life, so life is teeming in the polar oceans, and Walruses get to be a metric ton, stuffing themselves on bivalves, and nowhere else could they do that, because only in the Arctic is there enough cold to have enough oxygen to support so much shellfish. Conversely, if one heats up the oceans, the oxygen content falls. And it can fall below what is necessary to sustain life. So this is not a question now of just heating up, or learning to swim, but actually running out of oxygen.
Those who live in denial, because they know not enough, will scoff: they never heard of that one, how could it be true? The minimum level of dissolved oxygen to sustain life is 120 micromoles per liter (L. Stramma, Univ. of Kiel). Some oceans, such as off equatorial Africa, have fallen as low as 90 micromoles per liter, as deep as 700 meters down. It’s similar in some of the equatorial Pacific ocean.
CLIMATE CATASTROPHE IS NEARING SELF AMPLIFYING TIPPING POINTS:
How big is the energy challenge of climate change? Massive anthropogenic production of several greenhouse gases is now approaching self amplifying tipping points. Any of these could throw the planet into the hots. A few examples:
1) CO2 CONTRIBUTES 26% TO THE GREENHOUSE, THE LATER CAUSING MORE GREENHOUSE GASES: carbon emissions lovers often deny man is heating Earth because the heat caused by CO2 rise itself augments CO2. How?
a) HEAT AND SHAKE THE OCEANS SOME MORE AND THE CO2 WILL ERUPT: this effect can be checked by taking a bottle of soda pop, heating it, and then shaking it. The superficial layers of the world oceans have been used as soda pop by humankind in the last few decades, absorbing to the order of 30% to 50% of the anthropogenic emissions of CO2. But now the oceans are being heated and shaken (by the high winds the equipartition of energy enforces). So the CO2 bubbles out; this is already happening to the Antarctic Ocean. According to Dr. Hansen (NASA), we have another 40 ppm of CO2 ready to come out at the present temperatures from all the heating and shaking. We are at 387 parts per million, highest in at least 650,000 years, we started at 280 ppm, everybody agrees that 450 ppm would be a disaster (present policies insure we will get there shortly).
b) As the permafrost melts, CO2 and CH4 (methane) are released from frozen dozens of thousands of years old layers dozens of meters thick, stuffed with frigid roots, ready to rot. Methane is 43 times more absorbing of infrared radiation per ppm than CO2.
2) REMOVE THE ICECAPS AND THE PLANET LOSES ITS SUNSHADES: melted ice caps, when replaced by dark water or dark ground, do not grow back (Antarctica was covered by forests for dozens of millions of years). This is related to the essence of the Milankowitch glaciation explanation: the world climate is determined by how dark the northern hemisphere is in July-August (it's the non linear boost to climate: if it's snowy then, summer light gets reflected back in space, and the climate becomes colder; if not, it becomes warmer. Only the Arctic counts, because the Antarctic zone is mostly a (relatively) warm and salty ocean, unfriendly to ice.
3) AGRICULTURE GREENHOUSES US: As the greenhouse progresses, food and fossil energy productions are getting more difficult, more energy is spent on fertilizers, releasing NO2. Long life NO2 is 253 times infrared boosting than CO2! Moreover agriculture destroys forests, which absorb CO2 and prevent desiccation. As the greenhouse disrupts wet belts, augments evaporation, congregates rain, food production itself contributes to (the conditions favoring) food shortages.
4) WATER VAPOR CONTRIBUTES 60% TO THE GREENHOUSE, AND THE WARMER, THE MORE OF IT. At the limit, a RUNAWAY BOILING OF THE EARTH IS POSSIBLE (if all the oceans would be made into steam, the greenhouse would be tremendous). Earth has been lucky so far. JUST LUCKY. Conversely, the earth turned into a snowball 650 million years ago, but that is self contained: volcanoes kept belching CO2, which could not be absorbed by the ice covered oceans, thus bringing back a strong greenhouse, which melted the ice, and plankton restarted until it absorbed the CO2, burying part of it under the oceans until plate tectonic belched it back out with volcanoes, etc.
5) "FLAMMABLE ICE" (METHANE HYDRATE) IS READY TO ERUPT: water molecules can imprison methane molecules, constituting what looks like ice (it's white and floats at the surface of the sea). Bring a match to it, it burns. The methane comes from organic matter decomposition, it lurks in many places. It can erupt in huge quantities suddenly, causing instantaneous, massive planetary heating. Tsunamis wrecked Northern Europe from the gigantic Storegga under-oceanic methane landslides about 6,000 BCE. Such eruptions could occur as the oceans warm further. The Japanese government want to exploit the seven trillion tons of this methane that may lay around Japan.
Right now, sea level is going up 3 millimeters a year. We just gave some reasons for the SELF AMPLIFYING non linearity of greenhouse heating, and its eminent acceleration. Although the Equipartition of Energy Theorem implies that the planet could very well go in a state of agitation rather than heating as sea currents, the main carriers of climate energy, reorganize themselves before further horrendous heating. For the general Equipartition Theorem applied to climate change see: http://www.patriceayme.com/ltr_032_climate.html.
WITHIN TWO DECADES, ANTARCTICA WILL PASS ITS TIPPING POINT:
It is now understood that climate change is highly non linear, and will accelerate ever more by adding ever more greenhouse causes as we add greenhouse gases ever more. In the decade before 2003, the rate of melting of Greenland had quadrupled (relative to preceding eighty). Melting Greenland will add about seven meters to sea level, unstable Western Antarctica just as much: there giant glaciers rest on what would be sea bottom, if warm sea water could slip below, and sure enough, it's starting to (at one kilometer a year; it will accelerate, and cause vast shelves shattering, as was already observed).
How much will it take to melt the rest of Antarctica? Fifty million years ago, Antarctica acquired its icecap when falling CO2 levels went below 425 ppm. We are now sure to go above that threshold within two decades. Then the only reason that there will be snow in Antarctica is that there is already snow in Antarctica. We will be grasping at snowflakes. So what do we do when seas go up ten times faster (two feet a decade, as happened in the past)? Inquiring minds want to know. Because, at some point soon, they will.
MAKING FOOD INTO FUEL IS A CRIME WITHOUT A FUTURE:
Making food into fuel has already caused a worldwide food shortage. In 2008, a third of US corn acreage (138 million tons) is for making corn into ethanol fuel, and this, amplified by similar moves worldwide, by other fast buck artists, has cascaded in disastrous food shortages. Billions $US were given by the US government to help this. The food for fuel program devours arable lands worldwide (so that some can waste fuel driving around, making wars). To fill up a tank with corn ethanol one needs 358 kilograms of corn, enough to feed a child for a year. On one side a child, with an empty stomach, on the other a tank. Swedish law says: fill up the tank, thanks to a 50% ethanol-from-food mandate. How many children does a Volvo make a year? Ah, also, the more corn, the less soya. In Europe, in a new blossom of the culinary arts, (protein rich) wheat is made into fuel.
Some Europeans have erroneously accused the commodities futures market to have caused the problem, showing an amazing lack of financial sophistication: the futures just looked at what the governments were doing worldwide, converting food into fuel, with more coming, and drew the correct conclusion faster than the self described altruistic teary types who should thank the commodity traders for pointing out the looming catastrophic future. TURNING FOOD INTO FUEL IS A CRIME. What will the plutocrats propose next to maintain their luxury? TURNING PEOPLE INTO FOOD?
Obama said that converting edible corn into ethanol was just a transition technology before cellulosic fuel (which would turn inedible parts of plants into ethanol or methane). But to cover the present needs of the USA for fuel more than between two to five times the area of France would have to be given to cellulose (wood or switch grass), begging the question of where exactly the USA would grow its food (ONLY 18% of the USA is arable land, half the percentage of France, and that turns out to be exactly three Frances...). Oh, by the way, to break cellulose, industry uses acid (cows use bacteria).
The only biofuel with a bright future would be from algae. Land use would be less than 4% to cover ALL US fuel needs, with algae. CO2 extraction will be twice the contribution of corn ethanol. Yes, algae would produce fuel, while disappearing CO2 at a high rate . Slight problem: the technology is not ready. That's where government money is needed (some algae produce hydrogen, too). Lots of genetic engineering is needed.
TURNING AIR INTO SMOKE SHOULD BE MADE UNLAWFUL:
There is no future to burning carbon. Turning the air into poison, that's a slow Auschwitz for all. Make no mistake: if not enough is done, people will soon be fighting to death for the last drop and the last gulp. Exporting heavy industry into China provided with cheap dedicated labor, but the pollution comes back to drown us all.
Besides, we have passed PEAK OIL. More exactly, peak, light sweet, low sulfur, easy to extract oil. OK, there are lots of sulfur oil, tar sands, shale, and coal left, etc... But the overall economic and pollution impact of most of these promises to be disastrous. Tar sands mining require a huge amount of energy and water for extraction (by mining and heating to separate). It's only one million barrels a day in Alberta, and ramping up is slow, and will ultimately ravage an area the size of Florida (when say oil reaches $2,000 per barrel). The mythical shale oil is even worse (once heated for extraction, it spreads all over, like nuclear waste, and poisons groundwater, a liquid which is arguably even more precious than oil).
Thousands more coal plants around the planet, as are planned now, will insure the melting of West Antarctica (and seas 15 meters higher). The old fashion carbon industry is warming up the house by setting fire to it, claiming the fumes are nothing, it will be OK. The carbon voodoo priests promise voodoo science will prevent the consequences:
CO2 SCIENCE FANTASY, A PERNICIOUS HALLUCINATION:
Some lunatics want to keep on burning carbon, claiming they will arrest it, and sequester it underground, as if carbon dioxide could be handcuffed like a common criminal. It’s true this is already done on a massive scale on some fossil fuel platforms which produce CO2 as a pollutant (it works very well, but the CO2 gets re-injected where it was extracted from, basically, so it’s less impressive than it sounds). But arresting 28 BILLION TONS of CO2 is stiff. That’s how much the world produces each year (a cube 3 kilometers on the side of CO2 ice).
To be effective carbon sequestration would have to be implemented on a gigantic scale. Nobody knows how to do this safely and economically (all projects of confinement are dying, and no one expects any realistic scheme before 2020, well after ITER is a success; the US research on CO2 confinement is projected at US $2 billion in 2008, with no end in sight).
Stuffing CO2 below the ground would risk creating man made volcanoes. While an interesting feat ravenously demanding in energy, it would be ridiculously dangerous: volcanoes have killed people by the thousands, by belching CO2. Remember: belching CO2 by volcanoes is how the snowball Earth became warm again. The quantities involved in CO2 sequestration could smother dozens of millions of people a year, should the gas escape. This is much more crazy than the craziest nuclear "waste" (which is an immovable solid, not a gas, and besides does not have to exist, and is not a waste, cf. below)!
Some, still having volcano envy, proposed to make shade by spreading sulfates in the atmosphere. True, by injecting giant quantities of these above the stratosphere, volcanoes can shade the lower atmosphere (the part where the greenhouse occurs). Pinatubo, a volcano in the Philippines, lowered overall temps by half a degree Celsius a few years ago, doing just that. In 1814, Tambora, then the highest volcano in Indonesia, disintegrated over 4 days, bringing frosts to Europe the following summer with its enormous sulfate emissions. Anthropogenic sulfates would cause tremendous environmental problems, including with the ozone layer. Besides, the energies involved would be that of a nuclear war every month or so. Thus, if we are that crazy, why not the real thing? Actually we would have to do the real thing, because we cannot do it twice! We just don’t have enough energy.
THE ECONOMICS OF ENERGY SYSTEMS HAVE HUGE INERTIA:
Deploying a new energy technology so that it can replace its predecessor economically has, historically, taken at least 50 years. The only clean energy which could be immediately scaled up massively is that of solar thermal towers (which do not have some of the glaring defects of PV solar systems: thermal towers could give off energy at night). But mostly in deserts (like the Mojave desert, next to Los Angeles).
The only carbon clean energy which could be deployed anywhere is nuclear fission. There are military problems to solve, which will require an attentive, effective and feared United Nations (that we need anyway because of non nuclear WMD). To become a global solution for electric production one would need 8,000 reactors instead of the present 438. There is not enough uranium for this with current technologies to last for more than 50 years (especially with the so called "open nuclear cycle" used in the USA, which, being nuclear wasteful, is both uneconomical and dangerous). One needs to deploy reactors of generation IV or V. Such high temperatures and breeder reactors would be safe and extremely efficient, and would crucially extend the uranium reserves (using thorium, etc...). But the research needs to start now (and not just in India!). On the thermonuclear front, if ITER functions as expected (producing ten times in thermonuclear power the energy put in to heat up the plasma), it will take another twenty years to come out with the first thermonuclear plant to be hooked up on the grid (new materials capable of resisting to red dwarf like temperatures have to be invented). We don't have this kind of time (neither climatically nor politically nor economically, nor, to be blunt, militarily).
THE FRENCH WAY: MITIGATION WITH THE TECHNOLOGY WE HAVE NOW:
France "a dominant nation-state ... one of the most modern countries in the world" (says the CIA) with a GDP larger than Russia, the best health care in the world, half the poverty rate of the USA, the military and diplomatic ability to arrest Somali pirates in Somalia and drag them to Paris for trial (April 2008), and a nominal GDP per head now superior to the US, is in all technological and economic ways comparable to the USA. Except that FRANCE EMITS PER CAPITA LESS THAN A THIRD OF THE CO2 THAN THE US. Richer in all ways that really counts, and still ONE-THIRD OF THE CO2. How come?
French institutional memory covers many historical energy and ecological crises; the oldest when Rome collapsed, with all its society, economy, mines, ecology, international trade and transportation, and its food and water procurement systems. Cities and populations disappeared. Rebuilding was a slow slog, up from micro local economy (the so called feudal system). By 1200 CE, though, the GDP per head and the population had passed the Roman stage, and the ecology collapsed again. The forests were all used up: no more construction materials, no more fuel (wood was then what oil is now). The Roman State had been weak, stupid, and confused but the French government around 1200 CE remembering this, implemented drastic legislation to rebuild the forests civilization crucially depended upon.
The existing awesome French efficiency, including in urbanism, housing, not just transportation, is the fruit of a millennial long effort to prevent energy waste with ideas. More recently, during W.W.I, France depended upon US oil. Thereafter energy stayed central to French strategy. The simplest way out was found to tweak the free market by making energy extremely expensive, so that the energy efficiency would climb. But France also used the full panoply of available behavior modifications, including taxes, regulations, legislation. In other words anything short of torture and invasion (notwithstanding Algeria). It's not just that more than 93% of the French electricity production is carbon emission free. Efficiencies have been enforced all over. Gasoline is nine (9) US dollars a gallon (at least), a price mostly due to taxes (without tax, oil would be cheaper in France than in the USA, the supply lines being shorter).
The French car makers build the most efficient fleet in the world. Peugeot, sells the 308, a family car with miles per gallon between 63 and 75 and CO2 emissions of 120 grams per km (the US average is 330). Not to be left behind, Renault-Nissan is scrambling with a plan to sell millions of electric cars as soon as 2010. As CEO Ghosn soberly observes: "We must have zero emission vehicles, nothing else will prevent the world from EXPLODING." The latest French electric train, the AGV, uses less electricity than its predecessor the TGV, and goes at 360 km/h (which means it would take 11 hours San Francisco to New York, but of course, the USA does not have the money to build one). France has the most advanced nuclear plants: they run on recycled "nuclear waste" (this fuel, MOX, is even made from US nuclear warheads, and shipped back to the US for the day when the US population will embrace modernity and conservation and a carbon free life style). Differently from burning carbon, which results in CO2, extremely dangerous, as we have been insisting, thoroughly "burning" fissionable elements results in innocence materialized. France has had a tidal power plant working for half a century, and one city is heated geothermally.
All of Europe has followed the French lead. In Switzerland, helicopters with infrared detectors have been spying on houses which leak too much heat. Germany is the world leader in wind and sun (although it's as north as Canada). Britain is developing sea current energy. Overall Europe has been pressing for stringent regulations, and trading carbon caps. The EU is planning to get around 20% renewable energy around 2020. The EU has been trying to use the free market to find some price for carbon dioxide, up to $30 per metric ton of CO2. The idea, incorporated in the Kyoto Treaty, is to force carbon industries to pay for their mess (and trade the caps). This allows Europe to use its scientific superiority, and make a gift of it to the world, in exchange for which it gets industrialized goods from the ex Third World. It's a worldwide trading system, where one exchange each other's strengths. So the rest of the world has followed good-naturedly. Except of course the USA, which seems more inclined to extent worldwide the sort of police state it is growing at home.
BITTERLY CLINGING TO GUNS, RELIGION, AND CARBON, THE USA PERFIDICALLY ENCOURAGED THE GREENHOUSE:
The USA had it good in the last century as the great war between fascism and democracy occurred on Eurasian soil. OK, it was not an accident. The US president envoy (Col. House) went to excite the Kaiser (May 1914), to propose an alliance against France (!). Europe nearly self-destructed, and the US found itself master of the world. The same method (stealthily supporting the bad guys) was used in South America, and with Muslim fundamentalists, and with the same result: the USA pulled all the strings, got all the oil (the French were even expelled from their own front yard, North Africa).
The US had gigantic oil. War ran on oil. Better: the entire 20C economy ran on oil. The US ruled, with its oil, and methods honed in the exterminating peacemaking with the Amerindians. France, the old nemesis of US conservatives, had long been in the line of fire, since well before the head of the French national guard under the Ancient Regime, La Fayette, enjoined his friend, the US first president, Washington, to outlaw slavery. France, procreator of Western civilization, just as much as Greece or Rome, sister republic of the USA in its modern incarnation, continually gnawed on American consciousness, and on the consciousness of the Rest. The US conservatives know fighting France too much backfires (because it stirs the forces of progress in America).
The Rest has wised up, and now sees through US plutocratic tricks. "9-11", sitting out of Kyoto, but on top of Iraq, are as many defeats of, and for, the old fashion of US policies. ("9-11" was set up by Muslims who had been excited and taught the trick to attack innocents by the CIA in Afghanistan! "The chickens came home to roost..."etc.). Ironically, those debacles are a scale model of the unsustainability of dealing with our planet the way we used to deal with it.
France has demonstrated that carbon emission reduction can be done right away. There is no need to wait for the great pie-in-the-sky of futuristic technologies. That usual cop out argument of the US governments is the puppet of mental laziness and the special interests of giant, obsolete US industries. We can't wait for 2050.
Conclusion: THE FOOD, WATER, AIR AND GREENHOUSE TRAGEDIES UNFOLDING NOW CAN BE SOLVED, BUT ONLY WITH THE CORRECT ENERGY, RESEARCH AND INVESTMENT STRATEGIES, RIGHT AWAY:
In truth, there is no energy problem: a square 100 kilometers on the side in the desert with photovoltaics using today's low efficiency technology would be enough to cover all of the US gasoline needs. But today's photovoltaics are expensive and hard to make, and it would take a long time and lots of energy to deploy them (cheaper ones are coming soon).
Mitigating the greenhouse means the worldwide deployment of non carbon technologies, RIGHT AWAY. The anthropogenic forcing of the climate is equivalent of 1% of the solar energy intercepted by Earth. It's not much, so it should be easy to correct, but it's deadly poison which will kill our climate, should we persist for decades.
Globalization is the ultimate state of decolonization. Or the penultimate stage of westernization. Its success means energy usage has to be multiplied by an order of magnitude within a generation. This is obviously impossible with the past and present energy mix (not enough sources, and they would kill us).
There is not enough EFFICIENT energy to go around, at this point. So far about one billion people have been eating and traveling to their satisfaction. Another 5.5 billion want to join, and every day that globalization makes, they are less poor, and want to eat richer and travel beyond their horizon too. Moreover, mankind is increasing by 70 millions mouths a year. Three billion people are poorly fed, 800 million are hungry, and 9 million die of hunger, each year. Energy and food availability are entangled: food needs energy to grow and be transported. The world shortfall of food is evaluated at 33%. An obstacle for the massive ramp up in food production is the dearth of water: many major rivers are running out (which can ONLY be solved by massive desalination, hence massive energy).
Thus most of the growth in greenhouse gases emission will come from developing nations, looking forward. (Even the temple of mindless waste, the USA, is slipping behind China in CO2 production; China augments its carbon emissions by around 13% a year.) Hence to slow down the greenhouse, but also to survive, the developing world has to deploy massively only clean technologies. Those technologies have to be invented and developed by the most advanced countries (and offered rather cheaply to developing countries, in exchange for their goods and commodities). Instead of spending hundreds of billions making new weapons and going out to kill people, the USA would help its security more by joining this effort with its considerable technological skills.
A problem with globalization has been that the developed countries are running out of jobs and things to do besides passively waiting for their demise. The so called GLOBALIZATION problem. Well, the solution is to have smart ideas, and then sell them. Fighting the greenhouse can be done only with the most advanced technologies, and developing them will give developed countries something to do.
There is a lot of research to do in solid state, nuclear physics and biology which will help solve the energy crisis. Fission (Gen. IV and V) and thermonuclear reactors, and biotechnology for algae based biofuels should have priority. Solar towers in the US West could solve the US energy crisis there very quickly (with tanks of molten salt below, they could produce cheap hydrogen for cars at night). Solid state could bring cheap maglevs, high temperature conductors, futuristic batteries.
Rome's civil wars, depopulation, demotivation, social, economic and ecological problems, and finally huge military problems, and its plunge in theocracy, all originated with the plutocracy which came to control the Roman mind to serve itself. This could have been all avoided if the mental manipulations of the plutocrats had been exposed in time. The US has drifted in a somewhat similar situation. But the destruction of Roman peasantry by slavery could have been avoided, and the ecology and the republic saved if Rome had gone high tech in a timely manner. Instead emperors pushed for ANTI mental creativity. Engineers were rewarded, as long as they kept silent. Rome had it all wrong. The rich Roman monkeys had got scared, and the more so, the more they huddled together under the umbrella of fascism, and became uselessly aggressive, and finally turned against themselves and their own civilization. Instead of thinking creatively, they shrunk the Roman mind around the use of force (culminating with Diocletian's theocracy, which led immediately to Constantine’s Christian fascism).
By 1200, Europe confronted a disastrous ecology, but, the plutocracy was not as acute, the (sort of) free peasants (the "serfs") had not been completely dispossessed, and the Regnum Francorum, and its descendant regimes, by then controlling most of Western Europe, did not go fascist (rather the opposite!). Europe kept pushing into high tech and forced a drastic reduction in carbon waste.
A back of the envelope computation shows that, were the entire planet to magically adopt French energy efficiency, and French low carbon intensity, the CO2 emissions would still more than double very soon. Besides, some of the French investments date basically from the Middle Ages, many have been hyper expensive (the high speed train lines cost hundreds of billions of Euros to build), and were spread over decades. Thus new technology, much cheaper and efficient, have to be developed. Agricultural subsidies for the rich, about $300 billion for the EU and US, have been mostly killing Third World peasantry (note the analogy with Rome, which impoverished her peasants, as the first move in her descend to hell: the world is much more one now than Rome was), besides making the rich richer (such as HRH the Price of Wales, one of the world's richest men, at the time a recipient of millions of EU agricultural aid). That investment capacity should be directed to energy research ASAP.
Recapitulation. FIAT LUX:
THE SOLUTION TO BOTH THE GREENHOUSE MADNESS AND GLOBALIZATION IMBALANCES IS A MASSIVE ENERGY RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM, WORLDWIDE.
Growth in energy intensity is intrinsically human: besides curiosity, it was probably the most important driver in the self made environment which evolved man. As his own God, man creates his own universe, and energy (= light) is what it makes, and what he needs (pure knowledge needs not just light, but lots of energy). Decreasing the efficient energy people have at their disposition would be shrinking the very nature of man and his search for knowledge, power, justice, love, all what makes man worthy. It’s out of the question. But it does not mean one should be burning the house to warm up, as we are doing now.
Although conservation (= augmenting efficiency) is a good, and necessary thing, there should be, there can be, no limit to energy usage as we spread throughout the solar system (which we need to do, be it only for safety reasons, but it won’t happen without better energy sources). Quite the opposite, energy usage will have to augment, by using completely different sources (maybe even the Casimir attraction of the Quantum Field vacuum, which should be exploitable as an energy source, with advanced nanotechnology).
Increasing carbon intensity (= putting back in air and ocean the entire Carboniferous era) is a no-no, but it’s all the plan many powerful countries have. Relative to the danger the cruelty and immorality of carbon burning presents , all other energy sources seem benign. Including nuclear which can be made safe and non polluting, given readily achievable levels of investment and worldwide laws (the later we will need anyway, because WMD technology is ubiquitous).
Fortunately, as the case of France shows mitigation can be done now, with already well established technologies. France is, per person, three times more carbon efficient than the USA, and achieved this with 20C technology (i. e., not the latest). Investments have to be redeployed to do this on a planetary scale. It means behavioral (= Pigovian) taxes, and regulations, worldwide, now, no exceptions. This will mitigate both the horrors of the greenhouse and those of globalization.