I've been thinking a lot this week about the rather terrifying arithmetic behind the climate breakdown. As usual, Magiamma's fantastic weekly summary prompted a great discussion and I found myself responding to a just question from Cassiodorus with a longer comment than my usual terse drive by missives.
How do they sift the whole of Earth's atmosphere
to remove CO2 from it? And how much energy does that take?
Now, of course carbon capture math makes no sense, given our current economic system. There is no market for CO2 once you get past a few niches like greenhouses. None.
In fact, rarely do I see anyone with a grip on the scale of the problem. In the comments I saw the old saw about a “Manhattan Project” but as someone once remarked, that is a science project and what we really need is the same effort that went into WWII for about 14 years with everyone on the same side.
I’m not fan of Ted talks, but the late David Mackay gives a bit of the flavor. And Brett Victor has a web site with some excellent graphics that help get the point across. The numbers are big and the answer to do we need to do X or Y is basically "Yes".
The other day I was at a statistics seminar at the University of Washington, where the guy who built the U.N.'s new Bayesian carbon forecasting model was describing it and taking us through some implications. There are basically three components of carbon Impact: Population, Affluence and Technology (the IPAT equation). It is often said that the problem we have is population growth but according to the model, population only accounts for about 2% of the variance in CO2 projections for 2100. The variance from the other two are about equal.
One surprising result about population growth is that he expects Africa to generate about 75% of the population growth but only 6% of the carbon impact. So population is not the problem in the short term - at least for carbon pollution - and we can't really change that trajectory very quickly without unimaginable levels of violence.
So our only real choices are to reduce per capita GDP or increase the carbon efficiency of that GDP generation. Personally I think we need to do both starting about 10 years ago. But there is no way this can happen as society is currently structured. This is what the numbers are telling us.
I just finished Debt: The First 5000 Years and one thing that gives me hope is the anthropological insight that the current economic order is not the only one humans have used at scale. We are not naturally as predatory as the Libertarians would have us believe, but how long does a change like that take?
Cass finished with the real political problem:
And here's a vital question: are the oil companies to go on their merry ways?
Societies faced with extinction can often do incredible things, including reshaping their economies. They can also ignore the problem and disappear. But we are that society. So get out there and make some noise.