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Gas-Guzzler Conversions & The Urgent "Plan Z" We May Face Someday

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  • Felix Kramer
    It s hard to find anyone who disagrees that the world is addicted to fossil fuels. And people are recognizing that we can start getting off oil by electrifying
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 23, 2010
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      It's hard to find anyone who disagrees that the world is addicted to
      fossil fuels. And people are recognizing that we can start getting
      off oil by electrifying as large a portion of petroleum-fueled
      transportation as soon as possible. While this "Energy Security"
      motivation is well-accepted, and the "green economy/green jobs"
      benefits are gaining ground, we believe rapidly responding to climate
      change is the most urgent reason. This New York Times Op-Ed pulls no
      punches in voicing thoughts flowing from pessimism about global
      action to reduce greenhouse gases: "We'll almost certainly need some
      kind of devastating climate shock to get effective climate policy."
      In his "Plan Z," Thomas Homer-Dixon, professor of global systems at
      the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada,
      http://www.homerdixon.com doesn't include CalCars' proposal for "The
      Big Fix" and Drive Star http://www.calcars.org/ice-conversions.html .
      We expect he hasn't heard of them. But as you read the full text of
      his sobering article, connect the dots to his question, "How fast
      could carbon emissions from automobiles and energy production be
      ramped down, and what would be the economic, political and social
      consequences of different rates of reduction?" We recommend this
      must-read article to EVERYONE; please forward it!

      (Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting will also be
      viewable at http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there you can
      add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)

      The New York Times, August 22, 2010, Opinon: "Disaster at the Top of
      the World," by Thomas Homer-Dixon

      (Aboard the Louis S. St-Laurent) Standing on the deck of this
      floating laboratory for Arctic science, which is part of Canada's
      Coast Guard fleet and one of the world's most powerful icebreakers, I
      can see vivid evidence of climate change. Channels through the
      Canadian Arctic archipelago that were choked with ice at this time of
      year two decades ago are now expanses of open water or vast
      patchworks of tiny islands of melting ice.

      In 1994, the "Louie," as the crew calls the ship, and a United States
      Coast Guard icebreaker, the Polar Sea, smashed their way to the North
      Pole through thousands of miles of pack ice six- to nine-feet thick.
      "The sea conditions in the Arctic Ocean were rarely an issue for us
      in those days, because the thick continuous ice kept waves from
      forming," Marc Rothwell, the Louie's captain, told me. "Now, there's
      so much open water that we have to account for heavy swells that
      undulate through the sea ice. It's almost like a dream: the swells
      move in slow motion, like nothing I've seen elsewhere."

      The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and
      this summer its sea ice is melting at a near-record pace. The sun is
      heating the newly open water, so it will take longer to refreeze this
      winter, and the resulting thinner ice will melt more easily next summer.

      At the same time, warm Pacific Ocean water is pulsing through the
      Bering Strait into the Arctic basin, helping melt a large area of sea
      ice between Alaska and eastern Siberia. Scientists are just beginning
      to learn how this exposed water has changed the movement of heat
      energy and major air currents across the Arctic basin, in turn
      producing winds that push remaining sea ice down the coasts of
      Greenland into the Atlantic.

      Globally, 2010 is on track to be the warmest year on record. In
      regions around the world, indications abound that earth's climate is
      quickly changing, like the devastating mudslides in China and weeks
      of searing heat in Russia. But in the world's capitals, movement on
      climate policy has nearly stopped.

      Democrats in the Senate decided last month that they wouldn't push
      for approval of a climate bill. In Canada, Australia, Japan and
      countries across Europe, the global economic crisis and other
      near-term concerns have pushed climate issues to the back burner. For
      China and India, economic growth and energy security are more vital priorities.

      Climate policy is gridlocked, and there's virtually no chance of a
      breakthrough. Many factors have conspired to produce this situation.
      Human beings are notoriously poor at responding to problems that
      develop incrementally. And most of us aren't eager to change our
      lifestyles by sharply reducing our energy consumption.

      But social scientists have identified another major reason: Climate
      change has become an ideologically polarizing issue. It taps into
      deep personal identities and causes what Dan Kahan of Yale calls
      "protective cognition" -- we judge things in part on whether we see
      ourselves as rugged individualists mastering nature or as members of
      interconnected societies who live in harmony with the environment.
      Powerful special interests like the coal and oil industries have
      learned how to halt movement on climate policy by exploiting the fear
      people feel when their identities are threatened.

      Given this reality, we'll almost certainly need some kind of
      devastating climate shock to get effective climate policy. That's the
      key lesson of the recent financial crisis: when powerful special
      interests have convinced much of the public that what they're doing
      isn't dangerous, only a disaster that discredits those interests will
      provide an opportunity for comprehensive policy change like the
      Dodd-Frank financial regulations.

      It is possible that the changes I'm seeing from the ship deck are the
      beginning of the climate shock that will awaken us to the danger we
      face. Scientists aren't sure what will happen when a significant
      portion of the Arctic Ocean changes from white, sunlight-reflecting
      ice to dark, sunlight-absorbing open water. But most aren't sanguine.

      These experts are especially concerned that new patterns of air
      movement in the Arctic could disrupt the Northern Hemisphere's jet
      streams -- which are apparently weakening and moving northward. This
      could alter storm tracks, rainfall patterns and food production far
      to the south.

      The limited slack in the world's food system, particularly its grain
      production, can amplify the effects of disruptions. Remember that two
      years ago, when higher oil prices encouraged farmers to shift
      enormous tracts of cropland from grain to biofuel production, grain
      prices quickly doubled or tripled. Violence erupted in dozens of
      countries. Should climate change cause crop failures in major
      food-producing regions of Europe, North America and East Asia, the
      consequences would likely be far more severe.

      Policy makers need to accept that societies won't make drastic
      changes to address climate change until such a crisis hits. But that
      doesn't mean there's nothing for them to do in the meantime. When a
      crisis does occur, the societies with response plans on the shelf
      will be far better off than those that are blindsided. The task for
      national and regional leaders, then, is to develop a set of
      contingency plans for possible climate shocks -- what we might call,
      collectively, Plan Z.

      Some work of this kind is under way at intelligence agencies and
      research institutions in the United States and Europe. Harvard's
      Kennedy School of Government has produced one of the best studies,
      "Responding to Threat of Climate Change Mega-Catastrophes." [CALCARS
      NOTE: fascinating discussions of how "rational choice/cost-benefit
      analysis" approaches don't apply, and basic summaries of
      at alternativeshttp://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/rzeckhau/CCCats.pdf --
      25 pages.] But for the most part these initiatives are preliminary
      and uncoordinated.

      We need a much more deliberate Plan Z, with detailed scenarios of
      plausible climate shocks; close analyses of options for emergency
      response by governments, corporations and nongovernmental groups; and
      clear specifics about what resources -- financial, technological and
      organizational -- we will need to cope with different types of crises.

      In the most likely scenarios, climate change would cause some kind of
      regional or continental disruption, like a major crop failure; this
      disruption would cascade through the world's tightly connected
      economic and political systems to produce a global effect. Severe
      floods dislocating millions of people in a key poor country -- as
      we're seeing right now in Pakistan -- could allow radicals to seize
      power and tip a geopolitically vital region into war. Or drought
      could cause an economically critical region like the North China
      plain to exhaust its water reserves, forcing people to leave en masse
      and precipitating a crisis that reverberates through the world economy.

      A climate shock in North America is easy to imagine. Say a prolonged
      drought causes major cities in the American Southeast or Southwest to
      run out of water; both regions have large urban populations pushing
      against upper limits of water supply. The news clips of cars
      streaming out of Atlanta or Phoenix might finally push our leaders to
      do something serious about climate change.

      If so, a Plan Z for this particular scenario would help us make the
      most of the opportunity. It would provide guidelines for regional and
      local leaders on how to respond to the crisis. We would decide in
      advance where supplies of water would be found and who would get
      priority allocations; local law enforcement and emergency responders
      would already have worked out lines of authority with federal
      agencies and the military.

      Then there are the broader steps to mitigate climate change in
      general. Here, Plan Z would address many critical questions: How fast
      could carbon emissions from automobiles and energy production be
      ramped down, and what would be the economic, political and social
      consequences of different rates of reduction? Where would we find the
      vast amounts of money needed to overhaul existing energy systems? How
      quickly could different economic sectors and social groups adapt to
      different kinds of climate impacts? And if geoengineering to alter
      earth's climate -- for example, injecting sulfates into the high
      atmosphere -- is to be an option, who would make the decision and
      undertake the operation?

      Looking over the endless, empty horizon of the Arctic, I find it hard
      to imagine this spot being of any importance to global affairs. But
      it is just one of many places now considered marginal that could be
      the starting point for a climate shock that plays a central role in
      the evolution of human civilization. We need to be ready.

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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