Today I had an iMessage exchange with my astute grand-niece about climate change, ending up with thoughts about change dynamics. This was triggered by her comment that she was confined to the house because of the miserable air quality in Seattle. Now Seattle is not one of the places that frequently comes up in discussions of air quality. Yet, for the second time this week, Seattle’s air quality was comparable to Beijing’s (112 vs. 151 today; a few days ago Seattle was more polluted than Beijing).
The reason for this? Forest fires in British Columbia and smoke therefrom drifting down to Seattle. Advice to all, but especially to women of childbearing age: Stay indoors!! This is what was annoying my grand-niece. It is also what is annoying many women around the world as global warming aids in the ignition of forest fires. The west coast of North America has had a disastrous fire season so far this year, attributable to climate change.
Sustainability apparently means different things to different people. Fundamentally, sustainability refers to the ability of the human race to survive into the indefinite future. The crux of the sustainability dilemma is the tension between what we want to do and what Mother Nature allows us to do while remaining on Earth. I would like to summarize and expand upon an article that appeared recently in Nature Sustainability. The article’s title is “A good life for all within planetary boundaries”. It was produced by a team from the Sustainability Research Institute of the University of Leeds, UK and the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Germany.
The fundamental constraint on sustainability derives from the fact that we’re stuck here on Mother Earth, therefore we must take pretty good care of her if we are to be around very long. What Mother provides us is breathable air, potable water, arable soil, sources of energy and a variety of raw materials that we can make into useful products. The fundamental constraint on “the good life” is our ability to realize at least a minimum level of health and other human needs. The researchers for the paper quoted above described this as the ability of humanity to stay within a doughnut; the inner boundary of the doughnut comprises the human needs requirements while the outer boundary comprises the constraints imposed by nature.
Despite all our sage advice the world, at least the United States, seems intent on accelerating our race to the climate cliff. It’s well past time to put on the brakes. For example, energy and climate notes that:
In the 1990s, the transportation sector saw the fastest growth in carbon dioxide emissions of any major sector of the U.S. economy. And the transportation sector is projected to generate nearly half of the 40% rise in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions forecast for 2025.3
Congratulations all you movers. Transportation finally is producing more greenhouse gases than coal-fired power plants. As my mother used to say to me when I was a sprout: Stop moving around so much!
In June I posted a piece about global warming. The focus was on the role that methane could play in accelerating the warming process. On 23 August 2017 the New York Times published an article about the disappearance of permafrost in Alaska. The article, by Henry Fountain, begins with this:
The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as other parts of the planet, and even here in sub-Arctic Alaska the rate of warming is high. Sea ice and wildlife habitat are disappearing; higher sea levels threaten coastal native villages.
The media have frequent stories about one aspect or other regarding global warming. What they often don’t do is discuss the tradeoffs; the rocks and the hard places on the path to a livable and sustainable climate. The problem with all these bits and pieces of information is that, while we are discussing them, the climate is changing — mostly for the worse — while we continue to be locked in unproductive discussion. The climate clock is ticking whether or not we’re paying attention. I’ve written about this before, here and here, but now it’s time to expand on those ideas.
According to news reports President Trump thinks that global warming is a Chinese propaganda plot and has no basis in fact (or at least in alternative fact). Therefore, Trump concludes, there is no sense in providing government funding for research on it. Why squander taxpayers’ money on something that doesn’t exist?
There is, of course, the troubling fact that thousand of scientific papers and scientific conferences worldwide have identified global warming with increasing accuracy. There is the troubling fact that some of the long term effects of global warming seem to be happening prematurely. Effects that weren’t supposed to happen for years seem to be occurring already. More intense weather: droughts; floods; windstorms are occurring more often than historical statistics would predict. Why is this?
Almost two years ago I wrote about the potential effect on telecommuting of reduced oil prices. The point was that cheap oil might spur more private auto use for commuting, thereby reducing demand for telecommuting — a new telecommuting oil crisis. Let’s see how things have turned out so far.
There has been lots of news recently about automated driving. Teslas on autopilot, driverless (sort of) Ubers, all the main auto manufacturers developing self-driving cars. How is all this driverless driving likely to affect telecommuting? After all, telecommuting was invented as a way to reduce time- and energy-wasting commuting. What if the commuters of the (near) future can sit back and telecommute en route?
I originally started thinking about telecommuting in response to the question: why can’t you [rocket scientists] do something about traffic? The point being that growing traffic congestion, in the 1970s, had become a source of air pollution, reduced productivity, energy dissipation and a whole host of other undesirable things. My reasoning was: Continue reading Telecommuting in the automated driving age→
A little more than a decade ago I wrote an article in jala.com on the potential impact of the declining oil supply on promoting telework. The piece focused on the so-called Hubbert Curve that shows the history of increasing — and potential future of declining — global oil production: the Peak Oil problem. The 2005 version of that discussion pointed out one possible future, as shown here. That was Peak Oil 1.0.