How Much More Extraction of Fossil Fuels Can We Do? Answer: Zero

How Much More Extraction of Fossil Fuels Can We Do? Answer: Zero

Keep It in the ground

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Bill McKibben of 350.org said recently, “If our goal is to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius—the upper limit identified by the nations of the world—how much more new digging and drilling can we do? Here’s the answer: zero.”

The goal of keeping earth’s temperature rise below 2 degrees C is already in danger even with the coal mines, oil wells and pipelines currently in operation and assuming there will be no new ones. That means we shouldn’t be doing any more digging or drilling. It all has to stop — now — if the earth is to survive.

Some scientists think it is already too late. Meanwhile, the Federal government continues to lease land for oil and gas drilling. “If the world is serious about achieving the goals agreed in Paris, governments have to stop the expansion of the fossil fuel industry,” said OCI [Oil Change International] executive director Stephen Kretzmann. “The industry has enough carbon in the pipeline—today—to break through the sky’s limit.”

The problem is that the oil and gas industry continues to develop new capacity when the capacity already in the pipeline is enough to insure the destruction of the earth’s ecosystem. Even today we see the devastation produced by global warming with 20 inches of rain recently in 24 hours which produced massive flooding in Louisiana. Already “sunny day flooding” occurs in coastal regions of the US. Already low lying islands in the Pacific are disappearing beneath the ocean. The there’s Hurricane Matthew which is bringing devastation to the East Coast after making the Carribbean Islands practically uninhabitable.

The OCI report continued:

“This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight,” the researchers continue. “Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.”

Given OCI’s assessment that, “If you let current fields begin their natural decline, you’ll be using 50 percent less oil by 2033,” McKibben estimates that the world has 17 years to replace current fossil fuel infrastructure with renewable energy.

“That’s enough time—maybe—to replace gas guzzlers with electric cars. To retrain pipeline workers and coal miners to build solar panels and wind turbines.”

“This is literally a math test,” he concludes, “and it’s not being graded on a curve. It only has one correct answer. And if we don’t get it right, then all of us—along with our 10,000-year-old experiment in human civilization—will fail.”

The Military Can’t Even Get the Government to Heed Its Concerns

Even the military is concerned about the effects of global warming on coastal military bases. The Climate Security Consensus Project, a bipartisan group of 25 senior military and national security experts, many of whom have served in previous Republican or Democratic administrations, said recently, “There’s absolutely nothing political about climate change. It’s a security risk, it makes other security risks worse, and we need to do something big about it”.

A Republican congressman from Colorado, Ken Buck, recently called one military proposal part of a “radical climate change agenda.” Experts are warning that national security is on the line. Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base, is seriously threatened by rising seas. Obviously, naval bases can’t be moved away from the ocean, yet much of their land is at risk of disappearing within this century. “It’s as if the country was being attacked along every border, simultaneously,” said climate scientist Dr. Andrea Dutton.

Yet Donald Trump has vowed to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change on his first day in office. He says climate change is “bullshit.”

If we don’t want to save planet earth from assured destruction, we need to do nothing more than continue down the same course we’re on already. If we want to save the planet as a hospitable place for future generations, we need to change course drastically and immediately. NASA data released recently shows that not only was August the hottest since record-keeping started in 1880, but also it tied with July for the warmest month in the last 136 years. 2016 is on course to be the hottest year ever, setting a record that was set in 2015, which in turn broke the record set in 2014.

Coastal flooding is a reality and is already here in the US, costing millions of dollars. In Fort Lauderdale, FL increased tidal flooding is forcing the city to spend millions fixing battered roads and drains — and, at times, to send out giant vacuum trucks to suck saltwater off the streets. A high tide and a brisk wind, let alone a hurricane, is all it takes these days to send water poring into streets and homes. And with Hurricane Matthew’s storm surge, coastal flooding is happening with a vengeance. However, in Florida state environmental officials have been ordered not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in any government communications, emails, or reports.

Because the land is sinking as the ocean rises, Norfolk, VA and the metropolitan region surrounding it, known as Hampton Roads, are among the worst-hit parts of the United States. Local homes are already being flooded as water seeps into living rooms dampening people’s feet as they sit watching TV. The Obama administration recently gave Virginia more than $100 million to carry out a plan to safeguard this neighborhood. The administration has also enlisted one of the universities, Old Dominion in Norfolk, to spearhead a broad effort at better planning.

Billions Needed to Mitigate “Sunny Day Flooding”

Credit: OB Rag

Credit: OB Rag

Norfolk has a wish list of $1.2 billion to do things like installing sea walls, raising streets, or putting in movable gates along waterways so they can be closed at times of high water. Along those parts of the United States coast that are sinking at a brisk clip, including southern Louisiana and the entire Chesapeake Bay region, including Norfolk, the situation is dire.

Miami Beach is increasing local fees to finance a $400 million plan that includes raising streets, installing pumps and elevating sea walls. Already coastal cities are pleading with state and federal authorities for money to build infrastructure to prevent flooding including billions to pay for flood walls, pumps and road improvements that would buy them time.

The ice sheets in both Greenland and West Antarctica are beginning to melt into the sea at an accelerating pace. In 2013, scientists reached a consensus that three feet was the highest plausible rise by the year 2100. Recent research, however, leads some of them to say that six or seven feet may be more likely. A rise that large over a span of decades would be an unparalleled national catastrophe, driving millions of people from their homes and most likely requiring the abandonment of entire cities.

The air is already so full of greenhouse gasses that coastal sunny day flooding will continue to get worse. Local communities not getting any help from governments are starting to take matters in their own hands. In South Florida, among the worst-hit parts of the country for sunny-day flooding, people are not waiting for state or federal help. A company, Coastal Risk Consulting, has cropped up to advise locals and is offering its services nationally.

Cities and counties in the region have formed an alliance and enlisted professors to help them figure out what to do. They are hiring “chief resilience officers,” an idea pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, which is paying some of the salary cost. Just for streets, storm drains and the like, South Florida governments will need to raise billions. Millions will have to be raised just to replace septic tanks with sewer systems.

And yet Congress fiddles while Earth burns. Unlike Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned, we’re talking about the whole damn earth this time. Governor Rick Scott of Florida, however, has forbidden state officials to even mention global warming or climate change. Gov. Rick, why don’t you get your head out of the sand? You want money and disaster relief, why don’t you own up to what’s causing the disaster in the first place?

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John Lawrence graduated from Georgia Tech, Stanford and University of California at San Diego. While at UCSD, he was one of the original writer/workers on the San Diego Free Press in the late 1960s. He founded the San Diego Jazz Society in 1984 which had grants from the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and presented both local and nationally known jazz artists. His website is Social Choice and Beyond which exemplifies his interest in Economic Democracy. His book is East West Synthesis. He also blogs at Will Blog For Food. He can be reached at j.c.lawrence@cox.net.

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