This is The ChangeUnderground for the 10th of July 2023.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
And I’m back!
A month that’s just disappeared from my personal timeline. I hope all my listeners are well because it’s great to feel like I’ve got at least one foot in the land of the living. Thanks for your patience.
And what a month we’ve just lived through as a species.
From the New York Times dated 6th July 2023,
The past three days were quite likely the hottest in Earth’s modern history, scientists said on Thursday, as an astonishing surge of heat across the globe continued to shatter temperature records from North America to Antarctica.
The spike comes as forecasters warn that the Earth could be entering a multiyear period of exceptional warmth driven by two main factors: continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, mainly caused by humans burning oil, gas and coal; and the return of El Niño, a cyclical weather pattern.
So that’s all good then. Wait, what? Things are proceeding, pretty much as forecast by the IPCC or even more quickly. This does not bode well for the species. Heat waves, despite their appearance of relative calm compared to bushfires, cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, are actually more deadly than all of those. Not the day time temperatures as such, although they can be killers too, it’s the failure of temperatures to decline overnight that’s the more fatal effect.
And they are occurring with greater frequency and intensity.
From the Journal Science of the Total Environment comes an article entitled: Heatwaves intensification in Australia: A consistent trajectory across past, present and future by Trancoso et al.
Heatwaves underwent major increases in the 2000’s in comparison to previous decades.
Heatwaves have intensified in the recent past and are projected to increase faster in future.
Heatwaves may be 85% more frequent if global warming increases from 1.5 to 2.0 °C.
Heatwaves may last up to a month if global warming increases from 1.5 to 3.0 °C.
This is yet another worrying effect of climate change. The knock effects aren’t all that pleasant either. If we think this through from first principles we come uop with some very unpleasant outcomes.
- Increased mortality from the events themselves, especially in the very young and the elderly and this effect would be exacerbated at lower levels of economic capacity. The “Poor people can’t afford air con.” argument.
- High temperatures result in more evaporation of water. Falling dam reserves, less rainfall, increased release of CO2 from bare soils.
- Increased likelihood of wildfires. This in turn leads to less tree cover and increasing temperatures feeding back into warmer climates and more heat waves.
- High temperatures, wildfires and smoke pollution as seen in North America in the last month from the fires in Canada leading to even more premature deaths from air pollution.
Added to this comes the piece from Vox Media dated 27th June 2023 and entitled: The alarming decline of Earth’s forests, in 4 charts by Benji Jones
Over the last decade, dozens of companies and nearly all large countries have vowed to stop demolishing forests, a practice that destroys entire communities of wildlife and pollutes the air with enormous amounts of carbon dioxide.
A big climate conference in Glasgow, in the fall of 2021, produced the most significant pledge to date: 145 countries, including Brazil, China, and Indonesia, committed to “halt and reverse” forest loss within the decade. Never before, it seems, has the world been this dedicated to stopping deforestation.
And yet forests continue to fall.
I’ll leave you to follow the link in the show notes to see the charts, yes they are as depressing as you might imagine and I’ll stick to words. We’re in a prisoner’s dilemma at the moment.
From the Wikipedia page “Prisoner’s Dilemma”
Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain. If he testifies against his partner, he will go free while the partner will get three years in prison on the main charge. Oh, yes, there is a catch … If both prisoners testify against each other, both will be sentenced to two years in jail. The prisoners are given a little time to think this over, but in no case may either learn what the other has decided until he has irrevocably made his decision. Each is informed that the other prisoner is being offered the very same deal. Each prisoner is concerned only with his own welfare—with minimizing his own prison sentence.
In fact the whole Climate Change thing is a Prisoner’s Dilemma. If one country acts first, it may suffer economic consequences. Now these may and I would argue, would lead to better economic conditions but the fear is, acting first would be a disaster. If everyone did the “right thing” everyone benefits but equally if no one does anything other than issue statements and continue to cut down tree cover, we’re all in the poo and getting deeper by the day. There’s a link between heat waves and deforestation as there is between increasing GHGs and heat waves. To quote someone whom I can’t recall, “Everything is connected to everything else.”
Let’s not be completely negative, things are changing for the better, they are just not happening quickly enough. Even if all GHGs were no longer being emitted tomorrow we’d still have the lagging effects of current CO2 and other GHGs already in the atmosphere.
The obvious, quick, reliable solution to this is to change the way the world produces food. That does not mean lab meats and vegan diets, it means regenerative techniques, integrating livestock and plant production, in effect to decarbonise the air and recarbonise the soil. We have the technologies to do this, we have the ability to decarbonise the energy systems of the world. We lack the cohesive actions by all countries to actually do the job required. Years ago in episode 234, I discussed Charles Massy’s work on soil carbon. He suggests three to five years of intensive conversion to regenerative soil carbon producing techniques would suck most of the extra CO2 out of the atmosphere that we’ve added as a species since 1750. To do this would require increasing soil carbon sinks by 2-3% across 65-75% of agricultural land. A doable thing, I would suggest.
We have a solution, we have the technology, we have ways of disseminating both so why the hell are we still cutting down trees and allowing the poor, the elderly and infants to fry in heat waves???
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back, all things being equal, next week.
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Heat Records Are Broken Around the Globe as Earth Warms, Fast
Heatwaves intensification in Australia: A consistent trajectory across past, present and future