Greenpeace’s Folly?

Greenpeace recently released a report that details “how by 2050, renewable energy sources could be producing close to 97% of electricity in the U.S. and approximately 94% of the country’s needs for heating and cooling homes and businesses.”  The report “presents the case for a radical and rapid energy transformation and a pathway for meeting the reduced emissions that the scientific community says is urgent.”

The “plan” would lead “to about 1.5 million energy-related jobs in 2030,” contribute to energy independence, and would enable citizens to gain more control over energy production.

To make this energy “[r]evolution” possible, it would be necessary for local, state, and the national government to implement the following policies:

1. Abolish all subsidies, including any policies which confer a financial benefit, to fossil fuels and nuclear energy.  The End Polluter Welfare Act, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) is an example of federal action that must move forward.

2. Internalize the currently socialized cost of industrial climate pollution, such as with a federal carbon fee.

3. Mandate strict efficiency standards for all energy consuming appliances, buildings and vehicles.

4. Establish legally binding targets for renewable energy and combined heat and power generation.

5. Reform electricity markets by guaranteeing priority access to the grid for renewable power generators.

6. Provide defined and stable returns for investors; for example, by feed-in tariff schemes.

7. Implement better labeling and disclosure mechanisms to provide more environmental product information.

8. Increase research and development budgets for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

This “plan” has just two problems—but they are serious ones:

  1. The likelihood of this “plan” being implemented within the next, say, 10 – 15 years is zero.  Put another way, the “plan” utterly lacks in political realism.
  2. Even if the “plan” were implemented, it would likely not prevent catastrophe from occurring.

The basis for my asserting the latter is this statement by Guy McPherson, in an email he sent to me on March 20, 2014:

This notion that 2 C is the danger point is ludicrous.  Even James Hansen recently said 1 C should be avoided, thus agreeing with the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (1990):  “Beyond 1 degree C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.”

I’d say it’s too late already.  According to Clive Hamilton’s April 2013 book, Earthmasters, even collapse of industrial civilization adds 1.1 C (thus taking us to 1.95 C).  And we’ve triggered numerous self-reinforcing feedback loops, as I describe in this essay.

Let me first clarify two points in the above statement that might be confusing to some:

(a) McPherson’s reference to “2 C” is to the “tipping point” that has been the consensus with climate scientists; i.e., the point after which change begins to accelerate, with there being no possibility of reversing the trend.

(b) The reference to “1.95 C” is the addition of Clive Hamilton’s 1.1 C and 0.85 C—the amount that the global mean temperature has increased since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

In referring to “numerous self-reinforcing feedback loops,” McPherson means that global warming is a process that feeds on itself:

  • As warming proceeds, more and more snow and ice melt, exposing more and more bare ground.  As bare ground has a lower albedo than do snow and ice (which tend to reflect, rather than absorb, the short-wave energy coming from the sun), it tends to absorb the sun’s rays, and convert that energy into long-wave energy, which acts to further heat the lower atmosphere.
  • As warming proceeds, the permafrost that covers vast areas in the northern hemisphere tends to thaw, in the process releasing methane gas, which is far more potent as a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide (CO2).  Heating is thereby accelerated.
  • Carbon “sinks” such as the oceans are becoming saturated, so that for that reason alone more of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere will stay there for a long period, and “do their thing” (i.e., contribute to further heating).

Now if my second point above—“Even if the “plan” were implemented, it would likely not prevent catastrophe from occurring”—is true, the question that arises is:  Why are you folks misleading the public to the effect that “reforms” (a) can occur, and that (b) their occurrence would prevent catastrophe from occurring?

Granted that because the future is the “not yet,” we cannot know with certainty what the atmospheric situation will be in 2030, 2040, 2050 CE, etc.  However, given that physical laws are involved here and that the fossil fuel interests can be expected to continue their stranglehold on our political leaders, the most reasonable guess about the future is that catastrophe is likely.

That might mean that our species will be “wiped out,” but this cannot be known with certainty.  Given that, it is irresponsible to lull people into a sense that “things will get fixed.”  It is only responsible, rather, to advise people to plan on catastrophe, and begin engaging in activities of a pre-adaptive nature anticipating catastrophe—while hoping that the activities one engages in enable one to survive.

Al Thompson retired over seven years ago from an engineering (avionics) firm in Milwaukee. His e-mail address is: Read other articles by Alton.