In 2015, new energy generation construction from wind and solar accounted for 70 percent of the total globally. Natural gas was 27 percent and coal was relegated to the 3% other category. A new era of energy is upon us but, already emitted warming pollutants cannot be cleaned up by simply building zero carbon energy sources because of the long life of carbon dioxide in our sky.


New Climate Culture

Our climate culture of the last two or three decades, very bluntly, not working out . Yes, carbon emissions are decreasing, or at least they are not increasing as fast a they were or as fast as projected. Possibly, they are even decreasing. But the bottom line is that current warming has already created an unhealthy world. To fix it, we need to limit emissions but most importantly, because current warming is not about future emissions but about already emitted pollution, we must clean up this already emitted pollution to return our planet to its previous safe equilibrium.

With our past climate culture, we were never given the alternative to clean up the “spilled” carbon dioxide. Our only (and frightening) alternatives have been to limit warming to some “dangerous” level. 

I want to repeat a quote from a post last month from “Global Warming Psychology and How to Use It.” Stoknes 2015What We Think About – When We Try Not To Think About – Global Warming; The New Psychology of Climate Action. Stoknes says don’t scare people. In a profound example he cites Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech. In this speech, Dr. King did not say, “I have a nightmare.” The message does not have to be delivered this way. We need to frame our climate discussions differently than we have for the last 30 years.

And this one is goo too: “Make the discussion about how our society can achieve a low carbon destiny with a witty analogy: The stone age didn’t end because of a lack of stones, why should the fossil fuel era not end when plenty of fossil fuels remain?”

Our old science education strategy is not working for many reasons that are described by the actions of the Climate Change Counter Movement. Simply put, too much money is saying things that are radically different from what the science says. Put together with our advanced civilization that is totally dependent upon fossil fuels and the conflict creates dissidence, apathy, denial and delay.

Stoknes has a Powerpoint that gets to the root of the this new climate culture. We need to talk more, and we need to talk about benefits of a healthy climate instead of the negative effects of climate change. Which brings me to the point of this discussion:

The vast majority of Texans believe in climate change (69%), a majority believe it is caused by man (52%), and an astonishing (for Texas) 71% believe that we should be regulating CO2 as a pollutant. If you have not seen the Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2016, gosh, what a treasure trove of public opinion–down to the county level!

This understanding, and an article in Business Insider, “Just don’t call it ‘climate change‘” (Which I don’t agree with very much) allowed me to realize that there is a superior message to be delivered by combining the benefits of a healthy climate with advocacy about pollution treatment. 

Because we know all about pollution as a society, and we know that treating pollution creates a healthier world and healthier lives, there’s great leverage available if we create a new climate culture that is focused on creating a healthy climate through the treatment of pollution. If Texan’s, to such a great extent, agree that we should be regulating climate pollution, wouldn’t this be a great strategy to follow for the rest of our country?

Part Two: Beyond Emissions Reductions

A generation ago, climate scientists said delay would make our task harder and it has. Even fully implemented, the Paris emissions reductions commitments of 80 percent by 2050 and net zero by 2080, allow 2.1 C total warming (not cooling) by 2050, 3.5 C total warming by 2100, and the temperature does not fall back to today’s level for centuries. 

Because our current warming  (0.94 C, 2016) has allowed abrupt change initiations to begin, we have to cool our climate in order to reduce the level of impacts. Further warming will allow these initiations to complete leading to unrecoverable scenarios.  These abrupt changes are things like collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and shut down of the Gulf Stream. They are abundantly evident in prehistoric evidence, but because we cannot model them they are not a part of the consensus of climate scientists upon which policy is based. So these abrupt changes literally, are not a part of our climate culture. But they are real nonetheless, shown to have begun, and impacts are much greater than those suggested by the consensus whose modeled impacts are based on what could basically be termed the slow, glacial “ice cube melt” model of climate change. 

To cool then, we must reduce the amount of already emitted warming pollutants in our sky, and this is where the discussion of our new climate culture really comes home with another thing our advanced civilization is well accustomed to: pollution management. 

Climate Pollution Management

Whereas emissions reductions are new to our civilization, we know how to clean up pollution. It’s a part of lives as sure as Friday comes once a week. The way to manage climate pollution is like any other pollution: First, limit the emissions of new pollutants. This is the same critical criteria that any pollution management strategy begins with. Then while that is happening, deal with the spilled pollutants (the already emitted carbon dioxide that stays in our sky for centuries.)

Over the past 12 to 15 years, scientists have been working on how to clean our sky of warming pollutants and create a healthy climate. The technology was first used to keep our sailors from dying of carbon dioxide poisoning on submarines in WW II. New technologies are, of course, more efficient than those in the beginning and the solutions are now available to actually create a healthy climate.

Theoretical publishing in 2011, that said these technologies were economically infeasible, has been overcome and industrial scale pilot projects have been completed. These facilities are capable of removing all of the excess carbon dioxide from our atmosphere in 20 years for a cost that is similar to what we spend on ensuring safe drinking water across the planet every year.

Even better, the cost of these processes are based on energy at $0.07 to $0.10 per kWh (kilowatt hour.) With the plummeting cost of solar and wind energy expected to hit $0.01 per kWh by 2025, because energy is the main part of the costs of climate pollution treatment, we can expect the future cost of taking carbon dioxide out of our sky to be significantly less than what we spend on ensuring safe drinking water across the planet every year.

Texan’s Beliefs About Our Environment Can Lead The Way

Combining  a goal of a healthy climate with pollution management is a very valuable way to leverage this new climate culture. Because 71% of Texans believe that we should be regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and we as a society know that cleaning up pollution creates healthy lives, we can greatly leverage our new climate culture by talking about cleaning up warming pollutants to create a healthy climate.