Two Must-Read Climate Change Posts

Maybe you don’t want to know how bad the outlook is, or how massive the scale of change required to change that outlook. But if you want to face up to the facts, you should read these two posts (one and two) by David Roberts over at Grist.

Post One analyzes a new peer-reviewed paper by climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows. According to Roberts, it paints a grim picture:

  • The commonly accepted threshold of climate “safety,” 2 degrees C [3.6 degrees F] temperature rise over pre-industrial levels, is now properly considered extremely dangerous;
  • even 2 degrees C is drifting out of reach, absent efforts of a scale and speed beyond anything currently proposed;
  • our current trajectory is leading us toward 4 or 6 (or 8 or 10) degrees C, which we now know to be a potentially civilization-threatening disaster.

Post Two looks at the reality of the changes that would be required to our economies and energy use to avoid disaster, and makes clear that:

a) humanity is utterly failing to meet the challenge because no one is willing to trade economic growth to address climate change, and rich countries (known as “Annex 1” in climate-treaty speak) are not willing to take responsibility for the disproportionate contribution they have made to warming (which is what helped them get rich), and shoulder a disproportionate burden in reducing emissions to allow poorer countries (“Annex 2”) more leeway to burn carbon and raise people out of poverty;

and b) the consequences will be pretty horrific.

Roberts’ posts drive home the critical point: the way we analyze, debate and react to climate change right now is, like, a few orders of magnitude short of the urgency and scale required to keep it within even barely acceptable bounds. And the current trajectory we are on won’t allow for “adaptation.” Yet the steps required to actually address the problem are laughably improbable.

Here’s Roberts:

Soooo … where does that leave us? What would it mean for the U.S. and other developed countries to peak their emissions in 2015 and decline them by something on the order of 10 percent a year thereafter?

It’s safe to say that no carbon tax is going to do that. It’s tough to imagine any “market mechanism” that could ratchet things so quickly, at least on its own. We won’t get there through innovation or new technology, even if we spend a trillion a year for the next few years. We won’t get there by tweaking our current system. The only conceivable way to produce that level of reductions is a full-scale, all-hands-on-deck mobilization, what William James called “the moral equivalent of war.”

The vast bulk of the reductions available in the near-term are on the demand side. Of course this means driving efficiency as fast as possible while taking measures (like raising prices and setting standards) to avoid the rebound effect. But it also means (gasp!) conservation. Actually, “conservation” is too polite a word for it. It means shared sacrifice. Climate campaigners have sworn until they’re blue in the face that reducing emissions is compatible with robust economic growth. And it’s true! But reducing emissions enough? Maybe not, at least not for the next little while.

This is the stark conclusion drawn by Anderson and Bows: “The logic of such studies suggests (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations and a rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled development within non-Annex 1 nations.”

I know what you’re thinking. It’ll never happen. It’s political suicide to bring it up. Conservatives will use it against us. Very Serious People will take to fainting couches across the land. I’ll address those questions in my next post.

But for now, it’s enough to say: It is what it is. As Anderson says, we’re currently mitigating for 4 degrees C and planning for 2 degrees C. That is ass backwards. It is, almost clinically, insane. We need to be doing the opposite — mitigating for 2, planning for 4 — as soon as possible.

I have zero hope that the human culture of consumption, and humanity’s relentless willingness to subordinate the natural world and its species to humanity’s desires, can change fast enough. But the ironic joke here is that human culture is in the process of subordinating humanity itself as well. Not sure what to do with that utterly depressing reality, but I’m trying to figure it out.

Bicycle Economics

I’ve (half-) joked about bicycling saving the world. But I keep coming across more and more analysis to back up the claim. Elly Blue, over at Grist, has been posting some good stuff on bicycle economics, which help make the case (though I hold no illusions about how far rational argument goes in our completely dysfunctional political culture).

Here’s what she has to say about the cost savings associated with moving from cars to bikes:

Imagine getting a $3,000 to $12,000 tax rebate this year. Now imagine it coming again and again. Every year it grows by around a thousand dollars.

Imagine how this would change your daily life.

Sounds like a teabagger’s wet dream, but it’s actually a conservative estimate of how much you’d save by ditching your car, or even just one of your cars — and getting on a bicycle instead.

Read the whole thing, which has links to some good studies. I’ll leave you to ponder the power of Bike-o-nomics with this graphic (click image for larger version).

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Dept. Of Biking Can Save The World

Ordinary bicycle, Skoda Museum, Mlada Boleslav...
Image via Wikipedia

I know, I know. It can’t really “save” the world. But it has so much upside it deserves some hype.

This week the National Bike Summit is convening here in DC. And if there is one takeaway it is that biking is a supremely cost-effective investment.

In a town where almost nothing gets decided in a rational manner that focuses on costs and benefits (and instead gets hijacked by ideology, special interest money and cable madness), it’s always important to hammer away at this point. And the League Of American Bicyclists is doing exactly that, highlighting lots of research on how biking pays off big-time.

Here’s a one-stop sampling of the analysis (with links) that any bike advocate can use to blow away any bike-haters that get in his or her face:

In 2009, we released a literature review of the best research into the economic impacts of investing in bicycling infrastructure. Since then there have been several good additions.

Let’s review:

Between 1995 and 2010, the Portland region spent $4.2 billion on roadway improvements and $153 million on all active
transportation improvements.
Since 1990, the City of Portland saw an increase of 14,912 in daily bicycle commute trips and 37,006 in daily auto trips.
The cost of a new auto trip in Portland was approximately 22 times the cost of a new bicycle commute trip

Cost-effective: Between 1995 and 2010, the Portland region spent $4.2 billion on roadway improvements and $153 million on all active transportation improvements. Since 1990, the City of Portland saw an increase of 14,912 in daily bicycle commute trips and 37,006 in daily auto trips. The cost of a new auto trip in Portland was approximately 22 times the cost of a new bicycle commute trip.

Another new Portland study, by Thomas Gotschi, found that:

By 2040, investments in the range of $138 to $605 million will result in health care cost savings of $388 to $594 million, fuel savings of $143 to $218 million, and savings in value of statistical lives of $7 to $12 billion. The benefit-cost ratios for health care and fuel savings are between 3.8 and 1.2 to 1, and an order of magnitude larger when value of statistical lives is used.

Job creating: A Baltimore study shows that for each $1 million spent, striping bike lanes and signing bike routes creates twice as many jobs as repaving and repairing roads, thank to a favorable labor to materials ratio.

Economy supporting: Bicycle tourism brings in a $1 billion to the Wisconsin economy, in addition to the $556 million from manufacturing, distribution, and retail.

…and then there’s the Green Dividends of…

New York City


San Diego

and Portland.

So dig in and go wild. And keep on riding.

Here’s Rep. Earl Blumenauer, founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, doing his bit:
Vodpod videos no longer available.


Not to encourage you to become a bike bore, but here are 5 slides to get you started (from the National Bike Summit program).