Category Archives: Climate Change

Climate Change Report From Australia

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Image by dayamay from Pixabay

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I am sitting inside under an air conditioner at this moment because the temperature outside in Willoughby just north of Sydney is 40 degrees centigrade and the air outside is humid and smoky. The bush fires rage up and down the coast and inland, some under control and some not.

And this decade, they say, may be the last chance to do something about climate change before a tipping point is reached, and that point is the moment a positive feedback loop engulfs us all – when it is too late to stop the destruction.

Australia contributes just over 1 percent of world carbon emissions, but combined with the emissions of similar small contributors like Canada this adds up to over 40%.

With the USA wallowing in some kind of self-destructive delusional state, leadership could fall to a new group of developed countries – a consortium say of Australia, Canada, the UK, France, Germany…. and so I will, at the start of this decade, pitch my idea again.

We need to bring together the people and the knowledge from all the pertinent fields to arrive at a doable plan. Not merely a plan to “reduce emissions”, or a target for global emissions, but a consideration of the roles and possibilities of other factors as well. These are:

  • Population control (and this should be high on the list)
  • Bypassing fossil fuel in developing countries. What can developed countries do to foster this?
  • Carbon Capture technology. Are any of these technologies viable and scalable?
  • Natural carbon capturing plants and trees. What role can reforestation play? New technologies to plant millions of trees?
  • Shifting all power plants to carbon neutral technologies. How and when and which ones?
  • The role that could be played by nuclear power.
  • Carbon neutral housing and building standards. What impact can this have?
  • Cycling and mass transit. Just how much of a difference can this make?
  • More plant based diets. Realistically what difference will this make?
  • How long to shift most land transportation to electrical or hydrogen based power?

What incentives are needed to do this?

  • Air transportation. Is there a viable technology to make carbon-neutral jet fuel? And how do we get there?

I’m sure this list could be longer, and each item have it’s own subheadings of viability, time, cost, contribution, technical, economic and political feasibility…but…

Justin, you could take the lead. A Manhattan project to save the world.

Setting this up will cost a lot but not nearly as much as all the fire fighting and disaster relief we will all be paying for in the coming years.

Fly me to the Moon.

By Dr. David Laing Dawson

Recently our Hamilton Spectator published two op eds side by side. One espoused going back to the moon and staying there (a permanent research settlement), and the other argued for Mars. I pondered the short-sighted craziness of this at the time but it didn’t come into stark relief until I saw the news item that India had just launched a rocket to send a rover to the moon, specifically to one of the lunar poles.
India.
70 percent of the population of India does not have access to toilets. They urinate and defecate in the open. Might not that be a higher priority? Of course the people at greater risk with no plumbing are poor women and poor children, not politicians, engineers and scientists and the CEO’s of the new private space industry.
For humankind to aim for a colonization of the moon and/or Mars implies a great endeavour, a great adventure, requiring enormous resources and cooperation. Presumably this endeavour would be led by NASA, with the help of Canada and numerous private companies. And then one day in the future we can all be staring at our TV screens, this time 55 inch 4K LED screens, when the first astronaut of this century takes that one giant leap for mankind. But we better be watching indoors because it will be too hot and stormy outdoors and we better have strong locks on those doors because there will be millions of people from now uninhabitable parts of this earth trying to get in.
Last night I watched part of a pleasant CBC production telling me how I might reduce my carbon footprint. Right down to how many times I have to re-use a glass bowl before it becomes better than disposable styrofoam. Guilt inducing, quaint, nicely Canadian, but oh so silly.
And then I read an article about how many trees I need to plant each year to cover just my own personal carbon output. There was some disagreement on the numbers but on the low end it almost looked doable, that is if each of us had the space and resources to plant 400 trees with life spans of 80 plus years.
So, it looks like extinction for the human race, and most animals, within a few generations, preceded by years of crises, suffering, and conflict, if we, collectively, don’t reduce and control our CO2 emissions.
And here is the question: Why on earth can we not turn those space travel resources into a “Manhattan/NASA” project to save the world? Bring together all the management skills, engineering skills and scientific knowledge in one place (of course today it doesn’t have to be physically one place) to come up with the best possible comprehensive plan. We are (some would say we have run out of time) running out of time for our grandchildren.
And sure, include world wide education for how each of us can personally reduce our carbon footprint, and of course tell us how we can move quickly to non carbon producing forms of energy, but also take a realistic view of natural sequestration of carbon (trees), and all the proposed and possibly viable artificial means of capturing carbon and either burying it or using it. And in this mix don’t forget population control.
We humans have a very poor track record when it comes to self denial for the sake of the human race, but we can be quite astonishing when we decide to build something, or do something never done before, or repair something, or save something. This time it is the planet we need to save. Let’s get on with it.

Climate Change and Sharks

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Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I was reading today about the “climate change deniers” Trump is putting on a panel, The Presidential Committee on Climate Security. One of these people has publicly compared our demonizing of CO2 to Hitler’s attitude toward Jews.

But, overall, the tone that strikes me most is that of adolescent thinking processes.

That’s where sharks come in.

If you ask a child the simple question, “Would you swim with sharks?” almost all will quickly and firmly say “No.”

If you ask an adult if he or she would be willing to swim with sharks the answer comes quickly and in the same form as the child’s. “No. Are you kidding?”

But if you ask the same question of a teenager what often follows is a pause, some consideration and deep thought, some partial sentences, some qualifications, some reasoning such as, “Well, humans are not the natural prey of sharks….so…”

They are exercising their newly formed reasoning processes, often arriving at something like, “In a supervised pool, with a well fed shark, and ensuring that I am not bleeding anywhere, I think the odds of surviving are pretty good, so yeah, maybe I’d try it.”

Similarly the adolescent male’s reasoning process can arrive at the following conclusion: “I think there is an 80% chance that I can make this sharp turn driving at 100 K an hour (in mom’s car) without crashing, so let’s go for it.”

What is missing is perspective in the adolescent thinking, and in the climate change debate. An 80% chance of winning would be wonderful at a casino, and not too bad for a necessary heart operation. But not for taking unnecessary risks with one’s life.

Risk benefit analysis requires a pretty clear understanding of the potential long term results for self and others. This is often a task for which the adolescent brain is not yet equipped. This is not always a bad thing. For it is our youth, our teenagers, who are willing to embark on a journey with only 10% chance of success.

The consequence of persistent global warming is the destruction of human life on this planet, preceded by years of increasing turmoil, migration, wars, destruction, suffering. Though not of my life or the lives of Mr. Trump’s proposed panel.

Is man made CO2 the cause? The cause or a major contributor?

The facts and the science support this to be the case with a small percentage of doubters. If the consequences of being wrong were minor we should let the argument continue. But they are far from minor.

Even if the odds were only 40% that man-made CO2 is a major contributor, we are not adolescents and so, considering the stakes for my grandchildren and their grandchildren….

And therein may lie the problem. Though Trump’s experts have adult brains perhaps they do not have the ability to imagine what life will be like in Africa, India, the small islands in our oceans, out coastal communities, our plains, and for our grandchildren – that is, for others.