Time Is Of The Essence For The US, China And World
The above photo shows life to death: Glacier National Park with green growth in foreground; wildfire destruction that will continue in the middle ground; and lost glaciers that will not return in the background. Climate change with increasing temperature will affect all three. Photo credit: Phiilp Boxell, July 2010.
Climate Change presents the transcendent challenge for ourselves and our children today and for the future. Ultimately, climate change if inadequately addressed will result in human suffering unparalleled in recorded history. The world’s mortality ranges around 62 million people each year. About 3 million Americans die each year from various causes. The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people now die each year from climate change. WHO site. Climate change could result in untold suffering. And the essential question is why take the risk when we have the means to avert the potential consequences? We understand the problem. It is really quite simple to solve.
The intended audience for this book includes thoughtful Americans who understand that our use of fossil fuel is largely responsible for climate change. The Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication proposes Six Americas based on April 2013 surveys. The Six Americas include:
- A. What Can The World And I Do To Reduce Global Warming? 1) Alarmed Americans, 13%, who wish to know what to do to reduce emissions. 2) Concerned Americans, 26%, who understand that climate change is not about polar bears but also believe climate change is distant in time.
- B. What Harm Will Climate Change Cause? 3) Cautious Americans, 25%, who are open minded and have not decided whether climate change results from human action or natural variability. 4) Disengaged Americans, 5%, who do not know and face an awareness barrier.
- C. How Do We Know Climate Change Is Happening Or Even A Result of Human Action? 5) Doubtful Americans, 15%, who believe that climate change is probably due to natural causes. 6) Dismissive Americans, 13%, who don’t believe in climate change for a variety of conspiracy theories and other reasons. See Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication and for a YouTube University Center for Atmospheric Research lecture by Anthony Leiserowitz, YPCCC Director on this and other aspects of climate communication.
Ideally, all Americans of whatever view about climate change will consider climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation. But the reality may be that only the first four or five groups can presently be reached by efforts such as this web site. Yale Professor Anthony Leiserowitz explains in the above lecture, group 6 is only 13%, but a very vocal 13%. Several books have been written about the Dismissive 13%, including Naomi Oreskes Merchants of Doubt and John Dean Conservatives Without A Conscience. However, an American majority easily exists in the Yale Poject on Climate Change Communication survey to decisively and adequately address climate change.
Second, climate change presents an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and welfare. Several authors have discussed our society and the imminent endangerment. Jeffrey Sachs in The Price of Civilization and James Gustave Speth in America The Possible lay out our social, economic and environmental malaise. Sachs, an economist, serves as Director of the Columbia University Earth Institute. Speth formerly served as Dean of the Yale School Environmental Studies, and co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Resources Institute. Speth received his law degree from Yale. James Hansen, Jeffrey Sachs and colleagues have written a compelling article that we must keep the temperature increase to 1°C. James Hansen et al.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science published a March 2014 report setting forth the scientific conclusion of 97% of climate scientists: “The overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change documents both current impacts with significant costs and extraordinary future risks to society and natural systems.” AAAS March 2014 Report Thus, the scientific community, many national governments and international bodies have spoken conclusively about the present harm and potentially devastating risks posed by climate change. The AAAS frames the issue in their report: why the disconnect?
The AAAS does not answer this stunning disconnect. And throughout this commentary, the disconnect arises time and again. One answer might be that there is plenty of blame to go around. The Dismissives and supplicants have knowingly, intentionally distorted public discourse. Second, Democratic and Republican presidents and congresses have failed to go forcefully and compellingly to the American public. Third, the scientific community has a difficult time with succinct, compelling communication either oral or in written reports. The IPCC AR5 reports are lengthy, dense and in some instances poorly written as can be understood given the review of over 100K articles. On the other hand, the AAAS report is clear and succinct. And the World Resources Institute also provides clear and succinct reports. WRI Reports. Finally, Some NGO’s, as Harvard professor Theda Sckocpol has written, have failed at times to advocate on behalf of the public interest. Theda Sckocpol on Waxman-Markey. Hence, confusion and disinformation has muddled the public discourse.
But Americans are a remarkable people who can see through to the need to act IF they wish to act. So this commentary attempts to encourage us to act together as we have done when necessity arose in times past.
Many books by authors in all disciplines have written about climate change. The Bill Gates’ web site, Bill Gates’ Bookshelf, has thoughtful books about these and other subjects. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of America’s wealthiest individuals, illustrate an important point about wealth and the Gini coeffient, a coefficient of income inequality: wealth can be an important source of social and economic caring. We, of course, call this philanthropy. So when we discuss social and economic inequality, we are not talking about individuals, but trends and groups in society. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Warren Buffett and many, many other individuals and foundations have given generously to help the world’s poor and disadvantaged.
The central premise for the book is that climate change is by, for and of the people. Climate change manifests itself from human action and conduct, and can only be solved by human action and conduct. Countries, societies and civilizations face many daunting issues. Climate change is but one, and, in many respects, a sub set of other issues.
Twice America has had opportunities to seriously, significantly address climate change, but knowingly, intentionally failed to do so: 1) President Clinton in 1999 intentionally refused to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the US Senate for ratification. Moreover, he refused to utilize his personal stature as a bully pulpit with the American people to ask for their help. 2) President Obama in the spring of 2009 under the apparent advice of Rahm Emanuel and other advisers decided not to publicly support climate change and House passed climate legislation. Moreover, President Obama, too, refused to use his stature as a bully pulpit with the American people to ask for their help.
America, along with China for arguably different reasons, may have already led or may lead the demise of civilization, western and eastern, for reasons that did not have to be such as inertia, greed, political convenience and others. Again, there is, of course, plenty of blame to go around. And blame in many ways is besides the point, because we need to pull together with respect and support for each other, each country. Or we become a house divided; a species along with others in suffering; and an earth in ruin.
The following commentary has three objectives:
1) to explain that every day we wait to reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly reduces the opportunity for the young today to have a standard of living approximating the standards today. If we wait until we reach the 2°C in thirty years, the young today and after have no latitude to adjust. The amount emitted between today and 30 years from will have used up whatever carbon emissions they may need for the necessities to use hospitals, grow crops, purify water, dispose of human waste. We run a very real risk to commit them and perhaps condemn them to a zero carbon society. This is presently not realistic for hospitals, agriculture, civil order and other necessary social services. And we should not assume it will be in 30 years
2) to explain that we have no time left to make definitive changes because of the years required to make logistical changes to infrastructure and use, including energy, transportation, agriculture and lifestyle changes necessary to avoid risks and threats to humanity presented by a thirty year deadline now declared by the IPCC. We know that we cannot change the electricity generation overnight, auto platforms today, crop practices next season. One scenario has the fossil fuel industry pushing climate action delay until geo engineering is a fait accompli. Why run this risk for this industry’s benefit and society’s possible detriment?
3) that the United States must act first and independently if there is any hope that China will also act in order to achieve a collaborative, meaningful reduction in carbon emissions. These are the world’s two most responsible societies for climate impacts. We cannot wait until 2015 or 2020 or 2030, let along 2050 or 2100.
We Know What And How To Change
A. The United States
We must invest in basic and applied research to save the planet. We must invest now. And the decision will be made by Americans at the ballot box if this is to happen.
This and the following chapters discuss the reasons to act; the impacts posed by climate change; and why we must go about the change. This chapter briefly addresses the question many ask: how can this be done? The following studies specifically address electricity generation.
Several studies assert that the US, Germany and worldwide can reduce carbon emissions entirely or by even 80% by 2030 or 2050. Germany has stated that it will reduce fossil fuel use by 80% by 2030 and entirely by 2050. Osha Gray Davidson states in a 2010 book that Germany now as 25% of its energy in renewables and aspires to have 80% by 2050. Germany RE 80% Goal 2050 The US Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Lab produced a four volume report in the summer 2013 that asserted the US can reduce the use of fossil fuel by 80% everywhere in the US by 2050. NREL Renewable Energy Futures
Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobson released a study in 2013 that asserts New York State can become entirely fossil fuel free by 2030. Stanford News: New York State study Jacobson has a second study on worldwide reliance on renewable energy. Stanford News: World Powered by Alternative Energy
These studies do not provide design build specifications. Moreover, most proposals rely heavily on energy efficiency and significant reduction in use of energy. Distributed or localized energy will account for some reduction in the transmission of energy, but other challenges remain. And each study has qualifications, genuine questions, and much work to be done. But they illustrate that it is feasible to substantially end fossil fuel reliance in the near future.
So what about time? Why does it take so long? There are many reasons: 1) research and development, 2) logistical implementation , 2) economic, social and, perhaps most of all, political resolution of conflicts of interest. James Hansen, a renown climate scientist, has said in his promotion of nuclear power that no responsible politician will turn off the lights. It is perhaps an oxymoron. In any event, it is not necessary to turn off the lights. It is necessary to give adequate funding and commitment to reducing our reliance on fossil fuel. America spends approximately $650 billion on a defense budget, and by some estimates $100 billion on national security. China now spends an estimated $200 billion on national defense, $100 billion on internal security. Aside from the merits of the expenditures, the US and China must now think about the near term threats to human health and welfare from climate impacts. Why?
The Woodrow Wilson Center, China Environment Forum held a symposium on February 19, 2014 on a World Wildlife Fund/Energy Transition Research Institute (Entri) Report on China’s Future Generation: Moving Past Coal by 2050. The Wilson Center will have the symposium available online by or about February 28, 2014. I highly commend watching the full 2 hour presentation by WWF China, China Renewable Energy Industry Association (CREIA) and Bloomberg News. Woodrow Wilson Center The symposium presentation PDF’s for the WWF China/Entri, the China Renewable Industy Association (CREIA) and Bloomberg News have been posted on the Wilson site. The WWF China full report can be obtained at WWF China.
The WWF China report provides four scenarios for a Baseline, High Efficiency, Low Carbon Mix. Baseline provides a business as usual. Please see discussion in the following section. The Low Carbon Mix provides for renewable energy reaching 58% by 2050. The High Renewables scenario provides for RE reaching 82% by 2050. The three alternative scenarios require energy efficiency and conservation to reduce carbon emissions by about 50%. This is similar to the US studies. Most importantly, the WWF/Entri report relies upon current, proven technology for efficiency, conservation and renewable energy construction and operation.
As with the US studies, the WWF/Entri report provides a plan and not design build specifications. But as Lu Lunyan, WWF China Climate and Energy Program Director, observed whether this plan has any chance is a matter of political will. It is also a matter of political will for the US. If Secretary Kerry’s February 15, 2014 Jakarta comments that climate change presents a weapon of massive destruction, then the US and China must address the International Energy Agency’s proposals discussed in the next section and take other actions as necessary.
The report is a blueprint for Chinese government, academic and policy makers to consider. Obviously, the report’s recommendations will undergo further review and probably change. Most importantly, the report demonstrates that China, like the US, has alternatives to eliminate the use of fossil fuel by 2050. But 2050 may not be soon enough given the September 2013 IPCC AR5 WG I physical sciences report that the world must stay below a 2°C increase. So what does the US and China do in concert with the world?
C. International Energy Agency Short Term Proposal To Keep < 2°C
The timeline for these and many other studies is 20 to 40 years. Then how can climate change be addressed now to preclude a 2°C/450 ppm limit set by the IPCC AR5 September 2013 report to be discussed in the next chapter? One response is that maybe we can’t. Maybe we have already set the world on a 2°C course. A second response is for the sake of the youth of today, we have no choice but to try.
First, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in the November 2013 Report, World Energy Outlook and media summary proposes four measures that the world community can take immediately for the short term to keep the global temperate below 2°C:
- Target specific energy efficiency improvements in industry, buildings and transport sectors;
- Limit the use and construction of inefficient coal powered plants;
- Minimize methane emissions in upstream oil and gas production; and
- Further partial phase out of fossil fuel subsidies to end users.
IEA World Energy Outlook Special Report 2013 The IEA proposal must be implemented by the major energy users, most notably the US and China, if it is to have any chance of success. If the US and China cannot commit to negotiate these proposals and there is no assurance that these proposals along will keep the earth below 2°C, then there is probably little hope. We may need to do more. Why? Because the parties to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will not negotiate an agreement as a successor to Kyoto until 2015 and that agreement will not become effective in whatever form it might take until 2020. We have no time left. 2020 is 2030 for the above reasons. 2030 is just too late. Presidents Obama and Xi must lead now.
A second possibility would be geo-engineering. Geo-engineering can take several forms either in sucking GHG out of the atmosphere or by shielding the earth from incoming solar rays. Solar radiation management (SRM) has presented considerably controversy as evidenced by a Harvard University Center for the Environment/MIT Joint Program October 2013 debate between Harvard physicist, David Keith, and Clive Hamilton, author of Earth Masters. Harvard SRM October 2013 debate Keith, who does research for Shell and other funders of projects such as Keystone XL, acknowledges that oil companies openly intend to push climate discussions to a fait accompli for SRM, known to have limitations for short term use, and unknown effects on the human health and welfare. Hamilton, in particular, asserts that SRM not only has technological limitations, but presents moral and ethical dilemmas for the future of humanity.
This discussion becomes even more significant with the prediction that energy demand will rise 40% or more in the next few decades. The International Energy Agency and British Petroleum released studies in November and December 2013 and Shell released a study in 2014 with projections for the coming decades showing substantial reliance on fossil fuels.
Thus, the IEA short term proposals and the imminent and substantial endangerment presented by the failure to aggressively address carbon emission become even more critical when we look at the present outlook for the future. The US Department of Energy, Energy Information Agency has predicted that China could rely on coal for as much as 70% of its energy in 2030. The most optimistic projections suggest a number around 65%.
The International Energy Administration World Energy Outlook 2013, Chapter 6 for renewable energy places these grim numbers in context for the world. As shown below, renewable energy will only reach above 40% by 2035 for the European Union for electricity generation. No other world region and in no other category will renewable energy become more than 30%. Based on these tables with substantial growth, perhaps 60% in the developing countries will carbon emissions not continue on and upward past 2°C and toward 3°C and 4°C. Now Americans in the first instance, Chinese in the second instance, and world otherwise can ignore the data. But is that what we want to risk for our children. Are we that calloused? Well, if we ask Wall Street, yes. If we ask US, Canada, China oil interests, yes. Americans can vote next in the 2014 midterm elections to give their answer.
Cornerstone, the official journal of the world coal industry, published an article on June 4, 2013 by Huang Qili, a member of the China Academy of Engineering, on China’s energy development through 2050. Huang Qili’s numbers explain two important factors about China: 1) China installed energy generation capacity will double from 1437 GW in 2015 to 2900 GW by 2050. 2) Coal will grow from 933 GW to 1400 GW over this time.
Some commentators emphasize that China’s percent reliance on coal will diminish. They often don’t emphasize that, nevertheless, China’s emissions will only grow. And 3) the renewable energy, including hydro, nuclear, wind, biomass and solar while growing will not lessen the destructive impact of coal and natural gas. Indeed, China renewable energy on the present schedule will not save the planet. But if Americans and their leaders don’t care, why should China care?
The US and China must work together now, this very moment, to adopt the IEA proposals and adopt national policies and laws to aggressively address climate change if we have any chance to avert warming.
The Science Has Informed
No Time Left: Accumulating, Accelerating, Irreversible
A. journal Nature, Professor Camilo Moro et al. Climate Departure Article
On October 9, 2013 the journal Nature (Vol. 502,183-187) published an article by Professor Camilo Moro, University of Hawaii, and coauthors on “climate departure”. The article defines climate departure as the date(s) when the coldest day becomes the warmest annual average day from annual mean data for the period 1860 to 2005. More importantly, the authors used the term “climate departure” signifying where the climate for specific places with specific dates would become irreversible. For convenience, cities are referenced for the specific locations. Journal Nature The authors used 39 climate models from 21 climate modeling centers in 12 countries with various variables. The Nature article provides a color graph of the world showing the changes since climate varies around the world on one of the variables, surface land temperature. Professor Moro’s web site has additional material, including the following map based on surface land temperature with cities and dates are plotted on the original map.
Professor Moro site with map. Scientists have long discussed changing ecologies when presently observed ecological conditions will permanently change. In the case of this map, the authors believe that, for example, New York City or Beijing will have the present coldest day become the annual average hottest day between 1860 and 2005. For NYC this will be 2047 and Beijing 2046. The New York Times has a reader friendly article on this study. New York Times coldest become warmest temperature. Vermont Law School held an impressive symposium on climate change and national security in October 2013 which is when I first saw the above map. It is a striking map illustrating a significant impact from climate change. A National/University Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR/UCAR) climate scientist has vetted the accuracy of the map for me. Hence, this map is consistent with the consensus of current scientific thought on the impacts of climate change.
B. IPCC AR5 WG I September 2013 Physical Sciences Report
Indeed, the IPCC AR5 WGI report released on September 23, 2013 and listed above has similar jarring observations. First, the IPCC states the scientific community has reached a 95% consensus that human activity, including the use of fossil fuel has caused the earth to warm by .8°C and that within 30 years on a business as usual basis, the earth will warm to 2°C. These conclusions by the IPCC on the physical science of climate change are not new, just more conclusive.
The IPCC conclusive observation underscores critically lost time to act. But for Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama and the respective Congresses for the past 25 years, we could have been in a much better situation. China is different in some ways and not in other ways. China has accumulated wealth but moved from a Gini coefficient with relatively equitable distribution of wealth of .3 in 1982 to a much more inequitable distribution of wealth in 2012 of .48, very close to the US own inequitable distribution of wealth.
Second, the IPCC AR5 WGI report states that the world should not emit more than 1 trillion tons of carbon to keep below 2°C. Unfortunately, we have already emitted over 531 billion tons of carbon. The IPCC website provides links to the WG I Report, Summary, Fact Sheet, Headlines and Media Release. IPCC web site. I recommend that you begin with the simplest media portal and progress to the video, summary and main report as you see best. The main report is 2214 pages long and very dense. The US National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society have published an concise, succinct explanation of the physical sciences covered in immense depth by the IPCC WG I report. Royal Society physical sciences.
C. James Hansen, Jeffrey Sachs et al. PLOSONE Article Re: 1°C
In sum, we have little time to act and we must act comprehensively and dispositively. Action with drips and drabs will just not help. James Hansen, Jeffrey Sachs and several coauthors recently published an article on PLOSONE titled “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature”. Hansen, Sachs.
Jim Hansen has been for several decades one of the foremost climate scientist in a discipline with many gifted and thoughtful scientists. Hansen, Sachs and colleagues argue in this article that a 1°C increase when we are already at .8°C will significantly affect our future, and that a 2°C increase will be disastrous. For purposes of this chapter, Hansen and Sachs have the following graphic on historical and future carbon emissions:
The numerical captions used by Hansen et al. (A. 9.6 and B. 384) are correct, just on a different basis than the IPCC, IEA and some other entities. The important numbers here to compare and contrast are the current and historical numbers whereby China currently accounts for 26.9% and the US historically accounts for 26.0%. China will take several decades to catch the US in absolute emissions, but the trajectory for a country roughly four times as large as the US (1.3 billion people versus 330 million people, with both being the two largest economies) has been set. From a carbon emissions perspective, the US and China are the two most significant emitters bar none. However, the EU and the BRIS (BRICS minus China) are close behind. This weighs heavily in the following chapters on people, law, impacts and climate change resolution.
Jim Hansen also spoke on February 24, 2014 before the China Counsellors Office of the State Council. The State Council is one of China’s most important government bodies. Hansen China State Council. The link connects to his Columbia University PDF presentation with graphs decribiing his view of China’s future. It is a grim future if climate change goes unabated.
D. Michael Mann, Scientific American Article Re: 22 Years to 2°C and Oreskes et al. Scientific Ethic of Least Drama
Pennsylvania Professor Michael Mann provided calculations that the planet could reach 2°C in 22 years. Michael Mann Scientific American Twenty-two years will, of course, be 2036. Assuming his calculation is correct, how do we justify our inaction to our children of whatever age? We have just begun to change our energy, transportation and land use infrastructure and use.
Climate scientists overwhelmingly at ~97% in poll after poll acknowledge anthropogenic or human cause of climate change. Moreover, whether we follow Professor Moro’s ~2046, the IPCC WG I 30 years and ~2044 before 2°C, James Hansen’s plea to return to 350 ppm and 1°C, or Michael Mann’s 2°C by 2036 are distinctions without a difference. Climate change is a matter of risk. It we wait for certainty, it will be too late. Yes, climate change presents considerable complexity with uncertainty and risk. But at what cost will we wait? Will the US and China wait until too little too late?
Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes, Princeton Professor Michael Oppenheimer and colleagues have written thoughtfully about the scientific bias to be careful and even conservative. Oreskes YouTube on conservative scientific bias. More importantly, Professors Brysse, Oreskes, O’Reilly and Oppenheimer examine this phenomena in “Climage change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama”, journal Global Environmental Change. Tragically, those who deny climate change, see Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, often in pursuit of their own financial interests turn the scientific ethic to be careful on its head with questions of bias, sincerity and adequate knowledge.
Hence, the US and China must act nationally and then bilaterally to aggressively address climate change. Otherwise, the wish expressed by Hansen, Sachs and colleagues in the title of their article to protect the children, future generations and nature is all but lost. However, Secretary Kerry has encouraged the US and China to hold discussions now. Secretary Kerry understands climate change and the US benefits from his experience. China also has knowledgeable leaders with whom to hold discussions. Hopefully, the US can bring bicultural experience to the table that has so far not been present, except to stall and deny.
People And Law
In America the people decide the political representatives. The law does not necessarily reflect their wish but rather it reflects the will of those with influence in power. Americans must change the House of Representatives in order to address climate change. In China, few probably decide. The Chinese Communist Party has about 80 million members out of a population of 1.3 billion people. Of course, many fewer direct the country. America with 210 million eligible voters, but only about 120 million vote for president and they are usually pretty evenly split. So not everyone has a say in either country. In my view several things must happen for the US and China to address climate change:
- Americans must assert their will with no time to waste given the time between elections. The 2014 midterm elections will be very important. Many have little hope there will be much change. The current 113th Congress, as Americans know, has been not only split by parties with a Democratic Senate and Republican House, but polarized in voice and behavior. Party splits do not always define political times. Lincoln had his party in power, yet slavery and the Civil War defined the times. FDR had his party in power, yet the Great Depression and WWII defined the times. Will Americans do as they did with turning away Hoover and elect a Roosevelt to save climate calamity? To save the society? Justice Brandeis asserted, “We must make our choice. We may have democracy or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” President Obama could have gone to Americans for support, rather than just work inside the system. Hopefully, the president will reconsider for the final years of his presidency.
- Congress and the President must act together, constructively, forcefully. The Executive Branch simply does not have the power to make sufficiently significant changes to reduce carbon emissions. EPA has tried mightily and it should continue, but, in the end, its efforts alone without congressional force will fail. Americans know this.
- The US must engage and work with China. China and the US will either together and only in concert with each other save the planet from unparalleled human suffering or will insure that it happens. The Hansen, Sachs graphs above show that roughly 10 countries matter, and that the US historically and China currently and into the future matter most. Yet China has since the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change with the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) principle asserted that it will not give up its developing country status. The US, on the other hand, has asserted that China must join the world community. China argues that they have not contributed to carbon emissions as has the US; and, furthermore, that its citizens ~$7,000 GDP/per person does not compare to the US ~$45,000 GDP/person. Yet China and the US share a shockingly inequitable distribution of wealth with comparable Gini coefficients. So what is the answer? It could be that either the US and China acknowledge that they must work together in good faith or the world, including the US and China, loses.
- The US and China must immediately come to terms with at least the IEA’s four proposals to keep global temperature below 2°C. And they must begin now, today. The US and China have about 60 high level discussions. And in June 2013 the US and China agreed to four issues, only one of which (efficiency) might reduce carbon emissions. China has certain significant arguments in its behalf: 1) the country below the Huai River has no heat throughout the year; and the rest of the country turns on heat in late fall and off in early spring; 2) millions of Chinese have very little to live on; and 3) China presently relies heavily on coal, but significantly for the industrial sector. The US has 1) reduced emissions, but through the good fortune of natural gas; 2) the US standard of living is much higher than in China; yet both countries now create wealth for a relatively few compared to many without and even more who will suffer; and 3) power backed by corruption is a significant issue for both countries. But corruption is a complicated cultural, economic, political and social issue.
- Finally, the US and China do not necessarily trust each other. There are various reasons for the mistrust. Chinese have been taught that the US in on Japan’s side, even though without US WWII efforts, China might not be China. Different cultures, political systems, business practices, standards of living and distance from each other play roles. Yet, Presidents Obama and Xi, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Wang Yi can bridge these issues, even though as Secretary Kerry acknowledged at his confirmation hearing in January 2013, it will be tough.
- Secretary Kerry has made climate change a central consideration for US/China relations. US/China on climate. And the June 2013 joint communication sets forth four primary objectives in addressing climate change. State Department Release. And while these are admirable, the International Energy Agency’s four proposals referenced above go directly to keeping global warming below 2°C; and for this reason alone should be a more focused objective for the two countries.
- US and China as the largest economies, the largest emitters and two most recalcitrant countries in the international climate negotiations must, must lead, but the EU and the BRIS must be at their side. The UNFCCC should continue to 2015 Paris. However, it is time to conduct substantively focused, accountable negotiations between and among those most responsible.
So why do we not act as a nation and in concert with the world?
Several reasons probably account for lack of action: 1) inertia, 2) seemingly weak impacts which can be specific in time and place, but not permanent, 3) complex science difficult to explain in sound bites, 4) leadership uninformed, indifferent and reluctant to lead, and 5) an economic and political control based on its own self serving ends.
Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Committee on the Environment and Public Works, in her remarks for a January 14, 2014 hearing referred to a USA Today December 2013 poll that 81% of Americans believe climate change will become more serious if nothing is done and that 75% of Americans believe the US should address climate change even if other nations do less. Senate Committee on Environment. Hopefully, the USA Today poll reflects a dramatic movement of American opinion. Other polls in recent years have held steady that about 69% of Americans acknowledge the planet is warming. However, only 49% of Americans believe that the climate warming is due to the burning of fossil fuel. Why? We have had numerous reports over the past twenty years from the National Academy of Sciences, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Bank, and virtually every major research institution from the Harvard Medical School to the University of London.
Why do we not listen to science? Is it because we are not sufficiently well educated to understand the science with only 42% of our citizens having a post secondary degree according to a recent OECD study? Is it because the fossil fuel industry controls Republicans, and Wall Street controls Democrats and Republicans?
Is it that our trust in government has declined over the past 50 years because the government has knowingly and intentionally lied to the American public from the Vietnam War through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? Is it because Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein in their 2012 book, It’s Worse Than You Think, set out a world of politicians whose only interest is to get what they can for themselves with total contempt for America? Could it be because our society is now controlled by the 1% who thinks they will buy their way out of climate change, and, otherwise, just don’t care?
Or could it be more benign in that Americans known to be practical with a fair modicum of cynicism are just too busy getting through each day with work and family to see the dangers posed by a threat that has not yet destroyed daily life except at specific places and times for specific people? Have we not yet had enough catastrophes for enough people? Communicating science drives most scientists crazy. They believe that doing their work should suffice to inform the public.
The National Academy of Sciences held a symposium in August 2013 to address the science of science communication. These are available on YouTube. NAS Sackler Colloquium. I commend the opening by Princeton Professor Susan Fiske on cognitive psychology, the Gini coefficient and social instability, and how we view science; and the keynote by University of Pennsylvania, Annenberg School of Communications Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson on “framing issues.”
In any event, Americans and Chinese, together, have no time left to act. And act definitively, dramatically must be done now because: 1) global warming will resume accelerating, continue to be cumulative, and irreversible; 2) logistically it will take years for adequate change to our energy and transportation infrastructure, agriculture land use, and consumption lifestyle; and 3) every day we wait to act only gives our children and their children less opportunity to avoid calamity from still rising GHG and still attempt to have a decent standard of living because the earth will continue to warm regardless what we do. We can mitigate and we can adapt, but we can not terminate the warming.
The law concerning climate change occurs internationally, bi- and multi-laterally among nations, and nationally. Lawrence Susskind, Harvard Law Professor and MIT Ford Professor of Urban Planning, has looked at some 400 international environmental agreements. The Montreal Protocol eliminating the chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) serves as one of the very few successes. Why? Susskind attributes the lack of success to a relatively undeveloped treaty law system; few rules for most treaties; little if no enforcement power with little power to enforce sanctions; and generally not enough money to implement treaties. Moreover, the US has failed to sign several important treaties such as the Law of the Sea, the International Criminal Court, and, of course, the Kyoto Protocol. International law might sound in some ways like Chinese law, except that China has the Chinese Communist Party. Does the CCP make a difference?
Not only the Chinese Communist Party, but also arguably the World Trade Organization has made a difference for the country. Communist China’s first constitution in 1949 was based on the Soviet civil code constitution and five amendments later based on the German civil code constitution. When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 a new era entered into Chinese law. When I studied Chinese law at the China University of Political Science and Law in 2012 I was surprised to see China’s interest in US statutory law. The US now serves as a training ground for many Chinese lawyers. This does not change the role of the CCP. But it does afford China a way to better understand the US and the West. Unfortunately, the US doesn’t seem to have quite as deep an understanding of China outside of our limited academia efforts to study China.
China has many environmental laws, but there is considerable dispute regarding their effectiveness and enforcement. China has unabashedly focused on economic growth and the accumulation of wealth. It’s Gini coefficient is similar to the US with a few holding much wealth and corruption is a topic frequently discussed within and outside of China. The Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizen’s United demonstrates that while not necessarily a matter of corruption, a system can still corrupt even if transparent. But what we do know, is that the world has become smaller and we have common ground upon which to discuss our interests and our differences.
China has been working on comprehensive climate legislation for three years. It was supposed to be completed last December. China’s draft legislation was 30 pages long which is not unusual for China. Given that China is a civil code society, that the rule of law is not nearly as developed as in many European and North American countries, and that legislation is often brief, the draft should not be a surprise. Moreover, China’s leadership now arguably understands if not least because of massive air pollution, severe stress on accessible and potable water, and frequent doubts about safe food production that environmental issues present daunting challenges.
The US Waxman-Markey 2009 House bill was 1400 pages long, yet the US has failed. This is a significant consideration for US/China law. The US legal system is much, much more developed, in part because of our common law versus China’s civil code, and because the Chinese Cultural Revolution shut down universities and the legal system for nearly 20 years. Having said this, the US with an extensive legal system and comparable environmental law has tragically failed to address climate change. Whether our legal systems will come to grips with climate change will probably be a matter in the first instance for each country. In America only Americans who vote and leaders who lead will know. In China, it is unclear.
There are several sources for climate change and Chinese law, including, 1) Columbia Law School Professor Michael Gerrard has developed an extensive web site with a compilation of international and US climate change law. Columbia Law School. 2) LawInfoChina published by Peking University provides weekly updates on Chinese law. LawInfoChina. 3) chinadialogue is a publication devoted to China’s environmental issues and news. chinadiologue. 4) China US Partnership hosted by Vermont Law School for several years has worked with Chinese judges and law scholars (professors). China US Partnership. 5) American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative works with the Chinese government and NGO’s. ABA ROLI. and 6) Natural Resources Defense Council has been active in China for several years. NRDC International.
In addition to Columbia University Law School, referenced in the above paragraph, Globe International, a UN organization in conjunction with the London School of Economics, released on February 27, 2014 a 700 page guide on the national laws of 66 countries. Globe Legislative Guide The US and China are notable for the lack of action by the US and Globe’s perhaps understandable facile description of China’s legislative efforts. Law can mandate, describe or merely set forth aspirations for change.
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, observed in a February 27, 2014 interview with US Senator Edward Markey, one the most ardent US senators on behalf of climate change and a chief sponsor of the tragically failed 2009 proposed US climate legislation, that in 2013 497 national laws by 66 countries address one or more aspects of climate change. However, the US and China still do not have comprehensive legislation and/or continue to increase carbon emissions.
The UNFCCC Globe and Columbia Law School compilations provide an invaluable guide to compare what has been and remains to be done as discussed in the above chapters. The UNFCCC efforts must continue and can while the US, China, the EU and BRIS act nationally and, in some instances, bi-laterally. Bi-laterally does not necessarily mean just law vis a vis law, but perhaps even more importantly regarding matters of technology and public policy.
Will Climate Collapse premises sufficient and necessary climate change on the belief that the US and China must come to a meeting of the minds for each country to act responsibly, comprehensively and in concert with the EU, BRIS and world community. The UNFCCC 2015 Paris meeting will be successful only if the US and China have completed substantial and adequate measures to address climate change.
In Harms Way Now And No Longer Just Foreseeable
Climate change threatens human health and welfare. The IPCC released the AR5 Working Group II (WG II) report on adaptation in March 2014, and Working Group III (WG III) report on mitigation in April 2014. A synthesis report for AR5 WG I, WG II and WG III for policy makers will be published in October 2014. Will adaptation become an excuse not to address mitigation until the impacts from disease, loss of water resources, damage to agriculture, and threats to national security within and among nations become prevalent consequences of climate change?
Climate change becomes significant when the scientific community opines that an impact can be correlated with the change in warming and associated changes such as disease, loss of water resources, crop viability from loss of water resources or viability of crop growth with changes in temperature, and, with considerable discussion, national security. We are already seeing significant impacts, and the WG II and WG III reports will presumably provide a summary of the scientific views since the 2007 AR4 report.
Climate change presents a linkage of science, society and law that requires a majority consensus in democratic countries and a politically controlling consensus in other countries. This linkage in the first instance relies on science from the physical sciences to the medical sciences. The IPCC AR reports over the past 25 years have provided a compilation of scientific studies. And as the physical sciences have confirmed climate warming with near certainty from fossil fuels and other man created sources (97% in AR5 WG I), the ensuing sciences have weighed in with greater consideration of the known impacts and risks posed to human health and welfare and the biosphere.
The Lancet, one of the world’s three or five most prominent medical journals, published a manifesto on March 6, 2014 calling for a “social movement for a collective public health action at all levels of society . . . to respond . . . to threats to human health and . . . threats to the sustainability of our civilization.” The Lancet published manifesto provides an online means to read, support and sign the manifesto. The Lancet Public Health Manifesto. The Harvard Medical School has for several years supported its own Center for Health and the Global Environment with an understanding of the interface of climate, energy and health. Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment. The scientific community from the physical sciences through the medical sciences must take more prominent roles such as the IPCC, the NAS, the Royal Society, The Lancet and HMS CHGE have done if the public is to be persuaded to act decisively on climate change.
But suffice it to say here for this limited discussion that the US has had significant droughts in the Midwest, Texas and California; wildfires throughout the West; loss of 8 billion trees from beetle infestation from New Mexico to Alaska; growing limits on water provided historically by the Colorado River, the Sierra for the Imperial Valley and elsewhere. China has seen as great if not greater impacts, though some impacts are harder to separate from sources of pollution simply because the country does not yet have the benefit of some of the more advanced US pollution laws and regulations.
In 2009, 2010 and 2011 I spent many months in the backcountry and wilderness areas looking at impacts from loss of water resources, wildfires and beetle infestation, and droughts often documented by the US Park Service, Forest Service with over 2000 photos. Here are a few photos of western wildfires that occur from Arizona to Alaska. In these few photos, the fires occurred in Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks.
And Yellowstone still visible from the 1987 fires that destroyed about 37% of the park:
Here are photos of trees killed by beetle infestation in the Colorado Rockies. Over 8 billion trees have been lost as of 2010 from Arizona to Alaska; and beetle infestation caused by insufficient sub 40 degree winters to kill beetles has now gone from the western slope to the eastern slope.
Glacier loss in the Antarctic, Greenland and the Himalayas has been widely documented, but loss of water resources has become a significant concern in parts of the US, including the west. Here are photos of Glacier National Park which once had some 180 glaciers and now has about 25, many left with only remnants.
More important than these photos in many respects are the droughts presently affecting California, and have recently affected Texas and the Midwest. US Drought Monitor Portal Droughts cost farmers $50 billion from 2011 and 2012, and areas of Kansas did not grow wheat. Just as importantly, we are still less than a 1°C increase in warming. With these impacts already evident as observational data, it is clear why the NCAR, GISS and many other climate models should be taken seriously. Here are two USDA drought maps for the US 2012 and California 2014:
Justin Gillis in a February 16, 2014 article on whether climate change has caused California’s drought discusses the variance of scientific opinion. Gillis NYT’s February 16, 2014. Richard Seager, a scientist with the Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory believes the California drought is a function of natural variability. Yet, John Holdren, Obama Science Adviser, and other scientists who have modeled some aspects of the hydrological cycle disagree for reasons other than those upon which Seager bases his opinion. At the vary least, Holdren points out that climate change has so impacted the environment that weather is being impacted perhaps in ways not before appreciated. So who does one believe?
Maybe one believes everyone. Opinions are not necessarily mutually exclusive which raises the significant issue of complexity, uncertainty and risk. If the US can spend $3.4 trillion dollars on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and $1.5 billion dollars on tax breaks, then the US can spend $5 trillion dollars to give adequate funding to resolve these issues. The future of the human species and biosphere may depend on it.
This story raises another issue prevalent in the understanding of climate change: “silo” effect not only of scientific research and knowledge, but also across the interdisciplinary efforts to grasp the impacts of climate change. “Silo” can easily be understood in terms of science v. economics v. law. But the silo effect is more problematic, while perfectly understandable, among specific areas of scientific research. Again, this begs for adequate (not just more) funding so the scientists referenced in the Gillis article and their colleagues can conduct the necessary research to understand California’s very important and perhaps unique climate. In California, the water supply for 38 million people and an agriculture for many millions more may depend on it.
Tragically, Maryland Professor John Steinbruner notes that those in Congress who, simply don’t care about the future of America, don’t want the necessary research conducted to enable Americans to understand the dangers posed by climate change. And this will continue until if and when Americans change Congress and we have a president who will ask Americans for their support. Below is a map of California’s January 2014 drought condition.
Plant hardiness, plant growth given temperature, has also become a topic of concern. The first map below is a USDA map. The second map is a comparison of zone change between 1990 and 2012 for the hardiness of plant growth. The USDA had not updated the maps for 22 years. Again, Maryland Professor John Steinbruner in the October 2013 Vermont Law School symposium on Climate Change and National Security (mentioned below) asserted that monitoring and collecting data is a major battle in Congress with many congressmen not wanting to collect data so as not to know about climate change.
Nir Krakauer, professor City College of New York, asserts in September 14, 2012 New York Times article that for the USDA hardiness maps that the zone changes already show, at least for winter temperatures, a 2°C change. The USDA presents a much more equivocal view, though some wonder to what extent influenced by Bush era politics. NYT Krakauer And the National Wildlife Federation observed that the Iowa and Nebraska, two of the most critical states for US agriculture, used to straddle zones 4 and 5 and now fall almost entirely in zone 5. for the period between 1990 and 2012. NWF climate change map. About 17% of US land is arable; that is, land upon which crops can be grown. China has even less arable land with about 13%. So far both countries have sufficient crop harvests to feed and export. But, again, we are at .8 °C.
Infectious disease also poses a serious threat to human health and welfare. Lyme Disease may be the fastest growing vector disease in the world. US Center for Disease Control In the US, Lyme Disease has moved up the US East Coast and to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Lyme SERC Carleton. The journal Science published an article on August 2, 2013 by Saltizer et al. disquieting not for what we know, but what we don’t know. Science Saltizer et al. In the battle between a Congress that loves to fund guns over butter, public health needs attention and funding. Amy Tan, an accomplished Asian American author who has Lyme Disease, has written prolifically about the disease, including an August 2013 letter to the New York Times. Amy Tan NYT’s. Indeed, climate change isn’t just about mortality.
Below is a map and a graph for Lyme Disease. Lyme Disease was first described in the US in Lyme, Connecticut, USA. The second image is a graph of Lyme Disease for Wisconsin, USA. A third map with the distribution of Lyme Disease in 68 countries by Gideon Online has material and maps for the world, but the use is subject to a license which prevents publication here.
China has faced and faces even more severe challenges to loss of water resources and impacts on agriculture. Several research institutes and NGO’s conduct important work to understand China, including 1) The Woodrow Wilson Center, China Environment Forum has commentary on several challenges. WWC CEF 2) The World Resources Institue China FAQ also offers commentary on current challenges. WRI China FAQ 3) Greenpeace East Asia and 4) the World Wildlife Fund China offer important perspectives on understanding China. It is difficult to separate some impacts from industrial pollution and climate change, in part due to the country’s concentrated 1.3 billion people on a north to south axis and within several hundred kilometers of China’s eastern coastline. The US has benefited from remote areas such as the High Sierra recharge for the California Imperial Valley agriculture as well as water supply, and the Colorado River for irrigation and water for several million people. But these sources are now severely stressed. Similarly, China faces severe threats from reduced Himalayan recharge and severe industrial pollution throughout the country.
The US and China have different climate related problems, some of which are on a vastly different scale given that China has a 1) a population four times greater than the US; 2) a GDP roughly one-sixth the US; 3) a very different history of environmental regulation; and 4) and a vastly different topography. But the US and China also share an immense common ground in the need to care for their people from the adverse impacts of climate change.
For this reason alone and aside from the differences, the US and China have much to negotiate. But if the US and China continue to sit on the sidelines and only discuss arguably peripheral issues such as HCFC reduction and fracking, then the more serious issues presented by climate change will not be addressed in a timely manner. Thus, the International Energy Agency November 2013 four part proposal to keep within 2 °C must be immediately considered.
Finally, climate impacts and national security has become a concern both in academic and more popular literature. Does stress on water supply and agriculture create social stress? The correlations are often not necessarily clear. The National Academy of Sciences published a report in 2013 titled “Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis” that considers the relationship. NAS Climate and Social Stress.
Vermont Law School held a symposium on October 25, 2013 on Climate Change and National Security. The full day symposium can be viewed on YouTube here: VLS Climate Change and National Security I commend the first three presentations, in particular the keynote given by John Steinbruner, and Professor Steinbruner’s later comments on Syria and Professor Stephen Dycus’s comments alluding not only to international security but also national security. Syria has become a case study for Professor Steinbruner and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a column on January 24, 2014 about these implications. NYT Friedman January 24, 2013 Finally, the University of California, Berkeley and Princeton University researchers published an article in the journal Science on August 1, 2013 asserting a strong relationship between climate change and social distress. Berkeley News Release.
Climate change is often framed as a matter of the cost of energy. If that were the case, then we could be concerned solely with the stranded costs for energy investors. The impacts to human health and welfare not only in the US and China, but around the world are blind to the cost of energy. Climate change is not just a matter of economic costs by whatever means of tax, cap and trade, or command and control which was the US historical statutory model and perhaps will become the future default. Carbon tax, cap and trade, and command and control are among the means and not the substance of climate change. Certainly, the longer the wait to address climate change the fewer the means available.
Human health and the biosphere are presently affected and will only become more seriously affected or even perhaps gravely affected as time passes in the coming 20 to 30 years and thereafter. Many organizations are working to understand the threats posed to human health and welfare, and if not just from disease, but loss of water resources, impacts to viable agriculture, and civil society disorder within nations and among nations. Indeed, the World Bank asserts in a 2013 Potsdam Institute report that the world is on a disastrous path 4°C increase in warming. World Bank
The World Bank is one among many national and international organizations focused on the critical needs to address climate change. The China Ministry of the Environment and the UN Environment Programme released a report in December 2013 regarding China’s challenges to become a “green economy”. UNEP China MOE But just as China faces challenges in moving to a green economy, so does the US. It is just a very different scale given the size of each country, their economies, politics and culture.
Americans sometimes look at the world in one lens. This is understandable: America has been among the most prosperous, the most militarily active, and somewhat isolated with few other cultures buffering it. China, at least from my experience, admires the US for its economic stability and growth, while at times having understandable reservations with regard to political and international economic and political objectives. The US often seems critical of China’s economic objectives through a political lens without necessarily understanding the historical underpinning of poverty faced by the Chinese citizens. These are not mutually exclusive but dynamic, iterative considerations by and of each society.
During my two years in China, a very dear Czech Republic friend would remind me of Czechoslovakia’s reaction to having economic freedom after 1989 which, in some ways, the Chinese have now come to enjoy. China, on the one hand, has not adequately cared for its environment while pursuing economic growth. Yet, on the other hand, like most of the world, China has never enjoyed the standard of living by which so many Americans can understandably without living abroad take for granted. Climate change requires all us not only to understand where we are today, but where we have been historically without necessarily assuming that history or current conditions dictate what we should do.
The US and China will have to sacrifice for some sectors of their economic wealth, most notably their economic models of conspicuous consumption, if we are to aggressively and adequately address climate change. We must back away from conspicuous consumption for energy efficiency to have a role. Renewable energy alone will not address climate change. We must change much more.
For the US, we should wish President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Kerry well. I would hope President Obama goes to the people for support. House Republicans and some Democrats will know no fear until their next election. Hence, Americans in Hamilton, Ohio, Benton Harbor, Michigan, Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin and elsewhere have the final say on what we do as a nation. We have knowledge and understanding from gifted and dedicated climate scientists, and from agencies such as DOE NREL, EPA and elsewhere, and academic institutions such as Stanford, Columbia, Yale, Harvard and many others. But, again, will Americans support a Hoover or an FDR who “welcomes their hatred” referring to special interest without ethics or morals.
For China, I think we should wish President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi well, and the many government officials and academics and citizens who care. But it is for them to decide. It is a sovereign country.
For the world, and as James Hansen, Jeffrey Sachs and colleagues state in their article referenced above, we should wish the children now and for the future well and the earth we have bequeathed them.
But for this to happen it will take leadership. Ryan Lizza wrote a story in the September 16, 2013 issue of the New Yorker about President Obama and Tom Steyer, a philanthropist, that relates another FDR quote, but this time “make me do it”. LIzza Obama Steyer President Obama understandably pointed out that there are many significant issues and that Americans don’t agree that climate change is the most important. There are many significant issues with each worthy of necessary attention; and that is where House Republicans and some Democrats, such as the one from my district in Massachusetts who boasts that she doesn’t have to read, have failed America. But it is also why the president must lead.
A prominent Chinese scholar with whom I spoke on several occasions remarked to me on one occasion as we spoke about world leaders that maybe we needed two FDR’s. Hopefully, we have two FDR’s, or perhaps with cultural and political respect, two men who care. And they can lead on climate change as they lead on other important and pressing issues.
Copyright © 2014 Philip R. Boxell