STOP DIGGING: Development in times of Climate Change

Rene Castro Blog, Opinions July 1, 2015
Words to actions - KAL

Words to actions – KAL

Since I can remember I have enjoyed friendly discussions and hearty debates on the “abstract” – the future, our human condition, why things occur in the way they do and what are our possibilities to change the flow of destiny if there is such a thing. Nevertheless, I have found through the passing of time that our discussions grow in complexity yet outcomes from these decrease in radically revolutionary results that will take us towards a more sustainable future. Many might say this is the natural state of things: wisdom, maturity, growth, security (short and stable steps produce better results). I will however, for the sake of this piece, propose otherwise. It is in that sense, I would like to begin from the very end of my elucubrations, and aim for a different outcome.

Be advised, this is a personal opinion, and will include a fair share of generalization which (hopefully) we know does not apply to every person, country, institution, policy, or aspect of life.

I have lost faith, lost hope. Our systems, our thought patterns, our desires for change have become obsolete. There is no one else to blame for this, than ourselves. It is we who decide the path of current and future generations, somehow assuming we know the best way to go. Yet we do so based on previously developed conceptions and misconceptions of life. Now, don’t get me wrong, history is of upmost relevance for the definition of a better future, for example, an adequate development plan should not repeat previous errors. My issue, however, is mostly with our approach to defining these strategies. We dare not move away from these pre-defined boundaries, be them mental, technological, emotional or physical.

And I repeat to myself again and again. I have lost hope… I have lost hope… I have lost hope…

Yet, still, I am here. Living, breathing, being, searching. So can hope in fact be lost? Or just misplaced in an entangled delusion we create only for ourselves of what our world, our lives are and can become? Our upbringing, our educational systems, our political agendas drive us into acceptable frames in which we can determine pathways for development that have proven successful to some extent.

Nevertheless, our measures of success are not adequately adapted to transformative periods. Let’s discuss, ever lightly as we may, development in times of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated “Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.” The report finally confirmed what we all knew: climate change is already upon us and even if we shift our paradigm from morning to night, its negative effects will continue for any measure of foreseeable future. The extent of the impact is, however, something we can vary.

It is at this point that I remember my undergrad education, and one particular marketing professor with whom I would have the most enriching discussions about markets and life in general. His advice to me, time and time again came from business theories and practices. He would say “The first step to getting out of a hole, is to stop digging!” Sometimes, in our aim for development we forget to stop in our path, reconsider, and adjust.

Rich in meaning as this phrase may be, I would like to take it from the philosophical to the literal and continue with our Climate Change discussions. Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems. –IPCC

Global anthropogenic CO2 emissions

We know greenhouse gases (GHG) are the main cause for global warming, and within the largest emitters we can identify the energy sector amounting for 47% of total anthropogenic emissions between 2000 – 2010. For the year 2010 it was a whopping 35% of emissions, the largest of any sector. Furthermore, it is the sector which is expected to see the most drastic change if we are to be able to reach an emissions scenario that will maintain us within “acceptable” global warming.

Yet, investments in research, development and implementation for low or zero carbon energy systems is far from sufficient and far away from becoming a priority in every nation. We understand that for it to be economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally relevant, measures must be undertaken in all areas, holistically. Yet, our own pre-determined boundaries refuse to make such development easily undertaken, or even thought of as an adequate alternative. For developing countries, where priorities are not on emissions, but on poverty, meaning providing an acceptable quality of life for their inhabitants, the only known path is one that is “rich” in carbon emissions, cheap energy and strong industry. Developed countries on the other hand, will not easily abandon their economic schemes dependent on coal, and oil (currently low priced and thus even more appealing).

However, according to IPPC “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.Using international standards for energy plant efficiency and emission factors I developed a very simple calculation as to how much CO2eq would various types of energies produce while generating electricity.

emissions by type

As we can see, the emissions from Diesel and Coal inch towards the limits of the graph whereas other energy types, especially the non-traditional renewable energies such as Wave, Wind, Solar and Biomass energies, produce little or no emissions at all.

So how about we stop digging, and understand that we need to shift towards a low carbon paradigm far away from fossil fuels and closer to mixed low carbon energy systems. That can become as robust and reliant as traditional ones with proper planning and prioritization. Let us move from our basic understanding and calculations of development to one that incorporates, mitigates, and adapts to climate change in such a way that we can effectively change the paradigm and provide a prosperous future for the generations to come.

We need then, to have determined people, making non-traditional public policy decisions. Let us break from the ties of our own minds and recover hope. Let us be more radical in our search for a sustainable development. Let’s be valiant pioneers!

If you are interested in reading more:

  1. The Emissions Gap Report, UNEP Synthesis Report 2014
  2. Climate Change, IPCC Synthesis Report 2014 (Source of graph on global anthropogenic COemissions)
  3. Anthropogenic Climate Change: Revisiting the Facts, Stefan Rahmstorf

Words to actions cartoon source: KAL’s cartoon, The Economist