By John Scales Avery*
John Scales Avery is a theoretical chemist noted for his research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. Presently an Associate Professor in quantum chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, he is working on a book with the title ‘THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY: Two time scales’. A first draft of the book can be downloaded from: http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/library/climate.pdf. The following are excerpts from introduction to the book. – The Editor
COPENHAGEN (IDN) – Quick change is needed to save the long-term future. The central problem, which the world faces in its attempts to avoid catastrophic climate change, is a contrast of time scales. In order to save human civilization and the biosphere from the most catastrophic effects of climate change, we need to act immediately. Fossil fuels must be left in the ground. Forests must be saved from destruction by beef or palm oil production.
These vitally necessary actions are opposed by powerful economic interests, by powerful fossil fuel corporations desperate to monetize their underground “assets”, and by corrupt politicians receiving money from the beef or palm oil industries.
However, although some disastrous effects of climate change are already visible, the worst of these calamities lie in the distant future. Therefore, it is difficult to mobilize the political will for quick action. We need to act immediately, because of the danger of passing tipping points beyond which climate change will become irreversible despite human efforts to control it.
Tipping points are associated with feedback loops, such as the albedo effect and the methane hydrate feedback loop. The albedo effect is important in connection with whether the sunlight falling on polar seas is reflected or absorbed. While ice remains, most of the sunlight is reflected, but as areas of sea surface become ice-free, more sunlight is absorbed, leading to rising temperatures and further melting of sea ice, and so on, in a loop.
The methane hydrate feedback loop involves vast quantities of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, frozen in a crystalline form surrounded by water molecules. 10,000 gigatons of methane hydrates are at present locked in Arctic tundra or the continental shelves of the world’s oceans.
Although oceans warm very slowly because of thermal inertia, the long-term dangers from the initiation of a methane-hydrate feedback loop are very great. There is a danger that a very large-scale anthropogenic extinction event could be initiated unless immediate steps are taken to drastically reduce the release of greenhouse gases.
Unchanged life-styles are not an option. Business as usual is not an option. Inaction is not an option. Public education is needed. Votes for environmentally friendly politicians are needed. A carbon tax is needed. Subsidies to fossil fuel giants must stop. Extraction of fossil fuels must stop. Renewable energy infrastructure must quickly be constructed.
Renewable energy infrastructure represents an unprecedented investment opportunity.
There is reason for optimism because renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels. With the help of renewable-friendly governmental policies, the transition that we so urgently need can be driven by economic forces alone.
We give loving care to our children and grandchildren, but it makes no sense to do so unless we leave them a world in which they and all future generations will be able to survive.
Read also ‘Interview With John Scales Avery, One Of The Greatest Living Intellectuals On Earth’ http://www.countercurrents.org/2017/03/15/interview-with-john-scales-avery-one-of-the-greatest-living-intellectuals-on-earth/ [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 November 2017]
Image credit: Solar Impulse Foundation
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