Interviewer (INT): Leehi Yona (Dartmouth University)
Responder (R): Paul Beckwith (University of Ottawa)
Date: February 23, 2016. Transcribed by Leehi Yona, Light edits by Paul Beckwith for grammar, spelling, clarifications, readability (no significant content edits). Images added by Paul Beckwith and David Korn for blog.
INT: So if you could please start just by telling me your name and what you do.
R: Paul Beckwith. I’m a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa in the Department of Geography, Laboratory for Interactive Research on Environmental Change and Public Policy (previously Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology). I’ve taught six courses, mostly introductory climatology and meteorology (3 times), and designed and taught an oceanography course. The climatology courses are second year courses, the oceanography is a third year. I also teach a third year course called Geographical Approaches to Environmental Issues and I’m teaching that at the moment (February, 2016) and have taught it in the past. So I design and teach lots of courses.
I’m also a Ph.D. student myself at the university. My research area is abrupt climate system change in the past and present. My background: I’ve come back to school, since I’m very concerned about climate change. I studied Engineering Physics before and got an engineering degree years ago, and also studied laser physics/optics and did a Master’s degree (M.Sc.) in the science faculty years ago. I do lots of videos on climate change. I have a website at http://paulbeckwith.net. I think I’ve done well over 100 videos and lots of blogs and interviews and things and I’m very active on social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to educate people on the risks of climate change, more specifically on abrupt climate change.
INT: What brought you into this work?
R: I’ve always been interested and concerned about what’s happening to our climate and weather patterns and decided that I may as well go back to school and learn it in a formal setting and study it intensely, to become an expert on what’s happening with our climate change system.
INT: So in your work on climate change, have you seen changes in public awareness on the issue?
R: For the most part, the overall public is not aware of the great risks that we face present day and in the near term, like in the next few years, say five years. I think too many of the public thought that climate change was a year 2100 problem and now they’re slowly realizing that it’s not. So I have seen a shift. I’ve seen a shift from denial and not knowing too much about it, and not caring about it, and not thinking it would be a part of their lives, to realizing that it’s happening now, but the understanding of the risks are still not there now.
I think that very soon, we will lose the Arctic sea ice. We’ll have a “blue ocean event” (what I call it) and then the global extreme weather events that we see now, which are a manifestation of the latitudinal warming gradient, the greatly warming Arctic, will increase in severity, frequency and duration. They’re going to hit people’s wallets and security, and entire lives — well, they can hit the food supply for one thing, but it will also have a big impact on — I mean, it’s already having a big impact on the bottom line, the dollar, with the damage to infrastructure, flooding of cities, torrential rain events, the weather weirding and whiplashing, around weather variability and statistics in general.
So I think people will go from this state of thinking it was a long-term problem they didn’t have to worry about to thinking: “Hey, it’s happening now” to being utterly terrified about what’s happening and where we’re at. I think we’ll get an abrupt tipping point in human understanding of the problem.
INT: And you think that the human understanding is then just tied directly to the weather events that people are noticing, right?
R: I think the actual extreme weather events that are occurring today are sort of taking people by surprise. People tend to have a lot of linear thinking. They think that slow changes are happening and will continue to happen over time, but they don’t recognize the instability; the inherent instability in the climate system and we’ve been fortunate to be in a stable state for a long period of time. People just assume that’s going to continue, and yet, we’re crossing tipping points, especially in the Arctic. So I think people are going to get a number of progressively worse wake up calls, and I think that’s going to come very soon, when we have no ice in the Arctic. No ice and snow in the Arctic…
INT: My focus is partially on the Arctic as well, so I know exactly what you’re talking about.
R: I think the science community itself is also a problem; they’ve been asleep at the switch. I say this for many different reasons; one main reason being the silo-ing effect of specialized disciplines, not seeing the overall big picture, also not being interdisciplinary — I mean, I look at the overall system and try to see how the system’s changing and how the individual components are changing and interacting. And to me, it’s pretty obvious what’s happening and why. I mean, we’ve changed the chemistry of the atmosphere with our fossil fueled emissions; we’ve changed the chemistry of the oceans. The changing chemistry of the atmosphere has caused the warming.
Of course, the Arctic snow and ice that are rapidly retreating on both land and sea are making the Arctic darker, so it’s rapidly getting much darker. It’s therefore absorbing more solar radiation, so it’s heating up more from the sun. So less heat is going to the Arctic from the equator because the equator-to-Arctic temperature difference is lower. So the jet streams become slower, wavier and distorted and then we get all the extreme weather events, and we’re moving to a much different world — of course, and then we risk methane emissions coming up from the Arctic permafrost and clathrates (on land on the ocean floor) and they can literally change the climate overnight. So the climate system, at many times in history, has changed five to ten degrees Celsius — increased or decreased five to ten degrees Celsius, the global average temperature in the space of a decade or two.
I think we’re going through that situation now with abrupt climate change. This is nothing new to me. I’ve been trying to get this message out for at least five years now and people are slowly starting to wake up. It’s funny because the most severe opposition to me has come from scientists, climate scientists, who just don’t want to recognize the reality of the situation for whatever reason. It’s like a human blindness or something. It’s like we don’t have that gene which allows us to see the reality in the climate system. When I say we, I mean the collective we (not me and my social media friends). So it’s very frustrating to me.
INT: Do you think climate scientists; so you’re seeing then that they’re — what are they saying exactly? That climate change is not that severe or there is large uncertainty?
R: Scientists do a specific study in a very specific area (specialists) and they report on it in peer reviewed journals (from start to finish it literally takes years) and they try to use scientific language (specialist jargon unfamiliar to even English Majors, let alone the public) to sound smart and fit into their clique, and they don’t get riled up (emotional) about it. They just don’t have lots of emotional intelligence (EQ, versus IQ) — they’re introverts in general. They don’t have many communication skills.
So they publish their paper, maybe have an interview with mainstream media (MSM) where they are often misquoted, and they are often asked, “Is this a real problem?” They respond with platitudes: “Well, it could be a problem and blah, blah, blah, we need to do more research”. Other scientists are contacted by the MSM to comment, but it is always the same ones, and they always say the same thing; for example “methane is not a problem for hundreds of years since my computer model tells me that”. Meanwhile, methane is pouring out of the Arctic as observed by the Russians.
And for climate change science, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which is based on the consensus view, summarizes the science in multi-thousand page documents, which are already at least three years out of date when published (one or two years for the research and the peer-reviewed publication process, plus two years minimum exposure for the paper in the journal to be considered by the IPCC) every 7 years or so, and then the policymakers go and they just read the executive summary pulled from multi-thousands of pages.
In reality, for abrupt climate change there is a complete disconnect between the policy world and the scientist world; a complete disconnect. It’s just like night and day; up and down. It’s just like two different worlds. So, as a result, most of the scientists – and also the whole policy world and world leader politicians, and the global public community — everybody’s going to get a shock over this. Myself, I’ve been talking about this abrupt climate change storyline for like I say, at least four or five years.
I’m involved with this emergency group. I joined right when it started up. It’s called the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) and includes the UK’s top ice scientist, Peter Wadhams, colleagues, John Nissan and Peter Carter and many others. There’s just a bunch of people and we’ve been very concerned for years and we try to lobby governments and we try to do a lot on social media, namely get information out to the public on the severity and huge risks of abrupt climate change.
You mentioned in one of your emails the phrase, “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. It’s not like Las Vegas.” So I’m the originator of that statement. I had an interview with the mainstream media, I think back in 2012 or 2011. It occurred at the Sierra Club Canada office in Ottawa and it was an interview with Global News or something. I don’t remember the station and I just thought of the quote during the interview and said it. They were kind of like, “Hey, yeah that’s a real catchy phrase.”
I thought at that time about whether one can trademark a phrase like that or whatever. It’s not worth it, but it’s funny because over the years, I’ve heard the head of NOAA use that phrase. I’ve heard the heard of GISS, the Goddard Institute of Space Science, use the phrase. I was in Paris and John Kerry used my phrase in his speech, not the Las Vegas part, usually it’s just the first part that’s taken. But I lay claim to that phrase, and now it is in the lexicon. Similarly, for the phrase “blue-ocean event” describing the first summer when the Arctic Ocean becomes essentially ice-free…
INT: And it’s interesting that you mentioned that because there’s — I don’t know if you know [Raif Pomerans], but he’s former Deputy Secretary, or something like that from the Clinton administration and he now works on Arctic issues in DC and that’s his — it’s not even his go-to. He just mentions it every single time you see him; he mentions it a few times. So it’s very interesting.
R: I actually considered putting a trademark on the phrase or at least have it in the record, “This is my phrase, this is when I first said it” and have that well known to people. “As Beckwith says,” right, but I didn’t pursue it and it’s now funny because I hear it at least every month from somebody, the head of this esteemed scientific group, or some world politician or something because it’s a good phrase. I mean, it’s very true.
INT: And it helps people understand what’s going on.
R: Yeah, we’re in a system. The Arctic is part of this system. I mean, it’s pretty obvious to somebody looking top-down. Okay, you change the heating — you change the temperature of the Arctic and then that temperature rise at high latitudes is now reducing the gradient (temperature difference) to the equator and that’s what is fundamental to how the jet streams form. So the latitudinal gradient is lower, the jet streams slow down and when they slow down they are wavier with larger amplitude, and also they’re more influenced by topography, and land/ocean temperature contrasts, and less influenced by the temperature gradient.
So in the jet streams there are bigger crests and troughs in the waves, so they will lock in place depending on where the land-ocean boundaries are and the sea ice boundaries with open water are, and then you get these persistent weather patterns, which are quite different from what we’ve usually experienced. Also, the idea that you go up to higher latitudes and it’s colder no longer holds because in the jet stream wave trough it’s very cold. It’s getting dry Arctic air; meanwhile in the jet stream wave crest, it’s very warm. It’s getting warm, humid air from the tropics.
Jet stream’s act like a wall separating those two air mass regimes (cold-dry and warm-humid), and they can shift, and even split, and so you get this weather whiplashing. This is another thing. In Ottawa, just before New Year’s Day, it was 17 to 18 degrees Celsius for days and then the temperature plummeted and then it went back up days later. I mean, look at the Mississippi River. One year it’s in record flooding, then there’s record drought the next year, then it’s back to record flooding the third year, and in each case the river traffic, an economic lifeline in the USA, is threatened.
We’re seeing all of these major things happening and yet people — including the meteorology and climatology professions have been awful too recognize the risks. They’re coming around. They’re starting to attribute weather events that are really bizarre to climate change, and sort out the changed statistics of weather extremes, but it’s taken a long time and many of them just attribute it to “weather variability”.
INT: Weather versus climate.
R: Yeah, weather versus climate. I mean, it’s very important, weather people are kind of a frequent (at least daily) interface to the public, a lot of the public. If these weather folk don’t know what’s going on with climate change, then it’s a huge problem in communication. Also, social media has become very useful for getting information out there. There are loads of people that follow me on social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) that are in groups and things that I’m in and they all understand what’s going on. We hardly see any of this stuff in the mainstream media, which are really suffering as well because people aren’t reading them. I mean, especially in Canada, the media in Canada is horrible.
INT: Yeah, and they’re also mostly owned by one huge corporation…
R: I don’t know if you’re aware, but just before the election, so the election in Canada was October 19th, 2015 on a Monday and then that Saturday, just prior to it, the front page of just about every newspaper in Canada was bright yellow and saying, “Don’t vote for the Liberals, they’re going to destroy things.” It was just like a multiple page, folded insert. It’s just incredible that they can do this. It’s important to have a media that reports what’s going on and is not biased towards one political party. I mean, democracy is basically dead — I mean, I call the present era we’re in post-democracy.
We’re not really in democracy, we’re post-democracy where the power is with the large corporations and they pay off the politicians and lobby and so on. This is a big problem that we have in our society right now. So we’re really failing miserably to address climate change and I think we’re — I think what’s gonna happen is we’re going to lose the sea ice this year, or almost certainly before 2020. This summer’s going to be awful for the sea ice. I mean, it’s a record low. It’s not forming strongly right now.
Let’s say we lose it by 2020 for a month or so in September (“blue-ocean event); then the feedbacks kick in, and within a year or two, the entire Arctic Ocean is open three months of the year. Within a decade, there’s no sea ice forming year-round. Then we’re on a much warmer planet and there’s very little temperature difference between the equator and the Arctic and we’ve gone through an abrupt change. People will say, “Wait, what happened? I cannot believe it. Nobody told me.” Methane is coming up much faster, sea levels are rising exponentially because Greenland melt goes way up and it’s a much warmer Arctic and we’re there. And the deniers still deny. And Fox News still rants.
We will have all these very bad consequences. I mean, the crazy thing is that it’s completely avoidable. Maybe not now, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. So I created a metaphor, which is like my quote on “what happens in the Arctic”, I think it’s going to be used a lot in the future. So I can go on the record here, this is my metaphor, right? Okay, I call it the three legged bar stool. So you need three legs to have a stable stool. It can’t balance on one or two. So one of the legs is slashing – or zeroing carbon emissions. It’s what Paris is all about, getting emissions down to zero, or close to zero, or at least 80% by 2050. Many places are doing maybe even quicker than that.
That’s only one leg of the bar stool. It’s not sufficient to have a stable climate because we’ve already gone too far. The second leg is vital if we want to maintain any semblance of climate that we’ve had before and that is cooling the Arctic because if we lose the sea ice, and the spring snow cover, the darker water and land is going to absorb that much more solar energy and we’re going to be flipping over into a new climate system, losing that sea ice and snow cover. The snow cover loss is mostly in the spring in the Arctic. We need to cool the Arctic so I can talk about some of the methods to do that, but that’s the second leg of the stool. But even that’s not sufficient because the CO2 levels are just too high.
The ocean acidification problem is not addressed by cooling the Arctic. However, we need to cool the Arctic to buy us time for the third leg of the stool which is to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and/or ocean. Since there is dynamic gas exchange across the water surface, lowering CO2 in one reservoir lowers it in the other. We need to extract CO2 and get the levels down. The last year or two is peculiar because human emissions are supposedly lower. They supposedly didn’t go up for a year or two, but the measurements of the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing at even faster rates.
There’s been no leveling or decline for them. They’ve gone up at record amounts, so they’re still on an exponential growth curve upwards. We pushed well past 400 ppm in the atmosphere, and already touched levels of 405, 406 in different places (note this was in February, 2016 and the level went higher to peak at almost 410 before the seasonal cycle dropped it back). So we need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. So we’re talking about CDR (Carbon Dioxide Removal) for the second leg of the stool and SRM (Solar Radiation Management) for leg three, specifically regional cooling of the Arctic.
If we don’t implement the three legs to the barstool then, like I say, we’re going to a world of hurt, with enormous hardship and a fight for survival of not just civilization but of all living creatures, including ourselves. There will enormous economic costs to infrastructure, with the world’s major cities having to evacuate coastlines and move to higher ground. I filmed and posted a YouTube video a few years ago called, “Can we get seven meters of sea level rise by 2070?” The IPCC sea level rise numbers, in my opinion, are completely out to lunch, as are the rates that scientists are reporting.
James Hansen’s numbers are more realistic; he said five meters of global rise by 2100. For around the last few decades, we’ve had a doubling in the rate of land based ice melt from Greenland and Antarctica with a doubling period of roughly five to seven years. So if you go back, say, 21 years, the melt rates on both Greenland and Antarctica doubled in seven years, doubled again in the next seven years, and then doubled again. So the melt rate is about eight times higher now than it was 21 years ago. If this doubling period continues, then we have conservatively around a seven meter global sea level rise by 2070. The exponential function is powerful; you can work out these things quickly on the back of an envelope. So will this doubling period continue?
I’m sick and tired of seeing climate change articles saying Antarctica is melting faster than expected. Emissions are rising faster than expected. The melt of Greenland is faster than expected. Sea levels are rising faster than expected. I expect all of these things with abrupt climate change. These things are all happening. How can scientists keep saying this? Surely they have to change your expectations. There’s a problem with their expectations since they are always surprised with their underestimates and always seeing higher rates occurring as unexpected.
I say it is about time for them to wake up and smell the roses and see the big picture. We’re in an exponential change situation here. We’re in a nonlinear chain reaction situation, an abrupt change situation, so wake up and smell the roses, people, including specialized scientists. I think that all scientists should lay down their tools for a few weeks or month, and really learn something about the overall climate system. Namely, study research papers on climate change that are outside the tunnel vision of their day to day research. Then talk to the public about it in everyday, jargon free language.
INT: Do you think it’s because scientists are pressured to be more conservative in their findings?
R: There is pressure, but I don’t think that’s the biggest reason. I mean, people have mortgages to pay and other expenses and responsibilities and people get locked into fixed patterns of thinking and they don’t get outside of those. Many scientists are some of the worst people for getting locked into patterns of thinking because they’re so specialized. I mean, who’s more specialized than a scientist who spends his entire life studying the mating habit of a particular insect? This is their world.
So they get locked into patterns of thinking. Even somebody studying glaciology, for example; their world is glaciers. Their world isn’t even sea level rise or Arctic amplification, or jet stream weirding. It’s not even atmospheric physics or oceanography. It’s not even what’s going on in the Arctic or in another particular region. It’s more likely the behavior of one glacier on one mountain somewhere, as a specific example. It’s completely siloed. So this is an enormous problem. Over-specialization of everybody in the science community. We don’t have nearly enough people with vision, with systems thinking, with common sense. I mean, what I see happening is common sense.
It’s common sense that we’ll have seven meters of sea level rise by 2100 if present trends continue. Nobody wants to say that, and even fewer want to hear that. Yet, if the rates continue as we’re seeing then we will see that. This is basic math. People will say, “Well, that’s an extrapolation, how do you know?” Well, how do you know not? To argue that the exponential trend will magically go linear and flatten out is just as crazy, yet that is the default hope. The Arctic sea ice volume drop, for example, the trend is going down essentially exponentially.
Simple trend continuation eyeballing of the graph indicate that the curve will cut through zero on the 2020 to 2025 timeframe, and yet the esteemed bodies of the scientific world are saying, “Well, 2040 is the expectation, or even 2050 to 2070.” Okay, so the curve’s going to bend upwards at some point soon for this. It’s not going to continue on its trend. It’s going to bend upwards. Well, why I ask? What mechanism do you have for that? And then I don’t get an answer. Or the answer is because the computer model shows that.
Problem is, the model is missing numerous feedbacks; so I do not believe this response. So it’s very frustrating to me how stupid people are. Sometimes, part of the dark side of me is saying, “Yeah, bring it on, it is happening.” Our abruptly changing climate system is going to smash people and maybe wake them up, eventually, but many people in the world aren’t going to make it through this turmoil. And also, the projections of the UN seem like they are from “the twilight zone”. We are each one of over 7.4 billion people in total on the planet now.
The UN are projecting 9 billion, 10 billion, or even 11 billion people by 2100. Well, we could be a billion by 2100 instead, or even much less (some believe zero, but not me) but this is never mentioned. We could be a billion even before then. We’re going to have shortages of food. We’re not going to be able to grow food with the same yields as we have been doing in a stable climate system. If we get methane bursts coming up from the seafloor, we will experience multi-degree temperature rises in the space of a few years. How can people adapt to that? Some people will. Humanity tends to be — is very adaptable and resilient.
We have technology, but many countries, governments, and societies are going to collapse, governments are going to fall. Look at Syria. People don’t want to make the obvious connection of societal breakdown and chaos to climate disruption. I had a party. My wife, with a small group of people mingled and they thought, “We want to sponsor a Syrian family.” They ended up getting, very quickly, about 100 people in the neighborhood of the Glebe in Ottawa involved in the project. These people, from all different professions, were willing to put money and volunteer time and effort towards sponsoring a family, and the family arrived about a week ago, in mid-February.
They’re not staying with us, but there are a lot of people that are taking families into their houses for months until they get settled. So people are willing to do this for individual families, but this is only the extreme tip of the iceberg for migration. I mean, the drought in Syria from 2006 to 2010 devastated the rural areas, so the farming livelihood went away. A million and a half people moved to the cities for work (really for survival), but this country has parallels with the movie “The Hunger Games”. The cities were occupied by wealthy, richer people with high standards of living. People in rural areas were in complete poverty, just like in the Hunger Games.
Those people in the rural areas suddenly had to move into the cities and that started all of the problems, which ended in the country collapsing to chaos. Now we have a million people migrating. Well, wait until sea levels are higher, coasts are evacuated and we have 100 million people moving at once. How will we deal with this? We are so dumb as a society. As dumb as a “sack of hammers”. It’s very clear what’s happening. I’m writing a book. I am going to write a book and this is all going in it. I could take these transcripts and then put them in as a chapter of my book or something. You are going to transcribe all of this stuff, right?
R: Do I get a copy of the transcripts?
INT: I don’t share other people’s transcripts.
R: No, just mine.
INT: I can give you a copy of your transcript, sure. Remind me, please. I’m going to make a note of it.
R: Yes, I’ll get you to email them to me — I mean, you’re doing it and I won’t use it much. I might throw it in a book if I ever get a book done, or online. So it’s frustrating to see people shooting themselves in the foot, society shooting themselves in the foot.
INT: So with that, there’s a lot of — I guess there’s a lack of awareness and people don’t realize the gravity of what we’re facing and society as a whole is kind of holding hands and walking into chaos. Why do you think the scientists aren’t talking about this? They’re not stupid, they’re smart people.
R: Well, they’re not organized. They’re like cats and how do you herd cats? How do you get cats to think along the same line? And they’re not geared (equipped) to solve society’s problems. They’re geared to incrementally advancing knowledge in our society; there’s so much information now in our society that all issues are now so clouded. Before the deployment of the web, scientists used to be sort of on the same page on things. You used to get scientists going to a conference and they would have all learned their craft from the same classical textbooks and they would have all read many of the same papers and therefore they had a lot in common.
But now, with the web, and an exponential proliferation of scientific papers and journals, there is so much information out there and so many different sources that these scientists have very little in common — even though they might be in the same field, they might have read completely different papers and be on completely different pages. Like ships passing in the night. Like I said, they are introverts by nature. Lots of scientists, in fact most; they’re not communicators. If they were, they would not be scientists.
I’m very critical of scientists, or rather the whole academic hierarchical system that generates them. Society’s problems are not being met with our present system of overspecialization. This is one of the reasons I decided to go back to university and study abrupt climate change and system climate change. In the university, you don’t get degrees with system thinking — you get degrees by specializing and learning as much as you can about a very specific, narrow field, and even subfield or sub-subfield and then studying the heck out of it and making some incremental advance in it.
That doesn’t solve any real-life problem. There’s not enough people looking at the system changes and you can’t get a degree in university from looking at the system changes. Specialists say that you are hand waving, and not doing anything useful. It’s an absurd situation actually. It’s laughable if it wasn’t so important to people throughout society.
INT: It’s true. You’re right because for me, the research I’m doing is on systems thinking and looking at social science and policy and the only reason why I can do this in the first place is because I have an option to do whatever kind of independent project I want. But there isn’t a set academic route to take if I wanted to do this in a graduate program.
R: It’s kind of absurd really. I can almost guarantee that the public will go into a complete panic very soon over abrupt climate change. They’ll go from the worldview that: “Climate change is a long way out there, maybe it’s happening, maybe it’s not, I don’t know for sure; it will not affect me” to “Holy sh#t, my trees are dying in my backyard,” “Holy sh#t, my grocery bill just went up by a factor of three times in the last year.
I’m paying three times more than I used to for vegetables and stuff.” Well, wait until that happens to all the other foods. People are going to suddenly wake up and the reality of abrupt climate system change is going to hit them like a sack of bricks. They will finally realize that we have really screwed up our planet and then they are going to be calling for people’s heads, looking for anybody but themselves to blame.
Not that this thinking will do any good. They will probably accuse scientists of hiding information on how bad it was (at least I can show them this document to defend myself). They will accuse politicians of doing nothing. They’ll be out for blood. People always look for somebody else to blame. They never blame themselves. We know that our brain, the human brain is geared to looking at immediate threats, with the fight and flight response. “There’s a tiger in the woods.”
So climate change has been creeping up and creeping up and now it’s going to become the tiger, so people will suddenly either freeze, or panic and demand action and then hopefully (I personally maintain hope through all this) we can actually use the three legged stool type thinking and look at all those aspects of what we can do.
Consider the enormous U.S. military budget. If one reads publicly available U.S. military strategy documents or follow geopolitics, you will realize that powerful people are starting to verbalize their worries – for example the World Bank and many other groups and individuals at the Davos yearly conference, that climate change is the biggest threat that the world is facing. If that is true (which I argue it is), and if those people really think that, then don’t you think that the $800 billion U.S. military budget, for example, could be diverted one year, or even a few years to addressing climate change?
Climate change is the worst threat facing humanity, let alone the U.S. Why not put that defense money, $800 billion a year to better use, and get all those engineers at Lockheed Martin that are building missiles and equipment to kill people, sophisticated equipment and drone technology; simply get all those people to figure out how to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
Get all those people to come up with a really fantastic battery to make electric car ranges huge. Design more fuel efficient aircraft, design better ships – and design and deploy — if the focus was on addressing climate change mitigation, practical and inexpensive ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, on retooling our energy sources to get off fossil fuels in 15 years by 2030 as opposed to by 2050 and to cool the Arctic with marine cloud brightening or other methods.
We have techniques. We have the technology. We can create low level marine clouds and cool the Arctic. There are a handful of people with no funding working on that. Low level clouds, comprised of very small water droplets are very reflective, so when that sea ice is retreating and exposing the dark ocean that’s absorbing all that light in the summer, produce these low level clouds and when you shut your machines off they clouds are gone after about a week, so you stop producing them as the season changes because you don’t want the clouds in the winter. If you have the clouds over the sea ice in the winter, they can trap the heat, so the sea ice won’t form as much.
So let’s try to bring the ice back to keep the Arctic cold — keep the sea ice there because that will keep the methane in place. Methane levels in the Arctic have sporadically passed 3,000 parts per billion recently. The Russians have measured huge increases in methane bubbling up to the atmosphere from the Eastern Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) and the Kara Sea. These vents used to be tens of meters in diameter and when the scientists went back to the same sites a few years later, the vents had become hundreds of meters, even kilometers in diameter.
We’re measuring methane off the east coast of the U.S. coming up from the deep sea floor. We thought it would all be absorbed in the deep water column. Well, we’re measuring it coming up into the atmosphere at these locations because if there’s a large number of methane bubbles produced, then they saturate the water column and significant amounts of methane thus reaches the atmosphere above the water column.
[Interruption at door]
R: Science is under attack itself. I think that attack started with climate change, but spread widely and now science overall is under attack. We’ve got an entire anti-science party in the U.S., the GOP, and if they get in power with Trump then they will massacre U.S. science and technological leadership in the world.
INT: So on that topic…
R: I mean, we had it (anti-science Conservative Party) in Canada (for almost a decade) until we got rid of it; anti-science policies, like Dark Ages stuff.
INT: What is it about policymaking, either the structure or the actors who are involved in it, structure of government or the government actors, who help inhibit science integration into policy making?
R: Well, one thing specifically in climate change — it’s a very multidisciplinary field and policymakers (are cautious); I guess the rapidity of the changes in climate change are really messing up the policymaking because they’re always behind the eight ball. Their policy is never good enough. In Paris, I mean in Copenhagen, we had the two degree Celsius limit. That’s a nonscientific limit. That’s a limit from policymakers because you want to have some metric to measure, some target. That metric doesn’t make any sense really because nobody experiences a global average temperature.
The temperature’s changing much faster over the land then the ocean, much faster at higher latitudes than at lower latitudes. What does two degrees mean? And pushing it to one and a half degrees Celsius seems too late. I mean in December and January, so December 2015 and January 2016, the temperature’s already over one and a half degrees. It is 1.52 degrees Celsius or something like that in December, 2015 as compared to the Decembers at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. We’ve already passed that 1.5 limit. The global average temperature went over one and a half for that particular month. So there’s a complete disconnect of policymakers from reality, the reality of abrupt climate change.
INT: Why do you think that is?
R: I think that is because, well, when you — a big part of it is outright fraud from oil companies and from right wing outlets. It’s outright fraud. It’s threatening the safety of everybody on the planet. It’s also the lack of recognition of the public to properly assess risk.
People (in general) just do not know how to assess risk. Risk is the probability of something happening times the severity if it does happen. So that’s why the risk of an asteroid impact is hard to assess, since the probability is very low, but if it hit, it could wipe out the entire planet. So when you multiple a very small number and very large number together, what do you have? It’s hard to assess that number.
So with climate change — so terrorism was completely blown out of proportion, the risk of terrorism, completely and utterly, it was a snow job on the public and the public fell for it, hook, line and sinker. The risk of being killed by a terrorist in the U.S. is less than being killed by a toddler. A toddler can grab a handgun from mom’s purse, shoot the mom or somebody else and that happens many times and there are more deaths from that than from terrorism in the U.S. Also more deaths from people having — losing money in vending machines and pushing them and then it falls over and kills them. So we don’t have a homeland security against toddlers or a homeland security against vending machines falling on you.
People just completely mis-assess risks. Things that we do every day like driving and walking on sidewalks — I taught my kids the highest risk that one can have is walking across the street. That’s the highest risk you will ever have in your life. So if you worry about terrorism or you’re worried about this or that, it’s just a misguided worry because the real threat to you is crossing the street — and actually even higher is heart disease, if you are not a kid. The high risks are all health conditions from obesity and lack of exercise and other “mundane” things. So yeah, maybe climate change is good (sarcasm). It’ll solve the obesity problem and death rates will go down from heart disease from poor diets.
INT: Also, death rates will increase from other health related issues and vector-borne diseases and such.
R: Yeah, I was kind of just joking.
INT: I know. [Laughter]
R: There’s a whole group of people on social media that are sort of Guy McPherson apocalypse folk, believing that Near Term Human Extinction (NTHE) will occur very soon. He himself says he wouldn’t be surprised if humans go extinct by 2030, so I have many sometimes heated disagreements with him about that. In 2030, 14 years from now then boom. Okay so we’re 7.4 billion today, so what do we peak at, and when do we hit 6 billion, when do we hit 5? Is there a poof and everybody disappears and drops dead in 2030? I think that’s an absurd number, but what his argument is based on is that we don’t have habitat.
We lose habitat as temperature rises rapidly — in fact, he uses some of my work as a justification for his argument, saying that temperature can rise five or six degrees in a decade or two. So if that happens, he’s arguing that no humans will survive that and I’m saying well, there are a lot of us and we’re adaptable and surely some of us would survive. Society will break down, cities will collapse. It’s a disproportionate effect. The people that caused the problem don’t suffer the most from the problem. He seems to be totally against geoengineering and I say: well, if you think everybody’s going under by 2030, don’t you want to encourage things to be tried? How can it possibly make it worse? If we [geo] engineers, mess up do we go by 2025?
They’re ridiculous arguments. I see what he’s saying about habitat, but you can’t put a date on things like that. I think that given what we’re doing now, if we continue what we’re doing, pumping the fossil fuels into the atmosphere and changing the climate rapidly, I think we’re likely to go through this five or six degrees temperature rise in a decade or two. Forget about two degrees or one and a half degrees. That’s global average temperature.
Parts of the Arctic will rise 20 or 30 degrees above what they are now. Heck, the Arctic should be about -40 degrees Celsius at the North Pole and it went above zero a couple times around Christmas and the New Year. The ridges of the jet stream went all the way up to the North Pole. The methane levels are rising rapidly. People just need to open their eyes and see what’s really going on.
INT: Why do you think they haven’t though? So there’s this overwhelming scientific evidence.
R: I don’t know. They’ve heard so much about climate change, they’ve become kind of zoned out — yeah, it is really weird. That’s the question? I think you have to study the psychology and the brain function. We’ve got a lot of the Neanderthal brain within us and it’s basically doing us in right now in the climate change thing. I do think that billions of people are going to be affected. I don’t think there’s going to be anywhere close to the projections on population that the UN is forecasting (over ten billion by 2100). So that’s another disconnect from reality.
They just look at the growth rates and project out. They don’t consider that we’re losing — we’ve lost 90% of the large fish in the ocean. We’ve lost 40% of the phytoplankton since 1950, although some argue that the phytoplankton just changed color making them harder to count, and we’re not detecting them properly. Maybe the loss is only 7% or 10% since then if the color thing holds up. The oceans are warming and stratifying and the plankton need nutrients to come up from below, so they need vertical mixing and they’re not getting that. So yeah, we’re heading towards a massive extinction on our planet. I don’t think it’s a done deal. I like to think of myself as one of the — I don’t know if you’re familiar with the old TV show The Christmas Carol.
R: You may have seen something on Skeptical Science about this a while ago, but this was my original analogy long before them (people never seem to acknowledge things like this, they just take stuff). I came up with this and did a blog about it and a video back in the summer just last year. The three ghosts (of past, present and future) visit Scrooge to try to get him to change his ways. I talk about the climate ghosts visiting humanity, saying, “This is where you’re heading, this is what can happen and if you tell people that, then they maybe can reverse — change behavior to avoid that happening.”
That’s the type of idea. I think about four or five years ago, I said that a blue ocean event occurring in the Arctic, meaning no sea ice in the Arctic; that would really wake people up. If that point was reached and we hadn’t made huge efforts to address climate change up to that point, then that would tip us over into a human understanding of the risks and severities. I’m still kind of thinking along that line, that things aren’t bad enough in our day-to-day life to make these big changes. People are not terrified yet. The general public is not terrified of climate change, but I can almost guarantee that that will happen. I don’t know how long it will take because I don’t know how long sea ice will be there.
I mean, if sea ice goes in a year or two, then that can happen in a year or two, not through sea ice alone, but through the extreme weather events, taking out more cities, flooding more cities, flooding crops, the drought in California never ending (thus the breadbasket of the U.S. failing). Maybe another grain failure in Russia, like we had in 2010 when Pakistan was in the jet stream trough and got flooded out and Moscow in the jet stream ridge had record temperatures for a month or two, huge mortality rates, and lost 40% of their grain crop resulting in no exports from them that year.
Before that, in 2003 we had the European heatwave, which killed 70,000 people or so, mostly in France. Parts of the Middle East are going to become inhabitable because of the wet-bulb temperature. Near the ocean regions in the Middle East, you couldn’t be outside. You couldn’t survive outside without a cooling suit because it’s at or over 35 degrees Celsius and 100% humidity and the body can’t sweat, and therefore cannot eliminate heat. How much more is it going to take? I don’t know, but it will happen I think or maybe it doesn’t. See, my worry is the fundamentalists, the religious fundamentalists get enough power and control that they say that all of these events are God’s will. This is God’s will they will say and we will do nothing.
INT: Or God punishing us for legalizing gay marriage.
R: Yes, coming up with any reason for us being punished. We’re in Dark Ages 2.0. And we never do address the problem and we can head for complete destruction of the planet. So this is the worry. This is the worry, science is under attack. It goes back and forth. At least in Canada, we got some science back by ditching Harper. But I think fundamentally, a lot of these religious fundamentalists that think the Earth is only 7,000 years old or something like that; they think that the big reckoning is coming, Judgement Day and the Earth will be destroyed, so they don’t have any problem with that. It’s God’s will, and their worldview is preserved.
INT: The trend in the world has been going more — I mean, things are getting more polarized.
R: Well, if Trump wins in the U.S., if he happened to win, then we’re FUBAR (military slang) — it’s not clear that science is going to win this.
INT: That’s a good point. I think honestly if any of the Republicans win, there’s also — look at the flipside of that. Look at the fact that Bernie Sanders is running on the Democratic ticket and never in…
R: It’s incredible.
INT: I met him.
R: He can do it (if the voting is fair).
INT: I met him last year.
R: Did you?
INT: Yeah, he comes — I study [inaudible 46:27] … right on the border.
R: Yeah no, he’s phenomenal. I mean, he’s wonderful.
INT: But he never, ever expected to get that far. No one in his group expected to get this far, so there’s two sides to it.
R: There are two sides to it.
INT: But I agree with you.
R: It’s (everything is) becoming polarized more and more. Part of this is because of how we get information. The web has changed everybody. It’s changed life. It’s made people less deep thinkers. People have less wisdom and more knowledge. They don’t have time to assess and digest and figure out — make connections in the knowledge because there’s always more information that they can get. So on the web, you have a belief, for example, that gravity doesn’t exist.
You can find multiple websites saying that gravity doesn’t exist and you become anti-gravity or a gravity denier or even a spherical Earth denier. So people become so polarized. They can believe anything. The more they read — they go to meetings or something with like-minded people and then they come out of the meeting and their views are even more polarized. We haven’t dealt with this. We’re not dealing with this and it’s messing up society, the collapse of newspapers and decent journalism is a big, rather huge contributor to this whole problem too. It’s the feedback on people getting stupider. That’s what it is, that’s the bottom line, the truth of our messed up present day society.
INT: No, it’s true. So did you go to the COP21 talks then?
R: I went to COP21 in Paris. I went to COP20 in Lima. Those are my two COPs.
INT: Cool, me too. Surprised we didn’t meet.
R: Well, there were a lot of people there, 40,000.
INT: Paris was just a mess. I’ve never had anything — Paris was my fourth COP and I’ve never had anything — go by that quickly before, so it was just insane.
R: Yeah, no, it was. I’m so — yeah.
INT: So what did you do when you were there and did you did two different things for the two different COPs?
R: No, I mean it’s pretty consistent, what I did both times. I got involved in giving many press conferences — side event press conference presentations. I talked about the Arctic temperature rise, the changing chemistry of the atmosphere, Arctic temperature amplification, jet stream distortions and the risk of methane coming up big time and what that would mean to society and how the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports discounted the methane risk and weren’t up to speed on the jet stream changes.
So I talked to as many scientists as I could. I was involved in five press conferences in Lima and I guess about three in Paris, talking on these issues, and I attended as many events as I could and tried to network and meet people. Then after Paris, I went to Norway for a week to assist in starting up a company, help start up a – co-found a company on climate change solutions in Norway to see how to transition the Norwegian oil industry people with their expertise to working on climate solutions. For example, how do we cool the Arctic? Norway’s perfectly positioned to actually have a big part in say, cooling the Arctic, generating low level clouds to cool the Arctic. So our company there is looking at that. We’re also looking at CDR (Carbon Dioxide Removal) methods.
INT: What’s the name of this company?
R: It’s called Gaia Engineering.
INT: Like G-A-I-A.
R: G-A-I-A, Gaia Engineering; and I didn’t choose that name and I wouldn’t pick that name because it’s too close to the word “geoengineering”, which has huge negative connotations. So I argued that the name should be changed. The name’s unfortunate, in my opinion. The name could kill a company, so I don’t think — the name I think is a big deal – so why — if you’re starting a new company, would you want to — you don’t want to make things difficult for yourself. So call it Climate Solutions or something, but it was already called Gaia Engineering and I argued that it should be changed and they didn’t want to, so it’s fine.
Hopefully it will not be a huge impediment and if people come to accept geoengineering as being necessary — I mean geoengineering is such a poisoned word now because there’s all of these people that think that we’re already geoengineering right now with contrails or chemtrails (spray) and they say, “Oh, we’re being poisoned.” There are thousands (actually millions) of people that think this way and there’s a group called Etcetera, a company, who their whole premise is they’re completely — I think it’s British. I don’t know if it’s Canadian or British, but Etcetera Group, they’re completely rabid about the so called “perils” and “evils” of geoengineering. That’s why scientists started calling it CDR and SRM. And CI (Climate Intervention). They try to avoid the name geoengineering. I try to avoid the name geoengineering, it has been so poisoned.
INT: It sounds like GMO, same.
R: Yeah, exactly. People get on these — they worry about things they shouldn’t worry about and they ignore things that are punching them in the head repeatedly, like climate change.
INT: So in COP21, first of all I’m wondering — curious, did you meet Jennifer Frances? Do you know her?
R: I know Jennifer Frances, yes. I’ve met her at previous events. I didn’t see her in Paris.
INT: I was just wondering.
R: Did she give a talk or something there?
INT: She was there. I worked over the summer with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington and they were really close with her because she gave a lot of briefings to the state department, a head of that glacier summit, the Obama summit.
R: I told her a few years ago that I wouldn’t be surprised if she got a Nobel Prize in 10/20 years because of her connection of the jet streams waviness (and extreme weather) to the Arctic warming amplification—
INT: She’s doing incredible work.
R: She is. From a systems point of view, with huge Arctic warming as compared to the equator, the temperature redistribution has to distort and change the jet streams. She’s been working out the nuts and bolts of showing the connection to the warming Arctic. But from a systems point of view, from a physics point of view, the answer can’t be anything else. But a lot of scientists, like Trenberth and others, they were very skeptical. In fact, I told you they had the most opposition to this idea of anyone. Yeah so anyway, I didn’t meet her in Paris, but I did talk to lots of people like James Hanson, Jason Box, and many other people that I hadn’t met before, but knew of already since they are big names in the climate science community.
INT: And it’s interesting because you mentioned — so both of those. Jason Box is respected. Jim Hanson also, it’s very interesting because he’s someone who you mentioned earlier is one of the few people…
R: He is like a rogue.
INT: Yeah and he’s considered to be a rogue scientist. In the public eye, he’s an extremely well respected scientist. NGOs consider him to be a completely well respected scientist, which he is. By some extension of that, the policy community doesn’t see him as a scientist now after he left Goddard Institute of Space Science (GISS). He resigned, but I don’t think he necessarily would have wanted to leave. It’s interesting because I think there is — and please, feel free to correct me on this, but I feel like there’s a pushback on scientists engaging in policy advocacy.
R: Well, who else is going do it that knows what’s going on? That’s the thing. You read books about the — yeah, there’s this idea that scientists should just stick to science and not be engaged in policy. This is the whole thing with the IPCC report and what they say: “We recommend stuff, but we don’t generate policy.” It’s all bullshit. It’s all bullshit. It’s not a system that is gonna solve our problem. If you have the most knowledgeable people on a certain thing, then they could argue that maybe they’re the best people to talk about it. Policymakers are in a different world. They’re paid very well. They’re in their own separate world. They’re paid very well.
INT: Ivory towers, yeah.
R: They’re not in ivory towers. The academics are in the ivory towers and they’re in their policy towers and they’re making far more money. They’re making a great living compared to many scientists even. Systems people like me are in the middle making no money.
INT: Oh, of course.
R: So it was weird because after the Canadian election before Paris, there were all these talks in Ottawa. There was a talk on climate change and food supply. There was a talk on climate change and defense. Maybe 100 to 150 people attended these sessions and almost zero scientists were there with me, it was all policy people, wearing their suits and/or dresses, with a beautifully done free buffet lunch and dinner and no scientists.
[Phone ringing: I’ll call you back. I’m in an interview right now. Okay, bye]
So yeah, it’s just like where were these people before? Where are the scientists at these events, talking about the science of it? It’s like a façade. It’s funny because I know personally, the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna. She’s a friendly neighbor. I’ve known her basically since she moved to Ottawa, I guess about 2003. Her kids play with my kids and I’ve talked to her about climate change over the years.
She’s a great person and I think she’s going to do a great job and I also know a sister of – one of my sister-in-law’s was hired by Catherine and is Director of Policy on Climate Change in Canada. I fret that they do not really believe that things are as bad as I say they are. That they do not recognize the reality of how bad climate really is. Things are bad. Horrible in fact… This world is completely changing and they just don’t see what I see…
INT: Why do you think that is?
R: I don’t know. I don’t know why exactly. If I knew, I’d be able to maybe address it as a roadblock and maybe be able to get around the roadblock. I’m not sure. I just keep trying different things. I might have one of them come into my class and have my students ask them all these difficult questions about methane in the Arctic, what about the jet streams changing? What about the Arctic being seven degrees warmer than normal and we’ve already blown past the one and a half degree Celsius limit. I wouldn’t tip the students. They’ve taken my course. They’ll ask these questions themselves. I don’t know. I try lots of different things.
INT: Do you think that it has to do with the structure of government? Is it that? Is it not so much that they don’t know, but that the way the government is structured is just not — it’s very difficult to make that change happen? Do you think it has to do with information, that they don’t have that information? Do you think that it has to do with power structures? I’m just curious if you have any thoughts.
R: I don’t think that it’s only one thing. I think it’s a lot of difficult — sort of a lot of different things. I’ve been beating my head against the wall trying to educate people on the connections and where we’re heading, like I say, for four or five years. I’ve kind of been resigned to the idea that people are never going to change until the system changes and hits them on the — and they go to this state of terror, being terrified of climate change and then saying, “How come nobody told us?” I don’t know, it’s very frustrating because things seem to be so obvious to me and also to some other people I know, and yet, they seem to be completely — how does one communicate this? How does one get the message across?
I mean, you try everything and still, people come back, “Well, the weather’s always changed. Climate’s always changed. We’ll adapt. We’ll figure it out. Technology will figure it out.” So okay, well let’s figure it out. Let’s throw the U.S. military budget onto CDR and SRM. Climate change is the biggest threat. I think it’s going to happen and we may come up with some incredible technology. How difficult can it be to take a gas out of the atmosphere? We put people on the moon. We’ve got incredible — people are worried about robots taking over, Stephen Hawking was talking about that recently…
INT: He was also a very big denier. [Laughter]
R: A big denier of climate change?
INT: Stephen Hawking? Yeah.
R: Not anymore?
INT: No, this is — unless it’s changed in the past month or two.
R: Oh really?
INT: Yeah, this was very recent, around Paris (timeframes).
R: It’s funny because he’s across the hall from Peter Wadams at Cambridge. They’re on the same floor.
So I think there’s a good chance that we’ll be able to address these problems once we throw the big money at these problems, like the $800 million U.S. military budget. Imagine that being put to — for one year even, to climate change– until we get CO2 levels down, until we make sure that the methane that comes up is going to be captured. I mean, we do all these stupid things, like natural gas was supposed to be the bridge fuel. Let’s make the U.S. energy sufficient — self-sufficient in energy. Let’s drill holes everywhere in the ground and, too bad, but the leakage rates for methane are phenomenal and methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 and the number’s always wrong in the media.
Tell me why do people continue to say methane is 22x or 25 times worse than CO2? And they don’t give a — I mean, the reality is it’s 34 times worse if you average its effect over 100 years and put it on a comparison basis with CO2. But over 20 years, it’s 86 times worse and over a year or two, it’s probably approaching 200 times worse, or at least 150 to 200 times worse. Those are the numbers that are important.
If it’s coming up in the Arctic and staying there for a while, it’s almost 200 times worse, on a mass basis, than CO2 for warming the planet. So why do people still, even reporters and articles and even scientists that are quoted in the media, why do they say the wrong numbers, namely 22 or 25 times worse? The IPCC report says the numbers I’m quoting, 34 times and 86 times. You see articles now, “Well methane might be a bigger problem than we thought.” I mean, methane’s worse than coal. Natural gas is worse than coal right now, given the enormous leak rates.
INT: But the thing is they’re not considering — I actually know Bob Howarth, who did a lot of this research at Cornell, is the brother of Rich Howarth, who’s one of my advisors on this project, so I know a lot about this.
R: So how come people are so stupid on this?
INT: I don’t think it’s a question of stupidity. I think it’s a question of information flow, what information gets to the public and how it’s framed.
R: So is it the media that is keeping this number alive?
INT: Yeah because a lot of this isn’t — well, and a lot of it just isn’t communicated. Natural gas is being heralded as a clean fuel and a lot of the emissions reductions the U.S. has been counting on so far has been due to natural gas versus coal without accounting for these fugitive emissions. But I’m wondering, you were talking about…
R: I mean, I shout it as loud as I could. Natural gas is methane. It’s going to leak and it’s bad for the climate, so don’t go and do this stupid thing. But nobody listens…
INT: Very profitable industry.
R: Yeah, if you don’t have power, if you don’t own a newspaper or you’re not a highly ranked politician, then you can’t get your information out because there’s too much information. So your information is only one small piece, so people have no mental filter, on what information is important and what isn’t. There’s no filter. The filters have all gone.
INT: My last question is just on money. So you say a lot of these problems need funding, but what about problems like transitioning away to a zero carbon emissions society? That requires technologies, [inaudible 1:05:04] new technology, etc. If you actually look at it, most research suggests that the technology’s already here. They don’t need more funding thrown into this. It needs to be politically…
INT: Yeah, so why do you think those technologies that are already existing, are not — what are the barriers holding renewable energy back?
R: The Koch brothers.
INT: Can you elaborate on that?
R: [Laughter] Well, they have this enormous — I mean, it’s their enormous fossil fuel interests…
INT: What about in Canada though?
R: The status quo. The Koch brothers, they own half of the tar sands in Canada.
INT: Yeah, that’s a good point actually.
R: Their tentacles are everywhere and they’re actions are evil. They’re completely evil in attacking renewable energy.
INT: Have you read Jane Meyer’s book?
R: No, I haven’t.
INT: You should read it. It’s really great. You know who I’m talking about, the [Dark Money]? I met her two weeks ago.
R: They’re like the piñata for the fossil fuel industry, I guess, because it’s not just them. They don’t control the entire coal industry and fossil fuel industry. I mean, coal is dying. It’s funny (not really) that coal is being replaced by natural gas and emission levels are rising even faster. Natural gas with the high leak rates is worse than coal.
INT: Oh, it is.
R: Ten percent leak rate, or higher.
INT: Coal was easy to target because of health, because of asthma and the air pollution that you can tie to it and also because in the U.S., coal is actually becoming harder to get. They’re kind of scratching the bottom of the barrel, but the hypothetical barrel with mountain top removal.
R: The other fossil fuels will go this way too. I think people will be surprised at how quickly and painlessly and effortlessly we transition to a completely non-fossil fuel economy. All of the misinformation about how difficult it’s going to be and that people will be living in dark houses and going back to the Dark Ages, it’s all right-wing propaganda. It really is. The transition is going to create tremendous amounts of jobs. It’s going to create tremendous economic booms in countries that implement it, this transition to getting off fossil fuels, but it’s not good enough. It’s only one thing we must do.
So when I talk about more research being needed, I’m talking about research in CDR methods and in SRM methods. I’m not talking about research in the — leg one of my three legged bar stool metaphor, it’s just a political issue and I think we can do it in probably 15 years or less. In fact, a study just came out saying the U.S. could pretty much go off fossil fuels in 15 years with existing technology. I’m talking about the leg two and leg three technology; what’s the best way to cool the Arctic? I mean, I think it is to use marine cloud brightening. It can be turned on and off.
I think that the idea of seeding the stratosphere with sulfur dioxide is a problem because it is going to cause — it will cause cooling — it will work in the summer. It will cool the Arctic, but in the winter, it’ll keep the Arctic warmer than it would be otherwise because SO2 in the stratosphere would trap the heat. It wouldn’t let the heat radiate up from the ice and snow, so it would actually impede ice growth.
So the marine cloud brightening technique seems perfect. I mean, you can turn it on and turn it off at will, and also for CDR, the oceans cover 70% of the planet. Let’s turn some of these dead regions of the ocean when there’s no phytoplankton into — let’s create phytoplankton blooms and then we can get a whole ecosystem developing — if you have the phytoplankton, you then have the zooplankton, you have the small fish and you have the bigger fish, you can create artificial reef systems floating in the ocean, in the middle of the ocean.
There’s technology where you can so this – that is self-powering. You can create this technology where the waves actually — you can create these pumps to bring seawater up from 200 meters down, full of nutrients, to the surface using wave action as the energy source and you can have these things deployed and create artificial reefs and create huge amounts of plankton — huge carbon sinks for the planet and these don’t directly affect people. People aren’t in the oceans.
You can also do things like biochar, you can do things like stopping the cutting down of all your trees and planting more trees instead because we’re losing trees. The trees are stressed so much, that we’re losing billions of trees. I mean, we’ve lost about 50% of the biomass on the planet since the Industrial Revolution. Actually, we’ve destroyed it. We’re converting the carbon from trees and other things into human beings, the biomass growth. So we need to address population.
Let’s have a limit of two kids (or even three) per family, globally and so we get population under control. We can’t have exponential growth. Is it ethical to go from 7.4 billion people up to 10 billion people when we know this will cause a collapse down to a few billion with all those people’s deaths occurring, or is it more ethical to figure out a way to prevent us going up to that 10 billion in the first place? Think of all those lives that you’re saving by stopping this exponential growth. You’re bringing people onto the planet and they just don’t have a chance because we are too many– we need to talk about these things. How many times do you hear — did you hear population come up in Paris?
INT: A few (times). There are some NGOs that are very — they handed out a lot of flyers.
R: The Population Institute or something from the UK were there, yeah it’s great. The point is that the stress on the planet is equal to the population times the consumerism. The best PR people and marketing people in the world have been trying to get people to buy stuff for years. I love the Mad Men show. It’s great, all of the different techniques. They’re there. The psychological understanding of PR folk is enormous, so let’s get these people to use their powers to let people know what’s really going on. So we’re reaching sort of — we’re at an interesting state.
The vast regions of the Arctic are often seven degrees Celsius warmer than normal. I’ve never seen this before, it is over the entire Arctic. It has been two or three degrees hotter in the last few years, yes. I’ll be doing a video on it in a day or two. One of the things is a framing of the problem. I’m going to try something. I’m going to try to turn climate change framing into something else — temperature rises a few degrees doesn’t worry most people because we experience temperature changes in our life. Health effects, that might worry people more. If we lose half the phytoplankton, they produce half the oxygen in the atmosphere. The oxygen’s not being replenished. We’re losing oxygen. This might worry people.
Oxygen levels are plummeting on Earth because of climate change. Maybe that will wake people up. I don’t know. I think people are just — they’re just — they don’t care. They just don’t care. They’re living their lives, their consumerism, their happy with all their stuff and it’s gonna come bite everybody.
We’re going to go into really miserable and dark times and there’s nothing — I mean, the sad thing is that it’s completely unnecessary. We don’t have to do this. But it’s not my responsibility to tell the entire planet that they’re doing this. I try to do as much as I can, but I don’t sweat about it. I also don’t sweat. I don’t worry about climate change at all anymore.
It’s almost like I take this sort of — I guess it’s a psychological thing. I went through all of these phases of “Oh my God, what are we doing? Those things are really bad. Let’s tell as many people as we can about this. “I’ve been through all of these stages and now it’s just, I think I’ve kind of — this is sort of the human condition.
We do really stupid things, but I do not give up hope that okay, if we really — if the public is panicked about climate change, what are we gonna do? So I want to be able to try to think of what we can do and try to direct some things towards there if I have any impact on anybody else. I talk about these things a lot on my website and stuff. If we drive ourselves under, then that’s what we do. It’s not necessary. And this idea of there’s always ten years, there’s always ten years left.
Look at some videos from 10 to 20 years ago. “We’ve got ten years to turn things around. We’ve got ten years to do this.” You still see this. Come on, this doesn’t make sense. In Paris I even saw this thinking, “We’ve got ten years to turn things around or it’s finished.” We’ve blown it. We’re past the point. We’re committed to a much warmer planet. There’s nothing we can do. That will never happen. People will never say that. There’s always, “Okay, let’s do massive geoengineering and remove CO2.” Geoengineering is going to be pointless if we leave it too late. It’s like throwing a grain of sand at a roaring charging elephant.
If we let the Arctic warm up too much, we get the emissions coming out, they’re going to dwarf everything that humans have done — all the emissions, all the CO2 and methane that humans have put in the atmosphere, N2O also, those things will be completely dwarfed if the Earth starts releasing these in large quantities, which I think will happen with a much warmer Arctic. So once we’re there, it’s will just be enjoy the ride for as long as you can because we had our window of opportunity and we lost it. Are we there now? We might be, but that doesn’t stop me trying to say that we need to try these things because we don’t know.
Usually, it’s in the rearview mirror that you notice these things. You look back and say, “Yeah, we went through an abrupt climate change transition.” I still post things like, “Okay, the Arctic is seven degrees warmer, the entire region” and I get these comments, “Well yeah, the climate’s always changed,” “Yeah, the Arctic was warm before — what about the medieval warm period? The Arctic was warmer, blah blah blah.”
INT: Yeah, mini Ice Age.
R: You just ignore these comments because it takes all your energy. You only have a finite amount of time, so you — but those — yeah. It’s funny because what do we do with the Republican Party in the U.S. and all those climate deniers in Senate? I say we take homeland security and put climate change as their priority — change it to climate resilience or something.
One of the things they could do is they could take all of the climate deniers and then send them to reconditioning, to intense re-education on what’s really happening in climate so that they go to Guantanamo for a month and they get intense training on climate and they come out and they recognize the science of what’s happening and then they go back and do their jobs.
We need to take drastic measures to do stuff. We’re all going to die if we continue what we’re doing. We’re destroying the planet. When are people going to stop being stupid — why do we tolerate such fraud in society from powerful people? Is this the state of evolution of humanity, to go that route? This is like Dark Ages 2.0. “Oh, all these changes, they are God’s will.” This is what we’ve come to? We haven’t evolved at all. We’ve still got that very primitive brain. The amygdala, the fear of terrorism, it’s just like — you know we are morons? So anyways…
INT: Well thank you so much. This is really helpful. I’m gonna turn this off.