2009 was the year I lost all doubt that I live in a plutocracy in every sense, and that I should never expect to see moral behavior from government for the rest of my life, unless there is a revolution.
(And that was before the Citizen's United decision in January, 2010!)
So in trying to understand the environmental future, things are now much simpler for me.
-Whenever I consider government policy as a factor, I simply figure out what could be the worst imaginable policy, and expect exactly that.
Last night I just finished James Hansen's new book, " Storms of My Grandchildren " , which was done in October, 2009 and published in December, 2009.
James Hansen is the NASA scientist who is probably the leading expert in the world on climate change, and he has become a vocal and emotional messenger about how serious the threat now is.
In this book, he also makes it clear that the government is ready to make the situation even more dangerous than it already is, confirming what I just said.
Near the end, he spelled out what we should now expect:
By the second half of this century, because the tipping points will have been triggered, and because they will have overwhelmed all offsetting slow feedbacks, all the earth's glaciers and ice caps will be irreversibly melting rapidly, sea level will be rising at almost 1/2 inch per year and this rate will be increasing. There will be no way to prevent them from rising to a final level about 250 feet above present within a few hundred years. He also described how the ocean chemistry will have changed and why all types of storms will be much more powerful, and how weather patterns will be radically different from today. Mass extinctions will be underway.
It is also a certainty if we burn tar sands and shale as well as all the coal that in a few centuries, the final "runaway" point will be reached, when temperatures rise to where the oceans begin evaporating and adding water vapor as the final totally fatal greenhouse gas.
This will cause the earth to become another sweltering desert ball like Venus, with all water lost to outer space, and with no atmosphere except carbon dioxide.
-But, because I follow debates about fossil fuel "reserves", I know there is a way this all might not happen, in spite of humanity's best effort to make sure it does.
I say this because I and most other "peak oil" followers know that Hansen and other climate scientists have been basing their predictions on the numbers that governments and economists give them about how much coal, oil and gas remain underground and practically recoverable. (All of it will be burnt, because there are not going to be serious efforts to prevent it all from being burnt.) But, we also believe the numbers for oil and gas are inflated for political and economic reasons.
But Hansen's nightmare scenarios are due to all the earth's coal being burnt, not all the oil and gas. And, nobody was claiming that the coal numbers were also inflated.
...Not until 2007 that is!
And the claims that several credible researchers made in 2007 were solid enough that peak oil expert Richard Heinberg wrote a book about them, " Blackout " , which also came out last year.
I think that Blackout and Storms of My Grandchildren might be the two most important books in history!
Here is why...
They both came out in exactly the year that the failures of governments to respond sensibly to just a financial collapse with proper new regulation made it clear they will never be able to behave properly in regard to the even greater challenges of energy and climate.
But the studies discussed in Blackout suggest that in spite of that, the earth has been poised all along to rescue itself at the very last moment.
...If the "peak coal about 2020-2047" predictions they outline come true, it means that there just happened to be only enough coal deposited millions of years ago for modern humans to get us right to the nightmare tipping points of Hansen's book, but not over them!
If I were a theologian I would probably see something very meaningful about this.
For me, a car hanging on the edge of but not over a cliff comes to mind.
The earth is the car, and selfish and suicidal mankind is the thief who stole it and drove it toward the cliff, ready to take it over. But the car had only the exact amount of fuel (coal) that it ran out just in time to stop at the edge.
This story of how the second book relates to the first is profound, but may not come to pass.
On The Oil Drum website which I highly respect, there have been emotional debates raging about imminent peak coal since the 2007 studies predicting it were first released, and the counter arguments are very realistic.
And there is also fear that mankind and its corrupt governments and corporations will somehow be smart enough to see the peak before it blindsides them like the oil peak is now doing. If this happens, the thief will empty an old dirty gas can into the tank before driving for the cliff.
The gas can symbolizes all-out tar sands and shale oil production, ramped up in panic when mankind realizes the filthy coal will run out.