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Apocalyptic ACC

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Graphic from Wikipedia. The data only considers carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement manufacture, but not emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry.

Fig. 1. Graphic from Wikipedia. Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement manufacture, but not emissions from land use, land-use change and forestry (2015 data).

by Len Bahr, Ph.D.

I have recently concluded that the single largest challenge confronting the successful implementation of the 2017 comprehensive coastal master plan is not mud, nor muscle nor moola, as previously suggested, but rather anthropogenic climate change (ACC).

This premise is virtually being ignored, however, in the current spate of  publicity surrounding the evaluation of the plan. For example, on April 26 Louisiana Public Broadcasting aired its monthly program Louisiana Public Square in which the theme was to evaluate this $50-100 billion restoration package. Tellingly, climate change was mentioned only in passing during the hour long broadcast, and NEVER cited as a fundamental challenge to the viability of the master plan. Could it be that the CPRA is reticent to acknowledge global warming as an existential threat to the success of the plan, which awaits imminent approval by the predominantly climate change denying legislature?

I am persuaded that meaningful global action to reduce atmospheric carbon levels is a necessary precondition for achieving the goal of no further net loss of Louisiana coastal landscape by 2050. Absent such action, whatever projects are implemented locally will be overwhelmed by sea level rise. In other words, there is a fundamental disconnect between the likelihood of success of our fully implemented master plan and global reality.

For example, on March 24 Vox.com published an article by Brad Plumer on the magnitude of carbon reductions that would be necessary to achieve the 2015 Paris Climate Accord target by 2050. Here are three steps necessary for success, as quoted from this article:

1) Global CO2 emissions from energy and industry have to fall in half each decade. That is, in the 2020s, the world cuts emissions in half. Then we do it again in the 2030s. Then we do it again in the 2040s. They dub this a “carbon law.” Lead author Johan Rockström told me they were thinking of an analogy to Moore’s law for transistors; we’ll see why.

2) Net emissions from land use — i.e., from agriculture and deforestation — have to fall steadily to zero by 2050. This would need to happen even as the world population grows and we’re feeding ever more people.

3) Technologies to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere have to start scaling up massively, until we’re artificially pulling 5 gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere by 2050 — nearly double what all the world’s trees and soils already do.

On April 11 theatlantic.com republished a provocative essay by Robin Scher on a potential climate change apocalypse described in an article that had originally been published in alternet.com. Here are some relevant quotes:

Named the Anthropocene equation, the formula was created by Will Steffen, a climate research professor at the Australian National University, and Owen Gaffney, a science journalist and communications consultant at the sustainability research firm Future Earth. According to their formula, recently published in The Anthropocene Review, human activity is altering the environment 170 times faster than under normal circumstances.

On April 21 grist.org published a short essay by Kate Yoder on the climate change apocalypse. Here’s a quote:

In pre-industrial times, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stood at 280 parts per million. And that number has been rising ever since, warming the planet by 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C) along the way.

Atmospheric CO2 reaches record concentration (from Grist.org).

Fig. 2. Atmospheric CO2 reaches record concentration (from Grist.org).

CO2 levels fluctuate with the seasons, climbing a bit higher each spring (see Fig. 2). We first hit 400 parts per million back in 2013, and that became the new norm just four years later. And on April 18 this year, as predicted, we crossed the 410 ppm threshold for the first time at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

On April 26 politico.com published an essay by Marc Wolf in about Trump’s effect on American greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s a quote:

President Donald Trump’s aggressive rollback of the Obama administration’s climate policies is already changing the trajectory of the world’s efforts on global warming, with some analysts estimating it will mean billions more tons of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere during the next decade and a half.

It could be one of the most durable legacies of his young presidency — regardless of whether Trump decides to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement.

On April 30 Salon.com published an article by Phil Torres in which he described a growing number of scientists predicting the demise of humanity in the near term. This list includes Stephen Hawking, who is quoted as follows in an article in the Guardian.com:

Now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it.

Compare the global situation with the incredibly narrow perspective on climate change on the part of state officials. On April 14, 2017 Bob Marshall published an essay on GOP intransigence on acknowledging climate change. Here are some relevant quotes:

Now the state says that even if the plan works perfectly, those rising seas will still claim between 1,200 and 2,800 square miles of our current coast. The researchers said the grimmer forecasts are tied to human-caused sea level rise, not new estimates on subsidence. They have concluded that reducing emissions is the best chance Louisiana has to save some of those coastal communities and the wetlands that produce our fisheries — and protect the billions in oil and gas infrastructure that powers so many well-paying jobs.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, the former head of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Agency (Authority) turned GOP congressman, thinks killing those regulations is a good way to help the state’s coast. His rather novel reasoning: The regulations have hindered recent expansion of the offshore oil industry, and the royalties from offshore production help fund the coastal plan.

Well, in the first place, the oil field slump was caused because prices fell from $100 a barrel down to $33. Besides, Graves and other GOPers were also against regulations when oil was over $100 a barrel.

Finally, on May 2 Alexander C. Kaufman and Kate Sheppard reported in Huffpost.com that the White House has announced that a decision to formally withdraw American support of the Paris climate change agreement is coming next week. Apparently Donald J. Trump is desperate to have something to show for his dystrophic first days playing POTUS at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Lest reading this post leaves you with feelings of dismay, I’ll end with a reference to a hopeful article by Robinson Meyer in TheAtantic.com, in which he describes the amazing 200,000 person march on climate change held in Washington, DC on April 29.

 

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  1. I know this website gives quality based posts and extra material, is there any other web site which offers such things in quality?|

  2. Chris McLindon says:

    South Louisiana offers the perfect laboratory for assessing the impacts of relative sea level rise on a coastal plain over the past few decades, and by extension, the future impacts of global sea level rise in other areas. For most of the latter 20th century the subsidence component of RSLR exceeded the eustatic rise component in coastal Louisiana by a factor between 2 and 10.

    By accurately determining rates of subsidence it may be possible to model the impacts of higher rates of sea level rise in other areas. The CORS station at Shell Beach measures a current vertical velocity of about 6 mm/yr – nearly twice the current rate of sea level rise. This series of animations attempts to reconstruct the impacts of relative sea level rise at Shell Beach by assuming a constant rate of subsidence and sea level rise over the last 150 years.

    Fort Proctor is one of the oldest pieces of infrastructure in the area, and provides good visual basis for the animations:

    http://biotech.law.lsu.edu/la/geology/Fort-Proctor-Subsidence.htm

    Dramatically increasing the number of GPS measurement stations like Shell Beach will significantly improve our ability to assess and plan for future impacts of sea level rise.

    • Chris-
      I don’t disagree with the need for more science on vertical change and I’d like to hear from the world’s local subsidence expert, Tor Tornqvist at Tulane. Nevertheless, recent projections of RSLR and the concept that an irreversible point is on the horizon where it will be too late to save America’s Delta by reducing carbon emissions. This concept is virtually being ignored by the local media.
      Len

      • Kelly Haggar says:

        Len,

        Ask Tor to give you a copy of his 45 min slide show to the AGU board last month at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans.

        If he does, perhaps a round table discussion can break out.

        kmh

  3. Edward Bodker says:

    The silence in response to your post is sad and speaks volumes about our willingness to go quietly into the dark nights of our eco-future. Voices are raised in alarm about the need for restoration money, but hushed in the closet of causality and denial. Makes me wonder, if Freud was right, about the unconscious having a collective death wish.

    Thankfully, you wrote the post and Ed Richard’s was willing to give a thoughtful response. Perhaps, as Rebecca Solnit points out, there is “dark hope.”

    • Kelly Haggar says:

      From over a year ago:

      http://thehayride.com/2016/04/appel-conflicted-about-how-best-to-fight-coastal-erosion/

      Note also that neither St Sen A back then nor law prof Ed today wrote of geological factors, just of ocean ones.

      (Of course Prof Ed is fully aware of geo developments . . .but we all must choose since there are only so many hours in each day.)

      No clue how much of the back story St Sen A knows. Especially an elected troop must choose who is a good use of his time. And he opens with being conflicted.

      Science is about what’s a fact; law is about which facts matter.

    • Ed-
      Thanks for the kudos. It’s not surprising that the CPRA and the green groups don’t dwell on the delta downside of global warming; there are lots of coastal jobs dependent on an optimistic view.
      Len

      • Edward Bodker says:

        You are exactly correct. Jobs are dependent on an optimistic view. But that makes jobs the goal and subordinates the problem. Jobs as a position of political fall back is no solution and needs to be seen for what it is, an excuse.

  4. Edward Bodker says:

    Thanks Len,

    You have poked the growing elephant in the room. Now let’s see if there will be a conversation or mass timidity among your readers.

  5. If we could magically go to a carbon free world today, the CO2 already in the atmosphere is enough to raise sea level by at least 3 feet, and much more likely 6 feet before the current temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans equilibrates. This is called the “baked in” sea level rise. It makes the coastal restoration plan a complete waste of time and money – even if it works as planned. Better to use that restoration money on things like the Comite basin drainage than to take money from relief to homeowners. At it has a chance of doing some good.

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