This essay was originally published on TomDispatch and is republished here with Tom's kind permission. ----- Farewell to the Holocene Our world, our old world that we have inhabited for the last 12,000 years, has ended, even if no newspaper in North America or Europe has yet printed its scientific obituary. This February, while cranes were hoisting cladding to the 141st floor of the Burj Dubai tower (which will soon be twice the height of the Empire State Building), the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London was adding the newest and highest story to the geological column. The London Society is the world's oldest association of Earth scientists, founded in 1807, and its Commission acts as a college of cardinals in the adjudication of the geological time-scale. Stratigraphers slice up Earth's history as preserved in sedimentary strata into hierarchies of eons, eras, periods, and epochs marked by the "golden spikes" of mass extinctions, speciation events, and abrupt changes in atmospheric chemistry. In geology, as in biology or history, periodization is a complex, controversial art and the most bitter feud in 19th-century British science -- still known as the "Great Devonian Controversy" -- was fought over competing interpretations of homely Welsh Graywackes and English Old Red Sandstone. More recently, geologists have feuded over how to stratigraphically demarcate ice age oscillations over the last 2.8 million years. Some have never accepted that the most recent inter-glacial warm interval -- the Holocene -- should be distinguished as an "epoch" in its own right just because it encompasses the history of civilization.
The House of Representatives took up a triumvirate of environment and energy-related bills today, passing two that would increase funding for mass transit and curb oil market speculation. A third, more controversial measure would have …
How do you return greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 while promoting jobs, competitiveness, and public health? Conservatives in the U.S. Senate think it can't be done. California knows it can. The Air Resources Board has just published their "Scoping Plan." How do they cut 169 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2020? Efficiency, efficiency, renewables, renewables, and even some conservation:
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown set out goals Thursday to increase renewable-energy use in Britain tenfold by 2020. Brown’s vision for a “green revolution” is heavily reliant on wind power, with plans for 7,000 new …
U.K. economist Nicholas Stern, author of the 2006 report, that argued that costs of inaction on climate change far outweigh the costs of acting, said yesterday that the planet is warming faster than previously predicted, …
Hawai'i is highly dependent on imported oil for its electricity needs -- I've heard Jeff Mikaluna, Director of the Hawai'i chapter of the Sierra Club, quip that the state is one supertanker accident away from becoming Amish. Which makes this press release great news:
The Washington Post embarrasses itself today by publishing the usual delayer drivel in an op-ed by Bjorn Lomborg. The fundamental problem with Lomborg's argument (which he also makes in his recent book Cool It!) is that it is based on the assumption that the worst-case, climate-change scenario cannot happen. The IPCC's predictions for climate change over the next hundred years range from about 2°C to 5°C. If you assume that the warming will be closer to 2° than 5°, which Lomborg does, then it certainly does reduce the pressure to act immediately on climate change. No doubt about that. However, there is no scientific basis for that assumption. Future warming certainly could be closer to 2°, but it could equally likely be close to 5°. We just don't know. Why does he make this assumption? Because there is a conclusion he wants to reach: We should not be taking action on climate change. The only way you can reach that conclusion is by assuming that future climate change will be mild. This argument is bogus. Don't believe it.
CIBC World Markets has just released a stunning yet detailed economic analysis of near-term oil prices and impacts. The PDF has some excellent figures I will convert to JPEGs. The two key pieces are "Getting off the Road -- Adjusting to $7 per Gallon Gas in America" (PDF) and "Oil and Growth -- That 70s show Re-Run" (PDF). Main points: "That additional 200,000 barrels per day pledged from Saudi Arabia is a pittance compared to the four million barrels per day this year that depletion will hive off world production. What little increase in production Saudi is capable of will probably all be gobbled up by that country's own voracious appetite for energy." China's recent oil subsidy drop? Another yawner: "Most North Americans would gladly line up at the pumps for China's now $3.25 a gallon gas." "The only supply response to date has been yet another round of cost overruns and lengthy project delays running the gamut from Canadian oil sands to deepwater Gulf of Mexico wells." "With the basic laws of supply and demand no longer operative in crude oil markets," CIBC is "compelled to once again raise our target prices for oil" to "an average price of $200 per barrel by 2010." That "should translate into a near -- $7 per gallon pump price within two years, a 70 percent increase from today's already record levels." "Higher oil prices spell stagflation for the US economy next year" and beyond. The report has a good analysis of why "The US economy has managed to avoid feeling the full brunt of oil prices over the last few years, but 2009 will be the year that its luck runs out." The analysis seems very solid and suggests the only thing that can "save" us from near -- $7 gas by 2010 is a major global recession, but even that would only be a temporary respite. The implications for Detroit are staggering:
The UN Dispatch-Grist collaboration rolls on today with a discussion prompt submitted by On Day One user teiki: A key to the massive use of fossil fuels in the U.S. is gross overconsumption. We use way more than necessary, through a combined dependence on the automobile and an infatuation with big, gas-hungry cars, trucks and SUVs., through wasted energy consumption in our homes and offices in everything from their construction to "phantom loads" and light bulbs, and through the amount of green house gas emitted by livestock supplying an overconsumption of food. We must learn to use less. David Roberts, Tony Kreindler, media director of the National Climate Campaign at the Environmental Defense Fund, and Timothy B. Hurst respond below the fold.
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