Yves here. Readers will no doubt perceive the disconnect in the article. It argues that the world has passed an event horizon as far as climate change is concerned, yet posits that there are still things that can be done to prevent the inevitable.
I am not arguing for complacency, in that we all should be taking steps to slow and ideally halt the rate of increase in the levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases. But this article places undue faith in technology magic bullets. Not only do they take time we don’t have to deploy on a large scale basis, they take energy, and often the use of scarce or environmentally costly natural resources, to implement.
The biggest near-term priority needs to be radical reduction in the use of energy. And there is a lot that could be done that does not involve great changes in lifestyle; in fact, as far as businesses are concerned, the big barrier is inertia (compounded by the “don’t tell me what to do” reflex). As the Guardian described in 2007, BP in 1997 decided to lower its carbon emissions below the 1990 level by 2010. It achieved the goal in 3 years rather than 13 at a cost of $20 million. Oh, and it happened to save $650 million. With that sort of calculus, you’d think that every big corporation would be on the emissions-reduction bandwagon.
One of my new pet issues is private jets, which have become a pervasively-used, unjustified perk for private equity fund managers. As we discussed in How Pension Funds, Universities and Endowments Pay for Private Equity Private Jet:
One of the class markers of the private equity industry is that its members routinely fly on private jets. That’s often because the larger and even some of the smaller firms charge their private jet travel to private equity portfolio companies. That means that the cost is borne first and foremost by investors in private equity like public pension funds, private pension funds, universities like Harvard and Yale, and other foundations and endowments.
The enormous costs of private jets, while they are borne by the investors, are almost entirely hidden from them. PE firms keep investors in the dark by having the portfolio companies they’ve bought on behalf of their investors pay these jet bills. Amazingly, investors have been fooled by this simple ruse for decades – it’s as if your stockbroker deducts his fee from your account, and you regard his services as free because you never see a bill.
Now admittedly, there are cases, if you are taking a team of people from one not-well-air-serviced location to another, when private jet travel is cheaper than flying commercial. But those instances are rare.
It does not appear that private equity firms have obtained authorization to travel at a more luxurious standard than is the norm for the investors themselves or Corporate America generally. We searched through our stash of private equity limited partnership agreements and found no disclosure regarding the use of private jets.
Flying first and business class is more environmentally costly than flying coach. And by private jet? Fuggedaboudit. While it’s hard to make solid estimates given how many different types of private planes there are the fact that they often don”t fly fully loaded (raising the question of how passengers to assume are on board), a rough and ready estimate is that .
Now it’s easy to say in terms of total emissions that this doesn’t add up to all that much. But that’s the wrong attitude. We need somehow to instill a sense of societal urgency, along with the Japanese attitude of kaizen, which is continuous small improvements. And having seen kaizen work in a Japanese company, it was not nice, spontaneous, bubble up from the bottom process. In our bank (everyone in the Japanese hierarchy called Sumitomo “our bank”), each section during every kaizen exercise to come up with at least one kaizen suggestion. Many were implemented, and the best ones were touted in the branch as a mini badge of honor for the team that had recommended it. But the message was clear: improving efficiency was everyone’s duty. We need the same attitude about carbon change. And we need visible changes in habits at the top, like draconian taxes or serious legal restrictions on private jet use on routes where there is regular commercial service. We need to see far more focus on things that can be done now, or in short order, with no or minimal investment, dumb stuff like weatherproofing your home, using fans in the summer more and air conditioners less and planning your car trips so as to make fewer on your weekly rounds, as opposed to relying on “green energy will save us.” That vein of magical thinking both kicks the can down the road and conveniently makes addressing climate change someone else’s responsibility.
By Thom Hartmann,an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is “The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America — and What We Can Do to Stop It.” Originally published at
If you watched cable news at all this weekend, you probably heard a lot about Donald Trump’s bad week and how it was a turning point in the presidential campaign. But you probably didn’t hear anything about another big turning point, one that demonstrates how little time we really have left to stop climate change.
Last week, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography announced that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has stayed above 400 parts per million throughout the entire year up to this point.
We’ve crossed the 400 parts per million (or PPM) threshold before — sometimes for weeks at a time, sometimes for months — but the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere usually dips at the beginning of autumn, that just hasn’t happened this year.
As a result, scientists now think that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will stay above 400 parts per million permanently.
That’s right — permanently, as in forever, at least in human terms.
This is, to paraphrase Vice President Joe Biden, a big “effing” deal.
The last time there was this much carbon in the atmosphere, human beings didn’t even exist, at least not in our current form. And just for some perspective, 400 parts per million is already about 50 parts per million more than what most scientists consider “safe” levels of CO2 concentration.
So yeah, things don’t look good at all for planet Earth.
Couple this with vanishing Arctic sea ice, rising sea levels and the fact that 2016 has already been the hottest year on record, and things look even worse. As if it wasn’t already obvious before, it should be now: We are rapidly running out of time to stop climate change. We’re already in the danger zone, and every single day we keep pumping fossil fuels into the atmosphere just pushes us closer towards total climate devastation.
The situation may even be worse than most people realize.
James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, that the 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels threshold — that most international institutions say is the baseline of how much warming we can take — is “nonsense” and “a prescription for disaster.”
Hansen now argues that we need to lower the limit of “acceptable” warming by a whole degree to 1 degree Celsius — a number we’re already eight-tenths of the way to globally, and that we passed years ago in the Arctic.
So that’s the situation we’re in. It’s very obviously a dire one. Which raises the question: what do we do about it?
With global climate change rapidly reaching the point of massive worldwide destruction of the environment that sustains our lives, how do we stop it in its tracks and maybe, just maybe, reverse some of the damage we’ve already done?
Well, first we keep the carbon in the ground by ending all subsidies and imposing a worldwide carbon tax on the production, emission and use of all greenhouse gasses.
Then we do what we should have done decades of years ago — we leave fossil fuels behind once and for all.
This is more possible now than at any time in our history. As the Department of Energy recently concluded, the cost of the five leading clean energy technologies has fallen between 40 and 94 percent since 2008 alone.
As dark and gloomy as the situation is, we have an opportunity here to create a much better future that is very well within our grasp.
Let’s get to work before it’s too late.