Are the gods angry with us?Nobody likes hurricanes. As Irma hits Florida today after leaving a trail of death and destruction across the Caribbean, our thoughts are with those in her path. While many secretly hope that President Trump's Florida resort gets flattened, that is not a positive wish. This doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. Anyway, hopes, wishes and prayers are completely useless in the face of nature. Nature doesn't care about gods. Nature is what we constructed our god myths around. You could say that nature is god. So, are the gods angry?
Climate science 101If the climate is a god, we've made it angry by adding heat. Hotter oceans have more energy and release more - and more energetic - water vapour into the air. Hotter air holds more water. Hotter air melts icecaps, leading to higher ocean levels and more devastating storm surges. This is very basic science, something that most 10 year-olds can grasp.
Where's the heat?Burning fossil fuel - oil, petrol, diesel, natural gas - creates greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as carbon dioxide. When these greenhouse gases gather in the atmosphere, they block solar energy - heat - from escaping back into space. So the atmosphere gets hotter, more energetic, more capable of intense weather events and enormous hurricanes. Critically, water vapour itself is a greenhouse gas. See 'Climate science 101' above.
What's the alternative and why don't we embrace it?Renewable energy, such as solar and wind, creates the power to run an electricity-generating station or to power an electric car, but without any greenhouse gases. It really is that simple. A key blocker is that we are lectured about the high cost of renewables. Take that one with a pinch of salt. A 2016 study estimated that global fossil fuel subsidies were $5.3 trillion in 2015, which represents 6.5% of global GDP. So, while Elon Musk and the Chinese make great progress driving down the cost of solar, there is not a level playing field while big oil still gets billions in handouts from friends in high places.
Applying logicPresident Trump's decision to pull the USA out of the Paris Agreement on GHG control was a mistake, especially from a business logic perspective. Here's my three point plan for getting things back on track:
- Err on the side of caution on GHGs. If the thousands of scientists are right, we have a slim window of opportunity to get our emissions under control. If we don't, we're in big trouble and our kids and grandkids will inherit a devastated planet.
- Reduce or eliminate the subsidies given to fossil fuel businesses. Add up all the costs generated by mega-hurricanes and follow the money. Until the money runs out.
- Invest some the fossil fuel subsidy savings in flood defences and improving renewable efficiencies.
Prayers just don't cut it.
Further readingFossil fuel subsidies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_subsidies#United_States
Greenhouse gases: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas
Donate to hurricane victims with UNICEF: https://www.unicefusa.org/donate/help-children-affected-hurricane-irma/32787?