Thursday, March 04, 2010

It's been a while since I've put some terrible news up on this thing

Hey, look:
Climate scientists have long warned that global warming could unlock vast stores of the greenhouse gas methane that are frozen into the Arctic permafrost, setting off potentially significant increases in global warming.

Now researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and elsewhere say this change is under way in a little-studied area under the sea, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, west of the Bering Strait.

Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the university and a leader of the study, said it was too soon to say whether the findings suggest that a dangerous release of methane looms. In a telephone news conference, she said researchers were only beginning to track the movement of this methane into the atmosphere as the undersea permafrost that traps it degrades.
The story of the last week that's probably gotten the most play in energy circles was the unveiling of Bloom Energy, allegedly manufacturers of a solid-oxide fuel cell stack with impressive economics and a hellagood marketing firm on their dime.

Advances like these are nice little feel-good moments, but I increasingly feel like they're irrelevant, like German engineers congratulating themselves on the V-2 while the heart of the Wehrmacht gets destroyed in Russia. Impressive, but vastly too little and too late.

Not that I don't think there are practical solutions to the climate crisis. It's just that the obstacles to proper deployment are so vast that arguing about how we'll we're doing misses the point. If you were a German general and you defined victory as "destruction of the Red Army", well you were out of luck -- the outcome of the war was decided once the Russian lines began to hold. Put another way, there was no way to win the war in the way that the German leadership had framed it.

Similarly, if we define solving the climate crisis as "finding some cheap, plug-in solution that allows us to continue our meat-eating, automotive-obsessed lives in our 3000 square foot homes", well, we're out of luck. If you define that as the victory condition, then defeat is inevitable.

The only way to win is to change the victory conditions. The good news is that, unlike the implacable Red Army, the Earth actually doesn't give a damn about us one way or the other. There's plenty of reason to believe that if we can change our preferences, we'll find the room we need.

2 comments:

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Gar Lipow said...

Hi JOhn. You are probably right about meat eating and auto obsessed having to change, though we can afford to phase cars out slowly in places that are really dependent on them if we do everything else right. But 3,000 square foot homes? Wasteful and unneeded, and counterproductive. But that is something that is sustainable. 3,000 square foot homes are even compatible with sustainable communities, as long as people don't mind shared walls, and don't insist on their own yards. Actually the having your own yard obession is what really may be unsustainable, unless people are willing to settle for really small homes or really small yards. So trade off. Small home, big yard. Moderate home, tiny yard. Or home any size you want and shared walls and shared yards.