Off the Deep End: An inexpert guide to dealing with climate change

This is an ongoing series of blog posts that will make up a majority of this blog for a while. For an explanation of what it’s about, you can check out the initial “announcement” post and the two prefaces, or you can just go to here and find all the posts I’ve made so far in this series. The most recent addition is likely to be either directly beneath this sticky, or not far below whatever IS there.

UPDATE 09/8/2014: 

Changes coming to Oceanoxia soon, along with more regular updates! Stay tuned, and check out Skeptical Science‘s 97 Hours of Consensus event!

Off the Deep End: After we “win”

With every decade being hotter than the last, on a global scale, it seems appropriate that every climate rally is bigger than the last. The upcoming march on 9/21/14 is expected to be the biggest gathering of people in America to call for action on climate change.

And there’s a LOT of political action needed. Our government’s policy, on the whole, is still in limbo on what’s happening in our climate, with one of the two parties in power having denial as a crucial part of its science platform.

Conventional wisdom is that if we can threaten their ability to get re-elected, the Republicans will come around on the issue, and it seems likely that that’s the case. Gingrich, Romney, Bush, McCain, and many others have all acknowledged the reality of our warming climate at one point or another, so it’s clear that at least some members of the GOP are aware of what’s going on. What’s less clear is how long it will take for public pressure to override the flood of money unleashed by recent relaxations in campaign finance laws.

In time, however, we will get there. In time, and with continued pressure and protests, we will come to a national recognition that there is a problem, and that we have put it off too long for anything but drastic measures to be taken. In time, we will begin the work, as a nation, of dealing with global climate change.

And here is where climate change differs from every other important issue in history. With labor laws, there was a long, hard fight, lives were lost, livelihoods destroyed, and in the end, the battle was won, laws were passed, and employers were required to treat their workers with a minimum amount of respect and dignity. With Segregation, the battle was won, and laws were passed changing how humans were allowed to treat each other, and providing legal frameworks to give some power to those who had none, and some defense to the defenseless. With leaded gasoline, there was a nasty political fight with powerful, wealthy corporations misleading the public and politicians alike, but in time, laws were passed, tetraethyl lead was banned, and the amount of lead we were exposed to began to fall almost immediately.

On many of the problems we’ve solved there is still much work to be done, both in America and in the rest of the world, but in the end, as tangled and complex as human interaction is, these problems all improve as people stop taking certain actions. On the surface, global climate change may seem the same. If we stop burning fossil fuels, we will have “solved” the problem, right?

Wrong.

If we had addressed global warming in the 1980’s, a couple decades after the first warnings came, or even in the 1990’s, after it became unequivocal that the planet was warming and humans were to blame, then we might have been able to follow the old model. We could have passed laws, phased out fossil fuels, and been done.

Now, in 2014, it’s too late for that. The amount of CO2 we’ve added to the atmosphere would keep warming the planet for another 20 years or so even if we stopped adding to it today, but even that isn’t the whole story. The heat we’ve already added to the planet has been enough to trigger a number of feedback loops that are increasing the rate at which the planet warms. Lowered albedo, melting of the permafrost, increased evaporation through higher temperatures, and decreased photosynthesis through heatwaves and droughts – all of these may to be enough to drive continual warming for centuries to come.

So, if the protest movement is successful, and the problem is acknowledged, what comes next? If we can’t stop the warming, then is there any point in trying?

In a word, yes. There is a point. But the goal has changed. We are no longer fighting to stop the warming, we’re fighting for the long-term survival of our species, and of our civilization.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about what that means, the kinds of action we can take, and the sort of changes we need to make in how we think as a society. In this series, I’m going to cover topics like food production, energy generation, energy storage, water use, disaster preparedness, and the art of thinking generations ahead.

A Lobster Boat at the tipping point

“This decision by the District Attorney is an admission that the political and economic system isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously, and that it falls to ordinary citizens, especially people of faith, to stand up and take action to avert catastrophe,” O’Hara said.

The issue of global climate change is one of the most unevenly understood issues in the world. When Svante Arrhenius published the first calculations of man-made global warming via CO2, in 1896, he would doubtless have been astonished to hear people saying that his idea was invented in the 1980’s by a bunch of totalitarians, or in the early 2000’s by some guy named Al Gore.

And yet, that’s where we are, 118 years later, which probably explains why we have such different reactions to news on the issue. We have, on the one hand, a scientist who’s looking to move to Denmark for the future safety of his children, and on the other hand, a new hobby of deliberately increasing the amount of pollution put out by cars in an act of spiteful defiance that smacks of flushing hundred dollar bills because someone said that a savings account is a good idea.

All of this can be incredibly frustrating to those of us who work in climate change communication, which is why today’s ruling on the Somerset Lobster Boat Blockade is such a breath of fresh air.

At 6AM on May 15th[2013], after a short prayer on the dock in Newport, Ken Ward and Jay O’hara embarked on their 32′ white lobster boat “Henry David T” north towards Brayton Point Power Plant. On a cloudless morning, supported by half a dozen friends and colleagues on shore, the two piloted the “Henry David T” into the ship channel at the coal pier.  At 9AM they raised a “350” banner and another reading “#coalisstupid” alongside the American flag, dropped anchor, and called the Somerset police to inform them of their non-violent direct action.

Ken and Jay ended up blocking the coal shipment for a full six hours. Their legal strategy was to plead necessity – that climate change was a clear and present danger, that their action would make a difference in reducing that danger, and that there was no legal recourse for addressing the problem.

Today, Bristol County D.A. Sam Sutter dropped the most serious charges against Ken and Jay, and agreed to a fine of $2000 from each man, paid to the town of Somerset.

In the end, the coal was delivered, and burned, adding approximately 114,400 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere – carbon that had been buried for millions of years.

But the blockade got a fair amount of attention, and now, with this decision by Sam Sutter, has forced progress on dealing with the danger that is global climate change.

We’re not there yet, and we’ve got a lifetime of work ahead of us, but we are making progress in this fight.

“Protest works, indeed protest maybe the only thing that can save us,”
-Ken Ward

Disclaimer: Jay O’Hara and the author of this blog are friends, and have worked together on climate communication in the past.

OtDE: Micro solar, episode 2

First impressions:

I ordered the three main components on Amazon:

The PV panel is a Renology 50w “solar starter kit” at $126.99 This comes with a charge controller, mounting brackets and screws, and 20 feet of cable to run from the panel to the charge controller. The 100w kit would have been a better deal per watt at $172.99, but it would not fit in my skylight, so that wasn’t an option for me.

The battery is a generic-seeming 12v battery (billed for scooters, wheelchairs, emergency lighting, and other stuff) at $74.90. This comes with a battery. Electricity goes in, electricity goes out.

The inverter was $65.99, and provides me with two standard U.S. three-prong outlets.

Shipping on all three items was free (the battery and panel advertise free shipping, and the inverter was free thanks to Amazon prime).

I bought these based on no knowledge whatsoever, other than that Amazon said they are frequently bought together.

My goal is to have this be as simple and painless as possible, since I’m not interested in becoming an electrician at the moment.

The immediate dilemma facing me at this point in time is the materials I still need to get, and the particulars of making all the connections. That, and ensuring that there is no way for the household animals (cat and dog) to zap themselves.

In addition to what I have, currently, I need cables to connect the charge controller to the battery, and cables to connect the charge controller to the inverter.

I’m going to seek advice on this, but the inverter DID come with a cigarette lighter adapter to take power from a car, and feed it to the inverter. Given that I do not have a car, and I hope never to have one in the near future, I may cannibalize that adapter to connect the controller to the inverter, but we shall see.

Total cost so far: $266.99

Off the Deep End: Micro solar power

A few months ago, I got ahold of a little extra cash, so I decided to take advantage of the skylight in my apartment, and use it to power a small photovoltaic panel, and see what things I can replace.

The panel has arrived, along with a battery and an inverter so I can plug appliances into it.

Over the next few months, I’m going to document my experience using this system, what I use it for, what I CAN’T use it for, what the ups and downs are, and how I can use it as a platform from which to make other improvements.

I’ll use photos, review the individual pieces, and post exact prices of how much all this costs me so any readers can, if they want, figure out what’s worth copying, and what they could do better or cheaper.

Off the Deep End: What can high school students do?

One of the problems that has confronted every teenager in recent history is that it’s the age at which you are becoming aware of the world around you and the problems in it, but according to the law, you are still a child, and have no power or money to make a difference. While that perception is not entirely true (you DO have the power to make a difference), there are many ways in which it is. Continue reading

Off the deep end: How to make a snowballing climate action fund.

The snowballing climate action fund is a way to start by spending a little money on climate action, and gradually increase the amount you’re able to spend on it by setting aside savings. I’m going to describe it at the level of an individual apartment, but as I’ll explain later, it’s really applicable at any level from individual households, to the entire globe.

The notion is pretty simple, and can be done in a set of easily definable steps. We’ll start with power consumption: Continue reading

Off The Deep End: How can one person influence politics?

In the last section, I talked about how artists and writers can help create a common vision of a better future that seems within reach. When this succeeds, and that vision takes hold, there are a number of reactions, and one of the more common ones is a desire to look at how to make that future a reality. Sure, we have the technology and know-how to create a better society, but do we have the collective will to do so?

Politics, in America, are daunting, to say the least. We live in an increasingly plutocratic society, in which the majority of legislators are far wealthier than the average American, and the cost of running for office seems to get higher with every election. So how can one person, or even a handful of people, make a difference in this arena?

There are a lot of possible answers to that question, so I’m going to start (as is my wont) with my own experience. Continue reading