Saturday, October 13, 2018

Going to Hell in a Bucket

“I may be going to hell in a bucket babe, but at least I’m enjoying the ride.” – Grateful Dead, 1983

Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, information about climate change has slowly disappeared from the web sites of the EPA and other government agencies. Trump pulled us out of the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Department of Interior has aggressively pursued a policy of opening up lands from the Alaska to the Rio Grande as well as our coasts to more oil and gas drilling. The Energy Department is doing everything it can to prop up the dying coal industry.

Now comes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding the proposed freezing of fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks as of 2020.

The EIS paints a damning picture of the impacts to the planet if we continue on our current course of not reigning in CO2, methane, and particulate aerosol emissions. As of today, the EIS states, impacts will be “irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale . . . Surface temperatures will remain approximately constant at elevated levels for many centuries after a complete cessation of net anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Because of the long time scales of heat transfer from the ocean surface to depth, ocean warming will continue for centuries.”

The report projects that surface temperatures are projected to rise about 4 degrees C by 2100, which would result in the drowning of coastal cities, the rendering of large portions of South Asia and the Middle East uninhabitable, drastically increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, and so on.

It’s a jaw-droppingly pessimistic analysis. What is even more jaw dropping is that the EIS then concludes that maintaining President Obama’s planned increased fuel standards will not make a significant dent to the basically dire forecast, so therefore there is no reason to implement them.

In other words – why bother?

As Bill McKibben of Middlebury College wrote the other day in the Guardian: “You might as well argue that because you’re going to die eventually, there’s no reason not to smoke a carton of cigarettes a day.”

This proposal dovetails nicely with the administration’s plans to abandon regulations to reign in methane leaks from oil and gas production and transport, to weaken emissions regulations on coal-fired power plants, and to drop rules to limit leaks and discharge of refrigerants, which are far more powerful greenhouse gases than CO2 or methane.

As an aside, weakening coal plant emissions standards will result in over 1000 increased deaths per year from respiratory illness, using EPA’s own estimates. Another aside - the number of extreme weather events causing $1 billion or more in economic losses has increased 400% in the last 40 years.

Why is the administration taking this course? Because regulations cost businesses money. 

What the administration willfully ignores are the mountains of financial data which clearly demonstrate that the economic damage from climate change will be measured in the trillions of dollars between now and the end of the century.

Why do you think most major insurance companies want to us to reign in emissions? Because it will cost them money. Funny how that works.

I have stated in this column several times over the last couple of years that many of the consequences of increased CO2 emissions are baked in, no matter what we do, because CO2’s residence time in the atmosphere is measured in centuries. I have also said that we owe it to our children to not make it worse.

The Trump administration thinks otherwise. Why bother?

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