Climate Solutions: Stop Burning Things


A must-read. I pulled a few excellent sections of this very informative piece, hoping to intrigue you enough to read it all.

Bill McKibben is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign and a contributing writer to The New Yorker. He writes The Climate Crisis, The New Yorker’s newsletter on the environment.

On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Then, just a few hours later, at the opening of a rare emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly, he catalogued the horrors of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and declared, “Enough is enough.” Citing Putin’s declaration of a nuclear alert, the war could, Guterres said, turn into an atomic conflict, “with potentially disastrous implications for us all.”

What unites these two crises is combustion. Burning fossil fuel has driven the temperature of the planet ever higher, melting most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic, bending the jet stream, and slowing the Gulf Stream. And selling fossil fuel has given Putin both the money to equip an army (oil and gas account for sixty per cent of Russia’s export earnings) and the power to intimidate Europe by threatening to turn off its supply. Fossil fuel has been the dominant factor on the planet for centuries, and so far nothing has been able to profoundly alter that. After Putin invaded, the American Petroleum Institute insisted that our best way out of the predicament was to pump more oil. The climate talks in Glasgow last fall, which John Kerry, the U.S. envoy, had called the “last best hope” for the Earth, provided mostly vague promises about going “net-zero by 2050”; it was a festival of obscurantism, euphemism, and greenwashing, which the young climate activist Greta Thunberg summed up as “blah, blah, blah.” Even people trying to pay attention can’t really keep track of what should be the most compelling battle in human history.

So let’s reframe the fight. Along with discussing carbon fees and green-energy tax credits, amid the momentary focus on disabling Russian banks and flattening the ruble, there’s a basic, underlying reality: the era of large-scale combustion has to come to a rapid close. If we understand that as the goal, we might be able to keep score, and be able to finally get somewhere. Last Tuesday, President Biden banned the importation of Russian oil. This year, we may need to compensate for that with American hydrocarbons, but, as a senior Administration official put it,“the only way to eliminate Putin’s and every other producing country’s ability to use oil as an economic weapon is to reduce our dependency on oil.” As we are one of the largest oil-and-gas producers in the world, that is a remarkable statement. It’s a call for an end of fire.


The constant price drops mean, Farmer said, that we might still be able to move quickly enough to meet the target set in the 2016 Paris climate agreement of trying to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. “One point five is going to suck,” he said. “But it sure beats three. We just need to put our money down and do it. So many people are pessimistic and despairing, and we need to turn that around.”


Harder to solve may be the human-rights challenges that come with new mining efforts, such as the use of so-called “artisanal” cobalt mining, in which impoverished workers pry the metal from the ground with spades, or the plan to build a lithium mine on a site in Nevada that is sacred to Indigenous peoples. But, as we work to tackle those problems, it’s worth remembering that a transition to renewable energy would, by some estimates, reduce the total global mining burden by as much as eighty per cent, because so much of what we dig up today is burned (and then we have to go dig up some more). You dig up lithium once, and put it to use for decades in a solar panel or battery. In fact, a switch to renewable energy will reduce the load on all kinds of systems. At the moment, roughly forty per cent of the cargo carried by ocean-going ships is coal, gas, oil, and wood pellets—a never-ending stream of vessels crammed full of stuff to burn. You need a ship to carry a wind turbine blade, too, if it’s coming from across the sea, but you only need it once. A solar panel or a windmill, once erected, stands for a quarter of a century or longer. The U.S. military is the world’s largest single consumer of fossil fuels, but seventy per cent of its logistical “lift capacity” is devoted solely to transporting the fossil fuels used to keep the military machine running.

The entire article is worth your time.

I like the vlogbrothers. Hank and John create videos for each other, every morning-ish. And Hank here is my energy whenever anyone tells me they must, must, must, have a gas stovetop. And knowing that utilities are charging hefty fees to disconnect (not remove) a gas line to your home and convert stoves and furnaces to electricity, gives you an insight into their fear of renewable energy.

Let the arguments commence (but I do urge you to read the article before condemning it).