Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Hertsgaard: It's Worse Than You Think

Environmental author Mark Hertsgaard spoke at the San Francisco Department of Environment today. He has come to believe we are so far down the global warming road and its consequences that the time has come to move beyond mitigation to focus on adaptation. Of course, he said, every effort must continue to move toward a zero-carbon economy, but we need to get our collective head around the idea that our carbon emissions have warmed up the earth, and it's going to get even warmer. We can still make it worse, but we can't make it stop. More Katrina's. Summers hotter than the killer of 50,000 in Europe a few years ago.

Hertsgaard says environmental leaders shudder at the poltical consequences of such knowledge. Will everyone stop replacing their lightbulbs and stop buying hybrids if the next generations are screwed regardless?

I think the question enviros face isn't what doomsday timeline will optimally motivate policy-makers, industry or everyday people. Excepting our disgraced President, it is now conventional wisdom that global warming is real. When Shell Oil's CEO finally believes it's real, as he apparently does, the debate is over, Hertsgaard said,

The question is what are the best policies to support. And this is where we are being let down by environmental leadership, at least as regards transportation. The young man who rang my doorbell for Environment California this evening should have been more than a naive enthusiast for wind and solar and more efficient cars. He could have been an advocate for creating that renewable power and putting it into cars. Killing two birds with one stone, pardon the murderous cliche.

The end game is the cleanest, most renewable power possible for everything. Realistically, the only way we get renewable power into millions of cars is with grid electricity. GM has just given environmentalists a opening with its plug-in hybrid announcement.

GM is rumored to have yet another announcement regarding what Waggoner called "the electrification of the automobile" at the Detroit Auto Show in January. Will Toyota let GM be first to market with a plug-in?


liveoilfree said...

I don't believe gm is serious about plug-in hybrids, it's just a dodge to get out of the impossible committment they made to make a fuel cell car by 2010. gm's awful predicament is, what if people ask to buy a "hydrogen car" by 2010, even if the infrastructure isn't ready? The Fuel Cell car costs about $1M to build, and gm can't possibly sell them for more than $80000...and the cars are completely worthless, good only for conversion to Battery EVs.
So gm would like to commit to plug-in hybrids, but then claim that the lithium batteries are not yet ready...continuing to ignore the very practical NiMH batteries still working fine in our RAV4-EV after 4 or 5 years and up to 100,000 miles.

Anonymous said...

One of the problems with the English language is that it tends to lead to binary thinking when the real world is more complex. We are asked to decide whether sound is "loud" or "soft" when in reality there are countless levels. Similarly, Hertsgaard's comments that global warming is too late to stop (a sort of binary statement) does not mean the degree of damage is not affected by our greenhouse gas emissions. Even if serious consequences are unavoidable, worse consequences will result from doing nothing. I tend to agree that we have already reached the tipping point. That happened when the permafrost started melting and began emitting enough carbon dioxide and methane on its own that will soon equal another United States in greenhouse gases. (And perhaps China will soon be a third U.S.) Unless we figure out a way to cool the artic fast, this is unstoppable. But that does not make our emissions unimportant; indeed it makes it all the more imperative that we cut them now.