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H is For Hope: Book Review

H is for Hope: Climate Change From A to Z, Elizabeth Kolbert, 2024. Short, with drawings by Wesley Allsbrook. Basically, short essays. Kolbert is on my list to read whatever she writes.

Arrhenius. Swedish scientists was interested in ice ages and Svante Arrhenius determined they were caused by carbon dioxide in 1893. CO2 had unique heat trapping properties, with the atmosphere absorbing long-wave radiation. CO2 levels had varied over time. In 1894 he constructed a climate model and measured the levels over time using a bolometer. He further determined that with the burning of coal during the Industrial Revolution, humans were altering the climate.

Blah, Blah, Blah. Greta Thunberg was not impressed with organizations declaring success with climate change: lots of talk to no effect: “net zero by 2050” and so on: Earth Summit, Kyoto Protocol and emissions increased every year.

Capitalism. Fossil fuels make money—the five largest oil-and-gas companies made 200 billion in profits in 2022. The incentives of gas and oil companies are to increase production. CO2 emissions are externalities (just like pollution)—which capitalists ignore unless regulated. The British government called it the “widest-ranging market failure ever seen” (p. 24). They use a fair bit of their earnings to lobby Washington. After all, capitalism promotes endless growth.

Despair. Electrify Everything. Wind turbines with offshore farms and onshore farms growing faster and cheaper. Solar power costs fell faster.

Flight. Small planes for short flights.

Green Concrete: cement-free concrete. Concrete uses Portland cement by grinding limestone and heating to 2,000 degrees, requiring lots of energy. CarbiCrete uses slag from steel production with crushed rock and water.

Hope. Pliny the Elder: “Hope is the pillar that holds up the world.” Research on reverse-rusting resulting in iron-air batteries supplying power as they rust.

Inflation Reduction Act, 2022 bill with $350 billion on climate initiatives. US emissions peaked in 2005, then natural gas started replacing coal. Initially: “Joe Manchin to Earth: Drop Dead.” The bill relied on incentives.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. High electrification means eliminating jobs in the coal industry and natural gas, but create jobs in construction, solar, and upgrading the grid.

Kilowatt. The highest per-capita emissions come from Kuwait and Qatar, with the US high enough.

Leapfrogging. Developing countries can leapfrog earlier technology. India went directly for cellular phone, not landlines, and cell service exploded to a billion subscriptions. The same process works for building out a grid based on solar power and wind.

Math. The math said warming of 3 degrees Fahrenheit was too much, with the catastrophic possibility of over 4 degrees. The US accounts for 25% of emissions, is making modest progress, but the developing world is increasing pollution rates.

Narratives. Win-win is reducing emissions and making money.

Objections. The chance of limiting warming to 3 degrees is basically impossible. It would mean eliminating all emissions within a decade. There is work being done to combat climate change and almost no progress in total has been made.

Power. The US power grid has 11,000 generating plants, 600,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, and 6 million miles of distribution lines. What could possibly go wrong?

Quagmire. Generating capacity in the US has to be built, storage ability, adding wind and solar power. Jurisdiction is a major problem, getting everyone on board.

Republicans. Easy to rant here, accusing them of rubber-stamping whatever the oil-and-gas industries want.

Shortfall. The US and EU pledged net zero in the near future. Progress is spotty.

Temperatures. People have trouble physiologically with high temperatures, sweating and directing blood to the skin. Dehydration and overtaxing the heart are problems. At some point the result is death.

Uncertainty. The planet was covered with ice in the Cryogenian 700 million years ago: “Snowball Earth.” Then massive ice ages and global warming, with spectacular swings. The last ice age ended 12,000 years ago. Climate change continues but at a lower rate (until humans burned coal).

Vast. Methane levels jumped beginning in 2007.

Weather. NOAA tracks US weather disasters which increased year-by-year to 18 in 2022 from 3 in the 1980s. It will cost billions to protect coastal areas from flooding.

Xenophobia. Low-lying islands will disappear and 21 million people are displaced by weather annually. Climate migrants will be despised especially by right-wing politicians.

You. So far it’s been 2 degrees Fahrenheit.

Zero. Hoover Dam and draught. Result: chaos.   



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