The unreality of the pledge for “zero emissions by 2050”

May 23, 2021

Orwellian Doublespeak is a language which deliberately distorts the meaning of words, using contradictory weasel words allowing an assault on reality. In the present, in order to pacify public opinion, authorities are pledging “zero emissions by 2050” (or some other date), an empty promise undermined by current investments in mining hydrocarbons, by large scale export of oil, gas and coal, and by the amplifying feedbacks of greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere. Only intensive sequestration of greenhouse gases may potentially be capable of arresting global warming from reaching a calamitous level.

 

The pledge for zero emissions by 2050 has is questioned as governments continue to subsidize, mine and export hydrocarbons. Examples include Saudi-Arabia, the Gulf States, Russia, Norway and Australia. A mostly compliant media highlights a zero emission pledge but is reluctant to report the scale of exported emissions as well as the ultimate consequences of the open-ended rise of global temperatures.

Norway, a country committed to domestic clean energy, is conducting large scale drilling for Atlantic and Arctic oil. Australia, the fourth-largest producer of coal, with 6.9% of global production, is the biggest net exporter, with 32% of global exports in 2016. 23 new coal projects are proposed n the Hunter Valley, NSW, with a production capacity equivalent to 15 Adani-sized mines.

Australian electricity generation is dominated by fossil fuel and about 17% renewable energy. Fossil fuel subsidies hit $10.3 billion in 2020-21, about twice the investment in solar energy in 2019-2020. State Governments spent $1.2 billion subsidizing exploration, refurbishing coal ports, railways and power stations and funding “clean coal” research, ignoring the pledge for “zero emissions by 2050

The pledge overlooks the global amplifying effects of cumulative greenhouse gases. At the current rate of emissions atmospheric CO2 levels would be near 500 ppm CO2 by 2050, generating warming of the oceans (expelling CO2), decrease albedo due to melting of ice, release of methane, desiccated vegetation and extensive fires.

Claims of “clean coal”, “clean gas” and “clean hydrogen” ignore the contribution of these methods to the rise in greenhouse gases. Coal seam gas has become an additional source of methane which has an 80 times more powerful greenhouse effect than CO2. This adds to the methane leaked from Arctic permafrost, with atmospheric methane rising from ~ 600 parts per billion early last century to higher than 2000 ppb. In the Hunter Valley, NSW, release of methane from open-cut coal mining reached above 3000 ppb. In the US methane released in some coal seam gas fields constitutes between 2 and 17 per cent of the emissions.

The critical index of global warming, rarely mentioned by politicians or the media, is the atmospheric concentration of CO2. During 2020-2021 CO2 rose from 416.45 to 419.05 parts per million at a rate of 2.6 ppm/year, a trend unprecedented in the geological record of the last 55 million years. The combined effects of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have reached near ~500 ppm CO2-equivalent.

Since 1880 the world has warmed by 1.09 degrees Celsius on average, near ~1.5C on the continents and ~2.2C in the Arctic, with the five warmest years on record during 2015-2020. Since the 1980s the wildfire season has lengthened across a quarter of the world’s vegetated surface. As extensive parts of Earth are burning, “Forever wars” keep looming

It is not clear how tracking toward +4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century can be arrested. A level of +4C above pre-industrial temperature endangers the very life support systems of the planet. The geological record indicates past global heating events on a scale and rate analogous to the present have led to mass extinctions of species. According to Professor Will Steffen, Australia’s top climate scientist “we are already deep into the trajectory towards collapse“. While many scientists are discouraged by the extreme rate of global heating, it is left to a heroic young girl to warn the world of the greatest calamity since a large asteroid impacted Earth some 66 million years ago.

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