Laudato Si’/Oil Industry

In comparing Laudato Si’ and the oil industry websites for class today, I was struck by the differing ways both documents address the issue of responsibility. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis calls for differing levels of responsibility. He writes, regarding the rise in migrants fueled by climate change as well as how climate change has already affected the poor, “Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded” (part 25). Here, he calls for a sense of shared humanity and, with it, shared responsibility as the foundation of “civil society”. He also describes the government as having an “inalienable responsibility (part 38) to care for each country’s natural environment, for Christians to recognize their responsibility to the environment as part of their faith (part 64), and calls the natural environment “the responsibility of everyone” (part 95). In contrast to this ethic of universal responsibility, the Shell website demonstrates, albeit through subtle means, a desire to shift responsibility from the oil industry onto other forces to combat climate change. When I visited the front page of the website, the first thing I saw was an article called “Nature’s role in the fight against climate change”. Under the heading, it reads “The world must find many ways to reduce carbon emissions while addressing growing energy demand. One approach is to protect and restore ecosystems that absorb carbon dioxide, such as forests, grasslands and wetlands.” By focusing on how restoring ecosystems that absorb carbon can help mitigate climate change, as opposed to how the oil industry financially benefits directly from carbon emissions, Shell shifts the responsibility of environmental care onto environmental scientists and other entities to alleviate the problem they, in great part, helped cause. This obscuring of responsibility and accountability can also be seen in their company statement on “sustainability”. There are comforting images of the ocean and solar panels, with no actual images of the daily operations of oil extraction. At the very bottom of the page, they state their support for the UN Paris agreement, yet fail to adequately demonstrate how their sustainability efforts might plausibly and realistically make a difference in achieving the agreement’s goals. Under their section on Climate Change, they state that “Shell is still primarily an oil and gas company, but we have a long tradition of innovation”, implying that they will innovate to other forms of energy production without any statement of responsibility or culpability on their part. Again, this obscures the reality of Shell’s daily extractive processes by framing it as a temporary state of affairs until “innovation” provides some sort of solution.

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Exxon Documents for Class

https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/Community-engagement/sustainability-report/environmental-performance

https://exxonknew.org/timeline/

http://www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/1998-exxon-pamphlet-global-climate-change-everyones-debate/

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/15/politics/former-bush-aide-who-edited-reports-is-hired-by-exxon.html

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/exxon-knew-about-climate-change-almost-40-years-ago/

Exxon’s Climate Denial History: A Timeline

https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/Energy-and-environment/Environmental-protection/Climate-change/Understanding-the-ExxonKnew-controversy

 

From David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth (2019), n.p.

https://www.amazon.com/Uninhabitable-Earth-Story-Future-ebook/dp/B07H7Y6JX4

Exxon donations, 2002: https://cdn.factcheck.org/UploadedFiles/Exxon-Mobil-Donations.pdf

https://theconversation.com/i-was-an-exxon-funded-climate-scientist-49855

 

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Future Implications of our Neglect and Analysis of Laudato Si

After doing independent research and collecting my thoughts about our Zoom class, it seems as if the future state of our world is relatively uncertain. Within the next hundred years, our neglect will raise sea levels, continue to burn holes on the Ozone layer, and further pollute our planet. One of the main concerns that we identified as a class was the issue of finding alternative sources of clean energy. Although this has been an idea that we have discussed throughout the semester, it dawned on me last Thursday that we cannot undo what we have done to Earth, and instead of trying to reverse what we have done, we must act to control it before we can truly aim to mitigate the source.

My group examined the first situation which asked us to consider the future if in 2100, the representative concentration pathway (RCP) caused our planet to warm by 1.9 degrees Celsius. Though mathematically we think of 1.9 degrees as such an insignificant change, the consequences of this spike in temperature is quite alarming. Sources from the IPCC indicated that if such rises occur, the sea level could rise up to 17 inches which would displace millions of people along coastal regions and remove precious ecosystems that man and animals rely on for food, money, and leisure. Additionally, weather patterns would go rogue, and we would be prone to intense storms which would occur much more frequently than they do today. One of my sources noted that we would be 10x more likely to experience severe heat days (89th percentile of temperature or higher) and 6x more likely to have heat waves. In doing so, these changes would likely kill crops, animals, and even humans. Heat related deaths would rise, particularly for the elderly, making this future situation extremely dangerous.

In Pope Francis’ work Laudato Si, he addresses the concerns that we share within our common home and offers exceptional insight/advice into how we must progress living under these conditions. One excerpt that stood out to me was when he wrote: ” In some places, cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency and even the sale of surplus energy. This simple example shows that, while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren. These values are deeply rooted in indigenous peoples” (Francis 131). I thought that this example was meaningful because it forces ourselves to contemplate the future of our families and invites us to act now for the betterment of the future. On page 133, Francis makes references to how government policies affect climate change, and how imperative it is for climate issues to be addressed at the highest level, in addition to the individual level. International climate summits must ensue if any productive steps are going to be made. Francis’ work is excellent because he has significant influence (as Pope) and speaks intelligently yet simply. Sometimes when politicians or celebrities who think they’re political activists speak, their words are unclear and unviable, but Francis actually yields enough power to make changes. 

On a separate note, it is interesting to think that I used to imagine superheroes who were big, strong, and could fly. In coming years, the real superheroes will be the ones who are brave enough to tackle climate change, and provide a solution for our grave irresponsibilities.

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Four Possible Futures: Imagining Worlds Exercise

On Thursday, our Zoom discussion from South Bend focused on imagining four possible emissions scenarios, and the types of *worlds* those scenarios might conceivably create. Modeled on an exercise designed by Professor Tobias Meneley (UC Davis), our work was to research and seek to think through the possible outcomes of four possible futures — in effect, to think our way into four possible future worlds, 1.9 degrees, 2.7 degrees, 3.1 degrees, and (the worst case scenario, based on zero climate action being taken) 4.8 degrees. The below is the whiteboard record of our conversation, with the Time Traveler’s scalar shifts running down the right-hand side as a touchstone.

Here is the post that laid out the terms and parameters of this collective thought experiment.

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Researching the Future to Redesign the Future

Researching and Imagining the Future (RCP 8.5)

  • Nearly 9 degrees F temperature change (this is an average – think about changes in northern latitudes and over land compared to ocean)
  • The trajectory is based on assumptions about population, economic growth, energy consumption and sources, and land use.

This scenario, where the RCP is 8.5 is the worst case scenario out of all of the potential trajectories for the planet’s future. My research has led me to the conclusion that the public eye struggles to see it as a plausible track; however, it’s the track that assumes that emissions continue on the same trend they follow today – which is more and more likely as time tracks on. Eighty years is a much shorter time than we realize. Plus, according to an article published by the Atlantic,

“every emissions scenario that meets the Paris Agreement’s 2 degree Celsius “goal” assumes humans will develop the tech to remove carbon directly from the atmosphere.” (this has never existed)

Also known as the “nightmare scenario” where emissions continue increasing rapidly. Annual carbon emissions in 2100 rest around 30 gigatonnes compared to 8 a century earlier. Increasing greenhouse gas emissions over time are the main distinctifier of the 8.5 RCP.

Just about the only promising news is that the 8.5 RCP predicts 8x growth of coal industry, which is a question of contention among scientists because solar is becoming increasingly cheaper than coal.

  1. Geophysical: oil use grows rapidly until 2070 and then drops quickly, coal provides the bulk of the large increase in energy consumption, if there is no change in emissions then the temperature forecasts are to continue increasing and reach around 4 degrees higher than now, 29 inches rise of sea level
  2. Ecological: concentrations of atmospheric CO2 accelerate, land use continues current trends with crop/grass areas increasing and forest area decreasing, highest carbon emissions scenario, development of spatially explicit air pollution projections, enhancement in the land-use and land-cover projections
  3. Technological: RCP 8.5 was developed using the MESSAGE model and the IIASA Integrated Assessment Framework by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, lower rate of technology development (mostly coal, oil, and natural gas, then alternative methods like solar, hydro, bio-energy)
  4. Economic: assumes lower incomes and less per capita growth in developing countries
  5. Cultural: population growth is high and reaching 12 billion by the end of the century, high demand for food, increases in livestock population and rice production,
  6. Geopolitical: the high range of non-climate policy scenarios,
  7. What will this world look and feel like? In Sacramento, the average high temp would be 83 instead of 74. There would be 10x as many extreme heat days (40 days instead of 4). Six heat waves a year. Wetter in India, Drier in the Med. NE US will be wetter, Pacific Ocean near equator will be better and areas near North and South Poles (Canada, Russia, China). Med sea (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Southern Africa, Australia) will be drier. Big rainstorms will get even bigger – increases chances of river flooding. Snow in California will turn to rain, which is bad for Cali water supply because they rely on snowpacks to melt throughout the summer. Urban infrastructure is threatened. Stronger hurricanes, longer droughts. We burn the most fossil fuels w industry, transportation, and residential/commercial — switch to cleaner electricity, electrifying transit systems.

So, what does this mean? Should we be scared? It’s a difficult question to answer considering that “we” might not actually be around to face the consequences. We have quite possibly already escaped. The harsh truth is that our lives and choices determine another generation’s fate. Most of us in this classroom at Georgetown have very little to fear along the lines of physical loss (a lot of those who are experiencing physical loss from flooding, drought, etc. are living in impoverished rural communities outside of our reach). Therefore, the question is: how can you motivate the privileged sector of society that has nothing to lose? Ethics, the imposition of a guilty conscience and a moral obligation, and the strengthening of the relationship between mankind and the planet. In my opinion, these three criteria will have a more powerful effect on the trajectory of carbon emissions than geopolitics, manipulating population growth, etc. It seems as though time has almost run out for logical, technological impact, so our last hope is to tweak perspectives to engender a more environmentally conscious society. At least this will delay the world predicted by the RCP 8.5 pathway.

https://medium.com/@davidfurphy/what-on-earth-is-an-rcp-bbb206ddee26

https://www.skepticalscience.com/rcp.php?t=3

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/rcp-85-the-climate-change-disaster-scenario/579700/

https://www.exploratorium.edu/climate/looking-ahead

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Who Cares?

Moderate climate change predictions, RCP 4.5, predict a +2.7-degree Celsius temperature increase by 2100 and a further +.1-degree increase, for a total of +2.8-degree increase by 2200. These numbers, however, likely have no meaning to the general population since they aren’t associated with tangible impacts on people’s lives. In order to make sense of these numbers, I chose to examine the effects of this temperature increase on charismatic megafauna, a group of species that people recognize and care about.

For aquatic animals, like humpback whales, a 3-degree rise in temperature due to carbon emissions can cause two main impacts on the oceans. First, increased levels of carbon in the atmosphere can cause ocean acidification, by changing the pH of the ocean (Source). Acidification causes many negative harms to sea life development as the ocean has less calcium carbonate, meaning that many animals can no longer develop strong bones and shells (Source). One of those species that are negatively harmed is krill (Source), a major food source for whales, which means that whales will no longer have a reliable food source, ultimately leading to a decrease in the population of humpback whales.

Second, climate change can cause an increase in sea level temperatures. If the trend of sea surface temperatures increasing roughly .13 degrees Fahrenheit every decade since 1901 (Source), in 2100, it will have increased about 1.04 degrees Fahrenheit and another 1.04 degrees by 2200. Rising sea temperatures cause abnormal weather patterns, changing circulation patterns, and changing habitats for many animals as they move, seeking new food sources or livable habitats (Source). This can cause whales to change the timing of migrations, throwing off the delicate balance and timing of the ecosystem as migrations conflict with other natural events, like crabbing (Sources).

An extra impact of rising sea temperatures is the melting of the poles and glaciers, which negatively impacts cold weather animals, like harp seals and polar bears. As these glaciers melt, these animals lose their habitat and food sources as other animals also lose their habitats and die or move elsewhere (Source). Just as flooding means that we lose precious coastal real-estate, these animals are losing their precious ice real-estate.

Finally, with higher sea levels and stranger weather patterns also impact land animals, like tigers and elephants, are also affected. With higher sea levels, they lose the coastal area habitats and are forced to live closer and closer inland, crowding the remaining ecosystems. In addition, weather patterns, like heavier storms or droughts, can destroy agriculture and food sources, meaning that land animals, like the cold weather animals, lose their habitats and their food sources, leading to their eventual death.

Placing these numbers in the context of charismatic megafauna can help paint a starker picture of climate change, thereby giving people more of a reason to care about these simple, but frightening, numbers.

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Earth 2100: A Troubling Comparison Between Dystopia and Reality

Earth 2100, a 2009 documentary/narrative distributed by ABC News is a riveting projection for how the twenty first century may unfold under the “worst case scenario” of climate change. The film follows the life of a fictional girl named Lucy as she grows up in a world shaped by hurricanes, drought, famine, migration, and plague. Lucy is born on June 2nd, 2009, the date ABC News released the film, and is believed to be the oldest woman alive by the year 2100. Despite the dystopian tone of 2100, at the time of its release public discourse regarding climate change was somewhat optimistic.

In 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president. In the midst of a devastating recession, climate change was not nearly as politically polarizing as it is today. In fact, Republican candidate John McCain called for limiting greenhouse gas emissions in the then recent 2008 presidential election. It seemed that public sentiment supported what would have amounted to be a “green new deal.” Perhaps green projects could provide jobs to the hundreds of thousands of recently unemployed Americans. Additionally, throughout Earth 2100 the audience is clued into the “upcoming” December 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. It seemed we were on the cusp of saving the world… what happened?

On one hand, I had completely forgotten about the 2009 Copenhagen summit until I rewatched this film to jog my memory. On the other hand, I found it quite troubling that in just the span of a decade, some of Lucy’s most testing experiences have come to fruition. The hurricane that devastated Miami has instead devastated Puerto Rico, Houston, and even New York. The breakdown in international climate negotiations during the mid 2010s has unfolded with the United States withdrawing from the Paris Accords. The prediction of spiking oil prices, while having a flipped reality, still provokes a paradoxically concerning situation: with cheaper gasoline arises reduced incentives for fuel efficiency.

As Lucy reaches her forties she mentions, “by the middle of the century, I thought I had seen it all. Storms, migrations, and droughts that had destroyed whole cities.” In 2019, merely ten years after the release of this film, much of this has already happened. Island nations are being evacuated, “century storms” are an annual occurrence, and we have yet to seriously implement any of the techno-optimist solutions proposed during the alternative analysis ending or even during Lucy’s worst case scenario narrative: 

Fusion technology is still merely a sci-fi dream, electric cars are unaffordable to the masses, and “eco-gentrification” arguably does more harm than good by pricing out poor Americans into the suburbs.

Regarding the predictions of Earth 2100, to what extent did you feel like they were accurate? To what extent did you feel the predictions were exaggerated? How does the hybrid format and alternative ending impact your overall viewing experience of 2100? Does the documentary component impact your emotional attachment to the narrative? Does the techno-optimist alternative ending alter any sense of hopelessness or despair from the ending of Lucy’s narrative?

We are ten years closer to 2100… at this point, are we destined to live in an Earth 2100?

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The Wind Is A Lady With

I really enjoyed reading the E.E. Cummings poem, “The Wind Is A Lady With,” that Sonya suggested for our class tomorrow. Cummings speaks to an issue that we have discussed frequently in class, that underlies the whole issue of climate change: the way in which us humans view nature as the inanimate and inferior “other” (i.e. we don’t include ourselves under the umbrella of “nature”), which has allowed us to more easily exploit and do violence to it.

The poem fights back against all this through it’s personification of nature: “the wind is a Lady with / bright slender eyes(who / moves) at sunset.” Cummings not only gives a life -a human life- to the wind, but also illustrates its importance by capitalizing the “L” in “Lady” (this actually reflects the use of capitalization in “Lord” for God, suggesting that nature here might actually possess a kind of power that is even greater than that which humans do). The use of the noun “Lady,” as opposed to “girl” or “woman,” also connotes elegance and refinement, suggesting that the wind is superior and deserving of great respect. The use of the present tense actually gives the wind a kind of immortality; this is supported by the imagery of the wind as female, for even if this wind itself does not endure, it has the ability to reproduce and live on through that. Additionally, the wind “is” specifically at sunset, the moment that marks the end of the day for us and the beginning of our preparations for sleep; the fact that the wind is most active at this time then (“who moves” is emphasized by the use of brackets) also suggests how it is superior to us. And of course, the way in which the wind has the ability to speak here also indicates that it has great agency.

The dialogue between the persona and the wind, quite frankly, was amazing to read. I was particularly intrigued by the wind’s monologue: “things which in my mind blossom will / stumble beneath a clumsiest disguise,appear / capable of fragility and indecision / –do not suppose these / without any reason and otherwise / roses and mountains / different from the I am who wanders.” The wind itself also advocates for the agency and power of natural beings, and therefore argues that we should not underestimate them. The words “in my mind blossom” reminds us that we can only ever see the world through subjective lens; nature might appear inferior to us, but that does not necessarily apply to reality. The clumsiness, fragility, and indecision of nature, the wind claims, is only a disguise, implying that nature does possess great strength. Cummings juxtaposes the tiny “roses” with the large “mountains” to indicate that this applies to ALL of nature. Basically, nature posses an “I” just as we do, and nature’s “I” is possibly far greater than any of ours are.

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A Warning from the Future

Despite the assumption that future generations will always be more advanced, more intelligent than past generations, in H.G. Wells’ the Time Machine, we see man’s innate reaction to consider himself superior to those that appear Other to us. Upon arriving in the year 802, 701 AD, the Time Traveller reflects,

 

I thought of the physical slightness of the people, their lack of intelligence, and those big abundant ruins, and it strengthened my belief in a perfect conquest of Nature. For after the battle comes Quiet. Humanity had been strong, energetic, and intelligent, and had used all its abundant vitality to alter the conditions under which it lived. And now came the reaction of the altered conditions (p. 32).

 

To the Time Traveller, the Eloi are silly creatures. In many ways they do not stand up to the Victorian version of man. The Time Traveller seems to identify more with the late civilization that he describes as “strong, energetic, and intelligent” than the current descendants of humanity who have reverted to a childlike state. The humanity he admires is the one who achieved “the perfect conquest of Nature.” Therefore, within this bourgeois novel, the strong, virile, violent version of Man is valued over the peaceful and the feminine. The Time Traveller respects the fact that humanity was so skilled and intelligent that it could lead to such a state of existence, but he does not appreciate this docile existence for what it is because it is “weak.” In this way, the Time Traveller makes the Eloi the Other. Even Weena is merely a plaything. His desire to bring her back with him into the past does not seem to stem from any meaningful feeling, but rather from an affection akin to that of a pet.

As we discussed in class, while the Time Traveller does not consciously realize it, he more closely identifies with the Morlock, whom he considers even less his kin than the Eloi. The Morlock still have an edge to them and a desire for blood that the Time Traveller respects whether or not he acknowledges it. Therefore, this leaves me to wonder if, in H.G. Wells’ conception of the world, is our struggle with Nature what makes us (capital “H”) Human? Does Nature act as the inspiration for innovation and for our fierce ability to both love and hate? After all, hasn’t all human strife been linked to our survival in a world where those who have resources survive and those who do not die?

It seems like a bleak understanding of human nature, but in some ways it seems accurate if we continue to abuse our natural resources and unequally distribute them as we have been doing. To me, the future that the Time Traveller describes does not seem to be a future in which we have achieved the “perfect conquest of Nature;” it seems like a continuation of a world in which the wealthy abuse their power at the cost of marginalizing communities. The Time Traveller’s account should act as a warning of a fate we should attempt to avoid by giving up a desire to dominant in favor of cooperation and justice.

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Evolution and Ecosystems of the Future

When the Time Traveller first sets out exploring the space he has travelled temporally to, he describes a seemingly utopian landscape: “The air was free from gnats, the earth from weeds or fungi; everywhere were fruits and sweet and delightful flowers; brilliant butterflies flew hither and thither…even the processes of putrefaction and decay had been profoundly affected by these changes” (Wells, 31-32). To a late Victorian man, this may be all good, but to a modern ecologist, the opposite is true. The air “free from gnats” reminded me of Brooke Jarvis’ article, “The Insect Apocalypse Is Here.” The landscape the Time Traveller describes lacks complexity or biodiversity, and ascribes to a very anthropogenic view of what organisms are “good.” I would like to know what he means when he says the putrefaction and decay have been affected. Have these processes stopped? Does it not smell? Without fungi and microbes, decay would not occur (like the cow patties in Australia)! Perhaps in the distant future that the Time Traveller arrives in, our current ecological relationships will have evolved significantly so that these organisms (fungi, decomposers, gnats) will no longer fill a niche and actually won’t be necessary. Or, maybe this world lacks these necessities and is actually more dystopian than it seems.

Though he does not explicitly reference it, the Time Traveller evokes Darwin’s theory of evolution, and its trend towards “perfection.” He says that nature is “shy and slow in our clumsy hands” but will become “better organized,” and eventually “things will move faster and faster towards the subjugation of nature” (Wells, 31.) I thought it was really interesting that this was included in the book, as it was published just thirty-six years after On the Origin of Species was published. His description of a seemingly utopian landscape follows the anthropocentric-leaning trend of evolution that Darwin also alludes to, though clearly not everything is so perfect as we get further into the story, and struggle between species still exists. Finally, he indicates that nature has finally been “subjugated” by humans (or human descendants), which brings us all the way back to Genesis where we are told that humans ought to “subdue” and have “dominion” over nature. In the story, it is the human-like species that are fighting, but the environment doesn’t seem to give them trouble.

Overall, H.G. Wells incorporated a lot of really interesting ideas from texts we have read over the semester, both before his time and much more in the present.

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