Ten Years Left to Avoid a Climate Apocalypse?

February 16th, 2021 - by Rod Diridon Sr. / San Francisco Chronicle

Is Anyone Listening to Mother Earth’s Cry for Help?

Rod Diridon Sr. / San Francisco Chronicle

 (February 15, 2021) — United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres declares that there may be as few as 10 years left before the point at which no amount of correction to our terrible carbon combustion addiction will save the planet from the sixth mass extinction.

He quotes the Nobel Prize winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the Oct. 22, 2018 New York Times Magazine. The headlines alerted Mother Earth that, “Climate catastrophe seen just 12 years away.” Guterres declares the ethical imperative to sustain life on Earth for our progeny to be in serious jeopardy.

That was more than two precious years ago; is anyone listening?

Let us examine the scientifically generated, peer reviewed facts:

What Causes CO2 Buildup? 

Surrounding Earth is a blanket of gasses, mostly CO2, that is gradually thickening as more gaseous effluents are created than Earth’s cleaning capacity can scrub. As heat from the sun hits the earth, most has always been reflected back into space. But in the past century a progressively larger amount of that heat bounces off the Earth then bounces again off the inside of the thickening gaseous blanket and comes back to Earth in a repeating cycle causing abnormal warming. Indeed, just like slowly closing your garage door when your car is running.

Though the heat build-up on Earth will take longer to kill, the ultimate result is terminal. Is anyone listening?

How Do We Know That the CO2 Is Concentrating? 

The front page of the May 11, 2013 New York Times announced that researchers from China, EU, Russia and the US had successfully analyzed tiny bubbles in Antarctic ice corings spanning 800,000 years. The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published the report. The world’s current CO2 levels were nearing 400 parts per million, over twice as high as ever in the past 800,000 years and nearly four times the average. That anomalous increase occurred in the last 70 years.

That NOAA report was in 2013. Is anyone listening?

What Is the Result of the CO2 Buildup? 

In 2017, NOAA tabulated the planet’s average surface temperature noting that the precipitous rise began after WWII as progressively more carbon (coal and petroleum) powered the world. NOAA stressed that the world’s 2016 temperature was 1.69 degrees above average, by far the highest recorded since measurements began in the 1880s.

That was four years ago, and those past four years were the hottest ever recorded. Is anyone listening?

So CO2 Is Causing Untenable Atmospheric Heat; What’s Causing the CO2? 

On Aug. 8, 2013 California’s Environmental Protection Agency reported that 81% of the state’s CO2 came from transportation (38%), industry (20%), and providing electricity (23%). The remainder (agriculture 7%, residential 6%, commercial 3% and other sources 3%) were smaller and difficult to control. But the 81% from the combustion of carbon-based fuel can be regulated and alternate electric power created by determined state and federal governments.

That was eight years ago. Is anyone listing?

What Can Be Done to Thwart this Horrendous Threat? 

Simon Fraser University professor and National Research Council leader Dr. Anthony Perl’s benchmark 2010 transportation effluent study points the way. That peer reviewed and often quoted study declared that cars generate nearly 200 grams, all airlines (much more for short-hops) contribute over 100 grams, and diesel buses more than 80 grams of CO2 per seat kilometer.

On the contrary, electrically powered steel wheel transport (high speed, commuter, metro, and light rail modes) contribute less than 20 grams of CO2 per seat kilometer. The emerging all-electric cars, buses and trucks are similar to the steel wheeled technology. Fortunately, most of the auto industry is pivoting to electrics. But, at the current rate, retrofitting to an all-electric national transit system and an all-electric auto industry will take as much as 50 years.

Is anyone listening to the UN’s decade-to-Armageddon warning?

Does the Way Forward Give Us Time for Hope? 

California has had a sequence of courageous leaders with Gov. Jerry Brown charging ahead with the nation’s first all-electric true high speed rail system that will improve inter-regional transportation and eliminate a massive amount of CO2.

Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated that by 2035 only electric vehicles will be sold new in California, eventually eliminating almost 30 million carbon-powered vehicles belching effluent into the environment every morning and evening. Those courageous policies must be nationalized and supported by extensive carbon disincentive fees on the extraction, refining, transport and use of coal, petroleum and other carbon energy sources. That potentially substantial funding source might be used to establish a national EV charger network and give incentives to lower income commuters to use transit or acquire electrics.

The obsolete polluting vehicles should be acquired, and that steel recycled via US mills to support the electric vehicle industry. Employees of the ethically obsolete carbon energy industries should be retrained to manufacture, install and maintain solar, wind and other sustainable energy systems.

The environmental wasteland of the past four years in Washington grudgingly gave way to an enlightened federal response led by President Biden’s new climate czar John Kerry. While those are hopeful leaps in the right direction, the limited time remaining on the UN’s decade deadline is frightening for us with grandchildren. But your vote did count!

Thanks to America’s collective wisdom, we may still have a chance; and our new state and federal leadership teams are listening.

Rod Diridon Sr. is former chair, American Public Transportation Association, and former chair, Transit Cooperative Research Program of the National Research Council, and retired emeritus executive director of Congress’ Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes