Thursday, December 31, 2015

We're Drowning in Thirst

The time has come to pack another year away into memory and 2015 once again proved that humanity seems to be on a course of self-destruction more than anything else. The United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon had summed up this quickly passing year into two rather appropriate words as “breakthrough and horror.”

As people gather together to celebrate 2015's passing into history and prepare to welcome in the new year, most thoughts are on the events that had personal impact. Few will raise a glass to remember the horrific events in Paris, nor will any think of environmental concerns for the future. That does not in any way diminish the celebration nor is it a condemnation of decent folks, it is simply human nature. In today's world life is not always easy and many of us, myself included, are thankful for what we have.

Perhaps that very trait of humanity's nature is what Ban-Ki Moon refers to as “horror.” After all if one's cup is full and thirst is kept at bay then little else really matters. Yet we live on this planet as a collective, not as solitary or single individuals. Our actions carry with them consequences that have a lasting effect on all others around us.

This past year brought with it the horrendous sadness of the monstrosity of indiscriminate violence against innocent victims. Paris was the centre of a murderous attack on humanity as a whole and not only on Parisians. Although the footprint of terror and the followers of an insane doctrine did not only imprint themselves in France, innocent lives were taken in the United States, more in Africa, and in other countries.

Violence once again had been the cause of a massive outpouring of locals from countries in Africa and the Middle East. Again innocent victims find no choice but to run and look for refuge in foreign lands. Many of those who flee their own countries do so at great risk, and compassion is also a human trait, yet compassion has consequences in time as does any other action, both good and bad.

True consequences are unavoidable but do average people in any country, whether it be Canada, the US, or anywhere else, see that these events affect them in some way? Amongst the tragic events there were more positive and uplifting examples of the human spirit. After all Ban-Ki Moon did not just speak of horror, he also saw breakthrough in 2015.

The United Nations brought together representatives from 196 nations to discuss a global issue which has the potential to touch every corner of our planet. There are those who see little merit in environmental issues, others claim that nothing has really changed and that alarmists push the idea of doom and gloom. Thankfully reality was not ignored and the Paris Climate Conference, COP21, on how to control CO² emissions fought through volumes of rhetoric to find an agreement for the future of this planet.

Few can deny that carbon emissions affect Climate Change. Millions of vehicles all around the world release huge amounts of CO² gases. The use of traditional methods of production, in particular the use of coal in power plants, adds massive stress in our atmosphere and serious effects on Climate Change. In Paris, negotiations found themselves bogged down not on how to reduce the carbon emissions but on what levels of reduction would be acceptable.

Climate Change is not a new concept, it has those who warn of the potential gloom the world faces, and it has those who deny its legitimacy. The battle between the two sides has lasted many years. Al Gore, at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009, predicted that the Arctic ice caps could completely disappear in 2014. Media found itself displaying photos of polar bears trying to get on a floating ice cap the size of a coffee table. Those images stayed in the minds and memories of many.

James Taylor, a senior fellow for environment policy at the Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment and Climate News at Forbes, published an article on May 19th 2015. Its title 'Updated NASA Data: Global Warming Not Causing Any Polar Ice Retreat,' states; “Updated data from NASA satellite instruments reveal the Earth's polar ice caps have not receded at all since the satellite instruments began measuring the ice caps in 1979. Beginning in 2005, however, polar ice modestly receded for several years. By 2012 polar sea ice had receded by approximately 10 percent from 1979 measurements. Total polar ice area – factoring in both sea and land ice – had receded by much less than 10 percent.”

In this article James Taylor acknowledges Al Gore's prediction of the disappearing ice caps. Al Gore in his presentation of December 14th 2009 refers to a number of scientific individuals to prove his point. At the same time James Taylor refers to NASA satellite instruments and data. Still, there was not a more surprising convert to the side of Climate Change warriors than Pope Francis. On September 25th 2015, Pope Francis delivered a wide ranging address to world leaders at the UN General Assembly, urging global action to protect the environment. He produced the Papal Encyclical – Laudato Si, defining Climate Change as a principle challenge facing humanity and a moral issue.

The Paris Agreement of the reduction of Climate Change represents a consensus by the 196 nations attending that we face this task together. The agreement will become legally binding if joined by at least 55 countries, which together represent at least 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions. Such parties will need to sign the agreement in New York between April 22nd 2016 and April 21st 2017, and also adopt it within their own legal systems.

Reduction in global greenhouse emissions tends to be a rather open statement. How do we actually achieve this? No one sees the end of oil production in the near future. Simply look at the demand with the ever increasing number of vehicles on the roads each year. Average individuals will not reduce the use of their vehicles, and although electric vehicles are an alternative how feasible are they in the short future? Can ordinary people afford to change from their standard vehicle to a new electric one? Once that thought begins to germinate the question of charging stations then arises.

At the Paris Conference one major topic centered around renewable energy production. There are many countries who have made forecasts to reduce their carbon emissions. Some nations such as France have achieved almost 90 percent of its electricity production from zero carbon sources, including nuclear, hydroelectric and wind, whilst still providing a high standard of living. France is not alone, as Finland and Sweden have also found equal success in a shift to renewable energy production.

Other countries such as China have announced renewable energy targets. China plans to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix to 20 percent by 2030. Japan announced that it plans to increase its energy mix to 22 to 24 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Is optimism enough? The disaster with a methane gas leak in the Porter Ranch community in Los Angeles throws more questions into the mix. Southern California Gas Company only plans to plug the leak in the next three or four months, which began releasing methane gas into the atmosphere on October 23rd 2015. This leak has been releasing 62 million cubic feet of gas per day and has forced the relocation of 2600 local residents. Methane gas is as detrimental to Climate Change as CO², and this leak will affect California's predictions of reduction of gas emissions.

In the end was the United Nations Climate Change Conference simply a gathering of politicians full of promises, or was it a glimmer of hope for the future? Maybe a recap of 2016 will give us the answer. In the meantime, as we prepare to welcome a new year each one of us remembers the events of our lives, the support of family and friends, and most of all the hope that our future is better, or at least not worse than the past and that darkness does not hit us all.

Happy New Year to all of Mayorgate's readers.