I went to a concert depicting climate change, past and future. Trust Californians to be innovative. The climate change had driven the composition of the music.
Several of the musicians sat behind computers, three sat behind real instruments, one some sort of electric piano, the other two a bass guitar, and a violin. On the planetarium screen, one could see the Earth, and then, starting in the Eighteenth Century, three graphs: CO2 Parts Per Million, Land-sea Temperature Rise, and the Earth Watts per square meters imbalance.
The, laudable, general idea is to put to music the drama of our destruction of the biosphere, and thus to make it more real to skeptics Americans. The USA is the general quarters of those who deny that burning fossil fuels is adverse to the health of the biosphere. The average American is deeply conservative, and does not perceive “climate change” as an urgent anxiety. However, the average American knows he, or she is supposed to feign interest, while going to buy its next truck.
Tempo depended upon the CO2 concentration, pitch upon the Earth global temperature, distortion upon the energy balance on land in watts per square meter. The numbers used were past and anticipated. After 2015, the graphs became two: one was red, the bad case scenario, the other was blue, and represented the good scenario.
As I looked at the blue graphs, the optimistic graphs, I got displeased: the blue CO2 emissions, the blue temperature, and the blue power imbalance, had a very sharp angle, just in 2016. First a sharp angle is mathematically impossible: as it is now, the curves of CO2, and temperature are smooth curves going up (on the appropriate time scale). It would require infinite acceleration, infinite force. Even if one stopped magically any human generated greenhouse gases emissions next week, the CO2 concentration would still be above 400 ppm (it is 404 ppm now). And it would stay this way for centuries. So temperature would still rise.
The composer, who was on stage, had been advised by a senior climate scientist, a respectable gentleman with white hair, surrounded by a court, who got really shocked when I came boldly to him, and told him his blue graph was mathematically impossible.
I told him that one cannot fit a rising, smooth exponential with a sharp angle bending down and a line. Just fitting the curves in the most natural, smooth and optimistic way gives a minimum temperature rise of four degrees Celsius. (There is a standard mathematical way to do this, dating back to Newton.)
The silvered hair, tall and dignified senior climate scientist, told me this was not the forum to address such concerns, and, anyway, he disagreed. I was expecting this sort of answer, and this is why I was fast and brutal, as composer and scientists, organizers, impresarios and plutocrats and the adoring public were thick about. As it turns out, it is the head of a new very important government laboratory.
When all wisdom can give is shock, shock wisdom shall give. The alternative being respectful silence… for infamy. Is there, indeed, a greater infamy than the disintegration of the biosphere in the name of American coal and SUVs?
So what’s the game of these American scientists? Very simple: there were plutocrats in the audience, it was a fund-raiser. I was the only one to raise a ruckus, naturally. Everybody else was very admiring, in love. What did they admire so much?
That graph, that blue graph. The message of the (impossible) blue graph was that the effect of greenhouse gases can be instantaneously stop, should America will it. You can imagine Uncle Sam’s poster: “Earth, you shall stop acting funny, if the US wills it!” So, in the end, this was all a celebration of American righteousness: we are right to do what we are doing, because we can stop it anytime. (That’s how drug addicts feel, said Rolling Stone Keith Richards, in a self-reflective mood : they go on and on, because they think they can stop, if they want, anytime. I never do.)
The truth is much more sinister. The supremacy of the USA does not just come from owning an entire temperate continent (after destroying the Natives). It also comes from oil, coal and gas. The USA has plenty of them, cheap and available. As Obama says all the time: “God willed it” (OK, he says: “God bless the USA”).
The ongoing supremacy of the USA rests on oil, coal, and gas. This is why the Supreme Coal of the US, I mean, the Supreme Court of the US, just decided that burning coal was just, and so was bad air (and thus Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency crackdown on coal pollution was unjust, and should cease).
American plutocrats are always one step ahead of the propaganda game. After spending decades claiming the Earth was not warming, now they are pretending, thanks to this impossible blue graph, that we stop the deleterious effects on the biosphere on a dime, should the USA want it.
And the scientists are playing along… because they want the money. And the influence. And the plutocrats in the audience. And the American population confusedly feel that the USA is better off with cheap gas.
As I explained, the Moral Imperative is to think correctly, and the first imperative of scientists should be to teach what is impossible. It’s impossible to stop the nefarious effects on the biosphere on a dime. There is huge inertia in the world climate and geophysics. Right now, climate change is happening at a rate 100,000 times the rate of the preceding great extinctions (they probably had to do with huge, sustained volcanism, direct from the core).
In the best scenario of business as usual, most of energy from fossil fuels, we are on 4 degree Centigrade global warming scenario. And that means the poles will melt entirely. That will make the present Middle East disarray feel as if it had been a walk in a pleasant park.