This is the first essay in the Meta-Delusion series. Across the world, many if not most climate activists and advocates are falling victim to the Tinkerbell-Effect (TE). This means that the world will slide past the stabilization boundaries and do what it promised it would not do — that is, the world will be responsible for breaking the climate system. Moreover, it’s because many of us, particularly here in the US where the Tinkerbell-Effect is most pandemic, have been fooling ourselves.
The Climate Movement emphasizes that fossil fuel interests have obscured facts and science while filling the political system with money to block the UN Climate Agreement, the Paris Accord. But, keeping a climate system that can support civilization and a healthy future for the next generations (of both humans and animals) requires that here in the US and across the world, those working to stabilize the climate must free themselves from the real block to a stabilized climate — which is the Tinkerbell-Effect. Over 99% of Earth’s nations have promised to stabilize the climate at no more than a 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) increase compared to the pre-industrial temperatures. However, the actual terms of the Agreement – which allows a decades-long emissions phase-out – mean that all of these nations and their UN players are held in the spell of the TE.
So, what is the Tinkerbell-Effect and why has it taken over those working to stabilize the climate system? People demonstrate the TE when they operate as if something is real; because they enthusiastically want to believe what is suggested is actually real. Whether or not there is any factual- or reality-based corroboration or any confirmation for the “enthusiastic belief,” does not affect the TE. It is the measure of wanting or needing to believe, despite any confirmation in Reality, which characterizes the TE.
The pirate ship Jolly Roger flying because of Tinkerbell’s pixie dust.
Image: From the Disney “Pirate Fairy Movie,” 2014
The TE can be readily illustrated. Audiences enact the TE in every live dramatic production of Peter Pan, reviving the dying Tinkerbell when Peter asks them to applaud if they believe in fairies.
The TE describes things that are believed to exist only because people believe in them. Once Tinkerbell is revived, she then uses her powerful pixie dust so the Pirate Ship can fly back to London. Because the audience enthusiastically believed in her.
This is the TE: Unbelievable things happen because entire audiences believe in the impossible. Then, everyone goes home happy because of the agreed-upon delusion.
The Paris Climate Accord is a classic case of the world falling victim to the TE.
The world agreed to stabilize the climate system at a 2°C heat limit. Everyone went home happy that the plan to achieve the stabilization rests on Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs), even though it is not even mentioned in the Agreement! So, all the players in the IPCC dramatic production went home believing the world could blast through the 2°C heat limit, go far past the stabilization agreed to, and then later suck massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the air for decades and decades, and then bury that carbon, so the heat ceiling would hold. The key players assume the world will somehow get this core premise of the Agreement to work down the road.
The technique the world is unknowingly betting the climate system on, that would actually allow the world to burn 1,000,000,000,000 tonnes more than the 2°C heat ceiling could handle is the theoretical Negative Emissions Technology called Bio-Energy-Carbon-Capture-and-Storage (BECCS). There are two overwhelming problems with the technique and the bet. First, is the technique itself.
What is BECCS?
The explanation of BECCS that the Association for the Tree of Life (ATL) likes best is the one supplied by Kevin Anderson, world-renowned climate scientist and engineer.
Today, Kevin holds the Zennström Visiting Professorship at Uppsala University and is chair of Energy and Climate Change at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE) at the University of Manchester. He is deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
ATL believes Kevin provides the best critical analysis on NETs, and on the BECCS assumptions and beliefs built into the Paris Agreement.
Kevin describes BECCS in his two-page article, “The hidden agenda: how veiled techno-utopias shore up the Paris Agreement”:
So what exactly does BECCS entail? Apportioning huge swathes of the planet’s landmass to the growing of bioenergy crops (from trees to tall grasses) – which, as they grow, absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Periodically these crops are harvested; processed for worldwide travel; shipped all around the globe and finally combusted in thermal power stations. The carbon dioxide is then stripped from the waste gases; compressed (almost to a liquid); pumped through large pipes over potentially very long distances; and finally stored deep underground in various geological formations (from exhausted oil and gas reservoirs through to saline aquifers) for a millennium or so.
The unquestioned reliance on negative emission technologies to deliver on the Paris goals is the greatest threat to the Agreement.
From Biofuelwatch's report: Last-ditch climate option, or wishful thinking?
Policy makers are being misled about the ‘potential’ for using bioenergy to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere – and thus into believing that we can continue to burn fossil fuels, continue to achieve economic growth and yet still avoid the worst impacts of climate change. [p. 52]
…Claims about BECCS – like other ‘negative emissions technologies’ are based on pseudo-science, coupled with corporate lobbying. Even if BECCS may never become a reality, the claims about it are highly dangerous: Whether before or after the Climate Conference in Paris, we can ill afford false assurances about ways of removing carbon from the atmosphere... . [p. 52]
The only proven ways of removing carbon from the atmosphere involve working with nature, i.e. agro-ecology and the regeneration of natural ecosystems. [p. 4]
In simple terms, BECCS not only has never been demonstrated to be viable either technologically or economically. It is a combination of delusion, wishing, and absolutely needing to believe that BECCS will save us, without any corresponding evidence it will ever work.
It may now be apparent that the policymakers who have been tasked with implementing those rules and regulations – policies that are necessary to limit global warming’s catastrophic effects – have been misled. Perhaps they have allowed themselves to be misled because they did not see the ability to continue in office and shed the TE?
Thus many prominent climate stabilization advocates, groups, policymakers, and even scientists have been (some combination of): hoodwinked, swindled, duped, betrayed, defrauded, flimflammed, hornswoggled, spoofed, and bamboozled. Once again. As a result, those who are trying to help stabilize the climate have been working on the wrong assumptions and fooling themselves.
The Bet: From Techno-Utopia to Trouble with NETs
The aforementioned Kevin Anderson article, “The hidden agenda: how veiled techno-utopias shore up the Paris Agreement,” exposed the Techno-Utopians. They put into the Paris Agreement a “supposed” way to stabilize the climate and the one upon which the world is depending. However, it is a “stabilizer” that does not yet exist, will not soon exist, will never be demonstrated to work as needed, and will never work at the needed scale in any substantial way whatsoever.
A second piece from Kevin, “The Trouble with Negative Emissions,” explains “the bet,” that is, the amazing amount of carbon that will be needed to be sucked out of the atmosphere, supposedly by the Negative Emissions Technologies, in order to stabilize the climate at 2◦C warming, after decades of foolishly prolonged carbon burning.
The pictograph that illustrates that massive carbon sucking needed is below:
The graph shows the median of the 76 IPCC scenarios that limit the global temperature rise to 2°C (the internationally-agreed heat limit), with 66% likelihood. Carefully consider the area under the zero point, i.e., the area of “negative emissions” (highlighted in yellow for this essay), which must be removed from the atmosphere to meet the heat-ceiling target. From about year 2030 to 2100, it would be necessary for the world to somehow miraculously suck out of the air some 1,000 gigatons of CO2 to meet the heat limit criteria.
Understand what 1,000 gigatons of CO2 that would need to be magically sucked out of the air and buried forever means in real world terms. Just one gigaton of weight is 1,000,000,000 X 2,204.6 = 2,206,400,000,000, over two trillion pounds. Converting to elephants, a gigaton is over 100,000,000 African elephants in weight, about one for every three Americans. Now, there are not nearly that many elephants alive, so one must use their imagination.
That means in order to meet the reductions so the world does not blast past 2°C, it would be necessary to capture and bury 1,428,571,428 “elephants of CO2” each and every year from 2030 to 2100 – almost one per family of humans (at today’s population level) each and every year for 70 years.
The two parts of this story, one a delusion, and the other an impossible but necessary accomplishment, comprise the two sides of the TE. Like one coin with two sides. On one side are the necessary beliefs: (a) in sucking-carbon-from-the-air-technologies which do not exist in reality, but must exist or catastrophe reigns; and (b) that this fantasy technology can remove the weight of ~ infinite elephants from the air with the sucking technology. On the other side is the enthusiastic reliance upon these beliefs, so enthusiastic that the world’s nations actually plugged into their models, plans, and pledges that both of these delusions would actually happen.
Note that at the end of the Paris Conference there was wild and sustained applause so the conferees would really believe the agreement does what it said would be done. Thus, the world – and those who are supposedly on the side of the Climate Movement and Climate Activists world-wide – fell for the TE. (This essay did not attempt to calculate the number of flying Jolly Roger pirate ships that would equal the weight needed to be sucked from the air to stabilize the climate on the Paris Agreement 2°C Pathway. This further fantasy exercise can be left for the reader’s further research.)
Although much more could be added, the world-wide spell of the TE is necessary to maintain the illusion that the Paris Agreement would actually stabilize the climate. In this TE, the world says that some — as yet — unknown and unfound pixie dust will somehow make all these elephants fly. Or, more literally, we all profess to believe that we can actually suck billions of elephant-weights of carbon fuels pollution from the air after we have put it there in the first place, even if it has never been shown to be anything but a fantasy.
We do have a choice, but do we perceive its necessity?
We can put in place reality-based mechanisms to hold the line on temperature. We must begin by radically reducing fossil fuels development and use. Particularly in the US, because the US has been the main perpetrator of the looming catastrophe. We must start that radical reduction now, literally, because we are in a state of climate emergency. Further, we must keep the vast majority of the fossil fuels ready to be used, i.e., the reserves, in the ground. By these actions and more, we may avoid the consequences of what we all have said we would avoid, i.e., catastrophic climate chaos.
It’s a stark choice. Either we continue the consummate delusion or we radically alter the social, political, economic, and moral systems by which all of us in the US and the entire world operate. Of course, we know human history and how humans previously have responded.
In this case, with these stark choices, can we together discuss the adult responsibilities necessary to continue the human experiment, or will we decide to hold fast to the TE delusion and all go off the cliff together?
Finally, who will be the heroes and heroines who explain that: “We do have a choice. We can grow up and leave the illusory Neverland behind.”