UPDATED: This is Part 1 in the ATL's free e-book Climate and Ecological Delusions and Contradictions That Will Rapidly End Humanity, Unless….
The story about our collective Delusions and Contradictions picks up speed with a stunning revelation!
It goes like this: With the UN 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, all of the world’s leadership and nations have promised to hold-the-line on warming the planet and to stabilize our climate system at no more than 2° Celsius (3.6◦ Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures. Yet, the way they have chosen to do this is to blast past that 2°C heat limit with hundreds of billions of tons of excess pollution, and then later to magically suck the polluting CO2 that causes a cooked and broken climate—out of the air. If you do not know this (perhaps because the world leaders are hiding behind what might be called the “Tinkerbell-Effect”) then you have not yet heard how the world’s leadership plans to actually implement this magical technology.
Wow! How wonderful it is that we can all continue our fossil fuel world with minor changes and enjoy our cars, planes, and consumption now—and then suck the poisonous pollution from our air sometime (far) down the road! Repeatedly, leaders have said that they will stabilize our climate, yet we can still have our fossil fuel-driven world (about 80% of world energy comes from oil, coal, and methane), and “oh so slowly” change toward clean energy. But, no hurry!
How can this be?
Many would say that the Trumps of the world are “out-to-lunch” on the climate issue, what about the rest of the world’s political leadership?
Perhaps the most poignant delusion and one that impacts all of humankind is what might be called the Tinkerbell-Effect (TE). Hiding behind this delusion means that the world will slide past the climate stabilization boundaries and do what it promised it would not do—that is, the world will be responsible for breaking the climate system. And it is because most 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 Climate Agreement. 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 a major roadblock to a stabilized climate—and that is the Tinkerbell-Effect. All of the world’s nations, except the US, have promised to stabilize the climate at no more than a 2°C increase compared to the pre-industrial temperatures. However, the actual terms of the Agreement–which allow a decades-long emissions phase-out–mean that all of these nations and their UN players are captives of that Tinkerbell-Effect.
So, what is the Tinkerbell-Effect and why has it taken over those working to stabilize the climate system? People demonstrate the effect when they operate as if something is real, because they enthusiastically want to believe what is being discussed or suggested is actually real. Whether or not there is any factual- or reality-based corroboration or 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 TE can be readily illustrated in real life. Audiences enact the Tinkerbell Effect in every live dramatic production of Peter Pan, reviving the dying Tinkerbell when Peter Pan asks them to clap if they believe in fairies. A 90-second video demonstrates the TE.
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 that the Pirate Ship can fly back to London. Because the audience enthusiastically believes in her.
The pirate ship Jolly Roger flying because of Tinkerbell’s pixie dust.
Image: Pirate Fairy Movie, Walt Disney Studios, 2014
That is the Tinkerbell Effect: Unbelievable things happen because entire audiences believe in the impossible. Then, everyone goes home happy because of the agreed-upon delusion. The delusion is beautiful (see Jolly Roger flying, right).
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 after Paris happy even though the plan to achieve the stabilization rests on Negative Emissions Technologies (NETs)—magical technologies that are not even mentioned in the Agreement! So, all the players in the IPCC dramatic production of the 2015 Agreement 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 (CO2) from the air–for decades and decades. Then, when the captured carbon is “in-hand” it is to be buried somewhere and somehow, so that the 2◦C heat ceiling could be regained. This theoretical Negative Emissions Technology is called BECCS (Bio-Energy-Carbon-Capture-and-Storage). The key players in Paris, without anything but a vague idea, assumed that the world would somehow get this core premise of the Agreement to work sometime in the near future.
Now, it would be nice if the world had a working example of this mysterious and magical technology, but it is only a concept on a drawing board. The world has seen other technological concepts put forward before, such as fusion energy that was supposed to be available decades ago, but it is still a concept with no operating model.
Besides an operating model (a working example to demonstrate), the technology would need to operate at massive scale to stabilize climate. Of course, there is no working model for operating at scale, either. But, this is the technique that the world is betting the climate system on. It’s required because the non-binding national pledges in place actually allow the world to burn 1,000,000,000,000 tonnes more than the 2◦C heat ceiling could handle. 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. Kevin had agreed in 2016 to participate in a Climate Summit conference here in the US that would have described what BECCS means to the Paris Agreement. Because of Donald Trump’s election as US President; that planned Climate Summit did not occur.
Kevin is Professor of Energy and Climate Change, holding a joint chair in the School of Engineering at the University of Manchester (UK) and in Centre for Sustainability and the Environment (CEMUS) at Uppsala University (Sweden). He recently finished a two year fellowship as the Zennstrøm Professor of Climate Change Leadership in Uppsala, and was formerly Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
ATL believes Anderson also provides the best analysis on the NETs. Two short articles, two pages each, published by Kevin explain the BECCS assumptions and beliefs built into 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]
Summarizing the credible BECCS analyses in simple terms: BECCS not only has never been demonstrated to be viable either technologically or economically, it is a combination of delusion, wishful thinking, and absolutely needing to believe that BECCS will save us.
Importantly, that belief comes into play because the world has refused the “non-NETs” option, i.e., a rapid reduction in carbon emissions. Therefore, in November 2017 when the world was meeting in Bonn to implement the particulars of the Paris Agreement, several researchers explained that NETs will not work–all the more when considering issues of equity. From their report, “What if negative emission technologies fail at scale?”:
… the on-going failure of any ‘big emitter’ to begin a comprehensive and rapid transition of its energy systems, suggests that constraining emissions to a carbon budget with a greater than 66% chance of avoiding 2°C, if applying even weak equity criteria, is now infeasible.
It may now be apparent that the policy makers and political leaders who have been tasked with implementing climate stabilization rules and regulations, i.e., emission reduction 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 simultaneously break free of the TE?
Climate activists worldwide have been hoodwinked, swindled, and duped into believing the criteria in the Paris Agreement. As a result, those who are trying to help stabilize the climate have been fooling themselves, working on the wrong assumptions (for example, mild emissions reductions starting too late to hold to the 2°C ceiling).
Even if NETs could work, the existing national intentions for mitigation, i.e., reducing carbon fuel burning would only get the world to 3-4°C, far into catastrophic warming. Baking ourselves and our Life-Support Systems in the process.
The Bet: From Techno-Utopia to Trouble with NETs
The 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, saying, “In many [mitigation] scenarios, the level of negative emissions is comparable in size with the remaining carbon budget.” The graph from the article illustrates that massive carbon sucking needed.
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 a 66% likelihood of being achieved. Carefully consider the area under the zero point (red line), 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 means in real world terms. One gigaton of weight is 1,000,000,000 X 2,204.6 pounds. This is 2,204,600,000,000 pounds, or over two trillion pounds. Converting to elephants, it is over 200,000,000 African elephants in weight. Now, there are not nearly that many elephants alive, so one must imagine taking more elephants of CO2 from the atmosphere than actually exist.
That means in order to meet the reductions so that the world does not blast past 2◦C, it would be necessary to capture and bury more than 3 million “elephants of CO2” each and every year from 2030 to 2100—about ten times the weight of all elephants alive today. All that weight would need to be securely buried every year in the last two-thirds of this century. The burial would need to continue well beyond the entire 21st century, but those calculations depend on the world successfully burying the amounts listed here first.
The two parts of this story, one a delusion, and the other an impossible but necessary accomplishment, comprise the two sides of the Tinkerbell-Effect. Like one coin with two sides. On one side are the necessary beliefs: (a) in sucking-carbon-from-the-air-technologies that 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 in to 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 that the conferees would really believe that 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.
Although much more could be added, the world-wide spell of the Tinkerbell-Effect is necessary to maintain the illusion that the Paris Agreement could actually stabilize the climate after far too much carbon fuels are used. But even if the wished-for miracle of NETs could work, other delusions rear their heads:
- The intentions that nations have offered as part of the Agreement for reducing fossil fuels use would result in climate warming of at least 3-4°C, not the agreed 2°C ceiling. Moreover, few nations are even meeting their own targets.
- Catastrophic self-reinforcing climate tipping points and disastrous runaway climate warming increase in likelihood above 2°C temperature increases. And blasting past 2°C now seems inevitable.
We do have a choice, but do we perceive its necessity?
We can put in place reality-based mechanisms to dramatically reduce our fossil fuel developments and uses, to provide some small chance to hold the line on temperature increases, so that some parts of humanity can survive. But, it seems all but completely delusional to believe we won’t meet global disaster when it comes to climate warming. It seems to be only when, and not if. Unfortunately, the extent and degree of the disaster is being determined now, by every usage of fossil fuels—the CO2 increases in our air as a result.
To salvage any livable future, we must begin by radically reducing fossil fuels development and use–starting now, literally. Particularly in the US, because the US has been the main perpetrator of the looming catastrophe. Further, we must keep the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. By these actions and more, we may avoid the worst 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.”
This is Part 1 in the free e-book: Climate and Ecological Delusions and Contradictions That Will Rapidly End Humanity, Unless…
 The UN Paris Climate Agreement deals with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance. All nations have signed on–the exception is the United States, as President Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in June 2016. For more about the agreement, see Glossary and Wikipedia, “Paris Agreement,” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Agreement.
 US Energy Information Administration, “Fossil fuels have made up at least 80% of U.S. fuel mix since 1900,” www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=21912, and The World Bank, “Fossil fuel energy consumption (% of total),” data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.USE.COMM.FO.ZS.
 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific and intergovernmental body under the auspices of the United Nations. For more, see Glossary and Wikipedia, “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intergovernmental_Panel_on_Climate_Change.
 The US political system is dominated by the only leader and political party in the world who believe global warming is a hoax.
 For more about tipping points, see: Environmental Defense Fund, “Everything you need to know about climate tipping points,” November 1, 2017, blogs.edf.org/climate411/2017/11/01/everything-you-need-to-know-about-climate-tipping-points/.