Mark Cochrane: Climate Change, Revisited
Mark Cochrane, Professor and Senior Research Scientist at the Geospatial Science Center of Excellence at South Dakota State University, returns to the podcast after a year and a half to update us on what the latest science has to tell us on the (often controversial) topic of climate change.
Mark has been researching the climate for over 20 years, and among his many other accomplishments, moderates what we believe to be the most level-headed, open-minded and data-centric discussion forum on climate change available on the Internet today.
In this week's podcast, Mark updates us on the latest empirical data, separates out what science can and cannot prove today regarding climate change, and provides clarity into closely-related but less well-understood issues, such as ocean acidification:
Ocean acidity levels have gone up by 30 percent in recent decades. It is off the charts compared to the previous baseline of millions of years in terms of the rapidity of this. Have we had really high acid levels before? Yeah, but that was many millions of years ago. It didn't happen over night they way it is now.
What we have is all of the organisms that rely on calcium or calcium carbonate shells, whether it's their external shells or internal systems, they are under increasing amounts of stress, having a harder and harder time making those calcium-based structures.
In a lot of places, we're already losing things. In the coastal areas they're is a lot of carbon that was actually buried back in the '50s and '60s that is now simply of washing ashore in those regions. That is not even as bad as it is going to be. There is an increasing amount of studies looking at this in various ways to try to get a handle on what is happening now. There is just a study out yesterday showing how they can actually look at what the concentrations are going to be like by 2100. See how things will respond. They took some coral. They put them there and just monitored how they responded. It was not just a question of them resolving or having a harder time to grow. They will fight the tide so to speak. They will keep trying. But they are stressed. What they are finding is that they get these worms that start riddling through it; and actually eating it, and not just dissolving it. It is kind of a double whammy for a lot of these systems.
So we know it's ongoing. We can measure it. We can see it. The question is trying to infer what will occur because of it? Now, we know we are losing the base of a lot of food chain items. Therefore, it's harder and harder for other things that are not directly impacted to feed. We also have a variety of other things going on for the coral reefs between the heating causing bleaching, people blowing them up, fishing and other human-based efforts.
Right there, we are losing the food source for about a half a billion people.
This will take time to play out. But it's a major concern right now. It's one that's not on many people's radar because it's the ocean: it's far away and vast. It's been around for a long time.
Well, life will go on. It will just not be the sort of life that we're used to.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Mark Cochrane(48m:12s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host Chris Martenson. It is November 23, 2016. Donald Trump is the new president-elect. At the time of this recording, he has not yet been sworn in. But people are fearing lots of things about him and his possible actions; and among those are his views and actions on climate change.
One positive so far from the Trump election is that both sides of the cultural divide in America have suddenly discovered the importance of talking with each other; and not to persuade the other side necessarily, but to at least know what the other side is thinking. One area of great divide in the U.S. at present, at least in the political class, is the area of climate change science. Now, as with any complicated and emerging field of science, there are of course, competing and sometimes conflicting theories, models, ideas.
This interview with climate scientist Dr. Mark Cochrane is being recorded with the intention of specifically airing both the knowns and the unknowns. Most importantly, what can we expect in this next political era. What do we know for sure? What are the unknowns? Where is there agreement? Where is there still legitimate room for debate and additional discovery? Where has the science settled?
As many of you know, Dr. Cochrane conducts climate change related research in the United States, in Australia, Brazil, and Indonesia that explores how climate change is affecting the characteristics and impacts of wildfires on ecosystems and human societies. He is Professor and Senior Research Scientist at the Geospatial Science Center of Excellence at South Dakota State University. He holds a doctoral degree in Ecology from Penn State; and a Bachelor's in Environmental Engineering from MIT. Mark's earth systems science – excuse me – research focuses on understanding the spatial patterns, interactions, and synergisms between multiple, physical, and biological factors that affect ecosystems.
He is our guy. He knows climate science. He has been hosting, as it were, the largest, and longest running climate thread that we have got at Peak Prosperity. It is absolutely a treasure trove of reasoned discourse, and reasoned debate, good hard science, and letting the facts fall. It just a fantastic thread. I would invite you to go look at that, if you have a chance. Mark, welcome.
Mark Cochrane: Hi, thank you. It is good to be back.
Chris Martenson: It is great to have you back. Now, so let us imagine. We have got some listeners who are really on the fence about climate change. Let us start right at the beginning and very quickly. What do we know for sure about climate change at this point?
Mark Cochrane: Well, we know for sure it is ongoing. We know for sure that we have a good part to play in it. What we do not know is exactly how fast it is going to proceed. What the actual impacts will end up being? Or, how we can respond?
Chris Martenson: Alright. Now, within those knowns, something that I have focused on a lot, too, because this seems really straightforward – is chemistry. Chemistry is pretty easy to understand; in particular the chemistry of having carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Some of that carbon dioxide then is dissolved back into ocean water. A little chemistry happens. It creates carbonic acid. Uh-oh, we have ocean acidification. Is that relatively settled at this point in your mind as part of the story?
Mark Cochrane: It is settled to anybody who actually understands anything about how these things work. That should be pretty much everybody here. Because it is the same thing that goes on in a bottle of beer or soda. The increase of the partial pressure of CO2 above it in that atmosphere. It gets forced into the liquid. That is the same thing we are doing with the ocean systems right now.
Chris Martenson: Now, in those ocean systems of course, this is reasonably easy to measure. pH, is one of the easiest measurements ever; and not a lot of complicated equipment involved. From my perspective, we have had lots of reports of oyster farmers on both coasts of the United States; in Washington State, and Puget Sound, and also up in the Gulf of Maine where they are saying there are the oyster fry. The larvae are not developing, because their shells are dissolving. To me, again is this – do oceans normally fluctuate in pH? Or, is this for sure something we can say this is one of the ongoing effects as you have described it?
Mark Cochrane: Yes. This is definitely one of the ongoing effects. I mean, acidity levels have gone up by 30 percent in recent decades. It is off the charts for millions of years in terms of the rapidity of this. Have we had really high acid levels before? Yeah, but that was many millions of years ago. It did not happen overnight.
Yeah, what we have is all of the organisms that rely on calcium or calcium carbonate shells – are going to be under increasing amounts of stress as they effectively dissolve all of their…. Whether there are external shells or even internal systems; they are having a harder and harder time making those structures.
Yeah, a lot of places, we are already losing things. This is along the coast where you are talking about. That is a lot of carbon that was actually buried back in the '50s and '60s that is kind of washing up in those regions. That is not even as bad as it is going to be. There is an increasing amount of studies looking at this in various ways to try to get a handle on what is happening now. There is just a study out yesterday showing – they were looking in Papua New Guinea in these areas where they have a certain amount of carbon that bubbles up from the ocean.
They can actually look at what the concentrations are going to be like say, in 2100. See how things will respond. They took some coral. They put them there and just monitored how they responded. It was not just a question of them resolving or having a harder time to grow. They will fight the tide so to speak. They will keep trying. But they are stressed. What they are finding is that they get these worms that start riddling through it; and actually eating it, and not just dissolving it. It is kind of a double whammy for a lot of these systems.
Chris Martenson: Yes, stressed organisms tend not to have a lot of defenses; myself included.
Mark Cochrane: Yes. All of us, we all know this. I think so.
Chris Martenson: I know we focus on oysters because people like to eat them. But clearly, the ocean is a complex ecosystem and lots of food webs. I have been reading about people who do study other things; certain type of benthic snails, and other little variety of things floating around again. Many of them with these calcium carbonate shells. They are not doing well. We have lost of a lot of phytoplankton as a broad classification, and a lot of zooplankton. There are just general stresses on the oceans at this point.
It seems to be that hiking your acidity by 30 percent has something to do with that in many of these cases. But of course, these are complex food webs. You can knock out one organism with a slightly elevated or even massively elevated acidity. But other organisms are going to be impacted by that who may not have a direct impact. What is the extent to which we understand that this is now happening?
Mark Cochrane: Well, we know it is ongoing. We can measure it. We can see it. The question is trying to infer what will occur because of it? Now, we know we are losing the base of a lot of food chain items. Therefore, it is harder and harder for other things that are not directly impacted to feed. We also have a variety of other things going on for the coral reefs between the heating causing bleaching, people blowing them up and fishing and efforts.
Right there, we are losing the food source for about a half a billion people. We have these ongoing things. But again, we know it is bad. But we have not been here before. We can try to project. But we really do not know how it is going to play out. There will be winners and losers as always. Right now, the only winners we know of are seagrasses and jellyfish. They will do just fine. But everything else is a question.
It will take time to play out, but is a major concern right now. It is one that is not on many people's radar. Because it is the ocean. It is far away. It is a big thing. It has been around for a long time. Life will go on. It will just not be the life that we are used to.
Chris Martenson: Exactly, so let us talk now. I want to get some of the points of disagreement quickly just to get the framing up front, so we can have the rest of the conversation here.
Mark Cochrane: I got you.
Chris Martenson: The process is not in dispute. The process that humans burn things. More carbon dioxide ends up in the atmosphere, not disputed, great. Some of that carbon dioxide, it goes. It is a process, it ends up in the ocean. It creates a higher levels or greater acidity. It has a lower pH; and a higher or lower, tricky numbers to use with pH, but a greater acidity.
We know that carbon dioxide as a, as a molecule, it traps heat because of its characteristics, its physical characteristics. None of that is in dispute. What seems to be in dispute is what are those impacts going to be? Where do we have these points of disagreement? I know we have got models that are all over the place as obviously, very complex models.
I could see disagreements all of the time around the temperature, and actual reading. Some people throwing stuff up and saying, this satellite says there is no heating. Wait, this says there are tons. Talk to us about really that next layer of what we can really wrap our arms around at this point.
Mark Cochrane: Okay. Yeah. I would dispute that the models are all over the place. They are all at one side. They are just a question of how far on that side. The disputes that you raise there are the same ones we have been dealing with at times up to 50 years. They have been debunked over and over. But it is like the goldfish who went around the bowl for a new experience every time.
Mark Cochrane: But yeah, so we have been dealing with the same stories over and over again. It does not matter how many times you can show it is not the case. It will be trotted out again two months later as if it were a new thing. All of the questions of whether or not the measurements are showing what we think they are showing. You either have debates of they are placing the thermometers near parking lots or something like that. It has all been proven again and again that no.
They are actually well placed. They show what is going on. Or, the one that is classically used by Dr. Roy Spencer and then fans of his is the UAH satellite sensor; which yeah, it is a bit lower. But why is it a bit lower? It is because it is measuring the temperature in the upper troposphere. It is kind of like, if you were standing on Mount Everest. We do not live in Mount Everest. It is cooler up in the mountains.
Anybody who goes up and down mountains knows it is cooler there. But it is still rising there as well. So, what they do is they say hey. We are comparing there to these other ones that are measuring the temperature on the ground; and saying, hey. It is not as high as you say it is. It is because you are not measuring the same thing. I mean, all of the – I do not know how many others that are used?
Chris Martenson: Well, how about the extent of the ice, surface ice?
Mark Cochrane: Yeah. I mean, the only people who dispute this are people who have never actually gone there for one. You can show this whether it is through pictures or satellites or personal experience. These are melting and melting at a faster and faster rate. The biggest concern we have, for me at least right now, is ever since about 2014. We have known that the West Antarctic ice sheet, which has about four or five years’ worth of sea level is collapsing as we speak. It cannot be stopped at this point.
The only question is will it take decades, centuries, or a millennium to happen? We cannot stop this. We have got Greenland melting at unprecedented rates. Even part of East Antarctic are coming off. Or, if you look at the floating ice up in the Arctic, we can show this year after year. It is lower and lower. It never recovers to the levels it was at. Just I think two or three days ago, we had temperatures that were 30 degrees above normal at the North Pole.
It is not a real question. I mean, people can say, well, no, it is not happening. But they do not have any evidence. That is the thing that gets me. There is no other model. There is no competing model or theory. There is only people who were saying; "No, it is not." It is like the Monty Python skit for arguing. You cannot reason with that. We can show again and again.
I think reasonable people have come around for the most part. I do not find the same level of dispute like when I started the thread. Or, when I started doing things in my local paper here. I live in a red state. But I find that if you actually reasonably talk to people, and do not resort to name calling. Most people will go, really. You show the evidence. Most people really would be evidenced-based, if they could be presented with any.
But, there are a whole host of people out there who do not want you to look at evidence or really consider things. Everything becomes a political argument or an ideological argument. But that is not what we see around the world. I think in the last few years, it has really toned down quite a bit. I think the denial if you will is retrenching to – yeah, it is happening. But it is not as bad as you think.
Chris Martenson: Well, now let me talk about that for a second. Because there was a headline that just caught my attention. It was on November 11th. It came out in a U.K. paper. I will just read the headline, and the first three sentences. The headline is, "Climate change may be escalating so fast, it could be game over, scientist warned." I think the body of the article reads, new research by an international team of experts who looked into how the earth's climate has reacted over nearly 800,000 year.
It warns this could be a major underestimate. Because they believe the climate is more sensitive to greenhouse gasses when it is warmer. In a paper in the Journal of Science Advances, they said the actual range could be between 4.8 degrees Celsius to 7.4 degrees Celsius by 2100, based on one set of calculations. I am sure you are familiar with it. First, would you concur with that? Would we ever – ? What does it mean based on one set of calculations?
Mark Cochrane: Okay. I mean, these numbers have actually been out there. What we see, for example. We will see things from the IPCC or other sources saying that we are going to rise by whether it is two, or three, or four degrees Celsius. These models are run again and again under different scenarios and different assumptions. There are already are scenarios out there saying that we could warm by six or seven. But the chance of that happening?
There is only maybe or four or five percent, which still is pretty large in my book. But they are not…. What we do is we tend to report what sounds more reasonable. What is more statistically likely. Are there possibilities for that to happen? Yes. Are they likely? Probably not simply because the main break on that is going to be the massive amounts of ice in Antarctica; which at present.
We do not have a way that we know of to break that up that quickly, say by 2100. Or, if it has started happening, it would – melting ice takes heat. Therefore, it would actually slow down the rate of heating. We do not have a record of anything heating that fast globally. I would say my hope is it would not happen that fast. But I cannot be certain. It could potentially yes.
Chris Martenson: Alright. This is – I think where some of the confusion lies for people. Or, where there is a range of things. From hey, we will get very low warming – to maybe as much as over seven degrees, which would be -I think. Help and flush this out for us. What would a seven degree Celsius rise actually mean?
Mark Cochrane: Yes. Well, it would mean there would be no ice anywhere on the planet for one. Every bit of ice from Antarctica, Greenland, and everywhere will be gone. That will actually probably happen above three degrees Celsius. Seven would not it mean it would happen very quickly. We would have, I do not know 50 meters of sea level rise very quickly.
Chris Martenson: Fifty meters – ?
Mark Cochrane: Yes. Basically, nothing you know anywhere on this planet. If you look out your window. Nothing is that is there will be there. It would have to be something different. Because we can move around on this planet. We can get into our air conditioned or heated comfort. But everything else on the planet, it exists where the climate is amenable to it. If you raised by seven degrees Celsius. We are not talking about for a day, an hour.
We are saying on average. That is a huge change. That is more than the change that happened from the depths of the ice age until today. That change in the planetary temperatures of five, and maybe six degrees Celsius. If you are talking about raising another seven; you are talking about it at basically a different planet. Now, the only question is how fast that occurs?
This is really where the problems lie. If it were to change by seven degrees Celsius, it would be a huge change. If we had tens of thousands of years for it to occur, life would adjust pretty well. If it happens over a thousand years, it is difficult. If it happens over a hundred years, it is insane. Nothing is designed to adapt that quickly.
Yeah, it is going to be a free for all. We will lose a lot of species. It will be millions of years before life readjusts. It is not going to extirpate life from the planet. But it would certainly reset the clock. It will be kind of, even worse than say the K-T boundary asteroid that hit and took out the dinosaurs.
Chris Martenson: Okay. Well, that sounds pretty dramatic. This is something that I have heard come up a lot. It is people saying well, the Trump presidency has now set the country back in terms of a few things. You are talking about setting the clock a life back pretty extraordinarily. That sounds reasonably dire. Before we get into….
Mark Cochrane: You are going back 30 or more million years, if you did that.
Chris Martenson: Well, I have got some fossils from back then.
Mark Cochrane: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. I never thought about it this way. But I am wondering how many degrees Celsius difference exists between myself in Massachusetts and say, Miami?
Mark Cochrane: Let us see. You are saying for like what kind of life you would expect?
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
Mark Cochrane: Well, I do not know off of the top of my head. I would say about on average about yeah, three, probably Celsius. But I do not know for a fact. I mean, but the problem is when we talk about these averages. It is not the way anything is experienced. When we talk about – it is part of the problem. It is easy to say warm the planet by two degrees Celsius. For most people, whatever, and let us say four degrees Fahrenheit.
They are going to say well, no big deal. It came up more than that since breakfast. But it is not the way it is experienced. It is not like every day; the temperature was going to go up by that amount. It is you can have some periods where it is very high. Other periods are low. You do not have winter freezes the way you used to. You get storms. I mean, it is not just the temperature. The temperature is actually the minor part of the equation.
What happens is it changes all of the weather patterns. Primarily it is the way the moisture is experienced. Do you get enough moisture? You either get floods. You get droughts. Even if you had the same amount; or even some more rainfall than you had previously. You could be in drought. Because as the temperature rises, you evaporate it much more, and much more quickly.
The drought stress level has increased. Everything we do on this planet from our perspective is built around moisture. All of the crops that we do. How we live on this, the surface of the planet. It is huge changes that happen with relatively small changes in average temperature of the planet.
Chris Martenson: Alright. Now, Mark, I want to talk about your research then. If you could just describe for people what you are researching? What I am really interested in is how long you have been doing that? What you have detected in terms of changes? Pardon me, if this comes out wrong. But the brief span of time you have been doing this geologically speaking, just so people have a sense of what you are doing. What you are seeing.
Mark Cochrane: Okay. Yeah. I have been basically doing this since about 1994.
But yeah, I have been doing this sort of research in one fashion or another since 1994. A lot of work in the Amazon and especially earlier on; and I am branching out from there to, like you had mentioned Australia, and Indonesia, and the United States. Now, we have got another project starting in Africa. Looking at these changes; and I mean, we talk about global change. It is not just climate change.
It has to do with all of the things that we as a species are doing across the planet as well. But increasingly, climate change has become more and more of an issue. Because we have gone from thinking it was something that could happen in the next century or two – to something that we can see happening right before our eyes. I look at a variety of things. One of the main things we have been looking at recently is globally. Can we say something about how fire is changing on the planet?
We had a paper out in Nature and Communications last year showing that across the planet, we – in the last 30 years. We have increased the fire danger levels across half of the planet's surface considerably. Statistically significantly and we have more than doubled the area that is under extreme long fire seasons. We have a paper that is just coming out now for the United States. That shows that not only is the danger of the fire going up. But where that is happening, we are having both more fires; and fires that burn more intensely.
They can consume more fuels and harder to control; which fits with our experience. We have been having this problem for the last few decades of having bigger and bigger fires. We have a harder and harder time controlling. Combined with that, I have also been looking at things in Indonesia. I was there for the height of the haze crisis last year during this last El Nino where we have huge amounts of fire happening in pig swamp forests that were drained some years ago.
It is an environmental disaster of our making where the fire burning there; it does not just burn a forest per se. it burns the land surface. Because it is a giant pile of organic matter. When it does that, it smoulders and puts up all kinds of nasty stuff in the air. That makes it very hard to breathe. They put over 500,000 people in the hospital. But we were able to actually measure the real emissions coming off of that.
I guess I would call it a rare bit of good news. If you will is that we were able to show that the emissions coming off of those fires were actually less than what had been estimated by the IPCC previously. That will make Indonesia happy. It does not really change the impact across the planet. Because we can still measure how much carbon dioxide is showing up in the atmosphere as well as methane and carbon monoxide, and a few others. But I think that kind of sums up what we are doing at the moment.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. In terms of seeing a progression of changes, are you able to detect that yet in your research?
Mark Cochrane: Yeah. We can show that over recent decades. That we are seeing again more fire and increased conditions for fire. There is definitely a trend ongoing. This is one of the things I try to stress more and more. We were talking about stress. All of the systems out there are increasingly stressed. Because the climate is shifting. They are in the wrong place. When they are stressed, they are more prone to any number of things, whether it is insect detect, and disease, but also of fire.
There is one hope we have around the planet – is that a lot of the carbon will be soaked up by trees and other plants that are growing. To an extent, they will be. But as we stress that system and basically everything has to be moved. What we are doing is creating a system that is changing. A changing system will actually hold less carbon overall. Over time, we are going to actually start losing carbon off of the land surface; which means, we will have more piling up in the atmosphere.
Chris Martenson: Right. That being one of the infamous feedback loops you are describing here?
Mark Cochrane: Yes.
Chris Martenson: Alright. Here is a quote that came out of that same paper that said – that I have just quoted earlier from the independent newspaper. This is a Michael Mann quote. He says this study does indeed support the notion that a Donald Trump presidency could be gained over the climate. That is what he wrote in an e-mail to them. Without commenting on whether he is correct in that assessment of the defensibility of the study's conclusions; I want to ask you this. What has any U.S. president really done so far? I mean, in terms of the actual concrete policy terms to really sway consumers and businesses towards using less fossil fuels?
Mark Cochrane: Well, to date, we have done little or nothing depending – independent of any administration. The only one that actually tried to make a difference was Jimmy Carter. He was drummed out of office rather quickly. Yeah. Asking people to actually change what they do. Or, asking people to do things that will directly impact our economy such as it is. It is difficult. Everybody wants change. But nobody wants to change.
Yeah. I am still waiting to see what will happen under our new president. I was encouraged just yesterday where it said he was actually rethinking his stance on climate. But I was just last week at a conference, a NASA conference. They are gearing up for a possible 25 percent cut in budgets and trying to plan ahead. There are other rumors out there.
Earth science could be cut completely. That is unlikely, I would say. I will say this, though. I mean, we have not even talked about like the Paris Agreement. But I think the U.S. has lost any leadership capacity at least morally speaking around the world on this issue by being so intransigent on anything to do with the issue for decades. Such that, if we try to withdraw from it; I think the rest of the world is going to move on without us. It will be hamstrung. But it will still move forward. It will not stop because of us.
Chris Martenson: Now, this Paris accord, if you could just give people a quick rundown on what that was? What was agreed to. The progress – well, the progress is the ratification progress, I am talking about rather than any other progress at this point. I guess. What is it? Where do we stand?
Mark Cochrane: Okay. Yeah, I mean, there is…. It comes down to you see the glass half empty or half full. The half full, I guess, it would be that it is the first major climate agreement since the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997, whereby nations of the planet have agreed that not only do we have to cut emissions of fossil fuels. We need to make them peak soon and go down. This is not just about slowing down the rate of increase.
This is actually about trying to get it to the point that it is decreasing. That is good. What was amazing about it. It starts from voluntary commitments, which people can argue about. But everybody came out with their own climate action plan. They put that together with the goal of trying to keep the temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius; and an aspirational goal of keeping it below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But, they thought even after they had an agreement signed that it would take until about 2020 or later to get ratified. Because that would be in keeping what happened with the Kyoto Protocol, which took eight years to ratify. But instead, it took less than a year.
Just this year, it was ratified. In order to do that, it was necessary to get 55 countries that represented at least 55 percent of the global emissions to ratify this. That happened November 4th, conveniently just before the U.S. elections. Maybe people were already seeing Trump being elected.
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
Mark Cochrane: But it has continued since then. At this point, 193 countries have signed; 113 have ratified it. They represent 79 percent of all global emissions. Even if the U.S. somehow were taken out of that equation, it would still be ratified globally. The downside of this is unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement is all voluntary. There is no legal mitigation or finance targets. Will people do what they say they are going to do?
In its defense, they have to legally provide tracking progress on how well they are keeping on with the goals that they have stated that have to be publicly declared and from an independent source. It is not like you can say, yes. We are doing it and not do anything; and pretend you are getting somewhere. The world will know. There is some moral suasion that can go on. But there is no legal pressure.
The plan though is that every five years, all of the countries have to submit an updated plan that basically tries to build upon the momentum and actually create higher targets to reach, which is very necessary. Because after all of the great goals of trying to stay below two degrees Celsius, the UN has done their own study. To their credit, they are not trying to claim victory and move on. Their own study showed that the commitments to date would still result in warming by 2.9 to 3.4 degrees Celsius, which is way above where they are supposed to be.
They know they have to improve this quite a lot. I think it is a good sign that the world is starting to get serious about this issue; and moving towards making a difference. But it is kind of like, I do not know dealing with global debt. Nobody wants to actually have to pay for it or deal with it. The actual making those changes is going to be difficult when it comes down to actually impacting the bottom line so to speak.
Chris Martenson: Well, I agree. Now we get down to where the rubber really hits the road in this story; which you alluded to earlier, which is everybody wants this change. But nobody wants to change. I want to talk about this. Because this is something obviously we talk about at Peak Prosperity a lot.
I know you have got a good handle on this as well. Maybe we have a meeting of the minds or a big dose of confirmation bias on this. But we know; I believe at this point. That if you cannot just step in right now. We could not have some benevolent dictator coming in to say that is it. We are going to cut everybody's fossil fuel use in half. But life will continue on as before.
It is just not going to happen. Because our economy is so wedded to this. I believe that people will be earnest and attempting to follow the Paris accord until such a time as their economy takes a hit. They need to burn some coal to get it back into green. That is sort of my view on this. Here is the thing that I have seen missing so far. I have read a bunch of studies, some very well meaning ones, and very lengthy where people did their best.
To say, here is how we move entirely to alternative energy. Here is how we do it by 2030, right. The problem I have with all of these studies is that the cost of these things are extraordinary. They are making an assumption, which is that the economy functions reasonably well as we go from a high net energy source of energy, to a lower net energy source of energy, or a more diffuse set. In your mind, is it fair to say that the disruption, the potential for disruption, and the economic disruption here. It is not really baked into this thinking yet well?
Mark Cochrane: Clearly, I mean, we keep assuming everything will move along smoothly. That does not…. It is in all models of economics. It is in our models of transitioning to different power sources. It is in our ideas of even how the climate will progress. Because all of the models assume that we will have a relatively stable climate that just kind of slowly tweaks to a different state. That is not necessarily the way that happens either.
The climate can jerk around quite considerably. We are really poking the bear so to speak. The climate system is chaotic. The more we perturb it, the more chance it could jump around unpredictably as well. But certainly, in terms of trying to change this system, it is not going to be something easy around the margins with nobody noticing it happen kind of thing.
It does not matter, if we are talking about that. Or, even if this – there was a study just out earlier this year talking about like crops. We have new crops that we are trying to breed and create. That will deal with the different climates that are coming.
Even if you can breathe these things; it takes decades to get them out in use in the different places. The climate is changing so fast that you cannot keep that system up and running optimally. We are going to be losing out in a lot of those processes. We are going to have to make changes.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. I guess the part that I am surprised. But I would say the lack of sophistication in this conversation; which I see all of the time. It is sort of – my shorthand for it is but Chris. Electric cars are really coming along. I just – I am baffled Mark. Because I am like well, the next time you take a drive, please count, just count, and note all of the electric cars you see. Unless you are in California or you are in a couple of urban centers, you are going to be either at zero or at some fraction less than one percent on that story.
There is just an enormous gap between where we are and where we think we need to be. But I guess the thing that really – I want to begin to raise the conversation around is this. I think it is short changing ourselves to have this view put out. That basically says, hey listen. We can have our cake. We can eat it, too. We are going to dial back fossil fuels. We are still going to have a growing economic output. I just think that is not….
I think that is a disservice to the conversation to just say that will happen. Because it is clearly. Humans have never had to go from our current position back down the curve of energy from a more concentrated to a less concentrated; not that we cannot do it. But my goodness; what a mistake it would be. To say, well, if we want from wood to coal, a little disruption. Then, we went from coal to oil, a couple of buddy – what manufacturers lost their job. But man, everything was better.
I am like, I do not think people appreciate the capital costs. The commitment that would be required to move in a really substantive way away from fossil fuels and towards something else. Whatever that mix of things, that other thing is. That is the first, I guess. I have a follow-on to that. But do you? I mean, it feels to me like there is a very large and very realistic conversation that needs to be had there. Is it happening anywhere you are aware of?
Mark Cochrane: Yeah, no.
Chris Martenson: Alright.
Mark Cochrane: I think you are right exactly. I mean, there is basically – we can see. Hey we can do this. It is out there. It is possible. Theoretically without any thought of how we get from point A to point B. this is what I do with my studies as well. We can say where all of the trees want to be. But nobody thinks about what happens in between from where they are to where they want to get to.
It is the same thing with our energy systems. Yes, we might be able to do these things. But nobody really does the hard work in calculating the resources, and the energy, and the time. What happens to the people in the economy in the middle? I think part of that is again, the wishful thinking. We try not to dwell too much on pain and suffering. Nobody can sell that really well, either.
Chris Martenson: Yeah. That is part one of this is have the cake and eat it, too piece. I just think that we have got to have some serious conversations around that. Because to me, it is people do much better when they are given the truth. That is why the crash course did well. It was a lot of context. I am not going to even say it was truth. But there was a lot of context that was otherwise missing. When they had the context, a lot of people said; well, that makes sense. I am not necessarily thrilled with the implications of it. But at least I have a framework that makes sense now. This has been a piece that I have….
I have read things by Jay Hansen. Not to pick on anybody, but big editorials in the New York Times or by Bill McKibben. They keep coming to this point of saying – we just need to move this direction. Then things will be better. I think there is a little gap there; which is yes. But well, my goodness, it is…. This is going to require us to actively re-prioritize things and really move in a new direction.
Now, I guess we get to the final bit of our time here. But this gets down to the Trump piece. I think this is what has really, honestly; I cannot detect it. That any administration so far has taken this seriously. I think people are worried that Trump at least in his campaign rhetoric had said; I am not. I am going to de-prioritize that a little bit.
Even our lip service is going to go away. But in reality, we need to have a vision that is really comprehensive. We need to ask people to begin to share and shoulder this burden of making this transformation, which will not be all bad. I am not saying it is time for us all to put our hair shirts on and wallow around in misery.
A lot of jobs will be created. But a lot of them will go away. It is a wrenching transformation. We will do that as a nation or as a people on this planet, if we have a vision. That we can get behind. I think people were feeling maybe the vision just took a hit because of Trump. I do not know about that yet.
We will see. He has managed to surprise me at every turn by pivoting and saying something different when he wants to. Who knows where he stands? Your thoughts on that?
Mark Cochrane: Yeah. I would say for sure. Where with him, we do not know what we are getting yet. Well, so to some degree, even if he starts off on one track, he could change his mind pretty quickly. Like it happened in Russia. Why did Russia change their mind? Well, in 2010, they had massive droughts and fires. They lost over 50,000 people. Why did Europe turn around in 2003? Well, they had a massive heat wave. They lost 30,000 people.
We still talk about 9-1-1. 9-1-1 is a small change compared to what those places have faced. If we hit something like that in this country, people would change quite dramatically. Even as we look forward, we have got our heads in the sand. If we raised sea levels by like four feet, we are going to lose 2,400 miles of major roads, and 246 miles of railways, and airports, et cetera. Zillo did a study, if we have just one meter of sea level rise, we lose 1.9 million homes. If we talk about infrastructure we have to build, okay; if we lose 36 cities, period.
We are not even having the conversations about how we adapt, really adapt to what is happening. What is coming. At what point do we start talking about – when do we abandon a major city like Miami? How do you protect that from the sea? Right now, they have got major pumping systems trying to pump the sea back out to itself.
Chris Martenson: Yeah.
Mark Cochrane: It is sitting on porous limestone. You really cannot do much with it. You can build a sea wall. But the water will still come in under it. You are losing the aquifers. Because they are getting flooded with salt water. At some point, we are going to have to say when do we retreat? We have areas of cities like Baltimore, or Wilmington, North Carolina that are literally nuisance flooding. They get flooded 30 times a year at this point. At what point do you flood enough that you say maybe we should not be living here?
Chris Martenson: Good questions, and a follow-up question for any of you real estate investors listening. Who is buying those condos in those flood zones? I do not know. Unless your idea is that the condo will fall apart and be a derelict asset well before we have to consider moving out? Yeah. I agree with everything you said.
Here we are coming up to the end of this particular podcast. But listen, here, this is the only thing that I think makes sense to me. When somebody listening to this saying; "What can I do?" I think they have to be change they wish to see. I think people should get out in front of this ball and reduce their own carbon footprint as much as they can and understand it. Because this voluntary simplicity today is going to be a lot better than involuntary simplicity tomorrow, if that is part of the game.
Well, to be clear; if the world gets serious. It says wow. We are now scared. We have to cut fossil fuel use. That is going to be extraordinarily disruptive just because we did not give ourselves the Jimmy Carter sanctioned amount of time to do this elegantly and sort of gracefully. We will do it abruptly, if it comes to that. In your mind is there anything anybody can do or should be doing at this point besides doing what they can in their own life?
Mark Cochrane: I would say doing what you can in your own life is your main thing to do. To try to get ahead of it just because…. I mean, we are old enough. We saw that the energy crisis in the '70s. Well, we were able to reduce energy use quite dramatically without totally gutting the economy or anything like that. It lasted for decades even after the prices of gas went back down. We could do quite a lot without necessarily just dying of cold, or heat, or something like that. Put on Jimmy Carter's cardigan; we could do a lot of things.
It is not enough. It is not going to change everything. That is one thing that we have to get through our heads. There is no solution. We cannot stop this. Even if we were to cut a 100 percent; we have put in motion changes that will go on for hundreds of years. Now that is…. I guess the analogy I would use is if you're in a car. You are speeding toward a bridge above it.
Yeah, you are going to hit it no matter what you do. But, it still makes sense to hit the brakes. Because you do not want to hit it at 60 miles an hour. It would be better if you hit it at 30. We can do things to make this less dramatic as we have to deal with it. The more you adapt in advance, the less traumatic it is if they suddenly come out tomorrow and say hey. We have to do it now. Just I think part of it is. We have had all of this time of trying to convince our politicians to do something and everything. No, we have to do something. To the extent that more and more of us are doing something, it becomes so obvious. Things will have to get done. Lead by example instead of waiting for somebody else to lead.
Chris Martenson: Well said, and bravo, absolutely. That is really the call to action here for everybody listening. You have got to lead by example. Waiting for somebody else to pick up the baton and say it is okay. Listen, nobody – we should not be waiting for permission from our leadership before we do something. They never actually truly lead. They follow. Once a movement has got good purchase, they will pick up the standard of those politicians, and carry it the last three feet up the hill. That is just –
Mark Cochrane: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: That is just how it has been with every movement I have ever studied. This is really something where I guess it is up to us. Up to us to have the appropriate context to know that we can do things. Then my personal story, Mark is that I have made a lot of changes in my life. I am grateful I had the time to be able to do that.
Of course, I am grateful to have had the resources. But they have not been that wrenching. I have been able to with a little bit of applied thought, really make a pretty big impact on the amount of carbon that I and my family are using. It was not that hard. But I had made none of these changes, and suddenly I had to be forced into this in a short period of time; say it a year or less. It would have been widely damaging I think to me.
Mark Cochrane: Yeah. I would agree.
Chris Martenson: – Difficult…..
Mark Cochrane: I mean, psychologically is the biggest change. For me, one of the biggest things I did was basically get rid of the TV.
Chris Martenson: Yes.
Mark Cochrane: That stuff is telling me I have to go buy everything and all kinds of other problems. But yeah, just keep doing what you can do. You find out yeah, your quality of life did not go down. It is like, you do not need that next little plastic thing from Walmart. You can actually live better, and eat better, or feel better. It is just hard to do it all at once. Now, if you keep adding it piece by piece. I am always humbled by what other people are doing. I am like holy cow. I never thought of that. Some people are just way out in front on this. It really is something to see.
Chris Martenson: Well, this is…. I am going to try this. The next time somebody says I am really worried about climate change. I will say I have it on good authority from a climate change scientist that you should get rid of your TV.
Mark Cochrane: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: See what kind of reaction I get –
Mark Cochrane: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: Listen, I am willing to do something. But I did not say anything. I am not –
Mark Cochrane: Yeah.
Chris Martenson: – Asking it too far. But I agree. Getting rid of the TV for a lot of reasons, including climate change. I can add this to my list – is a very good idea. With that, Mark, thank you so much for your time today. If I could paraphrase? We do not know what we are getting with Trump yet.
There is a little bit of wait and see. At least the world seems to be moving in the right direction. Most importantly, each one of us can decide to make this our own cause. What we are going to do around it for climate change, and maybe for other reasons as well to become more resilient and in charge of our lives. Is that fair?
Mark Cochrane: I think you said it better than I could have.
Chris Martenson: Well, I doubt it. With that, Mark, thank you so much for your time. I truly appreciate it.
Mark Cochrane: Thanks for having me on.