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Climate change, COVID-19 and the Beirut explosion

Climate change will greatly impact all life on Earth, it will result in the extinction of thousand, possibly millions of species, the displacement and possibly the deaths of billions of people. Once the full impact has hit regaining the world as it was will be impossible. Our grandchildren will inherit a greatly damaged planet.

COVID-19 at worst will kill perhaps 5 percent of humans (if so, this loss will take five years to be replaced at the present rate of population increase). The pandemic will not harm other species or our environment; the Earth will be much the same place after the pandemic as it was before the pandemic.

We know exactly what needs to be done to slow climate change.

It has been a hundred years since the world faced a pandemic like COVID-19, since then the our societies have changed enormously, our population has increased enormously, our civilisation has changed enormously; we are feeling our way through the pandemic.

What has been the human response to the two threats? Minimal action over the 40 or more years in which the magnitude of threat of climate change has been recognised, huge and immediate action at great economic and social cost in response to COVID-19.

The world's governments are ignoring the seriousness of climate change just as the Lebanese government ignored the risk of a disastrous explosion.

This page was started 2020/04/17, last edited 2020/10/06
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©
 
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Why the vastly different responses to the two threats? Why the huge and urgent response to the smaller threat and a slow and minimal response to the far greater threat?

There seems to be several reasons:

  • The pandemic is an immediate threat, if action was not taken people would die within weeks. Climate change is not going to reach its full extent for decades, even centuries.

  • The pandemic can be, must be, controlled at the national and local levels, even at the personal level. National and state governments have the legislative and legal resources to either ignore or act on the threat; those that have acted promptly and effectively are controlling the pandemic in their jurisdiction. The actions of a single nation will have little impact on climate change, all nations must act together.

  • The pandemic is simple and obvious, climate change is complex and largely hidden and requires some exercise of intelligence and a grasp of science to understand; or at least a trust in science.

  • There has been a very effective and well funded disinformation campaign about climate change by the fossil fuel industry; there has been nothing comparable about the pandemic.

  • The technical nature of climate change together with the disinformation campaign has made it easy for those people who don't want to believe it is happening to suspend belief.

  • It seems that the fear of a possible immediate and personal threat, even when the fear is unjustified, is more likely to motivate people than a much greater global threat that will reach its peak some decades or centuries in the future. I have discussed an observation on this point on another page on this site.
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We are winning against COVID-19, we could win against climate change too

At the time of writing, April 2020, many nations seem to be getting the pandemic under control. My nation, Australia, has greatly reduced the rate of new cases. Even the USA, under President Donald Trump, while suffering far more cases of the infection, and far more deaths, than any other nation, seems to be reaching the peak of the infection rates.

The means to limit climate change are at hand, we just need to get serious about adopting them.



A solar farm
Bungala
Humanity has the technology to greatly limit climate change


 
Part of a Wind Farm
Drone photo
Wind power, like solar power, can be used instead of burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, so reducing greenhouse emissions and slowing climate change.
One of the greatest sources of the greenhouse gasses that are causing climate change is the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity. Both wind and solar power are now well proven technologies that are cheaper than new fossil fuelled power stations.

Electricity generated by renewable means, such as wind and solar, can be stored in batteries, pumped hydro, compressed air or other energy storage systems.

Transport is another great generator of greenhouse emissions. Fossil fuel powered transport on sea and land can be replaced with electric or hydrogen powered transport. Converting air transport to clean energy is more challenging but progress is being made.

Renewably generated electricity can be used to generate hydrogen which can be used as a store of energy. Hydrogen can also be used to produce ammonia which is easy to transport and store and has many industrial uses and which can be broken down to reclaim the hydrogen.
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This section added 2020/04/29

Why are fossil fuels some sort of sacred cow?

 
Renewable energy is displacing coal
Port Augusta
The world has responded strongly and swiftly to the Covid pandemic, but has done very little to combat the far greater threat of climate change. Certainly at least in the case of my country, Australia, our governments have not wanted to in any way reduce the profitability of our fossil fuel industries, particularly coal (Australia is the biggest exporter of coal in the world).

Why? Why should governments act on a pandemic but not be willing to harm the fossil fuel industry?

New solar power, coal-fired power station shutting down

The photo on the right was taken at Port Augusta, South Australia in April 2016. It nicely symbolises the decline of coal. On the left is the new solar power-tower of Sundrop Farms. The big smoking chimney is on the Northern Power Station, SA's last coal-fired power station; which was soon to close. Further right are the two chimneys of the Sir Thomas Playford coal-fired power station, which had already closed-down. The chimney stopped smoking on 2016/05/09.

At the time this photo was taken, an average of around 33% of SA's power was generated by wind farms and another 5% by solar PV. By 2020 more than half of the power generated in SA was renewable.

But the decline of coal is being resisted by government!

Coal-fired power is not able to compete economically with renewable energy in South Australia, and new coal-fired power stations are no longer able to compete with renewable energy anywhere in Australia. But as far as the Australian government (and the governments of the big coal producing states) are concerned, the coal industry must be protected no matter how much damage it is doing to the world.

These governments were willing to cripple the economy to fight the pandemic, but not willing to encourage the change from coal to renewable energy even though there would be little, if any, damage to the economy in the transition.

It makes no sense.
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This section added 2020/10/06

The Beirut explosion and climate change

 

Size of the blast

The size of the Beirut blast has been estimated to be equivalent to 1.1 thousand tonnes (kilotons) of TNT. The Hiroshima nuclear bomb at the end of WWII was about 15 kilotons and the Nagasaki bomb was about 21 kilotons. The Beirut blast was perhaps the biggest non-nuclear blast ever.
On 2020/08/04 more than two thousand tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded causing colossal damage to the city's port area and killing at least 200 people.

What has this to do with climate change?

The ammonium nitrate had been stored in a warehouse in the port of Beirut for six years in spite of the knowledge that it presented a risk of just such an enormous explosion. It was a disaster waiting to happen and was being ignored by the Lebanese government.

Climate change is a developing disaster that will impact billions of people and practically all life on earth, and, similarly to the Beirut ammonium nitrate, it is not being taken seriously by most of the world's governments.

The recent federal governments of my country, Australia, have been among the most criminals in the world in their opposition to moving away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy.

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Related pages

Related pages on this site...

Australia's energy future; where I see my country's energy supply industry going in the future

Climate change

COVID-19; some thoughts

End of coal; why the coal industry is facing its end years

The potential of hydrogen in a cleaner economy

Killer coal; not only is the burning of coal one of the main causes of climate change, its air pollution kills millions of people each year

Milestones in the development of human society

Potential disasters compared; which are most likely, how serious are they likely to be, and will society and the environment recover from them?

Power to (hydrogen) gas in Australia

South Australia's great success in changing to renewable energy; my state is leading the nation, even the world

Why I support the local wind farm and why you should too

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