Apocalypse How? Climate Change or Peak Oil, Pick Your Poison!

The Motiva petroleum refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, the largest in the world, was temporarily shut down by Hurricane Harvey. Photo courtesy of Motiva.

I don't know about you, but this wretched summer has burned the climate change denier right out of me, and just in the nick of time, too. Apparently, skeptics who question whether anthropogenic global warming causes more intense hurricanes and heat waves are killing us and should be locked up. They are also -- according to Stevie Wonder, the Pope and numerous other celebrities and authorities -- stupid.

In the past, I might have rushed to defend climate change deniers from such attacks, if only because I strive to consider all sides of any debate. But not after this scorching summer.

I'm not just talking about the wildfires that are still burning across western North America, or the millions of people recovering from hurricanes Harvey and Irma in the southern United States, or the millions of other people recovering from typhoons and monsoons in China, Nepal, Bangladesh and India.

Mainly, I'm talking about the annual raging inferno known as summertime in Shasta County.

What the hell was that we just lived through? (It is over, isn't it?) I've resided in the warm part of northern California all of my adult life, including the past three years in Shasta County, and I can't recall a hotter summer than the one that's just passed. Am I just getting old? Or is it really getting hotter? Sure, I know, we live in a Cadillac desert, it's supposed to be hot like this, but this summer seemed super extra crispy to me, even though we apparently didn't break the record for consecutive days of triple-digit heat.

Even where I live, 2500 feet up in the eastern foothills, where it's usually considerably cooler than Redding, the heat was infernally relentless from June to early September. Half the garden fried without bearing any fruit or vegetable. Even the weeds, including the star thistles, burned to a crisp. The hummingbirds stopped flying in midday. A two-point buck camped out underneath the shade of our deck, occasionally emerging from the shadows to slake his thirst from our small fish pond. Eventually a spike and a fawn joined him. They've become quite territorial and have gotten more use out of the deck this summer than me.

This guy think's it's his deck. Note dead flowers to right. Photo by R.V. Scheide.

I followed the hummingbirds' lead, doing my outside work in the mornings and early evenings, confining myself to the air-conditioned home office during the ferocious sunlit hours, when it was too hot to work, play or do anything meaningful outside. That's how I spent much of the summer, holed up like those astronauts on the International Space Station, who last week had to move to a special compartment in order to shield themselves from a particularly violent solar flare. The few times I dared venture outside without a shirt on, I came back inside with sunspots on my skin.

Hats off to the firefighters, farmers, fruit pickers, ranchers and other outdoor workers who have to endure this heat on a daily basis, for I have given up. This summer has broken me. I can recall the precise day it happened.

It was mid-July, the valley was filled with smoke from wildfires in Oregon and the temperature was 110 degrees in the shade. I was making a rare run into Redding for supplies when the alternator on the Toyota started crapping out. I had to bump-start it several times in the dizzying heat, the sheet metal was so hot it sizzled to the touch. Finally, the truck died completely on Whitmore Road just outside of Millville.

I was exhausted from pushing the truck and dehydrated from not drinking enough fluids. Foolishly, I hadn't brought any water. I don't have a cell phone, so I was going to have to walk to the nearest house, a good distance away. I looked out across the hazy California Serengeti toward Redding, which was vaguely discernible in the ashen distance. The landscape seemed to shimmer in and out of existence. “You're going to die out here,” I heard a voice say. I chuckled, realizing the voice was my own.

It was a rueful laugh, because there's just really nothing funny at all about this heat, is there? How many people do you figure would live in Shasta County if air conditioning didn't exist? How about Sacramento? Fresno? Bakersfield? Las Vegas? Phoenix? Without electricity, much of the inland western U.S. is a mirage. Climate change exists alright, we're changing the climate all the time, on purpose and inadvertently, expending enormous sums of energy to cool ourselves down and warm ourselves up, sums of energy that at the same time have been unequivocally proven to exacerbate … climate change.

There's no point in denying it. The apocalypse is already upon us, we just haven't noticed because it's been air-conditioned, up to this point. Even worse, according to author and Post Carbon Institute co-founder Richard Heinberg, a nationally recognized expert on renewable energy, climate change is just one symptom of the apocalypse, which is a systemic crisis brought on by what he calls an overshooting of the earth's long-term capacity to carry the human species.

Richard Heinberg, co-founder of the Post Carbon Institute. Photo courtesy PCI.

“Our core ecological problem is not climate change,” Heinberg writes in a recent essay. “It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution, and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity. The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival.”

I met and interviewed Heinberg several times during the Aughts, when “peak oil” - the theory that global petroleum reserves are finite and will ultimately peak then decline at a much faster rate than they were accumulated - was heavily in vogue. Although the peak oil theory has fallen out of fashion, thanks to hydraulic fracking in the United States and elsewhere extending the production peak past the earliest predicted date, Heinberg maintains most of the “easy oil” is gone and the “tight oil,” fracked from existing fields that quickly dry up, has only delayed the inevitable decline by years, not decades.

In Heinberg's view the focus on climate change has distracted us from a more pressing issue: Modern civilization is addicted to petroleum at nearly every level and the supply, within a matter of decades, is about to be severely curtailed. Transitioning to a worldwide renewable energy economy is an enormous undertaking that requires wise use of our existing fossil fuel supplies. We must limit the impact on the environment, but we must also move quickly, or there will not be enough petroleum to fuel the transition.

Complicating matters further, no one knows exactly what the renewable energy future looks like. One current hot topic of academic debate is whether intermittent sources such as wind and solar can reliably power the electrical grid we depend upon for, among other things, our air conditioning. Some scientists say intermittent sources can do the job—if we make an enormous investment in energy storage technology. Others say it can't be done without nuclear power. Scientists at MIT have proposed the construction of 300 reactors to power a worldwide electrical grid as the only real solution to significantly reducing the level of carbon we're pumping into the atmosphere.

I recently rediscovered Heinberg after learning the city of Redding was entertaining a bid from a company that wants to build a small scale hydrogen production plant at Stillwater Business Park. I wrote about a similar facility in Sacramento more than a decade ago, when peak oil and the hydrogen economy were all the rage. Quoting Heinberg's work, I noted that manufacturing hydrogen is an inherently inefficient process that uses more energy than it produces, thus making hydrogen an unlikely replacement for fossil fuels.

That's still somewhat true today, but hydrogen fuel cell technology has increased dramatically in the past decade. There's also interest in using hydrogen as an energy storage device, by using excess intermittent electricity generated by wind and solar to manufacture hydrogen from water via electrolysis. The hydrogen can then be used to power fuel cells; it also has other industrial uses. Hydrogen energy storage projects would have to be massive in scale to make a difference, but they are one possible piece of the puzzle. In that light, the small hydrogen production facility proposed for Stillwater, should it be approved, can be seen as a bridge to a renewable energy future that includes hydrogen as a vital component.

It will make a nice addition to our wind farm and Shasta Dam, both of which are renewable energy sources, not to mention the ever-increasing solar panels that keep popping up in Shasta County. Living in California, which has long led the nation in renewable energy and more importantly energy conservation, it's easy to get the impression we're well on our way to the renewable energy future. However, as a state, we still depend heavily on fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, to generate much of our electricity, and the internal combustion engine remains a dominant feature of our culture. The hard part of the transition hasn't even begun, and according to Heinberg, we can't depend on technology alone to save us. We're going to have to learn how to do more with less—or maybe just do with less, period.

The fear of this reality—that individually and collectively we're going to have to sacrifice our accustomed standard of living—is at the root of climate change denial in our public discourse. It's a legitimate fear, particularly for the bottom 80 percent of the U.S. population, who according to various metrics have already seen their standards of living decline significantly during the past four decades. That's one reason why many voters didn't think twice about putting an admitted climate change denier in charge of the country.

President Donald Trump and some of his crew may be deniers, but from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on down, Trump has also surrounded himself with oil men and Goldman Sachs bankers, and they are certainly aware of the gravity of the situation, particularly concerning the global petroleum supply. Virtually every conflict we're currently involved in, from the Ukraine to the Middle East to Africa, concerns the control of oil and/or natural gas fields and pipelines.

With the U.S., Russia and China now squaring off to determine who controls the world's remaining fossil fuel stores, the apocalypse could get a lot worse. War is just a shot away.

The good news is, summertime appears to be over in Shasta County. The temperature broke two days ago and the 10-day forecast is signaling fall's arrival. I realize I'm probably jinxing all of us with this pronouncement, but I needed a happier ending to this otherwise bleak report.

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas.
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70 Responses

  1. cheyenne says:

    Here in climate denier Wyoming winter is showing its face now with snow in the higher elevations. It is hard for me to believe how many, especially some politicians, deny climate change. On May 15th Cheyenne received 15 inches of snow, a record. The climate deniers claimed that was proof there is no global warming, but when that snow melted away in a couple of days due to the heat, not a peep out of them. I have noticed in the last decade how the snow storms here in Cheyenne, 6,000 feet high, have intensified but the snow is, other than the drifts, gone in a few days. And the winter days of -45 wind chill are history as the temperatures seem to hover around zero at worst. While fracking is facing a lot of opposition as the sites move closer to town, not just here but in Colorado too, wind is becoming more of a source for energy. The biggest obstacle to wind production here is the lack of transmission grid to get it where it is needed but I read almost weekly about companies building transmission lines to take that renewable power to the west coast.
    One problem the west has are, pointed out in a Wyo news article from High Country News, was that there are 38 separate Pinheads controlling the energy allocation in the West. This creates a backlog of energy in some places while other places are short. Getting the Pinheads to collaborate is difficult because the conservative states fear they will have to use California’s strict environmental laws while California worries their environmental standards will drop because of having to join with the other Pinheads. One state they said California was worried about was Arizona which is moving away from coal to solar. Apparently California has a backlog of renewable energy stored up and they are afraid if it is sent to Arizona than that state will back off solar and continue to use coal. The Navajo coal plant has been given a two year extension and could be given more. This also was in High Country New.
    RV, one thing you touched on is over population and the only way to feed the oncoming population is with GMOs. The GMO deniers, like the climate deniers, need to change their focus too.

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I grew up in southern Idaho for a while, it was always -20 in the winters. As far as our individual experience and climate change is concerned, it’s anecdotal and on smaller time scale than climate change. We live in a hostile climate to begin with, we’re definitely making it worse, and we will eventually hit the oil peak. Maybe it will be a slow natural transition?

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      When I was a young buck, Steamboat in Western Colorado was known for having the driest snow of any ski area in the west—they called it “champaign powder.” In January it was unusual for the temperature to rise above O°F. More typically it was -20°F to -40°F when I arrived at work in the mornings. Thus all that extremely dry powder.

      I went on Steamboat’s web cams this past January to check out the conditions. It was raining at the base of the ski area. I damn near cried.

  2. CoachBob says:

    As a kid in Redding, mid-50’s….it was more common than not to have days of 115 to 118. Pre-Whiskytown Lake, too. Of course, then in the mid-70’s I went out and bought warmer clothes ’cause the “scientists” said we were entering an ice age. Too often we choose who we wanna believe based on one single season.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      It has never been “more common than not to have days of 115 to 118” in Redding. Not ever, not even now. That literally means that median high temperature in Redding was 114.5 °F. That is simply an absurdly false factoid pulled straight from your posterior vent.

      Since you said “mid-50s,” I went back and looked at Redding data from July-August 1955, just to get a sense of how wrong that factoid is. Out of 62 days, 10 were 100-101 °F. No highs were above 101 °F. All of the record highs are from the last 20 years—none are from the 50’s or 60’s.

      Grade: F

      • Tim says:

        I distinctly remember the summer of 1988 as the hottest in my lifetime and see that on Intellicast 1988 set daily records that still stand for:

        Jan 24: 74
        Jan 25: 67

        Feb 14: 76
        Feb 20: 80

        Mar 2: 73
        Mar 24: 83
        Mar 25: 85

        Apr 10: 89
        Apr 11: 91

        June 18: 102
        June 19: 104

        July 18: 114
        July 19: 116
        July 20: 118
        July 21: 112

        Aug 19: 108
        Aug 20: 110
        Aug 25: 108
        Aug 26: 109
        Aug 27: 110
        Aug 28: 107
        Aug 29: 109

        Sept 3: 116
        Sept 4: 115
        Sept 5: 114

        Oct 16: 98
        Oct 17: 97
        Oct 18: 95
        Oct 20: 96
        Oct 21: 91
        Oct 22: 92
        Oct 23: 88
        Oct 24: 96
        Oct 30: 82

        Nov 29: 70
        Nov 30: 72

        Dec 1: 70
        Dec 3: 70
        Dec 8: 69
        Dec 9: 73
        Dec 11: 70
        Dec 12: 66
        Dec 13: 74

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I remember when there was gonna be an ice age. Me and some buddies wrote a punk rock song about it in fact. We didn’t need to buy warmer clothes, we already lived in SF, where you still gotta where a jacket in the summertime–although I was pleased to see SF had its own triple-digit heat wave this summer too!

  3. john says:

    We are all part of an evolutionary process set in motion by God. Embrace it. As the famous philosopher Alfred E. Newman has said “What Me Worry?”

  4. Beverly Stafford says:

    According to the weather guys on KRCR, Redding’s normal number of triple-digit days is 39. Redding may not have broken the record of consecutive triple-digit days, but it did record 70+ triple-digit days this year as opposed to the normal 39. Between the heat and the smoke, this has been a miserable summer. Too bad Harvey and Irma couldn’t make a short visit to the West instead of wreaking havoc on Texas and the East.

  5. Richard Christoph says:

    Thanks for your very thoughtful and informative article, R.V.

    Having just last week finally gotten our new roof-mounted solar panel system inspected and approved by the City of Redding, yesterday I tracked its output online in 15 minute increments and learned that it produces a bit more than 25,000 watts over the course of a typical Redding September day of full sunshine.

    The price of solar panels has dropped significantly, REU offers a good rebate, and there is a 30% Federal Income Tax credit for solar installation. And considering the fact that Redding is the 2nd sunniest U.S. city, the cost-benefit equation is very favorable and the payback period for the price of the system is less than 7 years.



    Though PG&E does not offer a rebate for solar installation, its kWh rate is much higher than REU’s and the economic benefit from solar even greater.

    That said, the financial benefit of renewable energy is not the primary advantage. As you have pointed out, fossil fuels are not only finite, but do have a deleterious effect on climate.

    BTW, the annual average number of triple digit days in Redding is 39, the old record was 56, and this year we had over 70.

  6. name says:

    Did you pick the photo of a Saudi-owned refinery for any particular reason?

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Yes. Because it’s the biggest in the world and it was shut down by Harvey. It seemed to illustrate the idea of climate change and peak oil for the story.

      • name says:

        It also illustrates that we will never be able to stop buying Saudi oil. They own our largest refinery, and they can buy their own oil to process there.

  7. Debra Atlas says:

    Very good article. As a former Redding resident (who’s heart is still there), I’m pleased to learn that a hydrogen production plant is being considered for Stillwater. Well before I moved from N. CA, I was proposing to all who would listen that Stillwater be designated as a “green business park”. A few of these do exist across the country and in Canada. And Redding would be a perfect place to broaden green businesses and perhaps even get Redding designated as a true Green City. There’s a lot of prestige and opportunity if this were to occur. Here’s hoping that someone picks up this quest and has more success than I did with it.

    • Dick says:

      Do you realize that their production process takes fossil fuel (natural gas) and converts it to hydrogen, losing energy content along the way? Uses electricity too, will that all be from renewable sources? And then there’s the fleet of tanker trucks that will shuttle up and down I5 taking the gas to the bay area, will they be hydrogen or diesel?

      Lots of questions to be answered before I would feel comfortable describing this operation as “green”.

      • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

        That’s definitely true Dick for the proposed plant. But what’s proposed in the future, for using hydrogen for storage, will use water and electricity to distill hydrogen. It’s still inefficient, but the point is, to use the excess capacity of intermittent solar and wind by storing about 2/3 of it in hydrogen. The point of the Stillwater plant is to create the beginning infrastructure for the future use of hydrogen by providing early adopters a hydrogen source now.

        • Dick says:

          The proposed plant is the only thing under discussion. Clean hydrogen by electrolysis may well be in the future and will undoubtedly be cleaner.

          There really is not a shortage of this type of hydrogen production in the state. Even CARB’s rosy projection is that in 2022 a statewide station network would only need 17 metric tons per day. There is a shortage of clean hydrogen which this is not.

          Why build this facility so far away from the early adopter potential markets? Does it really make sense to be shuttling heavy tanker trucks 500 miles?

          From where I sit I see desperation in the eyes of COR with this deal. It only brings 7 jobs. (I imagine the construction will be by out of town/state specialized chem plant contractors.) It probably depends on heavily discounted electricity cost from REU. And these guys are going to sell it to a third party when complete, presumably at a nice profit due to the subsidized acquisition cost.

          Just my personal opinion.

  8. Tim says:

    In the 1940s, the psychologist B.F. Skinner performed an experiment in which he put hungry pigeons into a cage and rigged a solenoid to dispense food without regard for the pigeons’ behavior. Inevitably, a pigeon would be doing *something* (e.g. stretching a left wing) when the food was dispensed, so they tended to repeat that action whenever they were ready for more food. The dispenser didn’t care that the pigeon was holding out its left wing, but it would eventually release more food, reinforcing the superstitious behavior. Pigeons, it seems, give themselves far too much credit for changes in their environment.

    Antiquity is littered with examples of humans performing rituals to appease the gods to end drought or stop a volcano, at times going as far as human sacrifice. Even today we still vastly underestimate the role of randomness in our lives. The Indians just finished a 22-game winning streak, which sportscasters excitedly proclaimed as unprecedented in modern times, having last happened 101 years ago. Yet with ~5,000 MLB games played per year, a .500 team (one that wins half the time) would expect to achieve a 22-game win (or lose) streak about every ~100 years.

    The problem with most climate change proponents isn’t that they are wrong about humans affecting the changing climate, it is that they assign far too much weight to their role in that change. We should be asking “if we do everything right, what will the world look like in 500 years? If we do nothing at all, what will the world look like in 500 years?” — and comparing the difference.

    Unfortunately, the science of monitoring man’s role in climate change is still quite crude. I find it reminiscent of a group of 13 year-olds attempting to watch the adult channel on scrambled 1980s cable. Some among them are likely to say “this is just static, there is nothing there.” A few are likely to reply “nut-uh, I just saw a nipple.” And the more imaginative – the experts – are likely to peer intently into the static, ponder, and then proclaim “that’s definitely a reverse cowgirl.”

    Maybe they’re right, but there is an awful lot of static obscuring things.

    • Joe Bob Briggs says:

      Where did you get your degree is climatology again?

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Tim sez: “The problem with most climate change proponents isn’t that they are wrong about humans affecting the changing climate, it is that they assign far too much weight to their role in that change.”

      If we don’t know how much climate change is anthropogenic, how do you know we’re assigning “far to much weight” to that role?

      But I quibble. Most of the climatologists I’ve worked with acknowledge the uncertainty.

      As every schoolboy knows, a “type I error” is the false detection of an effect that is not present, while a “type II error” is the failure to detect an effect that is present. There’s a lot of discussion and hand-wringing about which type of error is acceptable when it comes to the question of climate change. There are people who argue that it’s important to err on the side of making a type I error, because roasting the planet isn’t an option. The upside of rapid conversion to non-greenhouse-gas-producing energy sources is that we save a lot of oil for other uses, even if we’re making a type I error about AGW.

      Not everyone agrees, of course. There are those who argue that hydrocarbons are a relatively cheap and plentiful source of energy, and standards of living will decline if we stop burning it. And the non-bullshit response to that concern is: Yeah, very possibly true. Is it worth it to avoid that risk if the flip-side risk is cooking the planet?

      • Tim says:

        Steve says: “If we don’t know how much climate change is anthropogenic, how do you know we’re assigning far to (sic) much weight to that role?”

        A good question… We know because media and pop culture link anthropogenic climate change with events like Irma and Harvey — and do so with unearned certainty. Does climate change play a role? Probably. How much of that is natural? …

        The real problem I have is the rush to replace well-known technology with an assortment of new energy sources about which we know comparatively little. Wind energy consumes a great deal of resources to put in place, is harmful to wildlife, and increases local temperatures. Solar panels need to last decades before they fully recoup the cost of their mining & manufacturing processes. Hydro energy warms rivers and kills fish… Our adoption of technologies tends to be more political than scientific — e.g. biomass for cars is good, while biomass for powerplants is bad…

        The truth is there is no such thing as clean energy. Energy is dirty and each source is dirty in different ways. Take Chernobyl — nuclear was once the “clean” energy of the future… It was also once reported that the after factoring for mining and manufacturing, the notorious Hummer was more environmentally friendly than the Prius. Later studies clarified that the Prius was not quite *that* bad and actually was environmentally superior to the average car assuming it was kept on the road at least 165,000 miles (which, coincidentally, is about the mileage of the average car when taken off the road).

        A better solution is to stop wrapping individuals in 4,000 lbs of sheetmetal and sending them 30 miles to & from work each day. Stop living in year-round 70° climate controlled bubbles. Stop lighting everything all night long.

        The famous conservationist Teddy Roosevelt may perhaps be most to blame for our energy waste. The most efficient method of travel over land is rail, but his trust-busting regulated monopoly approach killed competition and incentive of rail carriers to care about service. As a result, railroads declined from a peak of over 180 carriers on 254,000 miles of Class 1 track in 1915 to 8 carriers and 93,000 miles of class 1 track today. The western US has been particularly affected, to the point that a rail shipment from Salt Lake City to Phoenix needs to detour all the way to San Bernardino…

        • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

          Tim, I think you either intentionally or unintentionally side-stepped my point.

          You said with certainty that we’re assigning “far too much weight” to the role of humans in climate change. (I had assumed we were talking about what the majority of climatologists have to say on the topic, not what they’re saying on Access Hollywood. Regardless, it doesn’t matter who’s saying it for the sake of the rest of my argument.)

          To know that the attribution of AGW by climate scientists (or talking heads) is overblown, you’d need to know the actual proportion of the anthropogenic contribution against the background of natural climate change.

          Let’s say that the Pleistocene glacial/interglacial record, the Milankovitch equations, and a host of other evidence supports the contention that “natural causes” left to themselves should have us entering a new glacial period. In that case—against backdrop of a climate that should be cooling naturally—100% of the warming would be attributable to AGW.

          In short: It makes no sense to say that there’s a high level of uncertainty about everything related to this topic *except for* the thing that you’re certain about, which is that AGW is overblown. You don’t know that. AGW could be causing 100% of the warming that we’re experiencing.

          • Tim says:

            I see the inherent contradiction. Yes, it is possible that the globe would have started declining in temperature if not for man’s presence. But from all the research I’ve done, that possibility seems less likely than the increase in temperature coming from both man and nature.

            But I reiterate that from a “just in case” policy standpoint, priority 1 should be to decrease energy consumption rather than find alternative sources of energy. Priority 2 may well involve giving preference to some sources over others, but that decision should be based on reason & science instead of picking energy forms most beneficial to the districts of key legislators.

          • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

            I’m curious what you mean by “…all the research I’ve done, that (global cooling) possibility seems less likely than the increase in temperature coming from both man and nature.” You’ve done or studied research indicating that the Pleistocene glacial/interglacial periodicity has naturally ended? More detail, please.

            I can’t resist pointing out that the “man vs. nature” thing is a false dichotomy, unless you’re coming from a Biblical perspective that humans have dominion over nature, and that we were put her by God to tame nature and put it to human use.

            If you view humans as products of the evolutionary process—one twig at the end of one branch—then everything we do is natural, regardless of how destructive and horrific it is. When it comes to species selection, we’ve been spectacularly successful. Too successful, it’s turning out. We may end up trashing the planet to the point where it can only sustain a small fraction of the human population it now supports—worst-case, we go extinct. But nothing about that process and outcome will be unnatural.

          • Tim says:

            The research I’ve done indicates that while there have been large temperature variations, but the trend in North America (and perhaps globally) has been slowly increasing since the 1700s. Anecdotes: New York Harbor froze over for the last time in 1780; In Greenland, warming temperatures allowed farming to once again become practical around the 1720s, marking at least the beginning of the end of the little ice age.
            As of 1800, Humans’ cumulative contribution to the earth’s CO2 level was 0.05% — so the precediny warming trend was, more likely than not, natural.

            1. existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind

          • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

            Tim — Yes, the climate naturally fluctuates. I used to laugh derisively when people like Rush Limbaugh would point that out as if it’s an insight that hadn’t occurred to climate scientists. Years later, I can’t even be bothered to roll my eyes.

            Are you *really* refuting one side of a serious and ongoing academic debate regarding our species’ place in nature with one of many dictionary definitions of the word? That sauce is weak, dude.

          • Tim says:

            Steve, I feel like I’m swinging at straw men here. You asked why I think it is more likely than not that there is a natural component to the current warning trend. I replied that the current warming trend is ~300 years old and predates significant anthropogenic carbon emissions.

            You say man vs nature is a false dichotomy and everything is natural. I post the 1st definition of the adjective “natural,” which seems to be a perfect antonym to the adjective “anthropogenic.” Perhaps I lack the vocabulary — since you’re the environmental consultant, which word would you prefer I use instead to describe a process that occurs without interference from mankind?

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      I would submit the biggest problem with climate change proponents is a lack of appreciation for the scale of engineering required to actually put a dent in the human-caused portion of the crisis, and it is a crisis, which is significant on so many more levels than the mere atmosphere, it simply can’t be denied. The internal combustion engine is superior technology, but we will run out of hydrocarbons. We must use what we have left wisely.

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        Yeah……um……maybe it’s a dirty little secret and I shouldn’t be talking out of school, but most academic proponents of climate change aren’t Pollyannas about the scale of the problem. There’s a lot of “it’s too late” talk regarding AGW and “like trying to piss out a forest fire” regarding switching to alternative energy being a viable solution.

        There are also those who have high faith in the ability of humans to engineer solutions, but only when it becomes a matter of absolute necessity. So long as hydrocarbons are cheap, the argument goes, we won’t make any real gains on AGW. But once they’re expensive as hell, the progress train will fly by so fast that it’ll scare the horses.

        There are also those who see a catastrophic decline in the human population as the only long-term solution. I haven’t encountered anyone who thinks that a social-engineering reduction in population is anything more than a thought exercise. It’s always a post-domesday scenario—utopian to optimists, dystopian to pessimists.

        • Tim says:

          As of 2010, the average American releases ~35,000 lbs of CO2 per year (and declining). An acre of pine trees scrubs ~10,000 lbs of CO2 from the atmosphere.

          The easy “carbon offset” is to require 4 acres of pine trees (or an equivalent CO2 scrubber) for each American, leaving 3.5, mostly unarable acres per person for other uses. We’re doing our part locally: there are 2.2 million acres in the Shasta-Trinity forest covering ~250,000 people in Shasta, Trinity, and Siskiyou counties. So instead of charging us rural fire fighting fees, 300,000 Angelenos should be paying us to scrub their carbon!

  9. Robert Scheide Sr. says:

    I have been on the Climate Change wagon for a very long time. I became interested with Heinberg’s end of oil book and started to take notice of changes around the world. All to often we only look at our local plight while change is happening all over the world. Back in 1960 I was on the submarine Seadragon we made the first Northwest passage ever done, under the ice for a long part of that trip.. Today surface ships make the same trip, no ice.

    The ferocity of our last two hurricanes can be directly attributed to climate change as the Gulf of Mexico is 8 degrees warmer than 1980 and the air contains 6% more water causing storm to be more ferocious .

    Climate change comes in many forms , not just heat waves, droughts, bigger meaner storms, ice melt, warmer oceans , higher Co2 concentrations, dying coral reefs, more heavy rain events and on and on.

    Meanwhile the public is lead to believe Fracking in the answer to all our energy problems but they fail to see the average fracked well has a 3 year lifetime and the fracking companies are hemorrhaging money.

    Climate change is real and it in the end will make us changes in our life styles.

    • Tim says:

      15,000 years ago, the Northwest Passage was blocked by land.

      600 years ago, climate change nearly wiped out the Vikings (cooling — it was ~4 degrees warmer than today).

      US Hurricane frequency and severity are well within norms.
      Major hurricanes:
      1886: 4
      1893: 5
      1894: 4
      1909: 4
      1916: 5
      1926: 6
      1932: 4
      1933: 6
      1948: 4
      1950: 8
      1951: 5
      1953: 4
      1956: 6
      1958: 5
      1961: 7
      1964: 6
      1969: 5
      1995: 5
      1996: 6
      1999: 5
      2004: 6
      2005: 7
      2008: 5
      2010: 5
      2016: 4

      Average: 6 hurricanes (2.5 major) per year.
      Most active month: September

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        Tim sez: “US Hurricane frequency and severity are well within norms.”

        Cherry-picked data are rarely compelling. One of the silliest examples is “U.S. hurricanes,” as if only hurricanes that impact the US are worthy of inclusion in the analysis. (I was pleased that R.V. noted the typhoons and monsoons in Asia.)

        As for severity: Hurricane Irma was the longest-lasting powerful hurricane or typhoon ever recorded, worldwide. The previous record was held by Typhoon Haiyan, also called Super Typhoon Yolanda, which hit the Philippines in 2013. That’s according to Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University who specializes in Atlantic basin hurricanes. The National Hurricane Center confirmed his assessment.

        Hurricanes derive their energy from warm water and warm air. It’s possible that the two most energetic storms in history, at opposite sides of the earth, just happened to coincidentally occur within the last 5 years.

        • Tim says:

          Cherry picked? No, just lazy… NOAA tracks Atlantic storms and publishes historical data going back 150+ years. I saw nothing comparable in a cursory search worldwide.

          I would mention that Hurricane severity is classified by wind speed, not water content. Water content may well be a better measure, or at least an additional factor, but it isn’t something for which we have much long-term data.

          On the other hand, I could point out that sea levels have declined along the west coast and flooding events there are far less frequent.

      • The Old Pretender says:

        “15,000 years ago, the Northwest Passage was blocked by land.” Say what?

    • R.V. Scheide Jr. says:

      Yep, it’s true, my dad was on the first vessel that navigated the Northwest Passage, a nuclear submarine, under the ice during the Cold War. Today, regular ships can make the passage, not just ice-breakers and submarines. All the tundra in Siberia Alaska and Canada is melting, releasing methane into the atmosphere. Who knows what could happen?

  10. Joe Bob Briggs says:

    His point was that there is a whole world out there beyond our borders that may be experiencing different impacts that US-only data may not reflect.

    >On the other hand, I could point out that sea levels have declined along the west coast and flooding events there are far less frequent.

    Oh weird. http://harvardmagazine.com/2010/05/gravity-of-glacial-melt

  11. cheyenne says:

    Using airport temperature readings is inaccurate. Before they moved the temp gauge to the airport it was closer to town. I know that when I was mowing lawns at SLC on hot days where the official Redding temp might be 110, taken at the airport, I would look at the temp reading across from SLC, amidst the concrete and asphalt, and the temp would often be in the 120’s which would be a more accurate reading.

  12. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    My favorite index of climate change is global ice mass. Why? Two reasons:

    The first is that glaciers and ice caps are robust in the face of short-term climate changes, and global ice mass is (obviously) global in scale.

    The second is that I grew up in the Rocky Mountains and have seen in my lifetime the total disappearance of most of the glaciers that were in Zirkel Wilderness of northwestern Colorado in my teens—glaciers that had endured since the end of the Pinedale glaciation that ended ~10,000 years ago. It’s been shocking. When Montana’s Glacier National Park was founded in 1910 there were 150 glaciers in the park. Now there are 37, and those could be gone as early as 2030.

  13. Gary Tull says:

    A year or so ago a popular news journalist said something I thought (at the time) was somewhat insensitive, maybe even a bit inappropriate. Sort of like someone saying, ‘Trump voters don’t see the obvious’ or, ‘they are not paying attention’. Or, ‘it’s dumb to vote him into the White House’. I was scolded and censured here for such language… Just saying.

    But today the wording from that news journalist a year ago still has a true ring – more so than ever. He said: “Climate Change denial is now a mental disorder.” Of course with a slight touch of tongue-in-cheek but still, I don’t think he was off base by far.

  14. Gary Tull says:

    Total emissions of black carbon in North America were estimated to be 380,000 tons per year in 2000. I don’t think we have much time to waste debating with climate change deniers.

  15. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Thanks for a great article R.V. I’m always amazed by the knowledge and intelligence of people who follow your writing. Richard Heinberg is right that the weather change is only a part of the challenges we need to address for the future of this world.

  16. Joanne Gifford says:

    Thanks R.V. Scheide for another great article. All the responses are also informative

  17. Russell K. Hunt says:

    It won’t matter as a comet is headed for Shasta County.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      I hope so, but I’ve been disappointed by every comet of my lifetime.

      Speaking of celestial bodies that turn out to be orders-of-magnitude dimmer than originally advertised, what did you do with that life-sized Sarah Palin sandwich board that you once rocked in your front yard? Now hanging on the wall in your bedroom?

      • Gary Tull says:


        I am not a atmospheric physicist but pretty sure these are the facts:

        1) The Atlantic Ocean is at the highest temperature in recent time.
        2) Sending humongous amounts of C02 up into the atmosphere is increasing the ocean temperature because it’s acting like a blanket over Earth and holding in heat.
        3) Hurricanes get stronger because of warm water.
        4) Since the water is warmer Irma got stronger and caused extensive damage.

        If those in the Trump administration can not agree that these are simple facts, then they are unfit to hold office. BTBO, I say. :~))

        • Tim says:

          1), 3), & 4): A tiny sample size (based on satellite data first received in the late 70’s), while interesting and worthy of continued study, is not proof. In the recent string of major hurricanes from 1995-2016, there were fewer than the last high-frequency string from 1948-1969 — a string for which we don’t have data on duration or density. Instead, we’re comparing current hurricane severity to a calm period in the 70s & 80s — one of many such calm periods for which we also have none of that new data (e.g. 1895-1915, 1927-1947)

          2) Ok, so think about what comes next: warmer oceans mean increased evaporation, which means more and larger clouds, which currently reflect 20% of solar energy and would reflect proportionally more, which means temperatures go down, which means evaporation slows, which means fewer/smaller clouds form, which regulates the earth’s temperature. As for carbon, plant life grows faster (absorbing more carbon) in environments with slightly elevated temperatures and higher concentrations of CO2.
          If that fine-tuning thermostat fails, warmer oceans and earth also mean tectonic plate thermal expansion, which increases volcanic activity, which increases volcanic ash emissions, which reflect solar energy (for months & years), which decreases temperature (possibly enough for another ice age).

          So the earth seems to have *some* ability to self-regulate temperature. It may well oscillate too much for our liking, like a cross country skier who sweat too much uphill and gets chilled heading down. And that’s not to say we can’t really make a mess of things (for example, by turning the planet into a nuclear wasteland). But in a battle between earth and mankind my money is on the earth given a long enough timeline…

  18. cheyenne says:

    This months issue of National Geographic showed the future of the world happening now in the Netherlands.

  19. Virginia says:

    I remember when in the 1940s and 1950s the scientists were saying Global Ice Age coming. Well, I believe that constant change is the way the World began and will continue until “our time” ends. No more Trans Rex from changes, also!

  20. John Weber says:

    There is no renewable energy “devices” except in your garden.
    Many materials used in our industrial world require energy from mining to manufacturing for processing and transportation. The energy for some of these products is in the form of high temperatures – 2000° F (nearly 1100°C).
    These processes run 24/7 365 days.

    There are proposals that solar and wind energy collecting devices can provide the energy to maintain the industrial world. To look at this possibility, solar electric panels, wind turbines and concentrated solar installations in the form of parabolic trough collectors (PTC) have been assessed.

    The energy requirements in 2010 for the following essential components of our industrial world are provided: steel, aluminum, chromium, copper, manganese, cement and glass. This energy would be mining, processing and transporting to name some. Other important components of the industrialized world such as nickel and cobalt are not considered because they are part of the high temperature processing of other ore metals.

    The kWh output and area required for installations of solar electric panels, wind turbines and PTC has been researched. This then is divided into the energy (exajoules converted to kWh) required for global production of each material in 2010.
    121,214.45 Square Miles of Solar Electric Collectors
    257,472 square miles and 2,807,276 Wind Turbines
    77183.4 square miles of PTCs
    There are many other critical components of our global industrialized world that require industrial heat (lead, silver, tin, food processing) that are right at the top heating limit of solar devices. They must also be included in an all “renewable” future. If only half of important materials were provided, what would our world be like?


    See maps, images and calculations at:

    • cheyenne says:

      John, your link to your own post has a few errors. The Chokecherry wind farm going in by Saratoga, Wyoming is 1000 windmills which is three times as large as your Oregon farm. The recent wind conference held here in Casper pointed out that while Wyoming has the wind the air is thinner here. Iowa produces more wind power because their air is thicker, and the best results for wind power are at sea level. Wyoming has the wind and the empty spaces is the reason wind farms are being built here despite the fact Wyoming is the only state that charges a KW tax on wind production. While many other countries have built coastal wind farms this past summer the first farm went up on the US east coast, despite much opposition by NIMBYs. The only reason solar and wind are competitive in cost is they are subsidized from the manufacturer to the user. My neighbor, one of many, has their own personal 100 foot windmill and he said the only reason it was affordable was because of the subsidies, a similar statement household solar users make. Like ethanol, another failed subsidized government invention, solar and wind may be found they are not the greatest energy producers in the US where there are many cheaper fossil fuel alternatives, oil/gas/coal.

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        Our air conditioner needed servicing, and in chatting with the tech, I said that we’re think about putting in a solar array. He said that solar could not run an A/C unit. I sputtered, but, but John next door has an array. Tech said, sure, but his A/C unit requires additional energy from PG&E. He reiterated what you said, Cheyenne, that subsidies are what make solar affordable, and you and I are who are paying for those subsidies.

        • cheyenne says:

          Here in Wyoming every time there is talk out of congress about ending wind subsidies the industry has a fainting spell.

        • Tim says:

          It isn’t that solar can’t fully power your AC, it is that solar does not make steady power. If you want to be able to run your AC at 5pm using only solar energy you’ll have to size the system such that it will be producing excess power at noon (and tons of excess power when the AC is not running). Many utilities won’t allow you to do this.

          The problem, from the utility company’s point of view, is that a solar household still needs the same grid infrastructure to provide steady power at night or when it is cloudy. But if your power bill is zero (or negative), you’re not really paying your fair share to maintain the grid. And while the utility may be recouping some of that in your excess energy, they can get energy far cheaper through their existing sources. Worse, if all of these new households add solar, they might need to shut down power plants during the day (starting/stopping a power plant is a costly process compared to letting it run at minimum power).
          Long story short, that means the per-unit cost of energy goes up for all rate payers. Essentially those without are subsidizing those with solar. The worst part about this system is that those with solar tend to be well-off, while the average rate-payer, the one subsidizing the wealthy, tend to be lower income.

          • K. Beck says:

            Yes! They need to start working more diligently on saving that solar power so it can be used at night and on overcast days.

            I still think the CoR needs to start putting solar panels on all the city owned building in Redding. They really only need huge amounts of power during the 8 AM – 5 PM hours. They could be running energy cost free during at least half the year.

            And it should be a requirement on new commercial office buildings where the bulk of occupants are only there during that same 8-5 period.

          • Tim says:

            Tesla does make a “powerwall” — a slim battery pack for your wall to store solar energy for use at night. A system for a modern 3 bedroom home costs ~$8,000 installed and is expected to last 10 years — which works out to an extra $67/month assuming zero interest.
            You’d need to spend considerably more if you wanted to go off grid (that standard powerwall would be depleted after a day or two without sunlight). And there is still the environmental impact of manufacturing batteries to consider…
            But the hope is that costs will come down over time.

          • cheyenne says:

            Tim, while I was in Phoenix a couple years ago the FRYS on West Bell Road was installing a cover over their parking lot. The manager told me they were going to place solar panels on the roof and that it would save FRYS $10,000 a month in power costs. The project was financed through a special solar program with ASP. Apparently that solar program has been suspended due to costs. Solar and wind may be the future but the problems have to be worked out first. That means more coal burning which has been shown in Arizona as the Navajo Coal burning plant, which REU used to use some of their electricity during shortages, has been given a two year renew on it’s license to stay in operation and may continue even longer.
            As far as running home air conditioners on home solar it could be the personal solar system doesn’t put out enough juice to operate an AC unit. I know my RV trailer AC will not operate on a 110 system but requires a 220 power system.

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