10 September 2022

Miscomprehension of scale

So the Globe and Mail discusses someone trying to arrange for policy to support the success of an investment.  

This looks like part of a general push against the federal fertilizer emissions cap.

I am unable to decide if that push is cynical or deluded or arises from a sincere mammonism where profit is an arbiter of wisdom.

But, anyway.

"I wish to become much richer, and for my descent to be richer than I am" is an unclean motivation.  Wealth as a survival strategy makes everything worse for everyone.  It's (relatively speaking) easy, and it fulfills the primate feels, but neither of those excuse it not working.

Someone can apparently recognize that there's an ongoing loss of farmland due to climate change and not connect that to emissions.  The point to the emissions reduction policy is to try not to lose more farmland; it's inadequate, insufficient, and too late, but the intent does recognize that fewer emissions means more food.   A position that it's only possible to grow food (or only grow food profitably) if there is no such cap devours itself.

If you have to have a large enterprise -- lots of capital -- to be viable, that means either you've got high capital costs or low margins.  (E.g., the lower grocery margins get, the larger the store needs to be, since costs are discrete for many things, rather than scaling.)  Farms keep getting larger; they've got poor and shrinking margins.  The "no cap" argument is that farm viability depends on the margin not shrinking.

Climate change is shrinking the margin for farming more than any effect of policy or markets.

Saskatchewan is west of the  meteorological Hundredth Meridian; in a hot climate system, it's expected to be desert.  (The Oligocene climate we might get, if we're lucky.)  If we cut all fossil carbon extraction to zero tomorrow, farmland in Saskatchewan is probably not useable for field agriculture by 2050 at the latest, since Arctic Amplification kicked off around 2000.

We can't fix that; all the carbon sequestration schemes are at least two of "but we can keep burning diesel, right?", extractive industry FUD, delusive techno-optimism, and confused about sequestration means.  (It has to be for geological time.  "In some sort of biomass" doesn't count, it's a hard problem.)  Even if one of them works, and can be adopted -- one of the ocean seeding schemes, say -- it doesn't solve the core "rains at predictable times" problem of keeping hydrologic stationarity.  Reducing the average temperature of the earth doesn't make the rain come at predictable times.

The domain of necessity says we need to do three things -- stop adding carbon to the atmosphere, figure out how to provide food without field agriculture, and since our current social systems can do neither of those things, we need to collectively organize ourselves differently.

That's really challenging.  It's apparently not as challenging as recognizing that money does not dissolve all troubles.


Display Name said...

"It has to be for geological time" is desirable, but an unnecessary constraint. If short-term solutions get us into the future, we can work on longer-term solutions. Or we can implement effective but short-term solutions in parallel with slower-acting longer-term solutions.

Graydon said...

@Display Name

The problem with temporary carbon sequestration is that it extends the period of climate instability and thus the period during which field agriculture isn't practical. This has a net effect of making things worse. Since the energy requirements for sequestration are enormous -- more than we got from burning the stuff -- it's questionable if it's economically doable. It'd have to be a process with some positive economic motivation, "this is what we do instead of concrete", but the high energy cost argues against that ever taking place.

We can't even manage to stop with the fossil carbon extraction, which is the obvious and necessary short term solution. It seems unlikely we're going to manage a structured sequestration program with multiple mechanisms operating for centuries.

JReynolds said...

Got to thinking the other day about a foolish scenario: What if some benevolent stellar civilization like the Culture gave our atmosphere a "carbon scrub" - returned our atmosphere to 1850 CO2 levels. To do this they take all the excess carbon turned it into diamonds and stealthily dropped these diamonds into the Marianas Trench. And to let us know that this was a one-shot deal, they set up a big Kubrick-style monolith on the surface of the moon with an inscription in Mandarin, Spanish, English and Hindi that read:

Don't f*ck with your atmospheric carbon levels. We won't help you again.
Yours in Threat,
Mysterious Aliens

Our atmosphere would still have all the excess heat, but temperatures would presumably drop over the course of a couple of decades.

JReynolds said...

Hit 'post' too soon.

If we had a visual of these alien craft doing their atmospheric scrubbing, then we might change our ways. If they did it stealthfully, I have the feeling that we'd be back to 'business as usual' pretty quick.


arborman said...

Benevolent aliens might work if they combined that scrubbing with a demonstration of how they might go about not being benevolent. Even still, humans being humans we'd immediately begin squabbling about Who must pay the price to avoid pissing off the aliens.