Peter Carter: Are “Net-Zero” Emissions a Smoke Screen?

Earth on Fire

Image by Cristian Ibarra Santillan via Flickr

Dandelion Salad

theAnalysis-news on Nov 30, 2020

Peter Carter of the Climate Emergency Institute says “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050 and targeting 2 degrees Celsius warming are a recipe for runaway climate catastrophe. On podcast with Paul Jay.


From the archives:

Chris Hedges: The Global Economic Machine

Revolution Soon, But Not Yet, by Eric Schechter

Luxury Eco-Communism: A Wonderful World is Possible

Those Least Responsible For Global Warming Will Pay The Highest Price For It, by Pete Dolack

Revolt or Burn, by Eric Schechter

Chris Hedges and Roger Hallam: Only Nonviolent Rebellion Can Now Stop Climate Breakdown and Social Collapse

Chris Hedges: The Prospect and Need For Ecosocialism

The Start Of The Great Meltdown For Industrial Civilization, by Rainer Shea

Planet of the Humans

The Twisted Climate Equation of the Ruling Class by Rainer Shea

21 thoughts on “Peter Carter: Are “Net-Zero” Emissions a Smoke Screen?

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  20. Excellent interview. I’ve always thought very highly of Paul Jay’s interviews. I haven’t heard Peter Carter before, but I agree with most of what Jay and Carter say in this interview. And Carter made a number of things clearer than they are usually made. I have a few disagreements, but they’re all very minor. Still, they may be of some interest to other readers.

    First, I think things are going to get worse even faster than Carter suggests (unless humanity changes course very drastically and very quickly). I’m no climatologist — I’m just a mathematician — but I see people underestimating the effect of feedback loops and exponential acceleration, which have ALREADY BEGUN. For a decade or two, I’ve been hearing people misuse the term “exponential” — they have been using it as a synonym for “big,” but that’s a great understatement.

    If a process is growing exponentially, then the bigger it gets, the faster it grows. It may start off so small that it’s hard to detect except with special instruments, hard to observe unless you know where to look, and thus it’s easy to deny. But it keeps getting bigger, and after a while it’s visible to anyone who doesn’t have their eyes tightly shut in denial. And shortly after that it’s enormous and growing explosively (but by then it’s too late, in the case of global warming). It’s counterintuitive. If you know how to read graphs, look up the graph of the exponential function. Feedback loops cause exponential growth. That’s second-semester calculus (which I taught dozens of times).

    For a while, even the leading climatologists were disregarding feedback; see for instance I am not enough of a climatologist to know whether they are still doing that. There are many feedback loops in climate, and I suspect that the IPCC is still disregarding some of them. This might explain why things keep turning out worse than the IPCC’s predictions.

    Plus, there are lots of tipping points. For instance, the Arctic is already slowly releasing a little of its great store of frozen methane. When the Arctic gets just a little warmer, whoosh! it may suddenly release all the methane, and then watch the planet’s temperature shoot up.

    And that’s just the climate. The situation for the ecosystem is even more dire, more urgent, because the ecosystem can fail in more different ways. I’ve understood that for a long time, but I recently learned a phrase that describes it: “cascading failure.” The failure of one part causes the failures of other parts, which cause the failures of still other parts. The climate is changing faster than species can adapt, and so species are going extinct far faster than they are being replaced by new species. Thus we are losing biodiversity, and that makes the ecosystem more fragile. Warmer winters means that fewer pests (such as the mountain pine beetle) die off during the winter, and that means more damage to other species (such as mountain pines), and that in turn can mean more warming.

    I would argue with Carter about how to define “runaway.” There are many ways to define it. I would define it as “self-perpetuating,” i.e., feedback, and that is something that has already begun. So the question is not whether we’re going to “trigger” it; rather, the question is whether we can stop it.

    Carter defined runaway as “no matter what we do, we can’t stop it,” and he was concerned about whether we might “trigger” it. I think that’s too ill-defined. We don’t know, and can’t know, what discovery we might make tomorrow. As long as we’re still alive, and still trying, we don’t know what we might accomplish. What appears unstoppable today might be stoppable tomorrow. That’s also the argument that I make against the people who say it’s already too late. They might be right, but we don’t and can’t know. The climate clock is ticking down, and we certainly haven’t much time left, but we don’t know and can’t know how much time we have left. We ought to be throwing everything we can at the climate problem. We ought to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel companies and stop subsidizing war, and spend all that money on the climate problem.

    In particular: Carter dismissed Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS, sucking carbon out of the air), because it’s a technology that doesn’t exist yet on a practical scale. But maybe someone will figure out how to do it next year. I’m annoyed at people like Carter, who seem to assume that we won’t get CCS technology. I’m also annoyed at people at the other extreme, who think it’s okay for us to continue emitting lots of carbon because they’re sure we =will= get CCS technology. Neither of those assumptions is wise.

    Here is an important topic that Jay and Carter never mentioned: If we don’t stop the climate runaway, will at least a few people and other animals still survive? Many people seem to answer yes, but I would answer no. After climate change kills most people, human carbon emissions will be down to a negligible level, but the feedback loops that we’ve triggered will not stop. The temperature will keep rising.

    And an even more crucial topic that they never mentioned: The importance of ending capitalism. That we are ruled by a plutocracy thinly disguised as a democracy is fairly obvious to anyone who opens their eyes, but that piece of folk wisdom was =proved=statistically= by Professors Gilens and Page in 2014. And the plutocrats are incapable of reform, because they are all competing against each other; each plutocrat can only think of the short-term profits keeping him in power. That is why the governments subsidize the fossil fuel companies, and the fossil fuel companies have been lying about climate change for half a century ( That is why we =must= overthrow capitalism if we wish for our species to survive. The first step is to get more people talking about it.

    Things keep turning out worse than the IPCC’s predictions. And they said we must turn things around by 2030. So I figure the point of no return is more likely around 2025. So we don’t have time to talk about a third political party. We need to get people talking about climate and capitalism.

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