Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fish Story numbers on the eve of Earth Day

Earth Day is April 22. We have a ways to go to make Earth Day an event that reflects a realistic response to the anthropocene. There's hope but it will be a challenge for us all.

This past week, I attended an event at the Temple of Understanding at the United Nations, on the crisis- emergency of global sustainability. My take away, was that the scale and imminence of our environmental crisis is even more hazardous than I'd previously thought: that without emergency intervention over the next few years, by 2050, most of the human population (up to 8.5 billion people) would likely perish from inter-related exigencies.

Those figures are based on 2009 and 2011 calculations respectively from Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2009 and Professor Joachim Schellnhuber, Director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Two of the presenters Thursday, were Ian Dunlop and Tapio Kanninen, both members of the Club of Rome. Both are optimistic about the human prognosis- if we act in emergency mode.

Slide from Ian Dunlop's presentation at the UN Temple of Understanding.

I discussed with them how ecological art, as Fish Story could contribute to the solution. My thinking behind Fish Story has been that if people are stuck on these massive problems, to just focus on fish. People care about fish on their dinner plate and at the end of a hook. Fish bring us to water quality which depends on habitat and that comes to restoration. Fish Story is a restoration plan based on working backwards from global warming to the individual. That is where the promise of empowerment lies: in individuals, working as part of larger communities, who can re-green our planet.

April 8, 2013 I had asked our Fish Story team member James White the following question:

if we had a time frame for when we might totally turn over to alternatives and the carbon "cost" of that time lag, how much might that "cost" be "off set"  by how much potential restoration to mitigate the impacts until we're totally off fossil fuels? For example, if the total turn over is 2030, how many millions of acres of increased green (forests, wetlands, prairies, etc- even increased tundra as the ice melts, despite the loss of albido?) would be required to offset the carbon impact of using that much fossil fuel (I know it would probably be astronomical but I'm curious whether there could be even a ball park assessment.)?

These were his numbers:

On Apr 8, 2013, at 12:13 PM, James White wrote:

There are no simple answers to this, but here's the best I can do:

We emit globally about 10 BMT/yr of  carbon (billion metric tons per year) in FF burning and deforestation. In 20 years, that would mean about 200 BMTs.

There are about 550 BMT of carbon in all plants above ground, and 1,500 BMT below ground (in soil carbon), so you need to add about 2% to the living global biosphere every year to offset the above. In 20 years that would mean you need to add 36% to the living biosphere to offset FF's and deforestation, or you'd need 1/3rd more biosphere in 2030 to do the offset. Its less if you can figure out a way to speed up the transfer of carbon form the living bits to the soil carbon pool.

The obvious problem is where do you find 1/3rd more land, nutrients, water, etc. to make this work? Neither easy nor clear…

Finding that 1/3 is what Fish Story will start doing, in Memphis, in just two weeks.

Dunlop is the former senior executive of Royal Dutch Shell, past Chair of the Australian Coal Association and Australian Greenhouse Office Experts group on Emissions Trading 1998-2000, current chair of the Australian National wildlife Collection Foundation and Deputy Convener of the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil, advising on governance and sustainability.

Kanninen is a Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Project on Sustainable Global Governance at the Ralphe Bunche Institute for International Studies at the graduate Center of the City University of New York and past Chief of the Policy Planning Unit of the UN Department of Political Affairs (1998- 2005) and Head of the Secretariat of Kofi Annan's five Summits with regional Organizations. He recently authored the Crisis of Global Sustainability

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