“Dirt is matter in the wrong place”

This post was first published by Markku Wilenius in October 17, 2018

Thus quote from G. W. Hegel, one of the greatest philosophers of all time. And he was right. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is dirt indeed when humanity pushes 10 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year (Five percent of all carbon in the carbon cycle). In Finland, when someone owns more than five percent in a listed company, it is made publicly voiced. Five percent can afford a great deal of power.

Now that humanity has crossed that five-percent line and has become a key player in the atmosphere game on our planet, the position also carries clear responsibility. Today, the amount of matter in the wrong place is large enough that last summer the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a map revealing significant climate anomalies occurring simultaneously everywhere on Earth. That coincides with a study showing conclusively that at least two-thirds of extreme weather conditions are related to human activity.

 The IPCC 1.5°C report, published recently, is a historical landmark in two ways. First, it states that we must take a completely different – and serious – view of the carbon cycle. It means that we must increase the sequestration of carbon in both soil and forests on an unprecedented scale. The soil – agriculture, in other words – can be a significant tool in climate policy. When soil is treated regeneratively so that it soaks up carbon instead of releases it, it also increases sustainable yields, reduces the use of external inputs and thereby improves the profitability of farming.

According to IPCC, the need for new forests for sequestering carbon is around the size of Europe. That is a ten-percent addition to the total area of forests on Earth. Finnish know-how in this area is the very best in the world. Would it not be smart in many ways to start advocating the reforestation of the planet?

And yet… and yet we must also do something about the culprit: the fossil fuel industry. Despite what all the buzz the past few decades might suggest, anthropogenic CO2emissions actually increased last year. And of the energy supply of the planet, some 80 percent is still in the hands of our carboniferous friends.

The IPCC report is quite clear on the matter: we must, quite simply, rid ourselves of the use of coal, oil and gas. As quickly as possible, and by no later than 2050. That is a message of great magnitude to our industrial societies.

It is therefore doubly worrisome to read the comments of key politicians regarding what we should do in light of the report, as if the problem might be solved by increasing the use of electric cars. Or by building more nuclear power plants. Those are not the solution.

The only way we can realistically solve the problem is through deep intervention in our fossil-fuel-based economic system: interventions in subsidies, taxation and imports. Why are our ruling parties saying nothing about these matters?

Another key issue is the global management of climate change. For that we need a global system of carbon budgets. Budgeting would not only control total emissions but do so fairly. Developing countries (which are not the culprits in this situation) would be supported in their efforts to reduce emissions, as industrial countries would have to buy emission rights from them.

That may sound radical, but it will be cheap compared to the what happens if we are not able to drastically reduce CO2emissions and thereby concentrations. When I was working for a global insurance company a few years back, I learned that big damages are really costly.

Likewise, if the climate system goes truly awry, there is no return to normality, even if the culprits are removed from the equation. That is how complex systems work. This means we can’t afford to vacillate until it all comes crashing down. There is no return ticket from such a place.

So let’s try to keep our atmosphere clean, just like we do at home. And keep matter in its rightful place!

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