Setting Sail - Charting the Course
Hello and welcome. I’m Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report. It's Friday, the 13th of March, Lucky for some I hope.
This week’s episode is dedicated to an interview so first let me thank patron Eric de Kemp for leads to some stories which I've not had room to include this time but will report on next week.
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I mentioned that I’ve had a number of requests from people wanting to be interviewed, but I’m afraid a number of them seem to have thought better of it, so we won’t be discussing population for the moment.
Not true of this week’s guest. He is adamant that we need to do something about the climate crisis and he has strong views on what we should do. He’s Captain Sandy Anderson and he’s CEO of Earth Ship Ltd. That’s earth-ship.org.
Here’s what we discussed.
Interviewer: First of all, I'd like to welcome Captain Anderson to The Sustainable Futures Report. Captain Anderson -- and the name gives it away -- is a seaman. He's long experienced with his own company in the barge and tug business in New York City. He's an expert on alternative energy use for marine purposes, including auxiliary wind propulsion. He's got his own cable TV show, Captain Anderson Global Show. And he was a speaker at last year's Responsible Business Summit.
What attracted me was that he wrote to me and he said we're both interested in climate change, but we've all got it wrong.
Now tell me, how have we all got it wrong?
Answer: Well, we all took our lead from, I think, perhaps, back in August of 1988. Dr Jim Hansen from NASA went before Congress, and he explained to Congress this business called global warming -- the long term variations in the weather data. In other words, we're seeing trendlines, we're seeing the average temperature of the Earth separate from where it should be. And he used a lot of statistics to explain that to Congress.
The US Congress understood nothing, and they did even less. So Jim Hansen left NASA and he went out into the public and he began a decades-long campaign to explain climate change to the public. But the problem is, when he did it, he said, "climate change is floods, droughts, storms, melting ice, forest fires." And so the public, including myself, I might add, took the bait and said -- wow, that's climate change.
And I lectured on the subject at universities and I had the television program and whatnot, and I'm telling the public the same thing.
But actually, that's like, supposing you went to the doctor and you said to the doctor -- I've got a runny nose and a cough, and so on and so forth. And the doctor said, don't worry about it, you've got the flu, go home and rest.
But then, you still feel bad, so you go to another doctor. The doctor says, well, guess what? You've got a terminal disease. You had better go home and make arrangements.
Well, by introducing climate change in terms of the cause, it's like telling the public we've got a terminal disease. Wouldn't you react differently if you left the doctor and thought you had the flu? As opposed to leaving the doctor knowing you've got a terminal disease?
I can't stop climate change at this point. Neither can anybody else. But we had better face the fact that by disrupting the carbon ratio, we have a very serious disease, and it's not an inconvenience -- it's terminal.
Interviewer: Okay, all right.
So let's take the opportunity at this point just to explain what you mean by the carbon ratio.
Answer: All the carbon on Earth is in the carbon cycle in some way, shape or form. Either in the short term carbon cycle or the long term carbon cycle. We keep track of carbon. It's called organic chemistry. You can't do anything about it. It is what it is. Neither you nor I can change it. However, some of the carbon that's taken out of the atmosphere in the form of CO2 doesn't stay in the carbon cycle. It's sequestered in the Earth in the form of fossil fuels. Every molecule of CO2 we convert to fossil fuels, we have in essence shrunk the size of the carbon cycle.
Interviewer: Well, that's not something we do. That's something that happened in prehistory, isn't it?
Answer: That's right. That took hundreds of millions of years. We had no control over that.
Answer: In fact, there was a time in the Earth's history when too much carbon was taken out of the atmosphere and the Earth froze over from pole to pole. And they have proven that the Earth was frozen over because there was too little carbon in the atmosphere to trap the heat.
Now let me just get back to that with something that's very easy to think about. Carbon is what traps thermal energy. Thermal energy is what warms the atmosphere. That's solar energy that bounces off the earth and radiates back into space, long wave thermal radiation. Only carbon traps that -- oxygen doesn't, nitrogen doesn't, argon doesn't. Only carbon.
For instance, if the Earth's atmosphere had no carbon in it at all, the scientists have calculated that the earth's temperature would be about 17 degrees Fahrenheit. But put just a little bit of carbon in the air, and you've got just the right temperature. So it's regulating the carbon in the atmosphere that's the only thing we need to be worried about. It's the only thing humans can control. We can control how much carbon goes back in the atmosphere. That's the only thing we've got. And that is the determining factor of whether or not our species is going to continue.
Interviewer: Okay. So how do we control it, in your view?
Answer: Well, stop all planes, trains, ships, cars, fertiliser -- everything that burns fossil fuels. That's a pretty tall order.
Interviewer: Yeah, I think we've got to accept that's an impossible order, isn't it? Because people will not do that.
Would you not argue, at least in the short term, if we did that, life on Earth would be not worth living and probably not sustainable anyway?
Answer: I wouldn't say it wouldn't be sustainable because we lived for hundreds of thousands of years without burning fossil fuels.
Interviewer: Yeah, but not in the electronic age, though, did we.
Answer: No, no. So that's the choice we have to make.
And there's a lot of people that don't call me back, because I think that they're saying the same thing that you are, Anthony -- well, for God's sake, we can't stop doing it.
Well, if we know how serious the problem is, maybe we will be a little bit more determined in the actions that we take. It doesn't matter, by the way, how fast we put the carbon back in the air. Once you have combusted the fossil fuels, the carbon is back in the carbon cycle, it's there forever, and you can't get it back out again.
Now, I've also came across what I call the delay, the carbon delay. And you asked me to explain that, and just calculating the carbon delay. The delay is, when you release carbon at ground level, it doesn't do us any harm at ground level. Carbon at ground level takes time to rise up into the troposphere. That's where it tracks the heat. Nobody knows how long that takes. There's lots of estimates. Best estimate I can get to is about 30 years. I've heard estimates from 20 years. I heard them all the way up to 40. So I take the middle road. So it takes about 30 years before that carbon rises up into the atmosphere and traps the maximum amount of heat. Nobody can tell you exactly how much carbon that's in the troposphere, how fast it's getting there.
What we can do is two things. We can measure the rate of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. That's at 13,700 feet. That's halfway to the troposphere. And the other thing we could do and measure with some accuracy is we can measure the amount of carbon that's combusted at the ground level. So now we know two things -- how much carbon was released at ground level, and how much carbon is at 13,700 feet.
So take this calculation. In 1950, we burned enough fossil fuel so that we put six giga tonnes, or six billion metric tons of carbon in the atmosphere. In the 1950s, the rate of increase of CO2 in Manila was 0.7 -- 0.7 parts per million per year. That's the rate of increase.
Now, let's go up to 2019. 2019, we put 36 giga tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere at ground level. That's six times greater than 1950 -- that's six-fold in 70 years.
The rate of increase of CO2 in parts per million went from 0.7 to 2.1. So ask yourself, that's a threefold increase. Why did the amount of carbon released at ground level go up six fold, and the amount of carbon measured at Mauna Loa only go up threefold? And the answer is it's being held down -- it's been released, but it hasn't yet risen into the troposphere.
So it's entirely possible we've already combusted enough carbon to cause us real chaos on Earth as it just rises up into the troposphere.
Interviewer: But how do you know it's actually going to rise into the troposphere, and that it hasn't actually being absorbed by the natural carbon sinks? Which I know are being overwhelmed to some extent? But carbon dioxide is absorbed to some extent by the oceans; it's absorbed by plants and forests and growths and things like that.
So although we may be putting large amounts into the atmosphere, some of it surely is being sucked out and sequestered by natural means.
Have you got any data to show how the concentration of CO2 is changing in the troposphere?
Answer: Okay, you just hit the nail right on the head. You took the bait along with everybody else. What you described to me about the sinks and the carbon in the ocean, that's exactly right. You're 100% correct. But that's carbon that's in the carbon cycle, that's in the game. The carbon that was in the earth in fossil fuels that's carbon that's taken out of the system. It's no longer doing anything. It isn't going into the ocean, or the trees, or the animals. It isn't being anything, it's in the game. It's able to warm the earth.
Interviewer: Why is it not being absorbed by the carbon sinks?
Answer: Because it's in fossil fuels. It's not even in play. The best way to think of this Anthony is to think of ping pong balls in a lottery cage. It's exactly the same thing.
If you put too many balls in the lottery cage, nobody wins. And so nobody plays the game. If you take too many balls out of the lottery cage, everybody wins and the game can't play. And again, the game fails. You have to have that right balance of balls in the cage in order for life to exist or the lottery to thrive. Now the ping pong balls you take, put them in the lock box. They're still there, but they do not influence the odds of winning or losing. Well, those ping pong balls in the lock box are fossil fuels. It's what fossil fuels is. So that's the difference.
Interviewer: Yeah. Okay, well I accept that, but all right, let's accept that your premise says that carbon dioxide which is being added to the atmosphere is going to move, we don't know how quickly, is going to move up into the troposphere. And in due course, that change in the troposphere will lead to warming, and that then will lead to unusual weather and all the downsides that we know about climate change.
So assuming that that's all going to happen over the next 30, 40, 50 years, things are going to get worse, what is the message that we have to give to the public? Because what you're saying is that the public do not fully understand the message. And more importantly than the message, what is the call to action? What are we going to ask people to do? Because we can't say don't drive, don't use fertilisers, don't fly in airplanes as off now, because that won't work.
Answer: Forgive me if I don't have an answer for everything. But back in the early 1980s when I was putting wind power on the merchant ships, and in the United States, there were gas lines and alternate days of buying and there was all sorts of problems, and we thought the economy was going to crash, and it was a lot of big brouhaha in the United States.
But what I did notice is when the message -- albeit it was erroneous -- but we got the message, we were told that we were running out of fuel back then. And when I did that, the ideas came out of the woodwork. People you never would have thought could do anything without a shopping list, they were coming up with ideas. High school scientists went down and invented stuff. People got cars to run on chicken fat. We had new windows, new doors, new insulations. We really reduced our fuel consumption once the public began to believe that they had a problem.
What we're doing now is we're not telling the public how serious the problem is, so we're lulling them into thinking it's going to work out in the end and I'm telling you, it is not going to work out. If you put that carbon back in the game, you take those balls out of the lock box and put him in the lottery case, you've changed the odds of us continuing.
Interviewer: Okay. But back in the example you quoted, when people were actually queuing up outside the filling stations because they believed there was a shortage of petrol gasoline, they had a problem. They had a problem which was affecting them, they had to wait in line in order to get their fuel so they could go on with their daily lives.
There is a problem now, but it's not affecting people. It's not affecting people. They can continue to drive larger and larger cars. They can fill them up with lots of fuel. They can pollute as much as they like. It is not actually real, although we can say it, we can show documentaries and we can prove, we can quote the science. To people in their daily lives, and today is a big example, they would say -- but there's a Coronavirus, we're afraid that we're going to get sick and that a lot of people are going to die and surely that's much more important.
Okay, in the short time, it is more important. In the long time it is not more important. But that is going to concentrate people's minds. If we got that out of the way, they're going to turn around and they're going to say, okay, we have a problem in the future. But today I have a family to feed, I have a job to go to, I have to look after my sick parents. I have day today, immediate issues. Unless actually something is going to come out of the woodwork and to stop people from doing what they want to do on a day to day basis and that that can clearly be seen to be directly related to the climate, they are not going to do anything, are they?
Answer: Well, you answered your own question. No, but ask the question I'm asking. No, you have to tell the public how serious the problem is. And one of the things I learned in my television program, which was a call in program, for I don't know how much, for nine or ten months, I didn't get many calls by the way. But every single one of them came from women. They seem to get this quicker than we do. And not only that, women seem more willing to make some compromise in their own lifestyle if they thought it was going to save their children. If women didn't feel as strongly as they did about putting their children into the future, then quite probably our species wouldn't even be there. They've been taking care of their kids since the beginning of time.
So that's one thing in our favour. Secondly, I give people a little bit of credit. If I can enforce upon them just how serious this problem is, I think they will take some stronger action. Right now they're being lulled into believing that it's going to work out all right.
And you hit the nail right on the head when you said people are able to do what they're doing now because the situation isn't that bad. And that is the unbelievable tragedy of a global warming or climate change, and that is, I just explained to you, a great deal of the carbon that has been released is still at ground level and not yet able to trap heat. And I gave you the numbers that support that. Mauna Loa has only gone up three fold, and yet the amount we've released has gone up six fold.
In fact, I could tell you statistically, 50% of the excess carbon that's in the atmosphere today, 50% of it has been released in the last 30 years. 85% of the excess carbon in our atmosphere has been released since World War Two. So the whole mess, the GDP, the economy, growth, population, money, it's all driving forward as if this was going to work out in the end and nobody is standing up and saying anything.
So you have to ask yourself Anthony, who's going to stand up and say something? Would it be an elected official? Because you see an MP standing up in front of his constituency, and saying -- if you'll vote me in the Parliament, I will assure you that this suffering that lies ahead will be divided equally among all people. No, he doesn't get elected. How about a CEO? The Bank of England. What if he got up and said, folks, it's no good, we're putting too much carbon in the atmosphere, it's the death knell for humanity, we're closing the bank. We've got your money. That's the end of it. We're all done.
No, he's not going to say that. No, has to be an activist to get up and explain to the public how serious the problem is. And I think that can do that.
Interviewer: To be fair, the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England has actually stood up and told the financial community that climate change is a problem. He hasn't said, we've got to close everything down, or anything like that. But look, Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Worldwide Wildlife Funds and many others are actually making it clear that we have got a climate crisis.
So how does your method of putting over this message differ from the way that these people are already addressing the problem?
Answer: Well, I haven't heard anybody described climate change in quite the stark terms that I am. I haven't heard anybody say that. They all believe that they could tweak the existing system and make it work. And you said to me, well, we're not going to change our system, we're going to keep doing what we're doing because we're human beings and we're greedy, narcissistic people and we're going to keep doing it.
So you know what, Anthony, maybe that's what will happen. But the fact of the matter is, you cannot tweak the existing system a little bit here and a little bit there, like Greenpeace says, and everybody else says. You can't save a whale here and drive an electric car someplace else and think it's going to work. It's not.
Somebody has to tell the world the truth. And the truth is, we made a mistake.
Interviewer: How do we make the world listen? How do we make the world act? Because, nobody wants bad news. This is the worst news anybody will ever have heard.
Answer: I couldn't agree with you more. Don't forget, England, the UK, Canada, the United States, Japan, much of China, we're very wealthy, but there's a whole other 3/4 of the planet that isn't so wealthy. And so the higher you have risen on the socioeconomic scale, well, the bigger the adjustment you've got to make. But the people in Somalia might not even notice any change in their lifestyle. People in Brazil and people in Arkansas in the United States and the poor people in Japan, the rice farmer, they're not going to care too much. It's only people like you and I who are living fairly high on the hog that don't want to change our lifestyle. And that's perfectly natural. I can understand that.
But if you and I... I'm sorry to go on. But if you and I were in a rowboat, the ship sank during the night and we wake up the next morning and you and I are in a rowboat that's leaking. I don't know you and you don't know me, being the gentleman I am Anthony, I pick up the oars and I start rowing.
So the water's coming up around your ankles. Now, I don't care if you bail, or you don't bail. If you drown, that's none of my business. But if you drown, I got to drown with you. So it's incumbent upon me to say to you -- Anthony, please pick up the bailer and start bailing the water or we're both going to croak.
So we have to tell the majority of the people on Earth that as a species we've made a monumental mistake by taking the carbon out of the earth and putting it back. Look, it took nature hundreds of millions of years to pull that carbon out of the earth, to get it out of the carbon cycle, so that the Earth would be cooled down. What do you think's going to happen if we put it back in the atmosphere? Now, our ancestors didn't know that. They didn't know it. But now we do know. So we're going to commit self inflicted genocide, or we're going to act like the sapient animal we're supposed to be. Which are you?
Interviewer: Okay. Okay. Just supposing we could actually persuade everybody to stop driving cars, using natural gas for heating their homes, stop using fossil fuels, as of tomorrow. From what you're saying about the carbon delay, there is already too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and we are going to see tremendous effects over the next years. So we've got two problems. We're going to stop it increasing. But what are we going to do with the stuff that's already there? And if we can't do anything with the stuff that's already there and it's all disaster in the future, well, we might as well enjoy things while we can, mightn't we?
Answer: I didn't say we had released too much, because I don't know the answer to that. And I don't ever say anything unless I know what I'm talking about. I just said that we have released a lot and it hasn't yet risen into the troposphere. So you've got to make people understand exactly that.
I don't think there's that many people on earth... Well, I could be wrong. If there are, most of them are in America. But I don't think there's that many people on Earth that would want to commit genocide and just say -- well, this is the end of us, we might as well have a good time because the younger you are, the longer you're going to be suffering from the problem.
No, I think we have to come together as a people. We're supposed to be a smart animal. You know, if you had a bunch of people in a foxhole and there was a black one and a white one and a Christian and a Jew and a smart one and a dumb one and all sorts. And there's nothing to do. They just have to hold their position. And what happens? They squabble. They squabble and they fight. And they break into ethnic groups and racial groups and religious groups.
But when the bombs start falling and people begin to understand that there's a battle going on and some of the people in the fox hole are killed, there's not enough water, there's not enough fuel, there's not enough anything. Those people come together without any consideration of who they were or how rich they were, or whatever the problem is, they will all work together so that they can survive.
And that's the purpose of the Earth Ship Program is to tell the world, we're in this together, we've got to work together and devil take the hindmost, we're going to have to change our standard of living.
Interviewer: Okay. Now we're coming up to a time where we're going to have to wind up. But you've just introduced the idea of the Earth Ship Program. So this is your solution to getting the message out. Tell us more about how that is going to work?
Answer: Oh, that's interesting. Now keep in mind the Earth Ship Program, really novel thing about us, there's just a couple of things.
First and foremost, I'm going to tell the public just what I'm saying now. I'm not going to say what Greenpeace is saying, or World Wildlife Fund. I'm going to put the numbers out there, I'm going to make it very clear we made a mistake.
Secondly, we're going to travel around the world in sailing ships. Al Gore goes to his meetings in private jets and limos. That's really not sending the right message. No, we're going to travel in sailing ships, something I know a little bit about. All right, but here's the real key. The real key is that I've devised a way for corporation to underwrite the program, to sponsor one of the ships. There'll be many ships, there'll be all over the world. And each corporation can sponsor one of those ships and make a substantial profit in the process. And I do that by selling to the corporation a charter on the ship without actually selling them the ship itself.
It's interesting if I can get corporations interested, we'll have a flock of ships telling the whole world the whole message. That's all I can do, is just tell the world the truth and then let the world do what they want. And I think they will respond to the problem.
Everybody wants to survive. Being alive is being better than being dead. Never having been dead I'm speaking out of turn, but I don't think it's going to be... It's boring. But being dead has got to be boring.
Interviewer: Well, Captain Anderson, But you really have a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for putting over what is a very, very important message. I'm not sure I agree that we can persuade people to be quite as draconian as we need to be. But everybody who's raising the awareness of this whole issue is adding towards creating a solution. We'll just have to see. But at the same time, let it not be said that we didn't actually try to do something about this.
Answer: Hit the nail right on the head. I'm not sure they're going to respond either, Anthony. But damn it, I'm not going to roll over and play dead. I'm going to at least tell people the truth and -- devil take the hindmost.
Interviewer: Captain Anderson, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, your very interesting thoughts with The Sustainable Futures Report.
Well what do you think? Capital Anderson would certainly be interested in your thoughts and you can contact him at earth-ship.org. I always welcome your comments so please do come back to me if you've got ideas or suggestions on this or future episodes. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org as always.
One thing that really concerns me is how we keep minds focused on the climate emergency while everyone is concerned with the immediate problems of the coronavirus outbreak. Maybe we accept that people just won’t want to know, so maybe we should wait until it’s all over before we redouble our efforts to get governments and corporates to take action. By then of course people may well have bad news fatigue. Someone once said, “If the people will lead, the leaders will follow.” We need to work with the people - our neighbours, our colleagues, our families, our friends.
How do you think we can get the message across?
There will be more next week, but that’s it for this episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. I’m Anthony Day and I’m always glad to have your feedback so I can make sure the Sustainable Futures Report talks about things which you want to hear.
Until next time, wash your hands and stay safe.