Discover more from Andres Kabel / Looming Void
Monday Nov 20, 2023
A slow work week, troubling reverberations from a Hansen paper, and Biden and Xi Jinping skirt the climate crisis
Week 1 of this journal, split between work accountability, climate crisis confrontation, and wrestling with body and mind…
It galls me to write this but my first week of using this journal as a clunkily labeled “accountability buddy” did not go well, so my coverage will be appropriately cowardly and niggardly. To be fair, distractions abounded, such as a solo grandparenting day (now that is hard work!) on Thursday and visiting family over the final three days of the week. Throw in the distractions of a half-yearly medical and bloods, plus a boozy book club lunch, plus the pleasures of launching this newsletter, and it’s a modest credit to me that I did clock up 22 hours of “real” work (drafting the book) and 18 hours of “other” work.
I’m primed to record a more positive outcome this week although the final three days of the week will be with family interstate.
Perhaps I should record a final emotion: I felt buoyant throughout. Something momentous arises. Perhaps you too feel this way, this week?
James Hansen, the first great 1980s hero among climate scientists, issued a doom-and-gloom technical paper on November 2, saying the consensus IPCC understates our planet’s sensitivity/responsiveness to emissions, meaning +1.5C will be breached before decade’s end and +2C definitely by 2050. Terrifying news. But, “I don’t think they have made the case,” argues Michael Mann, and most front-line scientists seem to agree. For the layperson, well, we shudder, especially if we then read Roger Hallam.
One of the major possible tipping points, the overturning of the Atlantic great conveyor current (shown as number 3 on this compelling graphic), might be showing early signs of happening. Even Michael Mann concurs there is a chance.
Just looking at the “COP28 UAE” logo on the website for this key upcoming (Nov 30) climate action conference makes one’s gorge rise. It sounds like negotiating the end of WWII in a Hitler dungeon. I’ll hang out for any news from Dubai but frankly, I think Emily Atkins at Heated nails it:
If you understand one thing about this plan, let it be this: There is nothing “game-changing” about giving fossil fuel companies more influence at global climate talks. The strategy is merely a repackaging of a decades-long status quo that has resulted in ever-increasing global emissions.
Offshore wind is one of the most exciting scaleable technologies but the same conditions that are hammering nuclear (NuScale, pioneer in small modular reactors since 2007, just lost its only prospective client) have led to a plunge in the share price of the world’s top wind developer, Danish giant Orsted, and the exit of two top execs. But this will be a transitory phenomenon. Something similar is happening with EVs: while the press hypes up “cooling EV sales,” the raw data reveals that “the overall state of the electric vehicle market is healthy.”
President Biden’s four-hour chat with Xi Jinping in San Francisco on Thursday is welcome in that amity between the two nations seems likelier now, but whatever they talked about regarding the climate crisis was too insignificant to mention in the news. A joint statement re climate, crafted by John Kerry and his counterpart, does offer COP28 hopes but I doubt anybody expects much. When will these two behemoths properly and jointly take the needed action to snuff out fossil fuels? When?
This reminds us to keep an eye on the big emitters, including China, and some encouraging news came out this week. The generational (global-existential?) battle between the fossil fuel rump industry and the new cheaper, essential energy technologies is not as upfront in China as in the Western world, but it is real nonetheless. China continues to build coal plants (but hey, here in Australia we continue to prospect for gas!), yet its emissions are likely to fall next year, as wind and solar keep bludgeoning the dinosaur firms. (Lauri Myllyvirta’s research findings for the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air are written up in Carbon Brief). At least, that’s one side of the China story, the side I’m yearning to predict. But Emily Pontecorvo points out in a brilliant article how complex China’s energy portrait is: “it all depends on whether wind and solar interests can overcome China’s powerful coal lobby.”
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In early September, the anniversary of my angiogram took place. Most friends regard me as “lucky,” receiving an assessment in 2022 of one artery blocked thirty to forty percent, when all the available medical evidence and familial history had pointed to a possible need for stents or worse. But in the fourteen months since, I’ve mainly grown angry at the prevailing medical model based on waiting for bad things to happen and then fixing them up. All my various doctors have been conscientious and helpful, but only after the event. No one adequately assessed my cardiovascular health. No one told me that my borderline hypertension numbers (140/100) should be 120/80. No one measured my Lp(a) lipoprotein levels, so no one told me that on top of any excess “bad” (a crude label) cholesterol in my arteries, I have genetically fixated Lp(a) levels that put me at the 97% level in terms of genetic cardiac risk. No one told me to put a special effort into reducing LDL to compensate. A stress echocardiogram a month ago graced me with a clean bill of health from the cardiologist but I know that is spurious, for no one even hazarded a guess as to my cardiac risks, split into genetic and lifestyle components.
I’m now on a journey to find out more and to focus on what some now call healthfulness, which is genuinely sparkling diet and exercise disciplines. This week I asked my regular doctor to add to my usual panel of bloods a range of more advanced measurements that might tell me whether I am, due to those disciplines, metabolically healthy (this in itself is a complex question) but it turned out that Australian doctors cannot speak to the following alphabet of measures: IGF-1; C-reactive protein; EGFBP-1 & -2; SHBG; Homa-IR; leptin; adiponectin. I’m still in the dark. I privately purchased a kit to take a blood sample for Omega-3 levels. I privately purchased a Continuous Glucose Monitor and will run it in the first half of December. I’m booked in for a Dexa scan and VO2 Max test. Until I “know” what my healthfulness and ongoing risk rating are, this entire subject will scratch at my mind.
Of course, there is a corrosive aspect to this geeky pursuit of self-knowledge. Yes, I do also find the whole matter fascinating (why do we age? why is the Western world overweight?), but surely I have better things to do than grow anxious about bodily matters I might well have little control over? Yet geeks will do as geeks will do.
The weeks that was and the feeling for next week
One point of this journal is a weekly summation. I guess I’d say this: I worked moderately well, I lived with plenty of energy, the climate crisis still looms (as if it would ever turn around on a dime, eh?), and I’m still a geek worried about my earthly bounds.
Next week? Pulsing optimism…