Sunday, October 19, 2008

Whereupon I Commence To Get Kicked Around

If you have happened to notice lately, I have been getting kicked around at pretty much every site I visit. By the way: if you have noticed, then you truly have no life.

My main effort lately has been to get anybody inside the climate science community to get honest about the dim prospects for emissions reduction, and to look at the efforts to sell the public relations case with a critical eye.

No luck.

In fact, I have become everybody's favorite football. Over at RealClimate I challenged the group to discuss with me the potential that the science has become too focused on proving the case, and may have lost sight of its necessary role in being as critical as possible of all findings. It seems these days that a new finding is swept up and stapled to "AGW Theory". Well, as you will see if you follow my posts and the responses to them, I got no takers. In fact, I got handed my hat.

Over at the Tobis blog, where ego knows no bounds, he thought of a new idea: No more CO2 emissions. Now, anybody with a grain of sense knows I was being tongue-in-cheek there. Poor Tobis, he doesn't get it. Not only is he chanting the Hansenite mantra, he is being dishonest. Now, maybe he is not personally lying, but he is almost certainly representing a fairy tale. Not only does he seem to believe that it is possible for the world to burn less fossil fuel year over year in the very near future, he actually behaves as though it will matter. For here is the great lie of the entire AGW debate: that we can still take the necessary actions to reduce our "carbon footprint" in time to "avoid catastrophic warming."

No we can't. No rational person who evaluates what Hansen himself has told us ("We are at the tipping point because the climate state includes large, ready positive feedbacks provided by the Arctic sea ice, the West Antarctic ice sheet, and much of Greenland’s ice"), could possibly believe that there is any chance of that happening. What is sure to happen, if we try to make that effort, is that some nations will go right on burning more and more fossil fuel, gaining an economic advantage over their competitor nations which do make the effort. Second, an enormous amount of wealth will be transferred from developed nations to less developed nations, and third, we will pass the "tipping point" anyway. And just what is the "tipping point"? Hansen would, i believe, identify that as the point at which the planet will have warmed enough to eventually cause the loss of the entire Greenland ice sheet. He estimates that a temperature rise of 2*C might be enough, that 450 ppm will ensure that it gets that warm, and that we really need to get back to 350 and stay there, to really protect the sheet.

Got all that?

Good. None of it can be prevented.

We will pass 450 ppm. We will get at least 2*C warmer, perhaps twice that. So the only real question is: how soon and how seriously will we start investing in mitigation and adaptation?

My wife asked me for an example recently and I gave her this: when storms wipe out coastal communities, do not let residents rebuild there. Use insurance money and government money to relocate them. There is a crystal clear example of adaptation. As for mitigation, my theory is that human history is marked by great technological leaps. The steam engine, the internal combustion engine, the microchip and so forth.

We need another great leap forward. I have read some interesting stories about carbon capture and reprocessing, which can theoretically be done at a break-even price of $4.60 per gallon. That price would certainly come down over time as the cost of real oil eventually passes that level. Thus, it would make sense to invest in such ideas, because those which do succeed will be game changers.

If we are a little bit wrong about how much time we have: if we have 30 years instead of 15, for example; then perhaps we don't need to drastically alter civilization as we know it. Perhaps what we need are some adaptation strategies, which we will certainly need anyway, and some great technological leaps, which will certainly happen anyway.

Maybe we need the courage to look this whole issue in the eyes and say: Let's look at it another way.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Real Point About Potential Cooling

As climate science continues to mature, scenarios also improve. Recently, efforts have been made to fold current and expected future conditions into climate models, making them more useful as forecasting tools, extending their original purpose to answer hypothetical questions such as, over hundreds of years, the likely impact of
elevated atmospheric GHGs such as CO2 and methane.

These latest efforts seek to determine likely decadal changes, to assist with short term planning.

When the forecasts indicate potential cooling based on these conditions which are completely independent of GHG levels, the concern is that such a forecast will fool the uneducated into believing that AGW is either over or over-stated.

Of course, the forecasts indicate no such thing. They simply indicate that short term variability can and does mask long term change. We have seen this many times before. Refer to any graph of long term temperature variation and you will find multiple occurrences of short term cooling, lasting 5 years or longer. The short term trend is always absorbed into thelonger term trend, which is a warming trend.

Here we are again: forecasters believe that N.A. and Europe may see periods of cooling over the next decade as PDO sorts itself out. This says nothing about the overall trend of the planet, which may still warm overall during this period. It is also only a forecast, and it remains to be seen how well the PDO "competes" with AGW.

What is clear is this: the concerns are well founded. Denialism has already lept at the perceived opportunity to dent public awareness of the reality that short term variability tells us nothing about long term trends, and that natural processes do continue to unfold, even in a warming world.

We still had winter, for example. Some people don't understand how we can have AGW and also have winter. They experience variable weather and begin to question what they've been led to believe.

Of course, part of the problem is that some people have taken the information presented and drawn the conclusion that AGW should reveal itself in an easily identifiable and predictable way. AGW doesn't care what we want. AGW unfolds according to its own reality, which is that there will be tremendous disruption of the world climate system, and while the overall temperature of the planet must rise due to the radiative imbalance, nature will find ways to deal with this warming,
some of which may lead to periods of cooling in certain regions.

The relentless increase in GHGs must eventually prevail, even over such occurrences as el nino and PDO. Those who cling to the belief that periods of cooling somehow contradict AGW, are hiding from scientific probability.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Why Is There A RealSkeptic?

I will answer all of your questions here. Just ask them.

The simple answer is that I do not know of a site which focuses on AGW in the way that I do, nor do I see any self-policing at pro-AGW sites with regard to their treatment of those with whom they disagree. In short, there is too much condescension, too little respect for those who do not toe the line.

My position on AGW is that it is real, verifiable and happening now. Most people have no appreciation for how rapidly the warming will escalate, so that, for example, we will have as much warming in the next fifteen years as we had in the previous 30 years. Most people fail to grasp the power of acceleration.

This includes climate scientists themselves, including Dr. James Hansen of NASA-GISS, one of my absolute heroes for his pioneering work in bridging the gap between scientific and public understanding of AGW. Unfortunately, Dr. Hansen consistently underestimates the power of acceleration, causing him to keep refining his estimates for safe levels of CO2 downward. This give the appearance that he is not sure of the science. Perhaps he is not.

However, these ever-downward projections for the line of catastrophic consequences does lead to one other concern: there is no way we are going to avoid reaching that point. Dr. Hansen wants the world to stop burning coal, but the world is going to keep burning coal. IPCC and others want the world to start burning less oil each year. The world is going to continue burning more oil each year. Governments want to stop cutting down forest. They are failing to achieve that, no matter what incentives they try.

In other words, we are in a bad place right now. Too many people are just simply confused about the science of AGW, and too many who do "get it" with regard to the science, are blind as bats when it comes to what can be achieved through policy.

So, welcome to the place where we are all skeptics. I'm not looking for people to tell me AGW isn't real; there are plenty of places you can go to kick that around. I'm happy to debate the rate of acceleration with you, and I'm happy to debate the likely outcomes of various social policies with you.

I want to inject rationality back into this discussion. No matter where I go: RealClimate, Rabbett Run, Climate Change Debate, I encounter not only irrationality but a sense of entitlement to mock and disdain those with whom they disagree.

I'm not smart enough to know who has a point and who doesn't; not until I have heard them through and given fair consideration to their view. You'll get that here. If you make a claim, you'll get the chance to back it up - and you'll be expected to. There are no sacred cows here, and there is no intellectual hierarchy.

As I said, one restriction: you cannot deny AGW itself. Beyond that, we are all skeptics, and we have some important things to discuss.

Walt
25 April 2008