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.