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.

11 comments:

Roadhouse said...

Here is what I (a real skeptic of man-made global warming) wrote a year ago.

AL GORE'S KRYPTONITE

Questions to ask your favorite environmentalists:

1. What caused the first and second ice ages to start?
2. What caused the ice ages to end?
3. Was man driving SUV's during those periods?
4. Why does the average temperature of other planets change at the same rate as Earth's?
5. Are there SUV's on Mars?
6. If Co2 is a pollutant, why does plant life require it to live?
7. Why does plant life thrive along the busiest highways where emissions are the most dense?
8. Why are animals incapable of walking around drilling rigs?
9. How can we predict the climate twenty years from now, but not next week?
10. Why are the following not factored into climate calculations? The sun, solar flares, sun spots, the Jet Stream, the Gulf Stream, the Earth's molten core, volcanoes, desert sand storms, and common sense.
11. How could we possibly know the global temperature, or rainfall averages prior to modern technology, when we can't accurately measure them today?
12. Who decided what the Earth's temperature is supposed to be?
13. How did they arrive at that particular number?

When Al Gore can answer these questions, I'll listen to him.

Walt Bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Walt Bennett said...

Roadhouse,

You mistake quantity for quality. The fact that you can ask a lot of questions does not lead to the conclusion that you have a point.

Which, you don't.

Your third question contradicts your entire premise.

Man was not here for any of the massive, awe-inspiring changes planet Earth has undergone in its 4.5 billion years. So, the answer to all of your questions about past climate is: Not Man.

So what?

Man is here now, and in the last century he has thrown millions upon millions of years of stored carbon back into the atmosphere, where it serves as a long-lived greenhouse gas.

The changes are very small but also cumulative and persistent, and they change the state of the atmosphere.

There is ample evidence that greater quantities of carbon in the atmosphere will cause the planet to warm. Of course we all know that there is no history of increased CO2 causing a warming (although such a thing is possible), but what CO2 does is amplify the warming, and there is plenty of evidence for that as well.

Over here at RealSkeptic we accept the premise that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that more of it causes warming.

There is much left to discuss, and much of it is still in hot dispute.

Peter.Bridge2 said...

Hi Walt,

I saw your posts at RC

I think that climate scientists expertise is in the science itself and not necessarily policy recommendations and decisions - that is more the arena of economists and politicians (God help us !).

I wouldn't necessarily use Hansen as the 'consensus' science position (although most of the time he's not too far off) - use IPCC AR4

Hansen has strong policy views, but there are a lot of people probably more qualified; Richard Tol, Nordhaus, Stern,

Don't quite understand if you think

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.

that CCS is a possible solution - surely some nations, by your logic, will gain an economic advantage by not using CCS and avoiding the cost penalty.

Personally I think it is well worth investing in more research in CCS and Nuclear.

Walt Bennett said...

Peter, thanks for stopping by. I think that the nation which invents solid geo-engineering strategies will reap huge financial rewards. That technology will be exportable, and if solutions are cheap and readily available, governments will step up. It's the fact that "solutions" are so onerous (did you read the NY Times piece?) that keeps them from signing on.

Places like China and India are not ignorant of the effects of CO2, they just refuse to accept the cost of doing something about it. If we can get that cost manageable - and face the reality that we have to get rid of some of what's up there already - I believe we will see significant participation.

But as I have said many times, we must engineer our way forward, and not expect nations to volunteer to curtail growth.

They simply will not choose such a path.

Peter.Bridge2 said...

Hi Walt

I also think that both India and China are likely to be affected by climate change more than the US or Europe - I think that is why I am slightly more optimistic that they will want to participate in finding a solution, which will probably be some combination of a shift to renewable energy (including Nuclear), Carbon Capture and Storage, Geo-engineering, some sort of Carbon market mechanism and also adpatation to change.

I'm not sure 'targets' and tipping points are realy that hard and fast, it is more of a continuim - 450 ppm is worse than 400 ppm but better than 550 ppm.

Also don't forget the CO2 forcing is logaritmic : the forcing from 280-> 560 ppm has the same forcing as 560 -> 1120 ppm. I'm not sure whether I'm reassured or alarmed by that because the quicker we make changes the more effect they will have.

Walt Bennett said...

Peter, we seem to agree on the essential point - an emissions reduction treaty is an insufficient strategy.

Peter.Bridge2 said...

I saw this and thought of you :-)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/apr/14/scientists-global-warming-conference-poll

Walt Bennett said...

Peter, thank you for the link. That was a very weak piece making a very important point. Their own science leads to the unavoidable conclusion that we are already past the stage where we can control the ice sheet tipping point, and thus sea level rise.

Some of them almost tried to say it out loud.

blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said...

Hey there!

Okay... I won't kick you around at my blog...

Come on by...

Just make sure you are bringing something deep to the table....

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
Lisa

Roadhouse said...

Seems like a very wordy way of saying that you can't answer the questions.

Here's another one:
Will Mother Nature be penalized with carbon offset taxation for her insistance on creating forest fires and volcanos?