Wednesday, July 21, 2004
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Your environmental quote of the day
In my mailbox today I found David Victor's Climate Change: Debating America's Policy Options, which was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. David is a disgustingly prolific and competent writer with a cv longer than my arm, so it's worth paying attention to what he writes.
The book maps out three possible policy options for the coping with climate change. Flipping through, I came across this assessment of the myriad predictions about the extent of global warming by the year 2100 (p. 11):
For a very long pdf version of the report, click here.posted by Dan on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM
I consider that a solid point in favor of the view that the climate is changing. One swallow does not a summer make (thought swallows do tend to cluster).
But if the climate-change people really wanted to get my attention, they would systematically answer their critics, who also have some points. I am hearing that in the last two years there has been some attempt at this, though I haven't run across it myself. By my usual experience is that the critics are dismissed as cranks, and no substantive answers are given to them. Maybe they are. I have no expertise in climate science whatsoever. But I can usually tell who is fighting fair and who isn't, and that tends to sway me strongly.posted by: Assistant Village Idiot on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
The post and the comment of Assistant Village Idiot make excellent points. I would like to add another point, one that is rarely mentioned in this debate.
Suppose that global warming is occuring beyond any doubt, it is predictable, and its causes are understood. None of these statements are true now, but, for the sake of making my point, suppose that they were true. Then there is an additional question: what to do, if indeed we do anything? The answer to this question is not at all obvious, yet it is often treated as if it were obvious, e.g., some people seem to think that evidence for global warming is the same as evidence that implementing the Kyoto protocols would be a good thing. In fact, even in my hypothetical ideal situation a plethora of possibilities remain. Perhaps global warming would even be, overall, a good thing; perhaps it would be a bad thing, but any meaningful attempt to stop it would produce consequences that were worse than global warming; perhaps it is impossible to stop it in any meaningful way, so even drastic, draconian social change makes a difference of only one-tenth of a degree; perhaps it can be stopped using ideas that are completely different from the ones now being discussed. When I read about this topic I often get the feeling that many people want to use global warming as an issue they can use to force the kind of social and economic changes that they want under any circumstances. In fact, these social and economic changes may not be the appropriate response to global warming even if all of the science is shown to be correct. My point is that the scientific climate research here is only the very beginning of the discussion, which also must take account of social and economic issues.posted by: Average Joe on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
The thing about the cranks is that they often hone in on one tiny little piece of the puzzle, do so in a dishonest manner, and then make grandiose claims about having "debunked" the whole thing, which are then amplified by vertain vested interests that it just so happens have paid for said studies. So maybe that's why they don't wade in.posted by: praktike on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
I find the argument that people with vested interests paid for the studies to be tiring. A) It cuts both ways. B) It does not account for all studies, and C) It doesn't really answer the question. Google "Bulverism."posted by: Assistant Village Idiot on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
posted by: cube on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Average Joe makes a compelling point. Even Kyoto proponents allow (electric shocks help) that the protocol would do little to alleviate the putative warming. Their premise is that, having swallowed a tiny bit of medicine and found it not so bad, the world will swallow the whole, enormous, bitter pill at a gulp.
I'd put the odds of that at about zero, maybe less.
When it comes right down to it, if global warming is real and the only solution is to return to pre-industrial society then, we're doomed. Might as well go buy that big ol' honking SUV, top it off and drive with lots of starts and stops as far as you can. Enjoy it while it lasts, until the big weenie roast in the sky.
If global warming is real and is, in fact, due to buildup of carbon gases from manmade sources, there are other measures that can be taken. Fortunately there are ways to take proactive measures to remove the carbon from the air and sequester it in various forms. It's the only way. If it's real. And, if it really is due to the greenhouse effect and not, e.g., increased solar activity.posted by: Reid on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Well, supposed that the Sun is the primary cause of Global Warming, accounting for over 95% of the measurable gain. What then does Kyoto Protocol do for Global Warming other than to create a large international bureaucracy for trading the "so-call" excess global warming credits?posted by: BigFire on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
I'm sure everyone saw the "study" released a couple of days ago claiming to have discovered what should have been obvious... that the sun is the hottest it has been for 1,500 years and has been warming for about 150 years.
Isn't it strange that the sun's warming coincides with the earth's warming? Wow!
But the argument that skeptics "focus only on a small piece of the puzzle" is disingenuous at best.
In fact, the is the environmentalists and "pro"-warming climatologists that are giving only a small piece of the story.
Why virtually ignore H20 vapor, which is the biggest "greenhouse" gas?
Why virtually ignore the satellites and balloons, focusing instead on the flawed surface record?
There are even studies published in major journals (Science) suggesting that CO2 levels have historically increased IN THE WAKE OF global warming periods. In other words, CO2 doesn't cause warming, warming causes CO2... at least according to some studies of ice core samples, etc.
So you're right, we aren't getting the whole story.
posted by: dave on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Take a look at this link:
Letters and memos from Ian Castles and David Henderson on the predictions. The methods IPCC used were flawed to say the least.
The Special report on the Emission Scenarios:
We can debate the issues back and forth and back and forth again, but we won't actually *know* more unless we actually *do* the research --and to do the research, we need funding. Which, as the National Academy of Sciences and Senators McCain, Stevens, Collins, Snowe, and others argue, hasn't happened yet, but needs to, soon.
Which is precisely the core of the frustration --it's legitimate to argue that we need more studies. But when you also don't bother, while either by neglect or deliberate design, to *fund* said studies, and then complain the studies don't exist, that's somewhat difficult to work with.posted by: Jeff on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Apparently, you guys didn't see THIS REPORT.
Pardon me whilst I heap disdain on the proponants of Kyoto and other similar nonsense.
Another leftist myth dies the death it richly deserves.
The fact is, that man has nothing at all to do with the climate changes we've seen of late.
"The team studied sunspot data going back several hundred years. They found that a dearth of sunspots signalled a cold period - which could last up to 50 years - but that over the past century their numbers had increased as the Earth's climate grew steadily warmer.
Sunspots have been increasing in number as the Earth has been getting warmer.
Over the past few hundred years, there has been a steady increase in the numbers of sunspots, a trend that has accelerated in the past century, just at the time when the Earth has been getting warmer.
Variations in sunspot activity are probably behind the increases and decreases in solar radiation and consequence changes in Earth's climate."
Wouldn't an increase in sunspots, aside from raising the earth's temp readings, also cause the ozone layer to be somewhat depleted?
Read the whole thing.
The bottom line here is the evdience is in, and the enviro-wacko crowd should be told to go pound sand. Their BS complaints and chicken-little posturing have cost us enough lives and money already.
What will be interesting is the reaction of the enviro-wacko left....Assuming they have the guts to react at all... which they have not. the report's been out for some time, now.
Back in the day when people like Joe and Idiot were making reasonable debate, they were talking about serious issues. Average Joe especially hits on something that I think about regularly, which most opponents to Kyoto miss.
What if the planet /is/ warming, and we /can't/ do anything because the human race is not the determinant factor?
We ought to look to how to adapt to the change, as our race has for millennia. Maybe transporting people who live in low lying areas to begin with. But with the dual assumptions being that /we/ are the determining factor and we /can/ change the course of Earth's history ( a little arrogant if you ask me ), we miss out on the /other/ questions.posted by: aodhan on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Ironic, then, that many of the things we can be doing to adapt to such change as it happens, will require energy in large amounts... Enrgy that the current environmental types have been trying to keep us from.
Do the math.posted by: Bithead on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
For doubters of global warming,
You should actually bother to read the news reports. Here's a quote pulled off from a simple google news search:
The indirect impact of more intense sunshine on the ozone layer and of solar activity on cloud cover may be affecting the climate more than the sunlight itself, he said.
“The change in solar brightness over the past 20 years is not enough to cause the observed changes in our climate. But the indirect effects may be larger, and the range of their influence is unclear, so more study is needed,” he added.Unfortunately for the dunderheads here, the author and discoverer of the phenomenon himself states that the effect isn't large enough to directly account for the global warming. However some as yet undertermined indirect effects may be contributing to the observed warming.
And even if the sun is contributing to the global warming, that doesn't mean that C02 output can't make it worse. Duh. The sunspot findings are therefore at best inconclusive, and at worst have nothing to say about the advisability of heating up the planet even more by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations on top of any external warming.
Of course what else would one expect of a bunch of reactionary scientifically illiterate persons who shoot off their mouths without basic fact-checking.posted by: oldman on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
All of which does nothing to deal with the report linked, oldman.posted by: Bithead on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
It seems to me, as a chemist, that most global warming doubters do tend to focus on a few of the trees as opposed to the forest. While many things are in dispute, a few things are not. CO2 levels are the highest that they have been in 10,000 years. temperatures are similarly high over a similar timeframe, but more importantly they have changed faster than they *ever* have.
As for the sentiment that we should simply adapt to the change, that is an unlikely scenario. Again, it is the rate of temperature change that is unique about our current situation, not the absolute temperature change. The rapid temperature changes cause climactic changes that alter animal habitats much faster than they can adapt. Humans can jump in a car and go somewhere cooler or warmer, but many animals and creatures can't. That is significant, not from a bleeding heart standpoint, but because we depend on a vast quantity of plant, animal, and fish to survive. The US will probably be OK in most scenarios due to our wealth and technological resources (air conditioning!) But other countries such as India, China, and Africa may not be so lucky.
So Kyoto may not have been the best agreement and may not have reversed the CO2 levels. However it would have gone a long way to stopping the accelerating increase of emissions. So, every year that we operate without CO2 constraints we make the situation worse.
I guess I don't understand why, if the vast majority of people who have studied this issue enough to publish research on it agree that it is real and will have bad consequences, we can't agree to start mitigating out CO2 impact now, betting that something really bad might happen. Yes it is a little more expensive to start limiting CO2 emissions, but many of the CO2 limits come from efficiency gains, which CA has shown pay for themselves.posted by: chris brandow on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Even if global warming is 100% natural, we may decide that we want to slow or stop it (e.g. moving people to higher ground may be incredibly costly and wrenching).
There are all sorts of ideas how to do this. One suggestion is to create artificial Mt. Pinatubos. When Mt. Pinatubo blew in 1991-92, it shot lots of dust into the upper atmosphere. The dust spread out and eventually (a year or two later) fell gently to earth. But in the interim it intercepted enough sunlight to noticeably cool the earth.
Of course, no one knows if this scheme or any other would work. But it's one thing we should be doing research on. Unfortunately, some people in the global warming debate feel that the only morally proper steps are those that involve less human interference with nature (e.g. using less energy) rather than more (e.g. sending up cargos of dust).posted by: Roger Sweeny on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
You've opened a whole new can of worms. Namely, how much would Kyoto (and the strenghtened Kyoto that would be necessary to really change CO2 emissions) cost?
Most people who have looked into the subject say that it would not be "a little more expensive to start limiting CO2 emissions." Rather, it would be much more expensive. Just how expensive no one knows because it depends on future technology and energy demand. But based on present investments, technology, and demand growth, the costs would be immense. As "dsquared" never tires of pointing out, if you believe global warming models, you cannot dismiss economic models out of hand. If you believe economic models, you cannot dismiss global warming models out of hand.
The idea that we could get down to Kyoto limits by a little efficiency tweaking is just not true. For one thing, ask yourself, if efficiency gains would pay for themselves (i.e. people would make money doing them), why aren't they doing them already?posted by: Roger Sweeny on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
I was sloppy in my language, i did not mean to imply that reaching Kyoto limits would be just a little extra cost. That would definitely be more.
however with regards to efficiencies paying themselves off. I also don't mean to imply that efficiencies at any cost pay themselves off, but a study of CA a couple of years ago looked at how much money had been spent on various conservation efforts and the savings that had resulted and the savings were greater than the costs.
i think that the reason people don't embrace efficiencies is due to upfront costs. take for example my washing machine. i bought a front loader, it uses 1/4 the water and electricity and spins the clothes dryer so that the dryer does less work. However, they currently cost ~300 dollars more than a top loader. I knew that i would make up that difference in ~3 years, so i got it. however, that $300 was something that I could afford to then, and our city kicked in a rebate, knowing that every watt that I save, it does not need to go locate somewhere else.
"As for the sentiment that we should simply adapt to the change, that is an unlikely scenario."
Assuming that the change isn't a net benefit and "adaptation" therefore a moot point.
"Again, it is the rate of temperature change that is unique about our current situation, not the absolute temperature change. The rapid temperature changes cause climactic changes that alter animal habitats much faster than they can adapt. Humans can jump in a car and go somewhere cooler or warmer, but many animals and creatures can't."
Of course not. But different animals and creatures will flourish.
"That is significant, not from a bleeding heart standpoint, but because we depend on a vast quantity of plant, animal, and fish to survive."
Yes, but we don't depend on the exact same ones surviving non-stop. Which is good, because for the most part, they don't anyway.
"The US will probably be OK in most scenarios due to our wealth and technological resources (air conditioning!) But other countries such as India, China, and Africa may not be so lucky"
They ought to be pretty wealthy by then in their own right (except Africa, which always seems to be screwed no matter what), unless they screw up and go communist or something stupid like that.
"When it comes right down to it, if global warming is real and the only solution is to return to pre-industrial society then, we're doomed."
That can't possibly be the only solution. The timeframe indicated is plenty long enough to build a private space infrastructure, if we start deregulating the hell out of aviation and space activities in the near future.posted by: Ken on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
CO2 levels are the highest that they have been in 10,000 years. temperatures are similarly high over a similar timeframe, but more importantly they have changed faster than they *ever* have.
And thus do we extrapolate from incomplete data.
It hasn't rained here in the last hour. Should I prepare for the coming drought?
So Kyoto may not have been the best agreement and may not have reversed the CO2 levels. However it would have gone a long way to stopping the accelerating increase of emissions.
I don't think you can make even this mild statement about Kyoto. Remember that developing nations are largely exempt, and they are a major source of pollutants.
Yes it is a little more expensive to start limiting CO2 emissions, but many of the CO2 limits come from efficiency gains, which CA has shown pay for themselves.
Efficiency will not, by itself, give us Kyoto. Absolute reduction in energy use is necessary, which translates into an absolute reduction in the economy. If you think the sub-2% GDP growth of the early 2000s sucked, try over 2% GDP shrinkage.
And, when all is said and done, we have no reason to believe all that suffering will actually make a difference in global warming trends, especially if warming's prime cause really is a brighter sun.
Agreed, there are efficiencies that pay for themselves but don't happen because there is a large upfront cost.
However, with present technology, I don't think there are nearly enough to get us close to what Kyoto would require.
I am bothered by the fact that a number of politically inclined people (I don't include you) play fast and loose with the notion of efficiency. They will say, we could make something (say cars) 50% more efficient and it would pay for itself in 3 years. Sounds like a win-win, except that achieving the increased mileage means severely downsizing the car. That's been left out of the argument. Or there's been some weaseling added like "without significantly decreasing performance." That's a way to sneak the arguer's morals in the back door, saying size shouldn't matter to you, because it's not really important.posted by: Roger Sweeny on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
As for developing nations, again, I refer you to the report, while no mandatory limits existed, many incentives existed to move them in the right directions, incentives, which as the report details depends on market forces, which will be somewhat absent without the largest energy consumer in the world. So it is not entirely correct to say that developing nations are exempt, though you did say "largely exempt".
Yes, it will be difficult to tackle the CO2 problem, but we are carrying out an unbelievably wide scale experiment on the atmosphere, producing conditions that have never been seen before at rates that have certainly never been seen before without having any reason to believe that it will end well.posted by: chris brandow on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
For a fascinating discussion of the science, see Spencer Weart's website.
Here's an analysis of Kyoto costs, from economist William Nordhaus. It's a November 2001 article based on the revised agreement reached in Bonn (with 178 of 179 countries participating). Nordhaus notes that both the emissions targets and the costs have been considerably reduced. He describes the benefits as being primarily institutional.
The present analysis shows that the [Kyoto-Bonn] accord will accomplish relatively little in emissions reductions without U.S. participation--reducing global carbon-dioxide emissions by about 1% relative to no policy in the first period, 2008 to 2012. ... Notwithstanding its high costs, the accord may nonetheless be useful as an experiment in institutional innovation or as the first step toward more efficient approaches that rely on harmonized carbon taxes.posted by: Russil Wvong on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
I think that the correct response is, "that's not exactly workable, let's try again to get a better agreement, or start with a baby step agreement."
I agree. The problem with Kyoto-Bonn is that it is very unworkable, large costs and small benefits.
To use your words, "Rarely is such consensus seen" as that Kyoto would not result in any cooling; it would only slightly slow the rate of warming. Temperatures that would be reached in 2100 without Kyoto-Bonn would be reached in 2105 if it were implemented.
But if it were honestly implemented today, it would be wrenching (of course, some countries might just violate it if they didn't like the results, like France and Germany have violated the Euro Growth and Stability Pact). It would require major reductions in US energy production.
Those who developled Kyoto thought that the US and various other countries would be able to cushion the blow by buying credits from countries that have decreased CO2 production since the 1990 base year, particularly the ex-Communist countries which junked a lot of old polluting factories and cars. But such credits are now looking scarcer. If Russia grows as much as the government wants, they will have nothing to spare. This is why President Putin has been cute about Kyoto, eternally promising to ratify it and eternally failing to submit it for ratification.
My fear is that ratifying Kyoto will leave us with hurtful commitments and a bureaucracy that we can't get rid of. All for very little positive.
We are, indeed, "carrying out an unbelievably wide scale experiment on the atmosphere, producing conditions that have never been seen before..."
We need a better response than Kyoto. We won't get one until everyone drops Kyoto and starts trying to develop something better.posted by: Roger Sweeny on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
haven't the other countries essentially embraced it at this point? I think that some are thinking better of it, due to looming costs, which potentially provides some opportunity for us to lead the way to something workable. that would be nice, though I don't see much hope of that with the current admin. But perhaps I am just a little too pessimistic.posted by: chris brandow on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
A number of countries have announced that they will not ratify the Protocol. Either the United States or Russia would put it over the top. But it would never pass in America (even with a Democratic Senate and president) and the Russian president is doing what looks like an infinite delaying act.
The treaty has no "pass by" date and so far nobody is willing to just let it go and try for something better. (And to be truly cynical, it offers some governments a costless excuse, "we ratified Kyoto and tried to do something serious about global warming but we were stymied by those cowboy Americans. Of course, we can't do anything unilateral that would hurt us and handicap us compared to others.)
More and more I'm coming to think that perhaps it is best to have a "benign neglect" of global warming politics for the next 5 years--but an active encouragement of research on climate change and mitigation. Then there will be 5 more years of temperature, permafrost, ice sheet, etc. data. And we should have a little better idea of what mitigation technologies are feasible.posted by: Roger Sweeny on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
There's very little scientific doubt about the statement that if we add enough CO2 to the atmosphere, we'll cause global warming. The only scientific question is how much CO2 it takes, and how bad the consequences of global warming would be. These are questions which it is almost impossible to answer until it's too late.
Let's (very provocatively) compare the situation to a house on fire. One guy is saying "it's only a small fire ... we've got lots of time to call the fire department. No need to rush." Another guy is saying "But we don't know there's not a gasoline tank on the other side of that wall! Get out! Now!!!" Meanwhile the global warming critics are saying "Why should I believe anything you say when you can't tell me whether the living room or kitchen will burn up first, and how long it will take."
There's virtually no way to give the critics the scientific answers they're seeking, but that doesn't mean that the situation's not serious. I think we need to make some economic sacrifice and try to put less CO2 in the atmosphere as an insurance policy. If we wait until we get the proof that the global warming critics want, it may easily arrive too late to prevent a catastrophe (no matter whether it takes 10 years, 20 years, or 50 years).
There's something I forgot to say in my previous post, which is that the people who think it's possible that global warming will cause climate change for the better are seriously deluded. Let's consider redistributing all the rainfall in the world randomly, which I imagine they would see as a "no net loss" situation. Try telling that to the poor farmers in Kansas and Nebraska whose farms have become desert, and who are now bankrupt and dependent on welfare. To the Arizonans whose homes have been destroyed by floods. Not to mention the nomadic tribesmen in Mauritania who have been driven off of their newly fertile lands and massacred by millions of starving climactic refugees from Senegal and Guinea.
Even if it's not this extreme, random climate change will cause a net economic loss because the land use is adapted to the current climate.posted by: Peter Shor on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
I think we can all agree that if a house is on fire, we should put the fire out. Of course, warming isn't burning :) Some would suggest it's premature to douse the house with water and smash in the windows because "it could catch fire at any time, we just don't know when."
A very quick, very large temperature rise would be the equivalent of a fire, for the reasons you cite. But no one knows how the costs and benefits of a slow, small rise would work out.
And forcing ourselves to generate less CO2 would unquestionably have negative effects (though how bad, and who would suffer most are unclear). There are at the moment just no good, cheap ways of generating energy to take their place.
One of the sillinesses of Kyoto is that it assumes that the only way to deal with climate change is to generate fewer of the 6 named kinds of greenhouse gases. It foolishly cuts off consideration of getting rid of the gases once produced, or of other methods of changing the earth's heat balance.posted by: Roger Sweeny on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
"There's virtually no way to give the critics the scientific answers they're seeking, but that doesn't mean that the situation's not serious. I think we need to make some economic sacrifice and try to put less CO2 in the atmosphere as an insurance policy. If we wait until we get the proof that the global warming critics want, it may easily arrive too late to prevent a catastrophe (no matter whether it takes 10 years, 20 years, or 50 years)."
If we're still all stuck on Earth to be caught up in a catastrophe in 50 years, that'd be pretty piss-poor technological development for us.posted by: Ken on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
Yeah, if we're lucky, maybe a hundred thousand people will be able to go and only 8 billion will be stuck.
If earth really is heading for a disaster, we have to stop it here and not expect to be able to leave.posted by: Roger Sweeny on 07.21.04 at 05:03 PM [permalink]
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