Within the next ten years, we will probably have moved past much of the big controversies in global warming science. The insurance industry is waking up to the scam being perpetrated by oil and gas.
No doubt within the next couple of years, these two big bulls will lock horns.
It will be interesting to discover the next controversy along the lines of smoking and climate change.
Asbestos seems to be settled and is now a legal wrangle, but it may be some chemical such as perchlorate. I think perhaps endocrine disrupting chemicals will also fall into this realm within the next ten years. There’s just a few handful of reasearchers working on them at the moment.
There are paralells with other issues. Climate change is the flavor of the moment.
When I clicked on the link, I saw the Toles cartoon at Washington Post all right, brought to me courtesy of a very slick ad shouting: “Coal: the 21st century fuel”, from some group called coalcandothat.com.
How better to demonstrate the money, power, and influence of the big carbon team!
from: Carcinogenesis Advance Access originally published online on June 1, 2005
“The first study to show a robust increase in lung cancer in an animal model of cigarette smoke inhalation appears in this issue of Carcinogenesis (1), more than 50 years after the initial epidemiologic studies linking smoking and lung cancer in humans (2,3). Why has this been so difficult to achieve?”
“Smoke inhalation studies have been carried out with dogs trained to inhale cigarette smoke through tracheostomata and by nasal inhalation (6,8). None of these studies provided convincing evidence of pulmonary tumor induction. Some studies have also been performed with rabbits and small numbers of non-human primates, all with negative results (6,8). The ferret has been suggested as a useful model for inhalation toxicology because of the ease with which measurements can be made and the resemblance of its airways to those of humans (16). Although no carcinogenicity studies of cigarette smoke alone have been reported in ferrets…..” http://carcin.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/26/9/1488
1. This whole idea of media balance re a science topic (last I heard science is supposed to be value-free) is ridiculous. “Balance” is better for value issues, like abortion. And even then, I don’t think they’d feel compelled to have an anti-semitic story or cartoon to balance a story about the holocaust, etc…
2. Smoking only harms oneself (and a few people caught in the immediate 2nd-hand smoke), whereas GW harms most the people who emit GHGs the least, and it harms the entire world.
3. “The media are the problem.” They are the hand-maids of eco-apocalypse, addicted to ad revenues.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 6 Apr 2006 @ 11:38 AM
Re MarkR’s #8. In fact it is a very good anology. Everyone knows that smoking causes cancer even though it has not been proved, and everyone knows that carbon dioxide is causing global warming, even though the scientists cannot prove it conclusively. I know of people who were warned in 1963 that smoking could kill them, but they waited for the proof, and now, 40 years later, they are dead from cancer. The same applies to anthropogenic global warming. We have all been told that climate change is happening. If we all wait another 40 years for the conclusive proof, then we too will all be dead from heat stroke and starvation.
[Response: Probably not all of us, but certainly some of us. –raypierre]
Nothing can be proven conclusively to *everyone*, as *someone* is bound to make a sport of questioning everything including every answer to those questions.
The problem at hand is that what can be demonstrated as conclusive for the practical purposes of the scientific community and what can be demonstrated as conclusive for the purposes of the policy community have diverged, in our own favorite issues and in others. The threads of trust between science and society have broken down.
In the modern world this circumstance is extremely dangerous. If we want the luxury of distrusting science we must sooner or later pay the cost of eschewing technology. Unfortunately, the world’s human population exceeds its pretechnological carrying capacity, which means it is a luxury we can’t afford.
Science isn’t in the business of “proof”. That’s a misdirection play. Science marshalls evidence. Its proof is in increased efficiencies. Better machines. Better medicines. Taller crops. Healthier babies. Etc.
The problem with Global Warming sckpticism is that we only get to do one “experiment”.
My greatest fear is in the extreme nature of the mitigation once time starts to run out. Since aerosols are a known negative forcing, I imagine that before too many years have passed we’ll be artificially pumping aerosols into the sky. A few years ago, someone wanted to dump tons of iron dust into the oceans to promote algae growth. There will be others. All because it’ll be cheaper than giving up oil and gas.
Re # 12, I was even thinking that it would be wise to save all the fossil fuels for when people might really need them. What if an ice age were to come, say in a few thousand or hundred-thousand years, then people could really use these fossil fuels to help warm the earth a bit & keep themselves warm in the process. What right do we have to use up resources our descendents might need a lot more than we need?
Well, if contrarians can come up with wacky arguments for continuing the profligate use of fossil fuels, then I can come up with just as wacky counter-arguments.
Re #11 “Nothing can be proven conclusively” that is exactly my point. It may/will never be possible to prove conclusively that smoking causes cancer or that carbon doxide is causing the current global warming. We certainly can’t prove that the warming will be 3C by 2100, because we don’t know whether Yellowstone will erupt or not.
The problem is that where as the creationist don’t believe catastrophe can happen, neither do the scientists. They believe, like Mr Micawber, that something will turn up.
Ray, you say that probably not all of us will die of starvation, but that is just optimism. As Professor Russell Coope said “optimism is a very dangerous precedent for establishing scientific truths.” So long as the world is convinced that catastrophe will not happen then the more inevitable it becomes.
I’m new to this site, and curious about its intent. Given the paragraph in this site’s “About” section:
“We aim to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary. The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science.”
How does this entry fit into the goal of the site? What science is involved here?
My point is that there are a multitude of blogs on global warming that have folks (on all sides of the political spectrum) back-slapping or face-slapping each other. I would hope that this site could provide a simple science discussion, free of the hyperbole and emotions of the political discussions which are freely available elsewhere.
Re #16: Mark Unrath, I agree with you. I just suppose everybody is a bit punchy after April Fool’s Day… Just look at posts before these last three for many, many interesting points regarding the science.
Re #17: Hans Erren, try looking at the Rocky Mountain Institute website. I suspect many of your questions will refeive sensible answers there.
Production of carbon dioxide is neccessary to provide housing, transport and industry. We cannot survive without generating more CO2. We would be doomed without it! However, since politicians can only get elected if they promise more wealth, then that means more CO2 emissions. More CO2 emissions mean greater temperatures, more deserts, and less food. Until more scientists are willing to follow the lead of Hanson, May and King then we will continue this lemming like charge towards the precipice of a rapid warming similar to that which caused the PETM extiction.
We are between a rock and a hard place. The sooner everyone realises that, then the sooner we can start looking for an escape route. There’s not much time left.
> I wonder what people did for the past 2 million years before these were discovered & put to use?
Lynn, what people did in the past was die. Suddenly there are many more of us. Two thosand years ago there were a quarter billion people, and a hundred years ago there were a billion (or something like that…) Now there are closing in on 7 billion. This is made possible by technology. Cut off the technology somehow, and the population suddenly drops down to a billion, which will not be pleasant.
It’s also true that our expectations are higher, and in some countries our consumption is absurdly high, but in fact we are not in a position to go back to a pretechnological economy without a huge catastrophe. That’s the rock, and global warming is the hard place.
We can somewhat reduce the wealth-to-energy ratio, we can somewhat restrain population growth (not a politically feasible topic these days), we can somewhat switch to wind, solar, hydro and nuclear energy, we can try to find carbon sequestration strategies, and we can try to suffer through whatever is left.
We can’t just “simplify” our way out of the problem. It will help, but not as much as is needed. It might help if people had more time to think and less need to live every day in a greed-stricken panic, but the direct envoironmental impact of scaling back is smaller than you might think. We can conceivably cut back ourselves, but we can’t ask the poorer 80% of the world to stop trying to achieve a modicum of dignity. Whatever expenditure of energy we give up they will easily use up, unless progress has finally stopped, in which case our problems are even more urgent than climate change.
The best of a rather bad lot of outcomes is early and vigorous adoption of nuclear energy, in my opinion.
>We can somewhat reduce the wealth-to-energy ratio, we can somewhat restrain population growth (not a politically feasible topic these days), we can somewhat switch to wind, solar, hydro and nuclear energy, we can try to find carbon sequestration strategies, and we can try to suffer through whatever is left.
I think there is a lot more reason for optimisim than you think:
1) There has been a lot of incremental progress in efficiency since the Rocky Mountain institute last did major research on the subject. We know how today, with todays technology to make greater efficiency increases than were outlined in “Natural Capitalism”. And we can make those efficiency improvements at a much, much lower cost than the current market cost of fossil fuels.
2) The key thing about such efficiency increases is not neccesarily the ability to use less energy, but the ability to pay more for it. We have lots of alternatives to fossil fuels now. The problem with them is not their ability to provide as much energy as we wish, but their cost. However as you squeeze more GDP out of a unit of energy, you make that unit of energy more valuable to you. If we can squeeze five times as much value out of a unit of energy, then we can afford to pay three times as much for that unit of energy and still come out ahead. (We can’t afford to pay five times as much because that efficiency increase will cost something.) For example electricty from the U.S. grid costs 7 cents per kWh to make, distribute and administrate according to the congressional budget office. So if we increased efficiency by the maximum economically feasible we could afford to pay 21 cents per kWh for electricity. That increase would let open a lot of alternatives that currently are not affordable. For example solar thermal electricity without storage runs about 11 cents per kWh. Because heat is less expensive to store than electricty, we could store 75 hours work of heat for such plants in molten salts, and still have the total price of electricty run under 19 cents per kWh. (Molten salt storage of heat is about $40/ unit of stored heat needed to generate a kWh). BAT (Best Available Technology) for efficiency, plus BAT for solar thermal electricity lets us produce fully dispatchable renewable electricity – affordably. Note that this is only an example, but since we are talking fully dispatchable solar electricity a very powerful one.
Re 22. Reduction of population looks necessary for survival. I guess your 1 billion number is the planetÂ´s actual carrier capacity. Now tell that Dr Ratzinger. Climate change denialism was last century. Die-off denialism might be next.
RE #13 – “I can come up with just as wacky counter-arguments.”
In the case of oil you don’t need to resort to whacky. Even though plastic and synthetics have only been around for 50yrs, imagine a world without them.
On the general topic of “no oil tommorow – lets go back to 1900”, the loss of tractors/harvesters/trucks/ect is the crux of the possible catastrophe. To replace oil with horses in the agricultural sector alone, would require 2-3 times the farmland the planet has now to breed and feed the required number of horses. Climate change while vitally important is a secondary issue compounding the possible effects of the rapidly approaching oil crunch. Regardless of CO2 emmisions, finding a viable alternative to oil must be addressed now. If it is not done in the next few decades 4-5 billion people will definitely starve in an apocaplyptic famine, ironically quite a large number of people would also freeze to death. Replacing/cleaning coal and gas in a timely manner is also imperitive but is much less of an “imminent threat” to civilization. Wether we agree or not, politicians will soon apply the nuclear band-aid to create CO2 free electricity and hydrogen. I am not saying wind/solar/geo/tide power can’t “do it”, I just don’t think it can “do it” fast enough.
I generally agree there is room for optimisim, what I dispise is procrastination for profit. I can think of no better way to implement the “market lead” ideas in your post than to have every country’s full participation in the “carbon credit” market. Using current markets rates of $30/ton and the “tons of GHG” figure on my electric bill, it would add about $100AU per year to my electricity bill, roughly equivalent to a 10% increase.
Re #17 and “How do I heat my house without fossil fuels? Sit in the cold?
How do we transport goods? Don’t transport?
How do the emerging economies manufacture steel? Don’t make steel?
Wind and solar won’t do!”
Why in the world won’t wind and solar do? Both have vast reservoirs of energy available and both can be used to generate electricity, which in turn can be used to make fuels such as hydrogen. If you don’t like wind and solar, how about geothermal? Direct geothermal sites are limited but “hot dry rock” geothermal can in theory be used anywhere. Or biomass, which creates fuel directly? Not to mention ocean thermal power, wave power (they’ve improved greatly on the old Salter duck recently), tidal power, and, eventually, nuclear fusion? Then there’s conservation, which could save the equivalent of hundreds of power plants. The point is, man is infinitely ingenious. We can come up with substitutes for fossil fuels. We have to eventually in any case, because the reserves thereof are not unlimited.
There are energy efficiency gains that can be made, insulation and energy conservation. The world at present is relatively energy wasteful I am afraid. Microwind could be one answer to house heating along with solar and energy conservation. No one is saying we cannot or should not use it is just that we should be more thoughtful about how it is made and how we use it.
Too many uneccesary car journeys, not enough people walking hence a lot of obesity and the like.
Nuclear Fusion is unlikely ever to be mainstream within the realms of climate change timelines. Renewables are a far more likely bet to have an real impact on our lives and environment. Solar and Microwind can heat houses especially if they are insulated properly and energy conservation measures are put in place. Tidal is a good option perhaps along with the potential of thermal depolymerisation.
To replace oil with horses in the agricultural sector alone, would require 2-3 times the farmland the planet has now to breed and feed the required number of horses.
Is this right? 2-3 acres devoted to horses for every acre of farmed land? It implies that prior to the advent of the steam tractor, between 60% and 75% of our agricultural land was needed just to support the horse population.
I’ve not seen anything to contradict this, it just seems a little unlikely.
Re #17: Hans, so are you saying that because you can’t envision other ways of doing these things, we should continue subsidizing the fossil fuel energy to do them? All we want is for the externalized costs associated with the use of these fuels to be internalized. You, on the other hand, seem to want to continue the policy of having the atmosphere be a free sewer, consequences be damned!
I can’t do much without a computer…Does that mean that you are willing to give me one for free?
I’m interested to see the discussion of solutions here, but I guess we need first to accept the scope of the problematique.
To my mind this is best expressed as four horsemen, and a dying swan . . .
The horsemen are soil depletion, climate destabilization, fossil energy depletion and water scarcity, while the swan reflects our disruption of biodiversity, specifically in terms of the virus development units known as battery chicken farms.
How things pan out under these interactive threats is patently unpredictable, but clearly the longer they are ignored, the poorer our prospects.
Wealthy nations’ rush for isolated techno-fixes, while retaining the unsustainable ideology of the usurious centralization of wealth, seems to me just another stage of their denialof the problematique’s diversity and global nature.
When America wakes up to the fact that its future depends on a sufficient global climatic stability, and that without stringent global co-operation climatic destabilization will continue to intensify, then we would have a basis for re-orienting global society.
I guess it’s hard for the US to admit its total dependence on other nations ? Too bad. Get over it.
Acknowledging that dependence is something that scientists could (from their studies) and should (from their ethics) take a leading role in promting.
And those who feel that this infringes their scientific abdication of responsibility for policy might do well to consider taking such a lead as being Applied Climate Science . . .
I hope this doesn’t sound like flaming – it’s not meant to – scientists’ contribution to the global pubic debate on global policy is desperately needed.
I looked around and couldn’t find a reference so feel free to take my figures with a grain of salt. From memory it was 1-2 acres of horse pasture for each acre of food including transport to market (say 40-60% devoted to horses). I also recall a figure of 10 times as much manpower would be devoted to agriculture. We may go back to horses but we can only feed 1-2 billion people on horsepower alone and you can be sure it would still be unevenly distributed. I have no idea of the acreage required for 100% replacement of oil with biofuels.
Politicians will usually take the path of least resistance for greatest gain, personally I think for the foreseable future that path is nuclear plants that generate electricity and pump out hydrogen supplemented by coal, gas, wind, solar and belt tightening (in that order). On the optimistic side, who knows what a strong global market in carbon credits could come up with over the next few decades.
Re: #14 “The problem is that where as the creationist don’t believe catastrophe can happen, neither do the scientists. They believe, like Mr Micawber, that something will turn up.”
I am a retired chemist. I did applied polymer research and development for two companies during the period 1966 to 1997 (W. R. Grace, US and Lucas, UK).
Two of my most important contributions to these companies, (important in terms of generating revenues for them), were both “outside the box.” The relevant scientific literature of the time said that what I was attempting was impossible.
My view is that catastrophe and serendipity are about equally likely given the present state of scientific knowledge. I hope for the latter!
I agree with Alan. The latest Mother Earth News dedicates an entire issue to homesteading and uses similar figgers to help folks work thru whether they want to homestead or not. Viz., they work on the 40 acres thing for a good-sized family so you have something left over for trade…
What Lewis said. I’d be careful about ‘climate stability’, though, as this is what the denialists like to point to when they try to make their “arguments”. I prefer the technical term ‘stable climate regime’, as that implies variability within a bounded set of variables.
re 14. “The problem is that where as the creationist don’t believe catastrophe can happen,”
I beg to differ. In my job, I have talked to many different types of creationists in ten years…and some believe that global warming (GW) is the world catastrophe that they look forward to (they welcome it)… they are HAPPY to see evidence that the Earth is heading toward catastrophe…to some of them GW will lead to the end times and their “Rapture” when they “get to meet their maker”…Da_n scary people.
The bulk of the people is not climate aware and only a price incentive will move them to carbon reduction.
However prices for house heating in Holland have already doubled since 1993, http://www.energie.nl/stat/data/fig29.html
All houses are fully insultated, so where does the incentive come from? I am spending already 10% of my wages on heating, that’s money I can’t spend on the economy.
Re#1 and #7 Chip Bok cartoon
Use the archive scroll box below today’s cartoon [To See Earlier Comics] to scroll back to Tuesday, April 4 for the cartoon on greenhouse gases (I presume that is the one llewelly was referring to).
I just banged off the following letter to the National Post in response. There is a slim chance it will be published, but I figured someone had to respond – there were 0 letters to counter this one in today’s National Post. Where are you guys? I run a B&B for christsake!
Climate change IS real – a response to the skeptics
The recent open letter to Stephen Harper (Open Kyoto to debate â?? Apr. 6) from the 60 “accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines” stole the phrase “climate change is real” from another document and labeled it as â??a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause” and claim that these fears are unjustified. Actually, â??climate change is realâ?? is a direct quote from the July 2005 joint statement of the National Academies of Science representing all G8 countries as well as China Brazil and India. Further, this statement has been officially endorsed by the American Meteorological Society (AMO) and parallels a recent position statement from the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and several other highly respected international scientific organizations. The AGU and the AMS represent over 50,000 scientists worldwide and their memberships include most scientists involved in climate change research. What is telling is the number of articles that the 60 climate change skeptics have published in the mainstream peer-reviewed scientific literature that support their opinion.
What’s telling about those “60 accredited experts” is the number of them listed as “former this” and “emeritus that”. I’d bet a lot of them are out of research for quite a while and struggle to actually follow the latest research. This is not to say something against emeriti in general, but clearly some folks here are falling way behind the cutting edge of climatology….
RTFR. In #8, MarkR truncated the first paragraph of the paper
“The first study to show a robust increase in lung cancer in an animal model of cigarette smoke inhalation appears in this issue of Carcinogenesis (1), more than 50 years after the initial epidemiologic studies linking smoking and lung cancer in humans (2,3).”
What he left out is:
“Why has this been so difficult to achieve? One reason is that humans actively and religiously inhale cigarette smoke to satisfy their extraordinary craving for nicotine, while animals are affronted by this toxic mixture and will do what they can to avoid it. This commentary will attempt to put the results of the new study in perspective with other inhalation studies of cigarette smoke, discuss the rationale for animal models of cigarette smoke exposure, the strengths and limitations of currently available models, and the need for integration of carcinogen biomarker data in future studies.”
The abstract of MarkR’s cite is
“A new study demonstrates that lifetime whole-body exposure of B6C3F1 mice to high doses of cigarette smoke robustly increases lung cancer incidence compared with sham exposed animals. This is the first study to demonstrate a strong effect of inhaled cigarette smoke on lung cancer in an animal model. This commentary attempts to put the new results in perspective with the existing literature on cigarette smoke inhalation studies in animals and discusses strengths, limitations and possible applications of available models.”
Thanks, Eli, for checking and filling in what had been carefully snipped out in cutting that quote to misrepresent the article. Mark R, did you do that trimming or were you quoting someone you trusted who had trimmed the information previously? Did you check the actual source as Eli did?
It’s an exercise that Eli shows us is needed, always check the source because people snip and edit to fool those who trust them without verifying.
This cartoon is good from a policy perspective. Surely however, the moral similarities between passive smoking and global warming are worth a run. We need to convince those who would deny AGW that our actions are as unethical as a parent who pollutes their childâ��s bedroom with tobacco smoke. With global warming not only are we degrading the environment but we are asking our children to pick up the tab. Even the poor kid on a sleepover, who is particularly prone to asthma, etc but whose parents cannot afford treatment, let alone cigarettes, is being asked to cop the price of our little luxuries without the benefits.
>I nominate the root cause of the latter: steady growth.
I would say the problem is unregulated growth rather than steady growth. We know, technologically, how to combine quite a high rate of economic growth with increasing rather than decreasing sustainabilty. The problem is that this does not acually happen. Market led growth often leads to dematerialization per unit of GDP, but never in absolute terms. (Let’s add that planned economies such as the former Soviet Union did no better in that regard – by most measures worse.)
One solution often offered is Pigovian taxes; include the full social cost of natural resources in their price by taxing them to the extent of that value. And undoubtedly that is part of the solution. But it is worth remembering that even at current prices, we don’t buy all the efficiency in use of natural resources that is less expensive than those natural resources. In industry, for example, Amory Lovins is fond of saying that we are leaving “$10,000 bills on the factory floor”. I could give many examples, but what it comes down to is that we tend to overlook many opportunties for efficiency that would be less expensive than what we currently pay. This has implications for green taxes (which includes carbon taxes and tradeable emissions cap). Reducing carbon use through carbon taxes alone will be extremely expensive because you have to raise those taxes by multiple of the cost of the reductions you are trying to get people to make. In other words if you want people to spend 50 billion a year on increasing efficiency, if your incentive for this is exclusively green taxation, you will have to impose green taxes of much more than 50 billion a year, perhaps 100 billion or 150 billion a year.
That by the way is the source of certain absurdly high estimates of the cost of fighting global warming. If you presume that the it is fought exclusively via carbon taxes (or cap and trade which actually ends up a carbon tax to the extent the system is not gamed)then you end up with exactly the costs the contrarians estimate.
But of course you don’t have to use a “pure” carbon tax approach. Include a strong public work components (the Apollo Alliance on steroids perhaps). Include a strong regulatory component – concentrating regulations on ends not means, and also on areas where we know exactly what is obtainable (appliances, residential and commercial buildings for example). Note I’m not saying not to use green taxes. But combine them with regulation and public works to overcome the widely recognized problem of low energy demand elasticity in response to price increases.