Can you please provide some indication of the degree of ocean acidity increase that these numbers involve? For example, what pH changes would arise from 500Gt C staying in the air.
Have any of the stabilisation studies addressed the impact on marine life? ie. stabilised at 450ppm is a common idea (though that ship may have already sailed), what would that mean for ocean acidification?
[Response:I wrote a post on ocean acidification here, but it won’t really answer your question about how bad it would be, if pCO2 were stabilized at some level. I guess I feel that ocean acidification is analogous to ozone depletion, in that it seems like a fairly frightening, fundamental change to a component of the Earth system, but it’s difficult to point to who exactly would suffer and how much. For ozone depletion, one could get a comparable increase in UV by moving a few hundred kilometers closer to the equator, and yet it seemed a serious enough problem to ban freons, a decision I agree with. Would ocean acidification lead to some sort of biological collapse in the ocean, or extinctions, or would the biological effects even be measurable? It’s hard to know. David]
RealClimate does an excellent job on reporting the facts about global warming. This piece on co2 emissions is one of the best, realistic, fact driven summary of the current state of affairs.Realclimate should be required reading for every member of the House and Senate.I believe that worldwide co2 emission levels should be immediately reduced by 80%, right now, for us to have any viable chance at reducing the negative impacts of the global warming trends already in the pipeline.The latest conference. in Nairobi, of the parties to the UNFCCC must extend Kyoto beyond 2012 and implement much greater restricions that those currently in effect.Once again, thanks to RealClimate for all the work that you do.
Could a 500Gton “emission slug” reasonably called safe given other likely impact besides atmospheric ones the kinds of consequences of ocean acidification that some studies (e.g. The Royal Society, June 2005) point to?
Given the environmental changes we are already seeing with less than 1C warming, the idea of 2C being “safe” may need some clarification. Is 2C the point at which some irreversible “tipping” points are thought to occur (meridional overturning current disruption; clathrate release; ice-sheet loss; forest die-off; …)? Putting it another way, can we expect the climate and environment around us to be familiar and reasonably livable still at 2C, for the long term?
[Response:Replying at once to this comment and the last (#3). The word “safe” seems a little weird to me in this context also. A smaller CO2 slug would definitely be better. I think Hansen takes 1 degree C as his “safety limit”. I guess they’re also referred to as “danger limits”. Maybe that’s a bit better word.
And in response to just #4, it’s not as clear cut as that to predict when any sort of tipping point might be reached and what it might be that tips. Who knows? We can’t even figure out past tips, let alone predict future ones.
It is silly to say that a rise of up to 2C in global temperatures is not dangerous.
A global increase of 2C means will mean an increase of at least 4C on the continents, because they heat much more than the oceans which provide 70% of the surface. Moreover, with polar amplification you will get 8C in mid latitude continental areas such as the USA and Europe, and up 20C in polar regions. That will means a rapid thaw of the Greenland ice sheet, which is already starting to melt, and so the flooding of New York, London, and nearly every other port in the world.
Here I am emphasising the effects on the developed nations, not out of chauvism but because there is a myth that it is the developing nations who will suffer and we in the west will get off scot free.
It is obvious to me that with a 33% increase in CO2 above preindustrial levels, we have already reached the limit of a safe increase. The scientific commitment to higher temperatures from the one third increase will lead not only to sea levels that will flood our cities, but also to an increased number of hurricanes, drought and floods that we are already seeing. OTOH, the record wild fires that the USA has experienced this year can not continue to increase, since eventually the lack of unburnt forests will set a limit!
But unless the scientists come down out of their dreaming spires, join the political debate, and tell the politicians it is time to stop, we will continue to sleep walk towards the precipice, and eventually step over the edge. We do not know the cause of rapid climate change, so we are running forward like a man wearing a blindfolded. What could be more insane than that?
When are you scientists going to admit that you do not know all the facts? When are you going to have the courage to admit that you are wrong, and that your hubris has led the world to the brink of disaster?
[Response:I apologize, I guess I used the wrong word, as I responded to the last comment. I’m just thinking of a boundary in the continuum of the climate impacts. Greater than 2 degrees C is clearly dangerous, is what I meant to say. Just to have a number, to talk about. The best would be to not change climate at all, I absolutely agree with you. David. ]
Some earlier discussion in response to:
Comment by dave – 3 Jul 2005 @ 9:39 pm
(Click the timestamp to see the original)
[Response:The ratio of dissolved CO2 to CO32- is about 1:10 preanthropogenic in tropical surface waters. The two will remain about inversely proportionate as CO2 rises. So double CO2, and you halve CO32-. I’d never thought about this in this way, but it sounds like the ratio of the two would reach 1:1 when CO2 reached about three times preanthropogenic, at which point the buffer is getting pretty weak. We should note that there are huge uncertainties with regard to changes in the circulation and biology of the ocean. David. ]
The Stern report focused on carbon dioxide equivalent, at least the portion I’ve read, citing current atmospheric levels of GHG of 430 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent and discussing stabilizing at 550 ppm or lower.
How would you rewrite this article if the question were, “How much GHG emission is too much?”
[Response:I hadn’t thought of the other greenhouse gases. Putting them into the mix would definitely make the not-quite-as-dangerous CO2 level go down. I’m not sure we know what methane is going to do in the future (see my other recent scholary work, “Rasslin’ swamp gas”). More like to go up than down, though, I expect. David]
I’ve heard a few people say that we are really at 420 or 430 ppm CO2 equivalent already, once the increase in other greenhouse gases is taken into account. What is the figure for CO2 equivalent at present or where can I find it? Thanks!
[Response:I just calculated an equivalent CO2 of 465 ppm. I assumed a radiative forcing of 3.4 W/m2 for doubling CO2, and that CO2 accounts for 60% of the total greenhouse gas forcing (no aerosols or anything like that). And that the real pCO2 is now 380 ppm. David]
[Response: 430 ppm CO2e comes from just taking the 6 Kyoto gases (CO2+CH4+N2O+SF6+HFCs+PFCs). That doesn’t include CFCs, nor O3, nor aerosols, nor land use etc. The argument was made in Stern that the uncertainties in the other components don’t lead to them being easily incorporated into this definition (which is true), and that CFCs (which are quite well known) are not likely to increase further given the Montreal Protocol and subsequent amendments. Our ‘best’ estimate of the net effect of all known anthropogenic forcings is around 380ppm (i.e. most everything else apart from CO2 cancels). PS. the most usual estimate for the adjusted forcing due to 2xCO2 is 3.7 (not 3.4) W/m2. – gavin]
Once again it comes down to what the politicians can do in this regard whilst maintaining economic prosperity (seems to be a prerequisite for politicians all over the world apparantly). I still cannot see humankind reducing the CO2 levels by the amount required because we will burn all of the available natural GAS and Oil whilst continuing to burn coal through it all because even if we had an alternatibe to Oil/GAS/Coal it nould take 50 years for a worldwide rollout anyways which will still give us potentially dangerous warming because levels of CO2 burning are going to rise worldwide by 50% by 2040.
“A warming of 2° C could be accomplished by raising CO2 to 420 ppm and waiting a century or so, assuming a climate sensitivity of 3.5°C for doubling CO2, a typical value from models and diagnosed from paleo-data.”
Does this warming estimate include the effect of the current earth energy imbalance which means that there is considerable heat stored in the sea which will come out over the coming decades regardless of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere?
[Response:Yes, the climate sensitivity parameter is defined as the equilibrium response, after the ocean has had a chance to warm up. David]
I regard Realclimate.org and the work you guys do very highly. However, I feel that this post oversteps the boundaries of what the blog should be about — communicating and commenting on climate _science_.
If we consider improvements in human welfare to be our ultimate goal, judgements on what constitutes a ‘dangerous’ or ‘safe’ level of climate change should be based on careful economic analysis, itself ultimately based on a consistent system of values (or a number of alternative value systems, if we find it difficult to agree on a common one). Mitigation of climate change does carry costs, so the question is not trivial!
The analysis should, obviously, be as complete as possible, in the sense of considering uncertainties and insuring sufficiently for them, considering potential extreme outcomes, considering the effects the inequal global income distribution has on the analysis, and so on. However, ultimately, the question of what is a ‘dangerous’ level of climate change is not a scientific question, but an economic and ethical one!
I feel Realclimate.org would be stronger for sticking to its chosen mission and recognizing its limitations. Maybe you should encourage a bunch of climate change economists to start a ‘twin’ blog focusing on the economic / ethical issues?
[Response: Well, this post was mainly about what the carbon cycle implies for policy decisions – and that is clearly a scientific issue that those designing such policy need to account for. That is a very different thing than saying that we are in a position to decide what aim policy makers should have or what the cost-benefit analysis shows. David picked some numbers here (I assume) on the ‘dangerous’ limits because they are prevalent in discussions, not becuase we think that they are necessarily right. Another blog run by RealEconomists would be great though! – gavin]
Our young climate scientists not only claim to understand global climate, a very debatable claim, but they also claim to be able to forecast the evolution of technology and the human condition 100 years from now.
[Response: Your point being that no efforts to deal with horse-related pollution should have occured because they didn’t forsee the motor car? Good one…… -gavin]
I would like to point out that some of the figures presented in this article are rather different than those given by James Hansen (eg. in this summary).
David says fossil fuel emissions are “5 Gton C per year from fossil fuel combustion, with a further 2 Gton C per year from deforestation,” while Hansen states that annual emissions are now 7.5 Gigatons. The 2 Gt/yr for deforestation seems rather high, even if you count forest fires.
David says “the natural world is absorbing CO2 at a rate of about 2 Gton C per year into the land biosphere and into the oceans, for a total of about 4 Gton C per year,” whereas Hansen says “The ocean is thought to take up about 20-35%, leaving 5-20% as the net sink in vegetation and soil.” While a little uncertain, it suggests the ocean takes up quite a bit more than the land.
David assumes a climate sensitivity of 3.5 degrees C for doubling CO2, while Hansen works with 2.7 degrees C.
Finally, David says “The models tend to predict a maximum atmospheric CO2 inventory of about 50-70% of the total fossil fuel emission slug.” Given that about 60% of CO2 is being absorbed now, with little change in trend over the past few decades, what is going to change to reduce that amount substantially?
[Response:The range of climate sensitivity from IPCC is 1.5 to 4.5 degrees C. Hansen also assumes 1 degree as a danger limit, if I remember correctly. According to him, we’re already over the line (1 degree is the equilibrium warming to the CO2 already in the atmosphere. Sabine et al (Science 305: 367, 2004) estimates that the ocean contains 118 Gton C of the fossil fuel carbon, while the atmosphere contains about 200 Gton excess C. David. ]
I think the post actually could have gone much further toward policy without leaving the domain of science – there’s an awful lot of science required to determine the impacts of a given level of CO2/warming on the biosphere etc. before getting to the economics. Too many economic impact assessments start with the assumption that welfare=consumption and the global distribution of agriculture and capital is in equilibrium with climate, and neglect the physical world.
The figure of reducing CO2 emmisions down to about 10% of current emmisions answers half of a question I’ve had about AGW.
The other half is beyond the scope of this blog, but can anyone point me to a discussion of how much fossil fuel is used for various applications? With current technology any stationary uses of energy can be done with a mix of nuclear, hydroelectric etc., but small mobile machinery like cars, bulldozers & farm tractors are hard to run on anything but fossil fuels.
I’ve seen energy use broken down into categories like transportation etc, but we need more detail to determine how low emmisions can go with current tech, since railways can be electrified & large ships can run on nuclear.
Also, any practical cuts would have to be a few % a year continued over decades, as old equipment is replaced with non-fossil or more efficient equipment. How does such a gradual decline in emmisions affect the calculated climate effects?
The Montreal Protocol was by no means inevitable. Knowledgeable observers had long believed it would be impossible to achieve. The ozone negotiators confronted formidable political, economic, and psychological obstacles. The dangers of ozone depletion could touch every nation and all life on earth over periods far beyond politicians’ normal time horizons. But although the potential consequences were grave, they could neither be measured nor predicted with certitude when the diplomats began their work.
In the realm of international relations there will always be resistance to change, and there will always be uncertainties. Faced with global environmental threats, governments may need to act while some major questions remain unresolved. In achieving the Montreal accord, consensus was forged and decisions were made on a balancing of probabilities — and the risks of waiting for more complete evidence were finally deemed to be too great.
“Politics,” stated Lord Kennet during ozone debates in the House of Lords, “is the art of taking good decisions on insufficient evidence.”14 The success of the Montreal Protocol stands as a beacon of how science can help decision makers to overcome conflicting political and economic interests and reach solutions. The ozone history demonstrates that even in the real world of ambiguity and imperfect knowledge, the international community, with the assistance of science, is capable of undertaking difficult and far-reaching actions for the common good.
October 20, 2006
2006 was a record-breaking year. The area of 29 million square kilometers (11.4 million square miles) on September 24 tied the largest value (on September 9, 2000) and the value of 85 Dobson Units on October 8 was the second lowest ever recorded by satellite measurements. The year also saw the second largest sustained ozone hole. In September and October, temperatures in the middle stratosphere set many record lows.
It’s extremely hard to see how we can stabilize the climate change under 2 deg C on this trajectory, and yet 2 deg C itself seems a dangerously high goal (given Eemian sea level 5m or so higher than present and the present lack of quantitative understanding of how fast the ice sheets will equilibriate to give that sea level).
There’s also a Science paper this week arguing that maintaining concentration below 450 ppm (which they take to be the threshold for 2 deg C) would require in the near future reaching an annual 3.2% reduction in carbon emissions.
Re: Gavin’s response to #8. “…most everything else apart from CO2 cancels”
…but, if aerosols are a net negative and given that they have an atmospheric residence time of ~days-weeks compared to ~centuries-millenia for CO2, CFCs, then it’s a bit non-useful to cancel out some of the other non-CO2 forcings with aerosols.
From a scientific point of view [rather than a political/economic point of view] I’m really worried that the 500-550 ppm CO2-eq stabilisation level takes us far too close to the edge. There are a lot of thresholds at around that ballpark level: Greenland, permafrost melt; soil carbon feedback.
It would seem to me that an emissions pathway that took us to 550 ppm, could easily end up being a lot higher [750+?] if we were “unlucky”.
From a politics/economics point of view, I still don’t see any sign of concrete policies being proposed that would limit CO2 emissions at all, let alone stabilise them at any level <1000 ppm. You simply have to look at where the investment money is going [or not going] in terms of the oil majors, etc, to see that the captain hasn’t given the order to turn the supertanker around yet.
It does seem bizarre that still nothing is really changing on the ground.
Sorry if this comment is only incidentally related to this posting, but I am surprised to see that RealClimate has so far let Christopher Monckton’s attack on the Stern report, the IPCC, Mann’s hockeystick, James Hansen, etc. go unaddressed. I wouldn’t have mentioned it, except that it received front page attention at Slashdot and a surprising number of links at del.icio.us, which suggests to me that the denialists are really latching onto this piece. Is there a refutation in the works at RealClimate? It could probably just be a series of links, since most of the arguments made by Monckton have already been refuted here.
[Response: It’s a neat tactic to package so much mis-information into one article that it requires substantial effort to debunk – effort that most of us can’t afford to spend (what with having actual jobs and such). Maybe we need to think about new ways to combine efforts to do this though… WikiDebunk perhaps? But watch this space. -gavin]
… 2C seems a reasonable danger limit. This would be decidedly warmer than the Earth has been in millions of years, and warm enough to eventually raise sea level by tens of meters.
(a) I recall that Greenland’s ice sheet is 6m sea level rise equivalent, while WAIS is 7m sea level rise equivalent, for a total of 13m. That implies 2C rise is enough to melt GIS, WAIS, and a bit of EAIS. That’s a big reduction in surface area covered by ice, and therefor, a big reduction in albedo, right? (Unless it is counterbalanced by more clouds?)
I am not a mathemetician or a scientist. I have a layman’s question.
Assume that some wake up call achieves a revolutionary shift in political priorities re GHG emissions. A year of anarchy perhaps in which gas guzzlers and Beoings are destroyed on the tarmac by an uprising of concerned citizens round the world. Assume that this is enough to make world politicians realise that they should start worrying about their granchildren instead of their own careers.
Assume that this year of anarchy occurs in 2008 and as an immediate result GHG emissions were held constant at end 2007 levels through 2008.
Following this, the world political community realise that radical global change has to occur in order to return order to the streets.
After 2008, by some miracle of honest and fair implementation, global regulation perhaps, that global GHG emissions reduce by 5% per year until end of 2024 (straight line attrition) and that in 2025 fossil fuel use flattens out at 20% of the 2008 level of GHG emissions. Assume that sanctions on the burning of fossil fuels allows innovation to deliver substitute renewable energy sources to sustainably replace all attrition in fossil fuel exploitation.
Would this scenario be enough to hold the world temperature increase within the “Stern” 2 degree C target in the longer term? Best Case/Worst Case.
Could the GHG emission reduction strategy be less severe than this?
Anybody prepared to have a go at this calculation?
Phil – A concerned Grandad.
[Response:I think to a first approximation you can just add up the total emissions through time of whatever scenario you’re envisioning, and if it comes to less than 200 Gton C, you’re probably staying within the 2 degrees C. David]
RE 21, Timothy wonders why nothing is really being seen on the ground. If there is sufficient ice hung up above sea level to give us say 20 metres of sea level rise, then I wonder if the thing that is holding it all together at the moment is the input of the anthropogenic forcings into the latent heat of fusion being absorbed by all that ice. It’s a huge sink.
I’ve noticed that if you put a pair of ice cubes in a box, then they both hold up until they are both ice at zero C, then they both melt with a rush when the trigger Joule is absorbed. If the same thing holds at a global scale, then when it starts to happen we will definitely be living in “interesting times”!
I guess a measure of that issue would be the proportion of global ice that is currently at zero C. Do we have any idea of that?
You mention a climate sensitivity of 3.5 C for a doubling of CO2 and say that it’s a typical value. I was under the impression (or wishful thinking) that 3.5 C was more towards the high end of the range for climate sensitivity. Are there any estimates of the likelihood of different climate sensitivities? What range for climate sensitivity is the IPCC working on? Thank you.
[Response:The range from IPCC was 1.5 – 4.5 degrees C. I don’t know if the real climate sensitivity is higher or lower than 3.5 degrees C, I just chose a number for discussion. David. ]
Comment by Katherine Cinq-Mars — 6 Nov 2006 @ 10:17 PM
I was wondering if anyone was going to take on Steven Milloy’s latest challenge:
Challenge issued to environmental journalists and advocates of catastrophic AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming):
He says, “We believe climate models are programmed with excessive climate sensitivity based on a flawed understanding of past ice ages. Moreover, climate models wrongly magnify potential warming to accommodate positive feedback mechanisms while comparison with empirical measure shows negative feedback dominates, reducing warming experienced to about half theoretical values.
The challenge is for you to actually check the numbers — see for yourselves whether we are wrong or not. Look up Stefan’s Constant or just use 5.67 x 10-8 (close enough for our purpose but look it up to be sure). Now use it to check the assertion: “Global climate forcing was about 6 1/2 Wm2 less than in the current interglacial period. This forcing maintains a global temperature difference of 5 °C, implying a climate sensitivity of 3/4 ± 1/4 °C per Wm2.” Either consult your texts for Earth’s temperature in Kelvin and any other numbers you need or see the numbers we’ve used here. Off you go — we’ll wait.
Back so soon — how did you go, prove us wrong yet? Well, we’re waiting. All you need to do is show us where we’ve messed up the calculations and we’ll publicly retract and correct. We’ve left you plenty of opportunities in our analysis of models and climate sensitivity. While you are about it, see how the “smoking gun for global warming” turned out to be nothing but a clown gun, just another failure of “global warming proof” that didn’t make it into mainstream media coverage. Why is that?
If it’s proving too hard following a moderately complex document, try this simple one where we find significant heating does not trigger self-perpetuating enhanced greenhouse from the most prolific and important greenhouse gas — water vapor. Same deal — show us where we’re wrong and we’ll retract and correct.
We believe estimations of “dangerous climate interference” are based on seriously flawed models producing patently ridiculous “projections.” We find no evidence the world is conforming to the models and therefore conclude it is the models that are wrong (aren’t we terrible?).
We see no evidence carbon constraint will have any measurable effect on global temperatures and conclude desperate measures to transform energy supply have vastly greater potential for harm than for good.
We place our calculations online where scrutiny is invited and expected.
The only question now is whether reporters still follow the science or simply follow the faith.”
[Response: He’s a funny guy…. We’ve dealt with the reasons why climate sensitivity is considered to be around 3 deg C for 2xCo2 in many pieces, and Milloy’s arithmetical sleight-of-hand doesn’t impact any of that. (Clue: dividing any temperature by any energy flux one can get something in the same units as climate sensitivity, but it won’t be the same thing). I note that Monckton’s recent piece tries to pull the same trick. We may take this on for a bit of target practice…. – gavin]
Comment by Christopher Sargent — 6 Nov 2006 @ 10:47 PM
RE: David’s Post
I have a few simple layman’s questions. Rather then the data that David lays out we consider the data presented on the Oak Ridge Nat. Lab. that the Global Carbon Cycle Balance on an average year between 1997 and 2002 or even the NOAA data for 2004 we get very different numbers from what I think I read in this article.
In the later two examples we have values of between 205 and 210 CT C that goes into the atmosphere and between 207 to 212 that comes out of the atmosphere. Also from these sites we get an average direct anthropogenic contribution to the atmosphere of between 5 and 6.5 GT C where some tables indicate a value as greate as 7.5 GT C (It must be the difference in contribution from deforestation or forest fires).
Given this the total anthropogenic contribution to the atmosphere on an annual basis is approximately 3%, if I read things correctly. Though David is likely correct that a reduction of 3-4 GT C would likely allow things to return to a balanced level, it means we must halve the current contribution across the globe to get close to the correct balance.
It really does not matter if you recharge your vehicle at the wall socket (Though under nuclear sources this is not true.) or run a methane/ethane/biodiesel converted fossil fuel engine or feed and water your burro your “engine” will still emit high amounts of CO2 with any of these systems. The time necessary to move to a Carbon free energy system is likely a min. of 30 years away.
Which is the the preferred manner in which to deal with the problem now? Do you start today to cut back 1/2 of the energy you use every day? Do you only drive 1/2 of the distance to work or school and walk the balance? (I would love to see the average worker in DC drive only 30 miles and attempt to walk the balance in 8 hours there and 8 hours back.) Do you only light or heat your house and warm the water on average for 4 hours every day? (Even with R-40 insulation throughout you would average 1/2 the equilibrium between the daily high and low within 8 hours. What do you do if the high is less then 68 degrees?) Do you not buy anything made of or covered by plastic? Do we reduce the population of the globe by 1/2 in the next 5 years? (Even if you halfed the population of the US you only get back 10% of it’s contrabution to GW, that leaves the other 80% to be dealt with.)
It simply makes much more sense to boost the natural processes 1.5% to sequester the 3 GT C that it currently is not. Would it not make more sense to start the process of dealing with the immediate problem while working on the other issues. It almost appears that the issues will not get dealt with in a timely manner, so why do we we have to endure the “knawing of the bone” Ad Nauseum.
Apparently, if it truly was a big deal you would think a few scientists could put together a fully funded NSF research project that involved a research ship to be chartered to dump several tons of Ironite mixed with sargasso weed for 6 months for less then a million dollars per year. If each of the major industialized countries did the same you would be at a balance in next to no time, wouldn’t you?
[Response:There have been iron fertilization experiments in the ocean, many of them, and there’s no evidence from the field or from models that this technique could make much of a dent in the rising atmospheric CO2 concentration. The reason is the long equilibration time between the atmosphere and the ocean; if we could keep it up for 500 years, we might make some progress, but on shorter timescales, walking to work is more practical. I do it every day. David. ]
Again, an excellent post. We certainly do need to think beyond 100 years, since we are the ones causing the problem for hundreds of years to come, perhaps millennia.
As for economic tipping points, I keep thinking about how the stock market nearly crashed in the 80s bec of a computer glitch (nothing to do with productivity). So, I’d say the economic tipping point (the point at which economic problems, increasing economic inequalities, econ & polit fears, frustrations, fighting, wars, social chaos throw us into a really bad state) is probably well before the 2 degrees warming. Look at Katrina, and scientists tell us that wasn’t caused by AGW (or they are unable to tell us), so what’ll be like in 5-10 years when AGW harms greater than Katrina really start kicking in.
Also, another problem w/ neoclassical econ is that it mainly measures the monetization of the economy, not actual productivity, and certainly not quality of life. (For instance they might find a severe hurricane year to be just great, due to all the rebuilding.) And they reduce everything to (or equate everything with) money. While diamonds may be more valuable than bread, we just can’t eat them. Cost/benefit analyses are pretty useless when you’re standed on a desert island. At least paper money can be used as toilet paper, though. I would suggest another measure, “LIFE-YEARS,” over money. So how many life-years is my driving to the coast going to cost re earlier death for people due to GW harms.
What we need is a holistic view, including the hard sciences and the social (economic, political, etc), cultural (beliefs, values, ideologies), and psychological (craziness factor) dimensions of the human/world system to fully understand climate change, its causes & consequences.
In anthro and sociol they have revitalization (or social) movement theory: people fairly suddenly change and construct a better culture/society. I think that’s our only hope. The problem is large numbers of people have to sense something is really wrong, have some acurate assessment of it, come up with technical and structural solutions, and implement things. I know we have the technical solutions (see rmi.org), we just need to have a social movement to implement them. And it seems no matter how alarmist environmentalists become, people aren’t connecting the problems to their lives or those of their children, and they certainly aren’t connecting the causes to their actions.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 6 Nov 2006 @ 11:14 PM
Forgot to add, “life-years” (measured in earlier death of people) for as long as the GHGs one emits today are doing harm & causing death, part of which could be in the atmosphere for millennia (as David pointed out in a previous article here re life time of CO2 in the atmosphere).
And we need to consider all the indirect effects (not just heat deaths), such as crop & potable water loss & destruction of the web of life from AGW, AND wars & fighting due to harms due to AGW. The suicides of drought-stricken farmers in India, etc.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 6 Nov 2006 @ 11:21 PM
In response to comment 19, I think it’s important to recognise that the Montreal Protocol on substances depleting the ozone layer largely became possible when a substitute was found for CFCs in most applications. Essentially, pressure from consummers and the threat of a ban forced CFC companies to invest in R&D of a substitute. When one was found, all of a sudden the lobby groups for these industries started recognising the scientific evidence that CFCs were depleting the ozone and the Montreal conference was held in a matter of months. Finding a substitute dramatically reduced the losses that the CFC industries would suffer from a ban on CFCs (and thus, the political costs), not to mention that it also meant that the practical uses of CFCs would not have to be given up.
Unfortunately, the ozone and climate change cases are so different that there really is no basis for hope for climate change based on the success of the Montreal Protocol. In the ozone case, the ban is of one group of chemicals used in fairly limited applications and by just a few major companies. The boycot of aerosols didn’t require big sacrifices on the part of consummers. The same couldn’t be said of a boycot of cars or heating! Also, everybody and all sectors of the economy emit GHGs, not just a handful of companies as in the ozone case.
I think it’s very important that further research into the science and economics of climate change help reduce the uncertainty on these issues, but I don’t think that uncertainty is the main obstacle to decisive action. Many policy decisions involving huge investments of public money are made on the basis of far less information than what we have on climate change. If policy makers were told that there was a 30% chance that there would be a terrorist attack on a major city, do you think they would delay action until they knew how many people were likely to be killed? or until studies showed whether the economic disruptions of the attack would be worth the investments in increased precautionary security measures?
Changes in the status quo happen when it becomes possible to minimize the losses of the projected losers from a change in policy (or when there are bombs falling on your head). So, the best contribution scientists can do is not to join the political debate, as suggested in comment 5, but to work on technological solutions that will provide 1) low-carbon alternatives to consummers (so they can afford to put commercial pressure on companies to go low-carbon) and 2) technologies such as carbon-capture storage that will minimise the losses of the major GHG emitters who are also major economic actors and as such have significant political influence.
Comment by Katherine Cinq-Mars — 6 Nov 2006 @ 11:58 PM
“There was an old lady who swallowed a fly ….” Know that cautionary song?
You’re putting too much water, too fast, into the bathtub and it’s going to overflow, because the drain’s not designed to remove that much water that fast. What’s your best response? Figure out how to turn down the taps? Or try to enlarge the drain?
You can look this stuff up, to find out if anyone has ever thought of it before. Google is your friend.
“… some researchers and entrepreneurs have proposed boosting phytoplankton growth by “fertilizing” oceans with iron, a nutrient essential to the organism’s growth. Preliminary tests in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and Southern Ocean since 1995 have shown that seeding seawater with iron does increase phytoplankton populationsâ��in the short run.
“But the prospect horrifies some ecologists. They say the approach could backfire, increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by spurring the growth of the marine bacteria that feed on dead diatoms. “I could see significant warming happening even faster than anyone’s imagined,” says Kay Bidle, a marine biologist at the Rutgers marine institute and an expert on diatom ecology. Beyond that, Bidle and others say no one can predict how dumping iron into the ocean would affect marine life in the long run.”
I wonder if everybody understands that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere determines the excess of solar input compared to the longwave IR radiation to space. This determiones the RATE of temperature rise. If the GHG concentration does not change, the temperature will keep rising.
[Response: Only until equilibirum when the OLR will again match the INC SW. – gavin]
Perhaps it was just a throwaway comment that I’m reading too much into, but I have to ask whether this assertion is simply axiomatic, or based on some scientific and/or moral judgement.
[Response:Interesting philosophical question, thank you for raising it. I guess I look at climate change as an unintended consequence of our energy pursuits. If it’s unintended, I think of it as something to be absolutely minimized, just almost by definition. If one wants to talk about intentional climate change, that’s another thing. In that discussion, I feel that it would be unwise to undertake so momentous, irreversible, and unpredictable project as changing the climate, without at least talking about it first, beyond “oh well, maybe it won’t be so bad”, or “well, but we’re addicted”. Is changing climate something we would do even if it weren’t our link to cheap energy? I think in our current circumstances, the ideal, the best, would be to not change climate at all. David]
where the authors write: “During the early Pliocene, 5 to 3 million years ago, globally averaged temperatures were substantially higher than they are today, even though the external factors that determine climate were essentially the same. In the tropics, El NiÃ±o was continual (or “permanent”) rather than intermittent……”
[Response: Your point being that no efforts to deal with horse-related pollution should have occured because they didn’t forsee the motor car? Good one…… -gavin]
No. You missed my point.
The problem of horse pollution was solved by technological advances, not by limiting the growth of cities, limiting economic growth, or putting arteficial caps on horse manure production.
Nobody foresaw that the problem of horse pollution would be solved by the automobile.
In like manner, the pessimists of an earlier day saw the end of civilization because the supply of whales was running out and where would the oils come from which were used to light the cities of the day. Whale oil was crucial as a source of kerosene. That black stuff oozing out of the ground in Pennsylvannia provided the answer. Then, when it looked like the oil industry was doomed by the invention of the light bulb (who needed all that kerosene now) the automobile came along.
My point is that technological innovation is still going on. Projecting our current technology 100 years into the future is just not realistic.
[Response:Strawman argument. First off, no-one has ever said that technological developement is forseeable 100 years ahead – that’s one of the reasons why the scenarios have such a large diveregence. Secondly, the reason horses were phased out as quickly as they were was because the costs associated with using horses (maunre, dead carcasses, stabling etc.) were bourne by the same entities that benefited from their services (i.e. cities and businesses). Thus as soon as technology with larger benefits and smaller costs came in, they were adopted. This was very simple. If you want to take a lesson from that, it is that the costs associated with GHG emissions should be bourne by the producers of those emissions such that no new technology is handicapped by effective subsidies to fossil fuel users. Right now, the benefits accrue to the producers, and the costs are likely to be bourne by others. -gavin]
Certainly an interesting point – and unless you put an absolute premium on non-interference in nature, there is no specific moral reason. After all – to play the cynic – Nature ‘had’ the planet for 4.55 billion years before humans and will presumably ‘have’ the planet for several billion years after humans [go extinct]/[migrate into space]/[undergo technological transendance]/[insert future here].
But from a purely practical/economic point of view.. our agriculture is build around a constant climate and any change will be bad because a farmer needs to know the likely weather to know what to plant. Our cities need fresh water; if climate changes and rivers stop flowing then many cities will be written off; and the effect of sea level rises on the large percentage of the world’s population that lives on the coast goes without saying.
So.. it’s not an axiom, but there are two angles – if we completely screw up the environment then it’s going to take longer than human timescales to recover even if we clean up our act later, and it’s almost certainly going to hurt us economically by more than the avoidance cost.
Re #33 It is obvious from Gavins’s reply that he is not aware that the level of carbon dioxide determines the rate of increase in temperature. However, the temperature does not keep rising, because higher tempertures mean more water vapour and clouds which reflect more of the incoming solar energy away, and a balance is reached.
Re #34 I can’t speak for David, but there is a logical reason why we should not change the climate. Modern society has tuned itself to exist on the planet as it is. Agriculture is arranged to match the local climate, and buildings are designed for the climate in which they were built. For instance, in Europe the slope of roofs is set to match the winter snowfall. In a warming world, here in Britain the central heating boilers will need to be replaced with air conditioning units, and the wall to wall carpets with tiled floors. Any change in climate will involve vast costs of adaption.
More serious is the desertification of the Mid West of the USA, already under way, and the subsequent reduction in global grain supplies.
But a warming world will also mean that the Greenland ice sheet melts. A 20 foot rise in sea level, which now seems inevitable, will have few advantages. Travelling through the streets of London and New York by gondola, are the only one I can think of!
Re #22 Here is a rebuttal of Christopher Monkton’s piece that I wrote earlier.
Here are replies to his ten propositions. You can see that I accept none of his conclusions. He is just a charlatan holding out false promises.
Proposition – Conclusion
1. That the debate is over and all credible climate scientists are agreed. – False
Wrong! All credible scientists do agree that global warming is mainly caused by greenhouse gases. However, the debate is not over anymore than the debate over evolution is over. Creationists and their fellow travellers will ensure that!
2. That temperature has risen above millennial variability and is exceptional. – Very unlikely
Wrong! From all the available evidence points to the current global temperature being higher than at any time during the last 1000 years. However, that is unimportant since it is the temperature rise in the future that will do the damage. At present we are surviving fail well, except in New Orleans.
3. That changes in solar irradiance are an insignificant forcing mechanism. – False
Wrong! The main source of warmth on the Earth is solar flux. However, there has been little change over the last 100 years, and especially the last ten when temperatures have been at record levels.
4. That the last century’s increases in temperature are correctly measured. – Unlikely
Wrong! Extreme measures have been taken in order to correct any errors that may have occurred in temperature readings in order to ensure their accuracy. Examples are the corrections for the urban heat island effect, and for the adiabatic temperature difference in water temperature caused by the height of deck of the ship when taking sea surface temperatures.
5. That greenhouse-gas increase is the main forcing agent of temperature. – Not proven
Wrong! The 1000 page IPCC report is enough evidence for me that greenhouse gas increase is the main cause of global warming. What proof would all Mr Monckton accept?
6. That temperature will rise far enough to do more harm than good. – Very unlikely
Wrong! Humans have tuned their agriculture and housing to the climate as it is now. Any alteration in climate will have severe costs, and the benefits such as gondolas in the streets of London will be trivial.
7. That continuing greenhouse-gas emissions will be very harmful to life. – Unlikely
Wrong! The Paleocene-Eocene extinction and the Permian-Triassic mass extinction are both thought to have been caused by release of methane hydrates. This could happen in the future if ocean temperatures rise too much. Only last night on BBC’s Planet Earth it showed that the polar bears are threatened, and will be doomed if we do nothing to stop the Arctic ice melting.
8. That proposed carbon-emission limits would make a definite difference. – Very unlikely
Wrong! The Kyoto limits would not make much of a difference but the were only intended as a pilot experiment. The full limits cutting CO2 emissions to 40% of today’s levels would have an effect.
9. That the environmental benefits of remediation will be cost-effective. – Very unlikely
Wrong! If you do not ignore or downplay the costs of global warming, which should include a rise in sea level of 7 meters, drowning London and all other British ports, then the costs of doing nothing soon escalate.
10. That taking precautions, just in case, would be the responsible course. – False
Wrong! Who does not take out house insurance against fire, flood etc. against the full value of their home? If you were to consider the odds of it burning down then it is only one in a hundred, so why not only insure for 1% of its value. That is the false reasoning of the self proclaimed Monckton of Brenchley!
[Response:Sabine et al (Science 305: 367, 2004) estimate 118 Gton of fossil fuel C in the oceans, and that the land is near zero net (deforestation + “greening” or whatever the high-latitude sink is). The atmosphere contains about 200 Gton of fossil fuel C (100 ppm * 2 Gton C / ppm). So I get about 300 for the total anthropogenic carbon emission. David]
Re #27 and “If it’s proving too hard following a moderately complex document, try this simple one where we find significant heating does not trigger self-perpetuating enhanced greenhouse from the most prolific and important greenhouse gas — water vapor. Same deal — show us where we’re wrong and we’ll retract and correct.”
(Prenote: If my laymans ignorance is showing my humble apologies.)
Is it not time to defrock ecologists, not that they do not have a point in that it is a good idea to reduce the anthropogenic footprint. We are simply talking a slight boost of 3% total oceanic population of phytoplankton in one year, while humans do the same on the land. (Believe me, I am well aware of alternatives, I have been studying them since 1967. Your ecologists seem to forget that in the case of failure all that is being returned to the atmosphere is the very same CO2 that the phytoplankton were supposedly reducing. Meaning if the experiment fails, the contribution is net zero, except for some a couple million dollars, some ships oil, a little iron re-disposition and a little shading of the GS from the redistribution of a little Sargasso.)
As to your tub issues, it depends, which can you do most economically, turn down the taps or make the drain larger? If it takes thirty years to turn down the taps 3%, costing 4 trillion dollars and only takes one year to cut out a 3% larger drain costing 3 million dollars, which do you think is the likely action?
In the presence of the constant bombardment of de-empowering rhetoric coming out of the scientific community, action appears to be taking the reciprocal. Is this true desire, to de-empower the people to the point that the only solution is political? Why can’t a simple green funded test take place. Certainly someone realizes if you distributed the iron contribution widely, the issue of anoxia should not be an issue. (Anoxia is likely to happen only if the “Ironite” contribution is concentrated in one place; if you distributed the iron over a large area where there is likely to be phytoplankton, you would likely reduce the tendency of anoxia from forming. Anchoring the research ship in the middle of the GS and simply taking advantage of the GS for distribution would even save the use of ships oil. For that matter, simply anchoring out a few rusting old hulks in the GS may do the same.)
In the meantime, government can address the increase towards the possible 15% anthropogenic contribution in 30 years. (Note: You are unlikely to make the drain 15% larger.) The result is you can economically deal with your current issues and set in motion a economically responsible movement towards a solution with a deadline in the future. (Of course if ecologists keep pushing as hard as they are now without taking action themselves the general attitude of the population at large is likely to rebound in the opposite direction, (as was the apparent case in 1980, when economics ruled and the environment returned to the pre-1976 condition for 20 years.).
“I’ve noticed that if you put a pair of ice cubes in a box, then they both hold up until they are both ice at zero C, then they both melt with a rush when the trigger Joule is absorbed. If the same thing holds at a global scale, then when it starts to happen we will definitely be living in “interesting times”!”
There is no such thing as a ‘trigger joule.’ It takes an enormous amount of energy to melt ice from a 0C solid to a 0C liquid (roughly enough energy to heat that liquid to 80C). Try it – take an ice cube that’s at 0C and put it in a small glass of lukewarm water. See if the water is still warm after the ice is melted (it should be just as warm if ice melts as you so describe).
PS: If ice did melt in this way, one could easily fashion a perpetual motion machine that also generates free cold as follows:
1 – Take a piston and fill it with water at 0C.
2 – Have the water spontaneously freeze by removing 1 joule of heat to push it over the edge (pushing against the piston will further cool the ice, pushing it somewhat below 0C) (the joule can be removed just by tugging on the piston a bit – decompressing a solid does cool it down by some tiny amount).
3 – Melt the ice using heat from the outside.
4 – Go to step 2.
Another view on CO2 emissions can be found on http://www.1ocean-1climate.com/climate_changes_today.php. You can find there a nice graph about the emissions of CO2 in 1990, ordered by states. Also, there are some elements highlighted regarding the impact that the ocean and naval war has on climate change.
Looking at the CO2 graph mentioned above, it looks as if we produced around 5Gt in 1980, 8Gt in 2000. Very round figures.
The Mauna Loa graphs suggest that if I cut my CO2 production next year to 1980 levels, the increase in atmospheric CO2 will still be around 1.5/1.7ppm, the same as this year, the same as 1980.
What am I missing here?
[incidentally, for the site admin: clicking on comment policy after you’ve typed but not sent a comment leaves no way back and the post is lost. Unless, of course, you know different and you are reading my question twice.]
David Cooke — I can’t come up with sensible responses to your postings, sorry. They don’t make sense to me, from what I know of the science. It seems to me you’re making up fanciful speculation about what might be the case with both CO2 absorbtion and primary production/ecology and saying “why can’t this be true.” Look to nature for your basic facts before you speculate about how nature ought to or might most conveniently work.
Re: original post, #16, #20. 5 Gt of fossil fuel emission is not correct. According to the EIA (DOE), world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2004 was 27,044 Mt CO2 or 7.4 Gt C. The data is available here:
The last common data point in the Marland and Houghton datasets I linked in 37 above was year 2000, with 7.3GtC fossil/cement and 2.1GtC land use for a total of 9.4GtC emissions. Mauna Loa CO2 jumps around a bit, but if you average a few years of data +/- from 2000 using 2.13 GtC/ppm, the net increase is around 4GtC which puts uptake at about 5GtC or about 60% of emissions. I’d guess that the majority of that 5GtC is rapidly mixing into the surface ocean, with a smaller portion taken up by biomass or transported into the deep ocean.
[Response:Thanks all for correcting my sorely out-of-date emission figures. This summary looks good, except that the ocean is only taking up 2 or 2.5 Gton C per year, the rest seems to be going into the high-latitude terrestrial biosphere someplace. The part I’m still having trouble with, which made more sense with my older numbers, is the airborne fraction, which Hansen in this summary cited above shows as consistently 60%. In any event, the bottom line conclusion is that cuts of more-or-less 50% (maybe 60% according to Hansen) would be required to stabilize atmospheric CO2. David]
Well, apparently the fishing industry is doing its own iron fertilization experiment — perhaps we’ll see which of the many organisms benefits most and whether this causes the problems the plankton experts have been worrying about.
“… Already commercial outfits are dropping iron filings overboard, hoping to increase fisheries – meanwhile claiming they are helping to prevent global warming.”
In fact, Bishop explains, “if the excess fixed carbon in plants is eaten by fish near the ocean surface, the net effect is no gain. And in every part of the ocean there are open mouths.”
No one really knows where the carbon trapped by fertilization ends up. In one iron-fertilization experiment in warm equatorial waters, chlorophyll increased 30-fold in a week, and there was increased carbon sedimentation down through 100 meters. But the bloom shortly dissipated, the fate of the carbon in deeper waters wasn’t followed, and long-term effects weren’t measured.
In a more recent experiment in cold Antarctic Ocean waters the plankton bloom persisted much longer. Seven weeks after the experiment ended a distinct pattern of iron-fertilized plankton was still visible from space – “which means the fixed carbon was still at the surface.”
Bishop says that “people who want to add iron think the particulate matter will fall straight to the bottom; I have sampled natural plankton blooms, and I have not seen that happen…..”
Comparing Hansen’s charts 4 and 5, it looks like he’s including only fossil emissions in the airbrone fraction calculation. 4GtC/yr atmospheric increase divided by 7.3GtC/yr fossil/cement emissions equals about 55% – consistent with Hansen’s 58% long run average. Neglecting land use emissions in the calculation of the AF seems a bit odd, but it’s consistently done that way in my experience. As you say, the bottom line is about right either way.
Great articles on this site…Thank you for them all. One request I would make is to do an article that analyzes the front page of http://www.junkscience.com and highlights the errors/misconceptions (I’m pretty sure there are, unfortunately I cannot tell what they are because of my lack of background on the subject).
I have enjoyed this blog very much. But the papers I have been reading recently eg (http://www.uni-leipzig.de/~meteo/MUDELSEE/publ/pdf/lag.pdf) seem to make it clear that there is no proven causal link between CO2 and temperature in the paleoclimate data. Why do we assume that the present warming ( which does seem to be a fact ) is caused by our CO2 emissions?
[Response: We don’t “assume” it; nor is it to be proven from the palaeo data. There is a good theory to say that increasing CO2 should cause warming; simple and complex models built from the theory demonstrate this. Although the lags complicate things, there is no current way to explain the glacial/interglacial temperature changes without including CO2 feedback -William]
Re #36: You say “My point is that technological innovation is still going on. Projecting our current technology 100 years into the future is just not realistic.”
Which is true enough. The point you seem to have missed is that not much technical innovation is needed, since the technology needed to significantly reduce CO2 emissions already exists, and could be brought on line economically. The problem, if I may continue your horse manure analogy, is that the horse breeders and hay dealers have managed to convince the public that their status depends on owning the biggest pair of Percherons or Clydesdales on the block :-)
Re:33,38. I just want to emphasize that present GHG concentrations influence the present rate of temperature rise. I don’t think most people understand this simple point. I’m only talking about the present slope of the temperature vs. time plot. It predicts temperature in the near future. Understand, savor, enjoy this simple fact before attempting to predict further into the future.
Gavin, you said: “the reason horses were phased out as quickly as they were was because the costs associated with using horses (maunre, dead carcasses, stabling etc.) were bourne by the same entities that benefited from their services (i.e. cities and businesses).” and “If you want to take a lesson from that, it is that the costs associated with GHG emissions should be bourne by the producers of those emissions such that no new technology is handicapped by effective subsidies to fossil fuel users.”
Your history lesson on horses is new to me. I am also curious which technology you believe is handicapped by subsidies to fossil fuel users? To which subsidy are you referring? Are you saying that the producers are selling the consumers their product too cheaply (passing on some kind of hidden subsidy so consumers will keep using their product)? I will have to say that your complete comment is lost on me.
[Response: This is normally discussed using the term ‘externalities’ and often comes up in environmental discussions. If a factory makes a product that creates waste, and that waste is simply thrown into the river, then the communities downstream are affected. If they have to pay to clean it up, that cost is not bourne by the polluters and is not reflected in the price of the widget the factory makes – the costs of pollution are ‘externalised’ in the budget of the factory. If the factory was made to clean up the waste ahead of time, that cost would be reflected in the price of the widget – it would be internalised and thus figure more prominently in discussions over whether the widget was good value for money. This is a reasonably easy case since most effects are local/regional and so laws and regulations can be easily enacted to internalise most of the pollution-related costs. The same was true for horses. The greenhouse gas situation is very different since the costs of GHG emissions are likely to fall on communities that have no connection to the source of the pollution. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that GHGs increase sufficiently to melt a big chunk of Greenland. The people who will end up with all the costs are people in low-lying coastal areas like millions of Bangladeshis – hardly the world worst polluters. If the costs associated with flooding Bangladesh were internalised, then the cost of emitting CO2 would be higher and a fair comparison between different sources of energy (each with their own internalised costs) could be made. However, that clearly isn’t the situation we have, and so we effectively have future Bangladeshis (or whoever) subsidising our use of fossil fuels. Compared to alternatives (solar, hydro etc.) that makes fossil fuels artificially cheap – and thus harder to dislodge as a dominant energy source. The market solved the horse manure problem because it was cost-effective to do so, the market failure (no one is including the costs in the price) for the case of GHG emissions makes it very difficult for the same thing to happen now. – gavin]
An analogy I like to use is that of the Titanic. If you see an iceberg up ahead, do you convene your engineers to debate the effects of ice hitting a ship or do you have the engine room throw the engines in reverse and turn the ship as hard as it will go?
The way we’re handling our planet is akin to a captain saying “Convene the engineers to debate about the ice, but I’m going to plow through that iceberg anyway. After all, this ship is unsinkable and turning would waste precious time and coal.”
Re: Yartrebo, The iceburg has already been struck. We did not see it in time. It is now probably a good idea to get a damage control report, and see if we are taking on water. If in fact we are, we need those engineers to decide if 1) all the compartments will flood and we will sink (no lifeboats!) 2) only one compartment will flood, the ship will list a little, but we can make it back to port, 3) the ship is leaking but the bilge pump capacity is large enough to continue on to our destination without many problems, or 4)we need to go down there and try to fix the leak, or we will surely sink.
Re: 58 – There is the beginnings of some interesting work on decadal climate predictions.
This combines information about the present state of the oceans and their dynamics, with the GHG forcing, etc.
I hear that the present forecast is for global mean temperatures to be slightly below the trend line for a few years, but that half the years after 2009 will be warmer than 1998.
The point is that although the GHG forcing will determine the energy imbalance over the period as a whole, internal dynamical forcing will have a very strong influence on the short timescales that are also important for people [as opposed to simply looking at the system as an interesting experiment]
That is a very good point, but at least for gasoline, even in the US, just the federal tax amounts to about $12/tC. That is very close to the $14/tC (median peer reviewed) published value for the marginal societal cost of disposing of CO2 in the atmosphere. Add in state taxes, and there is no subsidy.
The Ice at zero C Im talking about is ice that has absorbed all its required latent heat of fusion (which it does while hovering at zero C), and whose next move is to change from ice to water. My *trigger Joule* is the last bit of energy needed to unbond the ice molecules from solid to liquid.
Broadly, the point Im making is that the existing ice mass is a huge energy sink, which will be tending to absorb LHoF in a fairly uniform manner over the globe. Once that sink is near fully utilised then we will see global temperatures rise as they would in the absence of such a sink (markedly more rapidly) and the ice mass converting to water much more rapidly than the few drips we are seeing now.
I guess it would help if I told you where I am. Central California, just inland a bit (other side of the Las Padres mountains). The coast usually has mild seasons but on this side we tend to have more defined seasons. I just don’t recall November being this hot, and it’s been like his all week.
Even if one assumes the premise that we are “optimally adapted” to the present climate (which I think would be difficult to rationally defend), it does not follow that changes to the climate would result in net costs.
In fact, our adaptation to the current climate (eg in agriculture and infrastructure, as have been mentioned) is also a matter of economics, technology and politics, and we can guarantee that these will continue to change at quite a rate.
Of course we can all agree that a drought in an area that is already somewhat short of water is a bad thing that will likely cost money, compared to exactly the same situation without the extra drought. However, an increase in rainfall in such an area is likely to be beneficial (so long as it is not excessive and leads to flooding), even if society is well adapted to the status quo. The opening of the Northwest Passage is likely to bring significant economic benefits by reducing transport costs, even though (of course) we are currently adapted to its impassability. Warmer winters will reduce the winter death rate in the UK for sure, and this vastly outweighs any plausible estimate of heatwave deaths, at least for a range of modest warmings, even before we start to consider any adaptation to the summer heat. We could of course achieve a similar effect by insulating homes and reducing poverty, of course, but we are already “optimally adapted”, right?
To boldly assert as axiomatic that “change = bad” is, I think, rather naive and simplistic. All sorts of (social, economic, technological) changes are inevitable, and the latter two at least have a strong record of bringing substantial (no, massive) benefits. Would anyone be silly enough to argue that these changes are bad because we are adapted to the status quo? While I am sure that some climate changes will increase pressure on some ecosystems and human societies, it seems to me to be a rather more nuanced situation than some of the comments above would indicate. Indeed, if the climate changes are slow and modest enough compared to the other changes, it might be hard to detect their overall effect at all (on human health, wealth and happiness, I mean – of course I’m sure it will be easy to measure environmental parameters that document the climate change itself, indeed this is already clear enough). I’m sure UK residents will have noticed the substantial northward march of maize as a crop in recent years (for cattle fodder). I’m not sure to what extent this is due to politics (subsidies), economics, climate change, breeding of better-adapted varieties, or even just farmers gradually realising that it grows better than they had thought possible. Even if climate change is the largest factor (which I doubt, but it’s possible), it is not clear who lost out here, other than perhaps the bugs that prefer to live on kale (or whatever the displaced crop was).
Living as I do in a country where houses are expected to last about 30 years, I find it hard to take seriously any worry that they might not be optimally adapted to the climate 100 years hence (let alone the sea level a few centuries later). Note also that a change in fuel prices would change the optimal amount of insulation irrespective of climate change. Likewise, advances in building materials will likely render current designs somewhat redundant.
Extropians would assert that “change = good” and that we should encourage change unless it is proven harmful. Just to be clear on this, I do not endorse this point of view 100% but the difference in opinion seems as much philosophical as scientific. I think that understanding this POV goes a long way to explaining the differences between the environmentalists and the sceptics (even if it does not excuse the dishonesty of the denialist wing).
I hope this doesn’t sound too much like a septic handwave, expecting techology to magically save the day. To the extent that climate change is rapid or substantial (which I will deliberately leave undefined here!), of course it’s a threat that should be taken seriously. It is a little scary to think about how dominant the human influence can be, and perhaps a mental model of some hypothetical stasis is a comforting thought in which to ground our personal philosophies. But it would be a mistake to let one’s comfort zone unduly colour one’s perceptions of reality (or at least, such effects need to be openly considered and one should be prepared to see them challenged).
I think $14/tonC is a bit low for the median (what papers were included in the calculation?). It’s probably not too far off though. However, the models that draw such conclusions make assumptions varying from the unethical (the welfare of future generations is less important than ours, and the welfare of poor people is less important than the welfare of rich people) to the ridiculous (the earth doesn’t conserve carbon, carbon intensity of the economy can be adjusted overnight, people know the future, and – my favorite – the economy will stop growing of its own accord over the next century or two). If you make more sensible assumptions, the value is in excess of $150/tonC, and in some cases much higher. And that’s not even accounting for other externalities associated with fossil fuel use, nor for the possibility of institutional or cognitive failures that make negative-cost reductions a possibility. Even if you entirely neglect climate and other externalities, the OECD surveyed energy prices a few years ago and found frequent net subsidies.
Ice melts in a single step. It doesn’t store 80 kcal/kg of energy (latent heat of fusion) and then suddenly melt when the next joule is added. Instead, ice melting can be thought of as an endothermic chemical reaction that is in equilibrium. Each water molecule absorbs about .06 eV in the reaction. Either the water molecule is tightly bound in a crystal lattice with 0 eV potential energy, or it is loosly bound as a liquid with +.06 eV potential energy. There is no in between state.
What happens is that each time you add .06 eV to the ice at 0C, one molecule of solid H2O becomes a molecule of liquid H2O. If you add 80 kcal of heat to ice, you’ll melt 1 liter of the ice, and the rest will remain just as solid as ever. Each time you add 80 kcal you’ll get another liter, until there is no more ice left.
PS: State changes are pretty well covered in high school chemistry. Perhaps a beginner’s chemistry textbook would explain it much better than I ever could.
while your calculation is interesting it is wrong to say that it is based on the facts. It is based on models, and that is not the same thing.
Furthermore, there is an issue here that is completely missed, namely the element of time. 2 C warming could be dangerous, but when? When will this eventually lead to several meters of sea level rise? If the answer is, as I suspect, at the very minimum 60-80 years into the future, then consider the following very simply reasoning:
the fuel of all economic growth in the West is productivity growth. People think of this as simply more money, but it is not. Translated into physical action it means the ability to do more with the same amount of work. There is plenty of reason that productivity growth due to innovation will steadily rise by some 4-5% per year in a business as usual model. What does that translate into in, say, 50 years? Historically a 10-doubling in productivity. What that means is that by simply going about our business as usual we will be able to get 10 times more work done per capita in 50 years than today. Think about what that means for a second. It means that mitigation that would cost a whopping 400 billion dollars per year today would cost only 40 billion dollars per year in 50 years. It also means that any damage inflicted by climate change (e.g. hurricanes etc.) would cost 10 times less to deal with.
Finally, since climate experts are not population, political and economic experts they tend not to know the relationship between these. Allow me to illuminate: rapid economic growth NOW in the third world countries makes them complete the demographic transition faster. Translated into mundane English: the more rapid economic growth NOW, the less people to emit CO2 (and other gases) in 2050. In short, rapid economic growth is a mitigation strategy. The difference between rapid growth and low growth could be the difference between 9-10 billion people in the world and 15-20 billion people. Thus, rapid economic growth could lead to a long term reduction in carbon emissions per capita of over 50%.
In light of this I think advocating any curbing of economic growth today is illfounded to put it mildly.
[Response:Many environmental problems are solved by prosperity, but CO2 emission is not one of them. Rich people on Earth emit far more CO2 than poor people do. David]
Re 70:>I think $14/tonC is a bit low for the median (what papers were included in the calculation?).
Here is my source (looks at 28 published studies):
Energy Policy 33 (2005) 2064â??2074
The marginal damage costs of carbon dioxide emissions:an
assessment of the uncertainties
Richard S.J. Tol
One hundred and three estimates of the marginal damage costs of carbon dioxide emissions were gathered from 28 published studies and combined to form a probability density function. The uncertainty is strongly right-skewed.
If all studies are combined, the mode is $2/tC, the median $14/tC, the mean $93/tC, and the 95 percentile $350/tC. Studies with a lower discount rate have higher estimates and much greater uncertainties. Similarly, studies that use equity weighing, have higher estimates and larger uncertainties. Interestingly, studies that are peer-reviewed have lower estimates and smaller uncertainties. Using standard assumptions about discounting and aggregation, the marginal damage costs of carbon dioxide emissions are unlikely to exceed $50/tC, and probably much smaller.
RE #59 & subsidies to oil, from what I understand (I asked my rep) there are actual subsidies & tax breaks to oil (avoidance of externalities aside), and if you throw in the costs of wars and military protection for our oil supplies, and all other gov helps,…well, we’re paying through the nose April 15th for other people’s gas-guzzling. Not to mention paying an increasing price for GW harms in our insurance bills & tax & repairs.
So, I’d be happy with a level playing field for alt energy, & ecstatic if it got more subsidies/breaks than oil. And I’d prob faint with disbelief if costs of external harms now & in the future were added in to the price at the pump. I guess we’d be paying the real cost of gas, maybe $30 a gallon or more (which is only fair – you break it, you buy it). That’d make people a lot more creative in coming up w/ solutions & implementing solutions already available.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 7 Nov 2006 @ 11:14 PM
Nigel, you wrote:
>I’ve noticed that if you put a pair of ice cubes in a box,
>then they both hold up until they are both ice at zero C,
>then they both melt with a rush when the trigger Joule is absorbed.
Could you try that again and report back on what you see this time? Using a transparent box, not an opaque one?
I’m thinking that you have ice made by filling a container and freezing it solid, then taking the box out and watching it. If so, and if the air is dry, it can look superficially like you describe.
Here’s my guess — what happens is you get, first, freezing from the outside in; you may not even have frozen all the water, some may be still liquid at the center. If it freezes solid it will dome up or you’ll get something like hoarfrost.
When you take the container out, the ice starts melting from the outside as the container surface warms up, and at the same time — in dry air — you can be getting enough evaporation off the top of the ice where it’s exposed that it stays colder longer than the rest of the block — so you end up with a skim of ice on top of a box of water. That might appear to be what you’ve described.
MEASURES OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Colin KLINE (Engineer, ret.)
08 November 2006
Could learned contributors help me by critiquing this (draft) paper of mine.
In the current debate about Greenhouse Effect, Climate Change, Energy Crisis, etc, there is in many minds a lack of clarity about these environmental issues, and the urgency of resolving them. This is not helped by certain agencies employing a substantial budget to spin disinformation about these topics. A catalog of this disinformation propaganda, the agencies, the people involved, and the huge funds employed, can be viewed at: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/09/19/the-smoke-behind-the-deniers-fire-3/
There are nevertheless many people of good will who are investigating Measures of Energy Technologies, but are still locked into a methodology of old. This is the familiar analysis of costs and efficiencies in terms of: dollars, $ per capita, $ per kgm of fuel, $ per Joule of heat released, Joules released per kgm of fuel consumed, $ per kgm of carbon released, amortised maintenance and staffing $ per lifetime of plant, energy reticulation $ costs, network capacity factors, etc. The energy candidates currently undergoing this analysis are: coal, petrol, diesel, bio-fuels, wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, nuclear, metal-fuels.
But first, an analogy, however imperfect. If a relative, or someone near and dear, is critically ill, the majority of us would, if necessary, “hock our homes” in order to fund their treatment and cure. If the patient was suffering a high fever, we would request immediate treatment, rather than wait to “see if the patient dies”.
Observe now that a very dear “relative”, Planet Earth, is by many reputable accounts, now suffering a mighty fever. For example, consult New Scientist, 27 September 06, which contains a report titled “Climate Change: One Degree And We’re Done For”. There are cited in this article five “environmental experts”, and seven authoritative scientific bodies, who express great concern.
The latter event would release stupendous amounts of CH4 and CO2, dwarfing anything that man or nature currently creates. According to this urgent view, mankind could take every car & truck off the road, ground all jetliners, close all coal fired plants, replace every light bulb with a high efficiency bulb, construct 1000 Nuclear Plants, and all would amount to aught in the face of this polar gas release.
Another (“doomsday”) view, is that there is already too much greenhouse gas(es) in the biosphere to be able to reverse any effective change for the better. In this view, it is postulated that none of the above Energy Technology candidates will “get there in time”, no matter how hard we try.
What concerns many are these questions: Is there an authoritative date estimate for when this tipping point might occur? What would be the best measure of the rate of deaths, human, animal, plant, that would ensue after such a catastrophe? These new measures are the ones that should apply, not a concern for dollars and efficiencies of the “cure”. The dollar cost of climate catastrophe will far outweigh the savings of doing nothing, or time-wasting penny-pinching about other useless solutions.
Luckily there is a ‘quick’ solution that could ‘save our bacon’, namely ‘Space Mirrors’. In this idea, the main focus is on planetary warming – forget CH4 and CO2 for the moment – they are just agents that exacerbate heating. The principal agent of warming is the influx of solar radiation, in particular the Infra-Red end of the light spectrum. The solution thus is to place several ‘sun umbrellas’ out in space, to proportionally shield the Earth, by reflecting the excess of incoming IR radiation (back into space). One cannot argue that this would ‘starve’ the planet of IR radiation – the greenhouse effect is testament that we already have too much of it – in fact we need to block any further excess IR from the sun entering our biosphere. This solution is the ‘bullet-in-the-breech’ insurance needed just in case change is rapid.
Such parasols would be constructed from thin plastic film, embedded with nano-wires, or made of polymer dielectrics, reflecting only IR, but passing visible light & UV. They would have low mass, use automatically unfurling sails, be located at several libration points in space, and thus would perpetually track the Earth in its path around the Sun, whilst always shading Earth – http://www.geom.uiuc.edu/~megraw/MATH1/lib.html. The choice of IR reflection would ensure the biosphere on this planet would be minimally affected. Even better, if the shading mainly focused on the polar regions, it would stabilise the Boreal Forests. Or, just the polar regions could benefit by shading from total light spectrum, by a ‘super-mirror’ http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/04/000404205617.htm The rate of cooling can be easily controlled by tilting these parasols. Use of attached ion thruster engines can steer and locate the parasols, and would have an excellent life-thrust performance.
But alas, there exist too many climate change skeptics ruling the major countries needed to mount this solution. So a ‘deal-breaker’ strategy could be for concerned citizens to take over and launch the parasols themselves. A citizens’ global disaster fund could then hire missile technologies from India, or China, to launch these parasols for mankind.
“We are writing … as U.S. Senators concerned about the credibility of the United States in the international community, and as Americans concerned that one of our most prestigious corporations has done much in the past to adversely affect that credibility. We are convinced that ExxonMobil’s longstanding support of a small cadre of global climate change skeptics, and those skeptics’ access to and influence on government policymakers, have made it increasingly difficult for the United States to demonstrate the moral clarity it needs across all facets of its diplomacy….
“A study to be released in November by an American scientific group will expose ExxonMobil as the primary funder of no fewer than 29 climate change denial front groups in 2004 alone. Besides a shared goal, these groups often featured common staffs and board members. The study will estimate that ExxonMobil has spent more than $19 million since the late 1990s on a strategy of “information laundering,” or enabling a small number of professional skeptics working through scientific-sounding organizations to funnel their viewpoints through non-peer-reviewed websites such as Tech Central Station. The Internet has provided ExxonMobil the means to wreak its havoc on U.S. credibility, while avoiding the rigors of refereed journals. While deniers can easily post something calling into question the scientific consensus on climate change, not a single refereed article in more than a decade has sought to refute it.”
Re: #25,21 To clarify I was thinking more of there being no significant action to deloy technology to curb CO2 emissions [rather than not seeing any result of CO2 emissions]. In the UK, for example, the vast majority of the decrease in CO2 emissions [compared to 1990] is due to the switch from coal to gas powered electricity generation that was motivated solely on cost grounds rather than the reduced CO2 emissions.
From the telegraph article noted above:
“Dick Lindzen emailed me last week to say that constant repetition of wrong numbers doesn’t make them right. Removing the UN’s solecisms, and using reasonable data and assumptions, a simple global model shows that temperature will rise by just 0.1 to 1.4C in the coming century, with a best estimate of 0.6C, well within the medieval temperature range and only a fifth of the UN’s new, central projection.”
It’s like “Star Trek” science, only you need journal access to find the kinks.
OK, I’m now motivated to write up what I thought of Jan Veizen’s talk last week.
Onar Ã??m Re #72: The Kyoto Protocol explicitly states that the developed world will take a lead in reducing GHG emissions. I haven’t seen *any* mitigation strategy that impacts of 3rd world development, indeed it is likely that if we secure an effective Global agreement to reduce emissions worldwide (which may or may not occur sometime between now and 2012) a significant part of such an agreement will be a historically unprecidented investment in development.
If we have 50 years worth of business as usual development the costs impacts of climate change will dwarf the development gains we accure. If, on the other hand, we accept a small additional cost to develop in a low-carbon way, using technologies that are already available, we can tie in to a low carbon future now, saving us $trillions and improving the lives of countless millions.
Re #69 and “To boldly assert as axiomatic that “change = bad” is, I think, rather naive and simplistic.”
What’s even more naive and simplistic is to assume that random local changes are likely to be good or at least neutral. When you have a functioning local ecology, change almost always IS bad. That’s not an assumption, it’s an empirical result. Dutch Elm disease. Rabbits in Australia. Shakespeare’s birds. The list goes on and on and on.
The USA will not ratify any treaty beyond Kyoto or Kyoto but rather rely on the free market economy or obfuscation and doctoring of climate scientists works in order to keep their economy going under the existing administration. Maybe a democratic government will do climate change policy differently but until then its on the back burner as far as the USA is concerned at the white house level anyway.
I find RealClimate a very source of information and analysis, but I have my doubts about these particular calculations. So I have a question.
You say “The models tend to predict a maximum atmospheric CO2 inventory of about 50-70% of the total fossil fuel emission slug. Let’s call this quantity the peak airborne fraction, and assume it to be 60%.” But given that the sinks are large (surface ocean = 1000 Gt; deep ocean 38,000 Gt (figures from NASA website); sediment = very, very large (all the limestone in the world), then one would expect the peak airborne fraction to be very dependent on the rate of adding C02 to the atmosphere. Hence, with the scenario of C02 emissions limited so that the current rate of adding C02 to the atmosphere drops to zero, one might see a very different peak airborne fraction.
My questions are
– What are the C02 emissions profiles (vs time) for which the peak airborne fraction is 50-70%?
– Have the carbon cycle models been run with your scenario (of limiting C02 emissions to 4 Gt C/year)?
Regards and thanks for all the work you do in running this very useful site.
[Response:All of the models release their CO2 over several centuries. If it were much faster or slower, you’re right, the airborne fraction would be different. No, I don’t think the the 4 Gt C / year case has been run and published, but I have tried it and it works in the interactive carbon cycle model I posted on the web as part of my new textbook for non-science major undergraduates, to be shipped any day now, called Global warming: Understanding the forecast. The interactive web-based carbon cycle model is here. David]
Thanks for the pointer. Nearly all of the studies included suffer from the problems I cited above. As Tol notes, the results are heavily influenced by discount rate choices. So really, the conclusions are not an measure of cost, they’re a measure of willingness to pay, under the assumption that you treat climate the way we treat other things, that is with neither foresight (weight to our grandchildren = 5% of weight to us) nor fairness (weight to China = 5% of weight to USA), with some rosy economic equilibrium assumptions thrown in for good measure. Economists should instead make their models available for experimentation, so people can see undiscounted costs and make their own ethical choices about them.
While looking for info on a book called “Feed or Feedback: Agriculture, Population Dynamics and the State of the Planet” by Duncan Brown (Emeritus Professor; Department of Biological Sciences; University of Wollongong), I was surprised to find this recent essay by him:
He seems to dismiss that atmospheric CO2 is the primary culprit in global warming and proposes that “the heat produced by enormous increases in rates of combustion” has at least as much influence on the global mean temperature as CO2, at a rate of 0.06 deg C annually.
He seems to have a good grasp of the basic facts, and he doesn’t strike me as being a crackpot or in the business of denial, but I’ve never heard this idea discussed before. Can anyone here comment? Is the waste heat from combustion part of the climate models? If not, then should it be? Thanks!
Re #69: You say “Even if one assumes the premise that we are “optimally adapted” to the present climate (which I think would be difficult to rationally defend), it does not follow that changes to the climate would result in net costs.”
Yet by the same logic, it also does not follow that 1) there would NOT be net costs; and 2) the measures needed to limit CO2 would not create net benefits rather than costs. Take the conversion from horses to automobiles for an example. Were there not many costs associated with that? Capitalists had to build factories to produce cars, individuals had to spend money to buy them, roads had to be improved, a whole fuel infrastructure had to be developed, etc. The cost of all that fairly boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Why on earth are we not living in an impoverished world, having spent all that money dealing with the horse manure problem?
“To boldly assert as axiomatic that “change = bad” is, I think, rather naive and simplistic.”
But in fact you seem to be the only one making that assertation. The assertation we’re making is that some PARTICULAR changes are bad; we want to see other changes made instead. You’re the one who’s arguing for business as usual :-)
Just wanted to share that Georg Hoffman helped me understand the point you and David appeared to be trying to explain.
If the total oceanic CO2 sequester was biologic in nature and the value were 2 GT C then raising the total plankton population 3% would only possibly affect the additional sequestering .06 GT C. To strike a balance the amount would have to increase roughly 67 times the current amount in the hope to achieve a balance point.
When looking at the biologic free zones as less then 1/3rd the oceanic total would indicate that there simply is not enough means to create a sink large enough without have a possible negative impact in the environment.
My thanks for the enlightenment, I believe this also nullifies my theory regarding UV impact on ocean biologics and the calls into question the value of the impact of phytoplanton on cloud formation. When tied into what appears to be only an 8% increase in clouds they really must not be play as much a part as I had thought.
[Response:The main way that fossil fuel CO2 is stored in the ocean is as dissolved carbon, mostly in the form of bicarbonate ion, not as living carbon. There isn’t really much actual mass of living carbon in the ocean. But the sinking dead plankton can carry the carbon around, by forming up in the sunlight and then decaying in the deep. So if you could make the plankton grow faster, they might carry more carbon to the depths, is how the reasoning goes. You can fertilize plankton by adding iron, in the real ocean; that has been shown. But it hasn’t been observed to be very good at carry carbon out of the surface to the deep. And even if you could fertilize the entire Southern Ocean, no easy task, models don’t show it making much difference to the CO2 in the atmosphere. It takes to long for the ocean to change the concentration in the atmosphere, so tugging on the ocean is not very effective. David]
We had talked about that last year in my Environmental Physics class and it appears to relate to entrophy being introduced. I believe the end result of our discussion there was if all the energy that was incorporated in the combustion fuels originated as incoming solar energy and then release back to the environment equaled the incoming it would not be much of an issue. It was when you added to the atmosphere, a energy value greater then came from the sun, that there appeared to be an issue. (Hence, fossil fuels and nuclear sources would increase entrophy, where the use of renewables that were not primarily used for heat would not increase entrophy as much (IE: Energy for motion (an Electric Vehicle), or light (LED lights)). The intent was to suggest that the use of combustion of biodiesel and ethanol or even methane was not preferrable over fuel cells, solar cells, wind energy or tidal energy.
Those figures are far off the wall. It’s pretty easy to calculate the heat coming from combustion (avg. energy value of coal * usage + avg. energy value of gas * usage + … etc). I don’t have all the figures offhand, but if you do that calculation, you’ll see that it amounts to some mW/m^2 if spread out over the Earth’s surface – in other words, several orders of magnitude smaller than CO2 forcings which are a few W/m^2.
Grammar, folks, grammar: verb =/= noun and that’s where James went wrong.
David wrote: “The best would be to not change climate at all”
— “change” as David Archer uses it here is a verb. The subject is understood: humanity, during the past say 200 years, as we were and are.
James wrote: “To boldly assert as axiomatic that “change = bad” is, I think, rather naive and simplistic.”
— “change” as James Annan uses it here is a noun.
Let me try rewriting for both of you:
The best behavior would have been for us not to have initiated climate change at all,
— without knowing we were initiating the changes
— without choosing to initiate the changes
— without choosing the rate of change
— without knowing what the changes will be
— without a baseline (needed for knowing what’s changed), and
— over a timescale far longer than a human lifespan
[Response:nicely written. David]
Climate sensitivity is about 3 degrees. To boldly assert as axiomatic that “change = bad” isn’t what you said, but it’s how the innumerate may understand you. That ignores rates of change, and isn’t what you meant.
“ATLANTA, Nov. 7 (UPI) — U.S. scientists have found a potentially important mechanism by which chemical emissions from ocean phytoplankton influence cloud formations.
“Discovery of the new link between clouds and the biosphere grew from efforts to explain the increased cloud cover observed over an area of the Southern Ocean, where a large bloom of phytoplankton was occurring…..”
Production of isoprene has been written about as another possible mechanism for plankton to affect clouds for a decade or more. This seems to be a confirmation in the field of a speculation from the lab work.
Reply to #82
The US’s position in not ratifying Kyoto is that it makes no sense to do that unless the whole world complies (including China) and not just a subset of countries. All Kyoto does is drive CO2 production from developed countries to developing countries not impacted by carbon restrictions. The net result will be the same amount of C02 in the atmosphere and economic hardship for countries impacted by the restrictions.
This is why the US Senate unanimously passed (95-0 ,including all Democrats BTW) a resolution in the late 1990’s against the Kyoto resolution. The greenhouse effect does not care whether C02 is produced in the US or China, today or in 1880, it still has the same warming effect. By treating some of the world’s worst polluters and CO2 generators in one category (developing countries i.e. Annex 2) with no restrictions and developed countries (annex 1) in another with severe restrictions, does not solve anything.
Only when this loophole is closed will the US and other countries consider restrictions.
RE: 22, 27, 54.
And thank you, Alastair McDonald at 40.
Sorry to haul you all back to the press (and I enjoyed the grammar lesson), but I do hope someone takes the time to get to grips with Monckton and Milloy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to blind ’em with science.
Re #85 and “He seems to dismiss that atmospheric CO2 is the primary culprit in global warming and proposes that “the heat produced by enormous increases in rates of combustion” has at least as much influence on the global mean temperature as CO2, at a rate of 0.06 deg C annually.
He seems to have a good grasp of the basic facts, and he doesn’t strike me as being a crackpot or in the business of denial, but I’ve never heard this idea discussed before. Can anyone here comment? Is the waste heat from combustion part of the climate models? If not, then should it be?”
Human energy generation is on the order of 10^13 Watts, Solar power incoming is closer to 10^17 Watts. The added heat from combustion is too trivial to use in climate models.
Re 84> …the conclusions are not an measure of cost, they’re a measure of willingness to pay, under the assumption that you treat climate the way we treat other things…
I do not see how you can justify treating climate differently. If someone in India (or anywhere) wants to spend the new money he is earning (due to economic growth) on healthcare to save the life of his child, are you justified in telling him his increased earnings must be taken to spend on reducing CO2 emmissions? How he values future costs is his decision, not yours.
[Response:Although there is the issue of fairness, to people of the long-distant future as well as others on Earth now. My opinion is that it’s a bad idea for any individual, from India or the U.S. or wherever, to be allowed to follow their self-interest in regards CO2 emission to the atmosphere. It’s a tragedy of the commons thing. David]
Re #59: Gavin, thank you for the eloquent clarification. I now understand your point, but there are a host of ideas expressed in your comments that I disagree with, but do not have enough space to articuate them properly here.
That oil will be gradually phased out over the next 150 years is an economic certainty as oil becomes more expensive to extract(we run out of *cheap* sources of oil), and other forms of energy become more cost competative. It is clear then that civilization will be forced to adapt some kind of low carb diet, similar to the regiment I am currently on. It is not pleasant! It is not clear to me however, that governments should impose a quick starvation diet on society. If I am too fat, my obesity might eventually kill me. The wrong diet might kill me quicker though.
Re 97 and David’s response to 95> It’s a tragedy of the commons thing.
My point is not that the cost of emmitting CO2 to the commons should be ignored. My point is that the economist peer reviewed consensus marginal cost of about $14/tC should at least be the starting point of discussion.
Arguing that we should ignore the discount rates and value of future consumption that are implied by the actions of real people (as studied by economists) appears to me to saying ‘we experts’ should make their decisions against their wishes.
Where do economists come up with that $14/tonne figure? Over 100 years, just changing the discount rate by 1% will change the cost by e (~2.7171). A person using a 0% discount rate and a person using a 10% discount rate will differ by e^10, or roughly 22,000 times over a 100 year span.
Personally, I like to use a 0% discount rate for such non-monetary things, and the inflation rate for money-denominated things.
Re #96: (Sigh) We really need a forum for sensible discussion of economics. The poster gets into that economic fearmongering again (or is a victim of it), saying “It is not clear to me however, that governments should impose a quick starvation diet on society.” But there is no reason for such a diet. Just a couple of simple attitude changes could significantly reduce CO2 emissions within a decade: replace fossil-fuel generation plants with nuclear (and as much “alternative” as can be had); and place reasonable fuel economy standards on automobiles.
It’s ironic that you choose a citizen of India for your example, as models would typically weight the welfare of an Indian much lower than the welfare of someone in the rich world, on the assumption that the current distribution of capital must be optimal. Hence there is no obligation on the part of the rich world to mitigate externalities visited upon the rest.
Arguing that we should ignore the discount rates and value of future consumption that are implied by the actions of real people (as studied by economists)
Most economists don’t study people. They study aggregate economic outcomes, then add the assumption that markets perfectly reflect individual preferences, and back out what preferences must be to make the observed world optimal. That’s circular. Subdisciplines that actually talk to real people have discovered huge gaps between theory and reality (surprise!). How many people do you thing would be indifferent to trading 20 units of their grandchild’s happiness for one of their own?
You are confusing discounting welfare with discounting for the opportunity cost of capital. The former is an ethical choice. All sensible models – including those with 0 discount rates on welfare – do the latter. Most models also discount to account for the fact that future generations will be (hopefully) richer. A 0 discount rate on welfare does not imply foregoing all current consumption, nor need it be inconsistent with observed interest rates.
Ender Wiggen, Re #92 : You miss, or deliberately omit, the fact the the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol runs for only 5 years, from 2008 to 2012. Since the per capita emissions of the Annex I parties are many times higher than of those in the developing world, it makes sense that they start the process of reducing emissions, with other countries following suit in the next few decades.
Let’s put it this way. If the USA met it’s Kyoto commitments, its per capita emissions would still dwarf those of China, even through to 2050.
As for “severe restrictions” on Annex I parties. Well, I had to laugh. The restrictions under Kyoto are tiny, and easily achieveable with a modicum of effort. Our UK Government has hardly exerted itself, yet we have already surpassed our Kyoto commitment. The US economy is fabulously inefficient in its use of power and the marginal cost of abatement can easily be bourne by the world’s largest economy.
I fail to see how the US driving more fuel efficient cars, insulating its buildings more effectively and seriously investing in renewables and new nuclear build would export CO2 to China.
And finally (sorry for ramble) if the USA didn’t want to do ANYTHING it could still meet its commitment using the CDM to clear up Chinese Industry.
There is no excuse for non participation. UK GDP is up 40% on 1990 levels. Our emissions are down 15%. Do the math.
It’s a common Marxian misconception that economic growth in one place won’t benefit people in another. If you cut economic growth in the West, the poor countries will suffer badly. Why? Because it’s in the rich countries that state of the art innovation takes place. Where do you think nanotubes, robotics and artificial intelligence/dexterity will be developed, in Sierra Leone or the US? By strangling growth in the West you also strangle innovation. The fact that you haven’t seen this very obvious elementary economic fact in any mitigation strategy just shows that the strategies aren’t very realistic.
“If we have 50 years worth of business as usual development the costs impacts of climate change will dwarf the development gains we accure.”
Are you sure? 50 years of business as usual means nano-technology, carbon nanofibers, flywheel batteries, airships, robotics taken to a whole new level. Think a minute about what you can do with that technology.
Consider the following scenario: a factory that produces production robots is built in the sahara. These production robots mine the desert for minerals to build solar panels. These solar panels are in turn used to fuel more robots to build more factories to mine more minerals and build more solar panels. Give this process a few years and you have filled the Sahara desert with solar panels producing humongous amounts of electricity.
Consider another scenario: factories produce robots that produce water pumping equipment which are deployed with robots. These are then deployed in antarctica to pump up sea water on a massive scale, transporting it to inland antarctica where it is very, very cold and deposited. On a sufficient scale this could reverse sea level rise.
Consider a third scenario: robots again are built to purify salt water and transport it into deserts where robots plant trees and vegetation. In a few years of doing this all deserts in the world could be green, making them a humongous carbon sink. Consider just the Sahara which is 9 million km2. Assuming 17.7 kg C/m2 gives a total of 160 GtC stored in Sahara alone. Thus, the Sahara alone could be used to suck out 70 ppm CO2 from the air in no time.
All this would be insanely expensive today, of course, a real back breaker for the economy, but in 50 years it would cost at least 10 times less to do it, possibly a lot less, depending on how fast robotic and automation technology is developed, and then we would have between 5 and 10 billion rich people in the world to split the cost between as opposed to a mere 2 billion rich people today. In short, waiting 50 years and then solving the problem in one go — if indeed the scare turns out to be reality — will cost in the vicinity of 25-100 times less per capita than taking action today.
many of the problems associated with CO2 is best solved with wealth. Indeed technology induced wealth solves both CO2-related problems AND all other sorts of nasty problems unrelated to CO2 such as poverty, disease, hunger, misery and disasters. By insisting on strangling economic growth, not only are you robbing the world of the best way to cope with climate change — technology — but also robbing the poor of the world the opportunity to cope with just about anything.
Me “If we have 50 years worth of business as usual development the costs impacts of climate change will dwarf the development gains we accure.”
Onar “Are you sure? 50 years of business as usual means nano-technology, carbon nanofibers, flywheel batteries, airships, robotics taken to a whole new level. Think a minute about what you can do with that technology. ”
Yes, Onar, I’m sure. Because those notable ‘Marxists’ at the International Energy Agency say so. There is no business as usual scenario in which fossil fuel use doesn’t massively increase on current levels, pushing atmospheric CO2 way beyond 550ppm. The resulting cost of climate impacts will outweigh any development gains made by the 3rd world. Don’t take my word for it, listen to another ‘Marxist’ (and former Chief Economist at the World Bank), Sir Nick Stern.
Consider this scenario : Mankind continues to burn increasingly large amounts of fossil fuels, which are cheap and in plentiful supply (whatever ‘peak oil’ types would have you believe). The factory that builds nanobots in the Sahara never gets built, because it was more expensive to build than to just keep burning fossil fuels. Then, suddely, we realise the earth is 3 degrees warmer than it was, the ice caps are melting and sub-Sahran Africa and Southern Asia are suffering from massive water shortages because of circulation changes. Pretty picture eh?
I simply don’t recognise your picture of CO2 controls OR ecomomic growth. It’s a false paradigm. I we spend between 1% and 3% of our GDP now on addressing this issue (and yup! A lot of that cash will be spent on developing the type of techical fixes you mention, and more besides) we will reap considerable economic benefits in the long run.
On the other hand, if we keep going the way we are going we WON’T see development in the third world. All the gains made will be washed away by the impacts of climate change.
One final note : You seem to be under the impression that once 3rd world countries make the ‘breakthrough’ their emissions will go down. Could you explain to me, therefore, why USA and Australia have the highest per capita emissions in the world (baring the Gulf States) and sub-Saharan Africa the lowest? And why, despite a booming economy, increasing oil prices and the near-limitless technological resources of the US Universities and National labs, US emissions are STILL RISING?
It means you space out consumption equally over time instead. Technically, my discount rate is actually negative since I seem perfectly willing to save with negative real interest rates (my estimates are that inflation is about 5% a year, and short term investments yield a little less than that).
Relying on future technological progress is a fool’s game. Most predictions turn out to be totally off, generally being overoptimistic. In the case of your robots idea, both capital and labor are in surplus throughout the world and have been since the Industrial Revolution. Robots would reduce labor costs, but when labor can be bought for a dollar a day, what’s the point? In fact, under a capitalist system, robots just serve to make the poor poorer, since there is even less demand for labor and that is the resource poor people have.
Technology is most likely to follow an S-curve, with innovation naturally trailing off. This has happened time and time again in virtually all individual fields, and it will happen at some point for technology in general (probably sooner than later, as even progress in computers appears to be slowing down).
With this in mind and considering that we only know what technology will be discovered after the fact, the best assumption is that in 100 years we will only have our current technology, probably better refined, to work with.
Re 103> …models would typically weight the welfare of an Indian much lower than the welfare of someone in the rich world…
I doubt that is the case. Do you have an example from a credible source?
>Most economists don’t study people. They study aggregate economic outcomes, then add the assumption that markets perfectly reflect individual preferences, and back out what preferences must be to make the observed world optimal. That’s circular.
Sounds a lot like an GW denialist describing climate models…
Onar, you did not include the future of our commuting to work and the mall in our little Jetson jet-crafts.
You really let your imagination run wild. Try instead to imagine the impact of an ice-free Arctic on the precip and temp patterns of Western North American ag lands and what that would mean to the cost of grain on the world market. That is just for starters, Onar.
You sound like Sheik Mo of Dubai fame. He thinks palm islands are the way to go because he has the money to make that happen regardless of rising sea levels.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 9 Nov 2006 @ 10:39 AM
Can you please work out for us the weight of water and the average distance your robots would transport it to offset a sea level rise of 30cm. How much energy would that require? How many gallons/min need to be pumped to accomplish that over 100 years?
Until you have done some simple numbers like that you are just day dreaming a bad sci-fi novel.
Re #101: “But there is no reason for such a diet.”
I agree, but it seems some would like nothing more than to impose one on us.
By the way, the oil companies are not Gavin’s horses. It is the automobile (combustion horse) which is making the mess and emmitting the waste. The oil companies are the hay growers. It is not really the hay growers causing the maneur, but the horses. If one wants to stop the manuer, one might kill the horses first. Because we love our horse though, it may seem more palitable to instead kill the haygrower. But are we sure we won’t still need some hay after the horses starve? We better choose our victim wisely.
Coby, the answer to your question is approximately 2 million metric tons per minute or 35.000 tons per second. In order to achieve that you need 1.000 cables with a 6 meter diameter pumping at 1 m/s. Or it can be done with 36.000 cables with a 1 meter diameter pumping at 1 m/s. That’s doable even today.
Energy? Elevating 1 ton, say, up 1000 meters gives mgh=1000*10*1000= 10 million joules. Doing that at a rate of 35.000 tons/s gives 350 GigaWatts. Quite a bit, but doable even today. That’s approximately the amount of coal power plants China builds in 20 years.
The point is, doing something like this would suck today. It would be hard, and it would cost a lot. Now divide that cost by 25 to 100 and you have the cost per capita of doing it in 50 years. Much sweeter deal.
Thanks to all who replied, the answers were both sensible and helpful. After doing a little research on the topic I was surprised to discover that most of the talk about thermal pollution seems to be concerned with the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect and the ongoing efforts to discount any bias that effect might have on land based instrument readings. Personally I’m satisfied that goal has been accomplished, but I would still be interested in a discussion of what, if any, contribution UHI’s and thermal pollution in general make to climate change, both locally and globally.
Purely by coincidence I was thumbing through a copy of the original 1972 edition of “The Limits to Growth” and they had a brief discussion of UHI’s. The example they used was the metropolis of Los Angeles, an area of roughly 4,000 sq. miles, which in 1970 had a localized UHI effect of about 5% of incoming solar. They projected this to increase to 15% by 2000 (hmmmm, wonder if they were right?).
They also stated that, due to the laws of thermodynamics, any energy used by humans that is not derived from incident solar must eventually be dissipated as waste heat, either directly or indirectly, so my original question about combustion alone was too narrow in scope. However, the point was made here that the total energy used by humans is several orders of magnitude less than incoming solar and therefore statistically insignificant in regards to global mean temperature (although it seems to be accepted that a contribution IS being made, however miniscule).
And yet I’m still left wondering: Aside from the question of global mean temperature, and granted UHI’s are by definition highly localized, even so, when you consider that the global population is growing by ~70 million per year and is becoming increasingly urbanized, isn’t it possible that taken together all UHI’s with an effect of 5 – 15% of incoming solar and covering 1000’s of sq. miles could collectively make a contribution to climate change?
In Oscar Wilde’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Grey,” the title character remains eternally youthful despite a dissipated life because his painted portrait, rather than he, suffers the ravages of time and corruption. At one point, his friend Henry Wotton remarks something along the lines of, “Ah, Dorian! I would do absolutely *anything* to recover my lost youth and vigor. Except, of course, diet and regular exercise.”
I sometimes have the impression that those who advocate leaving climate change problems to “market forces” will do absolutely anything to stave off the ravages of global warming — except, of course, reducing CO2 emissions and energy consumption.
you say you’re sure because some guys at some place say so? Well, I hear other economic experts that say completely otherwise. So, by your logic, I’m equally sure you’re wrong. I am sure you are wrong, but that’s because I’ve used my knowledge of economics, my reasoning and logic to consider the arguments myself, not because I listen to authorities.
“There is no business as usual scenario in which fossil fuel use doesn’t massively increase on current levels, pushing atmospheric CO2 way beyond 550ppm.”
When I participated in the review of the TAR what struck me was the complete and utter total lack of creativity in projecting new, innovative energy technologies. That’s of course nothing new. Have a peek at any scifi-movie from a few decades back and notice what a truly lousy job they do at predicting the future. The TAR is no exception. Basically its premise is that in 50 years we will still be producing electricity by boiling water, because that’s what we do today. Does that sound reasonable to you? How about fuel cells with 60% electrical efficiency? And what if someone invents the equivalent of a fuel cell for radioactive material? Bam! You double the electricity production from nuclear power plants. What about lighting? Today people use friggin 60-watt light bulbs. 20 years down the line they could possibly replace that by a 1 W laser or led based light. Imagine reducing the world’s lighting energy consumption by 80%! What about ultrastrong composites? Today a typical 767 airplane weighs some 30 tons. Built from nanotube composites it could weigh a mere 3 tons. Can you imagine the amount of energy that is saved by not having to lift 27 tons to 10 km altitude for every liftoff? Then there is flywheel energy storage for cars. Today a typical car has a total efficiency in the vicinity of 10%. With flywheels that can be raised to 80%. If the fuel is electricity from hydropower, the carbon emissions are zero. If the fuel is electricity from fuel cell based coal plants (60+% efficiency) then the total efficiency, including electricity production, becomes 50%. That’s an 80% reduction in carbon emissions from cars simply by switching from gasoline and internal combustion to fuel cell based coal power and flywheels. Not one of these technologies have been taken into account in the business as usual scenario.
“The resulting cost of climate impacts will outweigh any development gains made by the 3rd world.”
You sound awfully sure.
“Don’t take my word for it, listen to another ‘Marxist’ (and former Chief Economist at the World Bank), Sir Nick Stern.”
Well, he may be a Sir but he certainly doesn’t know much about economics and technological innovation. (His report has been totally bashed by other economists) The fact that he has risen to power in the World Bank says a whole lot about the World Bank.
“Consider this scenario : Mankind continues to burn increasingly large amounts of fossil fuels, which are cheap and in plentiful supply (whatever ‘peak oil’ types would have you believe).”
I’m with you. Peak oil doom is not very realistic.
“The factory that builds nanobots in the Sahara never gets built, because it was more expensive to build than to just keep burning fossil fuels. Then, suddely, we realise the earth is 3 degrees warmer than it was, the ice caps are melting and sub-Sahran Africa and Southern Asia are suffering from massive water shortages because of circulation changes. Pretty picture eh?”
First of all, we don’t “suddenly” realize that the Earth is 3 degrees warmer. We can monitor the Earth and its condition closely. Second, if we have the water pumping technology to reverse sea level rise and to green Sahara, then massive water shortages in Southern Asia doesn’t sound all that scary all of a sudden, now, does it?
The scenarios I pictured are examples of a technological safety net, an insurance plan just in case the whacko doomster scenarios really do turn out to be true. They don’t need to be put into action if not necessary, but if climate change is becoming a real nasty problem then we have the option of doing so. From an economic point of view this makes beautiful sense. The choice is between taking a major 100% certain blow to the economy NOW, rather than _maybe_ take a minor hit to a much richer economy in 50 years. From a rational point of view it’s no brainer. If you really care about the lives of billions of people on the planet then you step on the economic gas pedal and wait with action.
“One final note : You seem to be under the impression that once 3rd world countries make the ‘breakthrough’ their emissions will go down.”
Partly. China is today building coal power plants with 25% efficiency. Millions of chinese are *burning* coal in their stoves for heating and cooking. We’re talking less than 3% efficiency here. Transitioning to a more modern technology will no doubt also mean drastic improvements in energy efficiency. To put it another way: if China implemented ALL the technologies that I mentioned earlier then even at a US level of prosperity China would not consume more energy than today.
“And why, despite a booming economy, increasing oil prices and the near-limitless technological resources of the US Universities and National labs, US emissions are STILL RISING?”
Because as you say, historically the price of oil has been low. There has been little need for innovation in these areas. This does not mean that innovation is not taking place. Currently many of the energy technologies of the future are being conceived and developed in the US. If the greens had it their way in the 70s, that would not be happening right now.
“Relying on future technological progress is a fool’s game.”
It’s worked quite fine for the past 250 years, thank you.
“Most predictions turn out to be totally off, generally being overoptimistic.”
Really? My impression is that it is the other way around. Who overpredicted commercial airflight or even space travel 100 years ago?
“In fact, under a capitalist system, robots just serve to make the poor poorer, since there is even less demand for labor and that is the resource poor people have.”
Yet another Marxian misconception. Can you please explain why the wages are highest in the countries with the highest levels of automation and robotization? Increased productivity due to technology pushes real wages UP, not down. This is elementary economics.
“Technology is most likely to follow an S-curve, with innovation naturally trailing off. This has happened time and time again in virtually all individual fields, and it will happen at some point for technology in general (probably sooner than later, as even progress in computers appears to be slowing down).”
Really!? I would say that the fact that new fields and new technologies keep popping up is evidence to the contrary, namely that innovation is NOT slowing down. Why should it? Do you have *any* rational reason for why that should be the case?
“Yet another Marxian misconception. Can you please explain why the wages are highest in the countries with the highest levels of automation and robotization? Increased productivity due to technology pushes real wages UP, not down. This is elementary economics.”
You’re getting cause and effect mixed up. Higher wages encourage automation. Automation does not raise wages.
“Really? My impression is that it is the other way around. Who overpredicted commercial airflight or even space travel 100 years ago?”
There were plenty of people in the 1960s who believed we would have space hotels today. People in 1999 believed that computers would keep doubling in performance every 1.5 years and that the effect would be revolutionary. Performance is now increasing at about half that rate, and the extra power has done little for us that 1999 computers couldn’t do). Or how about energy. Who would have predicted in 1990 that coal would be the energy source of the future (as it now appears to be, at least for the next few decades)?
In my lifespan, energy generation has barely changed. Oil, coal, and natural gas are still the source of 80% of our energy (as they were in the 1980s) and in the same pecking order no less. The very same gasoline still goes into Otto engines to fuel cars, which are about as inefficient as in the 1980s.
“Really!? I would say that the fact that new fields and new technologies keep popping up is evidence to the contrary, namely that innovation is NOT slowing down. Why should it? Do you have *any* rational reason for why that should be the case?”
I model technological innovation using a creaming curve – that easy inventions like the wheel and fire get invented first because they give a very big benefit and are fairly trivial to discover. As more things are discovered, the later discoveries are harder to make and give less benefit. Fusion power might be a nice technology to have, but the benefit will be less than going from animal power to steam power and it will be far harder to invent than the first steam engines were to invent. After fusion power, there exists only 1 possibly more efficient way to extract energy – black holes – and that is likely to remain in the realm of science fiction forever. At some point the cost of research will overcome economic growth and progress will stagnate.
“It’s worked quite fine for the past 250 years, thank you.”
Past results are no guarantee of future performance.
Re #117 and “Really? My impression is that it is the other way around. Who overpredicted commercial airflight or even space travel 100 years ago?”
Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and the author of “Thomas Edison Conquers the Martians.”
Relying on technological progress to solve social problems just doesn’t work sometimes. Nuclear energy, after 50 or so years of commercial development, still hasn’t produced energy “too cheap to meter.” An overprediction. Airline tickets are still too expensive for most people, so many early predictions of widespread aviation (e.g. Stapledon in 1930) were overpredictions. “Cobalt bombs” never materialized, and neither did cold fusion, or solar power satellites, or O’Neill habitats in orbit, or nuclear rockets, or flying cars… want me to go on?
“You’re getting cause and effect mixed up. Higher wages encourage automation. Automation does not raise wages.”
This is false. Higher wages encourage development of NEW technology, lower wages encourage implementation of OLD technology. So in China, where labor is cheap, they’re building bridges, roads and other old type technology to increase productivity, whereas in the US they’re developing internet commerce and nanotechnology to increase productivity. In both cases the result is automatization and capital accumulation, in both cases the result is increased productivity and therefore higher wages. Thus, automation drives up wages. That’s why we all are insanely rich today compared to 200 years ago.
“I model technological innovation using a creaming curve – that easy inventions like the wheel and fire get invented first because they give a very big benefit and are fairly trivial to discover.”
This is based on the false feudal assumption that wealth is a fixed quantity to be stolen, inherited or taxed, and that there is a fixed quantity of inventions out there in some platonic heaven to be discovered. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wealth is CREATED, not mined or stolen. Inventions are CREATED, not discovered. There is no end to the amount of inventions that is possible for humans. Why? Because new inventions lead to new possibilities, and new possibilities leads to the enabling of new inventions.
“As more things are discovered, the later discoveries are harder to make and give less benefit.”
How then do you explain the acceleration of inventions in human history? Fire was invented, what, 500.000 years ago? Then what? Stone tools some 40.000 years ago. Then what? Agriculture som 12.000 years ago when CO2 levels got high enough. Then what? Civilization some 4000 years ago. Then what? Capitalism some 250 years ago with steam power. Then trains, steel bridges, tall buildings, sanitation, cars, cargo ships, airplanes, electrical lighting, telephones, motion pictures, TV, plastics, computers, internet, mobile phones. Does that look like a slowing down of innovation to you? If later inventions give less benefit, why are new innovations popping up at an increasing rate?
Read up on the Negishi weights in the objective function of Nordhaus’ RICE model (you can also download the spreadsheet version and check the parameters yourself). The express purpose of the weights is to level the social ROI across regions; otherwise capital would immediately flow from rich to poor regions to equalize incomes everywhere. That’s fine to the extent that it captures the world order as it is; the US certainly isn’t about to give most of its GDP to the rest of the world, nor could it if it wanted to. However, when you then set policy using the same objective function, you are in effect saying that the universe has decided that people in China deserve to be poor, and who are we to stop them?
“How then do you explain the acceleration of inventions in human history?”
Two very powerful forces. First the discovery of writing allowed the storage of information (before that everything lived only in human minds, which meant that stuff was forgetten and reinvented quite routinely). Second, an enormous explosion in the human population.
Plot those inventions on a timeline and you’ll see no distinct pattern from 1850 to the present. Of the stuff you mentioned, 4 (computers, internet, television, and mobile phones) became important after 1950. Steel, trains, steam ships, and telegraphs (4 items) are in the 1850-1900 period, while the telephone, motion pictures, cars, airplanes, plastics, and electrical lighting (6 items) became important in the 1900-1950 period.
What is your alternative reason why agriculture wasn’t invented before the Holocene?
[Response:For that matter, I’ve sometimes wondered why agriculture wasn’t invented during the Eemian — the major interglacial before the present one, about 100,000 years ago. –raypierre]
[Response:Brian Fagan writes that agriculture was invented during the Younger Dryas. Humankind had gotten numerous enough through the Bolling, and dependent on gathering and storing wild stuff like acorns, that they were unable to just nomad away as they would have earlier. David. ]
“[N]ew inventions lead to new possibilities, and new possibilities leads to the enabling of new inventions.”
“How then do you explain the acceleration of inventions in human history?”
“Two very powerful forces. First the discovery of writing allowed the storage of information (before that everything lived only in human minds, which meant that stuff was forgetten and reinvented quite routinely). Second, an enormous explosion in the human population.”
So, basically you’re saying that one invention — writing — lead to new possibilities — storing vast amount of information — which enabled new inventions? If so, you’re saying exactly the same thing as I am. Now, generalize that statement from one invention to all inventions and you’re there. Every new invention enables several more. Thus, our possibility space is continuously growing, not shrinking.
“Plot those inventions on a timeline and you’ll see no distinct pattern from 1850 to the present.”
I beg to differ. Plot wealth creation on a time line from 1850 to present and you’ll see a very distinct pattern: exponential economic growth, implying accelerating innovation. The categories I mentioned after 1900 are extremely broad. Take “plastics” for instance. Is this really one innovation? Or is it a whole field of innovations that is still being explored to this day? I could name a few: rapid prototyping, flexible electronics. Then there are all the more mundane inventions: e.g. disposable cutlery and bags. Plastics is used everywhere in zillions of little devices and products.
“You believe that agriculture wasn’t invented earlier due to a lack of carbon dioxide?”
Well, duh! As I’m sure a lot of good climatologists here on RealClimate can tell you, summer temperatures, precipitation and stability in the sub-tropics were suitable for agriculture during the previous ice age. (This is where agriculture first emerged) Human intelligence reached its current levels in Eurasia some 30-40.000 years ago. Thus, the only limiting factor was CO2. You have to remember that during the previous ice age, CO2 was from a plant point of view at an all time low. Plants were literally starving and there’s just no way that plants below 200 ppm are remotely close to supporting agriculture. Thus, modern civilization owes its existence to this dreaded gas of horror and destruction, CO2.
the answer is intelligence. Eurasians didn’t achieve current levels of intelligence until some 30-40.000 years ago. Agriculture was dependent on a number of natural factors such as stable summer temperature, precipitation and CO2-fertilization, but it was first and foremost an intellectual achievement. The only thing missing in the previous interglacial was intelligence.
[Response: Intelligence is certain one possibility, but what is the actual evidence for any difference in intelligence 100K years ago? I suppose we know something from cave paintings, but that may be largely a matter of preservation and where people lived. Jared Diamond would probably have some alternate view, regarding the chance encounters of people and domesticatable animals and plants. –raypierre ]
Re #120 and “There is no end to the amount of inventions that is possible for humans. Why? Because new inventions lead to new possibilities, and new possibilities leads to the enabling of new inventions.”
The problem with this kind of reasoning is that, strictly applied, it predicts that there are no social problems — no pollution, no poverty, no climate change. Yes, technological invention is nice. No, it will not necessarily come along every time and save the day. There IS pollution, there IS poverty, there IS war, etc., etc., etc. Some of those problems have been made considerably worse by technology. You can’t really have a good system of concentration camps or labor camps if you don’t have railroads. And war can now involve taking out an entire city and surrounding area at a time, thanks to our friend, the atom.
This is one area where we (the RC “regulars”) might want to step back and take a more humble view.
There are lots of factors influencing the timing of the invention of agriculture. For example, 100,000 yr. ago humans probably didn’t have the technology for it. Our stone tools were far more crude then; I was surprised to learn from a PBS documentary that anthropologists refer to a time period 75,000 – 80,000 yr. ago as the “first great technological revolution” — a dramatic increase in the sophistication of stone tools. Also, agriculture benefits greatly from the domestication of animals, and that may have affected the timing. I have heard (although I can’t recall where) that agriculture was actually triggered by the evolution of new strains of cereal crops, which have a higher yield and greater food value for humans.
But this is just my speculation; I’m *certainly* not sufficiently well-informed to pontificate on the issue. I’d guess that none of those who posted “the reason” are sufficiently well-informed either.
There are a lot of “wicked smart” people here. This is the only discussion group I know of where a large fraction of regular *readers* have a long list of publications in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. But just because we’re wicked smart, that doesn’t mean we’re qualified to pronounce judgement outside our areas of expertise. I feel qualified to opine about mathematics, and to comment with some degree of expertise in physics or astronomy. I’ve also learned enough about climate science (from RC and other places) to comment intelligently on that topic — with caution and caveats. But the invention of agriculture? Get real.
Onar, your rhetoric is out of place on this thread and possibly RC, in general.
[Thus, modern civilization owes its existence to this dreaded gas of horror and destruction, CO2.]
Does Pat Michaels write your material?
Comment by John L. McCormick — 10 Nov 2006 @ 9:27 AM
You appear to believe that, at no time whatsoever should any restriction be placed on the combustion of fossil fuels. While these fuels are cheap and plentiful, we should continue to use them, whatever the cost.
If I am wrong on this assumption, please could you inform me of the circumstances under which such restrictions could come into place, and what such restrictions might be.
If I am right, then you and I have nothing further to say.
I’ve heard some very interesting “theories” [haha] about it, including that our hunter-gather ancestors lived in a time of plenty, and were forced to turn to agriculture when the climate deteriorated, such that the population numbers could no longer be supported by hunting and gathering alone.
Now Onar tells me that, in fact, the opposite is the case and that agriculture only became physically possible recently because of the bounty provided by an increase in CO2 levels.
You’ve further chipped in with an additional theory, that the transition was due to an internal technological and cultural dynamic independent of what we might call “external forcing”.
Now I know very little about what the evidence is for each of these competing theories, and not much more about the reasoning that behind them. How am I to distinguish between them?
Fortunately I don’t need to, because there is no consequence to whichever theory is most correct. I can relax and read about developments in New Scientist, Jared Diamond books, etc.
However, it strikes me that this is the situation many people find themselves in with regard to climate science and its warnings of major systemic impacts due to anthropogenic global warming. Is it due to CO2? Or simply the Sun? Or just part of some internal cycle?
I think everyone agrees that the answer matters a lot more than what the trigger was for the development of agriculture. How could you possibly decide, without learning about some of the details? Will people trust scientists, and their institutions, such as the IPCC and the Royal Society, enough in order to take mitigation actions on scientists say-so? Or, is it the responsibility of scientists to educate a majority of the people in the elementary facts of climate science, in order that action can be taken?
What might the “minimal crib-sheet” for climate science look like?
I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic, but it seems to me that this is a major challenge for the way that politics and science interact in the public sphere. You would hope that the general population would be educated enough that the comment pieces that maliciously misinterpret the science would simply be ridiculed and not get any traction. Sadly, this is not the case.
For a while now I have been wondering why there is little discussion about mitigation by breaking apart CO2. Though I see here ideas about dumping iron, are any more direct processes known?
I’m wondering whether to persue the topic, could anyone here let me know if the search is a waste of time?
What’s gnawing away at me is: We release CFCs and they end up breaking down ozone. Does anything otherwise benign happily break down CO2? Or is it a no – biological processes seem to be best at it, and they’re slow?
I am trying to understand the feasibility of things like:
Filtering devices in chimney stacks (or car exhausts say) that remove carbon. Not by removing soot, but breaking down CO2 somehow.
Boxes on every loungeroom or on every roof that just sit there pulling carbon from the air by breaking down CO2, where every few weeks you have to remove the block of carbon it creates. And something a lot faster at it than my potted plants.
I’m hoping someone could help me quickly dismiss these notions or point to forums on this subject? My guess so far is that such an angle isn’t promising enough to persue. I can find only disparate references to such ideas on the net, and they seem to involve things like furnaces.
It goes toward me understanding why the basic emphasis is on reducing emissions rather than negating them more directly. Thanks.
Ever notice.. and wonder why the nuclear capable third-world nations don’t have a nuclear-waste disposal problem..?
Re: The Pacific Ocean’s destiny.. and “Flying cars”…
In topic “Pacific Ocean Dead”…
The nuclear capable-third world nations have created five miles-long nuclear waste-dump strips in the Pacific, below Japan.. and filled the area with much of their toxic wastes… Those crude nuclear piles are
boiling the water there, creating El Nino, changing the planet’s climate…
Diesel dust is attracting and holding the Sun’s heat in Arctic ice, is why the Arctic is crumbling, and is what those scientifically discovered “black rivers flowing under the Arctic ice” are…
When El Nino and diesel dust have melted the poles.. the planet’s weather will STALL.. and earth with turn into a dessert planet… Humanity goes extinct near the year 145,730AD.. when the last human can be seen cracking the marrow out of the bones of the second last…
When that massive nuclear pile in the Pacific goes critical, WE will have killed the Pacific.. and that will chain-reaction to kill all the seas…
A-men for the seas…
In topic “flying cars”…
I have the technology.. I can’t find the funding..?
1978 late Fall.. on a planned three-week leisurely cruise across Canada, along highway number-one, along as much of the scenic-routes as I could find.. just past the Ontario border into Manitoba.. I saw two large meteorites cross a huge “X” in the sky.. and thought about it with all I had.. “What makes Alien craft’s engines work”, I telepathed from all my Being, with all I had…
…A few minutes later, I had to park, to write the flood of new data, for three hours straight.. resulting in the crude bench manual to build a liquid electricity rocket…
James Watt watched a kettle boil, and invented a steam engine… I saw an X in the sky, and invented the liquid electricity engine…
I attempted to detail the workings of the engine to a visiting European nuclear physicist… 60-seconds into the description, his face when pale, his chin dropped, he struggled to speak, he accused me of “talking in the forth dimension”, barely managed to stand, managed to walk three paces, and fell flat on his face on the carpet…
Over the years I have contacted pretty-much every major scientific concern in the business world, to no avail…
All I got was classy snubbing and scorn from the mindless scientific community, governments, and religions… and a lot of remote viewers desperately trying to suck technology from my mind, mostly when I slept.. till I figured ways to seriously damage them upon approach… Plus there were a lot of attempts to dig into my computers, them believing I’d put the meat in a computer Not connected to the Net… They destroyed five PC’s… Seems this race doesn’t want engines for flying cars, and engines to take us to other solar systems… unless they can steal it from the inventor… It’s a pity I am being forced to take this technology to the grave…
All this engine is, is a couple serious modifications to laser… It cracks light… Damaged light-cones self-heal with the nearest molecules.. thus creating raw antimatter-acids, which are saved in exhaust scrubbers, and sold to power industry… The service station pays the consumer for plugged exhaust scrubbers.. A complete 180 turn around for having to pay for gas all these years…
Fragmented light-“particles” instantly decay into liquid electricity.. which, among 100 new technologies, in this science layer, replaces combustion as a power source, opens the bonds of the inert elements, establishes plazma welding of all materials to all materials, is the base to establish disintegrator trash-pails, obsoletes hospitals, gives us planetary defense weaponry, and thousands of new toys, and gets us to other habitable-planets before this one shows us we’ve already killed it…
It’s that.. or near the year 145,730AD, the last human is cracking the marrow out of the bones of the second last.. and by 155,000AD the planet can’t even support the life of a hardy beetle… I’m 59 now.. I don’t know how long I can hold all this data..? and I’m the only one who has it… I need use of a small lab, or this human race doesn’t get any of these technologies… I’ve taken it as far as I can.. the rest is up to this human race… If I hear no favorable response by my 60th birthday, the 75-thousand pages of notes burn in the garden, that evening.. and you’all can go try to find it all by yourselves, by your classic “scientific” trial and error methods…
If anyone has a clue how to get new technology funded, I’d sure appreciate hearing about it.. and I’m sure you would benefit from it greatly when I start marketing flying-cars…
Do you prefer two seaters or four seaters?..
Why is it so tough to get new technologies funded?.. Could it be that mankind’s intellect is devolving..? given that cell phones are baking brains, meth and coke are dissolving brains, the drug industry’s pain killers evolutions are numbing people to reality, dirty smallpox vaccinations are destroying brain file connections, and prolific lack of nutrients are literally desiccating brains…
Every day it seems more and more that humans are devolving into apes… Just look at how they, you, we, treat this planet…
Thing is.. Diesel exhaust, as “lampblack”, is condensing to black rivers in the poles ice, and is melting the poles, while five seriously long nuclear waste dump strips, blow Japan, are boiling the sea bottom, creating El Nino, and will one day wonder “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO OUR FUTURE?”… All we will know is that the melted Arctic rocks are all covered with a slippery fine black dust, which will make a useful black paint… And without the Arctic snow and ice hiding the rocks, the money suckers will find lots of gold and minerals to sell, while the planet is dying… We killed our planet!..
Bottom-line is, You get flying cars about five years after I gets a lab… Simple as that!… I’ve done a life-time of work acquiring this technology.. I’ve taken it as far as I can without funding…
So.. Now you know why you are not driving your flying-cars today.. and why those alive today won’t be seeing flying-cars in their lifetimes…
Dr. Schmidt, time to pull the plug on this thread. There is lunacy running amok here. So many important things to discuss and so little time.
Oh, I just talked to my insurance agent and he assured me he would not underwrite a policy to cover a flying car. Stuff happens, I guess.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 10 Nov 2006 @ 10:46 AM
It won’t work with CO2 because it is more stable than any of the products it can be converted into (cyanide (CN), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and oxygen are all less stable than CO2).
It makes sense considering how much energy one gets making the CO2 in the first place.
If it is proven that significant damage to individuals is caused when releasing more than some amount of CO2 into the atmosphere per year, then CO2 emissions must be considered a limited resource like any other resource and a system of private property for it developed. Property rights should be designated on previous emissions e.g. in the last 20 years. That is, if you emitted 1 ton per year for the past 20 years you own emission rights of 1 ton per year. You can do whatever you want with these emission rights, including selling them.
However, like in all cases of restrictions on people’s rights the burden of evidence is on the accuser. CO2 should be assumed innocent until proven guilty, and such a conviction should hold in court.
Re #116: You say “Today people use friggin 60-watt light bulbs. 20 years down the line they could possibly replace that by a 1 W laser or led based llight. Imagine reducing the world’s lighting energy consumption by 80%!”
20 years? You can get LED light bulbs today, though they’re a bit pricy. You can also get CFL bulbs that use maybe 10-15 watts to produce the same light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. But because energy is artifically cheap, thoughtless people will use them to illuminate empty parking lots, floodlight their houses for “artistic” effects, leave them burning in broad daylight, etc.
Likewise, it’s possible to buy cars that get 70 mpg (there’s one sitting in my driveway); with existing technology it should be fairly easy to build one that gets 150 or more. (Or if you’ve got a spare $100K, you can buy a Tesla :-)) But because gasoline is artifically cheap, and because the automakers et al have persuaded the public that “status” depends on driving oversized gas guzzlers, most people choose not to buy the fuel efficient models.
That’s why improved technology alone is unlikely to do anything about CO2 and GW. People have to WANT to use it for that. Current technology can do the job, and without reducing overall prosperity, if the desire to act is there.
Yep. High school teaches science backwards — it’d be better to start with math, then physics, then chemistry, then biology, to give the basics needed to follow how photosynthesis works — and how much sunlight is available to drive photosynthesis (“primary productivity” — the basis of life on Earth) per year.
Photo: light; synthesis: chemistry — plants “sit there pulling carbon from the air by breaking down CO2, where every few weeks you have to remove the block of carbon it creates” — weeds and pond scum do it. But we’re burning fossil fuel far faster than photosynthesis is turning the CO2 back into solid carbon compounds, on a year by year basis worldwide.
there is evidence of a technological revolution during the previous ice age. This coincides with a pattern of skull size growth in Eurasians. Skull size, which is significantly correlated with intelligence, reached its modern level around 30-40.000 years ago. Thus, based on paleo-evidence Eurasian ancestors were as intelligent then as today. Thus, based on evidence of tool usage, cave art and skull size we can infer that Eurasians were mentally capable of inventing agriculture 30.000 years ago. Based on comparison with skull size variation in modern human races it is possible to infer that the rise in intelligence during the previous ice age was very significant making it highly unlikely that humans/hominids were capable of inventing agriculture in previous ice age cycles.
The climate in the southern parts of Eurasia was suitable for agriculture, even at the depths of the ice age. This leaves CO2-fertilization as the missing piece in the puzzle. Plants are generally very near extinction below 150 ppm, and at 180-190 ppm, which was the absolute low of the previous ice age, plants are highly unsuitable for agriculture as can be seen here. Full experiment here.
Curiously CO2-fertilization also plays an important role in the glaciation albedo feedback. Lower temperature leads to lower CO2-levels which leads to forest death which leads to glaciation southward advancement which leads to greater albedo which leads to lower temperature.
Thanks for this link, Gavin. I’ve been looking for a short “trial” summary like that.
If this were an actual trial the prosecution would have been thrown out of court.
1) When a murder takes place it is crucially important to be able to place the suspect at the scene of the crime at the time of the murder. Well, seems like CO2 can be placed at the scene of the crime, but only 800 years AFTER the murder. The prosecutions claim of time travel notwithstanding, this evidence does not hold up in court.
2) Milankovitch a co-conspirer you say? Doesn’t stand a chance in court. The problems with the theory are neatly summarized at Wikipedia.
3) The defence is capable of placing another suspect at the scene of the crime, and that is the sun. By extraordinary coincidence it turns out that the sun itself varies in a 100.000 year cycle which far better matches the ice age cycle than Milankovitch. This alone is sufficient evidence to get the case against CO2 thrown on its head out of court due to reasonable doubt.
But wait, the defence does not rest its case just yet. It is well known that solar magnetic activity is a good proxy for variation in TSI. This very real and uncontroversial forcing is not included in the prosecution’s calculation of forcings. Thus, we know for a fact 100% conclusively then that the climate sensitivity claimed by the prosecution must be too high on this account alone.
But wait, the defence is not finished. There is another possible solar mechanism connected with the variation in the magnetic field and that is the cosmic ray/solar indirect effect theory. This theory is currently controversial but evidence is mounting in the form of correlations on multiple time scales. Should this theory be confirmed by later experiments and findings the sensitivity may need to be reduced by a factor of 2,5-7,5, i.e. a climate sensitivity of 0,1-0,3 C/W. Incidently this is precisely the range of climate sensitivities you get from a host of direct measurements and calculations of the greenhouse effect. The only single piece of evidence pointing to a high climate sensitivity is the ice age evidence discussed in Hansen’s article. If it falls the whole climate bubble bursts.
Honestly, Gavin, with this evidence would you send a guy to the electric chair? I don’t think there is a judge in the world that would. In fact, I’m pretty sure a judge would say “come back in 15-20 years when or if you have a better case.”
[Response: I’ll bother with one of your points, – If you knew anything about what you were talking about, you’d know that the Sharma paper you allude to is not a measure of sun’s activity at all, but more a measure of changes in how isotopes get deposited over ice age cycles (correlation != causation remember?). Stretching this analogy further than it should be, note that this is a civil trial, not a criminal one, and the only sanctions that are being looked for are some amount of community service and possibly a cease and desist order. – gavin]
I read the abstract of Sharma’s paper. He himself warns (in the abstract, no less!) that some of the data may have been corrupted, therefore biasing the results, and that the study needs to be extended further back in time before results can be considered reliable (let alone conclusive). And if you know anything about time series analysis, you know that assigning any degree of reliability to the cause of a roughly 100000-yr. roughly periodic phenomenon based on 200000 yrs of data, is folly.
So, we have a very interesting theory but it’s based on far too short a time span, and there is reason to believe some of the data have been corrupted. At least, that’s what the author of the paper says.
But you seem willing to assign the cause of the ice ages to this new theory with certainty. Just as you seem certain that increasing CO2 concentration is the “cause” of the invention of agriculture, and to state that when CO2 levels are below about 150 ppm, plants are “very near extinction,” based on links to one experiment conducted on one type of plant. It seems to me that you have an illogical double standard.
By the way … references to material on the websites “junkscience” and “co2science” definitely detract from your credibility.
Peter Bellwood’s “The First Farmers” offers a most enjoyable survey of what is known about the origins of agriculture, including a bit of the stage known as proto-agriculture. However, Bellwood, nor others, take into account, at least not sufficiently, the much higher current sea stand. So all one can say with certainty is that proto-agriculture was practiced before Younger Drayas, without being able to state just how much before, at least near sea level rather than inland.
Some, probably including Diamond, have argued that agriculture requires a stable climate else the effort does not pay. The rest of the arguement is that this stabilty did not occur until the Holocene. Whether this argument is applicable to upland New Guinea has been questioned, with only a slightly (ca. 2 K) more variable climate during LGM.
One anthropologist, whose name I disremember, has argued that proto-agriculture and then agriculture was a reaction to the crowding which occurred as a result of the rising sea stand since LGM.
The arguments that agriculture cannot arise until a new toolkit is developed, or brain size is large enough, are of course reasonable. However absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Raypierre’s suggestion that it was practiced in the Eemian is original, AFAIK. It might well have been so, on a small non-irrigated scale. If so, all the evidence is long gone or never looked for…
[Response: I wasn’t saying that agriculture was practiced in the Eemian, just that all the climatic factors generally invoked for the rise of agriculture were equally well in place at the Eemian. The one thing that’s uncertain is whether the Eemian had as stable a climate as the Holocene. –raypierre]
Comment by David B. Benson — 10 Nov 2006 @ 5:33 PM
Am I the only visitor to this thread suffering some annoyance at the discussion of brain size, etc.
There must be something more relevant and informative to dwell upon, e.g., the UN Human Development Report, 2006, Australian drought or excessive precip in NW NA.
Can we get past the challenging posts of Onar and accept that he has expended enough CO2 contributing to this thread…or maybe we can prod him again until he gets bored?
Comment by John L. McCormick — 10 Nov 2006 @ 5:47 PM
Onar (#138) “However, like in all cases of restrictions on people’s rights the burden of evidence is on the accused”. The right in discussion is the right to emit CO2.
Property rights, like the right to use your property to emit CO2, are not unlimited. Under the U.S. common law there is the legal concept “nuisance”, which has its basis in english law and has been part of the legal framework for hundreds of years.
Under nuisance, a person can not use their property in a way that interferes with another persons property rights. Polluting someone’s property has long been considered a nuisance. Nuisance is the legal basis for the current environmental law.
Wikipedia has a good article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuisance
And yes I know this is off topic.
Comment by Joseph O'Sullivan — 10 Nov 2006 @ 7:23 PM
There are mounting problems with the Milankovitch-theory. (summarized quite well in the Wikipedia article sited earlier). So much so that the ~100kyr (95kyr+120kyr+400kyr) eccentricity cycle in particular must be considered disproven. The final piece of evidence in this puzzle is the work by Muller and MacDonald showing that there is no evidence of a 95kyr, 120kyr or a 400kyr frequency in the climate data. There is only a very narrow 100 kyr frequency. This, taken together with the fact that the eccentricity cycle is the weakest of the Milankovitch-cycles, yet allegedly produces the greatest effect in terms of climate change, essentially disproves it as the driver of the ice ages.
Yet the extreme narrowness of the 100kyr frequency strongly points to an external, i.e. astronomical origin. It is very unlikely that internal climate dynamics could produce such a narrow modulation. Well then, we know that it’s not the eccentricity cycle, but it’s another astronomical cycle of some sort. Muller and Macdonald showed that there is a perfect correlation between the climate and the Earths orbital inclination, and postulated that interplanetary dust could be the driver, but currently this hypothesis is not supported by the evidence. This leaves the sun as the very obvious remaining candidate, and Sharma (and others) have produced evidence that the sun indeed has a 100kyr cycle.
Notice that the correlation between Be10 and O18 in Sharma02 *improves* when it is corrected for geomagnetic variation. This is strong evidence against a spurious correlation.
(*) Milankovitch ~100kyr-cycle disproven
(*) Yet strong evidence for astronomical origin of 100kyr cycle
(*) Strong evidence that this 100kyr cycle is solar
(*) causality problem with CO2 (800 year lag)
(*) known physical mechanism for temperature driven CO2 correlation (ocean absorption)
(*) CO2 climate sensitivity of 0,75 C/W inconsistent with other empirical derivations of climate sensitivity which typically yield 0,1-0,3 C/W.
Maybe it’s just me but the balance of evidence is strongly tipping in favor of a solar explanation of the ice age cycle, and strongly in disfavor of a CO2-driven climate.
“Just as you seem certain that increasing CO2 concentration is the “cause” of the invention of agriculture, and to state that when CO2 levels are below about 150 ppm, plants are “very near extinction,” based on links to one experiment conducted on one type of plant.”
My link was by no means exhausting the evidence, just illustrating the problem with one particulaly visual experiment. There are literally hundreds of peer reviewed experiments that all confirm the same thing. C3 plants are generally highly unsuitable for agriculture at <200 ppm. If you don’t believe this you can always try to farm at 200 ppm. You will fail miserably, at least if feeding your family is the goal.
“By the way … references to material on the websites “junkscience” and “co2science” definitely detract from your credibility.”
I fail to see why, unless you judge arguments by who present them rather than by their merits. CO2science is to my knowledge the largest online repository of peer reviewed articles on CO2-fertilization, and the Idsos are experts in this field and highly recognized as such. As to junkscience.com, the essay I referenced is a summary of various calculations of climate sensitivity done by numerous researchers, all referenced. Could you please explain why you have problems with this?
10Be-concentration is influenced by precipitation, but 10Be-flux is not. Both correlate to climate change in the previous ice age, see. e.g. Van Geel et al.
Let me also add that in a rational society the trial would not be an analogy, but they way science interacted with politics. And even though it is a civil trial it is still required to provide actual hard evidence. And the stakes are very high here: the cost of mitigation will be approximately $30.000 per every full time worker. That’s not exactly nickles and dimes. In fact it corresponds to giving up approximately 1 full working year of your life. With severe economic punishments like that one better have the facts straight.
Re agriculture (and isn’t this getting a bit off-topic, interesting though it is?): I think some of us are asking and trying to answer the wrong question. Why should have early humans have bothered to invent agriculture, when their hunter-gatherer lifestyle provided everything they needed for less expenditure of effort?
As to the idea that a CO2 shortage restricted plant growth sufficiently to make agriculture impossible, what of the rest of the plant kingdom? The plants that humans cultivate are not fundamentally different from the rest of the plant kingdom, not even after some 10K years or so of selective breeding, and certainly not at the beginnings of agriculture. So if lack of CO2 restricted plant growth, we should see evidence of this in the fossil record: tree rings, pollen counts, and other such evidence of plant growth should show an obvious correlation to atmospheric CO2 levels as recorded in e.g. ice cores. I’ve never heard that it does, and I would expect to have seen the fact remarked on if it did.
Therefore I have to relegate this claim to the same category as most of the others made by the poster: wild theories made without supporting evidence for the purpose of obfuscation.
Seems to be a lot of threshold attributions here – brain size is not a necessity for succesful agriculture. How do we know there wasn’t any agriculture in the Eemian? For a good discussion on that, with respect to linear vs. parallel thought, check out “The Edison Gene” by Thom Hartmann. Linear thought leads to Tower of Babel disfunction.
As far as a threshold level on CO2 for agriculture, that seems anthropocentric as well. CO2 (aka the base of the food chain) helps flora overcome other stresses – particularly water. All locations are different with respect to limiting factors. Therefore, it not only can be said that 200 ppm starves flora, but so does 380 ppm. Commercial greenhouse gardeners use 800 to 1000 ppm. That should tell us something.
Comment by Steve Hemphill — 11 Nov 2006 @ 11:18 PM
Onar : If it is proven that significant damage to individuals is caused when releasing more than some amount of CO2 into the atmosphere per year, then CO2 emissions must be considered a limited resource like any other resource and a system of private property for it developed. Property rights should be designated on previous emissions e.g. in the last 20 years. That is, if you emitted 1 ton per year for the past 20 years you own emission rights of 1 ton per year. You can do whatever you want with these emission rights, including selling them.
I just *love* economists. I mean, this is great. Onar lectures us that restricting CO2 production will damage the 1st world economy, which will in turn damage the 3rd world economy yada yada yada. And now this.
Just in case you missed it Onar, the ‘solution’ to CO2 pollution you point out above would cripple the economic growth of the 2nd and 3rd world, while maintaining the economic supremacy of the West. You are actually advocating a solution whereby an American should own 100 times more CO2 credits than a Kenyan, because the American has emitted more.
Aside from the fact that the Chinese and Indians would laugh you out of the room when you proposed this ‘solution’ you’d be condeming the developing world to stay exactly where they were, while giving the main culprits a free ride.
How about this as an alternative solution? We introduce a GLOBAL carbon tax, set at an appropriate level (I think analysis suggests around $40 per tonne CO2 produced). This money is invested by governments, private companies or Multilateral bodies (World Bank, IMF, other UN fund) in a number of ways. A portion offsets other forms of taxation, a portion goes to R&D, a portion goes to local adaptation, a portion to tech. transfer to the third world and a portion to third world adaptation.
Obviously there are many subtleties, such as companies using CDM or JI to offset their emissions, difficult negotiations to agree exact how much money flows from the developed to developing world, who controls the spending, who audits it etc.
But it is a possible solution.
And guess what? ‘Our’ economists predict that this system would result in world GDP higher than the business as usual scenario by 2100.
Re #152: “… you’d be condeming the developing world to stay exactly where they were…”
Err… Why is this, exactly? Current technology provides alternatives for many CO2 emitters; different (though still prosperous) lifestyles reduce the need for others. Why shouldn’t the developing world just bypass the late-19th/early 20th century fossil-fuel technology currently in use?
A lot of the objections to CO2 reductions in the developed world seem to be from vested interests, and in a sense you can’t really blame them. If I had millions invested in a coal-fired power plant or oil refinery, I might be reluctant to shut them down, too :-) The developing world doesn’t have these vested interests, so for instance Brazil can develop an ethanol economy, cell phones can be used instead of land lines, etc.
first the moral aspects of it: who discovered oil? who invented the technology for utilizing it? Who developed a market for creating values from it? It was the West. Kenyans have no moral claims on this technology or its utilization just because they’re poor. So IF this in your words “cripple their economic growth” it was not a growth rightfully theirs for the taking.
Second, does a farmer owning the land he has cultivated cripple the growth of non-farmers? Does a radio station owning the frequency he transmits at cripple the growth of non-radio owners? No, because they sell the fruits of their property to others in exchange for value. Farmers sell produce and radio stations sell radio programs (indirectly in the form of commercials). Therefore other people benefit from their property. That’s obviously what would happen in the case of CO2 emissions as well. If there is a fixed limit on how much CO2 emissions the world can take there will blossom a market for creating sinks and alternative fuels.
The point with a property right based on previous CO2 emissions is to ensure a *fair* and *just* distribution. And the fairest distribution is obtained when those who produce something own their own product.
You say that China and India would laugh me out of the room with this solution. If so it is only because China and India somehow believe that they have a right to own other people’s property. And why wouldn’t people in the west laugh at “solutions” that involve putting all the costs on the West?
On the 2 degree change in temperature…It is my understanding from the literature I have read on the subject (such as Jeremy Leggets- Half Gone, and the Scientific American etc), that many scientists insist anything above 400ppm is very dangerous and could lead to a chain reaction heating effect that can’t be stopped once started. Judging by our current C02 levels within 10yrs we will have run out of time if we don’t do something serious about warming today, and failing a significant reduction in CO2 by then, the temperatures rises will be inevitable.
As alarmist as this sounds, I have also not seen other large scale risk factors added to any CO2 model; the effect of extinctions of Biomass in the tropical rainforests of the world (such as the amazon which looks terribly sick); the amount of methane being naturally released into the atmosphere as the permafrost melts, the impact and the likelihood of a volcanic eruption in the near future..just to name a few other large scale greenhouse impacts. Is there any large factor that might actually reduce global warming in the next hundred years or is the potential risk of other large scale greenhouse events over the next century likely to cause a chain reaction? I think this would be an interesting area to explore..
The most interesting thing about this correlation is when man came into the picture (if you believe your evolutionary history). The earliest primates recorded appeared 60 million years ago, at the time when CO2 had fallen to 800-900ppm and temperatures had cooled and biodiversity had exploded. Since mankind has existed on the planet 200,000 years ago we can be fairly certain that CO2 has never risen anywhere near 500ppm. I found this a useful way to take in the whole cycle of the planet’s biodiversity as being influenced by temp and CO2. It also puts the argument that the planet did have larger CO2 emissions in the past in perspective. Sure it was higher, but look at the lack of biodiversity that existed!
I realize that there is a complicated relationship here, but looking at general trends it seems clear that Biodiversity will plummet to a level of mass extinction if we do hit the 2 degree barrier, or 400-500ppm CO2, which now seems quite inevitable.
Which brings me to my attitude on the topic. Even an undergrad like me without years of training can see the writing on the wall. I find it frustratingly difficult conversing with people on this topic when all anyone seems to be concerned about is the economic impact. The economy is a fictitious make believe concept created by humans in order to control each other. While I am making plans to ditch my western lifestyle, move to a place less effected by climate change and commence a sustainable life without cars, tv sets or the requirement of “money”, everyone is worried they are going to be worse off financially!! How are you going to survive in a 2 degree hotter world?
If the planet hits 2 degrees you won’t be buying food from your local supermarket anymore, there will be an economic depression, there will be bloodshed, our cities will be abandoned. The world’s population will collapse since the planet will not be able to support us all. It’s simple science really, how arrogant of humanity to think that boom and bust doesn’t apply to us? How much longer until the conversation changes from what will happen and what we should do to stop climate change and habitat destruction, to climate change is coming and how can we best prepare to survive it?
Comment by Christian King — 15 Nov 2006 @ 11:21 AM
Lendel Zed wonders why no-one devises a chimney box that captures CO2 as solid carbon. It can be captured as a solid, without putting back more energy than was yielded in its formation, as the supposed chimney-box would need.
Every puff from a tailpipe spreads around the world in, I don’t recall exactly, a few years. This means CO2 sequestration doesn’t have to be done at the top of thousands of flues or the ends of a billion tailpipes; it can be done in large central installations, and these can be anywhere in the world. The carbon dioxide will come to them. This is the most practical way to sequester CO2, and in my opinion it is the most practical way to ease the atmosphere’s CO2 level back down to where it was in 1900.
That is to say, gross CO2 emissions from tailpipes and stacks do not need to decline. They can increase rapidly for many years — not that I want them to, but they can — and the net emissions can easily enough be made negative by an industry of anywhere-on-Earth CO2 capture regions, with total area equal to that of a circle no more than ~120 km in diameter, funded as public works.
[Response:There’s a guy at Columbia named Klaus Lackner who advocates this, also. The difficulty is that it does energy to unix the CO2 from the atmosphere. It’s thermodynamics, no way around it. For the same reason, IGCC (gasification) coal plants, which produce pure CO2 stream, would be preferable to burning coal in air, so that you’d have to unmix it from the N2. David]
The most well known example of sequestered CO2 as solid carbon is called a “coal mine”.
The easiest way to sequester CO2 to avoid desequestering it.
If we can’t completely ban coal mining and burning now (and we are very far away from this—coal’s burning is increasing, and will get worse as oil gets expensive) then there’s no possible way that we will do the more thermodynamically difficult solution.
Regarding agriculture: in almost all areas the limiting factor is H2O, not CO2, and climate disruption that screws up rainfall and especially snowfall (as icemelt is released conveniently slowly) may hurt agricultural productivity much worse than the increased CO2 could benefit it.
Consider that current planting and irrigation patterns and infrastructure correspond to optimization for the past climate.
An irrigated greenhouse is not relevant for global agricultural production.
There is no way to convert CO2 back into solid carbon for less energy than you get from burning it in the first place. Here’s a quick disproof by construction of a perpetual motion machine:
1 – Assume that CO2 can be converted into solid carbon using less energy than is released in its combustion.
2 – Build a power plant.
3 – Give it an initial supply of carbon and oxygen, then seal it off from the outside world to make a closed system.
4 – Use some of the energy from the power plant to take the CO2 generated and turn it back into carbon and oxygen.
5 – Feed the carbon and oxygen back into the furnace of the power plant.
6 – Use the left over energy (which will exist because less energy was needed than the carbon released upon being burnt) for whatever purpose you desire.
Since perpetual motion machines cannot exist, the assumption must be false and carbon must need at least as much energy to reduce back to elemental carbon as is released in its combustion.
If we can’t completely ban coal mining and burning now (and we are very far away from this—coal’s burning is increasing, and will get worse as oil gets expensive) then there’s no possible way that we will do the more thermodynamically difficult solution.
That doesn’t follow. Thermodynamically more difficult can be logistically easier. Politically easier, too, because fossil fuels are heavily taxed.
Thermodynamically more difficult can be logistically easier.
I think it’s logical to put the burden of proof on those who wish to assert that we’ll be able to swim up entropy river, and make it back up over the waterfall in reverse.
From the thermodynamics you can get decent orders-of-magnitude immutable lower bounds on the amount of additional energy necessary—and it must be a few times the energy released in the combustion. This is really really really big.
And if you start producing that power at the enormous quantities necessary (presumably by a titanic scale-up of nuclear plants) then certainly the first economically feasible use would be to sell electricity for primary consumption before using it to fix CO2.
Only until power-grid electricity is literally too cheap to meter (i.e. never) would this start to be sensible.
Thankyou for your replies. As I said I am a layman (not an inventor, businessman, etc I am just trying to get a handle on options – I have to vote on policies directly related to GW one day soon I think).
Before I let it rest, can I qualify something. I understand it takes energy to turn CO2 into O2 and C-anything else. I was alluding to solar, wind, etc energy being put to use for this purpose (of ‘scrubbing’ CO2 from the air). I didn’t mean the process that produces the CO2 also somehow produces the energy to undo its production.
#162, maybe you answered this… are you saying it takes so much energy to separate the O2 from CO2 that ‘clean’ sources cannot do it, or if they could produce that much energy we’d be better off using it to replace a traditional method before using it to scrub CO2? I am guessing so.
I’m out of my depth here and probably this may not be an appropriate forum. Apologies for boring you guys, I just don’t know where else to ask. I see (from the link in #157) that these things are being persued. That’s all I was really trying to find out.
Onar – “who discovered oil? who invented the technology for utilizing it? Who developed a market for creating values from it?”
You didn’t. Nor did I. In fact, I think you’ll find fossil fuel use origninated in Roman times. How, precisely, does that fact mean that Mr America of Montana, who drives a Humvee and emits more CO2 than Mr Africa of Kenya ‘owns’ the right to emit the CO2?
Anyway, your point is utterly, utterly pointless. To reduce global emissions of CO2, you need a global agreement. To get a global agreement you need to enter into negotiations. And to enter into negotiations with the Chinese and Indians, you need sensible proposals. Your proposal is unacceptable to them. you may say “Fine” and walk away from negotiations, but ultimately we will all (or at least, the younger ones of us) pay for that failure.
“If there is a fixed limit on how much CO2 emissions the world can take there will blossom a market for creating sinks and alternative fuels.”
I agree. Where we differ is the those who currently emit CO2 don’t own the right to do so in future.
“You say that China and India would laugh me out of the room with this solution. If so it is only because China and India somehow believe that they have a right to own other people’s property.”
Where’s the property? This isn’t like your farmer or your radio station. There is no scarcity of atmosphere in which one can emit.
YOU believe that YOU have the right to emit 20 tonnes of carbon a year, because YOU CAN.
China believe that when THEY CAN (and believe me, in 30 years, they’ll be able to) emit 20 tonnes of carbon per person by year, the have that right.
Who are you to tell them what they can or cannot do? And (assuming that we can agree that CO2 is a problem) how are you going to stop them emitting?
“Which brings me to my attitude on the topic. Even an undergrad like me without years of training can see the writing on the wall. I find it frustratingly difficult conversing with people on this topic when all anyone seems to be concerned about is the economic impact. The economy is a fictitious make believe concept created by humans in order to control each other. While I am making plans to ditch my western lifestyle, move to a place less effected by climate change and commence a sustainable life without cars, tv sets or the requirement of “money”, everyone is worried they are going to be worse off financially!! How are you going to survive in a 2 degree hotter world?”
1 – While I agree that a 2 degree rise in global mean temperature may be a bad thing, and should (but won’t) be avoided, it isn’t going to bring the downfall of civilisation as we know if, particularly in Europe and the US.
2 – The reason economic arguements are important are twofold
i : There are a lot of people who say it’s too expensive to deal with climate change. You can persuade them they are wrong with economic arguements
ii : For people in the 3rd world, development IS life. And development, the complicated beast that it is, is related to the world economy. A global recession will make it harder for the developing world to bring themselves that little bit closer to development.
> the downfall of civilisation as we know if, particularly in Europe and the US …
While this is reminiscent of
“what is perhaps the most famous of Gandhi stories. On a visit to London in 1931, for a conference on determining Indiaâ��s political future, Gandhi was asked by a British journalist what he thought of Western civilization. â��I think it would be a good idea,â�� he replied.”
The author goes on to tell a story rather poignant in the current climate debate.
“… a little-known story that has, to my knowledge, never found its way into the Gandhi anthologies and Gandhi biographies.
“….. an Indian, Yusuf Meherally,… a freedom fighter, founding-member of the Congress Socialist Party, and sometime Mayor of Bombay…..
“In 1946, Yusuf Meherally was in the United States. He was dying of tuberculosis, and had come to rest from his labours in India. His past ten years had been spent mostly in prison…..
“… this time around, he was even willing to offer the British some praise. …. asked for an explanation. ‘
“‘They are leaving,’ answered Meherally. ‘Any day now, we will be free. Gandhiji says that now that they are going, we must remember the best of British civilization the rule of law, their sense of fair play, and so on. Remember it, and keep it.'”
Does the West have a sense of fair play? I hope so, in the climate context.
Lendel Zed, re #163 : Actually, there’s already a widely available, cheap, efficient, self-healing technology for turning CO2 into O2 and C-something. This is, of course, the plant.
There is absolutely no point trying to develop land-based carbon scrubbers seeing as we have trees. Sure, we could probably develop a more efficient scrubber than the tree, but the cost, energy required to run it etc. would be prohibtive. And the CO2 is only present at 400ppm or so, which means you have to process a phenomenal amount of air to remove any significant volume of CO2 (I’m not saying anything about chemical methods to reduce ocean CO2, but this would probably be likewise impractical, because CO2 in VERY dilute in sea water)
What we should do is this
Stop deforestation and invest in reforestation.
Use market forces to get clean energy supplies. (It’s much more sensible to invest in ways to reduce emissions, rather than in ways reduce atmospheric CO2. Treat the cause, not the symptom)
Our life is much more linked to our standard of living and economy than the potential climate changes. Environmentalists simply donâ??t have a clue on what makes this world tick. There for itâ??s dangerous when they come with drastic soviet like â??solutionsâ?? that would cripple the economy and send it in to a huge depression. Then there will be no recourses available to do any meaningful about the potential problem. New technology and adoption to the real climate change when it happens is the only way forward. Today we can use bio fuels with existing technology, in the near future we have hybrids, electric , fuel cells, coal fired power plants can deposit CO2 in to the oceans and so on. With in 50 years fusion power will most likely have solved all our energy problem any way.
re: 166. “Environmentalists simply don’t have a clue on what makes this world tick. There for it’s dangerous when they come with drastic soviet like “solutions” that would cripple the economy and send it in to a huge depression.”
Oh really? That is a red herring that comes straight from industry PR with no basis in reality. For just one example (there are many more and in other areas worldwide), in the US, prior to passage of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, industries and certain politicians far and wide loudly cried wolf about the devastation it would bring to the economy. Which was promptly followed by some of the strongest economic growth in the nation’s history during the Clinton Administration.
Re #167: “Actually, there’s already a widely available, cheap, efficient, self-healing technology for turning CO2 into O2 and C-something. This is, of course, the plant.”
I wonder if anyone has ever tried to work out some actual numbers on this? There are large areas of the world – the Sahel, much of Australia, parts of the western US – that have been partially or totally devegetated by human activity. Suppose the world could overcome the political difficulties, and re-vegetate these areas? (I say re-vegetate because much of the area was originally grassland rather than forest.) How much CO2 would that sequester?
And re #168: You say “…in the near future we have hybrids…”. Sorry, but the future snuck up while you weren’t looking, as there’s a hybrid sitting in my driveway now :-) As for the economic disaster that CO2-mitigation programs are supposedly going to cause, consider this: At the present time, goverments extract a certain percentage of your income in taxes. In the US it’s mostly a federal tax on income and a state-level tax on sales.
Now suppose part or all of those taxes are replaced by CO2 taxes on gasoline, electricity from fossil fuel plants, etc. The government is extracting the same dollar amount. Some things will cost more, if making them produces a lot of CO2, other things will cost less, but the total will remain the same. How does this cause an economic disaster?
In addition, the makers of CO2 intensive stuff will (if they are sensible) work to reduce the amount of CO2 they use, in order to better compete in the marketplace. This means that they are producing their goods more efficiently, thus causing a _gain_ in productivity, and that’s good for the economy, isn’t it?
From the thermodynamics you can get decent orders-of-magnitude immutable lower bounds on the amount of additional energy necessary—and it must be a few times the energy released in the combustion. This is really really really big.
That is false, but it would be true if what were being discussed were capture of carbon as the pure element, and not as a carbonate.
Burning a mole of elemental carbon yields 393 kJ; in fossil fuels, attached hydrogen typically raises the yield above 600 kJ per mole C. Extracting a mole of CO2 from air in which it has diluted itself to mole fraction 0.0004 takes at least -RT ln 0.0004, at 300 K that’s at least 19.5 kJ. Later on, as the mole fraction got back towards the preindustrial 0.00028, the minimum work of extracting each of the last moles above that level rises to 20.5 kJ.
Quicklime uses rather more than 20 kJ to yank down CO2, and thus will do so rather roughly, even from much greater dilution than nature provides. That, I think, is why the area that must be quicklime-covered is such a small fraction of the Earth’s surface, no larger than a three-gigawatt biofuel plantation, even if everyone in India and China insists on getting around in a Hummer fuelled with coal-derived gasoline.
The subsequent extraction of pure CO2 from the produced lime takes 178 kJ of mere heat, not electricity. So in fact the heat needed is a manageably small fraction of the heat the CO2’s production yielded.
Certainly it’s better not to burn the fossil fuels in the first place, but if they are burned as everyone on a public payroll seems to wish, the atmosphere can still be put back the way it was, with respect to CO2 anyway.
I understand it takes energy to turn CO2 into O2 and C-anything else. I was alluding to solar, wind, etc energy being put to use for this purpose (of ‘scrubbing’ CO2 from the air). I didn’t mean the process that produces the CO2 also somehow produces the energy to undo its production.
Right. It can be scrubbed out without ceasing to be CO2. Limestone is CO2 that is solid because it is combined with CaO.
Reforestation and increasing the biomass doens’t sequester CO2 on a long timescale unless the dead plants do not decay and release it back into the atmosphere.
Sequestration means “in the ground” for a long time as in making new fossil fuel.
This is extremely slow and difficult—it’s so much better to just avoid extracting existing fossil fuels and burning them, as we are doing at hundreds to thousands of times the rate that they were deposited.
Possibly biomass in the oceans which sinks down to the depths can stay there for orders of thousands of years, otherwise I don’t feel that reforestation is a potential major solution.
I see no feasible option except radically lower use of fossil fuels and very large scale substitutions with something else. In that something else I think only nuclear fission can be scaled up to sufficient magnitude with any current of engineering certainty. In reality, of course pursuing all forms of non-greenhouse substitutes is essential as the critical logistical bottlenecks may not all be the same.
#172. In the US the collection of taxes is not uniformly distributed across all income levels, nor are individuals responsible for all taxes collected. I think that something like the top 20% of the population of individual tax payers pay about 70% of the taxes collected from individuals. Those people better be responsible for production of a lot of CO2.
Note the chemistry involved in quicklime production; replacing fossil fuel with solar heating doesn’t change the fact that turning limestone to quicklime releases as much CO2 as the quicklime can then absorb.
I looked into the matter some time ago, and here are some numbers.
Current world CO2-output is 2.4e13 kg/year = 6.5e12 kgC/year (multiply by 12/44). Wood produced by trees: 4000 kg/ha/year = 4e5 kg/km2/year. Wood is about 50% C, so the area you need to offset world CO2 emission is
A = 6.4e12 / 4e5 / 0.50 = 3e7 km2 = 30 million km2. That is about 1/4 of the world’s land area. For comparison, Russia is 17 milliom km2, the US 9 million km2.
IPCC (I think it is in the TAR) thinks that 7 million km2 could be used in the short term (the area of Australia) for forestation.
While I agree that this is no permanent solution (eventually wood will be turned into CO2 again), the numbers seem to suggest that planting trees is not entirely unfeasible, and that we could buy ourselves some valuable time (say a few decades). Also there is a lot to be said for at least stopping DEforestation.
If anybody has better numbers, feel free to correct me.
I’m trying to understand the quicklime/CO2 absorption gag.
It seems to me that if it were a genuine option, there wouldn’t any quicklime to use, that it would already have absorbed ambient CO2 of which there is no dearth and have turned into something else. What’s to stop it? And yet, I remember having bags of quicklime around from the days when I lived in a cabin without plumbing. It wasn’t outback playing magic with CO2 to any important degree.
I don’t think anyone suggests that planting trees can be a total solution to global CO2 emissions, but they can certainly make a huge difference, both locally and globally. Replacing a forest that has been chopped down, or planting trees where none have grown in recent history, will lock up a reasonable amount of carbon for the lifetime of the forest. The key word is lifetime. Provided that the forest is not removed at some future date – ie, it is sustainably managed – the long term effect will be that a constant amount of carbon will have been removed from the system. In effect, each “new” forest buys us some time to get emissions under control.
Forest management can also have a large impact on local emissions. In NZ, the Dept of Conservation has done some work that indicates that an enlarged programme of pest control (removing possums, goats and deer – all invasive introduced species) in the forests they manage would allow enough regrowth and therefore carbon uptake to meet all of NZ’s commitment under Kyoto1. As the NZ PM has recently indicated she wants to work towards making NZ carbon-neutral, this strikes me as an excellent contribution.
… turning limestone to quicklime releases as much CO2 as the quicklime can then absorb…
I would rephrase this as follows: turning limestone to quicklime releases as much pure, sequesterable CO2 as the quicklime can then absorb of the dilute CO2 in air. As earlier said, one stationary, large-scale installation can do this anywhere on Earth, compensating for many small CO2 releasers each of which can be in any region on Earth, continuing to yield the fossil fuel tax revenue to which many in that region are accustomed.
Roberts’ version makes it sound pointless. But consider the perplexity expressed earlier — “It does seem bizarre that still nothing is really changing on the ground”. Billions of dollars a day in oil and gas money, to people who don’t think of themselves as “the oil interests”, but absolutely are, makes this, to me, quite unperplexing.
— and a way of preventing atmospheric CO2 concentration from hitting 500 ppm that doesn’t require us to roll over these people, or indeed, require them to conscientiously roll over themselves, seems extremely pointful to me.
Matthew Kennel wrote in #174: “I see no feasible option except radically lower use of fossil fuels and very large scale substitutions with something else. In that something else I think only nuclear fission can be scaled up to sufficient magnitude with any current of engineering certainty.”
Nuclear fission cannot possibly be “scaled up” to replace enough of the energy produced from burning fossil fuels to reduce CO2 emissions by the amounts that are needed.
Nuclear fission cannot realistically even be scaled up to replace enough of the fossil fuels used only to generate electricity — which is the only use of fossil fuels where nuclear fission is a “direct replacement” — to have a significant impact on CO2 emissions in anything like the time scale (less than a decade) in which this must be done to avert catastrophic climate change.
As far as non-fossil-fuel methods of generating electricity, wind power and photovoltaics can both be scaled up — and are in fact being scaled up already — much faster than nuclear fission could possibly be. And both are more appropriate solutions to the growing demand for electricity in the developing world than is nuclear fission. And neither presents the extremely serious drawbacks of toxic waste, nuclear weapons proliferation and vulnerability to terrorist attacks that nuclear fission does.
But by far the fastest, cheapest and most effective way to “replace” the use of fossil fuels is to reduce waste and increase efficiency, especially in the developed world, and most especially in the USA, which is a flagrant and egregious waster of energy.
Okay, what’s the difference between these two approaches?
1) Building new coal fired generators that produce pure CO2 and collect it to be sequestered in the first place — at the source.
2) Building another half century’s worth of old type coal generators, emitting the CO2 etc., and using some of the power to heat limestone to produce quicklime in plants that sequester the CO2 using the same technology not being used by the coal plants
You might consider recommending
3) Build the quicklime plant next to the closed cycle new type coal generating plant, use waste heat from the coal generation plants to heat the limestone, and sequester the CO2 from both the coal plant and from the quicklime plant.
“… Most of us have no idea how central coal is to our everyday lives or what our relationship with this black rock really costs us…. The average American consumes about twenty pounds of it a day.
“… the United States is a big advocate for coal because it has the geological good luck of having more than 25 percent of the worldâ��s recoverable coal reservesâ��about 270 billion tonsâ��buried within its borders…. enough coal to fuel America at the current rate of consumption for about 250 years.
… western Europe has only 36 billion tons of recoverable coal.
China has … 126 billion tons.
India and Australia … have even less than China.
… Russia,… 176 billion tons,… in remote regions and difficult to mine.”
“Before I let it rest, can I qualify something. I understand it takes energy to turn CO2 into O2 and C-anything else.”
Not exactly. Fluorine can oxidize oxygen via the reaction: 2 F2 + CO2 -> O2 + CF4, which is exothermic. Too bad that fluorine is not only quite hard to produce in its pure form, but CF4 is a very potent greenhouse gas in its own right. Fluorine also has a nasty habit of eating glass among many other things, making its storage and usage very problematic.
Chlorine and a few other substances might also be able to generate O2 via reactions of the form 2Cl2 + 2CO2 -> O2 + 2COCl2, though I’m guessing the activation energy would be prohibitively high even if the reactions are exothermic considering how stable CFCs are. COCl2 is also a potent greenhouse gas that also does a number on the ozone layer.
“Reforestation and increasing the biomass doens’t sequester CO2 on a long timescale unless the dead plants do not decay and release it back into the atmosphere.”
Actually, this is not quite correct. If we reforest a deforested area, then the mass of carbon stored in the living forest is removed from the atmosphere. Furthermore, a forest increases soil carbon, though I assume this reaches an equilibrium value over some timescale.
Of course, one can also do all sorts of clever things, like using plants as biofuel (to replace fossil fuels), or even using plants as carbon pumps. The carbon pump idea works as follows
1 – Take a coal plant and attach a CCS unit to it
2 – To captured CO2 in depleted gas reserves etc.
3 – Produce sustainable biofuel
4 – Use a coal/biofuel mix or pure biofuel in the plant
In this manner, plants can be used to reduce atmospheric CO2
Of course, this is not a pratical solution to the whole problem but it could contribute. Ultimately we must :
Curious the discussions regarding the use of lime is not unlike discussions I had back in 1970. The proposal was fine except for the sequesting of the CO2 whether from the reduction in a limewater bath or extraction in a algae pool did not seem to matter. The CO2 would quickly be returned to the atmosphere as the Carbon from the reaction was not a precipitant. However, that the algae could be piped back into the Oil Well and the hydrocarbon in essence recycled for future usage seemed to be a possible benefit.
The idea being converting fossil fuels to a renewable resource was very appealing. Funny thing though is that we have not seen any discussions remotely resembling this technique. I wonder why?
This thread has been sort of a blog fruitcake . . . a tasty matrix with nuts and fruits mixed in. :-) Some of the posts have been a bit off-topic but I feel that there is a real value in having an occasional ‘free-range’ topic. It helps me better understand the misinformation and disinformation circulating among us laypeople. We can’t counter what we don’t hear about.
Re 186: It seems to me that biofuel is close to being a carbon-neutral fuel source for vehicles and power generation. The carbon removed from the air by growing the biomass (minus the fuel burned to grow it) is roughly equal to the carbon released when the biofuel is burned. Much of the remainder is the carbon in the ash and waste which can be sequestered. Growing the next year’s biomass again removes the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere. If biofuel generation can be improved to the point where it is carbon neutral it would appear to be a truly sustainable approach.
Basically you are right about CO2-neutrality of biofuel.
However in reality production of biofuel also takes energy (sowing, harvesting, further processing to fuel that can be used), which takes ‘CO2 efficiency’ down from 100% (= nett emission zero) to a lower number. I have read different figures, but you seem to end up with 25-50% of the CO2 you would have emitted if you’d started with oil.
Another problem is the area you need (competition with food crops). Did anybody do the math on this? Which area do we need if we want to produce alcohol for the world’s 500 million cars or so?
James Davey (#186) is right that the first thing to do is save fuel, rather than try different production methods.
Are biofuels advocates victims of disinformation, misinformation or simple failure to think comprehensively?
There has been some attention – not enough – on the RealClimate pages to the melt back of the Arctic ice, deforestation in the Amazon and jet stream shift towards the poles with expansion of the subtropical zones N and S of the equator.
Now, I can hardly put all of that together myself but a climate scientist might postulate that greater reliance upon Western North American topsoil to offset US addiction to fossil fuels is a risky proposition given some of the recent research on the above-mentioned topics.
Maybe the ethanol enthusiasts have it all figured out but they cannot augment recharge of the Ogallala aquifer.
I know these are pesky details but circumstantial evidence usually is pesky. Nonetheless, failure to factor prospect and consequences of those massive climate-driven dynamics means the US could be building an ethanol industry in a box canyon at taxpayer and consumer (even — dare I mention environmental) expense.
Park the enthusiasm for biofuels long enough to think through the total implications of a biofuels future. You may not really want what you wish for.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 17 Nov 2006 @ 11:41 AM
Dick, thank you for your comments. I understand that growing biofuel takes energy, but I don’t understand why you say that reduces the carbon efficiency. If I had a biofuel farm, and was using some of my product to run my tractors and processing plant, all I would be doing is reducing the net (saleable) output per acre. Most of the carbon in my fuel still came from the air and will return there when it is burned.
I agree wholeheartedly that the first priority is to save fuel. But the reality is is that most american cities and suburbs were designed and built for an auto-centered lifestyle. Where I live in Austin, Tx, it is four miles to the nearest market, and that’s not atypical. I drive a 60 mpg Insight, but I still drive about 1,000 miles each month. Rather than bemoan the fact that cars will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, I’d rather we foster innovations like biofueled diesel/electric hybrids. A carbon-neutral car makes a lot more sense to me than a fossil fuel powered vehicle, whether the fossil fuel is burned in the engine or a distant coal-fired power plant.
I wish that commentors to RC would refrain from criticizing ‘grass-roots’ efforts for conservation, renewable energy, and sustainable development. These efforts are not a panacea, but they are a step in the right direction and they serve to educate and persuade a lot of people who will never visit this site or read a technical study of the issue.
what’s the difference between these two approaches?
1) Building new coal fired generators that produce pure CO2 and collect it to be sequestered in the first place — at the source.
2) Building another half century’s worth of old type coal generators, emitting the CO2 etc., and using some of the power to heat limestone to produce quicklime in plants that sequester the CO2 using the same technology not being used by the coal plants …
Approach 1 is more thermodynamically efficient.
Approach (2) is more pragmatic: it partly or wholly solves the CO2 problem without requiring the cooperation of two billion would-be, very likely will-be motorists in Asia, nor that of the builders of “old type” coal-fired generators (which type includes every one of the however many hundred coal-fired plants being built as I write).
One detail of approach 2 seem strawmannish to me: “using some of the power”, apparently meaning the power produced by the coal-fired plants built by non-cooperators, to heat limestone. That would be electrical power, bought at full market rates, lossily transmitted, and then … converted to heat. No.
No, the faraway atmospheric trash-collectors could be, and I think would be, farther away than electricity can usefully be transmitted, and would generate their own thermal power for the calciners. Perhaps with fairly ordinary fission reactors that would transfer it to them in short four-metre-diameter liquid lead conduits in which the metal would flow at 10 m/s, being alternately heated and cooled between maybe 1,300 K and 1,600 K. Low pressure at the top, low pressure plus four bar of hydrostatic pressure, maybe that should be “plumbostatic”, at the bottom.
Although their operating temperature would be high, such reactors’ thermal output would not have access to heat engines that could convert it to any transmissible, saleable form, and as mentioned they’d be far enough off the beaten path that while CO2 could get to them, power demand could not, even if they were connected to heat engines and dynamos.
So they would excite little or no controversy; they’d get the same pass that small reactors operating barely above room temperature, and therefore intrinsically unable to drive efficient heat engines, have traditionally received.
Philip, you are right of course. You could produce even more biofuel to cover the energy cost of the biofuel production itself. You would just need more land.
I am all for grass roots efforts, as Al Gore says in his movie “These things add up”. On the other hand it is not wrong to do some careful accounting to check feasibility before you start promoting a certain line of action.
If I may be permitted a somewhat simplistic utopian remark: what we need is a heavy tax on energy (gas, oil, electricity, coal). Just imagine, it would automatically become unattractive to drive big cars, to buy kiwis from New-Zealand, to use equipment with stand by and so on. Also every product requiring much energy in production (like plastic bags) would skyrocket in price and be replaced by better alternatives. Not to mention a surge in wind and solar power. That’s it: one tax and the rest follows.
(Before you say it: yes I know there’s a lot of details to work out, people who are dependent on cars etc.)
The problem is that the plastics made from petroleum products were the alternative. The original products such as paper used in paper bags was becoming expensive and uneconomical as the resource was insufficient as we clear cut the last of the unprotected forests in the lower 48. Plastics and specifically plastic grocery bags were the cost effective alternative. What happens if you get rid of plastic or tax it out of circulation?
There is not sufficient paper to replace them so what do your use then, cloth bags. Most cloth today is originally a polymer fiber or plastic in orgin. So if you remove this resource what do you use, natural fibers? Are there sufficient natural fibers to meet the global requirement, not only no; but even if all the ariable resources were put to use for the generation of biofuels and fibers it would at best meet 10% of the worlds requirements. (Do we go back to animal skins, amphora vessels (pottery) and stone caves, along with oxen/horses and wooden sail boats?)
Even the simple energy required to light and heat/cool the home is not going to be easy. How do you meet the requirements to sustain the human population of the planet? I certainly haven’t a clue. For immediate needs there is little question that Photo-Volatic can at least reduce the demand; however, the use of solar panels in association with Nuclear generation to make up the difference in demand or to meet demand when the sun doesn’t shine is not a good pairing of technologies. The reason is that Nuclear can not react to demand fast enough.
So if you couple Solar with an on-site storage system seems to make sense; however, it will require the ability to do so for 48 to 72 hours to allow the nuclear plant to ramp up. When you couple the cost with the requirement to store nearly three days of energy on site really begins to make your tax idea not very attractive.
Are you sure you guys have thought this through enough?
I just learned of one idea that won’t work: grow lots of poplar trees. Seems good as the grow fast. However, these trees emit lots of an organic which is an ozone promoter.
Comment by David B. Benson — 17 Nov 2006 @ 8:57 PM
Dear Boron Burner:
You can’t use quicklime to capture CO2 because quicklime (CaO) is produced by decomposing calcium carbonate in the reaction CaCO3 + heat -> CaO + CO2. If you then scrub the atmosphere with the reaction CaO + CO2 -> CaCO3, then you only get back where you started.
Producing CaO on an industrial scale from any other source is very difficult and energy-intensive.
However, over hundreds of thousands of years, the silicate weathering cycle will do this for you, with the reaction CaSiO3 + CO2 -> CaCO3 + SiO2. The timescale for that process is too long to significantly effect the anthropogenic CO2 spike.
Kiwis from New Zealand shipped to Europe were just an example (and yes, I know that the travel by ship, not air). I have nothing against kiwis (or New Zealand for that matter). The point is that if energy were more expensive all energy (and hence CO2) intensive activities would automatically be less attractive and CO2-emissions reduced.
Dave, you raise a lot of questions that all deserve a detailed discussion. Let me just say a few general things.
1. Yes, providing for the world’s energy needs is not a trivial problem. However if energy were more expensive, there would be a big incentive to make an effort and use all creativity to reduce energy use. Lots of interesting business opportunities too: “Save the planet and get rich”. For example, a recent study in the Netherlands showed that even with current technology energy use in homes could be cut by 80% and in the industry by 50%. But at present there is no money in it!
2. Paper or plastic bags. In the US it seems to be customary to pack your groceries in paper bags , while in the UK plastic is apparently favoured. In the Netherlands it is quite common to take your own bag or crate if you go shopping – so you don’t need any paper or plastic at all. By the way, paper recycling is now 80% over here – so the need to chop down trees for paper is reduced by a factor 5.
3. Need for storage of solar energy. Often people do not realise that a. most of us are connected to a big electrical grid b. there always is, and has been, a mismatch between supply and demand (that is, there would be if we didn’t do something about it). The situation is NOT (yet) made much worse by hooking up solar panels or wind turbines as production units. At present storage is not necessary: for example the energy of the solar panels on my roof goes straight back into the grid (and is not stored).
There is much more to be said about this (in fact the other week I attended a two day workshop dedicated to just this: integration of renewables into the grid) but the bottom line is:
– we have to be clever to be able to put great amounts of wind and solar electricty into the grid
– but we are far from having exhausted the possibilities.
In summary then, a high energy tax would not solve everything, but provide a powerful stimulus to take steps in the right direction, and cut CO2 emissions.
Refer to figure 3 in the attached paper. As the planet cools the glacial cycle intensives. There is an obvious long term cooling trend. See figure 2 in the same paper, which shows the decline in ocean bottom water temperatures in the Atlantic. The bottom Atlantic Ocean temperature is currently 2C. Salty water freezes at -1.8C. This is an unstable system. The heat stored in the deep ocean water previously protected the planet from temperature oscillations.
The next paper shows the change in Antarctic ice core temperatures over the last 420,000 yrs. Note the increase in dust (figure 2) in the last glacial cycle the “Wisconsin Glacial Period” as compared to past glacial cycles. When the earth is colder it is drier. The increase in dust is due to colder conditions and very low CO2 levels. Photosynthesis efficiency for C3 plants (all plants except for grasses) decreases linearly with CO2 level. Photosynthesis, stops for C3 plants when the CO2 level reaches 150 ppm to 50 ppm (depending on the plant in question.)
Note the change in ice sheet temperature during the glacial cycles is 8C (temperature drops).
How dangerous is sudden rapid cooling? Is the planet at the end of the warm interglacial period? What causes the drop in CO2 in the glacial cycles?
Separate energy and material conservation from dangerous climate change.
Comment by William Astley — 18 Nov 2006 @ 11:51 AM
Re #201: William Astley, even without AGW, there is no possibility of the onset of another ice age for at least 50,000 years, according to orbital forcing theory. This is treated more extensively on a previous thread, as is the question regarding carbon dioxide changes throughout the glacial cycles.
Comment by David B. Benson — 18 Nov 2006 @ 3:25 PM
1. As for coming up with unique ideas to save energy you are so far from the truth that it really is scarry. Simply put, the recent “Cost” of gasoline has doubled in the US along with the cost of plastic. As the US is trying to climb out of the economic slump it found itself in since 2001 there simply has not been enough increase in salary to cover even the simple cost of living increases caused by the increased energy prices. So the money is coming out of savings and the budgets for variable costs have been cut to the bone. Most middle class families look at expenses that used to be variable costs as emergency only. If there were any reliable effective ways to reduce the higher costs of petroleum believe me the US population would be leading the way. To put it simple the energy systems are so specialised, in order to squeeze the greatest amount of energy for a given dollar that an alternative is not necessarily possible with the given infrastructure.
The cost to forklift out the current infrastructure and to adapt to another temporary solution is not viable. The goal is to stop with the bandaid approach and move away from the evolutionary changes in the energy structure to move towards a revolutionary change. The problem with all of the chooices you have mentioned is that they are unreliable. I cannot simply hook up a Solar Panel to my house and expect it to power the house 7×24. The cost just to store the demand to supply 14-16 winter hours of power would exceed the cost of the house in 10 years if you live above 36 Deg, much less 24 to 72 hours. And yes there would be the need to supply power that long as an low front in Autumn can result in thick cloud cover for 5-7 days on the US NE and NW coasts.
2. Again most of the grocery bags in the US are plastic and if you look into the cloth bags you take to the Grocery store you should see that they are likely made of 98% Polyester (plastic). Hence, your Tax is not helping even if you take you own bags, it will only increase the chance that someone would see them as valuable and try to steal them…
3. As to your idea of dumping your excess to the grid, where did you get the idea that the grid was some form of giant storage system? The energy there has to come from within 100 miles or the losses are so great that the 1000 MW generated comes out the end of the “pipe” as 50 MW only 200 miles away. Do you think that the Power companies can meet your demand for power on an as needed basis? Do you actually believe they can simply turn up the “Juice” if they notice you decide to turn on the outdoor light to let the cat out? What are you going to do for power if every home or Solar Panel within 200 miles are socked in or snowed under?
Believe me I am not saying it is not a good idea to invest in renewables; however, you have to consider their limitations. Even if the US fully embraced the use of renewables and included additional low head water power or estuary tidal power it would not meet more then 20% of demand. Add in even the best energy conservation program you might be able to trim out another 15-20%. What do you do to replace the 60% you cannot meet by this method?
I love the idealism you are sharing; but, the pragmatic reality will not magically go away just because you think it should. The Laws of Physics are immutable just because you think something should be possible does not make it so.
You can’t use quicklime to capture CO2 because quicklime (CaO) is produced by decomposing calcium carbonate in the reaction CaCO3 + heat -> CaO + CO2. If you then scrub the atmosphere with the reaction CaO + CO2 -> CaCO3, then you only get back where you started.
Would C. W. Magee please be good enough to acknowledge my already-given explanation why I think that’s incorrect. Otherwise it looks as if he’s trying to give lurkers the impression I never addressed that point when in fact I did.
Dave, frankly I do not understand your first sentence, but never mind, let me answer the rest of your post.
1. It seems to me that in the situation you describe people would definitely consider cars with more mpg next time they buy one. I am not denying that there are practical problems in creating a fair energy tax; one obvious thing to look at would be to (partly) replace VAT or income tax with energy tax.
2. My point was that if you have your own shopping bag you do not need to have a new plastic (or paper) one each time you go to the supermarket.
3. No, of course the grid is not a storage system. But a dense grid (like we have in Europe) ACTS like one in the sense that I can dump my excess power into it (for the power company this is the same as reduced demand). And yes, the power company is actually adjusting electricity production all the time to make it fit demand. This is done in a somewhat indirect way, by controlling voltage and frequency in the grid. [My line of work is wind energy, I do know what I am talking about here.]
Renewables are not the total answer, but they can make an important contribution. Most estimates are 20% of electricity by wind alone, not a number to be sneezed at. Some current numbers: Denmark 20%, Spain and Germany: 6%.
Re: Comment 202 “… even without AGW, there is no possibility for at least 50,000 years, according to orbital theory [of another ice age.]”
The above belief my not be correct based on recent work by new people who have entered the field of Paleoclimatology. They entered the field to solve the problem, of what is causing the observed periodic massive rapid climate change events (cooling and warming), in the climatic proxy data.
The rapid warming and cooling events, they hypothesis is caused by changes in the galactic cosmic rays (GCR) flux. The galactic cosmic rays create ions which are the nucleus for clouds. Higher GCR results in more clouds and hence lower temperatures. The GCR is modulated by the earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind. A high geomagnetic field and/or a high solar magnetic field results in lower GCR, hence less clouds and a warmer planet.
In the 1990’s it was found that the earth’s magnetic field reaches a maximum on a 100,000 year cycle. The sun is currently at its highest level in 8000 years. These two factors reduce the GCR and hence make the planet warmer. The earth’s magnetic field has, suddenly (2003), started change. Some believe the sudden change and the Atlantic anomaly is indication that the geomagnetic field is starting to reverse. Based on Paleoclimatic records, the sun will move from a its current maximum to a minimum.
If the GCR hypothesis is correct and these two changes, occur simultaneously, there will be a sudden and sever drop in the planet’s temperature.
The following paper is discusses the science behind the GCR hypothesis.
The paper “The Glacial Cycles and Cosmic Rays” by J.Kirkby, A. Mangini, and R. Muller (2004) examines changes in the geomagnetic field, that are concurrent with major planetary temperature changes. Due to GCR modulation effects on clouds, it is hypothesized that a stronger geomagnetic field results in warmer temperatures and a weaker field colder temperatures. The authors examine deep sea sediments and find as have others that the geomagnetic field peaks at 100 kyr intervals. Further the authors find at termination II (Warming that led to the Eemien interglacial) that the records show that the warming started when insolation was at a minimum. They also find that the termination II warming and other warming events coincide with periodic geomagnetic field maximums.
“Bond et al. (17,18 see paper references) have shown a strong correlation between ice-rafted-debris (IRD) events in the North Atlantic and increased GCR fluxes (measured by both BE10 and C14) during the last 12 kyr. … The Little Ice Age around the 17th century appears to be the most recent of the about 10 such centennial-scale events during the Holecene, when North Atlantic sea surface temperatures fell by around 2C in association with … high GCR flux. Remarkably, the IRD events extend beyond the Holecene… This argues against a primary internal trigger such as ice sheet dynamics since the climate conditions varied a great deal over this interval.”
“In this paper we propose the glacial cycles, rather than being driven by insolation cycles as in the present standard model, are initially driven by cosmic ray changes, probably through their effects on clouds.”
“Recent measurements suggest that long-term records of variation of Earth’s magnetic field – in both strength and magnetic inclination – show orbital frequencies -… The 800 kyr record known as Sint-800 is reported to show no such cycles; however we will present a new analysis here that shows such cycles are in fact present in this record.”
“We present a new spectral analysis of cosmic ray flux recorded in the BE10 content of deep ocean sediments, which shows the present of orbital cycles. Further we present additional results based on the BE10 record and on precisely-dated speleothems that reinforce the causality problem with the Milankovitch model and support our conclusion that cosmic rays appear to be driving the glacial cycles.”
Attached is the Antarctica data which I referred to in my previos comment. Based on that data, why would you expect this interglacial to last 50,000 years?
Hank, if your link in #204 was intended to prove Dave wrong, I miised it.
Dave, the truth of your comment;
[Most middle class families look at expenses that used to be variable costs as emergency only.]
is amplified by the several cash flow facts most working Americans are struggling to overcome.
In the US there is about $9 trillion we owe for our homes; $2.2 trillion of plastic card payments due, college loans???, equity lines of credit??? and high monthly energy and health care costs….all shared by about 100 million tax payers. That is roughly about $130,000 of private debt per taxpayer. Then, add the nearly $28,000 each and every American owes to US government debt holders.
Now, that is a lot of outgoing we are coping with and definely limiting consumer choices for storm window retrofits, efficient appliance replacement and solar water heater installations or that 40 mpg+ car we should be driving.
Hank, there is a large dose of reality in Dave’s comments (including the limited reach of renewables in the US electricity sector).
Comment by John L. McCormick — 18 Nov 2006 @ 5:47 PM
I wish that the pessimestic view were inaccurate. However, it is unlikely that efficiency of the current processes will improve.
Think about this, First, imagine all species populations were expanded to the point that they did not intrude on any other species ability to thrive. Second, That the amount of energy, necessary to maintain the species with access to the total solar energy covering the area in which the species is thriving would be insufficient to sustain the species. This seems to mean that to achieve maximum population you either have to remove the solar resource from another species or find a separate source to increase the amount of energy available to sustain the species population.
Now let’s say you have the ability to define the distribution of the incoming solar energy. So if you were to attempt to take the 1370 Watts/m^2 of incoming energy and reduce it in the atmosphere by 500 Watts/m^2 at the equator with levels being reduced to 300 Watts/M^2 at 45 Deg. N/S and 80 Watts/m^2 at 67 Deg N/S (Averaged across the year the values should be approximate 1/2 for areas above 24 Deg. N/S) You have to determine how that energy is to be distributed.
The energy has to go to many things, from warming the atmosphere and the land and waters of the planet to providing the energy necessary for plants to grow. So what happens when you start removing energy from plants for photo volatic cells or some other anthropogenic project?
The basis of the food chain relies on plants and the ability of plants to convert sunlight to sugar. From there the plant that forms from the conversion of sunlight and earth minerals becomes biomass. Harvested biomass begins to supply the rest of the food chain with resources. That which is not harvested feeds microbes that breakdown the Biomass resources and becomes some form of trapped solar energy in some form of storage or the energy is released to the atmosphere and eventually escapes into space.
Obviously with even the best of technology today we cannot achieve a high enough efficiency to convert the incoming solar energy to support the human populations of the planet at the current levels with the energy demands of current technology. To that end we are extracting “stored” solar energy to meet the demand. The other problem is getting the necessary energy in the correct form to support the various current technologies. This will reduce the efficiency of the stored solar energy. Is this a good idea?
Where do we go from here? Do we destroy anything that cannot be used by a member of a desired species population? Do we begin to place limitations on all species and define the correct sustainable mix and levels to ensure that the various species continue to thrive? Is there surface area and resoures sufficient on the planet that this discussion is unnecessary and all energy and environmental discussions are simply philosophic musings? How far is man going to go trying to play at being some form of God?
Re #207: William Astley, the orbital forcings are easily and correctly computable for millions of years to come. This also has been discussed on a previous thread as also have GCRs and solar fluxes. Neither of the latter appear to agree with the data anywhere near as well as orbital forcing, according to the orginal posts and comments on those previous threads.
Comment by David B. Benson — 19 Nov 2006 @ 3:49 PM
>what happens when you start removing energy from plants for photo volatic cells or some other anthropogenic project?
Why start there? There’s ample surface area available that has sunlight but not enough soil or moisture. Rooftops, for example, are quite good locations. The area available is enormous.
I concur, start with the UHI sources, at least that way the heating from these sources are able to do some good. The point I was making was what became of the trees and the arable land that was covered over by buildings and roads. The point is we have already removed a great deal of the land available as resources necessary to support the human population.
We need to remove as many of those buildings as possible and return them to cultivation of some form if we are to begin to raise the renewable resource levels above 40% on average. By the same token there are the deserts in some areas with large cities close by…
Comment by L. David Cooke — 19 Nov 2006 @ 10:48 PM
Thank you for all the good information and discussions compiled in “real climate”.
This is a question that has since long annoyed me and that I have never seen discussed anywhere:
We are talking of Gigatons of release of CO2 in the admosphere. Since this is occuring through burning and oxidizing carbon, what is happening to O2. For each released ton of CO2, there are 727 kg of oxygen lost from the atmosphere. Therefore, if the CO2 content of the admosphere is climbing, the O2 content must be declining.
Isn’t that also a matter of concern for human health?
Is anyone traking the history of oxygen concentration in the atmosphere?
Every single combustion process on Earth is using oxygen …….
Comment by Denis Estublier — 20 Nov 2006 @ 5:57 AM
Re “For each released ton of CO2, there are 727 kg of oxygen lost from the atmosphere. Therefore, if the CO2 content of the admosphere is climbing, the O2 content must be declining.
Isn’t that also a matter of concern for human health?”
It is, and qualitatively you’re quite right. But consider that CO2 is 0.00038 of the atmosphere by volume, whereas oxygen is 0.20948. The level of oxygen is indeed decreasing, but the decrease is almost too small to measure. We could burn all the available fossil fuel and the decrease in oxygen would be less than 1%. (I think that’s right, maybe the vast coal reserves would give a higher figure.) So the immediate danger is more of global warming than of suffocation.
My understanding is that the situation is somewhat in the middle. Oxygen is indeed very abundant, but well before we run too low on oxygen (12% concentration at sea level perhaps), we will poison ourselves with CO2.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say about CO2 poisoning.
“When inhaled in high concentrations (greater than 5% by volume), it is immediately dangerous to the life and health of plants, humans and other animals. The current threshold limit value (TLV) or maximum level that is considered safe for healthy adults for an 8-hour work day is 0.5% (5000 ppm). The maximum safe level for infants, children, the elderly and individuals with cardio-pulmonary health issues would be significantly less.”
Re #208: “In the US there is about $9 trillion we owe for our homes; $2.2 trillion of plastic card payments due…”
Yet all that is in large part a lifestyle choice, or the consequence of such choices. How much of it is really necessary for either survival or happiness? In my experience, at least, not much.
“Now, that is a lot of outgoing we are coping with and definely limiting consumer choices for storm window retrofits, efficient appliance replacement and solar water heater installations or that 40 mpg+ car we should be driving.”
I don’t quite follow that line of reasoning. You’re claiming that you (the generic consumer, not you personally), can’t afford a 40 mpg car (much less a 60-70 mpg one), but you _can_ afford to spend at least half again as much on a new SUV? Oh, but you say you need it to haul around your jet skis, snowmobiles, dirt bikes, quads, and other gasoline-powered toys? Sure you do :-) Likewise, you can’t afford storm window refits, but you _can_ afford to install decorative outdoor lighting and leave it burning all night? You can’t afford an efficient refrigerator, but you _can_ afford the twice-as-expensive model with automatic icemaker, drinking water taps, and all the other bells & whistles? And have it installed along with your new granite countertops?
Sorry, but the “can’t afford it” argument just doesn’t hold water when applied to the average American consumer.
James, would that life was a simply as yours seems to be.
Reading between the lines on the post at #208 is likely a challenge unless one imagines the generic consumer is, in a CO2 mitigation world, being targetted to borrow more money than ( for some debt burdened souls ) the bank is likely willing to loan.
The houses in need of window retrofit are not the newer, grander ones. Likely they are owned by less fortunates and elderly. But, what the heck, they made their lifestyle choice so let them live with the consequences. And, just maybe, people of limited cash flow are driving fuel inefficient cars that have little trade in value so the clunker will have to last a few more paychecks. Am I making myself a bit more down to earth here?
People are hurting despite their lifestyle choices and your off the cuff summerization of their own darned fault are ships passing in the night.
I say all of this as an avowed climate change alarmist who sees no reason to believe generic customers will haul their inefficient cars, appliances, windows, etc. to the town dump without some financial assistance. Are you ready to pay more taxes to subsidize the lower income and fixed income Americans to live the lifestyle you do? I am.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 20 Nov 2006 @ 2:26 PM
All I can say is you watch far too much TV or at least the wrong shows. The average American consumer doesn’t have time for half the activities or the toys you mentioned as they work two jobs and send their children off to day care to be raised by someone else so that the sppouse can go to work to pay for it and the little left over for household expenses.
Now maybe the more affluent do; however, they make up less then 15% of the American consumer base. Get out a little, the average home in NC runs between 100 and 150K, the average income runs between 20 and 40 K. The greatest number of homes on the market exceed 300K all because there is no longer the income base to support these homes, not because they were over built by greedy developers (Though there are possibly those as well…)
Those that can afford a multiputpose vehicle will choose a SUV because it is more economical to operate a single vehicle that can perform multiple functions then it is to purchase multiple vehicles. Hey, it is even better for the environment as only half the resources and the wastes are necessary to accomplish the task. Plus manufactures have pushed the false idea that they are safer then the average passenger car. Most SUVs are based on the small truck standard of safety and were never meant for the general consumer. That they have been pushed as the replacement for the old car pool moms station wagon is lost on most consumers. That they are not as effective at converting the BTU in gasoline to motive energy is beyond the ability of the consumer to control. However, when looking to choose a vehicle the most cost effective choice is the preferred choice. All the flash that the baby boomer generation used to flaunt was eaten up by corporate failures, the subsiquent pension failures and the stock market crash. At one point in 2001 the American people had nearly 4 trillion dollars in M1 and now only 5 years later that value is down to around 1.2 trillion sorry; but, the days of wanton spending by most Americans is long gone and the costs for their excesses will end up being born by their young for nearly a generation.
I can say that based on you comments it is clear you have a very jaundiced view of the formerly decadent civilization you portray. Your view is far from the truth, matter of fact, it is not unlike the “popular” view that certain reactionary political organizations wish to suggest which makes the US a target for the envious. Get a grip, most Americans are far from the model you have represented.
Re #218: You say “All I can say is you watch far too much TV or at least the wrong shows” – to which I can only respond by saying that you ought to check facts before making statements like that :-) In point of fact, I’ve never owned a TV in my life, and don’t watch it except when constrained to do so by courtesy.
My ideas of what the American (or FTM European, as I’ve lived there at times), are derived from observation of the people I see around me. I don’t live in a wealthy neighborhood, nor yet an ‘upscale’ one of McMansions, yet the folks next door have a 40-ft RV in their driveway, across the way there are jet skis and dirt bikes, the high school kid down the road hauls his quad behind a Suburban that his folks bought him… Now maybe things are different where you live, but around here such is fairly normal. The wealthier people may buy new Hummers or Escalades instead of used Fords and Chevys, but they’re much the same underneath :-)
So of the total population of your neighborhood what percent have the toys you are concerned about? So far it looks like three families out of how many in your neighborhood 20? So that makes your deviation around what, 15% of the whole neighborhood? Hmm…, that looks about average…
Yes, it is much different here. Of the 20 families in my area there are no RV’s, nor children driving around in Suburbans. There are not jet skis or dirt bikes. There are a few road hog motorcycles and a “Dukes of Hazard Wanabe”; but, overall none of the types of “toys” you are seeing. There are several newer vehicles, yes, but most are 20-30 mpg family vehicles. The worst choice maybe the new little red 4×2 the fellow uses for his lawn care business.
Of course if you are trying to determine what is actually the average you cannot rely on what is in your neighborhood can you? Looking at the data for the numbers and types of vehicles with their ages in the states tax records might be a reasonable place to start. Then you could always total up the lower 48 states and see if maybe your vision of “average” can be tracked against reality. Again, I would say that you have a very skewed vision of “average”.
Comment by L. David Cooke — 21 Nov 2006 @ 11:24 PM
And in our local news: November 14, 2006
[California] Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced an agreement under which the federal Department of Energy (DOE) will set new standards to sharply increase the energy efficiency of many types of household appliances, such as home ranges and ovens, air conditioners and dishwashers.
The agreement settles a federal lawsuit filed by California and a coalition of states and public interest groups against DOE for stalling energy-saving standards for appliances that use large amounts of electricity, natural gas and oil.
According to DOEâ��s own estimates, the standards covered by the agreement may reduce energy use by as much as 35 quadrillion BTUs over an approximately 30-year period. By comparison, all US households combined consumed 21 quadrillion BTUs of energy in 2004. ….annual carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by as much as 103 million metric tons a year.
The sheer volume and intellectual level of output at RC continues to amaze. Nothing else in the blogosphere compares. But more and more I see in the comments little teasers about how you ought to be doing more in the way of economics. Of course, in general that is not the plan. But also, economicis is heavily contaminated with ideology. Just look at the weird arguments surroundilng the discount rate chosen in the Stern report by those who would attack it. Your task it would seem is difficult enough with quite a raft of deniers still staging attacks on the rear. So it is this writer’s hope that you will ignore such ecomic grumbles. That way lies the Slough of Dispair.
ADMINISTRATIVE Question, please: Do you know why the comments do not print with the articles, and how I can access the comments on a separate page for printing or selective copying for reference purposes?
Many thanks to all.
[Response: This was due to complaints that each article printed out with a hundred pages of comments! However, if you click on the comments link on the front page (for any particular article), the comments will come up in a pop-up window with a ‘Print this page’ link. That will just print the comments. I’ll put this information on the ‘About’ page for future reference. Thanks. – gavin]
Being a skeptic I would like to have some help on three issues:
1. Can someone direct me to an article actually showing and proving the mechanisms behind the CO2 forcing figures commonly used.
2. Why can not the IPCC models be used in retrospective? (Thats what my fellow skeptics tell me anyway). To my knowledge there is not enough fossil resources known to fulfill ANY of the IPCC predictions. (This is according to the Uppsala Hydrocarbon Depletion Group at the Uppsala University, 2003 and a master thesis 2006)
3. What is the mainstream explanation for the retreating polar ice at Mars?
Here is my view:
There are 1000’s of reasons why fossil fuel burning should be restricted. (Anthropogenic) Climate change is not one of them.
Greetings- my apologies if I am in the wrong spot, but the relevant FAQ’s seemed to be closed to comments.
I was just wondering if you could direct me to any climate modelling work done c.1990-1995 that has done a better job of predicting any climate metrics for the last decade than a naive chemist like myself might have done with y = mx + c?
I used to work with a wise old physical chemist who said (about once a fortnight, on average): “Just because the model fits the data doesn’t mean the model is true.”
#227 wrote – “I was just wondering if you could direct me to any climate modelling work done c.1990-1995 that has done a better job of predicting any climate metrics for the last decade than a naive chemist like myself might have done with y = mx + c?”
Here is one that is a bit older than the ’90s, but still amazingly accurate.
The short answer to 227 is that you need to learn more about climate models. #230 is the snarky one. Climate models are not one dimensional (well they were about 1970 but that was before Moore’s Law), but rather make predictions about many things. Moreover, coming from a chemist who uses Lewis structures the question is presumptuous. Essentially all models used in chemistry are useful but not correct in any formal sense and you can find places where they are simply wrong (chemists call them exceptions, bunnies call them wrong).