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  1. Dyson is a good physicist, but far too often his predictions and analyses of thing’s strictly beyond the realm of physics seem far too speculative and don’t seem to address current problems. Dyson Spheres, Dyson Trees, and genetically engineered plants for Carbon Sequestering all make for good thought experiments and “what-if” scenarios, but none of this stuff addresses current problems in any meaningful way.

    Of course, Dyson also seems to think the costs of global warming are only in the distant future, so I suppose this deficiency in his “dyson vison” doesn’t bother him that much.

    Comment by KamatariSeta — 24 May 2008 @ 6:01 PM

  2. Are we a civilized species, or are we not?

    I am beginning to have severe doubts on that score.

    Good point with #4. I’m not contemptuous of deniers per se, just of the misleading ‘facts’ they use. Anyway, fight fire with fire. If they’re going to go out of their way to insult their ‘opposition’…

    Comment by tico89 — 24 May 2008 @ 6:06 PM

  3. You do a great service by this discussion. I hope the NY Review of Books can reprint or note the link for their readers.

    It is crucial that media editors get up to speed on these issues.

    Many thanks for responding.

    Comment by Richard Pauli — 24 May 2008 @ 6:12 PM

  4. It’s nice to recognize the carbon storage value of trees and forests, but genetic engineering may have unacceptable unintended consequences or won’t obtain the desired results. In response to warming, below-ground biological activity will increase and with it the rate of turn-over of old soil carbon pools, so the “extra” carbon that may be pumped into the soil by genetically altered trees may not stay for long. See María Jesús Iglesias Briones, Nicholas J. Ostle and Mark H. Garnett. Invertebrates increase the sensitivity of non-labile soil carbon to climate change. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. Volume 39, Issue 3, March 2007, Pages 816-818.

    In addition to modifying trees to pump more carbon into the soil, some have suggested that we should take genetic engineering in another direction as well – to weaken the cell walls of plants so that the cellulose can be more easily converted to biofuels. I hope we are thinking through all the unintended consequences, such as structurally weakened trees that are less able to grow to great size and consequently less able to store carbon.

    For more information on the carbon storage value of forests (*not* genetically altered), see the recent report of Oregon Wild., here: http://tinyurl.com/2n96m5

    Comment by Doug Heiken — 24 May 2008 @ 6:27 PM

  5. Thank you for the excellent words. Freeman Dyson is way too smart to ignore, but everybody makes mistakes.

    Comment by Edward Greisch — 24 May 2008 @ 6:46 PM

  6. My heartfelt thank to David for his comments on Freeman Dyson, not only for rebutting Dyson’s utopian ideas but for showing us non=-scientists that science is not all bad, that there are honest scientists, and that debate and dissent constitute progress, not obstruction or fundamental disagreement . Too many otherwise progressive people make too little effort to listen to these debates. If they did, they would stop being suspicious of science and realize that science is not our enemy but one of our most powerful tools to counteract ideology, propaganda and the conspiracy theories that inhabit our society and the internet in particular.

    Comment by Lorna Salzman — 24 May 2008 @ 7:55 PM

  7. Dyson accepts the consenus and refers to his predictions as “a story, not science”, from what I have seen he likes to play the devils advocate. No different in motive and moral, or less confusing in content, than some of the ‘rantings’ of Lovelock. To write either off as malevolent/uniformed/stupid/senile would be foolish. BTW: I don’t accuse realclimate of having done that, but my own prediction is that others will.

    Comment by Alan — 24 May 2008 @ 8:02 PM

  8. Very useful post.

    Dyson jumped the shark on global warming a while back. See
    http://climateprogress.org/2007/08/15/freeman-dyson-climate-crackpot/

    Then again, although a brilliant ‘theoretical’ scientist, he’s never been all that practical. He was, after all, one of the “geniuses” pushing Project Orion — the incredibly absurd idea of creating a rocket ship powered by detonating nuclear bombs (you can Google it).

    Finally, the discounting issue, while important, is not as important to cost-benefit analyses as the serious prospect of catastrophic outcomes, as Harvard’s Weitzman has shown:
    http://climateprogress.org/2007/09/11/weitzman-economics-climate-change-catastrophe/

    That said, the mainstream economic policy think tank — Resources for the Future (RFF) — wrote a major report, “An Even Sterner Review,” that concluded, “we find no strong objections to the discounting assumptions adopted in the Stern Review”! And RFF is about as middle of the road as you get.

    See also http://climateprogress.org/2007/06/18/dont-discount-the-stern-review/

    Comment by Joe Romm (ClimateProgress.org) — 24 May 2008 @ 8:31 PM

  9. David

    “The problem here, unrecognized by Dyson, is that the business-as-usual he’s defending would release almost as much carbon to the air by the end of the century as the entire reservoir of carbon stored on land, in living things and in soils combined.”

    I am certainly not an advocate of “business-as-usual”. And I am a strong advocate of energy sources that do not use carbon. But I am wondering if there is enough recoverable carbon to release quite as much carbon to the air you suggest here. I really don’t know one way or the other.

    Al Crawford

    [Response: There is about 5000 Gton C of coal, compared with about 500 (trees) + 1500 (soils) on land. Of oil and gas there are only a few hundred Gton each. Coal is the real issue. David]

    Comment by Al Crawford — 24 May 2008 @ 8:44 PM

  10. I think the 4% discount rate is fruitloooooopy.

    I don’t see how he can claim 4% is conservative. Holocene economists appear woefully unprepared for the Anthrocene. How could they be? It’s a wheat field today. It was a wheat field 100 years ago. In many cases it was a wheat field a century ago, or much longer.

    I wonder what discount rate an Australian agricultural economist would recommend?

    “Farmers are now asking whether much of the outback that supported their forebears can still sustain them. A report this week by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, a government body, gave little hope. It predicted less rain, more droughts and temperature rises of more than 1° C by 2030. But Mr Peart quotes a friend who has stopped believing in climate change, because “It hasn’t rained in eight years”

    The Economist

    Under the “warming is going to be peachy keen” notions, some newly warmed place else is going to grow replacement wheat, right? Did the Canadians forget to plant their new fields?

    Comment by JCH — 24 May 2008 @ 8:47 PM

  11. I think the “discounting” argument is particularly fallacious in this case. What if we applied the argument to cancer or to an epidemic? Clearly, the worst costs are well down the road, so if we do nothing now, we will be in a better position to pay those costs later. Discounting does not do a good job when a system has positive feedbacks that ensure greater damage if nothing is done.
    Unfortunately, I think that there are a lot of scientists (non-climate scientists) who do not like the idea that we will have to divert so many of our resources in the near future to mitigating climate change instead of making progress in other (their) areas of science. However, it won’t do us much good to know the mass of the Higgs Boson if our civilization cannot feed itself.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 24 May 2008 @ 8:59 PM

  12. I’m still waiting for my jetpack, flying car and robot servant, I’m not holding my breath until genetics magically solves the carbon problem.

    Comment by Lamont — 24 May 2008 @ 9:02 PM

  13. Dyson has a long standing preoccupation with bioengineering plants to do remarkable things, like providing space habitats. It is unfortunate that he used this public forum to inappropriately ride his hobby horse. As for his comments on Lindzen and Rahmsdorf, I wonder how he would feel about individuals claiming that quantum electrodynamics, a remarkably successful theory to which he made major contributions, is wrong.

    Comment by Roger Albin — 24 May 2008 @ 9:10 PM

  14. Dyson suffers from the same mental blinders as a lot of dreamers, who can only dream of a better world. I suppose this is entangled with the Judeo-Christian view that “things will get better just you wait” thing, played out in the world of physics and science for the pleasure of a secular audience. Of course, 50 years of seemingly endless progress would seem at first to prove them right, it really is upwards all the time. Until one realizes that the progress was based on the unleashing of stored energy to drive the pistons of industrial might, and almost nothing more.

    Successful dreamers, the ones who make a living at selling dreams, usually have a happy vision to share. They will write you a book about that. People like to buy their books and read them to feel better about the vague terror that is creeping into their days and nights. Nobody wants a sad book about nightmares, catastropie and individual responsibilty. Nobody wants to think about rolling back 600 years of “progress” to some other world that feels uncomfortably like the Middle Ages. No not that, surely technology will pull us out of this. Think Happy Thoughts. Buy something shiny.

    We are asleep, walking. Almost 7 billion, oblivious. Genetically engineer us a clue if you can.

    cb

    Comment by Cat Black — 24 May 2008 @ 9:29 PM

  15. Re: the notion that costs of cutting CO2 emissions are a few % of GDP. Global warming is only a symptom of our collective disease of striving for ever greater growth. Other symptoms include massive extinction of species, resource exhaustion (e.g., peak oil), reducing the long term carrying capacity of the planet, etc. The list is long. If global warming doesn’t get us, then one of the other upcoming problems will.

    The notion that our economy will grow ad infinitum is absurd. We might be able to sustain economic growth for another 20-30 years at best, and then things get ugly. We should be thinking about how to preserve the habitability of the planet for future generations. Right now, your kids’ future (and mine, too, regretably) is looking very bleak.

    The point is, forget about GDP. Don’t even engage in the argument, because it trivializes the challenge we face. This is about saving Mother Earth, and arguing over dollars and cents obscures the real issue.

    Comment by Brett — 24 May 2008 @ 9:29 PM

  16. Dyson is talking through his “sphere” (in a manner of speaking).

    Biochar seems to be an important process in permanently removing carbon in the atmosphere while increasing crop/plant growth:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biochar

    Comment by One Salient Oversight — 24 May 2008 @ 10:00 PM

  17. On point 3. Your final argument about economics and slavery is weak. The derogatory term “the dismal science” for economics comes from Thomas Carlyle who attacked economists such as John Stuart Mill for supporting the emancipation of slaves and argued for the reintroduction of slavery in the West Indies. And the “idea, that people are just people, can be traced from Mill back to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.”
    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dismal_Science and http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/LevyPeartdismal.html

    Comment by Björn S. Einarsson — 24 May 2008 @ 10:11 PM

  18. Brett: Speaking as a card-carrying economist (no throwing of rotten tomatoes, please), I have to say that we have little choice but to express such things in dollars (meaning currency, not necessarily US$). We have to make economic decisions, by which I mean the allocation of scarce resources, and the only way to do that is by trying our best to measure the costs and benefits (including avoided catastrophes) in some common unit. Since many of the things we’ll do, like impose a price on carbon or move people away from flooding coastal areas or find ways to replace farm land poisoned by encroaching salt water, will be measured in dollars already, that’s probably the right choice.

    Yes, it’s very distasteful, and yes, it seemingly trivializes almost every aspect of the GW challenge. But because we have so many options to choose from, we need a way to rank and combine them to make the most of our scarce resources to achieve the desired goal.

    Comment by Lou Grinzo — 24 May 2008 @ 10:22 PM

  19. Hmmm…

    How is it that economic analyses that end up deciding that we need do nothing now because it will be cheaper using some theoretical new technology, never come up with how much we need to be taxing ourselves now to invest to pay for what our grandchildren are going to have to do? When I start seeing the delayers proposing tax rates, I’ll start to take them seriously.

    Oh, and how do we compensate the folks that are being harmed by AGW now?

    Tim

    Comment by Tim McDermott — 24 May 2008 @ 11:00 PM

  20. David, thanks for calling the thing by its right name. It’s time the press stepped up to the plate and acknowledged that much of the public controversy is traceable to deliberate nonscientific efforts to mislead.

    Also I agree that discounting is the wrong way to think on very long time scales. On the other hand I also agree with Lou Grinzo (#18) that our circumstances are sufficiently complex that we need some sort of quantitative way of expressing our choices. Whatever model we construct will be far less reliable than any climate model, but quanlitative understanding may emerge from the right quantitative models. However, I very much doubt that the correct measure of long-term well-being is commensurable with currency at all.

    Will my descendants in a hundred years be better off with $100 in Scenario A or with $90 in scenario B? Clearly that depends on the rate of exchange between scenario A and scenario B. But, as far as I know Chase bank does not buy hypothetical dollars from, say, the universe where Karl Rove was a successful used car dealer in Amarillo and left the rest of us alone. When you consider the matter, you will see that there really is no medium of exchange across hypotheticals. It is very easy for me to imagine cases where the $90 in scenario B is in fact not only preferable but vastly preferable to the $100 in scenario A.

    I conclude that money is intrinsically a short term measure. In a sense, that is what the discount rate is trying to tell us. It’s not that the future is worthless; it’s that its worth isn’t meaningfully measured in 2008 dollars at all. Insofar as economics reduces all decisions to a medium of exchange at a particular, such a theory cannot be useful in long range planning. This doesn’t release us from our moral obligation to our distant descendants or the world they will inherit.

    Comment by Michael Tobis — 24 May 2008 @ 11:13 PM

  21. I tend to read a lot of press releases about global warming in my spare time. The most recent ice core samples were extended from 600,000 years ago to 800,000 years ago. The story hit the news about two weeks ago. The core samples showed that co2 is now higher than at any time within the past 800,000 years.We are at 385 ppm , with no end in sight to a rapidly increasing ppm figure. In fact, I’ve read that 450 to 550 ppm is forseeable. My research indicates that the Siberian peat moss, Arctic tundra, and methal hydrates(frozen methane at the bottom of the ocean) all have an excellent chance of melting and releasing their stored co2.Recent methane concentration figures also hit the news last week, and methane has increased after a long time being steady.The forests of north america are drying out and are very susceptible to massive insect infestations and wildfires, and the massive die offs-25% of total forests, have begun.And, the most recent stories on the Amazon forecast that with the change in rainfall patterns one third of the Amazon will dry and turn to grassland, thereby creating a domino cascade effect for the rest of the Amazon.With co2 levels risng faster now that the oceans have reached carrying capacity, the oceans having become also more acidic, and the looming threat of a North Atlanic current shutdown(note the recent terrible news on salinity upwelling levels off Greenland,) and the change in cold water upwellings, leading to far less biomass for the fish to feed upon, all lead to the conclusion we may not have to worry about NASA completing its inventory of near earth objects greater than 140 meters across by 2026(Recent Benjamin Dean astronomy lecture here in San Francisco). Note: Tungusta blast in Siberia 100 years was an object only 30 meters across. I’ve said it before on this most excellent website, RealClimate, and I’ll say it again:I’m not a scientist, but I know what I read. 385 ppm, and climbing rapidly. End of story.Period.Falling 80% below 1990 levels by 2050?Lieberman- Warner bill needs to be “fall 80% below 1990 levels right now” for there to be any chance at all. I’ve got the guts to say it, so I’ll say it again. Humans, fall right now 80% below 1990 levels of worldwide manmade co2 output, or you’ll go the way of the dodo, dodo.Then, according to this cool new book I’m reading called “The World without us”, by Alan Weisman,the Earth will gradually be recovered with forests and grassland, and new species will arise.Where are those crystal skulls when you need em, Freeman?
    Mark J. Fiore, Harvard 1982, Boston College Law School, 1987,often hikes in Western Marin County, CA, where there are still some redwoods not yet shriveled.
    markfiore50@hotmail.com

    Comment by Mark J. Fiore — 25 May 2008 @ 12:16 AM

  22. Kudos to 18. Lou Grinzo. Investments needed to combat AGW need to
    pass economic muster, by economists, not climatologists.
    No matter how morally righteous environmentalists may feel, the
    best allocation of resources belong to economists and politicians
    that represent the public, balancing current and future human needs.
    How much should we sacrifice for future generations?
    How about as much as past generations gave us?

    Re. 15-Brett states that the idea of infinite economic growth is
    absurd. Nonsense! Economic growth is a function of the human mind
    and its capacity for knowledge. It’s as large as the universe!
    Peak oil in a few years will be as important as peak whale oil 120 years ago. Environmentalists frequently sound like Malthusians
    full of todays limitations as absolutes.
    Society will always change, the climate will always change, and the
    human mind will find a way to adapt and prosper.

    Comment by Fred Jorgensen — 25 May 2008 @ 12:30 AM

  23. [#18] “Yes it’s distasteful” No it’s not distasteful, it’s folly. “Distasteful” is when you need to take some medicine or other for your future good, though it is unpleasant at the time, and you do it anyway because you know you will feel better. “Folly” is taking the wrong medicine or none at all because you don’t understand the threat of your illness, and then you die.

    Climate change has the potential to change ours into a different planet, different in significant ways from the planet on which we evolved and our civilizations put root. Using modern concepts of economics IN ANY FORM to weigh a problem of such vast and terrible scope is folly. Just because the last 200 years was all about economics does not alter the looming reality that economics as we have recently known it might be at an abrupt, perhaps permanent, end.

    We need a new language for this. I am told that the Inuit have 20 different words for “snow”. Modern thinkers seem to have a very tiny vocabulary for discussing “progress”, stuck in a linear space of percentage increases and per capita consumption. This even at the moment that we desperately need to define the idea of progress in a much more rich language to include resource progress, individual progress, spiritual progress, sustainable progress, retro-progress, intelligent progress, deranged progress, progress that-hurts-us-now-but-preserves-future-generations, progress-that-builds-on-past-lessons, JIT-progress, and what have you.

    Economics simply cannot be about growth of the GDP when the carbon output of the GDP is poised to erase our very civilization. There is no product, gross or domestic or otherwise, once Earth is a different planet and humanity is one moving, wretched mass of refugees.

    cb

    Comment by Cat Black — 25 May 2008 @ 12:30 AM

  24. I’ve read Stern [which uses numbers from IPCC, which came from World Bank, etc], the MIT study and its Appendix C, and the NRDC report, among others.

    People seem to:
    A) Specify a scenario, and project GDP forward by applying a CAGR, usually around 2% [but varies]. At 2.2% (as in NRDC], US GDP would be ~7X larger in 2100 than now.

    B) Then costs of mitigation or damage are computed in some bottom-up manner.

    C) Then C = B/A by year gives the fraction of GDP.

    CONCERNS:
    The standard economic projections appear to totally ignore Peak Oil+Gas. Contrary to them, a few biophysical economists seem to think that economic growth is actually influenced by work = efficiency * energy, and that in fact, that’s a pretty good model for the 60% of GDP growth usually attributed to “Solow Residual” or “Total Factor Productivity”. If that makes any sense, the downslide of Peak Oil+Gas over the next few decades might just impact that nice growth CAGR. For example, the last page of Ayres shows 3 curves depending on efficiency. [Effective message to US: either get more energy-efficient (and build renewables) *really* fast or see GDP stop growing and even shrink. Other message: stretch oil&gas as far as we can.]

    We all know that predicting trends based on past trends can get clobbered by surprise inflections in underlying factors if they are not properly accounted for. For instance, if one ignores laws of physics, one can predict Moore’s law goes on forever … but nobody in the semiconductor business does that.

    We’ll probably find out by 2020 whether the happy CAGRs are real, or whether the biophysical economists have a real issue.

    The other concern, as with the NRDC, is that the damage costs might be substantially underestimated. Local government people around the San Francisco Bay Area already have concerns with preparation for sea level rise. We have a massive amount of infrastructure built at or near sea level, and built with $20/bbl oil, i.e., cheap energy.

    In 2100, if someone is building dikes or steel+concrete sea walls, they will have little or no petroleum. They will have electricity and biofuels, but phyiscal work gets really expensive, especially when you don’t know how high the water is going to get before it stops – it’s *not* quite like the Netherl;ands dike-building efforts.

    So, it may well be that later damage costs are underestimated as well, because the *replacement* costs of coastal facilities will be very high, as will costs of water infrastructure, and pumps, and such.

    So, especially for the economists out there:
    a) Can you help me understand why the standard GDP models are immune to peak Oil+Gas?

    b) Why won’t post-petroleum damage costs be much higher?

    Comment by John Mashey — 25 May 2008 @ 12:55 AM

  25. Dyson is a visionary, I like his ideas.
    A tree that is a biodiesel pump in your back yard ? that I want !
    Modify the Maple Syrup trees ?
    Carbon credits pumping cash back ?

    Biodiesel trees will need a lot of CO2
    Greenhouses run over 1,000 ppm CO2.
    The last thing you want is to make CO2 biologically unavailable.

    Comment by Franko — 25 May 2008 @ 1:12 AM

  26. Cat Black above, said it so well, I just want to repeat his/her words:

    “Dyson suffers from the same mental blinders as a lot of dreamers, who can only dream of a better world. I suppose this is entangled with the Judeo-Christian view that “things will get better just you wait” thing, played out in the world of physics and science for the pleasure of a secular audience. Of course, 50 years of seemingly endless progress would seem at first to prove them right, it really is upwards all the time. Until one realizes that the progress was based on the unleashing of stored energy to drive the pistons of industrial might, and almost nothing more.

    Successful dreamers, the ones who make a living at selling dreams, usually have a happy vision to share. They will write you a book about that. People like to buy their books and read them to feel better about the vague terror that is creeping into their days and nights. Nobody wants a sad book about nightmares, catastropie and individual responsibilty. Nobody wants to think about rolling back 600 years of “progress” to some other world that feels uncomfortably like the Middle Ages. No not that, surely technology will pull us out of this. Think Happy Thoughts. Buy something shiny.

    We are asleep, walking. Almost 7 billion, oblivious. Genetically engineer us a clue if you can.”

    Time will tell. Not the magazine Time, but time itself. Writ large.

    Comment by Danny Bloom (polarcities) — 25 May 2008 @ 4:00 AM

  27. [Quote]
    “that the business-as-usual he’s defending would release almost as much carbon to the air by the end of the century as the entire reservoir of carbon stored on land, in living things and in soils combined. The land carbon reservoir would have to double in size in order keep up with us.”
    [/Quote]

    Have I have missed something? Because, presumably this means that assuming the “business-as-usual” scenario, that the carbon off-setting industry, is more about off-ripping and making promises that are impossible to keep. All in-order to make money while deceiving the public that offsetting offers a realistic prospect of successfully combating climate change.

    Of course this ignores the following probable but naive mindset: “So I can now increase the size of my carbon footprint, because It’s all offset!” – which would be even worse than the “business-as-usual” scenario.

    Comment by ScaredAmoeba — 25 May 2008 @ 4:41 AM

  28. One (of many) questions that must be answered is, “Is it possible to sustain the increasing wealth of a growing world population and not damage the natural environment past the threshold where it can support life?

    Our economic system is based on unending growth, and as world population increases the only way that can be done is by increasing the rate at which we use natural resources.

    The “reduce, reuse, recycle” approach can help, so can more efficient manufacturing and advancements in material sciences (allowing fewer resources to be used in manufacture and production of products of the same or better quality).

    But can anyone doubt that if it is business as usual for the forseeable future that we are headed for a Malthusian limit?

    That limit, if reached, will of course hit some sooner than others. The others are the “haves” while that “have nots” will be the first reduced to a subsistence existence. Maybe we are seeing the approach of that limit now?

    Is a “steady state” world economy possible? I do not know. But you would think that obviously intelligent, informed(?) and educated people like Dyson would acknowledge there is a problem that can be fixed.

    If my son and daughter-in-law choose to have children they deserve a world that is as good as we can hand to them for their years of stewardship.

    Comment by Steve Horstmeyer — 25 May 2008 @ 7:03 AM

  29. Conrad Lautenbacher, head of NOAA, continues to misrepresent the science of global warming to lay audiences, in what he said recently, below:

    Whether there is warming or not, no one doesn’t want solid, scientific information,
    NOAA chief urges creation of a new National Climate Service to coordinate information
    By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID , Associated Press, May 13, 2008
    http://www.startribune.com/nation/18899439.html

    Comment by pat n — 25 May 2008 @ 7:25 AM

  30. I am a great fan of Freeman Dyson, but in this instance I believe your comments are largely correct. He has some imaginative ideas, but they are for the future and they may be needed to get to James Hansen’s goal of 350ppm of CO2. But as Joseph Romm points out in “Hell and High Water” waiting for tomorrow’s technology to solve today’s problems is an invitation to mass extinction. We will have to go to a WWII footing if we are to have any chance of saving the planet. There is no way we can convince the rest of the world that we believe this to be a serious problem without substative action on our part. “It is hard to preach abstinance while sitting on a bar stool.”

    Comment by George Collins — 25 May 2008 @ 7:56 AM

  31. Why should we turn to economists for this? They are the ones who have been discounting environmental damage for well over a century. The paradigm of eternal growth is outright insane, and the dismissal of society-wide negative impacts has been disastrous time and time again. Any attempt to assess the “economics” of climate change should be scientific. It should not be the god-awful pseudoscience that has helped bring us to the climate problems we have today.

    Comment by Goedel — 25 May 2008 @ 8:09 AM

  32. On a related note, there is an article on the Economics and Ethics of Climate Change in the June 2008 Scientific American, authored by John Broome. He discusses the economic forecasting of the impact of global warming by N. Stern and by W. Nordhaus. The author points out that economists cannot avoid making ethical choices in formulating their advice. It’s a good article, but I was hoping for a summary of the physical science, something SciAm would do well. As for Dyson, he’s a big hero of mine. Nice to see he’s doing well at 85. And I love the idea of those carbon-eating trees. It’s obvious that the cheapest solution would be a major breakthrough in technology.

    Comment by R.Michaels — 25 May 2008 @ 9:43 AM

  33. Re # 22 Fred Jorgenson:

    ” the best allocation of resources belong to economists and politicians that represent the public, balancing current and future human needs.”

    I suppose it depends on which humans you are referring to. Seems to me the political fortunes of the decision-makers tend to play a major role in this.

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 25 May 2008 @ 9:48 AM

  34. Let us not forget that very soon we will be developing some sort of quantum nano technology which will make all our dreams come true instantly at no cost whatsoever so therefore we can do anything we want right now.

    Meanwhile, I am a Sober Minded Realist and all you Gloomy Enviro-Whackoes need to chill out.

    Comment by El Cid — 25 May 2008 @ 10:51 AM

  35. Before the experimental proof of Dyson’s favoured Quantum Electrodynamics, what would have been the result of a cost-benefit analysis using a 4% discount rate? My guess is that noone would have bothered continuing work on verifying QED. The reason is simple: the consequences of successful experiments, in terms of economic benefit, would have been unimaginable to economists of the day. The costs, however, would have been easier to determine. A similar situation exists with QCD, extra-solar planet discovery, Mars missions, GM, NASA, CERN, CSIRO, and so on.
    While a discounting argument is helpful on shortish time scales during which technological change is guesstimatible, it is unfortunately questionable (ie “the science is not settled” on discounting methodology) over long run time scales involving inter-generational populations – IMHO.

    Comment by Donald Oats — 25 May 2008 @ 10:58 AM

  36. In response to that article’s #4 point.

    Whenever someone says something silly like that, I point out that there are now ZERO scientific institutions that say that manmade actions aren’t a primary cause of the warming we’ve experienced in the past few decades.

    Even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists now agrees.
    http://greyfalcon.net/whatwouldittake

    If there was so much disagreement, that person should be able to find at least 1 institution in the entire world that says otherwise.

    And if they can’t find one, then you’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty overwhelming agreement within the scientific community.

    Comment by David Ahlport — 25 May 2008 @ 11:07 AM

  37. Re Fred Jorgensen @ 22: “How much should we sacrifice for future generations?”

    Verses how much should we sacrifice future generations?

    Comment by Jim Eager — 25 May 2008 @ 11:58 AM

  38. #24, John Mashey: The models _do_ have finite resources of oil and coal. If you look at page 20 you will see that in the reference case, oil and coal prices go up over time despite the improvement in technology happening simultaneously. What you do see is a lot of oil shale and tar sands use. Also, biofuels start being used even in the absence of a carbon price.

    Mind you, one can argue that the reference reserve of oil and coal may be too large. And certainly, if today’s oil prices hold for the next decade it will be evidence that the model severely underpredicted oil prices in general. Though one can also argue that we don’t see investments in oil shale and tar sands because of anticipated future climate policy.

    In any case, returning to Freeman Dyson’s vision: what he doesn’t get is that without a carbon price, there is no more incentive to develop good carbon eating trees than there is to reduce emissions. So why not place a carbon price on society (either through a tax or a cap) and let society solve it either through bioengineering, conservation, or renewables? Rather than trying to pick the winner now and leaving it up to government to develop it…

    Comment by Marcus — 25 May 2008 @ 12:19 PM

  39. re: #16
    ==Biochar seems to be an important process in permanently removing carbon in the atmosphere while increasing crop/plant growth:==

    But what if Biochar does not work?
    What if it has the reverse effect?

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/5/2/211036/2352
    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/5/21/15367/8993

    Comment by David Ahlport — 25 May 2008 @ 12:30 PM

  40. Re, Re#9, David, do you mean conventional oil or all oil inlcuding the so called unconventional heavy oils also known as tar sands and shale ? Some people are stating that estimates here are in the 3 to 5 trillion barrels and alos hard to extract will not stop people trying at $200 a barrel of oil when the light crude begins to top out.

    [Response: I meant conventional. You're right, if you count the tar sands and what not the number goes up considerably. David]

    Comment by pete best — 25 May 2008 @ 12:33 PM

  41. ‘If you look at page 20 you will see that in the reference case, oil and coal prices go up over time despite the improvement in technology happening simultaneously. ….”

    In which year of his model does the barrel price hit $138?

    Comment by JCH — 25 May 2008 @ 1:24 PM

  42. The Scientific American article referred to in #32, + discussion, is at:

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-ethics-of-climate-change

    I too am bothered by the use of discounting in the GW context. John Broome in Sci Am begins his explanation of the logic of discounting by asserting that: “The costs of mitigating climate change are the sacrifices the present generation will have to make to reduce GHGs”. This seems incorrect to me. Surely we should be considering the GHGs we’re emitting now to represent a growing debt that will have to be repaid in the future (in economic losses due to rising sea-levels etc and/or the costs of actually removing GHGs from the atmosphere), and seeing whether we should discount this debt. Since it’s not usual to write off international debts (e.g. government bonds) even when the generation that created them and benefited from the expenditure has passed away, an analysis based on the idea of a debt being run up by the present generation suggests to me that we shouldn’t be discounting at all. Surely the idea that we can freely emit GHGs now because in the future we’ll be rich enough to deal with the consequences is like the pre-credit crunch logic that we can all afford to take on huge mort-gages because our houses will be worth more in the future. Debts have a nasty habit of getting out of hand.

    Prompted by the Sci Am article, I posted more detailed discussion of this idea a few days ago at:

    http://unchartedterritory.wordpress.com/2008/05/21/sternly-bemused/

    and

    http://unchartedterritory.wordpress.com/2008/05/23/still-sternly-bemused/

    Comment by Tim Joslin — 25 May 2008 @ 1:28 PM

  43. Cat Black (23) says, “[#18] “Yes it’s distasteful” No it’s not distasteful, it’s folly. “Distasteful” is when you need to take some medicine or other for your future good, though it is unpleasant at the time, and you do it anyway because you know you will feel better. “Folly” is taking the wrong medicine or none at all because you don’t understand the threat of your illness, and then you die. …”

    Your rage is blinding. That’s not what Lou said at all.

    Comment by Rod B — 25 May 2008 @ 2:48 PM

  44. Like Lou above, I also am a card-carrying economist, so you may want to discount what I say (ha ha)…

    For the people who think economists have nothing to contribute to this issue, I guess all I can do is remind them that the various solutions being proposed to tackle climate change involve things economic. E.g., a tax on carbon or a cap-and-trade program. The hard sciences alone don’t tell us how many dollars per ton a carbon tax should be, just as it would be ridiculous for an economist to try to calculate that figure without asking help from the climatologists.

    As far as discounting for future generations: You need to use a discount rate to make sure you’re helping them as much as possible. It seems that some posters here are objecting not to the discounting per se, but to the conversion of everything to dollars and cents. I have no problem with that objection.

    However, if we’re going to quantify future damages from climate change into dollar terms, then we need to discount those numbers to sensibly determine how much it’s worth spending today to try to mitigate those damages. The reason is simple: We could take the money and invest it, giving a larger inheritance to future generations. Discounting makes sense even if the recipient isn’t alive yet. Presumably our grandkids would rather get something worth more than something worth less. And so that’s why it would be silly, say, to spend $900 today to avert $1000 in damages in the year 2100. It would make more sense to take that $900 and buy T-bills, and keep rolling them over for our descendants.

    Again, if that talk sounds crazy to you, because “you can’t put a number on climate damage!” OK fair enough. But your problem isn’t with the discounting per se.

    [Response: My problem is with discounting over long time frames, longer than a human lifetime. What if the ancient Greeks two thousand years ago had come up fossil energy, allowing them to thrive for a couple of hundred years? Would we thank them for leaving us a degraded world? Or do you think there would be some bank account somewhere where we could get all the invested money back, with interest, in compensation? David]

    Comment by Bob Murphy — 25 May 2008 @ 3:04 PM

  45. I have been hoping that RealClimate would discuss the ideas of William Nordhaus. Unfortunately this review pays more attention to easy targets such as carbon eating trees and Richard Lindzen.

    Dyson does a reasonable job on Nordhaus, although I agree that the rest of the review is largely, well, fanciful, factually inaccurate, or maybe the rather unprofessional last word that David used. Dysan does not mention that Nordhaus proposes a $30 per ton carbon tax starting now, increasing to $100 per ton. This is hardly the position of a denialist; it is a lot more than anyone is doing now. It is totally wrong to place him in the same category as Lindzen.

    A serious critique of Nordhaus will ask how the costs of climate change are calculated, on which climate change scenario are they based, what are the uncertainties, etc. There is a problem with limiting the timescale to a century when the more serious effects of climate change take place after that. The choice of discount rate can be questioned, but I think it is unrealistic to wish it away to zero, as Stern did.

    Nordhaus provides us with a model to evaluate climate change strategies. It is an improvement over the hand waving that is usually done. Climate science uses models to make more rigorous predictions, Economics must do the same. We can criticize the content of the models, but we should not reject the competence of climate science or economics to do their respective jobs.

    I hope that RealClimate will make a more serious attempt to deal with this issue. Perhaps you can invite Nordhaus to do a guest commentary.

    [Response: There is a lot of guesswork involved in that sort of modeling, but the really big question, as I understand it, is the issue of discounting. David]

    [Response: Actually, discounting is not the whole picture. There is considerable difference in the ways damages are calculated (they were higher in Stern). Mike Hanneman from Berkeley has many interesting things to say about this. - gavin]

    [Response: So do Don Brown, Nancy Tuana, and others associated with the Penn State Rock Ethics Institute and climateethics.org. For those interested in such matters, I would urge you to check out the site. - mike]

    Comment by Blair Dowden — 25 May 2008 @ 3:11 PM

  46. Tim Joslin (#42): The theory behind discounting is that you are choosing between two uses of your dollar: do you spend the dollar mitigating climate change today, so that you save X dollars in some future time period, or do you use the dollar to invest in some other area with some payback, such that you will be Y dollars richer in the future.

    In this case, the future generation will be both the recipient of the X dollars of saving resulting from mitigation, or the Y dollars in income generated from investment, and therefore, there are times when you want to incur a debt of climate damage because of a benefit of a stronger economy.

    Of course, this includes a number of assumptions:

    1) a dollar saved by not mitigating today does indeed lead to greater wealth in the future. It might also be spent on immediate pleasure: eg, I will pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today (particuarly apt given the role that our demand for beef plays in GHG production). And it has to lead to greater wealth for the population incurring the damage (eg, no fair having America save by less mitigation at the cost of Africa in the future having famines).

    2) that mitigation is actually expensive. Some would claim that energy efficiency will actually pay for itself.

    3) that the damage in the future is not of catastrophic proportions: eg, it isn’t acceptable to use discounting to argue that saving 1 billion dollars today, at a 5% discount rate, is worth the destruction of the economy in 400 years (if that future economy is worth less than 300 quadrillion dollars). I’ve seen suggested in at least one place (Weitzmann, perhaps?) that the discount rate should be tied to the overall rate of economic growth of the economy: for small perturbations, therefore, assuming the world economy grows at 4% a year, then you discount at 4% per year. However, for perturbations that actually reduce the economic growth rate, you have to start changing the discount rate: if the economic growth rate turns negative, you’d actually start reverse discounting. And of course, if you think that the world economy cannot sustain 4% growth forever, then you’d have to adjust the future discount rate appropriately.

    4) That you appropriately value natural resources. What’s the economic value of a lost mountain ecosystem? Not only today, but in 100 years, when presumably the population will be more ecologically sensitive than today’s, if we extrapolate environmental trends?

    Comment by Marcus — 25 May 2008 @ 3:34 PM

  47. re #45, Blair, you state re Nordhaus and his proposals for substantial carbon taxes, that “this is hardly the position of a denialist”.. Quite right, but who has indicated that Nordhaus is (or might be) a “denialist”? I don’t see any indication of that in the article at the top of this thread. I haven’t read Nordhaus’s book (that Dyson reviews), but the question that Nordhaus addresses relates to some sort of “cost-benefit” analysis that incorporates consideration of present costs and benefits and those of future generations. That all seems very reasonable and is exactly what economists should be considering. There probably aren’t any easy answers.

    In Nordhaus’s recent Inagural Article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [Geography and macroeconomics: New data and new findings; William D. Nordhaus Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 103, 3510-3517 (2006)] he concludes:

    “Finally, using the G-Econ
    data to estimate the impact of global warming, we estimate that an
    equilibrium doubling of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas concentrations
    will have significantly more negative impacts than was
    found in earlier studies.”

    That also doesn’t sound like a “denialist”!

    I agree with you that it would be valuable to have a “guested article” by Professor Nordhaus or other economists. Clearly these are issues that physical scientists can impact by careful presentation of data and interpretations concerning changes to the physical environment in a warming world. While the economic impacts might appear obvious in a qualitative sense, policy decisions require an interplay of expertise involving physical science and economic science (or “science”!) and it would be very useful to have some expert insight into the latter as a guest article here.

    Comment by Chris — 25 May 2008 @ 4:42 PM

  48. Correct me if I’m horribly wrong, but don’t you get increased economic activity from manufacturing and selling compact flourescents, solar panels and wind turbines?

    Why can’t mitigating climate change and GHGs produce economic stimulus, rather than be a drag on the economy?

    Comment by Lamont — 25 May 2008 @ 4:48 PM

  49. re: #38 marcus
    “#24, John Mashey: The models _do_ have finite resources of oil and coal. If you look at page 20 you will see that in the reference case.”

    a) can you point at exactly which page 20 you mean?

    b) But, when I said the “standard economic projections appear to totally ignore Peak Oil+Gas”, maybe that was not sufficiently clear, although I thought there was enough context. Let me try again:

    The *economic projections* (of GDP) appear to just use some more-or-less constant CAGR… out through 2050 or 2100, whether they say anything or not about finiteness of resources. That seems to imply that real GDP grows with zero impact from having to redo the majority of the world’s energy infrastructure in the next century, just to keep the energy/person from dropping, and world GDP will be 7X higher in 2100. I’ve cited one of the economists who does think that (work = energy * efficiency) matters to GDP.

    So, let me try asking one more time, especially of the economists here:

    A) DO people (especially the economists) believe that US (world) GDP growth over the next century is essentially unaffected by Peak Oil+Gas? I understand that seems to be the mainstream position, and I do not lightly reject that.

    B) If so, can you explain to me why Ayres+Warr, and Charlie Hall are wrong in thinking that energy (or work = energy*efficiency) actually matter for economic growth? Or what high-EROI energy sources you’re expecting to seamlessly replace fossil fuels? I.e., see Charlie Hall’s Balloon Chart on EROI. Two of our friends are ex-Chairman of Shell and ex-Vice-Chair of Chevron, and *they* are seriously worried about what it will take to replace oil fast enough.

    =====
    MY FEAR IS THAT THE REAL ISSUE IS:

    Arguments about discount rates and mitigation cost percentages are less important than:

    “Can we go all-out on efficiency and renewables *fast enough* to keep world (US) real GDP at least flat… and not end up, out of desperation, burning a lot more coal to keep the lights on and do CTL synfuels … with bad results.

    A really bad scenario could be:
    a) We burn fossil fuels *as fast as we can*, rather then *investing* them.
    b) And then, it turns out, energy actually matters to real wealth, and the people of 2100 might end up being *poorer* than now, and have to deal with worse climate change.

    Anyway, I’d really love for somebody to ease my mind, with *serious* pointers to energy/economics data/papers on this. Thanks.

    Comment by John Mashey — 25 May 2008 @ 6:01 PM

  50. Lamont (48) wrote “Why can’t mitigating climate change and GHGs produce economic stimulus, rather than be a drag on the economy?” It can. I opine that it largely will be, due to ingenuity and innovation.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 25 May 2008 @ 6:04 PM

  51. Marcus (#46), I agree with most of what you say, especially your point 4, which implies the environmental costs of GW damage will actually rise in real terms (a negative discount) and is what we see in practice: e.g. just from the news this weekend, Scotland is prepared to pay to reintroduce beaver after 400 years, and Japan is prepared to recreate wetland from productive agricultural land to reintroduce oriental white storks.

    Re. your point 1: the problem is that the “$s saved by not mitigating” are in fact being spent largely on consumption, rather than investment. Your point 2 is valid, of course, and your point 3 is particularly important. If GW ever destroys fixed capital faster than we can create it then we’re in big trouble. And this is entirely feasible if you consider the potential for sea-level rise to lead to the loss of dozens of large cities. OK, it’s not GW, but to illustrate the point, I read that the recent Sichuan earthquake has destroyed 5m buildings – how many months or even years of Chinese construction does this represent?

    But my main point is that talking about “mitigation costs” is (IMHO) incorrect. Costs to reduce emissions is a second order term. It’s like my girlfriend telling me to slow down on the motorway (=freeway) and me replying that I’ll stop accelerating. In this analogy, it is my speed per se, not how rapidly it is increasing, that is incurring the cost to me of my girlfriend being annoyed. Hence I’m suggesting it would be better to model GHG emissions as a debt, rather than talk about the costs to reduce the rate at which the debt is accumulating.

    Consider Bob Murpy’s numbers (#44): if I have $1400 today I could (A) spend $900 on fossil fuel to heat my home and have $500 left plus a liability of $500 worth of environmental damage at today’s prices that will eventually occur as a result of my GHG emissions or (B) spend $1200 on wind-generated electricity plus $200 left over. My argument is that the $500 worth of damage will increase with GDP, since economic damage caused by GW will be proportionate to the total GDP whenever it occurs (e.g. consider that Stern discusses insurance losses in terms of total global GDP). As the $500 I invest will also increase with GDP, I actually have $0 left in case A. If I’m held accountable for my environmental debt, I’d be better off in case B when at least I’d have the investment proceeds of $200.

    Blair Dowden (#45) notes the “problem” of limiting the timescale to a century. Not only is it wrong to assume an arbitrary cut-off point before the GW problem is actually fixed since the climate will still be here, I suggest that the available precedents suggest no time-limit can be assumed for environmental debts if these are accounted for similarly to any other kind of national (or institutional) debt. I’m sure they told me in school that the country is still paying for the Napoleonic Wars (I’m in the UK). I now doubt that this is literally true in a direct sense, but even if it’s not the case that the war bonds issued then are still in circulation, the debt has been rolled over since, or at a minimum the UK has been able to borrow less because it was paying the coupon on those bonds. The point is that the precedents are for perpetual debts. The national accounts of developed nations (& many other classes of institution) have been continuous for centuries.

    Also (#45) I understood Stern does not use a zero discount rate, but actually just a “low” one (1.4%). I’m questioning whether the rate should in fact be zero (actually negative because of Marcus’ #46 point 4, as already mentioned, but I don’t want to overplay my hand!).

    In summary, it seems to me that talking about “mitigation costs” accepts the classical economic position that environmental externalities can be ignored, which we now know is too simplistic. The idea of “mitigation costs” implies there’s a cost relative to the default case, which is that e.g. GHG emissions are free. This is incorrect – the default case involves costs (and always has done – GHGs from 100 years ago are contributing to our problems, albeit that they are swamped by more recent emissions) that are not at present being fully accounted for. What we have now realised is that we need to internalise these costs and attribute them to those economic activities causing environmental damage, e.g. by imposing carbon taxes. It therefore seems to me that rather than discussing “mitigation costs”, we should be talking about the “carbon debt” being accumulated by those economic activities resulting in GHG emissions.

    Comment by Tim Joslin — 25 May 2008 @ 6:45 PM

  52. I just received my copy of the New York Review with the Dyson article last night and didn’t get to read it until this afternoon.

    I was happy to see that Real Climate responded to the article so quickly, but I urge Real Climate to send its post to the New York Review as a letter. The journal has always printed well thought out responses to its articles and offers the writer of the articles a chance to respond.

    This would be an excellent opportunity to provide information to those who had just read the Dyson article and might be convinced by it. Also, it would be good to see Mr. Dyson defend his ideas. They are interesting, but not very tightly rooted in any probable reality. I am reminded of a comment by Isaac Asimov that, by World War II all science fiction writers had predicted fully functioning humanoid robots, and none had predicted the computer.

    Thanks for an excellent post.

    Comment by Randy Ross — 25 May 2008 @ 6:46 PM

  53. David wrote:

    My problem is with discounting over long time frames, longer than a human lifetime. What if the ancient Greeks two thousand years ago had come up fossil energy, allowing them to thrive for a couple of hundred years? Would we thank them for leaving us a degraded world? Or do you think there would be some bank account somewhere where we could get all the invested money back, with interest, in compensation?

    If the ancient Greeks had attained our current level of technology, then right now I think we would all be thousands of times wealthier than we currently are. If the Earth were a bit warmer than it is right now, that would definitely be worth the extra wealth; everyone would turn up the AC in his or her hovercraft on the way to his or her 10-hour-per-week job.

    Yes this is a fanciful scenario, but only because you gave me a fanciful assumption and asked about its implications.

    There are billions of people who right now lack basic utilities like clean drinking water and dependable electricity. If they are encouraged (forced?) to try to leapfrog over fossil fuels and go right to solar or whatever, their development will be hindered. And hence their grandchildren will be much poorer than under the business-as-usual case.

    I used the T-bill example just to make the point, but it doesn’t rely on direct lineage. E.g. you and I benefit right now from the capital accumulation of earlier generations. When people work with tools and equipment, their labor is much more productive than if we all had to start from scratch with just nature and our bare hands.

    Obviously, if you think that business-as-usual will lead to catastrophic damages, then a rational response would be to limit GHG emissions in the present, notwithstanding the high cost. But I’m just saying, the way to handle this in economic terms is to realize that the future damages are so high (measured in $$) that, even with discounting, they are still higher than the present costs of mitigation.

    One other point: I want to second the statement of a previous poster, that yes Stern actually does discount future climate damages. This is because of the small probability that those generations won’t exist to enjoy the fruits of our current, costly mitigation efforts. E.g. there could be nuclear war, an asteroid could blow up the world in 2025, etc.

    But Stern does not allow a “pure” discount rate, where the utility of future generations is discounted simply because of its futurity. So that’s why his overall discount rate is lower than Nordhaus’, who bases his on the market’s observed discount rate.

    Comment by Bob Murphy — 25 May 2008 @ 8:47 PM

  54. David Benson wrote:

    Lamont (48) wrote “Why can’t mitigating climate change and GHGs produce economic stimulus, rather than be a drag on the economy?” It can. I opine that it largely will be, due to ingenuity and innovation.

    I agree that human ingenuity will always find ways to make a given situation better. But the point is, requiring a reduction in CO2 emissions takes away our range of options. Other things equal, it necessarily makes us poorer.

    Now of course, most posters here would say other things aren’t equal. They would say the costs of mitigation are outweighed by the avoided damages of further global warming.

    I’m not arguing that point right now. I’m merely saying that it’s not correct to, say, count up the “green jobs” as a benefit of a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. This is because you would have to then include all the jobs that were destroyed (in SUV manufacturing, coal-fired power plants, etc.) by those measures.

    If the government passed a law forbidding the production of anything that was yellow, that could only make us poorer. By the same token, if the government says industry has to reduce its carbon emissions by x% next year, in and of itself that makes us poorer.

    Comment by Bob Murphy — 25 May 2008 @ 8:53 PM

  55. re 42, 44, 45, 46, et al. This demonizing of economic discounting is simply astounding. First, for the record, it is accountants who (must) convert everything to dollars and cents, or otherwise ignore it. Economists take a much broader view and include qualitative stuff. They do look at things from an economic point of view — assessing costs and returns, e.g., though not always in monetary units.

    Bob Murphy explained discounting in rudimentary easy to understand terms that evidently went flying over many heads here like a jet plane. From what I read here everyone hates discounting because of their presumed outcomes or the guessed-at assumptions that they think might be made by the discounters, as Gavin implied or as Marcus did all over the place (I think). Or like David’s world disaster stemming from the Greeks living it up for 200 years on fossil fuels, though I have no idea what he meant. Marcus says, “…a dollar saved by not mitigating today does indeed lead to greater wealth in the future. …” It should read a dollar saved by not investing in this or that today will give you a dollar + NN cents to invest in a later this or that, which if then costs less that $1.nn proves to be a good deal. But you can’t spend the dollar on a hamburger.

    Simply asking the simple question, “what does it cost” really does not taint the whole process in the least. I agree the assumptions should be both quantitative and qualitative and realistically account for all factors and effects in the assessment.. But demonizing “discounting” per se is somewhat like outlawing multiplication.

    [Response: I meant that I think discounting breaks when it is applied over time spans long enough that the people who pay the eventual costs in the future are not the same as the people making the decision today. I don't think people a thousand years from now would benefit from our maximizing our profits, the way that the discounting theory would seem to suggest. Instead I think it's pretty obvious that they would be harmed by us not cleaning up our messes. I think that reaping benefits now by making a persistent mess is unfair to people in the future, no matter what your discounting may say. It all sounds like so much trickle-down, to me. David]

    Comment by Rod B — 25 May 2008 @ 9:22 PM

  56. re: #51 Tim
    “My argument is that the $500 worth of damage will increase with GDP, since economic damage caused by GW will be proportionate to the total GDP whenever it occurs (e.g. consider that Stern discusses insurance losses in terms of total global GDP).”

    I’m not sure that’s a completely correct interpretation: I think the damage percentage is likely to be higher, and the cost higher, but for different reasons, notwithstanding Stern Section 19.2.

    Please look at the first few paragraphs of post #24. As far as I can tell, Stern does something similar:

    a) P.183, footnote 35 says “Extrapolated version of IPCC’s A2 scenario, characterized by annual GDP (per capita) growth of about 1.9%… Annual average population growth is about 0.6%.” I.e., this would be 2.5% total GDP. {I talked to Bert Metz of IPCC, and he said they just got their economic projections from the usual palces like World Bank.]

    b)) Some costs may be proportional to GDP.

    c) Some costs may be bottom-up rollups of various costs, i.e., like the NRDC report I mentioned. For instance, Stern says “Defending New Orleans alone from flooding during a Category 5 hurricane is expected to cost around $32B.” I don’t think that cost necessarily is proportional to US GDP, although it might well occur that if the cost is that high, but US GDP is not high enough, it won’t be done. Likewise, the costs of managing sea level rise in the SF Bay Area are likely to be whatever they are, rather than just be a percentage of US or world GDP.

    d) Anyway, in some cases, costs are *expressed* as percentages, but were derived as c) over a). If a) turns out to be lower:

    Category b) will have same percentage, lower total.
    Category d) will have same value, higher total.

    My other concern is that a great deal of adaptation needs *energy*, and especially pushing dirt and building with steel and concrete, and such activities seem like they’re going to cost more, and are not amenable to Moore’s Law cost reductions.

    Comment by John Mashey — 25 May 2008 @ 10:02 PM

  57. Lamont Says:
    “Correct me if I’m horribly wrong, but don’t you get increased economic activity from manufacturing and selling compact fluorescent, solar panels and wind turbines?”

    This is a common economic misperception because it does not take into account opportunity costs. For example, a boy that breaks the cobbler’s window creates economic opportunities for the glassmaker but that is a false benefit because this money would have been spent by the cobbler on something else.

    The economy would have been better off if the cobbler had invested the money in light blubs that would allow him to work later. This would still create some economic opportunities for the glassmaker but it would also improve his productivity and allow him to provide shoes at a lower cost. Repairing a broken window simply forces him to increase his prices to recover the lost money.

    Artificially increasing the cost of energy will create economic opportunities for some but the total wealth of the society will go down because their is less money to invest in things that actually improve productivity.

    Comment by Raven — 25 May 2008 @ 10:10 PM

  58. To build a little on Tim Joslin’s interesting post above, there are two key characteristics of the “climate problem” that conventional economic analysis seems to find difficult. The first is the climate commitment – the fact that there are at present unquantified but inevitable climate changes built into the system as the planet gets back into energy balance. The benefit of mitigation only begins to have effect 20 – 30 years after the expenditure. In that sense, spending on mitigation is rather like making a term deposit in the bank, but with no knowledge of the final payout except a (currently) rather vague notion (in the political domain) that it will be worthwhile. Leave aside the difficulties of dealing with the longer/est term damages. Until we can get a good handle on the near term, it will remain difficult to make good policy decisions. The worst case remains that the tough decisions will not begin to be made until the damage is too obvious to ignore, and that’s when the climate commitment really comes home to roost.

    The other issue is to do with the essentially one-way nature of the changes we can see coming. Getting back to 350ppm as Hansen suggests might enable us to stabilise the climate system, but it will not be the same climate we’ve enjoyed over the last few thousand years. We may avoid the worst outcomes, but the damage will still be large. We will not be able to “restore” the Greenland ice cap in any meaningful way, though we might be able to keep a few polar bears alive on an ice reserve in the far north. And how do you put a price on the presence of an ice cap, or a cost on its loss? Clearly, there has to be some concept of natural capital, but as we’re already spending it instead of living (sustainably) on the interest, we have a bigger problem. The “triple crunch”, I believe it has been called: the combined impact of resource depletion (in its widest sense), population growth (9 billion by 2050), and climate change.

    Until we get economic assessments that deal with all of those at the same time, we are shooting in the dark.

    Comment by The Tuatara — 26 May 2008 @ 1:12 AM

  59. Discounting and uncertainty: a non-economist’s view by Steve Sherwood can be found here:
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/j05kv97607nn24rq/fulltext.pdf

    Comment by Alexander Ač — 26 May 2008 @ 1:40 AM

  60. I had a read of Dyson’s article, but haven’t read Nordhaus’s book, so I am not sure how accurate Dyson’s interpretation of Nordhaus’s book is. In a passage from a different book written by Dyson he claims that we should not be too worried by climate change because there are significant uncertainties from getting information from global climate models. What Dyson does not understand is that these uncertainties are actually a reason for more action on climate change. The possibility of low probability catastrophic events, or climate sensitivity being significantly greater than the median predicted value, leads to expected costs that are much greater than would be predicted by conventional cost benefit analysis. As Joe mentioned, there has been some important recent work in this area by Marty Weitzman.

    Both the role of uncertainty and an ethical approach to discount rates (where the value of someones life in the future is not significantly less than the value of someones life during the present) undermine Nordhaus’s policy gradualism. There are also uncertainties associated with Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) such as DICE. An IAM could deal with ‘known knowns’ related to climate change, but I have my doubts about how well it would deal with ‘known unknowns’ or ‘unknown unknowns’.

    Comment by Peter Wood — 26 May 2008 @ 1:48 AM

  61. JCH (#10), Australia is currently receiving more rain than at any point in the records. See the BOM website. Some areas are in drought. Our country has always had drought, and always will do. Google the ‘Federation drought’. Nothing at all to do with supposed climate change, and all to do with a government not willing to take responsibility for water supplies.

    Comment by Greg — 26 May 2008 @ 3:37 AM

  62. I hope Mr Dyson’s assumptions that Genetic Engineers will develop “carbon-eating trees” in a few years are based on better theoretical foundations than those of other scientists who also assumed 60 years ago that Physicists like him would crack the nuclear fusion problem in a few years !
    Still waiting for the 50 year technology to come, I’m afraid

    Comment by Bob Clipperton (UK) — 26 May 2008 @ 3:42 AM

  63. The primary cause of severe climate change is the destruction of the rainforests that form a cooling band around the Earth’s equator. The massive release of carbon that results from cutting down forest trees is far more damaging than the combined greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants, jet aircraft, ships, trucks and cars.

    This is not properganda from environmental activists and committed tree huggers – this startling information comes directly from an authorative report of the Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme, compiled by the world’s leading rainforest scientists.

    The content of the report was handed onto the United Nations and adds credulence to the unprecedented consensus of more than 2000 climate scientists from the International Panel on Climate Change who all agreed, unequivocally, that the war against climate change will be won – or lost – on the trees that we grow and destroy.

    Deforestation accounts for around 25 per cent or one quarter of the total global emissions of heat-trapping gases. Transport and industry accounts for just 14 per cent of human-made emissions and aviation only 3 per cent, without taking into account the direct damage of jet fumes being ejected directly into the Earth’s fragile atmosphere.

    Is it time to do something?

    [Response: These numbers seem off. Deforestation is about 2 Gton C per year, fossil fuel use and other industrial activities are about 8 or 9, according to a recent PNAS paper by Canadell et al, or the IPCC. Volcanic emission is maybe 0.1 Gton C. You've got 25% + 14% + 3% = 42%, is the rest natural according to your report? David]

    Comment by Eve Earth Charter Foundation — 26 May 2008 @ 4:24 AM

  64. Fred Jorgensen writes:

    Re. 15-Brett states that the idea of infinite economic growth is absurd. Nonsense! Economic growth is a function of the human mind and its capacity for knowledge. It’s as large as the universe! Peak oil in a few years will be as important as peak whale oil 120 years ago. Environmentalists frequently sound like Malthusians full of todays limitations as absolutes. Society will always change, the climate will always change, and the human mind will find a way to adapt and prosper.

    Like it or not, physical laws impose limits to growth. We can’t grow our population or our production indefinitely, and we certainly can’t do so at exponentially increasing rates. It’s easy to demonstrate that compound-interest expansion brings us smack up against physical laws in geologically very short periods of time (e.g. 7,000 years or so before population growth must stop, even if we can move anywhere just by wiggling our nose and turn stars and galaxies into food at a whim). In real life we run into obstacles long before that.

    A significant fraction of humanity is not prospering. You can’t translate your experience as a middle-class North American or European into world experience.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 26 May 2008 @ 5:42 AM

  65. Franko writes:

    The last thing you want is to make CO2 biologically unavailable.

    There’s no realistic prospect of that happening in less than a billion years.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 26 May 2008 @ 5:50 AM

  66. (JBH) I got my B.A. in economics and spent too many years in grad school in economics; I’ve been out of economics for 30 years, so I am rusty. BUT: AFAIK Economics as presently conceived is radically, systemically flawed for dealing with “the environment” and problems thereof. Economists think of “the environment” as a luxury consumer good, when it ought to be thought of as land. Furthermore they mostly ignore land, considering it simply another form of “capital”, assuming that capital and land are perfect substitutes, when in reality they are more often complements. Often they assume waste is nonexistent, NEVER do they model cumulative toxicity. Often they assume “future technology” will give us perfect substitutes for resources that are depleted. They do not consider that “production functions” may change, may BE changed by environmental degradation. Herman Daly is the only economist I have heard of who has seriously faced the question of sustainability, and he is not widely influential.

    Comment by John B Hodges — 26 May 2008 @ 6:21 AM

  67. The thing I don’t quite get is calling someone who wants to do weird stuff to get rid of carbon emissions a “visionary”, when the real excitement is in moving out of a fossil-fueled world. In computing, we have this thing called Moore’s Law, an example of a learning curve law, which gives us so many times cheaper technology every year. The same is happening with photovoltaics, as well as other renewables. When, on the other hand, you use coal and oil, the price has only one direction to go as demand increases, now that we are starting to hit limits on cheap extraction: up.

    What’s so visionary about wanting to find ways to keep oil and coal front and center? I bet people there were people with really visionary ideas about modernizing the horse and buggy in 1908. Pity about that Henry Ford dude.

    What we really need is to pump R&D $$ into getting solar and wind down to as close as possible to the cost of coal-fired power generation as soon as possible; limited supply is already making coal more expensive (most types have approximately doubled in cost over the last 12 months). Add on carbon taxes to keep it that way as use of renewables reduces pressure on coal demand. Advances in technology will kill the economic damage bogey. Wind and solar can get cheaper if we make the equipment better; making a better power station won’t make oil or coal cheaper.

    “oil shale and tar sands”?? I’m going to invest in a horse whip factory. That was a pretty good business c. 1900. All it needs is a bit of visionary R&D on how to cut the depth of horse manure in the streets.

    Comment by Philip Machanick — 26 May 2008 @ 7:09 AM

  68. Economists have a preference for stating outcomes in currency, which, after all can buy everything. Since much accounting uses this approach to value lives, perhaps in this case, the inverse is appropriate, to evaluate policies by their effects on lives and deaths. Remember, that back in the 60s, the tobacco companies made the calculation that it would be less expensive in dollars to resist bans on tobacco, and there have been millions of lives that ended prematurely since. They were right.

    Climate change denial and now delay follows the same course, Nordhaus’ business has not been to deny but to value inaction cheaply and encourage delay. That string having run out, he now retreats to slow action. Unlike slow food that will leave a bitter taste.

    The real problem with doing nothing now will be the cost in lives not air conditioning later. That means you, your kids and the rest

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 26 May 2008 @ 7:15 AM

  69. The issue of economic efficiency in the context of AGW fervor is important. Do we impose economically harmful policies that have no meaningful impact on CO2 levels (Kyoto, Stern) just because it feels good to ‘do something’ and impose pain on the untenured materialistic masses?

    The snarky dismissal of Dyson’s thoughts about CO2-eating trees would be more convincing if it were not delivered from the standpoint of an even more distant location in wishful-thinking land: Solutions based on massive world-wide carbon policy mandates [edit] is far more fanciful than any science-fiction style technological approach to AGW.

    [Response: Obviously spending money for no good purpose is pointless so suggesting that this is what anyone is advocating is a strawman argument. As for the rest of your comment, it appears completely divorced from the reality of what anyone is seriously proposing. If you are of the opinion that nothing could possibly work and therefore there is no point trying (whether that is a carbon tax, cap-and-trade, mandates to improve energy efficiency, a switch of subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables etc.), then say so and then we can ignore you. If that isn't the case, constructively add to the discussion by talking about what you think might work. The 'wishful thinking' is associated with people who think that simple criticism makes the whole problem go away. It doesn't. - gavin]

    Comment by George Tobin — 26 May 2008 @ 8:34 AM

  70. This series of comments pretty much makes Dyson’s point. Almost all of the commenters begin with the assumption that the science is settled and then set out to demonize Dyson for claiming it is not and for pointing out that standard economic analysis (presented by Nordhaus) does not support the political agenda of Stern/Gore et al. The two points made by skeptics are: (1) the models are imprecise and fail to take into account complex interactions in the biosphere, and (2) the proponents of more radical regulatory regimes to counter global warming fail to take into account standard economic analysis of costs and benefits. Those two points remain largely unrebutted in (what sounds to me like) the quasi-religious dialogue prevalent in this forum. Suppose that you are a true skeptic trying to get to the right answer and then re-read the above posts. Believe me, you will not be convinced.

    [Response: The two points you make have been quite thoroughly addressed, but you weren't paying attention. First, regarding Nordhaus, how is it that the same people who are so ready to point out problematic aspects of climate modelling are completely convinced by the kind of economic models that Nordhaus uses? His analysis doesn't even take the baby steps toward incorporating the probability distribution of harm that Weitzman's model uses, and if you think that climate models have some aspects that are difficult to get right, you ought to have a look at RICE and DICE. Besides that, there's the highly questionable issue of the discount rate assumed by Nordhaus and many other economists. David addressed that specifically in his post. Regarding the biosphere, there is in fact a great deal of work on the land carbon cycle, and Dyson is being far too much of a techno-optimist. While there is some chance that the biosphere might moderately increase it's carbon uptake (which would somewhat delay doubling of CO2), the science also supports a very real possibility that the biosphere will turn around and become a net source of carbon, adding further to the carbon due to fossil fuel burning. That is a real disaster scenario, and it's not one that can be discounted. It happend once before in a warming world. During the PETM, the biosphere released up to 6000 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, in the form of CO2. --raypierre]

    Comment by Dave Raskin — 26 May 2008 @ 8:38 AM

  71. The real problem with doing nothing now will be the cost in lives not air conditioning later. That means you, your kids and the rest.

    But this is also the “real problem” with severe restrictions on the use of fossil fuels. As I said earlier, there are billions of people who don’t have what we consider to be necessities of life. They really are dying every day in ways directly traceable to this lack.

    So if your criterion is, “Minimize the number of premature deaths over the next 200 years” or something like that, it doesn’t automatically follow that a massive carbon tax now is the answer. It could be the answer, but it is an empirical question. Many posters here are acting as if altruism for others necessarily implies support for radical curbs on carbon emissions, when it doesn’t. You would have to (a) care about future generations, and (b) agree with some of the more catastrophic predictions, in order to support radical measures today.

    On the issue of discounting, I agree that on the face of it, it sounds crazy to even ask, “How many future people are worth one person today?” But as I tried to get across (obviously not very persuasively) in earlier posts, the fact is that the price of current purchasing power is higher than (right now) the price of purchasing power in the year 2100. So there needs to be some discount rate (and people can argue about how high it should be) to make sure present mitigation efforts are as effective as they can be.

    One final note: I am not saying that the psychological motivation of most “deniers” is concern for people dying of dysentery in Africa today. Of course not. But even so, it is a fact that there are people we know are dying today from poverty. Their efforts to climb out of poverty will be hampered by mitigation proposals. So it’s not simply a matter of, “Do you value human lives?” It’s an empirical an ethical issue of, “Is allowing x more people to die for sure over the next 20 years, counterbalanced by models that lead us to believe we will thus save x+y people over the next 200 years?”

    Incidentally I am not being sarcastic in writing the above. The answer may very well be “yes, it is worth it.” I’m only trying to show that it is a question of balance, to quote Nordhaus. It’s not simply, “Do I value my SUV more than 80 kids 100 years from now?”

    Comment by Bob Murphy — 26 May 2008 @ 9:26 AM

  72. It is very easy to put a cost on climate change. Take the maps of infrastructure location. Takes the maps of sea level rise at one metre increments. overlap the maps. Knock out each infrastructure node that gets engulfed. add in a cost to rebuild that node at higher ground. sum the costs of node builds. that’s zeroth order estimate. go to first order estimate by examining follow-on effects into supply chains etc. go to next order by … etc. every study that I am aware of has trivialised the cost of climate change.

    [Response: Don't forget that the cost of climate change is more than just in goods traded in markets. Human suffering, species extinction, loss of ecosystems -- some economists have methods to put dollar values on these,but they are all questionable. Amartya Sen favors considering costs more broadly, and not just aggregating them all into currency. Take a look at some of his essays in "Rationality and Freedom." --raypierre]

    Comment by mg — 26 May 2008 @ 9:35 AM

  73. Re: #68 Yes. How good is that money when there’s nothing to buy? Check out the latest issue of Fine Homebuilding and the price builders are paying for old growth timber for its structural and aesthetic values. America’s virgin timberlands were low-valued and wasted at that time. Today, things are different. How much are our grandkids going to be willing to pay for a cool breeze, trees, (I’m channeling Pink Floyd here) and a bit of decent summer weather?

    Comment by Andrew — 26 May 2008 @ 10:10 AM

  74. My understanding of the Project Orion was based on the suprising discovery that nuclear explosions can have a pronounced direction. The stand that one of the early explosions was raised on was almost completely undamaged following an explosion. I’m sure that the bomb makers — and the general public — had expected that the blast would develop like a star expanding in all directions at once. If the destructive, chaotic energy goes thataway then an equal force, which theoretically could be channeled, goes the opposite way. Building a ship rigorous enough to withstand the unimaginable acceleration with all of its other systems intact would probably be beyond engineering, but it’s not prima facie ludicrous.

    Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 26 May 2008 @ 11:18 AM

  75. Greg (#61):

    As is made explicit in numerous reports by the Australian Bureau of Meterology (eg. here) and is very apparent in their maps and other data presentations (eg. here) the national rainfall averages obscure the fact that there have been trends toward a considerable increase in rainfall in the Australia’s tropical north west and devastating decreases in the south west and south east. This, in combination with significant increases in temperature that have increased evaporation, has lead to record minimum inflows to streams and rivers in the south, including to the entire Murray Darling Basin which is in a parless state.

    If you are an Australian then I’m sure that you are aware of all this. Why try to misrepresent the dire nature of the reality with which our nation is struggling to cope? Hopefully, by some miracle all the climatologists are wrong. But it is a very slim hope to cling to. I’m no climatologist, but having intently followed the debate here and elsewhere it has become very clear to me that the climate scientists know what they are doing, are honest and that their science is very coherent, clear and supported by the data. By contrast, the denialist PR is self contradictory and is clearly spun and twisted in a deceitful attempt to confuse the lay public.

    Would it not be prudent to accept that the trends we are seeing are probably the early signs of the predicted global warming, to acknowledge that it is very likely to continue to get worse in the manner that the scientists predict, and to start acting now to both limit and adapt to it?

    Comment by Craig Allen — 26 May 2008 @ 11:20 AM

  76. Billions wasted on UN climate programme

    Energy firms routinely abusing carbon offset fund, US studies claim

    John Vidal, environment editor
    The Guardian, Monday May 26 2008

    Billions of pounds are being wasted in paying industries in developing countries to reduce climate change emissions, according to two analyses of the UN’s carbon offsetting programme.

    Leading academics and watchdog groups allege that the UN’s main offset fund is being routinely abused by chemical, wind, gas and hydro companies who are claiming emission reduction credits for projects that should not qualify. The result is that no genuine pollution cuts are being made, undermining assurances by the UK government and others that carbon markets are dramatically reducing greenhouse gases, the researchers say.

    The criticism centres on the UN’s clean development mechanism (CDM), an international system established by the Kyoto process that allows rich countries to meet emissions targets by funding clean energy projects in developing nations.

    Credits from the project are being bought by European companies and governments who are unable to meet their carbon reduction targets.

    The market for CDM credits is growing fast. At present it is worth nearly $20bn a year, but this is expected to grow to over $100bn within four years. More than 1,000 projects have so far been approved, and 2,000 more are making their way through the process.

    A working paper from two senior Stanford University academics examined more than 3,000 projects applying for or already granted up to $10bn of credits from the UN’s CDM funds over the next four years, and concluded that the majority should not be considered for assistance. “They would be built anyway,” says David Victor, law professor at the Californian university. “It looks like between one and two thirds of all the total CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts.”

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 26 May 2008 @ 11:27 AM

  77. Actually it was an economic question. The mostly coal burning north-eastern mercantile interests in the United States were opposed to the Antebellum South’s cotton trade with England. I object to your insinuation that Northern monopoly capitalism was motivated by some ulterior moral purpose of which there is no evidence.

    [edit - keep on topic and don't personalize criticisms]

    Comment by George Merrith — 26 May 2008 @ 11:40 AM

  78. Taking his lead from Nordhaus, Dyson writes, “Carbon-eating trees could convert most of the carbon that they absorb from the atmosphere into some chemically stable form and bury it underground.”

    I’m sure genetic engineering holds many surprises in store for us, but, being the non-visionary type that I am, I just can’t imagine giant, non-biodegradable roots or tubers being a feasible means of carbon sequestration, even if they could be created. Aside from the logistical problems (Where would these GM-trees be planted? In place of what? At what cost, and to whom? What happens when the giant turnip-like roots start to fill up the ground, or impact aquifers, or infiltrate sewer systems?) Given the current opposition to fairly innocuous GM crops (e.g., http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/gmfood/overview.php), it’s not clear why Nordhaus and Dyson at all confident that society will embrace GM-trees having the capability of altering our atmosphere and possibly our climate?

    Dyson also writes, “Biotechnology is enormously powerful, capable of burying or transforming any molecule of carbon dioxide that comes into its grasp.” Perhaps, but this unbridled optimism strikes me as far more speculative than the GCMs that skeptics keep trying to refute.

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 26 May 2008 @ 12:26 PM

  79. Issues of practicality aside, is it just me or does anyone else find the idea of genetically a carbon eating/sequestering life form a terrifying stupid idea? What happens if this organism is out there in the wild and CO2 levels have dropped to pre-industrial levels?

    [Response: The answer is that you trigger a Snowball Earth. --raypierre]

    Comment by L Miller — 26 May 2008 @ 1:17 PM

  80. Re #53:
    Bob Murphy, this seems interessting. Let’s assume that the world was 2500 BT (before today) at the same point as now.
    The emission would be 9GtC/yr at a growing rate of 3.3%/yr in 2500 BT(, without deforestation).
    Which emission of carbon to the atmosphere would you suggest in your case for the time from 2500 BT to today? Maybe you can give a list with values every 100 yr or so for interpolation.
    Uli

    Comment by Uli — 26 May 2008 @ 1:21 PM

  81. Bob Murphy wrote: “There are billions of people who right now lack basic utilities like clean drinking water and dependable electricity. If they are encouraged (forced?) to try to leapfrog over fossil fuels and go right to solar or whatever, their development will be hindered.”

    You assert that “their development will be hindered” but you offer no reason to believe that this would be so. And there is evidence that the opposite is true: that rapidly deploying clean, renewable energy technologies and avoiding destructive fossil fuels is not a hindrance but the key to sustainable development in the poor world.

    With regard to dependable electricity for example, the fastest growing technologies for generating electricity worldwide — by far — are photovoltaics and wind turbines. According to Worldwatch Institute, global production of PV panels increased 51 percent and wind-generating capacity increased 27 percent in 2007 alone, continuing multi-year double-digit growth rates for both technologies.

    In many cases, small-scale distributed photovoltaic and wind-generated electricity is proving to be the most cost-effective and fastest path to rural electrification in the developing world, where the financial, technological and industrial resources to build large centralized power plants of any kind, and the grids to distribute their electricity, don’t exist. Wealthy-nation support for the rapid dissemination of such technologies in the developing world leads directly and powerfully to creating a better quality of life for people there, and also reduces the growth in emissions from electricity generation.

    With regard to clean drinking water, anthropogenic global warming is a grave threat to the drinking water supplies of billions of people all over the world. Ending global warming is an absolutely urgent necessity for preserving drinking water supplies.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 26 May 2008 @ 1:21 PM

  82. In response to post #70, raypierre wrote:

    The two points you make have been quite thoroughly addressed, but you weren’t paying attention….Besides [Nordhaus' dubious model], there’s the highly questionable issue of the discount rate assumed by Nordhaus and many other economists. David addressed that specifically in his post.

    Hang on a second. The following is David’s addressing of the issue of discount rates:

    I personally can get my head around the concept of discounting if the time span is short enough that it’s the same person on either end of the transaction, but when the time scales start to reach hundreds and thousands of years, the people who pay in the future are not the same as the ones who benefit now.

    There’s no polite way I can say this, but the above is honestly analogous to me (an economist) criticizing the IPCC at a website like WeHateGore.org and saying, “Personally, I don’t see why we should put any faith in these models. They can’t even tell me if it’s going to rain next week, so when the time scale goes to hundreds or thousands of years…!”

    So whatever your thoughts on discounting, David’s expression of personal confusion over the practice of economists hardly counts as a thorough disposal of the practice.

    And yes, some people pointed to Weitzman’s work, and the RFF paper. Again, this is analogous to me pointing to Lindzen and saying, “Look, even an MIT expert on this stuff agrees with me! These models are bunk!”

    It’s hard to keep the different objections separate on this thread. As I keep pointing out, a lot of people here don’t like the idea of using dollar measurements in the first place, in which case the discussion of discounting is superfluous.

    But if you are prepared to accept that a cost/benefit test of proposed mitigation measures isn’t absurd, then the next step is to ask whether future costs and benefits should be given equal weight to present ones.

    And I’m saying the answer is no, because whether we agree with it or not, the market right now undervalues future dollars. So we can achieve our aims more cheaply by recognizing this basic fact, rather than declaring it immoral.

    I’ll try one more analogy to get the point across. Suppose there is a homeowner trying to decide whether to spend $1000 renovating the insulation in his house, in order to save $100 on utility bills per year. Should he do it or not?

    If David is right, then before we can answer that question, we need to know how old the homeowner is. After all, if he’s going to die in two years, then clearly the expenditure isn’t worth it, right?

    (The standard answer of course is no, the age of the homeowner is irrelevant, assuming he wants to pass on as much wealth as possible to his heirs. They will reap the benefits of the efficient purchase of insulation. They would rather get the insulated home, and $800 less in cash, than the non-insulated home, and $800 more in cash. [The $200 comes from the two years of life left in the homeowner, in which he lowers his utility bills from the new insulation.])

    [Response: There is a real difference between assessing a discount rate for dollar investments for which clear alternatives are available (i.e. why bother to invest in something special if the bank interest rate is higher than the expected return), and assessing the worth of non-economic goods ('the social discount rate'). Confusing the two concepts is at the heart of most of the noise surrounding this issue. To give an extreme example for clarity, if someone uses a bomb to blow up someone today, that is surely just as heinous as if they bury the bomb and set it to blow up tomorrow (or next week or next year). It is equally unethical to set the timer for a day in the future as for a hundred years, yet any substantial social discounting would downgrade the crime to a misdemeanor given a long enough lead time. There is a difference and pretending that only the economically illiterate think so, is not constructive. It is however an ethical decision, and can't be proven one way or another using economics alone. - gavin]

    Comment by Bob Murphy — 26 May 2008 @ 1:25 PM

  83. One final comment, and then I think I should quit while I’m ahead (or not too far behind): Nordhaus is actually on “your” side in this. He has been one of the most vocal economists on the importance of climate change.

    If you think he is unduly activist, it might be because, as a professional economist, he sees costs of your personally favored policies that you aren’t considering.

    Comment by Bob Murphy — 26 May 2008 @ 1:28 PM

  84. Whoops–typo: I meant above to say that if you think Nordhaus’ isn’t activist enough, then it might be because he is worrying about drawbacks to mitigation policies that you aren’t taking seriously. I.e. there seems to be a sense here that because he’s skeptical of some approaches, he must not care about the environment as much as Gore (or Stern) does. And I don’t think that’s it at all. Believe me, I have been a critic of Nordhaus on this very issue, so it’s odd that I’m defending him here. :)

    Comment by Bob Murphy — 26 May 2008 @ 1:52 PM

  85. @8 – There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the Orion concept. It might not be the best engine design we have (and would probably never be usable in our atmosphere) but it is a good idea.

    We should take our own advice, and stick to talking about our areas of expertise – leave the nuclear physics to the nuclear physicists ;).

    Generally, I imagine that the trees Dyson talks about are probably somewhere in our future – the question is whether the trees would come quick enough to stop problems if we just go on with business as usual.

    There is no reason not to pursue ideas like this – all ideas should be pursued to some degree. The danger lies in reliance upon one solution alone.

    Comment by Joe Andersen — 26 May 2008 @ 2:40 PM

  86. I don’t know what Dyson’s area of expertise is in physics, but imagine if one of us started trying to act as if we understood it in reviewing technical publications dealing with it!

    Comment by Bob Werchniak — 26 May 2008 @ 2:54 PM

  87. Well shoot, I said I was done pestering you guys, but then Gavin goes and makes a great analogy that I hope will really clarify our different positions on this. So if you’ll forgive me for one more attempt:

    There is a real difference between assessing a discount rate for dollar investments for which clear alternatives are available (i.e. why bother to invest in something special if the bank interest rate is higher than the expected return), and assessing the worth of non-economic goods (’the social discount rate’). Confusing the two concepts is at the heart of most of the noise surrounding this issue. To give an extreme example for clarity, if someone uses a bomb to blow up someone today, that is surely just as heinous as if they bury the bomb and set it to blow up tomorrow (or next week or next year). It is equally unethical to set the timer for a day in the future as for a hundred years, yet any substantial social discounting would downgrade the crime to a misdemeanor given a long enough lead time.

    OK thanks, as I said this really crystallized our differences on this. Note that we’re actually closer to agreement than you seem to think; all along I have said, “If you don’t want to put a dollar value on lives or the environment, that’s fine. But if you do then you need to discount.” I think we’re both agreed, then, that the basic problem with Nordhaus is his attempt to monetize everything, rather than his application of a discount rate to those monetary values.

    But anyway, back to your example: First of all, under the law you will get a lighter sentence (today) for planting a bomb set to go off in one year, than if you planted one that went off two minutes ago. And the difference of course is that you haven’t actually killed anybody with the first bomb. This is relevant to the climate discussion, because those future harms might not actually occur. And I don’t even mean, maybe carbon-munching trees will be developed. As I said, Stern discounts the future because of the possibility that those people won’t exist (asteroid, nuclear war, etc.).

    (Now in fairness, you could say, “OK, if the bomb is set to go off in one week, versus one year.” I don’t know what the legal treatment of these cases would be, but in either case you would not be charged with murder, because no one is yet dead.)

    But now let’s make your bomb scenario a little closer to the climate change one, and hopefully you’ll see why I keep insisting that discounting is important. Suppose that instead of just an outright government crackdown on bomb-planting, the government capitulates to the bomb lobbyists and only imposes a $35 tax on every bomb planted. (Maybe most citizens view bomb planting as essential to their way of life.)

    Now in that case, it really would be crazy to not discount the fine based on the timer setting, because otherwise the same crime would be penalized at different levels. E.g. someone today plants a bomb set to go off in one year, and he gets fined $35. Then next year, someone plants a bomb to go off in 24 hours, and he also gets fined $35.

    Both bombers killed one person in the year 2009. But the first bomber paid a higher fine, because he had to pay $35 in 2008, while the second guy had to pay it in 2009. During his trial, the first guy in 2008 could have said, “Hang on a second! Don’t make me pay it now, make me pay the $35 when it actually kills someone.” And naturally he would prefer that outcome, because he could set aside less than $35 today (in 2008 when he’s convicted), and let it roll over to $35 in 2009 when his bomb actually causes damage.

    So that’s one way of seeing why, if you’re going to bring monetary incentives into it, which plenty of environmentalists want to do, then it matters that “current money” is more expensive than “future money.”

    To insist that monetary fees (carbon taxes, prices for cap-and-trade permits, etc.) reflect the prevailing exchange rate between present and future dollars, is no crazier than saying a carbon tax expressed in Japanese yen has to be higher per ton than a carbon tax expressed in US dollars.

    To push the bomb analogy even further, yes it certainly would be better if the bomb planters could be persuaded to set their timers farther into the future, even if we’re solely concerned about minimizing the damages from their actions. This is because we have more time to adapt to the bombs. People in the vicinity can move away, they can buy armor for their cars, etc.

    Obviously I’ve carried the analogy a bit far, but I’m just trying to show that the closer you make it to the actual situation of carbon emissions causing future damages, and especially where the government’s response is to inflict monetary fines on the parties doing the damaging, then you need to use discounting. Otherwise you end up with an outcome that is inferior from everyone’s viewpoint, to what would be achievable if discounting were used.

    [Response: My point was only that ethics are not discountable. It is equally unethical to plant the bomb with a one day setting as with a century setting. Your extension to my analogy is really a stretch to make an ethical point into an economic point - I don't see that any of your additional assumptions are necessarily valid. But nonetheless, there are clear uncertainties with future actions that mean that something that is almost certain to happen if I plan it for a day ahead, is less certain if I plan for a century ahead. Fine - some kind of allowance needs to be made for that (as Stern does). But there is no reason to think that it should be the same discounting rate that applies to today's monetary investment decisions. - gavin]

    Comment by Bob Murphy — 26 May 2008 @ 2:54 PM

  88. Bob Murphy (54) — Unfortunately you are simply assuming that releasing fossil carbon is completely harmless. Just because there was no dollar cost or penalty associated with doing so (before cap-n-trade or offset schemes) does not mean that real harm was not being done.

    We try to penalize those who introduce toxic wastes into the environment. By your argument, that makes us poorer. Sorry, but you have just illustrated why I put very little credence into anything economists say anymore.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 26 May 2008 @ 4:41 PM

  89. Freeman Dyson is wrong on all counts. It’s pretty amazing to read this, actually.

    Take the fastest-growing carbon absorbing plants on the planet – sugarcane and bamboo. It is highly implausible that any feat of genetic engineering will increase those ratea of carbon assimilation. Genetic engineering has a very poor track record so far, in any case. Yields are not any higher, and most of the interest so far has been in creating patented and paired herbicide/GMO plant combinations, like RoundUp Ready Soybeans and the like. No amount of genetic engineering is going to make plants grow without water, or while under ten feet of floodwater.

    The carbon that has been added to the atmosphere was added slowly, over a hundred years, from millions and millions of engines and boilers and furnaces, and any realistic plan to “remove it” is going to have to take place over similar timescales – and what, exactly, is the economic incentive for burying carbon? If all carbon-trading credits were limited to actual geological burial of carbon in a fixed, stable form (such as, say, petroleum), then they really would help – but noone is doing that (CO2 gas is not a stable long-term storage form).

    If we could come up with a technology that used solar power to convert water and carbon dioxide to something like crude oil, then we could pump the crude oil back into the original oil wells (maybe). If that sounds ludicrous, it is because it is – but it is less ludicrous than the tree notion.

    Even if we did have these hypothetical “carbon eating trees”, they’d still have to be cut down and buried – because if you cut down a tree and walk away, around 99% of the carbon will end up right back in the atmosphere where it came from. If you plow the carbon into the soil, it will stay for hundreds of years, give or take. To bring atmospheric CO2 down to pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm would require the burial of how many gigatons of charcoal from these trees?

    Keep in mind that right now, fossil fuel carbon emission rates are as high as they have ever been in human history (at 8 gigatons or so) – and are increasing, even accelerating: http://www.earth-policy.org/Indicators/CO2/2008.htm

    So, an acre of sugarcane can produce as much as 40 tons of cane (30 seems more likely). Brazil currently has 14 million acres of sugarcane. That works out to around half a billion tons – and since a gigaton is a billion tons, we would need 16 Brazils, growing sugarcane around the clock and burying it all in large pits, to offset the current global fossil fuel emissions.

    However, one ton of sugarcane delivers only 250 kg of bagasse, the woody portion, so multiply all the above numbers by four. All we need to offset current global fossil fuel CO2 emissions are 64 Brazils… Hmmmm…. this does not seem possible, does it? How will we dig all the big pits needed, for starters? What will the farm laborers eat (there will be no room for growing food)?

    As far as relying on econometric models and “GDP projections” – that’s not even wrong. If econometric models were ever subjected to the kind of scrutiny that climate models have been subjected to, the entire field would be revealed for what it is – a complete farce. There’s a very good reason that economists never set foot in physical science departments, after all.

    What is needed is massive investment in solar and wind technology and electrical grid storage infrastructure, as well as massive investment in undoing the disastrous “Green Revolution” in industrial agriculture and figuring out how to make out agricultural systems carbon-neutral, at the very least, if not actually carbon negative.

    Comment by Ike Solem — 26 May 2008 @ 4:45 PM

  90. re #87 Bob Murphy

    I have the Nordhaus book on order, but obviously haven’t read it yet, since it’s not out, and from reading Nordhaus After Kyoto and Wikipedia I see:

    “To convert from carbon units to the current convention of CO2 units, multiply the mass, or divide the price by 3.67 and “$100 tax per ton of carbon is equal to a tax of $27 per ton of CO2″.

    1 gallon gas ~ 20 lbs of CO2
    1 ton CO2 ~~ 100 gallons of gas or diesel
    $100 per ton carbon = $27.2 / ton CO2 = $.27/gallon, considered a “relatively high” rate, whereas Nordhaus in the above proposes $16/ton for 2010, a $.04 / gallon tax. I’m all for carbon taxes in general, BUT…

    From Dyson’s review, Nordhaus’ analyses sound like they resemble the others:

    1) Project GDP growth forward 100-200 years, usually with some CAGR based on past CAGRs, and typically around 2-3%. This yields a reference case that in no obvious way depends on energy, or specifically Peak Oil&Gas.

    2) Then look at various scenarios, including things like carbon taxes that are presumed to raise prices, discourage usage, and therefore reduce the growth of the economy.

    PLEASE, as an economist, can you explain to me why the following can make even the slightest sense together:

    1) Everybody worries about carbon taxes, i.e., Nordhaus says that $16/ton is the right number for 2010 ($.04/gal), rising to $100/ton ($.27/gal) affecting the economy. This sounds to me like:

    modestly higher fuel prices hurt the economy, if created by taxes, but may be needed to avoid future costs

    2) Oil&Gas production falling to 50% of current over next 50 years has *no* effect on the economy and is irrelevant to reference projections of the future and can mostly be ignored. This sounds to me like:

    substantially higher fuel prices caused by supply-reduction are irrelevant

    ====
    How does that work?

    Comment by John Mashey — 26 May 2008 @ 5:25 PM

  91. Ike Solem (89) — After deeply buying 8.5–9 GtC per year just to stay even, then deeply burying another 385 GtC or so gets us back to about 315 ppm CO2.

    The biomass could be carbonized via pyrolysis with the valuable oils saved for fuel. The biochar (usually called charcoal when the biomass is woody) then has a higher proportion of just carbon.

    Doing some of this might be sensible.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 26 May 2008 @ 5:40 PM

  92. As another economist, I’d like to make a comment (I must say that I have really appreciated Bob Murphy’s contributions).

    There are (at least) three reasons for discounting, all of them reasonable but disputable. (I realise that some of what follows has already been discussed, but I’m trying to clarify.)

    First, there is increasing affluence, which means that on averge an increment to income next year will add less to well-being than an increment today. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that average world affluence (skating over the big problems of averaging) is growing by 3% p.a. Well-being will be growing rather more slowly (since as we get richer each increment to income would be expected to add less to well-being). This might point to a discount rate of say 2% per annum – provided we are confident that affluence will CONTINUE to increase. However, if there is a risk of big reductions in affluence and well-being in future, then we might reasonably pay a lot now to “insure” against that eventuality.

    Second, there is the risk of species annihilation, which means we should “enjoy it while we can”……this argument seems valid, but the risks are very difficult to quantify and the argument justifies only a very low discount rate.

    Third is “impatience” – the simple fact that people prefer a given increment to income now than in a year’s time, irrespective of whether affluence is increasing.

    This third reason seems to me to raise lots of thorny issues. On the one hand, it could be argued that in a democracy, this is the end of the story. People’s savings and investment decisions reflect their ethical choices and governments should simply respect that. On the other hand, it could be argued either that ethics trumps democracy, or that in a democracy, ethical choices are articulated throught democratic processes rather than market ones. Pass.

    But there is a further complication, to which a number of comments have referred. If people’s imatiences is expressed in market transactions, then the use of any dscount rate other than the market one will be wasteful (I think this is Nordhaus’s position). This is because benefits (and therefore well-being) could always be increased by diverting investment away from those mitigation measures which would be justified at a discount rate lower than the market one. However, this seems contentious. It raises the issue of the temporal distribution of benefits. As Gavin points out, how does one ensure that future generations are compensated for climate-induced damage when investments are generally (relatively) short lived? The only answer seems to be that growing faster now results in a more rapid accumulation of knowledge which is then passed on to future generations, resulting in greater productivity and affluence for them. But this seems to me to be a potentially flimsy legacy, particularly over the very long run.

    Basic point: discounting is justifed if we can be reasonbly confident that future generations will be more affluent than the present one (and also to allow for the small risk of species annhilation). But over anything other than the short term this seems to point to a relatively low discount rate (a la Stern, who, as several people have pointed out, does NOT argue against discounting in general). Discounting for impatience looks “iffy” at best. And the critical issue is the risk of catastrophe (short of species annhilation). If there is a big risk of this occuring from climate change (relative to other risks such as asteroids, diseases, etc), then a very low discount rate might be justified. This issue reprsents the boundary between science and economics, and should be a top priority for future research.

    Comment by jonp — 26 May 2008 @ 5:53 PM

  93. Study cites high cost of global warming, says action would be cheaper

    By Renee Schoof – rschoof@mcclatchydc.com
    Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, May 23, 2008

    WASHINGTON – Doing nothing about global warming would cost America dearly for the rest of this century because of stronger hurricanes, higher energy and water costs, and rising seas that would swamp coastal communities, says a new study by economists at Tufts University.

    The study concludes that it would be cheaper to take aggressive action to cut greenhouse gas emissions than it would be to suffer the consequences of a changing world. “The longer we wait, the more painful and expensive the consequences will be,” the report states.

    The Senate in early June will consider legislation to set a declining limit on emissions and establish a market for pollution permits that would reward companies that reduce pollution. The system is designed to reduce total U.S. emissions by 66 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

    “Most of the debate we expect will be about how much it will cost to implement the bill. This report provides the other side of the ledger – how much it will cost if we don’t act,” said Dan Lashof, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that commissioned the study.

    The Tufts study includes a “bottom-up” analysis of the economic impacts in four categories and says that by 2100, annual costs would be $422 billion in hurricane damage; $360 billion in real estate losses, with the biggest risk on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, particularly Florida; $141 billion in increased energy costs; and $950 billion in water costs, especially in the West. (The estimates are expressed in today’s dollars.)

    That adds up to an annual loss by 2100 of 1.8 percent of gross domestic product, or GDP, the sum of the nation’s output of goods and services.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 26 May 2008 @ 6:32 PM

  94. Comment #70 by Dave Raskin, states in part:”The two points made by skeptics are: (1) the models are imprecise and fail to take into account complex interactions in the biosphere, and…..”

    The global warming over the past 3 and a half to four decades is based on direct observation not climate models.

    He also refers to a “quasi religious” dialogue. Dyson also mentions religion in his review in connection with environmentalism. In response to Reverend Dyson, not wanting to foul our nest isn’t a religious belief among most who are concerned with a clean environment. We use out bathrooms not for worship but to ensure our health and our homes’ very habitability.

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 26 May 2008 @ 6:36 PM

  95. I haven’t read all these posts yet but figured I’d add my two cents since it wasn’t in the top posting. Dyson dismissed solar power along with Nordhaus as being a currently nonexistent technology then goes on to propose carbon sequestration via genetic engineering. To me, that seems a peculiar way of looking at things, but then I’m no Freeman Dyson.

    Another comment regarding this review. I search for everything that Dyson writes because he’s smart as hell. His view on global warming is changing. Before he wrote that the climate scientists are “arm chair scientists” whose simulations didn’t include the mud, the dirt, the dust, the biology, … all this stuff that we don’t fully understand. To my ear, this review struck a very different chord than say what he wrote in “A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe.” I wonder if he was corrected by some field climatologist who take ice cores or who tromps around in the Himalayas or Greenland measuring glaciers ?

    Comment by John E. Pearson — 26 May 2008 @ 6:50 PM

  96. Re #45: Thank you, Gavin, for the Hanemann response to Nordhaus. This is the kind of criticism I am looking for. I wonder if Nordhaus has a response to this?

    Perhaps some of the economists here can help me out the the statement on page 64 comparing a carbon tax with emission caps, that “quantity regulation is better than price regulation if the marginal benefit curve [to reducing climate change] is steeper than the marginal cost curve [of mitigation measures].”

    It seems to me that the issue is how high the carbon tax should be. Quantity controls without a trading scheme are a windfall to producers (ie. oil companies). And an emission trading scheme is always going to be less efficient than a carbon tax.

    Comment by Blair Dowden — 26 May 2008 @ 7:02 PM

  97. BTW Nordhaus’ book is available at his website (.pdf).

    Comment by Dweller — 26 May 2008 @ 7:37 PM

  98. David, Great post, but I’m unsure that the following is correct:

    “Release a slug of CO2 and you will increase the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years.”

    About 30% of current annual emissions are, in effect, annually stored in terrestrial ecosystems and the ocean. In the case of the ocean, the turnover time of this CO2 is long enough to be considered out of the contemporary cycle. Cut emissions to zero and wouldn’t there be an immediate drop in CO2, with continuously dropping concentrations until a new “steady-state” was reached?

    I learned at one point that within 200 years atmospheric CO2 would return to pre-industrial levels, if we cut our emissions to zero. I’ve been repeating this since (gulp).

    Is this just wrong…Anyone?

    thanks

    Comment by jvoe — 26 May 2008 @ 7:48 PM

  99. Craig (#75),

    Australia has always had drought, and again there is absolutely nothing exceptional about the current state. You speak of “record minimum inflows to streams and rivers in the south, including to the entire Murray Darling Basin which is in a parless state.”

    As can be seen here, that is wrong. The Murray-Darling gets as much rainfall as ever. No discernable trend. On the same page, you will see that Southern Australia is up on rainfall, South-Eastern is on a downwards trend, but in just about every possible region, rainfall is up compared to early in the 20th century.

    There is nothing radically different about any of the rainfall patterns currently in Australia. There are just more people taking water out of the rivers and lakes. No need for a [edit] climate change explanation.

    Comment by Greg — 26 May 2008 @ 8:04 PM

  100. This Biochar technology represents the most comprehensive, low cost, and productive approach to long term stewardship and sustainability.Terra Preta Soils a process for Carbon Negative Bio fuels, massive Carbon sequestration, 1/3 Lower CH4 & N2O soil emissions, and 3X Fertility Too.

    UN Climate Change Conference: Biochar present at the Bali Conference http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/steinerbalinov2107

    SCIAM Article May 15 07;
    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=5670236C-E7F2-99DF-3E2163B9FB144E40

    After many years of reviewing solutions to anthropogenic global warming (AGW) I believe this technology can manage Carbon for the greatest collective benefit at the lowest economic price, on vast scales. It just needs to be seen by ethical globally minded companies.

    The main hurtle now is to change the current perspective held by the IPCC that the soil carbon cycle is a wash, to one in which soil can be used as a massive and ubiquitous Carbon sink via Charcoal. Below are the first concrete steps in that direction;

    S.1884 – The Salazar Harvesting Energy Act of 2007

    A Summary of Biochar Provisions in S.1884:

    Carbon-Negative Biomass Energy and Soil Quality Initiative

    for the 2007 Farm Bill

    http://www.biochar-international.org/newinformationevents/newlegislation.html

    There are 24 billion tons of carbon controlled by man in his agriculture and waste stream, all that farm & cellulose waste which is now dumped to rot or digested or combusted and ultimately returned to the atmosphere as GHG should be returned to the Soil.

    If you have any other questions please feel free to call me or visit the TP web site I’ve been drafted to co-administer. http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/?q=node

    It has been immensely gratifying to see all the major players join the mail list , Cornell folks, T. Beer of Kings Ford Charcoal (Clorox), Novozyne the M-Roots guys(fungus), chemical engineers, Dr. Danny Day of EPRIDA , Dr. Antal of U. of H., Virginia Tech folks and many others.

    Comment by Erich J. Knight — 26 May 2008 @ 8:27 PM

  101. Re #96: “quantity regulation is better than price regulation if the marginal benefit curve [to reducing climate change] is steeper than the marginal cost curve [of mitigation measures].”. This is based on Weitzman’s 1974 paper Prices vs. Quantities. My interpretation of this paper is that if there was no uncertainty it would not matter whether you regulated a price or a quantity, because you would know what quantity related to what price and so on. Weitzman shows that the above proposition holds when there is an uncertainty parameter. He assumes that this parameter is small, which may not be case, as suggested by his recent work on uncertainty and catastrophic climate change. I’m not sure what implications this has for the prices vs quantities question.

    Comment by Peter Wood — 26 May 2008 @ 9:02 PM

  102. #98 on the lifetime of CO2

    It takes around 500-1000 years for the ocean to remove 80% of the CO2 pulse, but there’s in fact a tail that extends for at least 10,000 years. Only a small part is removed relatively rapidly.

    Dr. Archer has a paper on this
    http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~archer/reprints/archer.2005.fate_co2.pdf

    and also
    http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~archer/reprints/montenegro.2007.fate_CO2.pdf

    Comment by Chris Colose — 26 May 2008 @ 9:12 PM

  103. Re #98 (jvoe): The “hundreds of thousands of years” assertion is explained here.

    Comment by S. Molnar — 26 May 2008 @ 9:12 PM

  104. Re #89 Ike Solem,

    There’s a very good reason that economists never set foot in physical science departments, after all.

    LOL,funny you should say that.

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-economist-has-no-clothes
    March, 2008
    The Economist Has No Clothes
    Unscientific assumptions in economic theory are undermining efforts to solve environmental problems

    By Robert Nadeau

    The strategy the economists used was as simple as it was absurd—they substituted economic variables for physical ones. Utility (a measure of economic well-being) took the place of energy; the sum of utility and expenditure replaced potential and kinetic energy. A number of well-known mathematicians and physicists told the economists that there was absolutely no basis for making these substitutions. But the economists ignored such criticisms and proceeded to claim that they had transformed their field of study into a rigorously mathematical scientific discipline.

    Comment by Fernando Magyar — 26 May 2008 @ 9:45 PM

  105. re: Biochar

    Except when Biochar has the opposite effect, and actually increases carbon emissions by speeding up decomposing bacteria growth.
    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2008/5/2/211036/2352

    And ultimately, it doesn’t really represent a significant long term storage method, unless you we’re going to propose “reverse coal mining” with charcoal. Which of course would be ludicrously expensive due to the cost of transporting bulky material.
    http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2007/03/logistics-problem-of-cellulosic-ethanol.html

    Even more expensive than CCS, which already looks to be a “castles in the sky” approach.
    Which would transport a liquid through pipelines.
    http://us.greenpeace.org/site/PageNavigator/CCS_is_a_dangerous_distraction
    http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/02/futuregen-clean.html

    _

    re: Nordhaus

    As for putting Nordhaus in the same category as Lindzen, I’d say that’s entirely appropriate.

    [edit - wrong Nordhaus (see below)]

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2007/11/mit-study-rate-.html

    Comment by David Ahlport — 26 May 2008 @ 10:52 PM

  106. I heard on NPR (I’ve searched for a link to the story but haven’t been able to find it) that part of the rise in the cost of commodities like food can be traced to the recent build up in wealth (sovereign wealth funds, pensions, etc.). So much wealth now exists that investors are having trouble searching for something to invest in. Apparently the value of these investible funds exceeds or is approaching the total value of the world’s infrastructure. My experience with economics is limited, but I recall that most efforts to place a dollar value on natural resources and biosphere services develop a number far short of the cost of the human-built world.

    So, I guess at some point someone could give us a great deal on the planet earth. We’ll have to vacate the premises as soon as we mine enough lead for what, 6.5 billion bullets? But I’m sure the economists will be able to explain how killing ourselves today will pay off in the long run.

    Comment by Andrew — 26 May 2008 @ 11:00 PM

  107. #3 Richard Pauli

    I hope the NY Review of Books can reprint or note the link for their readers.

    It is crucial that media editors get up to speed on these issues.

    Editors of the NY Review of Books seem to be up to speed on climate issues. Recent publications include an extended major statement by James Hansen.

    Comment by Ric Merritt — 26 May 2008 @ 11:59 PM

  108. Re #105:

    The Nordhaus mentioned in the gristmill stories is Ted Nordhaus, a different person to William Nordhaus, whose book is being reviewed.

    Comment by Peter Wood — 27 May 2008 @ 1:47 AM

  109. Re: #106 The May 9th broadcast of NPR’s This American Life with Ira Glass is the likely source: “The Giant Pool of Money” (see http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Archive.aspx#5 to download the podcast). Indeed, there is a problem of too much investment money chasing too few viable deals. The venture world is beginning to see valuations of fringe technology companies rising rapidly without recourse to investment reason (as money swings away from mortages to other investments). One case in point is a small (marginal technology) firm which we valued at $5M just attracted a $25M investment for 50% share in equity. The source of the investment was “very recent oil money” (at the time $75/barrel) who today has almost 100% more to invest than he thought he would at this time — for the same amount of oil shipped!) Ah! The toils and travails of the oil producer!

    What does this mean in terms of CO2 and AGC? I don’t know — perhaps put economics to work in ways not previosuly considered. Maybe some genetic engineers might want to see if their fringe concept for genetically engineered trees might get funded (now as opposed to later) at a sufficiently large amount that it might be made to work sooner than later. Or, better yet, some investment in solar, wind, etc., technologies that compete with coal.

    Keep up the great articles and the fiesty discourse.

    Comment by Jon Gradie — 27 May 2008 @ 3:30 AM

  110. Does freeman dyson actually take himself seriously..hope not! I’ve never heard such misinformed garbage in my life..well actually i have..and the garbage pile is getting deeper by the week unfortunately. Does he know just how many trees there are on earth..ok 40% less than 100years ago..but still shitloads..and does he understand the meaning of biodiversity..not for nothing we have 100s of thousands of species of trees and shrubs..they support more than 100s of thousands of animals and organisms. So that idiot thinks we are going to gentically alter each of these species..yeah right! Trees take too long to extract the CO2 from the air..we aint got the luxury of that time frame. I avearge tree extracts 1 tonne of CO2 from the air in it’s lifetime..1tonne..that’s the weight of the truck and branches and twigs minus existing leaves minus how many leaves it lost during it’s lifetime. We will need to plant billions of trees yesterday..well 20 years ago actually. Might be better to genetically engineer heat (warmer waters) restistant plankton that can sequester a much greater amount of CO2. At least that can be done on a shorter timeframe than trees. What do you guys think?

    Comment by Lawrence Coleman — 27 May 2008 @ 4:02 AM

  111. I just cannot help thinking that the Earth Science community has to be careful when confronting particle and atomic physicists who have a lot of quodos with the public through the big bang theory, space rockets, missions to mars, Cosmology, Astronomy – all of which appear to be big sciences with a lot of public admiration and awe.

    This gives them a lot of leeway and clout when it comes to talking about anything scientific and especially anything political such as global warming. There are two videos on youtube interviewing freeman dyson where he discusses global warming and gives he reasons for not being a believer.

    I am presuming he is retired now and hence someone from the earth sciences community ought to engage with this man and attempt a dialogue with him on this subject otherwise it could get a bit messy silly.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTSxubKfTBU

    He speaks of Alvin Wineburg and Oakridge regarding CO2 in the atmosphere 20 years ago and he was invited there to do some work in this area. It was the only place worrying about CO2 apparantly back then but he gave it up when it became fashionable. He is not impressed with the computer models and is more interested in real world data much like James Hansen. He seems to be basing his opinions on his own experiences rather than subsequent work done in the earth sciences. We do not know what is going to happen to the carbon in the atmosphere untl we know what is currently happenning. In Brasil Co2 is being absorbed and in Canada it is coming out (from the earth or vegetation). I guess he thinks that this is important and the models do not cater for this !!!!????

    Is Oakridge a big player in the computer modelling of earth systems ?

    In the second video he speaks of the cooling stratosphere.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k69HUuyI5Mk&feature=related

    Global warming is a midleading phrase, stratospheric cooling is more important. We cannot measure average ground temperature. Rainfall is more important. Ozone disappears due to ice crystals forming and is more serious apparantly.

    Computer models take all of the money, real world results are not given proper credence or finance and we do not known nearly enough. He cites land management as the key to regulating CO2 and not the stopping using coal or oil.

    Any merit in any of what he says ?

    Comment by pete best — 27 May 2008 @ 4:03 AM

  112. re: 107 my phrase should read.. ’1 average tree extracts 1 tonne of CO2 from the air in it’s lifetime..1tonne..that’s the weight of the truck, roots, branches and twigs plus existing leaves plus how many leaves it lost during it’s lifetime’ ..had a long day!

    Comment by Lawrence Coleman — 27 May 2008 @ 4:38 AM

  113. Bob Murphy writes:

    it is a fact that there are people we know are dying today from poverty. Their efforts to climb out of poverty will be hampered by mitigation proposals.

    Who says? Maybe mitigation and a switch to renewable resources will be the way they climb out of poverty. The assumption that fossil fuels are the only way to climb out of poverty is not convincing.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 27 May 2008 @ 5:38 AM

  114. The Dept of Energy recently announced projects for burying CO2, at a bit less than $100M per Mton of CO2 (http://fossil.energy.gov/news/techlines/2008/08012-DOE_Funds_Large-Scale_Projects.html)

    This works out to $600B to bury the annual US emissions or $2.7T to bury annual global emissions (of CO2). Of course we would not need to bury or spend that much. And no need to plant any frankentrees!

    Comment by Eric (skeptic) — 27 May 2008 @ 5:55 AM

  115. Econometric models… can any economist posting on this thread give a single – just a single – example of, say, a basic statistical analysis of the accuracy of econometric models. Take a look at the many, many discussions of climate modeling and data comparison here at realclimate, and use that as your template. This has not been done – because econometric models are nonsensical. They are nothing but a bad joke – and yet they are used as the basis for policy decisions by government leaders?

    JonP above says this:

    Basic point: discounting is justifed if we can be reasonbly confident that future generations will be more affluent than the present one (and also to allow for the small risk of species annhilation). But over anything other than the short term this seems to point to a relatively low discount rate (a la Stern, who, as several people have pointed out, does NOT argue against discounting in general). Discounting for impatience looks “iffy” at best. And the critical issue is the risk of catastrophe (short of species annhilation). If there is a big risk of this occuring from climate change (relative to other risks such as asteroids, diseases, etc), then a very low discount rate might be justified. This issue represents the boundary between science and economics, and should be a top priority for future research.

    Let’s see – how would we apply this “discount” notion to simple physical systems? Goods and services are like matter and energy, let’s say. What is a “discount” in a physical system? It has no meaning. Basically (as the poster agrees), economics is not a science, any more than astrology is. Economists don’t even have to learn basic thermodynamics – it has far more to do with marketing and advertising than anything else, and has little if any scientific merit whatsoever. The field seems to have stopped progressing around the early 19th century (they’ve never accepted basic thermodynamics, after all).

    Look at the leading “econometric indicator”, the GDP. What is the effect of destructive hurricanes on the GDP? There was a lot of damage and destruction of property, but also a lot of rebuilding – and if you tot it all up, I imagine you could “prove” that Katrina was actually good for the national economy -as long as you use this random indicator, the GDP, which has no relation to any real physical quantity whatsoever. Destruction of coastlines and rising sea levels will also make existing land more valuable – so, “logically”, we’ll all just get wealthier and wealthier as global warming progresses.

    This kind of ludicrous statement seems to make perfect sense to economists, who justify it using the modern equivalent of astrological reasoning. Astrology is not completely unscientific, and neither is economics, but neither has ever shown much predictive value.

    Comment by Ike Solem — 27 May 2008 @ 7:20 AM

  116. There has been a real shift in the economic community’s view of the Stern report. They may not love the methods, but they are accepting the conclusions.

    As to Nordhaus W. delayers club, and his nephew Ted has taken up the cause.

    While Eli has more faith in economic models than Gavin, his faith is in short term economic models. The long term ones are not even wrong, basically because of their extreme sensitivity to assumptions. A major difference between economic models and climate models is that the later are constrained by physical principles, the former not.

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 27 May 2008 @ 8:04 AM

  117. After posting a comment (still in moderation) I found raypierre’s excercise in graph cooking which is an excellent example of how if you ignore the physical restraints that limit climate models you get garbage. Economic models do not have such limitations on their assumptions.

    Comment by Eli Rabett — 27 May 2008 @ 8:13 AM

  118. An all party committee of MPs has just advised the UK Government to allocate a fixed annual carbon allowance for each citizen as a method of GHG mitigation that would be superior to carbon taxes. One would be permitted to use more than one’s allowance if one could purchase the unused allocation of someone else. Apart from the administrative joy for bureaucrats that such a scheme would engender, I wonder what answers the climatologists and economists who have so far commented on this thread could give me as to other questions which the all party proposal brought to my mind.

    Should my allocation be fixed at the current annual individual usage rate or at a fraction of said rate? If I reproduce, should my child receive its own allowance (instantly or at what age?). If my neighbour breeds offspring at five times my rate, should each of his offspring receive allowances equal to those of mine? Should my Government allocate equal allowances to immigrants as to the indigenous population? If I volunteer for euthanasia, should I be able to transfer my allowance to an heir?

    I ask these questions because various correspondents to this thread have touched on ethics. Until your website dissolved my AGW scepticism, I thought I already had enough to worry about. I had rather hoped that growth in global human population would stabilise (as it has in Europe) and then start to decline before we had exhausted all of our finite resources and doomed most wild species. This doesn’t now seem to be an option. The peaking or imminent peaking of oil and gas will vastly add to the costs of developing renewable energy sources. We seem to have very little time to fix the climate before global human carrying capacity drops precipitously. Meanwhile, population is on track to grow by 50% in about 40 years and the UN tells us that Africa is predicted to be capable of producing only enough food for 25% of its poulation by 2025.

    I understand that about 50% of all R and D spending on non fossil fuel energy has been lavished on fusion energy which seems further away from practical implementation than ever. Without a quick and cheap way of doubling energy production (and, it seems to me, that fusion energy was the only hope), a discussion will be required on the best method of addressing population decline (not just stabilisation).

    I would guess that the climatologists among you would be opposed to reverting to coal (without CCS) to compensate for static or falling oil and gas supplies and I suspect that use of CCS (and retrofitting) would make solar and wind energy preferable anyway in economic terms. We may, of course, use everything available to stave off mass starvation in the short term with scant regard to climate consequences. It appears that the green revolution, dependent largely upon fossil fuel and over abstraction of fresh water, enabled food production to more than double. This allowed extra population growth but appears to be leading to ever more hungry people and a degrading planet. Is it more ethical to repeat this exercise by rushing into dirty coal and tar sands for immediate energy needs than to allow mass deaths through starvation now to prevent worse in the future?

    Are my choices too stark? Does anyone who believes in AGW and peak oil believe that we can prevent dangerous climate change while allowing population to reach 10 billion by 2050 even were it to decline to, say, 3 billion by 2200? If you do, please explain how and I’ll be very relieved but please leave me (or my surviving genes) with some wild animals to share the planet with.

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 27 May 2008 @ 8:22 AM

  119. Interesting discussion. I have run up against some quasi-similar issues in my day job doing risk assessment for radiation-induced failures in satellites. Basically, the problem becomes coming up with a monetary cost for failure when not all of the costs are monetary–indeed when some of them cannot be monetized.
    The main problem is that in order to do a risk assessment at all, you must come up with at the very least an upper bound for possible loss. Since we cannot currently rule out that climate change could spell the end of human civilization (especially if CO2 sensitivity is more than the 3 degrees per doubling we expect). In my experience the way you have to treat such a risk is by taking immediate action to reduce its probability and/or consequences, while at the same time trying to better quantify the possible loss. In other words, such a risk always justifies immediate action even if only to buy time to find out that the potential loss was not as devasatating as the worst case analysis initially suggested.

    Another problem as many have pointed out is discounting. It’s not all that mysterious. You assume that money that could have been profitably invested instead goes to mitigation. However, this presumes that the profit made exceeds the loss failing to mitigate the risk would incur. The situation wrt climate change is more like doing maintenance on a car or replacing a leaky roof on a house. Failure to mitigate the error early may result in catastrophic failure down the line.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 27 May 2008 @ 8:36 AM

  120. “1. Carbon emissions are not a problem because in a few years genetic engineers will develop “carbon-eating trees” that will sequester carbon in soils.”

    Souds remarkably like this story from New Hampshire Public Radio,

    Square Trees Grow in New Hampshire Amy Quinton’s picture By Amy Quinton
    on Tuesday, April 1, 2008.

    The Society For the Protection of New Hampshire Forests unveiled a new development today that may revolutionize the timber industry.

    Forest research scientists say they’ve created a new type of tree [square] that is ideal for harvesting and beneficial for the environment.

    But as NHPR’s Amy Quinton reports, the new tree has already sparked a huge outcry from some businesses and environmental groups.

    Comment by BillS — 27 May 2008 @ 8:37 AM

  121. Greg (#99):

    I don’t think that its not a matter of seeing trends and then looking to global warming to explain them. Rather it’s a recognition that i) humanity is ramping up the concentrations of CO2 and other gases, ii) atmospheric physics predicts that this will inevitably cause the atmosphere to heat up, and iii) scientists have therefore been prompted to investigate the oceans, atmosphere and biosphere to see if phenomenon are occurring that is consistent with the predictions, and which may reveal the likely impacts.

    Yes Australia has a very variable climate. There have always been droughts and floods and there always will be. However the increasing CO2 levels and the consequent temperature rise are likely to make things more extreme and less comfortable for people and for nature.

    You are trying to argue that our highly variable climate is an argument for skepticism and inaction. I’d argue that it means that we should be even more concerned than other nations, and therefore more eager to begin acting very quickly to address this issue.

    The key plots you should note on the Bureau of Mets website are the temperature and density of high pressure systems plots. The temperature trend is clearly up and is therefore as the physics predict. Even if our rainfall remain within the historic range of variability, the rising temperature is increasing evaporation, and thereby reducing the amount of water running into our river systems. Yes damming and and water extraction are having a severe impact, but this is in addition to the reductions to inflow that the temperature rise is causing. The steady increase in frequency/density of highs is bad news as it is these that give us dry weather.

    The South-eastern Climate Initiative is worth watching for a synthesis of what climate scientists are finding about our climate. The “Researchers are looking for patterns in oceanic and atmospheric conditions over and around Australia that will provide clues to present and future climate change, its impacts on water resources and lead to improvement in the quality of seasonal forecasts,”

    Some of their findings so far are:

    • There are firm signals in the current drought that correlate with future projections of reduced rainfall in southern Australia.
    • There is clear evidence of a clear north-south rainfall divide on either side of a naturally occurring band of high pressure (known as the sub-tropical ridge) roughly on a line running east to west through Adelaide and Canberra.
    • Mean sea level pressures have been found to have the strongest (inverse) correlations with rainfall across South Eastern Australia.
    • As a result of the strong influence of increasing mean sea level pressures over southern Australia, there may be a weakening of the influences of tropical climate features such as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation and the Indian Ocean Dipole on the climate of south-east Australia
    • Reductions in rainfall south of the sub-tropical ridge occur in late autumn to winter and in summer to autumn to the north. In the south, the rainfall decline started in the early 1990s but has become apparent only since 2000 in the north.
    • The intensity of the subtropical ridge has been rising since the 1970s and that can be translated into a sizeable rainfall decline.
    • The intensity of the subtropical ridge previously peaked in the 1940s at the time of a particularly dry decade in the south-east.
    • During the 20th century, changes in the intensity of the subtropical ridge have largely corresponded with changes in global temperature. This correspondence means that there is a high likelihood that the current rainfall deficit is linked to current global warming, through the intensification of the subtropical ridge.

    Comment by Craig — 27 May 2008 @ 8:38 AM

  122. #115 (Ike Solem) and #116/#117 (Eli Rabett). Just as economists should exhibit a degree of caution in making judgements on climate science (unless they have studied it in great depth), so should climate scientists on economics (which of course encompasses much more than econometric modelling). Most economists would, I think, be extremely sceptical about the “skill” of econometric modelling for forecasting (or even projecting). But the statistical methodology adopted in seeking to test those models is generally pretty sophisticated (my impression is that it is more advanced than in climate science, but I could easily be wrong about this.) This is not an argument for an exlusive priesthood in either area – outsite commentary is potentially highly beneficial if well informed – which is why transparency in respect of methodology and a willingness to engage with non-experts is valuable.

    Incidentally, the Scientific American “critique” of economics was feeble in my view – real straw man stuff. I think economists are usually pretty well aware of the limitations mposed by their assumptions – and try to relax them when they can. But I recognise that is simply an assertion.

    Comment by jonp — 27 May 2008 @ 8:52 AM

  123. Re #99, Greg
    Unless you know something the Bureau of Meteorology do not know, then you are wrong. Check out the Rainfall Anomaly:
    http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/silo/reg/cli_chg/timeseries.cgi?variable=rranom&region=mdb&season=0112, plus the 2007 report:
    http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/statements/scs14.pdf

    In the links that you provide, the 11 year running averages finish in 2001, missing the disastrous last 7 years. Do you realize that the Australian rice crop from the Murray irrigation area has been massively reduced?

    You should also note that it is the first time that below average rainfall has occurred in the Murray-Darling during a La Nina event.

    A recent paper on the issue that you raise can be bought at:
    http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2008/2008GL033727.shtml

    an overview of the same:
    http://www.physorg.com/news130753439.html

    Or are you better qualified or more carefully researched than Dr Wenju Cai to judge this issue?

    Comment by Lawrence McLean — 27 May 2008 @ 8:52 AM

  124. Re #118, Douglas, the means exists to curtail climate change (AGW) but I am concerned that the economic and political will does not exist at the present time in the UK or elwewhere for that matter to implement what is required in order to do it. Do a search for desertec on google and you will find part of the means to achieve this solution. If our grid was renewable then we could start using electric cars such as the ones tesla and Nissan-Renault are going to start producing soon. It is all possible but we are being let down bu our governments and our economic system which wants to leave it to market forces.

    Comment by pete best — 27 May 2008 @ 9:40 AM

  125. ==The Nordhaus mentioned in the gristmill stories is Ted Nordhaus, a different person to William Nordhaus, whose book is being reviewed.==

    Arg, thanks for the clarification.
    Thats about as confusing and Roger Pielke, and Roger Pielke.

    Comment by David Ahlport — 27 May 2008 @ 10:17 AM

  126. As for the rest of your comment, it appears completely divorced from the reality of what anyone is seriously proposing. If you are of the opinion that nothing could possibly work and therefore there is no point trying (whether that is a carbon tax, cap-and-trade, mandates to improve energy efficiency, a switch of subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables etc.), then say so and then we can ignore you. – gavin

    I did not claim that any or all particular proposed carbon reduction programs such as cap and trade could not work. They are all clever and lovely models that are just as persuasive as any IPPC temperature graph. My point is that as a matter of political reality nothing like that will ever actually be implemented on a global scale. Ever. That is why I said that any solutions will have to be far more technological than political. If you don’t understand that political reality just say so and those of us who have actually worked in the environmental legislative arena can ignore you.

    The political reality can be see in the current UN credit program which is a corrupt joke and a paradigm for government-directed emissions control programs–no reductions and massive cash transfers. Similarly, the US will eventually pass tough symbolic laws but will include ‘emergency exit ramps’, grandfather clauses and a thousand weaselly loopholes all of which will be well-used.

    In sum, magical trees that eat all excess CO2 are a damn sight more realistic than the belief that international political mandates will actually be implemented, honored and enforced such that they actually impact CO2 levels.

    [Response: It's definitely a challenge - and there is clearly much to learn on how to make these things work efficiently. But mandates/cap-and-trade/pigovian taxes have worked in the past and so it isn't a priori obvious that they can't be made to work in the future. To class that kind of optimism with a completely un-thought out techo-utopian scheme is on a par with comparing the London congestion charge as a traffic calming measure with an ideal of personal jet packs. And without some kind of carbon pricing where is the incentive for the technology breakthroughs in any case? - gavin]

    Comment by George Tobin — 27 May 2008 @ 10:25 AM

  127. There’s no doubt that Dyson knows a lot about the Universe, but apparently he doesn’t know very much about Earth. For instance, in a public lecture not too long ago, he mentioned that all fossil fuels (not just natural gas) are formed by abiogenic processes. Now I can only speak for myself, but I’m having a hard time believing that “fossil” don’t precede “fuel” for nothing!

    At any rate, using this argument that fossil fuels aren’t derived from lifeforms, Dyson goes on to argue that there’s little, if any, risk of this fuel source ever becoming scarce. For this reason, and this reason alone, I must take whatever Dyson says about Earth as it relates to science with a huge grain of salt.

    Comment by cynthia — 27 May 2008 @ 10:30 AM

  128. Re 98 on CO2 cycling through the atmosphere, a short answer is given by John Houghton in “Global Warming-The Complete Briefing” Third Edition (p.39):”Suppose, for instance, that all emissions(of carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere from human activities were suddenly halted. No sudden change would occur in the atmospheric concentration, which would decline only slowly. We could not expect it to approach its pre-industrial value for several hundred years.”

    This doesn’t take into account the “long tail” discussed in the Archer paper cited in comment #102, but seems to be a practical answer for general purposes.

    Comment by Lawrence Brown — 27 May 2008 @ 11:06 AM

  129. Hi Doug and Pete, Although I am not quite as sanguine as Pete, I am not quite as pessimistic as Doug.
    Doug, you very rightly point out that climate and poverty are related issues. As you and I both know from our travels, people living on the edge will try to survive however they can. If that means burning the last tree or lump of coal, so be it. If we solve our own CO2 emissions problems while ignoring development issues, our efforts will be undone as China, India, Brazil,… continue developing with whatever technologies are economical and available for them. Likewise, if we concentrate on development with a view toward resolving climate issues when the Global economy is on a stable and more or less equitable footing, environmental degradation will undo your economic progress and then some. Moreover, it is not just a matter of reducing human population. Decreasing population poses very serious economic challenges in itself, as we can see if we study areas that have suffered serious, prolonged population declines–e.g. Africa from ~1600-1900, Europe in the Dark and Middle Ages, etc.
    Nor is it just a matter of replacing fossil fuel energy with renewable energy. Petroleum is a particularly versatile, transportable and useful energy resource. As yet, there is no substitute for it–and certainly no substitute that is carbon neutral. Even if there were such a substitute, the problem of developing a global infrastructure for its use is daunting in itself.
    The economic infrastructure is also problematic. Markets tend to be very efficient mechanisms for resource allocation, but they tend to be brutally efficient, and they tend to only work over timescales that humans can visualize and with threats that are conprehensible. Unfortunately, nobody has come up with anything that works better. “Planned” economies suffer from the same shortcomings of markets–as well as tending to be susceptible to corruption or short-sightedness of the planners.

    Douglas and I have discussed this previously. It really is a pity that there is no site devoted to climate mitigation that has the calibre and hospitable nature of RC. For those of us who understand the science and want to look at the challenges it poses, that is a real lack. Anyone have suggestions?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 27 May 2008 @ 11:26 AM

  130. George Tobin, I’ve noticed a trend. Those whose day job tends more toward the political/economic sphere despair of a political/economic solution and look to a technical fix–either they hope the science is wrong or they posit some technological fix–e.g. carbonivorous trees. Meanwhile, those who understand the science and technology despair of a technical fix. We know the science is sufficiently correct that we won’t get out of the soup that way, and we know that technological fixes take time (and investment) and often have unintended adverse consequences. I suspect that we are both right–some sort of political/economic action will be necessary to buy time needed to make any technical fix work and to disseminate it rapidly enough to make a difference. Yes, like any political solution it will be plagued by corruption. Like any crash technological program, there will be waste and inefficiency. These undesirable and distasteful aspects need not preclude success, and when we consider the alternative… the price is not too high.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 27 May 2008 @ 12:20 PM

  131. Re Barton’s comment in 113:

    Maybe mitigation and a switch to renewable resources will be the way they climb out of poverty. The assumption that fossil fuels are the only way to climb out of poverty is not convincing.

    This is indeed that path taken by the UN in its Millenium Development Goals. Sustainable development and environmental restoration are explicitly mandated:

    UN Millenium Development Goals

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 27 May 2008 @ 12:29 PM

  132. Jim Galasyn, Hmm. Somehow given the track record the UN has of achieving its goals, I would not take much comfort if I were a dirt poor farmer in Africa.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 27 May 2008 @ 12:46 PM

  133. Paleoscience folks can predict amazing things about an extinct species from a partial skeleton. Climate science folks can take 1.7 million or so data points and whittle them down to a hundred or so that will predict the weather 200 years from now. Miss Cleo can predict your love life by talking to you on the phone. If Freeman Dyson wants to predict carboniferous trees in the next ten years or so, what is the big deal?

    Comment by Neil Pelkey — 27 May 2008 @ 1:21 PM

  134. There is a thoughtful consideration of future scenarios here

    http://www.futurescenarios.org/

    Comment by CL — 27 May 2008 @ 1:29 PM

  135. Niel Pelkey–In two of five cases (your contribution, included) those doing the analysis actually know what the heck they are talking about. Do not assume that because you don’t understand things that your ignorance is shared by all.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 27 May 2008 @ 1:41 PM

  136. David Ahlport (105)— Collection, pyrolysis, transportation to and burial in a carbon landfill could be done in the United States (and Canada as well as Europe) for a net cost of about $100–135 per tonne of carbon. As much of the effort is in collection of the biomass, the cost would be significantly less if conducted in Africa or South America.

    This is about the same price and much less risky than the carbon diosxide based CCS proposals.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 27 May 2008 @ 2:07 PM

  137. #136 David B. Benson:

    Collection, pyrolysis, transportation to and burial
    in a carbon landfill could be done in the United States (and Canada as
    well as Europe) for a net cost of about $100-135 per tonne of carbon.

    How much would collection and conversion to fuel cost? That would leave carbon in the ground that’s already there.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 27 May 2008 @ 4:06 PM

  138. Martin Vermeer (137) — I’ve seen the ppt of a presentatiion for torrified wood, a different process which appears to produce no heating oils (as I recall). The claim was that otherwise waste wood could be collected, torrified and then sold to utilities to co-fire with coal (about 10% of the total in South Carolina). The claim was made this could successfuly compete with Appalachian coal at $80 per ton. The spot price for Appalachian coal is now upwards of $90 per ton.

    The net price for biochar via pyrolysis ought to be about the same.

    Following

    http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/

    keeps one informed. It is where I found the ppt on torrified wood (sometimes called “biocoal” in The Netherlands, which is confusing because hydrothermal carbonization actually exothermically produces coal within 24 hours, i.e., actual biocoal).

    Comment by David B. Benson — 27 May 2008 @ 5:01 PM

  139. I want you to know, I sent an email to Prof. Dyson’s Princeton home-page, asking him why he puts more stock in economic models than in climate models, and why he ignores the fact that even moderate climate change seems very likely to accelerate the extinction of wildlife species in fragmented habitats. If I get a reply, I will report back…

    Comment by Lee A. Arnold — 27 May 2008 @ 6:09 PM

  140. I would not expect that you will hear back. Dyson has always prided himself on being a “visionary”. In his eyes he is just seeing the “big picture”. Technological optimism is an article of faith with him. I think I agree with him that technology is the only way to get us out of this mess. I’m just less optimistic that such technological advance will come with sufficient rapidity to allow a business as usual approach. Conservation and increased use of renewables are a way of purchasing time for the technology (both adaptive and mitigatory) to evolve.
    Dyson is not a denialist. He accepts that climate change is occuring and that we are causing it. He simply fails to understand the risk calculus. That is not surprising for a theoretical physicist, but it does not take him outside the realm of science.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 27 May 2008 @ 7:52 PM

  141. Ray Ladbury, I did not expect to hear back. But I already cannot be more annoyed. Dyson’s last several articles evince a blithe certitude about economics without acknowledging the problems at the foundations of the subject regarding the supposition of human preferences, the mysteries of economic growth, and the ignorance of space- and time-saving by non-market institutions when they are not monetized to show-up in the GDP. The results of course are the rather preposterous and self-fulfilling conclusions rampant in the newspapers that everybody is a free-rider, nobody works for the common good, creativity doesn’t exist, and the overriding determinant must be market calculation. Half the time, this is nonsense. On top of all that, the fact that any cost-benefit analysis of climate change vs. mitigation will not adequately record the destruction of God’s creation or Darwinian evolution (take your choice) because you are NOT allowed to put the dollar-figure “$500 quintillion” on your contingent valuation questionnaire under the question “what would you spend to save it all?” is mere icing on the Stupid Cake. Because if you take a different path with the economy, there may be no NET cost; indeed you might have even better economic growth. Economists can’t tell you one way or the other. They can’t predict creativity; nobody can. I am a technological optimist and I think we should institute a very broad range of fairly low-cost policies to reduce carbon use, explore sequestration, and seed alternative energies. And do it now! Dyson’s greatest failure is that he doesn’t say this. It is an intellectual abdication. The United States is going to spend $3 trillion on its current war; the Fed is accepting billions in flaky paper as collateral and has opened a short-term lending operation printing hundreds of billions of dollars more to bail-out the financial crooks who would otherwise sink the economy; the petro industry and the rest of corporate America receives hundreds of millions annually in tax breaks; the nuclear industry hopes you don’t notice that they could not exist in the free market without the billions of dollars in the indirect subsidy of being absolved from having to carry full liability insurance. Any economist who holds forth on climate change without owning up to this, without mentioning it all every time, ought be tarred and feathered. And I like economists!

    Comment by Lee A. Arnold — 27 May 2008 @ 10:56 PM

  142. Dear Ray Ladbury,

    [edit - no they are not]

    you should understand ever so clearly that that we do not really know what we are talking about. We patch a few holes in the fabric of our understanding every couple years. Climate is a high dimensional system with a shipload of noise and canoe of signal. The serious climate researchers all preface their results with this knowledge.

    The Pielke-Schmidt letters may be collected and studied some day for both their scientific content as well as their social context. (Note that this is case for the Clements-Gleason debate)

    Paleo folks argue vigorously in opposite directions about the same data.

    Dyson made an unsupported conjecture–so what! Will Senator Imhoff use that to convince the ever-more-democratic congress to cut Goddard’s funding?

    Why are you so peeved about it that you need to belittle others?

    I look forward to your post on the calculations of the VaR for investments in CO2 reduction. Some very good financial engineering and risk metric people are physicists. I am sure you have the background.

    Comment by Neil Pelkey — 28 May 2008 @ 12:08 AM

  143. Dyson is not a denialist. He accepts that climate change is occuring and that we are causing it. He simply fails to understand the risk calculus

    Put more accurately, if you understand climate *and* risk calculus, and actually calculate things, you will come to much the same conclusions Dyson has with respect to the economics of mitigating climate change. Much of what he suggests in his article is consistent with most economic analyses of various options.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 28 May 2008 @ 1:41 AM

  144. Re #129, daunting but not impossible, indeed as oil is a finite resource we must develop a new liquid energy infrastructure in order replace oil wether now or in 20 to 50 years time.

    The same applies for Gas and Coal but in terms of electricity we can replace gas and coal fired power plants easilyl with nuclear, hydro, solar, pv, wind, wave etc. Storage might seem to be a problem but heat storage via CSP or compressed air and batteries is quite feasible now in fact CSP is perfect for that.

    Hydrogen can be used to fly to and it can be produced by clean means. We can make a superconducting grid in part now (albeit at a large cost) and mayeb use supercritical hydrogen to keep it superconducting. We can even tap off the hydrogen in our homes for heating purposes and eventually for fueling our cars.

    Comment by pete best — 28 May 2008 @ 3:30 AM

  145. Ike –

    Can’t agree with you about economics. There may be a lot of dispute in it, but it is an empirical science. Eocnomists may not know how to perfectly control an economy, but they know what will help and what will hurt. The theory of marginal utility in the determination of commodity pricing was a real scientific advance, and as a result a lot of things can be predicted which could not be predicted before.

    I don’t want to see people who accept climate science become deniers of economic science. That would be as big a mistake as the reverse.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 28 May 2008 @ 5:54 AM

  146. Douglas,

    The all-party proposal seems like a horrible, repressive, bureaucratic nightmare. It sounds like it was thought up by AGW deniers to parody realistic proposals for carbon control. I hope to God it doesn’t pass, or the UK will go denier en masse.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 28 May 2008 @ 5:56 AM

  147. Many thanks to those of you who responded to my queries in post #118. Pete (#124) provided a link towards the possibly most hopeful solution – solar generation/desalination from desert or high sunlight regions. I was already aware of the potential claimed for this approach and was impressed by the fact that no fundamentally new technologies would be required for implementation. Given current oil prices, it probably wouldn’t take much political effort to create a situation which would encourage the free market to invest in the suggested EU-MENA programme. In fact, I would be tempted to invest a chunk of my own meagre savings in the project if I were to 1) be assured by the more technical among you that I haven’t been seduced by an unrealistically over optimistic sales pitch and 2) that the transmission lines were reasonably secure against terrorist attack.

    Theoretically, therefore, we may still be just in time be able to switch alternative energy scenarios before the atmospheric CO2 level rises sufficiently to create dangerous climate change. However, we may also need to consider active steps to reduce it through air capture. From what I have read and in the absence of expert knowledge of my own, carbon sequestration through biochar seems the most hopeful prospect, particularly if, when combined with ammonia, it can first be used to remove CO2, NOx and SO2 from flue gasses of coal plants and turned into a valuable agricultural fertiliser. In the short term, we may also have to consider a geo-engineering approach to increasing albedo.

    I have dwelt so far on optimistic scenarios but, as Ray mentioned in #129, there may be insufficient time to reach global agreement over the necessary steps for action. 80% of global population resides in Asia and Africa which also have, with the exception of China and Japan, faster reproductive rates than elsewhere. It seems to me that, though we probably need carbon taxes to push the market towards production of renewables, these in themseves will be insufficient. Perhaps I could make a provocative suggestion to see what sort of response it might generate? Should we consider taxing births and longevity, currently subsidised by democratic governments? Frankly, I am terrified that a medium term soft landing with respect to peak oil and climate will merely result in more population growth and a bigger and inevitable crash later.

    Ray suggests that managing a population decline isn’t easy and cites historical examples to back his proposition. I am surprised he didn’t mention China which is currently serving global interests (and its own) by effecting decline with some but not insurmountable difficulties. Obviously, against this global benefit, we must balance its growing exploitation of finite resources and the accompanying pollution. I accept that much of the latter arises as a result of manufacturing for the developed world but whether this is in other than the very short term interests of the population of the developed world is extremely debatable. It will clearly become necessary, therefore, to control international trade in such a way as to minimise, at least, atmospheric CO2 emissions. Have any such schemes been formulated? Would it not also be sensible to encourage population stabilisation with similar international trade agreements? How would adjustments be made so that countries (e.g. UK, USA) which grow their populations through immigration rather than increases in natural indigenous fertility are not penalised by such trade agreements? Obviously, it would be in all our interests to aid poorer countries with technological transfers aimed at reducing their CO2 emissions but it won’t help in the long run unless their populations stabilise immediately rather than in 50-100 years time.

    CL (#124)refers me to a link which discusses future scenarios, the author of which clearly considers that no soft landing is remotely possible. Thus, in answer to my initial question as to whether the choices I posed in #124 were too stark and brutal, Pete and Ray have said maybe and CL, no. Meanwhile, the great majority of people in the world are going about their day to day business without considering the question at all, probably quite sensibly in the absence of political leadership – what else could they do? Even if people know that there is a significant threat in the future, they will put it out of their minds if there is nothing practical that they can do about it.

    Finally, Ray (#129)stated that “it really is a pity that there is no site devoted to climate mitigation that has the calibre and hospitable nature of RC.” I know that it is a big ask but is there a possibility that the climate scientists that run RC could arrange for a regular monthly thread on this topic even if the lead article were to be written by an invited outsider? I note that “Air Capture” was an example, albeit an apparent one off. Could it be used as a precedent? After all, isn’t climate mitigation a component of climate science? It would be good to think that this science could move from diagnosis to treatment. If my doctor tells me that I have a condition that is likely to kill me but then refuses to discuss the possible responses that might lead to a more favourable or less dire outcome, he will be very likely to depress me and hasten my demise. I do accept that, given my age and earlier comments on taxing longevity, that I am, perhaps, being hypocritical with the chosen analogy.

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 28 May 2008 @ 6:31 AM

  148. If I understand Nordhaus correctly he discounts expenditures the same way that he would discount any other investment in the economy. Money spent on climate change mitigation is money that cannot be invested in economic production where it would have provided income that could have been invested in more production. With compound interest over a long period this leads to the future income forgone being many times the the initial expenditure. So far as this goes I think he is right. However there are some other things that have to be considered. First of all expenditure on climate change mitigation is likely to mostly come out of funds that would otherwise be spent on consumption rather than on investment. This means that expenditure on climate change mitigation will reduce wealth available to future generations from investments but the loss will only be a fraction of what he is suggesting.

    And of course one can ask whether money is the appropriate measure for some of the costs. But for some of them it is and his discounting if scaled down appropriately seems to be a reasonable way of dealing with financial costs involved.

    As for Dyson’s suggestions of genetic engineering of trees to sequester carbon I think other commenters have dealt with the difficulties of that one adequately. However there is a major way in which biotechnology can help us. We are not far from being able to economically produce biofuels from algae , especially if petroleum prices stay at he current level. This is a technology we can reasonably expect to provide much, perhaps all of our vehicle fuel needs in a few decades.

    However the main problem is the use of coal to provide electric power. We have to develop alternative sources. There will be no one solution. In the long term I expect solar power to provide most of our electricity needs. But this technology is not economically viable yet. In the next few decades we need to expand the alternatives that are economically viable now or at least are viable with affordable subsidies now and are likely to have their costs reduce with further development. No single source will meet our requirements. The main ones that we can expand now are geothermal, wind and nuclear. In general the preferred one should be geothermal wherever it is practical. In many other areas wind can make a significant contribution. And widespread building of nuclear power plants will almost certainly be necessary. It is only part of the solution but probably an essential part. I don’t think we can count on the other power sources to supply enough power in all areas. If you reflexively reject nuclear power then I don’t think your environmental concerns can be taken very seriously.

    All the alternative energy sources have environmental costs. We just have to minimize such costs. We cannot eliminate them. One of the obstacles is going to be the opposition of nimbys. People will and have been objecting to alternative energy sources being located near them. Local considerations must not be ignored but cannot be allowed to have overwhelming weight. We have do do ballancing acts.

    Comment by Lloyd Flack — 28 May 2008 @ 6:47 AM

  149. RE #61.

    The average rainfall over ALL of Australia has changed little in 100yrs. However the introductory page to the graph you show has the following text…

    “Since the middle of the 20th century, Australian temperatures have, on average, risen by about 1°C with an increase in the frequency of heatwaves and a decrease in the numbers of frosts and cold days. Rainfall patterns have also changed – the northwest has seen an increase in rainfall over the last 50 years while much of eastern Australia and the far southwest have experienced a decline.”

    Sure the land has been poorly managed, however pointing to average rainfall for the whole continent and ignoring the worst drought in at least 600yrs occuring slap bang in the middle of our breadbasket does not make any sense.

    Comment by Alan — 28 May 2008 @ 7:24 AM

  150. Neil Pelkey, like it or not, science works. It takes in evidence and information from multiple sources, synthesizes it and draws reliable conclusions. Your comments suggest that you do not understand how this is done, and so you distrust it. However, the fact that you do not understand the methodology does not invalidate it. The scientists who do work in climate and paleontology do understand what they are doing, and they understand it better with each passing year.
    Dyson’s carboniverous trees are a demonstrably silly idea. Even if we could devote huge swaths of territory to sucking up carbon, such storage would be short-term. And such developments are a long way off if they are to come at all. I think that Dyson’s humanitarian streak may prevent him from having a realistic understanding of our current predicament. I attribute only the best of motives to Professor Dyson, but the best of motives are the enemy of progress when divorced from realistic appraisal or our problems.

    As to VaR calculations, that ain’t my day job. Yes, I do risk analysis, and I do have the background, but such calculations at present would be premature. In terms of mitigation, it is still early days.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 28 May 2008 @ 7:27 AM

  151. Don’t worry about Dyson’s silly trees.

    I’m going to email him my goofy idea of using stem cells to grow mountains of gigantic sea shells. That way he can at least have a goofy idea from the right century.

    Comment by JCH — 28 May 2008 @ 7:57 AM

  152. Bob Clipperton (UK) Says

    “other scientists who also assumed 60 years ago that Physicists like him would crack the nuclear fusion problem in a few years !”

    They got the time constant wrong but not the rapid rate of progress. As far I can see Freemon Dyson’s little discussion about 4%/annum growth in real terms for a century is based on assuming Moore’s law (exponential growth) for everything! But the only example apart from megaflops per person, for which this is valid is nuclear fusion. A key parameter for success is the Lawson number which has been growing faster than Moore’s law (ref.below). So nuclear fusion and huge computer calculations are the only two examples I can invoke to justify the use of future discounting as simplified in the book review. (I have not read the serious arguments and may have misunderstood the book review ).

    Incidentally I am completely naive about economics, but I do not understand why these simplifications about growth should apply for as long as a whole human generation? In addition there may be some hidden ideology involved.

    Reference: Pitts et al,March 2006,Physics World,p.24.

    Comment by Geoff Wexler — 28 May 2008 @ 9:16 AM

  153. >goofy idea
    I put mine at ~/prometheus/archives/climate_change/001442a_familiar_pattern_i.html
    It seemed the appropriate place.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 May 2008 @ 9:37 AM

  154. Geoff Wexler, There is also Rosenfeld’s Law:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosenfeld%27s_Law

    This states that energy needed to generate a given increase in GDP decreases by ~1% per year. This has held since ~1845, but it would be interesting to see if it also extended into the past, when animal power was dominant.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 28 May 2008 @ 10:19 AM

  155. It seems to me that the assumption of a 4% discount rate is hiding a bad case of circular reasoning. The argument (in say #44) is that we can invest the money we save on climate mitigation now, and since it will grow at 4%, use it to buy a lot more mitigation in the future. But this 4% investment rate is an a priori assumption. Indeed, if we’re confident that our wealth will continue to grow exponentially–that we’ll all be 50x richer in 100 years, and 2500x richer in 200 years–then why should we worry about the climate?

    But the whole point of the discussion is that we may _not_ be 2500x richer in 200 years: that due to the effects of climate change on agriculture, sea level, and biodiversity, we may in fact be less well off than we are today. In that case, your stock market investments are unlikely to grow over the long term, and a _negative_ discount rate would be more appropriate.

    (I’ll skip over the effect of the chance of a giant asteroid strike on the discount rate; I think that’s too minimal to be more than a distraction.)

    [Response: And moreover, the use of discounting in the traditional way assumes that the damages incurred by waiting can be fixed by spending the money made through investing. So, we are a lot richer now than when the last Moa was eaten. Can we use that wealth to bring back the Moa? --raypierre]

    Comment by Robert Southworth — 28 May 2008 @ 11:21 AM

  156. “This has held since ~1845, but it would be interesting to see if it also extended into the past, when animal power was dominant. …”

    Animal power remained a significant contributor to US agricultural production until the WW2 era – 1945, not 1845.

    This website has some interesting ways to learn about GDP, etc. It has a calculator that goes way back.

    Comment by JCH — 28 May 2008 @ 12:28 PM

  157. Ike Soloman at 115:
    Good one! Thanks for saying well what needs to be said.

    Comment by catman306 — 28 May 2008 @ 12:36 PM

  158. Further to #155 and raypierre’s inline response…

    Part of the embedded problem with intergenerational discounting is the assumption of substitutability of manufactured & intellectual capital for natural capital. For instance, assume future aggregrate welfare were, on balance, enhanced by the development of new vaccines. Raw discounting of simple metrics like GDP implies that the increased welfare from the medical advances can be traded off against, say, degradations in the the ozone layer or marine fisheries, etc. Another way of looking at this is to look at the actual capital stocks themselves. Are human-made capital & natural capital primarily substitutes for one another, or complements? Do they matter individually or is it only the total, combined stock that is important? Think fleets of fishing trawlers versus fish populations.

    Even acknowledging that there are examples of substitutability – e.g. chemical pesticides substituted for natural predators – one has to also account for how much that substitutability may change as you exhaust increasingly larger amounts of natural capital. We may be able to use humans to pollinate orchards at the margin, but couldn’t likely find a wholesale substitute for natural pollinators globally. So, even to the limited extent that substitutability may hold, it cannot be scaled endlessly.

    If human-made capital and natural are more accurately complements rather than substitutes, and that the costs of natural capital degradations are potentially catastrophic and irreversible, it seems to me that the natural capital “costs and benefits” should probably be discounted at very low rates, and human-made capital at more traditional rates. I’m not sure how this would be modelled in a Nordhaus-type framework.

    Comment by tidal — 28 May 2008 @ 12:54 PM

  159. The comments here about discounting strike me as very naive and begging the key question of what we should do. DICE models aside, the basic issues are how much do we spend (or how much wealth do we forego) on mitigation, when do we spend it, and on what? We will address these questions whether we do it haphazardly as suggested here, or more analytically as suggested by Dyson and others. Dyson and most mainstream economists reasonably suggest that we should spend modestly on mitigating CO2 in favor of using those resources to mitigate current catastrophic conditions and saving them to use on more effective mitigation measures of the future.

    So, we are a lot richer now than when the last Moa was eaten. Can we use that wealth to bring back the Moa?
    No, we cannot, but what if we use those *extra* riches we would not have today to keep 10 species from extinction? Without looking at both sides of these equations we lose our ability for reasoned analyses.

    [Response: You are assuming there would be enough left to save 500 years from now that you could make up for what goes extinct in the meantime. But, nonetheless, if somebody wants to do a variant of cost-benefit analysis where you ask -- and quantify -- whether you can save more biodiversity by deferring some spending to later, that would be a step in the right direction. Keeping different accounts for different kinds of harm would be a good thing. In contrast, the traditional cost-benefit analysis of Nordhaus aggregates everything into money, which puts you into the absurd position of allowing money made by easier Arctic oil drilling to be aggregated with some abstract cost attributed to polar bears going extinct in the wild. Note that even if theoretically more biodiversity could be saved by deferring expenditures, there still needs to be a mechanism in place to assure that those investment gains are actually expended on biodiversity preservation when the time comes. --raypierre]

    [Response:

    I’d be interested in hearing where people here would draw the line in spending to mitigate warming? The number *must* be between 0% and 100% of global GDP.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 28 May 2008 @ 1:17 PM

  160. #159 Joseph Hunkins Says: I’d be interested in hearing where people here would draw the line in spending to mitigate warming? The number *must* be between 0% and 100% of global GDP.

    Well, the Stern report – the one with outrageous costs and an hysterically low discount rate, allegedly – suggests the number would around 1% of global GDP.

    Comment by tidal — 28 May 2008 @ 1:40 PM

  161. New interagency government report on climate change effects on United States agriculture:

    “Climate changes – temperature increases, increasing CO2 levels, and altered patterns of precipitation – are already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, and biodiversity (very likely).”

    “Climate change has very likely increased the size and number of forest fires, insect outbreaks, and tree mortality in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska, and will continue to do so.”

    The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) “Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3 (SAP 4.3): The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States.”

    http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap4-3/final-report/default.htm

    Shorter (very incomplete) summary:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com:80/releases/2008/05/080528101708.htm

    Comment by Richard Ordway — 28 May 2008 @ 2:57 PM

  162. Joseph Hunkins wrote: “I’d be interested in hearing where people here would draw the line in spending to mitigate warming? The number *must* be between 0% and 100% of global GDP.”

    The nations of the world currently spend over one trillion dollars per year on the military, more than half of which spending is the USA alone.

    According to a January 2008 report from the United Nations, as reported by the Associated Press, “Global warming could cost the world up to $20 trillion over two decades for cleaner energy sources … UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns in a new report … In his 52-page report, Ban says that global investments of $15 trillion to $20 trillion over the next 20 to 25 years may be required ‘to place the world on a markedly different and sustainable energy trajectory.’”

    So at least one estimate places the cost of mitigating anthropogenic global warming at no more than what the world is already spending on militarism and weapons.

    I don’t mean to start an off-topic controversy about the wisdom or value of military spending vs. the wisdom or value of preserving a habitable planet, but only to suggest that the economic resources needed to mitigate global warming are available and comparable to those we already devote to other purposes that those in a position to allocate such resources deem to be important.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 28 May 2008 @ 3:00 PM

  163. Re #159 Joseph Hunkins:

    I think a strong case can be made for setting the mitigation spending equal to defense (war) spending. The US alone will spend roughly 700 billion dollars during 2008 on defense, all of it justified as necessary to protect the country from threats to its security. The threats from Climate Change are just as real and just as serious, if not more so, so why shouldn’t they they be addressed with the same level of spending?

    At that level of spending it would take less than a year to grant every major city in the US a billion dollars for renewable energy power generation and infrastructure upgrades. With money left over for R&D. Can anyone seriously say that we wouldn’t see any reduction in our CO2 emissions within a decade if we put that level of support into mitigation?

    Comment by Phillip Shaw — 28 May 2008 @ 3:11 PM

  164. One of the main issues with any economic projection is the past failure of all such efforts at economic prediction. However, that’s not the only problem with economics. Their basic descriptions of economic systems seem to leave out some very critical components.

    First, for a sample of how economists attempt to project “economic variables” onto the structure of 19th century physical theory, (after comment #104) see this: http://cowles.econ.yale.edu/P/cd/d15a/d1520.pdf

    The understanding of relaxation to equilibrium, including when equilibria are possible and whether they are unique, has grown in economics and in physics together. In both fields mechanical models were used first, followed by statistical explanations. Some recent work has shown which subset of economic decision problems have an identical structure to that of classical thermodynamics, including the emergence of a phenomenological principle equivalent to entropy maximization, while the more general equilibration problems usually considered by economists correspond to physical problems with many equilibria, such as granular, glassy, or hysteretic relaxation. The idea that equilibria correspond to statistically most probable sets of configurations has led to attempts to define price formation in statistical terms. A related observation, that income distribution seems consistent with various forms of entropy maximization, recasts the problem of understanding income inequality, and interpreting how much it really tells about the social forces affecting incomes.

    If ecologists tried to do this, they would be loudly ridiculed. Ecology, as it is, suffers the reputation of being very “fuzzy” because things like animal behavior come into play, but ecological models of the very base of the food chain are on more solid ground – but they are nowhere near as advanced as the physical models of the oceanic and atmospheric circulation.

    In reality, ecological models do depend on the physical circulation. The classic examples are the offshore upwelling regions driven by the surface winds, which bring nutrients up to the photic zone. This is why these regions are highly productive, both ecologically and economically. Collapse of upwelling would devastate both ecological food chains and fishermen’s incomes, and would lead to higher food prices for all. What we need to do is to convince all economists to take science lessons in ecology, and to get rid of their artificial variables (i.e. GDP) and their dependence on outdated pseudoscientific “rational choice theory”.

    The fundamental fact is that all of our economic systems are entirely reliant on a basic level of ecological cohesion. If the crops all fail, everyone goes hungry – there is no magic wand that will automatically turn the consumer’s desire for food into food. There are ecological limitations to all economic systems, and that’s where we are at right now.

    Speaking of upwelling, this recent data should not be to reassuring: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080522181511.htm

    Just to illustrate the complexity of including ecology in physical models, here is a quote:

    There is a strong correlation between recent hypoxia events off the Northwest coast and increasing acidification, Hales said.
    “The hypoxia is caused by persistent upwelling that produces an over-abundance of phytoplankton,” Hales pointed out. “When the system works, the upwelling winds subside for a day or two every couple of weeks in what we call a ‘relaxation event’ that allows that buildup of decomposing organic matter to be washed out to the deep ocean.
    “But in recent years, especially in 2002 and 2006, there were few if any of these relaxation breaks in the upwelling and the phytoplankton blooms were enormous,” Hales added. “When the material produced by these blooms decomposes, it puts more CO2 into the system and increases the acidification.”

    This is also yet another argument against dumping tankers full of iron into the oceans as a means of earning carbon trading credits – it won’t sequester CO2, but it will help acidify the oceans. This acidification and hypoxia of the oceans is proceeding apace, and predictions are that it will not be good for ecologies or economies.

    This can’t all be blamed on global warming, however. Humans have also vastly increased the natural rate of nitrogen fixation, and much of the tonnage of nitrogen fertilizer applied to crops eventually makes its way into rivers and watersheds and the ocean, where it can fuel phytoplankton blooms. Ocean hypoxia is thus going to be a synergistic result of global warming and fertilizer dumping, with each playing different roles in different regions.

    It gets even more complicated than this, because more recent research has shown that some algal overgrowth in rivers and lakes is due not to fertilizer inputs, but rather to the killing off of small invertebrate herbivores by toxic metals and pesticides, which the algae are highly resistant to.

    One final note: oceanic hypoxia and anoxia are going to be increasing for the next 50 years, because the upwelling water coming up now was last in contact with the atmosphere around then, on average. Water in contact with the atmosphere today will be even more acidic.

    Comment by Ike Solem — 28 May 2008 @ 3:16 PM

  165. If we’d been smart enough to protect the moa, we’d likely have been smart enough to protect the rest of the then biosphere as well.

    No amount of money can come remotely close to replacing the biological services that were free (and thus ‘worthless’) a century ago in the oceans, or three centuries ago in North America, or a millenium ago in Europe, or four millenia ago in China, or six millenia ago in the Tigris-Euphrates ‘fertile crescent’.

    What’s appalling is the waste of about 95% of what the world came equipped with, to turn five percent of it into money.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 May 2008 @ 3:28 PM

  166. In #145, Barton Paul Levenson wrote:

    “Can’t agree with you about economics. There may be a lot of dispute in it, but it is an empirical science. Eocnomists may not know how to perfectly control an economy, but they know what will help and what will hurt. The theory of marginal utility in the determination of commodity pricing was a real scientific advance, and as a result a lot of things can be predicted which could not be predicted before.

    I don’t want to see people who accept climate science become deniers of economic science. That would be as big a mistake as the reverse.”

    I tend to disagree. Modern economics is highly theoretical, rather than highly empirical. One of the best examples is the assumption that market volatility can be modelled using the normal distribution — a ‘thin-tailed’ distribution. This assumption, folded into portfolio management theories, won Markowitz and Sharpe Economics Nobel prizes. One can find in Benoit Mandelbrot’s book, Misbehavior of Markets, or in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s books, Fooled by Randomness and Black Swans, copious evidence that market volatility ought to be modelled using power law distributions — ‘heavy-tailed’ distributions with extreme market perturbations being much more frequent that predicted by a normal distribution model.

    I don’t want us to accept theoretically-based recommendations from economists that we NOT take present action to prevent and mitigate future damage from climate change, without critically questioning the consonance of that theory with the real world — its empirical basis.

    Downloading and studying Nordhaus’ DICE model and its documentation is a really useful and enlightening exercise. Its crudeness and simplicity are stunning.

    Best regards.

    Comment by Jim Dukelow — 28 May 2008 @ 3:45 PM

  167. Hank Roberts wrote: “What’s appalling is the waste of about 95% of what the world came equipped with, to turn five percent of it into money.”

    And to concentrate ninety-five percent of that money in the hands of five percent of the population.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 28 May 2008 @ 4:30 PM

  168. http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/images/daily_images/N_timeseries.png

    Looks like the Arctic Sea Ice is proving interesting this year. Will it drop off a clif come mid june as it did last year I wonder. Maybe Prof Dyson should attempt to explain the accelerated warming of the Arctic sea ice without GHG and AGW theory?

    Comment by pete best — 28 May 2008 @ 4:33 PM

  169. http://environment.newscientist.com/article/dn14006-buckets-to-blame-for-wartime-temperature-blip.html?DCMP=ILC-hmts&nsref=news1_head_dn14006

    human error and global warming. A paper published in nature to explain 1945′s temperature dip.

    Comment by pete best — 28 May 2008 @ 4:36 PM

  170. The most objectionable part is the idea that we are, in any sense, gloating about this. I’ve been concerned about global warming since before things like “Earth in the Balance,” e.g., came out. It worked its way up my list of environmental concerns precisely because it’s long term and easily obfuscated, and because the earlier you deal with things the better they turn out.

    But that doesn’t mean I don’t wish that it wasn’t a consideration. For one thing, I have asthma and bronchitis. Where’s the incentive for me to acknowledge that cleaning up some of our choking pollution actually increased the climate problem?

    I would much rather deal with other problems, shorter term, more personal, and more immediately rewarding. I also am not fond of how the response to climate change gets derailed into treating people as unserious if they don’t jump on the nuclear boondoggle wagon, for instance.

    I think that’s a very telling accusation. It means the denialists and their followers are constantly at the level of equating the messenger with the facts, if the facts are unpleasant. It’s a real validation for the “Inconvenient Truth” title. Moreover, every thing still being said along these lines should be archived and brought out in the future.

    By the way, we all know prevention is better than cures, that a stitch in time saves nine, that if you measure twice you cut once, etc. etc. It amazes me that denialists can even pretend to folk wisdom here.

    It’s time that the gloves come off and the self-contradictory nature of their behavior is made clear. They claim that fixes are catastrophically expensive and also want to delay as long as possible even though that’s what makes fixes catastrophically expensive.

    They want to kill the planet then get leniency because they’re orphans.

    Comment by Marion Delgado — 28 May 2008 @ 5:30 PM

  171. Few sights afford more innocent merriment than a catechist defending his text to the limit of his rhetorical ability . David Archer lets fly four points

    1.”if the trees could simply be persuaded to drop diamonds instead of leaves, repairing the damage to the atmosphere could be fast, ”

    When did charcoal become thermodynamically less stable than diamond? If the guileless Dyson has left something out, it’s the risk of forest fires .

    In 2. the problem is Archer’s own selective memory: ” Why is it that Dyson’s remarkably creative powers of vision (carbon-eating trees for example) fail to come up with alternatives to the crude and ugly process of burning coal to generate electricity?”

    Er, David, you’re talking about perhaps the most eloquent and astute advocate of advanced nuclear power of his generation.

    In 3., Anachronism bites back : “when the time scales start to reach hundreds and thousands of years, the people who pay in the future are not the same as the ones who benefit now…”

    Just so. Given what science does for technology, and technology for economics, expect them to be thinner and richer , independent of what the environment does to evolution.

    4. ” I often find myself contemptuous of efforts to misrepresent science to a lay audience.. I’ve got kids at home whose future I worry about.”

    On that base note , the dueling tuba concert continues. Too bad the kids have to listen- if only their parents had read Dyson’s 1977 article :

    CAN WE CONTROL THE CARBON DIOXIDE IN THE ATMOSPHERE?
    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2008/05/broken-arrows.html

    Comment by Russell Seitz — 28 May 2008 @ 5:37 PM

  172. I had missed seeing David Rutledge’s essay on peak oil and peak coal here:

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2697

    entitled “The Coal Question and Climate Change”. It seems he did not consider tar sands and other unconventional sources of fossil fuel. Baring that, the analysis is of interest in that by his projections, there simiply are not enough useable reserves of fossil fuels to even get up to the lowest of the IPCC projections that he considered.

    Provocative, at least.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 28 May 2008 @ 5:45 PM

  173. Russell Seitz (171) — Plants utilize carbon, including carbon in the soil. So far, no diamond-eating organisms have evolved. :-)

    Seriously, AFAIK, only coal persists for millions of years. I know of no other carbonaceous soil horizon older than a few thousands of years, maybe ten thousand. I will admit that I haven’t searched the literature directly on this point, but see

    http://terrapreta.bioenergylists.org/node/578

    for a review which includes this particular matter.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 28 May 2008 @ 5:51 PM

  174. re #155 Robert Southworth

    “a 4% discount rate is hiding a bad case of circular reasoning.”

    Roughly speaking , the input of the argument is global warming denial and the output is inactivity; thats slightly different logic. The reason that this is non-trivial is that the people who are in charge of mitigation tend to be economists and I have been told that there is a tendency for more of their arguments (not just future accounting)to contain a sort of inbuilt global warming denial.

    Although this is not about mitigation, there might be a related example of flood prevention in the UK , I get the impression that much of the government’s advice is based on past experience unmodified by climate projections. Is that unwise?

    Comment by Geoff Wexler — 28 May 2008 @ 6:24 PM

  175. I’m sure David Benson is aware there are no charcoalor grahite munching carbonivores either- carbon sequestration , not diamond stockpiling is at issue.

    The larger question the biogeochemicalcycle of carbon presents is the long term accumulation of C – as little as we know about carbon preservation in paleosols and peat , the sheer mass of coal that David Archer notes in his earlier response :

    “There is about 5000 Gton C of coal, compared with about 500 (trees) + 1500 (soils) on land. Of oil and gas there are only a few hundred Gton each. Coal is the real issue.”

    illustrates that a lot of it escapes both oxidation and soil organism metabolism only to end up suffering the un-ecological rigors of metamorphic geology. This gives rise to so large a variation in the hydrogen to carbon ratio of coal that it seems scandalous that the variable reality of coal composition is ignored by Greens when it could figure significantly in the debate about real-world CO2 policy.

    Comment by Russell Seitz — 28 May 2008 @ 6:52 PM

  176. pete best (169) — Thank you very much for providing this link.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 28 May 2008 @ 6:56 PM

  177. Russell Seitz (175) — Read the report I linked. By some process, highly carbonaceous materials ,i.e., incorporating considerable charcoal, tend not to survive very long in soils. I’m perfectly prepared to suspect soil micro-organisms (and possibly even plants) metabolise the SOC (Soil Organic Carbon), this possibly taking up to thousands of years depending upon the particular soil.

    I don’t know about graphite. That might possibly provide a long-term sequestration possibility, but one which does not appear to have been much researched.

    I recommend you also read the article I linked in comment #172, since it pertains to the important question of coal.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 28 May 2008 @ 7:38 PM

  178. Dear David :
    Thanks for the link-I’m aware of the terra preta phenomenon The larger question is what limits the rate and extent of aerobic subsoil degradation of organic molecules in general. All those coals and lignites ( well ,maybe not shungite and the other algals ) were once kilo- instead of megayears old.

    Comment by Russell Seitz — 28 May 2008 @ 8:46 PM

  179. Alan (#149):
    ” the northwest has seen an increase in rainfall over the last 50 years while much of eastern Australia and the far southwest have experienced a decline.”

    Strange that they focus on the last 50 years. Yes, eastern and southwest have experienced a decline, but a decline from an unusual high in the middle of the century. The early 20th century was drier than now. Everywhere in Australia. It’s there in the time-series.

    “worst drought in at least 600yrs occuring slap bang in the middle of our breadbasket does not make any sense.”

    Wrong. Hyperbolic nonsense. We have returned to the same levels of rainfall we saw from 1890-1950.

    Comment by Greg — 28 May 2008 @ 8:48 PM

  180. And in case any Australians are still being hoodwinked, someone has run the numbers for us here

    Comment by Greg — 28 May 2008 @ 8:52 PM

  181. SecularAnimist (162) says, “…I don’t mean to start an off-topic controversy about the wisdom or value of military spending vs. the wisdom or value of preserving a habitable planet…”

    But of course you do with the obvious implication to stop military spending and put it into mitigation.

    Comment by Rod B — 28 May 2008 @ 10:16 PM

  182. Dr. Seitz writes:
    > If the guileless Dyson has left something out, it’s the risk of forest fires .

    Entirely true, and that’s the killer fact in this proposal. Any severe forest fire burns everything organic in the soil layer and leaves gravel and soot above a waxy layer. It’s one of the classic reasons for needing small cool fires often.

    If Dr. Dyson can get involved with the American Chestnut Foundation, bringing back those forest giants, he can do a good bit toward his proposal. He doesn’t need to wait for http://www.orionsarm.com/civ/Dyson_Trees.html

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 28 May 2008 @ 10:18 PM

  183. 1) Economics and economists are really important, because many real arguments have moved from the climate science domain into the economics and policy domains. Anyone not already familiar with economics might want to go get educated, if only to be able to talk with the economists.

    2) I still haven’t seen answers from economists for questions in #24 or #49. However, if you haven’t been reading up on economics already, I suggest reading some (biophysical) economists that actually make sense (to me, a non-economist, anyway):

    Charles Hall, et al, The Need to Reintegrate the Natural Sciences with Economics.

    Robert Ayres & Benjamin Warr, Accounting for Growth: the Role of Physical Work.

    and any of Vaclav Smil’s recent books.

    and then compare with Solow Residual.

    Hall&co, and Ayres+Warr have this minority opinion that economic growth has something to do with energy (or better, work = energy * efficiency), i.e., it’s a big chunk of the Solow Residual (or total factor productivity or whatever you call it. As part of my job, I used to worry about rapidly-changing exponential trends. If you have a straight-line on a semi-log graph (like Moore’s law), the temptation is to project the straight line, but if there is underlying physics that says otherwise, you’d better know it. Otherwise, some unpredicted inflection point leaps up and bites you, or puts you out of business.

    If mainstream economics is right, and energy is relatively irrelevant to GDP growth, then we have this nice happy 2-3% CAGR growth indefinitely, and calculations of modest costs for mitigation may be right, and costs of large costs for adaption may be right, and the idea that the world will be 7X richer may be right. I.e., there is no inflection point in growth.

    If the biophysical economists are right, and if the Peak Oil+Gas folks are right, then we’re entering a major inflection point, in which we have about 50 years to do a major rework of the world’s energy infrastructure.

    - Over the next few decades, flattening and then shrinking oil+gas drag down world GDP growth well below the CAGRs used in all the climate-change studies. At some point, world GDP (and especially American GDP) might actually shrink, but in any case, 7X in 2100 seems *very* unlikely. In the Ayres reference in #24 are scenarios where GDP shrinks.

    - Under those circumstances, the pressure to use a lot of coal will be enormous. The really bad outcome is that in a futile attempt to keep the economy going, we then burn a lot of coal, then it Peaks, and that leaves 2100 and 2200 to deal with climate problems, with a lot of stranded, totally useless assets, and insufficient energy/money to deal with the climate problems. In the SF Bay Area, people are already trying to come to grips with the expense of “adapting” to even a +1m sea level rise by 2100.

    - on the other hand, if we stretch oil+gas as far as possible, and invest it in efficiency and renewable energy, while we have the money, maybe we use all the oil+gas, but can avoid (unsequestered) coal. Kharecha and Hansen discuss this in some detail. Personally, I suspect the US will eventually drill for oil (offshore, Alaska), and if that helps fend off coal, it’s a good trade, although I hope it doesn’t start for decades, since it’s like the kiddies’ piggy bank. (“Daddy, will you adults leave us any oil?” “Not much.”)

    But really, one cannot dismiss all economists, and if people don’t learn enough about economics to engage them, you will not like the results, as a whole lot of policy discussion is based on economics arguments. As an exercise, if you live near a good university, go the bookstore, visit the Economics section, and look for books that incorporate, in a believable way:
    - peak oil+gas, and energy in general
    - climate change
    - economics models
    and please tell me. I went through that exercise last summer, and was not happy with the result.

    Comment by John Mashey — 28 May 2008 @ 10:25 PM

  184. Re 49 “DO people (especially the economists) believe that US (world) GDP growth over the next century is essentially unaffected by Peak Oil+Gas?”

    On this matter, useful texts to consult are the two books by Angus Maddison (Phases of Capitalist Development and Dynamic Forces in Capitalist Development), who I would regard as one of the world authorities on GDP measure.

    The second of the two texts quoted gives a very clear description of the elements of GDP performance. It would be somewhat troublesome to explain why peak oil and peak gas would not fundamentally trigger a restructuring across both the ultimate and proximate elements of the performance functional as described by Maddison.

    With regard to peak oil and gas, the matter requires convolution with that of SLR-induced destructuration of global production and supply configurations.

    Comment by mg — 29 May 2008 @ 2:41 AM

  185. Hank, Thank you for the plug for the American Chesnut Foundation. My wife and I have been involved with a project to establish a grove of blight-resistant chesnuts in Maryland. So far, so good. They’re amazing trees–but way too slow growing to dig us out of the hole we’re in.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 29 May 2008 @ 4:53 AM

  186. RodB and Secular Animist, Actually, the issue of military spending vs. mitigation is not completely off topic. As the environment worsens and population continues to increase, competition for resources may fuel conflict and therefore military spending (especially in developing nations that can afford it least). It is one more trap that we must negotiate

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 29 May 2008 @ 5:07 AM

  187. Re #171 Russell Seitz

    Your criticism of David Archer’s point 1 is doubly misplaced. In fact you rather help to make his point which is a criticism of a pie-in-the-sky, sciency-fictiony approach to dealing with this issue when there are rather more established and well-founded approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

    First, Dyson wasn’t talking about charcoal production. We can do that already and it may have some limited use (see below). Dyson is proposing something quite different – that we wait for genetic engineering approaches that will result in the sequestration of carbon in soils via genetically-modified trees. According to Dyson this is a certainty. However, if one considers present generation genetic modifications of plants, it’s obvious that we’re far from Dyson’s notion of genetically modified carbon sequestering trees. So far genetically-modified plants have a gene introduced heterologously into the genome in order to produce a protein that confers some property (resistance to a herbicide; secretion of an insecticide) or in the most advanced cases (e.g. golden rice) insertion of a 2 or three genes that will introduce or supplement production of a metabolite (e.g. vitamin A).

    So what molecule of sequestered carbon are the GM trees going to produce from CO2? Trees already convert CO2 into a massive wealth of metabolites from sugars to proteins to fats and so on (even methane). But none of these is chemically or metabolically inert, and the biosphere has evolved such that every last molecule produced by plants is a fuel or a nutrient (CO2 returned to the atmosphere). Are trees going to be designed to produce pure carbon? That’s unlikely. There isn’t a known metabolic process, no known enzymes, no genes and so on. So it’s not going to happen.

    The second problem relates to your question “When did charcoal become thermodynamically less stable than diamond?”

    The answer is that it’s always been so. Charcoal is oxidized in soils both by physical and biological processes. There is a significant literature on this now, and it’s a real consideration with respect to long term carbon sequestration by soil dispersion of charcoal [e.g. ***]. Likewise as described in Science earlier this month, increased incorporation of charcoal in soil can result in loss of soil carbon (via oxidation to CO2) through the stimulation of soil microbial activity [*****].

    The bottom line is that there aren’t easy solutions to the problems of atmospheric CO2 emissions, and pinning one’s hopes on comfortable magical science fiction solutions at the expense of existing technologies that can make significant inroads into the problem isn’t that helpful.

    [***]e.g.

    Cheng CH et al (2008) Natural oxidation of black carbon in soils: Changes in molecular form and surface charge along a climosequence Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 72, 1598-1610

    Hockaday WC et al (2007) The transformation and mobility of charcoal in a fire-impacted watershed Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 71, 3432-3445.

    Cheng CH (2006) Oxidation of black carbon by biotic and abiotic processes
    Organic Geochemistry 37 1477-1488

    Hamer U, et al (2004) Interactive priming of black carbon and glucose mineralisation
    Organic Geochemistry 35, 823-830

    etc.

    [*****]
    Wardle D. A. (2008) Fire-derived charcoal causes loss of forest humus Science 320, 629.

    Comment by Chris — 29 May 2008 @ 7:32 AM

  188. Rod B #181

    But of course you do with the obvious implication to stop military spending and put it into mitigation.

    For the part that went to the Iraq fiasco, the pay-off in terms of real security would have made that a great bargain. (But no, no wish to start an off-topic controversy :-) )

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 29 May 2008 @ 7:34 AM

  189. The US had a very respectable GDP before the age of oil.

    From 1790 to the year the first oil well was “drilled” the US real GDP was 4.44%. From 1790 to the year the Standard Oil Trust was formed, the US real GDP was 4.47%.

    In the 120-plus years of ExxonMobil’s bloodline, the US real GDP is 3.3%.

    Perhaps “Giddyup” can better hold its own against “put the pedal to metal” than Yale economists realize.

    Comment by JCH — 29 May 2008 @ 8:49 AM

  190. Rod B wrote: “But of course you do with the obvious implication to stop military spending and put it into mitigation.”

    Not at all. I intended no such implication. I only wanted to point out that estimates of the investment required to move humanity to a post-fossil fuel energy economy over a couple of decades, are comparable to what the world currently spends on the military, which suggests that the cost of mitigation is not an insurmountable obstacle. The world’s trillion-dollar-per-year military budget demonstrates that humanity is able to martial that level of resources towards ends that we consider important. If we can do so to defend against perceived military threats from our fellow humans, surely we can do so to defend against the threat of climate catastrophe.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 29 May 2008 @ 9:00 AM

  191. Just to thank Bob Murphy for his clarity, plus an invite to you guys at RealClimate to write or host a specific blog about discounting and climate change mitigation. I am not sure how many people have the patience of reading all the comments all the time, so there are useful points buried in the long list above, that could and should be made available to all readers…

    Comment by Maurizio Morabito — 29 May 2008 @ 9:00 AM

  192. John Mashey, You bring up a very interesting point–really, except for a few academic studies of pre-industrial economies, all of our economic data come from an era of coal/petroleum. It may be very difficult and risky to extrapolate to an epoch where said resources are in short supply–or undesirable for reasons of climate effects. Indeed, this fear of flying blind may be one of the reasons for the reticence of many economists to accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change and its consequences.
    The question, as we come to the end of the Industrial Revolution, is whether it is in fact the end, or whether it will be succeeded by a second industrial revolution based on renewables and free of the strictures imposed by the hydrocarbon supply chain infrastructure (and its concommitant political instability and concentration of wealth). The question for economists is whether any of them will be bold enough to envision how that will come about. One thing about Dyson–at least he is not afraid of being wrong. A good thing, too.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 29 May 2008 @ 9:29 AM

  193. I am bemused by the constant repetition that reducing carbon emissions will hurt the economy. Consider these numbers from 2004, of GDP (in US$) per metric ton of CO2 emitted:
    Switzerland 8902
    Sweden 6591
    France 5373
    Denmark 4500
    Ireland 4332
    Italy 3842
    UK 3670
    Japan 3663
    Germany 3393
    Spain 3160

    and the US 1936

    Other mature industrial societies get nearly twice as much money as we do from our carbon emissions. This is not a technical issue. This is the result of long-standing policies to keep the price of energy low. Policies can change, and energy use will follow. Talking about economic damage is just more smoke.

    Comment by Tim McDermott — 29 May 2008 @ 9:55 AM

  194. Re #171 and:

    the sheer mass of coal that David Archer notes in his earlier response:

    “There is about 5000 Gton C of coal, compared with about 500 (trees) + 1500 (soils) on land. Of oil and gas there are only a few hundred Gton each. Coal is the real issue.”

    illustrates that a lot of it escapes both oxidation and soil organism metabolism only to end up suffering the un-ecological rigors of metamorphic geology.

    It’s more realistic to say that “a lot of it escaped….”. Because a very large chunk of the massive amount of coal was laid down during the Carboniferous under circumstances that were unique to that period. This seems to be a period when lignin was “invented” by trees and they used lots of it (bark to wood ratios of 8 to 1 or 20 to 1 cf typically 1 to 4 in modern trees), and there’s evidence that the fungi that degrade lignin didn’t evolve until a long period afterwards. Combined with the low sea levels and extensive low lying swamps the Carboniferous was a never-to-be-repeated opportunity for massive sequestration of carbon into the depths. [e.g. see the nice little article by Jennifer M Robinson: Geology 15, 607-610 (1990) “Lignin, land plants, and fungi: Biological evolution affecting Phanerozoic oxygen balance”]

    I expect there’s rather more detailed information available on the nitty gritty of your question about the rate of sub-soil degradation of organic molecules. However we do know that the rate of sequestration of carbon in the soil [on the possible pathway towards “permanent” (if only!) sequestration as coal] is very slow. For example, peat takes around 10 years to “grow” one centimeter, and a one foot coal seam is the product of around 10,000 years of peat accumulation. Each year we burn an amount of coal equivalent to around 100,000 years of carbon sequestration.

    Alternatively we can look at the paleoCO2 record and see that the atmospheric CO2 levels were not much higher than current levels right back to the end of the Ologocene 25 million years ago. So there hasn’t been a steady “pull down” on carbon through the soil (and into the underworld!) at an appreciable level throughout this vast period.

    So if we are going to attempt CO2 pulldown and carbon sequestration in lieu of efforts to set some limits on fossil fuel burning, we need to come up with something extraordinarily efficient and bounteous. Let’s get those magic trees onto the drawing board!

    Comment by Chris — 29 May 2008 @ 10:00 AM

  195. Re #179 and #180, Greg,
    The quote from the BOM regarding the recent drought in south eastern Australia is:
    “The combination of record heat and widespread drought during the past five to ten years over large parts of southern and eastern Australia is without historical precedent and is, at least partly, a result of climate change”.

    I am not aware of any credible analysis from Climate scientists that are in agreement with your assertion that the current rainfall has nothing to do with Global warming. I do not consider a cherry picking statistician (the someone) as a credible Climate scientist.

    Your logical mistake is to assume that the rainfall patterns are just the result of random fluctuations. They are not just random, they are the result of particular forcings. Climate scientists understand these forcings, and as a result are in a better position to understand trends over a statistician.

    Finally, if an observation doesn’t make sense it is because you are observing objective reality filtered through your own preconceptions.

    Comment by Lawrence McLean — 29 May 2008 @ 10:05 AM

  196. Maurizio Morabito, Wow! We agree on something ;-) It would be a useful service for someone to collate the main points. In addition to the discussion of discounting, I think John Mashey’s point about the effect of Peak Oil, etc. is quite important. How can we extrapolate future growth when we have zero data for a non-hydrocarbon based economy. JCH’s point notwithstanding, I think that you would find a strong correlation between US GDP growth and coal comsumption–especially in the North of the US. The level of industrialization in the North was a critical factor in the North’s victory in the Civil War- [edit]

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 29 May 2008 @ 10:36 AM

  197. Ray Ladbury Says: “except for a few academic studies of pre-industrial economies, all of our economic data come from an era of coal/petroleum.”

    Smith’s Wealth of Nations was published c. 1776. Watt’s steam engine went into production in 1775. Intriguingly, the first use of the steam engine was to…? A. Power water pumping from… coal mines…

    A curious confluence of events…

    Comment by tidal — 29 May 2008 @ 10:49 AM

  198. No need to genetically modify plants to remove/regulate atmospheric C02. The steadily increasing price of fossil fuel will take care of the problem – in northern Canada the cost to heat my home this year will be about double from last year (please contribute more to global warming – I need the ‘free’ heat), and I just payed $1.55 for a litre of gas ($5.86/gallon) which I understand is still pretty cheap in many parts of the world. With across the board fuel costs pretty much guaranteed to continue to rise, I do believe that the thermostat will be significantly turned down in my house this winter, and I certainly won’t be driving my Dodge Quad-cab 4X4 across the country on my summer vacation.

    Comment by Rando — 29 May 2008 @ 10:54 AM

  199. > chestnuts

    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/05/27/chestnut/

    Chestnuts and hazelnuts. This fellow, who I’ve known most of my life, has spent decades breeding varieties suitable for quick growth, coppice wood, hand-harvesting with long bearing season (plantings in China), machine-harvesting with a short simultaneous bearing time (US farms, where they can replace corn and soybeans economically)

    The notion that we have to wait for some magical future science-fiction change to improve the world has probably allowed more delay than any economic or political foot-dragging or opposition to progress. Pie in the sky by and by.

    Much of the needed work has already been done. It can be done everywhere. Why are we putting it off?
    Dyson was writing in the 1970s about doing this — but as a far-fluffy-future hypothetical.

    Phil Rutter began _doing_ it before Dyson wrote his silly puff piece about how it might someday be needed.

    Get a grip on reality, it’s going somewhere. Why just stand and watch?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 29 May 2008 @ 11:06 AM

  200. Whatever happened to the idea that it takes money to make money. Of course my Sunfrost refrigerator ( http://www.sunfrost.com ) COST some $2600, but it’s already SAVED that much money and a lot more since I purchased it in energy (uses one-tenth what other frigs use) and less food spoilage (an added bonus), and it goes on an on every year to save more and more (a much better investment than putting money in the bank or stock market). And there are plenty of examples of how mitigating global warming is an economic bonanza.

    Economists need to read NATURAL CAPITALISM (see http://www.natcap.org) to get some idea of the great economic opportunities in “doing the right thing.” Emitting CO2 is what costs, not reducing C02 emissions. So someone ought to do some discount study on our terrific expenditure in emitting C02, NOT on reducing emissions!

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 29 May 2008 @ 11:18 AM

  201. Having read the Dyson article and all the comments here I’m somewhat surprised by the nature of the discussion. For me, what was most interesting was Dyson’s very concise summary of what the biosphere actually does to CO2 levels. The implications of that are, what I think Dyson was really getting at.

    The fact that you can see 4ppm (ish) annual flux in CO2 levels as a function of biological activity is amazing really. Given our desire to chop down as many tress as possible the fact that we don’t seem to be affecting it is also pretty impressive (with the caveat that the measurements are not sensitive to see the loss of trees year on year). So what Dyson is really saying is that we already know that biology can affect the atmosphere pretty quickly and remove atmospheric CO2. I truly wonder at this point whether he made the tree comment to tease (or provoke)people because what he seems to be suggesting is not as impossible as it sounds. Let me explain.

    Firstly, remember that there isn’t as much chlorophyll(by mass) or the other enzymes (dark reaction enzymes etc) as one might think. It’s no more than tonnes. Now that’s extraordinary in terms of chemical efficiency. Spectacular.

    So the “fix” that Dyson is talking about isn’t making trees, it’s somehow harnessing photosynthesis. Once you make that intellectual leap then things start getting interesting because this is actually do-able. It’s pretty easy to conceive of either genetically altering photosynthesis cells to be even more productive as we already do in cell cultures or we can look at adding in genes to play with the pathway. And the important thing is that we don’t actually need that much material to have an effect if we can really understand the chemitry and biology behind the process (some of the reaction are pretty straightforward, some aren’t).

    Another option might be to try to learn from the chemsitry and make a totally artifical photsynthesis catalyst, or a combination of the genetically enhanced and artifical. There’s been some work done at Brookhaven done on this already.So it’s not pie in the sky although it’s definitely non-trivial.

    My own feeling is that it’s got to be worth continuing to work on this and it might, just might, actually work. No square mutant trees in sight!

    So I rather think it’s disappointing that the comments made on this site have been so negative when it comes to a technological solution or mitigation. I’m amazed that Dyson’s “insight” on that front was interpretted in such a one-dimensional fashion. The data shows that biology plays a big role in annual CO2 levels on a global scale. I, for one, think we should try to harness that, irrespective of the economic arguments.

    Comment by Keith — 29 May 2008 @ 11:35 AM

  202. Ray, obviously the Industrial Revolution occurred in the United States/Colonies. The earliest reference I have found to commercial coal mining in the Colonies is 1748.

    Still, the vast majority of Americans worked in agriculture, and that remained the case well into the 20th Century.

    Comment by JCH — 29 May 2008 @ 11:50 AM

  203. re: #23 — as eskimo-ese is a polysynthetic language, the number of inuit words for snow is actually unbounded. but if we ignored that fact and plotted out the NYT estimates for the numbers of eskimo words for each of the last 100 years anyway, we would see an exponential rise in inuit words for snow–not the decline we would expect if the world were actually warming. (unrelated query: ever wonder how many inuit words there are for “oh, ####, did you just see that polar bear fall through the melting north pole?!?”)

    while we’re dodging the problems associated with finding a workable, democratic solution to AGW, we might as well use as many distorted facts as possible in constructing flawed analogies rooted in media myths and urban legends to argue for developing whole new languages to describe the economic implications of the risks identified by climate science. because that would be a productive thing to do while we wait for the genetic engineers to make super-trees that will solve all our problems.

    i’ll go out on a limb and predict that someone, somewhere is genetically engineering a super-tree that grows its own hammock, so that the lazy people of the future won’t have to worry about finding places to sit. i’m also predicting that a deluxe model super-tree will sprout air conditioners that run on the knee-jerk reaction produced when CO2 is mentioned in the presence of denialism.

    Comment by A.C. — 29 May 2008 @ 12:30 PM

  204. #189 JCH:

    I suspect you used the calculator at http://www.measuringworth.com/growth .
    While you show that real GDP annual growth has gone down from 4.44% to 3.3%, I see the per capita GDP annual growth has gone up from 1.37% to 1.93%.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 29 May 2008 @ 12:56 PM

  205. Raypierre -
    Agree that we may need more *refinements* to money values though I see no reason to dispute those of Nordhaus. Every human monetizes death, climate, and destruction indirectly all the time – people just deny this. Everybody knows that driving a car on a leisure trip (or far riskier, riding a bike!) presents increased death risk to their children compared to sitting at home, but at a benefit of the trip experience. Rather than the concept of values of life years it is the discount rate that is the key point of contention between various mitigation spending scenarios. I don’t follow Stern’s logic but if he’s right, Nordhaus is very wrong.

    I’m fine with non-money categories for measuring climate problems and solutions but the point is to create some standard for apples to apples comparisons so you don’t have the absurd contention
    that a thing has “infinite” value and therefore must be preserved at all costs regardless of how it impacts other things, many of which also have “infintite” value. The issue is not assigning value to things – it is *how much value* to each thing. Without this we allocate haphazardly rather than rationally, but we still allocate and value things. That is unavoidable.

    Everybody:

    Thank you for several thoughtful responses to the issue of allocating money to mitigation. I certainly agree that military spending probably has a much lower ROI (by any reasonable measures of R and I) than C02 mitigation. However I also agree with the-person-who- cannot-be-named at RC without pandemonium breaking out that we should seek the most effective (highest ROI) allocations of massive public resources and that that would push us to spend mostly on global infrastructure improvements rather than C02 mitigation or military.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 29 May 2008 @ 1:31 PM

  206. Russell Seitz (178) — I agree and Chris (187, 194) has provided some information and references. Based on what Chris has written (but also the biochar review), I’m rather dubious about the prospects of long-term carbon storage in soils.

    However, the problem may be viewed as so serious that even the prospects of carbon re-entering the active carbon cycle over thousands of years is viewed as less of a hazard than other schemes.

    I should note that there appears to be little, if any, active research on hydrthermal carbonization, which will produce bio-anthracite after 24 hours of the exothermic reaction.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 29 May 2008 @ 1:41 PM

  207. @Tim #193
    An interesting comparison that demonstrates just how difficult it will be to get a global understanding for the problem. As a simple example, Switzerland may look like it made some right decisions in the past and therefore claim your list’s top spot. But it does so mainly because Switzerland has almost no CO2 producing industries. It is easy to show a good GDP/CO2 relation when all you do is banking. If you’d calculate the amounts of CO2 emitted in – say – Germany for the cars produced there and exported to Switzerland not for Germany but for Switzerland, you’d certainly get very different results and eventually different conclusions.

    Comment by henning — 29 May 2008 @ 2:11 PM

  208. Russell Seitz:

    “1.”if the trees could simply be persuaded to drop diamonds instead of leaves, repairing the damage to the atmosphere could be fast, ”

    When did charcoal become thermodynamically less stable than diamond? If the guileless Dyson has left something out, it’s the risk of forest fires .”

    This is very very far off base – almost completely so, in many ways. See comment #89 above, as well as comments by Chris, esp. #194.

    It is nice to see that Dyson is not pushing the notion of iron fertilization as a means of carbon sequestration (even though it would be of similar effectiveness to the tree plan). While Dyson is a brilliant physicist, his projections about genetic engineering do bring to mind his earlier work on nuclear bomb-powered spacecraft… en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)

    The notion that the biosphere can be somehow manipulated into sequestering all the excess carbon that humans have dumped into the atmosphere is highly implausible. First, is the biosphere in carbon balance, or is it already dumping mass into the atmospheric and oceanic pools? Do we even have a good handle on that? No – it is very difficult to figure it out.

    How about the fossilized biosphere – the stored carbon in the northern permafrost regions? How about warming soils releasing more carbon to the atmosphere? How about new limits on photosynthesis brought about by environmental degradation, i.e. heat waves, floods, droughts?

    There’s only one solution: stop burning fossil fuels, period. Even if we do that (and global fossil fuel use and carbon emissions continue to rise, as it has ever since the beginning of the 20th century), we are still in for projected warming over the next 50 years at least, and by that time most of the world’s mountain glaciers will be gone. Simply gone. Imagine that. That is almost inevitable now. Indeed, that is probably a very safe bet to make. Thus, it seems that we are not only going to have to stop burning fossil fuels, but we are also going to have to make some efforts at real long-term carbon burial – not at all an easy thing to do.

    All across the western United States, for example, drought is really kicking in. This might be the worst fire season in history for this region – at least, it is up there – and this is not likely to change, as late season runoff dwindles and the soil and vegetation dry up.

    The fact of the matter is that climate scientists have been predicting this situation ever since the late 1970s. There really wasn’t that much more scientific doubt then than there is now, and solar and wind technology was already poised to take off – and then came 30 years of fossil fuel interests intervening in government to maintain the status quo.

    Apparently, the thought of trying to start the world’s biggest infrastructure manufacturing project in history is just too much for our government to contemplate. The situation is still farcical – look at the miniscule research budgets for solar and other renewables in this country. The country’s leading biofuel researchers are at small schools in agricultural states like Mississippi – because the state funds them – the federal government gives nothing more than lip service to renewable energy projects, and actually actively undermines them with a contradictory and fluctuating government policy toward fossil fuels and renewables – will this really change under any administration in the U.S.? We sure hope so, but there is vast ignorance on the issues among the press and the public. No matter how bad the press coverage of climate science has been, the coverage of renewable energy advances has been far worse – almost nonexistent, in fact.

    Basic physical arguments and engineering demonstrations prove that we can meet all of our energy needs without resorting to fossil fuels or to any expansion of existing nuclear power capacity – simply by using sunlight and wind. The physical arguments are robust and undeniable – and the “economic arguments” that claim that “renewables cost to much” should be seen for what they are – marketing gimmicks for fossil fuel salespeople.

    Comment by Ike Solem — 29 May 2008 @ 2:11 PM

  209. ’ll go out on a limb and predict that someone, somewhere is genetically engineering a super-tree that grows its own hammock, so that the lazy people of the future won’t have to worry about finding places to sit.

    You don’t even need genetic engineering…

    Comment by dhogaza — 29 May 2008 @ 4:01 PM

  210. This discussion about global warming and economics exemplifies the massive paradigm shift that humanity needs in order to survive. We are having an existential crisis because our worldview and our ways of being have taken us this far but cannot take us any farther. We can argue about discount rates and about how much CO2 we can “afford” to reduce and about technology etc., but I think these concepts are still within the framing story that is now experiencing the limits of its usefulness.

    This reminds me of the famous Einstein quote that the solution of a problem requires a different level of thinking than that which created the problem. The different level of thinking now required can be summed up nicely, I think, in one word: sustainability. It seems to me that most of what humanity has done so far in its history has been able to ignore sustainability because limits were far off. Now we are there, and we need a new philosophy of life that will carry us into humanity’s next era, that is, a full world and one with very visible limits.

    One poster mentioned Herman Daly. I have read two of his books, “For the Common Good” and “Beyond Growth”, and I highly recommend them to you. Daly is a truly innovative thinker, and I believe his vision for economics is what humanity needs to make this transition into its new era of existence.

    Global warming is but one manifestation of humanity’s current worldview; dealing with global warming will require a new worldview, a more holistic one in which we evaluate all we do through the lens of sustainability.

    Comment by David Garen — 29 May 2008 @ 4:08 PM

  211. Ike Solem wrote: “The fact of the matter is that climate scientists have been predicting this situation ever since the late 1970s. There really wasn’t that much more scientific doubt then than there is now, and solar and wind technology was already poised to take off – and then came 30 years of fossil fuel interests intervening in government to maintain the status quo.”

    Actually it is worse than that. The Paley Commission recommended to President Truman in 1952 that the USA aggressively fund the development of solar energy and projected that there could be millions of solar-powered homes within a generation. The Eisenhower administration rejected that recommendation, cut funding for solar research, and chose instead to invest billions in “the peaceful atom”.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 29 May 2008 @ 5:01 PM

  212. Joseph Hunkins, I really don’t mean to be confrontational, but how would you, personally, value–monetarily or otherwise–the destruction of human civilization? Based on the possible warming scenarios, this threat cannot be ruled out. I understand the need for a common basis when comparing risks or planning risk mitigation, but some risks defy such approaches. If you can’t bound the risk, you have to act energetically to better define the probability of the threat being realized AND start acting immediately to mitigate the consequences of the threat. I would contend that is the situation where we currently find ourselves wrt climate change.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 29 May 2008 @ 5:13 PM

  213. #201–Keith, I agree that Dyson certainly isn’t to be demonized. He acknowledges the reality of anthropogenic climate change after all. Still, his airy, dismissive technological optimism in the face of such an unprecedented threat borders on the irresponsible. As yet, all we’ve managed to do is demonstrate that the threat is serious and potentially quite severe. We haven’t bounded the risk. We don’t have workable solutions–and worst of all, demographic, economic and political trends are working against our developing effective mitigation and/or adaptation strategies. And along comes Dyson, saying that technology will solve all without so much as a hiccup to future economic growth. The thing we have to remember is that Dyson, while a technophile, is a theoretical physicist, and speaking as a physicist (though an applied one), we aren’t always the most practical folks. The whole thing sort of reminds me of the joke about the engineer, physicist and mathematician sharing a room in a hotel at a conference. They are all asleep when a fire starts in a waste basket. The engineer smells the smoke, wakes up and grabs the fire extinguisher and sprays wildly toward the flames, spraying until he’s sure it’s out. He’s made a big mess, but falls back asleep in his wet bedclothes knowing he’s safe–or so he thinks. But the fire breaks out again. This time the physicist wakes up, runs over to the desk, writes down some equations, then runs over to the fire extinguisher, gives 3 short squirts at the base of the fire and extinguishes it. Back to bed he goes, but the fire breaks out again. This time it’s the mathematician who wakes up. Alarmed, he see the fire. Then he sees the fire extinguisher. “Oh, a solution exists,” and goes back to sleep. You can guess who Dyson reminds me of–except we don’t yet have a fire extinguisher.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 29 May 2008 @ 5:38 PM

  214. re: #201 Keith
    I personally think that bio-engineering will be important. I know Stanford’s President thinks so too, which is why things like Bio-X exist.

    BUT: talking about magic things that will save us 30 years from now doesn’t impress me very much as an action plan, and reminds me of the old saw:

    “In theory, theory and practice and the same, but in practice, they aren’t.”

    Serious R&D portfolio managers run *progressive commitment*:

    Basic Research [fund lots of little projects, some with 20-30-year horizons]
    [these days, mostly in universities]
    Applied Research [pick some of the more promising and take further]
    Exploratory Development [build more things]
    Advanced Development [some combine this with the previous] [push tech]
    Development [uses technology that works]
    Deployment & Scaleup [$$$$$]

    Of the 35 years or so I’ve spent doing, managing, funding such things, 10 were spent at Bell Labs, arguably the premier industrial research lab *ever*, part of a company that actually though about 40-year timeframes, not just next quarter, and which generated many real breakthroughs. BUT, our mantra was:

    NEVER SCHEDULE BREAKTHROUGHS

    When you have to deploy on a vast scale (and the Bell System of old was pretty vast as companies went), you deploy technology you already have. In 1930, nobody said “Don’t worry, in 1947 someone will invent transistors”, but of course physics research was already going on. At Bell Labs, Basic R (and some Applied R) was ~7% … and it was worth every penny, but it didn’t produce specified results to schedule.

    It took years before transistors were really exploited. Solar cells were a tiny niche for a long time. No one had the slightest idea that lasers would be a giant business. UNIX was a “toy” used by a handful of us for years before it caught on, and later surprised Bell executives when they discovered that almost every software project had some dependency on it. One of my jobs was to keep an eye on Research to grab anything we could make use of, but it was never predictable. A friend of mine got a Nobel prize, and he says:
    “Most people get Nobels for things they were looking for, we got ours for finding something we were trying to get rid of!”

    People get crazy about lab-scale results, but useful things have to surive massive scaleup. Another old saw is the “MIT grad student syndrome::

    Q: What can you build with 5 MIT PhD students?
    A: Anything!… but you can only build one of it.

    Anyway, we likely will get bio-engineered help, but the terrible danger in this kind of thing is that people wait around for wonderful solutions sometime later, rather than investing in and managing a disciplined, multi-decadal R&D program.

    If someone is talking about breakthroughs, ask them:

    a) What’s your past involvement with long-term R&D & deployment?
    b) What’s your proposed R&D program that might lead there?

    Comment by John Mashey — 29 May 2008 @ 5:53 PM

  215. Ray, I quite agree with your analysis, which always seems to be the case. Your comment that “we don’t yet have a fire extinguisher” called to mind the frustration I sense in Jim Hansen’s missive of today.

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/20080529_DearGovernorGreenwash.pdf

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 29 May 2008 @ 8:07 PM

  216. re: #193 Tim
    In support of what you say (policy), see the (awesome) Art Rosenfeld’s Articles page for great presentations. But especially, see page 7 of Rosenfeld talk in 2007, although the numbers are for a different year, and I think the slide slightly misnomered (should be:
    “intensity (tons of CO2 per 2000 $1000). I.e., divide $1000 by the energy intensity to get somewhat similar numbers to those in your list.

    Every state is different, but if the US as a whole could even move half the way towards what California already does, a lot of things would be better, and msot of this is by *policy* applied over decades. As faras I can tell, this hasn’t made Californians horribly poor…

    With most of its power from a hydro, a long-established train system, and small size, Switzerland will be hard to catch.

    Comment by John Mashey — 29 May 2008 @ 8:52 PM

  217. John Mashey (214) off topic but, since corporations are often lambasted, I’ll second your kudos of Bell Labs (I had ~15 years with (the original) AT&T) and AT&T’s stewardship. All that basic R&D money was spent knowing that they could not have exclusive patent rights to anything they discovered.

    Comment by Rod B — 29 May 2008 @ 8:55 PM

  218. re 187 et seq.
    Chris, Thanks for the heads upon Cheng and Hockaday- I will read them with interest.
    But Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta is not where one expects to see an examination of the limits of polymer formation in plants or the state of synthetic biology. We might ask Dyson, but I doubt if such products of natural selection as biodegradable polysaccarides are what has in mind. With rubber and polyethylene around, he has no need of diamonds as a paradigm- the plenum of durable polymers whose long degradation times ecologists complain of shows where his taste in plant biotech is pointing-

    I don’t pretend to know how the hierarchy of compatibility with photosynthetic pathways in simple and complex plants will evolve as syn bio grows in sophistication( and photosynthetic bandwidth)

    Comment by Russell Seitz — 29 May 2008 @ 10:44 PM

  219. Ray and John,

    Thanks for the response. I agree with you both. I too work in an applied science field so I have a very strong bent towards practical science as opposed to paper science. I work in a field where for every 250K compounds or so that we make only one ends up being a drug. Even those odds don’t stop us continuing to keep trying which why I’m still in the lab. So I absolutely agree with your comments. I was not suggesting for a moment that we focus soley on technological solution at the expense of everything else. My point was that Dyson’s theoretical solution isn’t quite as wacky as some have suggested and the data demonstrates the potential for a biological solution/mitigation; it’s a real life proof of concept if you like. I think that annual 4ppm shift is facinating given that our inductrial output of CO2 isn’t reducing.

    [There is one interesting point here; more of a comment or question perhaps. It's the issue of timescales. On a annual basis there is a regular flux of CO2 levels affected by biology. That contrasts quite sharply with geological time or even the timescale of the last 100 years. It's very reminicent of kinetics and thermodynamics (if I were to look at my own field). Sometimes, we don't end up at the theromdynamic sink. Very often the rate of reaction, rather than the most favourable thermodynamic outcome, dominates. In fact, a vast number of biological reactions are tuned to drive reactions down this apparently unfavourable pathway simply because the kinetic are much much faster. And so I've always wondered about that analogy from a climate change point of view. Is the rate of change of temperature more important than the absolute amount and so can a process which acts quickly have a much bigger impact than one that gets you a bigger effect. Just a thought.]

    Anyway, back to Dyson. It’s perfectly feasible even given our rudimentary knowledge that a technological solution can be derived and put into action. So I merely believe that it should be done in addition to whatever other solutions people can derive. You never know, one of them might work!

    Comment by Keith — 30 May 2008 @ 3:05 AM

  220. John, Rod, how could I disagree, being a Unix lover… writing this on my Linux workstation :-)

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 30 May 2008 @ 3:18 AM

  221. Ray L asked: how would you, personally, value–monetarily or otherwise–the destruction of human civilization?

    Ray I’m going to give this some thought because it’s provocative but it’s not relevant to this discussion. Surely you don’t believe that the entire civilization is going to crumble from climate change? Even the most catastrophic scenarios would not kill everybody, and there is *very little reason* to believe things will pan out very much differently than the range of IPCC projections for sea level rise and temperature increases – ie we’ll be negatively affected by climate change but not catastrophically.

    You can assign value to a life or a life year – this is done all the time with respect to transportation planning and funding and environmental pollution analyses. Unfortunately these numbers are not very consistent or standardized but the EPA’s mean life value number (based on an analysis of 26 studies) was 4.8 million. I’d guess this is actually much higher than the life values you would infer from most people’s risky behaviors. For example bicycling on busy streets, driving in storms or drunk, smoking and all other risks.

    Therefore the relevant economic questions are *exactly* the types of questions Nordhaus is asking, and I believe answering very adequately and in tune with what several climate focused economists have been suggesting for the past few years – modest to low spending on mitigation until the technologies improve and the specific threats to humanity are much clearer.

    Why are you dodging the questions we *must* answer – how much, on what, and when? I know you are NOT saying that civilization has infinite value and civilization might be destroyed by climate change therefore we must spend 100% of GDP on climate, so what are you suggesting we do spend? Shrewdly or with ignorance of the factors, it is a decision that *must* be made.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 30 May 2008 @ 3:28 AM

  222. Re #162, if it could cost up to $20 trillion to mitigate climate change then I can now see why the G8 have being very cautious regarding low carbon technologies in their statement this week and are still in my opinion going to side with the CSLF:IEA idea of carbon capture ready coal fired power plants to allow the plants to be built now and retrofitted later to allow for coal to liquids and electricity projects to go ahead. I guess there thinking is that if we can keep on track energy wise then we can await that scientific breakthrough to provide cheap low carbon energy some time in the future.

    Only one big issues remains, the longer we leave it the longer the current infrastructure has to run due to the sheer length of time it takes to design, develop, scale and rollout any new technology on a large enough scale to replace fossil fuel infrastructures.

    Kind of scary really but I reckon the G8 will commit to coal come this July’s meeting.

    Comment by pete best — 30 May 2008 @ 4:46 AM

  223. I believe that it has been said in this thread already about Gt carbon equivilent left in oil, gas and coal. oil totals 200 Gt conventional and another 500+ is oil/tar/shale sands, 200 in gas and 5000 Gt in Coal. If coal to liquid become serious popular as oil becomes scarcer then expect those coal reserves to start to fall quicker. I just wonder if even king coal can step up to the mark and subsidise oil CCS ready or not.

    Comment by pete best — 30 May 2008 @ 6:24 AM

  224. As a soil scientist and environmental consultant the thought of “genetically engineered” enhanced carbon eating trees, especially if the cell walls are weakened as well (gives a new meaning to Rubber Trees!) is a matter of some concern.

    Instead of shipping food as aid we should consider shipping organic matter in the form of compost out of the densely populated so called advance societies and into the poorer areas of the world who seem to have the worst soils -high sand fraction – low unreliable rainfall and, in relation to the capacity of the resource to provide food, too high a population. Regular applications of humus will improve moisture holding capacity and provide nutrients (minimizing also the use of industrial granular fertilizers) particularly for the key small vegetable and perennial tree plots that are critical for minimal human nutrition levels. The carbon equation needs calculating on this but I think it comes out just positive if the shipping is carbon neutral. Perennial food crops are also encouraged – carbon eating trees again – which should, albeit it slowly, improve the rainfall factor. Real improvement doesn’t come from magic bullets it comes from sound science.

    Comment by Timothy Havard — 30 May 2008 @ 6:26 AM

  225. Joseph Hunkins asserts: “Surely you don’t believe that the entire civilization is going to crumble from climate change?” My “belief” is motivated by what the science says, and right now, the science cannot preclude the possibility of more than 6 degree per doubling of CO2. In fact, the probability of more tha 6 degrees is much more than that of 1.5 degrees or less. See:
    http://www.jamstec.go.jp/frcgc/research/d5/jdannan/GRL_sensitivity.pdf

    Since the costs of climate change increse nonlinearly (probably exponentially) with increasing CO2 sensitivity, we have a condition where the estimated risks of climate change are driven by the high-end tail of the probability distribution for sensitivity. Indeed, given that current models do not take into account feedback from CO2 and methane outgassing from permafrost, clathrates, etc., the situation could actually be worse. If we reach a tipping point and such outgassing starts to swamp anthropogenic emissions, we’re in the soup–literally. Some of the most severe mass extinctions have occurred due to greenhouse gas emissions

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene-Eocene_Thermal_Maximum

    http://www.livescience.com/health/080528-methane-escape.html

    Finally, keep in mind that human civilization depends on a very complicated infrastructure, and that this infrastructure becomes more and more complicated now that we have to support 6.6 billion people. How fragile will it be when we must support 9 billion or 12 billion?

    These are risks that are still unbounded, so I would argue that the situation demands immediate action to buy time–both to better understand the risks we face and to develop strategies for mitigating them.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 30 May 2008 @ 7:49 AM

  226. #224
    Timothy I know you mean well but do you really think the answer is to ship our rotten waste to the poor?

    heaven help us

    Comment by Alan K — 30 May 2008 @ 7:58 AM

  227. #225

    “given that current models do not take into account feedback from CO2 and methane outgassing from permafrost, clathrates, etc”

    hi Ray why do current climate models not take into account all of this stuff? Is this a big failing in climate models? Are there any other failings or is it just this?

    Comment by Alan K — 30 May 2008 @ 9:07 AM

  228. Alen K (226),
    What you call “rotten waste” some others call “black gold”. Let’s cut the hyperbole, shall we? Humus is an important constituent of fertile soil and serves many functions as mentioned by Timothy. Not the least of which is to sequester carbon as soil organic matter. Some forms of humeric acids take thousands of years to break down.

    Comment by Arch Stanton — 30 May 2008 @ 9:09 AM

  229. Joseph Hunkins, in addition to the articles provided by Ray in 225, you might also have a look at

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=impact-from-the-deep

    The article suggests that the mass extinction at the end Permian, 251 million years ago, was caused by massive release of hydrogen sulfide from the oceans. The hydrogen sulfide was produced by anaerobic bacteria as the oceans became anoxic due to global warming. CO2 levels at the time were around 1000ppm. The H2S not only poisoned most life on land and in the sea, but also destroyed the ozone layer, leaving ultraviolet radiation to handle the mop up. The writer also suggests that this process may have figured in other great extinctions.

    The potential risks we are dealing with are indeed very serious. Maybe Ward is wrong. But if there is even a ten percent chance he is right, how high should we be willing to see CO2 levels go? But, in any case, sea level rise, crop failures, etc., will produce their own catastrophic effects and are not just probable, but inevitable, if we stay on the current course.

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 30 May 2008 @ 9:10 AM

  230. If it’s “rotten waste” then why do people buy it from those who sell it?

    He’s talking about shipping it as a form of aid, because it helps improve soil (he’s a soil scientist).

    Comment by dhogaza — 30 May 2008 @ 9:23 AM

  231. #228 has anyone asked the poor people whether they think it’s such a great idea to receive our rotten waste?

    Rich people pronouncing what’s good for the poor – nothing’s going to get solved that way.

    Comment by Alan K — 30 May 2008 @ 9:34 AM

  232. “Every human monetizes death, climate, and destruction indirectly all the time – people just deny this. Everybody knows that driving a car on a leisure trip (or far riskier, riding a bike!) presents increased death risk to their children compared to sitting at home, but at a benefit of the trip experience. Rather than the concept of values of life years it is the discount rate that is the key point of contention between various mitigation spending scenarios.” – Joseph Hunkins@205.

    Typical neoclassical economists’ tosh. There is absolutely zero evidence that we have any internal calculator that “monetises” all the potential benefits and risks of particular courses of action; or even that we consider or try to consider all such risks and benefits. Rather, when we are not acting from habit or imitation, we act to achieve or preserve particular goals, and which goals we choose to pursue is determined by the interaction of external circumstances, innate drives, and long-term plans.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 30 May 2008 @ 9:41 AM

  233. Alan K,
    The climate models don’t consider such outgassing feedbacks because they are poorly constrained. They also aren’t terribly important for the climate of the last century, so there would be no way to know if one had the proper level. We know they are there–after all, the skeptics are telling us (incorrectly) that temperature always leads CO2.
    This is a risk we’re still trying to understand, but it is daunting.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 30 May 2008 @ 10:08 AM

  234. Re: #218: Russell, if you were discussing an examination of the limits of polymer formation in plants or the state of synthetic biology in your post (#171) on David Archers article, then we might not have gone to Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta. However you were making an assertion about the thermodynamic stability of charcoal; and that leads us to Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta amongst other fine sources

    But, O.K., let’s discuss “the limits of polymer formation in plants or the state of synthetic biology”. You’re saying now that it’s not charcoal, but rubber and polyethylene that are the “paradigm”s of choice. Good. However rubber is perfectly biodegradable….polyethylene is made by industrial reactions using oil. So you need to tell us how you’re going to get trees to make non-biodegradable rubber (after all, we could just tap their rubber, vulcanize it, turn it into tyres and pile these up in farmyards like they do in the UK), or get trees to make polyethylene, and to sequester these in soil or bury them underground.

    These are not trivial questions. After all Dyson has asserted:

    Carbon-eating trees could convert most of the carbon that they absorb from the atmosphere into some chemically stable form and bury it underground. Or they could convert the carbon into liquid fuels and other useful chemicals. Biotechnology is enormously powerful, capable of burying or transforming any molecule of carbon dioxide that comes into its grasp.

    Now either we know how to do that, or are sure that we will know how to do that (20-50 years according to Dyson)….or we don’t. Which is it? You say I don’t pretend to know how the hierarchy of compatibility with photosynthetic pathways in simple and complex plants will evolve as syn bio grows in sophistication ( and photosynthetic bandwidth). However Dr. Dyson asserts that he knows. Can you give us some clues as to what Dr. Dyson specifically has in mind?

    Let’s look at photosynthesis, metabolic pathways and production of stuff by plants. Dyson proposes trees that bury carbon underground in a chemically stable form, or that convert carbon into useful fuels. However we, and trees, already know how to do much of this already. A tree grow beautifully without any requirement for us messing around with it, and we can cut it down and bury it under anaerobic conditions (dump it in an anoxic swamp). Or we can burn it as a “useful fuel”. Unfortunately we consider these are not actually very helpful in the real world, much in the same way as we know that biochar is going to make only a very small, at best, contribution to these problems. And of course we can’t burn the tree (“useful fuel”) and bury it too (carbon sequestration). However these are the most efficient ways of pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere, or making “useful fuel”, using trees.

    Since these aren’t likely to be very useful in the grand scheme, how about making the tree do these things in its living form? Let’s say we’d like the tree to supplement its normal growth/metabolic expenditure (its “cost of living”) by 50% which additional photosynthetic/metabolic activity would be “spent” either on carbon burial or “useful fuel” production. Remember that these are some of the most energy expensive processes in the biosphere, since it takes a whole lot of energy to pull electrons off water and put them onto carbon (so we can make polymers to bury or fuels to burn). Where does the excess energy to power these processes come from? Photosynthesis, a process (light reaction) designed to pull electrons off water. Fine, but how do you boost photosynthetic activity/efficiency in our modified trees? Perhaps Dyson would care to tell us.

    And so on. I don’t think we are anywhere remotely in the ball park of boosting photosynthetic activity so that trees can divert some of their metabolic energy to making stuff on a scale that is realistic (as opposed to rubber, cotton, maple syrup production that trees can do quite well already as part of their natural functions in wound protection, seed dispersal and attracting pollinators) or burying stuff, nor are we anywhere near finding/inventing metabolic pathways for non-degradable carbon sequestering, let alone producing the requisite transgenic plants/trees.

    If we’re going to take Dr. Dyson seriously we need some more specific practical details of what specifically he has in mind….

    Comment by Chris — 30 May 2008 @ 10:09 AM

  235. Re #234. Trivial point of information: Dyson has no doctorate.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 30 May 2008 @ 10:41 AM

  236. Re: #234, Re: diamonds, polymers, squared trees, but why not simple charcoal?

    It looks very much that you can use lots of trees as useful fuel and have useful carbon sequestering too: Use wood gas, tars and oils, but bury the charcoal.

    E.g. use standardized wood pellets to power your wood gas hybrid car, dump the char at the wood gas station and receive some carbon credits.

    But that’s perhaps not fancy sexy tech enough? After all, wood gas cars had been used already around WWII.

    For carbon balance sake it need to be dying trees. Ask the bark beetle or the forest fire devil where you can find masses of eligible trees.

    Perhaps that char thing is just too simple to come to the mind of eminent theoretical phsycists or eminent economists?

    Comment by Florifulgurator — 30 May 2008 @ 10:47 AM

  237. Ray Ladbury wrote: “We don’t have workable solutions …”

    I would argue that we do have workable solutions — that organic agriculture and maximally efficient use of clean electricity from wind and solar, supplemented with geothermal, hydropower and agricultural biofuels, can provide a sustainable, comfortable material standard of living for the world’s human population while reducing GHG emissions to near zero, and that we already know how to achieve this within decades using existing technology.

    I am, however, extremely pessimistic that this will actually be achieved — there are too many wealthy and powerful people lusting after the trillions of dollars in profit to be had from burning every last crumb of coal and every last drop of oil, who will do everything in their considerable power to postpone the inevitable phaseout of fossil fuels as long as possible.

    Achieving a “new industrial revolution” to replace the world’s fossil fuel energy economy with one based on clean, renewable, sustainable, zero-carbon energy technologies within a couple of decades will certainly require resources and effort. But the tough obstacles are not technical or economic; they are political.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 30 May 2008 @ 11:10 AM

  238. Re # 235 O.K. thanks, I’ll remember that (no doctorate).

    Re # 236, charcoal does actually slowly oxidise in soil back to CO2 (see # 187). However I agree with you that we can do a little bit with charcoal. There are lots of little (and not so little) solutions.

    I’m not suggesting btw that we don’t continue to pursue research into science-fictiony things like artificial photosynthesis and “carbon-eating” trees (a better term is needed since trees already “eat” carbon). However we already have quite a good “photosynthesis” analogue (i.e. photovoltaic solar energy and its variants), and these still maturing technologies are bound to continue to provide incremental improvements in efficiencies, costs and so on. These can be used efficiently in areas where trees won’t grow at all (e.g. deserts), they don’t need watering and they can be connected directly to the grid. They may also not be as exciting as “carbon-eating” trees. But if we consider we have a problem to address, then we shouldn’t be pretending that we can sit back and wait to be saved by our science fictiony solutions.

    Comment by Chris — 30 May 2008 @ 12:12 PM

  239. Those referencing the “square trees” concept might note that the original story was datelined April 1. Perhaps just a coincidence…

    Comment by George Peabody — 30 May 2008 @ 12:13 PM

  240. re 233
    Chris avers:’if we’re going to take Dr. Dyson seriously we need some more specific practical details of what specifically he has in mind….

    That’s why I began by suggesting we might ask him, and I hope RC will invite him to comment. To which end I’ll call Raypierre to suggest a possible intoduction.

    The point is that what we want – materials fit for carbon sequestration on century-to-millennium timescales – _may_ be metabolically accessible , but as they convey scant evolutionary benefit, are unlikely to be found in existing plant genomes. That’s why un-natural selection by molecular design and enzyme directed synthetic biology is being developed. Biopolymers are already part of that program, and it remains to be discovered whether , at the economic margin, they can play a role in carbon sequestration.

    Since soon we find out how plausible the development of ( Insert Name of Desired Polymer Here )-ase may be is a function of how may biochemists think about it, I’m rather glad Dyson has raised the question in the ubiquitously read NYRB -

    Comment by Russell Seitz — 30 May 2008 @ 12:19 PM

  241. Re # 234 I have my doubts that genetically modified trees will every sequester sufficent carbon underground in their roots to be of any value, and I am skeptical about the prospect of trees producing oil. But, researchers are using algae to produce an oil that can be converted into fuel: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22027663/

    Of course, the economic feasibility and environmental impact of this process are not yet clear, but it likely holds far more promise than Nordhaus’ and Dyson’s carboniverous, carbon-sequestering trees.

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 30 May 2008 @ 12:26 PM

  242. Re:#,152, Geoff Wexler’s reply to my post: #62

    I said, in part:-
    “other scientists who also assumed 60 years ago that Physicists like him would crack the nuclear fusion problem in a few years !”

    Geoff replied in part :-
    They got the time constant wrong but not the rapid rate of progress. As far I can see Freemon Dyson’s little discussion about 4%/annum growth in real terms for a century is based on assuming Moore’s law (exponential growth) for everything! But the only example apart from megaflops per person, for which this is valid is nuclear fusion.

    I am confused. Firstly to clarify, my use of the word assumption was ‘tongue-in -cheek’ – the assumption that technology would save the day and not any sort of financial assumption.
    Secondly,
    One way to read your reply would suggest nuclear fusion is up and running. Is it?

    Comment by Bob Clipperton (UK) — 30 May 2008 @ 12:41 PM

  243. Let’s try this from the basic arithmetic perspective. Just looking at petroleum estimates are that each year, we burn a volume of petroleum that is 1 km x 1km x 4.5 km – 4.5 billion cubic meters, or 4.5 trillion liters.

    When we burn petroleum, we are going in the thermodynamically favorable direction: crude oil + oxygen goes to carbon dioxide + water + free energy. If we wish to reverse the process, we need to use energy – which is what plants do when they fix CO2. Plants require an aqueous environment to do this – this is why alpine plants and desert plants are small yet old – liquid water is not readily available for most of the year, and the “growing season” (i.e. the net carbon fixation season) may only be a few weeks out of the year. Even if water is available, growth can be nutrient-limited or toxin-limited. Air pollution, for example, seriously stunts tree growth, as does a lake of nitrogen and phosphate in the soil.

    Now, plant breeding has resulted in some very high-yielding varieties – but the less-discussed fact is that you only get those yields by applying high levels of fertilizer and ample water – and also only if you have good growing conditions – no sudden freezes, heat waves or floods. What are the extreme weather forecasts for the future? What kind of impacts on crop production have we seen already?
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070316072609.htm

    ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2007) — Over a span of two decades, warming temperatures have caused annual losses of roughly $5 billion for major food crops, according to a new study by researchers at the Carnegie Institution and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

    Considering all that, let’s return to our arithmetic. We inject 4.5 trillion liters of crude oil into the atmosphere each year (yes, we are ignoring coal and natural gas, for now). Since there are ~7 billion people on the planet, that’s around 640 liters of oil per person per year. So, to offset petroleum emissions alone, each person would have to bury 640 liters of carbon deep in the ground each year.

    But, there is a problem – since what we need to bury is not a jug of oil, but a gas that is only present at 380 parts per million in the atmosphere. On a mass basis, only 0.04% is CO2. The mass of air at sea level is about 1.3 kg per cubic meter. So, one cubic meter of air has about half a gram of CO2, roughly speaking. To make one liter of crude oil, you need about a kilogram of carbon… which will have to be extracted from thousands of cubic meters of air, and that will cost a lot of energy.

    The higher end of tree sequestration rates are around 50 kg of carbon per tree per year. ( http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/haworth/jsf/2006/00000023/00000001/art00004 )

    Thus, we get to the details: every man, woman and child on Earth will have to plant a minimum of about 15 fast-growing, healthy trees per year – every year, year in, year out – just to account for the petroluem use. To take into account natural gas and coal, double or triple that number, and since actual carbon fixation perfomance will be lower, double it again – soon, you are at a realistic estimate of 100 trees per person per year.

    Let’s see: does it add up? (100 trees) (10-50 kgC/tree-year) (7 billion people) = 7-35 trillion kg of carbon/year = 7-35 billion tons of carbon. Current global emissions of CO2 are around 7 billion tons of carbon, projected to increase to 10 billion metric tons by 2025 by the US EIA.

    So, yes – if every single man woman and child on the planet becomes a full-time (and very successful) forester, everything will be okay. Of course, as soon as the trees are full grown, they must be cut down and buried deep in the soil, or they will decompose back to CO2.

    Let’s assume a feat of genetic engineering that creates trees that reliably fix 100 kg carbon/year. However, such rates would require optimal water, temperature and nutrient conditions. This is the fundamental issue that biotechnophiles seem to completely misunderstand. As it is, no one is anywhere near creating some “superorganism” – we can’t even create single-celled algae that have improved carbon fixation abilities, let alone trees!

    This isn’t calculus, or tensor analysis, or anything like that – this is just basic arithmetic, after Broecker 2007: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/315/5817/1371

    If we are ever to succeed in capping the buildup of the atmosphere’s CO2 content, we must make a first-order change in the way we view the problem. Most policies that have been discussed, including cap-and-trade systems and the Kyoto treaty, have treated the problem exclusively in terms of incremental reductions in CO2 emissions. These, however, will not stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels; they only slow the rate of increase. Instead, to actually stop the increase, we must develop the concept of what might be called a “carbon pie.”

    On the other hand, maybe some scientist will come up with the secret genetic formula for Jack’s Giant Beanstalk, and we can all stop worrying…

    Comment by Ike Solem — 30 May 2008 @ 12:56 PM

  244. Dyson quotes this conclusion:

    “the market price or penalty that would be paid by those who use fossil fuels and thereby generate CO2 emissions.”

    I know right away the economist in question has a fundamental error because he does not seek restitution for those who keep their carbon footprint low.

    This is an called exogenous model. Rewarding those who use less carbon makes the system endogenous.

    You cannot solve the problem if you assume exogenous national policies because government is one of the oil consumers.

    Economic equilibrium occurs when we have counterparty agreements, users and non-users. One can also derive this from property rights (I own the weather above my property). If my group commutes on bicycle, then my group suffers variant weather because another group drives cars. The cost of damages go from the car driver to the bicycle rider.

    Comment by Matt — 30 May 2008 @ 1:02 PM

  245. Just to continue arithmetics started by Ike at 243
    “you are at a realistic estimate of 100 trees per person per year.”

    Assuming a tree need an area of 10m2 for growing, 100*6,5 billion trees a year would need an area of 6500 billion m2 or 6,5 million km2. The land surface area of Earth is 148940000 km². Earth would be full forest in 23 years. In 79 years also the oceans would be filled with trees.

    Well, at least it would be hard to drive a car in that forest.

    Comment by Petro — 30 May 2008 @ 1:50 PM

  246. Ike, you were talking about grains when you wrote
    > you only get those yields by applying high levels of fertilizer and ample water – and also only
    > if you have good growing conditions – no sudden freezes, heat waves or floods.

    Look again (or look, if you haven’t) at the article linked above about chestnuts and hazelnuts. Heck, look at the website:
    http://www.badgersett.com/
    Don’t bother Phil and family; the MPR radio program linked above and the website have all the public info.

    Don’t miss his point, which corrects yours — he picked a spot with poor water, sudden freezes, heat waves and floods and started working three decades ago to plant all sorts of native chestnut and hazenut collections, doing what’s called “mass selection” — letting nature kill 98 percent of your crop every year, planting seed from the survivors, continuing to add more wild type, and then work using crossbreeding and tissue culture to multiply the hardiest, best yielding plants.

    Claimer — I’ve known him since before he got his farm. He’s always been smart about what he’s doing.
    I wish he had Dyson’s PR, though.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 30 May 2008 @ 2:06 PM

  247. SecularAnimist,
    What you are talking about is a huge shift in infrastructure–not just building new infrastructure, but scrapping old infrastructure and swapping it for new. That has never really been done before. And it is not just social resistance. There are technical details that are still a long way from resolution. Yes, there are things we can do now, but we’re a long way from having a fire extinguisher. To gloss over this fact is risky.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 30 May 2008 @ 2:13 PM

  248. Ike Solem (243) — Planting 100 trees per year isn’t much of a feat. Some men make their living by replanting after clear-cut ‘harvests’. A quick calculation suggests that about 300 seedings are planted per hour.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 30 May 2008 @ 4:27 PM

  249. Re: 248. We have planted over 200 trees just on our property in the past 4 years. That’s in addition to hundreds on public lands. It’s not going to save the planet, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’m thinking about how we can turn the weeds from our garden into biochar. I think the thistles alone would account for a ton of carbon.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 30 May 2008 @ 7:32 PM

  250. In #248, David B. Benson says: “Planting 100 trees per year isn’t much of a feat. Some men make their living by replanting after clear-cut ‘harvests’. A quick calculation suggests that about 300 seedings are planted per hour.”

    I think that is a little high for planting trees. An old roommate of mine who grows seedlings for reforestation suggests that in the best of conditions, 200 trees per hour is a fast rate for women and men planters, resulting in 16,000 trees or more per day. But much of the land that is logged is quite steep, so the numbers are far smaller.

    In addition, trees are planted quite close to one another, so ultimately, the number of surviving trees is much smaller. And unless herbicides are used to control brush and measures are taken to control deer and rodents, the numbers again are drastically reduced.

    On top of that, young tree plantations are quite susceptible to fire, so often all this work goes up in smoke (and CO2). Growing trees (especially in the arid western United States) can be quite a challenge.

    Also, some of our forests were established in periods of greater rainfall, so re-growing that forest after logging is not a simple task of putting seedlings into the ground. With ongoing climate change, some of the forests that are being logged today are not being “harvested;” they are being mined. Without extraordinary effort, these lands will not naturally become reforested.

    Comment by Jim Eaton — 31 May 2008 @ 12:39 AM

  251. Yo Ray! I’m in agreement on some of your specific points but not the thrust of what sounds like a GW catastrophe hypothesis. I’m asking how much, on what, and when not to be rhetorical but because these are the action items on the human agenda. Most informed observers (e.g. Dyson, Nordhaus, most here at RC) recognize that there is much greater risk of catastrophe if we do *nothing* than if we do *something*. The issue though is how much we spend on *something* and what we do, and also the likelihood of a catastrophic vs. an uncomfortable but manageable future. Yes, destruction of humanity is *possible* but it so very unlikely that we must look at the other side of the equation – the things we fail to improve by allocating resources to mitigation that could better be spent elsewhere.

    Nick: Correct, there is no internal life to monetization calculator. However you can infer the value people put on their life in indirect ways or you can actually infer values from Government studies.

    Also: It was noted correctly that Dyson has no PhD. But for clarity could we please note the following:

    Dyson is one of the world’s most respected theoretical physicists.

    Dyson’s mentor: Richard Feynman. Associations with many other international PhD experts in physics.

    Cornell waived the normal “PhD on your resume deal” so he could teach there. Why? He was one of the world’s top thinkers.

    Oh yes, Dyson is one of the handful of members of the Royal Society. Isaac Newton didn’t have a PhD, either.
    ———————-

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 31 May 2008 @ 3:13 AM

  252. A serious problem with using these economic calculations to evaluate harm:
    - How do you quantify the harm attributable to a loss of biodiversity (to my mind, the most serious consequence of GW)? We’re talking about a changed world, not a dent in the car. To some extent, you can talk about the loss of initial starting points for new medicines, etc. But that’s really not the whole story.
    - Even if you were to NOT act on C-O2 and to save the corresponding monies in a bank account at a 4% interest rate for the great payoff (and that is the concept behind Net-Present-Value calculations that Dyson, Lomborg, etc. use), when the day arrives, where do I go to buy a new planet? I’ll be sitting there with all this money: Where do I send away for a new coral reef, to re-install in the neighborhood of Australia? Amazon-galactic?

    These quantitative tools can be useful, but let’s not forget the old adage: If all you have is a hammer, you tend to think of everything as a nail.

    Comment by Neal J. King — 31 May 2008 @ 5:50 AM

  253. Bogometer alert: “100 trees per person” has incorrectly become “100 trees per person per year”. The former is correct – a tree fixes CO2 throughout its life.
    Don’t focus on the planting, focus on the harvesting. A lot of seedlings in a plantation won’t make it to their first birthday.
    I have been saying for some years that we need to be harvesting and replanting a huge amount of fast-growing vegetation every year, and sequestering it somewhere it won’t rot (deep underground is only one of several options here). The best type of fast-growing vegetation varies between climates, but most of it will be trees.

    Comment by Nick Barnes — 31 May 2008 @ 7:10 AM

  254. Joseph Hunkins–when dealing with uncertain risks, the accepted way of estimating the risk is to take the probability distribution of the probability of a particular threat and multiply it by the cost should that threat be realized. Then one integrates over the parameter(s) of interest (in this case either sensitivity or projected temperature rise). Although we have done a pretty good job of constraining CO2 sensitivity, there is still a significant proportion of the probability distribution above, say 4.5 degrees per doubling. And the costs rise so rapidly above 3 degrees that this region dominates the risk calculus. If we add the fact that we know natural ghg emissions will kick in, swamp the anthropogenic emissions and rip away whatever control we could exercise, then we have a very strong case for very vigorous action NOW so that we can come up with mitigation strategies and better refine our understanding of the right-hand side of the probability distribution.
    That is the economic calculus we should be using.

    As to Dyson, nobody denies that he’s a smart guy. I personally believe that he has to most Simon pure of motivations (his sympathies for international development are well documented). My question is this: When you are looking for a practical action plan, should you be asking a theoretical physicist?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 31 May 2008 @ 9:24 AM

  255. So much of the policy discussion is “missing the forest for the trees.” It’s like a smoker asking “What monetary value should be applied to the risk of getting lung cancer?” “How does the economic damage from ruining the tobacco industry compare to the cost of medical treatment?”

    Then along comes Freeman Dyson and says, “Don’t worry — we can bioengineer a cure for cancer.”

    I say: QUIT SMOKING.

    Comment by tamino — 31 May 2008 @ 9:25 AM

  256. Look, there’s a much better way to sequester carbon. Have you read the figures on the total amount of topsoil that was on North America before the Europeans came? Figure the carbon sequestered in fifteen feet of topsoil.

    And nature keeps trying to put it back. Gardeners everywhere are out edging their walks, removing the plants growing up through their patio pavement, digging around their foundations to remove the accumulating new formed soil as it rises up.

    This is how older civilizations got buried, not just in their own debris, but in the topsoil formed around and eventually over them.

    if you really want to sequester carbon, go buy a burned over eroded piece of mineral soil wasteland and start composting, as well as planting.

    Oh, and make sure to fence out the offroad motorcycle/ATV crowd, the worst cause of erosion known.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 31 May 2008 @ 10:18 AM

  257. “Yo Ray! I’m in agreement on some of your specific points but not the thrust of what sounds like a GW catastrophe hypothesis. I’m asking how much, on what, and when not to be rhetorical but because these are the action items on the human agenda. Most informed observers (e.g. Dyson, Nordhaus, most here at RC) recognize that there is much greater risk of catastrophe if we do *nothing* than if we do *something*. The issue though is how much we spend on *something* and what we do, and also the likelihood of a catastrophic vs. an uncomfortable but manageable future. Yes, destruction of humanity is *possible* but it so very unlikely that we must look at the other side of the equation – the things we fail to improve by allocating resources to mitigation that could better be spent elsewhere. …” – Mallard E. “WHAT-ME WORRY?” Neuman

    I think you need to start clearly describing what you mean by uncomfortable. Based upon your past comments, I suspect your soothing Lomborgian notions of uncomfortable are uncomfortably close to destruction.

    It would be nice if you could quantify uncomfortable in terms of how much CO2 you are willing to tolerate in the atmosphere, how much SLR you think is tolerable, etc.

    Comment by JCH — 31 May 2008 @ 10:41 AM

  258. Re # 249 Ray Ladbury: 200 trees planted in four years (and responses)

    For what it’s worth:

    According to a recent article in the Washington Post (don’t know where the author got his/her figures*, but the article frequently refers to CaseTrees, http://www.caseytrees, a D.C.-based charity established to protect and restore D.C.’s urban forest), a two-person household is responsible for releasing 41,500 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. To offset that, each household would have to plant 483 trees and let them grow for 10 years (presumably to reach maturity). The CO2 fixation rates (in pounds per year) for some common trees (roughly 5-10 years old, with a six inch diameter trunk) are:
    Black Gum – 176
    Little Leaf Linden – 176
    American Elm – 159
    Hickory – 159
    Red Maple – 108

    *According to my calculations, using the 176 lbs of CO2 fixed per year at maturity, those 483 planted trees will be removing 85,008 lbs of CO2 per year, more than double what the two people are causing to be emitted. Adding two children to the mix would seem to put the family and their trees roughly in carbon balance.

    Also mentioned in the article: Planting trees to shade your house during mid-day in the summer can increase the “carbon benefit” by some 15-fold.

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 31 May 2008 @ 11:26 AM

  259. Lackner’s getting some press:

    Could US scientist’s ‘CO2 catcher’ help to slow warming?
    David Adam in New York
    The Guardian, Saturday May 31 2008

    It has long been the holy grail for those who believe that technology can save us from catastrophic climate change: a device that can “suck” carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, reducing the warming effect of the billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas produced each year.

    Now a group of US scientists say they have made a breakthrough towards creating such a machine. Led by Klaus Lackner, a physicist at Columbia University in New York, they plan to build and demonstrate a prototype within two years that could economically capture a tonne of CO2 a day from the air, about the same per passenger as a flight from London to New York.

    The prototype so-called scrubber will be small enough to fit inside a shipping container. Lackner estimates it will initially cost around £100,000 to build, but the carbon cost of making each device would be “small potatoes” compared with the amount each would capture, he said.

    The scientists stress their invention is not a magic bullet to solve climate change. It would take millions of the devices to soak up the world’s carbon emissions, and the CO2 trapped would still need to be disposed of. But the team says the technology may be the best way to avert dangerous temperature rises, as fossil fuel use is predicted to increase sharply in coming decades despite international efforts. Climate experts at a monitoring station in Hawaii this month reported CO2 levels in the atmosphere have reached a record 387 parts per million (ppm) – 40% higher than before the industrial revolution.

    The quest for a machine that could reverse the trend by “scrubbing” carbon from the air is seen as one of the greatest challenges in climate science. Richard Branson has promised $25m (£12.6m) to anyone who succeeds.

    Lackner told the Guardian: “I wouldn’t write across the front page that the problem is solved, but this will help. We are in a hurry to deal with climate change and will be very hard pressed to stop the train before we get to 450ppm [CO2 in the atmosphere]. This can help stop the train.”

    He added: “Our project has reached the stage where it is quite clear we can do it. We need to start dealing with all these emissions. I’d rather have a technology that allows us to use fossil fuels without destroying the planet, because people are going to use them anyway.”

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 31 May 2008 @ 11:34 AM

  260. Nick Barnes wrote: “..we need to be harvesting and replanting a huge amount of fast-growing vegetation every year, and sequestering it somewhere it won’t rot”

    May I ask where the energy will come from for this enormous project of planting, cutting, transporting vast amounts of vegetation, how would it be paid for, and how prevented from decaying ?

    It reminds me of the sublime quote further up the page, ‘In theory, theory and practice are the same; in practice, they are not’.

    Arm chair tree planting is so easy. 300 trees an hour ? That should be an Olympic sport. How many of you can dig a hole while carrying a heavy bag of seedlings, bend down, plant a seedling, straighten up, take a few paces, repeat, in 30 seconds, non-stop, for an hour, or 8 hours ? Nevermind the rough terrain, and the fact that trees may need watering, get eaten by rabbits, overwhelmed by competitive vegetation, attacked by diseases…Don’t mean to sound negative, I adore trees, but the ideas need to be practical and realistic, don’t they ?

    Comment by CL — 31 May 2008 @ 12:09 PM

  261. And another thought regarding sequestration of huge amounts of vegetation. You’re not just taking CO2 out of the air. You’re also taking all the other chemical nutrients out of the soil which plants and trees require. So, the next time around that land (where is all this spare land free for growing stuff, anyway ?) will be depleted of vital minerals and water. So,does that mean additional expensive fertilizer (with a massive carbon footprint) has to be distributed over the theoretical vast areas ?
    Anyone remember the East African ground nut scheme ?

    Comment by CL — 31 May 2008 @ 12:21 PM

  262. #242

    Bob Clipperton (UK) Says

    “the assumption that technology would save the day and not any sort of financial assumption.Secondly, One way to read your reply would suggest nuclear fusion is up and running. Is it?”

    Sorry there is more than one argument being tangled up. My point was that prolonged exponential growth in any area was the exception rather than the rule.

    As for your main point, I agree that it would be most unwise to rely on unproved technology to save the day especially if no one is prepared to pay for developing it. But I am not happy with your form of reasoning.

    The Zeta project in the UK was hyped by the media and involved some degree of chauvinism. It very soon led to a disappointment. But you can’t use that against Dyson unless he participated in the hype.

    It reminds me of the notorius ice age myth i.e. that climatologists can’t be trusted because there was about one paper in the 1970′s which raised the possibility that the cooling from aerosols might dominate the warming thus leading to an ice age.
    (William Connolley has written on this).

    Nuclear fusion is not running but it is quite astonishing how much progress has been made in the last half century. ITER is designed to come very close to “reactor conditions”. We might be able to find out whether fusion might help with the CO2 crisis especially if the project was made top priority. But the opposite appears to be happening and the project is being subjected to a deep funding cut. That is not a good omen for other technological remedies.

    RE #254. (Ray Ladbury)
    “…should you be asking a theoretical physicist? ‘

    Why not ? I usually agree with you but not with that sentence. Isn’t the other Ray (Pierrehumbert) a theoretical physicist; is he also to be banned? Engineers are also not immune from making crazy suggestions for solving this problem. Consider them all but skeptically.

    Comment by Geoff Wexler — 31 May 2008 @ 12:40 PM

  263. Discounting in the economic sense (ASAIK) works best on projects of known duration (within reason), *and* that also satisfy the condition that they are a small fraction of the total economy. The reason for this is largely to do with the manner in which different plans for the project may alter the net present value cost of project. In the extreme case of not doing the project at all, or following a particularly daft spending pattern, the cost differences to the total economy is negligible.

    Whatever the framework used to set up the calculations, the main point with projects of finite duration and of impact epsilon upon the whole economy, is that the eventual go/nogo decision matters little to the population/economy at large, on the time scale of the project. The path chosen has imperceptible perturbation upon the economy, however important it may be for the firm proposing the project.

    In the case of climate change due to our entire economy’s activity, the project of ‘fixing AGW’ is one of potentially large consequence to the economy; the specific path chosen may change the entire direction of the economy over the course of the project; the project duration is so long that the economy as a whole cannot be treated as a static background; and finally, while most firm level projects have some combination of risk and uncertainty in them, there is usually a historical database for comparison as a guide.

    For AGW we are in desperate need of even a plausible distribution family for risk based calculations (sure, EVT could be an alternative approach), let alone an economic science that can cope with fundamental path shifts in entire economies. While climate models are clearly no substitute for real experiments, they are the only things we’ve got so far that can point to the levels of uncertainty for BAU, and for a first guess at an empirical distribution for the physical aspects of climate change under a range of scenarios. Paleo data is mighty handy too, but no global economies were in existence back then, and one Earth history of climate is far from a set of controlled experiments. An additional advantage of the climate models is the physics incorporated, which constrains the possibilities substantially.

    Then of course, there is the whole dimension of what monetary value should be assigned to having a lot of nice flora and fauna and country-side; personally I’m quite partial to it!

    Comment by Donald Oats — 31 May 2008 @ 12:49 PM

  264. Ray Ladbury wrote:

    What you are talking about is a huge shift in infrastructure–not just building new infrastructure, but scrapping old infrastructure and swapping it for new. That has never really been done before. And it is not just social resistance. There are technical details that are still a long way from resolution. Yes, there are things we can do now, but we’re a long way from having a fire extinguisher.

    There are a LOT of things we could be doing now with existing technology — e.g. efficiency improvements for vehicles, buildings and appliances; clean electricity generation from thermal solar, photovoltaics, and wind power — that could make a huge difference very rapidly. The reasons we are not doing these things are political, not technical. And what is most urgently needed to move forward more rapidly with these solutions is not technological advances, but regulatory and economic measures such as carbon taxes, mandatory efficiency standards, tax credits for renewable energy investments, renewable portfolio requirements for utilities, and feed-in tariffs for small distributed solar and wind electricity producers (FITs have been highly successful in encouraging the growth of distributed solar in Germany, for example).

    If we are not making maximum use of readily available existing technology to reduce emissions and produce carbon-free energy, if we are not taking the steps that we are able to take now to begin building the renewable energy infrastructure of the future, then what is the point of discussing pie-in-the-sky science fiction ideas like genetically-engineered trees that suck CO2 out of the air and produce diamonds as fruit?

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 31 May 2008 @ 1:10 PM

  265. This article has to be right because it confirms all of my forest prejudices.

    Comment by JCH — 31 May 2008 @ 1:11 PM

  266. Ray, Richard Feynman had a reputation for being practical, even when non-conventional.

    Comment by Rod B — 31 May 2008 @ 1:14 PM

  267. Another problem with trees is that after harvesting the wood cannot be burned and must be protected from decay indefinitely. Particularly it must be protected from termites that would convert much of the stored carbon to methane. This includes the roots.

    Comment by Arch Stanton — 31 May 2008 @ 2:06 PM

  268. Thinking about the questions and problems I suggested regarding “harvesting and replanting a huge amount of fast-growing vegetation every year, and sequestering it somewhere it won’t rot”, etc.

    To get around the tree planting problem, use biofuel coppice willow, which is very easy to establish, only needs planting once.

    Where to plant ? Possibly on the Canadian and Siberian tundra which will be thawing out (and releasing methane) ?

    How to harvest it in a carbon neutral fashion ? I don’t know.

    How to sequester the carbon ? How about processing the wood into chips, (extracting useful elements) and mix and compress with glassy carbon into useful products, like bricks, tiles, cladding ?

    I’m not an industrial chemist, so there’s possibly some big flaw I’m missing, but it seems more do-able than Dyson’s hypothetical GM trees.

    Comment by CL — 31 May 2008 @ 2:25 PM

  269. Jim Eaton (250) — Thanks.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 31 May 2008 @ 2:31 PM

  270. Well, physicists can actually do practical things :-)

    The great negawatter
    Art Rosenfeld has done OK.

    Nobel physicist Burton Richter gave a nice talk to a small town meeting here a few years ago on climate & energy (parts of the PPT here, since for general audience). His verbal comments were rather firm, especially in reply to questions about existence of scientific consensus.

    Comment by John Mashey — 31 May 2008 @ 3:00 PM

  271. Donald Oats (263) raises a salient and valid objective point regarding the deficiences of discounting in dealing with things like AGW (or nuclear winter, or nuclear WWIII, I suppose). I feel obligated to second this as I pointedly supported (and still do) discounting in earlier posts.

    Comment by Rod B — 31 May 2008 @ 7:17 PM

  272. WRT my dig at theoretical physicists–I was not implying that theoretical physicists can never be practical. Ferchrissake, Oppenheimer was at theoretical physicist with a reputation for thin skin and dilletantism when he took on the Manhattan Project. Probably nobody (except maybe Fermi) could have done it as well. It is just that when you think, “I need practical advice,” the next sentence that pops into your mind is rarely “Quick, get me a theroretical physicist.” Dyson has always been a “big picture” kind of visionary physicist, and vision can be synonymous with hallucination.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 31 May 2008 @ 9:09 PM

  273. SecularAnimist, I 100% agree that we could be doing much more with existing technology. In looking at the latest economy cars, nearly all of them get less gas milage than their previous year’s incarnation. Hell, they get worse gas milage than my 13 year old Honda Civic with 222000 miles on it.
    The thing is that they will not reduce our CO2 emissions by 50%, or even 20% any time soon. Produce a plug-in electric hybrid that gets 110 mpg, and sells for $10 K and maybe you will have 20% market penetration in 5 years. Replacing existing infrastructure takes time. That is why I have a lot more faith in building green infrastructure in developing countries in the near term.

    I am always thinking about ways of making a difference, but when you do the math, the difference it makes is usually depressingly small.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 31 May 2008 @ 9:16 PM

  274. John Mashey, Had the pleasure of working with Art Rosenfeld when I did physics journalism. Note that his adviser and mentor was Fermi–who did both theoretical and experimental physics. Art was actually an experimentalist in particle physics. He’s an idol of mine in that he really has tried to use physics for bettering of human lives. I note again Rosenfeld’s law–I don’t think it’s gotten nearly enough attention. It has held for over 150 years!

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 31 May 2008 @ 9:23 PM

  275. Can anyone confirm the research by Jeffrey S. Dukes that we are using the equivalent of 4 centuries of current entire earth biosphere production every year of fossil fuels? (reference: http://globalecology.stanford.edu/DGE/Dukes/Dukes_ClimChange1.pdf)

    If this is true, then it is absolutely futile to assume that modern civilization in terms of its current energy use is sustainable with any sort of bio fuel.

    Likewise, given this figure, if it true, I cannot see how the biosphere (even genetically engineered) could come anywhere near fixing the CO2 that we are currently releasing.

    Comment by Lawrence McLean — 1 Jun 2008 @ 12:01 AM

  276. Can someone please educate me about GHG emission trading. You take money from GHG emitters and give it to worthy causes. The problem is, I cannot think of many worthy causes. Almost all money that is spent on physical activity (as opposed to share trading, for example) generates GHG almost by definition.

    Sure, some emission trading can result in more efficient energy generation like closing brown coal power stations and replacing them with nuclear. Some say we should be preparing hydrogen powered cars because they emit mainly water, but water is a GHG itself. Some say we should plant more trees, but unless we manage their larger mass forever we have caused just a temporary blip in the cycle of Nature.

    So, what can we buy with emission credits that is TRULY a gain? At the moment, it seems like the Gates to Scamland are wide open. The flow of money is potentially incredibly large and the ways to spend it wisely incredibly small.

    Comment by Geoff Sherrington — 1 Jun 2008 @ 4:21 AM

  277. Off Topic

    Is Arctic Sea Ice about to Drop off a cliff?

    http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/images/daily_images/N_timeseries.png

    The melting is hapenning faster than it was in 2007 now and the levels are the same now. In Mid June 2007 the ice droped very quickly, will the same happen this year. Surely the ice is thinner and younger this year so it more than likely. Is this going to be a new record year?

    Comment by pete best — 1 Jun 2008 @ 7:13 AM

  278. The bottom line here is that none of these sequestration strategies will have any chance of reducing atmospheric CO2 whatosever unless the use of fossil fuels is halted. All initiatives that claim to address carbon emissions while ignoring the issue of of our ever-mounting fossil CO2 emissions are dishonest, in other words. Solar, wind, nuclear, biofuels, energy conservation – all will do nothing to halt global warming. Really – not a single thing.

    This is because global energy demand continues to increase. As it is, all new renewables are mostly going to meet new demand, not to replace existing fossil fuel generation. Economically, replacing fossil fuel plants with renewable energy systems would be expensive and unprofitable for energy corporations, since government policy is deliberately intended to provide the global economy with an ever-increasing stream of fossil fuel energy. Right now, we are producing more crude oil per year than ever before – and probably more than we ever will again – though there is plenty of coal.

    So far, the attempts at carbon sequestration have been a flop. FutureGen, the large and secretive alliance managed by Battelle Memorial Institute for the U.S. DOE and Southern Coal, has been shut down, probably due to gross failure in the secret and proprietary technology involved, although noone involved with the project will talk about it – a good candidate for a Congressional investigation there. Jim in #259 points to a somewhat similar situation:

    Lackner’s team says it has made a significant breakthrough that massively reduces the amount of energy required to recharge the sorbent. It is reluctant to discuss details, but a US patent application obtained by the Guardian shows that it is based on changes in humidity.

    The team says it can trap the CO2 from air on absorbent plastic sheets called ion exchange membranes, commonly used to purify water. Crucially, it has discovered that humid air can then make the membranes “exhale” their trapped CO2. The discovery was “some serendipity and some working out,” Lackner said. “When I saw it the first time, I didn’t believe it.”

    The team is working to build a prototype at a laboratory in Tuscon, Arizona. Run by a company called Global Research Technologies (GRT), of which Lackner is vice president of research, the laboratory unveiled a “pre-prototype” air capture machine last year, based on a different technique -rinsing trapped CO2 off the membrane with liquid sodium carbonate, and then using electricity to liberate the CO2 from the fluid.

    Lackner says that device works, but the “humidity switch” could slash the scrubber’s energy use tenfold. He said: “We can do it coming out carbon positive.”

    The team is also working on ways to dispose of the pure CO2 gas produced by each scrubber.

    This looks about as promising as FutureGen. However, note here that all the energy expended was simply to counter the entropy factor – simply to collect all the CO2 from the air in pure form. CO2 is a gas, and if you want to store it permanently you have to stabilize it – essentially, that means turning it into a solid block of coal or a carbonate mineral. That will take a good deal more energy – and this team hasn’t even built a working prototype yet. All in all, the story merely serves to promote the myth that a technological solution is feasible, and that we can go on burning fossil fuels with no concerns. Just another PR gimmick.

    What this really means is you have to stop fossil fuel use. You have to shut down all the Canadian tar sands projects, and the U.S. coal fields in Montana and Virgina, and there will be no global market in petroleum or natural gas. That’s the only way to combat climate change, period. Everyone who ignores this basic, though politically and economically troubling, fact is playing a rather dishonest game. Cap and trade strategies are just as laughable as global carbon sequestration strategies in this regard. Not a single one of these “initiatives” has done anything to even slow the rate of emissions growth – we are very far away from seeing an actual reduction in fossil CO2 emissions.

    Yes – so far, the record has been one of dismal, abject failure on the part of those hoping to reverse this trend. Indeed, we have even seen a sudden rise in emissions over the past few years, with no end in sight. Government policy continues to support fossil fuel development and hinder renewable energy development – and government financing is being dumped into these nonsensical sequestration strategies, which are little more than good PR for the fossil fuel industry, while the really promising technological solutions – the ones needed to replace our energy source after the elimination of fossil fuels – are being neglected. Take the International Institute for Renewable Energy – it has eight university members, but not a single U.S. one. Not a single U.S. university has a world-class, well-funded, renewable energy program – because political fossil fuel-linked interests keep the funding from being directed to renewables.

    P.S. (Hank Roberts – that comment referred to the very high yields generated under optimal conditions by plants from modern breeding programs, GMO or not. Your farm used a far better approach, using natural selection to choose the best mix of forest cover – but actual “yields” from that patch will be far, far lower than that from a fertilized, watered, and optimized crop. Reforesting a little patch of bare earth, while great for the local environment, will do nothing to sequester carbon on the scale needed. See comment #245 as well)

    Comment by Ike Solem — 1 Jun 2008 @ 8:56 AM

  279. Geoff Sherrington, You seem to be as confused by cap and trade as you are about the physics of the greenhouse mechanism. First, the latter–yes, H2O is a ghg. No, it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere for centuries as does CO2, so its impact is less per unit mass.

    As to cap and trade, the idea is to ensure that the market reflects the full price of production–including environmental degradation. There is certainly potential for abuse, but that goes part and parcel with human activity. One could argue that this is our evolutionary midterm exam. Better start cramming.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 1 Jun 2008 @ 10:18 AM

  280. CL: harvesting in a carbon-neutral fashion: wood-chip digesters of various sorts (the most basic sort being wood-chip steam power). Of course there’s carbon cost there, but we can definitely come out ahead.

    Willow coppice is good, for places where it grows. In 20 years of being associated with my father’s forestry work the most important thing I have learned is to choose tree species which will grow well on your land; for a lot of the land in question this is probably willow or conifers of one sort or another. (the second most important thing I have learned is that grey squirrels are agents of the devil).

    The land: there are huge areas of otherwise unproductive land in Europe and Asia. We had a couple of conifer plantations in north Wales – Sitka Spruce, mostly. All the deciduous trees the Forestry Commission made us plant around the edges died as seedlings. The thirty miles or so of land between the two was almost all given over to upland sheep-grazing, than which there are few more worthless uses of moorland. There’s water aplenty, running off your hat, down your back, into your boots.

    Sequestering the resulting carbon: I gather that charcoal is the way to go: reduces mass and bulk, and deters decay and insects, without losing much carbon.

    The nitrates for a huge carbon harvesting program would have to be provided, so there’s also some carbon cost there. Just conceivably a hugely expensive, clever, and lucky research program could come up with some nanotechnological approach to fixing carbon in 30 years. In the meantime, we can (we must) fix it the old fashioned way, with trees.

    Comment by Nick Barnes — 1 Jun 2008 @ 10:25 AM

  281. pete best@277: yes, the sea ice isn’t looking too pretty. Could be a record (and in fact I have money riding on it) but it all depends on the weather. Don’t forget that last year had really remarkable weather.

    Wayne Davidson is predicting record warmth for this summer, based on his light refraction observations. But I haven’t heard anything from him for a month or so. It would be interesting to hear his personal views of the weather and sea ice conditions at Resolute.

    In the meantime, I’m watching these composite photos with interest:
    http://manati.orbit.nesdis.noaa.gov/ice_image21/

    (the ones called D.NHEAVEH.GIF)

    I’m also waiting for the first arctic reports from the Polarstern, currently en route north from the Antarctic.

    Comment by Nick Barnes — 1 Jun 2008 @ 10:32 AM

  282. Ike Solem wrote :

    “CO2 is a gas, and if you want to store it permanently you have to stabilize it – essentially, that means turning it into a solid block of coal or a carbonate mineral. That will take a good deal more energy”

    Are those really the only alternatives ? What about vitreous carbon,or carbon fibre or nanofoam composites ? I’m thinking that something useful with a market value as an incentive is more likely to be considered than turning coal back into coal. (And where do you put all the newly made coal ?) e.g. an inert carbon or carbon based material that could be made such as house brick or roof tile or road aggregate, something that will sequester the carbon for thousands of years, and be reusable, like clay bricks that last millennia.

    Comment by CL — 1 Jun 2008 @ 10:41 AM

  283. Sequestering carbon is crucial to the atmospheric health of our planet. So I’ll point out what should be obvious: we have a tremendous store of *already sequestered* carbon, called “coal.”

    It makes less than zero sense to take coal out of the ground, burn it to release CO2 into the atmosphere, then expend effort and energy (using technology we don’t yet have!) to remove it. This is insanity! We need a moratorium on coal-fired power generation plants, and a *rapid* phase-out of existing coal-fired plants.

    And I’m not at all convinced by arguments that solar, wind, and wave power won’t make a dent in our energy needs. The reason this seems to be true is that they’ll never be important if we leave their development entirely to the “free market.” Without a Manhattan-project (or larger) scale effort they can’t begin to supply a significant portion of our energy — but *with* such a project, they can. It’s high time for governments to make this happen by the rule of law, because capitalists, left to their own devices, will continue to gorge themselves on present-day profit at the expense of future planetary health.

    Capitalism is a great economic system, essential to a healthy economy, but those who attach themselves to it as an ideology are dooming our civilization to exactly the “back-to-the-stone-age” misery that they so effectively use as a scare tactic to frighten people into doubt about global warming.

    No more coal. Period.

    Comment by tamino — 1 Jun 2008 @ 10:45 AM

  284. pete best writes “Surely the ice is thinner and younger this year so it more than likely. Is this going to be a new record year?” This is a good question, and I am not sure what the answer is. In a very crude way, there are two types of ice; what I call “annual ice”, and ice that is over one year old. Each year, about 9 million sq kms of open water turn to ice during the “winter”, and the about the same amount melts every “summer”. This is “annual ice”, and by definition, it is always less than one year old. I understand it’s thickness is solely dependent on how long and how cold the “winter” was. This season, the “winter” was longer and colder than average in the Canadian part of the Arctic. In fact, the ice surface returned far more rapidly that it disappeared. So, one would not necessarily expect a rapid melt in places like Hudson Bay, and the North West Passage. However, the behaviour of ice that is more than one year old, I know very little about. As to whether this is going to be a record year for melting, there are already bets on this subject. Last year, July 1st (Canada Day) saw the most ice melt in one day than has been recorded since 1979. It will be interesting to see what happens this Canada Day, or there abouts.

    Comment by Jim Cripwell — 1 Jun 2008 @ 11:00 AM

  285. CL says “Where to plant ? Possibly on the Canadian and Siberian tundra which will be thawing out (and releasing methane) ?”

    Unfortunately there are no trees on the tundra because conditions are not suitable. Even 500 miles south of the tundra, well into the boreal forest zone, growth is slow. Twenty years after a forest fire the trees are still not 20 feet tall. There is also the problem of accessing these areas to plant and harvest the trees.

    A couple more brief comments: I have long thought that biodegradable plastics are a mixed blessing. Of course we don’t want fishing nets floating around catching fish for a thousand years, but garbage dumps could be a means of sequestering carbon.

    In the long term, the idea that large areas of cities are zoned for specific uses will have to be drastically modified to make it easier for more people to walk or bicycle to work and to stores.

    Comment by Richard Simons — 1 Jun 2008 @ 12:06 PM

  286. Ike, you write:
    > but actual “yields” from that patch will be far, far lower than that from a fertilized, watered, and optimized crop.

    Ike, read the links for information about the actual crops, in real fields, rather than deciding and telling people that, based on your theory, they will not be competitive in the future. The woody agriculture crops are competing successfully with corn and soy now.

    If you look only at the brief very best years of the old ‘green revolution’ you may have a point but that was a very long time ago and wasn’t sustained. The point is to sustain yield over the farmer’s economic lifetime, competitively.

    It’s being done.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 1 Jun 2008 @ 12:12 PM

  287. Richard Simmons wrote :

    “Unfortunately there are no trees on the tundra because conditions are not suitable. Even 500 miles south of the tundra, well into the boreal forest zone, growth is slow. Twenty years after a forest fire the trees are still not 20 feet tall. There is also the problem of accessing these areas to plant and harvest the trees.”

    Yes, I’m well aware why there are no trees on the tundra. However, we are already locked in to climate change which will effect the tundra, melting the permafrost, making a peaty swamp with warmer weather in the foreseeable future, when, I assume, willow trees would flourish.
    I agree, access and harvesting pose additional problems.

    I proposed the idea because it had been suggested that growing, harvesting, sequestering enormous quantities of vegetation might be a means to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. It might make sense, in theory. But, as shown by the biofuels fiasco, it’s obvious that all easily accessible fertile land is already being used.

    I was thinking in terms of system we already use and understand, which I consider an advantage over fanciful imaginings about GM diamond trees, etc.

    As I understand it, plant cellulose can be the basis for glassy carbon, which would appear to be a good product to aim for, or, at least, nobody has explained to me why not.

    I agree, biodegradable plastic, judging from the examples I’ve seen, produces masses of small plastic particles which are just one more environmental problem.

    Comment by CL — 1 Jun 2008 @ 12:46 PM

  288. CL, the limiting factor on growth in the tundra may be sunlight, not warmth. This is one reason why Canadian plains will not replace the US breadbasket as far as food production goes.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 1 Jun 2008 @ 1:03 PM

  289. Yes, Ray, you may well be correct, that the limiting factor may be daylength. But, as I understand it, dwarf varieties of willow already grow there. Willow has myriad varieties and hybrid strains and will grow from one small stick pushed into the ground. Better than having to produce hundreds of thousands of rooted seedlings for transplanting. And it regrows after cutting. I can’t think of a better candidate to try, except maybe alder, which also fixes nitrogen so doesn’t require fertile soil. But the whole idea may be a non-starter. Seems to me, that if we cannot even stop destruction of existing forests and extraction of existing coal, there’s little hope of solving the problem anyway.

    Perhaps the highest priority is to understand and explain why we cannot prevent forest destruction and coal mining. Personally, I believe I understand the reasons, but the politicians and voters seem not to.

    Comment by CL — 1 Jun 2008 @ 1:23 PM

  290. Re #251 (Joseph Hunkins) “Nick: Correct, there is no internal life to monetization calculator. However you can infer the value people put on their life in indirect ways or you can actually infer values from Government studies.”

    There are different ways of inferring values people put on things, and they do not in general give results consistent with each other – because of course there is no reality to discover, since people don’t generally put a monetary value on their lives. As for inferring values from Government studies, that might possibly tell you how the government concerned values lives, but that is in no sense an objective figure.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 1 Jun 2008 @ 1:29 PM

  291. Not to mention the simple fact that the Canadian plains occupy far less area than the US breadbasket does.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 1 Jun 2008 @ 1:58 PM

  292. #283 tamino, you’re joking, right? Common sense? Related to climate change? What planet are you from?

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 1 Jun 2008 @ 2:26 PM

  293. Re: #292 (Martin Vermeer)

    Alas, common sense is uncommon.

    But making it more common, starts with saying it out loud. Fortunately, I’m not the only one doing so.

    Comment by tamino — 1 Jun 2008 @ 2:33 PM

  294. Re:#159:Joseph Hunkins
    You have claimed that according to most mainstream economists a later mitigation has an economical benefit.
    Let’s take the following example:
    The cumulative carbon emission in this example must be less than 300 GtC from the end of 2008 to every year until 3000. The same cumulative carbon emission in all cases ensures the approximately same environment impact. This has the advantage we can concentrate on economics only and need not to trade money for environment damage.
    The carbon emission in 2008 are approximately 9 GtC.
    Case A: early mitigation.
    We stop the growth of carbon emission and decline the carbon emission at -3.093%/yr from 2010.
    This results in the carbon emissions (GtC/yr)
    2008 9.000
    2010 9.000
    2020 6.574
    2030 4.801
    2040 3.507
    2050 2.561
    2075 1.168
    2100 0.532
    Case B: later mitigation.
    The growth of carbon emission continues until 2020 at 3%/yr and decline after at -7.079%/yr from 2020.
    This results in the carbon emissions (GtC/yr)
    2008 9.000
    2010 9.548
    2020 12.832
    2030 6.158
    2040 2.955
    2050 1.418
    2075 0.226
    2100 0.036
    The cumulative carbon emission is 300 GtC in each case.
    You claim is that most mainstream economists would find that case B has economical benefit over case A. Could you explain how this happens?

    Which use of the additional carbon emissions in the next years should be done to reach this especially to compensate the -7%/yr decline after 2020?

    Comment by Uli — 1 Jun 2008 @ 3:19 PM

  295. I don’t think afforestation of tundra will be a policy option, because it’s already happening with the rapidly changing arctic climate. Unfortunately, this has the effect of reducing the albedo of mid and high latitudes, which isn’t good news.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 1 Jun 2008 @ 3:27 PM

  296. Re Australian droughts comments above: To make a pronouncement on rainfall trends in Australia based on national time series or even a Murray- Darling Basin (MDB) average if quite misleading given the areas involved. There is wide spatial variation in national rainfall patterns, far from uniform land use, and vast areas largely unoccupied.
    Figure 2 here http://adl.brs.gov.au/mapserv/landuse/docs/Land_use_in_Australia_at_a_glance.pdf shows that the Australian rainfall issues are very important economically and socially as the areas affected are the capital cities and cropping zones. Much of Western Australia is desert or semi-arid so additional rainfall there is not relevant for agriculture or urban water supplies.
    http://environment.gov.au/water/publications/mdb/pubs/mdb-map.pdf also shows the size of the Murray- Darling Basin and the very different catchment area of the upper Murray River compared to the Darling River.
    So to confound any drought analysis with too wide an area misses very significant regional effects. Effects which appear to have some AGW influenced meteorological mechanisms.
    There has been record or near record drought conditions in the Murray River headwaters, south-east Queensland water catchments (for city of Brisbane), and ongoing rainfall decline in south-west Western Australian wheat belt. Many capital cities in Australia now have water supply issues.
    One can define drought as rainfall deficit for dryland cropping and grazing or alternatively in terms of stream inflows for irrigators and town water supply. Water inflows show record lows in Murray system – see slide 4 here http://www.greenhouse2007.com/downloads/keynotes/071004_Cai.pdf Multi-year sequences including El Nino events, and non-ENSO affected (neutral) years that also miss out on rainfall, exacerbate the impact of antecedent conditions i.e. very dry catchments that take a lot of rain to wet up again to produce runoff. Narrowly defining AGW impacts in terms of temperature only misses the major impact of water supply.
    The Murray Darling Basin Commission has regular updates on the state of the Murray Darling Basin water supplies and the situation is indeed dire and ongoing. http://www.mdbc.gov.au/
    Australia has obviously had major historical drought sequences, but as others have commented above, there is good evidence to suspect some “anthropogenic” influence at least in exacerbating the recent droughts around Australia. Changes in the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, Southern Annular Mode, Indian Ocean and Tasman Sea present some interesting research challenges.

    Indeed learning from history, the impacts of drought sequences documented in the MWP by Brian Fagan in his recent 2008 book “The Great Warming” make some sober reading.

    I have discussed the issue much further at http://tamino.wordpress.com/2008/05/30/drought-in-australia/#comment-18871 so won’t repeat those details here.

    Comment by Luke — 1 Jun 2008 @ 8:20 PM

  297. 284- Jim, if you read this link carefully, I think you will see that the odds are roughly 25:1 that the Arctic ice will hit a new record low this year. The only way to miss is if more than 50% of the first year ice survives. That has happened only once in the last 25 years.

    http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 1 Jun 2008 @ 8:34 PM

  298. All of the discussion of economic analysis and discount rates strikes me as being off the mark. When threatened, societies rarely use such analysis to select a response. A more constructive analysis would be to look at the least productive things we collective spend resources on and discuss the merits of transferring those resources to fossil energy alternatives including massive improvements in end use efficiencies. Others have already alluded to military spending as such an example. I have a great deal of trouble taking these economic arguments seriously when most of the US military expenditure goes to cold war weapon systems. Just who are we going to use new atomic submarines against? When the neo-liberal economists apply their analytical skills to take on the military industrial complex, I’ll take them more seriously. One should also ask, just who will benefits from the growth they postulate and who will be hurt the most by climate change. A little application of welfare economics seems called for.

    Comment by Ted Nation — 1 Jun 2008 @ 10:51 PM

  299. [edit - please avoid personal comments]

    Please read my # 276 again. I make the point that the massive monies being proposed for collection from GHG emission imposts far outweigh the known ways to spend them – without creating more GHG. Tell me please, of a few activities that that can be done with no GHG addition to the air. Realistic ones, useful products, within the lifetime of my grandchildren.

    You did not understand what I said about forestry. To beneficially affect the carbon equation, you have to increase the mass of carbon per unit land area – and you have to keep that increased mass in perpetuity, otherwise if it reduces it will give off GHG and the whole exercise would be a transient bit of theft by smooth talking promoters.

    And, by the way Ray, I, used to attend the management meetings of one of the largest forestry regrowth companies in the SW Pacific region. I even did a company audit of CO2 before most people were too concerned about it. Among other matters, we calculated the sequestration by various trees at different growth stages. Have you ever done that? You are strangely quiet on your qualifications, which I suspect are far inferior to mine.

    Inferior like those who argue for huge social change before the science is settled on GHG – when correct SST adjustments for ship water buckets might account for 0.15 deg C of the 0.8 deg C of supposed global increase in the last century. [edit]

    #298 Ted Nation. Take the money from efficient power stations, give the money to the poor so they can inefficiently burn more fuel? Now that’s a real solution.

    Comment by Geoff Sherrington — 2 Jun 2008 @ 12:29 AM

  300. Re 288, 291. For many species, sunlight is not that important. Warmth combined with enough moisture is more important. E.g. the wheat yield in Norway is almost
    50 % higher than in the US. Norway does not have very much agricultural land though, so the total amount is not very large.

    Comment by Øyvind Seland — 2 Jun 2008 @ 4:10 AM

  301. Tamino #283 advocates a total and unqualified ban on the global use of coal. Ike Solem #278 goes further and wishes not only to ban coal but to end the global market in petroleum and natural gas. Each claims that anyone disagreeing with him either lacks honesty or sanity. However, neither appears honest enough to face up to the demographic consequences of his recommendations.

    The arrival or imminent arrival of peak oil has provided a much needed spur for the development and rapid deployment of alternative energy sources. This might greatly facilitate the fight against global warming. Clearly, however, a flight into coal without accompanying CCS would be almost literally suicidal to our progeny. Furthermore, it might well transpire that energy from coal, using CCS technolgy, will prove more expensive than other alternative energy technologies.

    Tamino is almost certainly correct in his view that solar, wind and wave energy have the potential to become the dominant contributors to our needs but spoils his case by pejoritive comments on capitalists “who gorge themseves on present day profits”. Likewise, Ike Solem’s conspiracy theory rants over the evils of the oil companies detracts from his usually saner comments.

    In summary, we could certainly save the planet from dangerous warming with existing technology if we were not too concerned about how many people survived the process. The difficult bit is to do so while the global population is on schedule to rise to 10 billion before its decline by natural causes can begin. Indeed, it may not be possible. If this is what Tamino and Ike Solem think, perhaps they would be honest enough to say so and lay out their policies for managing accelerated death rates.

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 2 Jun 2008 @ 5:35 AM

  302. #284 Jim Cripwell,

    There is already open water at the Banks Island end of the North West Passage. The ice in there is much thinner than previous years. Also first year ice melts at a lower temperature because of salt/brine inclusion. Think of road gritting in reverse, the grit is intended to lower melt to below the night’s minimum temperature. In an arctic environment rising out of the winter cold first year ice melts preferentially as compared to the much less salty perennial ice.

    I remain uncertain as to a new extent/area record this year (will it set another record?). But an open North West Passage looks very likely given current conditions in that part of the Archipelago.

    #297 Ron Taylor.

    I’m not sure your reference supports odds of 25:1.

    If I can repeat some points I raised at Stoat (William Connelly’s blog):

    Since 2002 perennial ice area has shown year-on-year record losses, prior to last year’s melt the area was ~2.6M km^2, down from ~4M km^2 in 2002(Nghiem 2007). And over this winter further perennial has been lost, I cannot find data to put that in context of those areas for March 2002/07. However, qualitatively the preceding trend of record lows in perennial area has once again been sustained this year.

    Yet since 2002 we have still seen the autocorrelation behaviour noted by William Connelly, Cecilia Bitz and others (no new record after a preceding year’s record), despite the ongoing precipitous year-on-year decline in perennial area.

    We’ll find out whether the NSIDC “first year ice survival method” has predictive power within a bit over 3 months. ;)

    Frankly I’m not totally sure we will see a new record, but certainly wouldn’t bet against it. Indeed it wouldn’t surprise me if the whole of the perennial mass off Greenland/Ellesmere, through to Banks, breaks into a mass of bergs. We could in a practical sense lose the ice cap this year, widespread fragmentation such as seen in the Beaufort Sea this winter would effectively be the “death” of the ice cap.

    Whatever happens this year, excluding “force majeur” (comet/meteor/massive plinean eruption), the Arctic will be ice free in late summer within years.

    Comment by Cobblyworlds — 2 Jun 2008 @ 7:08 AM

  303. Ref Cobblyworlds #302, and Rod Taylor #297. “There is already open water at the Banks Island end of the North West Passage. The ice in there is much thinner than previous years.” If you have a reference with regard to ice thickness, I would be grateful. The thickness of annual ice is of particular interest to me. One of the problems is that our Canadian government has no icebreaker capability for venturing into the Arctic in the winter, so they keep few statistics on the ice freeze; the same seems to be true at NSIDC. These organizations “come to life” when the melt starts. I had the privelege of some correspondence with Sheldon Drobot before he made his prediction, and he sent me the ULR as soon as it was available. I was unable to understand how he deals with year-to-year variations of annual ice thickness, and tried to get a dialogue going with him on this subject. However, he failed to answer my email; I am sure he is extremely busy, so I was not disappointed. It strikes me as res ipsi loquitor that the rate of melt must be somehow related to the thickness of annual ice. I have tried, and failed, to get any data that I find reliable. A friend spent part of this winter on the Blecher Islands, and he said the ice was thicker than in recent years. I heard a similar report from Barrow. I would dearly love to know how Sheldon treats annual ice thickness in his prediction method, and where he got the data from on this subject this year. It wont be long now, before we have some idea of what the ice will be like in the Arctic this September equinox. You may be interested in the following URL http://ice-glaces.ec.gc.ca/Ice_Can/Arctic/CVCSWCTNCW.gif

    Comment by Jim Cripwell — 2 Jun 2008 @ 8:25 AM

  304. Geoff Sherrington, I’m sorry, I presumed that you knew how to use Google. I’m not hard to find. I am but a lowly PhD in physics, a mere foot soldier trying to defend science against who grasp at straws (or sampling buckets) to avoid grasping the truth and who would let complacency subvert good science.
    One advantage I have as a physicist is that I can look at the science and see that indeed some aspects are quite settled, and that these include the likely level of forcing due to CO2. Indeed most of the uncertainty that remains is on the high side of what the models assume.
    I applaud your efforts at forestry. Now, one might ask why you were concered with carbon sequestration if not because of the settled science of greenhouse gasses, but if we asked that, you’d probably tell us.

    I repeat my previous reply. The purpose of either cap and trade or carbon taxes is to ensure that prices of goods and services reflect their true cost of production–including environmental degradation. For this reason, it only makes sense to invest whatever funds accrue to government or other organizations (e.g. corporations set up to manage these assets) be spent to mitigate the likely effects of climate change. This can be done by investing in research for new energy sources, building new infrastructure, subsidizing energy-saving and green technologies, etc. We are looking at a massive replacement of infrastructure in the industrial world. In the developing world, it makes sense to subsidize green technologies to tip the economic balance in their favor over polluting technologies. I can think of a whole lot of things we could profitably spend the money on. If you thought about it, I’m sure you could, too.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 2 Jun 2008 @ 9:10 AM

  305. Re: #301 (Douglas Wise)

    I’m flattered to be put in the same category with Ike Solem.

    It’s a pity that you didn’t pay close attention to what I said. I didn’t call for an immediate total and unqualified ban on the global use of coal, but a moratorium on coal-fired power generation plants and a rapid phase-out of existing coal-fired plants. Given that carbon sequestration is essential, it is indeed insanity to burn one of the largest reservoirs of already-sequestered carbon on the planet: coal. Building new coal-fired plants, when CCS isn’t yet possible, only undoes what is essential for the health of the planet and its inhabitants.

    Your defense of capitalists who gorge themselves on present-day profit at the expense of future planetary health is nothing but hand-waving, and your unfounded implication that a rapid migration to renewable energy would lead to accelerated death rates very effectively proves my claim: that those who defend exploitation in the name of capitalism will doom our future while using that very same fate as a scare tactic.

    Comment by tamino — 2 Jun 2008 @ 10:07 AM

  306. Re #305, slightly unrealistic don’t you think seeing as how we are building new coal fired power plants all the time but I do agree with your sentiment and would personally like to see no non CCS based power plants built after a certain time, say 2010 to 2015 and a new means of replacing coal to come omline. However we need to keep the ligths on and it might take 20 years to convince the politicians and economists of a suitable alternative such as large scale wind and solar thermal plants that can take its place.

    Comment by pete best — 2 Jun 2008 @ 10:57 AM

  307. Geoff Sherrington, Ray Ladbury, Google Scholar. It’s not even funny.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 2 Jun 2008 @ 11:01 AM

  308. Re: #303 (Jim Cripwell)

    The server seems to be down right now, but this link has freeboard estimates for the icecap:

    http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/2008/040708.html

    Thickness should be ~10 times freeboard.

    Comment by Tim McDermott — 2 Jun 2008 @ 11:21 AM

  309. Cobblyworlds, maybe I am misunderstanding the NSIDC info, but it seems to me that first-year ice would have a much more predictable melt season fate than multi-year ice. When they say that more than 50% would have to survive to miss a new record (which has only happened once in the last 25 years), that seems to my layman’s ear to be a rather strong statement. I assume of course that they are measuring the first year ice accurately, something that Jim seems to have doubts about.

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 2 Jun 2008 @ 11:28 AM

  310. Ref #308. I went to the URL and found the following “As the winter extent numbers indicate, new ice growth was strong over the winter. Nevertheless, this new ice is probably fairly thin”. I hardly call “probably fairly thin” a scientific and reliable data source as to how thick (or thin) the ice actually was. What I am looking for is a measure of this year’s annual ice thickness with reference to what the average annual ice thickness is. My instinct tells me that the thickness of annual ice, MUST be related to how cold and how long the winter was. And in the Canadian part of the Arctic, this past winter came early, and was very much colder than it has been for the past few years.

    [Response: Thickness of sea ice is much more correlated to age than it is to the severity of any individual winter. This is because ridging and dynamical compression are better at growing thickness than bottom freezing. Therefore, multi-year ice is thicker than first year ice and almost all ice above a meter or so will be multi-year. See this for a picture of how the multi-year ice has changed. - gavin]

    Comment by Jim Cripwell — 2 Jun 2008 @ 12:09 PM

  311. re Tamino #301.

    I was disappointed in your kneejerk reaction to my post (#301). If you had read what I wrote, you would have noted that I didn’t disagree with you other than to suggest that it would be reasonable to expand energy from coal if, and only if, CCS could be deployed and was able to compete with alternative sources of energy. Thus, when you say “no more coal, period”, I would say , being British,”no more coal without affordable CCS, full stop”. In fact, this is the position of our Royal Society, the members of which are not primarily noted for their insanity.

    In your second post that touched on the nature of capitalism, your original snide comment had apparently inflated into an all out attack. Originally, you described it as a great (essential in economic terms) system but implied that, when pursued unthinkingly as an ideology, that it could become dangerous. I agree. However, you will not win friends and influence people, which is presumably your intention, if you mix good science with ill-advised and unnecessary insults aimed at those in the best position to implement the policies that you would like to see. Certainly, it is incumbent upon our political leaders to set out the necessary policy goals before the capialists can respond appropriately. Alternatively, perhaps you would prefer to see democracy replaced by a command economy. This, too, might have its advantages in our current parlous state but only if the commands were the correct ones.

    You accuse me of implying that I think that a rapid phasing-in of alternative technologies would lead to accelerated death rates. I don’t have sufficient expertise to have an opinion on the subject that is worth expressing, let alone worth listening to. It was your expert opinion that I was seeking. There is a bewildering variety of options available to us and, as a layman, I would appreciate guidance from an informed source. As a result of using RC as a source, I have, over the last year, been converted from a sceptic/agnostic to a firm believer on the subject of AGW. However, notably absent from any discussions of possible solutions has been any acknowledgement of our burgeoning population growth, growth which, sooner or later, will have to reverse if we are to hold out any hope of saving the planet.

    Tamino, let’s not get off on the wrong foot. I would genuinely value your opinion as to whether you think that , were you in a position to implement all of the policies that you could wish for, you could prevent dangerous climate change while giving time for global population to level off naturally. I would be delighted with a convincing and affirmative answer. If you don’t think such a benign outcome is possible, then we are going to have to address some very unsavoury demographic solutions.

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 2 Jun 2008 @ 12:51 PM

  312. Perhaps a bit off-topic, but if you go to wunderground dot com and check the weather in Greenland, every reporting weather station in Greenland is showing temperatures above freezing, with several above 50 degrees F.

    Comment by Phillip Shaw — 2 Jun 2008 @ 1:45 PM

  313. You can see at http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/current.365.jpg
    that the Arctic seaice melt is now already slightly ahead of last year’s record melt (at the same date). Fully in line with the high fraction of “first year ice”, I would say.

    Comment by Ark — 2 Jun 2008 @ 2:06 PM

  314. Ref 310. Gavin. I specifically referred to ANNUAL ice; ice which is, by definition, ALWAYS LESS than one year old. Annual ice is what I originally referred to, and it is the 9 million sq. kms. of ice which is open sea in the summer, and ice in the winter.

    Comment by Jim Cripwell — 2 Jun 2008 @ 2:39 PM

  315. Tamino (283 & 305), I took your first post to mean that you’re against coal even when it is accompanied by CCS (carbon capture and storage). Even though I agree that it makes in principle more sense to use renewable energy, I do wonder why coal in combination with CCS should be avoided. Provided that the sequestration is safe until eternity, there isn’t much against it climate-wise (air pollution will remain of course, so that’s perhaps an answer to my own question). Your second post though makes me wonder if I misunderstood you.

    Comment by Bart Verheggen — 2 Jun 2008 @ 3:01 PM

  316. #303 Jim Cripwell,

    The open water near Banks Island.
    See QuikScat http://manati.orbit.nesdis.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/qscat_ice.pl
    Here’s 30 May 2008 (last available ocean masked image – open water shown blacked out)
    http://manati.orbit.nesdis.noaa.gov/ice_image21/D08152.NHEIMSK.GIF
    Also note the thinning (darker) at the East end of Viscount Melville Sound/McClintock Channel (South of Bathurst Island). There has been some re-freeze and closure off Banks Island since it’s worst around day 147 of 2008, but any new freeze this late in the cycle will not survive the summer.

    Ice Thickness.
    From National Ice Service:
    http://www.natice.noaa.gov/products/arctic/index.htm
    With reference to their “egg code” index:
    http://www.natice.noaa.gov/egg_code/index.html

    Take these assesments for Canadian Arctic West:
    2007, 21-25/5/07:
    http://www.natice.noaa.gov/pub/West_Arctic/Canadian_Arctic_West/2007/canw070521color.pdf
    2008 19-23/5/08:
    http://www.natice.noaa.gov/pub/West_Arctic/Canadian_Arctic_West/2008/canw080519color.pdf

    Just looking at Viscount Melville Sound; Over the last 12 months the amount of thick perennial has dropped massively, to be replaced by first year ice.

    2007: Areas P & R are key areas:
    P 6/10 perennial (over 2m), with 4/10 thick first year (over 1.2m).
    R 8/10 perennial (over 2m), with 2/10 thick first year (over 1.2m).

    2008: Area K is the key area:
    K 1/10 perennial (over 2m), with 7/10 thick first year (over 1.2m) and 1/10 medium first year (0.7-1.2m).

    Also if you look at 2008 above you’ll see some interesting structures to the East of Banks Island; W, M, and N leading to area AA. That’s the result of buttress failure. Check out this animated gif from Environment Canada watch closely just above Banks Island (mid way down) up to 9 January 2008, when it goes spectacularly:
    http://ice-glaces.ec.gc.ca/content_contenu/SIE/Beaufort/ANIM-BE2007.gif

    Out of interest, check out High East Arctic (centred on the pole iself). Last year predominantly thick perennial, now thick first year, hence the Serreze’s statement that the pole could be ice-free this year. Not all first year ice always melts though, and weather plus thickness are why I’m not sure we’ll see a new record. However with reference to PIOMAS: http://psc.apl.washington.edu/IDAO/retro.html
    It may be that much of the first year ice from the preceding year was “saved” by the bulk of the perennial ice. In which case maybe I should have taken up William Connelly’s bet…

    Thicker ice has tended to thin more rapidly than thinner first year ice. That’s because the thicker ice takes longer to grow than thinner (first year) ice. e.g. Bitz & Roe 2004 “A Mechanism for the High Rate of Sea Ice Thinning in the Arctic Ocean.”
    http://www.atmos.washington.edu/~bitz/Bitz_and_Roe_2004.pdf

    #309 Ron Taylor,

    I think NSIDC are quite right in suggesting that correlation, and their data is accurate enough to be confident in it given the yearly variance.

    I just think 25:1 implies virtually a “dead cert”, and as we’re now in unknown territory in the Arctic I’m not sure anything on a year to year basis is yet a virtual certainty (see my observation re perennial ice area in post 302) . In the satellite observations, a new record minima in one year is not followed by a new record. There’s no certainty that “rule” will hold, but equally, there’s no certainty it will not!

    Bear in mind we’re only just into June, and NSIDC cautioned this last year:

    “…weather conditions in the Arctic are variable. For example, in July of 2006, we were also on track to set a record minimum, but a cooler and cloudier August slowed the rate of ice loss.”

    By the way I should again stress, I’m just an amateur.

    Comment by CobblyWorlds — 2 Jun 2008 @ 3:08 PM

  317. Bart Verheggen wrote: “I do wonder why coal in combination with CCS should be avoided.”

    Principally because no such thing as commercially applicable CCS technology exists nor is it likely to exist within the time frame during which we need to drastically reduce CO2 emissions. CCS — “clean coal” — is nothing but coal industry propaganda. There is no such thing.

    Also, coal mining itself is an environmental disaster, even before a crumb of coal is actually burned.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 2 Jun 2008 @ 3:37 PM

  318. When CCS can be demonstrated to be both effective and economical, then I won’t oppose using coal-fired power generation. But as yet, it hasn’t even been demonstrated, let alone shown to be possible on a large scale with enough efficiency and economy to be workable. So at present, I regard discussion of CCS as sharing something in common with Dyson’s “genetically engineered carbon-eating trees”: it doesn’t exist, we don’t know when (or even if) it will exist, and using the possibility to rationalize building more coal-fired plants is folly.

    There are technologies that do already exist. Both wind and solar actually work, and once in operation they’re carbon-neutral — no capture or sequestration is necessary. The reason to switch to these already-existing renewable energy technologies is to prevent exactly the human misery and death which looms large in the future as population and consumption grow and climate destabilizes. The “free market” has demonstrated that it lacks the ethics and the foresight to invest in these technologies with anything close to the scale necessary for a healthy planet and a healthy human population.

    Capitalism is a fine system for building industries which satisfy consumer desires, but only for a profit; the essence of capitalism is the love of money. But only the law prevents capitalists from doing so at the cost of terrible human misery; if they can make more money exploiting people than they can providing good quality of life, they won’t hesitate to do so. Essential survival needs cannot be left in the hands of capitalists.

    I’m sure I’ll be roundly demonized for saying so. But before you compose a vitriolic response, remember there’s a well-known reference for my opinion; a very ancient document which states that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” If you disagree, take it up with the author.

    Comment by tamino — 2 Jun 2008 @ 3:45 PM

  319. Moderation delays…is everybody moderated here for many hours? Very hard to carry on like that, and it makes me sound non-responsive which I certainly am NOT.

    Ray:
    add the fact that we know natural ghg emissions will kick in, swamp the anthropogenic emissions and rip away whatever control we could exercise, then we have a very strong case for very vigorous action NOW …

    I’m missing something here – is the natural CO2 swamping effect you are talking about outside of what is projected by the most recent IPCC scenarios?

    In terms of unbounded risks I think we agree on the general approach (well, perhaps not if you agree with Stern on discounting), but we most certainly disagree about the likelihood of super costly high temperature scenarios. Simply put if I believed, for example, that there was a 20% or greater chance of GW caused global catastrophe by 2100 then I’d agree we should be mitigating the heck out of things almost regardless of the cost. But I believe IPCC’s projections are realistic and should be our guide to the likely scenarios, and that leads me to agree with most mainstream economists that optimal outcome is from a low to moderate mitigation effort.

    JC – good question about tolerance for Co2 and SL rise: I also replied over at my blog where the spirited debate is also raging:

    In terms of tolerance of CO2 and Sea Level rises my answer is basically that I’m very tolerant of the current situation (ie likely temperature incrase of about 3 degrees in next 100 years and sea level rise of this much per year: | or about 3 or 4 feet in the next century. There will be plenty of time to adjust to these tiny numbers. Catastrophe is already *here* in Africa where millions die annually from AIDS, Malaria, Intestinal disease. I’d fix that *first*, then talk about foregoing extra trillions *today* to delay the 3 degree rise from year 2100 to year 2101.

    I see no catastrophes looming (based on even the highest IPCC projections for Temp and Sea Level rises). I do agree that if Greenland melts we could be in for some major shit, but this appears very unlikely and I’d certainly want far more data before we start acting based on that assumption.

    I should note that I realize my interpretations here could be very wrong. If Stern’s approach is right, most economists are wrong and so am I – we should be mitigating the heck out of things effective ASAP. Also, if Hansen’s suggestions that catastrophic melting is likely just around the corner are correct then I’m very wrong (along with most climate scientists).

    But I’m a guy that accepts mainstream climate science *and* mainstream economic science, which together suggest a simple and cost effective approach:

    Moderate efforts at C02 mitigation with a powerful focus on potential low cost solutions.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 2 Jun 2008 @ 7:01 PM

  320. Uli – I’m trying to figure out what you mean. By year 3000 (!) did you mean year 2100? Your example seems very contrived to me but I’m assuming you are trying to demonstrate that waiting means we’ll have to mitigate at a much greater rate than if we start now? That is obviously true, but mitigation in the future is likely (almost certainly) going to be far, far cheaper. This was a key part of Dyson’s point (missed here by most). Not that magic trees are in the pipeline, but that technology … gets cheaper by the minute. It is wonderfully ironic how much enthusiasm there is for supercomputer climate modelling while at the same time such aversion for the idea that supercomputer mitigation solutions are coming soon to a planet near us all.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 2 Jun 2008 @ 7:13 PM

  321. > mitigation in the future is likely (almost certainly)
    > going to be far, far cheaper

    Passenger pigeon
    Carolina parakeet
    American Chestnut
    Water pollution: http://www.umich.edu/~gs265/society/pic5.gif
    Lead
    Mercury
    http://www.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/centralized_brochure.pdf

    It’s hard to find a current or historical problem for which it was actually cheaper to even begin to address problems later compared to what it would have cost to take the obvious precautions early on.

    Horse manure on city streets — there’s one. Rather than invent the steam-powered pooper scooper, cities simply waited for the invention of the automobile to displace the automobiles.

    Now should we just wait for the vat-grown PETA Porkchop to displace hog farms and their nasty sludge ponds?

    Any others? Someone must have a list somewhere pointing out the successes, I suppose.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 2 Jun 2008 @ 8:04 PM

  322. Joe, the IPCC uses 3 degrees per doubling of CO2. This is the most probable value–not the extreme. Depending on the data used, the value could be as high as 4.5 or even 6 degrees per doubling. Moreover, while the IPCC scenarios do look at solubility of CO2 in the oceans (and so, presumably outgassing), they don’t look at outgassing of permafrost or methane clathrates for the simple reason that we don’t know how much this will contribute.
    The costs if we see 6 degrees of warming are dire indeed–as outlined by Hank, so with even 1-5% probability, they dominate the risk. So until we have better data, we had better keep things under control.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 2 Jun 2008 @ 8:18 PM

  323. Joe, as an addition to Ray Ladbury

    the word “catastrophic” in this subject (which usually carries around a more accusing tone than a scientific one) is generally very ill-defined and subjective, and there is no widespread agreement between scientists (and other fields like economists) if a doubling or a tripling or a quadrupling of CO2 counts as “catastrophic.” What is certainly scientifically supportable, is that such as change would swamp any natural variations in Holocene-like conditions, produce widespread impacts as well as ecological and economic loss. Is a complete loss of seasonal arctic sea ice, or the displacement of thousands or millions of people or coastal and island flooding catastrophic? Personally, I really don’t care what you call it, but I don’t want it, and I especially don’t want it on timescales which are too short for evolutionary adaptation (like decades).

    It’s not trivial to quantify the impacts of global warming, and you wouldn’t have a complete agreement on their significance or what to do about it even if we had a perfect scientific understanding of what they would be. We don’t even have a universal way of quantifying the significance of the loss of an ecosystem from an economics perspective. But the fact is that we know a 3 C warming or more will be very significant by any reasonable standard, and we cannot rule out low probability-high consequence events which some might call abrupt climate change or tipping points. The IPCC WG2 is the best assessment on this, and I think Mark Lynas’ book “Six Degrees” is probably the best book that is friendly reading.

    Comment by Chris Colose — 2 Jun 2008 @ 9:47 PM

  324. Re 318 – Tamino,

    …amen, and thanks for the clarity.

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 2 Jun 2008 @ 9:47 PM

  325. Re Joseph Hunkins @319: “But I believe IPCC’s projections are realistic and should be our guide to the likely scenarios”

    Fine, but be sure to take into account the IPCC’s explicit caveat that it assumed no increase in the rate of melting of the Greenland ice cap, yet such an increase is exactly what is being observed. And be sure to also take into account an actual rate of Arctic sea ice melt that makes a mockery of original projections. And actual observed rates of methane emissions from thawing permafrost, which were not included in the IPCC projections.

    In other words, be sure to take into account that some of the IPCC’s projections were wrong, and that the errors were not in our favour.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 2 Jun 2008 @ 10:05 PM

  326. Jim Cripwell Says:
    1 June 2008 at 11:00 AM
    “pete best writes “Surely the ice is thinner and younger this year so it more than likely. Is this going to be a new record year?” This is a good question, and I am not sure what the answer is. In a very crude way, there are two types of ice; what I call “annual ice”, and ice that is over one year old. Each year, about 9 million sq kms of open water turn to ice during the “winter”, and the about the same amount melts every “summer”. This is “annual ice”, and by definition, it is always less than one year old.”

    And at the start of this winter there was only 2 million sq km of old ice left.

    “I understand it’s thickness is solely dependent on how long and how cold the “winter” was. This season, the “winter” was longer and colder than average in the Canadian part of the Arctic.”

    But not in other parts!

    “In fact, the ice surface returned far more rapidly that it disappeared.”

    After starting about a month later than usual, and then the average rate of disappearance during the month of April was 6,000 square kilometers per day faster than last April.

    “So, one would not necessarily expect a rapid melt in places like Hudson Bay, and the North West Passage. However, the behaviour of ice that is more than one year old, I know very little about.”

    Well a lot of it left the Arctic during the winter via the Fram St:
    http://ice-glaces.ec.gc.ca/App/WsvPageDsp.cfm?Lang=eng&lnid=43&ScndLvl=no&ID=11892

    As I pointed out a couple of months ago the dramatic breakup of multi year ice in the Beaufort sea will have significant impact for ice loss this summer and it’s certainly looking that way in the movie.

    Comment by Phil. Felton — 2 Jun 2008 @ 10:07 PM

  327. Conservative political analyst George F. Will opposes the cap-and-trade proposal being considered by the U.S. Congress, calling it

    “An unprecedentedly radical government grab for control of the American economy…cloaked in reassuring rhetoric about the government merely creating a market, but government actually would create a scarcity so government could sell what it has made scarce.”

    He suggests, instead, a straightforward tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels.
    http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/printDS/241492

    I’m curious to know what the economists think of this – is an obvious tax better for the environment and/or economy than a “hidden” tax?

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 2 Jun 2008 @ 10:35 PM

  328. #318. I think CCS is somewhat further advanced than “it doesn’t exist, we don’t know when (or even if) it will exist”. All the technologies used in CCS (capture from stack, CO2 separation and underground storage – at least in depleted gas fields) already exist albeit built for other purposes. The Otway project is going and Gorgon will be full commercial scale. I think it is a technology that is well worth the research.

    “using the possibility to rationalize building more coal-fired plants is folly.”
    On this we agree. Our government has banned state-owned companies from starting any thermal project UNLESS there is complete CCS, putting the onus of proof back on them.

    Comment by Phil Scadden — 2 Jun 2008 @ 10:57 PM

  329. Chris: A good point that “catastrophe” is too vague/charged a term, though I use it a lot because my beef is with *characterizations* of IPCC rather than the data itself, which I feel was very responsibly reported.

    Ray (and Jim). Yes, I agree that 3 is the most probable temp increase but that higher is possible. I also think (without much to back it up) that the 1-5% estimate of a higher temp likelihood is reasonable.

    Now some research is needed because I was under the impression that at least some of Nordhaus’ projections using the DICE model included those unlikely high temp conditions. If we had a very high chance of 6 degrees we should spend much more now than if we have a low chance, and I think 1-5% is a low chance.

    Hank I think you’ve raised a great question but not answered it with that list. *At what point* is intervention optimal? Clearly we should not pull out all the stops today to save the American Robin from extinction, since it’s not facing trouble. Spotted owls here in Oregon may get a 400 million recovering plan soon and it would be weak for me to suggest that’s cheaper than if we’d done better 20 years back when we knew things were problematic with the species. Again, we face the *real* questions of how much, on what, and when. Nordhaus appears to have an *excellent* approach to making that decision. Let’s use it.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 3 Jun 2008 @ 1:05 AM

  330. re: #327
    Carbon taxes are certainly simpler, but as usual, the devil is in the details. I reiterate what I said in #90, but having read Nordhaus’ book, I have more details.

    1 gallon gas ~ 20 lbs of CO2
    1 ton CO2 ~~ 100 gallons of gas or diesel
    $100 per ton carbon = $27.2 / ton CO2 = $.27/gallon

    p.91 of Nordhaus gives Carbon prices (in 2005 US$)for different policies
    His “optimal” policy gives:

    2005. 2015. 2025. 2035. 2045. 2055. 2065… 2075… 2085… 2095… 2105…
    27.28 41.90 53.39 66.49 81.31 98.01 116.78 137.82 161.37 187.68 217.02 $/Ton Carbon
    $0.07 $0.11 $0.14 $0.18 $0.22 $0.26 $0.32 .$0.37 .$0.44 .$0.51 .$0.59 $ tax/gallon

    It is completely unclear to me how a carbon tax of that size can have much noticeable effect any time soon, given that it’s totally dwarfed by Oil price jiggles. That’s not to argue against it – I’d rather we keep the money, but I do observe that *wishing for a carbon tax* is no apriori wish to actually do anything meaningful, because it depends on the numbers. Stern’s numbers start at $249 ($.59/gal) and end at $940 ($2.54/gal) … which is still lower than most European countries, but at least might actually get noticed.

    It is instructive to read Nordhaus with a copy of Kharecha & Hansen at hand for comparison.

    If all one does is a carbon tax, given that Oil+Gas prices are likely to go up anyway, I think this is a recipe to shift to more coal for electricity and synfuels…

    Again, I simply do not understand how, simultaneously:

    a) More than a $0.11/gallon in 2015 would be nonoptimally high
    b) But a $1 price rise now [and probably more to come from Peak Oil] is irrelevant.

    Again, I beg any economist (or anyone who says they trust these results) for enlightenment.

    Comment by John Mashey — 3 Jun 2008 @ 2:03 AM

  331. #311- Douglas Wise “However, notably absent from any discussions of possible solutions has been any acknowledgement of our burgeoning population growth, growth which, sooner or later, will have to reverse if we are to hold out any hope of saving the planet.”

    Well, this site is not primarily about solutions, but I don’t think you can have been following very closely if you have not seen population growth discussed. The proportional rate of growth has halved in the last 40 years, and since the late 1990s growth has actually been slightly sublinear. Moreover, we know how to accelerate the trend toward zero or negative growth: move people into cities (we couldn’t stop this if we wanted), educate girls, improve access to contraception.

    “Tamino, let’s not get off on the wrong foot. I would genuinely value your opinion as to whether you think that , were you in a position to implement all of the policies that you could wish for, you could prevent dangerous climate change while giving time for global population to level off naturally. I would be delighted with a convincing and affirmative answer. If you don’t think such a benign outcome is possible, then we are going to have to address some very unsavoury demographic solutions.”

    What “very unsavoury demographic solutions” are you thinking of. Mass murder? Compulsory sterilisation?

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 3 Jun 2008 @ 6:12 AM

  332. “But I’m a guy that accepts mainstream climate science *and* mainstream economic science”
    Whether “mainstream economic science” exists is a moot point. There simply is not the kind of consensus among relevant experts about economics as there is about climate science.

    “It is wonderfully ironic how much enthusiasm there is for supercomputer climate modelling while at the same time such aversion for the idea that supercomputer mitigation solutions are coming soon to a planet near us all.”

    Not really: the site is run by climate modellers, so they know climate modelling works, and they know how to continue improving it. Relying on pie-in-the-sky “supercomputer mitigation solutions” is merely foolish.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 3 Jun 2008 @ 6:21 AM

  333. I am new to this large site. Can you help me find what I am looking for? Rather than the science, I am interested in who cares? – meaning, is there a purely political reason for highlighting this issue? Is some lofty person or group with a philosophical view have a reason to emphasize the issue of climate change? Is something beyond science propelling the issue? Is there a puppet master guiding the editors of textbooks for all levels of education? It appears to me that no serious politician dares to question what children have been taught from the earliest grades. What is really behind this amazing phenomenon of promoting climate change politics?
    Jonathan Dyrud

    [Response: It's a fair cop, we are all paid up members of the climatati - a secret society formed in Bavaria in the depths of the Little Ice Age, dedicated to subverting all authority. Or you are very confused. Take your pick. (PS. This site is just about the science. You might be happier elsewhere). - gavin]

    Comment by Jonathan Dyrud — 3 Jun 2008 @ 9:19 AM

  334. Joe, I’ve been seening your ‘joeduck’ postings in many places around the net for a long time. You’ve got opinions. Everyone’s entitled to their own. If you have facts on the question, I’d be interested.

    “If you have a choice between a hypothetical situation and a real one, choose the real one.” — Joan Baez

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Jun 2008 @ 9:51 AM

  335. re #331 Nick Gotts apparently knows how to accelerate the trend towards zero or negative population growth but the supposed efficacy of the methods he suggests have been subject to recent academic challenge. However, I have no real wish to get into a debate over this issue because it is off topic.

    What I would like to know, in the view of the technically expert contributors to this site, is whether dangerous global warming can be averted through the use of existing technology, provided that an appropriate global consensus could be obtained to expedite deployment of the proposed solutions. If so, is this compatible with a global population peaking at, say, 9 billion in 2050? If not, I previously suggested that there would have to be consideration of “very unsavouy demographic solutions”.

    Nick asked if I were contemplating mass murder. I would not rule it out if the choice were between that and all going down in the sinking ship together and taking down most other species with us. However, even if technology can’t provide the fix we all desire for all 9 billion of the 2050 population, there are other possible solutions that should obviously be considered before mass murder (which I interpret to mean war).

    Homo sapiens is but one of many species of mammal. If any other species were to temporarily escape the normally controlling agencies of predation, disease or food supply, wildlife managers would intervene to prevent resource degradation which would otherwise lead to a lower future carrying capacity for the species in question or to a reduction in biodiversity. Homo sapiens has escaped normal controls by exploitation of fossil fuels. Are we going to behave as any other species would and carry on using what we can till it has all gone or, because we are unique in having reflexive consciousness, do we have the capacity to escape going over the precipice just in time? It is a moot point and one that probably can’t be answered except in the future.

    At the moment, all I am trying to find out is whether we are just in time if we could overcome some of our possibly hard wired behaviours and cooperate. In other words, is there a satisfactory technical fix if we can summon the will to use it?

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 3 Jun 2008 @ 9:58 AM

  336. 335: Douglas Wise “Nick Gotts apparently knows how to accelerate the trend towards zero or negative population growth but the supposed efficacy of the methods he suggests have been subject to recent academic challenge.”
    Such an assertion is all the better for some actual references; and since you brought up population, and are continuing to talk about it, perhaps you could provide some.

    “At the moment, all I am trying to find out is whether we are just in time if we could overcome some of our possibly hard wired behaviours and cooperate.”
    Anyone who pretends to know whether it is too late is ignoring the considerable remaining uncertainties about climate sensitivity, availability of fossil fuels, possible changes in solar output or large volcanic eruptions, etc. If you decide it’s time to start the mass-murder, make sure you target it appropriately, at the richest areas of North America and western Europe, since that’s where the greatest concentrations of greenhouse gases are still coming from.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 3 Jun 2008 @ 10:42 AM

  337. Re # 330 John Mashey

    Point of clarification: George Will proposed (if I read him correctly and take him at his word) a tax on the carbon content of the fuel – not on the price of the fuel. So, it should be independent of the price of a barrel of oil. Yes?

    To get back to my original question, there is little doubt that a direct tax is anathema to most politicians. And, based on my economically-challenged way of looking at these issues, if a carbon tax were to be compensated by a reduction in some other tax (as Will suggests), the whole thing would be revenue neutral, and there would little incentive to take the carbon tax revenue out of the general fund and use it to promote alternative fuels, emission-reducing technologies, etc. I have to wonder if these aren’t the very reasons George Will favors a direct carbon tax – nothing will change.

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 3 Jun 2008 @ 12:06 PM

  338. Hi Douglas and Nick, I think you should both give each other the benefit of the doubt–and indeed every other poster–that they are not in favor of mass murder. There is no need to take antagonistic positions. We have all accepted that society is in the soup unless we take serious action and that if we screw up the actions we take, we will equally be in the soup. We also agree that certain actions will make things worse, while others will ameliorate the situation–whether enough to avoid disaster we cannot know yet.
    I think Douglas feels frustrated with the slow progress toward finding solutions (as are we all) and worried that by the time action is agreed upon we may find we are too late. However, I think it is safe to say that since we do not yet have a generally agreed upon technological or economic fix, we are in a position of trying to buy time however we can until such a fix or fixes can be found.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 3 Jun 2008 @ 12:08 PM

  339. Re: #335 (Douglas Wise)

    … whether dangerous global warming can be averted through the use of existing technology, provided that an appropriate global consensus could be obtained to expedite deployment of the proposed solutions.

    Of course I don’t know the answer, but I’ll offer an opinion. I’d say no, we can’t avoid dangerous climate change — but yes, we can avoid disastrous climate change. It will require two things. First, we have to make massive investment in renewable energy, including both the deployment of existing tech (wind, solar, etc.) and R&D, while phasing out (rapidly) fossil-fuel energy. Absolutely no more coal-fired plants until CCS is proven.

    Second, we have to make actual sacrifices. The 3-car family has to become a 2-car or 1-car family, the Ford F350 pickup truck has to become a Prius, the Hummer should simply be banned. No more incandescent light bulbs, period. Leaving electronic devices on “standby” all night long while everyone’s asleep must be forbidden. Animal husbandry must be reduced, and meat should probably be rationed. Efficiency and conservation should be the rule of law, not the recommendation of environmental activists. I’m sure this sounds unpleasant, and it is, but it’s far better than the alternative. We can pay now, or we can pay later, and the cost later is all too likely to involve that mass murder/warfare which we all shudder to imagine.

    It’s nearly impossible to avoid future CO2 concentrations reaching 440-450 ppm, but we can limit it there if we act *now*, not later. If levels soar to 550 ppm or higher, we’re beyond dangerous and into “totally screwed.”

    Finally: the forces of “free-market capitalism” which seek to obstruct all the above must be punished. Slapped down hard. The forces of “free-market capitalism” which seek to profit from development and deployment of the renewable technology that will help, must be rewarded. Lavishly.

    Comment by tamino — 3 Jun 2008 @ 1:06 PM

  340. re #336. We all need hope for the future of our offspring. Without it, the strategy of many will be to “eat, drink and be merry”.

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 3 Jun 2008 @ 1:25 PM

  341. re #339. Tamino, thank you. I greatly appreciate your answer. It doesn’t fill me with the hope I had wished for but, nevertheless, doesn’t totally extinguish it. I appreciate that you acknowledge that none of wants mass murder/warfare and that not all “free market capitalism” is necessarily malign

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 3 Jun 2008 @ 2:27 PM

  342. re: #337 Chuck Booth

    Carbon taxes are indeed taxes on the carbon content, not on the price of the fuel, they are like the excise tax, not a sales tax.

    Look again at Nordhaus’ by-year imputed $/gallon taxes. Those might be noticeable to businesses that use a lot of fuel, but they’re in the noise for a long time compared with the rises in prices at the pump. Assume someone drives 10,000 miles/year @ 25 mpg, so uses 400 gallons/year. In 2015, the tax would cost them $44. I’m not sure that’s enough to induce much behavioral change.

    Again, as best as I can tell [and I've been looking at the GAMS code from his website], Nordhaus’s models say:
    (a) The economically optimal carbon tax is as shown in #330; more than $.11 in 2015 would hurt the economy.
    (b) BUT, somehow, large oil price increases have *zero* effect on the economy in the next few years. There’s one giant pot for all fossil fuels, and no resource exhaustion limits / Hoteling effects happen any time soon.

    “I have to wonder if these aren’t the very reasons George Will favors a direct carbon tax – nothing will change.”

    That is certainly plausible, which is what I was trying to say in:

    “*wishing for a carbon tax* is no apriori wish to actually do anything meaningful”,

    as it has been interesting to see certain people espousing carbon taxes [but not high enough to have much effect soon], and perhaps guessing that the political difficulties end up stop them from happening at all. This can be an effective tactic, i.e., the misdirection argument. I am *not* claiming Nordhaus is doing this.

    Comment by John Mashey — 3 Jun 2008 @ 2:53 PM

  343. Fortunately politics just doesn’t work like that and therefore neither meat nor cars will be rationed and conservation won’t become the rule of law. Politicians will do something, if its benefit is obvious and visible. Nuclear energy was one of those things. It was visible and gave the impression of a technological advantage that nobody wanted to miss out on. You could sell it to the public as a leap forward into a better future. Rationing meat will not save the planet but it does significantly cut into our daily lives and our freedom. Surely we can survive eating less meat. We can also survive not going on holiday, not having pets, not eating rice, not heating our homes in fall and spring (what are blankets for?) and not watching television. But no politician will ever come up with an according law because all of that has very little effect. And the argument, that many small things can positively add up to big one is true for cutting into our personal freedom as well. Politicians should focus on the big stuff: promote renewable energy but please don’t steal my hambuger for a millionth of a millimeter in sea-level rise.

    Comment by Henning — 3 Jun 2008 @ 3:25 PM

  344. re: #339 tamino

    Yes, but many people have trouble with long-term thinking. Maybe it would help to realize that if we *don’t* do these things, the USA economy won’t be anything like what they’re used to, *much sooner*.

    I summarize (& add a few):

    C = climate
    E = economy

    1. C E avoidance of waste
    2. C E efficiency

    3. C E build renewables as fast as possible
    4. C E avoid throwing away money on “stranded assets” (vehicles + infrastructure)
    5. C E carefully manage oil+gas to allow a shallower downslope post-Peak
    6. C E change utility rules to encourage efficiency & renewables
    7. C – manage un-CCSed coal down as fast as possible **
    8. C E manage a disciplined R&D & deployment program, not magic.
    9. C E think real hard about the nature of the US military

    Item 1: are often actions that can betaken with no investment, on short notice.

    Item 2: have big payoffs, but sometimes take a while, due to installed base issues.

    item 3: will take a long time, so better be doing it now.

    Item 4: buy and build nothing whose natural economic life exceeds the life dictated by rising prices of oil+gas. I.e., as of today, GM seems no logjner committed to Hummers. Good move. There are still plenty on the lots.

    Item 5: from past oil shocks, the slope of the supply curve matters, and steep supply drops are really rough, because substitution takes a while. We are way better off economically if, for example, we leave ANWR as a (small) piggy-bank for some future generation. Oil+gas have to increasingly be treated as capital to be *invested*.

    Item 6: this is one of the biggest wins there is. Incent utilities (as CA does) to make money via efficiency, not just more megawatts. CA has managed to keep electricity/capita flat for ~30 years, while USA average has gone up 40-50%. If everybody had done, there would have been a lot less coal plants. As can be seen in US per capita energy use by state, states vary tremendously, and it’s isn’t just by climate. Long-term policies matter. For good ideas, the hero in CA is Art Rosenfeld.

    Item 7: ** coal is the big differentiator between climate (and environment in general) and economics. I grew up in Western PA (i.e., edge of coal country), used to work for the US Bureau of Mines, and if someone wants to learn more about the management style and environmental consciousness of this industry, I recommend Jeff Goodell’s “Big Coal”.

    Item 8: We need properly-crafted, “progressive-commitment” R&D programs.

    item 9: For the same resource expenditure, there is some tradeoff between building {windmills, solar thermal, etc} and building {tanks, airplanes, and coal-to-liquid synfuel plants}.

    Anyway, I’d claim that “climate vs economy” is a mis-direction argument, of which most seems to come from coal people, unsurprisingly.

    Comment by John Mashey — 3 Jun 2008 @ 4:00 PM

  345. Off topic. For those interested there is an NSDIC update of the situation with respect to arctic sea ice.
    http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/index.html

    Comment by Jim Cripwell — 3 Jun 2008 @ 4:17 PM

  346. Yes, Jim, I’m sure many of us have been watching the NSDIC plots with baited breath. That the current trend has almost caught up with last year’s trend since mid-May is the reason most of us did not take much comfort in this past winter’s ‘record’ refreeze. We may not exceed 2007 this year, but it probably won’t be far off.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 3 Jun 2008 @ 5:33 PM

  347. #299 Geoff Sherrington, how in the world did you read my statement in post #298 to conclude that I was advocating taking “the money from efficient power stations, (to)give the money to the poor so they can inefficiently burn more fuel?” I was advocating redirecting resources from wasteful and low yield uses like cold war weapons to investments in improvements in energy use efficiency and alternative carbon neutral energy sources.

    Comment by Ted Nation — 3 Jun 2008 @ 7:20 PM

  348. Re 300
    “For many species, sunlight is not that important. Warmth combined with enough moisture is more important.”

    But that does not explain why wheat fields limited by a short growth season and lack of hot sunshine should yield 50% more grain than those who are not. It makes no sense at all.

    Comment by per — 3 Jun 2008 @ 9:04 PM

  349. Re 344 – John, you have pretty well nailed it as far as I am concerned. I especially appreciate your take on drilling ANWR. I have gone from telling friends “We shouldn’t drill ANWR” to, “Yes, we will have to drill ANWR, but I hope we don’t do so until after we have improved efficiency, since we would just waste it if we drilled now.”

    I think we will desperately need it in the future and will be glad it is still there.

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 3 Jun 2008 @ 9:08 PM

  350. Tamino #339. Your contributions in statistics and allied areas have been so well-reasoned, well-presented, and to the point that it is very disheartening to have to dissent with your proposals for public policy. I’m having great trouble characterizing them without ad hom adjectives, so I’ll just say that their likelihood of success is nearly equal to their grounding in logic and judgment. About zero, in each case, to several decimal places. Rationing meat and banning Hummers, gimme a break.

    Surely all this blog’s readers understand that such policies are not the only way to control AGW. Even more surely, any such policies would be fought to the death (more or less literally, given the consequences) by the right and most of the center. As noted above, even George Will, hardly a lefty, is willing to talk about a carbon tax. (BTW, see carbontax.org for many cogent reasons why it beats cap and trade.) Reducing national and world economic inequality is a separable problem, with far less dire feedback loops. Very simple question: What are the IPCC reports about, CO2 or Hummer counts? The CO2 is the first-order problem, the Hummers a side issue. Get the right policy, and the Hummer count will take care of itself.

    I don’t mean to disagree with the need for some sacrifice, but a sensible CO2 policy will have many benefits as well. Let’s not throw them away by taking our eye off the main issue.

    Comment by Ric Merritt — 3 Jun 2008 @ 9:35 PM

  351. Per, day length more than sun angle affects available energy for photosynthesis during wheat’s growing season (roughly 100-120 days).

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 3 Jun 2008 @ 11:06 PM

  352. Re # 322 Ray Ladbury

    Miscellaneous. I did a CO2 audit of the Company because we did audits on any material that could be potentially harmful and we knew the way the Mauna Loa data were heading. We also studied radon intensively, plus the materials used to proof logs against insects , sulphur dioxide from smelting and so on. Another Corporation made a phytometer around a huge tree to study many effects like transpiration – and this was around 1982, before academics were doing anything similar. Contrary to some opinions expressed above, Corporations often lead the pack in remediation of emerging problems, so the public hardly hears of some that are nipped in the bud. If it adds to the cost of products, then people whine. That’s gratitude.

    So please don’t treat readers as if they were dolts. Dolts don’t get invited half way round the world to give key seminar papers. Don’t be like Gavin who wrote for me “Possibly you did not read these papers….” Heck I didn’t. Maybe long before he did.

    For what it’s worth, my personal view (and we used to own three large coal mines) is that CCS will not be a significant factor for decades, if ever.

    You wrote above
    “Joe, the IPCC uses 3 degrees per doubling of CO2. This is the most probable value–not the extreme. Depending on the data used, the value could be as high as 4.5 or even 6 degrees per doubling. Moreover, while the IPCC scenarios do look at solubility of CO2 in the oceans (and so, presumably outgassing), they don’t look at outgassing of permafrost or methane clathrates for the simple reason that we don’t know how much this will contribute.
    The costs if we see 6 degrees of warming are dire indeed–as outlined by Hank, so with even 1-5% probability, they dominate the risk. So until we have better data, we had better keep things under control.”

    This is where we part company. Settled science again? You should be lambasting those who made the silly talk about settled science that was so divisive and untrue.

    You have no proof of a probable sensitivity value, just a concurrence of thought among colleagues of like mind. You report sensitivity as a settled science when about half the posts on Realclimate are disputing that the science is settled. If it is settled, why do you stay in business? Most of my senior colleagues and I who study these matters are still awaiting a definitive derivation of the sensitivity, indeed even whether CO2 has much to do with anything. As scientists and engineers, we hope for the numbers to come out in solid form soon, because then correctional measures can be planned and executed as needed by those able to do it well. But the central plank of AGW, that CO2 is the main culprit, simply does not wash yet. Even the current talk of adjustments to SST, which I have looked at for years, has the capacity to (a) severely alter estimates of past century temperature change and (b) to therefore throw back in doubt those hindcast models currently thought to perform well.

    This is not to say that any of us deny that CO2 is still a candidate for climate equations. It’s elemantary that a heating effect exists in a pure, primary sense, but it’s not nearly so clear in Nature. The standard of proof does not meet the bar and it annoys hell out of us that otherwise sane people say “close all coal plants” and the like (while continuing to luxuriate in their output).

    Such cures are more severe than the illness. By all means close all coal and gas plants if your wish is to kill millions of people in quick time.

    Comment by Geoff Sherrington — 4 Jun 2008 @ 1:20 AM

  353. #345/346, Jim n’ Jim. ;)

    The winter maxima is largely set outside the Arctic Ocean Basin itself, as the Arctic Ocean is ice covered before the maxima is reached. In that sense a record maxima is largely irrelevant, ice conditions inside the Arctic Basin are more important for the summer minima.

    Also for any interested lurkers.

    I cannot recommend the following too strongly:
    http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/satellite/index_e.html
    Environment Canada’s satellite images.

    Scroll down to HRPT (NOAA Polar Orbiting).
    For the Arctic Ocean: Northern Canada and Arctic Ocean, Canadian Arctic Composite, and Northern Nunavut, are the ones to follow. Notably the Nunavut images.
    For the NW Passage and Baffin Bay: Baffin Island / Qikiqtaaluk. Although I’ve not been following that closely as my key interest is in the basin and the fate of the perennial ice. (There’s much broken ice at the Baffin Bay end of the NW Passage.)

    By this time of year the IR is of virtually no use for the ice as there’s so much low level haze (water vapour). To see the ice use the visible images, and use the IR to sort to out where cloud/vapour is obscuring the ice itself (it can be hard to see what’s ice and what’s cloud).

    Those images change rapidly so you’ll need to keep popping back there if the current image doesn’t show much.

    Comment by CobblyWorlds — 4 Jun 2008 @ 1:59 AM

  354. re #336 Nick Gotts

    I apologise for having failed to give the source for my comment suggesting that there was not unanimity over your suggestions for managing population decline. I was thinking of the work of Virginia Abernethy and her questioning of the orthodox view of Demographic Transition. I have also been much persuaded by the writings of Albert Bartlett. In the unlikely event that you are unfamiliar with their work, Wikipedia will give you a steer if you want to follow up.

    You will be glad to know that I have no immediate plans to initiate mass murder. However, as a veterinarian, I feel that I ought to point out that if I were to leave animals in my care to starve to death rather than to slaughter them humanely (were they the only options available to me) I would be prosecuted on welfare grounds.

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 4 Jun 2008 @ 5:12 AM

  355. #350 Ric Merritt,
    I agree, not just Tamino, but many others for whom I have the greatest respect leave me thoroughly unconvinced in the arena of solutions. I have read the arguments but keep coming back into the “no way out” camp (at the most basic level – everyone I know still loves flying/driving/patio heaters etc etc). We’ll shortly see whether the multifarious proposals and the existing environmental protections (e.g. low sulphur fuels) survive the economic constriction of what increasingly seems to be the onset of Peak Oil. I think they will not, in the fight against falling EROEI it seems almost inevitable that we’ll see our daliance with fighting GW/pollution fall away in the face of more pressing concerns. As for a 50% increase in agricultural output by 2030 as demanded by the UN, er, yes, well…
    I’ll shut up now and get back out of the way of those who see solutions, best of luck to you all.

    Comment by Cobblyworlds — 4 Jun 2008 @ 6:03 AM

  356. Geoff Sherrington writes:

    You have no proof of a probable sensitivity value, just a concurrence of thought among colleagues of like mind. You report sensitivity as a settled science when about half the posts on Realclimate are disputing that the science is settled.

    “Half the posts on RealClimate” don’t prove anything at all. The opinion of professional climate scientists does.

    If it is settled, why do you stay in business?

    Because defining climate sensitivity isn’t all that climate scientists do?

    Most of my senior colleagues and I who study these matters are still awaiting a definitive derivation of the sensitivity, indeed even whether CO2 has much to do with anything. As scientists and engineers, we hope for the numbers to come out in solid form soon, because then correctional measures can be planned and executed as needed by those able to do it well. But the central plank of AGW, that CO2 is the main culprit, simply does not wash yet.

    It does among those with a clue.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 4 Jun 2008 @ 6:22 AM

  357. Geoff Sherrington writes:

    By all means close all coal and gas plants if your wish is to kill millions of people in quick time.

    Except that no one is proposing anything of the sort. What was proposed was a moratorium on new coal plants. Go back and read it again.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 4 Jun 2008 @ 6:23 AM

  358. In #353 Cobblyworlds writes “The winter maxima is largely set outside the Arctic Ocean Basin itself, as the Arctic Ocean is ice covered before the maxima is reached. In that sense a record maxima is largely irrelevant, ice conditions inside the Arctic Basin are more important for the summer minima.” I am trying to understand what effect “annual” ice has on the summer minimum. Please note I am talking the ice that is, by definition, always less than one year old. I have noted before that my instinct tells me that the thickness (or amount) of this ice must be almost entirely caused by the cold conditions during the one winter when it forms. Now there is clearly “annual” ice in the Arctic basin, and how much there is, from my instincts, depends on the length and the cold of the winter. These winter conditions also, presumably, affect how much area the annual ice covers outside the Arctic basin. So, in this sense, the two effects may be correlated. I just dont know.

    Comment by Jim Cripwell — 4 Jun 2008 @ 6:29 AM

  359. Re# 352 Geoff wrote “It’s elemantary that a heating effect exists in a pure, primary sense, but it’s not nearly so clear in Nature.” Exactly right Geoff! You nailed it! Carbon dioxide is just not so clear (transparent) in certain key regions of the infrared part of Nature’s electromagnetic spectrum. That,in fact,is the heart of the problem, recognized long before our current age of exquisitely sensitive analytical instruments. It is so nice to agree on things. Cheers!

    Comment by Stephen Pranulis — 4 Jun 2008 @ 6:46 AM

  360. Re #354 Douglas Wise: Douglas, I’m interested in your choice of authorities on population. Alfred Bartlett is an emeritus professor of physics. This does not in itself mean he has nothing useful to say on population, but he appears to ignore the fact that population has not been growing exponentially: up to around 40 years ago it had been growing super-exponentially at least since the Black Death; since then, growth has been subexponential. As has been discussed on this site, Malthus, whom Bartlett follows, was simply wrong in thinking that people have as many children as they can feed. Abernethy is an even more interesting choice. She describes herself as an “ethnic separatist”, and is a convinced opponent of immigration (to the USA), and of food aid. Her main claim is that fertility follows perceived economic opportunity. There may be some truth in this – common sense suggests people will sometimes delay having children until they feel they can afford them – but it is in no way incompatible with the “demographic transition” (not that I think that is a particularly useful term), because:
    (a) People’s assessment of what they can afford is highly context-dependent, they generally want their children to have at least the socio-economic status they do themselves, and it costs a lot more to raise an urban and/or educated child than a rural labourer. For a start, poor rural children will be earning their keep by the age of 7.
    (b) People tend to copy role-models of higher social status than themselves, and in modern societies those in higher socio-economic strata tend to have fewer children, probably for the reasons set out in (a) (Brazilian soaps, which feature middle-class families with few children are said to have contributed to the drop in birth rate).
    (c) There are reasons to expect women to want fewer children than their male partners: it is the woman who takes the risk of pregnancy and childbirth, and generally does most of the childrearing. Hence improving women’s status, to which educating girls makes the greatest contribution, should drive down birth-rates.
    I’ll admit I haven’t read Abernethy’s work, but I can’t see how she can possibly argue against the fact that birth rates have come down in almost every country over the past 40 years, while people have got richer and more urban, and sexual equality has increased; and that the highest birthrates are in countries that are very poor, very sexually unequal, or both.

    [edit - keep the rhetoric and ad homs down]

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 4 Jun 2008 @ 8:11 AM

  361. Geoff Sherrington, So you do not think CO2 is a greenhouse gas? Gee, I wonder where those extra 33 degrees C came from, then. Or perhaps you think that the greenhouse effect just magically stops at 288 ppmv? Or perhaps you think pixies are stealing the ice from alpine and polar glaciers?
    Your senior colleagues and you must be getting awfully lonely. There is not a single professional scientific or engineering society that dissents from the proposition that the planet is warming or that humans are responsible–not one.
    Geoff, a proposition becomes scientifically settled when those who oppose it stop publishing peer-reviewed research that supports their dissent, and when those few dissenting papers stop being cited in subsequent literature. When it comes to the role of CO2 in climate, we’re there. But, hey, Geoff, by all means, you are free to prove us wrong. All you have to do is come up with a physically reasonable model that does as good a job or better and that assigns a low sensitivity to CO2. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

    Geoff, I am not a climate expert. It’s not my day job. I know enough about the science (because I’ve studied it) to see that it hangs together. I know that a lot of very smart people have also looked at the science and come to the same conclusion–and that unlike the denialists, they have a consistent story. I know that climate science has a 150 year history–it’s not in its infancy. I know that the science points to a credible threat.
    Now risk analysis–that is my day job. I know that for a credible threat, you have to look at possible consequences and probability of occurrence for that threat. What I find here is that there is a whole lot more risk on the upside than the downside–no comfort in other words. The next step is to look for potential mitigations.

    Now here, Geoff is where maybe you can help. I’m not a leftist. I believe in markets and democracy because we know we can make them work. And yet, when it comes to credible solutions for climate change–either technical or economical–I hear deafening silence. Oh, there’s plenty of noise, but it all seems to be directed toward denying sound science that the speakers don’t understand or downplaying risks that cannot be laid aside given the science.
    So, Geoff, I ask you, is capitalism so inflexible that it cannot deal with the problem posed by climate change? Is the prospect really so frightening to capitalists that all they can do is deny the sound science and downplay the risks?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 4 Jun 2008 @ 9:31 AM

  362. Dr. Sherrington writes:
    “… Corporations often lead the pack in remediation of emerging problems, so the public hardly hears of some …”

    Academic scientists have been working hard to make their research freely available to the public, with increasing success, though it’s taken more than a decade to become prominent.

    Have any corporate scientists besides yourself been trying to make their research studies available for publication so it can begin to have a useful effect on public policy and be cited and relied on?

    It seems a shame corporations don’t release their work like the studies you describe eventually to be published in science journals. Your anecdotes about your own company’s research work suggest there’s much else that should be published but hasn’t been.

    The one large collection of corporate research recently turned over to the public, the decades of work collected in the tobacco papers, has been immediately productive of an enormous amount of followon science, citing that work. http://www.library.ucsf.edu/tobacco/

    Yours could be similarly interesting if opened to other scientists.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Jun 2008 @ 9:53 AM

  363. Hi Nick,
    I have not read Abernethy’s work, but I can help out a bit with insight into Al Bartlett. I’ve known Al Bartlett for over 30 years, during which time he has been preaching from the same text–that growth–population and/or economic–in a finite environment is simply not sustainable. One would think that this position would not be controversial, but it is.
    My impression is that A^2B is fully aware of recent demographic trends. However he contends that it is unclear whether what we are seeing is a true turning point in demographics or merely a transition from one rate of exponential growth to another. Indeed, the experiences with birth control in India and China show how difficult efforts toward population control can be and the demographic problems they pose. Even with sub-exponential growth, it is hard to see how a world with 10 billion people is sustainable.
    With respect to Bartlett, I can reassure you that while Malthusian in his thesis, he is not at all Malthusian in terms of the solutions he proposes. He is concerned with sustainability and how we get there–as am I, as are you, and Douglas and almost any other thinking individual who has their eyes open. We all know that the exponential model of population growth is flawed, but it is useful in that it highlights the fact that unregulated growth is not sustainable. We can certainly refine the model, but it won’t alter that basic conclusion.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 4 Jun 2008 @ 10:21 AM

  364. #362 Hank,

    Ouch!

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 4 Jun 2008 @ 10:25 AM

  365. RE #363 (Ray Ladbury)
    “However he [Al Bartlett] contends that it is unclear whether what we are seeing is a true turning point in demographics or merely a transition from one rate of exponential growth to another.”

    Then he’s wrong, since population growth appears not to have been exponential at any point in history. In addition, since a number of rich countries now have birthrates which will if continued lead to rapid population decline, there appear to be no grounds for thinking the growth rate will settle at any positive figure. Of course it might do, and I do not suggest any let-up in efforts to reduce fertility rates, even in countries where they are already below replacement level. What I do object to is the tired claim that population “is never discussed”, and talk of “very unsavoury demographic solutions”.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 4 Jun 2008 @ 10:55 AM

  366. I wonder where the idea that nothing is being done about the environment in general and climate change in particular comes from. I can certainly say for my company (we build cars) that reducing fuel consumption has become the dominant factor in our development matrixes – more important than the next three factors put together. Across the entire lineup, we reduced consumption by 8% in the last decade and if you look at the consumption per car we actually sell (most of the volume is in small to midrange – luxury vehicles play a minor role) the reduction is in the 40% range. In terms of CO2 it means only 37% because we sell more diesel today but its still a significant reduction. The press doesn’t really see that. They prefer to blaim us for the rediculously low mileage of the top models which make up less than one percent of the cars we sell. Apart from that, the entire industry is focused on developing electric drivetrains. The guys calling the shots aren’t stupid and they don’t plan to close down the factories once oil hits the 500$/barrel mark – and most certainly they don’t believe they can survive on a handfull of high performance cars for the select few who can still afford personal transportation at these prices. It takes time, of course. The battery problem still is largely unsolved although progress is being made and its not so unsolved that it might turn out to be impossible. We’ve passed that point a couple of years ago. I see coal power plants as the thing that will probably resist much longer because coal will stay cheap. Getting away from coal will mainly be a politically driven process, rather than a technical issue. Alternatives do exist. Apart from the renewables, with all their issues concerning availability, there is nuclear and in the future there may be fusion. All politicians have to do, is focus on these rather than coal. At least here in germany, that’s kind of a catch 22. The green party went berserk against nuclear since the 70s and when they came to power in the late 90s, they immediately began phasing it out without having an alternative. Surely, the entire country is now covered in wind generators but its still not enough and we have to build new coal power plants – just for the benefit of calming the old, green “no nuke” reflexes. People still claim it can all be done with renewables only – but when it comes to actually doing it, they all seem to get stuck in a large minefield of technical IFs and BUTs and sooner or later they’ll have to turn towards nuclear again.

    Comment by Henning — 4 Jun 2008 @ 12:16 PM

  367. BPL (357) says, “…Except that no one is proposing anything of the sort. What was proposed was a moratorium on new coal plants. Go back and read it again.”

    For the record, both Ike (278) and tamino(283), as pointed out by Douglas (301), do in fact effectively seem to want to stop coal in its tracks, though tamino covers his rear with the slippery *rapid* (his emphasis) shutting of current coal-fired plants, for a couple of examples.

    Comment by Rod B — 4 Jun 2008 @ 1:35 PM

  368. Re CobblyWorlds @353: “The winter maxima is largely set outside the Arctic Ocean Basin itself, as the Arctic Ocean is ice covered before the maxima is reached. In that sense a record maxima is largely irrelevant, ice conditions inside the Arctic Basin are more important for the summer minima.”

    I entirely agree, Cobbly, but then it’s not I who has been touting this past winter’s rapid recovery and maxima in an effort to minimise the precedence of last summer’s melt.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 4 Jun 2008 @ 1:40 PM

  369. Re Geoff Sherrington @276: “Some say we should be preparing hydrogen powered cars because they emit mainly water, but water is a GHG itself.”

    Geoff, this comment from your first post in this thread undermines confidence that you have even a basic grasp of atmospheric science. Please look up the concept of “relative humidity.”

    Never mind, I’ll save you the time. Basically, any water vapour humans add directly to the atmosphere, say from burning hydrogen as a transport fuel, simply will not stay there for more than a few days before condensing and precipitating out. Human activity can not permanently increase the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere without first increasing either atmospheric pressure or atmospheric temperature.

    Oh, wait, what is it we’re doing by directly adding more CO2 to the atmosphere?

    Right, raising the temperature of the atmosphere.

    See how it works? Oh, right, you question the very premise that CO2 has a significant greenhouse gas forcing in nature.

    Geoff: “So, what can we buy with emission credits that is TRULY a gain?”
    “Tell me please, of a few activities that can be done with no GHG addition to the air.”

    Gee, we could cover the costs of building more energy efficient homes and buildings, and retrofitting existing structures. We could subsidise replacing older inefficient appliances and machinery with more efficient models. We could produce more hybrid and pure electric vehicles and transit systems. We could produce and install more solar cells and solar-thermal collectors, more windmill generators, more ground-source geothermal systems, more deep water thermal systems, develop working systems to harness tidal energy, develop actual working CCS, and heck, even build more nuclear plants. Sure, the production and installation of all of these will generate CO2, but it will be more than offset over their useful service life, plus, as non-fossil fuel electrical generation becomes a larger portion of the installed base, fewer fossil carbon fuels will be used to manufacture and install future replacements.

    If you cannot think of many worthy gains on which to spend emission credits you clearly haven’t thought much about the problem.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 4 Jun 2008 @ 1:41 PM

  370. Hank and Ray, I appreciate your points but you are mischaracterizing free private enterprise (a better term than capitalism IMO) and the corporations that operate within. Corporations , with only a couple of notable exceptions, do not do research with any intention of publishing in generic science rags. Their research is done to support their private business — period. They will publish in their in-house organs (some of which are very good) if they don’t think they’re giving up any competitive or marketing advantage. (In some circumstances they’ll allow standard publication.) This does not make them bad citizens — it’s what they do.

    Secondly, free private enterprise will never (damn near…) make investment in a large-scale (global?) efforts which have no assurance of a return, or if there is a return they don’t know how much but know it won’t be realized for at least a couple of decades. They might make such investments if governments give them some sort of assurance/guarantee. This does not make them bad citizens — it’s what they do. Governments have to fill the gap for those things that corporations will not and can not handle — it’s what they do. That’s why ABC company didn’t try to win the market for a national highway system, or XYZ, LLP didn’t try to make a buck by creating and developing the military. Criticizing or wishing otherwise is not relevant and futile. (Certainly the government can set rules and guides that would allow corporations to work on little piecemeal pieces.)

    Comment by Rod B — 4 Jun 2008 @ 2:10 PM

  371. #358 Jim Cripwell,

    As Gavin has already pointed out, the greatest factor in creating thick pack ice is ridging and compression.

    For freezing to occur on the underside of the ice there has to be a heat flux taking heat away so that the ice can freeze. This heat flux will not be into the sea water immediately below the ice, as this is liquid, so above freezing point. The flux will be upwards through the ice.

    The ice acts as an insulator separating the cold air above from the warmer water below. So in winter because of the pretty extreme cold above the ice there’s a net flux of heat upwards through the ice. However heat flux through the ice is inversely proportional to it’s thickness, so as the ice grows thicker much less heat can transfer through it. In other words, the thicker the ice gets, the less underside freezing occurs.

    To get the thick perennial ice of over 2 metres thick you need compression and ridging to come into play.

    Winter conditions do play a major role in the extent of ice at winter maxima. And yes a cold winter will make thicker ice (to a degree). But I really think to jump from that to seeing it as a reason for the ice to not drop at least as low as last year would be stretching the role of first-year ice. My only doubt now is because of the weather. If we get the weather we had last year again this year, I think we could be below 1 million km^2 area in September.

    If the weather pans out like last year and it’s still around 3 million Km^2 area as declared by Cryosphere Today, you can pin a tail on me and call me Eeyore. ;)

    Note: I use “area” not “extent” because if the ice cap breaks up this year, or in the comming years, a break up of the ice could increase the extent despite a drop in area. Last year extent was ~4 million km^2, area 3 million km^2, that’s a big difference. To quote from NSIDC:

    In computing total ice-covered area and ice extent, pixels must have an ice concentration of 15% or greater to be included; thus, total ice extent is computed by summing the total number of pixels with at least 15% ice concentration multiplied by the area per pixel. Total ice-covered area is defined as the area of each pixel with at least 15% ice concentration, multiplied by the ice fraction in the pixel (0.15-1.00).

    Anyway not long until reality adjudicates on this matter. ;)

    Comment by CobblyWorlds — 4 Jun 2008 @ 2:17 PM

  372. Rod B: “Secondly, free private enterprise will never (damn near…) make investment in a large-scale (global?) efforts which have no assurance of a return, or if there is a return they don’t know how much but know it won’t be realized for at least a couple of decades. They might make such investments if governments give them some sort of assurance/guarantee. This does not make them bad citizens”

    Yes it does. If being prepared to sacrifice untold lives in pursuit of your own selfish interest doesn’t make you a bad citizen, what on Earth does?

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 4 Jun 2008 @ 3:57 PM

  373. I always find it striking how readily environmentalists are accused of economic naivité. What is it that we suggest, that (according to received wisdom) is so outlandish? Well, putting insulation in homes. More energy efficient appliances and cars. Investing in efficient public transport. Investing in basic research to promote conservation and energy alternatives. Measures like that may not, on their own, be sufficient to solve GW but they would go a long way, and they are available now. They do require some effort and they do cost some money but to say they are unaffordable, out of reach, they would destroy our standard of living? Nonsense.

    Now enter some genius, let’s say Freeman Dyson, suggesting a major global reengineering effort using some yet to develop magical technology. He doesn’t present any scientific data as to the validity of his idea, no feasibility study, no economic study, no environmental impact study. Nothing, just an idea that appears crazy by any standards, and you know what? People like this guy and his supporters get to accuse *us*, environmentalists, of being naive and economically illiterate. Dyson gets support for his outlandish idea from people who think that tried and proven concepts like insulating homes and public transport are outlandish, too expensive, unaffordable? Excuse me!

    There’s another twist to this story. Let’s assume, for a moment, that Dyson’s idea would in fact work, that it is feasible, that it wouldn’t have major negative effects (an assumption that you’d have to be completely out of your mind to find plausible), and even that it would be affordable. So we’d pay a probably huge amount of money, make a huge effort, but it would save the world. Great. The downside is, that money would be spent once and lost forever, it wouldn’t create anything useful, like infrastructure or technology that future generations would profit from. The balance sheet is, economically speaking, negative.

    The conservation and alternative energy efforts that we “naive” environemntalists suggest, on the other hand, would create lasting infrastructure improvements and help solve a problem that we need to face in any case even if GW were not a problem, namely how to satisfy our and future generations’ energy needs (a problem that Dyson’s scheme wouldn’t address at all). The balance sheet looks much better. In fact many of these measures, especially conservation, would pay for themselves in the long run. They would create jobs and infrastructure and would also save energy money. Where’s the downside? There isn’t any, really. Not even economically!

    Yet, in the economic models that Dyson and his anti-environmental fan-club are relying on, these measures are treated as losses. Something here doesn’t add up. It is rubbish to treat investments in the future as losses. With economic models like that, you end up concluding that any dollar not spent on IPods, clothes and parties is a lost dollar. And that’s what they call economic wisdom these days.

    Comment by piglet — 4 Jun 2008 @ 4:09 PM

  374. Ref 371. Many thanks, Cobblyworlds. As I have noted before, I come to RC to get questions answered, and I think I have accomplished this. We seem to agree that, through the amount of annual ice, the weather of the previous winter will affect the amount of ice at summer minimum. You seem to feel the effect will be small, and maybe even insignificant; I think it is significant, and maybe even large. Neither of us seem to know for sure. As to how much ice there will be next September, being a confirmed denialist, I am praying to all the gods I believe in, and most of those that I dont, that there will be significantly more ice than there was last year. I read as much as I could about last year’s melt, and came to the conclusion that the weather that caused the major disappearance of the ice was much more related to wind, and wind direction, than it was to temperature. But as you note, it wont be long before we know for absolute certainly what is in store the September 2008.

    Comment by Jim Cripwell — 4 Jun 2008 @ 4:13 PM

  375. “It is wonderfully ironic how much enthusiasm there is for supercomputer climate modelling while at the same time such aversion for the idea that supercomputer mitigation solutions are coming soon to a planet near us all.”

    I do have an aversion towards having major public policy questions be decided by appeal to unsubstantiated beliefs (aka religion). And mind you, there’s nothing ironic about people with a scientific background being opposed to magical thinking. What IS ironic is that from time to time even scientists like Dyson succumb to the allurement of the “think positive, it’s gonna be all right” movement.

    Comment by piglet — 4 Jun 2008 @ 4:15 PM

  376. Geoff Sherrington (352) — You could start learning about climate sensitivity here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_sensitivity

    Gregory et al. (2002) is quite clear as is the work of Annan & Hargreaves.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 4 Jun 2008 @ 4:30 PM

  377. Rod writes:
    > Corporations … do not do research with any
    > intention of publishing in generic science rags. …

    Yes, but Dr. Sherrington has been talking about his work that would certainly be of interest to fellow scientists when published. It’s not the _intention_ that matters.

    The Navy wasn’t collecting data from submarines with the intention of informing the science world. But the Navy produces good scholarship, including using that:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?sourceid=Mozilla-search&q=navy+postgraduate+school

    If the work’s competent, the data are there. The academic scientists are working hard to lower the paywalls. Scientists working for corporations could as well.

    Suppose it were really needed for the public benefit?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 4 Jun 2008 @ 5:32 PM

  378. Rod B., Corporate scientists USED TO publish in mainstream science journals. Indeed, it was expected by some labs such as Bell Labs, etc. It is only as the push to become leaner and meaner has settled for meaner that even specifications for copper wire are considered proprietary (I’m not exaggerating here! This actually happened!) Indeed, the corporation as we know it is really only about 100 years old, and is a very different entity from past incarnations such as the British or Dutch East India Companies or even the German chemical companies like I. G. Farben. Indeed until the 1920s, the corporation’s continued existence was not at all assured, as it could have gone the way of its predecessor, the Trust.
    My point here is that humanity has need of organizations that are sufficiently flexible to ensure our survival. If the corporation cannot adapt, it may still go the way of the Trust. If Geoff Sherrington is to be believed, it does not possess such flexibility.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 4 Jun 2008 @ 7:24 PM

  379. Re 369 Jim Eager

    It’s precisely because I have done my homework that I offer an occasional post to Realclimate, which has not gained terribly high standards of acceptance.

    I’ll quote you just one example of how to demolish your argument put as follows
    “Gee, we could cover the costs of building more energy efficient homes and buildings, and retrofitting existing structures. We could subsidise replacing older inefficient appliances and machinery with more efficient models. We could produce more hybrid and pure electric vehicles and transit systems. We could produce and install more solar cells and solar-thermal collectors, more windmill generators, more ground-source geothermal systems, more deep water thermal systems, develop working systems to harness tidal energy, develop actual working CCS, and heck, even build more nuclear plants. Sure, the production and installation of all of these will generate CO2, but it will be more than offset over their useful service life, plus, as non-fossil fuel electrical generation becomes a larger portion of the installed base, fewer fossil carbon fuels will be used to manufacture and install future replacements.

    If you cannot think of many worthy gains on which to spend emission credits you clearly haven’t thought much about the problem.”

    If you build new electricity production plant, you can reduce the amount of CO2 emission. You can also calculate the cost of preventing a tonne of CO2 going into the air. The calculations are country specific, because of the present generation mix, but in Australia the estimate is: To avoid a tonne of CO2 into the air using wind power is $1180. To reduce a tonne of CO2 into the air my building nuclear is $22. There are error estimates about these figures that can be argued, but the gap will never close.

    Industry has to be hard nosed, not wearing its heart on its sleeve, ot its competitors overwhelm it. If there were substantial opportunities to improve the lot of people and the environment, industry would have adopted them years ago. The diffuse energy of sunlight and wind cannot ever be overcome by clever design and will never compete on efficiency grounds with present engineering.

    This post would be too long to correct all the misinterpretations of what I have written above. I will, if asked for specific items.

    The main problem is that most of you enthusiastic guys and girls are too ready to accept as gospel, mantras constructed by others. Mantra writers ofen have an agenda. I have one too, to leave my grandchildren in better circumstances than I have lived.

    You are NOT going to get there by the uncritical acceptance of unfinished and unproven “science” about which you know little. I’m trying to drop in from time to time at a plane above the general discussion here, usually talking about subjects where I have actually done work. I find the CO2 case for AGW to be worthy of proper investigation, overused for intensely political outrageous schemes for wealth ditribution, but LACKING PROOF. Build on the rock and not upon the sand.

    Comment by Geoff Sherrington — 4 Jun 2008 @ 8:07 PM

  380. Nick (372), but the corporations have no firm knowledge or belief that they are sacrificing people by not glomming onto the entire AGW enterprise (and likely going bankrupt in the near future.) So this changes the whole premise of the argument to a no-op, which is, in essence, they are bad citizens because they listened to all of their technical, accounting and marketing people, their customers, and their competitors, et al when they should’ve just given you (or someone similar) a call. You could have saved them all of the drudgery of building widgets and making a few bucks and allowed them to rush right out and save the world.

    Comment by Rod B — 4 Jun 2008 @ 10:09 PM

  381. piglet (373), your general point is well-taken and I don’t think environmentalist should be shut out of economics, per se. They have as much right as anyone. Problem is they often miss the concept and end up sounding silly (as do some economists, to be sure). The economists fussing at the environmentalists are in no way talking of the piddling playing in the sandbox stuff like adding some fiberglass in the attic or buying a new washer and a couple of Fl bulbs. That’s all good stuff, as you say. But forcing absolute reductions in CO2 emissions to what it was 8 years ago, within 4 years from now (and to have 2050 emissions equal to less than 1950′s) without much of an idea as to exactly how to accomplish it — as the current Senate bill calls for — is way out of the sandbox arena.

    Comment by Rod B — 4 Jun 2008 @ 10:40 PM

  382. Ray (378), Hank (377), I think info produced on the public dollar (govt labs, NASA, etc) ought to be made freely available, subject to military and security concerns (which are a long way from trivial). If the public wants private enterprise info they ought to buy it (or like all good governments, pass a law and steal it!) There is no good rational to expect corporations to pony it up carte blanche “for the good of the team”. Just like I don’t think teachers (or climate scientists, et al) should work for nothing to “prove they really care”.

    I agree, Ray, corporations (and govts; and enterprises; and people) tend to go overboard with their conservatism. It all simply comes from anxiety, unknowns, bureaucracy, and lawyers. When I worked in IBM they had four official levels of Confidentiality which if nothing else created a pile of work administering it all, until CookieMan Gerstner came aboard and killed it. [Actually the highest level was unofficial, called "Downright Embarrassin'"] And yes, Bell Labs did publish, but back then they had no proprietary rights to anything the Labs came up with anyway. I suppose other not so anal retentive corporations do, too.

    It all boils down to this: the vast vast majority of U.S. corporations are moral ethical good citizens. We have no justification for expecting them to take on the work and responsibility (other than their part, like our part, too) for fixing AGW just because we wished they would (and the correct bunch won’t do it). As the movie line went, “wish in one hand and crap in the other; see which fills up first.”

    Comment by Rod B — 4 Jun 2008 @ 11:17 PM

  383. 379 – G. Sherrington – you are obviously not an english major – no offense intended, I myself am an engineer and a scientist and I know that neither myself nor my friends excelled in the liberal arts…

    You have said that upon request you would follow with specifics, and I am very much interested in economics of alternative energy. I have a science and engineering background, but I must confess that I am very lacking in fluence with economic issues, and that is where I find my quandary. What limits are appropriate? What are unrealistic? I wish I knew.

    But, I read often on the blogosphere where posters state that wind or solar are unduly expensive. As an engineer, I tend to feel optimistic about such solutions, but clearly, if they are financially untenable, then they would only doom our civilization to an unseemly demise.

    Therefore, I am very interested in following up on your statement: “To avoid a tonne of CO2 into the air using wind power is $1180.”

    This is exactly the kind of fact I need to help formulate my opinion regarding this complex millieu. Please post a citation to the source of this important economic analysis. I’m sure you understand that I cannot with open mind accept as fact a statement from an unknown poster on an abstract blog site.

    I shall be forever indebted, I am sure…

    Comment by Gordon Parish — 4 Jun 2008 @ 11:48 PM

  384. I’m trying to drop in from time to time at a plane above the general discussion here

    Trafalmadore?

    Comment by The Tuatara — 5 Jun 2008 @ 3:32 AM

  385. re: 379. “LACKING PROOF”.

    And there we go again, complete with tired us of capital letters as if that proves the point. How many times must it be drilled into skeptics that “proof” is a mathematical concept? And that the scientific method involves hypotheses, repeatable experiments, data, conclusions and further hypotheses. Followed by peer-review. Goodness, any freshman science student learns this.

    Comment by Dan — 5 Jun 2008 @ 4:46 AM

  386. Geoff Sherrington posts:

    I find the CO2 case for AGW to be worthy of proper investigation, overused for intensely political outrageous schemes for wealth ditribution, but LACKING PROOF.

    Science doesn’t deal in proof, mathematics and philosophy does. But if you’re talking about evidence, people who actually study the matter say the evidence for AGW is overwhelming.

    I don’t agree that the sources being “diffuse” means wind and solar are forever useless, either. Denmark is now getting 16% of its electricity from wind power.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 5 Jun 2008 @ 6:13 AM

  387. Geoff Sherrington, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason you think there is no “proof” is because you don’t understand the physics? Your comments about water vapor from hydrogen cars would certainly indicate a weak understanding of atmospheric science. So I will ask, what specific proof do you find lacking? What would it take to convince you that the rise in CO2 is behind the rise in temperatures? If you cannot answer this, then you have to ask yourself if you are not in denial.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Jun 2008 @ 7:08 AM

  388. Rod (380) “Nick (372), but the corporations have no firm knowledge or belief that they are sacrificing people by not glomming onto the entire AGW enterprise (and likely going bankrupt in the near future.)”

    All they need to do if they want firm knowledge is look at the overwhelming scientific consensus that this is a real, urgent problem.

    However, in a sense, you’re right: legally, corporations have to be psychopathic – they are not allowed to care about anything beyond shareholder profit. Capitalism has created these psychopaths; we have to, at the very least, fundamentally change its rules to oblige them to take wider considerations into account – as of course, we did during WWII. Otherwise, they will destroy our civilisation, if not our species.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 5 Jun 2008 @ 7:57 AM

  389. The Tuatara–not sure if it’s Trafalmadore, but I’m pretty sure his plane does not intersect the real axis.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Jun 2008 @ 9:15 AM

  390. Ray Ladbury wrote: “… not sure if it’s Trafalmadore …”

    Actually it’s Tralfamadore, not “Trafalmadore”. Busy, busy, busy.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 5 Jun 2008 @ 9:47 AM

  391. Levenson posts:

    “I don’t agree that the sources being “diffuse” means wind and solar are forever useless, either. Denmark is now getting 16% of its electricity from wind power.”

    This is only possible because Denmark is interconnected to Norway, Sweden and Germany, the former two having very large amounts of hydro power. Because wind power is intermittent, 20% capacity factor in the case of Denmark, and power systems must always be in balance between supply and demand, the fact that Sweden and Norway can take excess supply from Denmark when it over produces, and supply Denmark power when the wind doesn’t blow (because hydro stations can be ramped up and down quickly to respond to Denmark’s production) means high production rates for wind are possible there.

    However even the 16% figure is imaginary in terms of national consumption. The more accurate statement is: of all the power consumed in Denmark the output of its wind farms totals 16% of that amount. In fact most of that wind output isn’t consumed in Denmark, it is exported because the wind is blowing when Denmark doesn’t need the power.

    Modern economies require dispatchable power. It IS naive to think that wind power, or solar, will be ever more than a small percentage of the demand in most of the world.

    [Response: This makes no logical sense. Instead the conclusion is that wind and solar can be a large part of the mix if you have well-connected grids that allow you to allocate power efficiently. The Scandanavian countries show that this is possible, therefore instead of always claiming that wind and solar can't help, you should be advocating for improved grid mechanisms. There is no reason why this couldn't be done in North America, China/Japan/Korea, India or South America - where there are already regional-scale grids (and energy transfers) in place. - gavin]

    Comment by Ken Milne — 5 Jun 2008 @ 9:52 AM

  392. Rod B., Back in the dark and distant past, I worked for Hughes Aircraft. In the 70s and 80s, Hughes was the unquestioned leader in satellite design. It was a not for profit. But there was a problem–they made too much money. So they were forced into the private sector and GM bought them. I came along after the GM acquisition. GM never turned a profit. Nor has Boeing, who acquired the company just after I left. Now I don’t think the guys who run these big multi-nationals are idiots, but I do think there may be tasks where their business model doesn’t work.

    My current employer, though not in the private sector, has introduced “full cost accounting”. As near as I can tell that means that they don’t care if anything works as long as the books balance. I can’t help but think I might have a cold chill had I been aboard Apollo 13 and heard Ground tell me that they’d get right to solving my problem as soon as they could get a charge number for doing so.

    I can’t imagine Arno Penzias discovering the cosmic microwave background or Jack Kilby inventing the integrated circuit in today’s climate of maximizing ROI every quarter. I see what my colleagues in industry have to go through to publish their research–and it’s good research. I can’t help but believe that we’ve lost something–and given the way China, Europe, India et al. are gaining on us, doesn’t encourage me.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Jun 2008 @ 10:07 AM

  393. Re: #389 (Ray Ladbury)

    In fact it doesn’t even have a real component. It’s not complex; it’s pure imaginary.

    Comment by tamino — 5 Jun 2008 @ 10:49 AM

  394. Nick (388), well, that’s just idealistic tommy-rot ranting. My belief is summarized in 382, but to make it clearer: It ain’t their yob.

    For the record, non-capitalistic systems produce far more psychopaths. I agree that getting them on board by incentives (“changing the rules”) makes sense, like WWII, which btw, we got them on board, in great part, by sending them a lot of money, as we should have (but with care).

    Comment by Rod B — 5 Jun 2008 @ 10:54 AM

  395. Re 379, It doesn’t help much that the previous visit from a higher plane was to drop oblique hints about scientific fraud and shadowy conspiracies.

    Comment by spilgard — 5 Jun 2008 @ 11:00 AM

  396. Rod B. Actually, a good many military contracts awarded during WW II were Cost + $1. But those were national vs. multi-national corporations–different beasts.
    Actually, Nick’s psychopath reference is not far off the mark, although I’d say sociopathic. A sociopath has no moral compass. Corporations, if driven solely to maximize profit, cannot afford one. Even so, a sociopath can often learn to conform to the norms of society if the reward structure is appropriate (e.g. monetary, social, etc.). Psychologist friends of mine say that sociopaths can be the most charming–and scary–clients they come into contact with. The main rule is figure out what they want and don’t get between them and it–or if you want to be ambitious, you can try to make what they want contingent on good behavior.
    The same works, apparently, with corporations. WalMart (or as I call them ValdeMart) has made serious strides toward becoming “green,” although their labor relations still leave a lot to be desired.
    Still, sociopaths are easier to deal with than, say, borderlines, which many authoritarian regimes come to resemble.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Jun 2008 @ 11:29 AM

  397. Tamino, Hmm, given we have concluded that Sherrington’s plane does not intersect the real axis and that it is purely imaginary, does that imply that he has a point? Sorry, couldn’t resist nerd humor.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Jun 2008 @ 11:33 AM

  398. Re Geoff Sherrington @379:”I’ll quote you just one example of how to demolish your argument”

    You specifically asked: “Tell me please, of a few activities that can be done with no GHG addition to the air.”
    After I provided a number of examples that would generate net reductions of CO2–including nuclear–you now try to shift discussion to cost comparisons between wind and nuclear.

    That’s not ‘demolishing’ an argument, that’s moving the goal posts in a classic bait and switch.

    But now that you have tried to shift your argument, I second Gordon Parish’s request that you provide documentation for your assertion of $1180 per tonne of CO2 reduction for wind verses $22 per tonne for nuclear. (Not saying you are wrong, but pardon me for not just taking your word for it.)

    Geoff: “You are NOT going to get there by the uncritical acceptance of unfinished and unproven “science” about which you know little.”

    I don’t claim to to be anything approaching an expert in atmospheric science or the radiative physics of greenhouse gasses, but it was not I who made the sophomoric assertion that using hydrogen–generated by splitting H2O to begin with–as a transport fuel would increase the greenhouse gas water vapour in the atmosphere. Seems to me you have much more homework to do.

    Geoff: “I’m trying to drop in from time to time at a plane above the general discussion here”

    The elevation of your comments is greatly exaggerated in your own mind.

    A quick google search shows that Geoff Sherrington is a frequent commenter at ClimateAudit and other global warming contrarian/denialist sites.
    Here is a link to Geoff Sherrington’s submission to the Garnaut Climate Change Review: http://tinyurl.com/6gjun6
    (Be sure to check out the temperature graph on page 3, it’s good for a laugh.)

    From his submission we learn that Geoff “was for 20 years part of the management of the Ranger Uranium Deposits and for some years visiting President of the NT Chamber of Mines and Energy.”

    And from his ebay profile: “As for myself now retired, my career was spent in Science and management of large resource developments like mines (including uranium) and paper making and printing. Without much prior knowledge of the above, my hobby interests came to include stamps and coins, photography, computer imagery and design and I studied some aeronautics and joined the Australia Sceptics.”

    In truth, you are little more than a run-of-the-mill AGW denialist with no background in climate science and a career in the uranium mining industry.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 5 Jun 2008 @ 11:38 AM

  399. “Nick (388), well, that’s just idealistic tommy-rot ranting.”
    Nice to see a rational argument from you, Rod. I called the corporations psychopaths, not those running them, and for a very good reason: they are legally bound to consider only maximising shareholder value. Damage to the environment? No. Deaths among employees, customers or third parties? No. So long as such deaths or damage do not break the criminal law, and will increase profit, that’s what they are legally bound to do. That’s why I said capitalism created these psychopaths. In WWII, at least in the UK (which faced a real threat of invasion as the USA never did), corporations were in many cases required to coordinate with others and the needs of the state what they should produce and invest in, and rationed in the raw materials they could buy. That is, for the duration, market forces did not decide what should be produced in the key areas of the economy. Of course this was done by negotiation, not arbitrary command as in the Soviet system, and the capitalist elite acquiesced in it because they saw its necessity if they were to hang on to any of their assets. We are now, globally, in as dangerous a situation as the UK was then, although the timescales are longer.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 5 Jun 2008 @ 11:52 AM

  400. #398 – Jim, thanks for the homework on Sherrington, and the link to his paper. It is, as they say, “a real hoot.” As you predicted, I burst into laughter when I saw the temperature graph. Amazing that anyone who knows anything about this would embarrass themselves by publishing it.

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 5 Jun 2008 @ 12:27 PM

  401. Re #396 Ray: “Actually, Nick’s psychopath reference is not far off the mark, although I’d say sociopathic. A sociopath has no moral compass.”

    Ah, I think we have a transatlantic translation problem here: “psychopath” in the UK means, I think, what “sociopath” means in the USA. I don’t know what “psychopath” means in the USA if it has a meaning distinct from “sociopath”; now I think of it, I would have done better to use “sociopath”, since we have a majority of US commentators here. It was in any case the lack of moral compass, or conscience, that I was pointing to.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 5 Jun 2008 @ 12:41 PM

  402. I don’t believe the scandinavian concepts for exploiting renewables can be copied easily. There are no mega-cities and the population is rather small consiering the landmass. Norway only has some 300 megawatts of windpower installed but is much better positioned for water anyway. Danmark is in the 3.000 megawatt range but is of course ideal for wind since the country is almost entirely flat and consists of nothing but coast. The largest installed base worldwide is here in Germany where its far beyond 20.000 megawatts and planned to reach 30.000 this decade. (The US come in second with something like 18.000.) This is only part of the story, of course. Due to the fact that wind is not always blowing at the generators’ sweet spots, the overall gain from our installed twenty-something gigawatts was just around 35 terawatt hours over the entire last year. That means it contributed a mere 5% to the overall production. I don’t think solar and wind together will be able to reach more than 30% in the long run and that would have to include a leap in efficiency for solar. We have no deserts around here and the weather isn’t exactly what you’d call sunny. If it was my money, I’d still bet in on solar. The potential for some regions – including the US – is enormous. But if it wants to truely replace nuclear, gas and coal, somebody will have to come up with an efficient way of energy storage.

    Comment by Henning — 5 Jun 2008 @ 1:00 PM

  403. re #360;365;372 – Nick Gotts

    Nick, If you wish to communicate with me in detail about factors affecting fertility rates, perhaps we should do so through private communication as I believe we may be going off topic. My e-mail address is douglas.wise@gmail.com.

    I gather that the Wikipedia biography relating to Dr Abernethy prejudiced you against her, primarily I suspect, because she has conservative views. You appear to damn her for opposing food aid but fail to acknowledge that she promotes the idea of giving small grants to individual (usually)women in third world countries to allow them to create their own businesses. This is hardly even handed. But running your own business, in your eyes, appears to equate to free market capitalism which you appear to abhor. I doubt you would be quite so parnoid as to be talking of business people as psychopaths if you had had the opportunity to be a net contributer to the tax that is paid to keep you in your academic post (and me, an ex academic, supplied with my inflation proof salary).

    I thought it had become accepted wisdom that food aid (other than in an emergency) was more likely to result in population growth than in an alleviation of poverty. However, perhaps I am merely displaying a right wing prejudice. You might also be shocked to learn that I share the majority view of the UK population by being concerned about the level of immigration. I’m just hoping that the rest of the EU will spare us a few scaps of food when more serious shortages take hold and we are trying to survive in England on half an acre per person of which less than half will be available for agriculture. How hypocritical of me – I’ve just opposed food aid for the Third World in the previous sentence.

    Comment by Douglas Wise — 5 Jun 2008 @ 1:00 PM

  404. Nick, ‘sociopath’ is the current term; ‘psychopath’ is the older term, less well defined by specific behavior.

    The US court system made corporations “legal people” but it makes their behavior conform to very limited notions of what’s proper (“shareholder value”); if people acted like corporations, they’d behave as sociopaths do, or as “rational actors” in the old economic models.

    We’ve learned a lot about brain, behavior, echo neurons, empathy, and community since we defined corporations under US law. Perhaps they can be humanized before they become artificial intelligences.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 5 Jun 2008 @ 1:01 PM

  405. In 379 Geoff Sherrington Says:

    “The calculations are country specific, because of the present generation mix, but in Australia the estimate is: To avoid a tonne of CO2 into the air using wind power is $1180.”

    Wow. According to this, in 1999 US coal fired generators emitted 1778 million metric tons of CO2 while generating 1882 billion kWhrs. Doing the math gives ~1053 kWhrs/ton CO2. Dividing 1180 $/ton CO2 by 1053 kWhrs/ton CO2 gives us $1.12 per kWhr

    A quick Google search turned up an estimate that US wind generation costs 4 to 6 cents per kWhr. So GS is either wrong by nearly two orders of magnitude, or Australia has really poor electrical engineers.

    Comment by Tim McDermott — 5 Jun 2008 @ 1:10 PM

  406. Geoff Sherrington,
    It is pretty clear at this point that you are not an expert on climate. At this point, I would point out that this site is a wonderful resource to come to a better understanding of climate science as the vast majority of scientists understand it. People here are usually more amenable to sincere questions from those who want to learn than they are to pontification. No obligation to become a believer, but at least your opposition would be better informed.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 5 Jun 2008 @ 1:12 PM

  407. For the reccord, the real line and the imaginary line intersect at one point:

    zero.

    :-)

    Comment by David B. Benson — 5 Jun 2008 @ 2:01 PM

  408. Dyson’s an enigma to me as far as climate change is concerned. He clearly is a very smart guy. As I understand it, it’s not that he doesn’t think AGW is occurring, but he thinks that the global climate models have too much uncertainty. Then again, I don’t know in how much detail he understands the modeling; my guess is that not much (I don’t either, btw)

    Comment by CHANGCHO — 5 Jun 2008 @ 2:36 PM

  409. Gavin says in response to Denmark being a one-off when it comes to wind generation:

    “Response: This makes no logical sense. Instead the conclusion is that wind and solar can be a large part of the mix if you have well-connected grids that allow you to allocate power efficiently. The Scandanavian countries show that this is possible, therefore instead of always claiming that wind and solar can’t help, you should be advocating for improved grid mechanisms. There is no reason why this couldn’t be done in North America, China/Japan/Korea, India or South America – where there are already regional-scale grids (and energy transfers) in place. – gavin]”

    You may understand climate physics but you don’t understand the power industry. Denmark only works for high %s of wind power because it is interconnected to places that can quickly ramp up or down their own generation to accomodate wind’s precocious generation patterns. Hydro can do this as can simple cycle gas turbines. Coal can’t, combined cycle gas can’t, nuclear can’t and biomass can’t. There are precious few places in the world where there’s enough hydro to absorb the vagaries of large amounts of wind power.

    It’s as wrong headed to think wind can be a significant player in modern economies as it is, perhaps, to assume GHGs will be reduced by carbon-eating flora. On second thought, Dyson’s plan is a lot more probable than a wind power solution. Sorry, but those are the facts.

    Comment by Ken Milne — 5 Jun 2008 @ 4:06 PM

  410. Tim McDermott Says:

    “A quick Google search turned up an estimate that US wind generation costs 4 to 6 cents per kWhr. So GS is either wrong by nearly two orders of magnitude, or Australia has really poor electrical engineers.”

    Google is good for a lot of things, but apparently not for energy pricing. In the US a wind farm needs to be able to get about $.13 to .$14 per KWhr in order to get built. Since there is no market that pays anything close to this wind only gets built if there are Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and Production Tax Credits (PTCs) to subsidize it. RECs are subsidized by local consumers, PTCs by tax payers.

    The wind in Denmark costs about .23 Euros per KWhr, or about $.35 US.

    Comment by Ken Milne — 5 Jun 2008 @ 4:36 PM

  411. Douglas Wise,
    I did not say business people were psychopaths, I do not consider running your own business to free market capitalism, I do not hold an academic post. I have absolutely no interest in private communication with you.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 5 Jun 2008 @ 4:51 PM

  412. Nick Gotts:
    I called the corporations psychopaths, not those running them, and for a very good reason: they are legally bound to consider only maximising shareholder value. Damage to the environment? No. Deaths among employees, customers or third parties? No. So long as such deaths or damage do not break the criminal law, and will increase profit, that’s what they are legally bound to do. That’s why I said capitalism created these psychopaths

    [groaning] Nick this is nonsense that you can’t possibly believe. One could make the case that corporations *emphasize* profit as they should, but it is typical to factor in a variety of environmental and social factors in the interest of the greater good, the good of employees, and the prevailing cultural and ethical standards. In the USA these factors generally make big businesses a great place to work. Yahoo, for example, has extensive ‘green’ initiatives. Google not only pays a small fortune in stock and salaries but pays for all the meals and does the laundry…free. You’ll say these are the exceptions but good stewardship is the corporate rule which is why the west enjoys such high living standards. That prosperity sure didn’t come from the bureacracy – it came in spite of it. This is why your rules are better applied to enterprises run by those who generally despise US style multinational corporations.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 5 Jun 2008 @ 5:24 PM

  413. I suppose the discussion of corporations is off-topic (for a thread that addresses the subject of genetically-engineered carbon-eating diamond-bearing trees).

    Having said that, while I myself object to the “legal personhood” of corporations and the pernicious effects of the wealth and power that they have accumulated and too often misuse to the detriment of actual sentient beings, I feel obligated to point out that photovoltaic panels, solar thermal power plants, wind turbines, geothermal heat pumps, super-insulated passive solar houses, and super-efficient appliances and other things that are very important and useful in phasing out fossil fuels, are all manufactured and sold by profit-seeking corporations.

    A corporation itself may not have a conscience, but at least some of the human beings who own, run and direct corporations, do.

    By the way, if you research the origin of the legal personhood of corporations you will find that the US Supreme Court decision which supposedly established that corporations are persons under the law, with all of the rights of actual human beings, actually established no such thing, and indeed specifically stated that the Court did not even address that question in its opinion. The legal personhood of corporations is a bogus doctrine with no basis in law.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 5 Jun 2008 @ 5:26 PM

  414. The low end of the IPCC estimate for atmospheric CO2 level in the year 2100 is ~400 ppmv. The high end is ~900 ppmv, with the “Business as Usual” (BAU) estimate being about ~700 ppmv.

    Each ppmv represents ~ 2.13 Gtonnes of carbon. Thus, the BAU estimate shows the increase over the current (385 ppmv) level of about 670 Gtonnes of excess carbon in the atmosphere by 2100, waiting for Mr. Dyson’s miracle trees.

    While large, this is less than a third of the ~2,200 Gtonnes of carbon in the soil and the plants that Mr. Archer claims Mr Dyson’s trees will have to sequester. Mr. Archer is conflating the total emissions from now to 2100 (about 2,000 Gtonnes or so) with the additional amount remaining at the end of the century for Dyson’s trees to sequester.

    It is also worth noting that since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the amount of anthropogenic carbon sequestered by natural processes is on the order of 300 Gtonnes, of which scientists estimate that about a third of the amount (~100 Gtonnes) has been sequestered on land.

    Like David Archer, I would not “bet the farm” on the ability of Mr. Dyson’s miracle trees to absorb 2,200 Gtonnes of C. However, they would not have to, Mr. Archer’s number is out by a factor of three. And the land has already absorbed about a sixth of the amount that Mr. Dyson’s miracle trees would have to sequester, with no apparent ill effects.

    Please be very clear that I am not agreeing with Mr. Dyson’s proposal, I find it very speculative. I am disagreeing with Mr. Archer’s estimate of the amount of additional carbon that Dyson’s trees must sequester.

    [Response: Among other things, you are ignoring the necessity of keeping CO2 out of the oceans, so the oceans don't acidify. Dyson's trees have to pre-empt that as well. Keep it simple for yourself: There are about 6000 GT of fossil fuel carbon, mostly in the form of coal. Economists tend to think all of that will be burned eventually, if nothing special is done to make fossil fuel energy uneconomical. So there you have three times the total soil carbon you need to sequester. So suppose you only burn a third of that before people see the light? There you've got your 2000 Gt. Simple, isn't it? --raypierre]

    Comment by Willis Eschenbach — 5 Jun 2008 @ 7:30 PM

  415. Yeah, Ray, but to say captains of capitalism are sociopaths without a moral compass is equivalent to saying physicsts forget and can’t zip up their pants. It’s just feel-good nonsense.

    Comment by Rod B — 5 Jun 2008 @ 9:43 PM

  416. Gee, Jim (398), while not necessarily agreeing, I was impressed with your retorts/rebuttals to Geoff. Then you just had to go jump in the “and you run around with bad people and your mother is ugly” [edit--folks, lets keep it civil, on **both** sides ok!]

    Comment by Rod B — 5 Jun 2008 @ 9:52 PM

  417. Nick, “tommyrot” not rational enough for you? Then thanks for letting me clear it up with your “claptrap” in 399 — claptrap being just a tad below tommyrot. Corporations, not people are psychopaths you say???? Wow! Legally bound to only maximize shareholder value??? Where in heavens did you get that? Can you find me any State statute that says such a thing? (I’ll help: No.) Your description of corporate mentality and ethos shows you read far too many comic books, in all due respect.

    Recall that US corporations at the behest of the govt saved Britain’s butt with equipment and supplies. (Though I am not diminishing the efforts of Britain’s corporation and especially their people in the least.) …in a time that the population of the US overwhelmingly wanted no part of it — even talked of impeaching FDR for the lend-lease program.

    You have a valid point with the comparison with AGW. But the time scale makes all the difference in what one should rationally expect out of people. (This was discussed earlier in RC.) There was no marshalling and suiting up by the Brits in 1938, save a few voices crying in the wilderness.

    Comment by Rod B — 5 Jun 2008 @ 10:20 PM

  418. Getting further from the beaten path, but we need to get all of our facts straight — maintaining crooked prejudices O.K. Corporations are legal entities that people can establish such that the legal liability of the corporation does not extend to the individual(s). That’s it. And they are not people. They were adjudicated to have similar Constitutional rights as people after, as I recall, some States and Municipalities tried to glom some corporate assets without any due process. A corporation can have no more ethos than your average rock.

    Comment by Rod B — 5 Jun 2008 @ 10:42 PM

  419. Joseph Hunkins wrote:

    “…but it is typical to factor in a variety of environmental and social factors in the interest of the greater good, the good of employees, and the prevailing cultural and ethical standards.”

    Erm, so Exxon, Enron, Monsanto, GM, Blackwater, Carlyle Group, etc., etc, are typical ? Or not ?

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=do-all-companies-have-to-be-evil

    http://wideeyecinema.com/?p=105

    http://earthfirst.com/axis-of-corporate-evil-taco-bell-wal-mart-and-the-nra-hired-black-ops-private-security-team-to-spy-on-green-activists/

    (A disclaimer,I am not endorsing the host sites)

    Comment by CL — 6 Jun 2008 @ 1:42 AM

  420. Re #410 Joseph Hunkins
    As I said, corporations are legally bound to consider only shareholder value. Of course they can argue that looking after their employees and reputation promote that in the long term, and I agree with SecularAnimist that people in responsible positions within them can indeed act well, but you only have to see how many corporations behave when they think they can get away with it (Union Carbide after Bhopal, the corporations that collaborated with apartheid, those running sweatshops in poor countries, tobacco manufacturers, the firms that carried on exposing their employees to asbestos long after it was known to be potentially lethal, Nestle undermining breastfeeding with their “free samples”, Exxon and other liars about climate science etc. etc.) to see that they often behave sociopathically as a result. Actually, western prosperity does come in part from bureaucracy: the bureaucracy that keeps roads, schools, police, publicly funded research etc. going, ensures that disputes can be settled peacefully, and limits the extent to which corporations can pollute. It also comes, in large part, from exploiting the rest of the world.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 6 Jun 2008 @ 4:09 AM

  421. To bolster the messager on 373 from piglet: if you want to use nuclear power to remove CO2 generation from energy generation, you’ll need electric cars, trucks, trains, boats and planes FIRST.

    After all, it does no good to spend 1ton of petrol to dig out and refine nuclear fuel, create the reactors, make the infrastructure when that effort is based on burning petrol to releast 2t of CO2, does it?

    But AGW denialists believe that green transport is much less important than creating the New Wave of nuclear plants. Maybe because this is a big new revenue stream for them to tap into rather than a replacement of the old revenue stream that changing transport is.

    Comment by Mark — 6 Jun 2008 @ 5:01 AM

  422. 411: corporate personhood in the US wasn’t (as far as I’ve read) created by the courts. It was a court administrator that decided.

    And oddly enough, although they are persons in the US legal eyes, they don’t get jailed like persons…

    Comment by Mark — 6 Jun 2008 @ 5:02 AM

  423. “Ken Milne Says:
    5 June 2008 at 4:36 PM
    In the US a wind farm needs to be able to get about $.13 to .$14 per KWhr in order to get built. Since there is no market that pays anything close to this wind only gets built if there are Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and Production Tax Credits (PTCs) to subsidize it. RECs are subsidized by local consumers, PTCs by tax payers.”

    Hmm, I remember when the US government mused about removing the tax credits for nuclear power development. The companies who had said that nuclear was cheap enough to be viable then told everyone that without these tax breaks and perks the creation of nuclear power generators would not be undertaken because it was not financially viable.

    Looks like wind isn’t the only power generation scheme that doesn’t go without subsidy.

    Comment by Mark — 6 Jun 2008 @ 5:06 AM

  424. Rod B wrote:

    “Recall that US corporations at the behest of the govt saved Britain’s butt with equipment and supplies. (Though I am not diminishing the efforts of Britain’s corporation and especially their people in the least.) …in a time that the population of the US overwhelmingly wanted no part of it..”

    I’m astonished that anyone would put forward an argument like this onto a respectable adult forum. It’s the level of kindergarten kids saying ‘my dad’s bigger than your dad’. Isn’t WW2 ancient history yet ? Obviously Rod B is still holding a grudge about something. Perhaps Europeans and Russians should hold a grudge against the USA for Henry Ford’s assistance to Hitler ?

    The point is, that there seems to be a very real possibility of ecological meltdown, the collapse of the biosphere upon which we all rely for our survival and our children’s future. It doesn’t matter what happened in the historical past, it’s utterly irrelevant. We are all in the same boat, on this little planet. What we require is intelligent well-considered proposals to mitigate damage, not [edit]

    Comment by CL — 6 Jun 2008 @ 8:45 AM

  425. Re Ken Milne @409: “In the US a wind farm needs to be able to get about $.13 to .$14 per KWhr in order to get built. Since there is no market that pays anything close to this …
    [snip] “The wind in Denmark costs about .23 Euros per KWhr, or about $.35 US.”

    In Ontario I believe the rate set for wind and solar is CAN$.42 per KWhr. As a result several new wind farms have been or are being built along Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and in the southern Ontario highlands west of the Niagara escarpment. With the addition of ‘smart meters’ to measure what flows into the grid, residential solar installations are also growing.

    BTW, 75% of electricity generated in Ontario comes from non-fossil fuel sources. I believe the mix is 49% nuclear, 25% hydroelectric, 1% wind/solar. The latter is growing, but clearly it will still be a long time before it becomes a significant portion. The Province plans to add more nukes, and possibly undertake a new hydroelectric scheme in the James Bay water shed, then make good on its promise to shut down the 2-3 remaining coal plants.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 6 Jun 2008 @ 9:48 AM

  426. In the news today:

    World must spend trillions to cut emissions: IEA

    Comment by JCH — 6 Jun 2008 @ 9:52 AM

  427. Gavin #391: long-distance power transport is key to making intermittent distributed energy sources like solar and wind useful. Look up High Voltage Direct Current, with quoted loss figures of 3%/1000km even over the sea floor.

    Every point on Earth is within 10000 km of sunlight, and most population centres within 5000 km of sunny deserts.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 6 Jun 2008 @ 10:12 AM

  428. Let’s hope Nordhaus’ and Dyson’s carbon-sequestering trees become a reality, as solar shading isn’t looking so bright:

    New Scientist
    May 31, 2008

    ANYONE clinging to the notion that we can wipe the slate clean of all our climate mistakes by deflecting the sun’s rays with space mirrors is in for a disappointment.

    Dan Lunt of the University of Bristol, UK, and colleagues carried out the most detailed climate-modelling study to date on the impact of a sunshade. They simulated Earth’s climate under three scenarios: pre-industrial times; a future climate with atmospheric carbon dioxide at an extreme level of four times pre-industrial values; and a sunshaded geo-engineered climate with the same high CO2 levels but solar radiation reduced by 4 per cent – similar to Cambrian times, 500 million years ago.

    They found that Earth under a sunshade would not simply revert to its pre-industrial climate. Instead the tropics would be cooler than pre-industrial times by 1.5 °C, while high latitudes would be warmer by 1.5 °C, leading to less sea ice – bad news for animals that fish from the ice. Average precipitation would also drop by 5 per cent, according to the model. The work will appear in Geophysical Research Letters.

    The findings could be the final straw, as there are other drawbacks to building a sunshade. “It would be expensive, disastrous if the mirrors ever failed and leaves other issues un-addressed such as ocean acidification,” Lunt says.

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 6 Jun 2008 @ 10:28 AM

  429. Re: 419:

    Wind Energy Myths from the US Department of Energy says

    “Rates for electricity from wind plants being installed today are comparable to wholesale electric power prices of 2.5¢ to 3.5¢/kWh.”

    and

    “2. Wind energy requires a production tax credit (PTC) to achieve these economics. True, but every energy source receives significant federal subsidies; it is disingenuous to expect wind energy to compete in the marketplace without the incentives enjoyed
    by established technologies.”

    Comment by Tim McDermott — 6 Jun 2008 @ 10:30 AM

  430. I don’t think you can compare these on a price/kWh level. There is a significant difference between conventional powerplants (including nuclear) and renewables when looked at from a public perspective. Conventional plants are the basis for providing enough power at any time, which is vital for society and therefore in the public interest. I think that nowhere on the globe, the decision of whether to build a nuclear power plant, where to build it, how to run it, how to distribute its output and what to do with the waste is made just by a company alone. Its always a joined effort of local and regional or even national politics and a number of companies together. Whether the public donates via the price for energy itself or via tax cuts or direct subvention is probably different from country to country – but it always does carry its share. I like the tax or subvention variant much better than the alternative, which would be even higher prices for energy, because of the social aspect.
    With renewables, it is the other way round. The direct cost and impact from renewables such as wind power (water would be the exception) is rather low but it has to rely on the existence of a maintained and probably even adjusted distribution network and it has to rely on backup in case the wind doesn’t blow strong enough or too strong. If you count in the cost for these alone, it can’t possibly compete on its own and will therefore require almost the same level of public, financial support as nuclear. This sounds like an argument against renewables but I think it isn’t. Its just a fact that you can never really compare energy prices from different sources because the “real” price is always obscured by politics and how it handles primary and secondary costs and judges the public interest. The good news is, that apart from overcoming the technical difficulties, it only takes political decisions to swing the energy market from one side to the other. And once these decisions are made, it can swing really fast. Today our “Bundestag” decided on yet another “Klimaschutzgesetz” (climate protection law) which restructures energy politics in taxes and subvention to achieve a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to the 1990 level by 2020. The cost for society is high, obviously, but so is the gain and apart from the usual complains on behalf of the opposition (“its too expensive” or “its too little too late”, depending on the party it comes from), this law is being widely regarded as a good thing.

    Comment by Henning — 6 Jun 2008 @ 10:31 AM

  431. “Recall that US corporations at the behest of the govt saved Britain’s butt with equipment and supplies.”

    For which they were paid up intil after the turn of the century. Fifty years of paying for it. And that only ended so soon because the dollar went south. I think the UK have paid enough and owe no thanks when there’s been so much payment. Do you owe thanks to your butcher for carving your sunday roast and selling it to you? Or do you just agree that the butcher was needed but they’re getting paid for it and so it’s all even stevens?

    Also note that the payment above is just the cash payment. The UK had been the international currency. They could print money and people would buy it so they could pay for commodities. Like oil. Food. And so on. The US demanded that the dollar become the international currency and they got it.

    That was what allowed a large country with no world power to become a superpower. [edit--the remaining socioeconomic discourse is off topic, and not appropriate for RC]

    Comment by Mark — 6 Jun 2008 @ 11:02 AM

  432. Mark (#417) states

    “AGW denialists believe that green transport is much less important than creating the New Wave of nuclear plants”

    A salient counterexample is Lawrence Solomon. He has campaigned for decades, as one of Canada’s leading environmentalists, against nuclear energy. A few months ago, as a result of a bet with a colleague two years ago, he published “The Deniers”, interviewing around thirty scientists “of great eminence” who question AGW orthodoxy in significant ways. (In differing ways, of course, as well, depending on their areas of expertise.) One of those eminent scientists is veteran physicist and humanitarian Freeman Dyson.

    Is Solomon himself a denier? Or a denialist? Or even worse, an organizer of denialists? Is there a difference between the two terms? Is the fact that he is Jewish relevant to the answer?

    That last question may sound flip but it is not. The term, if originally intended to make comparison, and thus contamination, with Holocaust denial, is a disgrace. But it is also, like much demonisation of enemies, self-deluding, allowing such obviously wrong banalities as “all denialists want nuclear” to pass as fact. A reason to clean up the language as much as the energy, guys?

    Comment by model_err — 6 Jun 2008 @ 12:08 PM

  433. Today is June 6th. In 1944 my uncle was an infantry battalion officer – field promotion to battalion commander just days after landing. His battalion landed in reserve at Omaha Beach. He was severely wounded in the during an assault of Hill 192. Many of his command staff were killed by the explosion. Despite his severe wounds, he continued in action until he passed out from loss of blood. He is the recipient of a medal for gallantry in action.

    Many many Europeans thanked him, and he always accepted it graciously. There is no debt.

    Comment by JCH — 6 Jun 2008 @ 12:26 PM

  434. Probably getting too far off topic with the corporate stuff, but it is relevant to a world view question like this post. My challenge to corporate critics is to randomly pick 10 companies from S&P 500. Assign either “mostly psychopathic activity” or “mostly morally acceptable activity” to each and also do that on the “mostly exploits those in developing world” or “mostly helps those in developing world”. In most cases 9 of those 10 will pass both tests if you answer these rationally and reasonably without cherry picking from the companies or company histories as CL has done above.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 6 Jun 2008 @ 1:09 PM

  435. Back on Topic: Here is the link to the Nordhaus Paper under (non-peer!) review here: http://nordhaus.econ.yale.edu/dice_mss_072407_all.pdf

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 6 Jun 2008 @ 1:16 PM

  436. CL (422), It’s probably getting off topic, but… you brought the Britain thing up. I just filled in the historical blanks in your comprehension — sounds reasonably adult to me.

    Comment by Rod B — 6 Jun 2008 @ 1:23 PM

  437. Mark (429), yes, if I was about to starve to death and a guy came along and agreed to sell me some meat when no one else could or would, and when his investors were creaming him for it, even if I had to pay for it later, I would be extremely thankful — as Churchill was, since he told FDR that Britain was toast without it. I’m still in no way denigrating the efforts of England in responding to a global crises (which is kinda what we’re supposed to be talking about).

    Comment by Rod B — 6 Jun 2008 @ 1:40 PM

  438. Yep Rod B (#434, #435), Churchill was in turn immensely grateful to FDR, then deeply disappointed in him, as he felt he was cut out in favor of “Uncle Joe” Stalin. It’s still not clear why he refused to attend Roosevelt’s funeral. But he loved the US to the end of his days. As Thatcher once said in another area “You can take Winston either way on that.” You can on a lot of things. And he was of course half-American!

    Which brings me to the main point which is to agree, as another Brit coming from a different place from Mark, let’s not go there. The issues here don’t need further, false divisions between English-speakers of any origin, through tendentious history.

    Comment by model_err — 6 Jun 2008 @ 2:10 PM

  439. Re model_err @430: I think the term ‘denialist’ refers to 1) someone in denial or reality, which is a powerful psychological defense mechanism, or 2) someone who actively denies the reality of something for some motive.

    It is the anti-warming side that has made the link to Holocaust denial.

    Comment by Jim Eager — 6 Jun 2008 @ 3:11 PM

  440. Re #430 model_err

    “Denialist”/”denialism” seems a rather good term to me. It characterises the contrived rejection of scientific evidence in favour of some agenda position. Why you should associate the term with the Holocaust defeats me..

    I would have thought that a far more appropriate analogy would be with the various ciggie industry representatives who asserted that ciggie smoking wasn’t damaging to health (when they know full-well that it is!).

    Denialism isn’t equivalent to “skepticism” of course, although some “denialists” pretend to be “skeptics”! Skepticism (we’re all skeptics I hope!) is a position one takes having made an informed and honest acquaintance with the evidence…

    Comment by Chris — 6 Jun 2008 @ 3:26 PM

  441. Re 415 [Rod B] “Legally bound to only maximize shareholder value??? Where in heavens did you get that? Can you find me any State statute that says such a thing? (I’ll help: No.) Your description of corporate mentality and ethos shows you read far too many comic books, in all due respect.”

    “…the directors and officers of a corporation shall exercise their powers and discharge their duties with a view to the interests of the corporation and of the shareholders..” – from section 716 of Maine’s Business Corportations Act. I got this from “How Corporate Law Inhibits Social Responsibility” by Robert Hinkley, a former corporate securities attorney, published in the January/February 2002 issue of Business Ethics: Corporate Social Responsibility Report, available online at http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0119-04.htm. Hinkley says while the wording differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the effect does not. I also refer you to the case of Dodge vs Ford motor company, 1916.

    Among those who agree that corporations should behave like this, according to Joel Bakan’s “The Corporation” (Free Press 2004) are Milton Friedman, Peter Drucker, and Debora Spar. He also quotes the American Bar Association thus: “While allowing directors to give consideration to the interests of others, [the law] compel[s] them to find some reasonable relationship to the long-term interests of the shareholders when so doing.”

    Also Rod, I, not CL, “brought up the Britain thing”, in order to show that there was a precedent for corporations to be subordinated to the general good in emergency. Furthermore, you have more than once claimed or implied that I called business leaders psychopaths, which I never did, and despite correction. May I suggest a remedial reading comprehension course?

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 6 Jun 2008 @ 4:19 PM

  442. Rod B

    But after 50 years? After having to give him food & board for all that time?

    PS moderators, can you cut both this one and 435 because you’ve already recogised that a socioeconomic history lesson isn’t what RC is about.

    Comment by Mark — 6 Jun 2008 @ 5:26 PM

  443. model_Err

    Freman Dyson. I seem to have read that somewhere recently…

    Some of these scientists disagree that GW will increase the number of hurricanes in the US. NOT that GW is not mostly anthropogenic in origin.

    I suspect the rest of “The Denialist” list are similar.

    Comment by Mark — 6 Jun 2008 @ 5:29 PM

  444. JCH.

    I’ve lost great uncles to WW2. Millions of others did too. So why should the US get the glory, the money AND the demanded adulation?

    Comment by Mark — 6 Jun 2008 @ 5:30 PM

  445. Joeduck, I took a quick look at Nordhaus’s tome–in particular the last chapter where he discusses differences with the Stern Report. I certainly agree that Stern was a political rather than an economic document. However, I think that Nordhaus’s discounting approach is fundamentally flawed because failure to act forcefully to reduce ghg emissions will decrease the return we could expect on money spent otherwise. Earth will simply be less productive, less efficient and less able to support a growing human population. And that is under the assumption that the central CO2 sensitivity assumed by the IPCC is correct. If in fact the sensitivity is >4.5, or if there are positive feedbacks that will kick in soon if we don’t reduce emissions, then we are talking about a severely degraded productive capacity if not an outright collapse. As I’ve pointed out, the costs of such an outcome are so high that it probably dominates the risk even if its probability is low (1-5%).
    In my view 3 things have to happen:
    1)We have to better understand whether the high-end tail is real or merely an artifact of our ignorance.
    2)We have to develop technologies and economic and political institutions that will help us limit climate change and mitigate the effects we cannot circumvent.
    3)For 1 and 2 to happen, we need time. This means that we need to significantly curtail emissions in the near term.

    Nordhaus is not an unreasonable guy. He’s made a good faith effort to map out a strategy that could be realized politically. The problem is that he has taken a series of models that are conservative in a scientific sense rather than an engineering or risk-management sense. The former assume values for sensitivity that are either best-fit or on the low side. The purpose is to establish that the effect is credible. The latter try to bound the risk, and so must assume sensitivity that is at least somewhat on the high side, relaxing the conservatism as the science is better known. By taking IPCC projections as his scenario, Nordhaus is ignoring a good part of the risks of climate change.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 6 Jun 2008 @ 6:44 PM

  446. Joseph Hunkins (434) wrote:

    “..In most cases 9 of those 10 [companies] will pass both tests if you answer these rationally and reasonably without cherry picking from the companies or company histories as CL has done above.”

    Ah, yes, the ‘just a few bad apples’ defence, favoured by mendacious politicians to excuse bad behaviour. Well, I’m not going to insist that the whole barrel is rotten. I’m sure there are some benign, enlightened corporations whose conduct is ethical and beneficial.

    However, there is a fundamental problem with the conceptual structure, as has been mentioned by others. Corporations are chiefly concerned with the quarterly results, whilst what we *need* is a view that extends to what is sustainable over far longer time periods, (like centuries).

    Corporations are concerned with maximizing returns for shareholders, regardless of detriment to everyone else (e.g. ‘externalities’,like using the global commons as a cost-free dumping ground for unwanted waste or byproducts, (like CO2))

    And, of course, there are other flaws in the conceptual structure of present day corporations which mean they are poorly suited, as tools, for a sustainable future. It makes perfect economic sense for a corporation to mine resources until they are exhausted, whether it be minerals, fisheries, forests, or any other, and to do it as fast as possible to maximize returns on investment.

    IMO, it’s not fruitful to fall into the familiar ‘free markets v. communism’ nonsense which usually follows any criticism of capitalism. The way to look at the problem is in terms of designing systems which are ecologically and socially as benign as can be achieved, which will provide for our basic needs over the long term. That means, a careful consideration of all the inputs and all the outputs. I believe that requires a radical adjustment to the legal model of what a corporation is and what it is for.
    Seeing as human minds designed the thing in the first instance, it shouldn’t be beyond the wits of smart people to revise the structure when it has become obvious that it often doing more harm than good.

    Comment by CL — 6 Jun 2008 @ 11:35 PM

  447. Responding to Essenbach and Ray (414) — maybe Ray wrote of oceans for this reason or maybe he’s concerned about the oceans’ acidity for the same reason I am — if we find a technological fix to quickly suck the excess CO2 out of the atmosphere, CO2 will come out of the ocean to partially replace it. So the trees need to be able to absorb more than just the excess CO2 in the atmosphere. But Essenbach’s comment raises an interesting question: what will happen to the CO2 sequestered in soils? Is it tucked in there regardless of what happens?

    Comment by Steve L — 7 Jun 2008 @ 1:46 AM

  448. #432 model_err

    The term, if originally intended to make comparison, and thus contamination, with Holocaust denial, is a disgrace.

    But the comparison is inevitable, as both are based on the same psychopathology — where the term originated.

    The real disgrace is not in the comparison but in the similarity. Self-deception is a general-purpose ability, with sometimes a very high human price tag.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 7 Jun 2008 @ 4:59 AM

  449. #414 Willis, Raypierre: there is another logical flaw in the presented calculation. You cannot just remove CO2 separately from the atmosphere alone. Once those “Dyson Trees” start successfully drawing down CO2, they become a competing mechanism to the oceanic and biospheric drawdown, which will become less efficient under a lower atmospheric partial pressure.

    In the final analysis, the full 2000 Gt will have to be drawn down in order to get 670 Gt out of the atmosphere. No way around it, sorry…

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 7 Jun 2008 @ 5:25 AM

  450. re: #445 ray
    As discussed in #24, #49, #90, I’ve taken a good look at Nordhaus & other studies, and started looking at his GAMS code.

    Do you buy the strong assumption that these all make that GDP growth over the next 50-100 years:

    - essentially continues like it has for the last 50?
    - simply ignores Peak Oil+Gas?

    I.e., that GDP growth is divorced from energy*efficiency?

    I recommend Econ Browser as a relevant site, and especially the thread Crude oil prices. UCSD Professor James Hamilton has published a lot in this turf. If you read his Understanding Crude Oil Prices paper, look at Figure 6. “Changes in U.S. real GDP and oil consumption”.

    Then, look at my question of May 25, 2008 07:11PM, which combines the economic projections from the climate studies with peak oil, and hypothesizes that on that chart, somehow the US economy continues to grow at the same rate, despite that line being required to bend over and decline back to 0 (oil = 1949′s) some time during 2050-2100, taking us far outside any ratio we’ve ever seen.

    James kindly replies May 26, 2008 12:20pm, but the answer doesn’t give me a lot of comfort. It is clear that the US economy can continue to grow if the US gets a lot more efficient in energy use, like Japan, Europe, or even California. It is not at all clear that we are prepared to get more efficient fast enough, and the US is not particularly good at dealing with shrinking budgets.

    Comment by John Mashey — 7 Jun 2008 @ 10:47 AM

  451. Mark,

    In part I was just pointing out the spat was occurring on the anniversary of D-day at Normandy.

    If you mean that many Hollywood movies (and even some American historians) have overstated and distorted the role of American combat troops in determining the outcome of the war in Europe, I would have to agree.

    I may have this history incorrect, but the cost of the war was essentially given for free, and that cost dwarfed the post-war money to Britain. That is what I was pointing out. The combat in which my uncle, and millions of others from several allied countries, participated, was given freely: lives and equipment, and there was/is no obligation for that. The money sent on terms was mostly for post-war reconstruction (Canada also made a large post-war IOU to Britain). The reason it took until well past 2000 to finish paying them off was the generous terms; a 2% interest rate. Nobody in their right mind pays off a 2%’er early.

    If Nordhaus had been around you most likely would have paid at least 4%, or perhaps even MC-Visa rates.

    Comment by JCH — 7 Jun 2008 @ 2:17 PM

  452. Re #451. JCH: worth mentioning that Hitler declared war on the USA, not the other way round? That for Eurasia to be dominated by a single power (either Nazi Germany or the USSR) would have been very much against US interests?

    [Response: OK guys, this is interesting but straying way off topic. Please find someplace else to continue this discussion. --raypierre]

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 7 Jun 2008 @ 4:49 PM

  453. John Mashey,
    The question of Peak Oil is not one to be laid aside lightly (nor, with due respect to Miss Parker, thrown aside with great force). Economists tend to assume that new resources will be available as old ones price themselves beyond economic viability. Certainly this is not a given–especially when it comes to replacing as valuable and unique a resource as petroleum. It is not even clear if coal could be made a viable substitution.
    However, if we cannot make the economy grow at something like historical rates, we will have a very difficult time paying for the investment needed to circumvent or mitigate damage due to climate change. In some ways, this is no more audacious than assuming a solution exists in the first place. Those looking for hope can find it. People are responding rationally as gasoline tops $4 per gallon. I hear you can’t even trade in an SUV at a car lot these days. The people of Juneau Alaska managed to cut energy consumption by roughly 30% on a dime recently when their access to hydropower was interrupted by avalanches. Both Presidential candidates are on record as supporting cap and trade type systems to address climate change–albeit with very different levels of ambition and philosophies. Unfortunately, though, I think most people–especially Americans–have yet to grasp the direness of the situation. Our legislative leaders are still more interested in covering their behinds with feelgood legislation rather than dealing with reality, and I don’t see that improving until we can breed a smarter voter. Finally, there’s nothing like the investment we need in future energy sources. Those with money are more interested in speculating on petroleum futures than in creating a future without petroleum.

    [Response: If we stuck with conventional petroleum, the price rise of liquid fuel would probably take care of conservation all by itself. It's already starting to do that, even in the US. What concerns me, though, is that at current prices coal to liquid is almost certainly economically attractive, if you don't factor in the environmental damage from the increased carbon emissions. Even more so for tar sands. Without carbon pricing, I don't think you'll see peak oil. Instead, you'll see increasing use of coal to liquid and unconventional oil, which will tend to cap the price rise, at the cost of greatly increased carbon emissions. So, to Hansen's to-do list, you need to add stopping coal-to-liquid to the goal of stopping conventional pulverized coal power plants. That's the decision point we're at right now: are we going to a coal-to-liquid and coal-electric future, or a decarbonized clean energy future? Both require substantial investments, but without carbon pricing, probably the first alternative is the path of least resistance. --raypierre]

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 7 Jun 2008 @ 4:49 PM

  454. Right of reply claimed;

    As I wrote in #299 on June 2 above,

    ” To beneficially affect the carbon equation, you have to increase the mass of carbon per unit land area – and you have to keep that increased mass in perpetuity, otherwise if it reduces it will give off GHG and the whole exercise would be a transient bit of theft by smooth talking promoters.”

    Show me wrong, please. If you can’t, many of the forestry proposals above are indeed a transient theft.

    Comment by Geoff Sherrington — 7 Jun 2008 @ 7:59 PM

  455. Geoff Sherrington, So you’re replying to yourself? Well, have a nice conversation.

    Seriously, though, I don’t believe you’ve told us anything we don’t know. Forestry can at most provide some breathing space. However, as it will take time to develop mitigation strategies, technologies and institutions for dealing with ghg, breathing space is not unwelcome. I’ll happily pay for more time to save civilization.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 7 Jun 2008 @ 9:15 PM

  456. Geoff Sherrington (454) — At the end of the tree’s useful carbon accumulation period, cut it down. Convert into a carbonaceous material such as biochar, torrified wood or possibly even biocoal via hydrothermal carbonization. Bury the resulting material quite deeply in a carbon landfill or abandoned mine.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 7 Jun 2008 @ 9:16 PM

  457. It doesn’t have to be land, it can be ocean as well.
    It doesnt’ have to be trees, topsoil lasts longer and has been hugely wasted over the past several centuries.
    It doesn’t have to be perpetuity, a few centuries is how long we’ve been in excess.
    It doesn’t have to be theft, it can be accounting.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Jun 2008 @ 9:36 PM

  458. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/314/5806/1773
    “Fisheries have removed at least 50 million tons of tuna and other top-level predators from the Pacific Ocean pelagic ecosystem since 1950,…”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 7 Jun 2008 @ 9:38 PM

  459. Raypierre, I believe that what needs to happen is that energy resources need to start reflecting their full cost–including environmental degradation. Whether that is via cap-and-trade or via a carbon tax is less important. I’m a bit leary of subsidies to particular technologies, as I don’t think it is wise to prejudge the outcome for what new technologies will emerge. However, I think R&D seed money is definitely warranted. Unfortunately, right now, capital is so risk averse that all people can think to do is inflate the oil bubble even more. The risk here is that if the bubble doesn’t pop soon, you might start stimulating enough production that when the boom busts, you could have a few more years of cheap oil. People seem to have forgotten that the way to predict the future is to create it.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 7 Jun 2008 @ 9:40 PM

  460. re: 453: raypierre

    Yes, this is exactly what I’m worried about, i.e., the possibility that:
    1) Most of the economic models say BAU = consistent growth like we’ve seen.

    2) That assumption gets baked into the strategies [in preference to all-out efficiency & decarbonization], and then

    3) OOPS. Turns out not to be true, and in desperation, we see more coal in all its forms, not less. [I.e., we wreck the economy, try to restore it, and get really bad climate effects as well.] Rapid changes are always tougher on the economy.

    Comment by John Mashey — 7 Jun 2008 @ 11:08 PM

  461. re: 453 Ray

    It certainly isn’t understood as widely as it needs to be, and that’s scary.

    On the other hand, I do live in California, and there are serious people in industry, government, utilities, universities, and venture capital firms here who do understand and are investing. Silicon Valley is in hard spin-up mode on greentech. It’s nowhere near enough, but it helps, especially if we don’t have to sue the EPA and DOE all the time to get anything done. The biggest help would be for PUCs nationwide to adopt rules that incent utilities to make money via more efficiency and less CO2.

    Comment by John Mashey — 7 Jun 2008 @ 11:20 PM

  462. Re # 455 Ray Ladbury

    Then, if you have all the answers, please answer these from 1 June 08.

    “Can someone please educate me about GHG emission trading. You take money from GHG emitters and give it to worthy causes. The problem is, I cannot think of many worthy causes. Almost all money that is spent on physical activity (as opposed to share trading, for example) generates GHG almost by definition.

    Sure, some emission trading can result in more efficient energy generation like closing brown coal power stations and replacing them with nuclear. Some say we should plant more trees, but unless we manage their larger mass forever we have caused just a temporary blip in the cycle of Nature.

    So, what can we buy with emission credits that is TRULY a gain? At the moment, it seems like the Gates to Scamland are wide open. The flow of money is potentially incredibly large and the ways to spend it wisely incredibly small.”

    (Ive removed the bait about water being a GHG).

    Comment by Geoff Sherrington — 8 Jun 2008 @ 3:57 AM

  463. I think the most recent rapid rise in oil prices is in large part a speculative bubble, as money has been pouring into commodities generally – food and metals as well as oil – as the dollar falls and property prices in the US slump. The measures the Fed took in an effort to avoid recession have exacerbated this, as the lowering of interest rates has hit the dollar badly. Being a bubble, it is bound to burst sooner or later, and prices will fall – although not back to the level of a couple of years ago. So anyone starting coal-to-oil production on the assumption that prices are going to stay as high as they are now will probably get burned.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 8 Jun 2008 @ 4:20 AM

  464. John Mashey,
    I am curious about the underlying dynamic behind Rosenfeld’s law, which (for the benefit of those not familiar) states that the amount of energy needed to produce $1 of GDP decreases by 1% per year. For the more familiar Moore’s law, there is (or at least was) a physical basis–CMOS scaling. This was a sufficiently reliable guide at least into the ’90s that CMOS devices from that era would have been recognizable to engineers from the ’70s. From the mid-90s onward, Moore’s law has been more a guideline of economic necessity than a recipe for building transistors. The physical implementation of this economic vision has relied in no small measure on activities loosely governed by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors.
    In contrast Rosenfeld’s law has held for >150 years–with no coordination or planning, so evidently we are still in the organic phasw. So what is the underlying driver? Would it be possible to accelerate the rate of energy savings and take advantage of the underlying trends through coordinated action? Do you know of any research that’s been done along these lines?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 8 Jun 2008 @ 7:19 AM

  465. Geoff Sherrington, how about increased efficiency? How about diversification of our energy sources so that we are not dependent on a few families in the Middle East for energy security? How about research into new energy sources? How about a new transportation infrastructure that is not dependent on petroleum? And yes, reforestation projects at the very least buy time, and time is a very valuable commodity? Need I continue? The problem is not in finding worthy projects for expenditures, but rather on keeping the system efficient and preventing politics and special interest from prejudging the outcome.

    In any case, the purpose of either cap and trade is to ensure that energy resources reflect their true cost–and that includes environmental damage such as climate change. (One might also factor in the cost of maintaining a navy in the Persian Gulf to ensure unimpeded access to energy, but that is probably a bit more controversial.)

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 8 Jun 2008 @ 9:44 AM

  466. I know this is dragging on too long, but people trying to get things done through other entities really should understand them through something other than myopic agendas. I’ll try to be simple. Nick (441) quotes part of a statute establishing the legal framework for a corporation that discusses how the directors and officers are to focus on the interest of the owners, meaning functioning as a legally bound fiduciary. To the legislatures drafting legal statements about a legal business entity and actually using words relevant to that (Well, Duh.), he somehow finds nefarious. Presumably the legal parameters establishing corporation shouldn’t say anything about directors not stealing owners blind, and instead should have emphasized, say, being nice to children, no swearing or cussing, planting flowers, and helping old ladies across the street. Get real. Even then the reference is magnitudes away from the original bone of contention that corporations “…are not allowed to care about anything beyond shareholder profit…”, and “…legally bound to consider only maximising shareholder value…”, or that corporations are “legally bound to..” destroy the environment, kill employees and customers, and “prepared to sacrifice untold lives in pursuit of [their] own selfish interest” (my emphasis), or CL’s “…maximizing returns for shareholders, regardless of detriment to everyone else…” none of which bear any semblance to reality.

    Nick, I did initially think you were calling all business people psychopathic, but corrected myself when you explained the personal characteristic of psychopathology, incredible as it states, was actually given to inanimate objects like corporations. Frankly, sounds like a bit of a dodge, but I might be wrong…

    Comment by Rod B — 8 Jun 2008 @ 11:26 AM

  467. Nick, my on-topic point was that 2% is a very low interest rate. Nordhaus used 4%, and Dyson called that conservative, which is a dubious claim at best. I don’t know if one can characterize 2% as a social discount rate (probably not {some might call it sort of kind and gentle!}), but it looks to me like the generation of Americans and Canadians who made the deal with Britain gave up some of their 1946 financial comfort for the betterment of later generations in all three countries.

    Comment by JCH — 8 Jun 2008 @ 12:23 PM

  468. CL (446) and Nick, et al, a more composed response is this. It makes no sense to award a corporate charter to an entity (of people) that wants to make widgets only if they put something totally different, like planting trees (to make up an example), at a higher priority. Why would anyone who knows about making widgets that people want, want to invest in an entity that primarily has to plant trees? Society would end up with neither widgets nor trees. It is infinitely more simple and effective to apply legal ground rules around a corporation’s (or any business entity) operation — done all the time– to incent them to make widgets in a socially responsible way. You do not have to (and I say should not) alter the corporate charter mechanism to force the widget maker to clean up the state’s rivers; but you certainly can, with ease and minimal but worthwhile disruption, make sure the widget maker doesn’t dump tons of nasty pollutants in the river.

    Comment by Rod B — 8 Jun 2008 @ 12:51 PM

  469. raypierre (453), interesting. I have a sandbox-1 question. Are you saying that coal-to-liquid and tar sands base produce more CO2, joule for joule, than “regular” oil? And/or that it takes more energy (and CO2 emissions) to extract coal-to-liquid and tar sands, joule for joule?

    Comment by Rod B — 8 Jun 2008 @ 1:02 PM

  470. Ah, here’s the website, Rod, you can find discussion material here. Good place to go to read up on and talk about opinions on that:
    http://www.thecorporation.com/index.cfm?page_id=38

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 8 Jun 2008 @ 1:15 PM

  471. re: #464 Ray

    I’m not sure there’s a simple answer to the question about Rosenfeld’s Law, which is definitely only a rough guide, as there have been plenty of local jiggles. A good chart is Figure 2.3 of Vaclav Smil’s “Energy at the Crossroads” (good book). It shows Canada, US, and UK on roughly parallel (decreasing) tracks for energy/GDP [UK being most efficient].

    Japan is shown as roughly *increasing* it’s energy/GDP until ~1970, then decreasing and flattening, but at about 2X lower (better) than US.

    For sure, there are country and regional differences as well as policy differences.

    I’ve got to run out, but:
    1) Robert Ayres + Benjamin Warr “Energy & work as drivers of economic growth” is a good book that talks about a lot of this in great detail. I have a pre-publication copy, but it’s pretty extensive. So that’s research from the biohysical economics side.

    2) As to research about explicit efficiency actions, coordination, etc see my post #216 [rummage around in Rosenfeld's talks, see the talk I linked to]. Then see California Energy Commission, especially the topics listed at the right side of their page. Among others, Stanford & UC Berkeley both have substantial research efforts.

    3) Would it be possible to accelerate? sure. California manages to be almost as good as Japan, despite the very different conditions. There are state-by-state differences, but if the US as a whole managed a few more of the same policies, we’d accelerate strongly. Just the change in PUC rules alone would make a huge difference. Have you checked the PUC rules in your state? Do utilities make more money by creating more megawatts or do they get rewarded for efficiency? That sort of thing helped CA flatten KWh/person since 1970s, while US average (including CA) rose 50%.

    Comment by John Mashey — 8 Jun 2008 @ 2:35 PM

  472. Re #468.

    [edit - please keep the rhetoric down. It may make you feel good but doesn't aid dialogue]

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 8 Jun 2008 @ 3:34 PM

  473. Hank! Hank! Hank! There are no discussions there. Only prejudiced rants and selling of books and movies.

    Comment by Rod B — 8 Jun 2008 @ 4:16 PM

  474. John (471), did you just forget? Or do you think the California way, with blackouts, energy companies going bankrupt right and left because of the State’s actions, some going out of business, building no new or upgrades in power plants, transmission lines, oil refineries, and only a piddly pipeline or two for near decades, etc., etc., etc., and the State itself struggling to stay alive and getting virtual handouts from the rest of the country… is a good thing?

    Comment by Rod B — 8 Jun 2008 @ 4:39 PM

  475. Rod B (469) wrote “Are you saying that coal-to-liquid and tar sands base produce more CO2, joule for joule, than ‘regular’ oil? And/or that it takes more energy (and CO2 emissions) to extract coal-to-liquid and tar sands, joule for joule?”

    Yes. Yes.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 8 Jun 2008 @ 5:09 PM

  476. Rod B., Hmm, let’s see. California generates 13% of the US GDP. If it were an independent country, it would rank 8th in the world. I wouldn’t say they’re hurting too badly. What is more, as energy prices rise, energy efficiency is likely to become a critical factor in economic success–and possibly a growth export market.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 8 Jun 2008 @ 8:29 PM

  477. > California … State’s actions

    Yep, it was a terrible mistake for the State to deregulate the public utility system and require the utilities to divest their rate-controlled generation sources and sell them to outsiders who could manipulate the market by limiting power to boost prices.

    Look what happened. The IEEE, among others,
    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=1466909
    points to the lack of price caps and the mess that resulted:

    “California deregulated in 1998 but the deregulated market was not structured efficiently and allowed some companies to manipulate the market by sending the power out of California and then reselling it back into the state. The utilities were not allowed long-term contracts and were required to sell many of their existing plants. California’s experience is unique; in fact, when done well, the success stories in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, England, and Japan show the benefit to both consumers and sellers from electric utility deregulation. Deregulation has been successful in New York, Virginia, and Ontario by protecting the customers from price volatility by price caps. By definition, price caps are not effective in a deregulated market, however, a price cap (i.e., a little regulation) to protect consumers in the transition period to deregulation is good. The price caps can be removed at a later date when the deregulated industry has matured like the power market in New Jersey…..”

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Jun 2008 @ 12:02 AM

  478. John Mashey: What was your question and reply from Nordhaus?

    Ray wrote …energy resources need to start reflecting their full cost–including environmental degradation. Whether that is via cap-and-trade or via a carbon tax is less important. I’m a bit leary of subsidies to particular technologies, as I don’t think it is wise to prejudge the outcome for what new technologies will emerge. However, I think R&D seed money is definitely warranted…

    Ray these are both very good points.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 9 Jun 2008 @ 12:03 AM

  479. re: 476 Ray

    In 2001 balance of payments, CA paid the biggest subsidy (Taxes to Fed) – (Recvd from Fed), -$63B, with NY 2nd at -$47B. In subsidy/capita, CA was 13th (-$1,869/capita), with CT 1st at -$4,333. There are of course plausible reasons for many states to be net recipients. On the other hand…

    AK (which has no income tax, and sends money to everyone every year) somehow also managed to get $2,900/capita more than they sent. [And their legislature wants to spend $2m of that to hire researchers to prove polar bears are just fine.]

    re: 479 Joseph Hunkins

    I haven’t contacted Nordhaus. I certainly need to do some more work first.

    Comment by John Mashey — 9 Jun 2008 @ 12:57 AM

  480. Rod, re The Corporation, I’d made an earlier post before the movie’s website — it must be hung in the spam filter. Search Google Scholar using the name of the book and its author — you will find several academic studies and discussions based on it, in business journals, and some other places where discussion will be possible.

    Sorry that post didn’t show up. Another try:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?&q=Bakan+Corporation+movie+book&btnG=Searchhttp://scholar.google.com/scholar?num=100&hl=en&lr=&newwindow=1&safe=off&q=Bakan+Corporation+movie+book&btnG=Search

    The list Scholar provides of papers citing the book is a good start:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?&cites=14291858687210066050

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Jun 2008 @ 1:37 AM

  481. Rod B #468:

    You do not have to (and I say should not) alter the corporate charter mechanism to force the widget maker to clean up the state’s rivers …

    Methinks you’re declaring war on a strawman here. The problem isn’t that corps are single purpose organizations aimed at maximizing profit within the law — that’s the only sensible way for them to work.

    The problem is that we as a society have given them powers they are unequipped to handle, like freedom of speech (which constitutionally includes campaign financing in the US), which they are obliged under law to abuse as serves them best. This is poison to a functioning democracy.

    They wouldn’t dare to do the things they’re doing (and yes, for some that includes killing people) if they couldn’t “own” decision makers and opinion builders!

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 9 Jun 2008 @ 3:22 AM

  482. Rod B writes:

    Or do you think the California way, with blackouts, energy companies going bankrupt right and left because of the State’s actions, some going out of business,

    I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but the blackouts of the early 2000s were caused by Enron-controlled power plants being told in phone conversations to shut down briefly or reduce power. I’ve heard the tapes of some of those conversations. They were creating artificial shortages in order to jack up the price. I think that’s one of the things Enron officers were convicted for.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 9 Jun 2008 @ 3:22 AM

  483. Rod B (466) wrote :

    “…or CL’s “…maximizing returns for shareholders, regardless of detriment to everyone else…” none of which bear any semblance to reality.”

    Whose ‘reality’ are you living in, Rod B ? I find your injunction ‘Get real !’ gratuitously offensive. Perhaps there’s a clue to your position on ‘reality’ when you complain about the hardships of living in California.

    There are many millions on this planet whose lives (and whose reality) are blighted by multi national corporations. The crimes and detrimental irresponsible conduct of corporations are well documented.

    http://www.corpwatch.org/

    http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/?lid=170

    Comment by CL — 9 Jun 2008 @ 4:41 AM

  484. Rod B,

    I note that you have ignored almost all the points I made in support of my view in #441.

    Robert Hinkley, whose article I linked to in #441, suggests amending the statute I quoted so the relevant passage would read:

    “…the directors and officers of a corporation shall exercise their powers and discharge their duties with a view to the interests of the corporation and of the shareholders, but not at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public safety, the communities in which the corporation operates or the dignity of its employees.”

    Would you have a problem with such an amendment? I would consider it a considerable, though by itself insufficient, step in the right direction.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 9 Jun 2008 @ 6:03 AM

  485. Re: Tim McDermott Says:

    Wind Energy Myths from the US Department of Energy says

    “Rates for electricity from wind plants being installed today are comparable to wholesale electric power prices of 2.5¢ to 3.5¢/kWh.”

    and

    “2. Wind energy requires a production tax credit (PTC) to achieve these economics. True, but every energy source receives significant federal subsidies; ”

    This is complete twaddle. Which justifies people’s skepticism over other claims governments make (as if there isn’t enough evidence to that effect already)

    First this $.025/KWhr number is only operating costs. If you want to get the % of wind up in the US you have to BUILD more plants. When you factor in the capital cost for an entity constructing a wind farm it needs about $.13 to $.14 per KWhr over at least the first 15 years to pay off the investment plus the operating expense. It’s just lying to compare a wind farms operating cost to the all-in costs of other technology and say they’re equal.

    Traditional energy facilities (coal, natural gas) DO NOT receive government subsidies except sometimes in the form of reduced real estate taxes to the local town, which is a rounding error on the other costs of building a new facility. There is no Federal government subsidy of any type for coal and natural gas.

    But all this obscures the question of where dispatchable energy comes from under draconian cap and trade or other CO2 schemes. Costs aside, neither wind nor solar can power a modern economy yet those favoring steep and immediate cuts in fossil fuel use blithely toss out renewables as the answer. This is more fantastical than Dyson’s CO2 eating trees.

    How about a couple facts, as inconvenient as they are.

    1) Wind doesn’t reduce GHGs. Because the wind can stop blowing at any time, coal and gas plants have to keep spinning even though they reduce their output to let the wind power onto the grid. They’re still burning fosil fuel. (Except in unique cases like Denmark where connected hydro ramps down quickly, but where’s the GHG saving in that, you’re just substituting one non-fossil fuel source for another?)

    2) Wind doesn’t blow when you need it to. Just last year, for example, ERCOT (the system operator for the Texas grid, one of the most promising wind resources in the country) determined that only “8.7% of installed wind capability can be counted as dependable capacity”.

    Wind, and solar, are not the answer. There may be other technologies further off, and building a lot of nukes will help, but there really isn’t a good solution today.

    Comment by Ken Milne — 9 Jun 2008 @ 8:05 AM

  486. Ken Milne:

    ” At the same time, wind does not blow at a constant level, and in Texas is often at a low level at the time of the peak electrical demand during summer afternoons. ERCOT studies the availability of wind generation using its historical wind generation data. Using 2006 data, ERCOT has determined that 8.7% of the installed wind capability can be counted as dependable capacity during the peak demand period for the next year. Conventional generation must be available to provide the remaining capacity needed to meet forecast load and reserve requirements. …” – ERCOT

    They’re talking about air conditioning Texas in the summer.

    Comment by JCH — 9 Jun 2008 @ 9:23 AM

  487. Ray, I was talking of California then when it was running out of energy while simultaneously bankrupting or stifleing most of their energy producers. I don’t know what effect on their GDP — then.

    Comment by Rod B — 9 Jun 2008 @ 9:27 AM

  488. Hank (477), all accurate, aggravated by the knee-jerk caps the State put on Utilities were lower than their cost (partly due to what you said) — not a good business plan.

    I’ve always been dubious of utility deregulation, but the successes (seemingly and so far…) you cite and California’s disaster remind me of an old business saw with more truth than humor: Anything you want to do is neither good nor bad so long as you recognize only two ways to do anything: 1) smart; 2) stupid.

    Comment by Rod B — 9 Jun 2008 @ 9:37 AM

  489. Barton (482), yes, Enron played their little part in aggravating and taking undue advantage of the California situation. As did a bunch of others. But laying the entire responsibility on them is just buying into the conventional (but wring) wisdom and the State’s exploiting a ready scapegoat “devil” to pass their responsibility off on.

    Comment by Rod B — 9 Jun 2008 @ 10:01 AM

  490. Ken Milne wrote: “… neither wind nor solar can power a modern economy …”

    Multiple studies have show that they can, your unsupported assertions notwithstanding.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 9 Jun 2008 @ 10:05 AM

  491. CL (483), If you think State corporate charters require them to kill people, destroy things, etc., or that you can correct all corporate evils and get them all to act and do as you wish (which I admit might be nice — but nirvana) by simply changing the State charter system, you’re living in La-La Land. That’s what I clearly meant by ‘get real’. Has nothing to do with the bad actors that anger you so.

    Comment by Rod B — 9 Jun 2008 @ 10:11 AM

  492. Nick (484) re the suggested charter wording, “…the directors and officers of a corporation shall exercise their powers and discharge their duties with a view to the interests of the corporation and of the shareholders, but not at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public safety, the communities in which the corporation operates or the dignity of its employees.”.., repeated here for precision.

    Yes, I think this wording is faulty and virtually meaningless. Does it sound good and desirable? Yes. But here’s the problem: the officers and directors have no idea what they are expected or supposed to actually do. I don’t mean in the platitude realm like Miss America’s ‘I want to eliminate poverty in the world’, which sound good and may even be serious. I’m talking about what they do where the rubber meets the road, exactly what they do when they show up at their desk at 8am Monday morning. Does the CEO decide to make widgets to make a lot more money (while satisfying the public’s appetite for widgets, btw)? He/she can’t. He first has to figure out the effect on the environment (with almost unbounded parameters), if it detracts from any human right (got to do that one at a time, after the list is in hand), if it hinders public safety, messes up the city, or annoys all or some employees (and, btw, in my experience there is not a single thing that a company decides to do that doesn’t bother at least one employee) — none of which he/she has the faintest idea how to do with any specificity. So he can’t make widgets, completely contrary to the shareholders interest. Can’t do anything! The CEO has no explicit direction to follow. Doesn’t know who to call or email first; what meeting with which attendees needs to be held; even if it’s O.K. to even drive to work.

    Nor can you say that the State will simply subjectively monitor and assess intent. This never works in the real world. It’s how we got quotas from an EEOC plan that only required “good intention and effort”. (This was not some sneaky gotcha. It was completely pragmatic. The EEOC had no possible method to measure effort, other than counting numbers.)

    It sounds good, but has no practical use. As I have contended before, all of those things are infinitely easier to do (and are done) with real effect by simply passing laws that bound a corporation’s actions, which btw, if criminal, the corporate officers and directors are not shielded from liability. If you want more effort to mitigate global warming, offer any company a 100% tax credit to, say, build photovoltic cells. You’ll get a pile. Like T. Boone Pickens, former oil/gas tycoon, investing $1B in a North Texas wind power farm relying in part on the operational cents/kWh subsidy. Put “mitigate GW” in the charter, you’ll get zilch, nada, nothing.

    I tried to address post 441 in 466.

    Comment by Rod B — 9 Jun 2008 @ 11:04 AM

  493. Re # 485 Ken Milne “Wind, and solar, are not the answer. There may be other technologies further off, and building a lot of nukes will help, but there really isn’t a good solution today.”

    One possible solution for the future is synthetic organic solar cells: http://www.richardcorfield.com/pages/other_writing/moving_finger/18-20photosyn.pdf
    [The author, Richard Corfield, is an earth scientist and writer based at Oxford University]

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 9 Jun 2008 @ 11:39 AM

  494. Rod, you would do well to read up on the Enron debacle–much of the energy shortage was a creation of Enron to drive up prices. Yes, there are NIMBYs in CA, but it doesn’t have a monopoly on them.
    As to corporations, I think people often forget that their actions are dictated more often than not by shareholders, and shareholders think quarter to quarter or at most year to year rather than long term. And shareholders (both institutional and individual) are “encouraged” to think year to year by the tax code and by other artificial constructs (figuring growth annually for mutual funds, etc.).

    Now there are certainly some corporations like Enron that are pathological and ruthless, but many corproate leaders may be tempted by such behavior because the market rewards it. Likewise if things were constructed to reward longterm thinking and sustainability, we might better encourage such behavior.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 9 Jun 2008 @ 12:37 PM

  495. There are many millions on this planet whose lives (and whose reality) are blighted by multi national corporations. The crimes and detrimental irresponsible conduct of corporations are well documented.

    CL this is correct, but since it is also true that hundreds of millions are advantaged by corporate behavior and hundreds of millions more are “blighted” by Government and non-corporate behavior. Reason demands that we look at the balance of all these forces. Like most who study this extensively I see the balance sheet as favoring corporate style capitalism with some modifications rather than a complete overhaul. Humanities shame is the extreme poverty we allow to continue for about 1 billion people. Generally they are not in a state of multinational exploitation, rather they are *not participating* in our multinational economy. Bringing them in should be the priority rather than killing the gooses laying all the golden eggs. It’s not a fixed sum game, so how do we maintain the production while doing a better job of providing for those who are poor? The answer is to bring them into the game ASAP.

    Comment by Joseph Hunkins — 9 Jun 2008 @ 12:52 PM

  496. > bring them into the game

    The game is what’s been eroding topsoil and breeding antibiotic resistance in farming.

    What’s needed? A game that doesn’t degrade but restores life on the planet.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 9 Jun 2008 @ 1:52 PM

  497. Joseph Hunkins (495) My remarks were in response to Rod B’s comments, which I find reflect the complacent, BAU, attitude, and which remerges in another guise in his post 492

    “…So he can’t make widgets, completely contrary to the shareholders interest. Can’t do anything! The CEO has no explicit direction to follow. Doesn’t know who to call or email first; what meeting with which attendees needs to be held; even if it’s O.K. to even drive to work.”

    So, what are you saying, Rod B ? CEO’s are just too dumb to be able to cope with the difference between right and wrong ? Maybe you are correct.

    http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/top100.html

    Joseph Hunkins, I recognize that corporations are not the only problem, and I have already conceded that not all corporations are unethical. My point was (about a mile up the page) that the way they are structured is intrinsically incompatible with sustainability. You’re not going to raise the standards for the poorest billion by wrecking the total ecosphere. How does one get large rich powerful entities like DuPont to comply with basic ethical conduct ? Perhaps someone can tell me ?

    Rod B has argued that I’ve cherry picked some atypical rotten apples, because I live in Lala Land, and don’t understand that widget makers like Monsanto and DuPont have CEO’s that are just to busy and too dumb to be troubled about morality…I don’t think that this kind of attitude is acceptable; Everybody’s future is effected by what these corporations do. They have power without responsibility, e.g. concerning DuPont :

    “The company has consistently treated the long-term interests of humanity as largely irrelevant” Curtis Moore, Former Counsel to the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

    [Response: Enough of this. We're not a blog on corporate law or corporate ethics -- the Editors]

    Comment by CL — 9 Jun 2008 @ 4:38 PM

  498. Ken Milne posts:

    Wind, and solar, are not the answer. There may be other technologies further off, and building a lot of nukes will help, but there really isn’t a good solution today.

    Wind and solar are a big part of the solution. Solar thermal power plants (not photovoltaic power plants) store excess heat in molten salt and release it at night; some achieve nearly 24/7 operation that way. And don’t forget geothermal, which is also available 24/7. And regional grids would level out local wind inconsistencies. We need to build a direct current transmission system starting immediately. And let’s not forget ocean thermal power, wave, and tidal, and sustainale biomass fuels (not corn-to-ethanol, obviously). Wind and solar can’t do it all now, but they can do it all eventually if we invest that way.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 10 Jun 2008 @ 8:28 AM

  499. In response to John Mashey on low carbon taxes.

    A lot of energy decisions happen at the margins, and a small tax on carbon can flip the economic decision from “use carbon fuels” to “use alternate energy fuels”. Residential solar is circa $0.22/kwh for optimally designed fixed position systems, last time I checked. Add in tracking, or switch over to wind, and the marginal difference for coal generated power begins to decline. It’s that marginal difference, not the absolute magnitude, that matters most.

    I’d expected to see a far greater drop in oil consumption when oil reached $130/bbl. On the other hand, I’d thought it would take longer to get here. The next few years ought to be interesting.

    Comment by FurryCatherder — 10 Jun 2008 @ 8:36 AM

  500. 1. Carbon emissions are not a problem because in a few years genetic engineers will develop “carbon-eating trees” that will sequester carbon in soils. Ah, the famed Dyson vision thing, this is what we came for.

    Uh, we already have “carbon-eating trees”. They are called “trees”.

    This gets back to one of my earliest posts here — we should be sequestering any carbon we can get our grubby little fingers on. We have a ready source of abundant heat (the sun) to convert anything containing carbon into carbon blobs. How many square miles of land are needed to produce how many tons of “carbon-eating trees”, and how much does it take to fell a tree and carbonize it if someone doesn’t care about knot holes or whatever?

    Comment by FurryCatherder — 10 Jun 2008 @ 8:47 AM

  501. re: 498

    I agree with much of that but you neglected to mention conservation as a source. Conservation is the fastest most immediate source of energy we have. Simply use less. Drive 55 not 75. Turn the thermostat down in winter and up in summer. Turn off the lights. Turn off computers. There are tons of little things and they do add up. I’ve cut my home electric bill by about 25-30% by stuff like that. I’ve started taking the bus to and from work. I get to know people on the bus so I’m making new friends. We walk places that we used to drive to, etc.

    Comment by John E. Pearson — 10 Jun 2008 @ 9:36 AM

  502. Barton Paul Levenson Says:

    “Wind and solar are a big part of the solution. Solar thermal power plants (not photovoltaic power plants) store excess heat in molten salt and release it at night; some achieve nearly 24/7 operation that way. And don’t forget geothermal, which is also available 24/7. And regional grids would level out local wind inconsistencies. We need to build a direct current transmission system starting immediately. And let’s not forget ocean thermal power, wave, and tidal, and sustainale biomass fuels (not corn-to-ethanol, obviously). Wind and solar can’t do it all now, but they can do it all eventually if we invest that way.”

    We need to do this, we need to do that. We need to make pigs fly. All of the things you’ve listed above are utopian fantasies (in the context of the next 30 to 40 years). In the same way most contributers to this site decry those who argue against AGW for focusing their knowingly wrong/deceitful/etc. arguments on the unsophisticated masses, many here are similarly hoodwinked by completely unworkable alternative power schemes. Take a moment to reflect on the possibility that you may be as uneducated as to how electricity systems actually work, are paid for, and get permitted and built, as the poor souls “taken in” by Dyson, Spencer, Pielke, et. al. are of climate physics. Is there enough humility here to even consider that?

    [Response: Get a grip. I don't think anyone here or elsewhere underestimates the scale of the challenge, or even the time it will take to get there. But without a goal, there is no progress at all. Simply saying 'it can't be done, it can't be done' is pointless, and will, in the end, be proved wrong. There is absolutely no doubt that there is a huge scope for increasing renewables, CHP and increased efficiency - how much and how fast are valid questions. Address those rather than simply declaring that anyone thinking so must be 'hoodwinked'. Instead of saying it can't be done, talk about what it would really take. - gavin]

    Comment by Ken Milne — 10 Jun 2008 @ 10:16 AM

  503. Gavin wrote to Ken Milne: “Instead of saying it can’t be done, talk about what it would really take.”

    Very good advice. And here is a very good example, which I have cited before, of “talking about what it would really take”:

    In an article entitled “A Solar Grand Plan” in the December 2007 issue of Scientific American magazine, authors Ken Zweibel, James Mason and Vasilis Fthenakis write:

    The U.S. needs a bold plan to free itself from fossil fuels. Our analysis convinces us that a massive switch to solar power is the logical answer.

    Solar energy’s potential is off the chart. The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year. The U.S. is lucky to be endowed with a vast resource; at least 250,000 square miles of land in the Southwest alone are suitable for constructing solar power plants, and that land receives more than 4,500 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of solar radiation a year. Converting only 2.5 percent of that radiation into electricity would match the nation’s total energy consumption in 2006.

    To convert the country to solar power, huge tracts of land would have to be covered with photovoltaic panels and solar heating troughs. A direct-current (DC) transmission backbone would also have to be erected to send that energy efficiently across the nation.

    The technology is ready. On the following pages we present a grand plan that could provide 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy (which includes transportation) with solar power by 2050. We project that this energy could be sold to consumers at rates equivalent to today’s rates for conventional power sources, about five cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). If wind, biomass and geothermal sources were also developed, renewable energy could provide 100 percent of the nation’s electricity and 90 percent of its energy by 2100 [emphasis added].

    The federal government would have to invest more than $400 billion over the next 40 years to complete the 2050 plan. That investment is substantial, but the payoff is greater. Solar plants consume little or no fuel, saving billions of dollars year after year. The infrastructure would displace 300 large coal-fired power plants and 300 more large natural gas plants and all the fuels they consume. The plan would effectively eliminate all imported oil, fundamentally cutting U.S. trade deficits and easing political tension in the Middle East and elsewhere. Because solar technologies are almost pollution-free, the plan would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 1.7 billion tons a year, and another 1.9 billion tons from gasoline vehicles would be displaced by plug-in hybrids refueled by the solar power grid. In 2050 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would be 62 percent below 2005 levels, putting a major brake on global warming.

    This is entirely doable and not at all a “utopian fantasy”. In my view the authors are actually quite conservative and modest in their assessment of the potential of renewables. To put the recommended investment of “$400 billion over the next 40 years” in perspective, the USA currently spends well above $400 billion every year on the military. If we consider the effort to phase out fossil fuels to prevent catastrophic global warming to be the “moral equivalent of war”, then surely we can come up with the required resources.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 10 Jun 2008 @ 12:33 PM

  504. Re #502:

    Ken Milne – If I understand correctly, your contention that renewables can never supply more than a small percentage of our total energy needs is based on the intermittent nature of several of the renewable generating technologies. You’re correct that wind only blows when it blows, and the sun only shines for part of each day. But so what?

    What you’re missing is that diversified and distributed renewable energy generation will do a lot towards matching the power generated to the load. And improved and mature energy storage technologies will also enhance the implementation of renewable generating technologies. Unlike fusion power, no fundamental breakthroughs are needed to begin commercializing a number of approaches to energy storage. Developing more advanced and capable energy storage systems is simply an engineering task. Which is something we have a pretty good track record on.

    It is easy for small minds to look at a revolutionary technolgy and see only its shortfalls and limitations. Before WW I powered flight was clearly just a novely because it couldn’t support commercial aviation. In the early 1970s home computers were a silly idea because only a handful of nerds would want to devote the time to building one. When mobile phones first came out they were the size of a small briefcase and very expensive, so any clear-thinking person could see they would only amount to a niche product. But visionary people saw the potential in these, and many other, technologies that are an integral part of our lives today. Hopefully, renewables will become just as ubiquitous. I believe our future, and that of our children, depends on it.

    Comment by Phillip Shaw — 10 Jun 2008 @ 1:45 PM

  505. Phillip Shaw wrote: “… no fundamental breakthroughs are needed to begin commercializing a number of approaches to energy storage. Developing more advanced and capable energy storage systems is simply an engineering task.”

    Very true. One of my favorite energy storage technologies, which is not as widely discussed as it should be, is flywheel systems, like for example those made by Beacon Power. They are nontoxic, low-maintenance and reliable, and scalable from small, distributed, residential-scale systems up to multi-megawatt utility scale installations.

    Another attractive solution is Compressed Air Energy Storage. There are compressed air energy storage plants already operating in Germany, Alabama and Ohio that store energy in the form of compressed air pumped into underground caverns, from which it is released to drive generators when needed. This concept has even been scaled down to mobile applications, i.e. the “air car” whose engine is powered by compressed air stored in a high-tech, ultra-light onboard tank. It seems to me that if this technology can work with the constraints and challenges of mobile applications, it should be relatively easy to engineer CAES systems for distributed, smaller-scale fixed applications, e.g. residential & commercial buildings.

    In addition to deploying wind, solar thermal, and solar photovoltaic generation and energy storage technologies, we also definitely need an upgraded, next-generation “smart” electrical grid that is designed from the ground up to handle electricity generation from both centralized and decentralized, large-scale and small-scale, baseline and intermittent sources: an electricity “Internet”, which Al Gore has referred to as the “Electranet”. The existing grid is in bad shape anyway and needs major maintenance and upgrades, so while we are at it we might as well do it in the right way, so enable the distributed electricity production systems of the future.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 10 Jun 2008 @ 4:35 PM

  506. Re #502 It’s ironic that on this thread which is about (partly) Freeman Dyson’s utopian pie-in-the-sky notion of “carbon-eating” trees, you are describing as “utopian” in the “pigs-might-fly” sense, the implementation of already mature technologies to the widescale reduction in fossil fuel use.

    Now it may be “utopian” in the political sense. But it’s not utopian in the scientific sense. It’s a question of will. We could, given the will (encompassing the widespread understanding that dramatic reductions of fossil fuel emissions are important), convert to low carbon energy production over the next several decades. Much of the technology is already there, and it will become better developed as time passes. There’s nothing utopian about that. It’s an entirely practical matter……

    …unlike Freeman Dyson’s utopian “solution” which is an entirely non-practical matter!

    Comment by Chris — 10 Jun 2008 @ 4:41 PM

  507. Ken Milne, we have to understand that there are certain things about global warming that we cannot control, in particular, the laws of physics. They are what they are and, as a result, we have a serious problem. The only thing we can control is how we respond to the problem. These “utopian ideas” you refer to represent possible parts of the solution. When President Kennedy said we would walk on the moon within ten years, many in the aerospace industry thought that was a utopian dream. But, guess what? And now we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work on this problem. We cannot wish it away.

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 10 Jun 2008 @ 5:07 PM

  508. Barton (498), why a DC transmission system now? If you’re considering converting the grid and distribution to DC you just bought a mouthful that’s bigger than anything else discussed. If just the transmission, I don’t see the effficienccies or advantage.

    Comment by Rod B — 10 Jun 2008 @ 11:06 PM

  509. RE economics and the environment, it must be noted that the environment (land, water, air, inorganic substances, life) is fundamental, while the economy (production and exchange/distribution of goods and services) is contingent. Animals do fine without economies, as did our prehuman ancestors, but no one can exist without the environment.

    Environmental anthropologist, Roy Rappaport, writes how maladaptive it is that (neoclassical) economics, the contingent, has usurped the status of fundamental. He writes re the reduction of all qualitative differences into quantitative monetary forms:

    “The world upon which the monetary metric is imposed is not as simple as the metric itself. Plants, animals, and societies are complex beyond full human comprehension. To remain healthy, each requires a great variety of distinct materials, generally derived from a variety of sources…Monetization, however, forces the great range of unique and distinct materials and processes that together sustain or even constitute life into an arbitrary and specious equivalence. Phenomena that relate to each other essentially in terms of their qualitative distinctiveness are represented and understood in terms of a logic that reduces all qualitative distinctions to mere quantitative differences, a logic that, as it were, attempts to “bottom line” the world.

    From Roy A. Rappaport, 1993, “Distinguished Lecture in General Anthropology: The Anthropology of Trouble,” American Anthropologist, 95(2):295-303; available on JSTOR (see esp. pp. 298-300).

    My thinking is that a BAU path would eventually send the economy into shambles, sooner probably than later, since a healthy economy IS contingent upon a healthy environment–not to mention kill off a lot of life. The denialist economic arguments sort of remind me of the man up in the tree cutting off the branch he’s on, then crashing down with it.

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 11 Jun 2008 @ 1:38 AM

  510. Re #509, Lynn,
    The way I figure neoclassical economics is that it is a theory or logical framework which has the purpose of providing a disguise for social policies which have the aim of facilitating the right of the strong to take from the weak, and for protecting those gains. It (neoclassical economics) is quite effective in its role, effectively tying people up in the theory allowing the taking to proceed with hardly a murmur of complaint.

    Comment by Lawrence McLean — 11 Jun 2008 @ 5:46 AM

  511. Re 502:

    What you’re missing is that diversified and distributed renewable energy generation will do a lot towards matching the power generated to the load. And improved and mature energy storage technologies will also enhance the implementation of renewable generating technologies. Unlike fusion power, no fundamental breakthroughs are needed to begin commercializing a number of approaches to energy storage. Developing more advanced and capable energy storage systems is simply an engineering task. Which is something we have a pretty good track record on.

    There are more problems than you can shake a stick at with distributed generation. A major reason the grid is workable is that there are so few players in the generation market. This points to larger scale storage and generation solutions, not distributed storage and generation.

    Re 508:

    Barton (498), why a DC transmission system now? If you’re considering converting the grid and distribution to DC you just bought a mouthful that’s bigger than anything else discussed. If just the transmission, I don’t see the effficienccies or advantage.

    Because the AC grid must be synchronized at all times and DC grid interties don’t. It’s a great idea for grid interties, but a lousy idea for much of anything else.

    Comment by FurryCatherder — 11 Jun 2008 @ 6:06 AM

  512. Re #492 [Rod B] Since the moderators have reasonably called time on the corporate ethics discussion, if you want my response, please email me: ngotts at gn dot apc dot org

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 11 Jun 2008 @ 6:32 AM

  513. Re #507 [Ron Taylor]
    Excellent point about the moon landing programme. And when you compare the importance of Apollo (basically a bit of flag-waving) with that of avoiding catastrophic climate change, you really have to wonder how anyone can fail to see the necessity of governments overriding BAU.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 11 Jun 2008 @ 6:57 AM

  514. Wow, T. Boone Pickens is a utopian. Who knew?

    For those who do not know about T. Boone, think J.R. Ewing, Jr.

    Comment by JCH — 11 Jun 2008 @ 8:20 AM

  515. Rod B #508: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HVDC

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 11 Jun 2008 @ 8:29 AM

  516. Re: 513

    Excellent point about the moon landing programme. And when you compare the importance of Apollo (basically a bit of flag-waving) with that of avoiding catastrophic climate change, you really have to wonder how anyone can fail to see the necessity of governments overriding BAU.

    Governments and individuals are already doing quite a bit. Some of it is a bit misguided, like corn-based ethanol, but there are a lot of programs being put into place that will help avert BAU in the States.

    For example, the City of Austin has implemented a program where all of their buildings will be powered by renewable energy soon. West Texas is routinely generating a significant amount of the power required by ERCOT from wind. Solar rebate programs for business and residential customers are gaining popularity. Organizations such as NativeEnergy and their related CoolDriver program are raising money to build wind and biogas to electricity through the Northern Plains. Companies now compete to be “Green”. Chevy has given the official go-ahead on the “Volt” program.

    The major players, at this point, who are working to realize BAU are now China and India. Both countries have horrible problems with air pollution and its likely that air pollution concerns there will work against the current roll-out of coal fired electric generation, in favor of either hydro (China has some — see Three Rivers Dam) and nuclear (India has a thorium to uranium breeder program in the works).

    The nail in BAU’s coffin will likely be massive solar thermal in the American Southwest. Programs are underway to prove out commercial scale solar there. We have a lot of potential for solar thermal here in the States because of the southwestern desert, but we’re not the only country with unused spaces open to the sun — think about warehouse rooftops anywhere there is a warehouse or office complex. And while distributed generation is a disaster for grid stability and management, self-sufficiency is a different matter. Energy self-sufficiency, at the level of the small consumer (

    Comment by FurryCatherder — 11 Jun 2008 @ 8:58 AM

  517. FurryCatHerder “There are more problems than you can shake a stick at with distributed generation. A major reason the grid is workable is that there are so few players in the generation market.”

    The solution’s obvious: nationalise the energy supply industry.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 11 Jun 2008 @ 9:51 AM

  518. SecularAnimist (505), Admittedly I haven’t done the calculations, but intuitively some of the storage schemes seem fantastical. What does a multi-megawatt flywheel look like? What’s its size, weight and foundation? For how long will it produce multi-megawatts? Same question for what I might install in my house/yard, though that’s a little easier to imagine. In addition, where would I put it (garage, yard, attic, etc)? Is it noisy like (worse?) my washing machine? How often would I have to grease the bearings?

    Do you have any figures (or a reference to) on the compressed air scheme? An example of how much pressure and how much mass required to deliver how many watts for how long from what sized tank?

    Comment by Rod B — 11 Jun 2008 @ 10:50 AM

  519. FurryCatherder wrote: “There are more problems than you can shake a stick at with distributed generation. A major reason the grid is workable is that there are so few players in the generation market. This points to larger scale storage and generation solutions, not distributed storage and generation … distributed generation is a disaster for grid stability and management …”

    Distributed generation and storage are coming, so the grid will have to be updated to accommodate them. Progress is already being made in Europe, particularly in Germany where feed-in tariffs have spurred the rapid growth of small-scale photovoltaic installations that feed power into the grid.

    At one time, computer networks were designed to link dumb terminals to mainframes, and could not very well handle decentralized, distributed peer-to-peer communications where each host has its own CPU and storage and can act as a client or a server or both simultaneously. So we invented the Internet. We need a comparable revolution in the electric grid. Al Gore has suggested that this might be a worthy project for DARPA (which “invented” the Internet).

    Having said that, I agree with you that large-scale solar thermal generation in the southwest USA will be — should be — HUGE. That’s the cornerstone of the “Solar Grand Plan” described in the Scientific American article I linked to yesterday. But small-scale distributed generation from wind turbines and rooftop PV scattered all over the country will also be a major component of the energy supply of the post-carbon future, and the grid will have to be able to handle it.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 11 Jun 2008 @ 11:08 AM

  520. Martin and FurryCatherder, I understand and concur in the advantages of DC transmission. My point was the advantage is highly limited by mostly very long distances, with no intermediate stops and where eventually AC losses exceed DC losses. Plus as FurryCatherder points out it is infinitely easier to synchronize! Though even that might go away with a jillion distributed sources. Oh, yeah. It’s easier to connect with photovoltic stuff.

    Comment by Rod B — 11 Jun 2008 @ 11:22 AM

  521. Re: electric grid
    I have found a useful discussion albeit from four years ago:
    “Transforming The Electric Infrastructure”
    Gellings and Yeager, Physics Today, Dec 2004
    http://www.physicstoday.org/pt/vol-57/iss-12/p45.html

    I like the idea in Fig 6, of microrings with distributed generation and storage.

    Towards the end an estimate is given that an additional investment of (US)$8-10E9 annually is required for implementation of the ideas in the article, resulting in a rise in electric rates of 3-5%. A timescale of a decade is mentioned in the next para. This is contrasted with the $18-20E9 annual current expenditure for demand growth and failure replacement.

    sidd

    Comment by sidd — 11 Jun 2008 @ 12:18 PM

  522. Rod B:

    My point was the advantage is highly limited by mostly
    very long distances, with no intermediate stops and where eventually AC
    losses exceed DC losses.

    But that’s not a limitation, it’s where HVDC is most useful! It’s not in and of itself a solution, but an enabler for solutions. Like solar in the sunny SW US, or Mediterranean Europe, far from most consumers. Or OTEC power plants on the high seas, with HVDC links on the ocean floor.

    Note that HVDC could even be a substitute for storage, if generation capacity is placed in different time zones from the consumers. With a typical loss figure of 3% per 1000 km this is a real possibility.

    Comment by Martin Vermeer — 11 Jun 2008 @ 12:43 PM

  523. I’m pretty much convinced that compressed air is going to end up being very useful.

    Rod B, have you ever heard of IOWA?

    Comment by JCH — 11 Jun 2008 @ 12:54 PM

  524. Rod B, for more info on utility-scale flywheel technology, take a look around the Beacon Power website. They have just received regulatory approval to build a 20-megawatt flywheel frequency regulation plant in Stephentown, New York.

    For more info on compressed air energy storage, take a look around the Air Car website.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 11 Jun 2008 @ 2:23 PM

  525. FurryCatherder (511) — Multiple smaller producers promote grid stability given the proper regulatory and control environment. This is, in effect, already here in the Pacific Northwest and will continue to grow by such small increments. I assure you the regional power companies are on top of it.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 11 Jun 2008 @ 3:02 PM

  526. Nick (517) if nationalizing the power industry was meant to be a humorous fix to FurryCatHerder’s stated problem with highly distributed power sources, I missed it and apologize. If serious, could you offer one clue as to how nationalizing would help in any way? Are there stealth folks in the Fed that know a lot more about and can change the physics and mathematics of the power network’s synchronization with varying loads. sources, and sinks than folks in the power industry?

    Comment by Rod B — 11 Jun 2008 @ 3:03 PM

  527. SecularAnimist (519), your thrust is probably correct, but it’s not a good idea to downplay the extremely serious technical hurdles that have to be jumped in a fully distributed power distributed system. Routing packets of data is a far different process from the reflowing of electrons and electric fields, and you can not ignore the technical downsides that stem from the peer-to-peer decoupled nationwide/global wide computer networks. Probably ought to be pursued, however, despite the difficulties, because that’s the road we’re evidently going down. But don’t expect Algore to wave his magic wand.

    Comment by Rod B — 11 Jun 2008 @ 3:18 PM

  528. #526 (Rod) An essential services network (water, power, telecoms, public transport) is best run as a single entity, with the primary aim of avoiding breakdowns. If multiple competitors are involved, they spend half their energy trying to do each other down.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 11 Jun 2008 @ 5:04 PM

  529. Rod, don’t get hung up on the political buzzword.
    This is physics; legislation failed to change it:

    American Institute of Physics

    http://www.aip.org/tip/INPHFA/vol-9/iss-5/p8.html
    Eric J. Lerner
    What’s wrong with the electric grid?

    ——excerpt follows; click link for full article—-

    The warnings were certainly there. In 1998, former utility executive John Casazza predicted that “blackout risks will be increased” if plans for deregulating electric power went ahead. And the warnings continued to be heard from other energy experts and planners.
    ….
    …. In the four years between the issuance of Order 888 and its full implementation, engineers began to warn that the new rules ignored the physics of the grid. …At the same time, data needed to predict and react to system stress—such as basic information on the quantity of energy flows—began disappearing, treated by utilities as competitive information and kept secret…. The solution advocated by deregulation critics would revise the rules to put them back into accord with the grid physics.”
    ——————-
    Please, read it.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 11 Jun 2008 @ 5:35 PM

  530. Martin (522), I mostly agree. I was commenting on what I though was a Barton proposal to replace the grid en masse with DC. Maybe I missed what he meant.

    Comment by Rod B — 11 Jun 2008 @ 8:26 PM

  531. JCH (523) says, “…Rod B, have you ever heard of IOWA?”

    Matter of fact I grew up in Iowa. The article was interesting. It doesn’t seem to have greatly improved efficiencies and the heating of the released compressed air taints of defearing the purpose. But it’s an interesting start and, most important, seems to work, at least on paper.

    Most of Iowa is far more interested in ethanol.

    [Response: Something I've never understood is why Iowa isn't more interested in biodiesel from soybeans. It's not the ideal oil crop, but between lower fertilizer usage and lower processing energy, it would appear to be a far better energy crop than corn. Is there some reason these guys couldn't grow soybeans instead? Agreed, there are problems will all current biofuel crops, but between biodiesel and corn ethanol, biodiesal would seem to have all the advantages. --raypierre]

    Comment by Rod B — 11 Jun 2008 @ 8:36 PM

  532. David (525), sounds interesting. But also curious since it seems to run counter to the general knowledge and mathematics of multi-connected peer-to-peer networks.

    Comment by Rod B — 11 Jun 2008 @ 8:43 PM

  533. Rod, how interesting, you and James Hansen both from Iowa.

    Raypierre, your comment about soybeans raises a question for me. Would it be possible to separate the protein and oil in the soybeans so that the primary food value (protein) could be conserved, even though the oil is used for biofuel?

    Comment by Ron Taylor — 11 Jun 2008 @ 9:04 PM

  534. SecularAnimist (524), thanks for the links. I would suggest that flywheel frequency regulation (actually short-term load/demand regulation) even at multi-megawatts for presumably a few milliseconds, maybe a second or two, is a long long way from a power supply as such. But it’s interesting, and a start.

    Comment by Rod B — 11 Jun 2008 @ 9:06 PM

  535. Nick (528), that concept I agree with…

    Comment by Rod B — 11 Jun 2008 @ 9:09 PM

  536. Hank (529) and a ps to Nick, surprise, maybe, but I agree with you. As you may know I am an avid supporter of capitalism, free private enterprise, competition and market forces. But I also understand that they all need help sometimes, and don’t work with a damn in a case or two. My feeling was that the going hell-bent for leather down the competition path for the power generation industry was totally misdirected by politicos jumping on the buzzwords (“competition”; “for the children”) and chasing a pot of gold that they new nothing about — and didn’t care. Other than in certain limited areas I don’t believe competition lends itself to the power industry. [note they didn't deregulate the industry, the did the generation part -- like deregulating automobiles, but only the engines] Private enterprise works, but only if smartly regulated. Power generation competition has worked better here in Texas than most other places (so far… knock on wood), I believe, because they established a State-ran grid controller, ERCOT, which does not have/allow the problems you cite (though ERCOT did get caught in a little shenanigans a while back — only human, I guess). I don’t think they own transmission facilities, but they pretty much run them for about 80% of Texas’ power.

    Comment by Rod B — 11 Jun 2008 @ 9:36 PM

  537. Rod, again, read about how the grid used to be managed. A national grid, or a statewide grid with controlled and limited outside links, is not peer-to-peer — it’s a single physical machine. That’s what federal deregulation tried to change by legislation. Might as well define pi equal to three.

    Look, I know nothing about this but what’s published. You can read it for yourself. It’s not hard — electrons flow as physics describes, not as financiers wanted to believe they would when they changed the law to make money faster.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 11 Jun 2008 @ 10:40 PM

  538. PS — here, Rod. FERC has been trying to solve the problems created and described in that article ever since it became obvious what was wrong. Here’s their current plan as of March of this year:

    http://www.ferc.gov/industries/electric/indus-act/oatt-reform.asp#skipnavsub

    “The major reforms are:
    1. Greater consistency and transparency in ATC calculation.
    2. Open, coordinated and transparent planning on both a local and regional level.
    3. Reform of energy and generator imbalance penalties….. “

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 12 Jun 2008 @ 12:37 AM

  539. How about moringa trees for biofuels? They grow in the lower latitudes of the world in drought or flood conditions in poor soil, and they take up very little space, shooting up vertically some 30 feet within a couple of years. A killing frost will make them die down, but they will again shoot up 30 feet within a couple of years.

    Their seeds can be used for biofuel, as well as their cellulose woody pods and branches. They grow from branch cuttings as well as seeds and propogate like weeds.

    Mainly they have been used for food (leaves and drumstick fruits), and have triple the calcium of milk, and more protein too. As fodder, the leaves increase milk production in cows by 60%. It’s also a medicinal herb.

    We have about 20 in your back yard, but people here in the US don’t know about them. We’d like to promote them more, but don’t have much time.

    See the PowerPoint (right column) at http://www.treesforlife.org/our-work/our-initiatives/moringa

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 12 Jun 2008 @ 4:43 AM

  540. Nick Gotts writes:

    The solution’s obvious: nationalise the energy supply industry.

    As a teenager I supported that idea, but in college I studied economics and history.

    To nationalize an industry is to make it a state-supported monopoly, and monopolies are inefficient by definition. All the industries in the old USSR were state-owned and operated, and they trashed the environment of those countries for decades to come. Nationalization doesn’t really help anything.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 12 Jun 2008 @ 6:37 AM

  541. Nick,

    The physics of electric grid management doesn’t care about free market competition or not. However, having a smaller number of players does mean that changes in load and generation don’t require calling or signaling or anything else-ing some huge number of distributed players.

    Comment by FurryCatherder — 12 Jun 2008 @ 7:26 AM

  542. raypierre (531), soybeans historically have been the close second major crop in Iowa, with sorghum or others a distant third. The rough farm standard was plant half corn and half soybeans (maybe 2/3 – 1/3 depending on relative price) and rotate them every other year. (You’re correct: legume soybeans provide their own fertilizer and are a good soil replenisher for the hoggish corn.) Historically corn had 3 times the yield (bu/acre) and ~ 1/3 the price, though corn yield has improved a little more than soybeans over the years. My guess is that corn is now predominate strictly based on the market. Farmers are far and away more focused on selling high yield crops for as much as they can, long-term saving the planet not so much. When and if the rest of the world demands and is willing to pay for a lot more soybeans for biofuel/diesel, they’ll plant and grow more of them.

    Comment by Rod B — 12 Jun 2008 @ 9:40 AM

  543. Ron (533), I don’t know if protein and oil are easily separated, but don’t discount the strong semand for the oil in foodstuffs.

    Comment by Rod B — 12 Jun 2008 @ 9:44 AM

  544. I’ve read that the corn rotation has gone from CS CS CS to CCS CCS CCS. The income from corn offsets the lower yield in the 2nd year of corn.

    But the real problem is procreation. Iowa farm boys would not know what to do with a soybean-fed girl.

    Comment by JCH — 12 Jun 2008 @ 11:03 AM

  545. There is a pretty good discussion of small-scale biofuel production at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mK1D-PKehI

    This is a good solution for Third World agricultural economies, particularly in an era of rising energy prices and steadily increasing global warming.

    However, large-scale biofuel production for export is not a good idea, as these small countries are also desperately in need of basic foodstuffs. What they do in India is to grow tough biofuel crops on marginal land or on the edges of agricultural fields.

    In the U.S., currently about 20% of corn/soy is for export – but if all countries adopt practices of local-self reliance for food production (a very good idea!) and also raise import barriers to U.S. crop exports (which are subsidized to the tune of ~30 billion a year by the U.S. government), than that excess production can be fed into biofuel.

    The real future of technically advanced biofuel production is going to be algae – they grow the fastest, they have the highest yield by far, and their biochemical constituents (50% oil by weight) are quickly and easily converted to petroleum-like constituents (indeed, that’s where petroleum came from in the first place.) Algal biofuel research is completely unsupported by the U.S. federal government, however – the NREL’s algal biofuel program was cancelled in 1997, and no new source of funding has emerged. That’s just another example of the power that the fossil fuel lobby has over much technical scientific research funding in the U.S. Billions for “carbon sequestration” schemes like the FutureGen flop, but nothing for the real solutions.

    Technically speaking, the downstream oil refinery business can do the exact same things with biofuels that they do with petroleum – cracking, blending, etc. The only ones who would lose out in this scenario are those involved in the “upstream petroleum business” – which needs to be phased out.

    The bottom line in all this is that there’s only one way to slow global warming, and that is to halt all fossil fuel emissions.

    How to replace that energy source is a separate issue – but simple physical arguments as well as numerous engineering demonstrations have proved, once and for all, that global human energy needs can be met with a combination of sunlight, wind, and photosynthesis, with no need for fossil fuels whatsoever (or nuclear, for that matter).

    Comment by Ike Solem — 12 Jun 2008 @ 11:12 AM

  546. I submit for discussion the following commentary on nuclear, wind, solar and efficiency from renewable energy & efficiency guru Amory Lovins, originally published in the May 26 2008 issue of Newsweek:

    Missing the Market Meltdown
    Renewable energy is attracting Wall Street but nuclear power isn’t. Why? Simple economics.
    By Amory B. Lovins
    NEWSWEEK
    May 26, 2008

    Capitalists have already scuttled Patrick Moore’s claimed nuclear revival. New U.S. subsidies of about $13 billion per plant (roughly a plant’s capital cost) haven’t lured Wall Street to invest. Instead, the decentralized competitors to nuclear power that Moore derides are making more global electricity than nuclear plants are, and are growing 20 to 40 times faster.

    In 2007, decentralized renewables worldwide attracted $71 billion in private capital. Nuclear got zero. Why? Economics. The nuclear construction costs that Moore omits are astronomical and soaring; low fuel costs will soon rise two-to fivefold. “Negawatts”—saved electricity—cost five to 10 times less and are getting cheaper. So are most renewables. Negawatts and “micro-power”— renewables other than big hydro, and cogenerating electricity together with useful heat—are also at or near customers, avoiding grid costs, losses and failures (which cause 98 to 99 percent of blackouts).

    The unreliability of renewable energy is a myth, while the unreliability of nuclear energy is real. Of all U.S. nuclear plants built, 21 percent were abandoned as lemons; 27 percent have failed for a year or more at least once. Even successful reactors must close for refueling every 17 months for 39 days. And when shut by grid failure, they can’t quickly restart. Wind farms don’t do that.

    Variable but forecastable renewables (wind and solar cells) are very reliable when integrated with each other, existing supplies and demand. For example, three German states were more than 30 percent wind-powered in 2007—and more than 100 percent in some months. Mostly renewable power generally needs less backup than utilities already bought to combat big coal and nuclear plants’ intermittence.

    Micropower delivers a sixth of total global electricity, a third of all new electricity and from a sixth to more than half of all electricity in 12 industrial countries (in the United States it’s only 6 percent). In 2006, the global net capacity added by nuclear power was only 83 percent of that added by solar cells, 10 percent that of wind power and 3 percent that of micropower. China’s distributed renewables grew to seven times its nuclear capacity and grew seven times faster. In 2007, the United States, China and Spain each added more wind capacity than the world added nuclear capacity. Wind power added 30 percent of new U.S. and 40 percent of EU capacity, because it’s two to three times cheaper than new nuclear power. Which part of this doesn’t Moore understand?

    The punch line: nuclear expansion buys two to 10 times less climate protection per dollar, far slower than its winning competitors. Spending a dollar on new nuclear power rather than on negawatts thus has a worse climate effect than spending that dollar on new coal power. Attention, Dr. Moore: you’re making climate change worse.

    ——————————————————–
    Lovins is chairman and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute. An expanded version of this essay is available at:
    rmi.org /images/PDFs/Newsletter/ NLRMIspring08.pdf.

    Comment by SecularAnimist — 12 Jun 2008 @ 11:36 AM

  547. Re: soy beans, protein and oil. After the oil is expressed from the soy beans, what is left is a high protein meal that is mostly used for animal feed. In some cases, additional processing is done–I think this is where soy protein isolate comes from.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 12 Jun 2008 @ 11:42 AM

  548. David, could you give more specifics from peer reviewed studies about why “plastic trees” would not work?
    I’m not for or against them. I just have not read enough about them. Wally Broecker is currently pushing them.

    Comment by Richard Ordway — 12 Jun 2008 @ 12:46 PM

  549. Rod B (532) — The Western Power Grid of course obeys Kirchhoff’s laws, as do all synchronously rotating AC power networks. There are many big suppliers into the network, mostly hydro around here. The smaller producers supply stability in that so-called peaking power is more easily obtainable. In addition, unscheduled outages from smaller producers have a much smaller effect than the same from larger producers.

    The control problem was largely solved some decades ago by the use of centralized computing and control centers. BPA’s is especially large and they even have a back-up far away from the main site. Avista, my local supplier, does much the same with a control center and a back-up site.

    The main challenge left appears to be establishing the proper regulatory environment so that the transmission companies obtain enough income to (convince investors to) invest in additional capacity.

    Raypierre — The nation’s farmers have planted about 6% less maize than last year, the balance mainly going into soybeans. I suspect that the price of nitrogen fertilizer had something to do with all those individual decisions.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 12 Jun 2008 @ 5:44 PM

  550. RE mitigation in the future being cheaper, I think the more appropriate wisdom is “a stitch in time saves nine.”

    Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 12 Jun 2008 @ 9:36 PM

  551. re: #550

    Lynn: if you meant to refer to some others’ idea that people will be much richer in the feature, and therefore can more easily afford both mitigation and adaptation … which most economic models include…

    I’d observe that adapting to:
    - rainfall patterns that move (in some cases making drier areas drier and wetter ones wetter), which likely require more pumping (CA already spends 20% of our electricity pumping water), building dams, moving structures around in flood-prone areas.
    - rising sea levels, which require earthmoving for dikes, steel & concrete for sea walls, and later, rebuilding infrastructure uphill/inland.

    In the US, most of the existing infrastructure has been built with an average price of $20-$30/bbl of oil, accumulated over a century or so.

    Needless to say, the really great, 100:1 EROI oil is gone, and with the usual jiggles, the price is on its way up. What we have right now is mostly a demand shock, as demand keeps rising while oil production has flattened. When world oil production starts dropping, we’ll add a slow-motion supply shock as well. Neither will help reduce the price of oil.

    This is what I was talking about in #24.

    Comment by John Mashey — 13 Jun 2008 @ 12:21 PM

  552. David (549), that sounds interesting and a bit better. Thanks for the info. I’d still keep my eyes open, though, to avoid the maxim that those who underestimate the difficulties, complexity, and problems (not to mention the UNKs and the UNK-UNKs) stemming from these types of networks risk highly likely disasters.

    Comment by Rod B — 13 Jun 2008 @ 12:36 PM

  553. > The main challenge left appears to be establishing the proper
    > regulatory environment so that the transmission companies obtain
    > enough income to (convince investors to) invest in additional
    > capacity.

    That’s the main point in the AIP article too, though they say ‘re-establishing’ and go into detail about how it works and why.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 13 Jun 2008 @ 1:07 PM

  554. #551 John Mashey,

    The point you raise concerns me greatly. I’m some 75%+ convinced by the argument (TOD/EnergyWatch) that we’re at peak now and that we’re seeing it’s effects. In the Arctic alone we have a process that could lead to a situation where serious secondary impacts/amplifications coincide with the downward slope of peak oil. Already the food price rises have exacerbated existing drought and poverty in Madhya Pradesh and Ethiopia, Haiti’s government have fallen. I fear a “perfect storm”.

    Comment by CobblyWorlds — 13 Jun 2008 @ 2:26 PM

  555. Rod B (552) — I sit here surrounded by academic power engineers (“The best in the West”) working with academic computer scientists to enhance grid stability everywhere in, at least, the U.S. The WPG has survived, so far, windstorms, tornadoes, transmission line overloads (no power on the HVDC California intertie for awhile) and most impressively, the loss of the HVDC intertie inverter station in the last big Southern California earthquake.

    While the regulatory authorities do not expect 100% reliability, they do set reliability goals for the power companies. Failure to meet these means possible fine or even loss of license. The electrical power industry is highly regulated and has been around for quite some time. I’ll say that ‘disasters’ are rather unlikely, unless you are referring to loss of electrical transmission in parts of the south after Katrina. Such events are considered to be ‘acceptable risk’.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 13 Jun 2008 @ 2:29 PM

  556. David (549), Actually, the lower amount of corn planting this year is predominately weather related. Too wet during corn planting window, and planting corn late has a much greater impact on yield than does planting soybeans late. JCH, you can also do a lot more fun stuff hidden in a cornfield that you can’t do between soybean plants, and not so fun stuff like getting lost!

    Comment by Rod B — 14 Jun 2008 @ 12:56 PM

  557. Hank (199), sorry for the tardiness. The article on chestnut growing was interesting with some new (to me) info. But chestnuts or hazelnuts and their trees being competitive with soybeans and corn is just way beyond even imagination, either the annual crop or the every couple of decades or so harvesting the lumber. Nor is it obvious how GW is significantly aided — simply from the trees absorbing CO2?? Any analysis sources?

    Comment by Rod B — 14 Jun 2008 @ 3:27 PM

  558. Re 525:

    (Sorry, oldie but a goodie)

    FurryCatherder (511) — Multiple smaller producers promote grid stability given the proper regulatory and control environment. This is, in effect, already here in the Pacific Northwest and will continue to grow by such small increments. I assure you the regional power companies are on top of it.

    As has been demonstrated in a variety of research papers, at some point the increased regulation expenses associated with micropower generation (small wind and solar) double the cost of wholesale power production. One study out of Michigan showed that at a 20% market penetration, regulation expense alone rose to $0.02 / kwh, which is comparable to bulk coal generation at $0.02 to $0.04 / kwh. I’m not sure how “single largest contingency” planning would work when large scale micropower solar production meets cloudy week.

    Here in Texas we had a power emergency when wind output in West Texas stopped because the wind stopped blowing. I don’t recall what ERCOT did to manage the emergency — someone mentioned it to me in passing, and I verified that somehow or other the wind just stopped blowing out west of me (I live in Central Texas).

    I’m not a tree huger by any stretch (my other car is an old Corvette Stingray), but I am able to tell which way the wind is blowing, and after we were threatened with rolling blackouts in ’06, I started thinking standby power wasn’t a bad idea. I now produce several megawatt hours a year on my roof and when a big storm comes through, I check the house’s batteries rather than looking for flashlights and candles.

    There are ways to make micropower generation work, but they are all far more spendy than industrial scale renewable energy, if only because of economies of scale. Add to that the high regulation expenses associated with micropower, and why the heck are we doing this again?

    Comment by FurryCatherder — 15 Jun 2008 @ 7:33 AM

  559. Re #540
    Barton,

    Power generation for many years, and largely still is, carried out by state government monopolies here in Australia. In spite of being CO2 emitters, in other respects their behavior is not to bad. The fact that the old Soviet Union was a dictatorship in a morally bankrupt culture was likely the reason that they behaved so badly, not that they were government owned. Why not compare the behavior of Government owned monopolies in Sweden, Norway, France etc.

    Cheers…

    Comment by Lawrence McLean — 15 Jun 2008 @ 8:09 AM

  560. Dyson’s magic-wand claim that we will very soon genetically engineer trees to eat up all the extra CO2, reminds me of Gregg Easterbrooks’ magic-wand claim in “A Moment On The Earth” that we will very soon genetically engineer all predatory animals into being vegetarians and thus re-establish the Garden of Eden on Earth and make everything perfect. Yes, seriously.

    Denialism has long since jumped the shark into pure kookery.

    Comment by TTT — 16 Jun 2008 @ 9:02 AM

  561. FurryCatherder (558) — Yes, although I wasn’t writing about micropower. Still, I expect the problems associated with some micropower generation will be solved.

    Regarding wind and solar, what is needed is continent spanning power wheeling. The big transmission grid will be your friend.

    Comment by David B. Benson — 16 Jun 2008 @ 2:10 PM

  562. Re 561:

    Regarding wind and solar, what is needed is continent spanning power wheeling. The big transmission grid will be your friend.

    And Kirchoff’s Law will be your enemy.

    You can’t wish solutions to problems into existence. How is this continent spanning grid going to work in something like Asia? And why the heck do we need a grid that size? And are you “expecting” the problems to be solved, or are you busily solving the problems?

    Comment by FurryCatherder — 17 Jun 2008 @ 6:37 AM

  563. Actually Dyson’s vision of carbon eating vegetation is already a reality: the necessary biotechnology is available to begin mitigating atmospheric carbon (see “Soil carbon sequestration in phytoliths,” Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 37:117-24, 2005 and http://www.goldschmidt2007.org/abstracts/A985.pdf.

    Comment by Bert — 17 Jun 2008 @ 6:57 AM

  564. #540 BPL “Nationalization doesn’t really help anything.”

    Oh, right. That’s why US health care is so much more efficient than that in Cuba (multiples of spend for equivalent results in terms of longevity, infant death rates etc), and why everyone in Sweden, Norway, Austria etc. is starving. I see.

    “Monopolies are inefficient by definition”. No, they are not. I suggest you look up “monopoly” and “definition” in your dictionary. Sometimes, they are less efficient than competition, sometimes – if run as a public service rather than to maximise profit – more so.

    Barton, I’ve lived through large-scale privatisation of essential services networks in the UK. I’ve seen how the rail service has deteriorated, how leakage from water mains has grown and public willingness to restrict consumption during droughts has vanished, how energy and telecoms companies spend much of their energy in trying to poach each others’ customers with introductory offers, then rely on inertia to keep them while they impose concealed price rises.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 17 Jun 2008 @ 7:27 AM

  565. Yup. There are problems with public utilities, but ‘Balkanization’ doesn’t solve them.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Jun 2008 @ 10:44 AM

  566. Bert, that’s an interesting paper (drop the trailing period to get the link to work): http://www.goldschmidt2007.org/abstracts/A985.pdf

    But think about the problems we have now from high silica plants. Low to zero value for wildlife. Increased fire risk from material that doesn’t decompose annually so accumulates as dry thatch. Cancer.
    http://annhyg.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/38/2/149.pdf
    http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0080-4622(19840213)304%3A1121%3C537%3ASRAISO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-A

    Sometimes I wonder if we’re mindlessly producing a complete suite of materials suitable for some replicator technology that will displace us by assembling our successors out of PCBs, CFCs, carbon nanofiber, silica fiber and all the other persistent and unhealthy material we’re accumulating. Charles Fort would have had something to say about this.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 17 Jun 2008 @ 10:55 AM

  567. As Hank Roberts points out, problems with high silica plants would certainly be a consideration if increased carbon sequestration in phytoliths required increased silica uptake by the vegetation.

    However, it is not the amount of silica that determines how much carbon a vegetation type (e.g. cultivar) sequestrates in phytoliths (but of course you need some silica uptake), rather it is the efficiency by which the plant silica entraps carbon as the phytoliths develop. For any given silica content, different plants trap very different amounts of carbon. Fundamentally for this process, it isnt the amount of silica the plant takes up that is important but rather the way the plant uses it.

    Comment by Bert — 17 Jun 2008 @ 4:31 PM

  568. FurryCatherder (562) — HVDC currently provides regional grid interties. There are substantial costs, not the least of which is the 3–5% loss per 1000 km.

    Nonetheless, even spanning Asia may occur someday. The largest project that I know of some planning for is to dam the Congo and tributaries, wheeling the power as far as Europe and the Middle East. Africans will also benefit. (The Congo ecosystem might well not.)

    I’m not solving the problems, but there are others in these very buildings who are working on some of the grid stability and control questions. Not to mention in various DoE national laboratories…

    Comment by David B. Benson — 17 Jun 2008 @ 6:11 PM

  569. Nick Gotts writes:

    #540 BPL “Nationalization doesn’t really help anything.”

    Oh, right. That’s why US health care is so much more efficient than that in Cuba

    If you had mentioned the National Health in the UK or the Canadian single-payer health insurance system, you might have had some credibility. But no one with any sense wants to live in Cuba.

    Those systems are not popular because they’re efficient; they aren’t efficient. They’re popular because inefficient health care is better than no health care at all, and that’s what many people used to have. It’s what people in the US have now (including myself and my wife), which is why I favor national health care here. But to expect that nationalizing the energy industry would somehow increase efficiency is economically illiterate.

    Comment by Barton Paul Levenson — 18 Jun 2008 @ 6:42 AM

  570. Who said anything about wanting to live in Cuba? Cuba’s life expectancy, infant mortality, maternal mortality rates are very close to those of the USA, on a tiny fraction of the budget.

    Saying that something is “economically illiterate” is an assertion, not an argument. When you come up with an argument, I’ll answer it.

    Comment by Nick Gotts — 18 Jun 2008 @ 9:06 AM

  571. I think Dyson’s vision is, if anything, too narrow – or have too many of the more exciting ones are already taken? I’d have thought Space Power Satellites up his alley or a Global Grid that can send Australian and African and Middle East solar power to the US without excessive losses – maybe the energy transmission technologies of SPS employed to enable a Global Grid. Or deep drilling for geothermal power, or a Manhatten type project to develop the energy storage we desperately need. Climate Engineering is what he’s talking about and it is going to keep rearing it’s head. GM organisms that might perform such functions as sequestering Carbon probably deserve consideration. In that context Dyson doesn’t seem all that visionary.

    Comment by Ken — 21 Jun 2008 @ 11:30 PM

  572. Fun stuff:

    At Toyota greenhouse, C02 emissions no villain
    ROKKASHO, Japan, June 22 (AFP) Jun 22, 2008

    In a sprawling greenhouse with shiny silver ducts running through, stacks of cardboard boxes feature prints of a flower alongside the distinctive red Toyota logo.

    In an experiment aimed at putting to use some of the carbon dioxide blamed for global warming, the giant auto group is using Asia’s largest greenhouse for potted flowers, stretching across 20,000 square metres (five acres).

    “Nowadays you automatically think of C02 as a villain. But it’s what plants need to grow,” said Teruo Takatomi, president of unit Toyota Floritech Co. Ltd.

    The system generates power by burning natural gas, with electricity used for lighting over plants, “waste” heat for warming water, and emitted carbon dioxide falling on plants to promote their photosynthesis.

    “You have gas emissions when you generate electricity. After removing nitrogen oxide from the gas, C02 is returned here for plants to inhale,” farm chief Takuya Sato said, pointing to the overhead ducts.

    The new system introduced in March is expected to help the company slash C02 emissions by a combined 460 tonnes a year, he said.

    The farm is the first large commercial facility in Japan to introduce a form of “trigeneration” system — production and use of three different resources from a single fuel, according to project partner Kansai Electric Power Co.

    The system comes along with a machine that provides high-oxygen water to help invigorate plant roots.

    “The point of the system is — let’s generate power and use the byproduct too, leaving almost nothing wasted,” said Hiroshi Teshima, an energy business official at Kansai Electric.

    “People who grow plants say that C02 during winter is as effective as sunlight,” he added.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 23 Jun 2008 @ 5:09 PM

  573. i will love to know facts and figures about this ghg that comes out from steel foundries especially the electric arc furnace operation and the application of the above article to it.

    Comment by toluwani — 25 Jun 2008 @ 3:20 PM

  574. > Hiroshi Teshima, an energy business official at Kansai Electric.
    > “People who grow plants say that C02 during winter is as
    > effective as sunlight,” he added.

    Citation needed, obviously.

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 25 Jun 2008 @ 5:38 PM

  575. re: 572-574

    This is actually at least plausible, although I’d want to see the numbers as well.

    Liebig’s Law of the minimum, which any farm kid learns (if not by name) by the time they’re 10, says that plant growth is limited by whatever is in shortest supply.

    If one has a temperature-controlled greenhouse, with adequate water and fertilizer and sun, then it’s well-known that some crops grow better if one pumps in CO2. People sell lots of CO2 gear, or:
    Google: garden supply carbon dioxide

    I don’t know about Japan, but I used to see a lot of greenhouses in nearby Korea, so greenhouses seem useful in that geogrpahy. Using waste CO2 and heat directly, rather than burning yet more gas to heat greenhouses and provide CO2 seems like a good idea, at least in general, like an extension of CHP. Maybe every coal plant should have big greenhouses attached.

    Of course, the use of CO2 for controlled-environment-grown plants has nothing to do with the fantasies of the Western Fuels Association about greening the Sahara, or helping plants grow in general (Liebig’s Law still rules, and no matter how high CO2 goes, the Sahara won’t be growing corn.)

    Comment by John Mashey — 25 Jun 2008 @ 11:48 PM

  576. Hmmm… I read the article by Dr. Dyson and then found a link to this “rebuttal”. I had a few thoughts as someone who is trying to increase their knowledge on this subject prior to forming firm opinions:

    1. Dyson’s article which reviews 2 books is well written; he gives a summary of both books and discusses the main conclusions. From the last part of the article it is clear that he himself is skeptical of the doom and gloom scenario and makes an appeal for the other camp to be more open about hearing the skeptics. This article in contrast, is in point form and uses profanity as the last word. You have managed to prove Dr. Dyson correct in pointing out the bitter nature of the important arguments. From an outsiders point of view I am immediately more likely to side with Mr. Dyson who seems to present his point of view in a very well spoken manner.

    2. Your point #1 makes no sense to me? You say: “The problem here, unrecognized by Dyson, is that the business-as-usual he’s defending would release almost as much carbon to the air by the end of the century as the entire reservoir of carbon stored on land, in living things and in soils combined.”
    How is this possible? There must be a finite total quantity of carbon on earth, correct? That total is a sum of the amount in the earth and the amount in the atmosphere. How can it be possible to put the entire amount of carbon in land, living things, and soil in the atmosphere as you say? Doesn’t that mean that there would be no more carbon in the land biosphere? This is a closed system after all with a carbon cycle operating. It seems your statement is misleading.

    As I said, I am trying to make my mind up about this issue but you do yourself no favor by the tone of your post. Mr. Dyson comes off as a well spoken scientist perhaps with too much faith in hypothetical and imaginary solutions; but, you come off as somewhat arrogant and dismissive. Personally I learned a lot more reading his article that yours.

    [Response: Hmmm... well if well-spokenness was a prerequisite for being correct I doubt science would have progressed very far. Still, you point is well taken, even if your conclusions are wrong. In terms of point 2, the extra carbon is from coal and oil which have accumulated for millions of years and outweigh the amount of carbon in the terrestrial biosphere (including soils). (Up to 4000 GtC in fossil fuel. reserves compared to ~600 GtC in terrestrial biosphere, roughly 2000 GtC in upper level soils). - gavin]

    Comment by Lanczos — 30 Jun 2008 @ 3:13 PM

  577. Lanczos, I saw Dyson speak last year, and my impression was that he is far from being a climate change “skeptic.” His most ominous prediction was that ocean acidification may turn out to be the more imminent issue. If the oceans die (i.e., become much less basic and fully anoxic, with attendant mass extinction), it won’t matter much how hot the world gets; humans will be killed by starvation (a billion of the world’s poorest people rely on fish protein for daily survival) and H2S poisoning.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 30 Jun 2008 @ 6:14 PM

  578. This gets a nod from Lackner:

    A dash of lime — a new twist that may cut CO2 levels back to pre-industrial levels

    Scientists say they have found a workable way of reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere by adding lime to seawater. And they think it has the potential to dramatically reverse CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere, reports Cath O’Driscoll in SCI’s Chemistry & Industry magazine published today.

    Shell is so impressed with the new approach that it is funding an investigation into its economic feasibility. ‘We think it’s a promising idea,’ says Shell’s Gilles Bertherin, a coordinator on the project. ‘There are potentially huge environmental benefits from addressing climate change – and adding calcium hydroxide to seawater will also mitigate the effects of ocean acidification, so it should have a positive impact on the marine environment.’

    Adding lime to seawater increases alkalinity, boosting seawater’s ability to absorb CO2 from air and reducing the tendency to release it back again.

    However, the idea, which has been bandied about for years, was thought unworkable because of the expense of obtaining lime from limestone and the amount of CO2 released in the process.

    Tim Kruger, a management consultant at London firm Corven is the brains behind the plan to resurrect the lime process. He argues that it could be made workable by locating it in regions that have a combination of low-cost ‘stranded’ energy considered too remote to be economically viable to exploit – like flared natural gas or solar energy in deserts – and that are rich in limestone, making it feasible for calcination to take place on site.

    Kruger says: ‘There are many such places – for example, Australia’s Nullarbor Plain would be a prime location for this process, as it has 10 000km3 of limestone and soaks up roughly 20MJ/m2 of solar irradiation every day.’

    The process of making lime generates CO2, but adding the lime to seawater absorbs almost twice as much CO2. The overall process is therefore ‘carbon negative’.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 22 Jul 2008 @ 10:18 AM

  579. re: 578

    Worth a look because huge engineering gambles never have unintended consequences. Why not bet the planet rather than come up with ways of conserving energy and mitigating the damage done in sensible, incremental ways?

    Comment by Jeffrey Davis — 22 Jul 2008 @ 10:54 AM

  580. Jeffrey, I don’t think anybody denies that conservation is a large part of the solution, but it’s inadequate by itself. I like the stabilization wedges approach proposed by Princeton’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative.

    I find this approach of cracking lime and injecting it into the oceans to be very interesting, because it tackles both issues of climate change and ocean acidification at once.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 22 Jul 2008 @ 11:32 AM

  581. Re #579

    I’m rather mystified by the chemistry employed in this lime process, one mole of Calcium carbonate produces one mole of CO2, when injected in the ocean the best it can do is to take up one mole of CO2 not two as indicated above! Unless the CO2 produced in the calcining process is sequestered a lot of energy is expended to no purpose.

    Comment by Phil. Felton — 22 Jul 2008 @ 12:26 PM

  582. Phil, the cquestrate people describe the chemistry here:

    Detailed Description of the Idea

    Addition of Calcium Oxide to Seawater

    If, however, the calcium oxide generated is added to seawater (either directly, or more probably, first reacted with water to form calcium hydroxide) then it reacts with carbon dioxide dissolved in the seawater to produce calcium bicarbonate.

    Note that at the pH levels present in seawater, the bicarbonate ion (HCO3-) is by far the dominant ion formed, rather than the carbonate ion (CO32-). Thus for every mol of carbon dioxide generated from the calcination of limestone, approximately 1.79 mols of carbon dioxide are sequestered when the calcium oxide is added to seawater, a net sequestration of 0.79 mols of carbon dioxide. The exact amount of carbon dioxide sequestered will depend upon the exact conditions (including pH, temperature and pressure) where the reaction takes place.

    The addition of calcium oxide to seawater leads to the sequestration of carbon dioxide, by enhancing the capacity of the oceans to act as a carbon sink. It does this by shifting the series of equilibria (below) to the right, thereby increasing the capacity of seawater to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and by decreasing the propensity for seawater to desorb carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 22 Jul 2008 @ 1:17 PM

  583. Re #582

    That’s even worse and would fail a routine question in HS Chemistry!
    Calcium bicarbonate is soluble and so Calcium bicarbonate would sequester no CO2.
    In order to change the composition the addition of calcium ions would have to precipitate calcium carbonate, hence only 1 mole of CO2 removed. In fact seawater is supersaturated wrt calcium but precipitation of calcium carbonate doesn’t occur because of competition and inhibition by Magnesium.

    Comment by Phil. Felton — 22 Jul 2008 @ 4:49 PM

  584. Phil, my chemistry is beyond rusty (corroded?), so I could probably be convinced of anything. Maybe it’s worth posting your critique at the Cquestrate site.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 22 Jul 2008 @ 5:29 PM

  585. Phil, I believe the question is one of the solubility of CO2 in water at different pH levels–they are contending that 1.79 moles of CO2 will dissolve in H20 for every mole of Ca. Note that this is not really long-term sequestration, since the surface waters mostly stay there.

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 22 Jul 2008 @ 7:57 PM

  586. Re #585
    This is not what they say on their site, it just looks like bad Chem to me.

    Comment by Phil. Felton — 23 Jul 2008 @ 8:56 AM

  587. In the similar discussion of the dissolution of MgCO3 that can follow its production from air and pulverized olivine (Mg2SiO4), Felton repeatedly criticized my belief that this reaction,

    CO3⁻⁻ + x CO2 + (1-x)H3O+
    —ocean—>
    (1+x) HCO3⁻ + (1-2x) H2O,

    has considerable rightward tendency on the grounds that the equilibrium CO2 pressure must be proportional to the square of bicarbonate concentration divided by that of CO3⁻⁻.

    What’s wrong with that?

    Comment by G.R.L. Cowan, hydrogen-to-boron convert — 23 Jul 2008 @ 10:35 AM

  588. So why not just barge limestone and dump it into undersea volcanos?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 23 Jul 2008 @ 10:40 AM

  589. Re: CO2 sequestration using CaO

    I’m no chemist, but I do deal with carbonate chemistry (in seawater and in the blood of marine animals) in my day job – the basic chemistry appears to me to be correct. However, the logistical problems (including energy cost) of adding CaO to the ocean in sufficient quantities to raise the alkalinity of the entire ocean, or even the surface waters of the ocean, seem rather daunting. And, I have serious reservations about the proposed mechanisms for dealing with the CO2 generated from the calcining of limestone. For example, it suggested that

    Carbon dioxide [could be] introduced into a transparent, sealed vessel which is filled with water and contains algae where photosynthesis will occur in the presence of sunlight….Carbon dioxide and water are converted into sugars and oxygen….Were such a system to yield 10 tonnes of glucose per hectare per year (comparable to the yield of a conventional sugar cane plantation), then …

    Growing algae in flasks on such a large scale seems, to me at least, to be just a bit problematic. And, as any home gardner would tell you, plants – as well as algae- need fertilizer (e.g., N, P, K) – I’m quite sure the production and shipping of such large quantities of fertilizer would not be carbon neutral.
    These kinds of ideas are fun to read about in the pages of Popular Science and other magazines, but it is hard for me to take them seriously. I’m convinced our time and energy is better spent finding ways to wean our society from fossil fuels than coming up with questionable geo-engineering solutions that, even if they work, will soon become useless as we run out of fossil fuels.

    Comment by Chuck Booth — 23 Jul 2008 @ 10:47 AM

  590. Hank, that’s brilliant! You should post that comment over at the Cquestrate site.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 23 Jul 2008 @ 11:21 AM

  591. Chuckle. If it’s a good idea someone will find it.

    Simplify– quarry limestone shaped as hollow ‘boats’ (eliminate barging), give’em sails and GPS (eliminate motors), let them sail themselves to the target then scuttle. Avoid routes crossing undersea cables. Add some kind of volcano detection (acoustic?) so they can aim their dive into the deepest volcano available.

    Prob’ly only need to quarry out a hole the size of Rhode Island or maybe France, anyone done the numbers?

    Comment by Hank Roberts — 23 Jul 2008 @ 2:23 PM

  592. Hank, here’s what they say at the Cquestrate site for the required total volume of limestone:

    Nullarbor Plain as a Potential Site

    One location where this process would be feasible is in the Nullarbor Plain, in Australia. An area of scrub with annual rainfall of between 200-300mm and solar irradiation of approximately 20MJ per m2 per day, it is a sparsely populated piece of limestone 200,000km2 in extent. Calculations show that to remove a billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere would require the disposal, through this process, of approximately 1.5km3 of limestone (assuming the carbon dioxide generated in the calcination of the limestone is successfully sequestered). Given that there are approximately 10,000km3 of limestone in the Nullarbor Plain and that humankind have emitted a total of 305GtC between 1750 and 2003, it would require the consumption of approximately 5% of the limestone in the Nullarbor Plain to return the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere back to pre-industrial levels.

    To offset current emissions (in the region of 7GtC per year) would consume 10.5km3 per year and require some 80 billion GJ of heat energy – equivalent to a power output of 2500 GW. At double that power output, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could be reduced back to pre-industrial levels in about forty years.

    Comment by Jim Galasyn — 23 Jul 2008 @ 2:35 PM

  593. Re #587
    Actually I criticized Cowan’s post once not repeatedly and responded to a follow up question.
    His olivine proposal and the lime one suffer from the same misunderstanding of chemical equilibrium.

    The relevant equilibria are:

    CO2 + H2O ⇌ H2CO3 K0
    H2CO3 ⇌ H^+ + HCO3^- K1
    HCO3^- ⇌ H^+ + CO3^- K2

    In the case of seawater this results in 93% HCO3^- and 6% CO3^2- with the remainder being CO2 and H2CO3.

    If CO3^2- is added (in any form), by Le Chatelier’s principle the equilibrium (K2) shifts to maintain the ratio between HCO3^- and CO3^2- (i.e. HCO3^- increases and CO3^2- decreases). However the increase in HCO3^- means that K1 is no longer in balance so again the equilibrium shifts to the left and so on. The net result of adding CO3^2- is to increase the concentration of all species so as to maintain the same ratios. If the ocean was originally in equilibrium with the atmosphere then the net result of adding CO3^2- is to outgas CO2!
    Similarly to sequester CO2 by adding Ca^2+ it’s necessary to precipitate out CaCO3 which will shift equilibrium to the right, however anywhere in the ocean won’t do it has to be where it will cause precipitation. However, experience indicates that Ca^2+ will return to its previous level of saturation so there will be no effect!

    Comment by Phil. Felton — 24 Jul 2008 @ 1:17 PM

  594. I also sense a “cane toad problem” in this tree proposal. There is the potential for these genetically modified trees to overshoot and remove *too much* carbon in the atmosphere, especially if we make technical breakthroughs that obviate the need to use fossil fuels. In that case, we have to spent tons of money uprooting and exterminating these trees to stop global cooling!

    Creating trees that gobble carbon means you have to keep putting out carbon to balance them.

    Comment by Mike — 4 Aug 2008 @ 4:58 PM

  595. The September 25 issue of the NYRB has this exchange
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21811

    Which mainly hovers on the 4% discount rate used by Nordhaus and approved by Freeman Dyson, who comes with more geoengineering ideas besides the “carbon eating tree”

    Comment by o_____ — 19 Sep 2008 @ 5:27 PM

  596. [Letter to Dyson and to NYRB]

    Dear Mr. Dyson, You are the victim of an idée fixe that you are unable to evaluate and question critically. The “carbon eating plants” that you are touting as the miraculous solution to Global Warming are a Science Fiction fantasy with little scientific substance or merit (which is why you cannot point to any published literature supporting the concept, let alone any technical feasibility studies). Even if these plants could be developed within the urgent time frame we are discussing, there is no way we could reengineer one fourth of the planet’s land flora without provoking a major ecological desaster (do you even realize you’d have to kill all those trees before you could start replacing them?) Maybe you are old
    enough to not care about the real world consequences of these “fascinating” thought experiments but for those of us who care about the future, you come across as one deeply irresponsible mad scientist.

    You also come across as incompetent. In your exchange with Dr. May (NYRB #15, 2008), you insist that the relevant atmospheric carbon residence time is twelve years because after that period, an average CO2 molecule will be matabolized by a plant and if that plant were a “carbon eater”, that molecule would be removed from the atmosphere. You are missing the fact that even your (fictional) carbon eaters would have to have a metabolism just like all other plants. Most of the CO2 molecules that they fix, they would release back into the atmosphere by respiration. Plants that “do not reemit the carbon dioxide that they absorb” (Dyson) are biologically impossible!

    The relevant question is therefore not how many carbon molecules are fixed by land plants in a given time period but how many of those fixed could, at least theoretically, be removed from the metabolic cycle. This crucial question you have not even attempted to answer. The example of phytolith producing plants is far from encouraging since only a tiny fraction of the carbon fixed by these plants gets transformed into phytoliths. This is not a question of one order of magnitude, as you have suggested, but of many orders of magnitude.

    Mr. Dyson, forgive me for being frank but I believe you need a dose of reality which apparently the people surrounding you are not capable of supplying. You need to step back from this debate and stop defending an indefensible idea. It is sad to see you making a fool of yourself, but it is alarming to think that your irresponsible fantasies might be taken seriously by at least some naive but well-meaning policy-makers because of your fame as a scientist (never mind that the field of your scientific specialization does not equip you to judge the scientific questions of Global Warming any better than the average person).

    The editors of the NYRB deserve serious blame for inexcusably failing to exert editorial oversight, and for consistently allowing the Global Warming debate to be mischaracterized in the pages of their magazine. It is a scandal that a fringe author not competent in the field of Global Warming is allowed to take up almost all of the column space in what is
    dubbed a “debate on Global Warming”, while most critical letters are being repressed.

    Comment by Toni — 26 Sep 2008 @ 11:20 AM

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