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The Human Hand in Climate Change

Filed under: — mike @ 23 January 2007

Kerry Emanuel (whose influential scientific work we’ve discussed here previously) has written a particularly lucid and poignant popular article on climate change for the literary forum “Boston Review”. The article is entitled Phaeton’s Reins: The human hand in climate change. We thought it worth passing along.


248 Responses to “The Human Hand in Climate Change”

  1. 51
    L. David Cooke says:

    RE: #47

    Hey Sally;

    I do not disagree; however, I would like to be able to measure the progress in to our investments. It would help resolve the questions if we could point to a clear value that directly represents the relationship between downwelling IR and GHG. So even though a direct measure can be confounded by current methods I try to figure out a way to accomplish it anyway. My preference is to end the controversy once and for all and the only way I believe that is going to be done is if we can provide a direct measure.

    In my ignorance, I believe that it can be done and wanted to do all that I could to try to accomplish that goal. My concern for the representation you suggest is the night time temperature can increase by water vapor falling from a greater altitude, (IE: adiabatic heating). In essence, the evidence there is too broad and can have multiple sources, my goal is to try to devise a method to eliminate the confounding variables, if it is possible. I suspect it is, given the time and expertise to accomplish this goal. Hence, my decision to return to school, one reason is to document my alternative energy designs and the second was to devise a means to clearly define and measure the progess we achieve in implementing the various techniques.

    Dave

  2. 52
    Sashka says:

    Kudos to Prof. Emanuel for a great article. It is refreshing to see that there are people in the academia [edited...] who maintain sober outlook on both scientific and political issues relevant to climate change.

    [Response: Watch the ad hom. -mike]

  3. 53
    Florifulgurator says:

    Re: Nucular…
    First, consider the reserves of cheap Uranium.
    Second, consider the standard industry reactors.
    Then, forget nucular, unless you can offer a cheap breeder reactor or a Thorium machine.

  4. 54
    Paul G. Brown says:

    Before the nuke discussion gets up and gallops off with the thread, can I point out that any discussion of the utility of nuclear power is probably out of scope of this admirable blog? Also, can I suggest that anyone who wishes to make claims about it please RTFA.

    Based on reading the Wiki article (and the Lovelock and Flannery books) I’ve shifted from blanket anti-nuke to undecided, probably leaning to the position that key questions on storage of ‘spent fuel’ remain unanswered.

    But in an effort to make a connection between my comment and this blog’s subject, I’d point out that AGW is also the consequence of ignorance about what happens to ‘spent fuel’ when we burn hydrocarbons. It seems to me that any energy supply engineering in the future is going to have to talk about a cycle of some kind.

  5. 55
    Charles Muller says:

    I’m astonished by the obsession of nuclear power – maybe because I’m French and 80% of our electricity is already producd by this way, without any problem in 40 yrs and at a competitive price (fossil or renewable sources are more costly here). If I understand, some are opposed to fossil AND nuclear energy at once. Well, I suggest they meet India or China governments in order to explain the energetic efficiency of solar or wind power for their social and economic needs.

  6. 56
    Nigel Williams says:

    Re Mr Cook. T
    Thank you Mr Solem et al for your revelations regarding Mr Cooks sources. Im sure Mr Cook is a very fine chap, but his arguments have no credibility. I for one will now skip any of Mr Cooks posts, and ignore him. There are more relevant matters to consider. Next!

  7. 57

    In comment 51 Paul G. Brown posts a link titled RTFA, but since it’s a Wikipedia link it might well be titled WTFAIYHNBTD.

    It is helpful to acknowledge that nuclear power station spent fuel has, as yet, harmed no neighbour, anywhere in the world, in the slightest degree, ever. Or anyway, not so that there’s any evidence. It’s not like carbon monoxide.

    Persons with a conflict of interest such as an oil-and-gas-tax-fattened paycheque won’t acknowledge that unless they have some decency, but if it’s their personal skin that needs either to be removed from Arctic ice that has grown tiresome by a nuclear icebreaker, or left sitting a while longer awaiting other transport, up the gangplank they go.

    This is odd in light of the fact that as a nuclear boat comes towards them with a 100-thermal-megawatt propulsion reactor freshly turned off, there is a megawatt or more of spent fuel decay heat in its core. This is a large fraction of the greatest thermal power the Yucca Mountain dump will ever contain, but both are very small compared to natural inventories in seawater and rock. Equations for post-shutdown its variation in time are given at
    RERTR

  8. 58
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Testing, testing. I couldn’t post on the previous entry about stalagmites (some program or computer glitch), to I’m trying here.

    RE #26 (Mites), thanks for your response. I’m really amazed by the intricacies of all this scientific work.

  9. 59
    Charles Muller says:

    Detail: for a doubling CO2, K. Emanuel suggests a 0,77°C warming (1,4°F) without feedbacks, but I sometimes read other values (1 or 1,2 °C). How is it estimated?

  10. 60
    Steve Sadlov says:

    RE: #52 – In the US, UK and Canada, environmentalists have long been captured by anti nuclear frenzy. Part of it is a bona fide concern regarding the waste issues and part of it is a more ideological concern about the use of nuclear reactors to produce fissionable materials for fission bombs and triggers for fusion bombs. Many in these three countries who are environmentalists are also hard core believers in unilateral nuclear disarmament. Some small subset of them were probably recruited by the KGB during the late 1960s and early 1970s to undermine Western strategic defenses. The rest have gone along with it because of their utopian beliefs that unilateral disarmament will lead to world peace.

  11. 61
    Phil says:

    Climate Change and Nuclear Power:

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/2007/pr20070124.html

    “surge heights are predicted to increase by up to 1.7 metres at Sizewell, the most affected site, and 0.9 metres at Hinkley Point, the least affected”

    If you must build nukes, be careful where you site them :-)

  12. 62
    Mitch Golden says:

    I would say that I thought the article was a good explanation of the science involved. Like others here, I thought the comments Prof. Emanuel made at the end of the article were cavalier – especially since he cites no names or examples. The one name of a scientist mentioned in that context was James Hansen, in the following quote:

    “Then, in 1988, James Hansen, the director of NASAâ��s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, set off a firestorm of controversy by testifying before Congress that he was virtually certain that a global-warming signal had emerged from the background climate variability. At that time, less was known about natural climate variability before the beginning of systematic instrumental records in the nineteenth century, and only a handful of global climate simulations had been performed. Most scientists were deeply skeptical of Hansenâ��s claims; I certainly was.”

    Several points:

    1) I find it odd to be critical of Hansen (as Prof. Emanuel appears to be here) when he was right too early. As the chart in the article shows, by 1988 the GW signal *had* come out of the noise (as we understand it now).

    2) Because of its proximity to the sentences about the “radical environmental groups” I take from this that he regards Hansen as one of the scientists who were taken in by them.

    3) I am not an expert on this, but my recollection of the situation in 1988 was that there were already a significant number of scientists who were persuaded by Hansen’s conclusions. It is true that the situation was far less settled, but I am surprised that Prof. Emanuel can say that “most” scientists were “deeply sceptical”. Perhaps someone who remembers better can comment on that.

  13. 63
    Mitch Golden says:

    I am getting a chain of PHP errors when I try to post (cf #57) so I’ll post this in pieces and see how it goes. I would say that I thought the article was a good explanation of the science involved. Like others here, I thought the comments Prof. Emanuel made at the end of the article were cavalier – especially since he cites no names or examples. The one name of a scientist mentioned in that context was James Hansen, in the following quote:

  14. 64
    Hank Roberts says:

    Steve, it’s a far deeper conspiracy than you imagine. Anything suggesting that our economic system has any flaws is part of it.
    http://www.wisebread.com/fbi-considered-its-a-wonderful-life-communist-propaganda

  15. 65
    Jane Kloeckner says:

    Thanks for the great graph on Global Mean Temperatures. I am very new to this field of study. The graph shows the interconnnection beteen the observed and the models and makes it understandable. It’s almost surreal to read the conclusions that global temperature is increasing and furture predictions cannot be made without consideration of GHG and aerosols. In fact, I shared this Chart with my 14 year old, 8th grade daughter and she understood it, too. What can a skeptic say when confronted with this Chart?
    In addition, I sincerely appreciate the candor of Dr. Emanuel’s categorization of ideas within this discussion. Separating the political concerns, the impacts and responses to warming allows scientist to discuss these other ideas in addition to science facts. Keeping “real climate” information separate from the other discussions is one key to greater understanding. We might not all agree on the politics/responses and even impacts of warming, but at least we have science and data as a foundation.

    Thanks for sharing this article.

    Sincerely,
    Jane

  16. 66
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    If one thinks climate is complex, human thinking and behavior are even more complex. For one, they cannot be reduced to “right” and “left,” “red” and “blue.” There is also the matter of “green,” and many other shades of thinking and behavior. And then, unlike biological evolution, which takes many generations for a species to change & adapt, people and cultures can change more rapidly, even abruptly (sort of like that aburpt climate change Kerry mentions). At the individual level anthropologists might call it “mazeway resynthesis” (like a sudden insight to new thinking, or a religious conversion) and at the societal or group level, “revitalization or social movement.”

    I, for one, started out on the “right,” but switched to the “left” (but not completely) decades ago — in part because of the right’s insensitivity to human suffering, the tendency to say “it’s their own fault; let ‘em die.” That sort of breaks down when it is the rich peoples of the rich nations that may be most responsible for enhancing droughts, famines, and other forms of suffering. There are contradictions and conflicts within ideologies and other aspects of our human condition (which includes the everyready ego), much like the complex host of climate factors. Eventually the environmental reality principle may cause a sudden change in human culture, like a forcing; just hope it’s not too late.

    Another thing, I’ve had my dealings with geologists…let me say “little tradition” geologists teaching at community colleges and smaller universities (not “great tradition” geologists who contribute to this blog). From the few I’ve run into over the past 10 years or so, they all are totally opposed to any idea that global warming might be real (they ought to get a new textbook). Then some others make comments like, “The earth has always been in a state of change and always will be.” Someone told me that people have to die when I brought up GW; and I countered with, yes, but we don’t have to kill them.

    So, I think sometimes the geological perspective and even the scientific perspective has a hard time coming into focus with the human perspective — I think most people would like to avoid pain & suffering, & avoid causing pain & suffering to others. That’s our ultimate concern in the global warming debate, and it goes beyond merely finding out the truth for the truth’s sake. And (as I keep harping) we would like to avoid false negatives (doing nothing when a problem is real) & are not so concerned about avoiding false positives.

    If some environmentalists have been strident in response the the lack of response to this problem….well, they’re just trying whatever they can to get the ball rolling, Day After Tomorrow, whatever. Up until Katrina, nothing seemed to work, and now it seems there’s a shift…maybe even an aburpt change in the offing. The barometer has suddenly plummeted.

  17. 67
    SecularAnimist says:

    Steve Sadlov wrote: Part of it is a bona fide concern regarding the waste issues and part of it is a more ideological concern about the use of nuclear reactors to produce fissionable materials for fission bombs and triggers for fusion bombs. Many in these three countries who are environmentalists are also hard core believers in unilateral nuclear disarmament.

    The concern about “the use of nuclear reactors to produce fissionable materials for fission bombs” is not “ideological”. Nor does this concern require a belief, “hard core” or otherwise, in “unilateral nuclear disarmament”. It is sufficient to be concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, whether to currently non-nuclear states (e.g. Iran) or terrorist groups. Every country that has developed nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has done so as a spin-off of a “civilian” nuclear power program.

  18. 68
    cat black says:

    I found the tone of the article a bit off. It starts out promising enough, though. I gave up rather quickly, started skipping to the bottom, and found myself wondering why it was being linked here. I notice some of the comments above, and my puzzlement increases.

    One thing I’m worried about is that Denialists are going to start sounding more moderate in order to carry on their agenda without looking like total, utter imbeciles, and some moderates may start to talk like Reformed Denialists in a fashionable attempt to “find a middle ground”.

    That would REALLY suck. This is not a beauty pagaent and there is no middle ground. Either the science is right, and the backers of said science have been right all along for the right reasons, or else it isn’t. That the latter Reformed Denialists are now held out as level headed problem solvers trying to get at the Truth, and the earlier whistleblowers are *still* offered as lunatics with an agenda, is simply NOT helpful.

  19. 69
    Scott L. Montgomery says:

    Kerry Emanuel’s article provides an excellent opportunity to point out some of the best and the worst of how the climate change issue has been represented by climate scientists themselves. His discussion of matters immediately related to his own domain of expertise – the scientific aspects – seems to me to be excellent, in fact superior to much of what has been written for an audience outside of the atmospheric sciences (and here I would include not only non-scientists but those in other disciplines, such as myself, a geologist).

    I especially appreciate the way Dr. Emanuel avoids the style of bombastic metaphor that so laces a great deal of science writing generally – metaphors derived from the kitchen, sports, auto mechanics, and so on. Anyone who has taken the time to read books like Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” or Tim Flannery’s “The Weather Makers” should know that journalists hardly have a monopoly on exaggerated language (note the statements by scientists that Kolbert quotes). The tendency of scientists, when faced with media representatives, to engage in sensationalistic, even apocalyptic phrasing, is so common as to verge on cliche, and can hardly be attributed purely to goading by reporters. Whatever the motive, this practice by anyone denigrates the intended audience (“yes, you are idiots, so I need to aim as low as possible…”). In any case, I applaud Emanuel’s discussion for this alone.

    There is much more to appreciate, however. He nicely divides what is accepted with almost universal certainty from what is the subject of majority consensus but trails lingering dispute. His descriptions of the state of the science and its challenges seems excellent and convincing, though I am not qualified to judge it in detail. If one were to strip off the first and last sections of the article, and delete his comments about the nature of science and the evils of the media, this would be a truly excellent piece of (dare I call it?) journalistic writing.

    Unfortunately, once he leaves the confines of his own domain, Emanuel proves himself less equal to the task. His descriptions of good scientists as impartial spears of the unknown, heroes of knowledge beyond the touch of politics and partisanship, is archaic and self-congratulatory. The literature on political influences in science – including power relationships in research and the academy, historical influences, and the political aspects to knowledge creation itself – is so vast and established that its lack of place here is tantamount to discussing literature without literary criticism. I am not speaking here about so-called constructionist or other post-modern theories of science, which too often leap headlong into the quicksand of considering science just another form of cultural understanding. Emanuel would do well, I think, to read a work like Daniel Kevles ‘The Physicists” or perhaps, after a martini or two (shaken or stirred) Daniel Greenberg’s now-classic “The Politics of Pure Science.”

    I, for one, am very tired and disappointed at the unending bleat that attributes politicization of the climate issue, and its misunderstanding by the public, to a few “special interests” (Big Oil, car companies, illiterate Congressmen and Senators), plus the intrepid sensationalism of the media. This is poor understanding, and shows an emotion-laden, reflexive response on the part of scientists (wherefore impartial investigation and thought?) to what is really a far more complex and deep-seated set of problems. Climate change, in fact, is politicized at its root, once we speak at all about its causes and solutions. This is because such discussion involves, immediately, questions about the nature of society and progress – whether, for example, we have been profligate and destructive, or else endlessly productive and innovative. Climate change brings to the surface deep divisions of belief and ideology. The judgments with which it bristles run counter to faith in the value of the free market, the perceived need by neoconservatives to reduce the power and place of government. The issue also connects directly with environmentalism as a whole, with calls for the style of change that this movement has been demanding for decades. Moreover, even within a field such as petroleum geology (with which I am familiar), a field many might assume would be united against any serious mitigating action on carbon emissions (a cadre of scientists guilty of intellectual corruption, that is), there exists a huge range of response to the issue, from denial to embrasure.

    The reasons for public confusion over climate change have a lot to do with media representations and misrepresentations, no doubt about it. But not only this. The term “apathy” as a hammer to crush all complexity in public attitudes, seems a poor and unhelpful choice. People have a range of responses – fear, denial, numbness, fatigue, fatalism, excitement, and more. In fact, the largest event to have occurred in the U.S. during this past year related to climate change is the enormously raised awareness of the issue among Americans, spurred in part by consistent media attention and by Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” a film that Emanuel doesn’t even mention. Recall that this has been seen by tens of millions of educated Americans. Consider, too, that there are now four bills in Congress to be considered on limited carbon emissions.

    By ignoring all these (and other) social complexities associated with climate change, Emanuel reduces the value of what he has written and shows that his view of the larger issue is, I’m afraid to say, naive, even out of date. But what he reveals, too, is something very pressing. Climate change lacks a series of effective spokespeople, and an effective discourse that they can use, to help move public opinion. It lacks (and I will be hated for saying this) a Carl Sagan type of individual, a person with full scientific credentials who is savvy in the ways of speaking in public. Jim Hansen is not this person; neither is Steve Schneider; neither is Al Gore, though he comes closer due to his speaking abilities. Climate change, the great issue of our time and lives, has not yet found its public champion.

  20. 70
    tamino says:

    I too found Dr. Emanuel’s piece puzzling. The science was fascinating, a joy to read. But his political commentary seemed rather bizzare. Worst of all, the two didn’t go together; the science is good enough to give an undeserved stamp of legitimacy to his political comments, and the political comments are strange enough to discredit his scientific statements.

  21. 71
    Ron Taylor says:

    Re 65

    Lynn, thank you for demonstrating so clearly that some scientific issues, such a AGW, cannot be seen simply as interesting intellectual exercises. Human values must come into the picture, or we have adopted a stance of amoral automatons. That hundreds of millions of people in Asia could run out of fresh water due to melting of the Tibetan glaciers is much more than a scientific curiosity, for example.

  22. 72
    Ron Taylor says:

    Re 67

    cat black, I applaud your clarity of thought!

  23. 73
    S. Molnar says:

    Emanuel’s article is a good illustration of the almost irresistible urge to use a public platform to expound on subjects outside one’s area of expertise. Einstein did it, Hansen does it (e.g., in his New York Review of Books article, which mixes solid science with less solid economics), and most people in Hollywood do it. I don’t begrudge people their opinions, but a good scholar should be clear on the distinction between his professional judgements and his amateur judgements. Since I believe his undifferentiated political characterizations to be nonsense, I am now less inclined to trust any of Emanuel’s writings. RealClimate, by contrast, has maintained a remarkably high standard in this regard, for which I am grateful.

    With respect to the more important issue raised on this thread, I am prepared to increase the ratio of goat and/or sheep cheese to cow cheese that I consume if it would help. Perhaps raypierre can research the subject.

    [Response: What a terrific idea for a follow-on. It was quite hard for Pam and Gidon to get their hands on all the agricultural data they needed, so it's not surprising that they limited their study to the major components of the American diet. It would be truly great to resolve the goat/cow question. --raypierre]

  24. 74
    Blair Dowden says:

    Re: Responses to #14: First, it would be nice if someone here could get Dr. Emanuel to respond to some of the interpretations of what he said. In my view the reaction here misses the point of what I think he is trying to say.

    As I see it, he is not taking a right wing point of view, rather he is equally critical of both left and right. He states most scientists have remained objective, and makes no claim of political bias in the hiring of scientists. I agree with Raypierre’s reasons why acedemics tend to be liberal. As to what to do about it, all I can say is we should all try to apply our critical scientific thinking to non scientific issues and question some of our long held assumptions. Emanuel is only asking that scientists stick to the facts, which most of them do, and I could not agree more with that.

    To change the subject, I think the energy consumption in agriculture issue is worthy of its own RealClimate discussion.

  25. 75
    Anders Lundqvist says:

    Dr. Emanuels article is one of the best summaries of the climate issue that I have ever read. The fact that he lets both the left and the right political sides take a couple of punches each is of course very wise, from a rhetorical point of view. No use writing an article that will be only read by people who already agrees with it.
    As for the “science vs politics” matter, “politics” happens to be the way we get things done in a democratic society. There is no reason on earth to look down on politics and politicians. Science defines and describes the problem, but politics is where we have to go to find and implement the solutions. Democracy may be one loud, dirty and erratic decision-making system, but, alas, it is the best one we have.

  26. 76
    Andrew Dodds says:

    Re: 56

    You might want to look here. France ranks at 46 in the world for per-capita emissions – similar countries like the UK and Germany rank at 25 and 20 respectively, with emissions around 6% higher per capita. Denmark – home of the wind farm – comes in at 24th. Bear in mind that France exports electricity to both Germany and the UK.

    Those the the real-world figures; replacing coal with nuclear for electric generation makes a big difference. Abandoning nuclear as a solution makes life much, much harder, if you are serious about reducing CO2 emissions.

  27. 77
    TonyH says:

    The dilemmas never end. What happens if a vegan signs up for a renewable energy tariff and ends up getting their power from here?.

  28. 78

    Re “Detail: for a doubling CO2, K. Emanuel suggests a 0,77°C warming (1,4°F) without feedbacks, but I sometimes read other values (1 or 1,2 °C). How is it estimated?”

    The estimate of Houghton (2004) is 1.2 K. It’s determined from climate models incorporating radiation codes. The estimates vary, but not by very much. Note that this figure is for CO2 doubling by itself, without any feedbacks. With feedbacks, the figure becomes 1.5-4.5 K.

  29. 79

    Re “RE: #52 – In the US, UK and Canada, environmentalists have long been captured by anti nuclear frenzy. Part of it is a bona fide concern regarding the waste issues and part of it is a more ideological concern about the use of nuclear reactors to produce fissionable materials for fission bombs and triggers for fusion bombs. Many in these three countries who are environmentalists are also hard core believers in unilateral nuclear disarmament. Some small subset of them were probably recruited by the KGB during the late 1960s and early 1970s to undermine Western strategic defenses. The rest have gone along with it because of their utopian beliefs that unilateral disarmament will lead to world peace.”

    And some of us have nothing to do with the KGB, but oppose nuclear power because of the obvious dangers associated with it. Is that hard for you to grasp? Why do you have to make up this crap about the KGB? Don’t you think people can honestly disagree with you without being paid by the KGB?

  30. 80
    Dan says:

    re: 74. “Emanuel’s article is a good illustration of the almost irresistible urge to use a public platform to expound on subjects outside one’s area of expertise.”

    Indeed, we see it here in many posts by contrarians/skeptics/denialists who expound against global climate change which is far outside their own area of expertise (e.g. geology, economics, statistics, etc.). Yet they believe they are right or they know something others do not know and that thousands of climate scientists are wrong or have forgotten basic physics or…etc.

  31. 81
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 71

    Tamino, your comment made me reread the Dr. Emanuel piece because I might have missed the subtle bizarre nature of his political commentary. Now, I wonder if we read the same piece. Or, am I older and you might have been a contemporary involved in the early days of US awakening to then-climate change (forgive me if I am wrong on this comment). It was a slow start of researching, publishing and, among some vested interests, visceral challenge of the new knowledge.

    I started seriously focusing on global warming when Dr. Keeling was measuring CO2 concentrations at about 324 ppm. As an environmental advocate, I began to see the conflict America would have addressing any concern about steadily increasing CO2 concentrations. I worked to regulate coal strip mining. Had we known then what we know today, I should have been working to eliminate coal as a primary fuel for electric generation. But, thirty years ago electric utilities had maxed out on hydro, oil became an international and national security issue and natural gas seemed harder to find and share with residential and petrochemical customers. Wind was mainly pulling water from aquifers and not yet feeding the grid.

    National environmental groups were slow to focus on the atmospheric consequences of coal burning and devoted twenty years to controlling ambient pollutants destroying NE lakes and forest with acid rain.

    Ralph Nader launched his personal war against nuclear power by vowing to choke the industry on its garbage. Really now, are anti-Yucca Mountain activists credible when they say the nuclear waste stored in the deep tunnels of the mountain will remain lethal for thousands of years? WE DO NOT HAVE THOUSANDS OF YEARS TO FIND OUT.

    Nuclear power is an option our children may well have to utilize and we are making the decision now that such an option will not be available to them while we go about our consumptive lifestyles making their future more precarious.

    Environmental activists are mortals like the rest of us. We base our beliefs on what we read and are told. Most of the early leaders of the largest organizations were recent college and law school grads. We were short on the hardware side of the discussion and long on the value component. We made mistakes and used the few dollars on hand to maximize our message. That some used dramatic language and warnings of calamity did not make them deliberately deceptive. We were trying to get the attention of post-Viet Nam-weary Americans.

    In the 70s and 80s, a great deal was accomplished in the Congress but de-carbonization was not on the agenda. There were a lot of lost opportunities to win more hearts and minds. We 5 percent of the world community being 25 percent of the AGW problem are a stubborn bunch.

    So, on a second read, I did not find the non-science (political commentary) bizarre. To me, it was a moment of truth.

  32. 82
    Florifulgurator says:

    Re: Leftist scientists conspiracy

    Science actually is an evil conspiracy of atheists: 93% of members of the U.S. Nat. Acad. of Sciences reject God! (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week1019/cover.html )

  33. 83
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Emanuel’s article was a very good explanation of the science for the layman. Especially the explanation of the radiative physics which is something thats hard to find. For those things it is definitely worth reading.

    It seemed to me that he fell into the “balance” trap that journalists sometimes fall into when he wrote about the enviros vs conservatives. I was not exactly sure what he meant by political imbalance in scientific departments. Did he mean people who back the environmentalists vs the people who don’t or the more general liberal vs conservatives?

    Thanks Ray for that link to the paper about diet/agriculture and climate change (#19). I knew that a vegetarian diet uses less resources so has less of an environmental impact, but I did not know how it effected GHG emissions. Sometimes the off-topic threads can be enlightening.

    # 61 (Steve Sadlov) environmentalists working for the KGB? Thats a extreme version of a standard anti-environmentalist talking point. It progresses from environmentalist being liberals to leftists to socialists to communists. The countries with the largest environmental problems in human history are those that made up the former USSR. There is a positive correlation between countries with open democratic governments and strong environmental regulations. And yes its off-topic so I’ll leave it at that ;)

  34. 84
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    re: 89 and the environmental history of the USSR

    A few years ago, there was a Michael Palin travelogue which took him to China. The horrifying environmental degradation casually exposed in China was so pitiful that if the former USSR’s history is worse then we can safely go from “scant hope” to “no hope” to avoid the worst case scenarios of global warming.

  35. 85
    Tom Huntington says:

    Overall I thought this was a very informative post, Thank you for drawing it to our attention. There are some details that could be refined when Kerry strays from his area of expertise, as others have mentioned. Some other details . . . . .

    [1] Kerry noted a potential benefit of global warming, that it would take less energy to heat buildings. He also noted later on, for balance, that AC costs would go up. I have been curious what the net effect on carbon would likely be. In a recent study Hadley et al. (2006) found that “As a whole [USA] increases in carbon emissions from higher air conditioning needs more than offset decreases in carbon emission from reduced heating needs” — summary from EOS v. 87 No. 37 12 Sept. 2006 Mohi Kumar, Staff Writer. Hadley, S.W., Erickson III, D.J., Hernandez, J.L., Broniak, C.T., and Blasing, T.J., 2006, Responses of energy use to climate change: A climate modeling study: Geophys. Res. Lett., v. 33, p. L17703, doi:10.1029/2006GL026652.

    [2] Kerry noted “previously infertile lands of high latitudes will start producing crops”. I suspect he means that areas that previously were too cold for a given crop will start to have a climate that is more favorable for that crop. Not too many folks in the agricultural science community have proposed that global warming will increase soil fertility other than a likely one-time release of soil organic nitrogen as microbial respiration is enhanced. Sadly, we could also anticipate an associated decrease in soil organic matter and all that goes along with that as the soils warm. Consider this significant caveat to the notion that croplands can simply migrate northwards. Following Kerry’s logic, with the level of warming that is currently projected by the end of the 21st century one might predict that Canadians in Ontario would reap the benefits of the climate now associated with the fantastically productive Iowa-Illinois-Indiana grain regions shifting into their latitudes. Unfortunately it is a lot more complicated than that. Newly arriving corn plants will find very unforgiving soils of the Canadian Shield that will hardly have the potential for 100 to 150 bu/ac corn that US farmers enjoy today on exceptionally producitve soils. Another potential unhappy consequence of warming on agriculture will likely be increased costs and environmental effects that will arise from the need to use more herbicides and pesiticides in a warmer world.

  36. 86
    Jamba says:

    I have an offtopic question:
    Does anyone know how big dams (the water reservoir) affect local or regional climate? Will the surface temperature rise or fall? Will the percipitation increase?

    I hope someone can answer my question. Or is there some scientific literture?

  37. 87
    Hank Roberts says:

    A new example of the PR approach to science:

    http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070122/full/445347a.html

    “‘Public access equals government censorship’ … worried too much about making precise statements … if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn’t matter if they can discredit your statements …. ‘Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate’”

  38. 88
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    Re #12 and the freeze in CA. I’m no climate scientist, and I don’t think the climate scientists actually know one way or the other, but my hypothesis is that as we pull away from the non-GW station (and perhaps even later) the GW impact could involve a greater standard deviation in weather data, so hotter hots and colder colds, wilder swings. (I do understand that on average the nights are warming faster than the days due to the “blanket effect,” so I’m not referring to diurnal swings which are decreasing on the whole.)

    During Hurricane Emily here in the Rio Grande Valley, we had a hail storm, which the weatherman and some scientist on this site said was highly unusual, unheard of.

    Personally I think the cold snap in CA may be something to expect from GW in its early stages. Eventually the CA cold snaps may be in the 50s and the hot snaps in the ?120s? when the average global temp is way up there, but for now perhaps these extreme cold snaps (I sort of guess) may fit some GW pattern that has not yet been discovered.

  39. 89
    Mitch Golden says:

    I would say that I thought the article was a good explanation of the science involved. Like others here, I thought the comments Prof. Emanuel made at the end of the article were cavalier – especially since he cites no names or examples. The one name of a scientist mentioned in that context was James Hansen, in the following quote:

    “Then, in 1988, James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, set off a firestorm of controversy by testifying before Congress that he was virtually certain that a global-warming signal had emerged from the background climate variability. At that time, less was known about natural climate variability before the beginning of systematic instrumental records in the nineteenth century, and only a handful of global climate simulations had been performed. Most scientists were deeply skeptical of Hansen’s claims; I certainly was.”

    Several points:

    1) I find it odd to be critical of Hansen (as Prof. Emanuel appears to be here) when he was right too early. As the chart in the article shows, by 1988 the GW signal *had* come out of the noise (as we understand it now).

    2) Because of its proximity to the sentences about the “radical environmental groups” I take from this that he regards Hansen as one of the scientists who were taken in by them.

    3) I am not an expert on this, but my recollection of the situation in 1988 was that there were already a significant number of scientists who were persuaded by Hansen’s conclusions. It is true that the situation was far less settled, but I am surprised that Prof. Emanuel can say that “most” scientists were “deeply sceptical”. Perhaps someone who remembers better can comment on that.

  40. 90
    Hank Roberts says:

    Bzzzzt! Bad editing leads to failure to understand.

    History of Global Warming:
    > Global Warming as a Political Issue (1980s)
    > By 1980, many climate scientists thought it likely
    > that harmful global warming was on the way …
    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/Govt.htm#L000

    The skepticism Dr. Emanuel refers to was skepticism about the _measurable_ signal _emerging_ from the background noise — if you read Emanuel carefully that’s exactly what he’s saying.

    Hansen said the same thing.

    But Dr. Emanuel or his editor left the text vague enough that without parsing the sentence carefully, a naive reader could think Dr. Emanuel is saying that “many scientists” were “deeply skeptical” of the theory of global warming.

    That would be wrong. I’m sure it’s not what he meant to write. I hope he’ll clarify that at some point.

  41. 91
    Hank Roberts says:

    Hansen in 1999
    http://www.giss.nasa.gov/edu/gwdebate/
    quoting from his 1988 paper:

    “5. When will global warming and climate change be obvious?
    … judging from our model by the 1990s … It seems to us that this is a sufficient ‘loading’ of the dice that it will be noticeable to the man in the street.” J. Geophys. Res. 93, 9341-9364, 1988.

  42. 92
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    A brief history of environmentalism in the U.S.: Preservationists in the 19th c (incl Teddy R), then conservationists, then the 2nd wave environmentalists in the 60s & 70s (concerned about pollution & resource depletion), then a fairly quite period until the ozone hole & global warming in the late 80s/early 90s (and many con-fused together these 2 harms), which spawned a 3rd wave of environmentalism. Then a very loud silent period of over 15 years while GW become more & more certain according to scientific studies.

    After the Rachel Carson broadside against pesticides in the 60s, the indy people woke up and started taking proactive measures against environmentalism. They’ve been pouring money into think tanks, educational institutions, and indy institutes (e.g., scientists at the Formaldehyde Institute were criminally convicted for out&out falsifying science). The media has also been complicit in this indy broadside (where do you think the media get money for their programs & papers???). Note that the “Governor Moonbean” epithet against presidential primary candidate Jerry Brown (who would have done something about global warming) was first created by Mike Royko of the Chi Tribune; then a McNeil/Leherer newscaster asked Jerry Brown about people calling him that and made a funny face at him (as if the larger public had made it up).

    Around 1990 there was a positive mood that we could lick environmental problems, even global warming. I watched “Is It Hot Enough for You” (I guess one of those “extremist” programs with extremist scientists to which Kerry alluded — since it was 5 years before the 1st scientific studies reached .05 p on AGW). I started reducing my GHGs by 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 below my 1990 levels — saving money without lowering my living standards, even improving them (I had already moved close to work since the oil crisis in the 70s, so I’m not even counting that in these 1990s reductions). I wrote to my gov reps & local paper, and helped get recycling started in my town (how radical can one get!), and I told everyone, including my gov reps, that “Is It Hot Enough for You” would be airing again on such&such a night in 1991. That was the exact same night we started Gulf War I, and of course the show was bumped off the air for good, and the global warming issue along with the 3rd wave of environmentalism died a public, but quiet death.

    After that, “environmentalist” became a very dirty word. I’ve suffered nasty sneers and harsh words. People just don’t understand why I want to turn down the AC during church meetings (aside from the fact I’m freezing). The jokes against me have been the hardest to bare. And even my husband is embarrassed when I take my own bags grocery shopping. But I don’t care if I’m the only one in the world who’s right & everyone else is wrong, I’ll not change to their wrong anti-(or un-)environmentalist thinking and ways (tho I have to do sanity checks often, like lepers have to check their fingers every day).

    Now it seems the tide is turning. There’s even an ad on TV for a fuel efficient car in which the lady says, “I’m no tree-hugger, but I do want to leave the world a better place for my children.”

    My husband (not an environmentalist) turned to me and said, “What’s wrong with tree-hugging, after all that trees do for us.”

    We may be on the verge of the 4th wave of environmentalism — just this time please be savvy to the ploys used by anti-enviro politicos, indy people, and the various media to divert our attention, like wars and stuff.

  43. 93
    Jane Kloeckner says:

    Hello, Re: “Politics of climate change” in Dr. Emanual’s article and threads in #s 54, 55, 56 & 71 on increasing nuclear power: Can we try moderation, conservation and preservation first?

    Uranium mining is dangerous. We must protect uranium mine workers, their families and the biotic communities near these mines. Many mines are in remote locations like the Navajo Nation, with poor people. The potential exposures for these people and biotic communities could lead to expensive problems if we expand nuclear energy too fast without new mining laws. See EPA web site for cost estimates of $7 to $24 Billion for clean up of mining sites. http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2004/20040331-2004-p-00005.pdf Mining Laws in the US date to 1872! They need reform.

    Also, right now in the Kansas City area, the utility companies are planning two new coal power plants. Why not try energy conservation & way-of-life moderation first?

    Sincerely,
    Jane

  44. 94
    cat black says:

    re #93 [4th wave] Lynn, bless your heart for hanging in there. I suspect you are correct about the next wave of enviros stepping up to the plate. Just as AGW influences temperatures upwards over the usual weather noise, so too does it tend to move people further along the continuum of environmental awareness, even to taking action. As for the corporations, their time may be up. They’ve pulled some nasty tricks, and people have started to detect a pattern, and mayhaps this time we won’t be as easily manipulated.

    This is one of the reasons I take a hard stand on the science (see #69, etc) because I feel we need people to really dig in this time. There is much at stake and little room for continued errors.

  45. 95

    Jane Kloeckner, in calling for “energy conservation & way-of-life moderation” as an alternative to nuclear energy, you are implicitly giving a pass on harm to miners, etc., to oil and gas — and they do a lot more harm to miners. You might have realized this if you had been aware that on an equal-energy basis oil costs ~60 times more than uranium. Some of that money is spent doing harm to workers, for example, the 10 or 11 who were lost when the Brazilian oil rig sank in, IIRC, 2001.

    A fair prescription would be energy conservation, way-of-life moderation, and for such energy as we do after all choose to use, nuclear power. Vehicles typically do not run on grid electricity, but reactors don’t make electricity; they make heat, which then is partially converted to electricity. It could also be partly converted to motor fuel.

  46. 96

    Re; #7 -”My strongest political views are environmental. There aren’t that many anti-environmentalist oceanographers out there, rather a rare breed. Does Emanual think I should hire some creationists for my geology department? Let him hire some for his! David]”

    Not that I’m a biblical literalist myself, being a Catholic. But why should you care on the practical political level whether someone is a strong creationist or not, or a theist who cares about climate and the environment?

    The off-hand use at the beginning of Emmanuel’s article of the phrase ‘god or gods’ will irritate no end the people Emmanuel, and you, need to work with.

  47. 97
    Sally says:

    Re:77
    “You might want to look here. France ranks at 46 in the world for per-capita emissions – similar countries like the UK and Germany rank at 25 and 20 respectively, with emissions around 6% higher per capita. Denmark – home of the wind farm – comes in at 24th. Bear in mind that France exports electricity to both Germany and the UK.

    Those the the real-world figures; replacing coal with nuclear for electric generation makes a big difference. Abandoning nuclear as a solution makes life much, much harder, if you are serious about reducing CO2 emissions.”

    Oddly enough, France also produces 256 different cheeses. Perhaps there is a balance to be found.

  48. 98
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE #94, I read a couple of decades back that Navajo uranium miners had 85 times the lung cancer rate of the general population (and that in a very clean air place); one young woman had been widowed 5 times, all husband dead from uranium mining.

    I think if everyone would use a frig thermometer, and keep the freezer at 0-2 degrees F, and the frig at 40-42 degrees F, we could probably shut down several coal powered planting in the U.S. Just that one measure. Most people, not knowing their frig’s temp, keep it colder than necessary.

  49. 99

    Things that Vincentnathan read a couple of decades back don’t have to be true, nor believed by the people who wrote them; oil money could have been involved. Some discretion in repeating things would be nice.

    A sample of 757 Navajo uranium miners shows, Table 2 p. 3, 26 fewer deaths due to heart disease than would be expected, and 24 excess lung cancer deaths, compared to “combined New Mexico and Arizona non-white mortality rates”. A “healthy worker effect” is usually seen in this sort of study, and this one is no exception: total deaths are 90 percent of the expected, 303 versus 325.5.

    Uranium mining is relatively safe; as above shown, relatively safe compared to being an average person, because some of them don’t work. Relatively safe compared to coal mining. Relatively safe compared to working on wind turbines for the same energy output, since that’s about as dangerous as coal mining.

  50. 100
    Hank Roberts says:

    Anyone old enough to remember Disney’s “Our Friend the Atom” — talking about releasing the nuclear genie from confinement? http://www.ultimatedisney.com/images/t-v/tomorrow31.jpg

    Anyone old enough to remember this?
    http://www.merkle.com/pluto/pluto.html

    “… Tory-IIC was run again the following week for five minutes at full power, producing 513 megawatts and the equivalent of over 35,000 pounds of thrust; less radiation escaped in the reactor stream than had been expected.
    … Returning to the lab, Merkle concentrated on making the reactor lighter, more powerful, and compact enough to be test-flown. There was even excited talk of a Tory-III, capable of propelling the missile to Mach 4.”

    What’s possible with fissionable materials goes far beyond what’s desirable or, for most, even imaginable.
    Once you have the stuff.

    Yes, coal used as it is spreads far more radioactive material widely than nuclear used without any slip or failure.

    Fissionables used — as they can be used — give us things like Project Pluto.

    Back then, that was a high-tech, difficult technology. Yet they built it and ran a full size device at full power and proved it worked, before halting it short of putting wings on it and flying it.

    But it worked, just fine. And nowadays those high tech ceramics, and that high temperature auto engine paint used to protect the electrical parts, are available anywhere.

    Read that thing and imagine them being built with wings on them, eh?

    “Pluto was about as durable as a bucket of rocks,” says one who worked on the project. It was because of the missile’s low complexity and high durability that physicist Ted Merkle, the project’s director, called it “the flying crowbar.”

    Let’s hope we get Helium-3 from the Moon, or otherwise find a fusion path that doesn’t produce copious quantities of neutrons. That would be a really attractive form of nuclear energy.

    And better we have a big industry handling Helium-3 than one deeply committed to mining and using either coal or uranium, in the long run.


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