RealClimate logo


Technical Note: Sorry for the recent unanticipated down-time, we had to perform some necessary updates. Please let us know if you have any problems.

Climate Reporting in Physics World

Filed under: — rasmus @ 23 February 2007 - (Português)

PhysicsWorld cover, Volume 20, no. 2, February 2007 The February 2007 issue of PhysicsWorld contains several articles relevant to climate research, with a main feature article on climate modelling written by Adam Scaife, Chris Folland, and John Mitchell, and a profile on Richard Lindzen as well as an article on geoengineering in the ‘News & Analyses’ section. The magazine also contains an article (‘Living in the greenhouse’) under ‘Lateral Thoughts’ that brings up a bunch of tentative analogies to a wide range of topics completely unrelated to the greenhouse effect in a technical sense, and an editorial comment ‘Hot topic‘, arguing that it would be wrong of PhysicsWorld to ignore those outside the mainstream. To be more precise, the editorial comment devotes a few lines justifying the profile on Lindzen and the report on geoengineering, with a reference to a Feynman quote: “There is no harm in doubt and scepticism, for it is through these that new discoveries are made”. Wise words! Nevertheless, I cannot resist making some reflections.

One thought that immediately struck me was: has PhysicsWorld tried to make a ‘balanced report‘, or does the issue of doubt and scepticism by itself merit the profile article? Is the scepticism or doubt really genuine (doubt is the product)? To be fair, the article does bring up objections against some of Lindzen’s arguments (citing Gavin). However, I’d like to see a more consistent and critical article, as Lindzen’s arguments – at least the way they are echoed in PhysicsWorld – are in my opinion inconsistent.

Here is one example: Take Lindzen’s controversial claim that the good comparison between modelled and historical temperature evolution is an exercise in “curve fitting”. Written between the lines is the assumption that the climate models are driven with forcings based on historical GHG emissions. Later in the article Lindzen argues that the climate models used by the IPCC are far too sensitive to changes in the concentrations of atmospheric CO2. To me, these two statements say opposite things – and are thus in violation with each other. Because, either the models give a good description of the historic evolution or they don’t, given past GHGs, aerosol emissions and natural forcings (surely, Lindzen must have known about these simulations).

So, why didn’t the magazine ask critical questions about these conflicting views, or at least comment on what appears to be faulty logic? Or, perhaps Lindzen bases his claim on other aspects of model evaluation? Lindzen argues that the effect of CO2 on the temperature is small because the effect of additional CO2 molecule decreases as the concentration increases, but at the same time, Lindzen also seems to forget – just for a moment – all the feedbacks which can enhance the warming. Gavin confounds him with an objection on a different point – that Lindzen has not taken the delay response properly into account, for instance due to the ocean thermal inertia. In the next paragraph, however, Lindzen maintains that climate models do not replicate the feedback mechanisms in the climate system, and later on refers to his hypothesis, the ‘infrared iris effect‘, which more or less has been buried by the scientific community.

Gavin makes this point in the article (also see an argument for why it is wrong), but a final thought that dawned on me was that Lindzen is probably no better at calculating the feedback effects in his head than the climate models.


296 Responses to “Climate Reporting in Physics World”

  1. 201
    Hank Roberts says:

    You can check this stuff, you know — what’s your source for the claim about Brower?
    Pointer, please?
    I find nothing to support this, perhaps you’ve got it backwards:

    “Brower was also instrumental in leading environmentalists to rethink their early support of nuclear power”
    http://www.browercenter.org/?q=node/17

    http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/nuc-power.asp

  2. 202
    Jim Dukelow says:

    Re #200

    Jim Eaton wrote: “Since David Brower died more than six years ago, I doubt he has come around to supporting nuclear power. While he was alive, however, he was a prominent opponent of nuclear power.”

    I was wrong and Jim Eaton is right about David Brower’s position — to the end of his life — on nuclear power. I was mis-remembering the reasons that he was removed from his position as Executive Director of the Sierra Club in 1969 and resigned from its Board in 2000. I was probably also confusing him in memory with his friend Ansel Adams, who did change his view on nuclear power late in life.

    I apologize to family and friends of David Brower for mis-representing his position.

  3. 203
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “I’m not against renewables. I just have zero faith that they can meet the energy needs of a global economy with 9 billion people [...] if someone could prove me wrong, I’d be ecstatic, but to date the only assertions that renewables can do it on their own have come from people who didn’t do the math.”

    Yet you rejected out of hand the American Solar Energy Society study which found that in the USA, full implementation of currently available efficiency and renewable energy technologies could reduce carbon emissions by 60 to 80 percent within a couple of decades. You simply asserted that it was “risible” but you gave no reason for this, except your “faith” that it could not be true, and you certainly did not demonstrate that the authors of the report “didn’t do the math.” In fact you had no substantive criticism of that report to offer at all.

    Of all the nations in the world, the USA stands to make the fastest progress in reducing carbon emissions through conservation and efficiency alone — simply because we now are the world’s most profligate wasters of energy.

    As the WorldWatch Institute report that I referenced above says, the fastest growing energy sources in the world are photovoltaics and wind power. In 2005 PV grew by 45 percent, and has been growing by 33 percent a year since 2000. Wind power capacity grew by 24 percent in 2005, 41 percent more than the previous annual increase for this energy source. These technologies are far more suitable — and affordable — for electrifying the neediest parts of the world, e.g. rural Africa, than is nuclear power. In general the parts of the world that are most urgently in need of electricity to aid the economic development of their populations are the least capable of implementing nuclear power.

    Distributed photovoltaics and small-scale wind turbines are the technologies that are going to provide rural electrification and support economic growth in the developing world, not nuclear power.

  4. 204
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jim Dukelow wrote: “I was probably also confusing him in memory with his friend Ansel Adams, who did change his view on nuclear power late in life.”

    That reminds me of a story from the Reagan era. Ansel Adams was a vociferously outspoken critic of Ronald Reagan. One day Reagan asked his aides to arrange a meeting with the famous photographer, saying that he wanted to know why Adams disliked him so much. The meeting was arranged, Adams visited Reagan at the White House, and during their conversation, Adams told Reagan that the US government should redirect its military spending into researching fusion power. Reagan was reportedly quite startled by this; apparently it was not the sort of thing he had expected to hear from a wilderness landscape photographer.

  5. 205
    Hank Roberts says:

    1969 and 2000? Check those dates.

  6. 206
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 203-204. Now hold on a wee minute, Secular. What I found risible was the assertion (devoid of support) that conservation alone could hold energy demand constant or even make it decrease. Energy demand will continue to rise in the US. And it will rise even faster in the rest of the world. Even in the ’70s, energy demand rose, albeit slowly, and that was a time of very slow growth in the US. As to the assertion that the US can easily conserve its way out of this mess, that just isn’t so. Aside from the transportation sector, where our love of SUVs has kept average mpg at the same level for 20 years, the US has one of the most energy efficient economies in the world. By all means we should try to do better, but the low-hanging fruit was picked in the ’70s and ’80s.
    China and India have a lot more gains possible on this front just by adopting technology already used in the US. Unfortunately, between them, they also have about a billion and a half people who would like to start consuming energy at Western levels. Same in Africa and S. America, Indonesia, Malaysia… Now China’s economy has to grow at 8% per year just to produce jobs for the new workers coming of age. To pay for climate change mitigation, conservation technology, etc, it will have to grow at 9-10%. Do you think they can meet that requirement with only renewables? In the near term (e.g. next 10-20 years)? If I have a choice between China firing up a coal plant–that will release more radioactive fly ash than a nuclear plant will produce nuclear waste–or going nuclear, I say go nuclear. And what is more, I see plenty of scope for US businesses to profit in helping China make its nuclear industry as green as possible.
    Finally, a word about fusion. Remember that old saw: Fusion is the energy source of the future–and it always will be. We’re still a long way from breakeven, and further still from commercial viability. And if you think fusion will be clean, you might want to remember all those 14 MeV neutrons.
    We cannot avoid risk, but we can manage it.

  7. 207
    Rod B. says:

    SecularAnimist is really impressed with the acceleration of small numbers (re 165). Solar generation may be growing fast but it’s still about 0.01% of the total, less than accounting errors for nuclear, let alone fossil fuel generation. And if wind keeps up it’s fantastic growth (yawn) it will soon catch garbage as a generation source. (Though to be fair it probably will catch garbage in 2-3 years…)

    Don’t get me wrong — I’m fully supportive of the development of solar and wind power; I just don’t think it helps to go ga-ga because your 6-month old baby got its 2nd tooth — a 100% increase!! — in just 5 weeks! Though I do wonder how the transmission tower haters will take to fields strewn with gigantic windmills and covered with photovoltic cells where soybeans and stuff use to grow…

  8. 208
    Pjk says:

    Regarding energy use, a substantial amount of it is due to various “feel good” factors.

    As is seen in car industry promotions, need to “feel good” (and powerful) during driving easily halves the mileage of a car. Meeting with colleagues at the fountain gives that “good feeling” of being competent and part of the team, and this is paid for by so many miles and hours of daily driving. Tourism thrives on the stimulation it provides, on the sounds and smells, and particularly on challenges overcome that are the source of good feelings.

    These good feelings can be generated by less energy intensive means, i.e. efficient applications of the emerging telepresence technologies. Can the values and fashions change?

  9. 209
    James says:

    Re #189: [Radiation dose in a population can be cumulative; a little extra to the background will add to the mortality and morbidity rates, but it may not be easy to attribute a particular death or illness to a particular release.]

    That is the theory, or perhaps I should say unproven hypothesis, since AFAIK no one has actually demonstrated that this linear dose response actually exists. In the real world, many toxins don’t work like that: only when the dose approaches the body’s self-repair threshold do adverse effects start to appear. Indeed, there are many examples (vitamin A is a classic) in which low doses are necessary for health, but higher doses cause poisoning.

    In any case, my understanding is that more radiation (per MWh) is released into the atmosphere from the trace elements present in coal, than from nuclear power plants, so that switching from coal to nuclear would actually reduce environmental radiation.

    Re #191: The reason a Chernobyl-type accident couldn’t happen outside the former Soviet bloc is that, in addition to building a plant without any sort of containment, in the Russian RBMK reactor design a loss of coolant causes the reactor to produce more power. See Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#Causes

    Chernobyl also provides us with an object lesson in the actual environmental effects of such nuclear accidents. In fact, the so-called “Dead Zone” around the plant is now a wildlife refuge, and by most reports one of the more environmentally-healthy places in eastern Europe.

    Re #192: [That's a rather ironic proposal, considering that nuclear power has received over one hundred billion dollars in federal subsidies during the last few decades, while wind, photovoltaics and other clean renewable energy sources have received only a few billion...]

    Try to understand, though, that I (and I think most people advocating nuclear power) see it as replacing coal, not competing with solar. Thus we’re arguing at cross-purposes: the real issue is not nuclear subsidies vs solar, but the huge competitive advantage that fossil fuels have over all other technologies, because they haven’t had to pay for dealing with their waste. Tax CO2 enough to cover this, and both nuclear and renewables become far more competitive.

    As to why more is necessary, can I refer you once again to the ASES study which you quote? If renewables plus conservation can cover only 60-80% of US energy needs, simple arithmetic means that 20-40% has to come from somewhere else. Nuclear is the only other carbon-free source available.

    And #203: [Distributed photovoltaics and small-scale wind turbines are the technologies that are going to provide rural electrification and support economic growth in the developing world, not nuclear power.]

    Which is probably true, but a different issue. Solar &c can do just fine at rural electrification: what it can’t do is provide the concentrated power to run the industries that among other things produce the solar panels, wind turbines, and so on to make that rural electrification possible.

  10. 210

    [[Look, I'm not against renewables. I just have zero faith that they can meet the energy needs of a global economy with 9 billion people AND a need to invest in technologies to mitigate climate change.]]

    We don’t share your lack of faith. I think we can be getting all our energy from renewables by 2100, possibly earlier if there’s a concerted effort.

  11. 211

    [[BPL's repetitive mention of "unplanned releases", like his repeated assertion that the fire in the Windscale bomb production reactor killed seven people rather than, as is in accord with all appearances, zero, seems to be an appeal to ignorance, and a public disservice. Let me try to make it right. Regulators typically routinely monitor releases at the boundaries of nuclear power stations, and do not distinguish between planned and unplanned releases; any exposure to a fence-leaner on the scale of what a radium-dialled watch might give would cause a quick shutdown.]]

    So, Burn Boron, I take it you’d have no objection if I listed a series of “unplanned releases” as described in the media, historical sources and news reports?

    Warning — I’ve collected four pages worth so far.

  12. 212
    Jim Dukelow says:

    Re #210

    Barton Paul Levenson wrote:

    “We don’t share your lack of faith. I think we can be getting all our energy from renewables by 2100, possibly earlier if there’s a concerted effort”

    Levenson’s reliance on “faith” is precisely the point I was making with my comment that “For other environmentalists, the faith is apparently too strong” in Posting #193.

    Actually, I consider it possible that the world energy economy will be based on renewable resources by 2100. However, 2100 is a long ways away and, if we don’t manage the transition to a sustainable world well, we will have gone to climate Hell in a handbasket before then (this phrase being a product of my “faith” and quite a bit of scientific evidence). I and many others consider non-carbon-based nuclear power to be an essential component in managing that transition. Note that this doesn’t amount to believing nuclear power to be “absolutely safe”, but rather “managably safe”. Indeed, on the basis of actual experience of the last 60 years (including Chernobyl and Mayak), rather than concerns about hypothetical accidents and hypothetical consequences of storage of nuclear wastes, nuclear power is the safest major source of energy in the world.

    Further, I expect that Levenson’s upcoming list of “unplanned releases” will be devoid of evidence (again, with the exception of Chernobyl and Mayak) that the releases had any public health consequences.

    Best regards.

    Jim Dukelow

  13. 213

    So, Burn Boron, …

    Don’t forget the pure-oxygen part. All I’ve read, and experiments I’ve done, indicate B is effectively incombustible in air. Perhaps air at high enough pressure can make it go, but then relatively low-energy-yielding nitride formation would compete wastefully with the desired oxide formation.

    I take it you’d have no objection if I listed a series of “unplanned releases” as described in the media, historical sources and news reports?

    Sure. Space-wise it might be better to post a link than a copy, but such lists as I’ve seen have little power to deceive. Typically they are padded with releases that have nothing to do with nuclear power, or irradiated no-one as much as having a cat on one’s lap for an hour would, or never happened, or some combination of two or more of those. That paddedness, and the alternativeness to this continuously updated list and this one, are persuasive.

  14. 214

    Here’s long list with a great many misadministrations of radiatin from 60-Co or similar sources that were intended for therapy or radiography. That doesn’t, of course, amount to padding unless the list is billed as one of accidents that could be avoided by using solar power stations instead of nuclear, because those gamma sources seldom or never are made at nuclear power stations per se; they are made at isotope production reactors, which do not compete with fossil fuel energy and don’t excite the same opposition.

  15. 215
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re: 210. Barton, I’m happy you are confident in our ability to meet our energy needs by 2100 using only renewables. I’d personally say that’s optimistic, but not outside the pale. So between now and 2100, we could raise the CO2 content of the atmosphere to well over 500 ppm, especially as energy demand accelerates in China and the rest of the developing world and is met by burning their plentiful coal reserves. Once we are at 500 ppm, anthropogenic carbon emissions may well be dwarfed for centuries by emissions from natural sources (e.g permafrost, possibly clathrates, etc.). The thing is, we need to slow things down NOW, or it won’t matter much. We know from past warming epochs, there are plenty of natural sources of ghg once things get warm enough.
    As to you list of “unplanned releases”, please be sure to include the amount of radiation released and how much above background levels it raised the counts outside the fence of the facility.
    Question, do you avoid flying in an airplane because of the dose you’d receive? How about getting an x ray or CAT scan? Would you eat food that had been preserved by irradiation with gamma rays? Did you ever smoke (cigarettes give you a pretty good hit of radiation from the inside)? Just curious about your perception of risk.

  16. 216
    pete best says:

    A comment on recent posts and population. The planrt will have 9 billion people for one generation but 2100 the population is set to drop back to 6 billion again mainly due to reduced birth rates all over the world.

    Renewables and biofuels in particular that can offset peak oil are needed very soon. I would suggest that second generation biofuels will be required asap in order to for mixing with petrol/gas to occur.

  17. 217
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Pete, the estimates that population will drop from 9 to 6 billion make assumptions about increasing education levels (especially among women), urbanization, etc. A global recession would affect these trends and probably keep population high for longer. Of course, there may be other pressures that reduce population that we’d rather not think about. Also, keep in mind that reducing population brings with its own problems as the demographics of the largest generations shift toward old age.
    Biofuels are a fraught proposition. To date the only ones who’ve made them work are the Brazilians–and that due to the very cheap labor in their Northeast. I presume by 2nd generation, you mean fabricated from cellulost–definitely the way to go, but we’ve got a long way before we’re there.

  18. 218

    [[In any case, my understanding is that more radiation (per MWh) is released into the atmosphere from the trace elements present in coal, than from nuclear power plants, so that switching from coal to nuclear would actually reduce environmental radiation. ]]

    As I’ve said, over and over again, that’s true ONLY if you don’t count the regular “unplanned releases” at each and every commercial nuclear plant. The figure is for “normal operation.” But in fact, no actual plant seems to maintain “normal operation.”

  19. 219

    [[Solar &c can do just fine at rural electrification: what it can't do is provide the concentrated power to run the industries that among other things produce the solar panels, wind turbines, and so on to make that rural electrification possible. ]]

    Why can’t it? Care to justify that statement?

  20. 220

    [[Question, do you avoid flying in an airplane because of the dose you'd receive? How about getting an x ray or CAT scan? Would you eat food that had been preserved by irradiation with gamma rays? Did you ever smoke (cigarettes give you a pretty good hit of radiation from the inside)? Just curious about your perception of risk. ]]

    Your constant attempts to paint me as some kind of scientific illiterate are as annoying as they are offensive. I find it fascinating that when I talk about the issue, you and your pals talk about what’s wrong with me. Classic ad hominem distraction.

    [Response: Ok. That's enough. Either talk seriously on this thread (and that goes for all parties) or go elsewhere. - gavin]

  21. 221
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “What I found risible was the assertion (devoid of support) that conservation alone could hold energy demand constant or even make it decrease.”

    Much of the content of the ASES report that I cited consists of detailed, factual support for the proposition that conservation and efficiency improvements alone can hold carbon emissions constant while the economy continues to grow, and that efficiency combined with full implementation of clean renewables can reduce carbon emissions 60 to 80 percent by 2030 while the economy continues to grow.

    If you wish to offer a rebuttal to the case that the ASES report makes, fine. But to suggest that it doesn’t make any case at all — that it consists only of a “risible” assertion “devoid of support” — is simply false.

  22. 222
    Pat says:

    Re: all those discussing energy resources:

    What I would really like to see is a fair comparison among solar (various kinds of PV (c-Si, c-Si with diffuse back reflection for use of total internal reflection, a-Si, transition metal oxides, III-V, more complex inorganic compounds, organic, dye-sensitized, nanostructured, multijunction, combinations thereof, luminescent concentrators, etc), PV + water heater, just water heater, stirling engines, skylights, … subdivided among components and including optical components, tracking, inverters, etc.), nuclear, coal (conventional and cogeneration), and the rest… with total lifecycle analysis per unit energy output (keeping electrical and thermal outputs distinct) of CO2 emissions, other emissions, mining land use and mining byproducts, good or bad, etc… electrical energy input, total energy input, labor hours input, and the implied energy there (energy use per person should be factored into labor – although it’s complicated because there are different forms of energy – ie electricity, etc.); also keeping in mind that coal input now might be replaced by a renewable carbon in the future (maybe?), and other potential future rearrangements (ie electric cars, energy efficiency (that would reduce the energy in labor costs and generally could do so for other energy inputs), potential for reusing and recycling devices, etc.). I think that would be very interesting.

    I found this, but I only have access to the abstract, so I’d still like to know more: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V2W-4177N2J-3&_user=10&_coverDate=11%2F30%2F2000&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=38ce6c5cd426ac1232b90e61c6ec9d28

    If this website is not appropriate for further discussion on the energy issue, I’d invite people to join in the comments at http://blog.sciam.com/index.php?title=the_gore_effect&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

  23. 223
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Actually, Barton, I had no intent of painting you as anything other than councerned about radiation. I’m sorry if it came across that way. Because, you will get a much higher dose flying in a plane than living near a nuclear power plant. You will get a much higher dose living someplace where the bedrock is granite rather than sedimentary. You will get a much higher dose through many medical procedures. And you will get a much higher dose if you smoke.
    You have made many assertions about unplanned releases. Until I see independent measurements of counts above background, am I to take it on faith? Many activities raise one’s risk of radiation exposure, but living near a nuclear facility is way down the list.

    RE 221: I’m sorry Secular, I must have missed the part where they gave realistic estimates of what conservation could achieve. They were sure higher than Art Rosenfeld’s estimates in Physics Today a few years ago.

  24. 224
    Pat says:

    Re 102:

    I just want to add to/expand on the inline response:

    If nearly the same albedo error occurs both in the present and future, then the resulting error in radiative forcing change over time would be much smaller.

    The error in albedo must be multiplied by the change in direct solar forcing (incoming top of atmosphere) (as opposed to cosmic ray solar forcing) to find the error in the change in direct solar forcing – a very small value.

    Poor understanding of the origin of a forcing change (such as solar physics) does not by itself imply poor understanding of the climatic response to that forcing.

    At the top of the atmosphere, global average insolation is about 342 W/m2. A difference in global effective albedo should be multiplied by that value to find the change in radiative forcing. (Note that global effective albedo is the average of albedo over area and time, weighted by local top-of-atmosphere solar insolation.)

    Re 130

    In the TAR there were interesting maps of radiative forcing http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/fig6-7.htm

    Just from qualitive reasoning I can see that some of the features make sense – for example, the additional greenhouse forcing of the well mixed greenhouse gasses is highest in the subtropics (fewer clouds, in particular high cloud tops, low humidity, and I’m guessing a moderate to high tropospheric lapse rate, high temperature (so higher LW fluxes)) and lowest in the polar regions, especially Antarctica (colder -> lower LW fluxes, also lower lapse rates, often with inversion in the lower troposphere). It makes sense that there would be a reduced effect near the ITCZ relative to the dryer subtropics as there would be more high cloud tops, reducing the effect of additional greenhouse gasses within the troposphere.

    However, I would have thought that the tropical minimum would be stronger over the Amazon rainforest, central Africa, and Indonesia, than at other longitudes, reflecting high cloud top distribution associated with the Walker Circulation.

    Anyway, looking at only the tropopause LW forcing, It looks like the horizontal temperature gradient which organizes the Hadley circulation might be reduced. However, I know that much of the additional heat goes into latent energy, which would not raise the temperature and cause radiative cooling, but is drawn into the ITCZ where it is converted to sensible heat, which could strengthen the Hadley cell circulation. Will the net effect cause a stronger Hadley cell circulation? And would the same reasoning apply to the Walker circulation and low latitude monsoons and possibly tropical cyclones?

    Oh, then there is an increase in the height of the tropopause – if the cloud tops of the ITCZ rise, that would increase the tropopause LW forcing. Then again, the reduction in lapse rate in moist updrafts at higher temperatures would reduce the effect of any LW radiation absorption; but then again, if the overall effect is just a lifting of the tropospheric temperature profile, then the increasing height of the tropopause should outweigh the lower level decrease in lapse rate. So…

    On the other hand, before the temperature profile adjusts, some of the radiative forcing goes into decreased radiative cooling within the troposphere. As an instantaneous effect, this might slow down diabatic (radiational) cooling, and therefore slow down the subsidence over the subtropics. If that slows down the entirety of the Hadley cell, the vertical lapse rate should increase, and increasing condensational diabatic heating in the ITCZ should speed it up again – warmth transported to the subsiding regions would increase radiational cooling. Or, a reduced subsidence velocity could be compensated by an areal expansion of the subsidence. Am I on the right track, here?

    It’s my understanding that the Hadley cell’s width is limited by the higher meridional temperature gradient in midlatitudes that is conducive to baroclinic eddies. With the lower tropospheric polar amplification, I can see why the Hadley cell, with the dry subtropics, would expand poleward, and why baroclinic eddies would also tend to shift poleward and possibly weaken. Except, in the mid to upper troposphere, the meridional temperature gradient actually increases because of the greater condensational heating in the ITCZ (and I’m guessing other low latitude thermally direct circulations). Given that, what is to be expected in the midlatitudes? Also, if the tropical easterlies gain in strength and/or areal extent, then the conservation of angular momentum suggests a strengthenning in surface westerlies – which is especially necessary if the surface westerlies are pushed poleward, as then they lose some of their leverage about the Earth’s axis. — Unless the arrangements of mountains, etc, allow the torques to balance without such strengthenning. But given the lower tropospheric polar amplification, the vertical wind shear of the westerlies should be reduced in the lower troposphere. This suggests to me that downward momemtum transport must become more efficient in the lower troposphere. Am I on the right track so far?

    Would the ITCZ widen in proportion to the Hadley Cell? If not, would the average albedo of low latitudes decrease?

    Okay, I just found http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/05/el-nino-global-warming/ and http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/06/on-a-weakening-of-the-walker-circulation/#more-307

    The last one says it’s the second of three parts. I’d like to see the third part, but I can’t find it.

    Maybe I missed some other things in past postings that go into this kind of description.

    One other thing – in the distant past when the Earth spun faster – would that have shrunk the Hadley cell?

    ——————————–

    Would it be possible to use actual weather data to model subgrid scale phenomena? For example, if the grid scale variables = x,y,z…, then maybe a computer could search for similar conditions occuring in weather data, and find the closest matches on all sides, then interpolate to calculate the subgrid scale variables. Or the same could be done with a search through the results of a model of the subgrid scale phenomena – the idea being that as the subgrid model’s results for varying grid scale conditions are saved to a database, eventually that database will be used in place of the model, to reduce necessary computing power.

    What if climate models used subroutines for various identifiable phenomena – for example, extratropical cyclones? As conditions suggest, the subroutine would be instructed to create an extratropical cyclone. It would interact with other subroutines, etc… (an object-oriented weather/climate model)

    What if climate could be modelled directly – ie the input and output of each time step would be weather statistics – which may cover weeks or whole seasons. There might be nested timesteps – like a four-dimensional object-oriented approach – there might be an ENSO subroutine and a NAO subroutine, etc, …

    Maybe the climate could be modelled like an ecosystem with population dynamics and variances. A given variety of extratropical cyclones have some metabolism, a spawning habitat, a life cycle… And the same might apply to the larger scale – planetary waves, ENSO variations (populations of El Nino’s and La Nina’s and +/- phases of whatever else). There are predator-parasite / prey-host , competition, symbiosis, etc. Climate change is ecological succession and evolution of ‘species’ (but only via phenotypic plasticity – genotype is just physics – or is it?), and low-frequency variability is ecological succession in loops…

  25. 225
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Secular and Barton,
    I clearly will not persuade you that nuclear power is safe, and you will not persuade me that it will not be necessary, so let me outline why I feel this way. First, I believe that climate change is a grave threat. I do not believe that we can at this point avoid seeing significant change over the next 100 years of so, and for this reason, I believe the proper course is to slow the change as much as possible by minimizing release of more ghg. On this I think we can agree. I believe that the best way to do this is with conservation first and renewables as much as possible. I also think that it is particularly critical that we hold anthropogenic ghg to levels where we do not start to see significant release of ghg from natural sources. That is one challenge we face in the near term. The other is development. There are going to be about 1.5 times as many people on the planet by the end of the century. About a third of them will be going from an economy where their major source of energy is wood, charcoal or dung to being consumers of modern energy. China alone has to grow at 8%, just for employment to keep pace with population. The situation will be similar in India, Africa and much of S. America. In addition, dealing with climate change, developing mitigations, etc. will all take more energy. I have not seen any convincing evidence that conservation and renewables can keep up with this accelerating demand. Now don’t think I haven’t looked into this, and I’m not saying that you havent. However, I have found the scenarios that claim we can get by with renewables alone to be way too optimistic. I think the choice is between coal and nuclear power to fill the gap, and the choice is a clear one for me, given the zero carbon nature of nuclear power. As a physicist who works with radiation all the time and who has studied nuclear power (no I’m not in the industry), I am convinced that we can implement nuclear power safely and cost effectively. The problems that remain are technical problems that we can manage.
    So that is why I support use of nuclear power to fill the gap until we can reach a healthy near-zero carbon economy with renewables. If you succeed in creating such an economy by 2030–globally–I will be the first to congratulate you.

  26. 226
    Nick Gotts says:

    On nuclear power:

    1) If nuclear power is so safe, why won’t commercial insurers cover it for accidents over a certain size? These are the people whose business is risk assessment.

    2) Lovelock is a long-standing proponent of nuclear power – at least back to the 1980s, and given that he’s an octogenerian scientist, I’d be surprised if he was ever an opponent – he’d have imbibed all the “too cheap to meter” guff in the ’50s. His record as a green/environmentalist is also less glowing (no pun intended) than one might imagine. I would not vouch for everything on the following website, but it’s worth a look: http://www.nuclearspin.org/index.php/James_Lovelock.

    3) I’ve seen no response to my #166 reply to Ray’s #163 on proliferation – which I consider by far the biggest problem with nuclear power. The overlap in necessary materials, technologies and skills between nuclear power and nuclear weapons is so large that any marked increase in the former will raise risks of proliferation.

    More broadly, in some ways the nuclear/renewables debate is a side-issue:

    A) Because of the rate at which China and India are commissioning coal-fired stations, we need CCS (and what’s more, retrofittable CCS) anyway.

    B) Neither nuclear power nor renewables will do anything much, at least before 2030, to reduce sources of GHG emissions other than electricity generation – which account for more than half the total, including many of the fastest growing such as transport costs.

    C) Nor is energy efficiency a good bet, at least without accompanying increases in energy prices: if you increase the energy efficiency of an industrial or consumption process, in the absence of price increases you cut its cost, and may through increased demand end up using more energy than you did initially (that you will do so is the “Khazoom-Brookes postulate”).

    D) Therefore, alongside retrofittable CCS and nuclear/renewables, demand reduction by a globally equitable system of GHG emission rationing is essential if we are to get anywhere near the kind of emission cuts we need – and that’s going to mean real sacrifices, particularly on the part of the rich. I see no indication on this site that even among those of the rich most aware of the GHG problem, many are yet prepared to face up to this. Hell, I’m not even sure I am, despite all the schadenfreude accruing to a long-time leftie seeing it conclusively demonstrated that capitalism is indeed doomed by its own internal contradictions ;-). See http://www.gci.org.uk/contconv/cc.html for the best-developed scheme for moving toward equitable rationing.

  27. 227
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 126: Nick, given the golden rule–he who has the gold makes the rules, how likely do you think it is that you will see significant willingness to sacrifice on the part of the rich? It has been my experience that the poor have a much better chance of faring well in a growing economy than in one that is shrinking. When I hear people start talking about things like “a globally equitable system of GHG emission rationing” my first reaction is to reach back and check for my wallet, and then to lapse into despair. Kyoto was globally equitable, but ultimately meaningless in terms of really addressing the problem. And even then, you couldn’t get the rich (i.e. the US) to sign on.
    The other thing you fail to anticipate is the fact that we have to keep the global economy growing if we expect to be able to pay for the technological fixes needed to adapt to climate change, achieve international development and stabilize global population.
    The hope–and at this point it is just a hope–is that if we have a good supply of cheap energy, we can develop solutions for the transport sector, etc, that may not be as efficient, but that are carbon-free.
    As to proliferation, I acknowledge the concerns, but the real threat as far as proliferation arises because it is profitable for some countries or individuals to help others flout the ban. However, as I said, a nuke with a return address on it is unlikely to be used except as an insurance policy. Nuclear capability has in almost every case decreased the possessor’s scope of sovereignty. It is my opinion that the reason we’ve seen many pariah states trying to acquire nukes of late is because they are the only ones for whom the insurance value outweighs the resulting loss of sovereignty.
    The prospect of a nuke in the hands of a nonstate actor is of considerably more concern. However, they are unlikely to obtain said device without state help, and the beligerent state would ultimately be identified; and a chemical or biological weapon would be easier and really better as a weapon of terror.
    Ultimately, I favor market solutions not because of any ideological preference, but because 1)they tend to work; and 2) people tend to sign up for them more readily than they do to regulation. Markets do, however, require regulation to ensure that the reward good and punish bad behavior. Even the best regulation scheme is probably going to fail for the simple reason that people hate being regulated and will do anything to game the system out of revenge.

  28. 228
    James says:

    Re #118: [As I've said, over and over again, that's true ONLY if you don't count the regular "unplanned releases" at each and every commercial nuclear plant.]

    You do keep saying that, but not offering any supporting evidence. So why not go and look for some? Show that the total released, including all your unplanned releases, is less than fossil fuel byproducts. If it is, show that the amount’s enough to pose a health risk, and if there’s a risk, show that it’s greater than the total risk posed by fossil fuel byproducts.

    You might do the first. I’d be very surprised if you could do the second, and I’d put the third at about the same level as – oh, say actually proving that climate is controlled by cosmic rays.

  29. 229
    James says:

    Re #121: [Much of the content of the ASES report that I cited consists of detailed, factual support for the proposition that conservation and efficiency improvements alone can hold carbon emissions constant while the economy continues to grow, and that efficiency combined with full implementation of clean renewables can reduce carbon emissions 60 to 80 percent by 2030 while the economy continues to grow.]

    I think we’re talking past each other again. Is anyone here actually disagreeing with that report? Not just saying that it might be a bit overoptimistic, but that it’s just plain wrong? If so, I missed it. What I see is a lot of people concerned about dealing with that 20-40% that the report says can’t be covered by renewables + conservation.

    [If you wish to offer a rebuttal to the case that the ASES report makes, fine. But to suggest that it doesn't make any case at all...]

    Rebuttal? When it’s exhibit A in support of the case for nuclear?

  30. 230
    Ruben Fierens says:

    Please, can somebody take a look at my resolution, it is for the Europian Youth Parliament. We have to go there the 7th of March, so could somebody read it,and maybe ask some questions about it, we want to be prepared.
    A. Fully alarmed by recent grave changes concerning the climate, due to the greenhouse effect,
    B. Deeply concerned that consequences of the greenhouse effect, referring to the melt down of ice caps in the Polar Regions and Greenland, which will effect, and is already effecting, a rising of the sea level and diminishing of the Gulf Stream, will have a strong negative influence on the environment and climate,
    C. Considering that a large amount of the world population lives in areas that risk to be flooded,
    D. Emphasizing that mankind itself is very likely, meaning with a certainty of more than 90 %, responsible for the greenhouse effect by producing an enormous amount of greenhouse gases,
    E. Fully aware that actions against superabundant and eminently detrimental emission of greenhouse gases must be taken for the well-being of the present and future generations,
    F. Realizing that reducing the emission of greenhouse gases is a big European and worldwide challenge,
    G. Keeping in mind that as the intensity of climate changes, resulting in storms, forest-fires, dryness, heat, etc�, will considerably rise, famine and water deficiency will become even a greater problem, especially in the African continent, which could result in an overwhelming migration flow to Europe,
    H. Establishing the worrying fact that certain countries, which are known to be amongst the greatest polluting states concerning emission of greenhouse gases, refuse to cooperate in international treaties to diminish the greenhouse effect,
    I. Supporting the Kyoto protocol, which is an amendment to the international treaty on climate change, and the hereupon following conferences in Den Haag (2000), Bonn (2001), Marrakech (2001), New Delhi (2002), Milan (2003), Buenos Aires (2004) and Montreal (2005),
    J. In favour of the proposal of the European Commission to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases with 20 % compared with the emission in 1990, which could be eventually raised till 30 % in the event of a new international treaty acting upon the Kyoto protocol,

    1. Calls upon the EU to fund campaigns to make people of the EU member states aware of the possible dangers and consequences of the greenhouse effect, first of all via schools and media,
    2. Urges the EU to encourage the people of all member states to decrease their energy consumption and to use more renewable energy, such as solar energy, wind power, hydraulic energy, etc.,
    3. Requests for a greenhouse-tax in all EU member states, to finance further actions concerning the diminishing of the greenhouse effect and aforementioned projects aiming to accomplish awareness about this subject with people in all EU member states,
    4. Reminds the EU to engage other nations, worldwide, into diminishing the emission of greenhouse gases and mobilize them to get involved in other projects, for example the Kyoto-protocol or other treaties,
    5. Recommends severe measures against countries that forsake to observe the treaties composed by the European parliament, meaning fines in order to the degree of contravention,
    6. Further requests the admission for EU countries to keep their nuclear power plants running for a specific period, providing that the concerned countries commit to invest in a search for an equivalent and less polluting energy source.

    Please it is very important to me and my collegues.

  31. 231
    James says:

    Re #226: [1) If nuclear power is so safe, why won't commercial insurers cover it for accidents over a certain size?]

    First, who says commercial insurers won’t? But if in fact that’s true, it might have something to do with being able to cover the loss if in fact it happens. It’s not good business (and might even be illegal) to write a policy for $100 billion when your company’s only worth half that. You might consider the problems that some insurance companies have had with paying off claims from recent hurricanes, for instance.

    [3) I've seen no response to my #166 reply to Ray's #163 on proliferation...]

    Because that’s inherently a political issue, and discussion of politics not directly related to GW issues isn’t welcomed here. (A position I agree with, BTW.) Otherwise we’d get sidetracked into discussing questions such as how proliferation risks could be minimized, from there segue into tangential questions population control, and civil discourse on science would go out the window :-(

    But look at it in terms of risk: on one side of the scale weigh the increase in the risk of some terrorist group getting & using nuclear weapons; on the other side place the risk to the whole planet from continuing fossil fuel use. Sure, the one’s a dramatic single incident, while the other is an ongoing process which familarity has led us to discount, but I’d argue that the real & lasting damage from the second far outweighs the first.

  32. 232
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re: 229.
    James, you reminded me of one other reason why I think it is unwise to dismiss nuclear power as a partial solution–it sends the wrong message to the denialists that we perceive the risks of nuclear power to be greater than those due to climate change. That certainly is not the case. Climate change poses greater risks than even the worst nightmares of the antinuclear activists.

  33. 233

    [[Re #118: [As I've said, over and over again, that's true ONLY if you don't count the regular "unplanned releases" at each and every commercial nuclear plant.]

    You do keep saying that, but not offering any supporting evidence. So why not go and look for some?]]

    I have, as I said earlier. I’ll put up my latest values on my web site and post a URL here.

  34. 234

    [[Re #226: [1) If nuclear power is so safe, why won't commercial insurers cover it for accidents over a certain size?]

    First, who says commercial insurers won’t? But if in fact that’s true, it might have something to do with being able to cover the loss if in fact it happens. It’s not good business (and might even be illegal) to write a policy for $100 billion when your company’s only worth half that. You might consider the problems that some insurance companies have had with paying off claims from recent hurricanes, for instance.]]

    So you’re in favor of the Price-Anderson Act? It’s okay to subsidize nuclear (but not renewables) because the damage from a nuclear accident could be so great that private insurers couldn’t cover it?

  35. 235
    Ruben Fierens says:

    Please can somebody comment my resolution, it’s very important, and we need your questions, it takes a little of your time I know. We leave wednesday, so I need all your questions tomorrow. Please help us.

  36. 236
    Dan says:

    re: 227 “Ultimately, I favor market solutions not because of any ideological preference, but because 1)they tend to work; and 2) people tend to sign up for them more readily than they do to regulation. Markets do, however, require regulation to ensure that the reward good and punish bad behavior. Even the best regulation scheme is probably going to fail for the simple reason that people hate being regulated and will do anything to game the system out of revenge.”

    Ah, but US Clean Air Act history has shown that has not been the case. Such regulations have overwhelming improved air quality, reducing sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide emissions and other pollutants substantially over the past several decades. And without the massive economic disruption that fossil-fuel fired industries said would occur. In fact, the cost estimates from industries affected by the regulations were no where near the mark as opposed to the government estimates. That is generally the case with regulations. And of course the industries never considered the economic health benefits. However, market solutions incorporated into regulations have indeed worked quite well. Just look at the sulfur dioxide emission reductions in the US that have been achieved since 1990. But the regulations were needed first; the market was not going to appear on its own. And the results have been beneficial to all parties.

  37. 237
    Hank Roberts says:

    Look back at how earlier problems were handled — now that we’ve seen how the industries handled carbon dioxide, which led people to look back at the same methods being used by the tobacco industries. I wonder what’s been documented about CFCs and lead, for two earlier similar concerns.

    Tangentially, from Wikipedia:
    Thomas Midgley, Jr. (May 18, 1889 â�� November 2, 1944), was an American mechanical engineer turned chemist. He developed both the tetra-ethyl lead (TEL) additive to gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)… One historian remarked that Midgley “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in earth history.”

  38. 238
    James says:

    Re #234: [So you're in favor of the Price-Anderson Act? It's okay to subsidize nuclear (but not renewables) because the damage from a nuclear accident could be so great that private insurers couldn't cover it?]

    I don’t quite follow the logic there. I admit this is an area where I have no particular expertise, so I want to ask a few questions. Are insurers willing to write policies of that size for any risk? Is that much coverage really necessary, or is it just another anti-nuclear regulatory hurdle? Why don’t I hear similar objections to other Federal disaster aid, such as (just for instance) those resulting from building a major city below sea level on a hurricane-prone coast?

    Then let’s go back to the idea of having a level playing field for all power technologies. Fossil fuel plants aren’t required to be insured against the damage they cause, are they? If they were, I’d bet that the insurers would have gone bankrupt meeting claims for respiratory illnesses, acid rain damage, and such, long before the question of paying for climate change had ever arisen.

    Once again, we’re talking past each other: the real issue isn’t nuclear vs renewables; it’s nuclear and renewables vs fossil.

  39. 239
    James says:

    Re #230: I would remove point (I), since that treaty’s defects contributed a good bit to the problems mentioned in (H). Also (in line with the discussion here) I’d strengthen point 6, and call for renewed investment in nuclear power, and increased public education & awareness of its actual risk level compared to other technologies.

  40. 240

    [[ the real issue isn't nuclear vs renewables; it's nuclear and renewables vs fossil.]]

    Actually, it’s renewables versus fossil fuels.

  41. 241

    increased public education & awareness of its actual risk level compared to other technologies.

    Because oil and natural gas are more heavily taxed than other big-dollar commodities, it seems to me, people on public payrolls, knowing that their government income is subsidized by fossil fuel consumers, and that this means they, each of them personally, makes a certain amount of coin per nuke-preventable accident, show two psychological coping mechanisms. One, they say government subsidizes fossil fuels, implicitly asserting that fossil fuel accidents cost them rather than profit them. Two, they say the public fears nuclear energy, implicitly saying it’s the public’s own fault they keep getting killed like that.

    So it’s important to acknowledge signs that the public does, in fact, understand that nuclear is safer. Recent polls, for instance.

  42. 242
    Pat says:

    Re 230: Here is the summary for policymakers of the fourth IPCC report:
    http://www.ipcc.ch/SPM2feb07.pdf
    (important discussion here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/02/the-ipcc-fourth-assessment-summary-for-policy-makers/ )

    You might consider rewording #3 – diminishing the greenhouse effect to between the present and preindustrial level by itself may be desirable but it’s probably off the table for the near future – trying to slow, level off, and start drawing down net emissions, to keep the greenhouse effect from growing ‘too much’ (however that be defined – http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/11/how-much-co2-emission-is-too-much/ ) – or maybe you meant ‘diminishing’ relative to a business as usual – as in a reduction of the future greenhouse effect.

  43. 243
    Pat says:

    Re 230:

    In so far as supporting the Kyoto Protocol –

    You might want to consider ways to go beyond the Kyoto Protocol. While there are incentives for first world countries to help third world countries develope in a less-emitting manner, I think eventually a more comprehensive framework will be necessary. I would consider the ideal solution to be a global CO2 and CO2-equivalent net emissions tax/credit (credit for negative net emissions); but this may be unworkable – a similar approach (basically a cap and trade) would be to assess a baseline global allowance of CO2 emissions, and allot per country in proportion to it’s GDP (or some other measure of value produced), which can then be purchased and sold (countries which sell emissions intensive products to other countries would presumably add the cost of purchased emissions to the price of those products). The idea is to reduce emissions by encouraging more efficient and sustainable production (and conservation?) of value (conventionally economic and otherwise). I suggest this because the basic framework of Kyoto is setting a target per country relative to a reference year’s emissions, which may not make sense to apply to a variety of countries with different growth rates and different starting points in terms of emissions efficiency. But I’m not an expert on Kyoto or on the current workings of the cap-and-trade markets – I could have missed something.

  44. 244
    pete best says:

    Re #243, I find the entire “What to do about climate change” arguments are just not put together in any systemic fashion. Everyone is doing their bit I hear but that bit is all relative and not coherent or all that well meaning. For instance although Al Gore is certainly the new high preist of political climate change it was reported that he spends 15,000 per annum on heating his home reported here: http://news.com.com/2061-11199_3-6162631.html

    However, does it matter, is it important in the grand scheme. What is alarmism and what is climate reality ? Well this is how I see it:

    I am skeptical that anything world wide will be enforced that will actually do anything to actually offset climate change in any meaningful way until we have reached a significant warming, probably in the region of 2 degrees C. This is because the worlds energy requirement are growing significantly due to increased globalisation and prosperity and progress are what western politicians sell to us and in the main 80% of the population are sold on it. The other reasons are to do with technology, New scientist ran an article on Green Sky Thinking which basically stated that all new aircraft will at some point be some 50% more energy efficient but although the technology and science are developed or known it takes time to design and build new aircraft and even when this technology does reach the consumer domain increased air flights and cheaper overall fuel costs due to efficiency gains means more flights so knowing how much this technology will offset climate change is unknown. We have no Carbon free fuels and for flying there seems to be no chance of developing any at the present time but maybe within 20 to 30 years it might come.

    The media reports on technologies and science that might be able to offset climat change but practical steps such as increased use in sustainable technologies is small change at the moment although I am sure it will increasee quickly. However the big problems come when we reach saturation point on these technologies, once they have reached their projected estimates of 10 to 20 percent utilisation and we are a long way from that.

    We could all use flourescent light bulbs but although individuals can get them and use them are they? Are businesses doing the same? Are all computers being turned off? Are parents walking their kids to school? and on we go. I see no coherent government policy on any of these easy wins because it involves state intervention and that is bad news in these freedomn loving days. Only once the situation gets bad (2 C rise) will state intervention take place like in the days of the war in Europe.

    I just cannot get my head around the notion of what can be done and what is being done. Its pretty lame at the moment as their is no global consensus to actually mitigate climate change in any meaningful way. Everyone is more concerned with getting the Oil out of Iraq.

  45. 245
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #232 “Climate change poses greater risks than even the worst nightmares of the antinuclear activists.” Doubtful: the worst nuclear nightmare is a full-scale nuclear war, which increased use of nuclear power, via proliferation, makes more likely.

    Re #234 I can’t find any country where commercial insurance covers unlimited amounts for nuclear accidents – if anyone knows to the contrary, please post. There is a whole layer of huge reinsurance companies to allow insurance of particularly large risks, and the fact that even with this, nuclear power cannot get commercial insurance, shows where the problem lies: although the probability of a disastrous accident may be low, the potential scale of damage is vast.

    Re #227

    “given the golden rule–he who has the gold makes the rules, how likely do you think it is that you will see significant willingness to sacrifice on the part of the rich?”
    What optimism I have is based on:
    1) The belief that even the fattest capitalist doesn’t want to fry in his own lard.
    2) The second world war. In times of sufficient emergency, the golden rule is considerably modified – everyone’s efforts are needed, so a measure of perceived fairness is seen as essential even by the rich and powerful. I don’t know about the US, but in Britain there was a huge shift in the direction of equality, and of accepting regulations perceived as fair. In effect capitalism was suspended for the duration – I don’t mean market mechanisms ceased altogether, but market forces no longer decided what was to be produced, or wage and price levels. Of course the situations are different – for one thing, it would be much easier if we could blame the atmospheric changes on evil aliens – but human behavior and values are much more adaptable than you suggest.

    “The other thing you fail to anticipate is the fact that we have to keep the global economy growing if we expect to be able to pay for the technological fixes needed to adapt to climate change, achieve international development and stabilize global population.”
    So far as climate change is concerned, this is like an alcoholic pleading that he needs to keep drinking in order to muster the strength to give up: the faster the economy grows, the faster GHGs accumulate in the atmosphere. Technological fixes, without fundamental socio-political change, just won’t cut it. As for “international development”, that’s just a cant phrase disguising the fact that the rulers of rich and powerful countries have absolutely no intention of allowing poor ones to do more than act as subcontractors, if they can help it. The slowdown in global population growth is probably powered primarily by urbanisation, which appears unstoppable.

    “The hope–and at this point it is just a hope–is that if we have a good supply of cheap energy, we can develop solutions for the transport sector, etc, that may not be as efficient, but that are carbon-free.”
    Pie in the sky. Even if technically possible, the infrastructure would take decades to put in place, without fundamental socio-political change.

    “As to proliferation, I acknowledge the concerns, but the real threat as far as proliferation arises because it is profitable for some countries or individuals to help others flout the ban. However, as I said, a nuke with a return address on it is unlikely to be used except as an insurance policy.”
    As I pointed out, the US government doesn’t agree with you. And a nuke doesn’t have to have a return address.

    “Nuclear capability has in almost every case decreased the possessor’s scope of sovereignty.”
    You’ve said that before, but it’s completely implausible. The state with by far the greatest scope of sovereignty is the USA. Among those nearest it (though very far behind) are Russia, France, China, India and Israel (not UK, because its “independent” nukes are actually owned by the USA). Even Pakistan and North Korea have been able to get away with far more than they would have without nukes. If your claim were valid, we would expect at least UK and France – under no significant threat of attack from anyone – to have abandoned their expensive nukes by now. Only if all nuclear-armed states were prepared to surrender their weapons to international control could a sustainable anti-proliferation regime be built – and until that happens, more nuclear power increases proliferation opportunities, and proliferation increases the risk of a nuclear war.

    On a broader point, once we move from debating whether ACW is happening to what to do about it, the “no politics” rule just isn’t sustainable: connections with all kinds of other issues relating to national and international politics are unavoidable.

  46. 246
    J.C.H says:

    I actually think it’s the other way around. The fewer nukes on the face of the earth, the more likely their use because of fewer consequences. Conventional war is more likely in a nuke-free world. Send me a telegram when nukes have caught up with the machine gun.

    When there were only a handful, two got used. Once there were thousands, none got used. If there had been somebody out there saying to the United States in WW2 “you use those two and we’ll use 1,000 on you” those two nukes would have remained in their holsters.

    In general, nobody messes much with countries that have nukes. That’s why Iran and NK have moved so aggressively in acquiring them. They were obviously next up for preemptive war. That can’t happen if they
    have nukes.

  47. 247
    James says:

    Re #245: [I can't find any country where commercial insurance covers unlimited amounts for nuclear accidents...]

    That still doesn’t answer the questions I was asking. First, you might think a bit about the basic logic of the insurance business, which is to combine lots of relatively low-value risks in order to produce loss rates that are statistically predictable. Writing just a few large policies defeats that, and turns insurance into nothing more than gambling. US commercial nuclear plant insurance covers something like $300 million, IIRC. Does that amount stem from the fact that it’s a nuclear plant being insured, or a business decision by insurers not to write policies larger than that for anything?

    Second, why aren’t other technologies likewise required to carry levels of insurance that correspond to the damage a worst-case accident would cause? Take hydroelectric power: on the record to date, dam failures have caused far more death and destruction per GWh than nuclear accidents, yet how much insurance is the average power dam required to carry? Consider that (just for example) a catastrophic failure of Bonneville Dam would wipe out Portland. Yet these dams were built – a lot of them by the federal government – without AFAIK anyone complaining that the government would be liable for accidents.

  48. 248
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #246. Since the end of the Cold War there has been a large decline in the number of nukes in the world. There has also been a large decline in armed conflict (see for example http://www.humansecuritycentre.org/images/stories/HSBrief2006/contents/finalversion.pdf).
    Of course, correlation isn’t causation, but this does suggest the idea that nukes keep the peace is dubious at best. My reason for thinking more nuclear-armed states increase the risk of nuclear war is simple: more people to make miscalculations – of the kind we know nearly caused global catastrophe during the Cold War. And while I’d agree that nuclear-armed states are less likely to be attacked, to judge by the records of the USA, USSR, China, France, UK and Israel they may be more likely to attack others – directly or through the use of proxy forces.

    Re #247. The only question you asked was “First, who says commercial insurers won’t?” [insure for nuclear accidents over a certain size]. I answered it. And we agree they won’t do so because of the vast potential scale of the damage. I also agree that large-scale hydro has similar disaster potential and for this and other reasons, I oppose it.

  49. 249
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 245 and 247. Insurance deals with risk–loss multiplied by the probability of the loss being realized. With Nuclear power, they don’t have any way of calculating the probability of such a loss, since an extreme event has not yet happened. Chernobyl was as close as we’ve had, but as I’ve pointed out, that one was pathological. Extreme value theory requires large amounts of data, and no insurer would be willing to go out on a limb without determining at the very least whether the distribution were fat-tailed or not. Similar exemptions exist for commercial aviation, acts of terrorism, extreme weather, and on and on. The events are sufficiently improbable that it is difficult to get enough data to predict how often they will occur and what their consequences would be if they did. No insurer will touch that.

  50. 250

    Estimates of the likelihood of nuclear reactor accidents have come out of several studies out of the past few decades (e.g. the old WASH-1400). They predict a very low likelihood of a big accident. They are the source of industry propaganda lines like “you are more likely to die hit by a meteory than in a nuclear reactor accident.” But these studies also predict low likelihood at the bottom of the damage scale, and there they are consistently off by a couple of orders of magnitude, as the many small accidents involving fatalites show (I’ve got a couple of dozen on my list already, and, interestingly, one case of sabotage that claimed three lives, and at least two plants that have had successive accidents despite being find and blamed over the first accidents.


Switch to our mobile site