A bit of philosophy

Henry Shue, an Oxford philosopher well known for his work on such issues as the moral implications of torture and pre-emptive war, made the argument that the moral implications of not dealing with climate change should be thought of not only in terms of harm, but in terms of potential harm. Unfortunately for those of us that would like to keep burning fossil fuels at our current rate, Shue argues that uncertainty — the possibility that harm caused to future generations from anthropogenic climate change will be relatively small — does not get us out of our moral obligation to change our behavior. That is, one need only recognize that business as usual will increase the risk of significant harm – a point that almost nobody debates – for it to be clear that business as usual may be unethical.

Paul Baer, whose influential book “Dead Heat: Global Justice and Global Warming” (with co-author Tom Athanasiou) discussed ethical issues in how one should allocate global warming permits across the world, discussed some interesting new twists to their work. The principal objection to the idea that everyone has the right to emit an equal portion of GHGs, is that today’s mean value is below that of China’s per capita emissions, and thus a straightforward cap and trade at that level is politically impossible. The new twist in his work relates to the need to balance the current emission problem with the right of poor countries to develop that “should not be impeded by the requirement to reduce GHG emissions, and that the presumably steep burden of mitigation costs must be shared on the basis of responsibility and capacity”. This of course, shifts more of the burden onto the developed countries who have already benefited from their use of fossil fuels. It will be interesting to see how that is received at the climate negotiations.

Finally, there was one idea that was raised that we take issue with, and which we think worth commenting on because it comes up frequently. For lack of a better name, we’ll call it the Easterbrook Fallacy, after Gregg Easterbrook, the author of the book A Moment on the Earth: The coming age of environmental optimism. In that book, Easterbrook makes the repeated claim that environmentalists are off the mark in their warnings to society, because things are actually getting better. For example, he notes that the Clean Air Act has substantially improved air quality in the United States, and somehow turns this into an argument that we needn’t be concerned about clean air. He completely ignores the obvious fact the Clean Air Act exists only due to such concerns being expressed by scientists and other that Easterbrook dismisses as “pessimists”.* In a similar vein, one of the commentators at the conference made the argument that it was an open question whether we had any moral obligation towards future generations for our impact on the climate, since that impact could in principle be averted (for example through carbon dioxide removal via ocean iron fertilization). This is equivalent to saying that we will not have to address the issue of climate change if we address it, an argument that has no bearing whatsoever on whether we have a moral obligation. We were a bit surprised to hear it from a philosopher since it is a tautology (usually anathema to philosophers).


*Note that Easterbrook now says that the science is in and he takes “global warming” seriously. That doesn’t change the logical fallacy in his earlier arguments.

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261 comments on this post.
  1. Eli Rabett:

    Remember the tripe thown at the Stern Report for overvaluing future generations?

  2. Hank Roberts:

    You mean the “what did future generations ever do for us” argument?
    The “time is a two-way street, if they really needed our help they’d come back and tell us” argument?
    The “diety of your choice hates the future and wants you to prevent it” argument?
    The tripe bucket is rather full.

  3. tarmo:

    As I understand, Dead Heat advocates dividing emissions per capita. That may be fair towards individuals and countries, but in my opinion it ain’t fair towards sustainability of ecosystems. I would prefer to divide emissions per unit territory (sq.km), or divide emissions based on the relative amount of local biomass (e.g. the mass of the local “live ecosystem”). In that way, we would have a regulative system with better built in equilibrium properties. Any thoughts on that?

  4. Valuethinker:

    #1 & #2 : good discussion re discount rate and Stern Review below:

    http://johnquiggin.com/index.php/archives/2007/02/23/discounting-the-future-yet-again/

    http://johnquiggin.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/sternreviewed06121.pdf

  5. Valuethinker:

    Chapter 8 of Sir John Houghton’s textbook

    http://www.cambridge.org/uk/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521817625

    http://www.amazon.com/Global-Warming-Complete-John-Houghton/dp/0521528747

    (new edition due in November)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_T._Houghton

    is a good summary of the ethical issues involved in GW.

  6. Valuethinker:

    Chapter 8 of Sir John Houghton’s textbook

    http://www.cambridge.org/uk/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521817625

    http://www.amazon.com/Global-Warming-Complete-John-Houghton/dp/0521528747

    (new edition due in November)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_T._Houghton

    is a good summary of the ethical issues involved in GW. Sir John is, besides being former Chief Meteorologist of the UK and a personal adviser to Her Majesty on global warming, an evangelical Christian. This is a *much* less common type of belief in the UK than it is in the United States and certainly does not increase one’s public credibility.

    So his moral and ethical perspective on global warming is quite interesting (and the textbook chapter is not simply a recantation of Judeo-Christian faith).

    http://www.creationcare.org/resources/climate/houghton.php

    “People often say to me that I am wasting my time talking about Global Warming. ‘The world’ they say ‘will never agree to take the necessary action.’
    I reply that I am optimistic for three reasons. First, I have experienced the commitment of the world scientific community (including scientists from many different nations, backgrounds and cultures) in painstakingly and honestly working together to understand the problems and assessing what needs to be done.

    Secondly, I believe the necessary technology is available for achieving satisfactory solutions.

    My third reason is that I believe God is committed to his creation. He demonstrated this most eloquently by sending his son Jesus to be part of creation and by giving to us the responsibility of being good stewards of creation. What is more I believe that we do not do this on our own but in partnership with him – a partnership that is presented so beautifully in the early chapters of Genesis where we read that God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day.”

    by Valuethinker

  7. C. W. Dingman:

    Did anyone at the conference bring up the issue of population control? As our burgeoning population over the last couple of centuries is clearly as much a factor in causing our present unhappy state as is our fossil fuel technology.
    C. W. Dingman

  8. George Ortega:

    Along the lines of the Easterbrook Fallacy should be included “Republican Party Denialism” and the immorality of their circulating misinformation on global warming in order to promote a self serving agenda. The U.S. Congress should hold such actions not just as immoral, but as criminal and a threat to national security. One issue here is the right of non-professionals to practice climatology. We do not allow individuals to practice medicine or law without a license for obvious reasons; how much more imperative is it to prevent politicians from disseminating to the public biased and unprofessional judgements on a global warming.

    We should also criminalize efforts of the fossil fuel industry to confuse the public regarding the dangers of global warming. We don’t allow cigarette manufacturers to say that cigarettes pose no health risks, and we should not allow oil companies to advertise and promote their product as harmless. An interesting thread regarding the criminalization of such global warming mitigation obstructionism can be found here; http://www.climateprediction.net/board/viewtopic.php?t=6711&sid=c20e78ee89f21ec710e86b2cc9863161

    On another line, it seems that the defining global warming moral issue for the next several decades will have to do with who bears the greatest brunt for financing mitigation efforts. It would seem reasonable that the countries,industries and individuals who contributed and benefited most from greenhouse gas emissions should be made to pay. Since they will fight tooth and nail to shirk that responsibility the moral responsibility to see that that happens will fall on the world’s public.

  9. Onno Klinkenberg:

    I do not fully understand the analogy you seem to suggest between the Easterbrook stance and the argument that there is no certainty about the existence of a moral obligation towards future generations.
    The former might be considered to be a tautology, the latter however seems to be a perfectly reasonable argument.

    When we consider the existence of a moral obligation to act (e.g. reduce GHG emissions), two parts are relevant.
    -Unacceptable damages when no action is undertaken
    -The impossibility to let anyone else act.
    This commentator is simple pointing out (and quite rightly I suppose) that future generations, when confronted with a high level of GHG, can reduce this concentrations in their own time. That might mean that there is no moral obligation for our generation to act.

    I think the reason our generations should act is not a moral obligation, but an efficiency question. Would future generations be happier with a richer yet more polluted world or with a poorer yet cleaner world? According to reports like for example the Stern report, it should be doubted that future generations can solve this problem at lower cost than ours; therefore, we should do it. However, that is not a decision based on moral, but on efficiency.

  10. Timothy Chase:

    RE: Easterbrook

    I have seen one of his more recent articles. He was a skeptic, but now he is convinced that climate change will happen, and while some places will benefit (Siberia, for example, and it has been noted that Greenland will soon be able to grow more of their own food – as a slightly higher temperature extends the growing season considerably), this will be only in the short-run. Moreover, even in the short-run, I believe he would accept the fact that there will be considerably more costs than benefits.

    In any case, better late than never.

    I myself am a bit of a late-comer. In the late 1990s, I still thought that the effects of global warming probably wouldn’t be that severe. Besides, recognizing the problem meant that I would have to do some serious thinking about my own worldview. But the simple fact that the possibility of it was a question of physics and not philosophy was more than enough for me to begin the re-evaluation – even if it meant taking a hard look at myself.

    A little more self-revealing than I would like, but in this case the benefits probably outway the costs, at first once you get beyond the individual level, then at the the individual level itself.

  11. Timothy Chase:

    Re: Questions of Ethics

    The fact that there are serious differences of opinion with regard to how carbon emission caps are to be “equitably” applied is itself rather problematic. Some might argue that higher caps be placed upon those who are already relying up an economy of high carbon emissions – otherwise their economies may be damaged. The ethical view behind this may be would be that everyone should able to stay in the same place – or as close to it as possible.

    Alternatively, someone might argue for this sort of approach for increasingly practical reasons, which nevertheless they might also regard as moral – in some sort of higher sense. If the more advanced economies are damaged, they could argue that this will seriously hurt the less advanced countries simply as a result of economic interdependence and the dominance of advanced economies in the world economy. Thus as a matter of the common interest of humanity, we shouldn’t impose too great a burden upon the advanced economies. Others might argue that if we attempt to impose too great a burden, the more advanced economies are less likely to agree to it, Therefore once again, it is not in the common interest of humanity to attempt this.

    However, one can clearly argue that a higher burden can be imposed upon the more advanced economies – as this will affect their citizens to a lesser degree – given both the resources and technologies they have available as well as the greater flexibility of their more advanced economies. One might also argue that as a matter of fairness, the poorer countries deserve the chance to catch-up, or that the more advanced countries somehow owe something to the poorer countries given the carbon emissions they are already responsible for.

    Now as a matter simple pragmatics, I would argue that the wide range of “ethical views” which people may argue from are not empirically testable, and therefore it will be much more difficult to reach a consensus when taking this sort of an approach – at least in the case of carbon emissions caps.

    *

    Alternatively, at a more basic level, many will argue that they shouldn’t have to act until everyone else agrees to act. But at least in the case of investment in new technologies, if the more advanced economies take the initiative, then they can make these technologies available to the developing countries and see a return on their investment sooner rather than later. I believe the good majority of people in the United States could be swayed that then government should invest heavily in such technologies, then permit anyone, here or abroad, to develop the technology once the research has been done. No patents, no royalties.

    Alternatively, somewhat less public funds might be required if the participating companies had either royalty rights or exclusive rights. Some segments of the population would find this more amenable, the development could very well take place at a higher pace, and as there would be a profit in selling the products of such investment, they would be more inclined to distribute it or even have it produced at in those parts of the world which have depressed wages.

    Each of these approaches may be problematic to some, but no doubt some will be able to convince themselves that any given approach is the ethical one. Humans are funny that way. However, we should also keep in mind that reaching a consensus which many will not be entirely happy with but which would be acceptable to a broader part of the population seems more likely than carbon emissions caps.

    *

    In any case, if the time in which to act is short, we should be willing to accept approaches which are more likely to be acceptable to a broader section of the population in a shorter amount of time. Or so it would seem.

    Finally, I should not that I am not advocating any one approach. I simply mean to illustrate some of the causal principles which are likely to come into play.

  12. Doug Heiken:

    This post seem to presuppose the concept of “intergenerational equity.”

    “Three principles form the basis of intergenerational equity. First, each generation should be required to conserve the diversity of the natural and cultural resource base, so that it does not unduly restrict the options available to future generations in solving their problems and satisfying their own values, and should also be entitled to diversity comparable to that enjoyed by previous generations. This principle is called “conservation of options.” Second, each generation should be required to maintain the quality of the planet so that it is passed on in no worse condition than that in which it was received, and should also be entitled to planetary quality comparable to that enjoyed by previous generations. This is the principle of “conservation of quality.” Third, each generation should provide its members with equitable rights of access to the legacy of past generations and should conserve this access for future generations. This is the principle of ‘conservation of access.'” Edith Brown Weiss, Intergenerational equity: a legal framework for global environmental change. Chapter 12 in Edith Brown Weiss, editor. 1992. Environmental change and international law: New challenges and dimensions. United Nations University Press. http://www.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/uu25ee/uu25ee0y.htm

    We must reject formulations of intergeneration equity that fail to recognize the existence of scarcity, technological limits, irreversible environmental change, and the second law of thermodynamics. Examples of these unethical approaches include the “opulence model” …
    “… in which the present generation consumes all that it wants today and generates as much wealth as it can, either because there is no certainty that future generations will exist or because maximizing consumption today is the best way to maximize wealth for future generations. This model overlooks the long-term degradations of the planet that may be generated, such as irreversible losses of species diversity … A variant of the opulence model is the technology model, in which we do not need to be concerned about the environment for future generations, because technological innovation will enable us to introduce infinite resource substitution. While technology will undoubtedly enable us to develop some substitutes for certain resources and to use resources more efficiently, it is by no means assured that it will suffice or will make the robustness of the planet irrelevant.”
    Id.

    The technology model might provide a plausible explanation for how some wood might be replaced in the marketplace, because as prices rise, alternative technologies take part of the market share, but for ‘ecosystem services’ that are not traded in the marketplace, the technology model cannot explain how we will replace the ecological services of keystone species such as large conifers, salmon, beavers, woodpeckers, and fungi.

    I think we have an ethical obligation to not only maintain options for future generations, but even try to restore options that may already have been eliminated.

  13. Paul Dietz:

    One could argue that even if it costs future generations more to solve the problem, this may still be morally acceptable, since future generations are likely to be wealthier (due to the general advance of technology). Imposing a cost on the current generation to reduce the cost to the future would be a transfer of wealth from the relatively poorer to the more wealthy.

  14. Figen Mekik:

    I find this discussion about intergenerational equity a little odd. Wouldn’t the best “moral” and efficient stance be “first, do no harm”? Assuming future generations could or should clean our mess is like saying “I’m sorry I crashed into your Porsche; but since you can afford such an expensive car, you can probably afford to get it fixed.” There’s a saying in Turkish that asks “doesn’t the thief take any blame?” Ok that didn’t translate very well; it means you can blame yourself for not locking your door, or society for making people so poor they have to steal and all that, but what about the thief, does he get no blame for stealing? Anyway, it disturbs me that some think future generations should clean up the mess we could prevent and fix today.

  15. tamino:

    I’m fond of a native American saying. “We do not inherit the world from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

  16. Timothy Chase:

    Re: Intergenerational Equity

    If we do not act in the present, I would argue that the consequences will be so severe in the future that they will actually have less resources in which to deal with those consequences than we have at present. Moreover, less would be required today.

    However, others may argue (incorrectly, I believe) that if we spend too much to address climate change in the present (unlikely, in my view), then as a the economy will grow more slowly and deprive future generations of the means with which to address the consequences of climate change. This would make more sense if climate change were to have relatively limited effects. I (and the wide consensus within the scientific community) regard this last part as very unlikely.

  17. cat black:

    #9 [no moral obligation] If the question were merely one of having or not having elevated CO2 levels in the future, that would be something they (future generations) could “deal with” just as the current generation needed to “deal with” increasing levels of toxins in water and air from earlier industrial activitiy.

    But it is becoming increasingly clear that CO2 pollution, while not toxic, does have the potential to render the planet unsuitable for advanced civilization. We may not be talking about actuarial tables of morbidity and mortality any more, but of the total breakdown of 600 to 6,000 years of human advancement (depending on how hard we fall).

    So maybe the question ought not to be “can’t we just let them clean it up?” but rather “Is this *our* civilization to exploit to its eventual ruin for individual short-term profit, or are we just stewards of this gift from the past?”

    You may have noticed that that same argument applies to natural resources like trees and rivers, which as history has shown most certainly fell into the “immediate gain, future loss” side of the equation. So our moral fiber has already been tested and found weak. Frankly I don’t see how AGW will turn out any differently, but I’d like to be proven wrong.

    cb

  18. Ed Arnold-Berkovits:

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It doesn’t matter what the discount rate is.

  19. tinna:

    Re: some places will benefit like Siberia and Greenland (#10)

    I don’t understand how these areas are benefiting. Houses are collapsing and roads are breaking up in Siberia because of thawing permafrost. In Greenland and Siberia, people are adapted to cold winters and depend on frozen ground and rivers for hunting and transportation. I wonder if the Inuit people think of it as a benefit to have to change from being hunters to be farmers.

  20. Timothy Chase:

    Re Tina (#19):

    I did say temporarily. Longer growing seasons. But you are right: even the short term costs may outway the benefits for them or at the very least some of them.

  21. Keith Rogstad:

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if carbon-nuetral forms of energy became cheaper than fossil fuels. Then it would not be necessary to “impose” solutions or “criminalize” those who do not agree with the Real Climate elite.

  22. Hank Roberts:

    > Imposing a cost on the current generation to reduce the cost to
    > the future would be a transfer of wealth from the relatively
    > poorer to the more wealthy.

    When you’re faced with a choice between a hypothetical situation and a real one, choose the real one — Joan Baez

  23. Timothy Chase:

    Keith Rogstad (#21) wrote:

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if carbon-nuetral forms of energy became cheaper than fossil fuels. Then it would not be necessary to “impose” solutions or “criminalize” those who do not agree with the Real Climate elite.

    Leaving aside the “elite” comment, it is quite likely that carbon-neutral forms of energy will become cheaper with some investment in the present simply as the result of economies of scale and competition to develop better products once these economies of scale are relatively common.

  24. Nick Gotts:

    RE #3 [As I understand, Dead Heat advocates dividing emissions per capita. That may be fair towards individuals and countries, but in my opinion it ain’t fair towards sustainability of ecosystems. I would prefer to divide emissions per unit territory (sq.km), or divide emissions based on the relative amount of local biomass (e.g. the mass of the local “live ecosystem”). In that way, we would have a regulative system with better built in equilibrium properties. Any thoughts on that?]

    I’m not sure understand your logic. Is it that basing emissions on populations would encourage population growth? I don’t think it would, since that wouldn’t get a country increased emissions per capita, but if you base emission rights on biomass, you might encourage a monoculture of whatever plant maximises that! Basing it on territory would presumably create a huge migration of emission-producing industries to Canada and Russia – and how would that help? In practice, any international agreement will not be based on a single criterion, but movement in the direction of equal shares per individual is the only reasonable starting point. This is a matter that requires global coordination, and to get that requires a serious effort to address global inequalities – including inequalities in decision-making weight.

  25. Dan:

    re: 21. Learning about the science is gaining knowledge. Ad homs are a sign of ignorance of the topic and not willing to learn or understand.

  26. Dan Krashin:

    I think it’s worth noting that this kind of intergenerational argument is found nowhere else in policy-making. Nobody thinks Churchill was a dope because he fought the Nazi’s in 1939, instead of leaving them for us fight them in 1999, by which time the UK’s GDP would have nearly quadrupled!

    Blithely assuming that our kids and grandkids will be able to fix global warming out of pocket change ignores a host of scary possibilities, not least the existence and wide distribution of weapons of mass destruction and global terror networks.

  27. Fergus Brown:

    It is interesting to observe the difference between this discussion and one which a group of philosophers might have on the subject. Too much of the above is about cost and responsibility. There are more fundamental questions to ask. Why do we perceive warming in the future to be ‘bad’? Is this a function of a reduction of wealth, a hindrance to ‘progress’ or development, or of risk to life and livelihood?

    Is it possible to operate sufficiently effectively within a ‘shallow’ ecological framework, which accepts the economic systems and markets as they are and seeks to adjust the details, or do we need to take a ‘deep’ ecological approach, which posits a fundamental conflict between capital/developmental/market-based society and the nature of the changes needed to prevent a deeply undesirable future?

    As I have mentioned on this blog before, we cannot avoid the moral problem faced by the inaction option; if, in the event that we can have a reasonable supposition of harm to others, we choose nonetheless to do nothing, then we must shoulder a burden of responsibility for the consequences of that inaction; we chose not to prevent harm.

    The only way you can get out of this is to establish that we don’t know whether or not climate change projections are reliable enough to posit future harm. What future generations choose to do is irrelevant to our moral obligation. The only other out, it to argue that we have no collective responsibility to others, even if they might be innocent victims, and our lifestyles are the source cause of their suffering.

    I’d also point you to the ‘Ethics and Climate Initiative’, which I know little about, but seems to have its heart in the right place.

  28. MDC:

    Re: #8 – I think I’m misunderstanding your position… it SOUNDS like you are saying that political decisions on how to deal with GW should not be in the hands of the public or untrained politicians, that there is or should be some sort of certification process before opinions can be expressed, and that, if I’m reading this right, the IPCC, a United Nations body, have ultimate say on what can and cannot be said vis a vis global warming (I pulled that last part from the link you provided).

    Perhaps you were being ironic, and I’m just too dense to pick up on the “modest proposal” aspects of your ‘solutions.’

  29. oxnardprof:

    Response #8, in part: “One issue here is the right of non-professionals to practice climatology. We do not allow individuals to practice medicine or law without a license for obvious reasons; how much more imperative is it to prevent politicians from disseminating to the public biased and unprofessional judgements on a global warming.”

    This implies that discussing global warming, or promoting (or, I guess, rejecting) policy to control global warming should be criminal unless one is a climatologist. Unfortunately, politics and science don’t mix all that well, and there have been numerous examples of this (for example: asbestos, lead and tobacco.)

    I welcome the discussion here because it helps a non-climatologist understand the issues, to be better able to discuss and teach them.

    I would like to see more discussion relative to what changes we need to address the problem. For example, what carbon foot print is ‘acceptable’. What method of calculating it is best (I have been to many on-line calculators, and many of them are not well constructed as instructional tools.)

    I rarely comment here, so I will close with a word of thanks for all the posters and commentors.

  30. Steve Reynolds:

    Re: 16> Comment by Timothy Chase: “However, others may argue (incorrectly, I believe) that if we spend too much to address climate change in the present (unlikely, in my view), then as a the economy will grow more slowly and deprive future generations of the means with which to address the consequences of climate change. This would make more sense if climate change were to have relatively limited effects. I (and the wide consensus within the scientific community) regard this last part as very unlikely.”

    I do not think there is any consensus that says that. Even the IPCC has doubts about cost/benefit of mitigation at any CO2 level:

    “Limited and early analytical results from integrated analyses of the costs and benefits of mitigation indicate that these are broadly comparable in magnitude, but do not as yet permit an unambiguous determination of an emissions pathway or stabilization level where benefits exceed costs [3.5].” (from SPM3)

  31. J.C.H:

    From George Will to Dumbo I hear this refrain that areas like Siberia and Greenland are going to benefit from a warmer climate, which makes some sense, but I’ve yet to see an agriculture expert make the same claims.

    Is it really as a simple as replacing Iowa corn with Alberta corn?

  32. Jeffrey Davis:

    The ethics of acting in disregard toward future generations seems related to the amount of time necessary to act effectively. No one would argue that it would be ethical to release the handbrake on a car and push it toward a cliff disregarding the person sitting in the backseat. “Well, if you wanted to get out, you’d have moved faster.” If the effective time to prevent a disastrous outcome is longer than a future generation would have, it would be immoral to not act sooner. The nature of Global Warming — it’s relentless, tiny increments — is unique in human experience. The humongous inertia of the climate system not only prevents us from seeing it clearly, but counter-acting that movement once a disaster is upon us would require more time than the future would have to avoid its consequences.

  33. Paul M:

    My world view is that everyone should become an agent of change to turn things around. However, there are grave challenges ahead of us such as climate change and mutual nuclear destruction. I’m glad there are websites like this one that I can write things like this, it comforts me a little. For some reason, I cannot reconcile the nuclear weapons countries have and the uncertainty of this climate change quandry. History, anthropology, and psychology are no help either. Decidedly, this whole thing rests on science and for the solution.

  34. Keith Rogstad:

    I apologize for the “ad hom”. Although I did not intend that “elite” be taken as a slur. It seems to me that this particular thread has taken a turn far from a discussion of “the science”. If CO2AGW is anywhere near the worst case, then in fact carbon-nuetral energy(whether wind, solar, or nuclear)is “cheaper”. The costs of burning fossil fuels are just not being recognized.

  35. Philippe Chantreau:

    Re 21: carbon neutral forms of energy already are cheaper and have been for a while, if you consider ALL the costs of other forms of energy (i.e. the costs of all consequences of their use in the long term). The facts that these costs are not transmitted all the way to consumers is an artifact and essentially a market failure.

  36. Zeke Hausfather:

    The tidbit that China per-capita emissions are now higher than the world average is new to me, and puts quite a kink in the popular per-capita distribution argument.

    Effectively, this means that any politically acceptable agreement (if one is even possible at this point) will require reductions from China either capping or reducing their current level of emissions. The per-capita argument never gained much traction simply because it put a higher burden on developed countries than they would be willing go bear. Going “beyond per-capita” in a system that allows China to further expand emissions while requiring additional reductions from developed countries (say, based on historical contributions to current GHG concentrations) would be even less palatable than current per-capita proposals.

    This puts us at quite an impasse. But the current trend seems to be to ignore eventual stabilization trajectories and simply agree on some initial step, so perhaps we can brush these inconvenient facts under the rug for the time being.

  37. rod franco:

    of course we have a responsibility towards future generations. tamino has it right, “We do not inherit the world from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

    but aren’t many of our problems hard coded into the consumer societies we have created, people are indoctrinated to believe they MUST have the latest model of whatever and have huge wardrobes full of barely warn clothes and then throw them all away as soon as some minuscule alteration is announced in a media fanfare or some over paid untalented celebrity gets one.
    If that wasn’t enough, the REAL cost of these products is never what “The Market” says it is, as the true environmental cost is NEVER addressed.
    Eg. the shirts,dresses, T-shirts etc made from cotton irrigated with water for the Aral sea did not include the cost of restoring the lake and retuning its unique species from the dead.
    Same thing, the cost of a barrel of oil does not include the full cost to deal with the total environmental damage it causes.

  38. catman306:

    Perhaps the moral and economic problem of correcting global climate change is being viewed through a faulty lens. Perhaps the central tenet of economics, that wealth can be created, is just a fallacy that’s gained popularity with repetition , wishful thinking. Maybe wealth ‘created’ today comes at the expense of both today’s environment and that of the future.

    I guess that’s just a rewording of the quote from the American Indians mentioned above.

    Has anyone proved that wealth can be created when all the effects are viewed across scores of generations?

  39. Edward Greisch:

    Philosophy is the process of muddying the water to make it appear deep. Take a philosophy course if you want to learn to write well. If you want to know the truth about morals and ethics, go to a library and look up Sociobiology or sciobio. Sociobiology is a new branch of Science but there are already hundreds of books on it. One of the classics is “The Genetics of Altruism” by Lumsden and Wilson. The origin of the Universe is also solidly in the jurisdiction of the branch of Physics and Astronomy called Cosmology. We know from Quantum Mechanics that the Universe was required to create itself. We know a great deal about how the universe created itself. We know a great deal about how we got this particular universe and not one of the many other universes. Science has taken over ALL of the jurisdictions formerly reserved for religion and philosophy. In another century or 2, we should be able to create universes. Philosophy and religion are obsolete.
    To create universes, we first have to survive that long. To survive that long, we have to not exterminate ourselves, obviously. To not exterminate ourselves, we have to keep the oceans cool enough to not emit enough hydrogen sulfide to kill us. It would help to keep the climate suitable for the agricultural system that we already have. It would help to avoid generating reasons for wars.
    When you speak of economics, you should identify WHOSE economics. Are you talking about the bank account of the person who owns the coal mine or about the bank account of the person who owns the windmill factory or the bank account of the person who pays an electric bill? Electricity would be cheaper if we used only nuclear power and nuclear power plants were not required to be safer than coal-fired power plants. Third world countries have no need to go through the same long path to technology that we did. New technology is already available and we should sell it to them. Third world countries have no excuse and first world countries have no debt to them.
    Did you know that enough URANIUM goes up the smokestack of a coal-fired power plant to Fully fuel a nuclear power plant with the same output? See: http://www.ornl.gov/ORNLReview/rev26-34/text/coalmain.html
    If breeding of thorium into uranium and using plutonium as fuel are allowed, enough uranium and thorium go up the smokestack of one coal-fired power plant to fully fuel 500 nuclear power plants of the same size. And that isn’t all that goes up the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants. Arsenic and lead are also among the 73 elements in coal smoke, and the quantities are worthy of commercial production. Did you know that you get 100 times as much radiation from a coal-fired power plant as from a nuclear power plant?
    Have you ever heard of background radiation? The natural background radiation that has been there since the beginning of time is 1000 times what you get from a nuclear power plant or 10 times what you get from a coal-fired power plant. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Background_radiation
    or http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/publications/2000_1.html
    By the way, the Chernobyl accident put as much radiation into the environment as an equally-sized coal-fired power plant does in 7 years and 5 months. The Chernobyl reactor was an extremely obsolete design that hasn’t been built in this country since 1944.
    Recommendation: Nuclear power is the safest kind and it just got safer. See the December 2005 issue of Scientific American article on a new type of nuclear reactor that consumes the nuclear “waste” as fuel. Convert all coal-fired power plants to nuclear ASAP.
    Why a Nuclear Power plant CAN NOT Explode like a Nuclear Bomb:
    Bombs are completely different from reactors. There is nothing similar about them except that they both need fissile materials. But they need DIFFERENT fissile materials and they use them very differently.
    A nuclear bomb “compresses” pure or nearly pure fissile material into a small space. There is no other material in the volume containing the nuclear explosive. The fissile material is either the uranium isotope 235 or plutonium. If it is uranium, it is at least 90% uranium 235 and 10% or less uranium 238. There is no isotope separation problem if the fissile material is plutonium. These fissile materials are metals and very difficult to compress. Because they are difficult to compress, a high explosive [high speed explosive] is required to compress them. Pieces of the fissile material have to slam into each other hard for the nuclear reactions to take place.
    A nuclear reactor, such as the ones used for power generation, does not have any pure fissile material. The fuel may be 2% to 8% uranium 235 mixed with uranium 238. A mixture of 2% or 8% uranium 235 mixed with uranium 238 cannot be made to explode no matter how hard you try. A small amount of plutonium mixed in with the uranium can not change this. Reactor fuel still cannot be made to explode like a nuclear bomb no matter how hard you try. There has never been a nuclear explosion in a reactor and there never will be. [Uranium and plutonium are flammable, but a fire isn’t an explosion.] The fuel is further diluted by being divided and sealed into many small steel capsules. The fuel is further diluted by the need for coolant to flow around the capsules and through the core so that heat can be transported to a place where heat energy can be converted to electrical energy. A reactor does not contain any high speed [or any other speed] chemical explosive as a bomb must have. A reactor does not have any explosive materials at all.
    As is obvious from the above descriptions, there is no possible way that a reactor could ever explode like a nuclear bomb. Reactors and bombs are very different. Reactors and bombs are really not even related to each other.
    In the 1950s that there was discussion of the fact that we have been in an interglacial warm period for as long as interglacial warm periods have lasted for the last 3 million years. [The Milankovitch cycles [changes in the earth’s orbit, spin, etc.] have driven these cycles.] We humans put an end to the possibility of a return to the ice age by burning fossil fuels. That is why the climate is not getting colder now. We overdid it. Reference: Scientific American article “Impact from the Deep”, October 2006 pages 65 to 71. If business continues as usual, we will go extinct in 200 years because hydrogen sulfide will bubble out of the oceans and kill us.
    Yes, this kind of extinction has happened before, and Nature-caused global warming was the cause of hydrogen sulfide bubbling out of the oceans. Not going extinct requires that we get control of the climate. “Who did it” doesn’t matter. Adaptation is 99.99% death and extinction. When people say: “We will adapt”, what they are really saying is: “We will willingly die and go extinct.”
    The above information is a powerful persuader. If you tell every American, it will eliminate the ignorance-based paranoia about nuclear power. Of course, there will still be people who want to get rich or earn a living mining coal. For the miners, I have a suggestion: See http://www.liftport.com. As soon as the space elevator [like a vertical railroad] is built, it will be profitable to mine near-earth asteroids and maybe the moon.

  40. cat black:

    #38 [wealth] This notion has haunted me for a long while. Listening to economists talk about the creation of wealth out of nothing more than expectations drains the blood right out of my head. And then to “discount” the future as if it were a computer model and not real people with real lives and aspirations… breathtaking! For a really interesting (if not in fact scathing) review of this vexing notion one could do worse than read “The Long Emergency” concerning the run up to peak oil, the spread of suburbia, the death of small merchants and farmers, and what the author calls the “hallucinated economy” of gain from nothing drawn from future accounts. Talk about robbing the future; some day storytellers will add a ring to Hell reserved just for speculators and economic theorists.

  41. tarmo:

    RE #24 [I’m not sure understand your logic. Is it that basing emissions on populations would encourage population growth? I don’t think it would, since that wouldn’t get a country increased emissions per capita, but if you base emission rights on biomass, you might encourage a monoculture of whatever plant maximises that! Basing it on territory would presumably create a huge migration of emission-producing industries to Canada and Russia – and how would that help?]

    My thinking was that basing emissions on population would not regulate population density. Population requires natural resources, which are part of its ecological footprint – water, food, timber, etc. Dense population requires a larger footprint when compared to less dense population living in a territory of the same size and same amount of biomass. Each territory can sustain an ecological footprint of a certain size. The excess footprint has to be traded in from other regions. If emission caps are based on population, then the trade will not be based on the actual sustainable footprints of different regions. And that would be a mistake in the emissions cap mechanism in my opinion.

    The size of biomass would be even better indicator for ecological footprint than the size of territory in my opinion. One could compare Greenland and India for example – both are roughly the same size, but India has much more biomass, therefore it can sustain a larger population. As a remark, one could also include the biomass from the economic sea territory (usually extends 4-12 nautical miles from the coastline).

    The equilibrium property should arise from the notion that if the population increases, it usually does it at the expense of biomass size.

    As for the risks of cultivating monoculture, I had an impression that a stable ecosystem is biggest when it is as diverse as possible, so a monoculture ecosystem would not be both biomass intensive and sustainable. I may be wrong.

    In my opinion we should research both the “ideal” metrics for sustainable ecosystems and the metrics for moving from the current situation to the desired ideal future.

  42. Timothy Chase:

    catman306 (#38) wrote:

    Has anyone proved that wealth can be created when all the effects are viewed across scores of generations?

    Consider this: before there was any life on earth, there was nothing of value to anyone and there was no one in relation to which something could be of value.

    Nevertheless, once life came on the seen, sunlight became a value. Carbon (in various forms) became a value. However, oxygen was poisonous. It was only later, when life developed the ability to use oxygen that it became a value. Life expanded and transformed the world through a natural economy.

    Values are values in relation to someone, and in this sense, wealth is created when a either use for something which had no use or a better use for something which already had a use is discovered.

    At one point, the world was only able to support a human population of 100,000. Today, assuming we can develop the right technology, it will be able to support a population of 7,000,000,000 or 11,000,000,000. Then when we teraform a new planet, that will be able support life.

    Yes, wealth is created.

  43. Elizabeth:

    So many issues, so little typing skill.

    First. Climate change isn’t just something that will happen to our grandchildren. Climate change is happening now. The impacts are happening now. Arctic infrastructure (e.g., people’s homes) is being destroyed by rising sea level and melting permafrost. The mountain pine beetle has devastated the forests of British Columbia and have crossed into Alberta with nothing to stop them ’til they reach the Atlantic and run out of trees. Disease carrying insects like the malaria mosquito are expanding their ranges. The list goes on and one without even mentioning less certain effects like increasing hurricane strength and Australian drought. We don’t need to speculate about future effects such as war, plague, refugees, and terrorism. Unless you plan on dying anytime soon, the cost of climate change is something every one of us will have to deal with in our lifetime.

    Second. As Lynne V. always reminds us, we (in the energy profligate U.S.) can cut emissions significantly AND save money just through energy efficiency – stuff already done in Europe and Japan. Sure, we’ll need to do more but why are we dragging our feet (and trying to block other nation’s efforts) when we can make rapid progress so easily?

    Third. I recognize that energy efficiency often does cost more up front (even though it’s cheaper in the long run) and that we do need to do more than just energy efficiency and many of those things will cost more than what we pay now for energy. But, even so, how can anyone in the industrialized world – especially the U.S. – whine about paying a little (or even a lot) more to mitigate GHGs. Like, gee, how can we poor Americans be expected to stop building coal fired power plants to generate cheap energy for decades to come when those rich Chinese people have so much coal and they’re going to use it and they should stop first. (yes, that’s sarcasm) And, yes, I do know that there are many people – especially in the U. S. – who are financially on the edge. But those are the very people who will be most affected by climate change (e.g., people who will die in heat waves because they can’t afford air conditioning; people without cars to escape hurricanes; people who don’t have health care to help them manage their asthma which will be exacerbated by urban pollution and higher pollen counts brought on by CO2 “enrichment” and global warming) – so don’t use “poor” people as an excuse to not spend money on mitigation.

    And last, but not least in my little tirade – let’s be very clear about who “wins” and who “loses”. There are no winners except possibly in the very short term. Besides the arguments already presented, the effects of climate change on natural ecosystems is already devastating. We’re not talking about some esoteric love of nature (although that is a valid value). Ecosystems provide essential services that economists rarely place a value on in their analyses. Once those services are disrupted, though, the costs become apparent. For example, one third of human food comes from plants pollinated by wild pollinators. The value of wild pollinators in the U. S. alone is estimated at 4 to 6 billion dollars per year. Also, don’t forget that we’re not talking about moving from a current stable climate to some future stable climate – it’s changing climate from now until …when? Certainly well past 2100. Think about all the engineering (dam flows, sewer systems, bridges, levees) based on current climate. Not only will all those existing systems be improperly engineered for the future climate but no one even knows what the target climate will be or what the new equations will be that will tell us how to operate our infrastructure.

    So, get real. The costs are occurring now and growing. The longer we wait to reduce GHGs the worse it will get.

    OK, I feel better now.

  44. catman306:

    Maybe the economists should have been using the word ‘concentrate’ instead of ‘create’ at every instance. Then much of what they say is plausible and maybe provable.

  45. Jim Manzi:

    Where to begin.

    As indicated at the start of this thread, we are venturing pretty far outside the realm of climate science. I’ll take a couple of examples of what I think are unexamined premises embedded in many of the comments.

    1. That geo-engineering is inherently a bad thing. In the presentation by Gardiner that is cited at the start, he has this to say about Crutzen’s proposal:

    “In summary, Crutzen’s argument is that geoengineering, though arguably an evil in itself might turn out to be a lesser evil than the likely alternative; hence, he thinks, we should prepare just in case we are compelled to endorse that evil.”

    Gardiner apparently never considers the idea that maybe it’s not an “evil” at all. If such an approach could work, why would it be an evil? Why would it be a bad thing if we could avoid having to restructure the whole economy, thereby condemning billions of people to an unnecessarily long climb out of poverty? If a global warming problem emerges and IF we could engineer our way out of it, why shouldn’t we?

    I can’t think of any valid reason why any practical person who is concerned about climate change would not want to at least research the feasibility of such an approach (Crutzen’s proposal). It sure seems like Professor Gardiner feels that some knowledge is just too dangerous for us because it will sap our political will to make other changes that he wants.

    2. That the only measure of how much better off future generations will be is the state of the natural environment. The UN IPCC estimates that most of the (currently) developing world could be about as wealthy in 2100 as the developed world is today. Sacrificing economic growth is not an abstraction; it is the difference between miserable, backbreaking poverty (or death) and longer, interesting lives for billions of people.

    Imagine that you are the person who will be at the median income level in India in a century. Yes, you would sure not like it if the world were in the middle of an ecological disaster because a lot of people in Dallas in 2007 refused to pay an extra $1 for a gallon of gas. You would also not like it if you’re income were half of what it otherwise would be, so that instead of living in a nice house, studying calculus and working for a software firm, you lived in a shack on an unpaved street and got your water from a well every morning.

    In fact, there is a sophisticated body of analysis around the question of the trade-off between cooler-and-poorer vs. warmer-and-richer future worlds, and if you use the UN IPCC scenarios as rough guides to the future, the trade-offs are not obvious. There is another body of sophisticated analysis on the various ways to discount (or if to discount) the welfare of future generations vs. ourselves. None of this seems to be addressed in these posts.

  46. Steve Reynolds:

    27:Fergus Brown> …we cannot avoid the moral problem faced by the inaction option; if, in the event that we can have a reasonable supposition of harm to others, we choose nonetheless to do nothing, then we must shoulder a burden of responsibility for the consequences of that inaction; we chose not to prevent harm.

    But what if actions to prevent harm cause greater harm (even with good intentions)?

  47. AlBreingan:

    RE #3 [As I understand, Dead Heat advocates dividing emissions per capita. That may be fair towards individuals and countries, but in my opinion it ain’t fair towards sustainability of ecosystems. I would prefer to divide emissions per unit territory (sq.km), or divide emissions based on the relative amount of local biomass (e.g. the mass of the local “live ecosystem”). In that way, we would have a regulative system with better built in equilibrium properties. Any thoughts on that?]
    I don’t feel that either extreme works. A per capita system ignores the basic problem that there are too many humans, and some effort must be put into reducing the numbers (hopefully humanely). The territory system is equally flawed as pointed out in #24. Industrial countries should use per capita quotas but using the smallest of the population as at 1990 (the Kyoto base year for emissions) and now (date of agreement). Developing countries should use a per capita system but based on the population as at the date of agreement plus an increment for unavoidable population growth. Their per capita quota could be set as a sliding scale n% above the average of the industrial emissions, assuming they try to use best practice with a decent amount of latitude. So this proposal is basically using the population as a one-off input. Once the agreement is signed it is effectively a national cap with no further allowance for population growth.

  48. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[We should also criminalize efforts of the fossil fuel industry to confuse the public regarding the dangers of global warming. ]]

    That would violate the First Amendment, I think.

  49. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[ If you want to know the truth about morals and ethics, go to a library and look up Sociobiology or sciobio.]]

    Or, for an even more relevant way to handle it, hit yourself repeatedly in the head with a wooden mallet.

  50. Fergus Brown:

    46: Steve Reynolds; then you end with an argument for consequentialism; the virtue in an action being determined by the consequence, rather than the intention. but consequentialism isn’t the only show in town. There is more than one way to define a ‘moral’ or ‘good’ or ‘right’ action or decision. Most climate (and policy) arguments revolve around a broadly pragmatic, humanist, utilitarian view of what constitutes ‘right’, or ‘good’, that is to say, that the sum of happiness/pain is an appropriate metric to determine the moral status of a decision. There is also the additional suggestion of ‘enlightened’ self-interest; that what is good for the planet/climate is good for all of us. If we persist in measuring what is good for us in terms of what makes us wealthier, or sustains our current lifestyle, then the economics of action to prevent serious climate change can never be fully justified, Stern or not, until such time as it is self-evident that inaction is more costly than action. By which time…

    Even before we start arguing about the economic implications of action/inaction, I would contend that we need to consider the human (social) implications. In this type of argument, we must place value on human life, collectively and individually. If you wish to take it further, you can also place value on ecosystems and species, habitats and regional environments. The simple principles of equity, justice, and equality demand that we place no more intrinsic value on one life than on any other. This, however, comes at a price; the compromising of the principle of liberty.

    Though there is so much more to say, I’d better stop here.

  51. DocMartyn:

    #15.
    I’m fond of a native American saying. “We do not inherit the world from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

    This phrase was coined by the White Environmentalist David R. Brower, it probably sounds trite until you dress it up as wisdom from the dispossessed.

  52. Figen Mekik:

    #51: Who ever coined the phrase, it’s a meaningful saying.

  53. Hank Roberts:

    > Brower
    Recommended reading: http://www.johnmcphee.com/encounters.htm

  54. Timothy Chase:

    Jim Manzi (#45) speaks of unexamined premises:

    That geo-engineering is inherently a bad thing.

    I myself have been of the view that, depending upon how far things get out of hand, it may become a “necessary evil.” It is something which, more or less, we have tried to avoid so far.

    We will of course dam rivers, create embankments along rivers, bring in new species of plants, plant forests and the like, but there are often unintended consequences, and the larger the system, the more likely there will be complicated forms of feedback which are exceedingly difficult to model or control.

    Moreover, once we attempt such a thing, particularly on the scale of a planet, if things get out of hand, it is a bit like having a single world currency which then undergoes hyperinflation as the result of trying to pay for too many programs of one form or another. It really is putting all of your eggs in one basket.

    Additionally, with unintended consequences (much this thing we have heard so much about called “climate change”), geo-engineering, even on a small scale will oftentimes result in certain “inequities.” For example, people downriver may count on the water to irrigate their crops. Dam the river upstream for power or draw too much of it for a city’s drinking water and you deprive the farmer of his livelyhood. This happens.

    Likewise, we have the ability to seed clouds and cause it to rain where we wish – but this has been avoided because, once we begin doing that sort of thing, we will start having to make choices about who to deprive of water in order to supply someone else with water that they otherwise wouldn’t have received. Nevertheless, it is essentially the same problem as with dams.

    However, we are already beginning to genetically engineer mosquitoes which are resistant to malaria – and have a selective advantage when and only when malaria is prevailent. They haven’t been released as of yet, but it is something that we are considering. Likewise, we are mapping the metabolic pathways of bacteria and are getting to the point that we will be able to engineer entire metabolic systems – perhaps as a means of replacing industrial methods with larger carbon footprints. But there may also be uses if we can genetically engineer them to help us sequester carbon dioxide.

    For example, trees depend to a very great upon fungus mycorrhizae for their ability to acquire water and nutrients from the soil. The root systems of trees are wrapped in the fungus. If you strip it off, you will typically find that the actual roots of the tree are short and stubby. The mycorrhizae increases the uptake of water perhaps by as much as a factor of a thousand – in some cases.

    However, it is also the case that bacteria perform an important role in the ability of plants to uptake nutrients from the soil. Together with the tree and the mycorrhizae, they form a kind of micro-ecology. If one genetically engineers bacteria to aid plants in acquiring nutrients from the soil and releases such bacteria into the environment, this could very well be a form of geo-engineering. Likewise, we might genetically engineer algae which would have a selective advantage over other algae, but which would not create dead zones when it dies, or which would be more effective at photosynthesis, or which might feed into some method of sequestration.

    There are possibilities. At some point it may be our best chance.

    Anyway, for those who might be interested in learning more about the potential uses for bacteria, I would suggest checking out:

    Microbes by Potential Application
    Depart of Energy Joint Genome Institute
    http://www.jgi.doe.gov/sequencing/why/microbesseq.html

    *

    Jim continues…

    …there is a sophisticated body of analysis around the question of the trade-off between cooler-and-poorer vs. warmer-and-richer future worlds, and if you use the UN IPCC scenarios as rough guides to the future, the trade-offs are not obvious. There is another body of sophisticated analysis on the various ways to discount (or if to discount) the welfare of future generations vs. ourselves. None of this seems to be addressed in these posts.

    Doesn’t seem entirely fair, but then I suppose very little in this world does at this point, especially with so much depending upon where you were born.

    *

    Anyway, I will see if I can’t comment on a couple of different issues you brought up. Others might join in as well, or for the sake of novelty, perhaps even go back to the original post by Eric and Gavin.

  55. Timothy Chase:

    Jim Manzi (#45) speaks of unexamined premises:

    That geo-engineering is inherently a bad thing.

    I myself have been of the view that, depending upon how far things get out of hand, it may become a “necessary evil.” It is something which, more or less, we have tried to avoid so far.

    We will of course dam rivers, create embankments along rivers, bring in new species of plants, plant forests and the like, but there are often unintended consequences, and the larger the system, the more likely there will be complicated forms of feedback which are exceedingly difficult to model or control.

    Moreover, once we attempt such a thing, particularly on the scale of a planet, if things get out of hand, it is a bit like having a single world currency which then undergoes hyperinflation as the result of trying to pay for too many programs of one form or another. It really is putting all of your eggs in one basket.

    Additionally, with unintended consequences (much this thing we have heard so much about called “climate change”), geo-engineering, even on a small scale will oftentimes result in certain “inequities.” For example, people downriver may count on the water to irrigate their crops. Dam the river upstream for power or draw too much of it for a city’s drinking water and you deprive the farmer of his livelyhood. This happens.

    Likewise, we have the ability to seed clouds and cause it to rain where we wish – but this has been avoided because, once we begin doing that sort of thing, we will start having to make choices about who to deprive of water in order to supply someone else with water that they otherwise wouldn’t have received. Nevertheless, it is essentially the same problem as with dams.

    However, we are already beginning to genetically engineer mosquitoes which are resistant to malaria – and have a selective advantage when and only when malaria is prevailent. They haven’t been released as of yet, but it is something that we are considering. Likewise, we are mapping the metabolic pathways of bacteria and are getting to the point that we will be able to engineer entire metabolic systems – perhaps as a means of replacing industrial methods with larger carbon footprints. But there may also be uses if we can genetically engineer them to help us sequester carbon dioxide.

    For example, trees depend to a very great upon fungus mycorrhizae for their ability to acquire water and nutrients from the soil. The root systems of trees are wrapped in the fungus. If you strip it off, you will typically find that the actual roots of the tree are short and stubby. The mycorrhizae increases the uptake of water perhaps by as much as a factor of a thousand – in some cases.

    However, it is also the case that bacteria perform an important role in the ability of plants to uptake nutrients from the soil. Together with the tree and the mycorrhizae, they form a kind of micro-ecology. If one genetically engineers bacteria to aid plants in acquiring nutrients from the soil and releases such bacteria into the environment, this could very well be a form of geo-engineering. Likewise, we might genetically engineer algae which would have a selective advantage over other algae, but which would not create dead zones when it dies, or which would be more effective at photosynthesis, or which might feed into some method of sequestration.

    There are possibilities. At some point it may be our best chance.

    Anyway, for those who might be interested in learning more about the potential uses for bacteria, I would suggest checking out:

    Microbes by Potential Application
    Depart of Energy Joint Genome Institute
    http://www.jgi.doe.gov/sequencing/why/microbesseq.html

    *

    Jim continues…

    …there is a sophisticated body of analysis around the question of the trade-off between cooler-and-poorer vs. warmer-and-richer future worlds, and if you use the UN IPCC scenarios as rough guides to the future, the trade-offs are not obvious. There is another body of sophisticated analysis on the various ways to discount (or if to discount) the welfare of future generations vs. ourselves. None of this seems to be addressed in these posts.

    Doesn’t seem entirely fair, but then I suppose very little in this world does at this point, especially with so much depending upon where you were born.

  56. FurryCatHerder:

    Third World Energy

    Candidate for morally reprehensible behavior —

    Sending peeps in the developing world dead-end energy technologies, or not sending them enough of the good stuff to do anything useful with it.

  57. Timothy Chase:

    Steve Reynolds (#30) wrote:

    I do not think there is any consensus that says that. Even the IPCC has doubts about cost/benefit of mitigation at any CO2 level:

    “Limited and early analytical results from integrated analyses of the costs and benefits of mitigation indicate that these are broadly comparable in magnitude, but do not as yet permit an unambiguous determination of an emissions pathway or stabilization level where benefits exceed costs [3.5].” (from SPM3)

    I don’t believe they were denying the basics of marginal utility theory.

    Given a some unit of resources (dollars, for example), one devotes it to where it is most needed, then with the next dollar you do the same with regard to the needs that are left. But at some point, the utility associated with satisfying a given need (in the descending order of climate change needs) will be less than that which the dollar might satisfy elsewhere for some other kind of need. They were not suggesting that there shouldn’t be any resources devoted to preventing climate change, otherwise it kind of defeats the whole purpose of issuing the report. What they were pointing out is that we aren’t exactly able to determine the precise point at which point other needs become more pressing – per dollar of investment.

  58. Keith Rogstad:

    RE#39 Worth reading, especially the information in the last part regarding Nuclear Power. I would like to see a coherent and logical debate regarding the pros & cons of Nuclear Energy. It seems so many people are emotionally opposed without considering the facts.

  59. David Eubanks:

    Perhaps in the process of solving the AGW problem, we should create a pact with the future: alright, we saved your asses–now do the same for the *next* generation. We wouldn’t be around to enforce such directives, of course, but tradition itself can be powerful once established.

  60. pat n:

    Re 43 True, its not just future generation, … the costs are occurring now and growing. The longer we wait to reduce GHGs the worse it will get…

    Here’s something similar:

    Our agencies are doing their part to provide the best possible data, understanding, and forecasts for policy makers as they deal with these difficult issues. Ignoring climate change will surely be the most costly of all possible choices, for us and our children.

    21 December 1999, a joint letter from Dr. James Baker, director of NOAA, and Peter D. Ewins CEO, U.K.Meteorological Office, USA TODAY

    And global warming will more costly to future generations and other species.

  61. Steve Reynolds:

    Fergus> If we persist in measuring what is good for us in terms of what makes us wealthier, or sustains our current lifestyle, then the economics of action to prevent serious climate change can never be fully justified, Stern or not, until such time as it is self-evident that inaction is more costly than action. By which time…

    Which is an argument for geoengineering as insurance.

    But I do not accept that the impact of mitigation on the wealth of developed nations is the only issue. Access to cheap energy in developing nations is likely the difference between life and death for many more people than any difference mitigating AGW would make.

  62. Philippe Chantreau:

    Re # 58. Agreed Keith. I consider myself one who thinks that Nature is worth preserving for a multitude of reasons, including non-utilitarian ones. However, I find it annoying that environmental advocates keep on being so irrational about nuclear power. Our situation is now such that we can’t really be that picky. The article in the december 2005 issue of Scientific American is one I often cite to them. There is some very good potential in nuclear and it must be exploited, because it is one of the best soutions we have now. Of course, geothermal is excellent too, as are all renewable, and they should be exploited at full potential as well.

    About the geo-engineering idea, we must exercise extreme caution. First, there is no really such thing as small scale geo-engineering. You can do it at a small scale, but it will have to be Earth-scale to be planetarily meaningful, and the full array of consequences will become apparent only when applied at full scale. Then we are faced with the “all eggs in one basket” problem. Geo-engineering has not proved to be an evil, but if it is, and is applied full scale before we figure it is (there could be some significant delay for some consequences to show), then we have a real problem.

    Eventually, we might be stuck in a never ending chase to engineer solutions for the problems created by our previous applications. Whole Earth thermodynamics suggest to me that large scale geo-engineering might lead to that. After all, the current climate change might very well be the first example of unintended consequences to what was “side-effect” geo-engineering. There was a reflection earlier on the idea of creation of wealth, and someone mentioned that “concentration” is more appropriate. That is true, and from the thermodynamic point of view, we could also say acceleration. But it’s all very temporary.

    African people have a way to keep up a fire by slowly pushing radially inward 3 hardwood sticks spaced 120 degrees. That’s how the thermodynamics of Nature are. What we’ve been doing is just putting dry straw on top of that for a brighter flame. Eventually, the slow, low, blue flame fire will resume. Unless we tap into energy sources that Nature can’t readily use, such as nuclear or geothermal.

  63. Timothy Chase:

    Regarding unexamined premises and tradeoffs , Jim (#45) wrote:

    2. That the only measure of how much better off future generations will be is the state of the natural environment. The UN IPCC estimates that most of the (currently) developing world could be about as wealthy in 2100 as the developed world is today. Sacrificing economic growth is not an abstraction; it is the difference between miserable, backbreaking poverty (or death) and longer, interesting lives for billions of people.

    In essence, what you are bringing up is simply the concept of trade-offs. Actually, I brought up some concerns of a similar sort in #11 – Re: Questions of Ethics, although these were more narrowly focused on carbon emissions but then being used to illustrate the problems associated with there being different “ethical visions.”

    Likewise, others have raised the issue of intergenerational equity, although this has largely been by those advocating a penny of prevention within the context of criticizing those who believe that later generations will somehow automatically have more resources at their disposal than we have. I myself briefly suggested that this assumption that future generations will have more resources than we do isn’t necessarily correct.

    But nevertheless, there is a trade-off.

    For example, whatever money one might spend on combating climate change might be invested in the stock market or in the bank and earning interest, and then at some later time, when the needs became more pressing, the money made off the stockmarket could be used to pay for the consequences of not having combatted climate change earlier. Or one might try dividing some of the money between combatting climate change now and investment in the stock market.

    Of course, stating it in this way makes it sound like a mere thought exercise. But in point of fact, it is precisely what we are doing whether we realize it or not. When we incur costs in the present in order to reduce the effects of climate change, this results in a slower rate of growth for the economy and thus less resources later on. Then again, if the cost can become an investment with which to grow the economy when achieving economies of scale, there would appear to be far less of a tradeoff.

    *

    Jim wrote:

    Imagine that you are the person who will be at the median income level in India in a century. Yes, you would sure not like it if the world were in the middle of an ecological disaster because a lot of people in Dallas in 2007 refused to pay an extra $1 for a gallon of gas. You would also not like it if you’re income were half of what it otherwise would be, so that instead of living in a nice house, studying calculus and working for a software firm, you lived in a shack on an unpaved street and got your water from a well every morning.

    Actually, when I was in Madagascar some time ago (after the floor fell out in the sugar market), I ran into a young woman who was studying calculus and living in a shack on an unpaved street. I would have liked to have gotten her out of there, and since that time, my thoughts have returned to her now and then. I have worried a bit while wondering how she is doing.

    A recent post by Chris Mooney didn’t help that much:

    Media Ignoring Madagascan Cyclone Disasters
    Posted on: April 4, 2007 12:57 PM
    by Chris C. Mooney
    http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2007/04/media_ignoring_madagascan_cycl.php

    Madagascar is a typical third world country, in certain respects.

    A colony under France (which explains the language) and Spain, I believe, as this would help to explain the architecture. They were also a single-export country: sugar. When the bottom fell out, it hit their country especially hard. Like much of the third world, they are kept in poverty for reasons which are both internal and external to their country. The president of Madagascar is a dictator. As such, he can make it illegal to hold foreign currency, and in point of fact he did. However, there are also the high tarriffs which make it difficult for them to sell their products in developed countries and their are the subsidies which developed countries make to their domestic producers in order to insure that they are “competitive.”

    Growing the world economy might help those in Madagascar, but given their limited resources, the people of that country are not exactly in the best position to deal with climate change – even today. The IPCC makes this point, of course.

    *

    Another trade-off is time vs. consensus.

    Much of the scientific community believes that we have very little time in which to act – so how much time are we willing to sacrifice in order to arrive at something which is broadly acceptable? Should we be looking for approaches which will be broadly acceptable, although not ideal – if it means that they can be implimented within a shorter timeframe? If we delay action, will the time become so short that we cease to care whether those who lead have any support for whatever means they might choose to deal with any problems whatsoever? It has happened before, in various countries and on varying scales.

    In any case, as the case of Madagascar suggests, the present itself is the result past decisions involving tradeoffs. Hopefully we will choose a little more wisely – and soon.

  64. Timothy Chase:

    Keith Rogstad (#58) wrote:

    RE#39 Worth reading, especially the information in the last part regarding Nuclear Power. I would like to see a coherent and logical debate regarding the pros & cons of Nuclear Energy. It seems so many people are emotionally opposed without considering the facts.

    Well, there is the example of France…

    French policy makers saw only one way for France to achieve energy independence: nuclear energy, a source of energy so compact that a few pounds of fissionable uranium is all the fuel needed to run a big city for a year. Plans were drawn up to introduce the most comprehensive national nuclear energy program in history. Over the next 15 years France installed 56 nuclear reactors, satisfying its power needs and even exporting electricity to other European countries

    Why the French Like Nuclear Energy
    by Frontline producer Jon Palfreman
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/french.html

    They have made their reactors fairly safe – although in part due to government-imposed standardization of design, I understand. Then again, it takes over a decade to build a reactor in the US. It takes a great deal of time to cut through all of the red tape, to deal with the road blocks, etc.. In the meantime, what you have is a half-built reactor, interest on your debt, and a fair chance that you will never be allowed to flip the on-switch. Given this, it doesn’t seem like the best money-making proposition.

  65. stuart:

    One potential way of accounting for CO2 would be a ‘CO2 Debt’ system. Say if the US had released 20% of the emissions (combined from burning fossil fuels and forests, etc) that have lead to the increase in CO2 then that is measured/approximated and held against them. Whenever there is an issue that is judged to be caused by climate change that needs funding to rectify (some islanders in the pacific need rehoming due to sea level rise, or whatever), 20% of the cost is charged to the US.

    This value would of course change over time – if the US keeps putting out CO2 faster than other countries on average, then the fraction would increase (and others would decrease). Conversely if the US funds some approved CO2 capture/sequestration project (whether its permanently replanting forests or whatever) then its share could go down.

    This method would mean the costs of climate change would be borne by those that are causing it, and mean that developing countries can continue to advance but have a financial reason to do so in a way that doesn’t add to the CO2 levels in the atmosphere – or if they do, then they have to offset the benefits of the extra CO2 with the costs it will later bring to them (whether in paying for later sequestration or an ongoing extra cost of paying for the repairs of the damage done indirectly by their actions).

  66. Mike Donald:

    #39
    “Philosophy is the process of muddying the water to make it appear deep. Take a philosophy course if you want to learn to write well.”

    Is it me or do these two sentences contradict each other?
    Also you had some words in capitals. See point 7 of the following link.
    Point 4 as well?

    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html

  67. Onar Ã?m:

    I find the sorry state of philosophy these days quite disconcerting. What about the obvious — staring you right in the face — issues such as individual rights? Or innocent until proven guilty?

    [Response:I find this response a bit puzzling and off the mark. What do you regard as ‘individual rights’ – to jepordise the climate for future generations? Consume all the finite energy sources? Where does the limit go where you just can go and help yourself? And the question of ‘Or innocent until proven guilty?’ – where does that come into the equation in this context? -rasmus]

  68. Serinde:

    Re 48 Barton Paul Levenson’s reply
    The first amendment only applies to the US and, presumably, anywhere the US constitution has the force of law. That leaves out an awful lot of the world. One major problem concentrated by this issue is the US-centric approach and resultant attitudes. You in the US may not be able to curb press barons peddling distortions as truth (eg), but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world cannot.

  69. beyondtool:

    Interesting. The ‘future generations’ could end up being the very kids being born today (my own son!). A decade ago I thought environmental problems were a bad thing, but that we didn’t have to deal with them in our lifetime, and that by the time things got really bad science would be able to solve it.

    What I don’t understand is that most people are now in agreement that changes need to be made now, yet people are arguing over whether they should care about the future of the planet. How did our society reach this abnormal state of deliberate planetary suicide? What the hell is wrong with these people?

  70. Chella Rajan:

    The ethical implications of climate change are not tied merely to the need for us to show our “generosity” towards those who will be, or already are being, adversely affected, which seems to be the dominant argument being made in these discussions. Rather, we have what Thomas Pogge and Henry Shue have termed “negative duties” towards them, i.e., duties to not cause harm. As Pogge points out, we are not innocent bystanders who suddenly find ourselves confronted with foreign deprivations whose origins are wholly unconnected to ourselves. “They and we exist in a coexist within a single global economic order that has a strong tendency to perpetuate and even aggravate global inequality.”

    Indeed, roughly two-thirds of the cumulative emissions of greenhouse gas emissions come from North America and Europe, which also happen to be the primary beneficiaries of industrialization. Ironically, we and our grandchildren living in these countries will experience relatively minor climate impacts for the most part, at least compared with those living in sub-Saharan Africa (responsible for about 2.5% of cumulative emissions) or small islands (<1%), or even China (7.5%) or India (2.5%). On a per capita basis, of course, the inequalities are even more stark (see http://cait.wri.org)

    Paul Baer and Tom Athanasiou’s focus on
    cumulative and per capita emissions, therefore, is perfectly consistent with an ethical framework that takes into account our stronger obligations to make amends for harm that we have caused and whose benefits have almost solely accrued to us. How we actually navigate through the policy thicket stemming from this ethical framework is yet another matter, but that should not be used as a means to obfuscate the main principle, which is also somewhat ambiguously enshrined in international law as “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

  71. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[RE#39 Worth reading, especially the information in the last part regarding Nuclear Power. I would like to see a coherent and logical debate regarding the pros & cons of Nuclear Energy. It seems so many people are emotionally opposed without considering the facts. ]]

    In other words, you’d like to hear a “debate” that comes out the way you want it to. But then, I shouldn’t be surprised. It seems so many people are emotionally pro without considering the facts.

  72. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[Access to cheap energy in developing nations is likely the difference between life and death for many more people than any difference mitigating AGW would make. ]]

    Tell it to the 100 million or so Asians who are about to wind up without fresh water due to the AGW-induced shrinkage of glaciers.

  73. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[The first amendment only applies to the US and, presumably, anywhere the US constitution has the force of law. That leaves out an awful lot of the world. One major problem concentrated by this issue is the US-centric approach and resultant attitudes. You in the US may not be able to curb press barons peddling distortions as truth (eg), but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world cannot. ]]

    That’s true. Governments that follow the philosophy of power can pretty much silence anybody they want. That’s not moral behavior, however. I’ll continue to support the US tradition of natural rights over the British tradition of utilitarianism or the Russian tradition of autocracy. Call me provincial.

  74. Nick Gotts:

    Re #41 [My thinking was that basing emissions on population would not regulate population density. Population requires natural resources, which [are part of its ecological footprint – water, food, timber, etc. Dense population requires a larger footprint when compared to less dense population living in a territory of the same size and same amount of biomass. Each territory can sustain an ecological footprint of a certain size. The excess footprint has to be traded in from other regions. If emission caps are based on population, then the trade will not be based on the actual sustainable footprints of different regions. And that would be a mistake in the emissions cap mechanism in my opinion.]

    I’m still having problems following the logic here. The “ecological footprint” of a population does not depend only on its size, but on how much its members consume per capita. If you want to use emissions caps to control that, you need to target it, and your proposals would clearly fail to do so. Moreover, the highest rates of population growth currently are in Africa and the Middle East; both currently have relatively low population densities, and large parts of Africa have a lot of biomass. The areas that would come out of your proposal worst, so far as I can see, are China, India, South-east Asia, Japan and (West and Central) Europe. China, India and most South-east Asian countries are already trying to halt population growth for their own reasons, while European population growth is the lowest for any large region and Japan’s population is shrinking. Third, world population growth (unlike the growth of consumption per capita) has been slowing pretty steadily for about 40 years, and will almost certainly continue to do so as urbanisation proceeds. If we want to speed the process, we know what to do: increase the availability of contraception and abortion, raise the status of women (micro-credit seems to work well), and most of all, make sure girls go to school (all good things in themselves in my opinion).

    [The size of biomass would be even better indicator for ecological footprint than the size of territory in my opinion. One could compare Greenland and India for example – both are roughly the same size, but India has much more biomass, therefore it can sustain a larger population…]

    I doubt it. There’s a lot of biomass in boreal forests, but there’s a low rate of biological production, probably a better indication (though by no means an accurate one) of sustainable ecological footprint.

    [The equilibrium property should arise from the notion that if the population increases, it usually does it at the expense of biomass size.]

    Do you have any source for this?

    [As for the risks of cultivating monoculture, I had an impression that a stable ecosystem is biggest when it is as diverse as possible, so a monoculture ecosystem would not be both biomass intensive and sustainable. I may be wrong.]

    The relationships between biomass, biological productivity, diversity and stability are still matters of scientific debate. There actually doesn’t seem to be as much on biomass/diversity relationships as on productivity/diversity (where there seems to be an inverted-U i.e. the most diverse communities are intermediate in productivity), but one relatively recent paper is:

    Consumer species richness and autotrophic biomass
    Ecology, Dec, 1998 by Shahid Naeem, Shibin Li

    My hunch would be that any simple metric like biomass or biological productivity would be manipulable, and would not promote either diversity, stability or sustainability. For example, whacking huge amounts of nitrate and phosphate fertiliser onto the land (and into rivers and the coastal ocean), and intensive spraying with insecticide, would promote both (and indeed, in intensive agriculture, does so).

  75. Craig Bickle:

    I wonder if there was any discussion of the ethics of holding a cynical or nihilistic position in the face climate change at this conference.

    As I’ve become more engrossed in the science, politics, and economics of the problem over the last five years, I’ve gone through what I’ve come to think of as a parallel to the theory of the five stages of death. Just recently, I’ve finally reached acceptance that, sorry to say, there is very little hope that the human species will confront this situation forthrighly and pragmatically. And I’m now grappling with what I should do given my lack of optimism.

    The good news is that (if my experience can be taken as an applicable example for others) I actually now feel more at ease with our situation than I have previously when I tried to spread the news that we’re in an unprecedented planetary crisis. So I’m less inclined to try to steer conversations at parties to the only subject I find worthy of discussing, or round up my friends for sustainability meetings and climate action rallies. Instead, I’m focusing more of my time and energy on building a sustainable life by choosing less carbon producing housing, transportation, and food, by “becoming the change I’d like to see in the world.”

    I’m not going to stop my public actions. (For instance, I’m really trying to figure out which viable ’08 presidential candidate is most likely to completely overhaul our energy policy so I can work for their campaign.) I’m just no longer hopeful that I can rally enough of the billions of us to act like responsible grownups to reverse our GHG emissions. I’ve had too many conversations with parents incapable of understanding that the lives of their children will be dominated by a climate gradually becoming unrecognizable. I’ve seen too many picnics that begin with paper and plastic boxes full of chicken and beef and end with overflowing trashcans of plastic cutlery and styrofoam plates. And I’ve paid too close attention to the warnings of scientists and climatologists about the likely outcome of our profligate and oblivious waste of energy. In short, I don’t think humanity will react globally and realistically to the crisis we’ve created until the catastrophe becomes too apparent for even the most obtuse to ignore.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad that there is a gathering of academics to discuss the ethics of GW/CC, and that RealClimate is here to tell us about it. I find this stuff fascinating. I just think that whlle engaged folks like us are grappling with moral imperatives, most people are either grabbing another box of Triscuits and can of Cheez Whiz at Kroger or burning another 20 acres of rain forest for a palm plantation to eek out an impoverished existence. We’re all along for a bumpy ride.

  76. Terry Miesle:

    Re: 39

    I have no problem with nuclear power if the costs are all tabulated and presented to the public. The same must be true with the carbon footprint. Concrete and steel cost a lot of carbon, as does the mining and concentration of ore. Nuclear is NOT carbon-neutral, is very labor-intensive, and has a lot of unresolved issues surrounding storage of spent fuel.

    When the subsidies and carbon costs are factored in, does nuclear present any clear economic benefit over alternative energies? At the moment, we subsidize all energy generation. We also leave for future generations the responsibility of safekeeping waste for many tens of thousands of years. I, for one, have very little confidence in humanity’s ability to manage such a long commitment. We will need to pay for as much of that safe storage as possible NOW, instead of relying on our kids to do it.

  77. Fergus Brown:

    Re. #61: Steve: why would this imply a geoengineering solution; I don’t get it? I’d have thought that the geoE. solution was implied more by the cost/benefit approach rather than the alternative. Can you perhaps expand on your thinking on this?

    I won’t argue about your second point; it seems relevant and important. I had been talking from the POV of ‘our’ lifestyles, of course. However, I’d dispute the assumption that, in the long-term, cheap energy will preserve or create more ‘good’ than mitigation. This is not to say that developing nations’ peoples don’t need energy to improve their chances of survival, just that the timbre of the impacts assessments is on a whole different scale to these.

    Where we’ll agree is that everyone’s well-being has to be considered, both geographically and temporally.

    Re; #67: of course philosophy examines such issues as human rights and the principles of jurisprudence, though these are peripheral subjects, analysed in their relevant spheres, political theory and law, for example.

    There may well be a conflict between the interests of some individuals and the interests of the whole of human society; in this case, the utilitarian response is to overrule the former in the interests of the latter. To pursue one of Gavin’s earlier analogies; it may well be in the interest of an individual to jump from the deck of the Titanic onto a crowded lifeboat, but if this places the others in the lifeboat in jeopardy, the crew are right to prevent that person from jumping.

    Innocent until proven guilty? What is the charge?

  78. pat n:

    People have been are arguing over whether they should do anything about saving the future of the planet for years. When faced with decisions on expanding local highways and airports most people say that expansions are necessary for business, to reduce congestion and save human lives being lost in accidents.

  79. Nick Gotts:

    RE #58 [I would like to see a coherent and logical debate regarding the pros & cons of Nuclear Energy. It seems so many people are emotionally opposed without considering the facts.]

    I’d agree we need such a debate, and that there are those who are “emotionally opposed without considering the facts”, but I think there are also those who are emotionally in favour without considering the facts. There are at least 5 areas of real concern:
    1) Safety of operation – and if you’re putting nuclear forward as a general solution, you have to consider this in (for example) Myanmar, where Russia has just agreed to construct a nuclear power station. You also have to consider possible accidents when transporting nuclear materials, particularly if you’re advocating breeder reactors.
    2) Waste disposal – and you have to take account of the NIMBY factor. It’s no good complaining that this is irrational; even if it is, it’s not likely to go away any time soon.
    3) Possibility of terrorist attack – not just on the stations, but on nuclear materials in transit – again, a particular concern if you’re advocating breeder reactors.
    4) Proliferation. The overlap in materials, technologies and skills between nuclear power and nuclear weapons cannot be wished away. Once more, a particular concern if you’re advocating breeder reactors.
    5) Can nuclear power be built up fast enough (if you’re proposing it as a major part of the solution)? Is there the expertise to build and operate enough nuclear capacity soon enough? And if there is, wouldn’t the effect of starting such a rapid build program be to raise the price of uranium enormously? (It’s already gone up tenfold in recent years (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2007/04/11/cnuranium11.xml), in reaction to building programmes of a size that will hardly make a dent in GHG emissions growth.) Of course, a secondary effect would be to encourage more mining and technical advances, but this would be a slower effect.

  80. catman306:

    C. W. Dingman (#7)
    “Did anyone at the conference bring up the issue of population control? As our burgeoning population over the last couple of centuries is clearly as much a factor in causing our present unhappy state as is our fossil fuel technology.”

    Since no one has responded, it would seem, no, population control was not mentioned.

    This is probably a taboo subject because our religious, moral, ethical, and philosophical views were developed hundreds or even thousands of years ago when the human population was less than 100 million and wild nature was everywhere. So don’t expect much rational discussion of, what would appear to be, a solution to so many of the problems we face in the 21st century.

  81. Serinde:

    Re 73
    Paul, you aren’t being provincial at all; democracies must protect an individual’s rights, but there must also be a recourse to protect the people when faced with overweaning vested interests. All governments act under a philosophy of power, it’s just that some have more checks and balances than others (and the idea that utilitarianism is a uniquely British development is really OT here). Surely that is one of the tensions seen in this thread and which is also being played out in the political arena. How do we reconcile the good we have achieved with the damage we have done and preserve our liberties? How do we preserve the good while minimising the damage? It is increasingly clear that the fight has moved out of the labs and into the legislatures. As citizens we are required to participate. If the press prints rubbish instead of science, I don’t have to buy either the paper or the editorial line. The stronger the scientific evidence, the better for us when we are called upon to make decisions which will rattle down the decades. Veritas fortis est et (we can but hope) praevalebit, but we will all need to have made decisions rather sooner.

  82. Chella Rajan:

    Re: #7 and #79.

    I hope you mean fertility control, because population control in the context of climate change would really amount to killing off vast numbers of people who are already living or making sure that they are not even allowed to replace themselves. The most populous countries in the world, India and China, have significant fertility control policies in place, with the latter likely to face a demographic crisis in the next few decades as a result of its one-child policy (it’s fertility rate is now 1.47 children per couple, which is below replacement). Globally, as well, world population growth rates are on the decline (see http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/img/worldgr.gif), led by major turnarounds in Asia and Europe.

    Controlling fertility further is only desirable in certain parts of the world that are growing especially fast, and only if there are local resource constraints that are too onerous. Even here, there are complicating factors relating to the multiple benefits that the poor derive from having large families. Nonetheless, the smartest programs to reduce fertility are those that develop co-benefits relating to female literacy, improved child nutrition services and so on.

    I believe it’s naive if not ethically suspect to bring up population control when talking about the industrialized North taking responsibility for its cumulative actions resulting in the near destruction of the lifestyles of vast numbers of the poor, who have already been hurt by our other policies and actions.

  83. Craig Allen:

    Two points:

    First of all I’m in full agreement about the posters who point out that this is not a future problem; it appears that the impacts are happening now. The situation here in Australia is critical and going down hill all the time. Our newspapers are providing us with a daily diet of bad news. A few weeks ago we were told that the entire Murray-darling irrigation industry will be shut down for the coming season, a couple of days ago the Victorian Government released an extensive report telling that we’re are so parched that there is a real possibility that next year there may not be enough water to run our power stations (hows that for irony!).

    Secondly, it seems like there are heaps solutions ready to be implemented and more on the way all the time.

    Here are a few that are within a couple of years of being commercial:
    * Ceto wave energy
    * Solar tower energy
    * Hot dry rock geothermal
    * Graphite block bulk energy storage

    Philosophical arguments predicated on this being a future problem that can only be solved at great cost with future technology are besides the point. It is happening now, the solutions are ready to roll and some are almost competitive even without carbon taxes. We just have to get of our collective bum and get on with it.

    On the topic of equity for developing countries: I suspect that it will cost the developed world far less to subsidize the building of non-CO2 emitting power stations like those above than it will cost to deal with nuclear proliferation if we decide that nuclear is the solution. And think how much it is currently costing to secure oil supplies.

    I’ve got to say that my opinion of the human race keeps getting lower all the time. Our stupidity in the face of the blinding obvious borders on the comic. The epithet on humanity’s tombstone should read ‘so clever, but oh soooo stupid’.

  84. pete best:

    Personally it is all very well to moralise but until cost efective alternatives to fossil fuels (as per the free market capatalist model) make themselves available to us we are in a bit of a quandry. I personally believe that as climate change is slow by human standards to take effect nothing significant will be done before 2030 by which time (if my figures prove me right) leave us at around 480 ppmv overall and means that a 2 degrees C global rise is unavoidable.

    Goerge Monbiots book HEAT on resolving the fossil fuel emissions problem is seemingly going to require WW2 type heroics and more besides.

    We all know the stakes and the apparant safety net of increasing albedo or cloud cover to reflect heat and other such seeding of thew oceans to offset climate change is not likely to work in a way that we are expectign and that there will be side effects to these attempts and hence it is a bad idea. No reduction in emission is the only way but the current administration does not seem keen on this route.

  85. catman306:

    Chella Rajan (#82)
    Yes, I meant fertility control. The other type of population control has always been accomplished by the four horsemen of the apocalypse, pestilence, famine, war, and death. (the usual suspects)

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

    Much of this discussion about the ethics of our current state of the world were the subject of an 1968 essay by Garrett Harding and it’s just as pertinent almost 40 years later.

    The Tragedy of the (Unregulated) Commons

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

  86. Philippe Chantreau:

    Re # 79: These are all valid points. About the proliferation, we have to consider that the countries where nuclear would be the most helpful are already equipped with military nuclear: China and India.

  87. Nick Gotts:

    Re #86 “About the proliferation, we have to consider that the countries where nuclear would be the most helpful are already equipped with military nuclear: China and India.”

    There’s been a debate on nuclear power in India and China on the site recently (sorry, can’t remember which thread). Both have nuclear power programmes and are expanding them, but their coal-fired programmes are expanding much faster (in terms of stations built or output increase per unit time). I’ve suggested that an important reason is that these countries have lots of cheap coal and little uranium, and (aside from cost considerations), won’t want to be dependent on foreign suppliers for their main energy source. Hence, I suggest, we need to persuade them to use carbon capture and storage.

  88. pete best:

    New Scientists Guie for the Climate Change Perplexed featured today here:

    http://environment.newscientist.com/channel/earth/dn11462

    Exposes the myths that denialists use to try and confound the confused.

    Real climate should link to it.

  89. Hank Roberts:

    Speaking of philosophy — I’ve often wished for a thread here or a pointer, on the basic math needed to understand the world scientifically. I found this today and suggest the idea to the Contributors here.

    It wouldn’t hurt me to go back to school for my retirement, and might help me think about things more clearly. What does it take to understand science, nowadays? Far more than I learned thirty years and more ago.

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolgen/2007/05/math_for_biologists.php

  90. James:

    Re #76: [I have no problem with nuclear power if the costs are all tabulated and presented to the public. The same must be true with the carbon footprint. Concrete and steel cost a lot of carbon, as does the mining and concentration of ore. Nuclear is NOT carbon-neutral, is very labor-intensive…]

    The same is true of every other power technology I can think of: you have to build the things, and that takes energy and materials. For a geothermal plant, you must drill wells, lay pipe, build a plant & cooling facility, etc. All those take concrete and steel: at a guess roughly as much per MWh as nuclear. If you want to go solar, you must (with current technology) mine and refine your silicon & dopants, which is very energy-intensive. You need steel and concrete to build the solar cell manufacturing plants, and then to build solar plants. And likewise for any other technology.

    You have a roughly similar upfront CO2 cost to build your plant. But unlike coal, once you have built it, you can (in potential, at least), produce power without any further release of CO2. If you say that mining uranium produces CO2, I reply that it’s not necessarily so. Many mines even now run their equipment on electricity rather than IC engines (for safety & ventilation reasons), so it’s certainly possible to run the entire chain from mine to plant on the electricity produced by the nuclear plant.

    And if you really want to go to zero carbon, figure out how much was created by the plant construction, and plant enough trees to offset that amount.

  91. Jim Dukelow:

    Re #39

    Although I support the use of nuclear power as one component in a transition to a carbon-neutral economy, Edward Greisch misinforms on a couple of aspects of nuclear reactors.

    He wrote:

    “The Chernobyl reactor was an extremely obsolete design that hasn’t been built in this country since 1944.”

    and

    “A nuclear reactor, such as the ones used for power generation, does not have any pure fissile material. The fuel may be 2% to 8% uranium 235 mixed with uranium 238. A mixture of 2% or 8% uranium 235 mixed with uranium 238 cannot be made to explode no matter how hard you try. A small amount of plutonium mixed in with the uranium can not change this. Reactor fuel still cannot be made to explode like a nuclear bomb no matter how hard you try. There has never been a nuclear explosion in a reactor and there never will be.”

    and

    “As is obvious from the above descriptions, there is no possible way that a reactor could ever explode like a nuclear bomb. Reactors and bombs are very different. Reactors and bombs are really not even related to each other.”

    The Chernobyl RBMK design is certainly obsolete, but it is also unique. Nobody else around the world has built reactors with all the unusual design features of the RBMK, at any time.

    On the other hand, nuclear reactors can explode “like a bomb” and Chernobyl did. The primary design distinction between bombs and reactors is that bombs are designed to “go” prompt supercritical, which means 1) that bombs will be critical taking into account only the “prompt” fission neutrons and 2) the power generated in the prompt supercritical mass of the bomb will double between every thousandth of a second and every ten-thousandth of a second (depending on the fissile material used in the bomb). A reactor is designed to “go” critical using both the prompt and the “delayed” neutrons resulting from the fission. Fissile materials have the peculiar/surprising property that when they split they split into a couple of smaller atoms (fission products) and two or three neutrons. Some of the resulting fission products emit a “delayed” neutron a few seconds later (up to eighty seconds later). As a result a delayed supercritical reactor will double in power in roughly 80 seconds (rather than a thousandth or a ten-thousandth of a second) and can be easily controlled.

    Considerable design effort and operational rigor go into assuring that a reactor will not wander through the delayed supercritical region of operation into the prompt supercritical region, where it becomes a low-grade bomb. Because the Russian designers and operators did not do a good job in this area, that is precisely what happened at Chernobyl. Reactor power increased from roughly 20% of full power at initiation of the accident to 180 times full power in less than a second, dropped back down to a few times full power, and then spiked back up to 500 times full power (all in a few seconds). The second spike blew the core apart and terminated the criticality, although the resulting fire in the graphite moderator burned for days.

    Avoidance of prompt supercriticality is a primary goal of reactor designers and operators and all but the RBMK designers and operators — with all of the RBMK’s unusual design features — have done a pretty good job of it over 60 some odd years of reactor operation.

    Best regards.

  92. JimO:

    The environment for humans has been improving by the measure that people are living longer healthier lives. Population in up not because people are trying to have more children but because mortality is down. So how about we attempting to slow global warming to the point were humans will net out the best balancing the long run and short run. No one completely optimizes the inheritance of their children that would require living on next to nothing and working very hard but investing all surplus above subsistence. Wealth saves lives here and now but reducing CO2 may save lives in the future. Optimizing requires taking now and the future into account.

    BTW one should measure lives against lives wealth against wealth, health against health. For example if reducing automobile pollution by mandating an increase in MPGs saves 10,000 lives that must be measured against any lives that it might cost (perhaps due to cars being lighter and thus fairing worse in crashes.)

  93. Burn boron in pure O2 for car power:

    Enthusiast Ed Greisch says,

    Reactor fuel still cannot be made to explode like a nuclear bomb no matter how hard you try.

    In 1950, when Dr. Teller and the Reactor Safety Commission set out on their remarkably successful quest to learn the lessons of Chernobyl in advance, they weren’t so sure of that; its present-day truth, and the stronger truth that a reactor with negative reactivity coefficients both on coolant boiling and on temperature increase can’t blow up like a giant Li-ion cell bank even if the boat it is driving rams a mountain at full speed, are due to them.

    Terry Miesle says,

    At the moment, we subsidize all energy generation. We also leave for future generations the responsibility of safekeeping waste for many tens of thousands of years.

    At the moment, most energy generation is negatively subsidized: special taxes are levied on it, and a little of the revenues these taxes bring in is paid as producer subsidies. If it were true that “we subsidize all energy generation” then it would be like other subsidized things: hard to get, and a little less hard if you are in the right people’s good books.

    Gas pipelines, to enable residents of new housing developments to avail themselves of subsidized natural gas, would be promised and repromised for decades without appearing, and their appearance would in some degree depend on the correctness of the residents’ voting record.

    In reality they find their way to all such developments with minimum fuss and maximum speed, like the proboscis of a mosquito, and for a similar reason: natural gas is taxed. Gas flows out to the new houses, but money, net fossil fuel tax revenue, flows in.

    I believe safekeeping CO2 dumped to the atmosphere by this generation won’t be that big a deal for future generations because it will be converted to stable carbonates. Nuclear powerplants’ lack of intergenerational legacy issues is less debatable. Future generations will inherit lands in which hundreds of megawatts per vertical metre of alpha-, beta-, and gamma-radioactivity lie buried, just as we did, just as our ancestors did, no matter how much or how little spent nuclear fuel is buried a few hundred vertical metres down.

    Concrete and steel cost a lot of carbon, as does the mining and concentration of ore. Nuclear is NOT carbon-neutral, …

    It is, of course. If it were not, then oil and gas tax revenue interests would not oppose it.

    — G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen-energy fan

  94. Keith Rogstad:

    RE #76
    I agree. Such knowledge must exist in the USA & France. What are the total costs of Nuclear? Has anybody studied the possibility of storing waste in abandonded deep oil wells or coal mines?

  95. Onar Ã?m:

    Re #77:

    Utalitarian principles are in violation of individual rights. It means that you can sacrifice individuals “for the greater good” — whatever that is.

    “Innocent until proven guilty? What is the charge?”

    Global warming crimes against Gaia/humanity. The punishment is a shrinking of individual liberties (i.e. the liberty to use fossil fuels freely). The precautionary principle is in direct violation to the principle of individual rights where one is assumed innocent until proven guilty. In juridical language the precautionary principle translates into guilty until proven innocent.

    [Response:]You should not mix ‘individual rights’ with ‘individual freedom’. It’s naive to believe that you can do exactly as you please when you share a planet with billions of others, in addition to other creatures. You also live in a country, which you share with people. In your countries, a set of legal laws (international laws for the planet) have been established for the benefit of the whole society, which in your view would infringe on your ‘individual rights’ (actually freedom). The justice system is based on a precautionary principle, established from experience of human behaviour. To twist a bit on your flawed logic: What gives you the right to steal fossil fuels from the future generations? When you consume oil, you rob your children from the very same energy source (‘a violation against their ‘individual rights’). Are you an anarchist, Onar? -rasmus

  96. Keith Rogstad:

    RE #79
    “..I think there are also those who are emotionally in favour without considering the facts.”

    There are at least 5 areas of real concern:
    1) Safety of operation
    2) Waste disposal
    3) Possibility of terrorist attack –
    4) Proliferation.
    5) Can nuclear power be built up fast enough
    Comment by Nick Gotts â?? 17 May 2007 @ 8:08 am

    Of course, I agree with all of your points. However, it appears that much of the world is allready pressing ahead with Nuclear power regardless of CO2AGW.
    Meanwhile, GM, Ford, Toyota, Exxon and a hundred major companies are pressing ahead to build more internal combustion engines & coal powered elect generating plants.
    As has been pointed out by a famous denier, even the true believing cheerleaders for AGW are unable to abandon their power-sucking mansions & SUVs. Nuclear Power has the big advantage in that it is a solution to the world’s demand for power consumption as it actually is.
    It is a fairly dependable economic principle that alternative power sources will not be used until they are cheaper. Are there any alternative carbon-nuetral power sources that have the potential of being a cheaper alternative on the necessary scale to oil & coal before it is too late?

  97. Zeke Hausfather:

    Re: 85, catman306

    I would be very careful in citing Hardin in arguing for fertility control. At the time, Hardin was writing very much in the Malthusian tradition of favoring coercive population control, working from the assumption that people would never voluntarily regulate their fertility to a socially optimal level.

    A large body of empirical research in the interim has shown that Hardin’s assumption is fundimentally untrue: given the oppertunity to choose, the majority of people do not want to have more than two children. An interesting comparative study of Indian states by the economists Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze found that the only statistically significant variables affecting population growth rates were female literacy and female workforce participation. States with the most coercive population control programs, such as forced sterilization camps, also tended to have some of the highest population growth rates. In many ways, the key to reducing population growth is human capacity development rather than coercive fertility controls.

    An interesting digression that might serve to bring this slightly more on-topic is the population growth rates assumed in different climate change impact studies. The IPCC SRES scenarios present a broad range of future population trajectories, with the A1 and B1 scenarios capping around 9 billion by 2050 before falling to 7 billion by 2100. The A2 scenario, on the other hand, continues to rise to around 15 billion by 2100, while the B2 scenario caps out around 10 billion in 2100. Interestingly, the recent Stern review used the A2 scenario in calculating their baseline. This tended to inflate potential damages, especially after 2100, as continued high population growth rates drove high emissions. However, there is a growing consensus that the upper range of projections are really impractical, barring some sort of global recession or balkanization (which, to be fair, is part of the original A2 “storyline”). Using unrealistically high population growth projections, than, tends to produce unrealistically high projected GHG concentrations and climate impacts. Its an unfortunate truth that the best climate models in the world can be compromised by poor socioeconomic and demographic projections. As part of the process leading up the the next IPCC report, the SRES scenarios should really be re-examined and improved.

  98. Burn boron in pure O2 for car power:

    Keith Rogstad asks,

    Has anybody studied the possibility of storing waste in abandonded deep oil wells or coal mines?

    There is little enough of it that planners prefer to plan to dig special holes for it, not reuse existing ones.

    — G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen-energy fan

  99. Paul Dietz:

    98: And reactor operators prefer to store the waste on the surface, not in holes in the ground. It’s cheaper, not appreciably more dangerous, and the decay heat dissipates more easily. Since the waste could still be buried or otherwise processed in the future, this is called ‘interim’ storage, but there’s little reason for this interim to be shorter than centuries, if not longer.

  100. Theo H:

    Re #15.

    The “borrow it from our children” etc, was quoted by one Margaret Thatcher, probably without a citation, of the Rio Earth Summit, back in 1992, if I remember. That’s only partially an aside/off topic, see below:

    I am very interested as to _why_ climate change scepticism/denial/whatever seems to be a thing of the free-market libetarian right. This is clearly more so in the US, but is also,to a much lesser degree, is true of the UK. So why? Is there a measured answer to this without getting into a rant?

    Are any of the RealClimate core editorial group (or whatever you call yourselves) Republicans, card-carrying or not?

    Maggie Thatcher, very unusually for a UK politician, let alone a prime minister, was a scientist. IIRC, she most certainly had a doctorate, and I recall it was in an area of biochemistry. And she is also quoted as accepting the reality of AWG. Maybe this might explain her own belief in AWG?

  101. Terry Miesle:

    Re: 93

    Your argument supports the taxation of energy distribution, not generation. Money to build and operate plants, operate railroads to transport coal etc. not to mention military operations to secure supplies are all taxpayer-subsidized. Tax breaks for exploration, refining, and the like are also subsidies.

    A decent beginners guide is here:
    http://www.earthtrack.net/earthtrack/index.asp

    I’m not saying all subsidies are bad, it’s just that they hide the true costs.

  102. Nick Riley:

    Thanks for this report:

    I was involved in a transatlantic dialogue link up between Europe and the USA two weeks ago. I think the ethical issue is fundamental. Katrina has demonstrated that even in developed countries climate related events hit the poor, the young, the sick and the old hardest. How much more will this be the case in undeveloped and developing countries. I see the AGW issue as an issue of human justice as well as preventing loss of biodiversity etc. This is a key message I now bring out in all my public speaking and broadcast events.

  103. cat black:

    #75 [acceptance] Folks, if you didn’t read this one by Craig very carefully, you should. Read it and pay close attention. I’ll wager that there are more people reading here that identify with that sentiment than are even willing to admit it.

    I have recurrent dreams, from which I wake with dread born of growing certainty, where the near future world is burdened with a crushing sense of hopelessness and failure. Failure to see. Failure to recognize. Failure to act. Failure, of everything; of our systems, of our efforts, of our governments and schools and religions and of ourselves. Where the dream that countless people have shared of a world free of pain, free of fear, is simply swept away for a thousand years on a tide of unmeasureable human suffering that rolls over the surface of these lands like a slow motion disaster.

    The scope of the problem now is simply unimaginable, and it will grow worse with time and we will never get ahead of it, ever, until it has literally burnt itself out. I don’t know how we’re going to manage. I am all but certain we cannot and will not manage well. I hope we emerge whole, I suspect 90% of those currently alive and soon to be born will perish outright and never know the reason for it.

    I dreamt recently of Buddhist monks sitting on the steps of their temple, all spiritual accomplishment drained from them. No path to enlightenment, no journey to a higher state, nothing to attain. They were struck senseless by the extent of the failure around them, and had given up on a thousand years of the pursuit of something greater than mere existance.

    They were us, in my dream, and I don’t know how to help them, now or in that future.

  104. Serinde:

    Re 100
    Margaret Thatcher went to Somerville, Oxford, graduating with a degree in chemistry, special interest crystallography. I haven’t been able to find reference to a doctorate earned as opposed to those given as honorary degrees. However, you are correct: a scientist and had accepted the possibility of climate change by 1988, although she also believed that economic growth was at the heart of dealing with environmental problems because growth provided money to pay for the protection. Mostly she feared environmentalists as wolves in green clothing. See her book “Statecraft” (2002). At the time she was the only scientifically-educated head of state.

  105. stuart:

    For example if reducing automobile pollution by mandating an increase in MPGs saves 10,000 lives that must be measured against any lives that it might cost (perhaps due to cars being lighter and thus fairing worse in crashes.)

    Ceteris paribus lighter cars fair better in crashes. Heavier cars are just better at killing other people, they are no better at saving yourself.

  106. bjc:

    #100
    Read 1972 Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow’s little book: Social Choice and Individual Values. Then take a look at the prescriptions in most of the posts above. Then ask “who chooses?” I think Arrow (or Hayek)would have had a field day at the Ethics and Climate Change seminar! Some of the rest of us simply don’t think it is fair to tell someone to double or triple their commuting time by relying on public transportation, when those doing the telling have a minimal commuting time.

  107. Marion_Delgado:

    re 106: I suspect John Kenneth Gailbraith and Duncan Black (he of Public Choice Theory) would have their own kind of fun showing the gaping holes in both Hayek’s and Arrow’s work. And bringing up the unscientific “Nobel” in Economics has virtually nothing to do with climate amelioration.

  108. Hank Roberts:

    > fair

    This our problem is physics and chemistry; “it’s not fair” is no excuse.
    Those who made choices fifty years ago, whose riches and debts we inherited, didn’t know any better. We do.

    “As all men allow the measure, and differ only in their opinion of the time, let us, in order to remove mistakes, take a general survey of things, and endeavor, if possible, to find out the very time. But we need not to go far, the inquiry ceases at once, for, the time has found us.”

    — Tom Paine

    http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/paine/p13.htm

  109. Elizabeth:

    to bjc #106 – I do triple my commute by relying on public transportation. I live 5 miles from my office and it takes me a minimum of 50 minutes by bus. Sometimes I walk – then it only takes me 90 minutes. So, don’t talk to me about minimal commuting time.

    But you are absolutely right – the US has built its communities around the car and this severely limits the options for many many people. So, from this point forward, let’s make choices about development that are smarter. If we start now, we’ll be in a lot better shape by 2050. In the meantime, what’s wrong with the short term fix of fuel efficient cars?

    We are faced with many obstacles – but we have a large menu of choices for overcoming those obstacles. Taking a bus isn’t an option for you – then carpool. If that’s not an option either – then buy an energy efficient car. What about telecommuting? None of those options work for you, well, then focus on making your home more energy efficient. Sheesh. No one is telling you have to take a bus. Or do any of these other things.

    Personally, I’d like to see a carbon tax but a carbon cap would work, too. Neither of those would force you to make a single change in your life – it would just make certain choices more expensive.

  110. James:

    Re #106: [Some of the rest of us simply don’t think it is fair to tell someone to double or triple their commuting time by relying on public transportation, when those doing the telling have a minimal commuting time.]

    Who’s telling you to do that? I think what people are saying is that all of us should look at alternatives, instead of being trapped in a “gotta drive my SUV to work” mindset. Suppose for instance that using public transportation actually takes less time than driving (as it did for me when I lived in Switzerland): doesn’t it make sense to take it? If you add up driving time, looking for parking space time, and exercise time, maybe riding a bike to work makes sense (as it did for me when I rode 16 miles each way to a job). Maybe telecommuting works for you, as it does for me now.

    Even if none of these happen to work for you personally, they might for other people. That benefits you, because the roads you drive will be less crowded, so doesn’t it make sense to encourage people to use the alternatives?

  111. Mark A. York:

    Boy Howdy, on Esterbrook. So often those who point out the negative are perceived as “being” negative. This is yet another example of killing the messenger. Why? They don’t like the msseage. Can that. It will always be the case and that’s much more predictable than the weather. The climate, as we here know, is another matter, and in fact easier to predict because the scientific community has tools and knowledge to do so. That’s a wonderful thing and not negative at all. It’s real.

  112. Rod B.:

    George’s (#8) ethical/philosophical solution is rather straight-forward: just throw into prison anyone who benefited from CO2 emissions, argued against the current view, or even thought about it. I suppose, with a stretch, that is an “ethical/philosophical” position, albeit blunt, crude, and pretty unsophisticated. Though the “benefitted from” bit pretty much covers the world’s population; I don’t know how to implement that one!

  113. Robin Johnson:

    I find the whole “geo-engineering is evil” debate kind of strange. We have ALREADY totally geo-engineered the planet. Farms, roads, lights, buildings, dams, levees, canals, tunnels. We’ve cut down forests, eliminated fauna we didn’t like, moved plant and animal species across the world in the blink of geological time. Half the people on the planet would die within two years of starvation if all food had to be produced with organic fertilizer – artificial fertilizer allowed the world’s population to balloon to where it is now.

    In a dispassionate, purely scientific point of view, its all effing amazing.

    Geo-engineering cannot be inherently evil – it is the very DEFINITION of modern human civilization. It might be the death of us. But we’re all gonna die anyway.

    Anyway, if say, we could deploy N square meters of mirrors to reduce the albedo enough to avoid melting Greenland and West Antarctica – I’m all for it. I suspect the number of square meters of mirrors required, the need to keep them clean and locating the albedo in the right place would make it impractical. I object to the ocean fertilization and aerosol schemes simply because they either won’t work or would cause more harm than fleeting good.

    Personally, I think we should do all we can to slow down the increase – but I’m not very hopeful that we can avoid a nasty rise in sea level. Greenland and Antarctica seemed destined to melt if ask me. Sooner rather than later.

    Then we’ll see how moral we really think we are. Will we let 100 million starve to death? You bet we will. Will we prevent millions of environmental refugees from flooding our lands (we being the rich Western nations)? You bet we will. Is it moral? It is the darkest of moral choices. Do we punish those who have overpopulated, underdeveloped and chosen to live in the wrong place? If not for China and India, we could probably decrease the CO2 load and maybe, just maybe avoid catastrophe. So is it THEIR fault for wanting to live better by emulating what we have done? Sort of an environmental pyramid scheme or bubble depending on how you want to look at it.

    Excuse me, I have rambled too long and I need to go research the best survival skills my children will need in the coming decades ;)

  114. Hank Roberts:

    That’s why letting the philosophers make the rules is problematic.

  115. Par Johansson:

    This is somewhat OT in this post, but regarding fossil fuel, there are those who argue that since we already have reachead, or soon will reach, “Peak Oil” (or “Peak Coal” or whatever), consumtion will eventually cease, and hence future global warming will not be that large a problem.

    For Swedish readers, see today’s Dagens Nyheter (big newspaper here), where Kjell Aleklett argues exactly that: http://www.dn.se/DNet/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=572&a=651149
    He also states that IPCC models and scenarios do not take Peak Oil into account.

    I think this has been dealt with here earlier, and that the caveat is, that even if emissions of fossil fuel do cease, the GHG already emitted still pose a serious threat when accumulated in the atmosphere, but could someone please point me to a relevant post?

  116. Fergus Brown:

    Re: #95: Yes. There is a conflict of interest between individual human rights (of liberty) and utilitarian principles. This need not entail violation. The ‘greater good of all’ includes the individual, who may wish to take an alternative path, even if it is not in his/her own interest.

    I don’t believe we are dealing with the ‘precautionary principle’ here any longer; this presumes a degree of uncertainty about the consequences of an action. That degree of uncertainty has been reduced to almost zero, thanks to the hard work of climate scientists, amongst others. If we are pretty clear on what the consequences of inaction are going to be, not just for the climate, but also the environment, then by deciding to act, we are not saying ‘just in case…’, but ‘because’.

    Therefore, your argument that we are collectively ‘innocent’ is not valid. The verdict is in; we have, are and will be changing the environment and the climate by our actions, specifically, emissions. But framing this in terms of ‘guilt’ is deceptive; it isn’t your fault, or any individual’s fault, that we live in our current world. The curtailment of certain individual choices is not a ‘punishment’, nor is it based on the assumption that individual rights do not matter, but does imply that, under certain circumstances, it is in our best interest to put aside what we want as individuals for the sake of the greater good of all, including ourselves. As to whether such actions should be imposed upon those who choose not to act is another moral question. Michael Tobis, and Jeffrey Sachs, in the recent Reith Lectures, both put a case for arguing that thinking in separatist, exclusive, or competitive terms is a recipe for disaster.

    This is a complex subject and deserves more discussion; sorry that it is stuck low down on a blog in RC, and that time prevents, for the time being, more discussion.

  117. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[As has been pointed out by a famous denier, even the true believing cheerleaders for AGW are unable to abandon their power-sucking mansions & SUVs.]]

    I live in a Pittsburgh row house and I do not own an SUV. I have a ’99 Pontiac Grand Am. I keep the house insulated and the car tuned up and with inflated tires.

    [[ Nuclear Power has the big advantage in that it is a solution to the world’s demand for power consumption as it actually is.]]

    So is wind.

    [[It is a fairly dependable economic principle that alternative power sources will not be used until they are cheaper. Are there any alternative carbon-nuetral power sources that have the potential of being a cheaper alternative on the necessary scale to oil & coal before it is too late? ]]

    Wind. Solar, too. The high price of solar cells is largely because they aren’t being mass-produced on a large scale. If the federal government made a billion-dollar purchase of solar cells (the way DoD purchased electronics in the ’60s), plants to mass-produce them would be set up and the price would drop. The “renewables have to get cheaper!” line ignores how markets work and how fast technology can change when new technologies are subsidized by a government. Compare US shipbuilding in 1938 and 1943.

  118. Terry Miesle:

    Re:117
    Indeed. One only needs to look to Germany to see a government-sponsored effort to move heavily toward solar. Is it the only energy source? No. But they’re on track to beat their initial goals. It’s part of a mix, and one which can help alleviate peak demands. You can look to other European nations for wind and wave power examples. We, as Americans, have apparently decided to let Europe take the lead. We’d rather spend our money on fossil fuels.

  119. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    #6, Valuethinker, you might be interested in the film KEEPING THE EARTH: RELIGIOUS AND SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVES ON THE ENVIRONMENT (1996, Union of Concerned Scientists – http://www.ucsusa.org/publications) — not specifically addressing GW, but environmental problems in general.

    I was moved to tears, esp when the animals came down the aisle of the cathedral.

    One thing I learned was that God’s first commandment — well before the 10 commandments — was to Adam & Eve to keep the garden.

    Another thing they spoke of was how causing species to go extinct was like tearing pages out of the Bible.

    In this “web of creation” ethics needs to encompass all earth’s biota, not just people or what’s good for people.

  120. pete best:

    Re 119, Be nice to think that but corporations only tend to pay lip service to environmental concerns and if climate change was not heppenning to make life difficult for us then I doubt that corporations would be falling over themselves to be green.

    Environmentalism is not just about combating climate change but an entire raft of objectives to make the world a better place for us and nature as a whole. Let us take the destruction of rain forests, here in the UK 5000 odd years ago we were covered by the caladonian forest which we have subsequently cleared over time almost completely and now we cannot let other countries do the same, however each year vast amounts of rain forest is cleared becuase we can hardly moralise can we considering our history.

  121. David B. Benson:

    Re #115: Par Johanson — Peak Oil makes little difference, at least as I read Dr. James Hansen’s remarks. What counts seriously against the climate, both now and into the future, is burning coal.

    The known stocks of coal, if all burnt, would release at least 10 times as much carbon into the atmosphere as humans have already done in the past 250 years.

  122. john:

    Re #26: “I think it’s worth noting that this kind of intergenerational argument is found nowhere else in policy-making. Nobody thinks Churchill was a dope because he fought the Nazi’s in 1939, instead of leaving them for us fight them in 1999, by which time the UK’s GDP would have nearly quadrupled!”

    I think its worth pointing out how false an analogy this is. AGW is unique in terms of its policy ramifications because the time when we would invest to prevent it (say, now) is temporally removed from the time when we would receive most of the benefits from investing in it (say, 50 or 100 or 200 years from now). The time when Churchill would pay to defeat the Nazis (1939-1945) is, in constrast, roughly the same time that the English would most benefit from paying to defeat the Nazis. Global Warming really does require a new kind of thinking about intergenerational responsibilities.

  123. Dave Blair:

    warmer earth = more life

  124. David B. Benson:

    Re #123: Dave Blair — That statement is debatable. For example, Dr. Jose Marengo, who leads studies of the Amazon rain forest, predicts that almost the entire Amazon basin will become a dry and warm savannah as global warming continues. For another, the great biological productivity of the Southern Ocean is considered to be linked to its being cold…

  125. Dave Blair:

    Mr. David B. Benson, I don’t know about those places but from the farm I grew up on and everywhere else I have been a warmer earth will mean more life – lex parsimoniae.

  126. Figen Mekik:

    Yes, marine diatoms generally like it cold (like Southern Ocean cold), and they are a large part of the biota serving as “the base of the food chain.” Also it is the upwelled, colder, nutrient- rich waters that sustain life in equatorial seas. So it really comes down to what kind of life likes it warm, and what kind of life you want. There is more bacterial and viral disease in warmer climate too.

  127. David B. Benson:

    Re #125: Dave Blair — Alas, you are applying Ockham’s razor too sharply. As a counter, read

    Mark V. Lomolino
    Biogeography

    which, as it is a bit expensive, you might prefer to borrow from a lending library…

  128. Philippe Chantreau:

    Re 125: “from the farm I grew up on and everywhere else I’ve been, warmer means more life.” I don’t know where your farm is and what those places are, but you’re flat wrong. I have lived in Texas, Maryland and Washington State; I have crossed the 48 contiguous US East to West. Before that, I lived in Europe, Africa and in the south Pacific. The richest (from an ecological point of view) places I’ve seen were: African equatorial forests, Pacific Northwest forests, Pacific Ocean coral reefs. The poorest were: Sahara desert, temperate mountaineous areas above 10 to 12000 ft, parts of the Arizona desert. On land, abundance and diversity of life depends on the availability of liquid water more than any other factor. In the water, it depends a lot on oxygen content. I’m sure the text referred above will make that plain.

    Just so you know, the bulk of this traveling was done long before the corresponding carbon release came to my attention.

    Let me summarize this nicely for you: the hottest place in the US happens to be called Death Valley.

  129. Chris:

    “Cecilia” that’s a great name. “Cecelia” that’s a weird name.

  130. Russell Seitz:

    Geo-Engineering happens. By 1751, The ‘Founding Fathers’ had changed our as yet unfounded nation’s balance of solar energy, in Ben Franklin’s words :

    “By clearing America of woods and so making this side of our globe reflect a brighter light”

    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/05/the_brimstone_r.html

  131. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[warmer earth = more life ]]

    more droughts in continental interiors + more violent weather along coastlines = probably not more life

  132. bjc:

    Elizabeth (#
    The question posed was

    I am very interested as to _why_ climate change scepticism/denial/whatever seems to be a thing of the free-market libetarian right. This is clearly more so in the US, but is also,to a much lesser degree, is true of the UK. So why?”

    I believe my comment was (a) responsive, (b) not a rant and (c) demonstrated as reasonable by responses #107, #108, #109 and #110.

    P.S. Elizabeth, Being older I place a great value on my time.
    P.P.S. Since I live in a rural area with highly intermittent bus and train service; I do telecommute when possible; have stewardship of, live in, preserve, restore an architectural landmark that excludes insulation as an option; have a carbon footprint that is dramatically in the black; keep my car tuned and tires pumped; am neurotic about switching off lights and avoiding waste in general; keep the thermostat at 67 degrees in our long cold winters and have no air conditioning – I find most of the suggestions condescending, tendentious, somewhat silly and vaguely dictatorial. (“They can have any color, so long as it is black.” – Henry Ford)
    P.P.P.S. My primary question remains: “Who chooses?” Or in the immortal and profound words of Tonto to the Lone Ranger “who is we, kemosabe?”
    P.P.P.P.S. Not everyone is as familiar with Arrow as you are – scientific or not a Nobel Prize in Economics generally indicates that the winner has something worth listening to, even if after listening you take issue with their viewpoint.
    P.P.P.P.P.S. If the economies of scale are so pronounced for Solar Energy, you do not need the government, venture capitalists will be more than willing to underwrite your enterprise. Put a business plan together, raise the money and make the world a better place.

  133. Elizabeth:

    bjc – OK. I get it that you find me “condescending, tendentious, somewhat silly and vaguely dictatorial”. I usually get accused of being pedantic and boring and, so, I’m feeling pretty good about this. Though I admit that I hate the idea that I might be condescending. On the other hand, I kind of like the idea of being vaguely dictatorial. (Please – no need to psychoanalyze that statement!) And, as for being silly – well that’s pretty much inevitable in life.
    P. S. Not that age has anything to do with the value one places on time but, since you brought the issue up, I’m 52.

  134. FurryCatHerder:

    I guess we’re not going to get an open thread to talk about off-topic stuff :)

    I’m one of those “we’re not going to boil the oceans because we’ll go broke first” people.

    I don’t think energy is going to be any more of a problem for the underclass in the future than it is today. Just that the heirs of Bill Gates and Sam Walton will be fighting for the last few gallons of dino-gasoline if we keep going this way.

    Solar power is not cheap. Neither is building a coal fired power plant, or a nuclear reactor. It’s not the absolute cost that matters, it’s the difference between the two, and right now, solar is competitive. An adjacent municipality is starting to build their own solar utility. Various wind projects have been started and are being expanded in this state.

    We have electric deregulation (just passed a few years ago), and as soon as I get some free time I’m going to switch to a renewable utility so the money I pay for utilities is put to work building more renewable power and less of the not-so-renewable stuff. That’s something we can all do. Assuming you live in a state with that option. If you don’t live in a state with that choice, you can buy Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to make up the difference. The profit from the sale of those will go to build more renewable power. We don’t need venture capitalists or government intervention — we need to buy up every single last bit of renewable power out there so the people who build the stuff can build more, and the power companies who are losing business will be incented to build some. Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand, and all that.

  135. Dave Rado:

    Re. #123 Dave Blair, see also here and here.

  136. Dave Rado:

    Re. 106

    Some of the rest of us simply don’t think it is fair to tell someone to double or triple their commuting time by relying on public transportation, when those doing the telling have a minimal commuting time.

    Sounds like you have a lousy public transport system where you live. Have you written to your Mayor or Senator and asked them what they’re going to do to fix that?

  137. Dave Rado:

    Re. #101

    I’m not saying all subsidies are bad, it’s just that they hide the true costs.

    Not always. Some subsidies compensate for market failings. For example a lot of infrastructure is not sufficiently valued by the market to be built privately, and yet generates great wealth.

  138. James:

    Re 125: […from the farm I grew up on and everywhere else I have been a warmer earth will mean more life…]

    I don’t know where your farm was, but I grew up surrounded by farms, and worked on them quite a bit in my younger days. I’m also quite an avid gardener. My experience is different to yours: most plants, including many crops, seem to do most of their growing in the cooler spring and early summer. Once it gets really hot – midsummer in the northeast, as early as May or June in central California – many plants slow down their growth rate, or even stop entirely.

    This is particularly true of annuals, which include most bulk food crops and many vegetables. You plant in the spring when the weather becomes warm enough, the plants take about X number of days to grow, and you’re done. So you don’t gain that much from warmer temperatures, and those gains are likely to be more than canceled out by droughts.

  139. Michael Mazilu:

    How many people stop smoking because they might get ill in the future?

    We, the polluters, are addicted to consumerism. So what are the chances of successfully acting against GW?

  140. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    #106, my commuting time is 5 minutes, BECAUSE I MADE IT A POINT TO BUY A HOUSE CLOSE TO WORK!!! and have done so ever since the energy crunch of the 70s, after learning about entropy and peak oil.

    Why do I get this funny feeling that the world has fallen asleep at the steering wheel?

  141. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    #135, for all those living in Texas, the cost of Green Mountain Energy’s 100% wind electricity is 2% lower than dirty-generated electricity. And (to correct misconceptions that people have), the power doesn’t shut off when the wind isn’t blowing. They buy from wind farms around the state, and it’s fed into the grid. So we take it from the grid, just like everyone else, but we are paying for our portion to be wind-generated…AND IT’S CHEAPER !! :)

    So this is the ethical choice: save money while saving the earth v. waste money while wasting the earth.

  142. Almuth Ernsting:

    Re: Geo-engineering

    I have concerns about Crutzen’s proposal which didn’t occur to me when it was first discussed on RealClimate – and I would really appreciate some feedback as to whether I’m off the mark:

    Crutzen speaks of injecting huge amounts of SO2 into the atmosphere to produce a cooling ‘global dimming’ effect. My understanding (and I may be wrong – I haven’t studied chemistry) is that SO2 reacts with hydroxil. David Archer previously wrote here about the crucial role which hydroxil plays in the methane cycle: The amount of hydroxil available to react with methane determines the life-time of methane in the atmosphere. If less hydroxil was available for that, then methane would remain in the atmosphere for longer and, even if total methane emissions remained stable, methane concentrations in the atmosphere would be rising, in which case the planet could warm much faster than with ‘business as usual’.

    I have some scary vision of somebody trying out Paul Crutzen’s scheme and methane concentrations going through the roof, bringing about the catastrophic acceleration in global warming which Crutzen wants to avoid at any cost, but much faster. Is this theoretically possible?

  143. pete best:

    Re #139, That is why we have Governments, it is called being managed and they act in our best interests and yes growing the economy is one such interest but not at the expense of everything else and that includes where we recycle all of our waste and where our energy comes from and how we use it. Otherwise one day we will run our of viable sources and places for it all.

    All nations can have a golden period of large scale growth under the banner of free market economics, however it is not possible indefinitely to drive trucks and cars that do 10 mpg and less endlessly is it. The laws of physics, conservation of energy and momentum etc do not allow it.

    All we have to do it move away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources in a very short space of time. This all conincides rather ominously with the possibility of Oil and Gas costing to much due to limits of supply and increasing global demand. Coal we have plenty of but surely we can overcome this limitation even if climate change was not happenning we would surely find oil and gas costing to much come 2020 to 2040. At the present time we do not have the ability to run alternative energy sources over the current infrastucture and continue as we are and hence emergy conservation measures are probably also required to meet our future global energy requirements.

    Interesting times.

  144. Onar Åm:

    Re #116:

    I don’t think the uncertainty has been reduced to almost zero. The total uncertainty range is a factor of 100 or more. In other words, it’s quite possible that the damage from climate change is overestimated by >10000%. That’s a whole lot of uncertainty!

    You say that the verdict is in. In which court? If you are about to strip away the rights of individuals this is an actual case for the Law. In other words, the Kyoto-protocol should be tried in case. People really *should* be on trial and assumed innocent until proven guilty. Would the Kyoto-protocol survive a criminal court? Not a snowball’s chance in hell.

    [Response: Setting aside what is actually being proposed which need to evaluted on their own merits, this is a civil case. Therefore “balance of evidence” is the appropriate scale, and on that metric, the case for curtailing emissions is easily won. – gavin]

  145. Thomas Lee Elifritz:

    The high price of solar cells is largely because they aren’t being mass-produced on a large scale.

    So you haven’t actually researched for yourself how solar cells are manufactured, and what their raw materials streams consist of, as I had previously suggested, have you.

  146. Marian:

    For daily updated news on biofuels, ethanol and climate, please visit:

    http://www.ethanol-news.de

  147. ray ladbury:

    Re: 144, Onar Am, Where do you think the uncertainty lies:

    Do you think the planet is not warming? If so, you are sufficiently deluded that I cannot help you.

    Do you think that anthropogenic causation is in question? If so, then all I can suggest is that you actually look at the science. Although there are uncertainties, it is extremely unlikely that any of them would call into question the role of humans and specifically of fossil fuel consumption in the current epoch of climate change.

    Do you question the range of predicted temperature increases? Again, there are uncertainties, but they are asymmetrical and much more likely to underpredict rather than overpredict the effects. Moreover, there are lots of possible effects that have barely been assessed.

    This is real; it is a serious threat; and it needs to be addressed.

  148. Michael Mazilu:

    Re: #143

    Governments are equivalent to the brain in humans. Having one does not warrant a healthy life i.e. without any addiction.

    I like your “All we have to do now” statement and hope you mean it ironically. I do not think it will be all that easy. Its not a physical limit (like energy-momentum conservation) that we are up against but human nature.

    Interesting times indeed.

  149. James:

    Re #141: [And (to correct misconceptions that people have), the power doesn’t shut off when the wind isn’t blowing. They buy from wind farms around the state, and it’s fed into the grid.]

    Except it’s really working on a net basis: you use X KWh of electricity per month; each month Green Mountain Energy generates X KWh of wind power that you pay them for. But you aren’t using the same X KWh that they generate: you might use most of yours in the morning when winds are calm, so the power is actually being generated by some coal, nuclear, or hydro plant somewhere. Then in the afternoon when winds pick up, someone else uses the wind power while the coal plant gets throttled down. So the net result is that everyone gets electricity when they want it, and generates a bit less CO2 in the process.

    Isn’t it clear that this all depends on having some sort of controllable reserve generation on the grid to provide electricity during those periods when you’re not getting enough from wind & solar? Then consider economics. Anyone investing in power generation, regardless of technology, expects to make money by selling electricity, no? Which means running that generating plant as much as they can.

    So you have a bunch of technologies with different constraints: wind & solar produce power when mother natures says they can, geothermal runs 24/7, fossil fuel (& biomass) can run whenever, but incur significant fuel costs and create CO2. Of actual production technologies, I can think of only two, nuclear and hydro, where the output is easily controlled. Hydro is pretty well maxxed out (and has major environmental constraints), which leaves nuclear as the only proven, non-CO2 producing way to handle most of the base load of the grid.

  150. Steve Reynolds:

    gavin comment on 144: “Therefore “balance of evidence” is the appropriate scale, and on that metric, the case for curtailing emissions is easily won.”
    and answering Ray’s 147.

    It is likely true that the case for AGW being real is easily won, with a balance of evidence that climate sensitivity is at least 2.5C.

    But that is only the climate science part. To justify curtailing emissions, you need to show that the benefits exceed the costs.

    According to the apparent consenus of peer reviewed economists, benefits do not exceed costs beyond about $14/ton carbon (which is roughly the current US tax on gasoline). Maybe an equivilent tax on coal could be justified, but not Kyoto on the evidence so far.

    As I quoted earlier, even the IPCC has doubts about cost/benefit of mitigation:

    “Limited and early analytical results from integrated analyses of the costs and benefits of mitigation indicate that these are broadly comparable in magnitude, but do not as yet permit an unambiguous determination of an emissions pathway or stabilization level where benefits exceed costs [3.5].” (from SPM3)

  151. tamino:

    Re: #149 (James)

    Solar and wind power are proven technologies, and there’s more than enough energy coming in to do the job. The only problem with them is intermittency. We can solve that problem by developing better energy storage technology.

    It surprises me how many people are eager to invest billions or trillions of dollars in deadly-waste-producing, terrorist-weapon-feeding nuclear plants, but won’t suggest investing anywhere near the same in developing the energy storage technology that would make nuclear and coal-powered plants obsolete.

  152. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[fossil fuel (& biomass) can run whenever, but incur significant fuel costs and create CO2. ]]

    Biomass creates no net CO2.

  153. Hank Roberts:

    Tamino, I think behind the PR blitz is likely the scale-of-ownership issue.

    Efficiency, insulation, solar hot water — immediate cost benefit directly to the individual person. Sure there’s profit getting the stuff to the end user originally —- design, manufacture, sale, distribution, financing, installation, and maintenance. After that, who benefits? The end user.

    The only way to sell coal these days is to a few very large buyers. If they aren’t buying more as expected, the value of the “assets in the ground” is going to stay there. Nuclear is attractive for the same reasons.

    It’s been a long while since the coal wagon came to town and people shoveled their own into their own cellars. Good thing too.

    But looking at the most obvious efficiencies — insulation, solar hot water, remember the various attempts over the years to get landlords to improve the energy efficiency of rental properties? Shot down every time.

    If that had happened in the late 1970s, we’d be in better shape now.

    Heck, as far as I know, there’s still no modular roof panel made that builds in hot water heating, that could be used even in new construction let alone in replacing old roofs. Everything’s still tacked on. Who’d profit from creating such a thing?

  154. pete best:

    Re #149, Solar has two issues, namely that of where you are in the world and power is not very well matched to demand in many places with current levels of efficiency. Increase efficiency and you may change this but not matching demand to available power in many parts of the world.

    Wind is not capabale of replacing fossil fuels either but it can mitigate them somewhat. Other sources are required as well to suplement wind and solar.

  155. John Mashey:

    re: #139 “How many people stop smoking because they might get ill in the future?”
    [This has a strange, but relevant connection to climate science].

    The WHO estimates that by 2020, smoking will cause about 10M deaths/year:

    http://www.who.int/tobacco/en/

    due especially to its rapid rise in many developing countries, including China (home to 350-400M smokers, as well as rapid increase in coal-fired power plants, i.e., Not A Good Place for Lungs). Many reasonable people wish for a lower world population, but growing smoking seems like a particularly unpleasant way to accomplish that.

    On the upside, many people have actually quit, in many places. Fortunately for me, California has long been one of the most anti-smoking places on the planet, but there are by now lots of places with similar rules.

    For anyone interested in the interactions of science/politics/economics of climate science, for comparison read the fine book by Harvard medical historian Allan Brandt, “The Cigarette Century: the rise, fall, and deadly persistence of the product that defined America.” (2007)

    In particular, the denial/obfuscation tactics on the part of the cigarette industry are fascinating/horrifying … and familiar, especially the tactic of saying one thing while funding front organizations to say otherwise. There are certainly differences: I’d be personally happy if all cigarettes disappeared tomorrow, whereas it would be a world catastrophe if oil/gas/coal disappeared that way, before we achieve a sustainable energy system.

    [From Brandt] Around 1954, they said (via the Tobacco Industry Research Committee):
    “1. There is no conclusive scientific proof of a link between smoking and cancer.
    2. Medical research points to many possible causes of cancer.”
    and they kept saying so … for 40 years.

    but more honestly there is:
    “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public.” Brown & Williamson, 1969.
    [Kool, Lucky Strike, etc; now part of RJ Reynolds].

    I wouldn’t tar all fossil fuel companies with the cigarette brush, although:
    a) Some tactics of some are similar, including the use of “controversy”
    b) Some of the front organizations/thinktanks/lobbiests/proponents are the same.

    My bottom line: the book above shows how truly hard it is to change behavior, and how powerful focussed economic interests can be, but it also shows that it is possible to change, but takes good science+concerted efforts by many people over a long time.

  156. bjc:

    I take it Hank that you are not a landlord? If you were, how would you recover the upfront investment for the insulation, assuming that tenants pay for their own heat and cooling?

    P.S. Most building codes around me now require significant insulation.
    P.P.S. However, various forms of rent control limit the return on building new energy efficient rental units.
    P.P.P.S. (a) Who chooses? (b) Who pays?

  157. Hank Roberts:

    Improving investment property is part of maintaining it, and if you aren’t already aware of how to do that have a serious talk with a CPA or competent tax person who can help you take the long view toward doing it. Your personal situation will vary, you have to deal with your own zoning and regulations. If you can’t make it where you live as a conservative, energy-efficient longterm owner of rental property, you have to change your local government.

    The places that have been made friendly to short term strip-mining by owners, where the zoning and building codes allow fast cheap cosmetic flipping of property, end up slums as the buildings start to fall apart. That’s the opposition.

    It’s local politics, basically. If the housing stock where you live is not being kept up, and you want to keep living there, you have to deal with it as a community and a citizen.

    There is always a tension between longterm, conservative, maintenance and improvement versus short term profit extraction.
    That’s life. Choose your side.

  158. dhogaza:

    But that is only the climate science part. To justify curtailing emissions, you need to show that the benefits exceed the costs.

    Well, actually, one can easily claim that you have that backwards.

  159. Steve Reynolds:

    >Well, actually, one can easily claim that you have that backwards.

    If we are talking “balance of evidence”, there is no difference.

  160. Eli Rabett:

    Since increasing insulation increases the value of the building the landlord has a capital gain. Moreover, since the cost of the insulation can be written off as depreciation, the cost can be recaptured in a few years.

  161. Steve Reynolds:

    Fergus>Re. #61: Steve: why would this imply a geoengineering solution; I don’t get it? I’d have thought that the geoE. solution was implied more by the cost/benefit approach rather than the alternative. Can you perhaps expand on your thinking on this?

    My point was that the potential severe unintended economic consequences of strong mitigation regulations might be avoided by near term concentration on energy production research. If warming effects are more severe than expected, then a short term geoengineering solution would be available as insurance.

  162. bjc:

    Eli:
    Do you own or run a business that involves making substantial capital purchases? If you did you would know that your answer is deeply insufficient. Who pays?

  163. ray ladbury:

    Re 150: Steve Reynolds, on the one hand, we are told that we must show benefit justifies cost. On the other hand any time a scientist brings up the possibility of an adverse outcome that isn’t 100% certain they are accused of alarmism. A cost benefit analysis has to consider ALL possible risks, even if the probability is not large, but the cost is huge. For instance, if the climate becomes completely unpredictable year to year as it has during past epochs, would agricutlture be possible? Maybe the probability of this is 1% or even less, but it is certainly nonzero, and the cost would be the end of human civilization. You are right, this is the next phase in the analysis and in the argument, and I’ll bet you will not like the results. My guess? You’ll probably just dismiss them as alarmist anyway.

  164. Dave Blair:

    #135, Dave Rado, extinction theories of 250 million years ago are very interesting but change to frequently for me to put them above what I have seen form myself. Again lex parsimoniae leads me to lean towards what I have experienced myself over those interesting theories.

    #128 Philippe, I flew over Greenland and Iceland last year and they probably have more barren places than Death Valley. I also went to Vegas last year and when I flew in, I was really suprised how green that city was and that is the closest I have been to Death Valley.

    #138 James, many places do not get as hot as California, like Alaska (which is the largest state) but a longer growing season simply means more growing is possible. The parts of the earth where we have frost are enormous. Frost kills plants and other life forms. Either by being able to plant more crops or expanding the area you can grow crops. I take that as an assumption I do not have to prove.

    My father had a bumper crop in 1913 of 51 bussels an acre. A few years ago a drought the average was double that. This increase is due to better farming methods, varieties, and irrigation. If you look a North American map you see many many large lakes that there because of dams. These are bringing water to dry areas at a much greater rate than droughts are happenning. You look at Google earth and you see irrigation projects near the Pyramids of Egypt and throughout the world. There are more humans on the Earth than ever before. This is homeostasis. The Earth is getting more life and we are the proof.

  165. James:

    Re #151: [t surprises me how many people are eager to invest billions or trillions of dollars in deadly-waste-producing, terrorist-weapon-feeding nuclear plants…]

    Just as it ought to surprise me that so many people are willing to believe anti-nuclear propaganda, without bothering to check out the facts. (In fact it doesn’t, since I’ve long since lost most of my illusions about the human race.) Still, I find it ironic that the same people who rail against AGW denialists will happily hop on to the “nuclear is evil” bandwagon.

    Is nuclear waste deadly? Sure, under the proper circumstances, just as is the waste from the greenest biomass plant. As to the terrorist-weapon-feeding claim (to risk a brief excursion towards politics), I can’t see why that should be an issue. Petrodollars have financed every terrorist to date: that hasn’t stopped many people from buying gas, has it?

    […but won’t suggest investing anywhere near the same in developing the energy storage technology that would make nuclear and coal-powered plants obsolete.]

    Do you suppose that might have something to do with the fact that while we know how to build nuclear plants, we don’t have a clue as to how to even start developing your magical energy storage system. Maybe some day someone will make a discovery that might make it possible, just as someone might demonstrate working cold fusion, but until that basic discovery is made there’s no way to spend money developing it.

  166. Onar Ã?m:

    Re 144, 147:

    First of all, “balance of evidence” means >%50 chance of being correct. A civil case has much, much higher demands on evidence than 50%.

    Second, I am quite confident that in a civil case where the skeptics and the pro-AGWs were given equal amount of time to present their case for the jury the defence would win easily. In fact, I am confident that the prosecution would be shred to pieces. The Kyoto-protocol would be flung out of court.

    What uncertainties are we talking about? We are talking about uncertainties in almost every single field relating to climate change, but the most important are:

    – future CO2 emissions
    – future increase in CO2-level resulting from emissions
    – future (and present) climate change resulting from increases in CO2-level
    – future damages resulting from anthropogenic climate change

    Each of these factors alone contain a huge uncertainty, adding up to a compound uncertainty factor of about 1000.

    The Kyoto-process has been set up as to maximize uncertainty in favor of assuming the worst, i.e. the assumption of guilt. This leads to gross violations of individual rights.

    The uncertainties alone undercut the Kyoto-protocol. In addition comes the question of scientific credibility. Climate science has become very politicized, and in court a proper defence attourney would have no problem pulverizing the credibility of the AGW climate scientists.

    [Response:I think you have misunderstood the issue: we can make conditional predictions, saying given such ans such emission scenario, the consequences will be like this. One example is the smog, acid rain or the ozone layer. Similar predictions were made and measures were introduced to alleviate the problem. There is not much smog in London these days (although some people would argue that the air quality due to cars is still not the best). -rasmus]

  167. david:

    good discussion, but hey, we are approaching what E.O. Wilson calls the Bottleneck. We face a convergence of ecological limitations and looming political disasters. Even a cheap source of carbon-neutral energy wouldn’t avert the greatest species extinction in 60 million years, wouldn’t fill the oceans with fish again, and certainly wouldn’t change the military conquest mindset of those who already serve the goals of the richest on Earth. Solving the global warming crisis with some miraculous technofix would only lull us back to a narcotic sleep from which we would probably not awake. The only way forward is through an evolutionary leap in world consciousness, if we have the time and discipline.

  168. Craig Allen:

    RE 151 & 165: Magical energy storage systems

    I don’t know how magical it is, but this looks promising – http://www.lloydenergy.com

    If only some of the gazillions being put into nuclear could be put toward jump-starting the implementation of such novel technologies.

  169. Roberto Mendoza:

    Does anyone really reach the Nth comment? I hope not. In any event, even though I am not a scientist, and therefore I am challenged by some of the concepts put forth by the contributors and the commentators, I still like the site a great deal. Intellectual curiosity is a blessing.

  170. Ivan de Villiers:

    Goodday

    I am not a scientist but am interested in the climate change issues related to human activity. There is a lot of debate in the scientific circles as to the truth of this. Thus it hard for a lay man to find a clear answer, if it exists. I have this question if any one has the time to answer:
    Is there any estimate of how much green house gas (CO2, nitrous oxide etc) that human activity has dumped in to the atmosphere from 1907 and how thick this layer ,if spread over the whole atmosphere at standard pressure would be. Taking into account the earths ablity to process some of these gases.
    Does such a study exist?
    Is this a meaningful question?

    Thank you
    Yours Truly,
    Ivan de Villiers

  171. Craig Allen:

    RE 151, 165 & 168: Speaking of getting novel energy systems of the ground …

    Check out the 19th of May Science Show broadcast from Australia’s Radio National. There is a transcript plus an audio recording of an interview with one of the scientists responsible for the in-progress commercialisation of a zero CO2 energy source. He talks about the trials and tribulations of scientists working out how to commercialise their science. The good news is that in spite of many setbacks they are well underway and the potential is huge.

    While you are at it, there is an interview with the maker of the soon to be released Crude, which is a documentary about oil, what it means for civilization, and what will happen as production peaks and greenhouse warming bites.

    And don’t stop there, if you look back through the archived programs you’ll find lots of interviews with scientists involved in various way in climate and energy research.

  172. Fergus Brown:

    #161, #166: Steve Reynolds; thank you for explaining; I think I get where you are coming from. What sort of thing might an ‘unintended economic consequence’ of mitigation be? I presume you are thinking in terms of global recession, derived from dramatic economic impacts on consumption patterns in the USA, or something similar. Whilst I can see how this can be seen as undesirable in many ways, I am not sure how such an incident would be helped by a short-term geoengineering solution; it is more likely, surely, to be managed by a market solution. However, I don’t feel that we are thinking that much differently on this subject.

    Onar: naturally, I feel your confidence is misplaced. Perhaps EPA vs Mass. was just such a test? In which case, ‘scepticism’ had its day in court and lost.

    Your uncertainties are interesting; they are all about the future. Of course the future is uncertain; it is unknowable in an absolute sense. But your uncertainties can still be addressed.
    On the future emission of CO2; already, CO2-equivalent WMGHG levels are very close to 450ppm. There is absolutely no chance of emissions of these stopping overnight. Not only will emissions continue, but, as things stand, they are still increasing; this increase can easilt be extrapolated forwards for a reasonable projection of emissions levels in 2040, for example, under a BAU scenario. But the bottom line here is that this uncertainty is entirely founded on what we do about emissions collectively. Therefore, it is a function of what we choose to do about it, rather than any innate uncertainty about the numbers. This is, to some extent, the whole point of the IPCC; if BAU, then levels, then warming; the logic is straightforward.

    Future CO2 levels from emissions are dependent on the absolute emissions levels, plus or minus any changes in CO2 sinks. As things stand, the evidence is increasingly that the sinks are not adjusting fast enough, and are more likely to reduce in efficiency than increase, therefore, any uncertainty is likely to strengthen the case for action, not weaken it.

    Future climate change resulting from CO2 changes is quite well-constrained if you want to think of temperature (sensitivity is ~3C). Other changes are harder to predict, which is one of the reasons to worry. Hansen et. al. 2007 (ACP) is useful on this.

    Future damage is dependent on how you measure damage. I have seen no peer-reviewed paper of any description which suggests that the global consequence of a warming of 2C or more will be beneficial; perhaps you can provide a reference to one.

    I get the impression that, at bottom, you are concerned that individual rights are being compromised unfairly. I cannot answer this for you; it depends on whether you accept or deny the initial presumption, that emissions are going to be a bad thing. If you don’t accept this, then of course the response is unfair. If you do accept this, then the question is to what extent you are willing to allow your individual desires to be superceded by a greater humanitarian need.

    Your final comment is simply an insult to climate scientists. Rather than assume that they produce what politicians want them to, you need to recognise that they are producing what the scientific analysis shows them. If you don’t trust the science, then any discussion of consequences or costs is effectively meaningless, as you will not accept anything which counts as evidence in the real world.

    I don’t intend my comments to be personal or aggressive; you appear to have opinions which are shared by many people, and your raising of these on RC is important, however, my concern is that you may already have made your mind up about the ‘verdict’. Do you believe that you would be a fair and impartial juror in the case of science vs scepticism?
    Regards,

  173. Ray Ladbury:

    Onar, My, I see we’ve gone from 10000% uncertainty up to a factor of 1000 uncertainty–and all based on nothing more than the strength of your assertions. Hmm, let’s look at your assertions point by point

    First, uncertainties in future CO2 emissions–well, energy demand has increased exponentially and continues to do so. Fossil fuels remain plentiful and cheap. When petroleum peaks, coal is there to pick up the slack for industrial uses. No reason to doubt that CO2 will continue to rise exponentially–unless we act to specifically avoid this. So, yes, there are uncertainties, but they don’t alter the conclusion that we can expect 500 ppm or more within 30 years.

    Second, uncertainties in how much of the carbon goes into the atmosphere. Well, given that CO2 emissions continue to increase, and that the ability of the oceans, biomass etc. to absorb it will likely decrease in a warming world, no reason to doubt that we’ll make it to ~500 ppm in the next 30 years.

    Third, future climate change resulting from this increase. Actually, the climate models have a pretty good track record here and are improving continually. I agree there are uncertainties, but the error bars are quite asymmetric–favoring the high side rather than the low side. We already know of positive feedbacks the models do not include because the models are basically conservative.

    Fourth, the damage resulting. Agreed here, although, here again, we’ve only begun to explore the low side of potential damage. Sea level rise is a virtual certainty. Increased drought and more violent storms (jury’s still out on hurricanes, I will stipulate). So, what if the climate becomes unpredictable to the point where agriculture is impossible over much of the globe? What if drought creates new deserts, water wars, etc.? All possible with varying degrees of probability that are yet to be determined.

    Gee, Onar, looks like your argument is on pretty shaky ground, but since you based it on assertion rather than science, that’s not too surprising.

  174. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[Re #149, Solar has two issues, namely that of where you are in the world and power is not very well matched to demand in many places with current levels of efficiency. Increase efficiency and you may change this but not matching demand to available power in many parts of the world.]]

    As someone just pointed out in a previous post, solar supply tends to be highest when electrical demand is highest — the middle of the day in summer, when everyone turns on their air conditioners.

    [[Wind is not capabale of replacing fossil fuels either but it can mitigate them somewhat. Other sources are required as well to suplement wind and solar. ]]

    Why is it “not capable?” It can generate electricity, and the electricity can power electric cars or split water for hydrogen for fuel cells. The electrons in the home circuitry don’t care whether they come from fossil fuel burning or from a windmill turning.

  175. bjc:

    Question:
    If government intervention can enable the substantial adoption of non-CO2 emitting power generation technologies by ensuring economies of scale in manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, etc., how come China with its highly centralized economy, large tracts of unproductive land, extensive mountain ranges, more than sufficient technology base and huge demand for new power generation capacity is not leading the way? Instead China is continuing to rely on and build new coal-based power plants at an astonishing rate.

    Much of the above discussion on alternative energy sources reminds me of that classic New Yorker cartoon where two scientists are looking at a complex mathematical equation that includes “and then something magical happens” just prior to the desired solution. Wishing don’t make it so!

  176. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[Just as it ought to surprise me that so many people are willing to believe anti-nuclear propaganda, without bothering to check out the facts. ]]

    This is a constant propaganda line of the nuclear industry and its supporters. If everybody only had all the facts, they’d think like we do. They oppose nuclear because they don’t know all the facts that we know.

    Besides being wrong — there are plenty of people who know all the relevant facts and are still anti-nuclear — the tactic is stupid. It insults everyone who disagrees with them even tentatively. You don’t win people over by calling them ignorant. But just for that reason, I hope James and his ilk keep doing it. If they piss off enough people, they’ll bury themselves.

  177. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[If government intervention can enable the substantial adoption of non-CO2 emitting power generation technologies by ensuring economies of scale in manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines, etc., how come China with its highly centralized economy, large tracts of unproductive land, extensive mountain ranges, more than sufficient technology base and huge demand for new power generation capacity is not leading the way? ]]

    Wage labor is more productive than slavery, but China still gets a lot of its manufacturing from the labor camps. Why do you suppose that is?

  178. Ray Ladbury:

    BJC asks “who pays?” The answer with people like BJC around is obvious: your grandchildren.

    Craig Allen: Heat storage is effective only to a point. Waste heat is waste heat. You will get less efficiency out of it than you had from hour initial system. By all means, it could save energy in some cases, but it is not a panacea. You’re fighting the 2nd law of thermo here, and the 2nd law always wins. What is more, this technology does not generate energy. Nuclear power does–and on demand. By all means do whatever we can with solar, wind and other renewables, but if it comes down to a choice between nuclear and coal, nuclear has my vote.

    Dave Blair, Your decision to “lean toward what you have experienced yourself” doesn’t really leave you open to understanding science in which you are not an expert, does it? It is undeniable that we are producing more food than ever before, but we are placing amazing strain on the ecosystem in doing so. I would recommend examining more deeply “the things you have experienced yourself”.

  179. Hank Roberts:

    Again, you should talk to your own CPA or tax adviser if you can’t imagine how you could make energy efficiency improvements, as for example to insulate your rental property. Or turn around a soil erosion problem on your farm for that matter.

    If you own rental property, and you have an opinion from a credible financial advisor saying you really cannot afford energy-efficiency changes to improve the property, it merits discussion, though probably not here. I’m certainly not the professional you need help from. I’ve improved what’s come under my hand and made money at it, over my lifetime, to leave it in better shape. If you’re degrading what you control, extracting money but not enough to keep improving it and stay in business, I pray you consider you may be doing it less well than you are capable of. You may need help. You may be getting stripmined yourself and not know it.

    If so it’s possible to get help.

    Yes, certainly, there are impoverished people who own property they cannot take care of. You may be one such. If that’s your position, and if you also have a political belief that interferes with doing anything but running the property into the ground, you had bad luck, inherited trouble, or did something wrong in the past, and have now run out of options.

    They say in aviation: altitude, airspeed, ideas: any two will keep you flying. There are financial equivalents.

    This is in one sense way off topic. But true, there are plenty of people who really cannot see their way clear to improving the world. This is one definition of “overshoot” — living beyond a sustainable level on available energy and resources.

    If your life requires more than your life provides and you’re taking what you need by wasteful methods —-and owning uninsulated rental housing in most areas, I submit, is a very wasteful way to make money, like farming until the topsoil is gone or overgrazing a ranch or owning a sweatshop factory and grinding the employees — consider asking help.

    There should be help available.

  180. Ray Ladbury:

    BJC, have you ever been to China? They have all they can handle just feeding 1.3 billion poeple, let alone maintaining 8% economic growth to create enough jobs just to keep the unemployment rate at its current level. China is hardly a command economy. The central government has very limited control in the provinces. And setting up wind farms, solar power stations, and even nuclear plants is harder than digging plentiful, dirty bituminous coal out of the ground and burning it–as they have done for centuries. Having been to China, it’s just not authentic Chinese food if it doesn’t have that good ol’ coal tar taste.

    The main issue, however, is that the Chinese, like the rest of us, do not understand the risks facing us. Human beings do a very poor job of estimating risk–especially when it is not a risk that is staring them in the face. We over-estimate risks due to spectacular causes such as terrorism, and grossly underestimate risks associated with our everyday environments (viz. the number of people who still smoke).

    I 100% agree that a renewable energy economy won’t just “happen”. It will take people becoming educated about the future they are creating by their present actions.

  181. Dick Veldkamp:

    #170 Renewables in China

    China is in fact extending it wind capacity very fast. In 2006 they doubled capacity from 1,260 MW to 2,594 MW (See http://www.windpower-monthly.com/WPM:WINDICATOR:: ). And they are currently constructing their own manufacturing industry. Admittedly, wind is still a lot smaller than coal, but it’s getting there.

  182. Hank Roberts:

    > insulating property you rent to others

    Does the following description sound familiar?

    “Capital depreciation exceeding investment,
    and maintenance deferred, so there is
    deterioration in capital stocks,
    especially long-lived infrastructure.”

    It’s a symptom of a larger problem, described here: http://www.sustainabilityinstitute.org/limits/symptomsO.html
    And as mentioned above, also here: http://www.ecoequity.org/docs/deadheat.htm
    And of course here: http://www.amazon.com/Overshoot-Ecological-Basis-Revolutionary-Change/

  183. J.C.H:

    Roger Daltry says:

    “My answer is to burn all the f***ing oil as quick as possible and then the politicians will have to find a solution.â��

    Who is Roger Daltry?

  184. Hugh:

    No J.C.H.

    Roger Daltrey is The Who

  185. Rod B.:

    Just for clarity, Eli (160): a landlord who improves insulation might incure a net capital gain, a net capital loss, or break even. The same holds true for the landlord who doesn’t improve the insulation. Secondly, “writing things off as depreciation” does not recoup the expenditure. It merely allows one to not pay taxes on a business expense, though he has to spread that deduction over future years even though the money was spent currently.

  186. nicolas L.:

    Re 39

    Edward,

    â??By the way, the Chernobyl accident put as much radiation into the environment as an equally-sized coal-fired power plant does in 7 years and 5 monthsâ??

    Based on the number given in the report you use (http://www.ornl.gov/ORNLReview/rev26-34/text/coalmain.html ), the total amount of radioactivity released in a year by all coal plants in USA is about 2 600 Curies. A Curie being equal to 3,7.10*10 Bq, it makes about 10*14 Bq a year. According to UNSCEAR, the total amount of radioactive material released in a few hours from Chernobyl was 12.10*18 Bq, corresponding to 100 000 times the annual release from US coal plantsâ?¦
    Further more, the total amount of radioactivity released by US coal plants from 1937 to 2040 (still according to the link you give) is 480 000 Curies, meaning 2.10*16 Bq, still 5000 times less than the actual releases from Chernobylâ?¦

    If someone wants to check my calculations, Iâ??m not very good at that. But still, that makes a huge difference to meâ?¦

  187. Rod B.:

    Onar Ã??m (166), I like your post but one clarification of a side point: While you’re correct that civil cases require a “preponderance” of the evidence, this has been dumbed down over the decades and interpreted/ litigated as >50%. I think that’s not good, but it is what it is.

  188. Rod B.:

    Craig (168), Maybe I didn’t search enough under the covers, but I found nothing in your referenced link (storage) close to bankable….

  189. Rod B.:

    re 155 by John Masey: I’ll be brief since I know I’m p***ing in the wind. The “interactions of science/politics/economics” (and, btw, politics always wins) sometimes get tremendous results (NASA) and sometimes get horrendous (Inquisitions and witchcraft) and stupid (marijuana, eugenics come to mind) results. Tobacco is another. While popularly accepted by the masses, is a gross example of gov’t/politics screwing the science any which way they can get by with, and that’s a lot. Follow the history from 1950 on the number of deaths tobacco “causes” for example. (To understand the history, follow the money, not the science. One interesting period was the 70s when the anti-tobacco-ers shed elephant tears when radon came along and took “credit” for some of “their” deaths.) This is relevant (as was your post) as I contend that many AGW supporters likewise often sound hysterical and claim whatever they can get by with — and that too is a lot, as the consensus turns mob-like. I think it hurts their long-term cause, though recognize it aids the short-term and might accomplish their goals, science or not. (btw, the moderators of RC are more “innocent” and scientific than most — my opinion.)

    I’m just a fly in the ointment.

  190. Paul Dietz:

    Perhaps the claim about Chernobyl was refering to long-lived radioactivity, perhaps alpha activity? I have seen the claim that Chernobyl released on the order of the amount of such radioactivity present in annual global phosphate fertilizer application.

    The short lived radioactivity in the Chernobyl emissions was intense, of course.

  191. Hank Roberts:

    Rod and bjc —

    The spam filter _really_ hates the subject of this post. I’ve deleted stuff and will keep trying til it passes.

    You can probably figure out what words should fill in the [-] blanks. Please follow the link.

    Post: if you own rental property and believe you cannot keep it up, and have a CPA or tax advisor’s support for that belief, _please_ consider whether your political beliefs are getting in the way of doing the right thing here. Help is available to take care of infrastructure. It’s a community problem, not a personal failing.

    There has been a whole lot of fraud in [-] — see the front page of today’s New York Times.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/21/business/21fraud.html
    That put a lot of owners in [-] beyond their ability to maintain and improve property. If you were caught by such fraud, it’s not just your problem.

    I am assuming since you are here to talk about climate concerns, that you are not of the belief that it’s your right to buy property that will long outlive you and strip it for short term profit and leave the costs to others. But there are such predators. From that article:

    “… whether in a wealthy neighborhood or a poor one, [-] fraud has a similar impact. For one thing, inflated appraisals can cause [-] to skyrocket. At the same time, neighborhoods swept up in fraud rings tend to be hit repeatedly, leaving many houses vacant and in disrepair and causing [-] to plunge.”

    “… ‘I think there had been a perception that it was just the [-] who were [-] … They showed the U.S. attorney at the time that there were in fact quality-of-life issues and that this was more than monetary issue.'”

    YMMv — your morals may vary, of course. the only way the climate issues can be discussed as they impact property owners is like this, one person and one property at a time — in personal detail.

    If you’re stuck with property you can’t maintain, let alone improve, get help please. If you ride it down til it’s a wreck, all alone, it’s not noble pride and individualism — because the costs hit your neighbors too.

  192. Hank Roberts:

    Fission produces large quantities of very hot transuranic elements, that aren’t present in coal.

    This may help. It makes clear any simple, certain answer is bogus.
    Beware of PR, there’s a lot of it around:

    http://www.rri.kyoto-u.ac.jp/NSRG/reports/kr79/kr79pdf/Pavlovych.pdf

    Also, Chernobyl isn’t over. It’s not sealed, remember? See the above.

  193. Burn boron in pure O2 for car power:

    Regarding curies or becquerels from Chernobyl versus the same from coal-burning, nicolas L. sounds about right, and Edward Greisch was way off.

    Both those units of measure, curies and becquerels, measure how many nuclei disintegrate per unit time. To me the thermalizable energy those disintegrations yield per unit time seems more useful. Some disintegrations are much more energetic than others, so I know what a thermal watt of radioactivity is but I don’t know what a curie of it is.

    If my information is correct that Chernobyl Unit 4 started in December 1983 and exploded 28 months later, and it is an acceptable approximation that it ran at its full 3.2 thermal gigawatts for all those 28 months, the Untermyer and Weills approximation for in-service seconds ‘T_0′ and delay seconds ‘t’,

    Delayed power/in-service power
    =
    0.1*{
    (t+10)^(-0.2) – (t + T_0 + 10)^(-0.2)
    -0.87*[(t + 20000000)^(-0.2) – (t + 20000000 + T_0)^(-0.2)]
    }

    says that six hours after it blew up the power in the ruin and downwind was 32 MW, and now, after 21 years, it’s down to 0.018 MW. At six hours it was as radioactive as the top 13 cm of all of Earth’s continents, and today, the top 0.007 cm.

    — G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen-energy fan

  194. Ray Ladbury:

    I think the poster was confused. The ORNL document makes the case that normal emissions of radioactivity by coal-fired plants are higher than those due to normal operations at a nuclear plant. Chernobyl was pretty bad and anomalous–a case of bad design meets worse safeguards and then letting the monkeys run the damn thing. It was about as bad as an accident can get, since the fire dispersed a lot of the radioactivity on the wind. One would be hard presed to come up with a worse scenario–at least and still remain firmly rooted on the real axis.

  195. Hank Roberts:

    > China

    http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2007/05/the_china_experiment.php
    “UPDATE: China Takes More Time to Formulate Climate Change Policy.
    Mara Hvistendahl went to Beijing for the anticipated release of China’s climate change policy, but the release was deferred. She reports on what the delay could mean for Chinese environmental policy.”

    > Building
    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=A0671BA9-E7F2-99DF-35F0BAD21FF6E5CE&chanID=sa003

    “… Drafty buildings, inefficient appliances and mountains of waste will all need to be transformed to control global warming”

    “… Worldwide, buildingsâ��both commercial and residentialâ��contribute roughly one third of all GHG emissions despite covering only 0.2 percent of land worldwide. And experts say that reining in pollution from them will be key in the fight to contain climate change.

    “The good news? ‘By 2030, about 30 percent of the projected GHG emissions in the building sector can be avoided with net economic benefit,’ scientists write in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report ….”

  196. bjc:

    Ignoring for now the condescending comments about amortization, capital appreciation, depreciation, etc., the answer to the question Who Pays appears to be the Landlord. Most economists would doubt the empirical accuracy of that answer: Their answer and commonsense would dictate that Landlords would pass this cost on to renters in the form of higher rents. My conclusion is that libertarians have every right to be concerned about how AGW will be used to abridge their indiviudal rights – at least based on this rather small sample.

    As to China – given that China consumes nearly 3 billion MW of electricity and is recently growing at over 15% per year, 1 to 2,000 MW is a start. However, all this fails to respond to the question. If the nasty capitalists are preventing the emergence of an economically viable alternative energy industry – how come such an industry is struggling to emerge in a dynamic economy like China?

  197. Theo H:

    Roger Daltry is quoted as below.

    “My answer is to burn all the f***ing oil as quick as possible and then the politicians will have to find a solution.”

    This may be part of the thinking that a few, emphsis in few, greenies I know see as the only solution to AGW, or;

    “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we fry.”

    There is little point in doing anything until the disater is clearly upon us for nothing will happen until then.

    Theo H

  198. David B. Benson:

    Re #170: Ivan de Villiers — The scientific debate is over. See the discussion of the IPCC reports linked on the sidebar under Highlights or the reports themselves linked under Science Links.

    Since 1750, humans have added about 300 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere, mostly by burning fossil fuels and most of the addition in the last one hundred years.

    Since carbon dioxide is a well-mixed gas in the air, the appropriate measure is the concentration, usually expressed in parts per million, ppm. The additional carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, has raised the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air from about 280 ppm to about 380 ppm. (Others here now the exact figures and I am sure these can be found in the IPCC reports.)

    This has resulted in a warming of about one degree Farenheit globally. Due to the physical processes there is another degree Farenheit still to come in a couple of decades or so. But that assumptions we stop adding carbon to the air instantly. That surely will not occur, so Dr. James Hansen optimistically predicts yet another degree Farenheit of global warming.

    The consequences will be quite severe.

  199. Hank Roberts:

    > Chernobyl
    This would be helpful to read:
    http://www.pnl.gov/main/publications/external/technical_reports/PNNL-13294.pdf

  200. Mike Donald:

    Ah renewables is being talked about! Good! I get my free copies electronically.

    i.e.
    http://online.qmags.com/REW0507/?sessionID=54425119BEBAD4E0F9B6EB087&cid=571316&eid=12393

    from..

    http://www.renewable-energy-world.com/subscribe/

    As World Oil magazine said maybe the future’s 50 2% solutions. wind & sun & etc.

    But oil and gas is still cheap enough to burn and nations that go for a post-carbon economy will make it cheaper. Darn.

  201. Michael Tobis:

    re #144 (Onar Aam)

    Suppose we grant for the sake of argument that the total range of uncertainty (of some quantity) is a factor of 100. Does it follow that the quantity is possibly overestimated by a factor of 100? Perhaps, but surely it follows no more and no less than it follows that there is an equivalent possibility that the quantity is being underestimated by a factor of 100.

    Why are people constantly harping on the risk of overestimating climate change when the risk of underestimating it has vastly greater consequences?

    Rational policy under uncertainty should be risk-weighted, which implies that the less faith one has in the consensus position, the more vigorous an emissions policy one should support. It is very peculiar and striking to observe how common a position like Aam’s is despite the fact that it is incoherent.

    Those people who doubt the consensus in a rational way (e.g., Broecker, Lovelock) advocate for a very vigorous policy. We don’t know how bad it can be, so we really ought to give considerable weight to it being very very bad. The asymmetry arises because we know how good it can be. Climate change can at best amount to a (relatively) very small net gain, if it is modest and slow enough. At worst it can quite conceivably be a threat to civilization.

    Most people stressing the uncertainty, though, seem to me to deliberately strive to confuse the policy process, or to echo others who do so. It is discouraging how effective this tactic continues to be, given that it is based on a completely irrational argument. The only remotely sensible way to argue for small or no policy response is not to argue for large uncertainty. A rational argument for policy inaction requires arguing that the consensus position is certainly wrong and oversensitive. A rational, conservative response to uncertainty would be to take more effort to avoid the risk.

  202. Philippe Chantreau:

    RE 175: China keeps building coal plants because it’s the easiest and quickest solution to meet an immediate, imperious need.

    It does not mean that there isn’t immense potential in all the other possibilities. The roaring 40’s and howling 50’s are begging to blow through turbines on large floating barges that could generate plenty of hydrogen. Small amounts of the energy produced can be used by on-board propulsion systems to keep the barge within its latitude range, slowly circling along with the prevailing winds. With computers and GPS, all this can be automatized or remotely controlled, except for maintenance, which could be performed by crews coming with the vessels of the harvesting fleet. This is just one possibility. How much can you reduce the consumption of one building using already available efficiency methods, solar and urban adapted wind systems like the Gual Statoeolienne (can be seen with a quick Google search)? How much power can be generated by large scale solar plants in deserts of the American Southwest, Arabia, the Sahara, the Gobi, the Namib? How much can we get worldwide from geothermal if all the potential is exploited?

    The standard argument against these ideas is “too expensive.” That holds only as long as the full cost of the other “cheaper” possibilities are hidden. Chinese authorities still considers them hidden, as hidden as most of their landmass is hidden from satellites by the “Brown Cloud.” Anything can be hidden to those who don’t want to see it.

    As Ray pointed earlier, all this is a matter of people, including Chinese people, realizing how serious a problem we’re all facing. During WW2, all resources were devoted to the war effort and that did not prevent the following 30 years from seeing tremendous improvements in living conditions.

    Because GW happens slowly and is not really spectacular, people do not realize that the same kind of effort is necessary now. If they did, it would still be difficult to tackle the problem, but at least it would be done.

  203. ray ladbury:

    So, BJC, I’ll bet you’re a real hoot to go out to dinner with. What do you do, eat dinner and then argue for 2 hours about who pays the check. Look, we’ve eaten the frigging dinner. Somebody is going to pay the frigging check. Now we can try to divide it up in a way that most people think is fair–where everybody pitches in according to what they consumed, or we can keep arguing. But the check will be paid–if not by us by future generations. Now personally, I have no dog in this fight–no progeny. I’d sure like to think of human civilization continuing after I’m gone, but I won’t know one way or the other, so let’s just pay the check

  204. Elizabeth:

    to bjc – “If the nasty capitalists are preventing the emergence of an economically viable alternative energy industry – how come such an industry is struggling to emerge in a dynamic economy like China? ”

    We – as individuals and as society – do what we’ve always done. We do what we know works – even if it doesn’t work very well; even if we know there are better options. Change is hard for individuals. Change is especially hard for bureaucracies and nigh on impossible for society.

    Why should China be more visionary than the U. S.? There are lots of reasons besides climate change why their course of action is not in China’s long term (or even short term) best interest. But they’ve got coal, so they’re burning it because that’s what you do with coal and because it appears to work for them in the short term.

    Changing the whole basis of a worldwide economy (i.e., from cheap fossil fuels to something else)isn’t going to be easy – even though the technology is available to get us at least part way to where we need to be. But, while it’s hard for societies to alter course, once they decide to do so, change can be rapid.

    I heard a speaker once state that we are faced with a similar dilemma that faced our nation in the mid-19th century – to change from a slave based economy to one without slavery. I’m no historian, so I can’t weigh in on the validity of this analogy. And I hesitate to pass it on because it is so value laden. But I do so because there are some fascinating parallels – including the value laden part. We look back now and wonder how anyone could have ever thought slavery was a good idea – either from an economic or humanitarian perspective. We also recognize that in making this shift, some segments of society had more to lose than others, but that to maintain the status quo would have been devastating to another segment of society.

  205. Steve Reynolds:

    Re #170: Ivan de Villiers >Is there any estimate of how much green house gas (CO2, nitrous oxide etc) that human activity has dumped in to the atmosphere from 1907 and how thick this layer ,if spread over the whole atmosphere at standard pressure would be.

    For just CO2, the 100ppm increase would very roughly make a layer 1 foot thick (.0001×10,000 feet).

  206. Rod B:

    Hank, the initial post wasn’t talking about maintaining one’s rental property; it was talking of making a big investment in massive insulation, etc. to reduce energy use. Your post describes nobility, maybe correctly. But I wasn’t out to save or destroy the world/values/human race/neighborhood. I was simply explaining the US Tax code!

  207. Steve Reynolds:

    ray ladbury> …if the climate becomes completely unpredictable year to year as it has during past epochs, would agricutlture be possible?

    I am interested in reading the source for that past climate info. Link?

  208. Steve Reynolds:

    Fergus> What sort of thing might an ‘unintended economic consequence’ of mitigation be? I presume you are thinking in terms of global recession…

    That is one concern, but primarily the more certain and likely more harmful effects of very expensive non-GHG energy on people in developing nations unable to afford it.

    The booming economies of China and India are making great progress bringing people out of miserable poverty. I want to see that continue, not end.

    Note that severe effects from AGW are not likely to occur until these people can afford to adapt and advanced research gives us reasonably cheap non-GHG energy.

  209. catman306:

    The greenest heating fuel I’ve found is the wood burning of off sized, non-reusable pallets and crates that are destined for the land fill. It is, however, labor intensive, with strangely, a steep learning curve, not for everyone.

    The keys to solving our energy and climate woes are many and varied, they are not going to be a one-sized-fits-all proposition. What works in one place probably isn’t right somewhere else.

  210. Philippe Chantreau:

    Dave Blair, if you’re still reading this, I just saw your comment #164. You are essentially agreeing with me. Let me restate: on land, the abundance of life is a factor of the availability of liquid water. Most of pure climatology stuff is beyond me, but I know a little about biology. Note the importance of the words: availability (not mere presence)and liquid.

    If you looked at the question, you should know that Greenland is a desert (i.e. very dry), and most of its precipitation is non liquid. Sub-freezing temperatures also affect the availability of liquid water.

    You talk about Vegas. AFAIK, there is no water there. The water comes from the Rockies, whose decreased snowmelt, combined with increased consumption, accounts for a 50 ft bathtub ring on Meade and Powell. There is signficant concern in Vegas as to how long they can keep up their consumption. Arizona cities have the same concerns.

    A few thoughts about longer growing seasons:
    That concept applies only to temperate regions. Will it compensate for tropical and subtropical areas going Sahara-like (talk about a barren area)?
    Longer growing season sounds like a good thing, but is useless if there is no water to go with. All these little dams you mention (I have seen a lot of them flying over Texas) mainly retain rain water. Significant changes in rain regimes can easily make them useless.
    If you want to grow more to take advantage of the longer growing season, you also need more water, for certain cultures, at least twice more.

    As for your statement that humans are adding life to the Earth, it’s just your opinion. Everybody has one. From all I have witnessed, I am highly skeptical of the fact that humans are creating more biomass than they are destroying. Furthermore, all the “life” maintained by humans is for their own exclusive use and is not in thermodynamic balance, unlike natural life.

  211. Robin Johnson:

    Re#164:

    Dave-

    I suspect strongly you know better and are just yanking chains. But things are not so simple.

    Plants require what? Sunlight, water, CO2, nitrogen (either fixed as nitrates or the ability to manufacture said nitrates from ambient nitrogen), iron, phosphorus and some other trace elements. Depending on adaptation of species they require certain temperature ranges, special germination conditions, etc. Depending on leaf and stem structure, plants can tolerate freezing and heating. Some can’t do either, some can do one or the other and some can do both. Try to grow lettuce in the summer in Georgia – you get nothing it dies. Duh. Try growing any number of tropical plants in Alberta. They can’t survive the winter. Duh.

    The key point (I think mentioned earlier) is WATER and soil. Las Vegas is green only because heat tolerant plants are grown with TONS of water from reservoirs of Colorado river water – which are being depleted rather rapidly actually. Oops. Anyway, with enough water, you can keep the plants cool – because the excess heat evaporates the water keeping the ground cool and of course providing the necessary water to the plants. Without the water, the heat tolerant plants other than stuff like cacti die from the heat and drying of the soil (which are closely related). So UNLESS, global warming produces more rainfall (so far the models say not enough to balance the additional evaporation)- many areas are going to become drier and plants are going to die from the heat and lack of water.

    So, yes, Crabgrass loves warmth, doesn’t have high nutrient or water demands. Looks like crap and can’t take the cold. Kentucky bluegrass dies quickly and pitifully even with a lot of water in 90 degree heat. Looks really nice and very cold tolerant.

    More warmth, means more plants? Nice analogy if the amount of extra warmth is not too much. Humans require iron. Too much, you die. Too little, you die. Humans require salt. Too much, you die. Too little, you die. Humans require dihydrogen monoxide. Too much, you die. Too little, you die. Etc. Etc. Same for plants. Too much water, plant dies. Too little, plant dies. Too much sunlight, plant dies. Too little, plant dies. Etc. Etc.

    PS Death Valley – even if watered wouldn’t grow anything – too much salt.

  212. Hank Roberts:

    > condescending

    You asked, sir. I offered answers that are standard business practice.

    If you don’t know this from your own experience you can inquire of any reputable CPA or tax advisor who knows how to handle rental property matters.

    I haven’t asked if you’re speaking from experience as a landlord. Care to tell us if you have any personal experience with what you are claiming?

    Don’t get caught up in the argument that created the phrase “royalist libertarian” — yes, there are some forms of political theory under which, supposedly, it’s impossible to own and improve property and rent it, or farm it, or otherwise take care of it. It’s stuff that never made much sense to me.

    I know — in practice — most people do take care of property and improve it. I don’t have to love the property system or the tax system or the banking system or whatever else society’s done, I just get to live in it.

    Since I often see chances to improve little things — like adding insulation, or putting topsoil back on damaged land — I try doing it. It works. Then the CPAs and tax people find ways to interpret doing good as financially smart, and keep me financially solvent. Funny, but it works.

    Try it. You really can make little differences in the world — doing things that your theory may tell you will impoverish you — like taking care of property, improving the lot of tenants, preserving a farm — and your tax preparer can find ways to use to actually make you — as well as others — better off.

    Really. Theory can be paralyzing. Practice may actually succeed.

  213. Dick Veldkamp:

    Re Energy use of China #196 BJC

    You state that China uses “3 billion MW” of electricity (= 3 PW = 3e15 W). I think you don’t have the right order of magnitude here. WORLD energy use is 15 TW = 15.000.000 MW, world electricity use 2.400.000 MW.

    China consumes 2 kW/head = ca 2.500.000 MW (1/6 of the world demand at present), and Chinese electric capacity is 300 GW = 300.000 MW.

  214. nicolas L.:

    Re: 190, 192, 193, 194, 199

    Thank you for your answers,

    I’d like to make a little comment. Recognizing the catastrophe Chernobyl has been and still is for millions of people in Europe (specially in Belarus and Ukraine) doesn’t mean considering nuclear energy as a dead end. I hear a lot of nuclear proponents systematically diminishing the scale and effects of Chernobyl, if not denying them. But denying a fact doesn’t make it disappear, people here at RC know that more than anyone. If nuclear proponents were explaining the consequences of Chernobyl clearly, explaining what happened, why it happened, and what are the effects of it, then they would gain much more confidence from the audience. Instead of that, European populations have been more and more suspicious and resistant vis-a-vis Nuclear power during the 2 last decades, due to this lack of communication and the quasi systematic underestimation of the impacts of Chernobyl.
    I’m not a very big fan of nuclear myself, but still I recognize that in a context of AGW and of a phase out of use of CO2 based energy, nuclear based energy will be a necessary tool. Chernobyl catastrophe was mainly due to an old model reactor, which was used for hazardous experimental purpose and managed by a non-qualified team (and specially a reduced team the night of the catastrophe), and the risks of the same kind of catastrophe happening again are almost zero. But it happened once and it shouldn’t be erased from history for convenience.
    I personally use this 2006 European report as my main source of information about Chernobyl:
    http://www.greens-efa.org/cms/default/dok/118/118729.the_other_report_on_chernobyl_torch@en.htm
    It’s a critical analysis of the WHO/IAEA published in 2005, mainly based on the same data.

    Ok, I will stop this big digression here, sorry for not being that much in the philosophy subject :). Keep up the good work here at RC

  215. Craig Allen:

    Social philosophy?:

    Two conceptual models are important tools to the Social Change sector of the Environmental Management Community in Australia. I’m not sure if they rate as philosophies, but they are worth pondering.

    One is the Seven doors model, which I have used in efforts to conserve wetlands in urban and rural landscapes.

    The other is the conservatism – innovation bell curve.

    In the bell curve concept:

    1) You define your challenge.
    (I’ll use climate change to illustrate the concept. It’s a good example of a challenge that in one way or another will affect everybody. And I’ll accept the IPCC definition of the problem, it’s cause, it’s implications, and the importance to do something about it.)

    2) You consider all the attitudes that people have to the challenge.

    3) You rank everyone on a continuum from
    …A) Outright disbelief and hostility to the idea of accepting and mitigating the problem, through to
    …B) conviction that the problem must be dealt with immediately, along with an intent to take part in immediate action to mitigate it.

    4) Now imagine the following:

    A) Draw a bell curve shape where the horizontal axis represents the range of the possible rankings.
    (A bell curve looks like a cross section through a hill with a big bulge in the center and thinning to nothing at the edges. There is a picture of one here.)

    B) The bulge at the center represents the bulk of the community, the thin wedge to the left represents the extreme denialist-antagonists and the thin edge to the right represents the extreme action-mitigationists.

    C) Now divide the bell-curve into seven vertical slices.

    These slices are the following community sectors in relation to response to climate change:

    i) The proactive innovators (a small segment at the right of the curve)
    – These people are convinced there is a serious problem and are making an active effort to find and implement solutions, and to convince everyone else that they should do the same.

    ii) The motivated progressives (A segment that consists of about 5 to 20% of the right of the bell curve.)
    – They are convinced and want to get on with solutions.
    – They are eagerly waiting for the the proactive innovators develop solutions and get them to work, whereupon they will be quick to take them up and prove that they can work.

    iii) The early majority (The segment takes up the remainder of the right side of the bell curve to the center of the hump.)
    – They are relatively quick to become convinced of, and concerned about, the problem.
    – But are somewhat reluctant to make the effort to go out and implement the solutions until a sizable number of other people demonstrate that the solutions work and are definitely worth the costs and effort.

    iv) The late majority (Most of the left half of the curve)
    – They are slow to be convinced that the problem is real, or that the proposed solutions are worth the cost and effort.
    – However, once the early majority have come on board with mitigation, this group will go with the flow, even if somewhat reluctantly, because being conservative, they like being with the majority.

    v) The extreme recalcitrants. (Over on the extreme left wedge)
    – They won’t change come hell or high water.
    – Once everyone else has moved on the issue, these people end up being isolated. (These are the people who end up being reported by their neighbors for unconscionable behavior.)

    The neat thing about thinking of it this way, is that it lets you realise that you don’t have to convince everyone and get them acting all at once. Work it from right to left. It’s a snow-ball effect. A cascade of change and action runs through the population. We can see this in progress with the climate change challenge. And over on the right side of that bell-curve there is a growing momentum of people pushing for change, and that with any luck this will bring around a profound change far more quickly than we fear. Hopefully the change it will be soon enough and effective enough to save us from the worst of this.

    Also, you can plot countries in the same way – some are vanguard mitigationists, others are die-hard recalcitrants, most are somewhere in between and steadily moving in the more prudent direction.

    Based on the people you know, and what the media is reporting, what proportion of your community is likely to be in each of those sectors? What proportion of the politicians are in each sector? Where I live, I don’t think that we are far from the point where the early majority of both the public and our leaders start to become involved in an effective manner.

  216. Onar Aam:

    Re 172:

    Fergus,

    I don’t think EPA vs Mass was a test. From the little I know about the case it was not argued very well, missing out on important avenues that undercuts climate science. If the people were represented by the top lawyers presenting the case in full strength there is no chance of victory for the prosecution.

    “Your uncertainties are interesting; they are all about the future.”

    No, they are not. Only the first point (future technology) is really uncertainty inherently future oriented. All the rest relates to uncertainties in the CURRENT state of the sciences. Let me give you an example. In 1979 a NAS panel on climate change estimated the climate sensitivity to be 1.5-4.5 C, based on a simple computer model that could run on your laptop today. Today 30 years later that sensitivity has essentially not changed. What does this mean? It means that climate science has learnt nothing in the last 30 years to reduce uncertainty. Why? Because even the best possible computer model in the world is not going to change the fact that we do not understand water vapor and clouds, the two main features of the atmosphere. In fact, all these climate models obscure the fact that they are trying to squeeze information out of noise. Where there is no data there is no data, and no amount of climate modeling is going to change that.

    “On the future emission of CO2; already, CO2-equivalent WMGHG levels are very close to 450ppm.”

    That may be, but methane has leveled off and CO2 is not growing as fast as it “should” according to carbon cycle models. Most of the carbon appears to be going into the ocean (Sabine 2004) which seriously questions our current understanding of the oceans’ ability to absorb CO2.

    “There is absolutely no chance of emissions of these stopping overnight.”

    Well, they could stop very fast. If for instance the scandalous de facto ban of nuclear energy was lifted emissions could drop radically very fast.

    “if BAU, then levels, then warming; the logic is straightforward.”

    The logic is flawed. It could easily be argued that if BAU, then CO2 will fall faster.

    “As things stand, the evidence is increasingly that the sinks are not adjusting fast enough, and are more likely to reduce in efficiency than increase, therefore, any uncertainty is likely to strengthen the case for action, not weaken it.”

    What do you mean “not changing fast enough”? Never heard of the missing carbon sink? For 30 years scientists were perplexed why the sinks kept growing and why they still do. Now we know why. The oceans have an enormous capacity to absorb CO2 and continues to do so at an increasing rate.

    “Future climate change resulting from CO2 changes is quite well-constrained if you want to think of temperature (sensitivity is ~3C).”

    Most empirical calculations of climate sensitivity places it in the vicinity of 0.3 to 0.6 C. Long term sensitivity appears to be around 0,5-1,5 C. There is only one single piece of empirical evidence in favor of a high sensitivity (3 C) and that is the ice ages. This however is called into question by the newly discovered fact that the Milankovitch theory is partly false and that instead the ice ages are driven by variations in the sun itself. This dramatically reduces climate sensitivity.

    “Other changes are harder to predict, which is one of the reasons to worry.”

    Here we go again with the presumption of guilt.

    “Future damage is dependent on how you measure damage.”

    Agreed. Today, for some reason the IPCC insists on ONLY measuring the consequences of fossil fuels relating to climate. This excludes 95-99% of the effect of fossil fuels: to create wealth, eliminate poverty, disease, hunger, death and damages due to climate disasters. Obviously you’re going to increase the chance of finding damage if you remove out all the direct positive effects of fossil fuels.

    “I have seen no peer-reviewed paper of any description which suggests that the global consequence of a warming of 2C or more will be beneficial; perhaps you can provide a reference to one.”

    I have seen a lot of litterature that shows that fossil fuels save lives and create wealth and progress. I highly recommend “Capitalism: Treatise on Economics” by George Reisman. (www.capitalism.net)

    “If you don’t accept this, then of course the response is unfair. If you do accept this, then the question is to what extent you are willing to allow your individual desires to be superceded by a greater humanitarian need.”

    To me it’s the other way around. How willing are you to combat man made climate change with poverty and death?

    “Your final comment is simply an insult to climate scientists. Rather than assume that they produce what politicians want them to, you need to recognise that they are producing what the scientific analysis shows them.”

    On this blog I cannot go into the specifics about that comment, but let me just say that there is another place where this is greatly substantiated by diligent people who audit climate science. But since you are concerned with insults, perhaps you would like to comment on the people who try to discredit the skeptic scientists with where they receive their funding (some of which is the fossil fuel industry). Do you consider this insulting and behavior that has no place in a scientific debate?

    “If you don’t trust the science, then any discussion of consequences or costs is effectively meaningless, as you will not accept anything which counts as evidence in the real world.”

    Oh, I trust the science, I just don’t trust the science of the promoters of AGW. And from what you state you obviously don’t trust the science either. You don’t trust some of the top scientists in the world who questions the AGW hypothesis. Does this mean that you do not accept anything which counts as evidence in the real world?

    I find it interesting that you don’t even acknowledge the fact that there is a heated scientific debate and that the uncertainties are huge depending on who’s right.

  217. pete best:

    PEAK OIL AND GAS by DR JAMES HANSEN

    Maybe real climate will be interested in this article written by a European Energy specialist who has covered James Hansens recent work on peak fossil fuels and climate change. It would appear that the IPCC is in error regarding available energy reserves:

    http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/2559

  218. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[ One would be hard presed to come up with a worse scenario–at least and still remain firmly rooted on the real axis. ]]

    I always liked the “Apollo Syndrome” idea — core melts down through the bottom of the plant, hits the water table, and a steam explosion sends it flying. It probably can’t happen, but if it did, it would likely be worse than Chernobyl.

  219. Barton Paul Levenson:

    [[The booming economies of China and India are making great progress bringing people out of miserable poverty. I want to see that continue, not end.]]

    Well, all we AGW types want to see it end, since we’re all complete racists and haters of the poor.

    [[Note that severe effects from AGW are not likely to occur until these people can afford to adapt and advanced research gives us reasonably cheap non-GHG energy. ]]

    Severe effects are already occurring (ask the Australians), and we can have cheap non-GHG energy now if we make the decision as a society to switch over to it.

  220. Fergus Brown:

    #208, 216: Steve Reynolds; Your reply raises more issues than can comfortably be dealt with briefly. This is a very short (not intended to be rude) response: I suspect you are underestimating China’s capacity both to develop and pay for alternative energy sources if it so chooses; here, it probably boils down to economics rather than capability. India is an interesting case study. it looks as if there are a great many small-scale non-GHG projects which are developing to provide local energy needs all around the sub-continent. This is a different way to approach the problem of energy supply, and seems to have valuable lessons for us, too; rather than depend on a massive grid/network/ industry to supply all (at a profit), instead have many and various localised sources providing for collective use and benefit.

    Onar: whew, you’ve really made an effort! I’ll do my best to respond to you, on the assumption that these are your thoughts and not simply borrowed from someone else.

    On EPA vs Mass. You can’t have it both ways; you wanted the case tried in court; it was; the sceptics lost. Now you say it wasn’t a good example. How can I win?

    All of your comments about uncertainty used the word ‘future’ in them. Would it not be reasonable then to assume that this was what you were talking about?

    If the 1979 report said 1.5-4.5C, and the IPCC AR4 says 1.5-4.5C, and most of the other reports in between say 1.5-4.5C, what can we infer? That the NAS 1979 report was about right; the later research and development has supported the conclusions they came to then. Assuming from this that there has been no development in climate science does not even merit discussion.

    There has been more recent material published since Sabine (2004) ( a paper I don’t know). I’m not sure where you get the ‘CO2 is not growing as fast as it should’ from: the levels of atmospheric CO2 continue to rise. By 2040 we’ll have 450ppm of CO2 and 500+ppm equivalent, even with mitigation. Not enough is being absorbed; it’s still getting into the atmosphere. You are simply incorrect that the oceans can be relied on to continue absorbing all the necessary excess CO2 indefinitely.

    On cutting emissions. Even building several hundred nuclear power plants would take ten-fifteen years at least, and still would need other energy sources. The cost of building these is huge; they only work when a coherent long-term policy supports their adoption, and where subsidy is provided to defer the costs of construction away from the costs on the energy produced for a long enough time. This doesn’t mean I am ‘anti-nuclear'; I suspect this will be an important part of the solution to CC; but it’s not as straightforward as you make it out to be.

    On climate sensitivity: your numbers refer to what? Whatever their reference or source, there are a range of reasons why you will find most scientists disagreeing with the implicit assumptions you make about this.

    Briefly, on the comment about the ‘presumption of guilt': you are persisting in referring to this as if the ‘trial’ is still under way. It’s over. We know what dunnit.

    I’ll not comment on the IPCC’s WGIII: let’s just say that we might not disagree on some of this.

    I’ll not argue with you that wealth generation is beneficial. Of course it is, in all sorts of ways. Historically, fossil fuels have played their part in this. But this does not mean that wealth and benefit depend on fossil fuels; they do not. There are many ways to generate similar benefits without recourse to oil or coal. The problem we have at the moment relates to scale and energy production needs, but we’re in danger of going round in circles on this.

    On your ‘diligent auditors'; you don’t have to be coy about websites which deal with sceptical responses to climate science; they are all well known on RC. On discrediting skeptics; sometimes, as has been said before, the source of someone’s income may inform otherwise neutral readers about an individual’s motives for reaching certain conclusions, but you are right that these are largely an irrelevance; bad science is bad science whoever does it. Who pays the piper has relevance in political discussions, if not climate ones. On RC, you’ll find most of the critiques deal with the science.

    You suugest I don’t trust the science of some of the top scientists in the world who question AGW; please be more specific. I have a great deal of respect for individuals such as Hans von Storch and Roger Pielke Sr., for example. Steve McIntyre is a nice bloke, even if his website is populated by baboons and he’s not really a climate scientist, is he? Svensmark is doping some interesting work on GCRs; at the stage it is at, it doesn’t really challenge the AGW hypothesis. Neither, actually do any of the respected people I have mentioned. They have issues with certain things. I would argue, then that I do accept evidence; I don’t accept false witness or bad science; and that cuts both ways.

    You are absolutely right that I do not acknowledge that there is a huge scientific debate, because there isn’t. not at least, about AGW. When I publish my paper (hopefully), soon, you will understand why I feel I have some authority for saying this.

    You challenges have been interesting and important; I hope our debate has helped you consider you opinions in a different light. I apologise to those regulars on RC, for whom this might be an irrelevance and therefore dull.

    Regards,

  221. biffvernon:

    Here’s an important article about the implications of â��Peak Oilâ�� for atmospheric CO2 and climate:
    http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/2559

  222. tamino:

    Re: #216 (Onar Aam)

    Oh, I trust the science, I just don’t trust the science of the promoters of AGW. And from what you state you obviously don’t trust the science either. You don’t trust some of the top scientists in the world who questions the AGW hypothesis. Does this mean that you do not accept anything which counts as evidence in the real world?

    I find it interesting that you don’t even acknowledge the fact that there is a heated scientific debate and that the uncertainties are huge depending on who’s right

    Substitute “evolution” for “AGW,” and you’ll know my opinion of your opinion.

  223. Hank Roberts:

    Onar, you’ve got to give cites —- deal with facts — even when they undercut what you want to believe.
    Philiosophy is nice for general global belief statements. But say where the facts come from for your beliefs.

    This for example, you’d said it above, it fits what you want to cling to, I’m sure you want to believe it:

    >The oceans have an enormous capacity to absorb CO2 and continues to do so at an increasing rate.

    Nice idea, very attractive. But like all beliefs, when there’s a bottom line that has to add up, you can look this one up —and should. The accounting system may have changed since last year, or the science may have come in from the field work and done the math and published. You have to read the _current_ science. Your ‘audit’ site friends are focused on the early work done decades ago, as though science had ‘founders’ —- but old work is gone. Look forward, look at contemporary science.

    Check your ideas. Like that one, just for example:
    Here:
    http://www.scenta.co.uk/Nature/1698832/climate-change-affects-southern-ocean-carbon-sink.htm
    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2007GBioC..21B1010M

  224. bjc:

    #213
    You are absolutely correct – the source said 2.55 billion MW and probably meant MWh. I double checked and found a more official source.

    “By the end of 2004, China’s capacity was 442 million kw, or 51 million kw more than 2003.

    An NDRC forecast estimates capacity to increase to nearly 800 million kilowatts in 2010, when supply and demand will be basically balanced, and the proportion of clean energy, such as nuclear power and hydropower, will account for 35 percent of the country’s generated electricity. ”

    http://english.people.com.cn/200609/03/eng20060903_299269.html

    Even with this huge correction, the point remains that alternative sources of power generation in China contibute but a minute fraction to the overall generating capacity.

    I understand the complexities of orchestrating major capital investment initiatives in rapidly developing economies. However, in a few short years China has developed a viable space program. The capital investment requirements and technology requirements are significantly lower than required to jump start or underwrite an alternative power generation industry. The fundamental point is that generating reliable power from alternative energy sources is far far more complex and uncertain than building a nuclear power plant or a self sustaining energy efficient home. China’s slow adoption of such sources reflects these complexities and unknowns.

    At the same time, for the spirited entrepreneur, IMHO the time is right to make a killing and help save the planet at the same time. The China example suggests that nobody should rely on the government to do this.

  225. bjc:

    Hank:
    That you chose to be in some way altruistic is great: You choose to pay.

    I am very familiar with the dynamics of real estate ownership. My point was more along the lines of how public policy ultimately gets set. For example, we can give meaningful tax breaks to landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their properties but this will require some underwriting by other tax payers. Now you can give tax breaks to homeowners wishing to add alternative technologies to their homes — but again somebody else ends up paying and we get a tax system that is open to increased opportunities for avoidance, etc. Ultimately there are the questions of “Who pays” and “Who chooses”.
    As for my personal situation – I like you take care of and invest in what I have. Like you, I choose and I pay.

  226. Dick Veldkamp:

    #216 Trust the science? (Onar Aam)

    [I find it interesting that you don’t even acknowledge the fact that there is a heated scientific debate and that the uncertainties are huge depending on who’s right.]

    There is no “heated debate” at all about the basics (present GW is real and manmade; temperature is going up by 2 C or so in this century; climate change is generally bad and we’d better do something about it; the sooner we start the less costly it will be).

    If you deny these facts (yes, facts!) in the face of all the evidence, debate is useless.

  227. Ray Ladbury:

    Re: 207 Steve, A couple of articles:
    Alley, R. B., J. Marotzke, W. D. Nordhaus, J. T. Overpeck, D. M. Peteet, R. A. Pielke Jr., R. T. Pierrehumbert, P. B. Rhines, T. F. Stocker, L. D. Talley, and J. M. Wallace, 2003: Abrupt climate change. Science 299, 2005-2020

    Crowley, T. J., 2002: Cycles, cycles everywhere. Science, 295, 1473-1474.

    The fact of the matter is that the past 10000 years have shown very mild variability by paleoclimatic standards–and it also happens to be the only era in which we’ve had agriculture.

  228. John L. McCormick:

    RE # 216, Onar, you said:

    [Oh, I trust the science, I just don’t trust the science of the promoters of AGW. And from what you state you obviously don’t trust the science either. You don’t trust some of the top scientists in the world who questions the AGW hypothesis]

    This is my image of your statement:

    ….you are driving down the breakdown lane of the Long Island Expressway, at rush hour, and travelling against the traffic flow. All those cars speeding past you are scientists, corporate CEOs, elected leaders of nations, the US national intelligence community, editorial writers, petroleum producers, agricultural research scientists, religious leaders, fishermen, bird watchers and about 86 percent of Americans all of whom trust that the science is pointing towards a warming world and the consequences of that.

    Then there is you and the contrarians.

    Hold on to your beliefs, if you must.

    Just stay in your lane and out of their way.

  229. Smokeysmom:

    It seems to me that if both the scientific and general news media report that the current warming period is accelerating more rapidly than was predicted and/or modeled by CLIMATE scientists and researchers, and ditto arctic (incl. Greenland) and antarctic ice is melting more rapidly than was predicted and/or modelded by those same dedicated people, then it is futile to argue the point any longer or to make specious remarks about it and throw in a math formula or two (just to let us know you can do it). Crude oil is the starting point of many products, such as plastics and synthetic fabrics, not just automotive products and heating/cooking products. If the oil and gas industry publications, which have varying opinions by knowledgeable geologists, can forecast a limited supply, then your arguments are moot and Roger Daltry’s comment is more perspicacious than you realize.
    This planet is all we’ve got. We have remodeled and re-engineered it to suit our needs and tastes — go look at a city dump and argue with me. The human population is currently too high for the planet’s resources to continue to support us as we currently live, and we are setting ourselvse up for our own extinction.
    We are all eating at the same table, but no one has paid any attention when the waiter says the kitchen is about out of ham and eggs. Instead, you’re all arguing about how to serve them and who will pay for them. Not once, in any of the arguments or comments preceding this article, or any others on this website, has even one of you conceded that we have no control over this climate change other than to stop using fossil fuels to reduce the carbon bank in the air and water. The southern Atlantic ocean is so acidified that plankton are unable to form calcium shells.
    There are regular bouts of cooling in warming periods, and regular bouts of warming in cold periods — look at those time and temperature charts occasionally. This particular warming period has so far lasted 18,000 years, including the bobbles of cold during the Younger Dryas and 1816, the “year without a summer” which succeeded the eruption of Tambora in 1815. The shortest warming period (including glitches of cold) in the last 600,000 years was the Aftonian. That lasted 30,000 years. The longest warming period was the Waalian, which lasted 70,000. We are, so far, only 18,000 years into this one and no one is asking the most important question: HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HUMANS HAVE LEFT?

  230. FurryCatHerder:

    Re #216:

    To me it’s the other way around. How willing are you to combat man made climate change with poverty and death?

    That’s a false dichotomy.

    Yes, it’s true that cheap and abundant power results in the creation of wealth, improved standards of living, life savings, reduction of disease, and a wealth of other positive benefits.

    It’s not true that shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy cannot create the same benefits. Indeed, with all the energy that’s available from renewable sources — far, far greater than what’s current installed from non-renewable sources — and with the economies of scale that have yet to be realized, renewable energy promises more of the good things and fewer of the bad things.

    Dependence on fossil energy is a form of addiction, and continued belief that only fossil energy can meet our needs a form of denial.

    Utility scale renewable energy production is being built TODAY. If built in a decentralized manner, it offers to make electricity available in parts of the world where electricity is not presently available. With no need for fuel, there is no need for fuel delivery and the infrastructure that requires.

  231. Ray Ladbury:

    Well, Onar, thank you for providing comic relief. You keep alluding to all these “top scientists” who question anthropogenic causation of climate change. So where are they? Who are they? What have they published recently on the subject of climate?
    {crickets chirping}
    Onar, do you even know any scientists? Have you ever talked to any of the people who do climat science? First off, do you really think that any of them would pass up the chance for fame and glory that they would gain if they were able to show that all of their colleagues were wrong and only they were right? Do you really think that any of them couldn’t walk off into a hedge fund office and ask for a job and pull down about 10 times what they are making now? Do you really think these guys would sell their integrity–not to mention risking their careers–for the paltry amount they receive in grants?
    So, Onar, what’s in it for all these evil scientists who are colluding in this vast conspiracy? What exactly do they get out of it? And if there are so many “top scientists,” who oppose the consensus, then why the hell aren’t they publishing their findings? Even Richard Lindzen concedes we are changing the climate–he just contends that some magical negative feedback mechanism will save us.
    The truth, Onar, is that there are mountains of evidence supporting anthropogenic causation, and butkis refuting it. Now, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you lack a science background and so cannot interpret this evidence, but the scientific community does not share your ignorance. That is why the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Physics and just about every other responsible scientific body has adopted a resolution expressing concern over climate change.

    Or maybe you can direct me to some peer-reviewed scientific journal where your putative “heated scientific debate” is taking place.

    {Crickets chirping}

    Didn’t think so.

  232. Hank Roberts:

    >altruism

    No. Wrong word, important misunderstanding.

    Choosing to save enough seed for the next harvest isn’t “altruism”
    Choosing not to dump waste downstream isn’t “altruism”

    Don’t fall for the notion that money is the way to understand how the world works.
    “Who pays” follows long after “what keeps us alive that we’ve been getting for free and how do we not break it.”

    Don’t dismiss any consideration beyond short term profit by calling it altruism.

    There are no altruists in ecosystems.

  233. bjc:

    #216
    Onar there are many reasonable and intelligent observers (certainly not “baboons” as someone so gratuitiously remarked) who see the case of catastrophic AGW as “not proven”. Given the cost of the public policies to address catastrophic AGW it behooves all of us to make sure the “facts” are indeed “facts”. There are a lot of stakeholders in this debate – both pro and con and the need for healthy skepticism remains essential.

  234. Rod B:

    John, are you sure all the speeders aren’t, like the lemmings heading for the cliff, going hellbent for leather to the world’s biggest pothole — in the LIE??

  235. J.S. McIntyre:

    re: #211

    “PS Death Valley – even if watered wouldn’t grow anything – too much salt.”

    You should see the photos my wife brought back from DV of the flowers blooming a couple of years back after a heavy rainfall.

    Better yet:

    http://www.montereybay.com/creagrus/CA-DVMar05.html

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7182113/

    Kidding aside, the salt issue is part of the problem Australians are facing (along with drought, relatively nutrient-poor soil and so forth). In Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” he puts forth the figure of 200 lbs of salt belowground for every square yard. As a result, too much rain or irrigation water will wash the salt into the water table, causing more problems for an increasingly water-starved continent.

    Why bring this up? One of the popular straw man arguments you hear coming from the denialist camp is that even if global warming changes things, we’ll just move our agricultural industries to different locations. But what this straw man ignores – purposely, of course – is that a “wetter, hotter” climate does not necessarily translate into better growing seasons (assuming there would be the necessary stability in seasonal weather patterns to match what we’ve seen through history). Australia provides ample evidence of why.

    #75, 103. Thank you for those posts. I think they are in many ways two of the more realistic assessments of what we’re facing, and I feel that until the world as a whole learns to understand the sentiments expressed within them and the loss they communicate that we’re never going address this thing in a timely or adequate fashion.

  236. nicolas L.:

    Hello all, Iâ??d like to share with you an info published this morning in “Le Monde” (for those who donâ??t know about it, itâ??s the equivalent of the New York Times in France).

    Sorry for the rough translation:
    “According to an American study (M. Chris Field, director of the department of world ecology at Carnegie Institution, is credited for it) the growth rate of releases of CO2 from 2000 to 2004 (3,1%) has tripled compared to the nineties (1,1%), surpassing the worst case scenarios built by IPCC. This acceleration of releases is mostly due to Fast Growing economies like China and India”

    As anyone heard about this study and those quite frightening results here? Ok, Maybe this is not a good comment for this topic, but Iâ??d be glad if some people can confirm or infirm this.

    Thanks a lot

  237. Paul M:

    Actually, humans are on the right track scientifically, we took a wrong turn when we took the atom theory and went with it. We went down the wrong road and for a long, long time. Its all about light. We should be navigating the universe right about now, instead, all we can do is quabble over this internet. One of these days we will work things out. Here’s a suggestion for the average non-scientific person, even though it sounds new age. Take what you see, which is actually reflected light, and match it up with your thoughts (what you believe that light is capable of) and be ready for a small paradigm change. Light has many properties we don’t even know about yet, and the human brain is amenable to these. if you like the atom, go with the atom. But remember, This may be a wrong road, light may actually be the answer to this all. Just my opinion.

  238. Philippe Chantreau:

    For all the it’s-too-expensive argumenters out there. Check today’s online NYT article about Ray Anderson. He decreased GHG emissions (by weight) 60%, got water use down to 1/3 of what it was and reduced energy use by 45% if I remember right. Meanwhile, sales are up 49% and he saved money from day 1 of going toward a more sustainable route. It is feasible and it does make economic sense.

  239. James:

    Re 211: [Las Vegas is green only because heat tolerant plants are grown with TONS of water from reservoirs of Colorado river water…]

    Actually there’s another reason: you can hire people to come around and dye your brown grass green. And the nice blue water features owe a lot to dye, too :-)

  240. Dave Blair:

    #211 Robin Johnson, or #210 Philippe Chantreau,

    Thank you for your replies

    Please explain if global warming is creating more droughts and is bad for plants then why is food production still increasing – for example, rice production has increased 3 times since 1960?

  241. J.S. McIntyre:

    re: 237

    Your comment reminds me (not that I’m suggesting this is your intent; I’m just using your comments as a springboard here) of another popular straw man argument: that no matter what happens, we’ll find a way to cope, the example of the claim that the future will see better agricultural practices and advances in the science behind agriculture coming readily to mind.

    What these science prognosticators tend to ignore is that there are no such “guarantees”.

    If you doubt this even for a moment, I recommend you review the history of atomic energy, in particular the area of harnessing Fusion to power the world’s energy needs. The solution always seemed to be “around the corner.”

    Seventy or so years later, no results yet. Instead we’re discussing what to do with all this radioactive material left lying about from the fission reactors we’ve been using.

    Or, as they say in the financial industry, past results are NOT an indicator of future performance.

  242. Rod B:

    Ray, et al: just my periodic monkey-in-the-wrench logic assessment: Peer review publishing is a good and reasonably fair process for getting (mostly) credible scientific works out there. But it isn’t ultimate, no where near perfect, and certainly not the iconic ritual figure you’re (all) making it. It does a pretty decent job overall, but is splattered with numerous shenanigans, possibly starting with Newton’s stifling of Leibniz’ work on calculus. When the “herd of independent minds” form a consensus that acts like a mob, it often gets very difficult for any contrarian to get anything published, let alone become some ‘overnight hero with popular support and riches’ (where did that come from??!!??) It’s a good process but ain’t the absolute end-all. The more your ritual tries to make it so just detracts (probably unfairly…) from your own credibility — except, of course, from other members of the religion.

    [Are college textbooks peer reviewed?]

  243. Dick Veldkamp:

    #236 Alarming study, CO2 growth 3% yearly

    According to my newspaper, this study is to be published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” next Monday. I couldn’t find the study on the web yet.

  244. Leonard Evens:

    Re 233 and “not proven”

    You make the usual mistake of climate skeptics. You think of making changes in emissions of greenhouse gases as perturbing a status quo. You ignore the fact that the physical status quo of the Earth’s atmosphere is being perturbed by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. Physically, the status quo would be to stop emitting greenhosue gases entirely, study the situation and then see what is appropriate.

  245. Jim Eager:

    You really have to wonder about non-scientist skeptics who come here to argue about the science of climate change with actual climate scientists.

    Talk about deer in the headlights. :)

  246. Robin Johnson:

    Re #235: LOL I hadn’t seen that. Nature is amazing. In my defense, the article does note that, of course, the flats are all salt…

    Re #238: ROFL I had forgotten about lawn dyes.

    Take Care

  247. bjc:

    Jim:
    With an atitude like that you want me to trust climate scientists like you? Talk about hubris. This thread originated with questions of ethics and science and seemed to be an open forum. Is there a particular assertion by a non-scientist with which you take issue?

  248. Rod B:

    236: Was that a PEER REVIEWED STUDY???? If not it’ll never get past Ray, Hank, et al.

    btw, are Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences peer reviewed in the strict definition???

  249. Robert Madison:

    “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. That seems to be the overwhelming “ethical” stance of the global warming doom and gloom crowd. However, there are many of us who fear the rise of eco-religious socialism far more than global warming. We’ve already seen many times the economic, human, and environmental harm done by totalitarian governments who decide what is right for the masses. We prefer free people and free markets and feel that an ounce of prevention at stopping the out-of-control global warming doom and gloom is worth a pound of cure later when we are locked in a totalitarian, world socialist government.

    Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they are unethical.

  250. Rod B:

    btw, the Chris Field study can be found at: http://www.carnegieinstitution.org/news_releases/news_2007_0521a.html

  251. George Morrison:

    #236, 239
    The paper and supporting materials is available at
    http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/ACTIVITIES/PNAS_May07/PNAS_Article_May07.html
    This is the actual paper:
    http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/ACTIVITIES/PNAS_May07/TrendsInCO2Emissions.V15.pdf
    Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions: Global economy more carbon intensive, not less
    “A new analysis shows that carbon intensity in the world economy is increasing. While emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) are accelerating worldwide, we are gaining fewer economic benefits from each tonne of fossil fuel burned. A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that CO2 emissions increased by 1.1 % per year through the 1990s but the rate of increase jumped to 3 % per year in the 2000s.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2007.

    Decent synopsis here:
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0522/p01s03-wogi.htm
    Quote: The Global Carbon Project study held two surprises for everyone involved, Field says. “The first was how big the change in emissions rates is between the 1990s and after 2000.” The other: “The number on carbon intensity of the world economy is going up.”

  252. Steve Reynolds:

    Barton Paul Levenson 219> Well, all we AGW types want to see it end, since we’re all complete racists and haters of the poor.

    While of course those are not the motives, the wrong policies, even if well-intended, can have the same effect as if those were the motives.

    BPL> …we can have cheap non-GHG energy now if we make the decision as a society to switch over to it.

    Why does society need to make a decision? If you can generate non-GHG electricity for the price using coal, I will buy as much as you are willing to sell.

  253. ray ladbury:

    Re 252.
    Steve Reynolds said, “Why does society need to make a decision? If you can generate non-GHG electricity for the price using coal, I will buy as much as you are willing to sell.”

    Or rather YOU will pay the down payment and leave the real cost to your children and grandchildren.

  254. ray ladbury:

    Robert Madison, do you really think people here are advocating totalitarian government? I’ve been coming here for a couple of years, and have read no such advocacy. Totalitarian government usually arises when people are faced with a crisis they feel is out of control. The best way to avoid such crises getting out of control is to take control of them early. You did not dispute that the climate is changing or that humans are causing it. So I will assume that you at least understand that the science behind that is rock solid.
    The question then becomes what we do about it. How do we as free people take control of the situation so that draconian measures are not needed down the road? What makes one immoral is not disagreement, but rather seeing a great threat and doing nothing about it.

  255. Hank Roberts:

    >the price using coal
    Including the externalized costs? You’ll pay for the carbon offsets?

    Good offer, if that’s what you mean.

  256. Fergus Brown:

    #233. 245. 247: bjc: ‘baboons’ referred specifically to a number of the inhabitants of Climate Audit, of which SMcI is not one. Many sceptics are not baboons. Some are trolls. Some are ordinary decent people trying to get the facts right.
    Ignore Jim; he speaks for himself; I have yet to communicate with a climate scientist or a well-recognised ‘sceptic’ who wasn’t at least civil, and generally concerned to express his or her opinion persuasively.

    Commenters, however, are a less restrained bunch. If you’d rather take the dialogue over to the cave, click on my name and post a comment, if you like. If you want to play on RC, you’ll have to get used to the quirks on some of the denizens of this particular patch of jungle. just don’t take it personally; I don’t.

    Regards,

  257. ray ladbury:

    Re 248: Rod, Those of us who do peer reviews don’t do it because we think it’s fun. The reason why I stress peer review is because I think it is important. The process of peer review usually involves 3 independent reviewers for each article, most of whome have at least some expertise in the area. Some reviewers set a very high threshold, while some set the bar much lower.
    To me, peer review is a threshold. It means that I think that what I have reviewed is sufficiently interesting and credible that I think it is worthy of my colleagues’ time. It also represents an opportunity to work with authors to make what they are saying more correct and more interesting. It is by no means a guarantee that the article is correct. Ultimately, that is decided by the evidence and by scientific consensus. I have heard lawyers have similar standards–the first of which is the straight-face test–if they can’t get the argument out without cracking a smile, they probably don’t want to try it in front of a jury.

  258. Jim Eager:

    Re: 247 bjc: “With an atitude like that you want me to trust climate scientists like you? Talk about hubris.”

    Don’t go assuming that I’m a climate scientist. I’m just an educated observer who is fascinated by the science of climate change and want to learn more.

    “Is there a particular assertion by a non-scientist with which you take issue?”

    There are many, and I learn a great deal by reading and observing how those who know far more about the subject than I do deal with those issues.

  259. Philippe Chantreau:

    Re 240: rice production can increase because of selection and use of varieties with a shorter cycle, increased use of fertilizers and irrigation, diverting always more water fron rivers. To my knowledge, the first factor has been the most influent in the increase you mentioned. The bulk of rice is mostly produced in tropical Asia,where the growing season lasts pretty much all year and is thereby irrelevant. It is, however, dependent on rain patterns and glacial melt.

  260. Steve Reynolds:

    “A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that CO2 emissions increased by 1.1 % per year through the 1990s but the rate of increase jumped to 3 % per year in the 2000s.”

    If emission growth rates have nearly tripled, then carbon sinks must have as well, since CO2 ppm seems unaffected:

    http://scrippsco2.ucsd.edu/images/graphics_gallery/originals/mlo_fossil_trend.pdf

  261. Rod B:

    re 257, Ray: I pretty much agree with all you say in this post. I’m not trying to denigrate the peer review process; I’m merely trying to instill a bit of precision when it is used for justification. Too often the backers unthinkingly slip their description into the panacean idol mode, which peer review isn’t.