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A bit of philosophy

Filed under: — eric @ 16 May 2007

Eric Steig and Gavin Schmidt

The two of us participated last week in an interesting meeting at the University of Washington on Ethics and Climate Change. Other scientists in attendance included Dennis Hartmann, who gave an overview of the current state of the science, and sometime RealClimate contributor Cecilia Bitz. Organized by Associate Professor of Philosophy Stephen Gardiner, the conference was dedicated to the particular ethical and moral issues raised by the spectre of anthropogenic climate change. Since we aren’t philosophers by training, and since it would probably stray too far from RealClimate’s focus on science, we won’t comment in great detail. However, we thought it worth making our readers aware that there is a very interesting and growing literature on the subject. Based on their remarks at the conference, we heartily recommend checking out the papers and commentaries written by the various philosphers, scientists, and political theorists who attended. You can get abstracts of their talks on the conference web page. Below, we simply wish to note several issues raised at the conference that we found particularly interesting.

Stephen Gardiner presented an articulate argument on the moral ramifications of geoengineering (in particular the proposal by Paul Crutzen to add sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere to increase the planetary albedo) about we have expressed some doubts previously, chiefly on scientific grounds). Among the cogent statements made by Gardiner was that while one may argue that research on geoengineering acts as a kind of insurance policy,

… there are many such policies; and there is a real concern that the narrow one of “Geoengineering Research Only” gains prominence among them only because it is the one that seems most congenial to us, the present generation.

If you are interesting in reading more, you can get the entire text of Stephen’s paper, here.

Another very interesting talk was that by Jeff Kiehl, a climate modeler at NCAR, who raised a series of ethical issues regarding how climate models are constructed and the ethical decisions that climate modelers face in conveying model results to the public. This talk prompted a lively discussion about the role of peer review, with the conclusion that the system probably works pretty well. It is imperfect, but it does act as a reasonable first filter to catch most egregious misuses of science.

Steve Schneider and one of us (Gavin) discussed the roles of public scientists and of scientists reaching out to the public and some of the pitfalls to be avoided there (see Steve’s site or this post for the kind of thing we were talking about).

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.


261 Responses to “A bit of philosophy”

  1. 51
    DocMartyn says:

    #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.

  2. 52
    Figen Mekik says:

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

  3. 53
    Hank Roberts says:

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

  4. 54
    Timothy Chase says:

    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.

  5. 55
    Timothy Chase says:

    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.

  6. 56
    FurryCatHerder says:

    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.

  7. 57
    Timothy Chase says:

    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.

  8. 58
    Keith Rogstad says:

    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.

  9. 59

    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.

  10. 60
    pat n says:

    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.

  11. 61
    Steve Reynolds says:

    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.

  12. 62
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    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.

  13. 63
    Timothy Chase says:

    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.

  14. 64
    Timothy Chase says:

    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.

  15. 65
    stuart says:

    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).

  16. 66
    Mike Donald says:

    #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

  17. 67
    Onar Ã?m says:

    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]

  18. 68
    Serinde says:

    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.

  19. 69
    beyondtool says:

    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?

  20. 70
    Chella Rajan says:

    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.”

  21. 71

    [[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.

  22. 72

    [[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.

  23. 73

    [[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.

  24. 74
    Nick Gotts says:

    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).

  25. 75
    Craig Bickle says:

    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.

  26. 76
    Terry Miesle says:

    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.

  27. 77
    Fergus Brown says:

    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?

  28. 78
    pat n says:

    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.

  29. 79
    Nick Gotts says:

    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.

  30. 80
    catman306 says:

    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.

  31. 81
    Serinde says:

    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.

  32. 82
    Chella Rajan says:

    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.

  33. 83
    Craig Allen says:

    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’.

  34. 84
    pete best says:

    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.

  35. 85
    catman306 says:

    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

  36. 86
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    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.

  37. 87
    Nick Gotts says:

    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.

  38. 88
    pete best says:

    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.

  39. 89
    Hank Roberts says:

    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

  40. 90
    James says:

    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.

  41. 91
    Jim Dukelow says:

    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.

  42. 92
    JimO says:

    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.)

  43. 93

    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

  44. 94
    Keith Rogstad says:

    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?

  45. 95
    Onar Ã?m says:

    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

  46. 96
    Keith Rogstad says:

    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?

  47. 97
    Zeke Hausfather says:

    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.

  48. 98

    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

  49. 99
    Paul Dietz says:

    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.

  50. 100
    Theo H says:

    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?


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