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Fun with correlations!

Filed under: — gavin @ 9 May 2007 - (Türkçe)

We are forever being bombarded with apparently incredible correlations of various solar indices and climate. A number of them came up in the excoriable TGGWS mockumentary last month where they were mysteriously ‘improved’ in a number of underhand ways. But even without those improvements (which variously involved changing the axes, drawing in non-existent data, taking out data that would contradict the point etc.), the as-published correlations were superficially quite impressive. Why then are we not impressed?

To give you an idea, I’m going to go through the motions of constructing a new theory of political change using techniques that have been pioneered by a small subset of solar-climate researchers (references will of course be given). And to make it even more relevant, I’m going to take as my starting point research that Richard Lindzen has highlighted on his office door for many years:



That’s right. Forget the economy or the war(s), the fortunes of the Republican party in the US Senate are instead tied closely to the sunspot cycle.

“Oh yes”, the sceptics might say “but that’s just a couple of cycles and doesn’t use up-to-date numbers. What happens after 1986?”

Well, that is a little problematic, however, the good early correlation is obviously still important (r=0.52! 1960-1986) and so we should be able to refer to it over and over again without noting that it breaks down subsequently (cf. Svensmark, 2007 referring to Marsh and Svensmark (2000)). But more importantly, it just demonstrates that the theory needs a little adjustment.

Let’s look at the second half of the record. Well, there’s another strong correlation for that period as well (r=-0.63, 1988-2006). Only this time the correlation is inverted, but that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone – solar-senator effects are complicated!

If we now put it all together, we can see that there is a reasonable match over the whole period…. well, except that break in the period 1984 and 1988 and, unfortunately, last year’s elections didn’t fit the pattern either. But 1984-1988 was Ronald Reagan’s second term and clearly no theory of Republican senators can ignore that. We therefore propose that the ‘Ronald Reagan second term phase shift’ combined with the change of sign of the Hale solar magnetic cycle in 1986, obviously changed the dynamics. This kind of phase shift is frequently seen in solar studies (cf. Landscheidt and many others), where it is rarely taken as a sign that two time series with decadal spectral power are in fact completely independent. Finally, it is permissible to leave off the more recent data points (cf. TGGWS) for “graphical convenience”. So after just a little work, we have managed to rescue the original theory to match a much longer amount of data:



Some readers may scoff and suggest that in the absence of any mechanism, these powerful correlations are numerological artifacts arrived at using post hoc fallacious reasoning that have no predictive capability. That might appear to be a valid argument. However the ultimate test will of course be experimental. On the basis of these intriguing results, we propose exposing Republican senators to varying levels of cosmic rays in a basement and monitoring their electability. Any refusal by the funding agencies or ethical review panels to support this would simply be confirmation that the political science establishment are scared of what this research would imply for their so-called “consensus”.

Convincing, eh?

The data for sunspots and senators can, I’m sure, be manipulated even more effectively than I’ve done here. I’ve made no use of various lags or filters (which can be altered as you go along cf. Friis-Christensen and Lassen (1991)), or of partial detrending (cf. Marsh and Svensmark (2003)), or of splicing of unconnected data sets (cf. Svensmark and Friis-Christensen 1997, Nir Shaviv). More ideas could be taken from “New evidence for the Theory of the Stork” (Höfer et al, 2004)”. A special RealClimate commendation for anyone who can do better!

356 Responses to “Fun with correlations!”

  1. 201
    Timothy Chase says:

    Ellis,

    We might prefer to call it anthropogenic climate change although it will consist largely of “warming” and the average temperature will certainly increase, but in some cases the winters will be more severe, at least for a while.

    However, basically what is happening is that light enters the atmosphere, some of it is absorbed at ground level, then it is re-emitted as thermal radiation – infrared radiation. Some of it is absorbed yet again by water vapor (because water vapor is largely opaque to thermal radiation), then re-emitted both towards the ground and towards space.

    We are increasing the carbon dioxide levels, and in the upper atmosphere predominate – since the upper atmosphere is particularly dry. Like water vapor, carbon dioxide is largely opaque to thermal radiation, and therefore it absorbs this radiation. Then infrared radiation is once again re-emitted in both directions, with some of it being re-absorbed by the ground and the lower atmosphere. This causes both the lower atmosphere and the ground to heat up further leading to more evaporation and water vapor – and thus an increased greenhouse effect.

    Convection helps bring some of this energy to the upper atmosphere where it is better able to escape into space. But in any case, the earth-atmosphere system is currently absorbing more thermal energy than it is emitting. The only way to reachieve the balance between incoming thermal radiation and outgoing thermal radiation is for the earth-atmosphere system to increase in temperature to the point at which the thermal energy it radiates equals the thermal energy entering the system.

    In any case, the energy imbalance which in some eras was naturally caused is the main problem. The principle that the energy must ultimately reach a state of balance for temperatures to be stable is the central principle. The rise in carbon dioxide levels today is largely anthropogenic – although some of it is positive feedback as the result of other processes and more of it will be feedback in the future. Climate change is the result of the processes as a whole.

  2. 202
    Hugh says:

    # 183

    Just in case anyone apart from Grace is interested RC seems to have averaged 157.76 hits an hour over the 885 days it’s been online.

  3. 203

    Barton,

    192, If I am not mistaken, Planetary Adiabatic lapse rates are proportionnal to -g/Cp

    the gravity of the planet divided by the heat capacity of the atmosphere.

  4. 204
    Timothy Chase says:

    Hugh (#183) wrote:

    Just in case anyone apart from Grace is interested RC seems to have averaged 157.76 hits an hour over the 885 days it’s been online.

    Difficult to say, but given the number of regular posters and my experience with email lists (where the number of subscribers greatly outnumbers the regular posters), I would guess that the number which visit on a daily basis is in excess of a thousand – which seems about right – given these figures.

  5. 205
    Timothy Chase says:

    PS

    That is ballpark – trying to take out return visits by the same people on the same day, and trying to take out the people who just visit but go elsewhere when they don’t immediately see what they are looking for. However, to get the actual figures on this would require some of the more advanced counters – something which really isn’t necessary.

  6. 206

    I’m really struggling with this. Because again, a few degrees warming is really just the same as moving south a few hundred miles. And unfortunately, all the gloom and doom analysis I’ve seen to date assume we sit here like static bumps on a log while oceans rise and we drown.

    You sure are struggling, and with some very simple results too. We aren’t just looking at a few degrees of warming, we are looking at 5 C by the end of the century, and time doesn’t just magically stop at 2100, it just keeps on rolling. We aren’t just looking at just a meter of ocean rise, we are looking at six meters very quickly (West Antarctica) and then another 70 meters over time, a very short time on geological scales. Here is a graphic I found that pretty much lays it out for you :

    http://www.lifeform.org/files/IPCC_Projections.jpg

  7. 207
    Jim Eager says:

    Re #200 Matt: “I’m really struggling with this. Because again, a few degrees warming is really just the same as moving south a few hundred miles. And unfortunately, all the gloom and doom analysis I’ve seen to date assume we sit here like static bumps on a log while oceans rise and we drown.”

    You think people won’t drown? Higher sea level means storm surges will reach further inland.
    And what about the cities that will be vulnerable? We’re not about to pick up and move the infrastructure with us.

    We aren’t the only species that can move to deal with climate change: the pine forestry in British Columbia is currently collapsing due to the Mountain Pine Beetle. Winter temps are just no longer low enough to keep the beetles in check. They have already crossed into Alberta, and may keep moving east through the Jack Pines of the boreal forest.

    And don’t assume a longer growing season is a good thing, since you can’t grow anything without water. Australia has plenty of growing season, but it’s agricultural industry is collapsing. PM John Howard (a staunch denier) has warned that if the 6-year drought does not break this winter he will have no choice but to ban irrigation next summer. (Australia used to be a net exporter of wheat.)

    The dollar costs of climate change are already being borne.

  8. 208
    Hugh says:

    #200 Matt

    Hi Matt

    Any chance of providing a reference for your 20,000 deaths figure?

    I only ask because I happen to recall that there were 15,000 excess deaths recorded just in France during the 19 days of the 2003 heatwave. With the projections indicating that these events are likely to become more regular in Europe I can’t quite see how your number holds up (and that’s not even nudging the equity and morality issues of the effects on more vulnerable nations).

    My ref is: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/klu/420/2006/00000080/00000001/00000089?crawler=true

  9. 209
    Hugh says:

    #Timothy

    Don’t worry Tim, I’m not THAT interested ;)

  10. 210
    John Mashey says:

    re: #200 Matt & #207

    Matt: perhaps you’d care to say where you are located?

    I observe that people’s views on AGW effects naturally vary somewhat according to their location, and it helps to use examples that someone can relate to directly.

    For example, it is unsurprising that California cares about the effects of AGW:

    a) We depend heavily on snowpack for water, and CA is already heavily hydro-engineered. Most of CA’s precipitation falls during 5 months of the year.

    b) Big chunks of a major agricultural area (Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta) are already below sea level,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacramento_River_Delta
    The San Francisco Bay Area will be radically transformed by any major sea-level rise; among other things, SF and Oakland Airports are ~9 feet above sea level, in
    c) Los Angeles was built in a desert.
    d) We have forest fires.
    e) Ski tourism is a revenue source and some of us like to ski.
    http://www.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/ski/2007-03-18-skiing-green_N.htm
    f) In SF Bay Area, many of us happily survive withotu air conditioning.
    g) We have a lot of agriculture, in which specific high-valuecrops are grown in narrow geographic areas where climate and soils match. For instance, Castroville is the artichoke capital of the world, and Napa&Sonoma are famous for wine grapes.

    As far as I can tell, there is no benefit to CA from higher temperatures, only costs.

    Now, if one is located in North Dakota, or Manitoba, there is less immediate concern, and in fact, AGW may actually help one in the short term, ALTHOUGH if it is North Dakota, which in 2001 got almost 2X $ back from Washington than what it sent, of that extra $2.8B, more than half came from CA, NY, NJ, CT, MA, TX … all of whom have low coastlines, and would probably want to spend that money on their own problems.
    http://www.ppinys.org/nybalpayments.htm

    Anyway, sometimes it helps to bring the general discussion down to local specifics, but including costs to related political entities, even if one fouccess entirely on economics, and ignores humanitarian issues entirely.

  11. 211
    James says:

    Re #200: [Because again, a few degrees warming is really just the same as moving south a few hundred miles.]

    That’s fine, if you’re mobile. Sell your house and move north where it’s cooler, or away from the coast, right? Except that a lot of other people have the same idea, so your property values have dropped to the point where you have negative equity. No problem, you just declare bank_rupcy and let the lender foreclose. What happens to the economy when several million people do that, and all the mort_gage companies go under?

    Now take a look at a globe. Notice that as you go north, there’s less and less land at a given latitude. We’ve got a badly overcrowded planet now: what happens when you try to squeeze everyone into an ever-shrinking area? And try to grow crops to feed them on smaller & smaller plots of land? You really think people won’t start to fight over food & living space?

    All this supposes, of course, that you’re able to move. Suppose you’re a tree: when the climate changes to where you can’t live where you are, you can’t just pluck yourself up by the roots and move, so you die.

    Now you might argue that that’s no big deal for you, because you’re a human, but you might ask yourself whether humans can live without trees and/or a lot of the other lifeforms that make up the biosphere. And if you can’t answer that question with absolute certainty, you might start asking yourself whether you really, really want to find out the hard way :-)

    [That’s what gets me back to the original question: Why do folks want to mitigate this? Save lives? Preserve our status quo? Keep the coast lines habitable?]

    How about keeping Earth a nice place to live? Possibly even improving it, but at the very least not messing about with the life suppport systems.

  12. 212
    Timothy Chase says:

    Matt (#200) wrote:

    I’m really struggling with this. Because again, a few degrees warming is really just the same as moving south a few hundred miles. And unfortunately, all the gloom and doom analysis I’ve seen to date assume we sit here like static bumps on a log while oceans rise and we drown.

    The figure you probably are refering to is the temperature change averaged out over the whole globe.

    But you also want to take into account the fact that the southern hemisphere will be less affected that the north. However, Australia is already experiencing severe droughts. More importantly, the higher latitudes will be more strongly affected than the tropics.

    Moreover, we aren’t simply talking about a change in the temperatures, but a change in the precipitation, with more of the rain falling over the ocean due to increased evaporation causing it to fall closer to where the evaporation takes place. In many places, particularly large parts of the US, you will see greatly decreased precipitation. The south west will likely become a dustbowl again, and the south east will have greatly diminished agricultural output. Some countries which are already straining will have agricultural output cut in half.

    Likewise, higher temperatures during the winter means that the mosquitoes responsible for malaria and hemmorrhagic dengue will be moving to the higher latitudes. Hemmorrhagic dengue is in the process of becoming endogenous to Tawain and has entered Mexico.

    Then there is the decreased fish harvests due to the disruption of the oceanic ecosystem by increased acidity interfering with the use of calcium. Coral reefs are already dying. We are also speaking of higher temperatures in the artic reducing the uptake of oxygen before the water is circulated to the rest of the ocean. The oceans may very well become hypoxic. But algae blooms are already creating anoxic dead zones off the US Pacific coast which are like nothing we would have seen a few years ago – and that is largely due to changes in oceanic circulation. Oregon has had it for a few years, and now it is entering Washington State waters.

    There is also the increased rate of evaporation, stress on plants which is already decreasing their ability to metabolize carbon dioxide, changes in the path of the jet stream, probability of a permanent and more severe El Nino. A change in a couple of degrees can make all the difference between a severe hurricane season and one that is relatively tranquil.

    There are also all the economic problems which this entails. Particularly since so much of the world’s population lives close to sea level, and likewise, since the buildings we currently have are built for the current climate.

    Besides, a lot of countries don’t like refugees.

    I suspect it might get that way in the coming decades simply between different states with the US.

    Finally, the IPCC has yet to take into account all of the positive feedbacks involved in the cryosphere (e.g., the arctic, permafrost, and glaciers) and the carbon cycle. Things will probably get a little worse than they predict – but they have to go with the results of the models even if they can’t incorporate all of the positive feedbacks as of yet.

  13. 213
    PHE says:

    Re hugh (208)
    I’m glad to see you are not suggesting that the excess deaths in the 2003 heatwave in France were caused by global warming – which I often see suggested elsewhere (including I believe by Al Gore in his film). France has always had periodic heatwaves and always will. A key reason for so many deaths was the social neglect of elderly people by their families and neighbours.

    [Response: Actually, that is misleading. Note that we’re not talking about an isolated meteorological event in this case, but instead an anomalous seasonal mean temperature over a substantial spatial region (all of Europe). Formal detection and attribution studies such as Stott et al (Nature, 2004) have indicated that anthropogenic forcing has probably at least doubled the random occurence rate of such anomalies. In other words, while we can’t prove that this particular anomaly was due to climate change, we can be fairly certain that the increased incidence of such events is, i.e. we can be fairly certain that we have loaded the dice towards precisely such events. A similar argument holds for the increased incidence of the most powerful Atlantic Hurricanes. – mike]

    Similarly, Hurricane Katrina was not caused by global warming (as Gore at least implied in his film). The reason for the death toll was a combination of: hurricanes happen; it was only a matter of time before a large city was hit; the levies were not adequately mantained; the response of the authorities was slow and inadequate.

    By the way – I haven’t heard how many FEWER deaths there were this winter in Europe due to the exceptionally mild conditions. It must have been at least a few thousand. I must have missed that.

  14. 214
    John Mashey says:

    Since we’re talking about correlations:

    RC had that topic a while back discussing Prof. Ruddiman’s early anthropocene hypothesis, but I actually interpret it as 3 separate ones, of which the first two get more discussion:
    – Early CO2 effects
    – Early CH4 effects
    – Later gyrations from plagues, given correlations of CO2/temperature dips with pandemics
    [In some sense, calling this “early” anthropocene seems odd :-)]

    There have been plenty of back-and-forths (including Gavin’s) in the literature in on the first two, but I haven’t seen a lot on the third, which, in some sense, I’ve found even more interesting than the others, in that it offers some possible explanation for fast gyrations of the last two millenia.

    I’ve seen:

    Forest re-growth on medieval farmland after the Black Death pandemic – Implications for atmospheric CO2 levels (2006)
    http://www.stomatalfrequency.com/vanhoofetal2006b.pdf

    Abandonment of farmland and vegetation succession following the Eurasian plague pandemic of AD 1347�52 (Abstract)
    http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2699.2006.01674.x

    Evidence for the Postconquest Demographic Collapse of the Americas in Historical CO2 Levels (Abstract)
    http://ams.allenpress.com/perlserv/?request=get-abstract&doi=10.1175%2FEI157.1

    Can anyone point at more research confiming/disconfirming the third part of the hypothesis?
    ====
    [I particularly relate to this because I have some Native American ancestors (obvious, the minority who were smallpox-resistant), Swiss ancestors who fled the (perhaps resulting from die-off) LIA for the US in the 1840s, cleared forest for farmland, including a pasture that shows up on 1840s drawings, and that I grew up with. The farm was sold about 25 years ago for development, the trees came back and totally covered the 140-year-old pasture in a decade or two.]

  15. 215
    Gareth says:

    Matt (#200) wrote:

    I’m really struggling with this. Because again, a few degrees warming is really just the same as moving south a few hundred miles. And unfortunately, all the gloom and doom analysis I’ve seen to date assume we sit here like static bumps on a log while oceans rise and we drown.

    I know others have had a go at this – Matt knows how to draw a crowd – but there are a couple of points I’d like to make. Two degrees (C) of global average warming doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is huge from an ecosystem perspective. The rate of change is also important – it’s currently around 20 times faster than recent rapid change – the warming out of the last ice age, for instance. The impacts on the biosphere are likely to be dramatic – and whether we like it or not, we are a part of that biosphere. The WG2 Summary for Policymakers [PDF] is a good place to start. Another is the chapter by Rachel Warren in Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Chapter 11) – free download of complete text here.

    In reading RC, it is easy to assume that the numbers bandied around are just numbers, often small ones, but they have to be put into their context – the impact they will have. Perhaps RC could do some guest postings to illustrate why this stuff is so important.

  16. 216
    Arvella Oliver says:

    To James’ excellent and succinct comments on the practical effects of climate change, I’d like to add that I don’t think a catastrophic flood is necessary to make a city uninhabitable. It seems all that’s required is enough sea level rise to flood the sewers at high tide. That would likely cause a precipitous drop in real estate values, with not a hurricane in sight…

  17. 217
    Hugh says:

    #213 PHE

    Yes, I worded my post very explicitly and I agree with you absolutely that many lives will potentially be saved in the future if lessons learned from such events are used to inform better heatwave (and flood) forecast, warning and response systems.
    As Mike points out, however, your handwave that “France has always had periodic heatwaves and always will” does not salve my conscience when I look at figure 1 in the Stott et al paper that he links to.

  18. 218
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #200 Matt, others have made similar points, but I feel I must pitch in as well! First, as Hugh asked, where is your 20,000 figure from? Second, just a list of some possible fairly direct effects, any one of which could lead to millions of deaths:
    1) Disappearance of tropical high-altitude glaciers, upon which much agriculture in parts of South America and South Asia depends.
    2) Disruption of the Indian monsoon, upon which much more Indian agriculture depends.
    3) Rise in sea levels – quite small rises could make many cities untenable – they don’t have to be covered in water, it just has to rise enough to stop their sewage systems working and thus cause regugee crises and/or epidemics.
    4) Rise in sea levels (again, could be quite small) leading to destruction of much of the world’s most productive agricultural land (in river deltas) through rise in salt levels in groundwater.
    5) Increased unpredictability of climatic conditions year on year, so farmers don’t know what to plant. When you subject a complex system, like Earth’s climate, to a consistent push in one direction, it tends first to “resist” – short-term stabilising mechanisms operate – then to become highly unstable and hard to predict as these mechanisms fail.
    6) What’s more, even if change were likely to be smooth and predictable, farmers take time to learn how to grow crops they are not accustomed to under local conditions – it’s never just a matter of “Oh, it’s got a bit hotter, I’ll plant Y instead of X.” There are new pests and diseases to deal with, planting, fertilising and cropping schedules to work out, ways to treat the harvested crop, etc. It would not take much of a reduction in the recent rate of increase in crop yields to leave millions of poorer city dwellers unable to buy food.

    Third, possible indirect effects on the highly complex, and interlinked, ecological and social systems we live in. These could well be the really large-scale killers: malaria or other existing human infections spreading outside their current range because of improved conditions for a vector such as a moosquito; new human, animal or crop diseases emerging; large-scale refugee movements triggering economic chaos; the collapse of nuclear-armed states with the consequence of nuclear weapons being acquired by non-state groups… The possibilities that worry me most of all are of a nuclear-armed state threatened with collapse trying to save itself by whipping up hostility to a traditional enemy, going too far and triggering a full-scale nuclear war; or a state feeling threatened by the prospect of large-scale refugee movements launching covert biological attacks to remove the threat: those are where the possibility of civilisational collapse is most likely to arise.

  19. 219
    Timothy Chase says:

    Re: PHE (#213):

    Mike responded on the majority of your post, but I still wanted to address this bit.

    PHE wrote:

    By the way – I haven’t heard how many FEWER deaths there were this winter in Europe due to the exceptionally mild conditions. It must have been at least a few thousand. I must have missed that.

    It is probably true there will be fewer deaths during the winter. It is also true that people are used to the more severe winters they are having now as opposed to in the future. Moreover, the buildings are designed for current weather. What the buildings are not designed for, at least in many places, are the heatwaves which will be more frequent and more severe.

    The research found that eastern U.S. summer daily high temperatures that currently average in the low-to-mid-80s (degrees Fahrenheit) will most likely soar into the low-to-mid-90s during typical summers by the 2080s. In extreme seasons â?? when precipitation falls infrequently â?? July and August daily high temperatures could average between 100 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit in cities such as Chicago, Washington, and Atlanta.

    NASA STUDY SUGGESTS EXTREME SUMMER WARMING IN THE FUTURE
    May 9, 2007
    http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/NasaNews/2007/2007050924907.html

    For the technical article, please see:

    Spak, S., T. Holloway, B. Lynn, and R. Goldberg,
    2007: A comparison of statistical and dynamical downscaling for surface temperature in North America.
    J. Geophys. Res., 112, D08101, doi:10.1029/2005JD006712.
    http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abstracts/2007/Spak_etal.html

    *

    You might also want to note that where they are currently relying upon hydroelectic to power their air conditioning, it is quite possible that they will have to find something else.

    The harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already showing up, and within a couple of decades hundreds of millions of people will not have enough water, top scientists are likely to say next month at a meeting in Belgium.

    At the same time, tens of millions of others will be flooded out of their homes each year as the earth reels from rising temperatures and sea levels, according to portions of a draft of an international scientific report by the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    Top Scientists Warn of Water Shortages and Disease Linked to Global Warming
    March 12, 2007, Monday
    New York Times Late Edition – Final, Section A, Page 11, Column 2

  20. 220
    Chris C says:

    Re: #200

    Coral reefs, particularly tropical corals, account for nearly half the bio-diversity on Earth. Millons of people across the globe rely on reefs for their livelyhood. Fishing, tourism, protection from storm surges etc…

    The IPCC and The UK Royal Society reports that increasing ocean temps and acidity can be devestating to the reef environment, making large swaths of ocean that was previously inhabitable by coral will no longer be. Coral, as a slow growing lifeform, is unlikely to be able to keep pace and adapt to the rapid warming of oceans.

    While 2C may not seem like alot, the consequences can be devestating.

  21. 221
    James says:

    Re #213: [By the way – I haven’t heard how many FEWER deaths there were this winter in Europe due to the exceptionally mild conditions. It must have been at least a few thousand.]

    I think you first have to show that there was a significant death rate from cold in Europe. Outside of the occasional lost skier or urban drunk, that is.

    Then you might look at reports of crop damage from the warm temperatures. Lots of fruit trees, for instance, need a cold period to set fruit. Cold also reduces the numbers of insect pests. Then there’s issues of timings: pollenators hatching or migrating at the wrong times for their crops. Then we could get into the lack of precipitation & winter snowpack, and the effects those are having on crops. And fires. And the loss of revenue to the ski industry. And on and on.

  22. 222
    Timothy Chase says:

    James (#221) wrote:

    Cold also reduces the numbers of insect pests.

    Milder winters are what is making it possible for mosquitoes to survive throughout the year in Tawain – which is why hemmorrhagic dengue is in the process of becoming endogenous to the island. The same can be expected of other mosquito-borne illnesses. But this no doubt will be a fairly limited problem for much of the world after a while: mosquitoes require standing water for their eggs.

    Drought will take care of that.

  23. 223
    nicolas L. says:

    re: 200 (Matt)

    Matt, maybe what you wanna see are the actual economic costs of doing nothing compared to the economic costs of mitigation. That’s it? Then I strongly recommand you to read “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change”:
    http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/sternreview_index.cfm

    You’ll find all you need here (its 700 pages long, but you can find a lot of summaries on the net :)). The Stern report is based on the estimated effects of the GW reported in the IPCC report, and answers to a simple question: what is the impact of GW on the world economy. Not talking about deaths or refugees, or environmental catastrophies, but only economical costs.

    The conclusion of the study (really hope you’ll read it, it quite astonishing and well made) is approximatively this:
    “Its main conclusions are that one percent of global gross domestic product (GDP) per annum is required to be invested in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and that failure to do so could risk global GDP being up to twenty percent lower than it otherwise might be. Sternâ??s report[2] suggests that climate change threatens to be the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen, and it provides prescriptions including environmental taxes to minimize the economic and social disruptions. He states, “our actions over the coming few decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, later in this century and in the next, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century.””
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_Review

    This study was made by the economist nicholas Stern ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Stern ), for the british government, an published in 2006. It received a lot of support from numerous Nobel Prize economists, and also a lot of critics. But it is considered as the most complete and accurate report on the economical impacts of GW to this day. Have a good reading :)!

  24. 224
    Matt says:

    Several responses merged below…
    For those that asked, I typed “global warming deaths” into google and the first link (nrdc.org) indicated “more than 20,000 deaths in Europe” due to heat waves in 2003. It’s appropriate to focus on a single economic region I think (rather than lumping in Africa), because Society already knows how to save a 2-3 million lives a year by providing clean drinking water to people, and we’ve opted NOT to spend the $50B needed to do so. So, saying that we now want to spend much much more than that to help folks in Africa cope with the heat is a bit strange. And there just aren’t many reports I’ve seen that have shown the west will be hard hit by warming. The more money you have, the better you can cope.

    John in #210… I’m in Seattle. But I was in Chicago for the 1995 heat wave that killed 500. Note that everyone started dropping when the power failed. Had the power stayed on, the death toll would have been much lower because most all have AC. But of course, the 1995 heat wave was nothing compared to the 1930’s heat wave that was hotter for longer, yet fewer died. Go figure.

    Timothy was asking where I got the $13T figure needed to fix global warming. I made it up, just like I made up the $1 figure. My point was this: everyone on this board has a point where the cost to fix global warming is low enough that they’ll opt to fix it without any questioning (sort of like replacing the air filter in your car), and everyone on this board has a price that is so high that they will opt to wait for a few more years of data to start fixing it (kind of like the doctor telling you he’s 95% certain that you will die early from a heart attack within 20 years if you keep smoking and eating nachos). The celebrities out stumping to help solve global warming are the perfect example of this: They are willing to pay, but they aren’t willing to change their lifestyle one bit. They are convinced it’s real, but they won’t do anything concrete about it (except Ed Begley). Everyone expects the other person to make the sacrifices. And that’s really what addressing global warming ultimately will be about: making sacrifices.

    The economics have ALWAYS been the sticking point on whether or not we try to tackle global warming. If global warming is a 2% ding to GDP, then you’d be a fool to bet on addressing something that will happen in 20 years with 95% certainty by investing 1% a year now to mitigate it. We are surrounded by bad events that will happen with 95% certainty within 20 years all the time and we opt to do nothing about it. Why should this be any different? This is the reason investors are NOT running after alt energy in spite of the many folks that try to make a case for its cost-effectiveness. You are forgetting about the opportunity cost and risk. Trust me, when the economics make sense you’ll need to get out of the way because the money guys will come running. Prior to that, you are missing something fundamental in your analysis.

    #211 – the Earth will be a nice place to live whether or not humans are here. Insurance costs are already sky high because we have too many people trying to live places that are already subject to severe weather every 10-20 years. MSNBC noted Katrina costs of $300B expected in 2005 (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9281409/), and since the lower 48% earners of the population isn’t paying federal income tax in the US, that means that a household of 4 in the upper 52% of the populace paid about $8,000 in federal income taxes just for Katrina. Hmmm. Yes, let’s ask people to move. Seriously.

    BTW, as I research everything from IPCC to Lomborg to Stern on the economics behind AGW, the figures are all over the map. Remember, when there is broad disagreement and lots of money involved, the money folks get really excited because that is where they have the greatest opportunity to make money (think arbitrage, think Enron). Make no mistake that carbon credits and offsets are simply a trial ballon. Their goal is to get as much money committed to the cause as possible and shroud the process in complexity. And of course they’ll manage it all for a small fee :)

  25. 225
    PHE says:

    Re James (221). Its arguments like your’s that damage the pro-AGW side of the debate. All you have done is list a set of speculations about what bad things could result from warming.
    I suggest you try this. Imagine the world is cooling by 1 degree per century (due to say manmade aerosol-induced global cooling). Then list all the bad things that could happen. You could easily achieve as long a list.
    More vulnerable people, especially the elderly, are more likely to die during the colder or hotter times of the year. The estimation of 15,000 or so extra deaths in France in 2003, was not based on numbers of people dying of extreme heat (or similar). It was a statiscal assessment based on the fact that there were 15,000 more deaths that summer than in an average summer. Winter is a time when there is a statistical rise in deaths – due to the cold. There would have been fewer deaths this year in Europe – but I haven’t seen the numbers reported – I suspect because there is less insentive to assess it. Its good news rather than bad news. By the way, I don’t argue that ‘warming is a good thing anyway’. My point is its little to do with global warming.

  26. 226

    [[there must be SOME idea of the relationship between CO2 and temperature.]]

    The radiative forcing from CO2 can be found as:

    dF = 5.35 ln (C / C0)

    where dF is in watts per square meter, concentration of carbon dioxide C usually in parts per million by volume, and reference concentration C0 is usually taken as 280 ppmv. C this year is about 384 ppmv.

    (Myhre, G., E.J. Highwood, K. Shine and F. Stordal, 1998. “New estimates of radiative forcing due to well mixed greenhouse gases.” Geophys. Res. Lett. 25, 2715-2718)

    If the climate sensitivity to forcing is about 0.75 K W^-1 m^-2, then a doubling of CO2 increases temperature by about 2.8 degrees K (or C, they’re the same size). This assumes nothing else changes, of course, though it does factor in climate feedbacks.

    To convert to mass figures, note that the mass of Earth’s atmosphere is about 5.136 x 1018 kilograms, the molecular weight of CO2 is about 44.00995 AMU, and the mean molecular weight of air is about 28.964 AMU. I get about 3 x 1015 kg for CO2 this year.

  27. 227

    [[That’s what gets me back to the original question: Why do folks want to mitigate this? Save lives? Preserve our status quo? Keep the coast lines habitable?

    I’m really struggling with this. Because again, a few degrees warming is really just the same as moving south a few hundred miles. And unfortunately, all the gloom and doom analysis I’ve seen to date assume we sit here like static bumps on a log while oceans rise and we drown. ]]

    We want to mitigate global warming because

    1) Under global warming, continental interiors will be dryer and experience more droughts. Together with more violent weather along coastlines, this will play merry hell with our agriculture.

    2) Sea-level rise is a real problem. Even if we evacuate in time, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people who have to relocate and property loss in the trillions. Yes, we can build new cities, but the loss of old ones still represents massive property destruction.

    3) Global warming could contribute to a massive decline in species diversity. Since we are already in the middle of the greatest mass extinction of the Holocene, it would be a good idea not to make things even worse. We simply don’t know at what point we might cause irreversible harm to the ecosystem. If that happens, the planet will survive, and life will survive, but we might not.

  28. 228

    [[192, If I am not mistaken, Planetary Adiabatic lapse rates are proportionnal to -g/Cp
    the gravity of the planet divided by the heat capacity of the atmosphere.
    ]]

    Right, that’s the equation for the dry adiabatic lapse rate. You get a different figure (requiring a more complicated equation) for the lapse rate in the presence of a condensable substance. Saturated lapse rates for Earth range from about 4.8 K/km near the ground to 9.8 K/km near the tropopause, with a mean around 6.5 K/km.

  29. 229
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #224 “For those that asked, I typed “global warming deaths” into google and the first link (nrdc.org) indicated “more than 20,000 deaths in Europe” due to heat waves in 2003. It’s appropriate to focus on a single economic region I think (rather than lumping in Africa), because Society already knows how to save a 2-3 million lives a year by providing clean drinking water to people, and we’ve opted NOT to spend the $50B needed to do so.”

    For a problem that is global in scope, worse for poorer regions, and expected to get much worse over time if we do not take action to prevent it, I am puzzled that you should think it appropriate to put forward an estimate for excess deaths in a relatively small, very rich region in one recent year (and in an event that cannot even be definitely ascribed to AGW) as representing the scale of the potential loss of life. Of course we should spend the money needed to provide clean drinking water for all, but (to mirror your shot at globe-trotting celebrity campaigners), I haven’t seen much evidence of those who say we shouldn’t spend on preventing AGW campaigning for increased foreign aid or more favourable trade terms for poor countries – maybe you can point me to some? And as you’ve pointed out yourself, it’s people in poor countries who will suffer most (at least initially, I’d add) from AGW.

  30. 230
    tamino says:

    Re: #224 (Matt)

    kind of like the doctor telling you he’s 95% certain that you will die early from a heart attack within 20 years if you keep smoking and eating nachos…

    Here’s my problem with your approach: the team of doctors isn’t telling you that “smoking will eventually kill you.” They’re telling you that you already have lung cancer.

    But you still seem willing to quibble over whether it’s worthwhile to quit smoking.

  31. 231
    nicolas L. says:

    re: 224

    Matt, I’m sorry but I can’t see any example of “bad events that will happen with 95% certainty within 20 years” and to which we do nothing about…
    Secondly, the impact of GW on gdp (on mid and long term) is estimated 5 to 20%, not 2%. That’s a huge difference. So spending 1% of annual gdp on mitigating GW should not be called a waste of money, but an investment. Plus you seem to consider world economy has an immediate response to cost effective technologies, but economy primarily depends on men, which means sociological impacts and necessary culture changes that sometimes can take decades. I would also say alternative energies are cost effective compared to coil and oil, from the moment you internalize the pollution costs (that can be made, for example by creating a carbon tax… what a brilliant idea, isn’t it? :) )
    Finally, the biggest effects of GW will concern developing countries, meaning countries that have the smaller capacity to adapt. For a continent like Africa who depends mostly on a subsistence agriculture, the effects of repeated heat waves, droughts and violent meteorological events would be disastrous, destabilizing further more areas that already experience wars, chronic famine, political and social instability.
    It is not a question of spending your money rather on mitigating GW than on developing poor countries. We can do the both, and in fact the issue is the same. Development is a long term process, and you have to plan things at least 20, if not 50, years ahead in order to be efficient. If you do this then you can do nothing but take account of the very likely impacts of GW.

  32. 232
    Phillip Shaw says:

    Re #196:

    MDC, you wrote “All this debate would end if somebody could make a case, using scientific principles (you know, repeatability, falsifiable, measurable, etc.), that every time an SUV drives for 100 miles, it raises the global temperature by .000001C (or somesuch). If that information ISN’T available, I question what the sturm and drang is about.”

    I disagree that the debate would end if those numbers were available and I feel that it would be a silly and pointless exercise to derive such metrics. It would be analogous to trying to quantify the societal costs of smoking as so many cents/cigarette, or of the health care costs of obesity in terms of dollars/french fry. What’s the point? If you calculate that smoking only costs 0.00001 cents/cigarette does that make dying of lung cancer at age 43 (as a friend of mine recently did) a bargain? What makes your proposed AGW metrics even more pointless is that the people dumping the GHGs into the atmosphere are not the ones who will bear the brunt of the damages.

    So I have a counter-proposal . . . let’s require every SUV purchaser to commit to hosting a refugee family if their village is inundated by rising sea levels or their crops are ruined by drought. Ten million or so new SUV owners each year, ten million or so refugee families each year, sounds like a good balance to me. If the AGW skeptics are right, that will be a commitment the SUV owners will never have to fulfill so what’s not to like about it. :-)

    There is an old saying: No raindrop feel responsible for the flood. We’re seeing this denialism from individuals, and even nations, who are defensively rationalizing their polluting lifestyles. The simple reality is that all of us bear some responsibility for the situation we are in, and all of us need to get busy and do what we can, at all levels, to mitigate the problem.

  33. 233
    Timothy Chase says:

    PHE (#225)

    I suggest you try this. Imagine the world is cooling by 1 degree per century (due to say manmade aerosol-induced global cooling). Then list all the bad things that could happen. You could easily achieve as long a list.

    False.

    He would have to know what the effects are upon the climate, how the temperature would be distributed, how it would affect precipitation patterns. He could come up with a list of sorts, but it would bear little relationship to reality without doing the actual modeling.

    Three degrees higher in the global average temperature is translating into ten degrees higher temperatures in the dry summers in places like Chicago and Washington DC. And current climate change is already resulting in changes in the oceanic currents off the Pacific which makes large deadzones more likely off the coasts of Oregon and now parts of Washington State. We are seeing them. According to current calculations, we should be expecting droughts in Australis now. We are seeing them.

    Before identify the consequences of climate change due to an increase or decrease in temperature, you have to know how it will be distributed in time and space and how it will affect precipitation. And in order to know the distribution, you have to know what feedbacks will be involved.

    And, yes, you can’t blame any one given weather event upon climate change. Climatology isn’t the same as meteorology. But you can identify trends which make such events more likely and result in the likelihood that they will be severe – and this applies to heatwaves like what Europe experienced in 2003. See Mike’s inline response to your post #213.

    Additionally, I would remind you that the average three degrees increase in the global temperature (where it appears that increases will tend to be higher in the northern hemisphere over land, and lower in the southern hemisphere) is the result of a calculation which does not take into account some of the positive feedback which we are already beginning to see in terms of the carbon cycle and processes in the cryosphere. As such, it is a conservative estimate of the effects that we will see, particularly (I would suspect) in the later half of this century.

  34. 234
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matt, the questions you are asking are important, and certainly they need to be considered. However, the thing that keeps climate scientists up at night is that right now we really don’t know what all the consequences of climate change would be. Scientists tend to be conservative. They like to only draw conclusions when they are sure they aren’t wrong. Thus, what you hear about from scientists are the virtual certainties–like sea-level rise, intensifying of droughts in already dry areas, more intense storms and so on.
    You state that warming by a few degrees is equivalent to “moving a few hundred miles south”, but this is not entirely true. Some ecosystems are being lost entirely, and we might well lose the ability to grow some crops such as some potato varieties and winter wheat. Temperate climates yield more calories per acre than do tropical ecosystems. Weeds and invasive plants and pests could further reduce agricultural yields. One of the reasons why slash-and-burn agriculture is so prevalent in the tropics is that it is one of the few ways farmers have to rid themselves of insects and weeds before planting.
    Tropical diseases are another possible consequence–malaria, dengue, ebola, Chagas disease, etc. could all become endemic in what are now temperate areas. These, or some subset thereof are just the likely effects.
    More uncertain is just how uncertain predicting climate will become. The past 10000 years have been a period of exceptional climatic stability. They also happen to be the only period in which human civilization has existed on Earth. Climate has not always been so accommodating. Some periods have looked chaotic, and the practice of agricutlture would probably not have been possible during such periods. Our civilization depends on a certain degree of predictability. If we keep perturbing the climate, this cannot be guaranteed.

  35. 235
    MDC says:

    RE: #226, Levenson: Thank you for the formulae, but that still leaves me with the question: what is the impact of any given action on the environment. Obviously this is a bit of a straw man, as there are many more variables also changing in a dynamic and incompletely comprehended/imagined/modelled way, so failure to boil it all down to a simple Xinput=Youtput hardly proves anything one way or the other. Fine. I haven’t crunched the numbers on the formula you’ve given, but the question is still, really, what is the expected impact of any given action. That applies both to production of CO2 and absorbtion. If we cannot apply SOME metric and comparison, then ‘carbon credits’ is a meaningless idea (which, I admit, I already believe), and since the point of Kyoto and the IPCC is governmental cost-benefit decisionmaking, I’m still a little confused as to how this will be balanced. Sure, saying “if it doubles, then X,” but since we don’t know (or at least -I- don’t know) what the cost of my activites are (individually or as a country or any sub-part thereof), rational decisions beg more information. Qualitative answers might be fine for talking points, but quantitative would be much better for policy decisions. I’m all in favor of budgeting more money for research… just not for policies designed to ‘fix’ a problem that we can’t define.

    Re: #231, Shaw: I don’t necessarily disagree with you that detailed metrics are not the point for INDIVIDUAL actions, but if policy decisions are being made, then metrics ARE critical. There would be no rationalization for seatbelt laws unless a dollar-cost/accident analysis wasn’t done. I don’t understand why you WOULDN’T want to have information available to make informed decisions. As a similarly tongue-in-cheek response to your SUV plan, in an effort to follow your advice about ‘doing something’ I’ve mentally linked myself to a substinence farmer in Africa in order to bring down ‘our’ average carbon output. Actually, I think I’ve linked myself to a total of five farmers, thus reducing my CO2 footprint to a mere 21% of it’s former glory. My point about metrics is that ‘just doing something’ is just that… just doing ‘something.’ If you can’t tell me what the effect of my activities are, even in terms of probability ranges, then why should I feel compelled to do it?

    It’s like with recycling paper: I’ll start caring about recycling when I stop getting my mailbox stuffed with advertisements every day… likewise with ‘doing something’ about AGW when somebody convinces me that my driving a Prius instead of a 4Runner will balance out China and India’s CO2 output (including, of course, the more round trips I’ll need to shuttle my stuff from one side of town to the other, never mind cross-country). That’s not denial, it’s rational cost-benefit analysis. Note that all of this is stipulating AGW as presented here, despite my grave reservations on the quality of the case for AGW (starting first and foremost with it coming from a UN organization… but that’s another thread).

  36. 236
    Hank Roberts says:

    Overeating might be a problem, but until any particular calorie can be found to be responsible for any particular heart attack, there’s no rational reason to try to reduce overall calories, eh?

    You understand the Fermi Paradox?

  37. 237
    Timothy Chase says:

    MDC (#235) wrote:

    My point about metrics is that ‘just doing something’ is just that… just doing ‘something.’ If you can’t tell me what the effect of my activities are, even in terms of probability ranges, then why should I feel compelled to do it?

    I would certainly agree with you on this point. For example, some people advocate biofuels, and in many cases the carbon footprint is actually larger than that of oil – and therefore the voices which continue to advocate it (now that we are aware of its costs) are various political interests, including agriculture. These questions of what should be done are important. Moreover, as the analysis of the effects of biofuels suggest, they are being done.

    The most important thing, though, is to understand the effects of climate change – and for the public to be aware of these effects. Those who continue to deny the obvious in this regard are not helping. Then we need to understand why this climate change is happening. Those who deny what has become obvious (at least from a scientific standpoint – with the usual caveats and conservative estimates that scientists are prone to make) are not helping here, either.

    Once we understand both the effects (given their severity) and the causes (that they are primarily due to our emission of CO2 into the atmosphere), there is more political will to look into potential solutions (typically of the patchwork variety) and perform a cost/benefit analysis. It is a simple, logical progression at this level.

  38. 238
    Jim Eager says:

    Re#235 MDC: “It’s like with recycling paper: I’ll start caring about recycling when I stop getting my mailbox stuffed with advertisements every day… likewise with ‘doing something’ about AGW when somebody convinces me that my driving a Prius instead of a 4Runner will balance out China and India’s CO2 output”

    It’s quite clear that you will grasp at anything that allows you to not “do something” for as long as possible.

  39. 239
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #235. “If you can’t tell me what the effect of my activities are, even in terms of probability ranges, then why should I feel compelled to do it?

    It’s like with recycling paper: I’ll start caring about recycling when I stop getting my mailbox stuffed with advertisements every day… likewise with ‘doing something’ about AGW when somebody convinces me that my driving a Prius instead of a 4Runner will balance out China and India’s CO2 output…”

    This looks to me like a lot of complicated justification for selfishness. The same reasoning can be applied to littering, wasting water during a drought etc. If you don’t feel you should, as a matter of respect for or solidarity with fellow human beings, avoid causing pollution or wasting resources where you can (even if your individual contribution is inevitably a small one), I don’t think anyone can argue you into it. The rest of us will just have to hope there are not too many more like you.

  40. 240
    Phillip Shaw says:

    This has been an interesting and thought provoking thread. I have a thought I’d like to toss out for comment. First, let me emphasize that I am a committed environmentalist and not an AGW skeptic in any sense

    That said, I confess I have never been comfortable with the concept of carbon offsets. I just don’t see how they can realistically reduce our aggregate carbon emissions. A polluter offsetting its carbon by paying another entity to not pollute is like a fat person losing weight by paying a trim person to skip dessert.

    My doctor has told me I should get more exercise. Somehow I don’t think that my paying a jogger to add a few miles to his weekly regimen is going to do it, even if that increases the ‘average’ exercise level.

    And what’s to keep offset credits from being sold to multiple polluters? If I buy an organic coffee plantation in Costa Rica what’s to stop me from selling my carbon offsets to a european firm, an american firm, and an asian firm, too? Heck, certification is a joke so all I need to do is SAY I own a plantation. There’s no penalty for selling phony offsets.

    Can some of you bright people help me understand this approach? I’ve read the wikipedia article on it and didn’t read anything that convinced me that carbon offsets are anything but a shell game.

  41. 241
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Phillip, Actually, I can think of a couple of ways carbon offsets could be effective. First, it is naive to look at the status quo and think it can persist. We have the US, Europe and a few other countries that are very productive, but very energy-intensive and ghg-intensive. These countries have legacy infrastructures that emit a lot of ghg. On the other hand we have developing countries like China, India, Brazil and some African countries that are increasing their energy consumption rapidly. These developing countries lack infrastructure–a liability, but also an opportunity. Since we know energy consumption in these countries will grow, carbon offsets could be used to channel the growth into nonpolluting technologies–which are better for the developing country and for us, but which may have a higher initial capital investment cost. We can make this a win-win situation–with developing countries getting clean technology sooner, developers of clean technology getting new markets and all of us reducing ghg concentrations from what they would have been.

  42. 242
    James says:

    Re #224: [So, saying that we now want to spend much much more than that to help folks in Africa cope with the heat is a bit strange.]

    Matt, you’re starting with a wrong assumption, so naturally the conclusion seems strange. My objective isn’t to help folks in Africa, it’s to help me. That it helps people in Africa and the rest of the world is just a nice fringe benefit :-)

    [And there just aren’t many reports I’ve seen that have shown the west will be hard hit by warming.]

    You must not have looked very hard. There are all sorts of studies, ranging from the decimation of California agriculture to increased flooding to lack of snow putting ski resorts out of business. The local paper has been running a series on it http://www.rgj.com

    [The more money you have, the better you can cope.]

    But the more money you have, the more you have to lose :-) There are also things which no reasonable amount of money can buy: how much would it cost to roof over the Sierra Nevada and air condition it so I’d have decent weather for the outdoor activities I enjoy?

    […kind of like the doctor telling you he’s 95% certain that you will die early from a heart attack within 20 years if you keep smoking and eating nachos.]

    You’ve touched on an important point, but missed one as well. Turn the question around, and think about why I, like many people, choose not to smoke or eat (large amounts of) nachos. It’s not because I’m into self-denial, or that I’m trying to minimize potential risks 20 years down the road: it’s because not doing so improves the quality of my life right now. That I may also see long-term gains is, as with helping folks in Africa, just a nice fringe benefit.

    [And that’s really what addressing global warming ultimately will be about: making sacrifices.]

    Why? I choose to drive a Honda Insight instead of an SUV: what am I sacrificing by doing so? The privilege of paying several tens of thousands more to purchase the vehicle, then yet more every time I fill the tank? I use CFLs instead of incandescents: what do I sacrifice? The privilege of giving more money to the power company? I bike a lot of places instead of driving, hike instead of riding ATVs, cross-country ski instead of snowmobiling… What do I sacrifice? The privilege of carrying around an extra 50 or 100 pounds of flab?

    I could go on and on – you punched one of my buttons there – but the point is that media and advertising have given the general public some very distorted ideas about the world. They’re constantly bombarded with messages that product X will make them happier, healthier, and more sexually attractive, but they never deliver on their claims. I ignore them, and find that most of those “sacrifices” aren’t sacrifices at all, but lifestyle improvements.

  43. 243
    John Mashey says:

    RE: #225 & others

    Limiting the choice to “getting warmer” or “getting colder” is a classic false dichotomy. Nobody wants to go back to the LIA. Most people prefer to keep the temperature in some range comfortable to them, and avoid fast gyrations, which is why people have heaters, and/or air conditioners in their homes. One of the reasons people live here [SanFrancisco Peninsula] is that it’s naturally air-conditioned, so it neither freezes (any more) nor gets really hot (so far).

    As a civilization, either we’ve been lucky for the last 8,000 years or so, or (Ruddiman), our CO2/CH4/land-use changes have effectively canceled cooling that should have happened in “our house”.

    We’ve liked the Long Summer (as in Brian Fagan’s book, worth reading about past effects of climate on civilizations). We should be in a Long Fall (with temperatures going down, which we wouldn’t like), heading back towards a Long Winter (which we really wouldn’t like, especially in Stockholm or Toronto).

    But the *immediate* problem is that we’ve turned up the heat in “our house”, and instead of the temperature slowly cooling in Fall, it’s going up real fast, and whether it’s already hit the highest Summer temperature yet or not doesn’t matter much, because, if not, it will soon, and far worse, the rate of change is unusually fast. We also have a lot more residents since the last time it was this warm. Getting colder is not an immediate option, because the global air conditioner is broken.

    In the really long term, we’re going to have to figure out how to ameliorate temperature swings in either direction, figure out better ways to adapt [there is bound to be a lot more GM food, soon, as important crops will need to get tweaked faster than usual plant-breeding], don’t fall into a major collapse that requires fossil fuels to rebuild, and stay high-tech enough to deal with the next big plague or dinosaur killer.

  44. 244
    MDC says:

    #237-239: My intent is not to justify not doing anything, or selfishness, as it were, but rather to point out that given the current state of information, government-level action is premature. Individuals acting ‘green’ based on their own economic analysis is fine, being a good steward is great, but redistributing funds, either directly or through regulations, by a government should not be undertaken until SOME sort of balance sheet is available. Sure, no raindrop blames itself for the flood… but 99.99999999999% of raindrops are not part of any flood, and to treat all as such leads to a 99.99999999999% rate of waste.

    I enjoyed refreshing my memory on the Fermi Paradox (thank you Wikipedia!), but I’m not sure how that applies to this… It (AGW) strikes me as more of an objective risk-management issue (the use of the word ‘objective’ is critical to seperate it from insurance actuary considerations which, if you follow the money (it seems to me), have a vested interest in predicting bad things) than the Fermi situation. I CAN see, however, that there are competing explanations for the perceived warming (including the amount of warming, etc.), some of which have more merit than others (e.g. I don’t subscribe to the idea that we cannot affect our environment, but that’s a long way from accepting that CO2 emmissions are the silver bullet, the control of which will unquestionably stop catastrophic warming).

    I plan on ‘not doing anything’ for exactly as long as it makes economic sense to do so. Being somewhat rational, I’m willing to accept some short-term loss for long-term gain, and to deal in matters besides dollars and cents (i.e. human suffering is a factor worth attention, rank ordered, frankly, by their emotional proximity to me), and I would hope that others would do the same. I make a concerted effort to not litter (actually, it’s ingrained in me enough as to require no conscious thought), but that’s a long ways away from supporting government regulations requiring me to have CFL in my house… I’d put “solidarity with my fellow man” down as a matter of morality, and legislating morality is a mug’s game (IMHO).

    To loop this back around to the thread topic: correlation/causation issues and snarkiness do not convince me that my driving my SUV negatively impacts the global climate (local pollution levels, maybe). I do not equate CO2 with littering in any meaningful sense of the word and I question the comparison between between the two. If I’m to be held to some sort of moral standard (as implied in #239), then I can only assume that Mr. Gotts has stopped ALL production of CO2 in his life (I’ll accept exhaled breath) or can demonstrate in concrete terms that he is 100% balanced not in carbon credits but in actual CO2 absorbing activities balancing out all his production. Anything less than that implies, to me, either a moral decision to kill third-worlders OR an idea of proportionality that keeps his production below a fatal level. That’s all I’m looking for: how much is okay and how much is too much? If it’s too much, why is it too much?

  45. 245
    Phillip Shaw says:

    Ray,

    Thank you for your reply. I guess I should have been clearer in my original question. I understand the theory of carbon offsets, and feel it is a very idealistic approach to AGW mitigation. But the way carbon offsets are implemented is an open invitation for abuse and fraud. If a major polluter, such as TXU here in Texas, says that they’ve offset 100% of their emissions . . . how do I check? They could be lying, and/or the folks they bought the offsets from could lying. Maybe I’m just too old and cynical.

    I guess I’m more in favor of carbon taxes which would give an immediate and measurable incentive for companies to implement mitigation technologies. I would add the caveat that the carbon tax revenue would need to be allocated to AGW mitigation activities.

  46. 246
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Well, the only way is to have independent audits. My guess is that you are right–this will attract some shady operators who just dump some seedlings on the ground, if that much, and say they’ve offset carbon emissions. However, there are organizations that can independently audit and certify that remediations are going on.
    Again, with carbon taxes, how do you know that the money went to mitigation and not to a porkbarrel project with some rationale…”well this bridge saves 2 miles on people’s commutes, so it’s saving energy…” No matter who you trust (e.g. gov’t, business or some nonprofit), your trust should be verified.

  47. 247
    Timothy Chase says:

    Phillip Shaw (#240) wrote:

    That said, I confess I have never been comfortable with the concept of carbon offsets. I just don’t see how they can realistically reduce our aggregate carbon emissions. A polluter offsetting its carbon by paying another entity to not pollute is like a fat person losing weight by paying a trim person to skip dessert.

    Although Ray Ladbury recognizes, there are opportunities, there are also large problems with how carbon offsets are handled, at least at present. It is often unregulated and undocumented, and I find it disturbing that I have seen contrarians peddling carbon offset services where presumably they do the math (in terms of what carbon offsets need to be made) and handle insuring that your company’s carbon offsets are being offset by someone else.

    There is also the problem that, for example, with biofuels, we are often exporting our carbon emissions to third world countries where rainforests are cleared for crops with which to produce the biofuel. Likewise, whatever crops are being used for biofuel are crops which are no longer being used for food, and with the coming droughts, harvests will be sharply declining in many countries, leaving people with even less to eat.

    Carbon offsets may work, but it will have to be well-documented, probably by independent parties. And we need to keep in mind the fact that if there is a legal way of getting around carbon offsets, such as exporting carbon emissions to where it is less likely to be enforced, someone will probably find a profit in it.

  48. 248
    Timothy Chase says:

    CO2 Science has a side-business…

    Well, this might not be carbon offsets, but it is GHG accounting and reporting…

    Thus, in an effort to assist those who desire to begin GHG accounting and reporting, we will attempt to provide you with some basic information to get started. For those needing more specific information or desiring professional assistance in compiling a report, please contact us. Since 2001, our organization has provided companies with professional assistance in filing GHG reports with the U.S. Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program, established by Section 1605(b) of the Energy Policy Act of 1992. We hope that you too will turn to our Center with your GHG reporting needs. Together, we can prepare an accurate, complete, consistent, relevant and transparent accounting of your emission and sequestration activities.

    http://www.co2science.org/scripts/CO2ScienceB2C/about/ghgreport/ghgreporting.jsp
    http://web.archive.org/web/20060424122412/http://www.co2science.org/scripts/CO2ScienceB2C/about/ghgreport/ghgreporting.jsp

  49. 249
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wow.

    I’m not cynical enough yet.

  50. 250
    tamino says:

    Re: #244 (MDC)

    I find it disingenuous that you begin your comment by saying,

    My intent is not to justify not doing anything…

    then you devote the entire comment to justifying not doing anything. You even state,

    I plan on ‘not doing anything’ for exactly as long as it makes economic sense to do so…

    You’re using “economic sense” to justify not doing anything.

    I don’t happen to agree with your economic arguments (read the Stern report), and I think your argument is rooted not only in selfishness, but in short-sightedness.