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Transparency of the IPCC process

Filed under: — rasmus @ 9 August 2007

Recently, a Financial Times op-ed criticised the IPCC for having contributors and peers drawn from a narrow professional circle. I don’t think this is fair, unless one regards a whole discipline as ‘narrow’. Furthermore, recent public disclosure of both comments and response suggests a different story to the allegations in the FT op-ed of ‘refusing to disclose data and methods’. The IPCC has no control over the independent publication, but the disclosure of the comments and response at least enhances the openness for the synthesis of the report.

But it is pretty unusual in common scientific peer review that reviewer comments, such as those for the two first drafts of the IPCC Working Group I report (the scientific basis), are available on line – usually the reviewers’ comments are anonymous and the process concerning manuscript reviews are closed to the wider community. However, this does provide a good demonstration that the process leading up to the IPCC report has indeed been transparent and accountable.

For some, this release of reviewers’ comments may appear as a change of heart by the IPCC, and that it may look like the IPCC did not originally intend to do this. However, the fact that all the reviewers’ comments are available on-line, proves that all the information was indeed stored and organised for the benefit of the outside community (who ever they were intended to be). The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

An inspection of the comments shows that there has been a large number of reviewers. Much higher number than a paper review usually relies on (and don’t forget, the assessment is made of papers published in peer-reviewed literature and have already been reviewed for the individual journals).

One should also keep in mind that the main point of the reviewing exercise was to provide critical voices to the IPCC process. That is how science works and how it is supposed to work. Hence, it should not come as a surprise that one may find critical comments.

When comparing the IPCC process to normal peer-review, one should note that there are substantial differences: normal peer-review is not only anonymous but also non-public; in normal peer-review the reviewers do the whole paper not just bits; in normal peer-review the authors have a different balance of power with the reviewers.

Also the review process was very open – practically anyone could comment. There were a whole pile of comments from various government reviewers for the second round. In fact there is a lot to be said on the differences, however, this is not really the focus of this post.

Some have used these critical comments to create the impression that there are critical views to Al Gore’s film. Such framing displays a misunderstanding of the whole endeavour, since after all, it’s the final version of the report that really matters.

An important question is, however, how these critical comments were dealt with. There are several cases where obvious nonsense was rejected, but also plenty of examples where critical stuff was accepted.

The authors of the report used the input from the reviewers to improve the report. In some cases, the authors may disagree with the comments – after all, it is them who are the authors of the report; not the reviewers.

And finally, one should not forget that it is the final version that counts. In summary, the IPCC is indeed an open and transparent process and there is plenty of criticism from all quarters during the review process and the idea that it is just a closed forum is completely bogus.

Update: old link doesn’t work. Here is a new link.


78 Responses to “Transparency of the IPCC process”

  1. 51
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    Re #44 Matt Efficiency of rail transport

    Matt, I have trouble believing your contention that rail transport is LESS efficient than driving SUVs as far as CO2-emissions go, so I looked up some numbers myself. Generally, my conclusion is quite different from yours: traveling by rail could help a lot in reducing emissions.

    I happen to have a Dutch study at hand (by the Dutch National Environmental Institute), which gives for trams/subway: 0.8 MJ/passenger-km. This is a average figure over the day, resulting from 30% of the capacity being used. This gives an emission of 60 gCO2/pkm, or about 5 times as little as an SUV (300 gCO2/km). Note that this is a figure for mixed gas/coal electricity generation, giving 0.3 kgCO2/kWhE, using your 0.6 kg would double it to 120 gCO2/pkm.

    Trains yield pretty much the same emissions as trams/subway in this study.

    I found some more numbers here (scroll down to “trains”):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_efficiency_in_transportation#Trains

    Wiki gives 0.1-0.4 MJ/pkm for several European studies. There’s also an Amtrak number in the list of 2935 BTU/pmile = 2 MJ/pkm (if my conversion is correct).

    This site is also quite interesting: http://strickland.ca/efficiency.html

    Since I can’t find anything wrong with your figures, the conclusion seems to be that a. US trains are quite empty, or b. they are not very energy efficient (or both). On the bright side: there’s a lot of energy to be saved.

  2. 52
    Matt says:

    #51 Dick Veldkamp Matt, I have trouble believing your contention that rail transport is LESS efficient than driving SUVs as far as CO2-emissions go, so I looked up some numbers myself. Generally, my conclusion is quite different from yours: traveling by rail could help a lot in reducing emissions.

    I should have used SI units, sorry.

    I think our numbers agree if I did the math right. Note that 0.8MJ/pKM is 2.84 PM/KWH. I noted NYC subway at 0.975 PM/KWH. NYC’s subway is old and runs 24×7 (and likely has a figure below the 30% you note). A smaller city with a brand new subway could indeed do better. And seldom do subway transportation authorities quote the energy required by the terminals. That can be 20% of the transportation budget! Remember the original comparison was with the Tube, which I can’t find data on, but I’d venture to guess it’s closer to something like NYC’s subway than a subway built in the last 20 years. Note the reference I made was to inter-city travel (subway). Intra-city travel (trains) can be quite a bit more efficient than inter-city travel.

    You note SUV CO2 output at 300gCO2/KM, which is 480gCO2/mi. My figure was 496, so we’re very close. But also note I said a mom with two kids, which gives 496/3 = 164 gCO2/mi, or 102g/KM/passenger.

    So, an SUV with 3 occupants total will get you from point A to point B with 102g/KM, while a modern subway from your Dutch study would emit 60-120g/KM, depending on how your electricity is generated.

    I stand by my original statement that a Londoner using the tube, and a NYCer using an SUV are identical beasts when it comes to CO2 output.

    And I trust most reading this are still shaking their heads that an SUV with 3 occupants is more efficient for getting from point A to point B in a city than most every subway system in the world. And a family of 4 riding in a smaller hybrid makes the lone subway rider look outright wasteful.

  3. 53
    James says:

    Re #52, etc: I think you are leaving out one very significant factor. The CO2 per mile figure for the SUV is probably calculated on the assumption that it’s actually moving, and probably on an open highway with few stops and little congestion. These are not conditions that are frequently found in places where mass transit exists – certainly not in my (admittedly small) experience of NYC & London. You might need to revise the number upwards quite a bit to allow for traffic lights and gridlock.

    I think you’re also assuming that for the electric mass transit system 100% of the electricity is generated from fossil fuels (“mixed gas/coal electricity generation”), but IIRC in the US something like 20% of total generation is nuclear, another 10% or so hydroelectric &c, so the CO2 figures need to be adjusted for whatever the actual mix happens to be. And of course an electric mass transit system will run just fine on electricity from any source, while the SUV needs gasoline.

  4. 54
    J.C.H says:

    I think the only possible hole in his numbers is subway occupancy. Right now demand for gasoline is at an all-time high. That means there is little motivation for people to endure the inconvenience of planning their commutes and errands around a subway schedule and its limited destinations. The last time I was in New York the streets were jammed to their brims with cars.

    The rub in the United States is not just SUVs (should be low-mileage passenger vehicles), it’s commuting distances. Converting all vehicles to hybrids would help, but I think it falls far short of a useful solution. The insane commuting distances remain, and are getting longer each year.

  5. 55
    Matt says:

    #54 JCH: The rub in the United States is not just SUVs (should be low-mileage passenger vehicles), it’s commuting distances. Converting all vehicles to hybrids would help, but I think it falls far short of a useful solution. The insane commuting distances remain, and are getting longer each year.

    And the way we fix the insane commuting distances is to build wider roads and recognize that people want to go where they want when they want.

    If an SUV with 3 occupants can rival a modern mass transit system for pollution and fuel efficiency, then we can be sure that smaller electric cars can move people more cheaply and with less pollution than any mass transit system can even if you could hit 100% occupancy on the mass transit system. And the cost of mass transit is incredibly high. Seattle is currently building a $3B 16 mile train to carry folks from downtown to the airport. If general mass transit system can get 3-5% of cars off the road, this highly specialized train will likely succeed in getting a paltry 0.1% of cars off the road. For $3B. What a waste. And every day tens of thousands sit idling in their cars because the floating bridges are too narrow.

  6. 56
    SomeBeans says:

    Average occupancy for cars in the UK would appear to be a shade over 1.5:

    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/STATBASE/ssdataset.asp?vlnk=5154

  7. 57
    John Lagace says:

    As a doubter concerning AGW, I have the following questions that have never been addressed publicly.

    1) Solar activity is dismissed, on the basis that solar activity has not noticeably increased over 400 years. The troughs, however, have very much increased and appear to be reaching the maxes. What effect does this have?

    [Response: I don't think this is true. See recent article by Lockwood & Frohlich for more up-to-date information. -rasmus]

    2) Can someone please issue a simple proof that the trend over the last 400 to 1000 years is statistically significant? This is very doubtful to me as measurement error appears to be geater than the reported increase.

    [Response: It would be a fairly pointless exercise, as the AGW didn't really kick in before the industrial revolution. Hence, we are trying to test whether the global warming over the last 100 years is due to increased CO2 concentrations, and therefore the preceding 200-800 years are irrelevant for the trend estimations used in this context. -rasmus]

    3) If the trend continues, what are the benefits as well as the detriments to man and the earth? Only negatives are published. Methinks the earth will survive and mankind will profit. We fixate on the least of people and worry they will be flooded out. In past times, they migrated. Why not this time? Food should be plentiful, oceans bountiful.

    [Response: People will get affected, by e.g. sea level rise, changes in the hydrological cycle and more frequent heat waves. I recommend the latest IPCC report. -rasmus]

    4) And last: Based on statistical control methodology, prove that the control mechanism is well enough understood that the current attempts to reduce AGW will not drive it hotter and faster? (attempting to change a process that is not out of control limits can double the negative response) I worry more over this than any trend because fixing the issue, if it is real, is not a climatological issue, but more in line with my profession of chemical engineering.

    [Response: ???]

    John MS Chem Eng

  8. 58

    [[1) Solar activity is dismissed, on the basis that solar activity has not noticeably increased over 400 years.]]

    No, it is not. Neither clause above is correct. Solar intensity has grown very much over the past 400 years, since 400 years ago takes you just past the Maunder Minimum. And solar influence on climate is already accounted for in climate models. Its connection with the current rapid warming is because solar intensity has not increased noticeably in the last 50 years, thus cannot have caused the sharp upturn in warming of the last 30.

    [[2) Can someone please issue a simple proof that the trend over the last 400 to 1000 years is statistically significant?>

    Don't you know how to do a linear regression? The significance can be tested with the t statistic on the coefficient of the time term.

    3) If the trend continues, what are the benefits as well as the detriments to man and the earth? Only negatives are published. Methinks the earth will survive and mankind will profit.]]

    How, precisely, will we profit from the collapse of our agriculture and economy? Global warming will cause droughts in continental interiors and more violent weather along coastlines. In the long run, it will mean trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure is covered with seawater, hundreds of millions of refugees will be created, and in Asia, a billion people will be without fresh water.

    [[ We fixate on the least of people]]

    What the HELL does that mean? Who are “the least of people?” [edit]

    [[ and worry they will be flooded out. In past times, they migrated. Why not this time? Food should be plentiful, oceans bountiful.]]

    See above.

    [[4) And last: Based on statistical control methodology, prove that the control mechanism is well enough understood that the current attempts to reduce AGW will not drive it hotter and faster?]]

    Prove that turning off an erratically performing oven won’t actually increase its internal heat? Prove that stopping an out-of-control car won’t make it even harder to control?

    [[ (attempting to change a process that is not out of control limits can double the negative response) I worry more over this than any trend because fixing the issue, if it is real, is not a climatological issue, but more in line with my profession of chemical engineering.]]

    Oh boy, I saw that one coming.

  9. 59
    Bob Bergen says:

    re # 57:

    Your point # 3 takes no account of overpopulation. The estimates I have seen are that well over 90% of all arable land is already under cultivation, yet 2/3 of the world’s population is calorie deficient, and 1/3 protein deficient. Much of the very land that will be flooded is agricultural land, leaving an ever-increasing population with less acreage to till.

    Migration may have worked in earlier times, but where will millions of people (say, Bangladeshis) go that millions don’t already occupy?

    “Food should be plentiful, oceans bountiful.” This takes no account of the effects of air pollution on all types on crops, nor of erosion of fertile soils (not to be replaced, if ever, for decades), nor both overfishing and pollution of our oceans.

    I realize this is a little OT, but see little discussion of these issues here. My rationale is simple: there is no environmental problem which would not be made easier with fewer people on the planet. And that includes AGW.

  10. 60
    ks says:

    John,

    human emission of CO2 are decreasing the pH of the ocean, which is having the opposite effect as bountiful. since you are a chemE, I shouldn’t have to explain the negative impact of a more acidic environment.

  11. 61
    Arvella Oliver says:

    Well, Mr. John MS Chem Eng, you…I mean, really. You…wow. And I thought I knew from hubris.

    You’re the first person, to my knowledge, to so provoke Barton that he had to be edited. Now, will you answer his question? I too want to know what the HELL you mean by “the least of people”. Please do explain, expand, elaborate; you know, spell it out. I dare ya.

  12. 62
    Ike Solem says:

    The physical modeling work and the paleoclimate work and the observational data analysis all show that human use of fossil fuels is warming the planet and destabilizing the climate. The IPCC report demonstrates this to be true… although it could use a more convenient web-based format.

    However, some IPCC predictions and statements have already been shown to be overconfident underestimates of future change, such as this one:

    “Carbon dioxide cycles between the atmosphere, oceans and land biosphere. Its removal from the atmosphere involves a range of processes with different time scales. About 50% of a CO2 increase will be removed from the atmosphere within 30 years, and a further 30% will be removed within a few centuries. The remaining 20% may stay in the atmosphere for many thousands of years.”

    It seems that the definitive nature of this statement is not that well supported. It relies (in part) on the oceanic sink for CO2 maintaining its strength. However, see Southern Ocean Carbon Sink Weakened, 2007

    “…the Southern Ocean carbon dioxide sink has weakened over the past 25 years and will be less efficient in the future. Such weakening of one of the Earth’s major carbon dioxide sinks will lead to higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the long-term.”

    Exhaustion of carbon sinks is a very real possibility, and those who claim that ‘CO2 fertilization’ will result in greater future absorbtion of CO2 by the biosphere (an assumption included in some carbon cycle models!) should take a look at the effect of droughts, floods and heat waves on plant growth. Sink exhaustion would mean that a 50% reduction in fossil fuel use would have zero effect on atmospheric CO2 content (accumulation rates double).

    Thus, it seems that the upper range of IPCC estimates are more like the bottom end of the actual range of possible outcomes.

    As far as complaints about transparency? Well, if you want a non-transparent political process, look no further than the preparation of the US scientific research budget – which, despite all the hoopla by politicians over renewable energy and global warming, contains zero, yes, zero, earmarks for solar photovoltaic or wind R&D, but a hefty $500 million for fossil fuel R&D. Good luck seeing how that process transpired.

  13. 63
    John Lagace says:

    I will first respond to Rasmus’s and Bergen’s rational replies:

    1) The statistical significance either is or isn’t. If it is not significant, then it is in control and the drivers remain irrelevant. If it is out of control, then we have something to work on.
    2) The argument over heat impact on fish, crops and livestock remains an unsettled argument. I happen to see migration of flaura and fauna as a means to sustain or improve the availability of food to feed the masses. The reason we do not feed all of the masses is due to cost and logistics, not availability. Could Canada become the world’s bread basket? Hudson Bay Oranges? Manitoba rice farms?

    To others: That such simple questions excite this intensity is suggestive of deep emotional involvement. Partly good and expected, but focus on the questions.

    1) Mr. Barton. If the system is performing erratically, then the drivers are not understood enough to propose a fix and any attempt to fix it COULD drive it twice as far off. If you support AGW you cannot believe the system is erratic because you state the cause based on your measurements and modeling.

    I state that the system is not erratic. The climate is following known and unknown systematic drivers on a macro scale however complex. Control stats will simply show whether the trend has changed significantly over some measured duration.

    I expect supporters of AGW to show the stats that this is a statistically important trend. NOTHING is published in this regard. Show control limits! Simple! DO IT!!! It is imperative of supporters to develop the proof in so far as possible.

    2) “The least of people”. Those less able to control their own lives. Let’s use Bangladesh as a basis. Meant to state that all folks must grab some responsibility for not standing in rising water. They are smart enough to move inland over a few hundred years. I had a Bangladeshi driver in Saudi. Quite smart, but poor.

    3) Nothing PROVES the CO2 level will make the oceans and land mass less boubtiful. The question remains OPEN as to which direction AGW or GW will move this one.

    4)”Arvella Oliver Says:
    13 August 2007 at 5:46 PM
    Well, Mr. John MS Chem Eng, you…I mean, really. You…wow.
    And I thought I knew from hubris.”
    That is Mr. MS Phi Kappa Phi to you by the way.
    Hubris? I think not. Simple questions I find no answers for YET. Keep going, I remain skeptical, yet not anti. Your attitude could be suggestive of political rather than scientific motivations, however.
    Keep shoulder to shoulder facing the issues and not head to head. Only butt heads butt heads!

    John
    $%^* happens, but things of value take time and effort.

  14. 64
    Arvella Oliver says:

    “That is Mr. MS Phi Kappa Phi to you by the way.” You’re saying that with a wink, right? It’s a gentle, self-effacing reply to my snark, yes? The point is that most of us don’t feel the need to wave our graduate degrees in the air, esp. while making thoughtless comments about “the least of people”, and then come back later to wave our honors around while calling people names that hold pride of place with third graders.

    I’m not clear how my taking exception to your statement, “We fixate on the least of people”, makes me political, unless a firm belief in human equality is political…

  15. 65
    John Lagace says:

    Arvella,
    Take off line. I want to learn about AGW. I am comfortable with who I am and how I relate to others. None of my comments are ‘thoughtless’.

    John

  16. 66
    Nick Gotts says:

    re #57 [Methinks the earth will survive and mankind will profit. We fixate on the least of people and worry they will be flooded out. In past times, they migrated. Why not this time? Food should be plentiful, oceans bountiful.], and
    #63 [“The least of people”. Those less able to control their own lives. Let’s use Bangladesh as a basis. Meant to state that all folks must grab some responsibility for not standing in rising water. They are smart enough to move inland over a few hundred years.]

    Is it not a simple matter of compassion and to “fixate on the least of people” if this means those least able to control their own lives? Also a matter of justice if, as in the case of most Bangladeshis and the world’s poor in general, they have very little responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions causing the problem, but are going to be the ones most affected? I’m not sure where you think Bangladeshis are going to move to, particularly as your timescale of “a few hundred years” is ludicrous: much of Bangladesh is liable to soil salinity, due both to rising water tables and to occasional inundation: a sea level rise of a few centimetres could be devastating. Finally, you demand proof for this, that and the other, but are quite happy to say blithely “Food should be plentiful, oceans bountiful”. On what grounds do you make this claim? We are dealing here with complex social-ecological systems, already highly stressed by rising human populations, overfishing, soil erosion, deforestation, introductions of invasive species… Food production and disease control systems are both adapted to current climates: rapid climatic change is likely to cause devastating disruption.

  17. 67
    Hank Roberts says:

    John, you’ve made three statements:

    > I want to learn about AGW.
    > I am comfortable with who I am and how I relate to others.
    > None of my comments are ‘thoughtless’.

    All of us are here for the first reason. Learning about science means learning that we are wrong. Over and over.

    To begin to understand what’s happening, I found I had to reconsider my ideas about who I am, and what constitutes ‘thoughtless’ behavior in the world — because the questions raised force that reconsideration, to be able to understand the connections.

    I commend to you something Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote:

    “If only it were all so simple. If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

  18. 68
    Ike Solem says:

    John Lagace, you win the prize for the most nonsensical comments on this thread.

    You say that the effect of droughts, flood and heat waves on crops and livestock is ‘an unsettled issue’? Please! Recall that despite the fact that human beings invented fire many tens of thousands of years ago, it is only in the past 10,000 years of remarkable climatic stability that agriculture was established.

    If you want, go to google and look up ‘crop losses’ and ‘heat waves’ – here’s just one example: Rise in temperatures will impact crops: study.

    The notion that agriculture will ‘simply move north’ ignores the soil issues and the short growing season (global warming won’t change the tilt of the planet, will it?) as well as the increased likelihood of flooding, etc. See Crop losses due to flooding (NKorea) and Crop losses due to flooding (Britain>. So much for that.

    As far as the bit about controls and statistics, stringing a bunch of words together in an effort to appear ‘scientific’ is not going to fool very many people. Take a look at The Physics of Climate Modeling, RC. That might help.

  19. 69
    J.C.H says:

    No Ike, they’re going to feed the masses with gigantic veggies from the land of the midnight sun.

  20. 70
    Timothy Chase says:

    Hank Roberts (#67) wrote:

    All of us are here for the first reason. Learning about science means learning that we are wrong. Over and over.

    To begin to understand what’s happening, I found I had to reconsider my ideas about who I am, and what constitutes ‘thoughtless’ behavior in the world — because the questions raised force that reconsideration, to be able to understand the connections.

    Its been tough for me as well.

    I am very much pro-capitalism. Ludwig von Mises, Thomas Sowell and even Frederich A. Hayek to some extent – although not quite as much.

    I wanted to believe that if we just gave things enough time, the market would switch over to a cleaner approach. No more worries. But looking at what I see things are moving just too quickly. I suspect that government regulation is slowing the market down some, but in any case we need to move on this sooner rather than later.

    Likewise, I wouldn’t ever call myself an environmentalist, but on one issue or another I have had to work together with environmentalists and syndicalists. When the issue is important enough you set aside your differences and work together. I decided that this is what I must do because this is important. With the various feedbacks, I know that we could be hit rather hard by 2080 and even harder in the early part of th 2100s.

    Now of course this won’t affect me, but by the end of my life I will know people who will be affected, and I have some sense for how hard the economy will be hit. I have to do something about it. And while I am having some difficulty sorting out who I am and probably will for some time to come, I suspect that it will be easier for me to live with myself than if I did otherwise.

    So I’ve decided. Whatever it takes. For the individuals that come after me.

  21. 71
    Petro says:

    John Lagace wrote:
    “I want to learn about AGW.”

    Fine, start reading. Your Mr. MS Phi Kappa Phi brain should understand the basics of climatology in no time.

  22. 72
    Timothy Chase says:

    PS to #70

    I am sure that right now there are quite a few people thinking, “Well, of course this is going to affect you.”

    Some.

    I will probably face some personal difficulties.

    But I doubt that I will make it much beyond 2050 – assuming I make it that far. I won’t be affected like those who make it to 2080 or 2100. But for me the point is that I will know those who will.

  23. 73
    G.J. says:

    (As a complete layman) From what I’ve read of the proponents and the detractors of this issue is simply this … If you only look at the world through rose colored glasses, eventually you’ll see the world as red. However, it seems with this issue, that any other person making a suggestion of a different color are viewed as heretics. Both the detractors and the proponents are guilty of this; and I’m not sure that’s the way science is supposed to work. Scientists should accept that their understanding is always incomplete and you need others with the ability to think laterally to challenge your assumptions and conclusions with new ideas, hypotheses and proofs. If you don’t, the world is always red.

  24. 74
    Ike Solem says:

    G.J., you say that “However, it seems with this issue, that any other person making a suggestion of a different color are viewed as heretics. Both the detractors and the proponents are guilty of this.”

    That’s quite a misrepresentation of how this issue has developed. It started off as a purely theoretical discussion of how ice ages come and go, and how the atmosphere behaves. Those who originally pointed out that adding CO2 and other gases to the atmosphere could warm the planet believed that such changes would take place over thousands of years, not over centuries or decades. That’s c. 1906.

    What they didn’t predict was the rapid rise of human population and associated fossil fuel use as well as deforestation during the 20th century. In the seventies, people started becoming alarmed when calculations began to indicate that the warming would be greater and faster than any of the original scientists had predicted.

    The predictions of the 1970s are coming true – we see all the detailed scientific evidence from observations, we have the glaciers in full retreat, we have melting polar regions, warming oceans, increased land surface temperatures, etc. The climate is being destabilized, which many problems for human agriculture and industry as well as for natural ecosystems.

    However, even though the science is clear, a massive public relations effort has been mounted by the coal, oil and natural gas industries and also by the financial centers that rely on those industries. Their goal is to prevent any action from being taken that would result in the necessary 90% reduction in CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. At the same time, these interests have lobbied long and hard against development of renewable energy systems that could replace fossil fuels.

    This is a very short-sighted perspective. It’s entirely possible to rebuild the global energy infrastructure from the ground up using renewables, but let’s be honest: this will cost trillions of dollars and will necessitate a complete reorganization of the global economy – and the vested interests are afraid of this, so they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on efforts to prevent needed change. Their efforts are doomed to failure, but they have managed to keep any real action from being taken for about 30 years now.

    When future generations look back, these past 30 years might very well be viewed as one of the greatest missed opportunities in human history. It seems quite possible that fossil fuel interests will face serious future legal and financial responsibility for global warming damages as a result of their actions, just as was the case for the tobacco industry.

  25. 75
    G.J. says:

    Mr. Solem, when you say “the science is clear” are you also saying “the science is complete”?

  26. 76
    John Mashey says:

    re: #75
    A) Science models approximate reality, and better models give better approximations. Newton’s models were clear, and incredibly useful (and still are, for most things on Earth). Einstein’s are clear, and better … and still don’t cover quantum mechanics.

    Bohr clear model of atoms (collections of protons and neutrons with orbiting electrons) got us a long way. Schrodinger’s clear model or electrons was better, was better. The “Standard Model” is clear, and better yet.

    Science can give quite clear (and useful answers on which our civilization is built) … but “complete” is hard.

    B) As a layman, you need to get informed to avoid being misled by the arguments. In particular, it sounds like you think the visible arguments over AGW are normal scientific arguments, i.e., like what you;d find in Science or Nature. They aren’t: there is a large political component, in which some people employ tactics to obfuscate normal science, well-practiced in fights over cigarettes, acid rain, CFCs, etc, in which normal science threatened somebody enough to give them motivation to suppress it.

    There is some of discussion of this in:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/08/1934-and-all-that, comment #210 [and there will be more tomorrow].

  27. 77

    Re #74:

    I don’t think anyone is going to be suing the then-bankrupt oil and gas and coal industries. Okay, maybe coal won’t be bankrupt. And the way several oil companies are getting into solar — BP and Shell — they won’t be bankrupt.

    Capitalism is founded on growth — once “growth” ceases for a business or industry, Adam Smith’s Hand is going to start moving capital dollars towards wherever “growth” is, and that is not going to be oil and gas and coal.

    When I read about the supposed trillions of dollars it will take to rebuild the infrastructure, I wonder what sorts of technologies are being envisioned. Renewable electricity is approaching the point where it is cost-competitive with non-renewables. We already have to have new plants built, and with tens of gigawatts of renewable power in plan, and gigawatts of conservation still available to us, we are at a point where we can start making headway — without these trillions of dollars being spent — against electric generation related CO2.

    Biomass to liquid fuels has been proven at medium scale levels of production, making it possible to continue using the liquid fuels infrastructure that much of transportation uses in a renewable way. Electricity-based personal transportation is moving out of the hobbyist arena, and into the commercial arena with PHEV conversion kits, as well as pre-converted cars, increasingly available.

    All of this points to a very healthy process, all that’s needed is for people to make green choices moving forward. A conventional hybrid now instead of gasoline, a PHEV in 7 to 10 years, an all-electric in 15 to 20 years. You will already likely need the vehicle, just resolve to buy those kinds. Let your favorite company — GM, Ford, whoeverChryslerIsThisWeek if you’re into American cars — know you want them moving in that direction, if they haven’t already (which is why I listed them …), and will be buying from someone who does have hybrid products otherwise.

    The costs aren’t trillions. I get tired of seeing that. Many of the costs, including building thermal depolymerization plants, is already going to have to be paid — dino-oil refineries don’t last forever, nor do coal fired plants.

  28. 78

    I tried to make a complex and detailed post on the top topic and it didn’t take. Bummer! The comments were in a box. Yet I can post here where I click on the “more” link and the comments fill the whole screen. How do I post when there is no “more” link?

    [Response: Click on the title of the post, or on the 'Comments (pop up)' link. - gavin]


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