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Live (almost) from AGU–Dispatch #1

Filed under: — raypierre @ 11 December 2007

Welcome, dear readers. For all of you who have eagerly been awaiting Part II of Les Chevaliers, thank you for your patience; with all the other interesting stuff coming up for discussion at RealClimate, the plans to post Part II ran up against the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, when 15,000 of our prime audience are holed up in San Francisco trying to decide which of a half dozen simultaneous sessions at any time best command their attention. Be of good cheer — Part II will be coming along in about another week. Meanwhile, Yours Truly offers a few off the cuff dispatches giving a personal and unedited view of a few things going on at AGU that may be of interest to the RealClimate readership.Myself, I have been spending a lot of time looking at some of the exciting new data coming in from planetary missions, but I’ll spare you that, and talk about things related to global change. I do not pretend that these are necessarily the most important things going on at the meeting, but they are a few things that I happen to have attended, and which caught my attention.

Today, the climate change related session I got to was Climate Change in Greenland: Past and Present (session C13A), with M. Kelley, I. Hakansson and M. Nettles presiding. Actually, I only got to the second half, because of a conflict with a Mars climate poster session, but the half I got to was a real eye-opener. This was a well-attended (really packed, standing room only) session, that generated a lot of excitement. Perhaps I’ll be able to snag some of the images later in the meeting to show you, but meanwhile I’ll do my best to give you some of the picture in words at least.

To put things in perspective, I should first mention the talk by Tom Lowell, on work in collaboration with about a dozen other authors, concerning organic remains from the Istorvet Ice Cap in East Greenland. These are organic remains recently uncovered by the retreating glacier. Dating them tells you when the glacier had last retreated that far. Carbon-14 dates put the date of this earlier glacial retreat to between AD 800 and 1014, bracketing the time of the Norse colonization. Insofar as glaciers are primarily sensitive to temperature, that does indicate that in the Middle Ages this particular place, at least, was probably as warm as at present. It is an indication of some kind of regional warming in the area in the Middle Ages. Thus, if Greenland were taken in isolation, one couldn’t confidently say that what is going on there just now is completely unprecedented in the Holocene — at least not yet. However, as Tom would happily tell you, the Middle Ages were not as generally warm as the present, and Greenland shouldn’t be taken in isolation. It is the rapid melt in Greenland today, taken as one of a vast constellation of signatures of unusual warming, that gives one cause for concern.

And there was ample evidence presented of startling change going on in Greenland — changes in the ice that could raise sea level far beyond the projections given in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. J.E. Box and collaborators presented new work on Greenland outlet glacier sensitivity to surface melting. Outlet glaciers are the very dynamic “drains” through which Greenland loses much of its ice. Earlier work by Zwally et al documented the rapid sensitivity of surges in such glaciers to melt water forming on the surface and penetrating to the base. Box and company documented how ubiquitous the melt ponds are, and how every one, basically, is pouring water through a moulin down to the base. Valliant graduate students have waded chest-deep in the melt ponds to measure the rate of drainage. The work documented much more broadly than ever before how outlet glacier speed responds to warming of the environment.

Leigh Stearns and collaborators point out that the Greenland Ice Sheet’s contribution to sea level has doubled in the past five years, due largely to factors connected with ice dynamics (and not incorporated in the IPCC estimates). They showed satellite data which indicates that just two glaciers — Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq — might account for 10% of this increase. Ominously, more glaciers are primed to pop as climate continues to warm. About the increased flow speeds in this region, they suggest the system has entered a new state: “We speculate that these faster flow speeds represent a new long-term state of behavior which, while not as dramatic as the short-lived periods of peak speeds, have important implications for the rate of sea level rise.”

Mark Fahnestock and collaborators presented additional evidence of the responsiveness of the Greenland ice sheet to climate change around the margins. Changes in outlet glacier systems correlate very well with changes in the temperature of the neighboring sea waters. Some of this may be due to increased melt in the ablation zone, but the effect of warm waters on the calving zone where glaciers discharge into the sea may be a factor,as may be direct mechanical effects of sea ice. The coasts of Greenland have experienced dramatic warming, with satellite data showing the sea having warmed by 4C over the past 15 years. Winter freezing along the coast has shown a dramatic decrease (noticed even by the local Inuit, who in places can no longer traverse certain fjords on dogsled in winter). The dramatic decline in winter freezing shows up in satellite-based sea ice extent maps. If the sea ice goes, can Greenland be far behind? Altogether, things are beginning to look very grim in Greenland — a sentiment expressed by many of the presenters.

Now, that was some of the interesting science, fascinating if scary. Another presentation given today was scary in quite a different way, and altogether aggravating. John Marburger, President Bush’s Science Advisor, gave the Union Agency Lecture. His lecture was called “Reflections on the Science and Policy of Energy and Climate Change.” The good news, I suppose, is that he at least stated that he accepted the established physical connection between CO2 increase and warming — the inhibition of infrared emission by CO2, amplified by water vapor feedback. That’s about the only good thing I can say about the lecture. It was basically an hour long apology for the White House global warming policy. And don’t get me wrong — by “apology” I do not mean that he was expressing regret for the dismal performance of the White House in this sphere.

While acknowledging the correctness of the basic physics, Marburger implied that it was impossible to make useful predictions of climate damages, because of difficulties models have with forecasting regional climate change and things like response of El Nino to warming. Over and over, he castigated the community for being reluctant to do research on adaptation, and over and over stated that adaptation was cheaper than mitigation (reducing CO2 emissions). He stated that it was going to be basically impossible to reduce emissions significantly anyway, since the technologies didn’t exist to do that (I guess he never read Pacala and Socolow’s paper on the wedge concept). His basic answer to everything was that nobody would (or should) do anything until carbon free energy became cheaper than current means of producing energy by burning fossil fuels. There was no recognition that things like carbon taxes might be necessary to put the cost of harms due to climate change into the market. These damages were basically ignored in his world view — except insofar as he said they should be handled by adaptation. “Anthropogenic Climate Change is not the only source of risk to vulnerable populations” He mentioned the need for clean water — the favorite example for everybody who wants to ignore climate change.

He had lots of praise for fossil fuels “Fossil fuels have made modern economies possible.” and echoed the Bush administration line by saying the goal should be to reduce carbon intensity (carbon per $ of GDP) not carbon emissions. Sorry, Dr. Marburger, but infrared radiative transfer doesn’t give a fig about GDP. It’s the emissions that count, and they somehow have to be brought down.

It will be no surprise that Marburger hewed to the line that only voluntary carbon reductions should be sought. He referred to “aspirational goals” as the basis for global carbon policy. More remarkably, he put the blame on Congress when somebody asked why no mandatory carbon caps had been put into place — conveniently ignoring that Congress is within a few votes of passing such a cap, but is laboring under a Presidential veto threat. Even more remarkably, in response to a question about White House censorship and re-writing of documents touching on climate change science, he defended these as “Legitimate attempts to improve the communication of science,” and to “correct some fine points that got glossed over.” He baldly stated, “I have not found any evidence of any attempt to censor science.”

Perhaps somebody should ask Jim Hansen for a second opinion on that. I’m sure our readers can provide Dr. Marburger with additional examples, if he needs a reminder.

Now, I know I am dangerously straying away from the central orbit of RealClimate, and risking touching on politics when I comment on Marburger’s speech. As a major speech presented at a national scientific meeting, I think what was said is probably of interest to our readers, or at least those of us who inhabit the reality-based community. What is going on in the White House very much affects the climate in which science is conducted,and the way scientific results are (or are not) translated into policy. As such, I think this is worth a bit of our attention,and I beg your indulgence. the rest of these dispatches will not stray from the straight and narrow, and will focus on purely scientific commentary.

‘Til tomorrow,

Yours Truly,

Ray Pierrehumbert

Note: Information on the meeting (including abstracts and some webcasts) is available here.


133 Responses to “Live (almost) from AGU–Dispatch #1”

  1. 1
    Silver R. says:

    Dr. Marburger needs a reality check:

    http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20071210101633.pdf

    “The evidence before the Committee leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.”

  2. 2
    Mike Donald says:

    Liked the article which had mercifully few numbers for a simple soul like me.
    But Ray could you give us some numbers based on the statement “that could raise sea level far beyond the projections given in the IPCC”?

    Not that I’m into masochism but I think a lot of viewers would be interested in those figures.

    Be dangerous!

    Regards

  3. 3
    Jean-Pierre EMILE says:

    I’m simply curious about Climate Change. I live in France and I prefer when you write “la langue de Molière”.
    Is it possible to translate this article ? “Les chevaliers” were written also in French language, perhaps to allow Claude Alègre’s friends (or opposing them)understanding something about your pleasant discussion ! May I hope a French version ? (You can see by yourself that my English is not “at the top”…)
    Thank you for your patience,

  4. 4
    Nigel Williams says:

    Great report, thanks! Is there someplace we can read the abstracts or presentation info?

  5. 5
    pete best says:

    Staggering but typical and at least now we truely know the stance of the current US administration in this regard. However seeing as how some of the largest companies in the world are in the automative and oil/gas sectors and lobbying is the means to seduce politicians then it comes as no suprise. Targeting the banks is the way to tackle climate change, force them (somehow) to not back fossil fuels projects but alas it is probably too late for 2C, but we could stop 3C.

    The US sponsors China too so I guess that there will be no change there either and Russia is making a comeback due to fossil fuel revenues too.

  6. 6
    Paul Miller says:

    Thanks Ray. The reports from Greenland are worrying, but Marburger’s lecture
    sounds more so. How did the audience react?

    If we assume that this is also the attitude of the US delegation in Bali, then
    we’re in a great deal of trouble.

  7. 7
    George Robinson says:

    Interesting article.

    Always interesting as well is to get some info regarding Pres Bushs science advisor. The White House, and all its advisors, always read from the same hymn sheet, even if the hymn sheets contains falsified information. As long as this administration is still in the W H, there will never be a change of policy. Its just a matter of more coal on the firs and to hell with the world, we, the USA will do just as we please.

  8. 8
    Michael says:

    Mr Marburger’s focus on adaptation is inappropriate. The disintegration of ice sheets that is being driven by human activities leads to damages which are highly quantifiable.

  9. 9
    Antti says:

    Interesting findings from Grönland. I’d ask what caused the 800-1010 warmth period
    in Grönland, wether based on the Climate Model simulations?

  10. 10
    Ethan says:

    I’m not sure I understand your comment about the current temperature not being a local record for Greenland. Doesn’t that assume that the ice is in equilibrium, or least, not more out of equilibrium than it was during the Viking settlement? That seems unlikely.

    [Response: Yes--this is a clear problem with the interpretation offered above. Its tantamount to the problem discussed by Gavin in the "Past Reconstructions" post below where workers sometimes sloppily interpret the terminal end of a low-resolution proxy record as "modern day" even when the implicit averaging processes involved may mean that it really only measures mid or perhaps even early 20th century. As we know, that makes all the difference. I would certainly have hoped that the speaker would have acknowledged this issue. Perhaps Ray can comment on whether or not that was the case. -mike]

  11. 11
    Phil says:

    On the subject of Marburger and Bush’s cronies, see the House of Representatives report “POLITICAL INTERFERENCE WITH CLIMATE CHANGE SCIENCE UNDER THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION”

    http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20071210101633.pdf

  12. 12
    Hank Roberts says:

    If you can point to any other place you might blog about or comment on the planetary mission news, I’d be grateful.

  13. 13
    Eli Rabett says:

    Repeat Eli’s mantra constantly

    “Adaptation without mitigation has infinite procrastination penalties”

    Too bad no one pointed this out to Marburger

  14. 14

    Hank & others,

    This is a link to the AGU 2007 Fall meeting home page: http://www.agu.org/meetings/fm07/

    There is a webcast tomorrow on Mars which might interest you.

    Cheers, Alastair.

  15. 15
    Don Thieme says:

    The A.D. 800-1014 timing for retreat of glaciers on Greenland seems a bit earlier than one usually reads for the “Medieval Warm Period.” I would be interested in learning whether Lowell thinks that the global MWP ages need to be revised or if Greenland is leading it for some particular reason. It does seem that Lowell is inclined to link the glaciation and deglaciation on Greenland to global change.

    [Response: What global Medieval Warm Period? There is no such thing. --raypierre ]

  16. 16
  17. 17
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # *

    Eli, this is not meant as a contra-mantra:

    “It is impossible to adapt to a continuously moving target”

  18. 18
    Dr. J says:

    Actually, I enjoyed this one yesterday:
    “PP13B-1289

    Abrupt climate change and collapse of deep-sea ecosystems during the last 20,000 years”

    It shows the abrupt climate changes that have occurred with regularity throughout earth’s history and the numerous and cyclical changes that are natural and not driven by man. There are numerous other posters and papers at AGU this week that show the same things in the paleoclimate section. It would benefit the meteorologists and climatologists, who routinely ignore paleo data, to educate themselves about earth history. If they were to listen, they might not be so certain man is causing all warming during the last, tiny time period of a few decades where they focus all their efforts.

    [Response: Oh please. Half the authors here publish paleo papers all the time, dealing with Snowball Earth, to the PETM, to abrupt change in the glacial, to the 8.2kyr event, to the mid-Holocene, to solar and volcanic forcing in recent millennia etc. etc. This claim of climatic myopia is itself very short sighted. - gavin]

  19. 19
    Walt Bennett says:

    Good morning, I am Mr. Broken Record, here to tell you the same thing I have told you several times (cue laugh track):

    Marburger’s stance, while unappealing, has one thing going for it: reality.

    Can somebody point me toward a cost analysis for any carbon-taxing scheme? What will be the impact to the consumer?

    Given that consumer prices for oil have essentially doubled in two years, have we seen an assessment yet of the impact of that increase on the working poor in this and other countries? Are we prepared to continue to increase that cost?

    Of course the cost will continue to increase due to scarcity and demand, and of course this will have the eventual, beneficial effect of bringing other sources of energy into some sort of economic equilibrium (first up: coal). But what is being discussed, quite seriously, is some combination of schemes to artificially inflate the cost of fossil fuel.

    That sounds great – look! aren’t we so concerned? – but I’m probably not wrong about this: those involved in such discussions are not among those who will most likely be crippled by the increased costs.

    So, once again: Anybody got any numbers on that?

    As to Marbuger’s underlying point that adaptation strategies will be needed anyway, he’s right. As to his point that we will exceed the tipping point no matter what we do, he is almost certainly right.

    In the end, we will need geo-engineering strategies. If some of these turn out to be highly effective, we may not have to pay the procrastination penalty, and we may not have to pay the mitigation tax. Since we will need these solutions anyway, why aren’t we being more aggressive in developing them?

  20. 20
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walt Bennett, Sorry, but the cost of fossil fuel is actually subsidized. We subsidize it by practically giving away drilling and mining leases. We subsidize it by maintaining a foreign and military policy predicated on access to Middle East Oil (or do you think anyone would care about Saudi Arabia if it weren’t an island of kitty litter floating on a sea of oil?). Let Exxon pay for the Iraq war and see what that does to gas prices. The cheapness of fossil fuels–especially petroleum–has distorted the global economy. I can buy tropical fruits like durian and longan and mango more cheaply (per pound) than I can buy locally produced apples (assuming I can even find local produce in the stores). Look, don’t get me wrong. I like tropical fruits. I like being able to get oranges in the winter. But doesn’t it strike you as odd that it is cheaper to make something in China, transport it all the way around the world and be able to sell it for half what it would cost to make here. Got news for you: It’s not just the cheap yuan. It’s cheap oil that is distorting the economy. We are subsidizing conditions that are actually detrimental to our competitiveness.

  21. 21
    guthrie says:

    Walt- you seem so certain that we will need geo-engineering strategies. Have you costed them out properly?

  22. 22
    Ray Ladbury says:

    A few words on Marburger’s talk. The dichotomy between mitigation and adaptation is false. We do not have a choice. Rather we must mitigate so that we will have time to adapt. Indeed, since our ability to mitigate now is very limited (unless somebody can figure out how to build a few hundred square km of solar collectors or open up a few hundred nuke plants), for now our best bet is conservation. Those like Marburger who caution against the economic dislocation caused by reducing consumption are ignoring the economic dislocation that will occur as a warming climate starts to impact the complex infrastructure on which that economy depends.

  23. 23
    Chris Colose says:

    re #6

    The medieval warm period was a regional phenomena, so Greenland and bits of Europe and Asia may have been near-warm or as warm as today; however the point is that the global temp (if you factor in the southern hemisphere, the tropics, etc) was cooler than today with a good deal of confidence, though the error bars prevent us from saying for sure. See the NAS report at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11676 for further info

    Dr. Pierrehumbert,

    thanks for the updates. Is there a URL which goes over all of the latest AGU stuff so we can see it in more detail? Thanks

  24. 24
    Dan Whipple says:

    Re: 13

    It’s a mystery why people will downplay climate models, which seem to have a pretty good record on the whole, but swallow without salt any economics 101 model of the future, which have a proven track record of being terrible at predicting even what will happen next week, never mind next year.

    As Daniel Gross wrote on Slate this morning:

    “Economic forecasting is exceedingly difficult. The consensus estimates compiled by the Wall Street Journal and other outfits on measures like GDP growth and unemployment are frequently incorrect. As a profession, economists project growth when a recession is about to start and project recessions when the economy is poised for continued expansion. And as stand-up economist Yoram Bauman puts it, ‘Macroeconomists have successfully predicted nine of the last five recessions.’”

  25. 25
    Nick O. says:

    Great post, Ray, on both the scientific and political: more of the same, pse, but esp. on the science! The stability of the Greenland ice sheet has been a concern for some time (I remember colleagues discussing it over a decade ago), so it’s good to see the attention being focused on the topic, although I suspect none of the news is going to be ‘good’. Regarding the politics, I fear that we are moving inexorably to ‘geo-engineering’, with it’s fairly simplistic approach to the climate change problems; the potential that such engineering will be used as an excuse for humans to pollute and alter the planet *even more* is pretty scary.

  26. 26
    Nick Gotts says:

    RE #13 [Walt Bennett] Rather than a carbon tax, which could well hit the poor harder than the rich, go for a carbon emissions ration – the same for everybody. If you need or want to emit more than your ration, you can buy from someone who is able to make do with less. Hence, your mitigation scheme also has a redistributive effect favouring the poor. Google “contraction and convergence” for more detail. Somehow, I suspect the Bush administration would regard the redistributive effect as an additional drawback rather than an advantage.

  27. 27
    El Nino says:

    Yes Ray, Marburger’s talk was frustrating.

    I was happily surprised with his grasp of the scientitic and engineering problems at stake – proving one more time that the only real turkey in the White House is the president (save thanksgiving day !), while the rest of his staff is more than decently educated. The problem is the dark aims they apply their brains to.

    He did acknowledge the premise of Anthropogenic Global Warming, and to my amazement he also recognized that adaptation and mitigation go hand in hand (“you cannot do one without the other”), further emphasizing adaptation as a short-term strategy, while curbing emissions is the only sensible thing to do in the long run.

    So that was very good rhetorics, and that almost convinced that maybe this administration is finally taking climate change seriously. Of course, the illusion dissipated when he was asked a few hard questions (as the one you quote) and made evasive answers.
    For #^#$’s sake, he even admitted that his blaming Congress for the absence of legislative action on carbon emissions was “not serious”. He was chuckling. Seriously !!!

    I left the room when he conceded he wouldn’t discuss any more politics : since i hadn’t heard anything new about the science (other than he KNOWS it, but will do anything to justify its ignorance in the oval office), politics is the only area where he could enlighten me. Needless to say, he had not come for that.

    It left me somewhat sad, because it is rather clear that he knows what really needs to be done, but the duties of the job involve him ignoring his basic convictions, and parading his PhD to excuse the scientific illiteracy of his administrative superiors. Pretty disappointing.

    Funny, Chris Mooney has a great article in Seed on why the next president would be well inspired to choose his science advisor wisely article ….

  28. 28
    ICE says:

    #13
    “Since we will need these solutions anyway, why aren’t we being more aggressive in developing them?”
    maybe because these geo-engineering strategies are foolish ?

    “Are we prepared to continue to increase that cost ?”
    this is not the right question: the cost will eventually greatly increase anyway. the question is how this increase is going to take place.
    carbon tax (that is, a steadily, starting low but ever-increasing, tax (at least in the near future) on fossil fuels) is useful because it gives a slow, stable and foreseeable price signal to society, on which companies and consumers can adapt and rely to reorganize themselves, make plans, etc… while the market doesn’t: on the oil market it goes up, and down, then up, …- probably with the american recession coming over it will go down again, somehow, in the coming months – before it finally suddenly soars when everyone realizes supplies are running out.
    Market doesn’t send any long-term signal: the time scales of market and “society decarbonization” are therefore fundamentally incompatible, so you need something to correct that.
    [the question you could ask is wether or not it is to late for such a system to be useful, if you believe that Peak Oil is going to happen really soon, and oil prices sky-rocket anyway in the very coming years - my answer on that is very probably yes , but one should still try]

    concerning poor consumers, the state could use part of the tax income to lower some other taxes, like on wages – keeping a constant tax pressure, but a lower purchase power for carbon-rich items ?
    i found this interesting (and the whole site – maybe there are the numbers you are looking for)
    http://www.carbontax.org/blogarchives/2007/11/09/a-carbon-tax-when-oil-approaches-100barrel/

  29. 29
    ICE says:

    adaptation, adaptation… i wonder if those supporting adaptation realize that adaptation means anticipation, and thus requires far more a detailled projections of future climate than mitigation. you don’t adapt sort of instantaneously. if you want to build stuff not to far from the coast you’ll need to precisely know by how many dozens of centimeter or meters sea level will rise – or you need precise forecast of what future water supplies will be, of what lowest temperatures will be, etc…
    so those saying “we’re not sure about all that, its too expansive, let’s do just nothing now and adapt later” are indeed being really confident in climate science…

    by the way, did mr Marburger attend any of the talks on greenland that you first mentionned ?

  30. 30
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #14,

    These strike me more as opportunities for investment, with the risk absorbed by those who hope to strike it rich when their ideas emerge as having merit. Consumers are insulated from these costs, which are borne by investors. Also bear in mind that we are in the “talking about it” phase of geo-engineering. When you ask about costing, it’s not clear which costs you mean. Cost of implementation? We’d need concrete ideas before we could discuss concrete costs.

    My twin points are not addressed by your question: (1) artificially inflating the cost of energy will whack the poorest immediately, not down the road; (2) we will almost certainly need alternative strategies anyway, so playing the cost of one off of the cost of the other is a valid approach to choosing a path.

    Re: #15, when you’re dirt poor and somebody doubles the cost of a basic necessity that already eats up a large chunk of your available monetary resources, it’s a little hard to get worked up about “the economic dislocation that will occur as a warming climate starts to impact the complex infrastructure on which that economy depends”.

    Re: #18, that gets us back to who can afford the carbon, doesn’t it?

  31. 31
    Nick Gotts says:

    RE #20 (Walt Bennett) “Re: #18, that gets us back to who can afford the carbon, doesn’t it?”

    I don’t understand what point you are trying to make. You said (correctly) that a carbon tax would tend to hit the poor. I offered an alternative which would also reduce emissions, but does not have this drawback. Would you please try to clarify?

  32. 32
    bigcitylib says:

    13# Any numbers on what it cost to loft a huge mirror into space, to build a sea-wall around NA?
    I thought not. Anyone who thinks adaption will be cheap is smoking something.

    Oh yes, and geoengineering solutions have to be international in scope or they won’t work. You think the U.S. will be allowed to loft a giant mirror into space unilaterally, assuming they can find a means of squeezing enough in the way of tax $$$ out of their citizens to build it? You are witnessing in Bali how unwieldy reaching any kind of international agreement can be. You think it will be any easier in the case of a geoengineering scheme?

  33. 33
    James says:

    Re #18: [Rather than a carbon tax, which could well hit the poor harder than the rich...]

    Is this really all that different from .e.g Marburger’s suggestions of reducing carbon intensity (carbon per GDP dollar), in that it’s putting socioeconomic goods (albeit different ideas of what those goods are) ahead of doing something that might actually reduce CO2 emissions?

    Isn’t it obvious that anything – either doing something, or doing nothing – is going to affect the poor more than the rich, just as for instance sea level rise will affect lowlanders more than people who live in the mountains? I suggest that we need to accept this, and get to work.

  34. 34
    Chris Squire [UK] says:

    I posted an extract on the Patrick O’Brian Forum which has elicited this enquiry: ‘ . . If someone thinks Greenland’s “contribution to sea level” has doubled, that means someone thinks they know how much Greenland contributes to sea level and that in turn implies someone thinks they know whether the sea level is rising or falling and by how much. Right? Yet I’ve never yet heard anyone quote a figure for actual, current change in sea level. There’ve been plenty of confident predictions for rising levels over the next decades or centuries but nothing going on now (so far). Are Leigh Stearns and collaborators blowing smoke, or are there measurements I’ve missed? Those of us who live on the ocean: Has anyone looked out the window recently and noticed that the tides in your neighborhood are higher than ten years ago? . . ‘ http://tinyurl.com/yuh2tu

    A well informed reply would be welcomed.

    [Response: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Recent_Sea_Level_Rise.png or http://sealevel.colorado.edu/ . As to whether people notice these things over the long term, ongoing sea level rise around New York is around an inch a decade and already shows up in increased high tide flooding in river-shore communities along the Hudson for instance. - gavin]

  35. 35
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 15
    Ray, you said

    [Those like Marburger who caution against the economic dislocation caused by reducing consumption are ignoring the economic dislocation that will occur as a warming climate starts to impact the complex infrastructure on which that economy depends.]

    Those who ignore the economic dislocation of global warming include day traders and CEOs focused on next quarter earnings. Maybe shop owners, tourism industry and oil, gas, coal producers have the same affliction.

    Being someone who believes all I am reading about the accelerating system changes outpacing modeled projections by decades, I have begun to recognize humankind is at the dawn of a new era; the collapse of capitalism.

    Capitalism cannot survive a three meter sea level rise.

    Virtually all of the world’s oil terminals, refineries and petrochemical facilities are at sea level and there is virtually no inland to which they can be relocated.

    Mention that in a Chamber of Commerce meeting and hope you get a response.

  36. 36
    Nick Gotts says:

    re #23 (James) “Is this really all that different from .e.g Marburger’s suggestions of reducing carbon intensity (carbon per GDP dollar), in that it’s putting socioeconomic goods (albeit different ideas of what those goods are) ahead of doing something that might actually reduce CO2 emissions?”

    If you mean contraction and convergence then it could hardly be more different. You start by deciding on the level of emissions you are trying to enforce – presumably, planning to reduce this level year by year. Then you divide the total emissions by the size of the population you are concerned with, and allocate each individual the same amount. You could then just say anyone who goes over is not allowed to drive, fly, or heat their home, but as well as being politically tricky, this would fail to give any incentive to those who can get under the limit without difficulty, to reduce their use further if they can. If they can sell this to those who need or want to go over their share, they have this incentive, so you are likely to be able to get greater reduction for the same amount of political pain and enforcement costs. The redistribution is a side-effect.

  37. 37
    Andrew Sipocz says:

    Re: “…response of El Nino to warming.” BTW: has anyone noticed that recently the expected SW U.S. rainfall response to El Nino/La Nina seems to have come off the rails. It seems to me that recently El Nino conditions have been resulting in drought and La Nina conditions have been ameliorating that. This is backwards from the expected (the maps indicate an ongoing relief of drought under increasing La Nina conditions). Check out the Climate Data Center’s Palmer Drought Severity Index maps. To me this indicates that the underlying response of the SW U.S. region’s climate to ocean temps isn’t well understood at this point. I’m not defending Marburger, just pointing this out.

  38. 38
    Steve Bloom says:

    Re #20: Geo-engineering is truly a last resort given the irresolvable uncertainties associated with large-scale tinkering with the climate. There are numerous, relatively easy major steps toward conservation and efficiency that could be taken but aren’t even planned yet. Has the U.S. e.g. banned incandescent bulbs or sprawl development yet? Didn’t think so. Even regarding a carbon tax, bear in mind that they could do quite a lot of good even if revenue-neutral. For example, the price of gasoline could be doubled (to levels that many in Europe are already paying, BTW) and then rebated back via income tax credits. That would result in in a substantial reduction in gasoline usage, choices of more fuel-efficient vehicles, etc., without actually costing anyone anything (albeit on average). In sharp contrast, Marburger’s boss threatened an energy bill veto in part because Democrats wanted to include a repeal of tax breaks granted to the oil companies a few years ago. These are the same oil companies that are presently enjoying historically-high profits.

  39. 39
    Pekka J. Kostamo says:

    Walt:
    “These strike me more as opportunities for investment, with the risk absorbed by those who hope to strike it rich when their ideas emerge as having merit. Consumers are insulated from these costs, which are borne by investors.”

    Could you please explain your business model a bit more. Who would the customers be, buying this product, so that the investors can confidently expect a decent profit? Profit being the price for absorbing the risks.

    “Investment” is just another fancy name for borrowed money. “Investment” is not grant money.

  40. 40
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #21,

    Perhaps I am not as confident as you are that the “allocation” will meet minimum needs. To the extent that a typical consumer might need to acquire extra carbon on the open market, we are still discussing artificial inflation of the cost of a necessity. In other words, your suggestion is too pretty to work. To the extent that you are attempting to shift the main cost to those who are presumably more able to pay, I think that concept needs further exploration. However, other paths hold more promise, I think. Those include: conservation and efficiency improvements; lowering the cost of alternatives, especially those which do not require an infrastructure and are micro-scalable; and mitigation strategies which include geo-engineering to reduce the warming effect and/or remove carbon from the atmosphere. None of those will have a direct cost impact on the poor.

    Re: #22,

    I categorically disagree with “geoengineering solutions have to be international in scope or they won’t work”. On the contrary, these can very easily be private enterprise on a “several nation” scale. You might make a fair point if you say that China, for example, would stand to benefit from a solution they did not pay for. Of course. that’s one useful implementation of tariffs. Furthermore, I am not thinking of anything as grandiose as giant mirrors. Sulfur infusions or something similar, perhaps, without the acid rain effect. Over oceans moreso than land, perhaps. I am thinking of targeted, practical and manageable solutions. I am thinking we could be there in 20 years if we put our minds to it.

    Re: #23,

    Certainly the cost of doing nothing will whack the poor. But it is fundamentally dishonest to make the poor pay ANY share whatsoever of the cost of correcting this problem. These are the people on whose backs the burdens of building this infrastructure were borne; these are the people whose health is blithely disregarded by these energy producers until the government steps in. These are the people who are at the very bottom of the food chain already. They are not the cause of this problem, and they cannot afford to be directly taxed in the name of chasing a “solution” which has dubious prospects anyway. This is the left’s big idea? Tax the poor? We can and we must do better.

    Re: #25,

    ” I have begun to recognize humankind is at the dawn of a new era; the collapse of capitalism. Capitalism cannot survive a three meter sea level rise.”

    I have said something similar, that AGW is capitalism’s biggest challenge. The capability to solve an international problem without war and without crushing the poor has yet to be demonstrated. Failure to do so this time will, as you anticipate, create a world of chaos. What results from that will likely be extremely violent for several generations, at least.

  41. 41
    Eli Rabett says:

    Raypierre – EUROPEAN Warm Period!!! gotta choose your words carefully (although Medieval refers specifically to a period of european history the usage has corrupted the meaning)

    [Response: Actually, this further exposes the problematic nature of these broad-brush terms. European proxy evidence suggests that the regional European warming doesn't even time w/ the peak Greenland warmth (which as noted, appears to have occured a century or two earlier). -mike]

    John McC – Like yours too. Face it, you gotta have sound bites, cause a lot of folk are out shopping.

  42. 42
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “Those like Marburger who caution against the economic dislocation caused by reducing consumption are ignoring the economic dislocation that will occur as a warming climate starts to impact the complex infrastructure on which that economy depends.”

    The “economic dislocation caused by reducing [fossil fuel] consumption” that Marburger’s employer, the Cheney/Bush administration, is worried about is the transfer of wealth from the ultra-rich fossil fuel corporations to other sectors of the economy.

    The Cheney/Bush administration’s agenda is to prolong the gluttonous consumption of fossil fuels, particularly oil, and the associated trillion dollar profits flowing to the giant fossil fuel corporations, for as long as possible, until the supplies are depleted to the point where they are not economically recoverable (ie. when it takes more energy to extract them than the extracted fuels yield when burned and fossil fuels are therefore no longer an “energy source”).

    The ultra-rich cronies and financial backers of the Cheney/Bush administration expect to become so unimaginably wealthy during the post-peak-oil era of skyrocketing demand and dwindling supplies that they will be able to insulate themselves from the “economic dislocation” resulting from anthropogenic global warming.

    They simply don’t care if hundreds of millions of people, particularly poor people in the developing world, die from loss of fresh water supplies, famine from the collapse of agriculture due to mega-droughts, inundation of populous coastal regions by rising seas, etc. They expect to be living luxuriously in their nuclear-powered climate-controlled domed cities protected by private mercenary armies, watching billions perish on TV (or more likely, changing the channel).

    That’s the point of view that drives the Cheney/Bush administration’s climate policy, and underlies the rubbish that Marburger was spouting.

  43. 43
    Andrew Sipocz says:

    Re: #24 The upper coast of Texas has experienced about 4″ of relative (regional subsidence plus global) sea level rise since 1990, the year I started working on tidal salt marsh restoration (we lost many of our tidal marshes from a now past acute episode of subsidence caused by groundwater extraction). The marshes inundated by daily tides are the most valuable for supporting fisheries. Where I do my work (Galveston Bay) these exist within an 8″ elevation range. That means we’ve burned through about half of the working life of my oldest projects and I’m not close to retirement. Also, we experience about 1,500 feet of beach movement inland for each foot of sea level rise. Those 4″ since 1990 mean that Galveston Island’s beach front will need to move 500′ inland to come into balance just for those 4″ of sea level rise. A big deal as the Island is only a mile wide and hasn’t yet come close to stabilizing from the previous subsidence event. Some areas along Louisiana experience 10,000′ of shoreline movement per foot of sea level rise.

  44. 44
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John L. McCormick, actually, I don’t know of any -ism that will fare any better than capitalism. We’re in terra incognita here–we’ve never before been able to alter the climate, and alter it in a way where we trigger unknown positive feedbacks at some point (and we’re not sure where that point is). Humans do a poor job at predicting risk. We exagerate risks we perceive as immediate and downplay risks that manifest gradually. The challenge here is overcoming our own human nature.

    Walt,
    So on the one hand you say that it is unfair that the poor should pay any costs of mitigation. Well, the only way to alleviate that burden is by assistance to alleviate the added costs for them. How much faith do you have that such a system could be administered fairly and without corruption?
    OTOH, we know that the poor will suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change. What to do?
    I’ve said before that what we have here is not a dichotomy, but rather two facets of the same problem–sustainability. We have to decrease ghg emissions while bettering the lot of the poor. Failure to do either will ultimately mean failure at both.

  45. 45

    [[Being someone who believes all I am reading about the accelerating system changes outpacing modeled projections by decades, I have begun to recognize humankind is at the dawn of a new era; the collapse of capitalism.

    Capitalism cannot survive a three meter sea level rise.]]

    Such things have been confidently predicted before. Actually, I expect that it’s socialism that can’t survive a three meter sea level rise, since it’s a much less flexible system. Capitalism can adapt pretty quickly. Not painlessly, but quickly.

  46. 46
    bigcitylib says:

    #28 Crutzen’s sulphur injection schemes involving injecting sulphur into the atmosphere somewhere and it coming down again as acid rain…somewhere else. So Canada, Mexico and the U.S. agree to such a scheme and wind up polluting China and Japan. How well do you think that will go over?

    With K.Z. House’s “electrochemical weathering” idea, which seems to me the least airy fairy of what may be termed geo-engineering schemes, you trade local pollution for a global reduction of CO2. But of course the plants have to be carefully located, and presumably the nations where they are located must be brought into negotiations even if they aren’t one of your “several nations”.

    Finally, yeah, lets get going and spend the billions needed to started up a geo engineering scheme. In the U.S. context, that means probably raising taxes or cutting spending. Mention that and watch you
    pols crap their pants. What ever makes you think that would be easier than complying with a post-Kyoto (mitigation) treaty?

  47. 47
    Joffan says:

    Re: Marburger

    It’s clear that both adaptation and mitigation require significant outlay for implementation. Either way the emission of carbon has a price which is not currently being paid by those responsible. The straightforward and immediately available solution is a fee for carbon dioxide (and other GHG) emission.

    The other factor in global GHG emission is the delicate question of population; and how to set policy that is most likely to produce an early stabilisation of world population. The key goals of education of women and alleviaton of poverty will require an enhanced energy infrastructure in many parts of the world. Avoiding (as far as possible) the emission of GHG in this would require a monumental effort which at present is being totally ignored.

  48. 48
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #27,

    It’s a fair question. The straightforward answer is, governments. I expect the best ideas to be reasonably affordable. For example, far cheaper than waging the “War On Terror”.

    There will be costs to individuals in some form or other, but they can be administered in politically feasible ways.

    Re: #31,

    We have to dance with somebody, right? My twin points remain: a direct tax will clobber the poor, and will almost certainly not solve the problem alone anyway. This implies that we need other strategies, and calls into question how much and how soon we actually will need to reduce emissions. This creates a whole new opportunity to compare solutions and evaluate costs.

    What we have now is a single solution: reduce emissions. As has been said here and elsewhere, that only begins to deal with the many facets of this problem and is much more a political solution than a scientific solution.

  49. 49
    Phil Scadden says:

    I think that the US administration has made the cold calculation that adaptation costs to the US are low especially compared to political cost of mitigation. I cant see the US putting up its hand to accept a few million refugees from sealevel rise or drought. I sadly think that the world will pay the cost of adaptation, even if much higher than mitigation, because of the imbalance in the distribution of the costs for mitigation and adaptation.

  50. 50
    W F Lenihan says:

    The reality is that there is no evidence that various types of mitigation measures will halt or significantly slowdown warming. I understand that a dramatic reduction in anthropogenic CO2 emissions, which realistically cannot be achieved, will limit projected warming by a small fraction of one degree C.

    China, India and Brazil emissions will result in a net increase even though the developed nations spend a few trillion dollars limiting their emissions and ruin their economies in the process.

    To reject adaption as the main strategy for dealing with anthropogenic emission impacts is irresponsible. We need to learn whether the current phase of climate change is warming or cooling before major making expenditures to curtail CO2 emissions.

    Our 2006 net reduction in anthropogenic CO2 emissions by voluntary conservation and alternative energy sources proves that the market place rather than through a bloated dysfunctional UN bureaucracy is the obvious short term solution while ongoing empirical research provides better answers about current climate change.


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