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The Forecast in the Streets

Filed under: — david @ 28 December 2007

The physical impacts of the global warming forecast can be bracketed with some degree of statistical confidence. Biological effects are more difficult to gauge, except in special cases such as the likely demise of polar bears that would result from the demise of Arctic sea ice. The societal effects, however, are nearly uncharted territory, at least to me. Perhaps the topic of global warming suffers from the same sort of cultural divide as university faculties, between the techies and the touchies; that is the sciences and the humanities. A new report (pdf) called The Age of Consequences, just released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security, tries to bring the social sciences, in particular history, geography, and political science, into the forecast of climate change in the coming century. It makes for fascinating if frightening reading.

The report was based on discussions of a group of senior luminaries with a wide range of expertise. I already knew or knew of and respect the climate scientists Mike MacCracken and Bob Correll, and Ralph Cicerone, head of the National Academy of Sciences. The group also included Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former Chief of Staff to the President John Podesta, and former National Security Advisor to the Vice President Leon Fuerth. (Apparently not all group members, listed in the executive summary on page 8, got writing assignments, so not all of them are listed as authors.)

Images of the future can be constructed based on the lessons of history. The history chapter (beginning on page 26) begins with Table 1, which I will reprint here:

Event Potential deaths
Volcanic eruptions 104
Earthquakes 105
Floods 106
Droughts 107
Epidemics 108

It is sobering to note that the potential horsemen of climate change, floods, droughts, and epidemics, are all at the big end of this list. There is no historical precedent for the type of global multidimensional challenge that changing climate may bring, but there are common elements in societal responses to natural disasters, and many of the impacts of climate change will be regional in scope rather than global, like natural disasters.

The report considers the historical societal impacts of disasters ranging from bubonic plagues in the middle ages to Katrina. History teaches that people tend to return to religion in times of trouble, and to turn against people outside their social group. Governments are destabilized by hard times. Natural disasters tend to impact most strongly in less affluent parts of the world.

History also teaches that people have a tendency to develop ways of coping with environmental fragility, by choices of individual living strategies such as the ability to migrate, or by decisions made at the societal level, such as engineered flood control measures or mobilizing assistance from outside. The report offers the idea that it takes a population a few generations to learn how to operate within the limits of its natural world. For example, the report attributes the dust bowl drought in some measure to environmental inexperience of a population who had only recently migrated from more humid regions. With our recent increased mobility, and with climate change itself, we find ourselves losing this buffer of experience and understanding.

The group imagined three potential scenarios, labeled expected, severe, and catastrophic. These are not forecasts exactly, since forecasting society is even harder than forecasting climate, which is itself pretty dicey on a regional spatial scale, but rather a fleshing out of plausible possibilities, a story-telling, visualization-type exercise.

The “expected” scenario calls for 1.3 °C of warming globally above 1990 levels, by the year 2040. Changes in precipitation and sea level prompt migration at a scale sufficient to challenge the cohesion of nations. The potential responses to this scenario are broken down into specific regions with their particular historical and political settings. Just to pick a region at random, Nigeria in West Africa will suffer accelerated desertification with climate change, prompting intensified migration into the megacity of Lagos, which is itself threatened by sea level rise. Compounding Nigeria’s misfortune, there is oil in the Niger Delta, and as global oil supplies dwindle, the strife and corruption that oil brings a weak nation will only intensify.

In the “severe” scenario, the globe warms by 2.6 °C by 2040 and sea level rises about a half a meter. Scientists in 2040 conclude that the eventual collapse of Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheets has become inevitable in the centuries that follow. Agricultural production declines in the arid subtropics and in increasingly flooded river deltas. Again to pick a random example from the report: the river systems in the American Southwest collapse, leading to impoverishment of Northern Mexico and increased migration pressure in the U.S. Resource stress in Latin American leads to a tendency toward populist, Chavez-type governments, and more extensive regions of de facto anarchy such as found today in parts of Colombia.

The “catastrophic” scenario assumes positive feedbacks in the carbon cycle to warm the planet by 5.6 °C by the year 2100, and sea level has risen by 2 meters. I feel compelled to note that if this is supposed to be a worst-case scenario, I personally can imagine worse in terms of sea level rise. In the social realm the crystal ball gets murkier as the report progresses from expected to severe to catastrophic, but one important ingredient in the prognosis for the catastrophic scenario is the migration of millions of people, a scale unprecedented in human history, potentially enough to undermine the stability of civilized governance. One participant recommended that we check out the movie Mad Max, only imagine it hotter.

There is far too much in this report for any sort of summary really to cover, and anyway I’m a techie rather than a touchie so my retread wouldn’t do the original report justice, but you get the idea. Results from the IPCC are summarized clearly, including regional climate projections, but the point is also made and discussed that climate forecasts tend to be in general conservative. In the arenas in which I have some competence to assess, the judgments the authors have made seem measured and fair to me. The report is authoritative and very meaty, bringing an astonishing array of perspectives and insights to the table. One could read this report and nothing else, and come away with a considerable expertise on the potential impacts of climate change. I highly recommend it to the readership of realclimate, and I look forward to reading your comments.

Thanks to Hank Roberts for digging this up.


363 Responses to “The Forecast in the Streets”

  1. 201
    CobblyWorlds says:

    #192 Hello Mark,

    I’m not totally dismissing Prof McGuire and I’m certainly not accusing him of misuse of evidence. I’m just not convinced that this is a substantial issue given the broader potential impacts we face with AGW.

    I’m also aware of the danger of undermining public opinion. Most people pick up a very loose impression of this issue, they don’t remember details as they have little terms of reference (I’m the same with TV Soaps and Celebrities – which, by comparison, my colleagues are expert in). There’s a danger of making the issue of AGW seem ridiculous by associating every problem with it. If there is a chance of persuading people then the message must be kept simple and strong.

  2. 202
    Alex J says:

    Regarding the comment on “peak oil” and “peak coal”: Considering recent discoveries of new reserves, and the apparent willingness of energy companies to use lower-quality sources, I’m unconvinced that fossil fuel peaks will save us. The cited article asks whether the U.S. has reached peak coal “in terms of energy”. Even if we have, does that mean lower grades won’t be processed and consumed, well beyond that peak? Is it possible that we’ll use more to compensate for a lower energy yield per ton?

    Coal is the bigger issue, but it’s likely to remain a competitive energy source for awhile. So we need to cut emissions as much as possible in other areas as well, including transit.

  3. 203
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mike D., is this your source for that quote?
    The only place I find it is:

    http://isccp.giss.nasa.gov/climanal1.html

    If that’s where you found it, you’ll want to read the bit before the bit you quoted — they are talking about the time needed to find a trend in the specific data they are collecting. It’s a particularly difficult area, and they have only 20-odd years of data so far.

    If you didn’t find it at that page, where did you read it? I’m always curious where people get their info.

  4. 204
    David B. Benson says:

    This appears most promising.

    Cap and Dividend

  5. 205
    Mike D says:

    Hank: I did read the atricle and that is the site.

  6. 206
    Mike D says:

    Hank:
    Yes! they are studying clouds and how clouds affect climate.

  7. 207
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #165 (Steve Reynolds) “Ray Ladbury> the problem is that resources are finite, and our consumption of resources may already be taxing the ecology of the planet beyond the breaking point.

    That is what limits to growth people have been saying since 1972.”

    The reference is presumably to Meadows, Meadows, Randers and Behrens (1972) “The Limits to Growth”. In the course of researching a conference paper recently, I reread this for the first time in decades, and was surprised to find that despite the crudity of their model, their projections have so far held up quite well. Specifically, their “standard model run” has no signs of impending disaster before the turn of the millennium, and peaks of food per capita and industrial output per capita around 2015 or 2020. That they predicted imminent disaster in 1972 turns out to be another of those factoids like “scientists were predicting an ice age in the 1970s”.

  8. 208
    Martin says:

    It is interesting to see how climate science attracts those who believe that Malthus was right. I am old enough to remember the Club of Rome report and the influence that it had. 12 million copies of “The Limits to Growth” were sold. The first big wave of green campaigners told me and others that the most likely outcome if growth were to continue unchecked was that petrol would run out in 1992, there would be no more gold to mine after 1981, mercury in 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, and copper, lead and natural gas would be all used up by 1993. Other models were also offered, but as I recall it they depended on urgent action being taken to reduce the rate of increase in world population and much lower economic growth, or preferably a prolonged economic downturn.

  9. 209
    Hank Roberts says:

    http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2008/20080102_researchplan.html

    U.S. Climate Change Science Program Issues Revised Research Plan
    Public Invited to Provide Comments

    January 2, 2008

    The U.S. Climate Change Science Program Revised Research Plan Summary is available in the Federal Register and online for review and comment by the public. Comments received by February 26, 2008, will be considered during the preparation of the final revised research plan and the forthcoming scientific assessment. …

  10. 210
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Martin, I would recommend you go back and look at the old Club of Rome studies–as Nick has in 207. Their predictions are actually quite good. In reality, the book was improperly named, as the concern was less with “limits to growth” and more with “limits to consumption”. As long as human ingenuity holds, growth can continue, but consumption must be brought under control–and that includes population control. Many of the conclusions of the initial study adumbrate the issues we are now considering.

  11. 211
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #208 (Martin) “The first big wave of green campaigners told me and others that the most likely outcome if growth were to continue unchecked was that petrol would run out in 1992, there would be no more gold to mine after 1981…”

    I have what looks like the source of these figures in front of me: Meadows, Meadows, Randers and Behrens (1972), Table 4 “Nonrenewable Natural Resources”. This includes columns for: Resource, Known Global Reserves, “Static Index”, “Projected Rate of Growth” (High, Average and Low estimates), “Exponential Index”, and “Exponential Index Calculated Using 5 Times Known Reserves”. The figures Martin quotes come from the “Exponential Index” column, which represents the years the known reserves would last if consumption grew exponentially (I think at the “Average” estimate, which presumably – this is not made explicit – is the rate of growth in some period up to 1972). The authors are careful to say: “Of course the actual nonrenewable resource availability in the next few decades will be determined by factors much more complicated than can be expressed by either the simple static reserve index or the exponential reserve index”. They have “a more detailed model that takes into account the many interrelationships among such factors as varying grades of ore, production costs, new mining technology, the elasticity of consumer demand, and substitution of other resources” (but still apparently assuming that known reserves would not increase). In the book they give the results of applying this model to chromium: this gives a time to effective exhaustion of 125 years, compared to the 95 years of the “exponential reserve index”.

    So if people gave Martin the figures he quotes without explaining these assumed known global reserves were all that was available (and that Meadows et al knew this might not be the case), and/or without any such caveat as I have quoted, they were oversimplifying what “Limits to Growth” said.

  12. 212
    David B. Benson says:

    martin (208) — Here is a link in which it is suggested that the world runs out of tin in 20–40 years:

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

    Assuming, of course, no new ore bodies are discovered.

  13. 213
    Nick Gotts says:

    At the simplest, we might summarise the message of both Malthus (1798), and “Limits to Growth” (1972), as “Nothing can grow exponentially for very long”. In the absence of unlimited miniturization, access to parallel universes, or some such “Deus ex Machina”, and assuming space is not infinite with a hyperbolic geometry, this is certainly true. The difficult part is knowing what will halt the exponential growth of any particular quantity, and exactly when.

  14. 214
    Aaron Lewis says:

    Re: lawyers.
    Maybe the whole problem is that for the last 30 years, more lawyers have run for elected office (and been elected) then have scientists and engineers. Maybe if there had been a couple of hundred scientists in congress in 1972, the Clean Air Act would have had a section devoted to greenhouse gases, and we would have reduced CO2 as we reduced sulfates. Bygones! Sometimes it is good to have a lawyer acting as your represenative and sometimes it is not.

  15. 215
    Hank Roberts says:

    And sometimes an engineer, maybe:

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/print/1231

    “… for the first time in the history of communist China, … of the nine members of the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo …. All, in fact, are engineers by training ….”

    Good article, worth a look

  16. 216
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Nick and Martin, One of the reasons I think it is premature to conclude that Malthus was wrong is because we have only really had about 30 years of decreasing growth rates for population. On a graph of population vs. time, this would still be a blip, and there have been several blips over time. Another reason for my pessimism is the degree to which our current prosperity–indeed our ability to feed ourselves–depends on cheap energy and petrochemicals. And the third reason for my pessimism is the amount of severe ecological damage we are causing, coupled with our seeming inability to take meaningful action to remediate it.

  17. 217
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Aaron, as a scientist, I can state categorically that you do not want 200 scientists in that body. First, most would rather be doing science anyway. Second, managing scientists is slightly less rewarding than herding cats. Scientists are as pig-headed as any other group.
    Having said this, a substantial minority of 10 or 12 might do wonders for the legislative process. Can you imagine a hearing in which a Congressman asks a question to actually learn something rather than to show how much he or she already knows?

  18. 218
    Aaron Lewis says:

    Re: Limits to Growth
    It is worth noting that Beyond the Limits (written in 1992)got global warming right. (pages 92-97)

  19. 219
  20. 220
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Re Lynn Vincentnathan @ 182, Philippe Chantreau @ 187:
    Thanks for the Jared Diamond Op-Ed. While I generally agree with what he is saying I would take issue his attribution of terrorism and support for terrorism to envy over the West’s consumption of resources. This is to misunderstand the causes of terrorism.

    On the Age of Consequences report, although I am still digesting some of the details, I will say the following:
    1) The chapter on Catastrophic Climate Change is somewhat light-weight on a systematic evaluation of the social consequences of environmental change and obsessed with terrorism. Maybe this is a reflection of the mindset of the author. ;-)
    2) The report as a whole gives far more emphasis to China and its strategic relationship with Russia than to the Indian subcontinent – especially India’s relationship with Pakistan and China (although these are mentioned). Consider this (from US Bureau stats):

    Country_____Popn2008(/10^6)___Pop 2040(/10^6)__Increase(%)
    China___________1,330___________1,455____________9.4%
    India____________1,148___________1,684___________46.7%
    Bangladesh________321____________508___________58.0%
    & Pakistan

    China has it’s population under control. It is in a much better position to deal with climate change than many other developing countries. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (the old British India) are a case in point. Their combined population in 2040 is projected to be 2.2 billion – close to the world population in 1940.

    The risk of a Malthusian catastrophy for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, along with most countries in Africa and the Middle East is very high. Climate change is likely to exacerbate this problem, especially for Pakistan, which receives much of its water via glacial melt-water flowing down the Indus River.

    India will have much greater economic and military power in 2040 than 2008. Unlike China, which may look to Siberia (as the report says, although this may not be necessary), India will have nowhere to move. The internal pressure in India will be immense. Bangladesh and a nuclear armed Pakistan will also be desperate by then. As the report says, India is building a wall to keep the starving Bangladeshis out, but what about Pakistan?

    I think the Malthusian catastrophy discussed in this thread is very likely to happen in many countries, and to be exacerbated by climate change. It is likely to play itself out as much in conflict as in starvation, as we currently see on a much smaller scale in Darfur.
    Note for some other regions:

    Region___________Popn2008(/10^6)__Pop 2040(/10^6)__Increase(%)
    Sub-Saharan Africa______788____________1,489________88.9%
    North Africa____________167______________234________40.6%
    Near East______________205_____________327_________59.5%

    Geesh, formatting tables is hard!

  21. 221

    There’s an interesting and relevant op-ed in today’s ‘NY Times’by Jared Diamond of UCLA on relative per capita consumptive rates in the developed and undeveloped worlds:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/02/opinion/02diamond.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    Regarding population growth,I believe the IPCC has several global scenarios where population growth levels off at mid century in its A scenarios, and does so in 2100 in their B scenarios, at about 9 million people(though not in their regional scenarios). The above referenced op ed has an interesting take on this relating to consumption.

  22. 222
    Ike Solem says:

    Typo: that’s “likely”, not “unlikely” in #197. If the Arctic is warming because of increased poleward heat transport, then that’s certainly not a “local phenomenon.” It also calls into question the claims made in NOAA’s 2006 “State of the Arctic Report”, such as this one in their summary:

    “There are indications that some components of the physical system may be recovering and returning to the recent climatological norms observed from 1950 to 1980.”

    NOAA’s arctic page is still a good example of distortion of science, however – the headlines don’t exactly match the reports. The politicization of science in U.S. government agencies is still going on, despite all the recent publicity about it.

    Regarding the report, the most disturbing feature of the report is the reference to the EIA’s projections of fossil fuel consumption through 2030 (a steady increase). EIA is a division of the US Department of Energy – which should be leading the way towards a fossil fuel-free future. Instead, DOE is pushing bogus projects like “FutureGen clean coal with carbon sequestration.” No carbon capture projects are ever likey to be put into action – for example, Shell and Statoil cancelled their plans for carbon capture recently.

    In other words, the current U.S. government remains the single biggest obstacle to taking effective action on climate change. There’s little money for research into renewable energy research and development, and certainly no interest at the DOE for reducing oil and gas imports or coal-fired power generation, and various U.S. science agencies are still understating the extent of the problem.

  23. 223
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Ray Ladbury> You mean other than rising commodity proces, the collapse of fisheries around the world, the reliance of green-revolution agriculture on petrochemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, decreasing nutritional content of produce, increased competition for water, depleting aquifers, decreasing tropical forests, inability to consume fish from streams all along the eastern seabord due to mercury contamination…?

    Ray (and others replying), I still do not see any evidence of “a fundamental limit to living standards for currently projected world population due to resources?” Nothing that you mention is fundamental; all can be solved with careful application of technology and non-fossil energy.

    As the Jared Diamond article that was linked says “Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to [resource] consumption rates.” It may be that some things such as physical transportation become relatively more expensive than now, but improvement in other standards such as life expectancy, health care, education, financial security, vacation time, and many others will likely far exceed any decreases.

  24. 224
    James says:

    Re #186: [You did not do the math correctly, and might do well to check for other order of magnitude errors before continuing.]

    OK, please tell me where my error is. Area of sphere = 4 * pi * R^2, radius of Earth = 4000 miles, gives surface of Earth = 200,960,000 square miles. Some 70% of the surface is water, leaving 60,288,000 square miles of land. There are 640 acres in a square mile, or 38,684,320,000 acres of land. Given a population of 6 billion, that works out to about 6.43 acres each – which I contend is about 5 acres (especially if we leave out Antarctica). It’s certainly not an order of magnitude off.

  25. 225
    AVE_fan says:

    Regarding posts #185, #197, #216, #219 and many others which express dismay at increasing manifestations of global warming.

    There is still hope for reversal of this trend. Read my article (Opinion) entitled–”The AVE Concept: A Paradigm Shift on How Energy Sources are Evaluated”, published today at http://Scitizen.com/

    No more excuses–time to “stop digging” and quickly phase out electric power technologies that contribute GHGs to the atmosphere and replace them with the Atmopsheric Vortex Engine which uses vast supplies non-polluting energy resources.

    An Engineer

  26. 226
    Danny Bloom says:

    Finally, one brave reporter in Canada, Stephen Leahy, reported on the “polar cities” idea in a news story that hit the wires worldwide today. You can read it here:

    http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=40663

    What’s interesting to me, and to the reporter as well, is how almost every “expert” and scientist that he contacted for a quote about the story REFUSED to give a comment publicly. Although I have many private emails, which I keep private and will keep private, from experts and scientists, even some of you reading this, SMILE, who did say the idea was worth talking about and discussing, if nothing else. But none of the big shots wanted to go public with a quote, pro or con. Why? What is the fear here?

  27. 227
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    Good points, Bruce. I agree that the terrorism remarks in Diamonds’ editorial are not very convincing. The rest of his argument, however, touches the crucial point: it is totally impossible for the western world AND the rest of the world to share the current orgy of consumption experienced by westerners. The result is that something’s got to give, but the entire world’s economy runs on consumption. Decreases in consumption in the US alone can send ripples to the rest of the world. Nobody in politics anywhere seems to have a darn clue about how huge and ineluctable this problem is. In my opinion, it is the biggest problem we face, possibly more immediate than GW, although GW certainly can make it way worse, especially if catastrophic stuff (like massive methane hydrate release) happens.

    As for your take on population, just by eyeballing it looks very much on point. China’s population has been somewhat stable, whereas the former English India is very different. I would think that Indonesia and other SE Asian countries also have quite a potential for trouble.

  28. 228
    Craig Allen says:

    News from the sweaty Antipodes – 2007 was a record warm year in southern Australia. The rainfall deficit for the last 11 years is now equivalent to the historical average yearly rainfall, and the current La Nina event isn’t bringing anywhere near the usual rain.

  29. 229
    matt says:

    #211 Nick Gotts: So if people gave Martin the figures he quotes without explaining these assumed known global reserves were all that was available (and that Meadows et al knew this might not be the case), and/or without any such caveat as I have quoted, they were oversimplifying what “Limits to Growth” said.

    Ah, yes, the prediction of doom with a widely ignored footnoot allowing everyone to leap off the bandwagon once the wheels start to vibrate and before the entire thing comes apart.

    Did the authors do much to correct the broadly consumed “takeaway” message that we were about to run out of everything? Did they go on TV and in Newsweek to broadly contradict the various environmental groups that were using the book to beat people over the head? Did they call out these footnotes when they debuted the book at the Smithsonian? Did the second edition add some text to the preface stating that everyone was misunderstanding everything? I think the answer to all the questions is “nope”, and thus we can deduce the intent of the authors quite clearly: scare the hell out of everyone.

    Wiki notes that a key idea in the LtG was that the reserves cannot be calculated by taking the reserves and dividing by current rate of consumption. Instead, the rate of *increase* in consumption must also be considered. Are you kidding me? That concept has only been around since 1972?

  30. 230
    Hank Roberts says:

    Why, yes, in fact, you _can_ look these things up.
    There’s more than a ‘footnoot’ — not that you looked, eh?
    Your own opinion, fine, everybody has several.
    Facts, you should always check to see what’s known these days.

    http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC32/Meadows.htm

    “The book was interpreted by many as a prediction of doom, but it was not a prediction at all. It was not about a preordained future. It was about a choice. It contained a warning, to be sure, but also a message of promise. Here are the three summary conclusions we wrote in 1972. The second of them is the promise, a very optimistic one, but our analysis justified it then and still justifies it now. Perhaps we should have listed it first…..”

    See? You really could find out that you’re wrong, if you looked.

  31. 231
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Re Philippe Chantreau @ 227, population growth in SE Asia:
    That was my take on Indonesia some time ago until I looked at the figures. For all countries in ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations):

    Country/Region_____Popn2008(/10^6)___Pop 2040(/10^6)__Increase(%)
    ASEAN_________________581______________754______________29.8%

    Brunei____________________0.4______________0.6_____________54.5%
    Burma___________________48_______________55______________14.7%
    Cambodia________________14_______________22______________56.4%
    Indonesia_______________238______________305______________28.3%
    Laos_____________________7_______________12______________77.3%
    Malaysia_________________25_______________39______________56.0%
    Philippines_______________93______________138______________48.7%
    Singapore_________________5________________5_______________8.6%
    Thailand_________________65_______________71_______________8.3%
    Vietnam_________________86______________106______________23.5%
    Note: percent increase calculated before population rounded.

    Indonesia is one of the ASEAN nations to have managed its “demographic transition” well. It’s projected population growth rate from 2008 to 2040 (28.3%) is less than for the United States (29.1%). In ASEAN, although there is some relationship between a country’s wealth and its position in the demographic transition, the relationship is not absolute – compare wealthy Malaysia (56.0%) and Brunei (54.5%) with impoverished Vietnam (23.5%) and Burma (14.7%). In this group I would only rate the Phillipines, Laos and Cambodia as being of serious humanitarian concern, lacking economic power and with excessive population growth.

    ASEAN’s relatively good situation is encouraging to me living here in Australia.

  32. 232
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Re matt @ 229:
    Just to demonstrate that Australia is a land of extremes, Sydney is having a mild, pleasant, and reasonably wet Summer – to make up for the very hot ones in the last two years.

  33. 233
    Jerry Toman says:

    Craig,(#228)

    Is there any awareness in Australia of Daniel Rosenfeld’s theory that the rainfall in (greater) populated areas is being suppressed by fine particles in the air (pollution), and that the rains would return by a) stopping the pollution or b) cloud seeding?

    Seems possible that a conversion from coal-based electricity to the AVE (#225) might also solve the rainfall deficit problem there in southern Australia, as it also might in here in the southeastern part of the USA.

  34. 234
    dhogaza says:

    Did the authors do much to correct the broadly consumed “takeaway” message that we were about to run out of everything? Did they go on TV and in Newsweek to broadly contradict the various environmental groups that were using the book to beat people over the head?

    Did they go on TV and in Newsweek to broadly support those groups that were misinterpreting their work?

    Hmmmm?

    Wiki notes that a key idea in the LtG was that the reserves cannot be calculated by taking the reserves and dividing by current rate of consumption. Instead, the rate of *increase* in consumption must also be considered. Are you kidding me? That concept has only been around since 1972?

    Of course they did much more, silly boy. If they hadn’t, you wouldn’t be protesting that the dates they gave were being used to “beat people over the head”.

    (not a very effective technique, BTW, the book is skinny).

  35. 235
    mg says:

    226. Danny – the polar cities fantasy seems odd to me.

    I live close to two nuclear reactors sited on the coast and the consequential risk of sea level rise is quite obvious.

    If world leaders – those who are paid to discharge their legal Duty of Care – do not get their act together and pull out all the stops to halt AGW dead in its tracks (as far as humanly possible) and if they pursue planetary joyrider policies intent on allowing the ice sheets to disintegrate, those two nuclear reactors will be under water within decades. Why don’t you move to one of the poles, someone might ask. There are over 400 operational nuclear reactors around the world and a good majority are at sea level – the two sitting next to me are not the only ones. It is not clear how quickly the disrupted oceanic circulation will shift radioactive material to the polar regions.

    The matter is truly a question of homelands security, ie security of currently-available homelands. Homelands security is a concept that those who farcified the Bali emergency talks should consider, because it should include ice sheet security.

  36. 236

    Steve Reynolds writes:

    [[I still do not see any evidence of “a fundamental limit to living standards for currently projected world population due to resources?” Nothing that you mention is fundamental; all can be solved with careful application of technology and non-fossil energy. ]]

    How can you apply technology and non-fossil energy to bring back the world’s fisheries?

  37. 237
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #229 (Matt) You appear to be assuming that I have a desire or responsibility to defend every word of “Limits to Growth”, or every action of its authors. I don’t: as I said, their model was crude. On the specific issue of known reserves, they could surely have done better than they did, by looking at how known reserves had changed over time in the past. In my #207 and #211 my intent has been to supply useful detail about what the book said, since I happen to have a copy handy and was myself surprised when I reread it recently. I would note that their “scaremongering” was in part responsible for the measures taken to control some very dangerous types of pollution (such as pesticides and acid rain). Also, if they did intend to “scare the hell out of everyone”, and if they had succeeded, we might not now be in the very difficult situation which the overwhelming majority of relevant scientific experts now consider we are. The increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 are mentioned as a potential problem. I quote (p.73 in the Pan Books edition I have):
    “If man’s energy needs are someday supplied by nuclear power instead of fossil fuels, this increase in atmospheric CO2 will eventually cease, one hopes before it has had any measurable ecological or climatological effect.”

  38. 238
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #226 (Danny Bloom) “But none of the big shots wanted to go public with a quote, pro or con. Why? What is the fear here?”

    Why should they? To give a sensible response to an idea you have not considered before requires some thought and research, and they probably consider there are better or more enjoyable ways to use their time. These “big shots” are probably bombarded with requests for their thoughts on everything under the sun, and have learned from bitter experience not to shoot their mouths off. How do they know you are not the sort of fruitcake who would start pestering them, or worse, if they gave a response? Try looking at things from other people’s point of view occasionally.

  39. 239

    Philippe Chantreau (#227) wrote:

    The result is that something’s got to give, but the entire world’s economy runs on consumption. Decreases in consumption in the US alone can send ripples to the rest of the world. Nobody in politics anywhere seems to have a darn clue about how huge and ineluctable this problem is. In my opinion, it is the biggest problem we face, possibly more immediate than GW, although GW certainly can make it way worse, especially if catastrophic stuff (like massive methane hydrate release) happens.

    What’s worse is that aerosols have continued to mask much of the warming. Given a serious economic downturn, much of that masking will be removed. How much and how quickly is difficult to say.

    But if the view that we are near “Peak Oil” is correct, we could be headed towards such a downturn quite soon. Otherwise there is the Middle East which has become quite unstable in recent years. Fighting has already broken out at one point between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds, Saudi Arabia has threatened to become involved and Iran clearly wants to extend its reach. Additionally, with the debt that the US has accumulated and the decline of the dollar, there is also the risk that international investors could suddenly decide that the US is no longer a good investment — and those who pull out last will get hit the hardest.

    Either a widening of the war in the Middle East or a run on US investment by international investors could trigger a sharp decline in the global economy. Such a decline would leave us with the CO2 we have accumulated in the atmosphere, but with much of aerosols which are currently masking much of its effect being flushed by the rain within a matter of weeks — without the steady replacement by more aerosols that we have seen in recent decades.

    *

    Personally, I half expect the development of sands oil in Canada and shale oil in the western United States — as well as the use of liquified coal — which can even “recycle” the scraps which couldn’t be sold previously. And there are suggestions that the Arctic may contain as much as 25% of our conventional oil reserves. We’ve seen this year how various nations have been trying to position themselves in the expectation that climate change will make it possible to drill for oil there — apparently in anticipation of further step decline in sea-ice.

    I understand of course that there are those who claim that the unconventional fossil fuels which may be economically mined are being exaggerated. Personally, I have my doubts, but I hope that they are right — because if we develop such fuels and are able to extend our dependence upon fossil fuels for several more decades, things will be far worse when we run out of the unconventional fossil fuels, aerosols drop, and global warming is unmasked.

    Perhaps by then several of the major carbon sinks will have become net emitters rather than the merely weakened sinks that we have been seeing as of recent. Climate sensitivity as it is conventionally calculated does not ask where the excess atmospheric carbon dioxide comes from.

  40. 240
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve Reynolds,
    I’m afraid I don’t see how alternative energy sources are going to ameliorate the collapse of fisheries. Reliance on biofuels is only going to exacerbate depletion of topsoil. I do not see how it helps depletion of tropical forests–which even now are being cleared to grow sugar cane for Brazil’s ethanol industry. Depletion of water resources–again, biofuels tend to be hogs when it comes to water. It has been my experience that those who contend that everything will be just fine and that our future is rosy are precisely those who have not looked into the issues very deeply.

  41. 241
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #222 (Ike Solem) “No carbon capture projects are ever likey to be put into action – for example, Shell and Statoil cancelled their plans for carbon capture recently.”

    According to the IPCC special report on CCS:
    “Three industrial-scale storage projects are in operation:
    the Sleipner project in an offshore saline formation in Norway,
    the Weyburn EOR project in Canada, and the In Salah project
    in a gas field in Algeria.”
    Certainly one does not expect corporations such as Shell and Statoil to act out of a sense of responsibility: CCS will have to be mandated by legal limits on emissions, since it will not, in general, pay for itself. However, this will also be necessary in order to replace (rather than augment) fossil fuels with renewables or nuclear in electricity generation. Even if these become cheaper than the current price of fossil fuel generation, the effect would be to drive that price down unless (which I hope but do not believe) the most extreme “peakers” are right..

  42. 242
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matt,
    Did you ever read Limits to Growth? Their tone is very reasoned, and they in fact outline how sustainability can be achieved. There is nothing alarmist about the book. That some irresponsible types misused their conclusions is no more their fault than the abuses of Enron are the fault of Adam Smith. If you were scared by their conclusions, then perhaps concern is appropriate. They predicted peak oil–and were right within about 20 years with a relatively crude model. They predicted that climate change would become an issue. They pointed out that increasing affluence in developing countries would increase demand and prices for raw commodities. I find it interesting that you still accuse them of being alarmist when so much of what they predicted is in fact occurring in front of our eyes.

  43. 243
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #236 (Barton Paul Levenson) “Steve Reynolds writes:

    [[I still do not see any evidence of “a fundamental limit to living standards for currently projected world population due to resources?” Nothing that you mention is fundamental; all can be solved with careful application of technology and non-fossil energy. ]]

    How can you apply technology and non-fossil energy to bring back the world’s fisheries?”

    Reversing extinctions and the spread of invasive species, soil erosion, groundwater depletion and contamination, and ocean acidification also look fairly tricky. Steve, if you know how to solve these problems, start planning how you will spend your multiple Nobel prizes. If not, perhaps you should consider whether it might not be worthwhile putting some effort into stopping things getting any worse?

  44. 244
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 222

    Ike, while I generally agree with you many posts, I have to argue this one. You said:

    [In other words, the current U.S. government remains the single biggest obstacle to taking effective action on climate change.]

    Yes, the U.S. government, from the White House to the State Department, EPA AND DOE are obstacles to effective action on global warming. But, the US Executive Branch is no less guilty than the US electorate and citizenry.

    We (all of us Americans) are to blame; even those who buy carbon offsets.

    We cannot blame the checkout clerk for causing the smoker’s lung cancer. Until Americans wake up to our complicity in AGW there will be continued delay of the inevitable mitigation or the onset of the inevitable unraveling of our civilization.

  45. 245
    Hank Roberts says:

    Danny, Nick’s advice is good. He put it better than I could have.

    Have other interests, don’t always turn in one direction, contribute to others’ websites — not just pointers to your own. Earn interest.

  46. 246
    Martin says:

    I can well imagine that some of the people who picked up ideas from Limits for Growth were making rather more of it that they should, but as I remember they were sincere and honest people who genuninely expected that we would soon face imminent crises caused by growth of population and declining resources. I will accept that they exaggerated the findings of the Club of Rome – but those views were common in radical circles in the 1970s.

    As for Malthus if you read his Essay on the Principle of Population you find that he offers as a solution for over-population the stopping of all welfare payments. He would put the desperate into harsh workhouses. The consequence of that would be that the poor, old and sick would soon starve to death, and their babies would not survive. This would, he hoped stop the poor from getting married. While he is obviously right in saying that there must eventually be an end to exponential growth, he is hardly someone whom I would want to consider as a hero.

  47. 247
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John McCormick, while I agree that we cannot, in a semi-democracy, blame our government without indicting ourselves, American’s don’t usually react too well to the blame game. When told they are responsible for climate change, they are more likely to say “*&!# you,” and go out and buy a Hummer than they are to fall on their knees and repent. Personally, I think the most effective strategy for getting Americans to embrace the goal of tackling climate change is for green technologies to become cooler than their polluting counterparts. When I start to hear my single friends and co-workers say, “The internal combustion engine is so 20th century. I need a babe-magnet hybris,” I’ll know we’ve won. Americans are gearheads at heart. If you want them to lead, don’t scold them. Promise them cooler toys.

  48. 248
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Martin, One can admire the prescience of Malthus without embracing his solutions. Jefferson owned slaves (albeit reluctantly). Franklin was a philanderer. Lincoln favored repatriating freed slaves to Africa (at least until discussed it with Frederick Douglas). This does not diminish their importance. Newton said, “If I see further than other men, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Even if some of those giants may have been myopic–or even misanthropic–in their moral viewpoints, we still see further from their shoulders as long as we try to view things clearly ourselves. In fact, the lesson we should draw is not that our intellectual forefathers were flawed, but rather, that we, too have prejudices that will seem barbaric to our intellectual descendents.

  49. 249
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Re the Atmospheric Vortex Engine in 225, I love the idea — any guesses on how exporting all that heat to the tropopause would affect climate? It seems like a good idea at first blush, but is it really?

  50. 250
    SecularAnimist says:

    John L. McCormick: “We cannot blame the checkout clerk for causing the smoker’s lung cancer. Until Americans wake up to our complicity in AGW there will be continued delay of the inevitable mitigation or the onset of the inevitable unraveling of our civilization.”

    Nor would I blame the owner/operator of the Exxon-Mobil gas station on the corner for causing global warming.

    But I would blame the big tobacco companies for causing thousands of cases of lung cancer, while engaging in a very successful decades-long campaign of deliberate deceit aimed at disinforming and confusing the public about the causal link between tobacco smoke and lung cancer, in order to perpetuate their profits from the sale of tobacco products for as long as possible.

    And I would blame Exxon-Mobil and other big fossil fuel corporations for causing global warming, while engaging in a very successful decades-long campaign of deliberate deceit aimed at disinforming and confusing the public about the causal link between burning fossil fuels and global warming, in order to perpetuate their profits from the sale of fossil fuels for as long as possible.

    It isn’t quite fair to fault the American public for failing to “wake up to our complicity in AGW” when the public has been systematically deceived about that complicity by the fossil fuel corporations, by an executive branch that literally employs fossil fuel industry lobbyists to suppress and distort science and write government policies on global warming, and by a corporate-owned mass media that has consistently proclaimed a “scientific controversy” about the reality of anthropogenic global warming when in fact no such “controversy” has existed for a long time.


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