RealClimate logo


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. 251
    Hank Roberts says:

    > we, too have prejudices that will seem barbaric
    > to our intellectual descendents.

    No parent, uncle or aunt can doubt this is true.

  2. 252
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “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 hybrid,’ I’ll know we’ve won.”

    I’m hoping that third-wave ultra-cheap thin-film photovoltaics (eg. Nanosolar, Ovonics) will quickly achieve that level of cultural “cool”, and that generating most of your own electricity from your roof will become as popular and ubiquitous as the laptop computer, cell phone or iPod.

  3. 253
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #246 (Martin) “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’s certainly no hero of mine. He was an important pioneer of social science, a fine writer, a key influence on Darwin (the most important scientist ever, in my opinion) and a man willing to modify his views. If we can take his arguments in the Essay at face value (I haven’t studied him in any detail, and remain agnostic on this point), he thought welfare payments depressed the price of labour by increasing the birth rate and hence the supply of labourers, as well as leading to oppressive regulation of the poor, and that more people would therefore benefit than would suffer if they were stopped. If sincere, he was mistaken.

  4. 254
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #246 (Martin) “I can well imagine that some of the people who picked up ideas from Limits for Growth… exaggerated the findings of the Club of Rome – but those views were common in radical circles in the 1970s.”

    There were certainly those who thought there would be mass starvation in the 1970s or 1980s, though I think such views were more common among what you might call eco-authoritarians like the Ehrlichs and eco-decentralist-conservatives such as Edward Goldsmith than the left (which is what “radical circles” generally implied in the 1970s). Much of the left was (and some still is, e.g. Alexander Cockburn) “cornucopian”, believing that soc*alism could provide everyone with material abundance within decades. Some of us realised this was an error then, and many more do so now.

  5. 255
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 247

    Ray, I’ll buy your first sentence.

    The heavy and painful cost of mitigation does not begin with promising cooler toys.

    I believe a more effective strategy for getting Americans to embrace the goal of tackling climate change is a tax starting at $75 per ton of carbon with increases, as needed, to achieve reductions.

    If that generates green technologies, good. If some are cooler toys, better.

    Tough love works when errant children do not listen.

  6. 256
    Jerry Toman says:

    Re # 249

    Jim,

    Hurricanes remove excess heat (reduce SST) from tropical waters many times a year in quantities far greater than we’re likely to. While much of the heat is radiated to outer space, inevitably, some of it is convectively transported toward the poles, which results in ice melting. Installing and operating AVEs at high latitudes is a potential way of interrupting heat flow from the tropics to cold areas by diverting part of the flow to outer space instead of allowing it to progress toward the poles.

    The effect of an AVE on cloud cover (good or bad on balance) is another important issue that needs investigation. Only building them will give reliable data–otherwise, it is just speculation.

    AVE_fan

  7. 257
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 250

    Secular Animist;

    You are being too forgiving of the average American’s failure to wake up. Do the confused and unwitting read newspapers…maybe books, view Gore’s Inconvenient Truth?

    The Chinese and Indian governments are not being chased around by rabid environmentalists demanding GHG reductions. Yet, the reports and actual transmittal of statements by those governments at the Bali Conference give some indication they are beginning to see the health and environmental consequences of their rapid economic growth. Maybe they will shape up before America does.

    [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.]

    If I agreed with your comment, I would also have to conclude that, for Americans, AGW ignorance is bliss.

  8. 258
    Jerry Toman says:

    Re:# 252 by Secular Animist who wrote: “I’m hoping that third-wave ultra-cheap thin-film photovoltaics (eg. Nanosolar, Ovonics) will quickly achieve that level of cultural “cool”, and that generating most of your own electricity from your roof will become as popular and ubiquitous as the laptop computer, cell phone or iPod.”

    Be careful what you wish for. Installing absorptive PV panels precludes the possibility of using the rooftop to reflect incoming solar radiation back into space at the same wavelength (increase earth’s albedo). Are you sure your internal net gain in “electricity” production by installing such systems will be greater than the external cost to the “system”? Even with a 15% efficient PV system, 85% of the incoming radiation will be thermally “trapped” at the earth’s surface, requiring some combination of convection and multiple absorption/radiation steps of longwave radiation to escape.

    Consider instead the possibility of building a neighborhood PV plant (or concentrating solar, for that matter) in which the waste heat, say at 50 C, is collected by the inflowing air to an AVE. This “cooling system” will not only allow the PV to operate more efficiently, a portion of (15-20%) of the “lost heat” would be recovered in the form of electricity.

    Not only that, the AVE would be a local pressure “sink” allowing the connecting of piping system for purposes of air ventilation or general services requiring “vacuum” potential.

  9. 259
    dhogaza says:

    Interestingly, 805 bears are expected to be harvested annually. Adding these back (v crude and I’m sure it’s not like-for-like) would lead to a poulation of 30,756 bears in 10 years, a 33% increase.

    Harvest, properly managed, needn’t impact population numbers at all. “properly managed” is a very species specific thing.

    For instance, trophy deer bucks aren’t a population bottleneck, and hunting them has been shown to have zilch effect on population levels in many, if not most or all, situations. Even buck-only hunts that are managed have minimal impact. Bucks that win a harem in the rut tend to be totally exhausted and run down defending their victory, and winter mortality (at least in harsh areas) tends to be very high. They (literally) get to shoot their wad for a rut or two and die.

    Hunt them, take their antlers, and other bucks step in and are happy to fraternize with the does.

    So if you want to diminish deer populations while maintaining healthy populations, you often need to put a doe hunt into place, because pregnancy is a bottleneck.

    None of this applies directly to polar bear harvests, but should help you understand that stopping harvest doesn’t necessarily impact numbers at all.

  10. 260
    Hank Roberts says:

    Observations toward the middle and bottom of this item are relevant. No comment I’ve drafted survives the spam filter; I’m even going to have to mangle the link name, so you’ll have to fill in the missing word yourself. It starts with f, ends with k, the third letter is a c, and the second letter is a vowel. Put it in where I typed the asterisks and the link will work.

    Look to the middle and lower part of the page for comments relevant to this thread. It’s worth thinking about the economy as being in a last spasm of sprawl-and-denial, and focusing on what will change because it can’t go on as it has been doing.

    http://jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com/cluster****_nation/2007/12/forecast-for-20.html

  11. 261
    Hank Roberts says:

    And if you want a really scary scenario — I had been reading Peter Ward’s “Green Sky” and then today read about a freighter sinking in a Black Sea storm, and it occurred to me to wonder what might happen if …. and sure enough, someone has thought about it:
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/t752644g24620867/

  12. 262
    S. Molnar says:

    Hank, I’m a big fan of Jim Kunstler (even if he has stopped wearing bow ties), but you have to keep in mind that he’s a polemicist, and like all good polemicists he shoots from the hip. He is best viewed as an impressionist rather than a realist.

  13. 263
    Bruce Tabor says:

    Re Jerry Toman @ 233,

    “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?”

    I’ve seen that theory presented on our national broadcaster a few times. My impression is that the Bureau of Meteorology views it as unlikely. I personally am unable to make an assessment.

    I have looked into the issue in enough depth to say that the current rainfall shortfall in the eastern states farming areas could still be part of a normal variation – long dry spells like this have occurred before. The current one is severe but not unprecedented. There is not yet statistical evidence of an anomaly. (Note that the concern is with inland areas. Last year Sydney had its wettest year since 1998, receiving 1499 millimetres (59 inches), 284 millimetres (11 inches) more than average.)

    It’s true that the drop in rainfall could be a regional part of global climate change. However, I’ve heard talks from a climatologist expert (Matthew England of Uni of NSW) on this topic and he claims there is insufficent evidence from climate models that climate change will cause less rainfall in the eastern states out to 2100 (more evaporation yes).

    In contrast the models consistently predict reduced rain around Perth in Western Australia and that is in fact clearly happening (to a much greater degree than in the east). But Perth gets its weather from the Indian Ocean. There are no fine particles in the air that weren’t there in the past, so the fine particle theory doesn’t stack up in that respect.

    Cloud seeding has been tried without much success so far.

  14. 264
    Bruce Tabor says:

    John L. McCormick @ 255 and others,
    I believe mitigation starts with education and continues with the engagement of the American people in their government.

    I am an outside observer (in Australia), but it seems to me that far too much control over people’s thought processes and the government is exerted via a commercial media – anxious not to offend their sponsors – and huge corporations with vested interests in the status quo.

    California has made an excellent start. People there are well educated in climate change and Schwarzneggar has picked up the public mood and taken up the challenge. Starting now with ambitious but still incremental changes will avoid drastic changes in the future. But the problem is URGENT and potential solutions must be sought, tried and, if they work, implemented NOW.

  15. 265
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re: 255 John McCormick said: “Tough love works when errant children do not listen.”

    I might be more inclined to agree with you if we were talking of children, but we are not. We are talking about adults who vote, and whose purchasing power (perhaps a more important vote) exceeds yours and mine (or at least mine as a civil servant scientist). All I am saying is that you have to get them moving with the carrot before you show them the stick.

  16. 266
    Craig Allen says:

    Re Jerry (#223) replying to my #228 post

    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?

    Australia is a big place with not many people (21 million). Also, most of our industry is on the eastern seaboard and our weather tends to come from the west. So particulates from industry are unlikely to be affecting rainfall much. I’ve read that there is a possibility that land clearance and stock grazing may be impacting on rainfall via various mechanisms, including increasing atmospheric dust particulates and changes to land surface albedo. However, these effects have probably not changed significantly in recent decades. Besides the decrease in rainfall, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has stated that increased temperatures are increasing evaporation and this is significantly decreasing flows into our river systems. Farmers are also responding to the drought by digging more dams, which is reduceing flows into streams.

  17. 267
    danny bloom says:

    Hank and Nick, et all, 245 post above: RE: “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.”

    It’s good advice, and well taken, and I appreciate your good words. And yes, I will stop posting about polar cities here for now, and just read the posts as they come thick and thin during this year — 2008 — (well, 12,008 is more like it, or even 4,000,000,008 is more precise!) — but I will give it a rest and have some other interests and not only turn in one direction. Good points, and yes, it’s time to earn some interest. Well said, Hank, thanks.

    — Danny

  18. 268
    John.J.R.P. says:

    Hi ALL, may I share some thoughts with you which you may be able to answer, because I have very little knowledge myself, seeing as I have read a lot on here about people talking a lot about one thing and another to do with life on our planet, and the planet its self. With this in mind I would like you to answer some of my question on WHY dont we? For example,(1) why dont we build higher like sky scrapers, to help save more space on our planet to grow things to eat, and to also help feed the people who actually live in them, using the roof as well for one thing or another. (2) why dont we build more round buildings, against building mostly things with a flat surfaces like houses, when mother nature creats most things for a reason with round sufaces. (3) why dont we build sky scrapers in the desert, which will creat much cooler areas through shading where things can grow, if there’s enough of them. (4) why dont we build higher like sky scraper to house crops, and animals to eat. (5) why dont we store water in higher built buildings like sky scrapers. (6) why dont we build building like sky scrapers to collect the suns energy. (7) why dont we build buildings like sky scraper to use the wind for energy. (8) why dont we build buildings like sky scrapers to act like island where its more likely to flood. (9) why don’t we build buildings like sky scraper to recycle all oue waste, going in at the top and comeing out at the bottom to be reused in someway. (10) why dont we build more buildings like sky scrapers if the world water surface is going to rise in the future, and our population is going to rise too, meaning we must make our selves more selfsuffishientish on what land is left.
    Please don’t say we cant build more sky scraper in the way I have suggested because of what happen in America to the two towers,even though I know this before posting my ideas to help solve the way we could live in the future, if ever tried, suggested by someone like me, who is just trying to do his bit to help others.

    Why dont we all try to live long and happy together if the WORLD IS SUPPOSED TO BE HEVEN ON EARTH. John.J.R.P.

  19. 269
    Steve Reynolds says:

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

    That one probably requires reduced fishing so they can recover, but some fertilization might help.

    240> 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.

    Ad-homs are not appreciated. Biofuels may not be a very good idea; I expect nuclear, wind, and geothermal to do well. Eventually solar may be cost competitive for more extensive applications.

    243> Reversing extinctions and the spread of invasive species, soil erosion, groundwater depletion and contamination, and ocean acidification also look fairly tricky.

    Unless they are extreme, most of those are likely to have little effect on standard of living for most people, which was the subject of the original discussion. I am in agreement with most here that present fossil fuel emissions need to be limited eventually to keep effects from becoming extreme.

  20. 270
    matt says:

    #230 Hank Roberts: See? You really could find out that you’re wrong, if you looked.

    Hank, there’s a problem with your argument. The book was WIDELY believed to be a prediction of doom. In the link you provided (written by the authors), it notes that newspaper headlines: “A Computer looks ahead and shutters” and “Study sees disaster by year 2100″ and “Scientists warn of global catastrophe”. The authors themselves notes “The book created a furor” and “the book was interpreted by many as a prediction of doom”

    I’m sorry, but if an author attempts to convey a tempered message X, and the world overwhelmingly takes away scary message Y, then the author has failed to effectively communicate. Full stop. Now, we can debate if their intention was to scare or not. Given the fanfare around the book at the time, and their failure to clear the air, they seemed to enjoy the additional spotlight, money and fame, and did little correct the misperceptions.

    And now, when the doom didn’t materialize to the extent they’d warned (hoped?), we see them pull bits from the book 20 years later (in your link) and emphasize the gentler, more reasoned parts from the text. As I noted above, it’s the classic prediction screaming doom with the various textual escape hatches buried within. No, I haven’t read the book as it was a bit before my time (I was 6 when it came out and there have been too many other things to read in the more formative years). But the formula is clear and well tested on both sides of the fence.

  21. 271
    Jim Eaton says:

    Re: 269 Steve Reynolds reply to Nick Gotts’s comment 243> Reversing extinctions and the spread of invasive species, soil erosion, groundwater depletion and contamination, and ocean acidification also look fairly tricky.

    “Unless they are extreme, most of those are likely to have little effect on standard of living for most people, which was the subject of the original discussion. I am in agreement with most here that present fossil fuel emissions need to be limited eventually to keep effects from becoming extreme.”

    That’s an amazingly anthropocentric response to a very legitimate comment. Humans evolved with the other millions of species of plants and animals on this planet, and the problems raised by Mr. Gott cannot simply be excused as having “little effect.” Even without the crisis of global warming, each of these issues has immense ramifications, not only for humans but also for our other fellow travelers on our fragile Earth. The effects of these problems already are extreme, and they must be addressed as well as dealing with fossil fuel emissions, population growth, and consumption.

  22. 272
    scipio says:

    I think this falls within the topic.
    As a history enthusiast, I like to think how our time will be seen in the future. My uneducated prediction of the three most important things from the first decade of the millenium are:

    1. Effects of climate change became visible, undeniable and harmful
    2. Energy prices started to rise.
    3. Food prices started to rise.

    And as a fourth point, the vicious circle formed by above three reinforcing each other.

  23. 273
    Alan K says:

    #259 dhogaza says:

    “None of this applies directly to polar bear harvests”

    exactly so why bring it up?

    My point, meanwhile, was that in 10 years time the polar bear population (including harvests) is expected to decline by 2% when many catastrophists shout about extinctions.

    Three off the top of google:

    http://www.coolkidsforacoolclimate.com/Causes&Effects/PolarBearExtinction.htm

    http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/species/polarbear/index.html

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35233-2004Nov8.html

  24. 274
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #269 (Steve Reynolds) “243> Reversing extinctions and the spread of invasive species, soil erosion, groundwater depletion and contamination, and ocean acidification also look fairly tricky.

    Unless they are extreme, most of those are likely to have little effect on standard of living for most people”

    With regard to extinctions, you are probably right, although some of us regard the loss of natural beauty and variety as a severe and irreparable loss. Invasive species are causing significant problems for people in many areas – Australia perhaps being the worst affected. Soil erosion, and groundwater depletion and contamination, are already causing severe problems, particularly in poor countries. You may have read about widespread arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh, but a far wider concern is the effect of both problems on agricultural yields, the broader effects on health of low-level contamination of water with contaminants such as heavy metals and endocrine disrupters, and of the need to fetch water from further and further afield, which falls mainly on women. Given that soil and groundwater both renew themselves on timescales so long they can be considered effectively non-renewable resources, that we currently have the lowest global grain stocks for many years, and that billions of people are still directly dependent on what they themselves grow or raise, I find your complacency astonishing and reprehensible. You might like to have a look at the proceedings of the 14th conference of the International Soil Conservation Organisation (2006), which are freely available for download (along with the proceedings of earlier ISCO conferences) at http://www.tucson.ars.ag.gov/isco/page3.html. As for ocean acidification, our understanding of ocean ecology is insufficient for us to judge how much acidification would be dangerous, by altering the competitive balance between plankton species, for example.

  25. 275
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #260 (Hank Roberts) “No comment I’ve drafted survives the spam filter; I’m even going to have to mangle the link name, so you’ll have to fill in the missing word yourself. It starts with f, ends with k, the third letter is a c, and the second letter is a vowel.”

    Hank, at least it was obvious what was causing your problem with the filter! I had great problems with #254 – you’ll see I had to include an asterisk in soci*lism. I finally remembered I had seen elsewhere that this word could cause problems – apparently because of the substring ci*lis, which is the name of an imp*tence remedy! Devilish cunning, these capitalists :-)

  26. 276

    [[ Installing absorptive PV panels precludes the possibility of using the rooftop to reflect incoming solar radiation back into space at the same wavelength (increase earth’s albedo). ]]

    There isn’t enough rooftop space on Earth for painting them all white to make a signficant difference. Urban areas are, at most, 2% of Earth’s land surface, and a lot of that is road.

  27. 277
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve Reynolds, Have you in fact looked deeply into these issues? Your responses do not indicate thay you have. Or have you figured out a way to get a car powered by solar, wind or nuclear power?
    Your response to Barton’s question is also not very illuminating. Reduced fishing reduces food supply (expecially protein) at a time when it is already under pressure. And fertilization can cause algal blooms and increases pressure on other limiting factors (e.g O2) in ocean waters.
    Our current society is extremely dependent on cheap energy. That is why I can buy tropical fruits in my local supermarket more cheaply than I can buy local produce (even in season). The plants of the green revolution are miraculous producers. However, they are optimized for production, not survival. They rapidly deplete minerals and nitrogen from the soil, which must be replaced with fertilizers (mainly petrochemical). Without herbicides (petrochemicals) they will die in the shade of faster and taller growing weeds. I would strongly recommend reading Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”. You probably dismiss it as alarmist, whereas most ecologists (my wife included) think he is overly optimistic.

  28. 278
    Ray Ladbury says:

    John JRP. The answer to most of your questions is simply that it is not economical. Building up is expensive. It can usually only be justified if the cost of land is very expensive, as in large cities. Only the top floor of the skyscraper gets any appreciable natural light, especially if sky-scrapers are built close together. So raising food is impractical. Water would have to be pumped up–lots of energy.
    As to the issue of why buildings are not spherical or hemispherical–two reasons come to mind. You can pack more buildings into an area if they have straight edges and the space inside is more usable. Also, construction materials have more strength against compression and tension than against shear, so a round building has to be like a geodesic dome.

    As to Heaven on Earth, Mark Twain argued that people wouldn’t know how to live in heaven, and I tend to agree.

  29. 279
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matt says of Limits to Growth:
    “I’m sorry, but if an author attempts to convey a tempered message X, and the world overwhelmingly takes away scary message Y, then the author has failed to effectively communicate. Full stop.”

    Hmm, interesting contention. So, by this logic, we should blame Winston Churchill for the rise of Naziism, since he obviously did not communicate the threat effectively. And we should blame the framers of the Constitution for all of our problems in politics, since they obviously did a poor job communicating the fundamentals of democracy to the populace. And Christians should blame God for our sinful ways since it’s obvious that people just didn’t get the message in the Bible that we should all live in peace, love and harmony. Oh, wait, maybe there’s another interpretation. Maybe the people didn’t read the damn books! Maybe the reporters were looking for a headline that would sell newspapers. And in turn, maybe the readers of said newspapers did not read the entire article, which may have done a better job of conveying the caveats and the optimism underlying the Club of Rome studies.
    Matt, did you ever read Limits to Growth? If so, I would recommend you go back and peruse it again–because much of what they predicted is now unfolding. And if people found the prediction scary, I doubt they’ll be in much shape to make rational decisions while the collapse is actually occurring.

  30. 280
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #270 (Matt) “newspaper headlines…”Study sees disaster by year 2100″… And now, when the doom didn’t materialize to the extent they’d warned”

    Gosh, have we passed 2100 already? Doesn’t time start to fly as you approach the age of 150!

  31. 281
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “Or have you figured out a way to get a car powered by solar, wind or nuclear power?”

    That’s not hard. Grid-charged battery-powered pluggable-hybrid electric vehicles would do it, and they already exist. We could power an entire national fleet of such vehicles without even increasing our existing electrical generation capacity if they are charged during off-peak hours.

  32. 282
    Douglas Wise says:

    Paul Chefurka’s article, entitled “Peak Oil, Carrying Capacity and Overshoot” (www.npg.org) ought to give comfort to those who are concerned that warnings over global warming are not being taken seriously enough. It is easy to ignore doom mongering when the doom won’t become manifest until two generations into the future, particularly if there is even a scintilla of doubt over the forecast. The article referred to suggests that the need for instant action will become apparent almost immediately and will go some way to mitigate longer term warming. (A caveat needed over coal and tar sand related issues).

    This shouldn’t lead to the complacent belief in a soft landing. It is apparently already too late to rely upon lowered fertility rates to bring our population under control and we are led to expect massively increased death rates in order to adjust to a fossil fuel free world. Chefurka believes we’ll only be able to sustain a population of somewhat over one billion by 2100. While he may have underestimated the potential for technological solutions to renewable energy, it seems that most ecologists would hope for no more than a human population of 3 billion.

    Before knocking poor old Malthus too much for his politically incorrect ethical views, we ought to consider that democracy is a political system that can probably only work if there is potential for rising aspirations to be met and that welfare provision is liable to evaporate when “survival of the fittest” strategies offer the best hope for the survival of our own genes.

  33. 283
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE 263

    Bruce, Dr. Susan Solomon and others have written recent papers on their observing tightening of the Antarctic Polar Vortex. Australian meteorologists are also looking at this as possible contribution to extending Southeast Australian drought.

    If you google the term, I believe you will find good information.

  34. 284
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 281. Secular Animist, battery power is great if you only want to go 100 miles or less, and if you don’t care too much about reliability and if you don’ mind too much if your power source blows up and catches fire…

    Battery technology has a long way to go before we have true plug-in automobiles.

  35. 285
    matt says:

    #279 Ray Ladbury: Hmm, interesting contention. So, by this logic, we should blame Winston Churchill for the rise of Naziism…[other examples snipped]

    I think you kind of missed the point. If WC had written books and delivered speeches stating that the Nazi’s weren’t dangerous, and then years later trotted out a few passages where he stated the Nazi’s were dangerous, then I get your comparison. But he was 24×7 on message. Unwaivering. There was a contingency on the other side of the fence that effectively blunted his warning. My point about LtG was that the authors wanted the best of both worlds: scare the daylights out of everyone, but leave an “out” so that in 50 years they couldn’t be called alarmists. They didn’t seem to care at all that their book was at the center of a storm of misunderstanding, and did little to correct the misperceptions. Remember the thread on those that claim extinction rates far in excess of what we’re actually seeing? Same blueprint. Scare the hell out of everyone, the add a caveat that you meant species were “doomed” to extinction so in 50 years you aren’t looked at as an alarmist.

    And with your mentioning of Nazis, we are now by law required to terminate this thread, at least in section of Washington state that I live in. Nice going. You have spoiled it for everyone :)

    Matt, did you ever read Limits to Growth? If so, I would recommend you go back and peruse it again–because much of what they predicted is now unfolding. And if people found the prediction scary, I doubt they’ll be in much shape to make rational decisions while the collapse is actually occurring.

    As I said, I was 6 when it came out. Precocious indeed, but not that precocious. About the same time, I did find myself incredibly bummed (almost to tears) whenever the commercial of the crying Indian standing on the shore of a river looking at all the litter came on TV, so you can bet I would have been sympathetic to the book at the time…

    I’ll look for it at the library.

  36. 286
    dhogaza says:

    exactly so why bring it up?

    Because you said this:

    nterestingly, 805 bears are expected to be harvested annually. Adding these back (v crude and I’m sure it’s not like-for-like) would lead to a poulation of 30,756 bears in 10 years, a 33% increase.

    The reality is that, if the management strategy is properly designed, that “adding these back” will have no impact on the population levels at all.

    I used the deer example to make my point because many more people are familiar with deer than polar bears.

    Deer are a backyard species in many parts of the US, and common throughout their range.

    I assumed that you were unaware that properly designed controlled hunts (harvests) don’t negatively impact the species’ numbers.

    Now, if you DID know that, why did you raise the point in the first place? I gave you the benefit of the doubt, that you didn’t raise this point as an intentional red-herring.

    My point, meanwhile, was that in 10 years time the polar bear population (including harvests) is expected to decline by 2% when many catastrophists shout about extinctions.

    I remember when the US Forest Service put out their [northern] spotted owl habitat (SOHA) plan.

    The plan stated that:

    1. The chance for significant decline under the plan was low in the next 10 years.

    2. The chance for extinction after 50 years was high.

    3. The forest service only has to generate forest plans once each 10 years, therefore they could ignore #2.

    So, what exactly do you think “2% in 10 years” means in a context where predictions for a reduction in the artic ice cap that would have a large impact on overall populations is in the > 10 year time frame, given that those changes in the next half century are being pipelined by CO2 increase made today?

    The “2% in 10 year” figure is meaningless. You’re smart enough to figure that out, right?

    Meanwhile, the 2007 summer melt has caused scientists to reconsider the timeframe in question …

  37. 287
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Matt said: “My point about LtG was that the authors wanted the best of both worlds: scare the daylights out of everyone, but leave an “out” so that in 50 years they couldn’t be called alarmists.”

    Wow, and you know all this without ever having cracked the book open! Way to go, Matt. And, you probably don’t know about all the follow-on studies they did either, do you, where they tried to address the criticisms and misinterpretations.

    Matt, I can only recommend to you the counsel of the good Mr. Twain:
    “There is something worse than ignorance, and that’s knowing what ain’t so.”

  38. 288
    James says:

    Re #268: […WHY dont we? For example,(1) why dont we build higher like sky scrapers, to help save more space on our planet to grow things to eat…]

    In addition to the obvious technical reasons, some of which Ray mentioned in #278, there’s the psychological component. A flippant answer could be encapsulated as “So who are you calling WE?”. What you suggest resembles ’60s-era urban public housing projects. The plain fact is that most people don’t want to live in skyscrapers (do you?). Most people don’t even want to live in cities. They do so only because of economic necessity. When they obtain material wealth, they frequently spend it on moving as far as possible from the city where they made that wealth – whether that’s to a suburban tract house and a two-hour commute, a vacation getaway in the mountains, or Ted Turner’s Montana ranch.

  39. 289
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “battery power is great if you only want to go 100 miles or less, and if you don’t care too much about reliability and if you don’ mind too much if your power source blows up and catches fire”

    First, note that I referred to “grid-charged battery-powered pluggable-hybrid electric vehicles.” Pluggable hybrids can be charged from the grid and run as pure battery-electric vehicles for “short” trips but have a combustion engine for longer trips.

    The vast majority of automobiles in the USA are driven MUCH less than 100 miles per day — I believe the average is less than 20 miles per day — so if they were pluggable hybrids charged from the grid at night, most of them would run as purely battery-electric cars most of the time.

    With regard to reliability and a “power source [that] blows up and catches fire” I really don’t know what you are talking about. I am not aware that those are problems with the Toyota Prius, and a pluggable hybrid would basically be a Toyota Prius with a larger battery pack and an integrated charger that plugs into a standard house current outlet.

    In fact, many of the existing pluggable hybrids that have been developed by university groups and others are modified Toyota Priuses, which can go some 60 to 100 miles per charge on battery power only, but otherwise have the same performance, reliability and safety of the regular Prius.

  40. 290
    Alan K says:

    #286 dhogoza then brings up, of all creatures:

    the “[northern] spotted owl”

    so from deer to owls. Nice one. Tell me how owls are relevant to polar bear populations?

    Read the IUCN paper; read the “elevation” to red list statement and appreciate that all those things (eg. AOO, EOO) are taken into account. Polar Bears are not at significant risk. Or reference the paper that disputes or updates the Seattle conference minutes and we’ll both look through it.

    If you want to have a discussion or argument about how hunting maintains healthy species you won’t have it with me as I agree very strongly with you. But irrelevant to POLAR BEARS!

  41. 291
    Jerry Toman says:

    Re # 276

    I would tend to agree with your point that, on a “global” basis it is unlikely that putting white reflecting material (thin white plastic?) on the ground anywhere (even perhaps on newly exposed “tundra” that absorbs significantly more heat during the summer than it did with its usual covering of snow) would affect the earth’s energy budget enough to slow down “global warming” to any significant degree.

    My thinking, though I failed to express it clearly enough, was restricted to an “urban heat island” situation, consisting of broad expanses of mostly of one-story dwellings (think LA). In fact, as I write, I am realizing that reducing/mitigating the quantity/effects of excess “urban heat” is a subject area large enough that it could be the topic of a whole new article and thread, so I don’t want to go off the “deep end” here writing about this.

    As you correctly say, a significant portion of the area consists of streets and other asphalted areas, which is probably about 25%, and an initial guess for the roof area could also be about 25% of the total. In my thinking, I assumed that there would be some advantage to effectively “shade” inhabited areas, blocking the sunlight from reaching standard roofing material. Based on your comment, I’m now beginning to think it might be just as advantageous to “shade” parking lots (or even some streets), but that’s a whole different (?) story.

    Shading could be accomplished by installing a purely “reflective barrier” which removes a fairly high fraction of the incident radiation from the overall urban area by reflecting it back into space, or by installing an “absorptive barrier” that would trap the (unconverted) light as surface heat. While this (differential heat) would add to the urban heat effect, it would provide the compensating advantage of generating electricity, albeit at a much higher installed cost than would be incurred by the “reflective barrier”.

    IMO, one would have to conclude that, at current PV costs, installing a “reflective barrier” would be the most cost effective, but, at some point, the PV alternative might be preferred if its total installation costs could be reduced significantly.

    In either case my “preferred solution” would also be to build an AVE in the center of the urban area to take advantage of the increased enthalpy of higher entering (urban) air temperatures by efficiently converting it to electricity. At the same time cooler air from the surroundings would be brought in to replace that which is sent to the upper troposphere in the central vortex, an effect that would proceed well into the evening hours, if not during the entire night.

  42. 292
    Hank Roberts says:

    Sec, Toyota did announce a delay in their pluggable hybrid because they don’t plan to use the current lithium-ion batteries.

    Flammability Assessment of Bulk- Packed, Nonrechargeable Lithium …
    … A relatively small fire source is sufficient to start a primary lithium battery fire. The outer plastic. coating easily melts and fuses adjacent …
    http://www.mobilit.fgov.be/data/aero/FAALiBaFiRe.pdf

    Google: lithium +battery +fire
    and “lithium battery” +”energy density”

    A battery _pack_ with a number of those cells, if discharged fairly low, risks having the lowest cell reverse polarity so when charging current is applied again that cell heats up and catches fire.

    Look for inherently safer lithium iron phosphate cells that are beginning to replace the current, more risky batteries.

    Vehicle miles: http://i160.photobucket.com/albums/t175/jcwinni/mileagegraph.jpg

  43. 293

    RE #292, & vehicle miles….

    Why can’t many of those 50% of drivers who drive over 25 miles a day live closer to work (at least in cases where there are comparable closer homes to their more distant homes)? It would mean less pollution, less stress, more time for family or recreation, less health hazards (from the pollution inside the car), less chance of accidents.

    But anyway about half drive less than 25 miles per day, and most families have 2 or more cars, so one could be an EV that goes 30 miles on a charge, and the other, an ICE vehicle or hybrid.

  44. 294
    Rick Brown says:

    Re #290 (Alan K) “Or reference the paper that disputes or updates the Seattle conference minutes and we’ll both look through it.”

    I can’t say whether or how this differs from what was said at the Seattle conference, but it’s certainly more recent:

    http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/special/polar_bears/docs/USGS_PolarBear_Amstrup_Forecast_lowres.pdf

    (If the URL doesn’t work, just google something like: Amstrup USGS forecasting rangewide status polar bears)

  45. 295

    Didn’t the Club of Rome publish a second study, “Mankind at the Turning Point” or some such title, in the ’80s? And didn’t it have a plan for avoiding the problems? I seem to remember a red-and-white paperback…

  46. 296
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #295
    There have been two updates:

    Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, and Jørgen Randers (1992) Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future

    Donella H. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis L. Meadows (2004)
    Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update

    These do indeed (as I recall – I don’t have them handy) deal with criticisms, update projections, suggest remedies etc.

  47. 297
    David B. Benson says:

    Jerry Toman (291) — Regarding parking lots, encourage the use of concrete paving bricks which have a hole in the center. The hole is filled with gravel. I’ve seen these used in Germany. Not only higher albedo but also no rain or snow runoff except in the wildest of storms.

    And by all means encourage high albedo roofs.

  48. 298
    Jerry Toman says:

    Re: #292,293

    Hybrids, batteries, etc.

    While the “hybrid” automobile (arguably) provides some synergistic effects that improve its overall performance over a “pure” petroleum-based automobile, any additional advantages that might be accrued by extending the vehicle’s size and weight to accommodate the additional battery capacity for “all electric” operation (so-called “plug-in” hybrids), are by no means clear.

    This is especially true if one takes into account that the marginal fuel which provides the electricity is supposed to be (has been?) coal, a gross emitter of GHG’s. What about the news report (TOD) that as far as energy content is concerned, coal already appears to have “peaked” here in the US. So if the “marginal” fuel is no longer coal, what is? If there is no prospect of increased electricity production, which activity will we have forego (take the electricity from) in order to put it into a car’s batteries.

    With regard to the notion that “battery improvement” could eventually lead to PIHVs, I ask the following question: If a battery system is good (efficient) enough to carry “Load A”, to “work” in the morning, why isn’t it “good enough” to also carry “Load A” back home again?

    Wouldn’t the nine hours that would elapse while it sits at work be enough time to charge it back up again? If you only work four hours, how difficult would it be to swap in a battery pack, or set up a system whereby “commuter cars” carried their batteries around on a trailer which could be exchanged in minutes at many locations set up for this purpose? Couldn’t a person just rent a “regular car” on family excursion days?

    Why does anyone feel the need to “own” a car? Most machinery in factories runs at least two shifts a day. What is so special about a “private automobile” that it needs to sleep for 11 hours for each hour that it “works”, often in its own stable? Seems to me like a whole lot of resources just sitting idly around. Why do we need “three-hundred horses” in our stable? Doesn’t it require a lot of hay to feed them?

    “There is something about riding down the street on a prancing horse that makes you feel like something, even when you ain’t a thing”–Will Rogers

    Sorry if this ended up being more of a “rant” than just a comment.

  49. 299
    SecularAnimist says:

    Jerry Toman asked: “If there is no prospect of increased electricity production, which activity will we have forego (take the electricity from) in order to put it into a car’s batteries.”

    A January 2007 study by the Pacific National Laboratory found that 73 percent or more of vehicles in the US could be powered by off-peak electricity from underutilized existing generation, through the existing grid, without needing to build any additional power plants.

    Hank Roberts wrote: “Toyota did announce a delay in their pluggable hybrid because they don’t plan to use the current lithium-ion batteries”

    The “current” batteries in Toyota’s Prius are nickel metal hydride (NiMH), not lithium-ion. According to the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, “Toyota has decided against the use of lithium-ion battery technology – at least initially – in the next-generation Toyota Prius, which is still expected in fall 2008 .. The company will instead, at launch, use a new version of the company’s existing nickel metal hydride battery pack in the new Prius”. Other reports indicate that Toyota executives are skeptical that a pluggable-hybrid version of the Prius can be manufactured at a cost that will be widely marketable.

  50. 300
    Jerry Toman says:

    Re: #299

    I didn’t mention electric power capacity limitations. “Peak coal energy” means that, if more coal is used at night to “top-off” your automobile energy storage tank, less will be available during the day for A/C, for example. What or which resources are you suggesting we consume (or develop)to make up for this deficit?

    Irrespective of it’s polluting potential, the notion that we can increase coal output enough to replace declining oil reserves to power a significan fraction of our present car population is ludicrous.

    My point from the beginning has been that developing the AVE is the “only possible” means of providing enough energy for this transition. As other’s have suggested, however, “waste is waste”, and surely we have it within ourselves to develop an “optimized” system of transportation that doesn’t require that we carry around with us so much metal and glass for such large distances and at such high speeds as we do today.


Switch to our mobile site