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Freeman Dyson’s selective vision

Filed under: — david @ 24 May 2008

In the New York Review of Books, Freeman Dyson reviews two recent ones about global warming, but his review is mostly shaped by his own rather selective vision.

1. Carbon emissions are not a problem because in a few years genetic engineers will develop “carbon-eating trees” that will sequester carbon in soils. Ah, the famed Dyson vision thing, this is what we came for. The seasonal cycle in atmospheric CO2 shows that the lifetime of a CO2 molecule in the air before it is exchanged with another in the land biosphere is about 12 years. Therefore if the trees could simply be persuaded to drop diamonds instead of leaves, repairing the damage to the atmosphere could be fast, I suppose. The problem here, unrecognized by Dyson, is that the business-as-usual he’s defending would release almost as much carbon to the air by the end of the century as the entire reservoir of carbon stored on land, in living things and in soils combined. The land carbon reservoir would have to double in size in order keep up with us. This is too visionary for me to bet the farm on.

2. Economic estimates of the costs of cutting CO2 emissions are huge. In an absolute sense, this is true, it would be a lot of dollars, but it comes down to a few percent of GDP, which, in an economic system that grows by a few percent per year, just puts off the attainment of a given amount of wealth by a few years. And anyway, business-as-usual will always argue that the alternative would be catastrophic to our economic well being. Remember seat belts? Why is it that Dyson’s remarkably creative powers of vision (carbon-eating trees for example) fail to come up with alternatives to the crude and ugly process of burning coal to generate electricity?

3. The costs of climate change are in the distant future, and therefore should be discounted, in contrast to the hysterical Stern Report. I personally can get my head around the concept of discounting if the time span is short enough that it’s the same person on either end of the transaction, but when the time scales start to reach hundreds and thousands of years, the people who pay in the future are not the same as the ones who benefit now. Remember that the lifetime of the elevated CO2 concentration in the air is different from the lifetime of CO2 to exchange with the biosphere. Release a slug of CO2 and you will increase the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years. The fundamental tenet of civil society is to protect people from harm inflicted by others. Are we a civilized species, or are we not? The question is analogous to using economics to decide whether to abolish slavery. I’m sure it was very costly for the Antebellum Southern U.S. to forego slave labor, but it simply wasn’t an economic question.

4. Majority scientists are contemptuous of those in the minority who don’t believe in the dangers of climate change. I often find myself contemptuous of efforts to misrepresent science to a lay audience. The target audience of denialism is the lay audience, not scientists. It’s made up to look like science, but it’s PR. We have documented Lindzen’s tortured and twisted representation of the science to non-scientists here and here. If Lindzen had a credible argument to support his gut feeling (and apparently Dyson’s), I can promise that I for one would take it seriously. I’ve got kids at home whose future I worry about. If Lindzen were right, no one would be happier about that than me. But I do get contemptuous of BS.

596 Responses to “Freeman Dyson’s selective vision”

  1. 351
    Hank Roberts says:

    Per, day length more than sun angle affects available energy for photosynthesis during wheat’s growing season (roughly 100-120 days).

  2. 352
    Geoff Sherrington says:

    Re # 322 Ray Ladbury

    Miscellaneous. I did a CO2 audit of the Company because we did audits on any material that could be potentially harmful and we knew the way the Mauna Loa data were heading. We also studied radon intensively, plus the materials used to proof logs against insects , sulphur dioxide from smelting and so on. Another Corporation made a phytometer around a huge tree to study many effects like transpiration – and this was around 1982, before academics were doing anything similar. Contrary to some opinions expressed above, Corporations often lead the pack in remediation of emerging problems, so the public hardly hears of some that are nipped in the bud. If it adds to the cost of products, then people whine. That’s gratitude.

    So please don’t treat readers as if they were dolts. Dolts don’t get invited half way round the world to give key seminar papers. Don’t be like Gavin who wrote for me “Possibly you did not read these papers….” Heck I didn’t. Maybe long before he did.

    For what it’s worth, my personal view (and we used to own three large coal mines) is that CCS will not be a significant factor for decades, if ever.

    You wrote above
    “Joe, the IPCC uses 3 degrees per doubling of CO2. This is the most probable value–not the extreme. Depending on the data used, the value could be as high as 4.5 or even 6 degrees per doubling. Moreover, while the IPCC scenarios do look at solubility of CO2 in the oceans (and so, presumably outgassing), they don’t look at outgassing of permafrost or methane clathrates for the simple reason that we don’t know how much this will contribute.
    The costs if we see 6 degrees of warming are dire indeed–as outlined by Hank, so with even 1-5% probability, they dominate the risk. So until we have better data, we had better keep things under control.”

    This is where we part company. Settled science again? You should be lambasting those who made the silly talk about settled science that was so divisive and untrue.

    You have no proof of a probable sensitivity value, just a concurrence of thought among colleagues of like mind. You report sensitivity as a settled science when about half the posts on Realclimate are disputing that the science is settled. If it is settled, why do you stay in business? Most of my senior colleagues and I who study these matters are still awaiting a definitive derivation of the sensitivity, indeed even whether CO2 has much to do with anything. As scientists and engineers, we hope for the numbers to come out in solid form soon, because then correctional measures can be planned and executed as needed by those able to do it well. But the central plank of AGW, that CO2 is the main culprit, simply does not wash yet. Even the current talk of adjustments to SST, which I have looked at for years, has the capacity to (a) severely alter estimates of past century temperature change and (b) to therefore throw back in doubt those hindcast models currently thought to perform well.

    This is not to say that any of us deny that CO2 is still a candidate for climate equations. It’s elemantary that a heating effect exists in a pure, primary sense, but it’s not nearly so clear in Nature. The standard of proof does not meet the bar and it annoys hell out of us that otherwise sane people say “close all coal plants” and the like (while continuing to luxuriate in their output).

    Such cures are more severe than the illness. By all means close all coal and gas plants if your wish is to kill millions of people in quick time.

  3. 353
    CobblyWorlds says:

    #345/346, Jim n’ Jim. ;)

    The winter maxima is largely set outside the Arctic Ocean Basin itself, as the Arctic Ocean is ice covered before the maxima is reached. In that sense a record maxima is largely irrelevant, ice conditions inside the Arctic Basin are more important for the summer minima.

    Also for any interested lurkers.

    I cannot recommend the following too strongly:
    http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca/satellite/index_e.html
    Environment Canada’s satellite images.

    Scroll down to HRPT (NOAA Polar Orbiting).
    For the Arctic Ocean: Northern Canada and Arctic Ocean, Canadian Arctic Composite, and Northern Nunavut, are the ones to follow. Notably the Nunavut images.
    For the NW Passage and Baffin Bay: Baffin Island / Qikiqtaaluk. Although I’ve not been following that closely as my key interest is in the basin and the fate of the perennial ice. (There’s much broken ice at the Baffin Bay end of the NW Passage.)

    By this time of year the IR is of virtually no use for the ice as there’s so much low level haze (water vapour). To see the ice use the visible images, and use the IR to sort to out where cloud/vapour is obscuring the ice itself (it can be hard to see what’s ice and what’s cloud).

    Those images change rapidly so you’ll need to keep popping back there if the current image doesn’t show much.

  4. 354
    Douglas Wise says:

    re #336 Nick Gotts

    I apologise for having failed to give the source for my comment suggesting that there was not unanimity over your suggestions for managing population decline. I was thinking of the work of Virginia Abernethy and her questioning of the orthodox view of Demographic Transition. I have also been much persuaded by the writings of Albert Bartlett. In the unlikely event that you are unfamiliar with their work, Wikipedia will give you a steer if you want to follow up.

    You will be glad to know that I have no immediate plans to initiate mass murder. However, as a veterinarian, I feel that I ought to point out that if I were to leave animals in my care to starve to death rather than to slaughter them humanely (were they the only options available to me) I would be prosecuted on welfare grounds.

  5. 355
    Cobblyworlds says:

    #350 Ric Merritt,
    I agree, not just Tamino, but many others for whom I have the greatest respect leave me thoroughly unconvinced in the arena of solutions. I have read the arguments but keep coming back into the “no way out” camp (at the most basic level – everyone I know still loves flying/driving/patio heaters etc etc). We’ll shortly see whether the multifarious proposals and the existing environmental protections (e.g. low sulphur fuels) survive the economic constriction of what increasingly seems to be the onset of Peak Oil. I think they will not, in the fight against falling EROEI it seems almost inevitable that we’ll see our daliance with fighting GW/pollution fall away in the face of more pressing concerns. As for a 50% increase in agricultural output by 2030 as demanded by the UN, er, yes, well…
    I’ll shut up now and get back out of the way of those who see solutions, best of luck to you all.

  6. 356

    Geoff Sherrington writes:

    You have no proof of a probable sensitivity value, just a concurrence of thought among colleagues of like mind. You report sensitivity as a settled science when about half the posts on Realclimate are disputing that the science is settled.

    “Half the posts on RealClimate” don’t prove anything at all. The opinion of professional climate scientists does.

    If it is settled, why do you stay in business?

    Because defining climate sensitivity isn’t all that climate scientists do?

    Most of my senior colleagues and I who study these matters are still awaiting a definitive derivation of the sensitivity, indeed even whether CO2 has much to do with anything. As scientists and engineers, we hope for the numbers to come out in solid form soon, because then correctional measures can be planned and executed as needed by those able to do it well. But the central plank of AGW, that CO2 is the main culprit, simply does not wash yet.

    It does among those with a clue.

  7. 357

    Geoff Sherrington writes:

    By all means close all coal and gas plants if your wish is to kill millions of people in quick time.

    Except that no one is proposing anything of the sort. What was proposed was a moratorium on new coal plants. Go back and read it again.

  8. 358
    Jim Cripwell says:

    In #353 Cobblyworlds writes “The winter maxima is largely set outside the Arctic Ocean Basin itself, as the Arctic Ocean is ice covered before the maxima is reached. In that sense a record maxima is largely irrelevant, ice conditions inside the Arctic Basin are more important for the summer minima.” I am trying to understand what effect “annual” ice has on the summer minimum. Please note I am talking the ice that is, by definition, always less than one year old. I have noted before that my instinct tells me that the thickness (or amount) of this ice must be almost entirely caused by the cold conditions during the one winter when it forms. Now there is clearly “annual” ice in the Arctic basin, and how much there is, from my instincts, depends on the length and the cold of the winter. These winter conditions also, presumably, affect how much area the annual ice covers outside the Arctic basin. So, in this sense, the two effects may be correlated. I just dont know.

  9. 359
    Stephen Pranulis says:

    Re# 352 Geoff wrote “It’s elemantary that a heating effect exists in a pure, primary sense, but it’s not nearly so clear in Nature.” Exactly right Geoff! You nailed it! Carbon dioxide is just not so clear (transparent) in certain key regions of the infrared part of Nature’s electromagnetic spectrum. That,in fact,is the heart of the problem, recognized long before our current age of exquisitely sensitive analytical instruments. It is so nice to agree on things. Cheers!

  10. 360
    Nick Gotts says:

    Re #354 Douglas Wise: Douglas, I’m interested in your choice of authorities on population. Alfred Bartlett is an emeritus professor of physics. This does not in itself mean he has nothing useful to say on population, but he appears to ignore the fact that population has not been growing exponentially: up to around 40 years ago it had been growing super-exponentially at least since the Black Death; since then, growth has been subexponential. As has been discussed on this site, Malthus, whom Bartlett follows, was simply wrong in thinking that people have as many children as they can feed. Abernethy is an even more interesting choice. She describes herself as an “ethnic separatist”, and is a convinced opponent of immigration (to the USA), and of food aid. Her main claim is that fertility follows perceived economic opportunity. There may be some truth in this – common sense suggests people will sometimes delay having children until they feel they can afford them – but it is in no way incompatible with the “demographic transition” (not that I think that is a particularly useful term), because:
    (a) People’s assessment of what they can afford is highly context-dependent, they generally want their children to have at least the socio-economic status they do themselves, and it costs a lot more to raise an urban and/or educated child than a rural labourer. For a start, poor rural children will be earning their keep by the age of 7.
    (b) People tend to copy role-models of higher social status than themselves, and in modern societies those in higher socio-economic strata tend to have fewer children, probably for the reasons set out in (a) (Brazilian soaps, which feature middle-class families with few children are said to have contributed to the drop in birth rate).
    (c) There are reasons to expect women to want fewer children than their male partners: it is the woman who takes the risk of pregnancy and childbirth, and generally does most of the childrearing. Hence improving women’s status, to which educating girls makes the greatest contribution, should drive down birth-rates.
    I’ll admit I haven’t read Abernethy’s work, but I can’t see how she can possibly argue against the fact that birth rates have come down in almost every country over the past 40 years, while people have got richer and more urban, and sexual equality has increased; and that the highest birthrates are in countries that are very poor, very sexually unequal, or both.

    [edit – keep the rhetoric and ad homs down]

  11. 361
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Geoff Sherrington, So you do not think CO2 is a greenhouse gas? Gee, I wonder where those extra 33 degrees C came from, then. Or perhaps you think that the greenhouse effect just magically stops at 288 ppmv? Or perhaps you think pixies are stealing the ice from alpine and polar glaciers?
    Your senior colleagues and you must be getting awfully lonely. There is not a single professional scientific or engineering society that dissents from the proposition that the planet is warming or that humans are responsible–not one.
    Geoff, a proposition becomes scientifically settled when those who oppose it stop publishing peer-reviewed research that supports their dissent, and when those few dissenting papers stop being cited in subsequent literature. When it comes to the role of CO2 in climate, we’re there. But, hey, Geoff, by all means, you are free to prove us wrong. All you have to do is come up with a physically reasonable model that does as good a job or better and that assigns a low sensitivity to CO2. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

    Geoff, I am not a climate expert. It’s not my day job. I know enough about the science (because I’ve studied it) to see that it hangs together. I know that a lot of very smart people have also looked at the science and come to the same conclusion–and that unlike the denialists, they have a consistent story. I know that climate science has a 150 year history–it’s not in its infancy. I know that the science points to a credible threat.
    Now risk analysis–that is my day job. I know that for a credible threat, you have to look at possible consequences and probability of occurrence for that threat. What I find here is that there is a whole lot more risk on the upside than the downside–no comfort in other words. The next step is to look for potential mitigations.

    Now here, Geoff is where maybe you can help. I’m not a leftist. I believe in markets and democracy because we know we can make them work. And yet, when it comes to credible solutions for climate change–either technical or economical–I hear deafening silence. Oh, there’s plenty of noise, but it all seems to be directed toward denying sound science that the speakers don’t understand or downplaying risks that cannot be laid aside given the science.
    So, Geoff, I ask you, is capitalism so inflexible that it cannot deal with the problem posed by climate change? Is the prospect really so frightening to capitalists that all they can do is deny the sound science and downplay the risks?

  12. 362
    Hank Roberts says:

    Dr. Sherrington writes:
    “… Corporations often lead the pack in remediation of emerging problems, so the public hardly hears of some …”

    Academic scientists have been working hard to make their research freely available to the public, with increasing success, though it’s taken more than a decade to become prominent.

    Have any corporate scientists besides yourself been trying to make their research studies available for publication so it can begin to have a useful effect on public policy and be cited and relied on?

    It seems a shame corporations don’t release their work like the studies you describe eventually to be published in science journals. Your anecdotes about your own company’s research work suggest there’s much else that should be published but hasn’t been.

    The one large collection of corporate research recently turned over to the public, the decades of work collected in the tobacco papers, has been immediately productive of an enormous amount of followon science, citing that work. http://www.library.ucsf.edu/tobacco/

    Yours could be similarly interesting if opened to other scientists.

  13. 363
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Hi Nick,
    I have not read Abernethy’s work, but I can help out a bit with insight into Al Bartlett. I’ve known Al Bartlett for over 30 years, during which time he has been preaching from the same text–that growth–population and/or economic–in a finite environment is simply not sustainable. One would think that this position would not be controversial, but it is.
    My impression is that A^2B is fully aware of recent demographic trends. However he contends that it is unclear whether what we are seeing is a true turning point in demographics or merely a transition from one rate of exponential growth to another. Indeed, the experiences with birth control in India and China show how difficult efforts toward population control can be and the demographic problems they pose. Even with sub-exponential growth, it is hard to see how a world with 10 billion people is sustainable.
    With respect to Bartlett, I can reassure you that while Malthusian in his thesis, he is not at all Malthusian in terms of the solutions he proposes. He is concerned with sustainability and how we get there–as am I, as are you, and Douglas and almost any other thinking individual who has their eyes open. We all know that the exponential model of population growth is flawed, but it is useful in that it highlights the fact that unregulated growth is not sustainable. We can certainly refine the model, but it won’t alter that basic conclusion.

  14. 364
    Ray Ladbury says:

    #362 Hank,

    Ouch!

  15. 365
    Nick Gotts says:

    RE #363 (Ray Ladbury)
    “However he [Al Bartlett] contends that it is unclear whether what we are seeing is a true turning point in demographics or merely a transition from one rate of exponential growth to another.”

    Then he’s wrong, since population growth appears not to have been exponential at any point in history. In addition, since a number of rich countries now have birthrates which will if continued lead to rapid population decline, there appear to be no grounds for thinking the growth rate will settle at any positive figure. Of course it might do, and I do not suggest any let-up in efforts to reduce fertility rates, even in countries where they are already below replacement level. What I do object to is the tired claim that population “is never discussed”, and talk of “very unsavoury demographic solutions”.

  16. 366
    Henning says:

    I wonder where the idea that nothing is being done about the environment in general and climate change in particular comes from. I can certainly say for my company (we build cars) that reducing fuel consumption has become the dominant factor in our development matrixes – more important than the next three factors put together. Across the entire lineup, we reduced consumption by 8% in the last decade and if you look at the consumption per car we actually sell (most of the volume is in small to midrange – luxury vehicles play a minor role) the reduction is in the 40% range. In terms of CO2 it means only 37% because we sell more diesel today but its still a significant reduction. The press doesn’t really see that. They prefer to blaim us for the rediculously low mileage of the top models which make up less than one percent of the cars we sell. Apart from that, the entire industry is focused on developing electric drivetrains. The guys calling the shots aren’t stupid and they don’t plan to close down the factories once oil hits the 500$/barrel mark – and most certainly they don’t believe they can survive on a handfull of high performance cars for the select few who can still afford personal transportation at these prices. It takes time, of course. The battery problem still is largely unsolved although progress is being made and its not so unsolved that it might turn out to be impossible. We’ve passed that point a couple of years ago. I see coal power plants as the thing that will probably resist much longer because coal will stay cheap. Getting away from coal will mainly be a politically driven process, rather than a technical issue. Alternatives do exist. Apart from the renewables, with all their issues concerning availability, there is nuclear and in the future there may be fusion. All politicians have to do, is focus on these rather than coal. At least here in germany, that’s kind of a catch 22. The green party went berserk against nuclear since the 70s and when they came to power in the late 90s, they immediately began phasing it out without having an alternative. Surely, the entire country is now covered in wind generators but its still not enough and we have to build new coal power plants – just for the benefit of calming the old, green “no nuke” reflexes. People still claim it can all be done with renewables only – but when it comes to actually doing it, they all seem to get stuck in a large minefield of technical IFs and BUTs and sooner or later they’ll have to turn towards nuclear again.

  17. 367
    Rod B says:

    BPL (357) says, “…Except that no one is proposing anything of the sort. What was proposed was a moratorium on new coal plants. Go back and read it again.”

    For the record, both Ike (278) and tamino(283), as pointed out by Douglas (301), do in fact effectively seem to want to stop coal in its tracks, though tamino covers his rear with the slippery *rapid* (his emphasis) shutting of current coal-fired plants, for a couple of examples.

  18. 368
    Jim Eager says:

    Re CobblyWorlds @353: “The winter maxima is largely set outside the Arctic Ocean Basin itself, as the Arctic Ocean is ice covered before the maxima is reached. In that sense a record maxima is largely irrelevant, ice conditions inside the Arctic Basin are more important for the summer minima.”

    I entirely agree, Cobbly, but then it’s not I who has been touting this past winter’s rapid recovery and maxima in an effort to minimise the precedence of last summer’s melt.

  19. 369
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Geoff Sherrington @276: “Some say we should be preparing hydrogen powered cars because they emit mainly water, but water is a GHG itself.”

    Geoff, this comment from your first post in this thread undermines confidence that you have even a basic grasp of atmospheric science. Please look up the concept of “relative humidity.”

    Never mind, I’ll save you the time. Basically, any water vapour humans add directly to the atmosphere, say from burning hydrogen as a transport fuel, simply will not stay there for more than a few days before condensing and precipitating out. Human activity can not permanently increase the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere without first increasing either atmospheric pressure or atmospheric temperature.

    Oh, wait, what is it we’re doing by directly adding more CO2 to the atmosphere?

    Right, raising the temperature of the atmosphere.

    See how it works? Oh, right, you question the very premise that CO2 has a significant greenhouse gas forcing in nature.

    Geoff: “So, what can we buy with emission credits that is TRULY a gain?”
    “Tell me please, of a few activities that can be done with no GHG addition to the air.”

    Gee, we could cover the costs of building more energy efficient homes and buildings, and retrofitting existing structures. We could subsidise replacing older inefficient appliances and machinery with more efficient models. We could produce more hybrid and pure electric vehicles and transit systems. We could produce and install more solar cells and solar-thermal collectors, more windmill generators, more ground-source geothermal systems, more deep water thermal systems, develop working systems to harness tidal energy, develop actual working CCS, and heck, even build more nuclear plants. Sure, the production and installation of all of these will generate CO2, but it will be more than offset over their useful service life, plus, as non-fossil fuel electrical generation becomes a larger portion of the installed base, fewer fossil carbon fuels will be used to manufacture and install future replacements.

    If you cannot think of many worthy gains on which to spend emission credits you clearly haven’t thought much about the problem.

  20. 370
    Rod B says:

    Hank and Ray, I appreciate your points but you are mischaracterizing free private enterprise (a better term than capitalism IMO) and the corporations that operate within. Corporations , with only a couple of notable exceptions, do not do research with any intention of publishing in generic science rags. Their research is done to support their private business — period. They will publish in their in-house organs (some of which are very good) if they don’t think they’re giving up any competitive or marketing advantage. (In some circumstances they’ll allow standard publication.) This does not make them bad citizens — it’s what they do.

    Secondly, free private enterprise will never (damn near…) make investment in a large-scale (global?) efforts which have no assurance of a return, or if there is a return they don’t know how much but know it won’t be realized for at least a couple of decades. They might make such investments if governments give them some sort of assurance/guarantee. This does not make them bad citizens — it’s what they do. Governments have to fill the gap for those things that corporations will not and can not handle — it’s what they do. That’s why ABC company didn’t try to win the market for a national highway system, or XYZ, LLP didn’t try to make a buck by creating and developing the military. Criticizing or wishing otherwise is not relevant and futile. (Certainly the government can set rules and guides that would allow corporations to work on little piecemeal pieces.)

  21. 371
    CobblyWorlds says:

    #358 Jim Cripwell,

    As Gavin has already pointed out, the greatest factor in creating thick pack ice is ridging and compression.

    For freezing to occur on the underside of the ice there has to be a heat flux taking heat away so that the ice can freeze. This heat flux will not be into the sea water immediately below the ice, as this is liquid, so above freezing point. The flux will be upwards through the ice.

    The ice acts as an insulator separating the cold air above from the warmer water below. So in winter because of the pretty extreme cold above the ice there’s a net flux of heat upwards through the ice. However heat flux through the ice is inversely proportional to it’s thickness, so as the ice grows thicker much less heat can transfer through it. In other words, the thicker the ice gets, the less underside freezing occurs.

    To get the thick perennial ice of over 2 metres thick you need compression and ridging to come into play.

    Winter conditions do play a major role in the extent of ice at winter maxima. And yes a cold winter will make thicker ice (to a degree). But I really think to jump from that to seeing it as a reason for the ice to not drop at least as low as last year would be stretching the role of first-year ice. My only doubt now is because of the weather. If we get the weather we had last year again this year, I think we could be below 1 million km^2 area in September.

    If the weather pans out like last year and it’s still around 3 million Km^2 area as declared by Cryosphere Today, you can pin a tail on me and call me Eeyore. ;)

    Note: I use “area” not “extent” because if the ice cap breaks up this year, or in the comming years, a break up of the ice could increase the extent despite a drop in area. Last year extent was ~4 million km^2, area 3 million km^2, that’s a big difference. To quote from NSIDC:

    In computing total ice-covered area and ice extent, pixels must have an ice concentration of 15% or greater to be included; thus, total ice extent is computed by summing the total number of pixels with at least 15% ice concentration multiplied by the area per pixel. Total ice-covered area is defined as the area of each pixel with at least 15% ice concentration, multiplied by the ice fraction in the pixel (0.15-1.00).

    Anyway not long until reality adjudicates on this matter. ;)

  22. 372
    Nick Gotts says:

    Rod B: “Secondly, free private enterprise will never (damn near…) make investment in a large-scale (global?) efforts which have no assurance of a return, or if there is a return they don’t know how much but know it won’t be realized for at least a couple of decades. They might make such investments if governments give them some sort of assurance/guarantee. This does not make them bad citizens”

    Yes it does. If being prepared to sacrifice untold lives in pursuit of your own selfish interest doesn’t make you a bad citizen, what on Earth does?

  23. 373
    piglet says:

    I always find it striking how readily environmentalists are accused of economic naivité. What is it that we suggest, that (according to received wisdom) is so outlandish? Well, putting insulation in homes. More energy efficient appliances and cars. Investing in efficient public transport. Investing in basic research to promote conservation and energy alternatives. Measures like that may not, on their own, be sufficient to solve GW but they would go a long way, and they are available now. They do require some effort and they do cost some money but to say they are unaffordable, out of reach, they would destroy our standard of living? Nonsense.

    Now enter some genius, let’s say Freeman Dyson, suggesting a major global reengineering effort using some yet to develop magical technology. He doesn’t present any scientific data as to the validity of his idea, no feasibility study, no economic study, no environmental impact study. Nothing, just an idea that appears crazy by any standards, and you know what? People like this guy and his supporters get to accuse *us*, environmentalists, of being naive and economically illiterate. Dyson gets support for his outlandish idea from people who think that tried and proven concepts like insulating homes and public transport are outlandish, too expensive, unaffordable? Excuse me!

    There’s another twist to this story. Let’s assume, for a moment, that Dyson’s idea would in fact work, that it is feasible, that it wouldn’t have major negative effects (an assumption that you’d have to be completely out of your mind to find plausible), and even that it would be affordable. So we’d pay a probably huge amount of money, make a huge effort, but it would save the world. Great. The downside is, that money would be spent once and lost forever, it wouldn’t create anything useful, like infrastructure or technology that future generations would profit from. The balance sheet is, economically speaking, negative.

    The conservation and alternative energy efforts that we “naive” environemntalists suggest, on the other hand, would create lasting infrastructure improvements and help solve a problem that we need to face in any case even if GW were not a problem, namely how to satisfy our and future generations’ energy needs (a problem that Dyson’s scheme wouldn’t address at all). The balance sheet looks much better. In fact many of these measures, especially conservation, would pay for themselves in the long run. They would create jobs and infrastructure and would also save energy money. Where’s the downside? There isn’t any, really. Not even economically!

    Yet, in the economic models that Dyson and his anti-environmental fan-club are relying on, these measures are treated as losses. Something here doesn’t add up. It is rubbish to treat investments in the future as losses. With economic models like that, you end up concluding that any dollar not spent on IPods, clothes and parties is a lost dollar. And that’s what they call economic wisdom these days.

  24. 374
    Jim Cripwell says:

    Ref 371. Many thanks, Cobblyworlds. As I have noted before, I come to RC to get questions answered, and I think I have accomplished this. We seem to agree that, through the amount of annual ice, the weather of the previous winter will affect the amount of ice at summer minimum. You seem to feel the effect will be small, and maybe even insignificant; I think it is significant, and maybe even large. Neither of us seem to know for sure. As to how much ice there will be next September, being a confirmed denialist, I am praying to all the gods I believe in, and most of those that I dont, that there will be significantly more ice than there was last year. I read as much as I could about last year’s melt, and came to the conclusion that the weather that caused the major disappearance of the ice was much more related to wind, and wind direction, than it was to temperature. But as you note, it wont be long before we know for absolute certainly what is in store the September 2008.

  25. 375
    piglet says:

    “It is wonderfully ironic how much enthusiasm there is for supercomputer climate modelling while at the same time such aversion for the idea that supercomputer mitigation solutions are coming soon to a planet near us all.”

    I do have an aversion towards having major public policy questions be decided by appeal to unsubstantiated beliefs (aka religion). And mind you, there’s nothing ironic about people with a scientific background being opposed to magical thinking. What IS ironic is that from time to time even scientists like Dyson succumb to the allurement of the “think positive, it’s gonna be all right” movement.

  26. 376
    David B. Benson says:

    Geoff Sherrington (352) — You could start learning about climate sensitivity here:

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

    Gregory et al. (2002) is quite clear as is the work of Annan & Hargreaves.

  27. 377
    Hank Roberts says:

    Rod writes:
    > Corporations … do not do research with any
    > intention of publishing in generic science rags. …

    Yes, but Dr. Sherrington has been talking about his work that would certainly be of interest to fellow scientists when published. It’s not the _intention_ that matters.

    The Navy wasn’t collecting data from submarines with the intention of informing the science world. But the Navy produces good scholarship, including using that:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?sourceid=Mozilla-search&q=navy+postgraduate+school

    If the work’s competent, the data are there. The academic scientists are working hard to lower the paywalls. Scientists working for corporations could as well.

    Suppose it were really needed for the public benefit?

  28. 378
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., Corporate scientists USED TO publish in mainstream science journals. Indeed, it was expected by some labs such as Bell Labs, etc. It is only as the push to become leaner and meaner has settled for meaner that even specifications for copper wire are considered proprietary (I’m not exaggerating here! This actually happened!) Indeed, the corporation as we know it is really only about 100 years old, and is a very different entity from past incarnations such as the British or Dutch East India Companies or even the German chemical companies like I. G. Farben. Indeed until the 1920s, the corporation’s continued existence was not at all assured, as it could have gone the way of its predecessor, the Trust.
    My point here is that humanity has need of organizations that are sufficiently flexible to ensure our survival. If the corporation cannot adapt, it may still go the way of the Trust. If Geoff Sherrington is to be believed, it does not possess such flexibility.

  29. 379
    Geoff Sherrington says:

    Re 369 Jim Eager

    It’s precisely because I have done my homework that I offer an occasional post to Realclimate, which has not gained terribly high standards of acceptance.

    I’ll quote you just one example of how to demolish your argument put as follows
    “Gee, we could cover the costs of building more energy efficient homes and buildings, and retrofitting existing structures. We could subsidise replacing older inefficient appliances and machinery with more efficient models. We could produce more hybrid and pure electric vehicles and transit systems. We could produce and install more solar cells and solar-thermal collectors, more windmill generators, more ground-source geothermal systems, more deep water thermal systems, develop working systems to harness tidal energy, develop actual working CCS, and heck, even build more nuclear plants. Sure, the production and installation of all of these will generate CO2, but it will be more than offset over their useful service life, plus, as non-fossil fuel electrical generation becomes a larger portion of the installed base, fewer fossil carbon fuels will be used to manufacture and install future replacements.

    If you cannot think of many worthy gains on which to spend emission credits you clearly haven’t thought much about the problem.”

    If you build new electricity production plant, you can reduce the amount of CO2 emission. You can also calculate the cost of preventing a tonne of CO2 going into the air. The calculations are country specific, because of the present generation mix, but in Australia the estimate is: To avoid a tonne of CO2 into the air using wind power is $1180. To reduce a tonne of CO2 into the air my building nuclear is $22. There are error estimates about these figures that can be argued, but the gap will never close.

    Industry has to be hard nosed, not wearing its heart on its sleeve, ot its competitors overwhelm it. If there were substantial opportunities to improve the lot of people and the environment, industry would have adopted them years ago. The diffuse energy of sunlight and wind cannot ever be overcome by clever design and will never compete on efficiency grounds with present engineering.

    This post would be too long to correct all the misinterpretations of what I have written above. I will, if asked for specific items.

    The main problem is that most of you enthusiastic guys and girls are too ready to accept as gospel, mantras constructed by others. Mantra writers ofen have an agenda. I have one too, to leave my grandchildren in better circumstances than I have lived.

    You are NOT going to get there by the uncritical acceptance of unfinished and unproven “science” about which you know little. I’m trying to drop in from time to time at a plane above the general discussion here, usually talking about subjects where I have actually done work. I find the CO2 case for AGW to be worthy of proper investigation, overused for intensely political outrageous schemes for wealth ditribution, but LACKING PROOF. Build on the rock and not upon the sand.

  30. 380
    Rod B says:

    Nick (372), but the corporations have no firm knowledge or belief that they are sacrificing people by not glomming onto the entire AGW enterprise (and likely going bankrupt in the near future.) So this changes the whole premise of the argument to a no-op, which is, in essence, they are bad citizens because they listened to all of their technical, accounting and marketing people, their customers, and their competitors, et al when they should’ve just given you (or someone similar) a call. You could have saved them all of the drudgery of building widgets and making a few bucks and allowed them to rush right out and save the world.

  31. 381
    Rod B says:

    piglet (373), your general point is well-taken and I don’t think environmentalist should be shut out of economics, per se. They have as much right as anyone. Problem is they often miss the concept and end up sounding silly (as do some economists, to be sure). The economists fussing at the environmentalists are in no way talking of the piddling playing in the sandbox stuff like adding some fiberglass in the attic or buying a new washer and a couple of Fl bulbs. That’s all good stuff, as you say. But forcing absolute reductions in CO2 emissions to what it was 8 years ago, within 4 years from now (and to have 2050 emissions equal to less than 1950’s) without much of an idea as to exactly how to accomplish it — as the current Senate bill calls for — is way out of the sandbox arena.

  32. 382
    Rod B says:

    Ray (378), Hank (377), I think info produced on the public dollar (govt labs, NASA, etc) ought to be made freely available, subject to military and security concerns (which are a long way from trivial). If the public wants private enterprise info they ought to buy it (or like all good governments, pass a law and steal it!) There is no good rational to expect corporations to pony it up carte blanche “for the good of the team”. Just like I don’t think teachers (or climate scientists, et al) should work for nothing to “prove they really care”.

    I agree, Ray, corporations (and govts; and enterprises; and people) tend to go overboard with their conservatism. It all simply comes from anxiety, unknowns, bureaucracy, and lawyers. When I worked in IBM they had four official levels of Confidentiality which if nothing else created a pile of work administering it all, until CookieMan Gerstner came aboard and killed it. [Actually the highest level was unofficial, called “Downright Embarrassin'”] And yes, Bell Labs did publish, but back then they had no proprietary rights to anything the Labs came up with anyway. I suppose other not so anal retentive corporations do, too.

    It all boils down to this: the vast vast majority of U.S. corporations are moral ethical good citizens. We have no justification for expecting them to take on the work and responsibility (other than their part, like our part, too) for fixing AGW just because we wished they would (and the correct bunch won’t do it). As the movie line went, “wish in one hand and crap in the other; see which fills up first.”

  33. 383
    Gordon Parish says:

    379 – G. Sherrington – you are obviously not an english major – no offense intended, I myself am an engineer and a scientist and I know that neither myself nor my friends excelled in the liberal arts…

    You have said that upon request you would follow with specifics, and I am very much interested in economics of alternative energy. I have a science and engineering background, but I must confess that I am very lacking in fluence with economic issues, and that is where I find my quandary. What limits are appropriate? What are unrealistic? I wish I knew.

    But, I read often on the blogosphere where posters state that wind or solar are unduly expensive. As an engineer, I tend to feel optimistic about such solutions, but clearly, if they are financially untenable, then they would only doom our civilization to an unseemly demise.

    Therefore, I am very interested in following up on your statement: “To avoid a tonne of CO2 into the air using wind power is $1180.”

    This is exactly the kind of fact I need to help formulate my opinion regarding this complex millieu. Please post a citation to the source of this important economic analysis. I’m sure you understand that I cannot with open mind accept as fact a statement from an unknown poster on an abstract blog site.

    I shall be forever indebted, I am sure…

  34. 384
    The Tuatara says:

    I’m trying to drop in from time to time at a plane above the general discussion here

    Trafalmadore?

  35. 385
    Dan says:

    re: 379. “LACKING PROOF”.

    And there we go again, complete with tired us of capital letters as if that proves the point. How many times must it be drilled into skeptics that “proof” is a mathematical concept? And that the scientific method involves hypotheses, repeatable experiments, data, conclusions and further hypotheses. Followed by peer-review. Goodness, any freshman science student learns this.

  36. 386

    Geoff Sherrington posts:

    I find the CO2 case for AGW to be worthy of proper investigation, overused for intensely political outrageous schemes for wealth ditribution, but LACKING PROOF.

    Science doesn’t deal in proof, mathematics and philosophy does. But if you’re talking about evidence, people who actually study the matter say the evidence for AGW is overwhelming.

    I don’t agree that the sources being “diffuse” means wind and solar are forever useless, either. Denmark is now getting 16% of its electricity from wind power.

  37. 387
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Geoff Sherrington, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason you think there is no “proof” is because you don’t understand the physics? Your comments about water vapor from hydrogen cars would certainly indicate a weak understanding of atmospheric science. So I will ask, what specific proof do you find lacking? What would it take to convince you that the rise in CO2 is behind the rise in temperatures? If you cannot answer this, then you have to ask yourself if you are not in denial.

  38. 388
    Nick Gotts says:

    Rod (380) “Nick (372), but the corporations have no firm knowledge or belief that they are sacrificing people by not glomming onto the entire AGW enterprise (and likely going bankrupt in the near future.)”

    All they need to do if they want firm knowledge is look at the overwhelming scientific consensus that this is a real, urgent problem.

    However, in a sense, you’re right: legally, corporations have to be psychopathic – they are not allowed to care about anything beyond shareholder profit. Capitalism has created these psychopaths; we have to, at the very least, fundamentally change its rules to oblige them to take wider considerations into account – as of course, we did during WWII. Otherwise, they will destroy our civilisation, if not our species.

  39. 389
    Ray Ladbury says:

    The Tuatara–not sure if it’s Trafalmadore, but I’m pretty sure his plane does not intersect the real axis.

  40. 390
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “… not sure if it’s Trafalmadore …”

    Actually it’s Tralfamadore, not “Trafalmadore”. Busy, busy, busy.

  41. 391
    Ken Milne says:

    Levenson posts:

    “I don’t agree that the sources being “diffuse” means wind and solar are forever useless, either. Denmark is now getting 16% of its electricity from wind power.”

    This is only possible because Denmark is interconnected to Norway, Sweden and Germany, the former two having very large amounts of hydro power. Because wind power is intermittent, 20% capacity factor in the case of Denmark, and power systems must always be in balance between supply and demand, the fact that Sweden and Norway can take excess supply from Denmark when it over produces, and supply Denmark power when the wind doesn’t blow (because hydro stations can be ramped up and down quickly to respond to Denmark’s production) means high production rates for wind are possible there.

    However even the 16% figure is imaginary in terms of national consumption. The more accurate statement is: of all the power consumed in Denmark the output of its wind farms totals 16% of that amount. In fact most of that wind output isn’t consumed in Denmark, it is exported because the wind is blowing when Denmark doesn’t need the power.

    Modern economies require dispatchable power. It IS naive to think that wind power, or solar, will be ever more than a small percentage of the demand in most of the world.

    [Response: This makes no logical sense. Instead the conclusion is that wind and solar can be a large part of the mix if you have well-connected grids that allow you to allocate power efficiently. The Scandanavian countries show that this is possible, therefore instead of always claiming that wind and solar can’t help, you should be advocating for improved grid mechanisms. There is no reason why this couldn’t be done in North America, China/Japan/Korea, India or South America – where there are already regional-scale grids (and energy transfers) in place. – gavin]

  42. 392
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., Back in the dark and distant past, I worked for Hughes Aircraft. In the 70s and 80s, Hughes was the unquestioned leader in satellite design. It was a not for profit. But there was a problem–they made too much money. So they were forced into the private sector and GM bought them. I came along after the GM acquisition. GM never turned a profit. Nor has Boeing, who acquired the company just after I left. Now I don’t think the guys who run these big multi-nationals are idiots, but I do think there may be tasks where their business model doesn’t work.

    My current employer, though not in the private sector, has introduced “full cost accounting”. As near as I can tell that means that they don’t care if anything works as long as the books balance. I can’t help but think I might have a cold chill had I been aboard Apollo 13 and heard Ground tell me that they’d get right to solving my problem as soon as they could get a charge number for doing so.

    I can’t imagine Arno Penzias discovering the cosmic microwave background or Jack Kilby inventing the integrated circuit in today’s climate of maximizing ROI every quarter. I see what my colleagues in industry have to go through to publish their research–and it’s good research. I can’t help but believe that we’ve lost something–and given the way China, Europe, India et al. are gaining on us, doesn’t encourage me.

  43. 393
    tamino says:

    Re: #389 (Ray Ladbury)

    In fact it doesn’t even have a real component. It’s not complex; it’s pure imaginary.

  44. 394
    Rod B says:

    Nick (388), well, that’s just idealistic tommy-rot ranting. My belief is summarized in 382, but to make it clearer: It ain’t their yob.

    For the record, non-capitalistic systems produce far more psychopaths. I agree that getting them on board by incentives (“changing the rules”) makes sense, like WWII, which btw, we got them on board, in great part, by sending them a lot of money, as we should have (but with care).

  45. 395
    spilgard says:

    Re 379, It doesn’t help much that the previous visit from a higher plane was to drop oblique hints about scientific fraud and shadowy conspiracies.

  46. 396
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B. Actually, a good many military contracts awarded during WW II were Cost + $1. But those were national vs. multi-national corporations–different beasts.
    Actually, Nick’s psychopath reference is not far off the mark, although I’d say sociopathic. A sociopath has no moral compass. Corporations, if driven solely to maximize profit, cannot afford one. Even so, a sociopath can often learn to conform to the norms of society if the reward structure is appropriate (e.g. monetary, social, etc.). Psychologist friends of mine say that sociopaths can be the most charming–and scary–clients they come into contact with. The main rule is figure out what they want and don’t get between them and it–or if you want to be ambitious, you can try to make what they want contingent on good behavior.
    The same works, apparently, with corporations. WalMart (or as I call them ValdeMart) has made serious strides toward becoming “green,” although their labor relations still leave a lot to be desired.
    Still, sociopaths are easier to deal with than, say, borderlines, which many authoritarian regimes come to resemble.

  47. 397
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Tamino, Hmm, given we have concluded that Sherrington’s plane does not intersect the real axis and that it is purely imaginary, does that imply that he has a point? Sorry, couldn’t resist nerd humor.

  48. 398
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Geoff Sherrington @379:”I’ll quote you just one example of how to demolish your argument”

    You specifically asked: “Tell me please, of a few activities that can be done with no GHG addition to the air.”
    After I provided a number of examples that would generate net reductions of CO2–including nuclear–you now try to shift discussion to cost comparisons between wind and nuclear.

    That’s not ‘demolishing’ an argument, that’s moving the goal posts in a classic bait and switch.

    But now that you have tried to shift your argument, I second Gordon Parish’s request that you provide documentation for your assertion of $1180 per tonne of CO2 reduction for wind verses $22 per tonne for nuclear. (Not saying you are wrong, but pardon me for not just taking your word for it.)

    Geoff: “You are NOT going to get there by the uncritical acceptance of unfinished and unproven “science” about which you know little.”

    I don’t claim to to be anything approaching an expert in atmospheric science or the radiative physics of greenhouse gasses, but it was not I who made the sophomoric assertion that using hydrogen–generated by splitting H2O to begin with–as a transport fuel would increase the greenhouse gas water vapour in the atmosphere. Seems to me you have much more homework to do.

    Geoff: “I’m trying to drop in from time to time at a plane above the general discussion here”

    The elevation of your comments is greatly exaggerated in your own mind.

    A quick google search shows that Geoff Sherrington is a frequent commenter at ClimateAudit and other global warming contrarian/denialist sites.
    Here is a link to Geoff Sherrington’s submission to the Garnaut Climate Change Review: http://tinyurl.com/6gjun6
    (Be sure to check out the temperature graph on page 3, it’s good for a laugh.)

    From his submission we learn that Geoff “was for 20 years part of the management of the Ranger Uranium Deposits and for some years visiting President of the NT Chamber of Mines and Energy.”

    And from his ebay profile: “As for myself now retired, my career was spent in Science and management of large resource developments like mines (including uranium) and paper making and printing. Without much prior knowledge of the above, my hobby interests came to include stamps and coins, photography, computer imagery and design and I studied some aeronautics and joined the Australia Sceptics.”

    In truth, you are little more than a run-of-the-mill AGW denialist with no background in climate science and a career in the uranium mining industry.

  49. 399
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Nick (388), well, that’s just idealistic tommy-rot ranting.”
    Nice to see a rational argument from you, Rod. I called the corporations psychopaths, not those running them, and for a very good reason: they are legally bound to consider only maximising shareholder value. Damage to the environment? No. Deaths among employees, customers or third parties? No. So long as such deaths or damage do not break the criminal law, and will increase profit, that’s what they are legally bound to do. That’s why I said capitalism created these psychopaths. In WWII, at least in the UK (which faced a real threat of invasion as the USA never did), corporations were in many cases required to coordinate with others and the needs of the state what they should produce and invest in, and rationed in the raw materials they could buy. That is, for the duration, market forces did not decide what should be produced in the key areas of the economy. Of course this was done by negotiation, not arbitrary command as in the Soviet system, and the capitalist elite acquiesced in it because they saw its necessity if they were to hang on to any of their assets. We are now, globally, in as dangerous a situation as the UK was then, although the timescales are longer.

  50. 400
    Ron Taylor says:

    #398 – Jim, thanks for the homework on Sherrington, and the link to his paper. It is, as they say, “a real hoot.” As you predicted, I burst into laughter when I saw the temperature graph. Amazing that anyone who knows anything about this would embarrass themselves by publishing it.