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Breaking the silence about Spring

Filed under: — eric @ 11 April 2009

Did you know that in 1965 the U.S. Department of Agriculture planted a particular variety of lilac in more than seventy locations around the U.S. Northeast, to detect the onset of spring — in turn to be used to determine the appropriate timing of corn planting and the like? The records the USDA have kept show that those same lilacs are blooming as much as two weeks earlier than they did in 1965. April has, in a very real sense, become May. This is one of the interesting facts that you’ll read about in Amy Seidl’s book, Early Spring, a hot-off-the-press essay about the impacts of climate change on the world immediately around us – the forest, the birds, the butterflies in our backyards.

The brilliant title of Seidl’s book was one of the reasons that it caught my attention. The other was that I have realized I need to better educate myself about the impact of climate change on everyday life. I’ve been dismissive of the idea that the average person can really detect the impacts of recent warming on, for example, the timing of the apple-blossom season, but I’ve been taken to task by several of RealClimate’s readers for this. If you are paying attention, they have argued, the changes are actually rather obvious.

Of course, Amy Seidl is not the average person. Rather, she’s a trained ecologist with a Ph.D. (as well as an avid gardener) and she’s clearly paying extremely close attention. Her book is the first one I have read that effectively brings home the tangible impacts that global warming will have – is having – on our everyday lives. “We are increasingly familiar,” she writes, of images of melting glaciers, “but how do we give them relevance in our lives? From my window I see no glaciers.” She answers her own question with a series of vignettes, some from her own experiences, many more from her extensive research (well referenced throughout the book).

Cardinals, robins and cowbirds are all arriving earlier in Vermont than they did a century ago. Kingfishes, fox sparrows and towhees are not. Why the difference? The answer, as Seidl explains, is that the former group has the ability to respond ecologically to the changes, because these birds cue their arrival to temperature. The latter, it appears, respond more directly to temporal cues, that won’t change even as climate does. It’s obvious from this example that the make up of bird life in Vermont – the species distribution – will change over time. This may not necessarily be a bad thing of course. On the other hand, it turns out that the robins are the most important host for West Nile virus; the early bird gets the worm, so to speak, and passes it along to humans.

Maple seedlings need about 100 days of below-freezing weather. As this becomes rarer, fewer maples will populate the forests. This, Seidl explains, is why species-range models predict the decline and eventual loss of sugar maple (at least in New England) in the future. But, she notes, the models don’t take into account the full complexity of the system, such as the impact of competition among different species. So we don’t really know what will happen, or how fast. What we do know is that maple-sugar farmers have noticed – and documented – an earlier maple sugaring season over the last few decades.

There are many other examples in Early Spring both of clear climate-related changes (such as the early arrival of robins), and of less clear-cut changes (the maple sugaring season). Seidl doesn’t make the common mistake of assuming that the more ambiguous examples are necessarily due to climate change. For example, she quotes a maple-sugarer who points out that technological changes have allowed them to tap maples earlier, and hence that the timing of sugaring is a weak measure of climate change. The point though, is that even rather minor changes are, after all, being noticed. And if much larger changes do occur, as predicted, they will most certainly have impacts we can’t ignore, even if we don’t live in the Arctic or in Bangladesh. In other words, Seidl tells us, listen to the farmers and gardeners, and the observations of regular people: they are meaningful.

The soberness of Seidl’s approach to the subject of climate change impacts contrasts starkly with that of many books before it. It couldn’t be further, for example, from Mark Lynas’s book, Six Degrees, which is a truly alarming read. In my comments on Six Degrees, I said that it wasn’t an alarmist book. I stand by that characterization, because – and this is what I liked about it – it doesn’t go beyond what is in the scientific literature. However, while Lynas’s book is a straightforward reading of the scientific literature, it is a somewhat uncritical one, and hence tends to emphasize what might happen in the future over what will happen; this is a point that many readers of my review seem to have missed. Seidl’s book, on the other hand, is focused on the more certain – and often less dramatic — things, and on the impacts we are likely to see in our own lifetimes.

The calm demeanor of Seidl’s book, and the very personal nature of it, could lead one to think that it is primarily just a philosophical reflection on the climate change story. Indeed, Bill McKibben, in his introduction to Early Spring, says that in the face of changes we may not be able to prevent, “one of our tasks is simply to bear witness”. Certainly, the book is partly that. But Seidl’s voice, like Rachel Carson’s before her, has the authentic and authoritative voice of a scientist, made all the more compelling for being very much rooted in the author’s own story and experiences. And she doesn’t pull punches when she has something definitive to say: “One thing is clear:” she writes, “we will not be able to manage the climate”.

Early Spring has the potential to be immensely influential, a real turning point in the popular appreciation of climate change impacts among laypersons and scientists alike. Read it.

———-
Note that we review books on a fairly ad hoc basis. For earlier reviews of other books, see here.


347 Responses to “Breaking the silence about Spring”

  1. 251
    Nick Gotts says:

    “This isn’t some green gambit, Michael. It’s real–real enough that deep ecology folks like Lovelock are advocating nuclear power.” – Ray Ladbury

    Ray, not disagreeing with your argument, but Lovelock has always been a nuclear-power booster. He’s an octogenarian engineer, brought up on the idea that nuclear power would usher in the golden age.

  2. 252
    Jim Bouldin says:

    …plus I have the fun of driving a zippy little 2-seater rather than something that handles like a waterbed.

    Of course, some do prefer the latter.

    I dry my clothes on a line – more money in my pocket, plus they smell better

    That’s a slippery slope to communism.

  3. 253
    Mark says:

    “I dry my clothes on a line – more money in my pocket, plus they smell better

    That’s a slippery slope to communism.”

    Wha?

    Having better smelling clothes leads to communism???

  4. 254
    Tad Boyd says:

    #210 & #248

    I was hoping for a response from Eric (because it is very cool getting an authoritative answer from an actual scientist) on post #210 but understand he is probably busy, doing science… So I tried to find some state by state season start times, over time to get a feel for the changes occurring as reported in this article versus my perceptions. I didn’t find what I was looking for (if anyone has any links to such info…) I did however find a useful blurb related to the subject on encarta.msn.com concerning Washington State’s growing season.

    http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761572009_2/Washington_(state).html

    D 3 Growing Season

    Because of the extreme climatic differences between eastern and western Washington, the growing season ranges from 100 days in some of the mountain areas to 280 days along parts of the Pacific shore. In eastern Washington the growing season is from 120 to 200 days. In the Puget Trough the growing season is from 160 to 240 days.

    So I find our growing season can vary by almost 3 months (I’m in the Puget Trough). So any differences I perceive from year to year are well within the norm. For instance, we lost a lot of fruit last year because it snowed in may, froze everything. I thought that this was way out of the norm, but apparently, not at all.

    For folks posting about differences in the start of spring by a week or two, are your states growing seasons less variable than what we have here in Washington?

    #248 – I’d suspect (but don’t really know of course) that Western Canada would probably have a large normal range like us. Is it possible that the behavior of the bees is within the range of the norm or is it truly anomalous?

    Very interesting topic. Thanks all for sharing.

    Tad

  5. 255
    Mark says:

    “For folks posting about differences in the start of spring by a week or two, are your states growing seasons less variable than what we have here in Washington?”

    No.

    Think on this:

    ICAO standard man is 5′ 8″.

    But how can that be??? Look at the variation in heights!

    At 2.57 metres (8 ft 5.5 in), Leonid Stadnyk, of Zhytomyr Oblast, Ukraine, is believed to be the world’s tallest living man, although his height is disputed. The tallest man in modern history was Robert Pershing Wadlow from Illinois in the United States, who was born in 1918 and stood 2.72 m (8 ft 11.1 inches) at the time of his death in 1940.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_height)

    How can they do that?

    By the “magic” of statistics.

    What you do is take a lot of dates at which a certain temperature was reached. At that temperature, spring starts in that region.

    Now, take an average over many years and see the series of average date for the last 1,000 years.

    Looky here! The day at which that temperature was reached and spring started is getting earlier!

    If you don’t like defining spring as “when it reaches 12C in Washington on midday”, then how about when Peregrine chicks hatch.

    Take the average over some decades and repeat for as long as you have records.

    Oh, look. Chicks are hatching earlier.

    Now is this because the peregrine has decided that they will hatch in winter, or does it mean that spring is springing earlier?

    YOU decide.

  6. 256
    Tad Boyd says:

    #255

    Hi Mark,

    I think I understand what you are saying (though I’m not 100% sure so if I mottle it too much, let me know). You are saying that the high end of the growing season range (240 days) is like the 8 foot man, an outlier, as opposed to just part of the normal growing season range as I was reading it. I don’t know anything about Peregrine chicks but I suspect the normal range for their hatching is narrower than our growing season in Washington so perhaps make a better indicator of changes in the arrival of spring.

    Ultimately what I think you are saying is that if the average, even though it is within the “normal range” (which I was taking the 160 days to 240 days to mean but would be incorrect if the 240 days was analogous to the 8 foot man) is earlier than previous averages over time, that indicates out of the ordinary beginnings of spring. And that knowing the growing season range is not useful.

    So what I really need is, kind of what I was originally seeking, is that “average over many years and see the series of average date for the last 1,000 years”, (or whatever is actually available in regards to the start of Spring). And then some concept of what time period is appropriate for assessing changes in the average start time of spring as to determine relevance to climate change. This is probably where Eric’s help would really come in handy. Do you have any pointers to that kind of information concerning the start of spring by state?

    This also suggests to me that what I’m seeing (perceiving) in my own garden from year to year is not actually helpful in trying to determine the effects of climate change.

    Thanks for your input Mark.

    Tad

  7. 257

    Walt Bennett

    If you are interested in a discussion of the points of contention and possible misconceptions, I would be happy to talk to you about some of these points and maybe we can both learn something new? Please feel free to contact me though the OSS site:

    http://www.ossfoundation.us/contact-info

  8. 258
    Michael says:

    Ray, I appreciate the sentiment, but lets squeeze all emotion out of the argument. Technically speaking how do you decide if you have chosen the best solution to the climate crisis? I.e. The solution that has the greatest chance of success, the quickest rollout, with the least collatoral damage?

    Would you be able to take mitigation or conservation off the table if the job called for it?

  9. 259
    Walt Bennett says:

    Does somebody want to talk to Mark about his signal to noise ratio?

  10. 260
    James says:

    Jim Bouldin Says (17 April 2009 at 8:35 AM):

    “Of course, some do prefer the latter.”

    The link just goes to the RealClimate home page?

    But I think that’s really my point: preferences. For a lot of reasons, I’ve generally preferred a set of lifestyle choices that result in a fairly low (for the US) carbon footprint. Money’s one of those reasons, but far from the only one, and reducing carbon footprint as a goal didn’t even enter my thoughts until the last decade or so. Yet I don’t think I’ve gotten less enjoyment from my lifestyle than have those who’ve thoughtlessly followed the mainstream – and I’m pretty sure that one consequence has been that I’m better off physically & financially than the average.

    So I have to wonder, what’s not to like? Even forgetting about AGW for the moment, why are so many people so attached to Bush’s sacred American lifestyle; a lifestyle whose main effects, as far as I can see, have been to leave its followers in debt and overweight?

  11. 261
    David B. Benson says:

    Brian Dodge (247) — Thank you; I was using 15,000 l/ha/yr so it does seem likely that biochar from algae can compete with fossil coal.

  12. 262
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Without the Friday Roundup, I’m not sure where to put this late breaking announcement from EPA. Here’s the Environmental Defense Fund’s summary of the EPA’s proposal and their brief comment on it:

    “In an historic decision (today), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson issued a proposed ruling that global warming pollution “endangers” Americans’ health and well-being.

    “Today’s action sets the stage for using authority under the Clean Air Act to establish national emission standards for large global warming emitters.

    “EDF’s deputy general counsel Vickie Patton says that with today’s announcement, “The U.S. is taking its first steps as a nation to confront climate change. EPA’s action is a wake up-call for national policy solutions that secure our economic and environmental future.”

    The EPA is now expected to begin developing national emission standards for new motor vehicles and new coal-fired power plants, the nation’s two largest sources of global warming pollution.”

    Finally!

  13. 263
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Oops, that should have been, “some do prefer the latter.”

    I couldn’t agree with your more James (260). Conservation is all upside.

  14. 264
    SecularAnimist says:

    James pondered: “Even forgetting about AGW for the moment, why are so many people so attached to … a lifestyle whose main effects, as far as I can see, have been to leave its followers in debt and overweight?”

    Because billions of dollars have been spent to use the most powerful brainwashing techniques ever created, via the most far-reaching mass communications tools ever invented, to hypnotize hundreds of millions of people into believing that the Debt And Obesity Lifestyle is “the good life”, and the way to achieve it is to work long and hard, and make as much money as possible, and spend all of it and as much as you can borrow on “consumer goods”.

    It’s called “advertising”.

  15. 265
    Steve Reynolds says:

    James (260) and SA (264):

    While you guys might even be right about some of that, you sound just like the nanny state proponents that many people accuse of using AGW as an excuse for implementing forced lifestyle changes.

    If you can convince people to voluntarily use less energy, great. But that is not the perception.

  16. 266
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Michael asks: “Would you be able to take mitigation or conservation off the table if the job called for it?”

    The “job” is survival. The “job” is the preservation of human civilization in a form that at least conveys most of its benefits to our progeny. So, I do not see how that cannot involve conservation and mitigation. At present, conservation is the most viable strategy, and every mole of CO2 we do not put into the atmosphere buys back some of the precious time we have squandered in denial. So, unless you can explain how we reach the goal of a sustainability while ignoring physical reality, then I don’t see how your question makes sense.

  17. 267
    Mark says:

    “You are saying that the high end of the growing season range (240 days) is like the 8 foot man, an outlier, as opposed to just part of the normal growing season range as I was reading it.”

    Yes.

    And, like determining the “average” height, you have to take a sample to reduce the effect of outliers. You DO know that they have found the average height of the UK citizen has gone up, due to better nutrition and healthcare, especially post-natal, don’t you? How do you think they worked that out?

    So, just like you can see the average height of the UK citizen has gone up in the last 50 years, you can do the same thing with when spring starts.

    With the humans, take a sample of a lot of humans.

    With the weather, wait for a long time and use all the days you’ve seen to work out the average.

    “This also suggests to me that what I’m seeing (perceiving) in my own garden from year to year is not actually helpful in trying to determine the effects of climate change.”

    Yup.

    If you have the book available, “The Science of Discworld” has a section on how we are pattern-seeking machines. You will see a pattern that, statistically speaking (or, put another way, objectively), doesn’t exist.

    You remember when three busses stopped at the same time. You don’t remember when the bus was on time.

    So you consider busses always run late and none will turn up for hours and then three all at once.

  18. 268
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve Reynolds says “…you sound just like the nanny state proponents that many people accuse of using AGW as an excuse for implementing forced lifestyle changes.”

    No, what they sound like are enthusiasts–advocates of a lifestyle. It just happens to be a lifestyle that is a lot closer to one that can be sustained giiven the demands of a large population and the constraints of a finite planet.

    As to lifestyle changes, what is needed are rational pricing structures that reflect all costs so that people can make rational decisions. That’s what free markets are about, isn’t it? Raise prices for energy from fossil fuels (and they’re going to rise no matter what the government does), and people will consume less. Cheap petroleum has resulted in massive distortions of the global economy. I can buy rare tropical fruits like durian more cheaply than I can buy locally grown pears and apples. Cheap freight costs have decimated industry almost everywhere in favor of Chinese factories making inferior goods. Much of this is because fossil fuels do not have to reflect their environmental cost. Sometimes markets need a little help to be free.

  19. 269
    James says:

    Steve Reynolds Says (17 April 2009 at 7:39 PM):

    “While you guys might even be right about some of that, you sound just like the nanny state proponents…”

    Yeah, I’m so much of a nanny state proponent that I once ran for the state legislature – as a Libertarian :-)

    Sarcasm aside, it’s hard for me to see my preferred lifestyle as supporting your nanny state. I think it makes me less dependent on government, not more. If there’s any “nanny” in it at all, it’s only in the sense of the mother bird who pushes her fledglings out of the nest, so they can fly on their own.

  20. 270
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Ray: “… what is needed are rational pricing structures that reflect all costs so that people can make rational decisions. That’s what free markets are about, isn’t it? Raise prices for energy from fossil fuels (and they’re going to rise no matter what the government does), and people will consume less.”

    For once, I agree 100%. As I’ve said before, I’m in favor of a carbon tax, as long as it is revenue neutral. Taxing something reduces quantities produced and consumed, so why not tax carbon, and reduce the heavy taxes on labor?

  21. 271
    Paul Middents says:

    Tad Boyd,

    I think your question on recent growing seasons in the Northwest might be more closely related to weather than to long term climate change.

    I can think of no one more authoritative (and fun to read) on Northwest weather than Cliff Mass. He has some recent blog entries on our cold spring.

    http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2009/04/upcoming-heat-wave.html

    His book, “The Weather of the Pacific Northwest” is a surprising best seller and well worth a read.

    Paul (A NW weather geek)
    See my personal weather station on Weather Underground. Look for Copalis Beach.

  22. 272
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve, Personally, I prefer a cap and trade scheme. I know you are concerned about the ability to manipulate the market. However, the legislative process can also be manipulated. Personally, I think that cap and trade has the best chance of reflecting real-world carbon costs and efficient allocation, and credits can even be traded internationally. It has worked very well for SO2 emissions. Odd that in this case I favor markets and you legislative solutions.

  23. 273

    Steve Reynolds wrote in 270:

    For once, I agree 100%. As I’ve said before, I’m in favor of a carbon tax, as long as it is revenue neutral. Taxing something reduces quantities produced and consumed, so why not tax carbon, and reduce the heavy taxes on labor?

    YOU are in good company, Steve.

    Please see:

    Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, is one of the leading voices for a carbon tax to address climate change, rather than backing the more widely used cap-and-trade approach. In his plan, Hansen recommends levying a rising tax on fossil fuels and redistributing 100 percent of the proceeds to taxpayers – a “tax and dividend” approach [PDF].

    Hansen to Obama: Support a Carbon Tax
    Ben Block
    December 15, 2008 3:39 PM
    http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/009194.html

    Now I think I will set my affairs in order and find a bunker. (Like that will do any good.)

    Captcha fortune cookie: keep WEALTH

  24. 274
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Ray: “Odd that in this case I favor markets and you legislative solutions.”

    I don’t see how you can say that; they both require legislation to set up. Someone has to (either arbritraily or politically or at best informed guessing) set the cap quantity or the tax rate. The only difference (assuming a pure implementation and excluding corruption issues) is that the market sets the price in the cap case, and the market sets the quantity in the tax case.

    Also, I doubt the optimum quanty is any better known than the optimum price. I still like the proposal to have the tax rate increase with global temperatures. That could be easier to sell to skeptics (potentially an important point).

  25. 275
    Tad Boyd says:

    #271

    Thanks Paul, great link. Seeing the post from the skier about skiing into the summer last year gave me a brief moment of sadness for my friends who are still hitting the slopes (since warmer days appear to be ahead). I’m with the gardener though and am ready to start putting plants into the ground.

    I tried applying my perceptions of our state’s spring weather these past few years to the article that started this thread but as you said, just weather, and so is not relevant to the climate change discussion. Mark’s pointing out that you need to look at the direction of the average over time was helpful. I actually found information on Washington State winters that would allow this. It was in our state climatologist’s last newsletter. Past newsletters didn’t contain this type of information but perhaps future newsletters will, making it easier to test perceptions against reality. I think Eric is associated with the University of Washington so I thought he might have some pointers to that kind of information also.

    http://www.climate.washington.edu/newsletter/2009Apr.pdf

    With what my kids are bringing home from school and the frequent news reports on how global warming is harming us and could harm us in the future here in Washington; I’m trying to get a clue. RealClimate seems to be a good place to do that. I probably live a lower carbon lifestyle than most (telecommute 2 to 3 days a week and drive 5 miles to the park and ride to take the bus when I do have to go in) just because I don’t think it is good to be wasteful so I don’t really need the threats from global warming to motivate me toward that but I still like to know what is and what isn’t and am trying to fill in the missing pieces for myself. Not that easy to find time with work and family but clearly it’s important so here I am, blogging of all things.

    Thanks again,

    Tad

  26. 276
    Martin Vermeer says:

    > I still like the proposal to have the tax rate increase with global
    > temperatures.

    Indeed… but annual temperatures are useless for this as they are mostly noise.

    Also consider that the tax is paid in the now, but the costs happen in the future. You would have to base tax on temps 30 years plus into the future… which are only available as projections. Bringing discretion in again through the back door.

  27. 277
    Martin Vermeer says:

    > That could be easier to sell to skeptics (potentially an important point).

    Eh, “skeptics” are perfectly capable of also considering the global temperature statistics as a product of evil manipulation…

    IOW, charming naiveté :-)

  28. 278
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steve Reynolds, Actually, the quantity of ghg emitted is the physically relevant variable, since we are trying to hold emissions below levels where they will engender irreversible harm. Moreover, as we have seen for SO2, the market can also adjust the quantity as well as the price. As for setting an optimum price, that requires knowing the damage done, and there are very high uncertainties there on the high side.

    What I find especially troubling is the proposal for a “weather tax,” that is, a tax based on a short-term temperature averages. To reflect anything close to physical reality, you would have to base such a tax on the increase in temperature over the pervious 30 years, or perhaps more appropriately on the highest temperature reached in the last 30 years. Even then, what matters are the incremental effects for the future, so I don’t see how this is a winner.

    As to convincing the skeptics, I draw a distinction between skeptics like yourself, who at least accept that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and those still rejecting established science. We should not have to convince the former that there is a need to act (albeit, the extent of action can still be debated). The latter… Since what we need are intelligence, creativity and dedication to solve this problem, I cannot imagine anything they could offer us that we would find useful.

  29. 279
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Martin: ““skeptics” are perfectly capable of also considering the global temperature statistics as a product of evil manipulation… …naiveté”

    Since noted skeptic Ross McKitrick has proposed a temperature-scaled carbon tax, I don’t think it is unreasonable to get skeptics to agree: it is a win-win situation. If temperatures continue to increase, you get a high carbon tax. In the unlikely case that temperatures go back down, the denialists can claim they were right and the tax goes away.

    As for time scale and preventing manipulation:

    Incremental changes in the tax rate should certainly be based on at least 10 year average statistics. A neutral organization would need to track and be responsible for better measurements, but wouldn’t that be useful anyway?

  30. 280
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Ray: “Actually, the quantity of ghg emitted is the physically relevant variable, since we are trying to hold emissions below levels where they will engender irreversible harm.”

    If you do not consider cost as an equally relevant variable, you are blind to the economic side of the cost-benefit analysis.

    Ray: “you would have to base such a tax on the increase in temperature over the pervious 30 years, or perhaps more appropriately on the highest temperature reached in the last 30 years.”

    I agree on the initial rate being based on the last 30 year increase, but incremental changes can be faster. What does something like 1998 have to do with anything?

  31. 281
    Jim Galasyn says:

    BYU professor discusses global warming
    Caleb Warnock – DAILY HERALD

    Is global warming real?

    On Thursday, the answer from Brigham Young University associate professor Richard Gill was a resounding yes. Speaking to a packed house in the Provo library, Gill was hosted by Utah Valley Sierra Forum. The real question, he said, is what is causing it.

    For 70 minutes, Gill presented an in-depth review of what is known about global temperature patterns, what is suspected, and what is forecast.

    “I don’t want to be a missionary; I’m not an evangelist for climate change,” Gill said. “What I want to show is where the science is.”

    The science considering climate change must be adversarial, Gill said, and skepticism is the most healthy approach for all involved.

    The reality of greenhouse gases is not under debate by any educated person, he said. Greenhouses gases are what make Earth habitable. Today’s global average temperature is 59 degrees, but would be zero degrees without greenhouses gases trapping heat in our atmosphere, warming the Earth. …

  32. 282
    SecularAnimist says:

    Steve Reynolds wrote: “… you sound just like the nanny state proponents that many people accuse of using AGW as an excuse for implementing forced lifestyle changes.”

    It’s funny how protecting ExxonMobil’s $40 Billion Per Year profits against competition from clean, renewable energy technologies has become a “libertarian” cause.

    It’s funny how maintaining massive subsidies for fossil fuel corporations and exempting them from internalizing the full costs of their products has become a “free market” cause.

    Maybe it has something to do with fake, phony, pseudo-ideological propaganda mills disguised as so-called “conservative” think tanks churning out ExxonMobil-funded denialist propaganda?

    You know, it would seem to me that real “libertarians” would be the world’s most fervent advocates of distributed, individually-owned electricity generation, especially off-grid, or grid-connected with storage, wind and solar power systems. Talk about liberty — being able to produce all the electricity you need from your own private property, and even a surplus to sell, would seem to me to be a natural libertarian ideal.

    And yet in practice “libertarians” seem more concerned about the “liberty” of the fossil fuel corporations to pollute everyone’s air with impunity.

  33. 283
    Mark says:

    “If you do not consider cost as an equally relevant variable, you are blind to the economic side of the cost-benefit analysis.”

    Hm.

    Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?”

    Likewise, what worth your money when you are dead and all your loved ones die?

  34. 284
    Steve Reynolds says:

    SA: “It’s funny how maintaining massive subsidies for fossil fuel corporations and exempting them from internalizing the full costs of their products has become a “free market” cause.”

    Can you show any evidence of free market advocates supporting ‘massive subsidies for fossil fuel corporations’?

    The same for ‘exempting them from internalizing the full costs of their products’. This one is not as clear, since the disagreement is over how much that cost is (and if it is even positive).

    SA: “…being able to produce all the electricity you need from your own private property, and even a surplus to sell, would seem to me to be a natural libertarian ideal.”

    While that ability would be attractive to most people, and maybe especially libertarians, it has little to do with the libertarian ideal. Libertarians want to be free from violent coercion.

    I’m not concerned that Exxon will force me to buy their products at the point of a gun. I am concerned that the EPA would stop me from emitting CO2 at the point of a gun (if I was willing to take it that far). As far as your concern with advertising, we expect free people to make their own choices.

  35. 285
    David B. Benson says:

    Tad Boyd (275) — I recommend reading Mark Lynas”s “Six Degrees” whilst riding the bus. Here is a review:
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article1480669.ece

    There are other good books to be found on the sidebar. David Archer’s “The Long Thaw” is one and comes well recommended.

  36. 286
    Dan says:

    294: “I am concerned that the EPA would stop me from emitting CO2 at the point of a gun (if I was willing to take it that far).”

    Okay, now that is anti-government ignorance to the absolute extreme. In the USA, we live in a democracy (despite very strong evidence to the contrary in the past 8 years). You can not do harm to people or public welfare without consequences. In the case of pollution, it is EPA’s job to establish criteria to protect the public and public welfare. Read up on Donora, Pennsylvania if you want to see what happened prior to regulation. You can not emit CO2 if it is harming others. Plain and simple. And yes, global warming effects are “harm”. Sorry, but the world does not revolve around you.

  37. 287
    Mark says:

    “Can you show any evidence of free market advocates supporting ‘massive subsidies for fossil fuel corporations’?”

    The oil industry lobbyists who say that subsidies to renewables is wrong.

    They say that because under the free market ideals, it IS wrong.

    There’s not much reason for it being wrong otherwise.

    And yet they don’t want their subsidies taken away. They don’t want to pay for the externalities (although copying a CD and putting it on P2P can net 210,000x damages, Exxon got a court ruling that more than 1x for punitive damages was the constitutionally allowed limit for their losses in accident lawsuits).

  38. 288
    Mark says:

    Oh, and the nuclear lobby who will NOT pay to clean up. And who said categorically that without the breaks on tax etc that government give nuclear power, they would not be able to justify making any new nuclear power stations.

    Yet they too proclaim subsidy to renewables an unconscionable interference in the market.

  39. 289
    Martin Vermeer says:

    > A neutral organization would need to track and be responsible for better
    > measurements,

    Your counterfactual implication that the currently existing organization for this is not ‘neutral’ graphically demonstrates the hopelessness of your idea. Thanks for rubbing it in ;-)

  40. 290
    EL says:

    Geo-engineering can be done, oh yes, it can. But how many advocates have really thought through the consequences of a mistake or a surprise? As long as the earth is warming, we have the ability to use technology to assist us in our efforts. If the planet began to rapidly cool, our ability to use technology could come to a quick end. The modern world is very sensitive to climate, and is especially sensitive to cold climate. A failed experiment could also worsen the trend of warming, and there is plenty of documentation on warming and it’s effects. In any regard, I consider Geo-engineering a method of the last resort. Any such experiment should be carried out on another planet to study the effects, and they can take a great deal of time to study.

    While we are mulling over solutions, lets take into consideration the consequences of a bad solution to global warming. Any solution to global warming has the ability to do a great deal of damage. In fact, a solution to a problem can be just as bad as the problem itself. It’s very important to understand that a bad solution could push this world into chaos and rip the very fabric of society itself. I do not think many people understand how global warming is complex and dangerous to solve. There is no finer display of being stuck between a rock and a hard place then global warming. While we are discussing possible solutions to global warming, we should also attempt to map out consequences of the solution being discussed.

    The real challenge of reducing fossil fuels is cost and technology. Every kind of technology has some kind of side effects on the environment. For example, Wind Mills take kinetic energy out of the atmosphere, and I’m not sure what the consequences of that may be. It’s also uncertain how windmills may be received by the natural world. What species may become threaten due to windmill production on a large scale? We could be trading one climate change for another. The cost of “green” energy is also more expensive. What effects is this going to have on the poor people in developed nations? When developed nations being to move to this technology, there should be a price drop in fossil fuels. Will poor nations just ignore that price drop, or will they begin to consume it? While poor people are usually ignored by everyone, it’s well to remember from time to time that they can and will revolt if their lives become intolerable to live.

    What we really need is some kind of new combustible machine. The machine needs to be able to replace 2 and 4 cycle engines, and it needs to be usable in power generation. I believe such a machine is a only solution to the problem of global warming. Hopefully some new and old engineers are considering the problem along with everyone else.

  41. 291
    James says:

    Steve Reynolds Says (19 April 2009 at 2:29 PM):

    “Can you show any evidence of free market advocates supporting ‘massive subsidies for fossil fuel corporations’?”

    Free dumping of their waste into the common atmosphere isn’t a subsidy? Getting to strip off the tops of mountains, and dump the spoil (and the ash from burning it) without responsibility for any adverse consequences isn’t a subsidy?

    “I am concerned that the EPA would stop me from emitting CO2 at the point of a gun (if I was willing to take it that far).”

    Yet somehow dumping the CO2 you produce on unwilling recipients doesn’t seem to bother you at all. I dare say you’d be upset if I made a practice of dumping my household garbage on your lawn (even though a good bit of it could usefully be added to a compost pile – an economic benefit to you :-)) It’s the typical attitude of the faux libertarians I recall from my activist days: anything YOU want to do is obviously an exercise in liberty, no matter how it might affect others.

  42. 292
    Mark says:

    “Free dumping of their waste into the common atmosphere isn’t a subsidy? ”

    Yup, that’s another one.

    It’s not one they advertise, though.

  43. 293

    EL, concern over wind power “taking kinetic energy out of the atmosphere” is misplaced, to say the least.

    A couple of illustrative questions:

    1) How much of the terrestrial surface will be covered by windmills? (Remember that unstable, excessively sloping, or inhabited terrain are all off limits, and that all really deep water sites are infeasible.)

    2) What is percentage of atmospheric height is affected by windmills? (Remember that winds aloft are much stronger–think Jet Stream for a moment.)

    3) What percentage of the kinetic energy is extracted by turbines? (Clearly, it can’t be too high, as wind velocity is the critical parameter for turbine operation–if the turbine extracted all energy, wind velocity would fall to zero.) So, do you think if you examined wind velocities upwind, downwind, and a few hundred meters crosswind from a wind turbine, you would find significant differences in wind velocities? (FWW, I sure don’t.)

    If you consider all the above, you will find that extractable power is a vanishingly small fraction of the total KE.

    BTW, concern over “how windmills may be received by the natural world” is probably exaggerated. For instance, bird kill appears to be orders of magnitude lower that transportation, transmission towers, skyscrapers–though I do think migratory patterns should be considered when making wind farm site choices.

  44. 294
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Dan, Mark, and James,

    You have still not presented any evidence of free market advocates supporting ‘massive subsidies for fossil fuel corporations’.

    The point of “Free dumping of their waste into the common atmosphere isn’t a subsidy? ” comes closer, but free market advocates generally do not support that either, if the waste is shown to be harmful. So for CO2, we now need to find a way to agree on what the cost should be.

  45. 295
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Martin,

    So you agree that we can use UAH temperature data for indexing our carbon tax?

  46. 296
    SecularAnimist says:

    Steve Reynolds wrote: “I am concerned that the EPA would stop me from emitting CO2 at the point of a gun (if I was willing to take it that far).”

    Why shouldn’t the government stop you from doing something that has been demonstrated to be harmful to everyone else?

    How much poison do you think you have the right to put into my air or water?

    You say that as a libertarian you don’t want to be subject to “violent coercion”. But you don’t seem to have any qualms about subjecting me and everyone else to whatever poisons you feel like spewing into the air.

    There’s a difference between a libertarian and sociopath.

  47. 297
    Mark says:

    “You have still not presented any evidence of free market advocates supporting ‘massive subsidies for fossil fuel corporations’.”

    The fossil fuel advocates want subsidies for fossil fuel companies.

    They complain about subsidies for renewables.

    How much simpler do you need this???

    Heck, you haven’t shown that the EPA would hold a gun to your head.

  48. 298
    Martin Vermeer says:

    > So you agree that we can use UAH temperature data for indexing our carbon tax?

    If your idea were otherwise valid, I could live with that, yes. Something is better than nothing, which is what we have now.

    What tax rate / coefficient / formula do you propose, and how do you justify it?
    :-)

  49. 299
    David B. Benson says:

    Correcting earlier posts about proiducing iochar from algae: (1) I found an interesting paper pointing out the diseconomies of scale for algae farms; (2) a source of significant extra CO2 is appearently required to obtain production advantage over terrestrial plants such as Miscanthus.

  50. 300
    Steve Reynolds says:

    Mark: “How much simpler do you need this???”

    You need to show that free market advocates are equivalent to fossil fuel advocates for your logic to be valid.


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