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Hit the brakes hard

Filed under: — group @ 29 April 2009 - (Español)

There is a climate splash in Nature this week, including a cover showing a tera-tonne weight, presumably meant to be made of carbon (could it be graphite?), dangling by a thread over the planet, and containing two new articles (Allen et al and Meinshausen et al), a “News & Views” piece written by two of us, and a couple commentaries urging us to “prepare to adapt to at least 4° C” and to think about what the worst case scenario (at 1000 ppm CO2) might look like.

At the heart of it are the two papers which calculate the odds of exceeding a predefined threshold of 2°C as a function of CO2 emissions. Both find that the most directly relevant quantity is the total amount of CO2 ultimately released, rather than a target atmospheric CO2 concentration or emission rate. This is an extremely useful result, giving us a clear statement of how our policy goals should be framed. We have a total emission quota; if we keep going now, we will have to cut back more quickly later.

There is uncertainty in the climate sensitivity of the Earth and in the response of the carbon cycle, and the papers are extremely useful in the way that they propagate these uncertainties to the probabilities of different amounts of warming. Just looking at the median model results, many people conclude that a moderately optimistic but not terribly aggressive scenario such as IPCC B1 would avoid 2°C warming relative to pre-industrial. But when you take into account the uncertainty, you find that there is a disturbingly high likelihood (roughly even odds) that it won’t.

Schmidt and Archer N and V figureBoth papers come to the same broad conclusion, summarized in our figure, that unless humankind puts on the brakes very quickly and aggressively (i.e. global reductions of 80% by 2050), we face a high probability of driving climate beyond a 2°C threshold taken by both studies as a “danger limit”. Comparing the two papers is obscured by the different units; mass of carbon versus mass of CO2 (moles, anyone? Is there a chemist in the house?). But chugging through the math, we find the papers to be broadly consistent. Both papers conclude that humankind is already about half-way toward releasing enough carbon to probably reach 2°C, and that most of the fossil fuel carbon (the coal, in particular) will have to remain in the ground.

We feel compelled to note that even a “moderate” warming of 2°C stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society, leading potentially to the conflict and suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations. Global warming of 2°C would leave the Earth warmer than it has been in millions of years, a disruption of climate conditions that have been stable for longer than the history of human agriculture. Given the drought that already afflicts Australia, the crumbling of the sea ice in the Arctic, and the increasing storm damage after only 0.8°C of warming so far, calling 2°C a danger limit seems to us pretty cavalier.

Also, there are dangers to CO2 emission other than the peak, such as the long tail of the CO2 perturbation which will dominate the ultimate sea level response, and the acidification of the ocean. A building may be safe from earthquakes but if it is susceptible to fires it is still considered unsafe.

The sorts of emission cuts that are required are technologically feasible, if we were to build wind farms instead of coal plants, an integrated regional or global electrical power grid, and undertake a crash program in energy efficiency. But getting everybody to agree to this is the discouraging part. The commentary by Parry et al advises us to prepare to adapt to climate changes of at least 4°C, even though they recognize that it may not be possible to buy our way out of most of the damage (to natural systems, for example, including the irreversible loss of many plant and animal species). Anyway, how does one “adapt” to a train wreck? There is also the fairness issue, in that the beneficiaries of fossil energy (rich countries today) are not the ones who pay the costs (less-rich countries decades from now). We wonder why we were not advised to prepare to adapt to crash curtailing CO2 emissions, which sounds to us considerably less frightening.

p.s. For our German-speaking readers: Stefan’s commentary on the KlimaLounge blog.

604 Responses to “Hit the brakes hard”

  1. 51
    Craig Allen says:

    On the topic of the impacts of building solar power stations in deserts: There are now many parts of the World where semi arid and increasingly arid regions have been converted to farmland that is and will become increasingly unviable for agriculture. Much of the southern and south-eastern hinterland of Australia is heading this way. For example, the acreage of vinyards and orchards being abandoned along our Murray Darling system is likely to be orders or magnitude larger than would be required if we were to decide to start to convert our entire economy to solar power. Once cleared of native vegetation this land will never revert to a natural state any way. Vast areas of wheat and crop land will be in the same category. It’s not as sunny there as in true deserts, but it is sunny enough and getting sunnier.

  2. 52
    Mark says:

    re: #2.
    So are you saying that just because YOU don’t believe 2C is much that it isn’t a problem?

    Arguing by personal incredulity is no argument.

    I wouldn’t believe that banks would len d out 125% mortg ages to people who cannot pay and then wrap the deb t up to sell to some poor sucker (or that some poor sucker would buy it).

    Yet it happened.

  3. 53
    Mark says:

    “I have yet to find a forthright analysis of wind farm cost. There is also a lot of information discussing power outputs of these on a peak rather than average basis.”

    That would be because you haven’t looked.

    Google it.

    It’s even been posted here.

    Have you heard of ANY long-term wind farm? There are quite a few.

    Guess what: they have to report how much it cost to build and how much energy they have received over the year in their annual reports to either the shareholder or government (or both).

    So find one.

    Read it.

    And stop yibbering on about “prescribed solutions”.

    There is none.

    Just that if we DON’T stop 80% of our CO2 production, we’re committed to a rise of more than 2C.

    Is there a solution there? No.

    Your insanity is making you see things.

    (PS I bet you turn of the trip computer if it tells you you only have 30 miles to go before running out of fuel. How DARE it give you a prescribed solution!!!)

    (PPS read a dictionary)

  4. 54
    Mark says:

    “Bottom line: We need to move beyond yesterday’s conversations.”

    What? Where you ignored any queries about the validity of your ideas?

    Why then do you bring up your ideas AGAIN.

    And unmodified, I note.

  5. 55
    Mark says:

    “I think I would also like figures for how much of that energy is acturally capturable at practical cost (say not more that 2X the equivalent nuclear generation).”

    Um, ALL OF IT.

    And yes, gross.

    However, it is only one region, only one of several energy sources and only if energy waste isn’t combated.

    You read, but you don’t understand.

  6. 56
    Mark says:

    “On the other hand, the equivalent nuclear generation might at a rougn guess occupy a hundred square miles or so”

    And where are the mines?

    Or does Uranium grow on trees now?

    How about the waste recycling and storage?

    How about the processing plants that turn useless Uranium into usable uranium?

    Do they not have to be built???

  7. 57
    EL says:

    As I have posted before, I completely expect the worse outcome for a variety of reasons. Because of these reasons, I believe scientists should focus on worse case scenario solutions. The time for avoiding consequences is long past, so we must focus on directly dealing with the consequences. Scientists, who believe this can be avoided, are living in a conjured felicity, and they need to drop the quixotic ideas of a changing humanity.

    Most nations are typically unable to react to problems until after a catastrophe occurs. If the ruling party attempts to address a problem early on, the opposing party can subvert the ruling party with basic disinformation. The problem is not deficiency of information but how the information is interpreted and judged by individuals. Many individuals are politically misinformed and uneducated; as a result, they often make poor decisions. Technical information is particularly difficult because most people (even in the academic world) lack the background required to understand technical information. There has been more then enough information presented on global warming, but large portions of the population fail to comprehend the effects of global warming or how valid the information is. So it’s very difficult to act politically for most governments.

    Developing nations are not going to stop burning fossil fuels any time soon either. China, for example, will be a developing nation burning fossil fuels for a long time to come. China is not going to switch over to a more expensive technology during the development process. I do not think they could maintain political stability if they made the switch. Fossil fuel is a cheap method to produce energy, and it will be used unless another technology is able to produce energy cheaper.

    The real danger of global warming is over-population. The increasing world population trend cannot be sustained even without global warming. There exist more people then what available resources will allow. Global warming makes diminishing resources more dangerous because it could force various species to migrate quite rapidly. These species are already in danger from increasing human population, and migration could be the last nail in the coffin of many species. Many ecosystems are already in danger of collapse, and global warming could push them over the edge. The increasing world population is another reason that this hope of change is not going to come. If there is 3 billion more people by 2050, we will need to produce an extra ½ of the worlds energy to support such an increase in population. I honestly do not see how the world is going to support that many people. Nations are already doing frantic resource grabs.

  8. 58
    Séretur says:

    “Comparing the two papers is obscured by the different units; mass of carbon versus mass of CO2 (moles, anyone? Is there a chemist in the house?)”

    Well, from the looks of the discussions over the years, chemists apparently aren’t qualified to participate, nor wanted, in the climate debate. ;)

    [Response: Huh? – gavin]

  9. 59
    Lennart van der Linde says:

    I agree with #5 (Maiken): how acceptable is an estimated 25% of passing 2 degrees? Economists like Terry Barker think it is technologically possible and economically maybe even advantageous to completely decarbonize even before 2050. See for example:

    Suppose a miracle happens and we would succeed in that: what chance would that leave us of passing 2 degrees? Probably still about 10%, so the faster we decarbonize completely, the better. It may even not be as hard as we fear. And 2 degrees could mean significant melting of GIS and WAIS, so eventually maybe up to 10 meters sea level rise, or even more, plus extensive melting of permafrost and release of methane, which would lead to further warming, melting and sea level rise. Not to speak of all the other consequences. So we really should minimize the chance of passing 2 degrees. Not to do so would be ‘criminal neglect’, I’m afraid.

  10. 60
    Ricki (Australia) says:

    It is frustrating not to be able to see the papers/news free on the web. Given the importance of this subject and the criticality of the current discussion on targets, it would be of benefit to us all if Nature considered making these articles freely available.

    Having got that off my chest, I love this post. At last the real meat of the discussion. Congratulations for going to this effort. The policy targets are so important to our future (and our children’s) that we realy have to rely on the scientific community to make it absolutely clear what response is needed.

    Clearly we are getting closer to the statement that the remaining fossil fuels need to be left in the ground. This is very hard to expect countries like China to do when their poor are crying out for the luxuries of the west.

    This is where we nave to lead the way. We must understand that the costs will be high. All people have to realise it will be more costly to buy energy and the products produced with it.

    This is a necessary burden if we are to salvage something of this planet for the future. We have to pose the question: What do you want–a clean planet for our decendants or to live a life of indulgence now? For indulgence it is when we know that the GHGs we produce now in our complacency will condemn the world to spiraling human (and other species) misery.

    What ‘cost’ do we put put on the displacement of 100s of millions of humans from their homes when sea level rise starts to bite (not to mention the loss of community capital represented by the land value). And what about the mass starvation when fish stocks collapse due to ocean acidification.

    Thisis a big subject and a big effort has to be made to address the challenge.

  11. 61
    pete best says:

    I thought that sinks soaked up around 55% of our emissions which equate to 7 billion tonnes of Carbon per year from human emissions and 2 billion from land use, 9 billon tonnes in total multiplied by 2x O16 atoms (which is what Co2 is) to give around 30 billion tonnes per year of CO2. If 45% is left in the atmosphere, around 13.5 billion tonnes at present (the sinks are getting weaker I thought) is left in the atmosphere or 135 billion tonnes per decade. It has been stated that the present amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere is around 200 billion tonnes which when added to what is already there makes fro 800 billion tonnes. It was once stated that 1 trillion tonnes of atmospheric CO2 was enough!

    That is only 15 years worth at present emission rates. If sinks begin to falter by 1% per year then in ten years thats a lot more CO2 being left in the atmosphere then there is now. By the year 2050 – 40 years time at present rates of emissions that will mean around 4×135=520 billion tonnes more added to the atmosphere and 620 billion into the sinks (oceans mainly) which means that the atmosphere will be holding around 1.3 trillion tonnes of CO2 in total.

    1.3 trillion tonnes is a lot surely? This means that is this a science article or a economic and political one?

  12. 62

    —oops, HTML glitch, please replace previous by following—

    I wonder what it takes to get the right-wing media such as The Australian and Wall Street Journal to wake up to the dangers they are exposing us al to by slowing down political acceptance of the need for change. Here in Australian, the federal government is spending tens of billions of dollars on stimulus package after stimulus package, and tiny fractions of that (mainly at the instigation of Greens senators who are using their balance of power for leverage) are going towards emissions reduction.

    A commodities economy like Australia is well placed to go hard at clean energy now, spending the boom years surplus on change. Instead, we have a mindset of digging in and waiting until things change for the better. Then back to business as usual. Believe it or not, my home state, Queensland, is gearing up to double coal export capacity by 2015. How irresponsible can you get? If we don’t destroy the environment to the point where there is no economic benefit, it will be because the demand for coal collapses. A stupid investment all round. No wonder the industry is fronting up a tiny fraction of the cost.

    To me it seems that the coal industry, recognising that the game will soon be up, has conned our rather stupid state government into helping them ramp up production rapidly to make a windfall profit before they go out of business — akin to drug dealers getting governments to help them ramp up sales before banning the product.

    Any good ideas on how to get the message out in the face of hostile media welcome.

  13. 63
    Theo Hopkins says:

    These articles rely on computer models.

    Sceptics say that computer models tell us nothing.

    OK, so if I abandon computer modelling and merely extend the present temperature graphs into the future with an HB pencil and a school ruler, am I in practice “modelling” the future, albeit without using a computer?

    (This above written by a non-scientist)

    And if one does not rely on computer modelling, is one left only with sacrificing a goat and seeing what the entrails foretell?

  14. 64
    Anne van der Bom says:

    Phill Scadden
    29 April 2009 at 4:56 PM

    I cant recommend MacKay’s “sustainable energy – without the hot air” more highly for this discussion

    I can’t warn you more for this misleading work. Let’s analyze his prime example: the car. His claim is that Britain would need to fill up Wales with wind turbines to power half of the cars. A lie. He’s smart with numbers and his calculations seem to hold up, but under scrutiny they fall apart.

    What tricks did he use? First of all he introduces the concept of the ‘moderately affluent Brit’ who drives an estimated 50 km per day (or was it miles? sorry I am too lazy to verify right now). He then goes on to multiply that number by 60 million as if every man, woman and child in Britain is ‘moderately affluent’ and thus drives said distance per day, alone. The result: he overestimates the number of vehicle miles traveled by a factor of three. But it doesn’t stop there. He then goes on to make 1 J of electrical energy equivalent to 1 J of chemical energy, completely ignoring the much higher efficiency of electric motors compared to internal combustion engines. The reality is that an electric car needs about a quarter of the energy that he estimates. Total result is a 12 fold overestimate of the electric energy required to drive Britain’s cars.

    You do the math yourself, Phil. You can lookup the number of vehicle miles traveled in Britain yourself. I will provide you with the information that a Prius-like car travels about 6 km per kWh. You can check that fact if you like. Then multiply and compare your number to the professor’s and you’ll understand my warning.

  15. 65
    Manu Phonic says:

    Putting the brakes on CO2 emissions has to mean replacing coal as a power source, unless emissions from coal can be sequestered safely and efficiently, which seems unlikely just now, given that research has not yielded any progress. Eventually replacing petroleum also seems advisable, if less urgent. Evidently we need to replace coal rather quickly.

    Wind, solar and concentrated solar power get most of the attention on how to replace coal. As for supplanting petroleum, biofuels as presently conceived appear to have too many drawbacks, especially a gargantuan land use footprint.

    Other fossil-fuel replacements occasionally touted in print or on the Web include nuclear fission, subcritical thorium fission, high-altitude wind power, enhanced geothermal, hot dry (or hot fractured) rock geothermal, wave power, tidal power, open-cycle ocean thermal energy conversion, and advanced biorefinery products like 2,5-dimethylfuran, various other furans and furfurals. Forgive me for not providing links but you can Google (or Google Scholar) these phrases if interested.

    Due to meager news coverage dominated by passionate polemic, I have had trouble assessing the relative merits and feasibility of these proposed coal and petroleum replacements. Also, wind and nuclear have been criticized for the amount of concrete they require, due to the CO2 emissions from conventional concrete production, so I would like to know the relative merits and feasibility of concrete alternatives like magnesia ceramic cement products.

    Can anyone here provide a succinct, rational, fact-based analysis of these technosystems and their near-term prospects? Which of them are most deserving of investment?

  16. 66
    Nick Gotts says:

    “Technological feasibility is not meaningful without including the financial affordability factors.” – Jim Bullis

    How have you got on persuading the atmosphere of that profound truth?

  17. 67
    Anne van der Bom says:

    Jim Bullis
    29 April 2009 at 2:39 PM

    I have yet to find a forthright analysis of wind farm cost.

    I am amazed by that statement. I am sorry to say, but then you have not been looking. Look at the subsidies in Denmark. The wind farms are built entirely by private investors, they only get a subsidy per kWh produced, which amounts to a total price of around $ 0.08 per kWh. These farms are being built, so obviously the companies that build and operate them can do so profitably.

    Google for ‘Horns Rev II’, that 200 MW offshore windfarm is currently being built in Denmark for a total investment of 450 million Euros. Estimated production is 800 GWh per year.

    This is an analysis of investment cost for onshore wind.

    But you should try harder, that information is certainly out there.

    The integrated “smart grid” electrical power network may be needed to make wind farm power available in the right places, but it will also perpetuate the most wasteful practice known to man which is the system of central power plants that throw away up to twice the heat energy as they manage to get converted into electric energy

    Please explain that. By replacing conventional powerplants by wind farms we are continuing those powerplants? I honestly do not understand that.

    Btw the most wasteful practice known to man is the private motor car which manages to throw away 80% of the energy in the fuel and us only 20%, making it twice as wasteful as the powerplant.

    Then we get to the plug-in car panacaea.

    I am not quite sure what you mean by that. I am certain that one day, all cars will be electric for various reasons. The plug-in hybrid is a logical intermediate step, enabling us to get experience, roll out the charging infrastructure and develop the battery technology. I have a feeling you are suggesting we should wait with (semi-)electric cars until we have 100% clean energy. But what is the use of clean energy if we do not have cars that can use it? Seems like a chicken-and-egg situation. Both developments must take place in parallel, which is exactly what is happening right now.

    Even without clean energy, the electric car is more efficient overall because of the higher conversion efficiency of modern power plants compared to the internal combustion engine. Biofuels? All research currently being done is how to convert biomass into a liquid that is usable a modern engine. Burning the biomass directly in a power plant and then using the electricity to drive your car is a more efficient solution that is ready today.

  18. 68
    Mark says:

    “The real danger of global warming is over-population. ”

    Incorrect. Global warming is not a result of over population.

    Imagine if there were not [edit] 3Billion people in the third world. The ones using the least per-head CO2.

    Guess what?

    Global warming is still a problem.

    Now, overpopulation makes the HUMAN RESULTS in a global warming situation worse. I’ll give you that. A 3C warming with 1 Billion humans worldwide would be less of a catastrophe than 6Bn. But most of those billion will still be living in an area that will be flooded. It just means that there is more space for them to relocate to, but does nothing to change the fact that if they live where people want to live now (even if they can’t because there are more people than houses there) they will still have to move.

    Maybe you were wording your thoughts incorrectly.

  19. 69
    Beyondtool says:

    There has a been a large resurgence in skeptics recently with the media talking about Ian pilmers book “Heaven and earth”

    I’ve also had a few people pointing me to JoNova’s site.

    Everyone seems to be convinved the data has changed. I’d love to hear a reply from real climate regarding these new arguments..which seem a lot more sophisticated that what I am used to from the skeptic crowd.

    [Response: What new arguments? For a group that seems dead set against any action to reduce our environmental impact, they do an awful lot of recycling. – gavin]

  20. 70
    Mark says:

    “#30 Jim, just out of curiosity where exactly are we going to put windmills that don’t have a chance of killing birds or ruining someone’s ocean view.”

    If you’re THAT worried about the little burdies, steve, how about painting the windows of the glass skyscrapers so that the burdies won’t be killed by flying into glass?

    And if you’re only worried about the ocean view, put the turbines on land.

  21. 71
    walter crain says:

    once again….i was blogging at another website and a denialist said,

    “More and more scientists and thinking people all over the world are realizing that man-made global warming is a hoax that threatens our future and the future of our children. More than 700 international scientists dissent over man-made global warming claims. They are now more than 13 times the number of UN scientists (52) who authored the media-hyped IPCC 2007 Summary for Policymakers.

    Additionally, 32,000 American scientists have signed onto a petition that states, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate…”

    now, you and i know this is silly, but when john q. public hears about these lists it puts doubt in their mind. doubt is enough to make people not act. i haven’t bothered to count the “jims” on the lists, but i bet we could do better.


  22. 72
    David Stoney says:

    “There is also the fairness issue, in that the beneficiaries of fossil energy (rich countries today) are not the ones who pay the costs (less-rich countries decades from now).”

    Right! Damn good thing that such an exceptional, rich country as the United States will not have any costs from meters of sea level rise. I guess that means I can go back to my favorite pastime of sleep walking into history.

    Why on earth does Real Climate repeat such nonsense?

    [Response: The costs will be paid by future Americans, not the same people that are driving big cars today. Still unfair. David]

  23. 73
    Karen Street says:

    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group 3 looks at mitigation. With assumptions that are perhaps somewhat optimistic (hydro, for example, doesn’t disappear anywhere, only expands, and GHG emissions most pessimistic assumptions are below actual emissions), no analysis got us to below a 2 °C increase.

    In other words, we will need all the solutions coming out of reports like International Energy Agency’s Energy Technology Perspectives (their 2008 report is the most aggressive plan I’ve seen from a major organization), and then we need to find ways to supplement their proposals.

    ETP also discusses more or less expensive routes to the same (too high) goal. And no, wind is not considered even 1/4 of 2050 electricity. It will be important, though.

    Re the developed nations will not suffer as much as poorer nations, this is undoubtedly true. But it’s important to emphasize that if southwest North America moves into a dust bowl by mid-century or later (PNAS Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions,, there will be suffering closer to home, even for people on other parts of the continent. It will be more than tens of millions of people looking for a place to live. California alone has 1/6 of CA agriculture, add in a need for more agriculture with a shift to biopower and biofuels, add in the effect of increased carbon dioxide on decreasing food quality in many species, and increased temperatures in decreasing food productivity in many cases (rice). Canada is less fertile than the US, so it’s not just a case of agriculture moving north.

    Not to mention what other parts of the continent will see. The breadbasket states may need to begin irrigating crops even as rainfall increases. Etc.

    At my last presentation, someone said we expect to see this in our children’s lifetime. She is younger than I, and I told her that I expect to see many of the changes discussed in mine. I believe some people listen harder when they understand the time lines better, and I encourage others to be sure to give a sense of how rapidly some changes may come upon us.

  24. 74
    Paul says:

    Re: Beyondtool

    I think what is more interesting is that Plimer hasn’t been sacked by the Aussie government, where as the New Zealand governments NIWA have sacked Jim Salinger.

    It seems the ‘lefty’ Aussie government is happy with scientific freedom whether good or bad.

  25. 75
    Mark says:

    “There is no convincing scientific evidence …”

    Depends on what they call “convincing”.

    Do they say WHY the evidence before them is not convincing?

    If they answer, you will find their arguments unconvincing.

  26. 76
    steve says:

    #70 Mark in all fairness to you I can at times see how you fail to understand my point. A great deal of this is due to my typing skills but they are improving and I occasionally throw a 3rd finger into the process now although I still find myself searching for the keys that seem to constantly move on me. But for the life of me I can’t see how you missed the point of my last post.

  27. 77
    Lawrence Brown says:

    Re David’s response to comment 2: “The climate of the last glacial maximum was six degrees colder than today.”

    This is a sobering stat. It doesn’t take all that much. Six degrees stands,for example, between a temperate climate in the northeastern U.S. and a covering of a thick sheet of ice.

  28. 78
    Fred Magyar says:

    Re 34,

    Given tha damage done, sustainability issues and the problems likely incurred with 0.8c warming as we move into the future, there will need to be found a way to halt global population growth – and reduce it.

    Given the synergistic effects of climate change and peak fossil fuels on the “global economic growth is necessary and good” paradigm, maybe a “Black Swan” event, such as a global pandemic might solve that little issue and make it moot.

    Resources wars followed by massive famine and starvation could be a plan B :-)

  29. 79
    Alexandre says:

    Do these papers include the soil, forest dieback, Arctic methane and methane hydrate positive feedbacks? If not, should they? How well are these feedbacks quantified?

  30. 80
    Alexandre says:

    Re: #72 Stoney

    Everyone will suffer some degree of consequence. No one is saying the US won´t have *any* impact.

    But today´s rich countries tend to be the greatest emmitters. At the same time, they will have better chances to adapt because of this wealth.

  31. 81
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #43


    Do you take issue with my basic point? We must get busy allocating serious resources into mitigation and adaptation research and strategies.

    Gavin (or whoever wishes to comment):

    Do these papers address the fact that CO2 and methane will continue to enter the atmosphere through means other than human emissions? Is oceanic outgassing included? Is thawing permafrost? Do they estimate the probability or large fires?

    I assume that the trillion tons are inclusive of all sources, am I correct?

    If so, what does this really say about the remaining CO2 “budget”?

    [Response: I think these, what they would call carbon cycle feedbacks, are a major source of uncertainty. The CO2 slugs they’re talking about are the ones from human emissions only. David]

  32. 82
    Lennart van der Linde says:

    A full quote to illustrate the view of Terry Barker on the economic feasibility of full decarbonization by 2050 (p.15 of the first article referred to earlier at #59):
    “Political economy has been portrayed by Thomas Carlyle as the dismal science, but on the contrary, a new understanding of the economy suggests that a transition to a low-carbon, even zero-carbon, economy is feasible; and that if we choose a good mix of policies, such action will benefit economic performance and improve human well-being. Just as Thomas Malthus was wrong (so far!) in his predictions of population growth leading to economic collapse, so rapid decarbonisation need not ruin our economies, and for much the same reason: technological change. GHG-reducing technologies with carbon trading and carbon taxes can accelerate decarbonisation, reduce the risks of dangerous climate change, and contribute to economic development and human well being. The economic feasibility and benefit of a net-zero carbon economy have not been investigated, at least by 2050 or earlier as implied for a long-term “safe” climate. The technologies required for most sectors are available and extrapolation of available studies suggests that the economy could benefit, but the main technical and institutional options have not all been explored and the scale of the transition, especially for the energy sector, is immense. The immediate challenge however is one of devising, then agreeing, international policies and actions that can guarantee results and benefits for the more modest 50 percent target, recognising that this is not strong enough for a safe climate but much better than no target at all.”

    Also see this excellent report “Climate Safety”, which urges full decarbonization within the next 20-30 years, for the UK at least:

    I think the two articles in Nature are still not ambitious enough in implicitly seeming to accept a chance of 25% of passing 2 degrees. The precautionary principle asks of us to do more than we would like, but as long as it seems not completely impossible, we should try all we can, or else take unacceptable risks of catastrophe. Climatologists like Jim Hansen and John Schellnhuber urge us to go back from 387 ppm CO2 now tot 350 ppm or less as soon as possible. That implies we’ve already overshot our carbon budget since the end of the 1980’s. The articles in Nature still seem to be overly optimistic in this regard.

  33. 83
    Jeffrey Davis says:

    However we might pretend otherwise, this cost will fall to the public in one form or another.

    Maybe people could help.

  34. 84
    Mark says:

    “Do you take issue with my basic point? We must get busy allocating serious resources into mitigation and adaptation research and strategies.”

    But anyone suggesting an avenue other than one you propose is told that it won’t happen.

  35. 85
    Mark says:

    “But for the life of me I can’t see how you missed the point of my last post.”

    It could be because there was no point.

    Birds being killed by wind turbines was mostly a myth and the death rate was better than the glass skyscrapers built all over the US anyway. And now they are bigger and move slower, they kill very few birds.

    But some birds will die. Heck, some may die because a bird of prey is waiting on top of one of the rotors and catches a bird. If there had been no perch, the bird of prey wouldn’t have been there and so you can blame the wind turbine on that.

  36. 86
    Theo Hopkins says:

    The Oregon Petition

    Below is what is mostly quoted about the petition:

    “Additionally, 32,000 American scientists have signed onto a petition that states, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate…”.

    But…. the petition has two papagraphs, of which only the second is above.

    The first papagraph is a petition to the US government not to sign up to Kyoto. It is thus _political_, not scientific, and it is quite reasonable for people (and scientists arepeople) to object to Kyoto. I quote para #1:

    “We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.”

    If the “welfare of mankind” as seen above is only ever-increasing material wealth where the third world is aiming to, and expects to get, the same as the first world, than, yes, I might sign up to the petition.

    Trouble for the US (and Europe where I live) is only if the first world is to take a cut (or “cut”) in our living standards (what ever that means) will the third world play ball with carbon reduction.

    Material wealth? I was a five year old kid in bombed-out London in 1945. Toy shops were unknown and sweets (candies, US) were on a ration of 2 ounces (60gm) a week. But as I knew no different, I was as happy as any kid today.

  37. 87
    Mark says:

    “Do these papers address the fact that CO2 and methane will continue to enter the atmosphere through means other than human emissions?”

    And if they don’t, should we then make things WORSE?

  38. 88

    56 Mark: Who needs uranium mines when we could recycle the fuel that is being wasted in Yucca mountain?

  39. 89

    The desert belt IS moving north in the northern hemisphere and south in the southern hemisphere. “IS,” not “might some day”. The genocide in Darfur IS caused by permanent drought which is desertification. The drought and fires in Australia, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Carolina, California, Greece and other places ARE being caused by the same desertification process and permanent drought. The rain HAS moved and IS causing floods in Iowa, Illinois and North Dakota. The farmers ARE NOT moving. They are stubbornly trying to plant wheat in the new desert. Since the formerly available river in Australia IS now a dry river bed, irrigation IS NOT an option there.

  40. 90
    SecularAnimist says:

    About electric cars, I was struck by the following bit in President Obama’s “100 Days” press conference last night. He was speaking about the situation of the US auto manufacturers:

    I’m not an auto engineer. I don’t know how to create an affordable, well-designed plug-in hybrid. But I know that, if the Japanese can design an affordable, well-designed hybrid, then, doggone it, the American people should be able to do the same. So my job is to ask the auto industry: Why is it you guys can’t do this?

    In fact, it’s not a matter of “if” the Japanese can design an affordable plug-in hybrid.

    The Chinese have already done it. Chinese automaker BYD Auto began selling the world’s first mass-produced plug-in hybrid passenger car last November. According to the HybridCars website, the BYD F3DM will sell for the equivalent of $22,000 and has a range of 70 miles on fully-charged batteries. BYD is currently selling the car only in China but hopes to sell cars in the USA and Europe by next year.

    China is also expected to become the world’s largest exporter of wind turbines this year, and is a major exporter of photovoltaic panels.

  41. 91

    You can make comments to the EPA on a proposed rulemaking. Go to:

  42. 92
    dhogaza says:

    Birds being killed by wind turbines was mostly a myth


    and the death rate was better than the glass skyscrapers built all over the US anyway.

    Not the point as the early raptor blenders were selectively killing species that occur in fewer numbers than, say, house sparrows.

    And now they are bigger and move slower, they kill very few birds.

    Combined with better siting, true.

    But some birds will die. Heck, some may die because a bird of prey is waiting on top of one of the rotors and catches a bird. If there had been no perch, the bird of prey wouldn’t have been there and so you can blame the wind turbine on that.

    Congratulations. You’ve just explained why early windfarms, like Altamont with its derrick-style towers, selectively killed perch-hunting raptors like red-tailed hawks.

    We learned from the early experiences and moved on. If the early problems had been a “myth”, as you claimed, there would’ve been nothing to learn in the first place.

    Since I know you’re going to rant and rave with your typically obnoxious and insulting misinformation, I’m telling you in advance that I’m not responding further. What you think simply doesn’t matter.

  43. 93
    J. Bob says:

    #71 – Hi Walter. Have been doing some more digging, and am more convinced that CO2 may not be the problem. In one of the “denialist” sites, WUWT, a proponent of AGW put out a Fourier analysis similar to what we had talked about. In his analysis he stated there was no correlation to sunspot activity to temp.(~10 year periods). However he failed to mention the fact that his graph showed a strong correlation to solar activity in the 57 year period. In his figure:

    he shows the presence of a strong 57 year cycle correlated to solar activity.
    In my analysis Figure T_est_05 shows this longer wave, with about a 50+ year period.

    Fig T_est_05 shows a fairly strong amplitude. Note the strong amplitude and apparent peaking in the past few years. That plus the fact that the Arctic ice is close to the 1979 average, and according to the recent German Eisdicken study (Radio Bremmen) the ice thickness more then expected. I would be careful on the term “denialist”, I was graphing Hi/Lo temps and taking solar photos, in grade and high school, over 50+ years ago.

    [Response: Just so that we can be clear, perhaps you’d like to tell us how much variability is explained by this new ’57 year’ period? – gavin]

  44. 94


    Here is what Mark Lynas says about 4 degrees Centigrade of global warming in his book, “Six Degrees:”

    “At four degrees another tipping point is almost certain to be crossed; indeed, it could happen much earlier. (This reinforces the determination of many environmental groups, and indeed the entire EU, to bring us in within the two degrees target.) This moment comes as the hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon locked up in Arctic permafrost – particularly in Siberia – enter the melt zone, releasing globally warming methane and carbon dioxide in immense quantities. No one knows how rapidly this might happen, or what its effect might be on global temperatures, but this scientific uncertainty is surely cause for concern and not complacency. The whole Arctic Ocean ice cap will also disappear, leaving the North Pole as open water for the first time in at least three million years. Extinction for polar bears and other ice-dependent species will now be a certainty.

    The south polar ice cap may also be badly affected – the West Antarctic ice sheet could lift loose from its bedrock and collapse as warming ocean waters nibble away at its base, much of which is anchored below current sea levels. This would eventually add another 5m to global sea levels – again, the timescale is uncertain, but as sea level rise accelerates coastlines will be in a constant state of flux. Whole areas, and indeed whole island nations, will be submerged.

    In Europe, new deserts will be spreading in Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey: the Sahara will have effectively leapt the Straits of Gibraltar. In Switzerland, summer temperatures may hit 48C, more reminiscent of Baghdad than Basel. The Alps will be so denuded of snow and ice that they resemble the rocky moonscapes of today’s High Atlas – glaciers will only persist on the highest peaks such as Mont Blanc. The sort of climate experienced today in Marrakech will be experienced in southern England, with summer temperatures in the home counties reaching a searing 45C. Europe’s population may be forced into a “great trek” north.”

  45. 95
    Walt Bennett says:

    Re: #87 and many other comments by Mark,

    Your rejoinder makes no sense.

    All we are trying to do at this point is learn to speak rationally about the situation as it is and as it is likely to be.

    [edit – be constructive or don’t bother]

    What I take from these articles (at least from the summaries that I am permitted to read) is that we will almost certainly exceed the budget. Thus, what is the plan for that eventuality? Today, and especially as evidence by many comments in this blog, the answer is “Denial.”

    We ought to be trying to address that.

  46. 96
    Alexandre says:

    David (or anyone that wishes to comment),

    Thanks for your reply to Bennet (#81). My question was similar.

    So these carbon cycle feedbacks *are included* in those uncertainty margins? Or are they left out for scientific reticence´s sake?

    Sorry to insist on it, but this part seems to me to be important enough. You did not sound sure up there.

    [Response: They are included in the uncertainty ranges. – gavin]

  47. 97
    Douglas Wise says:

    It is useful to have a thread in which the discussion of potential solutions to global warming can be discussed without straying off topic.

    I heartily endorse Phil Scadden’s comments(#23)that consideration of alternative sustainable technologies should be numerate. Mackay (“Sustainable Energy without the hot air”) concludes that Europe won’t be able to survive on wind and solar (sans imports of energy from elsewhere)whereas, at a pinch, the USA could. Similarly, Australia might but most of Asia couldn’t cope with wind and solar totally to replace fossil fuels. It is doubtful that either of the technologies can reach grid parity with coal and they will only grow under the protection of subsidies or carbon taxes. Jim Bullis (#4) is quite correct to highlight the importance of affordability when discussing alternative energy scenarios.

    If we are committed to attempt a soft landing for human civilisation and many other species on the planet this century, we will need approximately to double (even treble) the energy we currently use/capita by 2050. This must come from carbon free sources and must be affordable. While I claim to have no special expertise in this area, I remain extremely concerned as I would like to believe that my newly hatched grandchild has a better than 30% chance of reaching three score years and ten. I have been given some cause for hope (if not optimism)by Tom Blees’ “P rescription for the Planet” – at least with respect to 4th generation nuclear power. I am heartened by the fact that Dr Hansen and Professor Brook (BraveNewClimate)appear to have been sufficiently persuaded by Blees to want to explore the possibilities of the rapid deployment of IFRs.

    I am therefore surprised that Ike Solem (#14), Joseph Romm (#15) and SecularAnimist (#18)all prosetalise about the risks we face and the benefits of wind and solar energy solutions but, nevertheless, appear to turn their faces against any major expansion in the use power from nuclear fission, apparently regardless of the type of fission. Unless they know much more about the subject than Blees and Hansen, I suspect that they may have minds that were closed in their youth by anti-nuclear sentiments and have ceased to be rational on the subject. Should this be the case, they could be deemed to be more of a threat to my grandchild than that represented by global warming denialists (many of whom are pro nuclear and concerned about peak oil and population overshoot). However, it is, of course, quite possible that they are true experts on such subjects as IFRs and LFTRs and I may have missed their detailed rebuttals of Blees. Should such be the case, perhaps they could provide links to anything they have written on this subject. Should I find them capable of persuading me that Blees is completely wrong, I shall reluctantly revert to my previous state of gloom. I can assure them that their efficiency/renewable energy solution arguments have signally failed to convince me that they will do more than ameliorate catastrophe for a minority of those who are projected to be filling the planet by 2050.

  48. 98
    Walt Bennett says:

    I will attempt to re-word the snipped portion, which I believe to contain actual substance:

    Would you prefer to constrain the discussion in order to make that impossible? (nothing wrong with this line; should not have been snipped.)

    If so, why? Are you too {insert your own word} to contemplate the distinct possibility that emissions reduction is not going to solve the problem on its own?

    And the larger point (Eli, are you listening?): The true “inactivists” are those who refuse to discuss the clear need to look beyond Kyoto-like deals, which have quite obviously failed to engage the public in a meaningful way. (nothing at all wrong with this line, please consider letting it through.)

  49. 99
    Mark says:

    ” > Birds being killed by wind turbines was mostly a myth



    The death rates were bad, but not the catastrophe they were made out to be. There were far more injurious elements to contend with.

    Invisible glass buildings being one.

    The ***myth*** is that wind farms were uniquely responsible for bird death.

    And I know that we learned. You aren’t saying anything I don’t know.

  50. 100
    Mark says:

    “Who needs uranium mines when we could recycle the fuel that is being wasted in Yucca mountain?”

    And after a while, no need for electric lights, since the workers will glow in the dark!!!

    NOTE: the Yucca mountain detritus will still have to be processed. Otherwise, why do you think they put it down there?

    If you want to use fast breeders to create further fuel, then you’re in trouble politically since that’s exactly what the US and UK have rattled many a sabre over: they contend that the only reason for doing so is to create weapons-grade plutionium.

    It would be untenable to keep that stance if the UK or US then opened up a breeder themselves.