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A warning from Copenhagen

Filed under: — stefan @ 21 June 2009 - (Deutsch) (Chinese (simplified)) (Español)

In March the biggest climate conference of the year took place in Copenhagen: 2500 participants from 80 countries, 1400 scientific presentations. Last week, the Synthesis Report of the Copenhagen Congress was handed over to the Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen in Brussels. Denmark will host the decisive round of negotiations on the new climate protection agreement this coming December.

The climate congress was organised by a “star alliance” of research universities: Copenhagen, Yale, Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge, Tokyo, Beijing – to name a few. The Synthesis Report is the most important update of climate science since the 2007 IPCC report.

So what does it say? Our regular readers will hardly be surprised by the key findings from physical climate science, most of which we have already discussed here. Some aspects of climate change are progressing faster than was expected a few years ago – such as rising sea levels, the increase of heat stored in the ocean and the shrinking Arctic sea ice. “The updated estimates of the future global mean sea level rise are about double the IPCC projections from 2007″, says the new report. And it points out that any warming caused will be virtually irreversible for at least a thousand years – because of the long residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere.


Perhaps more interestingly, the congress also brought together economists and social scientists researching the consequences of climate change and analysing possible solutions. Here, the report emphasizes once again that a warming beyond 2ºC is a dangerous thing:

Temperature rises above 2ºC will be difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.

(Incidentally, by now 124 nations have officially declared their support for the goal of limiting warming to 2ºC or less, including the EU – but unfortunately not yet the US.)

Some media representatives got confused over whether this 2ºC-guardrail can still be met. The report’s answer is a clear yes – if rapid and decisive action is taken:

The conclusion from both the IPCC and later analyses is simple – immediate and dramatic emission reductions of all greenhouse gases are needed if the 2ºC guardrail is to be respected.

Cause of the confusion was apparently that the report finds that it is inevitable by now that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will overshoot the future stabilization level that would keep us below 2ºC warming. But this overshooting of greenhouse gas concentrations need not lead temperatures to overshoot the 2ºC mark, provided it is only temporary. It is like a pot of water on the stove – assume we set it to a small flame which will make the temperature in the pot gradually rise up to 70ºC and then no further. Currently, the water is at 40ºC. When I turn up the flame for a minute and then back down, this does not mean the water temperature will exceed 70ºC, due to the inertia in the system. So it is with climate – the inertia here is in the heat capacity of the oceans.

From a natural science perspective, nothing stops us from limiting warming to 2ºC. Even from an economic and technological point of view this is entirely feasible, as the report clearly shows. The ball is squarely in the field of politics, where in December in Copenhagen the crucial decisions must be taken. The synthesis report puts it like this: Inaction is inexcusable.

Related links

Press release of PIK about the release of the synthesis report

Copenhagen Climate Congress – with webcasts of the plenary lectures (link on bottom right – my talk is in the opening session part 2, just after IPCC chairman Pachauri)

Nobel Laureate Meeting in London – a high caliber gathering in May that agreed on a remarkable memorandum which calls for immediate policy intervention: “We know what needs to be done. We can not wait until it is too late.” The new U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu participated over the full three days in the scientific discussions – how many politicians would have done that?


416 Responses to “A warning from Copenhagen”

  1. 51

    I agree that in my view the models are conservative, especially in relation to feedbacks. As the denialists are fond of reminding us, the CO2 levels have historically increased after the temperature has started to rise, not before. But the rate of rise that preceded the CO2 release was only a few tenths of a degree per century, not the 2 to 5C we are into now. So we must confidently expect that whatever it was that led to increased CO2 production then will happen again, and very soon.

    In relation to the political will, it is great to hear a number of leaders recognising that we are moving from avoidance to mitigation. That is mitigation of the social consequences. Quite how they will deal with the consequences of desertification extreme weather and perhaps most insidious of all the 2 to 5 metres of sea level rise due this century will be interesting to see.

    How (and interestingly when) will Obama explain to New York, Florida and New Orleans that they are gone – there is no point spending any more federal money there ever again? How will Holland and Denmark explain to central Europe that they are moving all their people there over the next 50 years, and they are bringing their knives and forks with them? Is the Prime Minister of India teaching religious tolerance and offering room again to all those poor water-logged souls in Bangladesh who were previously driven there by the Great Partition? Perhaps they can share in the drought in India as the glaciers feeding the great rivers of Asia dry up and the rice fields die. Are the Mayors of Beijing and Shanghai chatting up the locals up the hill? They are both going under in due course.

    In terms of good strategic planning, this is the measurable parameter – the timing of the retreat from the coast over the next few decades is clear enough. And it will go on, until.

    And then with the full knowledge of the future we blend in minor challenges such as the true meaning of global mineral oil production peaking in June 2008, the convergence of food and bio-fuel into the same crops etc and we are in a very interesting state indeed.

    There is hope, of course. But that hope revolves around developing climate-proof means of producing simple food on (or on top of) soils above the 100 metre line that are unsuited to agriculture, with minimal water input. Of developing interdependent Quaker/Cuba/Jungle village communities where we make what we consume, and we enjoy and are satisfied with the consequences of our work. Society will fragment into more meaningful units, but hopefully it will not implode.

  2. 52
    David Stoney says:

    HiHo,

    With regard to psychosocial aspects of coming to grips with the climate crisis, here’s an idea.

    Data and information, while very important, are unlikely to change the minds of ordinary folks who choose not to take global warming seriously. What is needed is something that is much more difficult, i.e., a way to connect on an emotional level with the disbelievers. This emotional connection cannot, however, be at the level of anger, ridicule, or insult. I suspect it will have to touch on the fear that each of us feels, the fear of losing not just our lives but the very possibly of losing the societal/civilizational basis for modern consciousness. Professional disbelievers, who shape their thoughts for money or fame, are unlikely to respond to such an approach.

    Perhaps by acknowledging our own vulnerability we can touch the emotional core of another human being and perhaps cause a crack in their emotional armor. Perhaps by admitting our own fear and distress we can help others gain the courage to acknowledge their distress and possibly begin to move past the barriers to understanding that such fear generates.

    Maybe Julie Johnston (#13) is right and we need more climate scientists to admit that they are scared shitless. I certainly am.

    Cheers,
    David

  3. 53

    The scientists need to say: “The price of bread is going to $10 per slice” or something like that. THAT is how you get the attention of most people. The message has to relate to the common peoples’ lives. India and China will get the message when the monsoons die or do not produce rain at ground level. [I heard somewhere that when the temperature exceeds a critical value the rain evaporates too quickly to water crops.] Both India and China depend on monsoon rains for their food. About 2 Billion people will die in the process of India and China getting the message. The Americans will only get the message because China has enough US dollars to cause horrendous inflation in the price of food in the US. There will be mass starvation in the US before wages can be inflated enough to counter the outflow of food, if there is any food. The rain is all wrong on this continent as well: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=1708440
    Drought a ‘disaster’ in western Canada
    Record Dry Spell
    Canwest News Service Published: Thursday, June 18, 2009
    Here in Illinois, we are getting rain like I never saw before. Driving was like boating the day before yesterday.

    We need to see to it that the law against false advertising is enforced. I hope the law still exists.
    We need a multi-billion dollar advertising budget if we are to get anything done before the world wide famine happens.
    We need a refuge from the world, maybe on Mars. Since the poles are warming twice as fast as the equator, there is no refuge on this planet. Uninhabitability happens everywhere on Earth at once.

    Why are the scientists in Copenhagen not talking about the coming famine?

  4. 54
    Oakden Wolf says:

    Actually addressing the problem of global warming with any degree of positive action would (you could also use the word WILL) require a true, functional, global government.

    There. I said it. UN “cooperation”, “protocols”, or “treaties” aren’t going to cut it unless there is an obvious, unassailable, imminent (i.e. within decades) danger — such as occurred with the ozone hole.

    How likely is an actual functioning global government? Well, we’ve really got to get working on that warp drive…

  5. 55
    Paul says:

    We are in the 6th extinction. There is nothing we can do to now prevent global warming.

  6. 56
    Gil says:

    Hello folks. Just happened upon this site accidentally. I am not a scientist. I do however understand science above a 6th grade level :). I was at one time a GCC believer. I am now a doubter. To change my mind and I believe, others like me, we need for people like Steven Chu to stop suggesting we paint our roofs white to reflect heat. We need to stop seeing outlandish ideas on the Discovery channel, like wrapping glaciers in white plastic. You climate change scientists need to get experts from other science disciplines on board, Don’t just say we need to cut oil usage, come up with concrete, cost effective alternatives. Cost effective for the family making $32,000 a year or less. Cost effective for the peasent in China making $3,000 a year. NO POLITICIANS as spokes persons. The average inhabitant of planet earth does not trust a politician, regardless of government. And know this, the biggest challenge you face has been created by the same scientists who predicted the hole in the ozone layer would destroy the earth 30 years ago. The fact that a medium strenght hurricane flooded New Orleans, is not proof of GW. It is viewed by the average Joe as the stupidity of FED, State and local politicians for building in flood prone areas and building crappy levee systems. I hate to say it, but you do need 40k-60k americans dying of a disaster that can be conclusively blamed on climate change. These are just some random thoughts and ideas to fuel your scientific thought processes. Thanks for the forum to speak

  7. 57
    MikeN says:

    Jim, you’re right. Could you please explain it to me? I’m not being sarcastic, I really don’t see it as anything other than a cherry picking of data.

  8. 58
    naught101 says:

    If we stabilised CO2-e at current levels immediately, how long would we have before +2degC was unavoidable? Or perhaps I should ask, how many CO2-e ppm-years do we have before +2degC is inevitable?

  9. 59
    Hank Roberts says:

    Steve, look it up. For examples of a few places to begin reading try comparing the results of these two searches:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=“sea+level”+calibration+sensor+satellite+tide+level

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%22sea+level%22+calibration+sensor+satellite+tide+level

    If the sources you rely on are in the first list but not the second list, it’s worth considering the possibility that you have been doing it wrong.

  10. 60
    Thoughtful Tom says:

    The problem in the marketplace is the price signal is muted by not recognizing the full cost of CO2.

    Any chance that peak oil (which is happening/just happened/will happen real soon) will stand in as a proxy for the hidden costs of CO2? I notice gas is at $3 in a recession, which means (hopefully) $4 or more as the economy recovers.

    Once we peak in oil than all the other fuels will also cost more as people try to trade into them. So all fuel prices go up. And this is without cap and trade (which I greatly fear is both too weak and will be voted down).

    I realize I am grasping at straws, but straws are what are available. What do you think – any chance that naturally occurring rising fuel prices will keep us below 2C?

    thanks
    Tom

  11. 61
    CM says:

    Bob (#14), yes, Figure 1 shows TAR (2001) model projections from 1990-2010 compared with up-to-date observations. (The body text confusingly speaks of “IPCC projections of 1990″… Editorial slip?) The figure is updated from a Rahmstorf et al. 2007 paper published too late to make the cut for AR4 and thus “new”. See the footnote to the chart and Rahmstorf’s Copenhagen presentation.

    (#19) Presumably the ocean heat content graph stops at 2003 because that’s the cutoff point in the underlying papers. Again, these were published in 2008 and 2009, thus presumably not adding new observation data to what was available at the time of the AR4 but providing a new analysis of these notoriously tricky data.

    It does seems a pity, though, they didn’t extend it to take in the apparent dip in the last few years, putting it in long-term context. A pedagogical opportunity lost and no doubt an opportunity provided for the usual crowd to claim a cover-up. But perhaps there are good methodological reasons for this on which someone can enlighten us.

    RECaptcha: “Singer manure”. ’nuff said

  12. 62

    Danny Bloom writes:

    Do my polar cities ideas sound more plausible now, a year later?

    No.

  13. 63

    Alastair writes:

    We must cut our consumption and that means an end to economic growth

    Nonsense. We must cut out CO2 emissions, not our economic growth.

    I know economic growth can’t be sustained forever and we’ll eventually have to switch to some kind of dynamic stability that employs everybody. But it’s not going to happen in one generation.

  14. 64

    Tony O’Brien writes:

    There is no way we will limit temperature rise to 2 degrees. There is no way that society as we know it will cope with the changes.

    I agree. The people running our society are just too stupid, short-sighted, and greedy to act in time. Humanity in general doesn’t prevent crises; we wait until the crisis happens and then react. Always.

    I’ll keep arguing for AGW theory and for doing something about it, but I expect to fail. I’ll go down fighting, but I do expect to go down.

  15. 65
    Craig says:

    Is there anyone in this country that does not understand that smoking is a deadly habit? Yet 20+% of adults still smoke.

    Is there anyone in this country that does not understand that being overweight is bad for their health? Yet 2/3rds of all adults are classified as overweight or obese.

    Is there any baby boomer around who doesn’t understand that his or her retirement is coming up quickly, and that social security and medicare won’t be enough to fund a comfortable retirement? Yet more that half of that group have not saved enough for retirement. Fully a quarter have no savings at all.

    This is powerful evidence that people are short sighted, even when it comes to matters which directly affect their personal well being. Yet some of you have trouble understanding why people are not answering the call to make sacrifices to solve a problem that really hasn’t been felt yet by most people, and will have it’s worst effects long after most of them are dead?

    Come out of the ivory tower, and walk among the undisciplined masses…

  16. 66
    pete best says:

    Re #52, David, can any one say with any certainty what will be lost? I know people who have no interest in environmentalism which is the category that AGW is placed into and that means hippies( lefties) and the notion of many things that people do not or are told they should not like.

    Fossil fuels have been around for 250 years now and coal longer. They were cheap and plentiful but today one of them and possibly two are about to throw a massive spanner in the works as their cheapness might be starting to run out. The propsect of the most used fuel being the one that peaks first is not that surprising and its peak might be a good thing or a disaster for AGW. A good thing for we might economise and be more efficient (20 MPG to 60 MPG) and then new technologies that as yet do not exist might get their chance in the form of biofuels of a low carbon order, electric cars, hybrids etc. However it might be a bad thing as oil prices rise so does the economic sense of coal to liquids projects, massive tar and shale sands expansion and other carbon emitting fuels come alive.

    Gas will follow soon after oil (2020 to peak) and then coal (could be as early as 2025). Therefore AGW should make us act to some degree but mainly on the notion of fossil fuels becomming more expensive and other energy sources requred to stop our beloved capatalist material consumerist world carrying out until something else starts to mess up.

    Environmentalists would have us perhaps live life differently and the population of each country to be manageable and sustainable and hence it could be a very different world once fossil fuels become too expensive to be large scale economic. However let us say we manage to find suitable replacements for fossil fuels that are economic which are also low carbon so AGW is mitigated to some degree. It might be to the liking of the environmentalsits however for roads and airports will still be built and expanded and forests might still disappear and food might still be provided in unsound ways in their eyes.

    We have grown a global economy on the back of large scale fossil fuel extraction which allowed for growth and economic prosperity bu keeping billions of people in good jobs and in good homes with plenty of choice for all along with prosperity for everyone is a tall order, one that we have not thought about much though until now.

    The entire thing is an edifice of sacrifice for western countries for several billion of the world population have nothing anyway. For a moment there mankind was reaching for the stars and impressive science but now it could be we all go back to God.

  17. 67
    Vicky I says:

    Bringing together the thoughts from the previous Winds of Change thread, the comments above (#46) about getting climate science to the public, and in direct response to Gavin’s response at 26 above, can RC do a page dedicated to acronyms please?!

    [Response: What is RC? -stefan]]

    [Response: Sorry about that. We should be clearer. – gavin]

  18. 68
    him says:

    Beautiful, beautiful Copenhagen…what a lovely place.
    I’m so happy to have seen it before it goes underwater.
    Kudos for trying, conferencers, seriously. Bravo.
    But if meetings and seminars could solve problems,problems would’ve been extinct long ago. Sadly, history continues to teach us that history teaches us nothing, and all the words, good intentions and costly meetings in the world cannot turn the approaching tide. We are sandcastles before it.
    Our political and business systems are too ingrained to surrender control. Caring interferes with profits. Of course, that whole structure will come crashing down but until then, it’s still get-it-while-the-gettin’s-good.
    Besides, it’s too late.
    The time for any effective action was 2 or 3 decades ago when ‘tree-huggers’ and ‘eco-freaks’ (and some very reputable scientists) gave warning of what was coming. The sheer inertia of the damage that has been done is inescapable. Our only hope is the immediate invention of some miracle creations capable of detoxifying the planet.

    The first and most crucial of these devices must be one that will make us more kind, less stupid.

  19. 69
    tommy says:

    “Some aspects of climate change are progressing faster than was expected a few years ago – such as rising sea levels, the increase of heat stored in the ocean and the shrinking Arctic sea ice.”
    Really? The ARGO site shows that ocean temperatures have very slightly fallen the last couple of years. Arctic sea ice has made some improvements as well, yet the opposite is reported on both.

  20. 70
    CM says:

    PS to my #61 above: I forgot to mention that RC covered the Domingues et al. ocean heat paper when it came out, explaining the important corrections to earlier analyses. Here.

  21. 71
    Alan of Oz says:

    Why all the pessimisim? Reading the report confirms what I suspected about the IPCC’s estimates, ie: getting that many experts to agree pratically gaurentees a conservative outcome. But it also gives me great hope with the diversity and detail of the remedial options it covers.

    I’ve been debating climate change on the net for about a decade now, from my anecdotal and amaturish experience the trend in people’s attitudes over that time has definitely been to move away from the psuedo-skeptics and their disinformation. Most of the large corporates are now on board and are practically screaming for regulatory certainty. The comment about Chu at the end of the article demonstrates the US is no longer the sulking petulant child we loved to hate.

    We should be rejoicing that the psuedo-skeptics are becoming increasingly isolated and are now commonly seen in the media as having as much credibility as young earth creationists. We have won the technical battle and the major commercial battles are all but over.

    This sea change in attitudes since Gore, Blair and others started strongly backing the science in public a few years ago was the political tipping point, sure there is nothing much set in concrete yet but there is a huge neon light at the end of the 2012 tunnel. It won’t be perfect when we get there but barring any massive underestimates of feedbacks it will be effective enough to save our skins.

    So to Julie at #13 and those who paint a similar picture I say cheer up and give the scientists here and around the globe a big pat on the back for a job well done!

  22. 72
    bobberger says:

    #70
    Thanks for making things a little more clear, CM. btw. your link works if one removes the trailing backslash.

  23. 73
    Mark says:

    I propose we replace Alistair’s repeated message:

    “We must cut our consumption and that means an end to economic growth”

    with

    “Pieces of Eight! Pieces of Eight!”

    He keeps parroting it time and time again. Never explaining why, never answering queries as to what makes him think this is true. To him it is as True as The One True God to a devout believer. In this case, maybe the Order Of The Free Market.

    He never listens, never explains, just parrots it over and over a gain.

    “Pieces of Eight!”.

  24. 74
    Mark says:

    “# Barton Paul Levenson Says:
    22 June 2009 at 4:40 AM

    Danny Bloom writes:

    Do my polar cities ideas sound more plausible now, a year later?
    No”

    Don’t be too quick.

    I for one would like Danny to give it a shot. Build some housing at the north pole, Danny.

    It may be a long walk to the shops, but your beefburgers will stay fresh…

  25. 75
    Pekka Kostamo says:

    Growth of the global hardware economy – not.

    Growth of a global software economy – why not?

    (Just avoid crashing software bubbles …)

  26. 76
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Don Condliffe (41) says:
    …the climate modelers whose analyses dominate this site are too limited in their approach to possibly be correct…

    Do you read this site? It presents a wide variety of evidence, with a very good mix of empirical and theoretical analyses. And most if not all of the feedbacks you mention are in fact included in models. The accuracy of their predictions is an ongoing challenge, just a part of the process of science.

    And as for research into aerosol-based geo-engineering, you don’t think some good climate models might be needed for that?

  27. 77
    Hank Roberts says:

    > 6, 16, 23, 25
    Original and followup questions answered inline by Stefan at the original post 6.

    (The sidebar links to posts ” …With Inline Responses” are invaluable; thanks)

  28. 78
  29. 79
    Mark says:

    “Growth of the global hardware economy – not.”

    Reduction in waste will reduce power needs and make the products more efficient and therefore of more economic benefit.

  30. 80
    steve says:

    Thanks Stefan, that clears things up for me considerably

  31. 81
    ccpo says:

    to answer this question you need to do transient (i.e. time-dependent) scenario simulations with reasonable assumptions about how our greenhouse gas emissions are going to change over time, and how the cooling aerosol amounts are going to change over time.

    Stefan,

    I have the same opinion, but carry it further. We need to simultaneously model the climate, model mitigation and create massive socio-political awareness by modeling the human response. I think there is a means to do this that actually helps determine what paths can and should be taken.

    If you please: http://aperfectstormcometh.blogspot.com/2009/05/perfect-storm-world-simulation-peak-oil.html

    Cheers

  32. 82
    Michael says:

    “Incidentally, by now 124 nations have officially declared their support for the goal of limiting warming to 2ºC or less, including the EU – but unfortunately not yet the US”

    Before you can ask why the US should join honorable international climate coalitions, there are questions that have to be delt with.

    What are the various global warming solutions and strategies?
    What are the costs to our individual rights and freedoms?
    What are the costs to our culture?
    What are the costs to our economy?
    What are the mitigation/adaptation costs vs adaptation costs?
    How does the climate crisis rank with other crisis facing the US and the world?

    Are you qualified to address any of these questions?
    I’m sorry to level my frustrations at you Stefan, but I see so many climate scientists jumping over important questions to get to their favorite solutions. Is every climate scientist also an activist?

  33. 83

    #69 Tommy… “The ARGO site shows that ocean temperatures have very slightly fallen the last couple of years. Arctic sea ice has made some improvements as well, yet the opposite is reported on both.”

    Does this look like cool oceans?….. :

    http://www.osdpd.noaa.gov/PSB/EPS/SST/climo&hot.html

    Ice extent is misleading, look at the standard, 2007

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/ARCHIVE/20070621.jpg

    and compare to now:

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/NEWIMAGES/arctic.seaice.color.000.png

    Lots and lots of thin or severely broken up ice, all done in mostly cloudy weather conditions.

    Please look at data, study it daily, before jumping on one stat which placed without context, is meaningless.
    2007 was remarkably cloud free at most locations, yet 2009, remarkably cloudier everywhere
    gives about the same melt.

    I have yet to see any evidence of Arctic cooling at all. Convince others with facts, yourself with a deeper study.

  34. 84
    Hank Roberts says:

    Michael, it’s foolish to continue to wave this same list of questions over and over, blog after blog.

    You don’t know exactly what the cost of inaction will be, how can you know exactly what the cost of action will be?

    We know what’s coming well enough to know inaction is foolish.

    Delay is the deadliest form of denial.
    (C. Northcote Parkinson)

  35. 85
    Mark says:

    Michael, are the questions to be asked?

    Why are so many negative?

    The first one is the only one that is neutral and the only one that should be answered.

    What are the benefits to our individual rights?
    What are the benefits to our culture?
    What are the benefits to our economy?

    After all, removing a scarce renewable resource from our basic needs enables us to CHOOSE who we deal with on essentials. Or do you like funding Iran with petrodollars?

    Our culture will not have to deal with flooded florida. Whether that’s a good thing depends on whether you think Soylent Green is utopic or dystopic.

    You pride yourself on your intelligence as a nation. Your “go-getting” attitude and your ability to find a solution. Except here. Do you think that production of high quality solar panes will be beneficial to the US technological prominence or do you think that the third world are better than you when it comes to high-tech?

    One thing is CERTAIN.

    We need to me more efficient with our resources and more effective with our economies.

    Waste not Want.

  36. 86
    Ike Solem says:

    “Why all the pessimism?” asks a commentator…

    Consider the recent climate legislation in the House:

    As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency projects that even if the emissions limits go into effect, the U.S. would use more carbon-dioxide-heavy coal in 2020 than it did in 2005.

    That’s because the bill gives utilities a financial incentive to keep burning coal by joining the cap-and-trade system — a kind of marketplace where polluters could reduce their emissions on paper by buying pollution reductions created by others. These so-called offsets, for example, could be created and sold by farmers who planted trees, which filter carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

    Environmental groups also say the bill could set off a boom in the construction of new coal plants because of provisions that would restrict legal efforts to block such projects.

    There are at least three problems in that brief excerpt, from the bottom up:

    1) What does an ‘environmentalist’, i.e. someone concerned with their surroundings, know about the economic factors that drive coal plant construction? Why not ask an ‘industrialist’, i.e. someone concerned with the system? (a balanced thermodynamic perspective = system + surroundings)

    Problem: media bias, poor analysis and slanted language.

    2) Trees and grasses exist in steady-state with atmospheric CO2, which is why CO2 levels in the atmosphere were stable for thousands of years. Net carbon storage as living biomass only happens if grasslands and deserts are replaced by forests. Regardless, biomass sequestration does not offset fossil fuel CO2 generation unless that biomass carbon is permanently buried in the geological reservoir.

    Problem: misunderstanding and misapplication of science.

    3) The cap-and-trade system for reducing carbon emissions has been widely criticized by those who recognize that efforts should be focused on renewable energy development as a replacement for fossil fuels. Here, the correct strategy is not cap-and-trade, but rather feed-in tariffs:

    While not exhaustive, this site contains an extensive collection of articles on Feed-in Tariffs, Advanced Renewable Tariffs, and Renewable Energy Producer Payments. Learn more about feed laws-in tariffs and how they have been successful in Europe, and how they can benefit North Americans by following the links below.

    Problem: media bias and one-sided analysis that follows the course laid out by fossil fuel lobbyists.

    The article then goes on to quote the ACCE:

    “In the past, there was a drive to use climate policy as a wedge to take coal out of the energy mix,” said Joe Lucas, senior vice president of communications for the industry-funded American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “There’s just been a fundamental shift.”

    The point here is that this ‘fundamental shift’ flies in the face of basic scientific assessments of the validity of clean coal claims – it’s as if the U.S. Senate just decided to throw all of its weight behind the concept of creationism.

    This is in-line with other recent decisions, such as the push for coal-to-gasoline plants, and the expansion of Canadian tar sands projects (see the $8 billion Exxon-Canada-Embridge deal, which will use gas provided by the government-guaranteed Alaskan Pipeline to the Tar Sands to melt and process said tar, and then ship the syncrude to the West Coast). Similar proposals for shale oil are also being pushed through.

    The rationale behind this switch to unconventional sources of oil appears to be that global supplies of cheap crude oil are declining, and efforts to secure deals for Central Asian, Middle Eastern, African and South American oil for domestic use are looking less and less likely. Thus ‘national security’ demands that new sources of oil be developed, is how the PR line goes.

    The problem for coal-syngas and tar sand proponents is that global demand for petroleum is very low due to the economic collapse. Demand was considered to be inelastic, but (as with the Russian economic collapse in the early 1990s) that’s been proved false. Why is this a problem? Because coal and tar sand gasoline is only profitable if oil prices stay high – at least above $60.

    What would drive demand for gasoline even lower? Well, large-scale investment in electric cars and biofuels is at the top of the list. Even a modest increase in biofuel production (say, 15% ethanol blended with gasoline) would seriously impact crude oil demand and thus, lower prices. Electric cars are far worse (for gasoline dealers), as their energy efficiency is 5-10 times that of ICE vehicles. Furthermore, a large and powerful electric car battery system is perfect for storing up energy from intermittent sources like sunlight and wind.

    There really is no need for pessimism, however, as all the technological know-how needed to replace fossil fuels with renewables already exists. The technology is being suppressed by government subsidies to fossil fuels because the politicians who control those subsidies were put in power by financial and political interests that are largely dependent on the cash flows generated by fossil fuel sales (this is how coal-state Democrats get elected to Congress, for example). They also do their best to steer research money to fossil fuels and away from renewables, as Department of Energy budgets ever since 1979 reveal.

    It is sad that the United States federal government is setting the country up for ecological and economic devastation by tying the future to coal, however – but that has been going on for quite some time now. Technological innovation in energy is just too disruptive to the established status quo, and threatens too many entrenched political interests – and this means that yes, we have had a massive failure of democracy on this issue.

  37. 87
    Thoughtful Tom says:

    Thanks Alan (#71) for some optimism. I take the pulse of the people at politico.com and Huffingtonpost.com (middle and left leaning respectively). (I check the science here! ;))

    By that measure AGW is losing at the left leaning blog and getting pummeled at the political middle.

    I fervently hope that a political solution is forthcoming, but the prognosticators are saying that Waxman bill will fail this year. I am hoping that it is debated in late summer, when the most recent evidence of warming is fresh in everyone’s mind.

    Tom

  38. 88
    Wilmot McCutchen says:

    him #68 says:

    “Our only hope is the immediate invention of some miracle creations capable of detoxifying the planet.”

    Yes, that would be a good start. But what about getting that invention deployed in time to make a difference? We only have 20 years to reduce CO2 emissions enough to hold the line at 2C.

    The vested interests insist that the problem of CO2 emissions is impossible to solve, therefore they should not be required to spend anything on a futile effort. The Bush DOE devoted all of its “clean coal” research to chemical capture and underground storage — both of which are known to be dry holes. The GAO debunked “sequestration” last year. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d081080.pdf A skeptic might reasonably suspect a deliberate waste of money to prove the industry excuse for inaction.

    The last thing that the big CO2 emitters want to see is an invention that solves the problem they create. If it works, they would have to spend money on it. Better for them to insist that either there is no problem or, if there is, it is impossible to solve.

    So Congress is providing another out: tree offsets for the small fraction of CO2 emissions not covered by free indulgences. That’s the Waxman-Markey bill. As experience with the Kyoto cap-and-trade system shows, there will be no actual reduction in CO2 emissions. But everyone can pretend that something has been done. And Wall Street will have a compulsory junk market for tree offsets of dubious provenance for a forest somewhere in Nigeria to package into weird derivatives and make into an even bigger bubble than subprime housing.

  39. 89
    Jim Eager says:

    MkeN @57 wrote: “I really don’t see it as anything other than a cherry picking of data.”

    Of course you don’t. That’s because it has not yet dawned on you that since the GRACE satellites were launced in 2002, 2003-2008 is the satellite gravinometric data period for the Greenland ice cap. All of it! What you dismiss as “cherry-picked” is the entire data set.

    And before you sputter on that 5 years is not enough time to determine a trend, that applies to discerning a trend that manifests itself over a time span greater than 5 years, such as discerning a climate trend from the natural variability of interannual weather. But that is not what is being measured in this graph.

    What is being measured is ice mass loss, which because of damping by the thermal inertia of a massive ice cap, tends to be affected more strongly by long term climate trends than by natural seasonal or year-to-year variability. The 5 years of interannual data in the graph clearly show a downward trend.

    That trend taken together with 1) the prior graph plotting the expanding area experiencing surface melt over the much longer period of time from 1979 to 2008, and 2) actual ground observations of the increase in ice mass loss at outflow glaciers since the 1990s, it becomes obvious that although not quantified by satellite gravinometric data before 2003, the Greenland ice cap was definitely losing mass prior to the start of the satellite record.

    You have zero grounds to level a charge of “cherry picking.”
    Not that that will stop you from doing so.

  40. 90
    Michael says:

    Mark, the benefits of emissions reduction as a GW strategy have been talked about to the nth degree here. The used car salesman in me is very satisfied.

  41. 91
    Michael says:

    Hank, I’m not trying to put egg on faces, and I’m not trying to cause trouble. These are honest questions I have that come up in my own conversations. Aren’t you a little curious about the popular ‘scientists speaking outside their area of expertise’ phenomenon?

  42. 92
    bobberger says:

    One more question re #61. I couldn’t find anything in the text explaining why TAR was used for comparison in some cases. The source reference says “IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007″ which must be AR4 – yet the graph for i.e. figure 3 explicitly states “IPCC Third Assessment Report” but then goes on to say “(data from 2007 and 2008
    added by Rahmstorf, S.)” which would (if I don’t totally mess things up) give the Impression, that the 2007 AR4 (which obviously couldn’t include 2007 and 2008) was used. Eyeballing the graph I’d say it really is TAR – but why not use AR4 in a 2009 report?

    [Response: Because the report cites a published study here: our 2007 Science paper, where we were looking at how the TAR projections (starting in 1990) compared to observations. For a meaningful comparison you need enough data, and we thought 16 years was enough. The AR4 projections start in 2000 (see Fig. SPM5 of the AR4). Around the year 2016 it may be worth redoing such a comparison, to see how the more recent projections have held up. -stefan]

  43. 93
    MikeN says:

    OK, Jim, I accept that explanation, but I would say leaving out the chart is the better option. The whole report looks like cherry picking of doomsaying graphs. Why compare to TAR projections, when there is a fourth assessment report that is newer? Looks like it is to make observations be on the high end of projections.

    With ice loss, I suspect there is a 150 year negative trend, so cherry-picking is perhaps the wrong charge.

  44. 94
    tamino says:

    I think it bears repeating:

    The statistical significance of a trend depends on more than just the time span covered. It depends on:

    — Total time span (longer=better)
    — Number of data points (more=better)
    — Signal size (bigger=better)
    — Noise size (smaller=better)
    — Autocorrelation (less=better)

    Therefore it’s incorrect to gauge the significance of a trend based solely on the time span.

    I haven’t analyzed the Greenland ice sheet mass data graphed on pg. 9 of the Copenhagen report, but I have a lot of experience and a good eye for trends, and I suspect it’s strongly significant.

  45. 95

    #26 John Philip

    Are you seriously contending and giving credence to http://wattsupwiththat.com getting voted best science blog from random people on the internets?

    It’s not April, and most folks in this blog are not fools.

  46. 96
    Carl Wilde says:

    Good grief! You folks sure are pushing numbers back and forth and wanting greenhouse gases to go away. But you deny what it takes for this existing earth support its human inhabitants.

    Solar and wind for electric generation is a major user of resources, from synthetic materials, i.e. oil products, copper, lead, and industrial processes to put it all together. At that, efficiency is poor compared to steam plants. Also, the AC from these sources need the existing power infrastructure, and the steam powered rotating generators on the other end, to help buffer and clean up the crappy alternating current alternative plants put out.

    You can tax coal and oil all you want, but it is not going to cure any greenhouse gas output. Now, if the US decides to go all out nuclear, and get up to 80% nuke power generation like France, then you will make a dent. But you are going to have to realize, current alternative sources will not power a successful industrial nation. Electricity, generated by nuclear primarily, and alternative sources hoping that improvements to the technology will make them cost effective, is the only way to go.

    The growing, processing, and transportation of food to masses crammed in large cities, many of whom are nothing but leeches on society even after being given a chance to improve their lot, figures in to this mess too. Well, you say, then there are too many people on this earth. How are you going to solve that? Pull a Hitler? Education? The free world has been trying to educate Africa for 60 years, and they still procreate uncontrollably.

    We are using the internet, everybody hooked up with their computer in some form. What a waste of energy. 25 years ago, you wanted info, you went to the library. Is the internet, and all its techno offspring an improvement on human kind? After the Challenger blew up, the engineers of the Apollo program who used slide rules, asked the engineers of the Space Shuttle program, who used computers how they could have made that mistake. Faster and easier is not necessarily better. What about the consumption of material needed to put this internet infrastructure together, how much green house gas did that generate?

    The world in it’s present form, requires the expenditure of energy at it’s current levels in order to support the beings on it. Now, if you want to disperse the populations of each country, back into the country side, and tell them to raise their own food, and support their own selves off the land, the first thing that is going to go is all the trees, right into cook fires and fireplaces.

    To reduce car usage, instead of fixing interstates, put high speed electric powered rail lines down the median of every interstate in the country. Tear down all commercial airports, except seven, 3 on the east coast, 2 in the middle and 2 out west. Hook all the high speed rail lines together, with the the remaining airports as focal points. Air for those who need to get from one side of the country to the other, rail to get to all the podunk places in between. This will require a major adjustment to the old adage, “time is money”. We need a galactic reduction in the requirement for everybody on the planet to get things done in the shortest amount of time. The country ran just fine when it took three day to get from New York to LA.

    You can examine all the global warming data you want to, but it will take a global shift in the way we live, not just in the US, but every country, except possibly those poor misguided souls in Africa, in order to change anything. China, is possibly the worst polluter in earth at this time. Are you going to tell them they can’t expand their economy? America has the technology for the cleanest coal plants and the safest nuke plants on earth, but we have a media, in conjunction with the enviro extremists, idiotic federal guidelines, and a current administration that wants to eliminate both forms of energy generation.

    Of course this is only my opinion. But then again, I live out in the country, grow most of my own food, and can defend my family and property. That may be all that it takes to survive, after all the rules come down the pike to kill modern living. Perhaps that asteroid impact in 2012 will be a good thing.

    CW in NC

  47. 97
    Hank Roberts says:

    MikeN, to figure out how long a time span is needed to detect a trend:
    http://moregrumbinescience.blogspot.com/2009/01/results-on-deciding-trends.html

  48. 98
    Mark says:

    “These are honest questions I have that come up in my own conversations. Aren’t you a little curious about the popular ’scientists speaking outside their area of expertise’ phenomenon?”

    Does rather require

    a) scientists are doing so (that you haven’t had the answers to your question would lead me to wonder what makes you think they are)
    b) scientists are relying on their stature *as scientists* when doing so, not as a citizen with just as much right to speak out as you

    doesn’t it.

  49. 99
    william says:

    Temperatures and sea levels have been rising for the last 160 years. How many people and cities and waterfronts around the world have been inundated? So far none. If you look at old maps of places like Boston and New York you’ll find that waterfronts have expanded in size over the years. Cities like New Orleans should not have been built at all below sea-level and on land that is subsiding. Perhaps we should spend money on dikes rather than on Carbon credits [edit]

  50. 100
    Jim Eager says:

    MikeN @93: “OK, Jim, I accept that explanation, but I would say leaving out the chart is the better option.”

    Why am I not at all surprised?

    Capthcha concurs: “recently some” ice has melted.

    Clue: The IPCC fourth assessment report included the explicit caveat that changes in the ice dynamics of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps was not taken into account in the assessment’s projections of sea level rise.

    No surprise then that you’d rather exclude the gravinometric data showing that Greenland ice mass is in fact declining.


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