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The IPCC is not infallible (shock!)

Filed under: — group @ 19 January 2010 - (Italian)

Like all human endeavours, the IPCC is not perfect. Despite the enormous efforts devoted to producing its reports with the multiple levels of peer review, some errors will sneak through. Most of these will be minor and inconsequential, but sometimes they might be more substantive. As many people are aware (and as John Nieslen-Gammon outlined in a post last month and Rick Piltz goes over today), there is a statement in the second volume of the IPCC (WG2), concerning the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are receding that is not correct and not properly referenced.

The statement, in a chapter on climate impacts in Asia, was that the likelihood of the Himalayan glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035″ was “very high” if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate (WG 2, Ch. 10, p493), and was referenced to a World Wildlife Fund 2005 report. Examining the drafts and comments (available here), indicates that the statement was barely commented in the reviews, and that the WWF (2005) reference seems to have been a last minute addition (it does not appear in the First- or Second- Order Drafts). This claim did not make it into the summary for policy makers, nor the overall synthesis report, and so cannot be described as a ‘central claim’ of the IPCC. However, the statement has had some press attention since the report particularly in the Indian press, at least according to Google News, even though it was not familiar to us before last month.

It is therefore obvious that this error should be corrected (via some kind of corrigendum to the WG2 report perhaps), but it is important to realise that this doesn’t mean that Himalayan glaciers are doing just fine. They aren’t, and there may be serious consequences for water resources as the retreat continues. See also this review paper (Ren et al, 2006) on a subset of these glaciers.

East Rongbuk glacier 1921 and 2008East Rongbuk glacier just below Mt. Everest has lost 3-400 ft of ice in this area since 1921.

More generally, peer-review works to make the IPCC reports credible because many different eyes with different perspectives and knowledge look over the same text. This tends to make the resulting product reflect more than just the opinion of a single author. In this case, it appears that not enough people with relevant experience saw this text, or if they saw it, did not comment publicly. This might be related to the fact that this text was in the Working Group 2 report on impacts, which does not get the same amount of attention from the physical science community than does the higher profile WG 1 report (which is what people associated with RC generally look at). In WG1, the statements about continued glacier retreat are much more general and the rules on citation of non-peer reviewed literature was much more closely adhered to. However, in general, the science of climate impacts is less clear than the physical basis for climate change, and the literature is thinner, so there is necessarily more ambiguity in WG 2 statements.

In future reports (and the organisation for AR5 in 2013 is now underway), extra efforts will be needed to make sure that the links between WG1 and the other two reports are stronger, and that the physical science community should be encouraged to be more active in the other groups.

In summary, the measure of an organisation is not determined by the mere existence of errors, but in how it deals with them when they crop up. The current discussion about Himalayan glaciers is therefore a good opportunity for the IPCC to further improve their procedures and think more about what the IPCC should be doing in the times between the main reports.

Update: This backgrounder presented by Kargel et al AGU this December is the best summary of the current state of the Himalayas and the various sources of misinformation that are floating around. It covers this issue, the Raina report and the recent Lau et al paper.


1,804 Responses to “The IPCC is not infallible (shock!)”

  1. 1751
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Pete Best asks: “Cant we settle the science once and for all or are the scientists not able to sell it right due to its complexity and subtle nature.”

    In part we are dealing with the conservative nature of science–where we give up on the idea of proof in favor of the idea of overwhelming probability/evidence. As a general rule, you can take 90% confidence to the bank, and AGW is well beyond that level. It is to the point where the dissidents hardly even publish and have little enlightening to say on the rare occasions they do.

    However, we are also running up against human nature and our remarkable ability to look reality in the face and deny it when we don’t like the consequences.

    Look, the science really isn’t that impossible to understand.
    1)We know it’s warming.
    2)We know CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that we’ve increased atmospheric CO2 by 38% and counting.
    3)We know that CO2 by itself gives us just a bit over a degree of warming per doubling and that there must be substantial positive feedbacks on that value.
    4)Calculating the feedbacks from first principles is very difficult especially for clouds and aerosols. However, we don’t need to do a first-principles calculation, because the total amount of warming per doubling of CO2 is fairly tightly constrained by many independent lines of evidence (more than a dozen). All of these lines of evidence favor sensitivity of about 3 degrees C per doubling and preclude less than 2 degrees per doubling at 95% confidence.
    5)We know that more than 2-3 degrees warming begins to have pretty severe consequences for the ability of the globe to support a complex human civilization of 9-10 billion humans.

    I don’t see where any of that is particularly complicated, and it is all strongly supported by evidence. That is why the anti-science attacks tend to be ad hominem against the scientists: They have to evidence to present.

    5)

  2. 1752
    Rod B says:

    Jim G (1695), would you guess that Gates’ zero carbon culture comes with everyone’s own blue screen of death??

  3. 1753
    Completely Fed Up says:

    ROFL, or something like that. Nah. Yawn.

    Rather I would suspect it comes with a Windows Embedded OS in every power meter.

    But that doesn’t mean that such a thing cannot happen.

  4. 1754
    Rod B says:

    Ray (1727), I’ll take the bet! relying on my own interpretation of probability of course.

  5. 1755
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B.@1754
    Interesting. So, we have established that the proportion of white marbles must be 90% or better with 90% confidence. What is the lower limit on the proportion of black balls?

    Damn, I really need to take this game onto street corners and compete with the Three-Card Montee dealers, huh?

  6. 1756
    David B. Benson says:

    stevenc (1735) — That Schwartz paper has been thoroughly shot down; Knutti et al. have a good comment paper about it, for example. Even Schwartz has higher estimates now. For a good review on climate sensitivity, see
    http://www.iac.ethz.ch/people/knuttir/papers/knutti08natgeo.pdf

  7. 1757
    Tim Jones says:

    IPCC Seeks ‘Broader Community Engagement’ to Correct Errors
    Eli Kintisch
    Science 12 February 2010:
    Vol. 327. no. 5967, pp. 768 – 769
    DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5967.768-b
    (excerpt)
    Q: You’ve said that the error about melting glaciers was a case of not following IPCC’s own procedures. But you also say that the community should have pointed out the error during review opportunities.

    C.F.: It’s clear there really wasn’t a body of evidence required to assign that “very likely” term. So the procedures really weren’t followed. But I think it’s also clear that the procedures are set up so that had there been more review comments, had the level of expertise on the topic been recruited as a [chapter contributing author], there were a bunch of places where the error could’ve been avoided with a broader community engagement.

    Q: Critics say that IPCC should develop a means for formal corrections, like those used by scientific journals.

    C.F.: The reason that is tough is because the IPCC relies so heavily on this multiphase review and approval mechanism. … It’s hard for me to figure out what might be a process that would sustain the credibility that should be associated with the IPCC process. Ideally, a correction would go back through an IPCC-type process. But that would take as long as producing the next report. … I must admit I don’t really have a mature strategy for how we deal with [substantive] errors. One possibility might be if the IPCC were to write a “Special Report” to update each assessment. We have a well-established mechanism to do these.

    Q: Apart from the issue of the Himalayan glaciers, there have been recent criticisms of how the 2007 report dealt with disaster losses and the Amazonian rainforest, among a series of others that have cropped up.

    C.F.: [They] don’t have any real substance. The report is standing up incredibly well to a blizzard of attacks.

    Q: Should the IPCC authors who fail to catch errors face official consequences?

    C.F.: Every scientist does their best with each paper or work that comes out of their group. … Having your work criticized in a public way is a difficult [enough] situation for a scientist. … With a mistake like the Himalayan glaciers one, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

  8. 1758
    Tim Jones says:

    Link for preceding comment:

    IPCC Seeks ‘Broader Community Engagement’ to Correct Errors
    Eli Kintisch

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/327/5967/768-b

  9. 1759
    flxible says:

    Gilles 1746 – Obviously the answer is 15 to all of the above

    Get over the sidebar and get into the facts snax …. then maybe you’d be able to stop “hand waving”

  10. 1760
    stevenc says:

    “stevenc, this is not actually the argument I was trying to make. Rather, that the 90% only refers to seeing the AGW in the observations, not the real existence of the phenomenon”

    Sorry Martin, I guess in my mind I made the jump that if it is a GHG you should be able to detect the effects in the observations making it one and the same but I can see how this may not always be the case.

    “That Schwartz paper has been thoroughly shot down; Knutti et al. have a good comment paper about it, for example”

    Thanks David, but I believe the Schwartz paper I refered to was the response to the Knutti et al paper after he went back and made adjustments. The original paper had the climate sensitivity much lower. Perhaps there was yet another adjustment that I haven’t been able to find?

    “Betting that CO2 sensitivity is below 2 degrees is a betting mankinds future on a worse than 20:1 longshot.”

    I’m not sure what the odds are Ray. I just know the longer we go without warming at the 0.2C/decade rate projected the less likely it is that the climate sensitivity is high. Perhaps we should do as has been suggested and try to reduce black carbon while we get a better attribution. There are positive things to be said for that regardless of the climate and I would think it would be much easier to garner popular support for that sort of action.

  11. 1761
    Georgi Marinov says:

    “Barton Paul Levenson says:
    14 February 2010 at 4:00 PM
    GM: That the other limits include such things as the availability of concentrated energy in the form of fossil fuels and uranium

    BPL: Why does it have to be “concentrated?” Exactly?”

    For the same reason you can’t fly an airplane on batteries

  12. 1762
    Gilles says:

    “Gilles : “would be nice to have some quantitative estimates instead of hand waving. ”

    Would be nice to have something other than handwaving and silly questions, Gilly.
    “can you quantify the amount of CO2 above which the climatic cost will exceed the benefit brought by the corresponding fuels ?”

    Why should he?

    Why ? The problem is the following. Assume we are technically able to extract an amount A of fossil carbon. If you claim that this amount is dangerous and that we should reduce it strongly, it means that we should extract a quantity B significantly smaller than A. But that means that we should willingly stop the extraction before A is exhausted, leaving B-A in the ground. Stopping extraction means really stopping. Oil is still flowing, but guys, we have to close the well. There is plenty of coal still, but we’ve been told we should close the pit. We don’t want this shale gas anymore. Of course there is a lack of fossil fuels, fertilizers are in shortage, food is much more expensive, nobody can drive his car anymore, people are freezing in the dark, but we decided to stop, so we stop.

    Absurd isn’t it ? Nevertheless that’s what you propose. But problem : you’re obviously unable to say what B is. That is, you’re obviously unable to say at which moment fossil fuel use should decrease, and eventually vanish – you just expect it will decrease SPONTANEOUSLY at some moment. That means that nobody needs more fuel. That means that everybody is happy with his life. Maybe it’s conceivable in rich countries : but do you think it is reasonable at the world scale ? these poor bengalis, indian; african people,, you are concerned with, are you sure it wouldn’t help them to have a little bit more fuels? even to fight consequences of GW ? how do you build levees and solid houses to resist floods and hurricanes without fuels?

    So you’re in a fundamental contradiction . “Of course” nobody said that we should suppress entirely fossil fuels. But actually you advocate stopping them at some level that nobody knows – and there is obviously no way of controlling this level since nobody is able to tell where it is. And obviously the fact that your world is entirely imaginary is shown by the fact that developing countries are.. developing, using more and more fuels, and that nobody is able (and could justify) to prevent them to do so.

    Have you quantified the benefit corresponding fuels would produce?”

    Of course, at first approximation level : just draw a regression between CO2 produced per capita and GDP per capita, for instance. CO2 production per capita is a rather good proxy for wealth. (As you know it, proxies are not strictly related to the measured quantity, just correlated).

  13. 1763
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “For the same reason you can’t fly an airplane on batteries”

    And what is humanities’ total energy expenditure on commercial aircraft flight cf total energy use?

  14. 1764
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Of course, at first approximation level : just draw a regression between CO2 produced per capita and GDP per capita, for instance”

    Correlation is not causation.

  15. 1765
    Steve Fish says:

    RE- Comment by Gilles — 14 February 2010 @ 12:48 PM:

    I think you may have missed my point about my philosophy of life. All I was saying is that I think societies are capable of planning ahead to avoid future problems. In any case, your reply says that the problem is a slow decline instead of a catastrophe. I think your pessimism is that you don’t seem to think that planning and action now will not make any difference in the long term.

    In your response (15 February 2010 @ 2:44 AM) to CFU (Completely Fed Up — 14 February 2010 @ 4:08 PM) you seem to be saying that working on developing alternative energy and reducing fossil fuel use will deprive developing and poor nations of improving their quality of life. Done right, I think this strategy would improve their quality of life.

    Whether the decline is fast or slow, fossil fuels will become much scarcer and in the process become increasingly expensive, the oceans will continue to be degraded and this will result in less food, and agricultural production will be disturbed by even a small amount of warming and become less able to keep up. All of these problems will hurt developing and poor nations the most. When you add the fact that world population will peak at around nine billion in the latter part of this century, there will be many more people who will die of starvation and war, whether it be slow or fast.

    Your pessimism is that you think that it is all inevitable. Why don’t you make some suggestions about what path we all should take in order to optimize the future for our descendants? Instead, if you just enjoy poking people who are more concerned about this situation than you are, and engaging in argument, I don’t wish to participate.

    Steve

  16. 1766
    Georgi Marinov says:

    “And what is humanities’ total energy expenditure on commercial aircraft flight cf total energy use?”

    Did I say only airplanes are a problem??

  17. 1767
    Georgi Marinov says:

    All of these problems will hurt developing and poor nations the most. When you add the fact that world population will peak at around nine billion in the latter part of this century, there will be many more people who will die of starvation and war, whether it be slow or fast

    Actually the assumption is that population will peak at 9-10 billion because people in the Third world will become rich, as a result of that they will get educated, women will be “liberated”, religion will not have such a big influence on people’s lives and as a results women there will stop having 5 babies. Which is more or less what has been happening in the last three decades. However, the Third world will never become rich because at this point there aren’t even enough resources left for the West to continue to be rich, let alone lifting the Third world from subsistence farming to Western lifestyle.

    So I don’t really see fertility going down as predicted in a lot of those regions, however this doesn’t mean that we will necessarily reach 9 billion, the die off might start before that. It is really impossible to predict.

    What is certain is that the last thing to happen is people voluntarily reducing the number of kids they have due to some kind of realization that we’re in overshoot. I was reading an article about the drought in Kenya and how people respond to it – the common reaction among the locals was “This must be the act of God, man can’t change the weather”. Try explaining the limits to Growth to poor illiterate superstitious people (which BTW describes the majority of people in the west too, without the “poor” part) – it’s impossible… And this will make for an even grimmer future, unfortunately.

  18. 1768
    Ray Ladbury says:

    stevenc, you are making the same mistake Schwartz did–assuming we are close to equilibrium. Given the slow but nonzero mixing to medium depths of the ocean, that is likely not a good assumption.

    Given that Schwart’s lower limit conflicts with every other estimate of climate sensitivity while his upper limit is roughly consistent with the best fit for a dozen other independent lines of evidence, which do you think is more likely?

  19. 1769
    Walter MannyWe says:

    Gavin,

    “You guys”? “Global cooling”? “Grow up”? Heavens!

    Just me, I’m afraid (and I have never claimed any cooling) wondering when RC will address Jones’ latest interview, parts of which are certainly at odds with prevailing sentiments here. Very touchy on your part, I think, and I guess you will not be posting on the subject. Or this post either, perhaps.

  20. 1770
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Walter MannyWe says: 15 February 2010 at 3:09 PM

    Somebody said something ambiguous! A big PR coup! We celebrate our Lack of Serious Purpose by dancing in the end zone!

    Bankruptcy is never pretty.

  21. 1771
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Just me, I’m afraid wondering when RC will address Jones’ latest interview, parts of which are certainly at odds with prevailing sentiments here.”

    You mean the statements you’ve decided he made, based on a reading that you prefer to put into his mouth.

    How unsurprising.

  22. 1772
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “1766
    Georgi Marinov says:
    15 February 2010 at 12:34 PM
    Did I say only airplanes are a problem??”

    Uh, is this a trick question?

    “1761
    Georgi Marinov says:
    15 February 2010 at 12:50 AM

    For the same reason you can’t fly an airplane on batteries”

    Yes.

    Yes, you did say that.

  23. 1773
    Septic Matthew says:

    Here is another way to make fuel from CO2 and sunlight:

    http://cleantechnica.com/2010/02/15/one-giant-step-closer-to-fuel-from-sunlight-by-joule-biotechnologies/

    Note the use of brackish water.

  24. 1774
    stevenc says:

    “stevenc, you are making the same mistake Schwartz did–assuming we are close to equilibrium”

    I can only assume we are close to equilibrium if the surface layer of the ocean isn’t warming. Natural variation could obscure some warming potential but how much could it obscure and then you have to ask can it amplify to the same amount. Perhaps the mixing of layers is more important then some believe. We have no way to accurately measure the ocean heat at depth. Attribution of sea level rise has many issues of its own. I suggest only time will tell who is closest to the actual climate sensitivity. Preferably soon so we will know without doubt what we should be doing.

  25. 1775
    Georgi Marinov says:

    “Note the use of brackish water.”

    Also note the 120 million barrels of oil a day demand in 2030 projected by IEA and the “25,000 gallons of ethanol per acre yearly” figure quoted in the article

  26. 1776
    David B. Benson says:

    stevenc (1774) — We already know what we should be doing and some few are taking steps in proper directions.

  27. 1777
    Septic Matthew says:

    1775, Georgi Marinov: Also note the 120 million barrels of oil a day demand in 2030 projected by IEA and the “25,000 gallons of ethanol per acre yearly” figure quoted in the article

    Fair enough. It will take a long time and much effort before that method replaces a large fraction of the fuel now used. But the land and water necessary are available, and all the nutrients can be recycled, three issues that you raised up above. It would require about 110 million acres in the close (within a few hundred miles) vicinity of shorelines to do it. It would be like a large scale Imperial Valley, or many large scale Imperial Valleys all over the world.

  28. 1778
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “I can only assume we are close to equilibrium if the surface layer of the ocean isn’t warming.”

    So why do you assume we’re close to equilibrium?

  29. 1779
    Georgi Marinov says:

    1777 Septic Matthew:

    You still don’t get it – if you can’t provide an adequate replacement on time, civilization collapses; once the food riots began and order breaks down, it’s game over. This means that it does not matter what the potential is (and it’s nowhere near as large as you think it is because there many limiting factors you are not considering), what matters in the short run is whether you can do it in the next 10 to 20 years, and the answer is invariably no

    Even if we assume that you can somehow fix it in the short run (which you can’t but let’s assume it for the sake of the argument), what matters in the long run is can you change the culture of growth, because inevitably, if you keep growing, at some point you hit even the limits of what is possible in theory, only you have a much bigger problem at this point. So if you can’t change the culture of growth, it doesn’t really matter how much technology you implemented, paradoxically it actually hurts because every time you escape collapse through technology the illusion that you can keep doing it forever grows only stronger in people’s minds, and this makes the eventual collapse only more certain.

  30. 1780
    Walter Manny says:

    “I guess you will not be posting on the subject.”

    Thanks for posting on the subject!

  31. 1781
    Completely Fed Up says:

    GM: First para: fine.

    Second para: speculation.

  32. 1782
    Septic Matthew says:

    1779, Georgi Marinov, the only thing you have established is that the earth is not infinite. What we can do in the next 100 years is not limited by what we know now. What we can do in the next 5-10 years is increase non-hydro renewable energy supplies by a factor of 30, using technology that we already have, and what we can do in the next 50 years is reduce CO2 output at least 80% using technologies already known. Civilization collapse has occurred more often from a lack of technological innovation than from a continued technological development.

    Reread “The Limits to Growth” and “The Population Bomb”. What they said could not be done has already been done, and the disasters that they predicted were averted because of new technological development.

  33. 1783
    Completely Fed Up says:

    1780:

    ?

    cf 1770, 1771.

    None so blind as will not see.

  34. 1784

    GM: That the other limits include such things as the availability of concentrated energy in the form of fossil fuels and uranium

    BPL: Why does it have to be “concentrated?” Exactly?”

    GM: For the same reason you can’t fly an airplane on batteries

    BPL: Can you fly it on biodiesel? Sugar cane ethanol? Hydrogen? You know the V-2 was fueled by ethanol and oxygen, don’t you? For that matter, trains and cars and trucks can be electric, and the trains can get their power right off the rail.

  35. 1785

    GM: Also note the 120 million barrels of oil a day demand in 2030 projected by IEA and the “25,000 gallons of ethanol per acre yearly” figure quoted in the article.

    BPL: And you think this is a problem?????

    1 barrel = 42 gallons. So you get 595 gallons per acre per year. If demand is 120 million, you need 201,681 acres. There are 640 acres to a square mile, so you need 315 square miles.

    That’s a plot 18 miles long and 18 miles wide. Are you under the impression that that much agricultural land isn’t available? I mean, we know it’s decreasing due to drought, but that fast?

  36. 1786
    Septic Matthew says:

    1785, BPL

    I think you forgot to relate “barrels per day” to “barrels per year”. But there is indeed lots of unused arid land along the seacoasts, or nearby.

  37. 1787
    Didactylos says:

    BPL:

    Your numbers look very wrong.

    I tried it myself, using the most generous assumptions I could. Sugarcane bioethanol gives a yield of 1881 US gallons per acre per year. (That’s over three times the figure you used.)

    120 million oil barrels per day for a year is 1.84e12 US gallons.

    Divide one by the other and convert to square miles, and you get:
    1,529,124 square miles.

    Your answer is off by many orders of magnitude. Now, this figure may be achievable, but clearly it isn’t the simple exercise you paint it as.

    For the record (in the original units):
    ((120 million (oil barrels per day)) * (1 year)) / (17,600 (l / hectare)) = 3,959,241.08 square kilometers

    For comparison: the area of Brazil is 8,514,877 square kilometers.

    BPL: I see that in addition to your “per year” mistake, you said “gallons” instead of “oil barrels” when calculating your yield, leading me to the belief that you had lowballed it. However, you actually used the 25,000 gallon figure, which is not a real number; it exists purely in a press release for a completely untried process. In reality, Brazil’s yield is the best in the world, and other countries haven’t even come close. In that respect, my 1881 gallon figure is probably also an overestimate of what is actually possible. Cellulosic technology may improve this, but probably not by the amount you claim.

  38. 1788
    Septic Matthew says:

    1787, Didactylos: In reality, Brazil’s yield is the best in the world, and other countries haven’t even come close.

    True, but you are comparing a system that had 20+ years of development (govt subsidized) to a system that is new. The history of crop and animal breeding suggests that it is not unreasonable to expect a multiple-fold increase in yield over the next 5 years, especially considering how rapidly bacteria multiply (and remembering the rates at which bacteria acquire immunity to antibiotics.)

    Using a bunch of roundoffs, I came up with an upper bound area of about 200,000 square miles, double the area of Nevada, which in turn is less than the amount of land now irrigated. Seawater and arid/semiarid land are both plentiful, and the nutrient cycle is closed. This is not an impossible dream.

  39. 1789
    Rod B says:

    Septic Matthew (1786), though that arid seacoast land is not much good for growing ethanol’s mommy –- corn.

  40. 1790
    Septic Matthew says:

    1789, Rod B: that arid seacoast land is not much good for growing ethanol’s mommy –- corn.

    This was about producing ethanol from bacteria growing in brackish water, and had nothing to do with corn other than the complete exclusion of corn as a feedstock.

  41. 1791
    Didactylos says:

    Cellulosic technology does raise the possibility that land area will no longer be the limiting factor. My main problem with using this in future forecasts is that currently it is entirely vapourware. The technology isn’t ready to be used at any large scale, and I can’t find hard numbers on the cellulosic technologies that do exist.

    I think the factor that you (septic and BPL both) haven’t appreciated is that low quality sources such as Miscanthus or switchgrass can’t have all that much energy squeezed out of them even using cellulosic technology.

    Wikipedia concludes that Miscanthus can produce 7300 l/hectare and switchgrass 3100–7600 l/hectare – and this is hypothetical output using some future cellulosic technology!

    These numbers (and 6800–8000 l/hectare for sugarcane) are lower than the figures that I used in my earlier post (17,600 l / hectare) and way, way lower than the propaganda figure you used of 233,848 l / hectare (25000 gallons/acre).

    If you can provide hard numbers for future yield, I would be very interested.

  42. 1792
    Georgi Marinov says:

    “The history of crop and animal breeding suggests that it is not unreasonable to expect a multiple-fold increase in yield over the next 5 years”

    In fact, when it comes to biological systems, it is very reasonable to expect hard limits to productivity to hit very soon. It is not that complicated – there is only as much sun light that illuminates the surface and photosynthesis is very inefficient (that damn RuBisCO enzyme, you know, and it’s not the only reason). Add to that the nutrient cycle problem

    So it is completely delusional to think that you will ever get to figures you are dreaming about, sugarcane in Brazil is as good as it will ever get, and this is because Brazil has the best conditions for that in the world (the EROEI of sugarcane in Louisiana barely breaks even, for example)

    And as I will not get tired of repeating – unless you can do it in 10 or 20 years it won’t make any difference, even if it had the potential, and in this case you most definitely can’t because we’re talking about a not even completely developed technologies

    As I said before, the technooptimists are just as bad as the denialists. Our predicament isn’t a problem of technology, it is a problem of understanding our place in the world. You aren’t going to fix that through more technology, you will only make it worse

  43. 1793
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “1792
    Georgi Marinov says:
    18 February 2010 at 3:11 AM

    “The history of crop and animal breeding suggests that it is not unreasonable to expect a multiple-fold increase in yield over the next 5 years”

    In fact, when it comes to biological systems, it is very reasonable to expect hard limits to productivity to hit very soon.”

    However, modern farming is rather inefficient. See, for example, the corn farmers of Iowa.

    Inefficient in water, time and energy.

    Water shortages could be reversed for some time by abandoning corn production in many states.

    Then, too, there’s the whole meat thing. Being an anti-vegetarian, I’m not in favour of the idea, but it IS true that meat production is OTT and inefficient. Animals are a great way to turn unworkable land into human food. It even collects itself. And 10% efficiency on animal production is better than 0% vegetable production.

  44. 1794
    Georgi Marinov says:

    “However, modern farming is rather inefficient. See, for example, the corn farmers of Iowa.

    Inefficient in water, time and energy.

    Water shortages could be reversed for some time by abandoning corn production in many states.

    Then, too, there’s the whole meat thing. Being an anti-vegetarian, I’m not in favour of the idea, but it IS true that meat production is OTT and inefficient. Animals are a great way to turn unworkable land into human food. It even collects itself. And 10% efficiency on animal production is better than 0% vegetable production.”

    We weren’t talking about meat, we were talking about biofuels. Do not switch topics

    Regarding food: that agriculture is inefficient is probably true, but it doesn’t meat that there is much room for improvement against the background of peak oil, because right now we are using soil to turn oil, natural gas, phosphate rocks and fossil aquifers into food through soil. Which means that agriculture is completely doomed everywhere where it depends on fossil aquifers (and this is a lot of agriculture) and it will not be able to produce as much as it is right now in most other places. We maybe producing enough food for 11 billion people right now and wasting half of it, but it doesn’t mean that we will be able to produce enough food for even 2 without the fossil fuels and with the increasingly degraded soils we will have in the future. Get real

  45. 1795
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “We weren’t talking about meat, we were talking about biofuels. Do not switch topics”

    We were talking about inefficiencies and how there wasn’t enough land or resources to create biofuels, therefore you discard them utterly.

    It is on the topic.

  46. 1796
    Georgi Marinov says:

    There are inefficiencies in the way we are converting fossil energy, water and nutrients into food. This does not mean that you can drastically increase food production (or biomass in general), it just mean that you are using more inputs than necessary. It doesn’t mean that you can’t increase production per unit area, but it will never be by enough to satisfy demand if demand grows exponentially. Malthus wasn’t wrong about that, despite what your favorite economics professor tells you, it is mathematically impossible not to be right in this case.

  47. 1797
    Didactylos says:

    Georgi Marinov is correct that energy sources do have finite limits. However, I think my results using more reasonable figures (what we can achieve today) demonstrates that, although the required land area is very large, it is also possible to do, and most importantly it is worth doing. If our calculations had shown that we needed more land than exists on earth, then we would have had to do some serious rethinking.

    One important result is that we need all renewables (and nuclear) if we are going to reach our goals. We can’t do it with biofuels alone, any more than we can do it with wind alone. This is when the discussion really begins to bite: when we start considering how to replace petrol with renewables, and we discover that we can’t produce enough biofuel to replace it like for like, and we have to consider electric vehicles, and we have to modify our numbers for what we need from wind and so on…..

    Suddenly the approach taken by David MacKay makes considerable sense. We need to factor much higher than present electricity generation capacity into our future renewables plans.

  48. 1798
    Rod B says:

    Septic Matthew, never mind! :-)

  49. 1799
    Septic Matthew says:

    1798, Rod B

    Good advice. See ya around, probably on another thread.

  50. 1800
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “1796
    Georgi Marinov says:
    18 February 2010 at 2:07 PM

    There are inefficiencies in the way we are converting fossil energy, water and nutrients into food.”

    Another one who wishes to broadcast a blinding flash of the obvious.

    Yeah.

    And.


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