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Climate Change Commitment II

Filed under: — gavin @ 2 June 2010 - (Español)

A couple of months ago, we discussed a short paper by Matthews and Weaver on the ‘climate change commitment’ – how much change are we going to see purely because of previous emissions. In my write up, I contrasted the results in M&W (assuming zero CO2 emissions from now on) with a constant concentration scenario (roughly equivalent to an immediate cut of 70% in CO2 emissions), however, as a few people pointed out in the comments, this exclusive focus on CO2 is a little artificial.


I have elsewhere been a big advocate of paying attention to the multi-faceted nature of the anthropogenic emissions (including aerosols and radiatively and chemically active short-lived species), both because that gives a more useful assessment of what it is that we are doing that drives climate change, and also because it is vital information for judging the effectiveness of any proposed policy for a suite of public issues (climate, air pollution, public health etc.). Thus, I shouldn’t have neglected to include these other factors in discussions of the climate change commitment.

Luckily, some estimates do exist in the literature of what happens if we ceased all human emissions of climatically important factors. One such estimate is from Hare and Meinshausen (2006), whose results are illustrated here:

The curve (1) is the result for zero emissions of all of the anthropogenic inputs (in this case, CO2, CH4, N2O, CFCs, SO2, CO, VOCs and NOx). The conclusion is that, in the absence of any human emissions, the expectation would be for quite a sharp warming with elevated temperatures lasting almost until 2050. The reason is that the reflective aerosols (sulphates) decrease in abundance very quickly and so their cooling effect is removed faster than the warming impact of the well-mixed GHGs disappears.

This calculation is done with a somewhat simplified model, and so it might be a little different with a more state-of-the-art ESM (for instance, including more aerosol species like black carbon and a more complete interaction between the chemistry and aerosol species), but the basic result is likely to be robust.

Obviously, this is not a realistic scenario for anything that could really happen, but it does illustrate a couple of points that are relevant for policy. Firstly, the full emissions profile of any particular activity or sector needs to be considered – exclusively focusing on CO2 might give a misleading picture of the climate impact. Secondly, timescales are important. The shorter the time horizon, the larger the impact of short-lived species (aerosols, ozone, etc.). However, the short-lived species provide both warming and cooling effects and the balance between them will vary depending on the activity. Good initial targets for policy measures to reduce emissions might therefore be those where both the short and long-lived components increase warming.


727 Responses to “Climate Change Commitment II”

  1. 151
    Ike Solem says:

    ScienceDaily (May 18, 2010) — The combined global land and ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for both April and for the period from January-April, according to NOAA. Additionally, last month’s average ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for any April, and the global land surface temperature was the third warmest on record.

    Does this match other trends related to temperature?

    NASA satellite image reveals record low snow for the United StatesAccording to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, snow cover retreated to the lowest extent ever recorded in North America by the end of this April. Snow cover was 2.2 million square kilometers below average. With records of snow extent beginning in 1967, this is the lowest in 43 years and the largest negative anomaly in the past 521 months.

    This is a post-El Nino year, and it has also been a fairly cool northern winter, so blaming this on a lingering ENSO effect seems difficult.

    The warm anomalies in the Atlantic are holding steady and increasing a bit, even as the tropical equatorial Pacific remains at neutral conditions for this time of year:

    http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/tafb/atl_anom.gif
    http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/sst_weekly.gif

    Regardless of the record heat, it’s still hard to predict what the next year will bring in the way of climate – a La Nina? Heat waves and drought, or flooding and storms? For example, China bucked the global trend and had one of the coolest and wettest Aprils on record:

    China had its wettest April since 1974 and Tibet had its wettest April since records began in 1951. Meanwhile, Germany had its second-driest April on record since 1901, behind 2007, according to the German Meteorological Service.

    March 2010 was also the warmest March on record. Arctic sea ice reached its maximal extent Mar 31 and is now turning back towards the melt phase, with the 5th-smallest areal extent since records began in 1979. Current average thickness? I don’t know.

    Over the longer term, you’ve got the improved record over upper ocean temperatures, which indicate steady heat storage:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/05/ocean-heat-content-increases-update/

    This anomalous warmth is due mainly to human combustion of fossil fuels for energy, which has increased CO2 and methane in the global atmosphere, thus acting as a radiation blanket and warming the surface – that’s well established physical theory. The magnitude of the response is moderated by the oceans and ice caps, which absorb a great deal of the resulting excess surface heat – but the primary overall issue is going to be the composition of the atmosphere over the next 100 years – and the main variable there is human behavior.

  2. 152
    Edward Greisch says:

    127 Benjamin: Global Warming DID NOT improve agricultural output between 1948 and 2003. Agricultural technology did.
    Thank you, Susan Anderson and the other people who answered Benjamin. I stick by what I said.
    Benjamin is a good representative of average intelligence, maybe more verbal than average. I would agree with 146 Jim Eager except that all registered voters are allowed to vote and run for election to the Senate. Being completely out of touch with physical reality is a common condition.

    So what to do? Write to rich people and foundations who are not owners of fossil fuel stock and ask for money to set up an advertising fund for RC? Or just try to communicate with senators by email? Senator Reed has a voice mail that supposedly goes directly to the senator. Other ideas please.

  3. 153
    Edward Greisch says:

    147 Richard Steckis: I would like to see you breed a corn plant that can survive being washed away in a flood while still a seed. Or a corn plant that can grow in a desert and achieve in a single year what corn has always done.

  4. 154
    John Pollack says:

    Neil @108 and Doug @121 I’d love to see a study documenting surface dew point changes in the continental U.S. Here in the corn belt, extreme summer dew points also seem to be rising. While still (thankfully) uncommon, we’re seeing a lot more 80F and above dew points than in the “old days” before 1980.

    The worst of the lot was the 1995 heat wave that killed all those people in Chicago. Dew points climbed as high as 86F (30C) in eastern Iowa, combined with highs around 100F. That’s worse than most of the tropics, where dew points tend to be limited by vertical instability. If the dew points get too high, a little vertical mixing gives you a thunderstorm.

    The only way to get over 80F dew points even for a few days is to have a subsidence inversion, with hot air aloft providing a cap to vertical mixing. If the ground is moist, evaporated water will be trapped in the lowest layers of the atmosphere, and the dew point will soar. In the U.S., the hot air aloft usually originates in the Southwest, and moves into the eastern parts of the country, where more moisture is available.

    In order to get prevailing dew points in the tropics to rise (on a large scale), temperatures in the middle troposphere would also have to rise.
    This should occur more or less in tandem with rising sea surface temperatures. I wouldn’t expect to see dew points rise by 6C unless the ocean temperatures do, too.

  5. 155

    Hmmm… just noticed I posted this in the wrong thread:

    Speaking of climate change commitment . . .

    http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/images/daily_images/N_stddev_timeseries.png

    Will 2007 still be considered an anomaly by September?


    A Climate Minute The Greenhouse EffectHistory of Climate ScienceArctic Ice Melt

    ‘Fee & Dividend’ Our best chance for a better future – climatelobby.com
    Learn the Issue & Sign the Petition

  6. 156
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Doug Bostrom says: 4 June 2010 at 10:47 PM

    OT FYI, Accuweather Climate Blog linked from RC “Other Opinions” list has moved

    And have I remembered to say Thank You recently? I think not.

  7. 157
    Susan Anderson says:

    The more important point I was trying to air and understand is the broad and deep array of likely consequences of our heedless acceleration of consumption and expansion with subsequent toxic consequences. A couple of those least stated are the species alteration aspects – in the animal/insect world and fauna on the one hand, and in the human world with socioeconomic conflict. All this talk about climate change and GDP is a proxy, IMNHSO, for the undoubted fact that desperate people – especially those with children – don’t have time to worry about your highfalutin’ arguments – they will continue to desertify Africa and crowd lowlands (Bangladesh) and that stuff that looks like genocide will continue as long as teenagers (mentally) can get guns or other weapons, and social support from their “peers”.

    I was a little surprised at myself for not anticipating the recent spate of water supply events in unexpected places – my home being Boston, the MWRA (water resources auth) overflowed in one storm, and of course aging infrastructure is a symptom of the same neglectful problem. I don’t think we all realize how close the cessation of clean water supplies is to each and every one of us.

    I think a lot about the way adaptation actually plays out, with the ultimate survival of insects and other simply predatory types (skates seem a good example – giant squid? – jellyfish both victim and winner?). We have a tendency to think God is made in our image and has a personality, but my experience of things that are bigger than I am is that they are not emotionally involved in helping me survive – in other words, the planet and atmosphere really don’t care about me and thee.

    For god’s sake, any doubters out there, get a grip before it’s too late!

  8. 158
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “You couldn’t be further from the truth.”

    This could not be further from the truth.

    Are you saying, RS, that farming practices in the Ur valley was driven by plant breeding and not by the inherent fertility of the plains?

    There was a whole bushel load of truth in the statement Ed made.

    “Through plant breeding we can modify crop varieties to become more tolerant of climatic changes.”

    Are you saying that plant breeding can change crops drastically over a 20 year period?

    How do you know that plant breeding will be successful? After all, there’s been marginal land for food production and calls for more food production for decades, yet these plant breeding processes don’t seem to have solved the problem there.

    Where do you get your faith in the healing power of plant breeding?

  9. 159
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Frank Giger, Agreed. Lots of speculation. No Consensus.

    However, the correlation is beyond dispute. And I think it is important that people be aware of it to counter the prejudice that many Americans (who have never been south of Disneyworld) have that warmer = more fertile. No, food does not drop from trees into the waiting mouths of lazing natives.

    There are lots of reasons why life is more difficult in the tropics. Since you never have a hard freeze, you never get rid of pests and weeds, even temporarily. Nasty diseases (malaria and bilharzia) are virtually impossible to eradicate. Infrastructure is more difficult to maintian–roads wash away and electronics fails in the heat and humidity.

    Hell, I remember when I was teaching in Africa and tried to do a demo with a van deGraaf generator. The damn thing wouldn’t charge above a few thousand volts! You just kept hearing “snap, snap, snap, snap” as the humid air broke down and leached away the charge.

    Everything was difficult in Africa, and it did not all have to do with absence of infrastructure or poor governance. This is why I caution folks not to confuse fetid with fertile.

  10. 160
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Steckis says, “You couldn’t be further from the truth. Have you not heard of plant breeding? Through plant breeding we can modify crop varieties to become more tolerant of climatic changes.”

    Great, we just wave a magic wand and suddenly we have a magic crop and we can grow rice in Nebraska and winter wheat in the Congo. Oh, gee, it didn’t work.

    There are limits to what we can accomplish with breeding or even genetic modification. Plants still require water at the right times and nutrients–and many very important crops remain very sensitive to the temperature range over their life cycle. And then there are the weeds, which exhibit much less sensitivity to temperature. Dude, maybe if you learned how technology worked, it would look less like magic.

  11. 161
    Didactylos says:

    Richard Steckis said “Through plant breeding we can modify crop varieties to become more tolerant of climatic changes.”

    Typical delayer nonsense. “We can rely on technology!” “We can do what we like!”

    Why is this nonsense? Scientists are already doing their level best to modify crop varieties to suit local conditions, and feed the world. And it is an uphill battle.

    Which parts of the world get hurt most? Those already at the extremes of liveability, of course. Those countries with the least resources for researching new crop varieties, or for massive changes to planting regimes.

    Don’t make the mistake of believing that the ability to grow is enough – as so many deniers enjoy saying, in a high CO2 world, plants grow faster and bigger. What they forget to say is that water, nutrients and temperature are limiting factors, and even in places where all the requirements are met, nutritional content goes down even as yields increase. We can all starve to death even as the deserts green. That’s a nice thought, isn’t it? And yet more evidence that these problems are complex and multi-dimensional, and can’t be solved with glib remarks and faith in technology that does not yet exist.

  12. 162
    Didactylos says:

    CFU said: “Are you saying that plant breeding can change crops drastically over a 20 year period?”

    Less. Don’t dismiss everything your opponents say just because they are on the “other side”. It makes it very easy to destroy your well-meaning arguments if you don’t do the research and make important mistakes.

    Don’t be an easy target. Think more, write less.

    Read about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug – it’s interesting and valuable stuff.

  13. 163
    ccpo says:

    Gilles says, “The only sustainable growth rate is ZERO.”

    This is simply, completely, 100% flat-assed WRONG!

    No, it’s not. Not in a resource-constrained reality. And every reality is resource constrained. There are sustainable societies, and not just on Pacific Islands. How else do you all think those indigenous societies have existed in areas such as the Amazon and Australia?

    I cannot find the link, but there was an excellent example of such a society in the Amazon. As someone else stated above, these typically are well-organized societies that live in a large area, typically have little sense of private ownership, and do practice population control in the forms of infanticide of unhealthy newborns, elderly being either voluntarily or involuntarily sent out, and use natural birth control and/or have strong controls on the use of sexuality.

    Note all this is mutually agreed rather than imposed.

    Sustainability has been achieved by several societies, and their society progresses. In a sustainable society, the growth rate is limited by the rate of technological advance rather than inceased exploitation.

    *That* is utterly incorrect. Growth is constrained by resources above all else, as well as being the primary source of growth.

    http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/images/2008/energy_sector_investing_13_1_08_image002.jpg

    Tainter, Catton, et al., have show increased complexity, in fact, almost always exacerbates collapse rather than preventing it. Societies that successfully step back from collapse, or have orderly collapse, if you prefer, go through orderly reductions in complexity.

    Maya? Water. Angkor Wat? Water. Rome? Multiple, including silver (flooded mines in Spain), food (soil depletion) and simple lack of enough army… because they simply couldn’t support any more… etc.

    Tech without energy equals childrens’ toys.

    Also, did you notice he said “growth” and you said “development?” Two very different apples and potatoes.

    Dude, do you ever get tired of being so ignorant?

    Comment by Ray Ladbury — 4 June 2010 @ 4:38 AM

    Ironic, since we almost always are on the same page, but this time it’s your turn, Ray.

    Cheers

  14. 164
    Septic Matthew says:

    159, Ray Ladbury: Great, we just wave a magic wand and suddenly we have a magic crop and we can grow rice in Nebraska and winter wheat in the Congo. Oh, gee, it didn’t work.

    Isn’t that what you call a straw man argument? I think the claim is that you can improve the varieties of potatoes grown in Idaho and the Andes, and the varieties of manioc grown in the tropics. Kind of like they did to develop lodge-resistant rice, for China and the Philippines, but not for Nebraska.

    It isn’t a magic wand, it’s crop breeding, which has a long record of success.

  15. 165
    Septic Matthew says:

    157, Completely Fed Up: Where do you get your faith in the healing power of plant breeding?

    The “faith”, if that is the right word, comes from a long history of successful development. This contrasts with the complete lack of a long history of interventions to reduce CO2, such interventions being the necessary means to separate mere concommittance from causality. We could conceivably spend $100 trillion over a long period of time and have no effect on CO2 accumulation — unlikely I’d judge now, but not ruled out completely on present evidence. But we know that crop breeding works because it always has worked.

    So which is really the better bet, proven techniques or untried techniques?

  16. 166
    ccpo says:

    As for all the rest. The 2nd or 3rd, I believe the 2nd, largest carbon sink is soil. While modern farming techniques degrade soil, organic techniques, both old and new, build carbon into the soil. This is enhanced if all waste is turned into an input either as mulch, compost or some other function that helps create a self-regulating, sustainable system, and if soil is not tilled to disturb the soil and release carbon – as well as keeping the biota community intact so the soil remains optimally set to manage all inputs into it.

    By converting all existing farmland to not only organic, but sustainably organic, methods, we can sequester enormous amounts of carbon. If then also expand farmland, all the more so. If we take sustainable organic methods to the Nth degree to all human use of planting – golf courses, ornamental, etc., all the more so. The numbers, which I cannot remember at the moment, are huge and take a huge step towards bringing carbon emissions down and/or offsetting them.

    Re: Steady-state/vs. growth. Jeavon’s paradox, Receding Horizons and Liebig’s Minimum all come into play.

    Jeavon’s says, “In economics, the Jevons paradox (sometimes called the Jevons effect) is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource. It is historically called the Jevons Paradox as it ran counter to popular intuition. However, the situation is well understood in modern economics. In addition to reducing the amount needed for a given use, improved efficiency lowers the relative cost of using a resource – which increases demand and speeds economic growth, further expanding resource use.” (From Wiki.)

    The US improved efficiency by 33% between ’79 and recent years. What happened to energy consumption? This obviously brings us to the population issue, which is so obvious I won’t even go there.

    Receding horizons? Oil. As oil becomes harder to get and more expensive to get both ROI and EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) fall, meaning they become more expensive in terms of energy and economic cost. EROEI on oil was 100/1 a hundred years ago. It’s now, depending on whom you ask somewhere around 11:1. The super-positive folks say as much as 33:1. Still a massive drop, and dropping every day, particularly when you include true total costs in terms of environmental disasters (Alberta, GoM), opportunity cost (lag time to building out renewables, health effects, etc.), and climate changes.

    “Unconventional oil and gas that is difficult to access is more expensive to extract and process, meaning higher costs for oil companies that would likely lead to lower profit margins and/or higher consumer prices that could cut into future demand. Even Tillerson acknowledged that increased reliance on unconventional sources is the inescapable future of the industry”
    http://www.heatingoil.com/blog/exxon%E2%80%99s-oil-and-gas-production-plans-a-sign-of-industry%E2%80%99s-future-reliance-on-unconventional-sources0312/

    Liebig’s Minimum is really nothing more than the old weakest link concept. It’s “a principle developed in agricultural science by Carl Sprengel (1828) and later popularized by Justus von Liebig. It states that growth is controlled not by the total of resources available, but by the scarcest resource (limiting factor). This concept was originally applied to plant or crop growth, where it was found that increasing the amount of plentiful nutrients did not increase plant growth. Only by increasing the amount of the limiting nutrient (the one most scarce in relation to “need”) was the growth of a plant or crop improved.”
    (From wiki.)

    But that critical resources isn’t always obvious, and we are, due to over-consumption and population, coming up against a lot of resource constraints. One that looms is Phosphorus:

    “Estimates of deposits that are economically recoverable with current technology—known as reserves—are at 15,000 million metric tons. That is still enough to last about 90 years at current use rates. Consumption, however, is likely to grow as the population increases and as people in developing countries demand a higher standard of living. Increased meat consumption, in particular, is likely to put more pressure on the land, because animals eat more food than the food they become.

    Phosphorus reserves are also concentrated geographically. Just four countries—the U.S., China, South Africa and Morocco, together with its Western Sahara Territory—hold 83 percent of the world’s reserves and account for two thirds of annual production. Most U.S. phosphate comes from mines in Florida’s Bone Valley, a fossil deposit that formed in the Atlantic Ocean 12 million years ago. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the nation’s reserves amount to 1,200 million metric tons. The U.S. produces about 30 million metric tons of phosphate rock a year, which should last 40 years, assuming today’s rate of production.” http://rs.resalliance.org/2009/06/03/limits-to-phosphorus/

    But, as Bill Mollison, Permaculture guru, likes to say, “The problem is the solution.” Phosphorus being a a mineral, if we simply keep in in place, no problem. Doing that is simple: create regenerative, sustainable systems. If the phosphorus doesn’t the land it comes from, it will not deplete. This is why food should be as locally grown as possible, and why food production “wastes” should be handled in a closed system, i.e., returned to the soil from whence they came. Also a big reason why, in the past, especially, humanure was a vital part of agricultural processes and should be again. Close the loops.

    Cheers

  17. 167
    Doug Bostrom says:

    John Pollack says: 4 June 2010 at 11:19 PM

    Interesting and thank you. I was intrigued by the item at SkS because it represents the equivalent of the red line on an engine temperature gauge or the like.

    What concerns me is that we’ll probably see an increasing number of bumps over that line, increasingly prolonged and I suppose gradually increasing in affected area. Over-extending the engine gauge analogy, a series of increasingly steep hills pushing the gauge toward and over the red line, more and more unacceptable.

  18. 168
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Ed (#151),
    You will have trouble finding many rich people who don’t have a stake in fossil fuels. But having a stake in fossil fuels does not prevent one from thinking straight. Rich people tend to have a stake in everything (including renewables) and look out for opportunities (real and imagined). You keep claiming most people are worthless because they don’t measure up to your standards in science and math but you really need an education in how society works.
    Senators don’t get elected based on what a tiny minority believe about climate science. I told you this already but senators from certain states are likely to continue look out for the interests of the coal industry for the forseeable future and there’s little you can do about it. Lincoln didn’t bother to stand in the South. There are other senators whose states would benefit from bleeding the coal industry dry with carbon taxes. Work on envy, vanity, hate and self-interest. Tell the senators’ base that coal money belongs in their pockets because they’re better than them evil polluters. Senators have a large base and you can’t do this alone.
    Climate science only concerns wonky brainiacs. But everyone understands winners and losers. What you need is a simple climate policy with a majority of winners and a minority of losers who can be demonized.

  19. 169
    Septic Matthew says:

    158, Ray Ladbury: However, the correlation is beyond dispute. And I think it is important that people be aware of it to counter the prejudice that many Americans (who have never been south of Disneyworld) have that warmer = more fertile. No, food does not drop from trees into the waiting mouths of lazing natives.

    Are you sure that it is beyond dispute? For a time, the richest societies in the Americas were in what is now Central America.

    There are lots of reasons why life is more difficult in the tropics. Since you never have a hard freeze, you never get rid of pests and weeds, even temporarily. Nasty diseases (malaria and bilharzia) are virtually impossible to eradicate. Infrastructure is more difficult to maintian–roads wash away and electronics fails in the heat and humidity.

    There’s tropics and there’s tropics. Lots of high techonology continues to work as well in Guyaquil as as in Quito and throughout Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and in Lagos and Khartoum (currently enjoying a Chinese-financed Renaissance), and (former) Clark Air Force base and Manilla. The Congo is poor because Mobutu stole all of the wealth, not because The Congo is or was incapable of developing wealth.

  20. 170
    Doug Bostrom says:

    Speaking of C02 commitments, see Willis Eschenbach undergoing scrutiny as a possible roader, rumblings of discontent as he debunks “skeptical” criticisms of Mauna Loa observations.

    <a href="http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/06/04/under-the-volcano-over-the-volcano/#more-20202&quot;

    Walking a fine line, dancing in a field of fickle followers.

    Hackles are raised:
    Are the four records you show genuinely independent and unadulterated, or have they been adjusted in any way?

    Some are suspicious of such tricks as “readings” and “computers”:
    My internal alarm goes off once I hear that it’s really ok becuase the scientists use readings [and probably algorithms and computers] to distinguish the volcanic CO2 from the atmospheric CO2 readings.

    Others take comfort in recitations:
    I remain very skeptical that global CO2 increases imperil the Earth. I remain skeptical that humans cause the major increase. I doubt that the human contribution will continue to accelerate (assuming it is significant) simply due to economically driven (not artificially by cap & trade economics) changes in energy sources over the next century.

    Many remain glued to “zero”:
    However, the Mauna Loa data shows seasonal CO2 variation. Why would that be so?

  21. 171
    Thomas says:

    ccpo@164, a really informatice comment.

    I’m not sure I follow the following:
    “By converting all existing farmland to not only organic, but sustainably organic, methods, we can sequester enormous amounts of carbon.”
    My understanding is that organic is less productive (yield per acre) than modern high input industrial farming. Do we have the option to do this? Or are we too far into population overshoot that a gentle landing is no longer possible?

    Of course recycling of waste matter is not all that easy to do in a manner that promotes public health. I think that was why the world was so eager to adopt the present system of waste management. Of course the clock is ticking (as you show), on how long we can continue until we are forced to close the loops.

  22. 172
    SecularAnimist says:

    Thomas wrote: “My understanding is that organic is less productive (yield per acre) than modern high input industrial farming.”

    That’s not correct. And in some studies organic agriculture is more productive than so-called “conventional” agriculture under adverse conditions, particularly drought, which is going to be an increasingly important factor.

    In any case, “modern high input industrial farming” is neither affordable or practical for the developing world, nor is it sustainable in the developed world.

  23. 173
    SecularAnimist says:

    Anonymous Coward wrote: “But having a stake in fossil fuels does not prevent one from thinking straight.”

    You think ExxonMobil’s one hundred million dollars in profit per day doesn’t influence the ability of that corporation’s executives to “think straight”?

    One characteristic of the “rich people” you mention is that many of them have a high tolerance for risk — indeed an appetite for risk. Especially risking other people’s money on risky ventures with potentially huge payoffs. And especially when they will get the payoff and other people will bear the risks.

    That’s what they think is “thinking straight”.

    They are thinking about the trillions of dollars in profit that they can reap from continued business-as-usual, growing, accelerating consumption of fossil fuels (until profitably recoverable reserves are exhausted).

    They are willing to risk a lot for that profit. I doubt they would hesitate to risk the inundation of Bangladesh and the deaths of millions of impoverished people there. I doubt they would hesitate to risk the extinction of dozens or hundreds of obscure species with no obvious economic value. I doubt they would hesitate to risk dramatic reductions in agricultural and fishery yields, leading to global famine, since there will still be food available for rich people. They are certainly willing to risk the melting of the Arctic, since it will open up new and potentially rich areas for oil drilling.

    Would they consider it “thinking straight” to knowingly, deliberately risk the collapse of the biosphere and the mass extinction of most life on Earth in a “green sky” event?

    Well, a reasonable person can look at the findings of mainstream climate science (e.g. the IPCC) and reasonably conclude — as many commenters here do — that the risk of something like that is small. And for the trillions of dollars in profit that several more decades of BAU fossil fuel use will bring, it may be a risk they are willing to take. To the bold goes the prize.

  24. 174
    Rod B says:

    Bob (Sphaerica), et al, I was merely checking: if higher temperatures hurt economies, wouldn’t it follow that lower temperatures enhance economies? Then why wouldn’t low-temperature Greenland be a booming place?

  25. 175
    Rod B says:

    CFU, accepting something doesn’t mean it’s worth anything…

  26. 176
    Rod B says:

    BPL: “No, just a consistent theoretical framework, professional journals, people working full-time on the issues in that field, a huge database of measurements, and a lively debate over legitimate theories–all of which were present in climate science by 1900 or so.”

    Nonsense. Up to beyond 1900 climate science (as specifically practiced by Arrhenius et al) was pretty much ignored, and often pooh-poohed, by the mainstream.

  27. 177
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Thomas (#168),
    Google “DOK trial”. The fall in productivity doesn’t look so bad. But generalities are a poor guide. More R&D is needed at a bioregional level. Some states and NGOs have long financed such. If you’ve got money to burn, you could do worse than supporting that kind of work in low-income countries.
    A realtively small shortfall could be compensated by feeding less grain to livestock or combustion engines and other changes in food processing and distribution but it would likely require extensive coordinated changes at a global level. It’s not clear how to bring that about. Again, we’ve got a political problem. The obvious alternative is chronic famines with all that’s entailed.
    That said, I’m skeptical of potential for sequestering “enormous amounts of carbon” (as compared with the amount emitted from fossil fuels) through agriculture without actively sequestering biomass on a grand scale.

  28. 178
    Rod B says:

    Ray, Bob, t_p_h, et al. I’ll let Benjamin make his own case. But I think he, like me, was responding to the assertion, “…a well known and irrefutable inverse correlation between higher temperature and wealth and economic growth” and the reference that put pretty exact numbers to it. The assertion did not include any ‘unless a bunch of other stuff happens’.

  29. 179
    Rod B says:

    ps, BTW I’m not saying increased temps will increase GDP or will not decrease GDP. Possibilities exist. Describing such scenarios is conjecture. Giving scenarios “irrefutable” exact numbers is silly if not preposterous — that’s what I’m fussing about.

  30. 180
    Gilles says:

    “Gilles says, “The only sustainable growth rate is ZERO.”

    This is simply, completely, 100% flat-assed WRONG! Sustainability has been achieved by several societies, and their society progresses. In a sustainable society, the growth rate is limited by the rate of technological advance rather than inceased exploitation. Dude, do you ever get tired of being so ignorant?”

    All societies are sustainable only under the condition that their lifetime does not exceed a reasonable number of doubling times i.e. inverse of the growth rate (more exactly 35 / t years for a growth rate of t%/yr .(Reasonable = much less than 10; since 2^10 is already a factor 1000 ) – All the societies you’re speaking about had a very slow growth rate (much less than 1%:year) and lasted only because it was low enough. Increasing the growth rate is strictly equivalent to reducing the doubling time , and strictly equivalent to reducing the life expectancy of the society. And sorry, but it is perfectly and mathematically RIGHT. There is no society that lasted more than a couple of doubling times, and if you ignore it, I don’t think you’re qualified to make relevant assertions about the future.

  31. 181

    I think–off the top of my head–that the problem with the suggestion that plant-breeding will negate the effects of warming on agriculture are two-fold. First, the global scope of the problem is apt to match up poorly with regionally diverse crops combined with the reality of multinational agriculture. Will Cargill or Dupont or whomever actually even try to develop more heat-tolerant manioc? Second, it won’t be just challenges to the crop species themselves–it will also be loss of accustomed pollinators, disruption of local ecosystems leading to novel pest problems, and similar “second-order” impacts. Plant breeding may help some, but intuition (FWIW) says it won’t “make it go away.”

  32. 182
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Secular (#170),
    Obviously the job of Exxon’s executives is to push the corporation’s interests. But the rich and corporate executives are different groups, although there is some overlap. And very few executives are Exxon executives.
    If we assume Exxon to be entierly US-owned, it’s worth about 0.5% of US wealth according to the Census. Even though this figure is a gross overestimate, it’s quite small. Because Exxon ownership isn’t well distributed, the “median rich” has a smaller stake still and there’s likely a lot of potential donors who have much smaller stakes. I doubt you’ll find many who have more money in renewables than in fossil fuels but you’ll probably find many who have a stake in Exxon mainly because it’s a “blue chip” and they want a hedge against inflation. These have other priorities than Exxon’s bottom-line.
    As a group, the rich have a lot more to fear from climate change mitigation policies than their potential impact on their fossil fuel holdings.

  33. 183

    173 (Rod B)

    You’re putting words into Benjamin’s mouth. He pretty clearly was saying that the IPCC report says that the GDP will grow wildly, so it must be true, and there’s nothing to worry about. That would be silly.

    For my part, I haven’t done the reading to see where any estimate of change in GDP (relative to temperature) might come from, and I don’t care. I was arguing with Benjamin purely based on the fallacy of his arguments, regardless of the truth or source of the 1.1%/1˚C projection. And if he’d come up with a valid argument, I would have sat back to see if it was properly refuted.

    But, of course, he didn’t.

    You are also, once again, putting words into people’s mouths by adding things that have never been said (like “irrefutable”). You do that a lot. Stop it.

    But… I will accept the statement that there’s little foundation to arrive at exact estimates for %-loss-GDP/˚C-temp-change. I’ll leave it to others to refute that.

    But you can’t argue that a major increase in global temperature would not result in economic loss and hardship, and human suffering. Saying we can’t put an exact number on it is just a distraction. The real issue stands: too great a change in the climate will cause severe economic loss, while reasonable mitigation efforts now would avoid such loss and reap other benefits.

  34. 184
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod, the correlation IS undeniable. It’s there. It’s data. You plot two sets of numbers as ordered pairs on a graph. You ask if one goes up as the other goes up. If so, they are correlated. If one goes down as the other goes up they are inversely correlated. Now you can dismiss any CAUSAL relationship. Fine. But what you cannot do is say the correlation is not there. And you certainly bloody well cannot say that a warmer world will be more productive. The data simply will not support that under any scenario. THAT is the point.

  35. 185
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Septic Matthew@163,
    The claim was that technology would save us–and it was made with zero support. I do not know of anyone who knows how to breed a potato that survives drought or flood or especially alternation thereof. If you ask the agronomists, they are among the most worried about climate change. I’ll take their opinion over Steckis’s unsubstantiated reassurances.

  36. 186
    Thomas says:

    Secular Animist & anonymous coward:
    My information is second hand at best. I was mainly thinking about US and Canada, where nearly all farmland has been industrially farmed intensively. Aren’t these field severely depleted of several key minerals/nutrients, but yields can be maintained by fertilizer? If that is the case then removal of the fertilizer input ought to lead to a significant yield reduction?

  37. 187
    Edward Greisch says:

    Borlaug did not actually help India. They kept their poverty and doubled their population. India is again on the edge and a collapse will be worse thanks to Borlaug.

    The rich will NOT survive the collapse of civilization. They will be the first to be hunted as dinner. The survivors, if any, are still living in the stone age somewhere very far away. The rich may be fooling themselves or they may be psychopaths and just not care. Corporations are definitely psychopaths.

    We are actually trying to SAVE Benjamin, in case anyone hadn’t noticed. Is Benjamin willing to save himself? If not, then what?

    166 Anonymous Coward: The losers are: Everybody. There are no winners if AGW continues because extinction means everybody. “Climate science only concerns wonky brainiacs.” is insane. Climate science concerns everybody. I have already listed the kill mechanisms in a previous comment on this post. This post is about “commitment,” which means that we have to solve the problem NOW. We can’t leave it to our grandchildren because Nature will yank it out of their hands and kill them.

    156 Susan Anderson: Yes, you should expect regional nuclear wars over water. India and Pakistan are already arguing over the flow of a river. China and Viet Nam are already arguing over the flow of the Mekong. All 4 of those countries and the nearby countries get their summer water from the same mountain glaciers and the Tibetan Plateau glaciers. Notice that China, India and Pakistan have nuclear arms and the entire region is already on the knife edge for food and water.
    Yes, you should expect billions of people to die of famine more-or-less all at once in this century, probably in your lifetime unless you are already 90.
    Mother Nature has no mercy. She has already killed 99% of all species that ever lived on this planet, and she has killed Mars and Venus. Humans are no exception. You should be very afraid indeed. I am terrified. Go back and find my list of kill mechanisms. It also has a list of references and books. Read them, starting with “Storms of My Grandchildren” by James Hansen.
    Hunger and thirst are only 2 of the killers. There are more.

  38. 188
    Richard Steckis says:

    152
    Edward Greisch says:
    4 June 2010 at 11:16 PM

    “147 Richard Steckis: I would like to see you breed a corn plant that can survive being washed away in a flood while still a seed. Or a corn plant that can grow in a desert and achieve in a single year what corn has always done.”

    [edit] The assumption that all crops will fail due to weather in a warmer climate is [edit] nonsense.

  39. 189
    Frank Giger says:

    “You will have trouble finding many rich people who don’t have a stake in fossil fuels.”

    Just about every 401K has a stake in fossil fuels. It’s not just “rich” folks.

  40. 190
    Richard Steckis says:

    159
    Ray Ladbury says:
    5 June 2010 at 7:17 AM

    “Great, we just wave a magic wand and suddenly we have a magic crop and we can grow rice in Nebraska and winter wheat in the Congo. Oh, gee, it didn’t work.”

    More irrational thinking [edit]

    [edit] it does not take 100 years or even 20 years for a new variety to be selected. Australia is a prime example of the success of plant breeding to produce prime wheat and other grains in a drier and warmer climate than the original from which the varieties were bred.

  41. 191
    Gilles says:

    178 :”Rod, the correlation IS undeniable. It’s there. It’s data. You plot two sets of numbers as ordered pairs on a graph. You ask if one goes up as the other goes up. If so, they are correlated. ”

    And following this method, the correlation of GDP with the energy consumption is much more prominent than any correlation with temperature, if you don’t restrict to poor countries but take all countries in the world.This correlation holds BOTH on the long term and on the detrended numbers.

    But of course you’re free to dismiss any CAUSAL relation, and think that it is much easier to invert the correlation with fossil fuel consumption than with temperature in the future (meaning that you think that the mankind doesn’t really require fossil fuel to sustain modern civilization, whereas it is totally unable to maintain if the average temperature of the globe is above ..eehm… some threshold, that you surely knows (I don’t) ).

    You’re free to think that, but you can’t find any evidence in the present facts that supports this idea. Only future facts will show if you’re right or wrong – the only thing is I wouldn’t hesitate personally to bet against you. If you think I’m a moron, you shouldn’t hesitate to accept the bet.

  42. 192
    Bill Woolverton says:

    Amusing discussion on the inverse correlation between temperature and GDP, which cannot be expected to hold outside of a limited range of temperatures for fairly obvious reasons, even if the relationship is not spurious. It would seem to me that this relationship has both economic (GDP is a flawed measure of economic health, and the relationship only seems to hold for poor countries, which may be arbitrarily defined) and climatological (temperature extremes are as important as means and there are other important climatological parameters) flaws. In any case as far as correlation goes, there are ways to measure it, as any statistician will tell you. It is not a question of whether or not there is a correlation, but how good the correlation is.
    I won’t get into correlation versus causation.

  43. 193
    Septic Matthew says:

    179, Ray Ladbury: The claim was that technology would save us–and it was made with zero support. I do not know of anyone who knows how to breed a potato that survives drought or flood or especially alternation thereof.

    No, a claim was made about a particular technology with a proven record of success. You do not know anybody who knew how to breed lodge-resistant rice either, so that is irrelevant. The goal will be accomplished by trial and error, random variation and natural (or human) selection, as always. And your rejoinder was to a totally exaggerated claim that had not been made. Or have you forgotten what you wrote: Great, we just wave a magic wand and suddenly we have a magic crop and we can grow rice in Nebraska and winter wheat in the Congo. Oh, gee, it didn’t work.

  44. 194
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “But the rich and corporate executives are different groups, although there is some overlap. And very few executives are Exxon executives.”

    However, when the Exxon executives are “moved on”, they will be replaced by other rich non-Exxon executives and the current Exxon executives are rich and will find themselves as C*O’s of other non-Exxon corporations.

    Therefore if the rich rock the boat then they will find themselves unable to move into another company executive job.

    So the difference is minuscule.

  45. 195
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “CFU said: “Are you saying that plant breeding can change crops drastically over a 20 year period?”

    Less. Don’t dismiss everything your opponents say just because they are on the “other side””

    CFU says: Bollocks.

    Genetic engineering is not plant breeding. 20 years is nowhere near enough to get a different breed of potato.

    Don’t go accepting dumb ideas just because you like them.

  46. 196
    Bill says:

    What you cannot do is make sweeping generalisations as is being attempted on here. Some warming in some regions will be productive, while in others it will be counterproductive. Also, we cannot underestimate the pace of change of human innovation; look at advances in the last 30 years even, and this will only accelerate..less negativity and more foreward thinking needed,

  47. 197
    Completely Fed Up says:

    Bill, the productive changes only occur on balance. However, that has a limit.

    Thawing out the Siberian Tundra will not open up new land for farming because the soil isn’t up to the job.

    Yet a little warming makes the productive areas a little more productive because the soil isn’t yet the limiting factor.

    However, that little benefit goes away completely if the sequestered methane is released: that is a huge downside no amount of plumper turnips will counter.

  48. 198
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “No, a claim was made about a particular technology with a proven record of success”

    Remind us of the particular technology and where its record is proven, will you?

    Cheers.

  49. 199
    Anonymous Coward says:

    Thomas (#182),
    Significant, yes. But you’d need actual figures to determine the impact. And you’d need input figures as well if you want to know if a type of agriculture could be generalized. There are different techniques which are called organic. In any case, the idea isn’t to get rid of fertilizers entierly. Yields can recover from an initial shortfall as the soil comes back to life (depending). Generalities won’t cut it. As you might have guessed, crops behave differently. In the DOK trial, wheat fared better than potatoes with organic techniques or indeed with no fertilization (they also had control plots with zero fertilizer if memory serves). There are lots of specifics to consider. And that’s before you get into the issues involved in actual commercial farming with its peculiar workforce and financing…

  50. 200

    192 (Bill),

    Some warming in some regions will be productive, while in others it will be counterproductive. Also, we cannot underestimate the pace of change of human innovation…

    Wishful thinking.

    First, there’s an implication in your statement that things will balance out. This line of thinking has two flaws.

    The first is that there is no reason to believe things will balance out, or more importantly, that we can quickly take advantage of any redistribution of “climate benefits”. There will be more losers than winners, and taking advantage of the regional winners will not be automatic.

    The second is this constant confidence that technology will save us. The main flaw in that argument is that today’s advancement in technology relies on a stable, industrial society buttressing it. If society starts to decay (as fossil fuels become more rare, famine and migration become growing issues, and wars start) because we delay taking action too long, then the support for the advancement of technology will not be there. Or it may be directed more at creating new weapons (so that we can keep our food, and to hell with the starving countries) or something else.

    You’re hoping for a lot from new technology… new energy sources, new battery/fuel cell methods, new crops, new irrigation techniques, new methods to protect coastal areas, then maybe carbon capture methods to clean the problem out of the air… it’s a lot to ask. You can ask, but pinning your hopes on it, and then using it as an excuse to ignore the problem and avoid making small sacrifices today, is just irresponsible.


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