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Unforced Variations: May 2013

Filed under: — group @ 3 May 2013

This month’s open thread.


551 Responses to “Unforced Variations: May 2013”

  1. 451

    #447–So right, Susan. Sorry about that.

    The correct link for Langley/Arrhenius is this:

    http://doc-snow.hubpages.com/hub/Global-Warming-Science-And-The-Dawn-Of-Flight

    (Proof-read this time.)

  2. 452
    Russell says:

    446
    i think Kevin may have linked the wrong Climateprogress piece- nothing about Langley there.

  3. 453
    Jim Larsen says:

    441 SusanA said, “(Their claim that tar sands releases three times the CO2 in their opening paragraph is said to be wrong (increase said to be 30%; my gut feeling is it might be more depending on how you account for all the moving parts)):”

    Yes, it is two different measures. Using their numbers: Burning tar sand oil releases from wellhead to tailpipe 30% more CO2 than regular oil. The CO2 released from wellhead to gas tank is triple. In other words, it takes three times the effort to get tar sands oil into your gas tank, but since most of the CO2 is released during driving, there’s only a 30% increase in total CO2 emissions.

    SecularA said, “You cannot justify your claim that utility scale wind and solar electricity are unsustainable, but if they are, then so is a little “wood and an old auto generator/alternator with some wiring,” except this will not even run an efficient refrigerator.”

    It does bring to mind a Mad Max kind of world.

  4. 454
    Patrick says:

    “You’re living through a transformative time, probably more transformative than the Industrial Revolution was.”

    That’s at minute 2:35 of this video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU1vstn99mc

    –which is posted on the jobs (solar engineer) page of a utility-scale solar array engineering start-up in San Francisco.

    But this video gives the best overall idea of what’s going on there:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYisNex9A3Q

  5. 455
    Tom Maertens says:

    Technical question: why are extreme minimum temperatures in winter occurring earlier and extreme maximum temperatures occurring later?

    (Daily station data modeled for low-mid elevations along the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska from 1920 to 2000.)

  6. 456
    Hank Roberts says:

    > A short-term technical fix is what we who are alive now need
    > if we are to live out our lives in any kind of peace and comfort.

    A short-term “fix” might mean.

    – defer costs til a later generation, better now, worse later.
    – stop adding fossil fuel CO2, as best and as soon as we can.
    – do only whatever you can do sustainably forever, nothing else.

    Or something else.

    Peace and comfort — I dunno, that sounds like “Peace in our time.”

  7. 457
    Hank Roberts says:

    I’m starting to notice the term “bow wave” for costs pushed into the future; is that a familiar term from some field?

    e.g. http://governmentrelations.wsu.edu/state-relations/Budgets/C3-Creating%20Clean%20Jobs%20and%20Industries.pdf

    “… the cost of this program in future biennia will actually decline substantially (negative bow wave.)…”

    (A bow wave is the big wave pushed ahead of a ship — the wave dolphins like to surf in. For the dolphins, it’s free energy … but the smaller the bow wave the more efficient the vessel, the less energy wasted pushing water ahead of it, I think. http://www.cjoscoe.org/docs/BowWave2012_small.pdf )

  8. 458
    tokodave says:

    Kevin @ 451 Nice link. Thanks. That’s a nice geologic backdrop to the Svante Arrhenius story I’ve used in several presentations.
    Susan @ 422 (and others) on tornadoes: A couple points: a severe weather event doesn’t need to spawn tornadoes or have a name to be an extremely damaging event, witness last year’s $ 2 Billion dollar hailstorm in Dallas. The wind shear issue might effectively be a “tug of war” in the collective sense, but it seems like it would play out on a local/thunderstorm scale, and when the tug of war winner is a supercell, it has more energy available and any tornadoes that form might be correspondingly more damaging? Jeff Masters site http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/show.html will be a good one to pay attention to on this.

  9. 459
    Susan Anderson says:

    Thanks Jim Larsen, for putting some flesh on the bones I was talking about. I also found yesterday the figure for tar sands direct emissions increase is 11-23% more. But you make clear that the trouble-tripling is justifiable because of all the other stuff.

    Patrick: Thanks for the links, especially the second one.

    Kevin (and Russell, please note): thanks for the updated link (reading).

    I’m way too science-illiterate on these, so I’m going to bow out for now.

  10. 460
    SecularAnimist says:

    Hank Roberts wrote: “A short-term ‘fix’ might mean.”

    What I mean by it is that we now have only years, not decades or generations, within which to “fix” the specific problem of greenhouse gas emissions if we are to have any hope of avoiding a global ecological catastrophe and buying the time to address long-term “sustainability” issues.

  11. 461
    Susan Anderson says:

    Hank @~457

    A bow echo is part of the mechanism of derechos. Not sure if it’s relevant to “bow wave”, but worth knowing about. I’m told the physics is interesting too; if I understood my informant, kind of a big tornado on its side with forward motion (corrections welcome):
    http://www.spc.noaa.gov/misc/AbtDerechos/bowechoprot.htm
    http://www.spc.noaa.gov/misc/AbtDerechos/derechofacts.htm#bowecho
    http://www.spc.noaa.gov/misc/AbtDerechos/derechofacts.htm
    (in reverse order from particular to general)

    tokodave @~458: Speaking of which the big derecho that put the DC area out of power for days is another example of your costly storms.

  12. 462
    jgnfld says:

    Possibly uncomfortable question: To the best of my understanding the environmental impact of extracting California heavy oil quite comparable and maybe even worse compared to the environmental impact of Alberta bitumen? Why don’t we go after our own rather than another country?

    Very relevant multilingual captcha “own heyceci”

  13. 463
    Mal Adapted says:

    Hank 24 May 2013 at 7:16 AM:

    Dang, I haven’t learned to write an unambiguous blog comment yet. I wrote “short-term technical fix” in agreement with SA, but to me that means “stop adding fossil fuel CO2, as best and as soon as we can.” Of course it will probably entail both technical and non-technical efforts. If it’s accomplished, I wouldn’t expect it to be short-term, because there’s no reason why we’d resume wantonly discharging GHGs again. It may stave off climate catastrophe, but it won’t ensure long-term sustainability of civilization by itself.

    Does “peace and comfort” sound like “Peace in our time”? Well, “Peace in our time” turned out to mean defeating rather than appeasing Hitler. Post-war Britain may not have had complete peace, but I have no doubt the average Briton of the time would say it was better than living under Nazism. Now, if GHGs continue their current rate of increase, I anticipate a marked decline in the level of peace and/or comfort I presently enjoy. There’s no appeasing AGW, unfortunately, so I can only hope it will be defeated in my time.

    Is there anything else I can clear up for you ;^)?

  14. 464
    Hank Roberts says:

    > “Peace in our time” … defeating rather than appeasing …
    > … no appeasing AGW …

    Sure enough.

    Hm.
    “Stop Appeasing Coal Companies” is an awkward slogan.
    But saying outright they need to be defeated may rile them a bit.

    I heard someone recently describe how their town -almost- had signed a fifty-year coal contract to keep their ancient inefficient coal power plant going. They got smart and didn’t. But someone out there has a map of every little college and business and town coal contract and plant and is trying to sign up more of those long-term contracts.

  15. 465
    sidd says:

    Mr. Hank Roberts writes on the 24th of May, 2013 at 4:17 PM:

    “But saying outright they need to be defeated may rile them a bit.”

    Things, even in coal drawings, are not so black and white. If you drive on Interstate 80, 81, 76 thru PA, you will see many windmill farms on the ridges. Of those, a surprising number are from old coal robber baron families that stripmined the land for decades but have seen the light more recently. Or at least, the greenbacks.

    sidd

  16. 466
    Hank Roberts says:

    http://www.thenation.com/article/172266/rebel-towns#
    —-excerpt—–
    …. Last year, Martland and McPhaul campaigned for a local ordinance that would ban corporations from acquiring land or building structures to support any “unsustainable energy system.” The ordinance stripped those corporations of their free-speech and due-process rights under the Constitution, as well as protections afforded by the Constitution’s commerce and contract clauses. Judicial rulings that recognized corporations as legal “persons” would not be recognized in Sugar Hill. Any state or federal law that tried to interfere with the town’s authority would be invalidated. “Natural communities and ecosystems”—wetlands, streams, rivers, aquifers—would acquire “inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish,” and any resident could enforce the law on their behalf. “All power is inherent in the people,” the measure stated.

    … McPhaul, a Republican and a charity volunteer …. After a two-month public-awareness campaign, Sugar Hill’s residents took up the ordinance at their 2012 town meeting. It passed by a unanimous voice vote.

    Thus, Sugar Hill became one of dozens of communities nationwide—mostly villages but also the city of Pittsburgh—that have reacted to environmental threats by directly challenging the Constitution and established case law….
    ——–end excerpt——-
    Well, good.

  17. 467
    sidd says:

    Severinghaus at Byrd Polar Research Center:

    West Antarctica Ice Divide core, annually resolved to 62Kyr. Bipolar seesaw. Bolling Allerod transition, Dryas. Halogen volcano, probably Erebus at 18Kyr. Comparison with beautiful Chinese speleotherms. One hour fourteen minute, take the time.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKme569E9Bw

    sidd

  18. 468
    Killian says:

    444 SecularAnimist wrote Killian wrote: “it would be a very big mistake to think wind and sun as currently being built out is sustainable”

    You have said that many times in your posts here, but as far as I remember, you have never said specifically and exactly what is not “sustainable” about wind turbines and solar panels “as currently being built out”.

    Yes, I have. The easier question is, what *is* sustainable about them? Answer: Nothing. Thus, they are not sustainable. C’mon, SA, not everything needs a scientific study. Some facts are a priori/prima facie. Let’s look at this: Do you know of any copper wire making that claims sustainability? Do you know of any metal smelting process that claims sustainability? Do you know of any bolt makers or concrete makers or wind turbine blade makers that claim sustainability? Let me help you: No.

    I do not understand the rather irrational and angry reaction to stating obvious facts here at RealClimate. The fact is the conversations regarding sustainability, not just here, but almost universally, are conflating efficiency and sustainability. The primary reason is obvious (which means I do understand the reactions here): If what we are doing is unsustainable, and if virtually everything we in “western” or “developed” societies are doing is unsustainable, that means for some rather profound changes to come. That is a very uncomfortable thing to ponder! (We are asking ourselves and the general public to consider an true existential threat to society, if not humanity. A 95% die off seems likely, let alone possible, does sit not?) Yet, we must. But I tire of people asking for unnecessary proofs of prima facie realities.

    If you want to risk the future of civilization on a factually incorrect claim these things are, well, I think you need to reevaluate your risk assessment process. Both wind and solar are more efficient than FFs, but neither is sustainable. Yet. I actually have some faith they can be, but not in the time frames we need to act in, so better to use them as bridge technologies while simplifying into a sustainable system with currently sustainable practices while keeping a significant R&D process in place to find pathways to sustainable tech that will help us to achieve even greater regenerative abundance… in the future. But we have to accept that the transition to sustainability and the first phase of sustainability will include significantly less reliance on technology than the current time.

    There is no way around this less some truly miraculous events occurring. I prefer not to do my risk assessment based on miracles.

    Keep in mind that “as currently being built out” is a VERY rapidly changing state of the art.

    But also irrelevant. You also are of the mind, as I am, that the system is degrading rapidly, yes? The key to potential collapse scenarios lies in the Arctic. As, IIRC, Mark Serreze has stated, and Maslowski appears to have accurately modeled, the Arctic is the Canary in the Coal Mine. This has been obvious since I first became aware of the IPCC process and the IPCC IV report, and I agree with Mark. As goes the Arctic, so goes the planet. Every system has a pivot point or key limit. The planetary fulcrum is the Arctic, and it is likely to be essentially ice-free as soon as this year and it’s looking fairly certain to be within the next three years. (Have you looked at just how small the bits of floes are compared to past years? Even though this has been a thankfully cool spring, the ice itself is cottage cheese. If the AO flips to warm (currently roughly neutral after being quite cool all winter and up till this last week or so) over a significant portion of the summer, and particularly in June and July, we are going to see yet another set of record minimums in extent and area, and definitely in volume.

    The technology of both wind turbines and photovoltaics (as well as solar thermal and various energy storage technologies) continues to improve quickly, so that they use less material inputs, require less energy to manufacture, and generate more energy more efficiently over a longer lifetime.

    And that’s just the ongoing improvements in the mainstream technologies that are being widely deployed today. There are new technologies, proven in the lab and approaching commercialization, that will enable far more powerful and efficient wind and solar electricity generation using far less material and energy inputs to manufacture and deploy.

    Are you willing to bet billions of lives, and up to 95% of all biota on non-existent technology when we can achieve sustainability without those non-existent technologies? How does that work as a risk assessment? It does not for me. But, a a designer of sustainable systems fairly well versed in resource limits, the EROEI of energy systems, and witha clear understanding of actual sustainability vs. greenwashed sustainability, I know we can achieve sustainability simply and quickly wit hcurrent tech, which gives us a shot at reversing Clamate Change. And, despite the rather odd statement by someone else that Joseph Tainter’s work is just opinion (isn’t every technically unproven hypothesis?), his work fits perfectly with historical observations of societies. It’s a rather immature (poorly developed vs. childish) perspective, I think, to dismiss his work. It really is simple, when you have begun to exceed the carrying capacity of your environment and attempt to fix the problems created by growth and complexity with greater complexity, you typically fail. This really is nothing more than relatively simple math.

    Anywho… simplification is the key to surviving overshoot and diminishing returns on complexity. Increasing complexity in overshoot has literally never worked that I am aware of.

    With regard to sustainability, it’s a relative term. In the long run nothing is “sustainable” — after all, the sun will one day burn out. And there are plenty of human activities that may not be “sustainable” over centuries or millennia.

    C’mon, SA. Make a useful observation here. This is not relevant to the context.

    However, what we are faced with right now is a very urgent, short-term, specific problem: greenhouse gas emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, mainly for electricity generation and vehicle fuel.

    As I understand what climate science is telling us, if we are to have ANY hope of avoiding a horrific planetary catastrophe, anthropogenic GHG emissions must peak and then begin a VERY steep decline within five years, leading to near-zero emissions within at most a couple of decades, with the largest reductions occurring up front.

    I encourage you to read or review the Hirsch Report for a sense of time frames for cycling significant technological shifts through society. Add to that what Tainter and Diamond say, and the constant harping on technological solutions is washed away by simple realities: We don’t have time, the technologies don’t exist, resource limits limit the technologies anyway, and natural solutions exist that will get the job done faster, more safely and sustainably.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see how it is possible to achieve that through the deep and far-reaching economic, social, political, cultural and even spiritual transformation that may well be ultimately needed if human civilization is to achieve long-term sustainability on the Earth

    Now there is a problem because if we don’t, we haven’t a chance. The good news is, part of my message is to eliminate all those abstractions and get down to one essential societal process: solving problems. Remove ideology, belief, morality, etc., from the equation and things get much simpler. We currently ask, essentially, who deserves to eat or who can afford to eat? A problem-solving question might be how do we feed everybody? Rather than asking how do we give everyone a job or who deserve a job or who deserves what level of pay we might ask more simply what work needs to be done and how can we get it done?

    These probably seem like trivial questions, but they will determine our survival.

    Fortunately, we do have at hand, NOW, mature and powerful wind and solar technologies that can EASILY accomplish that urgent, short-term goal — for example, eliminating ALL carbon emissions from electricity generation within a decade — IF we choose to do so. And if we can do that, then perhaps we can buy the time needed for more profound changes.

    Problem is, we need atmospheric conentrations falling at 2- 5 ppm/yr, not just holding emissions steady at a level of neutrality. You cannot do with merely with efficiency, particularly since none of the technologies you mention are sustainable, thus result in GHG emissions. As I have said before, build them out to 10 – 20% of current emissions, but stop there and reduce consumption to match that level of emissions over time. Using natural CO2 sequestration buys us the time for this transition – if the Arctic will play along.

    If you wish to say that I’m proposing a short-term technical fix that doesn’t address our fundamental long-term problems, that may well be true. But that’s what we need right now.

    Asked and answered.

    reCAPTCHA rather charmingly chimes in, “may Ecovent.”

  19. 469
    Killian says:

    450 Mal Adapted says: Secular Animist #444: Unfortunately, I don’t see how it is possible to achieve [zero GHG emissions] through the deep and far-reaching economic, social, political, cultural and even spiritual transformation…

    If you wish to say that I’m proposing a short-term technical fix that doesn’t address our fundamental long-term problems, that may well be true. But that’s what we need right now…

    That’s the stark truth. A short-term technical fix is what we who are alive now need if we are to live out our lives in any kind of peace and comfort.

    While I completely understand this point of view, daily intensive study of the systems under discussion since 2006 and training and teaching in design processes since 2009/10 lead me to a different conclusion:

    Tech can’t solve this, but sustainable design, primarily through simplification and natural GHG sequestration, can.

    Unfortunately, GHG sequestration via natural means receives no federal, state or local funding despite the proven effectiveness. We have become too dependent as a society, and particularly as an intellectual class (refer to P. Kennedy’s four cycles in “Rise and Fall…”), on technology, as societies of the past have, also (Romans to a degree, the Anasazi, Angkor Wat, the Maya, etc.,), that simpler, more effective solutions look to the technologically dependent like reverse voodoo no matter how much evidence is provided.

    The assumption that moving forward means increasing complexity and technological brilliance is deeply embedded because it has basically been true since around 1200 AD in “Western” society. Yet, Rome lasted around 600 years as a growing and/or dominant society. And other empires have lasted longer. But all fell and all had climate and diminishing returns on increasing complexity components. Still, centuries of growth backed by deeply flawed economic paradigm make it hard to shale off the primacy of the flawed complexity/technological solutions mantra.

    Simple, basic math easily shows this to be a flawed response, yet it persists. How did the Anasazi survive? They became the Pueblo. How did the Mayans survive? They became small villages that have largely forgotten their Mayan technology. How did the Vikings in Greenland survive? They didn’t because they did not adapt to conditions and simplify. How did the First Nations people of viking era Greenland survive? By living as they had before the Vikings arrived: simply, technologically “deficiently” in harmony with the ecological services of their bio-region.

    We face the same choice and the issue is survival of society at best and an ELE at worst. History is there to be learned from in the past and Nature there to be learned from in the present.

    Up to you.

  20. 470
    ghost says:

    This week, C-Span showed a House committee hearing on “weather” featuring the testimony of two private weather operations (AccuWeather and another). The tone struck me as ‘we need to de-emphasize/forget about this climate stuff and focus on (private/pork) weather research instead.’ Which in turn reminded me of editing the fairy tale to have the three pigs saying ‘Forget about the wolf. What are we having for dinner next Sunday?” Meanwhile, this week’s NOAA annual hurricane preview takes an evidence-based approach with climate change as the backdrop. Strange but true.

  21. 471
    Hank Roberts says:

    “… 600 ppm of CO2 looks a lot more worrisome than 400 ppm of CO2, and 800 ppm of CO2 looks a lot more worrisome than 600 ppm of CO2. The significance of just having blown past 400 ppm is that we seem to be on a business-as-usual growth trajectory that brings us to 800 ppm (or maybe even more) within a century from now.” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/businessdesk/2013/05/the-odds-of-disaster-an-econom-1.html

  22. 472
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Killian — 25 May 2013 @ 2:21 AM and 3:55 AM

    Regarding sustainability of solar and wind energy, you say- “Some facts are a priori/prima facie.” In this instance they are not! But if you think your claim is so obvious it should be very simple for you to provide an analysis and the numbers that support your contention. I don’t understand your “rather irrational and angry reaction” to requests that you provide justification for your assertions.

    In contrast to your claims about alternative energy you have offered up the Rodale 30 year study of ways to make agriculture sustainable, and this is the sort of solution many here have advocated in the past. However, this farming system requires fossil fuels, tractors, GMO crops, information technology, and their supporting industries, all of which you have claimed to be not sustainable. Perhaps you should inform them of their error.

    You say – “And, despite the rather odd statement by someone else that Joseph Tainter’s work is just opinion…” – In contrast, I think that Tainter’s study of past societies is excellent, it’s just that your application of his work to current problems is just (bad) opinion, and that your understanding of his work is very confused. You don’t think so? What about the following:

    Citing Tainter – “What are we going to do about energy? We need alternatives to fossil fuels and we need to scale up on a massive scale and very quickly.” – This sounds like a call for a rapid buildup of renewables and if not, what does it mean? To quote Tainter further – “There are people who advocate what’s called a steady state economy. I am not one of them. I don’t advocate a steady state economy. But the results of the innovation research made me wonder if in fact that might be what we’re heading for. And a steady state economy, I think, would have repercussions in employment levels, in wellbeing, in popular discontent that would not be desirable.” – How do these statements fit into your thinking?

    I don’t think you understand Tainter’s important analysis. Steve

  23. 473
    Patrick says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwyQKqlXpNY

    If this third-generation engineer is not a Buckminster Fuller of the 21st century, he has at least one necessary qualification: the willingness to make global calculations, especially for energy. Then, too, he’s got a secondary qualification: the willingness to make an experiment of his own life.

  24. 474
    Killian says:

    Fish, here you get it backwards, “Regarding sustainability of solar and wind energy, you say- “Some facts are a priori/prima facie.” In this instance they are not! But if you think your claim is so obvious it should be very simple for you to provide an analysis and the numbers that support your contention.”

    I made the point clearly: not one manufacturer of any component of solar panels or wind turbines has ever claimed they are sustainable manufacturers. There is a reason for this: they aren’t. So, rather than my having to prove a claim that has never been made that would be a prima facia false claim if it were, you need to prove they are.

    Let me be really clear: Nobody has claimed actual, 100% sustainability of wind or solar and they use “renewable energy” non-literally. AKA greenwashing. Thus I do not need to prove a claim that has never been made is false. If you are going to make the claim, you have to prove it true.

    Virtually nothing we do in the “advanced” world is sustainable. That’s not even a point worthy of debating. Virtually every “sustainable” label is one that does not include a full life cycle assessment, and those life cycle assessments that are done are more aptly called efficiency audits because they play the game of comparing energy inputs as if all energy inputs were equally fungible, which is nonsense, and avoiding asking the very simple question, “How long will this resource exist if we keep using it?”

    To be more clear for you, all the inputs are converted to measures of energy rather than being literally treated as resources that each have unique qualities that are not found in other resources. You see this same tactic on a large scale with energy.

    FF anlyses always compare the physical volume of FFs, and at best the energy content of oil, coal and gas, e.g. This is an incomplete analysis. Not only does a barrel of oil have more literal energy in it than a barrel of NG or a load of coal, they can’t all be used for all the same purposes. And those purposes that can be done by all of them require different amounts of processing, and thus energy cost. You do see the use of energy equivalent, but that still does not account for either fungibility nor embedded energy. A barrel of oil is simply not equivalent to any other FF energy content or usefulness.

    This question of true sustainability is avoided because the answer is unpleasant: Not as long as we need it to if we want to keep doing this. Here’s an exercise for you: What resources do we currently use that are *not* depleting? Even if some resources are truly endlessly sustainable (at least besides the planet being swallowed by the sun), the rate of use is too high. (See water, fish, trees, soil, etc.) The reason there is no “research” available on these issues is everyone is afraid of asking that simple question I asked above, and part of the rationalization for that is the idea that “something” will save us, some unknown heroic technology. And to survive that little self-delusion, the next delusion is used, “But Tainter doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” or “Limits to Growth” was alarmist! Etc. Dismiss the message because it doesn’t fit. Common, but maladaptive.

    The fact is, use of any limited resource is unsustainable at any rate of use given a long enough time line, and most resources are not just limited, but severely limited based on current rates of use. Ipso facto, an economy based on them is unsustainable. This isn’t alarmism or hyperbole, this is blatantly obvious physics and/or thermodynamics.

    And if you want good discussions on what is possible read, “Without Hot Air” and go through the archives of The Oil Drum.

    Now, to answer your questions about Tainter, the short answer is the questions you asked are not germane to the points I made, which is obvious, but you insist on harping on the obvious, so here we go. You said, “Citing Tainter – “What are we going to do about energy? We need alternatives to fossil fuels and we need to scale up on a massive scale and very quickly.” – This sounds like a call for a rapid buildup of renewables and if not, what does it mean?”

    Ask yourself, did I *ever* talk about Tainter wrt sustainability or resources? No, I did not. Rhetorical question: Why not? I’ll answer for you: His answers are based on the same limited understanding that you have. He assumes that tech will overcome even if society overall must simplify. He is very much a mainstream thinker in this regard despite his insight into the obvious long-term consequences. I have always thought his statements about these issues were flawed and initially didn’t listen to him because of it. But his insight about diminishing returns applying to complexity are brilliant even if his comments on “renewables” are mundane.

    Here’s what you need to know about Tainter: He doesn’t think we’re pulling out of this tail spin. I asked him point blank what he thought of our chances of stabilizing society and he said flatly that he had become quite pessimistic.

    You said (and finally ask a useful question!), “But the results of the innovation research made me wonder if in fact that might be what we’re heading for. And a steady state economy, I think, would have repercussions in employment levels, in wellbeing, in popular discontent that would not be desirable.” – How do these statements fit into your thinking?

    Question: Is Tainter a designer of sustainable systems? No? Then steady-state will not make sense to him. As I pointed out above regarding renewables, Tainter is as embedded in classical/neoclassical economics as anyone, so he analyzes from that perspective. The steady-state isn’t even possible under that paradigm, so if you subscribe to growth, jobs, interest, usury, etc., as the way things are and must be, then you can’t get your head around the idea of the steady-state economy. That he was able to offer such a keen insight into the failings of the current paradigm without figuring out the paradigm cannot be the solution to itself is rather remarkable, but helps illustrate how deeply embedded in that paradigm he and most other people are.

    However, those of us that are educated about how nested systems work and how natural and human systems manage to exist for millennia on end pretty much instantly get steady-state economics. Steady-state economics is essentially what sustainable societies already do. If you want to understand why Tainter doesn’t get sustainable economics all you have to do is ponder the use of “employment levels” in what you quoted. It also should have allowed you to answer the question yourself without asking me. I have repeatedly linked to an essay that addresses this.

    I suggest you ponder why the issue of employment levels is not germane to a discussion of sustainable societies.

    Something else I have shared here before is the work of Steve Keen. You might be interested to know he has built a functional model of a steady-state economy. The flaw is that it is a monetary model, but that is what Tainter and 99.9% of the rest of the people on the planet want to hear: we can keep doing things this way for the most part! It’s an extremely cool model and very impressive work, but still flawed from the standpoint of truly sustainable systems since it doesn’t really account for resources. But it is a simple model of necessity. It will help you and Tainter understand how a steady-state economy is possible.

    However, this farming system requires fossil fuels, tractors, GMO crops, information technology, and their supporting industries, all of which you have claimed to be not sustainable. Perhaps you should inform them of their error.

    I never said anyone should follow what Rodale says to a T. I have said the study shows regenerative farming can build soil and in doing so sequester carbon and maintain and/or increase production compared to FF-based farming. And why would you indulge in the logical fallacy that because I point to the Rodale study as evidence we can draw down GHGs naturally that I am also suggesting every farmer grow food exactly as Rodale studied it?

    Carrying on, since you seem to recall what I have written, you already know enough to know what I would suggest doing differently from Rodale, so I won’t bother explaining it to you yet again.

    Finally, the Rodale study is a STUDY. Any scientific study has to control the number of variables. The implications of this should be obvious to you. How does one legitimately show the value of specific techniques of soil-building in farming without keeping the primary conditions intact? The Rodale study was of large-scale farming, not small holdings. Industrial scale farming cannot use many of the techniques of sustainable farming, which is evidence true regenerative farming would be even more effective at sequestration and abundance than Rodale found. But large-scale farming is going to use tractors and such. They must. And Rodale had to do a *comparative* study, not an apples and oranges study, in order to show that the current food system could be converted to regenerative farming.

  25. 475
    prokaryotes says:

    James Hansen explains Climate Change and Free Market Solution
    http://climatestate.com/2013/05/23/james-hansen-explains-climate-change-and-solution/
    Though among a carbon fee he elaborates how Global Warming includes episodes especially in the northern hemisphere when “it gets colder, because of the ice melt”.

    This phenomenon is estimated to kick in with 0.5-1 meter SLR – implications are grave because of the changed temperature gradient, which basically means more intense storms. Hansen done the studies on this actually before he wrote his famous book “Storms of my Grandchildren”.

  26. 476
    Jim Larsen says:

    Killian, your ENTIRE argument can be summed up by “how much new crust is formed VS how much is lost via recycling”. To answer the question, it is patently STUPID to pretend that advances won’t happen as resources get scarcer. We can get copper, gold, silver, uranium, and everything else in infinite quantities from seawater and lava and garbage dumps – at a cost. You’d do much better figuring out that cost than just waving your arms saying we all need to go back to hunter-gatherer existence. I can think of no other existence that doesn’t rely on copper wire.

  27. 477
    Killian says:

    476 Larsen, it is patently STUPID to to massively oversimplify resources issues for society to multi-million to billion-year processes and, actually worse, to claim I have ever said no technological advances will ever occur again – since I quite clearly have addressed that point over and over and stated quite clearly they can and do and stated quite clearly they will, but stated quite clearly ASSuming they will in time is a very poor way to do risk assessment and that rates of use can overcome even (actually)renewable resources.

    Thank you, Jim, for being another one of those who constantly responds STUPIDLY to pretty much anything I post. Your knee-JERK reactions are not useful. Now, can we leave the capitalized STUPIDs out of future posts, along with insults in general, and even more so nonsensical and pointless responses?

  28. 478
    Hank Roberts says:

    > What resources do we currently use that are *not* depleting?

    A question you want to ask as of as of when the resource was attractive and cheap, as of, say, 1900, or 1800, or 1700. Heck, as of maybe 1600 if we’d known we’d want the ocean iron level maintained naturally — but no, we screwed that loop before we had a clue.

    Shifting baselines …

    Getting back to the capacity Earth had a few centuries ago comes first.
    Then, see if enough over to harvest sustainably will be happening, under whatever conditions we recover -to-. We won’t get our old planet back. It might stay livable and interesting.

    “being sustainable” — per se — isn’t sustainable at this point, as we’re missing too many pieces to even be sure what’s going to be left to work with.

    In a damaged and simpler biosphere, your comfortable niche is going to be less sustainable wherever you happen to be.

    We tinkered and scattered parts of this planet around and ate, burned, or lost a good many of them, and it’s in need of better management, it needs to be — whatever — lets it recover.

    “This thumbnail sketch of land as an energy circuit conveys three basic ideas:
    That land is not merely soil.
    That the native plants and animals kept the energy circuit open; others may or may not,
    That man-made changes are of a different order than evolutionary changes, and have effects more comprehensive than is intended or foreseen
    … Can the land adjust itself to the new order? Can the desired alterations be accomplished with less violence?…
    “… A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

    –Aldo Leopold

    Do you kids feel lucky? I sure hope so.

  29. 479
    Killian says:

    A more politic response to Far Side.

    Jim Larsen attempted: Killian, your ENTIRE argument can be summed up by “how much new crust is formed VS how much is lost via recycling”.

    Only if we weren’t talking about human time scales.

    To answer the question, it is patently STUPID to pretend that advances won’t happen as resources get scarcer.

    It’s actually more patently not very intelligent to mislead readers to think I have ever, in my life, suggested this. I have my doubts about the degree to which those advances will be sustainable, in which case they wouldn’t be meaningful.

    We can get copper, gold, silver, uranium, and everything else in infinite quantities from seawater and lava and garbage dumps – at a cost.

    Infinite? Surely you mean more like “essentially infinite?”

    You’d do much better figuring out that cost

    Why? You have no idea what the cost would be far enough in the future for the answer to be relevant, and, if those processes aren’t sustainable, they wouldn’t ultimately mean much.

    than just waving your arms saying we all need to go back to hunter-gatherer existence.

    Jim, your frequent trips to the Far Side are not entertaining. Prevarication is really a bit much, isn’t it? Please show us all where I have advocated, suggested or implied anything even remotely like a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for a sustainable world.

    Hunter-gatherers require a huge amount of space to live that way. I’ve not done the math but did read something recently that estimated the area needed and it was huge. I doubt we have the space for it on the planet at 9 billion people. We certainly do not have the intact natural systems for it at this time, and it would take a rather large amount of reskilling to make it remotely possible, not to mention returning much of the planet to conditions similar to at least the pre-European Americans – though societies weren’t necessarily hunter-gatherer at that time, either. Silly way forward, if you ask me.

    I can think of no other existence that doesn’t rely on copper wire.

    I think perhaps you mean, “I can think of no other existence **I am willing to accept** that doesn’t rely on copper wire.” Given humans have been making copper from various ores for thousands of years and copper loses no quality with recycling, I think your copper future is looking pretty doable. However, the process is most definitely not sustainable with modern techniques. I don’t know enough about ancient techniques to comment. Recycling seems to mostly be a process of melting metals down if relatively pure, so sounds like we can get there. About 50% of current U.S. production is via recycling.

    Given demand would be far lower in a sustainable society, recycling would have a fair chance of meeting all our needs.

    Now take your bow and arrows and get us dinner, dang it!

  30. 480
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    I think the most pertinent graph re: arctic melt is the PIOMAS arctic ice thickness one. Could someone tell me what caused between 2009 and 2010 both at July/August an almost 400mm reduction in ice thickness. The yearly traces since 2010 have all been in that lowest band with each year steadily declining. The 2013 trace thus far is no exception as it’s tracking below every other year. But from 2009-2010 there was for some reason a huge fall. I was just wondering why?

  31. 481
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    Just read The Odds of Disaster: An Economist’s Warning on Global Warming by Martin Weitzman and I’ve got to say it’s one of the most balanced and professional articles I’ve ever read. He lays down the logic and the uncertainty behind the science meticulously and leaves it to the reader to decide the magnitude of the situation should we decide to do nothing about CC mitigation. The way he says so much and leaves such little uncovered in such a relatively concise article is amazing.
    One question, was the sea level 50Mya many thousands of feet higher than today? To me that sounded way too high?
    That article should be mandatory reading for every secondary school student.

  32. 482
    Hank Roberts says:

    Has anyone read/used the National Science Teachers Association recommendations?

    I came across this recommendation for a climate book while reading links on whale poop:

    http://www.nsta.org/recommends/ViewProduct.aspx?ProductID=20168

    Climate
    by Hilary Maybaum
    48 pp.
    Benchmark Education
    Pelham, NY 2010
    ISBN: 9781935472919
    Grade Level: 6-12

    “… Climate offers a clear and well-illustrated discussion of the factors that determine regional climates and climate change. I especially enjoyed the two-page “graphic novel” format, which introduces issues that students will enjoy discussing. In this edition, the characters discuss a luxury resort and then speculate on the power bills to maintain it. This format makes the issues accessible to even the least confident reader; I expect teachers will be surprised at the strong opinions students will have on these issues.”


    That book is one of a series.

    As described in that review, applying to the whole series:

    “The Prime Science series offers the most thorough integration of middle/secondary content and language arts strategies I’ve seen in classroom science materials. This series will be invaluable to teachers who want to infuse communication skills into their science curricula—especially those who earned their degrees before course work in these methods was required.

    “Two versions of each book (the standard and a “Bridge” edition) offer subtle differentiation without any labeling. The covers are virtually identical, and the contents on each page is comparable. But look more carefully and you will find not only a lower reading level but more conceptual support and appropriate challenges in the Bridge edition. Co-teaching teams and support teachers for special needs and ELL students will love the Bridge option.”

  33. 483
    Radge Havers says:

    Is it just me or did today’s Face the Nation have a respectable segment on climate and severe weather?

    http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50147675n

  34. 484
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Killian — 25 May 2013 @ 4:34 PM and other posts

    In response to my request for evidence for your assertion that photovoltaic (PV) solar and wind machines are not sustainable, you said – “I made the point clearly: not one manufacturer of any component of solar panels or wind turbines has ever claimed they are sustainable manufacturers. There is a reason for this: they aren’t. So, rather than my having to prove a claim that has never been made that would be a prima facia false claim if it were, you need to prove they are.”

    Do you think that you are the captain of the junior high school debating team? You said- “Some facts are a priori/prima facie,” and as I disagree that your claim is apparent and self-evident, I asked you to provide evidence. Further, I have never observed any manufacturer make a claim of sustainability other than as a stupid advertising gimmick and in any case whether they have, or not, is irrelevant. Your response is beyond silly. You wonder why people make unkind (not ad hominem) comments to you. I have been sucked in again by your hobby, stupid me! It is worth repeating what Hank Roberts said- “Killian may be entirely correct about everything. But how could you tell?”

    Because I enjoy slamming my hand in a car door and then getting a root canal, here is a little more about Tainter. You said to SecularAnamist in your typically condescending tone – “You didn’t read quite carefully enough. First, we need no new technologies to achieve a sustainable global system. If you had gone through Tainter’s work, which I have repeatedly mentioned and linked to, you would understand the error of depending on continually developing more technology to solve problems created by new technology. (I use technology here literally and as a proxy for complexity.)”

    I agree with this, at face value, with the exception that I think that conflating Tainter’s societal complexity with technology (or sustainability) is a big mistake. What is useful about Tainter is his description of Rome, for example, in which societal complexity after incremental decisions to solve immediate problems greatly increased beyond available energy supply and led to unsustainability of the state and collapse. The direct application to the U.S. today is development of tar sands, pipelines, developing difficult or environmentally sensitive oil drilling sites, fracking, relaxation of regulations for fossil fuel companies, direct supplements and reduced taxation to fossil fuel companies, increased military expenditures for maintaining access to oil, governmental support for fossil fuel shipping facilities, and the resulting bureaucratic cost and taxation overload from all of this. In contrast to this a switch to PV and wind machines are not new technology and would provide a major simplification and, thereby, increased stability.

    I find it amusing that Tainter referred to energy for pre-industrial societies as solar (agrarian) based because now with PV, for example, any citizen can farm the sun for energy. Steve

  35. 485
    David B. Benson says:

    Lawrence Coleman @461 — No, the global average sea level was around 60–70 meters higher. However, the Himalayas was just beginning to form around 50 Mya, producing some exposed geological formations which might confuse some.

  36. 486
    Jim Larsen says:

    Killian,

    Huh? You brought up copper as unsustainable. Now it is? The problem is that your definition of sustainable is all over the map. You do understand that humans in an advanced society have less than 2 children per woman? We get everything up and running, and sustainability takes care of itself through recycling.

  37. 487
    Killian says:

    Fish bubbled: In response to my request for evidence for your assertion that photovoltaic (PV) solar and wind machines are not sustainable

    Asked and answered repeatedly. If you think they *are* you have serious deficits in your thinking or knowledge. If you think they are when they are obviously – so obviously asking the question is ridiculous on its face, particularly doing so repeatedly – not, disprove the following:

    Fossil Fuels are not sustainable. (If you fail to understand why answering that question answers your ridiculous repeated request for “proof”, you have serious deficits in either your basic knowledge or ability to reason.)

    Good luck with that.

  38. 488
    Killian says:

    Fish, your comments on Tainter are just wrong. Congrats on at least looking up decontextualized quotes, but that’s pretty desperate, isn’t it? “Societal complexity?” Really? Only societal?

    LOL… And why try to lie that I have equated tech and complexity? I very clearly said it was not a 1:1 relationship, but that it serves as a proxy in the context of this conversation. Lying is bad. Don’t lie.

    Do you work for a tech firm or FF interest? You seem very committed to making FFs and/or tech based on them look sustainable.

  39. 489

    @479 Killian, not too long from now, human timescales probably will become geologic timescales, at least for a select few.

    Add to that directed evolution and neural interfaces and it looks like the anthropocene will become a microepoch.

    At least raw materials should only need to be dug up once.

  40. 490
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by Killian — 27 May 2013 @ 1:36 AM and 1:45 AM

    So you say.

    Steve

  41. 491
    Killian says:

    Jim Larsen, do you not understand we are all in the same boat and working on solutions is the only paddle? Please begin acting like it.

    I did not say copper was unsustainable. I question your ethics in saying otherwise. I wondered if it was and stated outright I *had not* checked. A couple days ago, I did check. I *still* don’t know if it is sustainable because what I read on it did not detail the old methods. The new methods? Definitely not sustainable. Too many energy inputs, too many hi-tech gizmos needed. The old methods, perhaps with some modern knowledge added? Say, wood for heat, or Fresnel lenses, or solar-powered electric (though that is currently unsustainable)? Should make smelting sustainable or nearly so. But that’s just a WAG.

    Please do not pretend I am a Luddite. I have never said I do not like or appreciate technology. I have stated the opposite. My views are based on principles of natural design, and the key one here is that you do not start from a wish list of how you WANT to live, you start with what the environment can provide. You do not simplify because it sounds like fun, you do it because it is what the Earth’s limits require.

    If you’ve a serious, useful, germane point or question, then make it or ask it. Otherwise, do not expect any further responses. You will know if you’ve asked a useless question by the lack of response.

    489 Andy Lee Robinson said: not too long from now, human timescales probably will become geologic timescales

    But not our current context. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

    At least raw materials should only need to be dug up once.

    As long as you are digging them, you are still headed for an unsustainable future so long as the resources in question are finite or the rate of use is too high. We have to learn to not live beyond our knowledge, which we have been doing for a very long time. I was all of 12 years old when I realized the real problem with technology was very simple: we were always applying it in real time before we understood all the ramifications. I had not idea who Rachel Carson was at the time, so the insight did not come from her.

    Even if we were nowhere near the limits of the planet we would still be best served to slow the heck down. Long way of repeating: let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

  42. 492
    Jim Larsen says:

    489 Andy Lee R said, “At least raw materials should only need to be dug up once.”

    That’s true of most (all?) metals. Phosphorus is different. Wiki says we’re 50-100 years away from total depletion. That’s going to wreak havoc on Industrial Agriculture.

  43. 493
    Chris says:

    The MET has just been forced to agree that global rises in temp since late 1800s are well within what could be attributed to natural variability. Comments?

    [Response: Well, it's good to have a laugh on a holiday morning. More seriously, the Met Office have admitted nothing of the sort. This is all about people fitting statistical models to the temperature record. This can be done to any precision required (using sufficiently complex models) and tells us nothing about the 'significance' of the recent trends with respect to natural variability. Significance does of course have two meanings here: The colloquial meaning of something that is 'worthy of note', and a statistical meaning - something whose probablity is less than 5% under the assumption of a particular null hypothesis. With the colloquial meaning, there is no doubt that recent trends are significant, and nothing the Met Office said about null hypotheses has anything to add since this 'significance' comes from the best estimates we have of natural variability (control runs of climate models, estimates of naturally forced responses and analyses of paleo-climate data, etc.). Turning to the other (technical) definition, it is straightforward to fit statistical models to data and then look at the signficance of the recent changes. However, this is far less meaningful than one might think since the model is being fit to the data you are wanting to test. This is one kind of data-snooping and it is easy to show that you can always find a statistical model that fits any particular data-series as well as you want it to. This has nothing to do with actual attribution. For that you need a statistical model of internal variability + response to natural forcings that does not use the recent trends as input. Then a calculation of how significant the recent observations are would be of interest. An example of this (done with GCMs) shows that current temperatures are around 4 to 5 sigma away from what would be expected with natural variability along. Sounds pretty signficant to me. - gavin]

  44. 494
    MARodger says:

    This denialist jabber picked up @493 appears to be more soap opera than anything else.

    Denialist Montford guest-posts denialist Keanan (again) on the subject of a further deeply technical question from some old washed-out member of the House of Lords, another question that concerns methods of statistical analysis of global temperature records. (This particular question asks for a “numerical assessment of the probability in relation to global temperatures of a linear trend with first-order autoregressive noise, as used by the Met Office, compared with a driftless third-order autoregressive integrated model and ensure that that numerical assessment is published in the Official Report; and if not, why not.”)
    The said Keanan feels the answer provided amounts to a revelation of more significance than Climategate (less significance being difficult), significant despite Keanan refusing to meet with the one man named by the Lord as able to answer the question, despite Keanan having already been provided an adequate answer by that one named man.
    We of course should be aware that the said Keanan, may have swallowed whole a whole statistics book, yet he is still of the belief that a 1 in 1024 chance is less likely than overt fraud. And to demonstrate his abilities of original thought, the example he uses to illustrate his belief in ubiquitous skulduggery was previously used in the last post which Tamino mentioned the said Keanan in which the said Keanan is considered as being worthy of harsh criticism. Unlike Tamino, the said Keanan uses the highly complicated and far-too-technical-to-be-explained statistical method called the Intuitive Method to reach his revelationary conclusion.

    [Response: A nice example of why Keenan's fit is irrelevant http://quantpalaeo.wordpress.com/2013/05/27/red-herrings-cats-and-pigeons-at-wuwt/ - gavin]

  45. 495
    Hank Roberts says:

    “When a student or researcher, regardless of age, demographic of identity seeks the library, they are performing a ritual dedicated to seeking access to ideas and information that they cannot find by themselves…. which is vital and essential to sustaining both life and liberty.

    “… a guide! A person trained, educated and dedicated to connect you with the right information at the right time, regardless of where and how that information can [sic] and is found. That’s why you need a librarian….”

    “http://www.paleolibrarian.info/2013/05/the-library-as-ultimate-house-of-worship.html

  46. 496
    Bob Loblaw says:

    Hank @6:49pm provide a quote of unknown origin (to me)

    “When a student or researcher, regardless of age, demographic of identity seeks the library, they are performing a ritual dedicated to seeking access to ideas and information that they cannot find by themselves…. which is vital and essential to sustaining both life and liberty.”

    This is a variation on a theme that I always thought was well expressed on the masthead of the Canadian Aviation Safety Letter (sent to all licensed Canadian pilots):

    “Learn from the mistakes of others; you won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

  47. 497
    sidd says:

    Prof. Box updates 0-500m albedo for greenland at meltfactor.org

    I look forward to 0-3200m update at

    http://www.meltfactor.org/files/2013/05/0-3200m_Greenland_Ice_Sheet_Reflectivity_Byrd_Polar_Research_Center.png

    surface melt continues

    http://nsidc.org/greenland-today/

    sidd

  48. 498
    Hank Roberts says:

    Bob, you added a close quote in the middle of a 2-paragraph quote. The cite is the link following the second quoted paragraph.

    I know, I’m a fossil … hey, it took typesetters five hundred years to get good at setting ideas in print without confusing the readers. Then the Web threw all that learning away.

    Take the first paragraph of the two I quoted, make it an indented block, add a close quotation mark to the end of it — and lo, the citation is lost with the second paragraph I quoted, for those who don’t look back and check the source.

    Typesetters’ irony at work. Weblogs don’t make it easy to do this right.

    I concur completely on learning from the mistakes of others.
    And of course I provide ample learning material _for_ others ….

  49. 499
    Russell says:

    Hollywood’s latest excercise in Alternative Meteorology give a whole new meaning to the expression jumping the shark.

  50. 500
    MARodger says:

    CO2 at MLO is still stuck very close to 400ppm(v). Both Scripps Inst & ESRL are showing latest provisional figure as ‘highest to date’ & if you tot them up, the ESRL are showing (provisionally) a +400ppm five-day period.
    May 26 – 400.59 May 25 – 399.97 May 24 – 399.84 May 23 – 399.67 May 22 – 399.97


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