Welcome, dear readers. For all of you who have eagerly been awaiting Part II of Les Chevaliers, thank you for your patience; with all the other interesting stuff coming up for discussion at RealClimate, the plans to post Part II ran up against the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, when 15,000 of our prime audience are holed up in San Francisco trying to decide which of a half dozen simultaneous sessions at any time best command their attention. Be of good cheer — Part II will be coming along in about another week. Meanwhile, Yours Truly offers a few off the cuff dispatches giving a personal and unedited view of a few things going on at AGU that may be of interest to the RealClimate readership.Myself, I have been spending a lot of time looking at some of the exciting new data coming in from planetary missions, but I’ll spare you that, and talk about things related to global change. I do not pretend that these are necessarily the most important things going on at the meeting, but they are a few things that I happen to have attended, and which caught my attention.
Today, the climate change related session I got to was Climate Change in Greenland: Past and Present (session C13A), with M. Kelley, I. Hakansson and M. Nettles presiding. Actually, I only got to the second half, because of a conflict with a Mars climate poster session, but the half I got to was a real eye-opener. This was a well-attended (really packed, standing room only) session, that generated a lot of excitement. Perhaps I’ll be able to snag some of the images later in the meeting to show you, but meanwhile I’ll do my best to give you some of the picture in words at least.
To put things in perspective, I should first mention the talk by Tom Lowell, on work in collaboration with about a dozen other authors, concerning organic remains from the Istorvet Ice Cap in East Greenland. These are organic remains recently uncovered by the retreating glacier. Dating them tells you when the glacier had last retreated that far. Carbon-14 dates put the date of this earlier glacial retreat to between AD 800 and 1014, bracketing the time of the Norse colonization. Insofar as glaciers are primarily sensitive to temperature, that does indicate that in the Middle Ages this particular place, at least, was probably as warm as at present. It is an indication of some kind of regional warming in the area in the Middle Ages. Thus, if Greenland were taken in isolation, one couldn’t confidently say that what is going on there just now is completely unprecedented in the Holocene — at least not yet. However, as Tom would happily tell you, the Middle Ages were not as generally warm as the present, and Greenland shouldn’t be taken in isolation. It is the rapid melt in Greenland today, taken as one of a vast constellation of signatures of unusual warming, that gives one cause for concern.
And there was ample evidence presented of startling change going on in Greenland — changes in the ice that could raise sea level far beyond the projections given in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. J.E. Box and collaborators presented new work on Greenland outlet glacier sensitivity to surface melting. Outlet glaciers are the very dynamic “drains” through which Greenland loses much of its ice. Earlier work by Zwally et al documented the rapid sensitivity of surges in such glaciers to melt water forming on the surface and penetrating to the base. Box and company documented how ubiquitous the melt ponds are, and how every one, basically, is pouring water through a moulin down to the base. Valliant graduate students have waded chest-deep in the melt ponds to measure the rate of drainage. The work documented much more broadly than ever before how outlet glacier speed responds to warming of the environment.
Leigh Stearns and collaborators point out that the Greenland Ice Sheet’s contribution to sea level has doubled in the past five years, due largely to factors connected with ice dynamics (and not incorporated in the IPCC estimates). They showed satellite data which indicates that just two glaciers — Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq — might account for 10% of this increase. Ominously, more glaciers are primed to pop as climate continues to warm. About the increased flow speeds in this region, they suggest the system has entered a new state: “We speculate that these faster flow speeds represent a new long-term state of behavior which, while not as dramatic as the short-lived periods of peak speeds, have important implications for the rate of sea level rise.”
Mark Fahnestock and collaborators presented additional evidence of the responsiveness of the Greenland ice sheet to climate change around the margins. Changes in outlet glacier systems correlate very well with changes in the temperature of the neighboring sea waters. Some of this may be due to increased melt in the ablation zone, but the effect of warm waters on the calving zone where glaciers discharge into the sea may be a factor,as may be direct mechanical effects of sea ice. The coasts of Greenland have experienced dramatic warming, with satellite data showing the sea having warmed by 4C over the past 15 years. Winter freezing along the coast has shown a dramatic decrease (noticed even by the local Inuit, who in places can no longer traverse certain fjords on dogsled in winter). The dramatic decline in winter freezing shows up in satellite-based sea ice extent maps. If the sea ice goes, can Greenland be far behind? Altogether, things are beginning to look very grim in Greenland — a sentiment expressed by many of the presenters.
Now, that was some of the interesting science, fascinating if scary. Another presentation given today was scary in quite a different way, and altogether aggravating. John Marburger, President Bush’s Science Advisor, gave the Union Agency Lecture. His lecture was called “Reflections on the Science and Policy of Energy and Climate Change.” The good news, I suppose, is that he at least stated that he accepted the established physical connection between CO2 increase and warming — the inhibition of infrared emission by CO2, amplified by water vapor feedback. That’s about the only good thing I can say about the lecture. It was basically an hour long apology for the White House global warming policy. And don’t get me wrong — by “apology” I do not mean that he was expressing regret for the dismal performance of the White House in this sphere.
While acknowledging the correctness of the basic physics, Marburger implied that it was impossible to make useful predictions of climate damages, because of difficulties models have with forecasting regional climate change and things like response of El Nino to warming. Over and over, he castigated the community for being reluctant to do research on adaptation, and over and over stated that adaptation was cheaper than mitigation (reducing CO2 emissions). He stated that it was going to be basically impossible to reduce emissions significantly anyway, since the technologies didn’t exist to do that (I guess he never read Pacala and Socolow’s paper on the wedge concept). His basic answer to everything was that nobody would (or should) do anything until carbon free energy became cheaper than current means of producing energy by burning fossil fuels. There was no recognition that things like carbon taxes might be necessary to put the cost of harms due to climate change into the market. These damages were basically ignored in his world view — except insofar as he said they should be handled by adaptation. “Anthropogenic Climate Change is not the only source of risk to vulnerable populations” He mentioned the need for clean water — the favorite example for everybody who wants to ignore climate change.
He had lots of praise for fossil fuels “Fossil fuels have made modern economies possible.” and echoed the Bush administration line by saying the goal should be to reduce carbon intensity (carbon per $ of GDP) not carbon emissions. Sorry, Dr. Marburger, but infrared radiative transfer doesn’t give a fig about GDP. It’s the emissions that count, and they somehow have to be brought down.
It will be no surprise that Marburger hewed to the line that only voluntary carbon reductions should be sought. He referred to “aspirational goals” as the basis for global carbon policy. More remarkably, he put the blame on Congress when somebody asked why no mandatory carbon caps had been put into place — conveniently ignoring that Congress is within a few votes of passing such a cap, but is laboring under a Presidential veto threat. Even more remarkably, in response to a question about White House censorship and re-writing of documents touching on climate change science, he defended these as “Legitimate attempts to improve the communication of science,” and to “correct some fine points that got glossed over.” He baldly stated, “I have not found any evidence of any attempt to censor science.”
Perhaps somebody should ask Jim Hansen for a second opinion on that. I’m sure our readers can provide Dr. Marburger with additional examples, if he needs a reminder.
Now, I know I am dangerously straying away from the central orbit of RealClimate, and risking touching on politics when I comment on Marburger’s speech. As a major speech presented at a national scientific meeting, I think what was said is probably of interest to our readers, or at least those of us who inhabit the reality-based community. What is going on in the White House very much affects the climate in which science is conducted,and the way scientific results are (or are not) translated into policy. As such, I think this is worth a bit of our attention,and I beg your indulgence. the rest of these dispatches will not stray from the straight and narrow, and will focus on purely scientific commentary.
Note: Information on the meeting (including abstracts and some webcasts) is available here.
133 Responses to "Live (almost) from AGU–Dispatch #1"
Vern Johnson says
One might better understand, with the recent Greenland study results, why it was that the Norse travelled to North America long before 1492. ie because the climate allowed them to do so ie because it became physically possible for their boats to move and that there would be food to eat from the sea and from the land, ie in “Vinland”.
Marburger says we must adapt because the behemoth that is industrial man cannot be slowed meaningfully but, in advising this as being cheaper than mitigation, he is, of course dreadfully wrong. The Bush admin and the Harper Gvt in Canada have agreed to push this “intensity” line at Bali if the third world does not fall into line and agree to caps on their own emissions soon. But this is the spoiled brat approach and must be condemned. At the same time they are saying mitigation hasn’t got a prayer and that it is far too late to act. They are talking out of both sides of their mouths and should not be allowed to get away with it.
At the same time, I agree with Marburger if he said the people who want emission caps must put equal emphasis on adaptation and that they can be logically criticized for not doing this. Having said that though, if any ocean-front property owners wish to sell me their property at a reasonable cost I am willing to buy if only because higher humidity is good for my sinuses.
Walt Bennett says
None of that addresses my twin points.
Also, you seem concerned about flaws in or limits to solutions which have not yet been invented, or at least not developed to the point of practical use.
My suggestion: let the markets go to work. A little encouragement that govts are seeking solutions, will be enough to foment investment.
Forcing emissions reductions sounds good. I am suggesting that the details are extremely difficult to pound out, and I am worried about who ultimately will pay the cost of this approach. I am convinced that this solution, alone, will be inadequate. I am convinced we will need bolder strategies than this, and we will need them much sooner than an emissions reduction strategy will take to implement and to see results.
I’d like to know how any rational person with a basic grasp of the situation could place all their faith in emissions reduction. I, for one, place very little of my faith in that solution.
What I want is for the discussion to turn to practical aspects before we inflict harm on people without actually solving anything.
I am prepared to be a lone voice for the time being. I know that chucking the left’s prize idea is not popular.
John L. McCormick says
Ray, I agree with your comment.
[The challenge here is overcoming our own human nature.]
Advertisers believe the message must be broadcast at least 13 time before the buyer gets the signal to buy whatever is being offered.
Maybe the corporate world will have to hear the message a thousand times until the Business Section of major newspapers begin writing of the prospect that capitalism cannot survive unconstrained global warming. The more we tell them, the greater the liklihood the private sector will begin to act in ways to promote its survival.
Hello CEOs. Listen up! Unconstrained global warming will destroy the global market. And, you can bet on that.
999 messages to go.
Lynn Vincentnathan says
Sorry for being OT, but Al Gore needs your signatures on a petition he’s taking to Bali in the next 48 hours — http://www.climateprotect.org/standwithal
Also spread this to everyone you know.
OK, back to topic…..
re: 34. See 1990 US Clean Air Amendments re: SO2 and NOx emission reductions to address acid deposition. Quite a successful emission reduction approach and program all around.
“Hello CEOs. Listen up! Unconstrained global warming will destroy the global market. And, you can bet on that. …” J-Mc
Many CEOs and business owners already get this. In fact, some have assumed leadership roles. Check the poll numbers. The hardcore denial block is getting this message:
All your melting base are belong to is.
Ray Ladbury says
Walt Bennett, you wonder why the emphasis is on emissions reductions? Well, let’s list the viable “adaptation” strategies for a 20 meter sea level rise, collapse of agriculture, increased disease and increased severe storm activity in a world with 9-12 billion people, shall we?
Hmm, can’t think of many. Can you?
OK, how about we think of all the off the shelf technologies we have for sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and avoiding the onset of positive feedback mechanisms that will take the situation out of our hands?
Drawing a blank, how about you? The fact of the matter is that we don’t have the political or technological infrastructure at present to adapt to the changes that will likely result, and we don’t have the technology to geoengineer our way out of the problem. Decreasing emissions is simply how we buy the time to develop those solutions before natural feedbacks kick in and render our efforts futile.
Lawrence Brown says
Dr. Marburger’s contribution to the meeting is very disappointing. When he speaks of ‘adaptation’ I wonder if he’s talking about it in a Darwinian sense. Maybe the White House hopes we ( and other flora and fauna) will evolve into species that can withstand the draconian climate changes to come.
Strange that he should mention fresh water problems while the Himalayan glaciers, that feed major rivers that supply fresh water to hundreds of millions of people,in China and India, are disappearing. Perhaps those affected will adapt by evolving into camel like life forms that can do without water for relatively long periods.
He has a fine resume as a scientist and I believe that Gavin commented at one time that he “gets it”. But, I suppose, like other political appointed advisors to the narcissist in this White House, he needs to be a little bit sycophantic to remain in his post.
Nigel Williams says
John 25 mentions the sorry fact that most oil terminals are located at the water’s edge. Relocation to high ground while sustaining production will be a truly fascinating engineering challenge. Since the seas will continue to rise from today’s level until all ice is gone and all thermal expansion is done the safe level is above 100 metres above present sea level.
During that not-inconsiderable time we will need to somehow maintain production, sequester all emissions (which entails handling almost twice the volume of CO2 in the direction of ‘away’ as the volume of fuel extracted) and provide the port facilities to ensure cartage of near normal levels of fuel to end users.
So for poor Mr Marburger to ‘adapt’ he is going to need the enormous production capacity of a fairly conventional industrial base to sustain the adaptation effort, but (even ignoring peak oil) his efforts will be stymied – still-born.
I certainly support the carbon-rationing approach (Nick 18), as only by giving (affixing to) each citizen her uniform global entitlement of carbon credits (the new inflation-proof global currency – no less! “…and that’ll be 40Cs thank you madam!”) can we send the correct signals. Using add-on pricing to influence emission behaviour simply redistributes wealth and is unlikely to make any significant impact on emissions. Witness the various fuel price hikes – the poor travelled less and suffered more from cold and the rich didn’t care as for them increased cost of energy is a tiny part of their outgoings.
But my view is that the individual’s carbon credits should NOT be tradable or transferable. You get a smart-card (a C-Card) and if you want us a GHG emitting device you put it in the slot and your emissions are debited at the rate allowed. The ‘ration’ is a rate of emission not an annual allocation that one could use up in a week. For example it should take at least three C-Cards in the slot to make a conventional car run. Not quite sure how to ration a jungle-dwelling farmer’s torching of a rain forest to grow palm oil – but that’s another matter..
Arthur Smith says
Marburger’s such a disappointment. He’s from around here (Long Island), and apparently was a registered Democrat, yet has become such a mouthpiece for the administration I wonder what happened.
And he contradicts himself anyway – if it’s “impossible to make useful predictions of climate damage”, how could you possibly know that “adaptation was cheaper than mitigation”. Sillyness.
Jack Roesler says
#15, Ray Ladbury: I agree. Conservation is something we all can do now. I assume we all know how to do it. I’ve cut 7.5 tons/yr off my footprint. It cost $7500, and the payback will be about 7 yrs. Not bad. As soon a the cost of solar panels comes down, I can consider putting them in my backyard to power my house, and hopefully, a plug-in hybrid car.
Geoff Pritchard says
The “adapt, don’t mitigate” argument simply fails to engage with the issues. There are thousands of possible mitigation strategies – everything from efficient appliances, to re-afforestation schemes, to re-invigorating nuclear power, to nitrification inhibitors in agriculture. Each demands a separate debate – is it worthwhile, or not?
Even if you think none of these things are worth doing, you still have to argue each point separately. Can you make the case that nuclear powerplants won’t help? Great, I’ll listen – but don’t expect your argument to carry much weight when we’re discussing rainforest conservation. You’ll need a completely different argument for that.
Roger Smith says
Regarding the above posts on costs of mitigation, did you see the recent studies from McKinsey on global warming and energy efficiency?
Energy Use Can Be Cut by Efficiency, Survey Says
“One of the great mysteries is why the public has not shifted faster to fluorescent bulbs,” said Alexander Lidow, a Stanford-educated physicist and the chief executive of International Rectifier, a maker of power management equipment for energy-efficient appliances.
Such shifts might well go more quickly if electric utilities were encouraged to promote efficiency. Under state rate regulation, utilities are compensated for producing energy, but rarely for conserving it. A few states, notably California, allow electric companies to pass through the costs of energy-saving programs, but they are the exceptions.
The study itself: Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Much at What Cost?
Curbing Global Energy Demand Growth: The Energy Productivity Opportunity
McKinsey and Associates recently completed a fairly extensive economic review on the topic:
I’ve simply never understood the logic behind large scale geoengineering. Specifically, this is what’s gotten us into the trouble we’re in! What are the ancillary impacts of large scale geoengineering projects? Of pumping large volumes of liquified CO2 underground? Of pumping large volumes of deep ocean water to the surface? Of coating the southern ocean’s floor with massive amounts of iron? I’m guessing there significant side effects.
Meanwhile, we know what the problem is: burning fossil fuels (to oversimplify just a bit). We know the solution, in large measure, involves common-sense based carbon sequestration – i.e., leave the oil and coal and gas in the ground. Why is this harder than convoluted, expensive, uncertain and probably dangerous geoengineering?
Ken Feldman says
Are there any updates to ocean heat content measurements since the problem with the Argo floats was discovered earlier this year?
Also, are there any presentations on updated measurements of trends in sea-level rise from the Jason-Topex satelittes? Have these been correlated with the GRACE measurements of mass loss from Antarctica and Greenland?
Phil Scadden says
[I am prepared to be a lone voice for the time being. I know that chucking the left’s prize idea is not popular.]
Strange but I thought cap CO2 and let the market value the CO2 credits that you need to offset emission was a right-wing idea. ie let the market do the job with trading between emitters and sequesterers. The “tax” is what emitters add to product price to cover the cost of the credits. And yes, the poor could go cold and lightless because they cant afford products while the rich can still jet around and drive SUVs because they can afford. On other hand, the cost structure will surely favour carbon efficiency and alternative energy sources.
The left’s solution is surely just cap and hand out ration cards.
S. Molnar says
At the risk of straying on-topic (not a specialty of mine), I would like to second the request of commenter #1 and ask for some quantitative guesses about Greenland and sea-level rise from attendees. I realize RC is not in the business of passing on unsubstantiated claims, but in view of Hansen’s assertions that (I paraphrase) you can get much scarier predictions about this privately than publicly, I wonder if just this once raypierre could pass on some unattributed information to give us a sense of what the experts might be willing to say to friends over a glass of beer.
[Response: I was a bit reluctant to quote specific numbers because these talks go by fast and the author disappears into the primordial ylem of the other 17000 attendees never to be seen again (sometimes). If I get a copy of the presentation I can check, I’ll try to post some numbers. Meanwhile, I did snag some numbers from Mark Serreze’s talk, which are mentioned in Dispatch #2. These are numbers for now, but the problem is that nobody knows how high they may go in the future. Only a relative few outlet glaciers are surging now, and I’d guess if they all started to surge you might multiply Mark’s number (see Dispatch #2) by a factor of 4 or 5, just to get a ballpark estimate. I wouldn’t bank too much money on an estimate like that, though. –raypierre]
Jim Eager says
Re Walt Bennett @ 13: “In the end, we will need geo-engineering strategies. If some of these turn out to be highly effective, we may not have to pay the procrastination penalty, and we may not have to pay the mitigation tax.”
But you are overlooking the impact of increasing ocean acidity, yet another effect of increasing atmospheric CO2.
And the impact that lower global insolation caused by deliberate injection of sulfate or other aerosols into the atmosphere will have on world-wide agriculture yields.
The trouble with broken records is that they tend to skip over important parts of the song.
Walt Bennett says
I share your concerns. But answer my question from above: do you have complete faith in emissions reduction as an adequate strategy?
I do not, and thus I believe that geoengineering strategies will be necessary. The blind spots you mention are of great concern; at least we know enough to be asking the questions. That was not always the case.
As I see it, man has made his bet: we will engineer our way forward, and when we screw up, we’ll engineer a solution. I see that as much more likely than any nation reducing its energy production in order to reduce emissions.
If I’m right about that, then in the next couple of decades it’s a race between carbon capture technology and geoengineering. That is a good race because both solutions are needed.
The left is behind “make carbon more expensive.”
That is the crux of the issue. change “could” to “will” if that happens.
John Mashey says
Ray: thanks for the info, and since you’re at AGU, that reminds me:
Just in case, on Friday afternoon, if you have nothing else to do :-), you (or any other RC reader attending the AGU meeting) might want to check out one of the Hydrology sessions, H53F-1489:
“A Comparison of Soil-Water Sampling Techniques”
J A Tindall, M Figueroa-Johnson, M J Friedel
People may recall the exciting discussion in RC in June of:
“Part 1: Magnetic Intensity and Global Temperatures: A Strong Correlation”
Edward Moran, James Tindall Ph.D
After much discussion in that thread, Dr. Tindall wrote, in https://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=453#comment-36245:
“…Regarding the paper, I would invite any and all Scientific Comments, especially since the full report will be released soon….. Also, I invite all to drop by our presentation at the AGU meetings in San Francisco in December. I would enjoy discussing what I am sure will be many differences of opinion…”
Coauthors M Figueroa-Johnson, M J Friedel are also on the GSAAJ editorial board.
Hopefully the full report has been released.
Re: #49 (Walt Bennett)
You know what this sounds like to me? If I get lung cancer, we’ll engineer a cure — but there’s no way I’m gonna quit smoking.
Nigel Williams says
If we could be spectators to all this it would be funny, eh.
Talk of adapting is as useful as talk of sequestering 99% of GHG emissions. We don’t know how, and we won’t get around to it in time. We’ve bought the ticket – we gotta take the ride..
The sequence of events is going to be something like:
1 Continued rise in emissions over the next decade as third world consumption gets up to western levels
2 Token improvements in efficiency in developed countries but continued net increases in emissions
3 Confirmation of the practical impossibility of sequestration
4 Abandonment of bio-fuels as a practical alternative
5 Lack of consensus on geo-engineering reaches a crescendo.
6 Peak oil bites hard in 10 to 15 years
7 Cuba-style major societal disruption due to energy shortages for industry and living
8 Numerous major cities virtually abandoned due to drought and high temperatures. Includes loss of Himalayan water supplies to Asia. Southeast (Florida to Georgia) and southwest USA in dire straights.
9 International Space Station abandoned due to re-distribution of resources towards earth-based social survival
10 Space-based geo-engineering developments halted due to loss of funds for build, launch or operation
11 Major reductions in global food production and distribution due to climate and fuel difficulties
12 Reduced uptake of GHG by biosphere hastens AGW
13 Loss of coastal living and food production areas due to sea rise and storm surge (New Orleans (why did we bother), lower London, Bangladesh, Holland etc…)
14 Enough GHG ‘in the bank’ to spin CO2 through 550ppm and temperatures through the roof.
15 Major reductions in human emissions due to reduced availability of fossil fuels – although China and other countries with major coal reserves will continue to emit strongly regardless until water shortages or population reduction reduce operations.
16 Consequent spin-down in global production, demand and commercial activity due to energy supply issues and relocation of displaced populations
17 By the year 2100 it will be every man for himself…
Now the optimists will say the cup is half full – I’m with them because this is a time of immense potential for the development of our human-ness over our industrial capability. We will again become much more responsible for the destiny of ourselves and our local tribes than we have been for millennia (or at least since taxes were invented!). For the pessimist the cup is indeed half empty and draining fast – and there is plenty to get paranoid about if you like.
My overall view, however, is that expending effort to prove that either AGW is indeed Anthropogenically-driven, or (even more pathetically) to show that global warming is a reality is like wasting time telling people that Christmas is coming. RC gives us a good idea of what to expect and what we need to do and where we should build our arks. Beyond giving us that strategic and tactical information I don’t think RC should spend too much time pandering to the perhaps understandable state of denial evident among the great un-washed!
Jim Eager says
Re Walt Bennett @ 49: “The left is behind “make carbon more expensive.”
That is the crux of the issue. change “could” to “will” if that happens.”
It’s always so touching when someone who advocates “let the markets go to work” expresses such concern about the plight of the poor…,
at the same time that they contend that there is no need to address the root cause of the current warming, of course.
weather tis better... says
Seems to me the choice between mitigation and adaptation is a false one. Adaptation isn’t even a choice, its just more of the same. That means GHG emissions keep going up as the second and third worlds hurry to catch up. Eventually you’re asking for an unlivable planet, even with adaptation.
Let me analogize mitigation in this context to one I am more familiar with, wetland mitigation. The somewhat sensible model we are currently functioning under is that, through regulation, we stop development in the high quality wetlands, try to restore degraded wetlands to their former glory and allow mitigation for development in low quality wetlands. Mitigation even in this context doesn’t work very well. To gain equal quality for what is lost requires a larger mitigation area than what is lost. But, in the final analysis (ignoring the loss of wetlands that are filled under the radar) it’s a system that works OK.
However, in the context of AGW, we don’t have the luxury of protecting the high quality earth and allowing mitigation of the low quality earth degraded by AGW. We only have one earth, and its all being degraded. You can’t successfully mitigate for that, you have to stop it.
This notion of geoengineering is, at best, something to be considered only in the direst circumstances. Anytime you impose an engineering solution on a problem, you run into unintended consequences that inevitably also have to be engineered for. It’s a never ending daisy chain that doesn’t offer a final solution, just more problems.
The obvious solution is stopping the emissions. That means replacing fossil fuels with clean energy. Even if we can figure out how to create so-called clean coal technology, you still have the problems created by cutting the tops off mountains in Appalachia, poisoning streams and losing habitat to the decidedly unclean technology of mining it.
There is no one solution, but the easiest and most readily doable is conservation. We need to take it seriously. The latest goal of achieving 35mpg cars by 2025 or whatever the goal date is, is laughably inadequate. We need to rethink our current transportation system that is so heavily reliant on cars. It will take major cultural shifts that I don’t hear anyone talking about. I think the argument over whether there is AGW or whether it is worth fighting is nearly over. It’s time to talk serious solutions.
Lynn Vincentnathan says
Too bad you had Marburger for your Union Agency Lecturer. I don’t want to gloat, but at my American Society of Criminology Conference in Atlanta this November, we had President Jimmy Carter give the keynote speech. It was great. One thing he said is that when he took office he promised always tell the truth to the American people, and he kept that promise.
As I mentioned here in an earlier post, in the ASC critical green criminology section, a paper was presented on “Global Warming: A State Crime Against Humanity,” discussing how the Bush administration has rewritten global warming science, silenced scientists, and just out and out told bald lies.
I agree with Ray (#15) & “The dichotomy between mitigation and adaptation is false.” The way I see it, the only realistic way to raise enough money for adaptation (which will be needed since there is already lots of harm in the pipes, because we’ve been dragging our heels on this for over 20 years) is a vigorous mitigation program of energy/resource conservation/efficiency and alternative energy that should save us A LOT of money, especially if they get rid of all those tax-breaks and subsidies on fossil fuels.
I say give life a level playing field at least.
Chuck Booth says
# 51 Tamino: “If I get lung cancer, we’ll engineer a cure — but there’s no way I’m gonna quit smoking.”
All too common a response, I’m afraid. As has been pointed out here time and time again, a significant aspect of the problem in dealing with AGW is the lack of rational thinking. For instance:
Understanding public complacency about climate change: adults’ mental models of climate change violate conservation of matter
John D. Sterman and Linda Booth Sweeney [no relation]
Climatic Change Volume 80, Numbers 3-4 / February, 2007
Abstract: Public attitudes about climate change reveal a contradiction. Surveys show most Americans believe climate change poses serious risks but also that reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions sufficient to stabilize atmospheric GHG concentrations can be deferred until there is greater evidence that climate change is harmful. US policymakers likewise argue it is prudent to wait and see whether climate change will cause substantial economic harm before undertaking policies to reduce emissions. Such wait-and-see policies erroneously presume climate change can be reversed quickly should harm become evident, underestimating substantial delays in the climate’s response to anthropogenic forcing. We report experiments with highly educated adults – graduate students at MIT – showing widespread misunderstanding of the fundamental stock and flow relationships, including mass balance principles, that lead to long response delays. GHG emissions are now about twice the rate of GHG removal from the atmosphere. GHG concentrations will therefore continue to rise even if emissions fall, stabilizing only when emissions equal removal. In contrast, most subjects believe atmospheric GHG concentrations can be stabilized while emissions into the atmosphere continuously exceed the removal of GHGs from it. These beliefs – analogous to arguing a bathtub filled faster than it drains will never overflow – support wait-and-see policies but violate conservation of matter. Low public support for mitigation policies may arise from misconceptions of climate dynamics rather than high discount rates or uncertainty about the impact of climate change. Implications for education and communication between scientists and nonscientists (the public and policymakers) are discussed.
Tim McDermott says
I had occasion, 5 or 6 years ago, to look at how the Japanese reacted to the 1973 oil shock. After realizing that they were an energy-poor set of islands, MITI called a conference of their leading industrialists. They decided (or MITI dictated) that they would abandon energy-intensive industries such as aluminum smelting. Other industries were required to become more energy efficient. Ten years down the road, Japan had steel mills that ran entirely on the energy from the coke oven.
IIRC, in the ten years or so that it took for Japan’s GDP to double, they reduced they energy consumption by a third. In a decade they tripled their energy efficiency!
From Japan’s example, it seems that mitigation is adaptation.
If temperature and precipitation over Greenland were held at current levels for a reasonable time period would equilbrium be reached immediately, or would glaciers continue to recede?
Bush, Marburger & Co. have their hands tied. The United States still believes in individual freedoms, and a ‘carbon tax’ is as laughable as an ‘earth-destroying-meteor tax’, or evangelicals imposing a ‘morality tax’. I have no right to tell you what to do and you have no right to tell me what to do (even if you reeeeeeeeally believe in your cause). Participation in emissions reduction has to be voluntary.
Mark A. York says
If you penalize the fossil fuel companies, they will change, and that can be rewarded. This is the beauty of capitalism. It just needs a good swift kick in the keister every now and then. Now would be one of those times.
Richard LaRosa says
Re:#54. I have found one unintended consequence of pumping cold deep water to the surface in the Caribbean Sea: it adds to the inflow to the Gulf of Mexico and will raise its sea level. To avoid this, it will be necessary to install turbines in the passages between the Antilles Islands to create some back pressure. This will cause some Equatorial Current water to divert around the Caribbean and flow directly into the Gulf Stream north of the Bahamas. Now we have two enormous projects to fund, but in addition to surface cooling and nutrient upwelling, we gain pollution-free electric power for consumers and desalination plants on the Antilles Islands, as well as reduced Loop Current strength. This can reduce interference with drilling operations in the Gulf and reduce the amount of warm water collected inside the Loop to energize hurricanes that pass through the Gulf.
G.R.L. Cowan, hydrogen-to-boron convert says
People who talk like this seem to imagine civil servants and others who live by cashing government cheques see fossil fuel interests crowding up to the trough and say, welcome, there’s lots for everyone.
This is not in keeping with the nature of civil servants as I know them, and tax takers as I know them. I expect their attitude to be more like that of housecats who see a stranger cat at the food dish. When a government dependent sees a speeder on the highway, does he say, “burn all you want, the extra subsidy you’re taking from me is OK if it makes the drive less dull”?
Obviously fossil fuels bring in a lot more special tax revenue than they take out in subsidy. That’s the problem. The civil servants at Bali aren’t trying very hard, nor very shrewdly, to thwart the oil and gas interests because they are the oil and gas interests.
An insightful person would call for the special taxes on fossil fuels to be discontinued, or for their proceeds to be promptly divided back out to the population, and would understand that when this is done, government would promptly lose interest in giving relatively small amounts of money to the fossil fuel industry.
Dave Rado says
Re. Walt, #13, try reading the IPCC AR4 WGIII report.
Dave Rado says
Re. #20, carbon taxes would only be regressive by definition if they were not tax-neutral. If they were tax neutral and if the tax raised was used in ways that kept the living standards of the poor the same as before (e.g. by subsidising renewable energy) then your argument falls down.
Dave Rado says
Re. Walt, #34, you’re using a straw man argument: no one here is putting their faith on mitigation ALONE. You, on the other hand, seem to be putting your faith in adaptation alone (without saying, incidentally, who will pay for countries like Bangladesh to adapt).
Martin Vermeer says
John Mashey #50:
I was about to respond “read this and weep” when I went to the RC thread you linked to and found tamino (#236) using words essentially to that effect.
Damn. Not easy to come up with an original post ;-)
Hasn’t anyone read George Monbiot’s book “Heat”? He goes through lots of information and calculations covering what needs to be done to reduce CO2 output, and concludes that we can cut it by 90% and maintain living standards similar to todays developed country averages, if we are willing re-arrange things.
This includes replacing mass transit by car with mass transit by bus, generating electricity from sunlight in the Sahara and transferring it via a Europe wide DC power cable network, which also ties together offshore wind and wave. Also we need stricter regulation on new housing efficiency standards, to force developers to build new houses with better insulation.
There are a bunch of other things in the book. I’m sure some of you will find stuff to argue with, but as far as I can see, he is fairly even handed in his treatment of the topic. Therefore, his bok is required reading.
Marion Delgado says
re #12 – Gavin: I have seen this a lot. Taken at face value, it means that the people who say things like that can’t grasp big numbers.
>Also, you seem concerned about flaws in or limits to solutions which have not yet been invented, or at >least not developed to the point of practical use.
No kidding. So what? Crutzen has pointed out, and its obvious anyway, what pumping sulphur into the atmosphere will do. House also points out the downside to his ideas. When you talk of sulphur
infusions but without the acid rain, as you do in #28, thats dreaming of a magic pony and hoping that
“engineering” will bring you one.
Ray Ladbury says
Walt Bennett, In a free market, the price of goods must reflect their full cost–and that should include the cost to the environment. Cheap energy has distorted the global economy to a ludicrous extent. I can buy tropical fruits grown in Southeast Asia more cheaply than I can buy locally produced apples (if I can even find local produce)! A carbon tax or cap and trade scheme is merely a mechanism for attempting to capture the costs that the current market does not reflect.
I think that it is very unlikely we will see significant cuts in energy demand. I do think that it is possible to begin meeting energy demand via means other than fossil fuels–especially now that oil is becoming less economical. A carbon tax could tip the balance in favor of renewable energy and perhaps nuclear power and away from coal. However, it will take time to develop the necessary renewable/nuclear infrastructure, and so we have to fill the gap with conservation. Are you going to tell me that there is no fat left in US energy consumption that we could trim? And I know we can increase efficiency in developing countries. It is not a choice between geoengineering/carbon sequestration/adaptation and conservation and new technology. We will need all of these solutions. However for now conservation is critical while we develop other solutions. It is a fatal mistake to rush ahead blindly and assume technology will save us.
David Miller says
[John 25 mentions the sorry fact that most oil terminals are located at the water’s edge. Relocation to high ground while sustaining production will be a truly fascinating engineering challenge. Since the seas will continue to rise from today’s level until all ice is gone and all thermal expansion is done the safe level is above 100 metres above present sea level.
During that not-inconsiderable time we will need to somehow maintain production, sequester all emissions (which entails handling almost twice the volume of CO2 in the direction of ‘away’ as the volume of fuel extracted) and provide the port facilities to ensure cartage of near normal levels of fuel to end users.]
This is just silly.
With current consumption trends oil will be virtually gone in a small number of decades. In this time, barring the truly unexpected in Greenland, the sea level will rise a few inches to (worst case) maybe a foot.
I think the current infrastructure will handle that just fine.
We have sufficient problems to tackle between AGW and replacement of a fossil based energy supply that we don’t need to make up silly ones:)
Whilst I agree in part with Ray I think there are one or two subtleties he is perhaps neglecting. I’d suggest strongly that what we require is a carbon ENERGY tax rather than a carbon tax. There is a significant difference. As an organic chemist, carbon is pretty much the main element that I’m trained to understand so I have a slightly different perspective.
I think what we need to do is to look at ways of reducing the use of carbon fuels in industrial energy production. However, the carbon economy is not going to go away. Every single item of clothing you are wearing has a synthetic dye that is petrochemical derived. Many of the fibres will be syntetic and petrochemical derived. Your computer; all those plastics and then all the organometallics used in chip preparation. Paint on your walls, It’s absolutely everywhere. There is virtually no aspect of life where a petrochemical product is not used. Plastic and it’s derivative are ubiquitous. Fortunately, most of it isn’t going anywhere, or at least not in the form of carbon dioxide. All those plastics in the ground and sitting in your house aren’t about to degrade anytime soon in most cases. And that’s the point, the vast majority of oil is not burned as CO2. Only the highest quality crudes end up as a tiger in your tank. Now that doesn’t mean the oil companies get away scott free. Far from it. Oil refinning is energy intensive and that energy should become non-carbon too. I think it is shocking that gas fired power stations are being built in Canada to heating water to extract oil from the oil sands. Total waste of resource. But expecting our carbon based economy to disappear is simply science fiction. We just need to access all that carbon for the really useful stuff a little more intelligently.
I still end up in the same place as yourself Ray in that I believe that renewable and nuclear probably are the way forward and we simply have to get away from fossil fuels as energy sources. But oil is here to stay. I’m really hoping, to be honest, that long term the JET and ITER folks can get a more sustainable fusion reaction going that lasts for more than a few seconds but I rather fancy that fusion, being the best solution, is going to be a harder to get too. Always the way eh!
So please folks try to look as carbon as much as your friend as well. It does actually have it’s uses. We are, afterall, carbon based life forms so it isn’t all bad.
Regarding adaptation, and crocodile tears for “the poor” so often shed by opponents of mitigation:
So, the Bush administration’s negotiators at the Bali conference are not only adamantly opposing any binding targets for emission reductions as “unrealistic and unhelpful”, they are also opposing any binding commitments for adaptation assistance to the developing world. In other words they oppose both mitigation and adaptation.
Chuck Booth says
Re # 58 Michael: “Bush, Marburger & Co. have their hands tied. The United States still believes in individual freedoms, …”
Except that the U.S. Supreme Court seems to think GHG emissions can be regulated:
High Court Faults EPA Inaction on Emissions
Critics of Bush Stance on Warming Claim Victory
By Robert Barnes and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 3, 2007; Page A01
“The court ruled 5 to 4 that the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act by improperly declining to regulate new-vehicle emissions standards to control the pollutants that scientists say contribute to global warming….”
Ray Ladbury says
Keith, Your added precision–carbon energy tax–is appropriate. WRT fusion, remember the words of the wag who said, “Fusion is the energy source of the future…and it always will be.” Fusion is highly problematic for a number of reasons. First, there is the difficulty of controlling the plasma in the first place–as anyone who has experience with very-low-density plasmas in accelerators could attest. However, the neutrons are murder! They steal much of the energy away from each fusion and also complicate the containment and safety issues. They also limit the lifetime of the containment vessel. I don’t think I’ll see commercial fusion in my lifetime, and I am not yet an old man.
Conservation is the best option–every unit of energy we don’t use saves 3. It is also something we can probably get the utility companies behind, since it means they don’t have to increase plant capacity.
Walt Bennett says
I disagree that the comparison is apt. In the case of a smoker, an individual is making decisions which affect only that individual. In the case of AGW, an elite group will make decisions which affect perhaps every person in the developed world, and maybe more. These elite will be making decisions which directly affect the availability and cost of energy. Without access to energy, any human is instantly transformed into a primitive being.
My biggest fear is that this “solution” of artificially inflating the cost of energy will not be sufficient to avoid catastrophic warming, but it will inflict immense pain on vast numbers of the poor while failing. So, we will end up with the worst of all worlds: a planet on its way to overheating; an impoverished class vastly larger than today’s; and many years wasted that should have been spent engineering our way forward.
“The markets” are currently constructed to provide cheap energy. The changes being discussed will end that. Energy will be made more expensive artificially, in order to promote social change. In simple terms, make it unaffordable and they will use less of it.
This implies that consumers have disposable income sitting around, available to spend on higher energy costs. I cannot afford to have my energy costs double; can you?
As for dealing with root causes: you imply that if I do not promote full-scale emissions reduction, I am ignoring root causes? Let me ask you this: what are the root causes? Which of those are addressed by emissions reduction?
You seem to believe that emissions reduction is the cure. I consider that view to be naive in the ways I have previously expressed in this thread. It is also quite clear to me that the politics of this is simple: the left sees a chance to control enormous political power, and they are seizing that opportunity.
“This notion of geoengineering is, at best, something to be considered only in the direst circumstances.”
In my view, we’re there. That’s exactly what I’m saying, in fact: there is no way that emissions reductions will actually solve the problem. I agree with the rest of your paragraph. Of course, that is the challenge whenever there is large scale technology change, such as, for example, the switch to fossil fuels over 100 years ago. We did a poor job of anticipating those consequences. We must improve our abilities to do so.
My point is, we’ve already made that bet.
“I think the argument over whether there is AGW or whether it is worth fighting is nearly over. It’s time to talk serious solutions.”
You and I agree, and that is exactly what I am doing. Emissions reduction, alone, is not a serious strategy. It is a political power grab.
I’d like to see some specifics as to how we avoid whacking the poor with higher fuel costs. Whatever offsets you envision would have to immediately lower that cost, or they wouldn’t do much good.
You say that “no one here is putting their faith on mitigation ALONE”. I disagree and I’ll go further than that: many here and in the broader community are placing their full faith in exactly one form of mitigation: emissions reduction.
If what you say is true, where is the discussion of (a) broader mitigation strategies and (b) additional strategies for reducing the impact of the warming which is now in the pipeline and will continue to be added to the pipeline in the next 30 years?
My position is much more nuanced than you perceive. Please re-read my prior posts in this thread.
Let the better ideas come. They will.
“Walt Bennett, In a free market, the price of goods must reflect their full cost–and that should include the cost to the environment.”
Ray, I am well aware of that argument and I agree. However, we are past the point of rationally building in that cost. We are at a point where that cost must be backloaded to achieve the intended effect. Tell me how we avoid whacking the poor with that “cost adjustment”, or else tell me why it is fair to let that happen.
“It is not a choice between geoengineering/carbon sequestration/adaptation and conservation and new technology. We will need all of these solutions.”
We quite agree. That’s exactly the discussion I am trying to have.
“However for now conservation is critical while we develop other solutions. It is a fatal mistake to rush ahead blindly and assume technology will save us.”
I also completely agree with that. If we continue on the current course (which means, relying heavily on the political solution of emissions reduction), we will find ourselves in even more dire circumstances, making it more likely that we will “rush blindly ahead.”
Nick Gotts says
RE #23 [James] “Re #18: [Rather than a carbon tax, which could well hit the poor harder than the rich…]
Is this really all that different from .e.g Marburger’s suggestions of reducing carbon intensity (carbon per GDP dollar), in that it’s putting socioeconomic goods (albeit different ideas of what those goods are) ahead of doing something that might actually reduce CO2 emissions?”
I tried posting a response to this yesterday, but for some reason it did not appear. James, if you are talking about “Contraction and Convergence” it could hardly be more different from Marburger’s tosh. As the name might hint, the main aim is “contraction” – sustained reduction in emissions; the secondary aim is “convergence” – sustained movement toward a position in which every individual gets a right to an equal share of what GHG emissions can be permitted at a given time. Those who cannot manage within the current limit must buy rights to emit from those able to do with less than that limit – hence, since the former will generally be the rich and the latter the poor, an increase in economic equity as a side-effect – a welcome one from my point of view, but I am sure an additional disadvantage from the point of view of George Bush.
Re #28 [Walt Bennett]
Perhaps I am not as confident as you are that the “allocation” will meet minimum needs. To the extent that a typical consumer might need to acquire extra carbon on the open market, we are still discussing artificial inflation of the cost of a necessity. In other words, your suggestion is too pretty to work. To the extent that you are attempting to shift the main cost to those who are presumably more able to pay, I think that concept needs further exploration. However, other paths hold more promise, I think. Those include: conservation and efficiency improvements; lowering the cost of alternatives, especially those which do not require an infrastructure and are micro-scalable; and mitigation strategies which include geo-engineering to reduce the warming effect and/or remove carbon from the atmosphere. None of those will have a direct cost impact on the poor.”
The level of the allocation should be set in the light of the need for rapid reduction in emissions, but so as to avoid hardship as far as possible, and to share out what hardship there must be, fairly. I agree that conservation and efficiency improvements and investment to lower the cost of alternatives are essential – but they are not enough. In particular, efficiency improvements can have a perverse effect – by lowering the cost of particular activities, they can lead to an increase either in those activities (keeping your house warmer, driving further) and/or a diversion of funds to even more GHG-intensive activities (what is saved on heating may be spent on extra flights). This is far too important to be left to the vagaries of markets; the allies in WW2 did not leave it to markets to ensure that the necessary numbers of tanks, planes, bullets etc. were manufactured and transported to where they were needed, and we are now in a situation of comparable peril. Moreover, as you must surely be aware, reliance on markets inevitably means that the rich have a greater say in what happens than the poor – simply because they have more to spend or to invest. For that reason, I find your expressions of concern for the poor somewhat implausible.
I do not deny that geoengineering approaches may at some point be necessary, but at the moment they are little more than “smoke and mirrors”. As for saying that geoengineering will not “have a direct cost impact on the poor” – these are weasel words. It will certainly have a cost impact – someone is going to have to pay for geoengineering projects, and paying for public goods is an activity from which the poor are not generally excluded by the jealous clamour of the rich for the honour. Such projects may also have serious environmental side-effects, and if they do, it will of course be the poor who suffer first and most – as they will if we abandon or go easy on emissions reduction, then find that none of the geoengineering approaches is both practicable and effective.
Finally, you have several times identified carbon taxes as the preferred solution of “the left”. In Europe at least, my impression is that leftists who address the issue generally advocate contraction and convergence or something close to it – but are certainly not alone in doing so. If your concern over AGW and for the poor are real, have a look at http://www.gci.org.uk/contconv/cc.html, where the idea is described in more detail than could be included here.
Walt Bennett says
Here is the WashPost take:
“There’s a question mark of how long is it going to take the bigfoots to step forward and do what they need to do, or will that happen in 2009 with the right leader?” Kerry said. “You need to believe in this issue. You can’t just do it on the side because it’s an obligation that somebody throws at you. This has to become a crusade, a passion, a monumental undertaking.”
I consider it important that we do not pre-judge a political view, simply because it seems to be a stonewalling maneuver. For many reasons, it is not clear today what specific actions must be taken, by whom, at what cost and how soon. The U.S. does not want to lock in vague commitments which may fail to adequately address the situation. To the extent that this is an effort to be more concrete in establishing and achieving specific goals, I agree. If it turns into an excuse to do nothing, I disagree.
The Bali conference is one step in a process which all parties hope will lead to an agreement in 2009. We should not get overly worked up about negotiating positions at this point. We should be paying strict attention to any commitments which are made now and in the future. Are they adequate? Are they achievable? Are they fair?
As we inch toward the day – which will be here soon – when nations are committed to climate stabilization in concrete ways, we need to pay very careful attention to the details.
To the extent that U.S. negotiators want more detail and more concreteness, I concur. Without those, the only goal likely to be achieved is the leftward political reconfiguration.
Your greatest leverage in any negotiation is before you commit. It would be a weak stance to commit to specifics this early in the process.
And let’s not assume that those who want the money are in this for the good of humanity. Many of us are old enough to recite a long list of international relief efforts that succeeded only in enriching an elite few and further destabilizing the conditions of the masses they were intended to help.
Jack Roesler says
Re #73, Ray Ladbury — I inquired about net metering at First Energy, which supplies electricity here in the Toledo, OH area. I told them that if I were to install solar panels in my backyard, I would install more than I need for my own use, and sell the excess to them. Their reply was that their net metering program is for an individual’s use only. They are not interested in me making money by selling electricity, in competition with them. They also told me that they’d compensate me for small excesses at their generating cost. They quoted that at 2 to 3 cents/kwhr. However, right on my bill, their generating cost works out to about 5.5 cents/kwhr. How about that for talking out of both sides of their mouth?
So in reply to your guess that power companies should see customers generating their own power as reducing their future need for more generating capacity, I can say that for First Energy, that’s not a consideration. Very short sighted in my opinion.
A local company, First Solar, is working overtime, supplying their thin film panels to Germany, and other European countries, who pay individuals 50 cents/kwhr for excess electricity pumped into the grid. Government subsidies pay most of that, however.
First Solar is also building 4 new plants. They’re not the only one expanding their capacity.
Ray Ladbury says
Jack Roesler, While I sympathize, I was talking more about conservation–e.g. not consuming. There are plenty of examples of utilities giving away CFLs and otherwise engouraging conservation. I agree that utilities are more than a little peevish about people generating their own electricity with PVs/wind/etc., especially when they are mandated to buy the excess.
And while the growth in renewables has been impressive, we need to remember that generating impressive growth numbers is easy when you start from a small base. Even if they were to maintain these impressive % growth numbers, it will be a long while before they make much of a dent in overall energy consumption.