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Unforced Variations: Feb 2021

Filed under: — group @ 1 February 2021

This month’s open thread on climate science topics. Discussions related to solutions should go here.

125 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Feb 2021”

  1. 101
    Piotr says:

    Killian (90): I hate to say “I told you so…”

    It must be hard to build your self-esteem on doing over and over what you so obviously hate… ;-)

    Reminds me an aeronautics engineer who in his free time fancied himself a market expert and on a general discussion group predicted a market correction. His calculations didn’t add up, but by not mentioning WHEN this correction would happen, once he waited long enough he was able to triumph: “ I hate to say “I told you so…”

  2. 102
    William B Jackson says:

    I note that over on the arctic sea ice freezing forum they have been discussing whether it is time to start the melting season forum. It seems that about the same time the Texas cold snap occurred fairly large drops in ice began to appear across much of the arctic.

  3. 103
    nigelj says:

    Chuck Hughes @100,

    “Overpopulation is at the heart of the matter and telling people not to reproduce is taboo in many cultures and religions….The earth is going to shut us down if we’re unable to control ourselves.”

    Well said. The pressure of human population on the biosphere is immense as pointed out in the article posted by Mike, and its hard to reduce peoples needs for materials from the biosphere because they are fundamental to life, so reducing population growth looks imperative to me. I hope governments should do all they can in terms of education and incentives. Likewise the pressure of population on non renewables resources is also huge.

    However there is some good news: Population growth rates are falling almost everywhere except Africa, and I suspect they will fall there eventually as part of the demographic transition process. Population growth has fallen considerably even in catholic latin america so religions grip on fertility rates doesnt seem absolute. Granted that the influence of religion on fertility rates may be stronger in other religions. Median estimates have been revised and now have global population size peaking before the end of this century.

    However over consumption of resources in a per capita sense is also a problem. We should our best to reduce this problem although its a challenging, with the majority of people wanting to improve their material standard of living and being psychologically hard wired to prioritise this. The most promising strategies might be to encourage reduction of waste, recycling, and energy efficiency, and smaller homes because these things reduce resource use without causing people to have to go without basic things they take for granted.

    Maybe further discussion on this is better suited to the FR page.

  4. 104
    Russell Seitz says:

    102

    Elsewhere in the frozen water news, having seen videos of cigarette lighter resistant snowballs some Texan secessionists have embraced the theory that jhe white stuff surrounding the Alamo last week was a hoax.

    https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2021/02/is-climate-warfare-driving-texas-to.html

  5. 105
    Killian says:

    102
    William B Jackson says:
    25 Feb 2021 at 4:01 PM

    I note that over on the arctic sea ice freezing forum they have been discussing whether it is time to start the melting season forum. It seems that about the same time the Texas cold snap occurred fairly large drops in ice began to appear across much of the arctic.

    Yes, because for all that cold air to come out of the Arctic, warmer air fro, further south must be going in. The current expectation is for the AO to be positive the next two weeks, so we’ll likely see an increase in ASI, but enough for a new peak? We’ll have to wait and see.

  6. 106
    Western Hiker says:

    MA Rodger, #79, quoted from a paper,

    “Observational studies overwhelmingly support that AA is contributing to winter continental cooling.”

    The continents are warming, not cooling – even in winter. But maybe at a slower rate than otherwise due to arctic amplification? Is this what the quote is trying to say?

  7. 107
    Western Hiker says:

    Continued….
    The statement seems odd because this is what NOAA says about winter-warming in CONUS,

    “In most of the mid-latitudes, where most Americans live, and where we have something resembling four seasons each year, the cold season is warming the most rapidly of all. This shows up clearly in the US temperature record, particularly during the last quarter-century, when the excursions from the long-term average are much larger during the winter season than the summer.“

    https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/beyond-data/climate-change-rule-thumb-cold-things-warming-faster-warm-things

  8. 108
    Mike says:

    on overpopulation:

    Falling sperm counts ‘threaten human survival’, expert warns

    Epidemiologist Shanna Swan says low counts and changes to sexual development could endanger human species

    “The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” she writes in Count Down.

    It comes after a study she co-authored in 2017 found that sperm counts in the west had plummeted by 59% between 1973 and 2011, making headlines globally.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/feb/26/falling-sperm-counts-human-survival

    Fertility rates globally have been falling for many years now, but global population continues to rise. Our species is like a ocean freighter. It is moving and it is hard to slow it down or change its course. It happens, but it is very slow.

    If you want to help reduce the fertility rate of an area like Africa, think about donations to the Borgen project or something similar.

    https://borgenproject.org/womens-empowerment-organizations/

  9. 109

    nigel, #103–

    One slight correction: birth rates are falling in sub-Saharan Africa, too, and have been for decades. See:

    https://population.un.org/wpp/Graphs/DemographicProfiles/Line/947

    The crude birth rate is down nearly 30% since the 70s; total fertility rate is down about 20% (though still way high @ ~4.7.) There’s every reason to expect those trends to continue, barring massive disruption by, oh I don’t know, climate change or something. They are driven by the same factors that have produced the larger declines seen in Asia and South America.

    But, on the other hand, mortality under 5 years of age is down by well over 70%, and life expectancies have almost (but not quite) doubled. No wonder population is still rising!

    Note, too, that Africa is about to have a demographic productivity bonus: working age adults are about to become the dominant cohort, and are projected to remain so for some decades.

  10. 110
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Chuck Hughes: “Overpopulation is at the heart of the matter and telling people not to reproduce is taboo in many cultures and religions.”

    First, population is only part of the problem. The average USian consumes about 50x the resources of the average Chinese, 30x the average Indian and 13x the average Brazilian. Consumption correlates much more to damage than mere existence. Resource consumption has tripled in 40 years. Climate change is a first-world problem.

  11. 111
    David B. Benson says:

    Is there a surface temperature product just for Texas?

    [Response: Try at Berkeley Earth: Texas – gavin]

  12. 112
    Western Hiker says:

    David B. Benson, #111

    All your questions answered regarding Texas climate trends:

    https://climatexas.tamu.edu/products/texas-extreme-weather-report/ClimateReport-NOV2036-2.pdf?_gl=1*1gfsuds*_ga*MTMzMzkyNjA0Mi4xNjE0MzkyMDQ3*_ga_3LYM4WJM04*MTYxNDM5MjA0Ni4xLjEuMTYxNDM5MjM3My4w&_ga=2.193491755.769203371.1614392047-1333926042.1614392047

    Including this snippet,
    “Extreme low temperatures during the winter months exhibit a stronger and more robust trend. Despite year- to-year fluctuations that are much larger for extreme cold than extreme heat, there is a long-term warming trend
    in monthly extreme cold temperatures across Texas, and the trend is larger in recent decades. Extreme cold at urban index stations has warmed at a greater rate than at rural index stations.

    At all time periods, extreme cold is warming fastest, while extreme heat is warming slowest. This is broadly consistent with expectations: extreme cold air comes from the Arctic, which in general is warming faster than other parts of the globe. There have been some studies in recent years debating whether loss of Arctic sea ice and overall Arctic warming leads to changes in weather patterns that favor more intense incursions of Arctic.”

  13. 113
    Killian says:

    110 Ray Ladbury says:
    26 Feb 2021 at 12:47 PM

    Chuck Hughes: “Overpopulation is at the heart of the matter and telling people not to reproduce is taboo in many cultures and religions.”

    First, population is only part of the problem. The average USian consumes about 50x the resources of the average Chinese, 30x the average Indian and 13x the average Brazilian. Consumption correlates much more to damage than mere existence. Resource consumption has tripled in 40 years. Climate change is a first-world problem.

    This is correct. Of course, there are absolute limits to anything and everything, but population is not the primary problem now, consumption is. My BOTE calculation done years ago based on best-case numbers indicate we can feed up to 12 billion fairly comfortably. If we think of food and water as the primary limits on human life, then those are not the biggest threat – yet. As Ray says, consumption is, and it is industrialized nations consumption, and among those the US, Canada, Australia, e.g. are among the highest-consuming and so must make the largest cuts. Putting far too simply, but roughly accurately: The OECD needs to cut consumption a collective about 80%.

    In time, though, the lower we get population the better, within reason. 1 billion would probably be pretty liveable.

  14. 114
    Piotr says:

    Ray Ladbury(110):” The average USian consumes about 50x the resources of the average Chinese, 30x the average Indian and 13x the average Brazilian..”

    Where (when?) are those numbers from? I ask because numbers I have seen are VERY different. E.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_ecological_footprint

    USA: 8.22 ha/person
    China: 3.38 ha/person
    India: 1.16 ha/person
    Brazil:3.11 ha/person

    RL(110): Climate change is a first-world problem.

    40 years ago – probably. Today – not so much. Here is why:
    – The cumulative historic CO2 emission: https://ourworldindata.org/contributed-most-global-co2: USA 25% +Canada 2% + EU 22% + Russia 6% + Ukraine 1.2% + rest of Europe 1% + Australia 1.1% + Japan 4% + S. Korea 1%= 63.3%.

    Given the half-life of excess CO2 in atm. of few (3?) decades – most of the historic emissions from the Third World are still in the air, while a large part of First world’s – is no longer in the air. So in terms of responsibility for the _current_ excess atm. CO2 – we are roughly comparable.

    And if there is a historical guilt/responsibility as you suggest – I’d see it,
    in a very coarse generalization: the West failed to control its consumption, the Rest – failed to control its reproduction.

    As for CURRENT CO2 emissions – I compiled a table from Wikipedia available data and simple calculations:
    GDP growth (2019): => GDP(2050)/GDP(2019) (2018) CO2 emissions
    China 6.1% 6.3 10.1 Gt
    India 4.2% 4.15 2.65 Gt
    USA 2.2% 1.95 5.4 Gt
    Japan 0.7% 1.25 1.16 GT
    Germany 0.6% 1.20 0.75 Gt

    So today’s China emits about twice as much Co2 as the US, India 40% more than Japan and Germany combined.

    BUT in the future it will could be even worse: some of the back of envelope calculations: multiply the 2nd and 3rd columns, i.e._IF, for now, assume the growth rates and the CO2 intensity of GDP stayed the same, THEN in 2050:
    – China’s emits SIX times more than the US
    – India’s emits as much as the US, or 4.5 times more than Japan + Germany

    Of course that’s a “high scenario” – China probably won’t sustain this GDP growth and the CO2/GDP ratio might decrease, but even with that, WITHOUT active decarbonization:
    – we will CONTINUE INCREASING global emissions, and
    – MOST of it will be coming from developing countries.

    To sum it up:
    1. of the current excess CO2 in the air – roughly half is ours, and roughly half is from the developing countries
    2. in the future the emissions from the developing countries will dominate
    3. which means that even if we cut OUR (West) emissions to ZERO, we would only slow, but not stop, the GROWTH in the CO2 emissions, and MUCH LESS reduce them dramatically (e.g. by 70-80%(?) needed to stabilize atm. CO2 level)

    4. And if we wanted to assign responsibility, as Ray did with his
    Climate change is a first-world problem, in addition to p.1,
    one might look if a country exceeds its biocapacity or not – i.e. whether your avg. footprint multiplied by population is > or < than the area of your country, e.g. see the "biocapacity deficit or reserve" in the table:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_ecological_footprint
    It's not perfect, but offers a quantifiable perspective.

    And when used to all humans serves to remind us where we are – estimates I have seen suggest at least 50% global overshoot, i.e. as a species, we would need more than 1.5 Earths to sustain just our consumption at current population size. And will get worse if we continue adding people and if everybody aspires to the high-consumption life.

  15. 115
    MA Rodger says:

    Western Hiker @106/107,
    You contrast quotes from different sources, Cohen et al (2019) (“Observational studies overwhelmingly support that AA is contributing to winter continental cooling.”) and an NOAA climate.gov page (“In most of the mid-latitudes, where most Americans live, and where we have something resembling four seasons each year, the cold season is warming the most rapidly of all. This shows up clearly in the US temperature record, particularly during the last quarter-century, when the excursions from the long-term average are much larger during the winter season than the summer.”).

    I note the NOAA page comments that it considers a “rule of thumb” so something “not universally reliable” where sometimes “the facts can be … opposable.” So with the one talking of an absence of winter warming while the other taking of the most rapidly warming season, this does sound like these “rules of thumb” are “opposable.”

    However, there is a bit of a mismatch between what is being discussed.
    The seasons under examination are a little different (Dec-Feb and Jan-Mar), the periods of analysis are different (‘since the 1990s’ and 1895-2014), the geography is not identical (“eastern North America, and especially eastern Eurasia” and “the US temperature record”), the point of interest is different (winter cold and winter warmth) and the comparison is different (latitude and seasonal).
    And it goes deeper in that Cohen et al are considering “more variable winters” and “an increase in severe winter weather events” rather than simply “trends since the start of the twentieth century.”

    So one is looking more at short term trends (this sort of data where winter warming is absent) and variability within a winter while the other is looking at winter longer term when the warming is undeniable and stronger over the US than in other seasons Spring, Summer and Autumn, all these links being to GISTEMP maps of temperature anomalies.

  16. 116
    Adam Lea says:

    Regarding population and consumption, I would say both are an issue. Yes the average European or American consumes much more than the average Indian or Chinese, but that is because those latter countries have a high population of citizens living in severe poverty. I suspect that many of those citizens would rather live like a wealthy first worlder than stay in abject poverty, and so will take a route from one to the other if it becomes available. In the future, if India and China become as wealthy per capita as the West and that wealth trickles down to the population, you will have a couple of billion Indians and Chinese now living a life closer to the average European and American, and I doubt the Earth’s resources and biosphere could cope with that without very destructive side effects.

    Possible solutions are for the wealthy West to live like the poverty stricken Indians (good luck with that), keeping the Indians and Chinese in abject poverty and telling them they can’t have the life we enjoy (good luck with that), or somehow assisting these countries to transition to both a more sustainable way of living and a better quality of living, whilst we in the West do the same by reducing consumption, transitioning to renewable resources, and minimising waste.

  17. 117
    nigelj says:

    Piotr @114

    “Ray Ladbury(110):” The average USian consumes about 50x the resources of the average Chinese, 30x the average Indian and 13x the average Brazilian..”

    “Where (when?) are those numbers from? I ask because numbers I have seen are VERY different. E.g.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_ecological_footprint .”

    You are right if you assume Ray Ladbury meant ecological footprint. However I think Ray Ladbury probably meant total consumption of all goods and services ( food, buildings, energy, technology etc,etc). His numbers sounded familiar to me so I googled. And regardless of that, it is what I would have assumed he meant. This is from Scientific American:

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/american-consumption-habits/

    “It is well known that Americans consume far more natural resources and live much less sustainably than people from any other large country of the world. “A child born in the United States will create thirteen times as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil,” reports the Sierra Club’s Dave Tilford, adding that the average American will drain as many resources as 35 natives of India and consume 53 times more goods and services than someone from China.”

    I agree generally with the rest of what you say particularly “the West failed to control its consumption, the Rest – failed to control its reproduction.”

  18. 118
    nigelj says:

    “Regarding population and consumption, I would say both are an issue. ”

    Yes absolutely, and they are very intertwined together as per the equations first developed by Erlich. I = PAT . IPAT is an identity simply stating that environmental impact (I) is the product of population (P), affluence (A), and technology (T).

    https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.361.5003&rep=rep1&type=pdf

  19. 119
    Piotr says:

    Nigel (117) “I think Ray Ladbury probably meant total consumption of all goods and services ( food, buildings, energy, technology etc,etc) [as opposed to the ecological footprint]

    Since the ecological footprint is calculated presumably based on the amount of Earth you need to support the total of your consumption – why would the difference between the two metrics be so massive? E.g:

    US vs China – in Ray’s source 53:1. in footprint 2.5:1. That’s a 20 fold- difference …

    Or more narrowly:
    Ray’s energy consumption: 13:1 vs. GHG emissions: 2.35:1 i.e. >5-fold difference.

  20. 120
    MA Rodger says:

    The folk over at Arctic Neven’s are closely following the peak of the Arctic Sea Ice freeze season which may have proved to have peaked very early this year on 17th Feb, a date only bested by 2015 which peaked the day before, 16th Feb.

    The JAXA VISHOP SIE numbers dropped sharply from Feb 17th and looked like 2021 was going make an appearance in the “record low for time of year” tallies but a reversal a couple of days back left it 33k sq km above the record held through this part of the year by 2018. (The JAXA VISHOP interactive graphic requires a click to show 2018. A static graphic of the JAXA anomalies 2005-21 is here – usually two clicks t ‘download your attachment and without the annual cycle is in some respects a little clearer.)

    The annual maximum level of Arctic SIE continues to decline roughly linearly at about 500k sq km per decade and up to 2014 the maximum was arriving on average later, at a rate of about 2¼ days per decade. But 2015 and potentially now 2021 suggest an increase in variability is overwhelming the signal of that trend in timing. A graphic by Zachary Labe of the size and timings of these maximums for 2003-to-date is here. The trend of SIE maiximums arriving later is quite noisy and only apparent on this graphic in the traces of decadal averages. The rankings of ‘first to arrive’ for the full record 1979-to date run:-
    2015… … … 16th Feb
    2021… … … 17th Feb [provisional]
    1996… … … 22nd Feb
    2007… … … 25th Feb
    1998… … … 25th Feb
    1983… … … 25th Feb
    1987… … … 26th Feb
    1991… … … 26th Feb
    1979… … … 28th Feb
    2016… … … 2nd Mar
    2009… … … 4th Mar
    1989… … … 4th Mar
    2001… … … 5th Mar
    1995… … … 5th Mar
    2020… … … 5th Mar
    If the provisional 2021 peak-maximum stands, 2021 will become the 5th least freezy year on record behind 2017, 2018, 2015 and 2016 with 2019 in 9th and 2020 11th.

  21. 121
    mike says:

    on population:

    Nigel says: “Yes absolutely, and they are very intertwined together as per the equations first developed by Erlich. I = PAT . IPAT is an identity simply stating that environmental impact (I) is the product of population (P), affluence (A), and technology (T).

    So, a simple solution/equation is to reduce first world affluence to support education and healthcare in the less-developed world. The affluence decrease would reduce the impact of the developed world and the funding of education and health care etc in the less developed world would reduce the fertility rate, thus also decreasing environmental impact.

    A simple redistribution of wealth. Are you supportive of that idea, Nigel?

    Any of us developed world folks can implement this solution right now. Here is just one of many worthwhile projects that can be used to implement this solution:

    https://borgenproject.org/donate/

    Go for it!

  22. 122
    Piotr says:

    Mike(121) “So, a simple solution/equation is to reduce first world affluence to support education and healthcare in the less-developed world.”

    While there is a strong evidence for education of girls reducing TFR (total fertility rate) – I don’t think it extends to the health care:

    In fact – most of the population increase during the demographic transition happens when the death rate drops thanks, mainly, to the better health care/sanitation, while the birth rate continues high or at very least drops much less precipitously than the birth rate – see e.g. Kevin’s source:
    https://population.un.org/wpp/Graphs/DemographicProfiles/Line/947

    True, reliable health care might be ONE of the many factors bringing down the birth rate (you reduce the number of kids, because you no longer have to assume that some of them will die early on), but my understanding is that typically it is of a secondary importance in bringing down the birth rate compared to

    a) the socio-economic forces:
    – urbanization (don’t need many kids to tend your crops and animals)
    – stable support for old people (don’t have rely on many children to support you in your old age)
    – affluence – allowing pursuit of other interests than just reproduction

    b) cultural forces:
    – macho cultures tend to keep TFR high, since the value of a man is in such cultures linked to his virility; and the women voice does not count for much

    – some religions may see high fertility, as among other things, a way to increase their “enrolment”, to provide more souls to their only true God.

    BTW, I doubt this extends to polytheistic religions – too many Gods to please? or more likely – with so many of them around – the PloyGods may not be that much into us – rather concerning themselves primarily with _other_ gods – alliances, animosities, palace coups – probably much more important and rewarding to them than dealing with the lowly humans – they might treat us as the rich people treat money – not because they need us, but as a way keep score when comparing themselves with other deities.

    Monotheistic gods, on the other hand, by definition are on their own, so they seem to be much more invested in, and therefore much more possessive of, their human flock. For some insight on that, see “God: A Biography” (by Jack Miles).

    And rather than poach the believers from other religions, i.e. to get a bigger slice of a the same pie, why not grow the pie (and exponentially!).

    Hence the impressive ability to overcome the divisions:
    The Vatican is teaming up with Islamic governments it has long condemned, and Sunni Muslims are setting aside more than 1,000 years of enmity and lining up with their Shiite rivals. The unlikely allies have assailed a preliminary document that sets out remedies for curbing the world population explosion.
    https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1994-08-26-1994238202-story.html

  23. 123
    Killian says:

    121 mike says:
    28 Feb 2021 at 9:24 AM

    So, a simple solution/equation is to reduce first world affluence to support education and healthcare in the less-developed world. The affluence decrease would reduce the impact of the developed world and the funding of education and health care etc in the less developed world would reduce the fertility rate, thus also decreasing environmental impact.

    A simple redistribution of wealth. Are you supportive of that idea, Nigel?

    Any of us developed world folks can implement this solution right now. Here is just one of many worthwhile projects that can be used to implement this solution:

    Educate them in *what*, exactly? How to destroy the planet? No, we need to shut the fuck up and let them educate *us* in how to live a simpler life. We can worry about rocket science again in a few generations if we haven’t boiled ourselves off the planet.

  24. 124
    nigelj says:

    Piotr @122
    I think you would be right about those reasons for population growth slowing and for falling fertility rates although I would add easy acess to affordabe contraception to the list. I read a study where an African country gave away contraception in two of its regions and the fertility rate plumetted dramatically. This was despite the country having very basic health care and very men dominated decision making processes and the influence of tribal religion and only very moderately educated women. It confounded expert expectations.
    Of course its one country and each country is different, but I tend to think cheap easy access to contraception would be a big factor. Its the obvious and simplest explanation but clearly several other things do contribute. I cant find the study now. I seem to manage to keep records of all the things I never look at again, but not the things I ever want to find.

    ————–

    Mike @121, to answer your question, I donate to various charities and projects to help people and I think education and healthcare in the developing world is a worthy cause. I do my bit, probably imperfectly. At the risk of stating the obvious its important to check out charities and see what systems they have to ensure money gets to the right people and and that their organisations are properly audited.

  25. 125
    mike says:

    at K at 123: Basic education, Killian. I am not an adherent of the noble savage idea. I think lots of humans all over the planet have good ideas and models for simplicity.

    The context for this discussion is population and fertility rates. And the shift of affluence in the developed world that drives consumption and destruction that could be accomplished by wealth/income redistribution from developed to less-developed populations. If we are thinking about shifting wealth in this way, I think education and health care are a good target for where the affluence-reduction funds might do some good. Again, back at the IPAT formula, even if the affluence reduction did nothing on the receiving end, it would reduce the impact simply through affluence reduction.

    Some info on the receiving end to amplify the gains for the ecosystem:

    https://blogs.worldbank.org/health/female-education-and-childbearing-closer-look-data

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167629617309438

    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/11/the-relationship-between-womens-education-and-fertility/

    https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/how-bangladesh-reduced-average-number-children-woman-mere-21

    Cheers

    Mike