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Tilting at Windmills

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December 15, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BALI WRAPUP....Since I vented last night about the absurd "compromise" reached at the Bali climate change conference on Friday, it's only fair to give equal time to a more considered opinion now that the negotiations are over and the final document looks a little better than it did at this time yesterday. Given the Bush administration's participation, says John Quiggin, firm CO2 targets were just never in the cards:

But on just about every other score, the outcome has been better than anyone could reasonably have expected, including:

  • Agreement in principle on a 2050 target of halving emissions

  • Agreement to negotiate a binding deal in 2009, when Bush will be gone, and short-term targets back on the table

  • Agreement to provide assistance to developing countries for both mitigation and adaptation

  • Agreement by China to pursue emissions-cutting actions that are measurable, reportable and verifiable.

Other winners from Bali: Al Gore and new Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd. And the losers? "They know who they are."

Kevin Drum 11:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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Comments

America no longer holds all the cards.The rest of the world now has the means to negotiate.

Posted by: hgh on December 16, 2007 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

It's really not about halving emissions by 2050.

The warming process is due to CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. So, we need to stop the rise in CO2 concentrations and then reduce them.

That goes far beyond reducing emissions. That's what the real argument is about. And, until so-called intellectuals like you hitch on, we won't cross that necessary boundary.

We NEED to reduce CO2 concentrations. Methane and others, too.

Kevin. Wake up! Get on board!

Posted by: notthere on December 16, 2007 at 1:34 AM | PERMALINK

There are few phrases more able to succinctly sum up the Bush cabinet than "the losers".

Posted by: An Anonymous American Patriot on December 16, 2007 at 1:34 AM | PERMALINK

And the whole world joins us in the countdown to Bush-free USA.

Posted by: Jeff S. on December 16, 2007 at 1:51 AM | PERMALINK

The losers are everyone who didn't get the boondoggle of an all-expense paid two weeks in Bali during cold weather season. The signers of Kyoto got lauded, but what good did they actually accomplish? The signatory countries didn't fulfill their commitments. In fact, they increased CO2 emissions more than the non-signers did.

We can give all the prizes in the world to those involved in this conference, but this agreement will also be ignored.

Posted by: ex-liberal on December 16, 2007 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

Another set of losers, members of the current government of Canada, for their blindness and inept enslavement to the designs of their corporate masters and Massah Bush. And particularly so PM Stephen Harper for being a national embarrassment to almost all Canadians in this and other related and unrelated matters. Harper personally wins the International Lump of Coal award for stubborn resistance to reality and defiance of common sense. Bush may have an excuse (stupidity) but Harper is not stupid, just resolutely indifferent to the consequences of following his assigned political agenda. Sooner or later one hopes it will come out who precisely dictated his regressive agenda. In the meantime, I advise those elsewhere in the world to regard him as a latter day Damien. A whiff of sulphur attends him.

Posted by: anon on December 16, 2007 at 3:18 AM | PERMALINK

It's too bad there's no way of adding CO2 emissions "tariffs" to WTO agreements. THAT would address the problem tout suite.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 16, 2007 at 3:30 AM | PERMALINK

I really agree with the comment made on this site that all the democratic candidates are potentially excellent prospects for the role of president. Then like us in Australia, then hopefully the US will experience the relief that joining fully with the nations of the planet to tackle together a truly global problem.

Posted by: Persse on December 16, 2007 at 6:39 AM | PERMALINK

By setting up an upcoming economic slowdown, Bush may be doing more than anybody else to slow emissions. He's still a loser, though.

ex-liberal--That joke was stupid the first thousand times it was told.

Posted by: reino on December 16, 2007 at 6:53 AM | PERMALINK
And the whole world joins us in the countdown to Bush-free USA.

You got that right.

notthere: You have an argument, but it appears to me that it better to accept incremental progress, take a step in the right direction, then attempt to grab a bigger increment next time.

Your statement reminds me of Ron Paul’s statement regarding why he would not support the Democrats supplemental appropriation to end the Iraq Occupation. He said it merely continued the war and had pork in it. Never mind that it would have ended the Occupation, just not on his time table. Never mind that it substantially reduced the pork and inserted spending controls and oversight, there was still some pork. All or nothing won’t get us there.

Posted by: little ole jim on December 16, 2007 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

Agreement by China to pursue emissions-cutting actions that are measurable, reportable and verifiable.

Not only that, they have a large reforestation/afforestation project underway. As a "developing" nation, China receives payments from the "developed" nations that signed the Kyoto Treaty, and China recently promised to devote "up to" 25% of that money to environmental remediation.

The deforestation of China under Mao was a disaster, though it was partly ameliorated later in his life.

What is needed next is reforestation of the equatorial forests that have been harvested in the last decades: Brazil, Ecuador, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, central Africa, Mexico and Central America. Unlike the temperate forests (EU, US, Canada) they do not naturally grow back after being cleared, at least not as well. Some of the companies that sell CO2 offsets have active reforestation efforts underway. According to a U.N. report, Mexico did in fact plant 700,000 trees in 2007, and Indonesia had a massive (all school children participated) replanting as part of its preparations to hold the Bali conference.

Reforestation is not a panacea, but it is something that does not require everyone who believes in global warming to wait for government action. If you buy a new computer, you can pay to have trees planted to offset your energy use related to computing.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 16, 2007 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

notthere: Methane and others, too. Some of the CO2 offset companies will use your donation/payment to install the technology to recover methane from landfills and feedlot waste. With energy prices as they are, some of those installations are done for profit as well. For the U.S., harvesting the methane is probably more important than reducing CO2 emissions.

As notthere noted, the goal is to reduce "accumulation" of GHG, which can be accomplished through multiple technologies and behavior changes.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 16, 2007 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Other winners from Bali: Al Gore

Al Gore's company, Generational Asset Management, gets a considerable boost from his international campaign. It's probably the only CO2 offset company whose major promotional campaigns and advertising are actually paid for by honoraria from invitations to speak. I am not saying that he is either wrong or a hypocrite. Global warming is at least potentially a serious threat. But he is also the classic American businessman: a man with a product to sell, and a conviction that the world needs to buy his product for its own good. His is the only advertising campaign to receive an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize.

Once he committed to the business, he abandoned all openness to the complexity of the evidence. It is a great example of "post-decision cognitive dissonance reduction."

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 16, 2007 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

Agreement to negotiate a binding deal in 2009, when Bush will be gone,

Let us not forget the 95-0 "sense of the Senate" vote in opposition to the Kyoto treaty. Any "binding" agreement will have to "bind" India and China to have any hope of Senate passage.

If present trends continue, American solar power production will have quadruped between the passage of the Bush/Cheney/Republican energy bill and mid 2009, with larger increases in wind power and biofuels (biodiesel, corn and cellulosic ethanol, butanol), and increases in H2. And if present trends continue, American fossil fuel consumption will have dropped 5% since the passage of the afore-mentioned bill (though mostly in response to increased fuel costs). The whole negotiating "climate" will be different from now.

Yesterday, trex quoted figures up through 2004. In the U.S. energy market, 2004 was a long time ago.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 16, 2007 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

ethanol and electricity from municipal waste in the Dominican Republic:

http://www.energy-daily.com/reports/Masada_Team_To_Produce_Ethanol_From_Municipal_Solid_Waste_In_The_Dominican_Republic_999.html

Coming to your city soon? Let your city council know.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 16, 2007 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Nothing at the political/diplomatic level is going to happen without a crisis. These guys are brutal, always have been. I'm betting on a solution coming from two guys in a garage, probably in the US.

Posted by: Bob M on December 16, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

A GHG reduction project in Virginia:

http://www.energy-daily.com/reports/Two_New_Landfill_Gas_to_Energy_Facilities_Commence_Operation_In_Virginia_999.html

recovered methane to provide electrical power for 12,500 homes. Note, turning methane to CO2 is a net reduction in the GHG global warming threat because methane is a more potent warming agent than CO2.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 16, 2007 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Quiggin about Bali, but have a modest suggestion about how to handle the reclacitrant

Posted by: Eli Rabett on December 16, 2007 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Well, you have to hand it to these clever people- make unrealistic goals (halving emissions) matched with long time tables (by 2050) in which failure will be someone else's problem since most of us will be dead by then.

Getting China on board? China added the equivalent of Great Britain in the last year to it's electricity grid, and 85% of that was coal fired. It will happen again this year, and next year, and the year after that. And then there is India, Vietnam, Brazil, etc.

To just discuss the United States, how are you going to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half? To do so will require a large, imposed increases (taxes of one form or another) on gasoline prices, home heating oil prices, and, especially, electricity prices. Who has stood up advocating such policies? No one with any political common sense.

I said it once, and I will say it again- I will take people seriously on these proposed goals when we start building nuclear power plants by the dozen per year. Until this starts to happen, these goals for reductions are just so much wishful thinking.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on December 16, 2007 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward wrote: "To just discuss the United States, how are you going to cut carbon dioxide emissions in half?"

According to a January 2007 study published by the American Solar Energy Society, full exploitation of energy efficiency opportunities in buildings, transportation, and industrial processes, along with full application of six existing renewable energy technologies (biofuels in the form of cellulosic ethanol, electric power from wind, concentrating solar, roof-mounted photovoltaics, biomass, and geothermal), can reduce US carbon emissions by 60 to 80 percent from today's levels, with 57 percent of the reductions coming from efficiency improvements, and 43 percent coming from increased use of renewable energy sources.

Yancy Ward: "I will take people seriously on these proposed goals when we start building nuclear power plants by the dozen per year."

That is a non sequitur because building dozens of nuclear power plants per year to address anthropogenic global warming is not a serious proposal.

The ASES study demonstrates that no expansion of nuclear power is needed in order to reduce US carbon emissions by 60 to 80 percent by mid-century. That means there is no compelling reason to accept the well-known, very serious risks, dangers and costs (both economic and environmental) of nuclear power in order to stop global warming.

Moreover, nuclear power can make at best only a modest contribution to reducing carbon emissions from electricity production, and that modest contribution would be enormously expensive. Nuclear power is the most expensive, most dangerous, and least effective way to reduce carbon emissions. Efficiency improvements and clean renewable energy technologies such as those studied by ASES are far more cost effective, have none of the serious dangers of nuclear power, and perhaps most crucially can yield significant emission reductions much faster than an expansion of nuclear power.

A 2003 study by MIT -- which came out in favor of expanding nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions -- found that a large worldwide expansion of nuclear power, tripling the number of nuclear power plants by mid-century, would merely increase nuclear power's share of electricity generation from the current 17 percent to 19 percent.

If all of those new plants were built instead of coal-fired plants that would otherwise have been built, nuclear would make a modest contribution to reducing the growth in emissions, although it would not reduce emissions from their current levels. If the nuclear plants supplanted natural gas-fired power plants, the emission benefits would be even less since the total life-cycle carbon emissions from a nuclear power plant (including construction of the power plant, and the mining, refining and transport of fuel) are comparable to those from a natural gas power plant.

Moreover, there is a reason why no nuclear power plants have been built in the USA in decades: nuclear power is a proven economic failure. Private investors -- the "free market" beloved by Republicans -- won't touch nuclear power because they don't like throwing money away. That's why the nuclear industry has demanded that the taxpayers provide hundreds of billions of dollars in loan guarantees, subsidies and insurance before they will even consider building a few new power plants.

Meanwhile, solar photovoltaic and wind turbine technology are growing rapidly all over the word, almost entirely due to private investment and market demand, with only very modest government intervention, mostly in the form of tax cuts.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 16, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

@secularanamist

The ASES study is interesting. Thank you for providing the link. I can see that type of energy mix being a useful long term solution.

However, the US needs to reduce its per capita energy usage by something like 90% (not 60%) if the world as a whole is to emit carbon equitably and still stay below the overall Kyoto limits.

And it is unlikely that China is going to actually live up to its commitments in Bali. The chinese central government simply doesn't have that much control over what happens in the provinces. They can't even reign in investment to stop the economy from overheating.

I just don't see the world hitting the Kyoto targets. Eventually we'll regulate our carbon emissions, but not for 100-200 years, once the world is fully industrialized.

Posted by: Adam on December 16, 2007 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

And I think you are neglecting the issues of liability and planning approval in your assessment of nuclear energy.

The french don't seem to have a problem.

Posted by: Adam on December 16, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

The winners are all of us who will not be subjected to ridiculous treaties based on bad science which accomplish nothing. No one on the left has ever been able to explain to me why global warming is a left vs. right issue. If the science is so clear, then the evidence should be just as clear to conservatives as it is to liberals.

This is part of the reason that liberals must hold onto there confused ideas that conservatives are liars, or greedy, or all bought out by oil companies. Its very funny. Most of the things that the "very smart" liberals accuse the conservatives of doing are just projections of standard liberal behavior. They accuse the conservatives of having this "America good, Iranians bad" simplistic world view which blinds them to the truth. The truth is the liberals suffer from this simplistic "Liberals smart, Conservatives dumb" which blinds them to truth. Hopefully, some of you may actually question your "intelligence" and stop being so náive.

Posted by: John Hansen on December 16, 2007 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist: solar energy's rapid growth is from total irrelevance to near-total irrelevance.

I went for a drive through the countryside yesterday. I passed four coal-fired power stations, each made up of multiple generation units.

Total installed global solar power generation capacity is about equal to one of the generation units at one of the power stations.

The radical expansion of the industry over the next decade might take global installed capacity of the four power stations I passed.

Meanwhile, China adds coal-fired capacity equivalent to what I passed every month.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on December 16, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Something that I think someone needs to discuss is US coal export policy. If we start reducing coal use in our electrical generation mix here, and our coal production doesn't decrease, we will end up exporting it, won't we? If we do, isn't it going to just be burned somewhere else? Might it not be better to develop high technology carbon sequestration here and consume the coal here?

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 16, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

For a complete day by day summary of the Bali Conference, (the science, not the politics) go to

realclimate.org

To listen to a portion of Al Gore's speech go to

loe.org.

Posted by: slanted tom on December 16, 2007 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen: The winners are all of us who will not be subjected to ridiculous treaties based on bad science which accomplish nothing. No one on the left has ever been able to explain to me... anything at all.

Since we can't seem to get through to you suppose then, Mr. Hansen,you explain something to us naive libruls. In fact I'm really curious. Since as far back as the nineteenth century scientists (yeah, real ones) such as Svante Arrhenius and Joseph Fourier had pointed out that owing to the greater transparency of carbon dioxide to short wavelength radiation (e.g. sunlight) than to longer wave length radiation (e.g.heat) a greater concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would tend to trap more heat. If this had not happened, or is not happening as you seem bent on insisting, then an explanation is called for as to why not. What additional physics comes into play that could explain why the known characteristics of carbon dioxide have become inoperative?

Why is it that global mean temperature has very closely matched the predictions based on the known physics and chemistry of gases, but is not expected in your opinion to continue the trend?

And after you explain that please explain to me what possible motive liberals would have for perpetrating such a hoax on the world's peoples. It surely will not profit them. (And don't gimme any crap about lucrative research grants-- that dog won't hunt.)

On the other hand it is patently obvious what the global warming deniers' motive is: money, profit, cheap gas for big pickups and SUVs, etc. etc.

Furthermore, have you taken a head count re: how many of the representatives of the 188 nations attending the Bali conference are conservatives versus liberals? I haven't, but the ball's in your court. Show me that there are a preponderance of liberals that went to Bali, and back it up with verifiable sources, or else quit carping that global warming is a liberal versus conservative fantasy. (It may be the case in the US, but the US has a particularly virulent strain of conservatives.)

And then offer even just a scintilla of evidence that said liberals are less smart than, for instance, yourself.

You know what I think? I think you need to quit listening to squawk radio and get a book to read. Maybe three or four. Study a bit of physics. Try to find out how computer models are made. Learn what science is really all about. Try to work up a really clear definition of "bad science", with examples and explanations of cases that fit the definition.

And maybe it will occur to you that smarter people become liberals because it is the wiser choice.

Then come back here and apologize for the incessant drivel that you have spewed.

Posted by: Dave Howard on December 16, 2007 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

JH>If the science is so clear, then the evidence should be just as clear to conservatives as it is to liberals...

The majority (68%) of conservative voters in America believe the earth is only a few thousand years old.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on December 16, 2007 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

Robert Merkel: solar energy's rapid growth is from total irrelevance to near-total irrelevance.

At least 3 companies have announced plans to increase their manufacture of PV cells by a factor of 10 over the next 3 years, one in Japan, one in China, and one in Michigan. Honda is moving into PV cell manufacturing on a large scale in order to generate H2 for its H2-powered cars. If present trends continue (admittedly one never knows which trends will continue and which trends won't), electricity from PV cells will become less expensive than electricity from coal-fired power plants sometime during the next American presidency. It will take a while for solar power to spread throughout the American economy, but spread it will.

The next solar power expo will be held in San Diego, Oct 12-15, 2008. Just in time for the next presidential election. Check it out online, or else come visit.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 16, 2007 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

Dave Howard to John Hansen:

Study a bit of physics. Try to find out how computer models are made. Learn what science is really all about.

Now Dave, why would I want to go back to school and study some physics when I already have a Ph.D in Physics from UCLA 1990 for my thesis which concerned computer modelling of the ionosphere.

Posted by: John Hansen on December 16, 2007 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

Dave, I want to comment a little more. Its because I know what the field of science is all about that I am skeptical of global warming. Computer modelling of complex systems is a very difficult field. Computer modelling of the entire global weather system is downright impossible. You must make certain assumptions to simplify the problem. Sometimes those assumptions are guided not by the best avaiable evidence, but by what will bring about the most impressive results. Nobody gets more funding for reporting no problem. You go learn about what the world of science is about and then think a little more about this problem.

Posted by: John Hansen on December 16, 2007 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

JH, there's a glaring error in how you're thinking about public policy decisions.

It doesn't have to be a 99% certainty of a catastrophic shift of say 4 C in order to make change the right course of action. The models do not have to provide a single narrow outcome; in fact that's obviously not possible, if for no other reason than we can't predict our economic activity that produces the CO2.

Probabilities are enough. Even if there is only say a 10% probability of 4C warming this century, the costs of reducing emissions by 50% will be lower than the cost of inaction. At the limit, if the risk of say 8C warming is even as low as 1%, the cost of that outcome (population collapse) exceed any economic cost in lost leasure goods.

You're also, for a physics phd, making a simple error in reasoning: the issue is climate, not weather.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on December 16, 2007 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

Now Dave, why would I want to go back to school and study some physics when I already have a Ph.D in Physics from UCLA 1990 for my thesis which concerned computer modelling of the ionosphere.

Now there was one waste of an education. Let me guess: did your Ph.D advisor commit suicide?

Perhaps by computer modeling you mean: "building tiny models of computers."

It's getting warmer every year John. Warmest years on record in fact. Snowpack and glaciers disappearing, record droughts, disappearing arctic ice, bleached and dying coral reefs, increased ocean acidity, climate-based migrations of all kinds of species and die-offs of those unable to cope with the changes, growing zones moving northward, pacific islands eroding under rising sea levels -- and on and on and on.

I bring this to your attention just in case you were too busy furiously using your phenomenal computer modeling skills to fight off the conclusions about climate change arrived at by scientists from every country, every political persuasion, and every conceivable scientific discipline to keep up with the news.

Your main objection to the reality of climate change doesn't seem to be the modeling -- in your previous posts on the matter say that it's that the solutions being proposed to cut runaway warming are invariably "anti-American capitalism" -- which leads you to believe the whole thing is some kind of leftist plot.

In essence your logic is: "if liberals believe it then it must be wrong."

You're concerned that if this thing is real it is somehow going to either hit you in the wallet or diminish the persuasiveness of conservative political thought by proving it wrong -- and that scares the hell out of you, because it's just one more brick unceremoniously yanked from the dwindling foundation of your worldview.

As for your vaunted education, you've shown from your body of posts that you're a rigid, literal and inflexible thinker who is unable to abstract in any meaningful way and who's willing to obfuscate and play semantic games to make a point. You've also shown that you're mired in fantasies about the traditions and sensibilities of a bygone era so much that it completely clouds your reasoning, that you're a Bircher nationalist, and that you don't believe in equality for women.

You are a hyper-partisan operating from a set of unquestioned a priori beliefs, constantly wondering why the whole world won't wake up and accept your worldview and then making up conspiracy theories to explain it to yourself.

Posted by: trex on December 16, 2007 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

Robert Merkel wrote: "... solar energy's rapid growth is from total irrelevance to near-total irrelevance."

Thomas J. Watson, who was the head of IBM Corporation from the 1920s until the mid-1950s, was reported to have said in the mid-1940s "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

And even after IBM itself introduced the IBM Personal Computer in 1980, the top management of IBM believed that personal computers were "irrelevant" and that data processing would indefinitely revolve around the giant, costly, centralized mainframe computers that made up the core of the company's business.

They were wrong. And you are wrong.

Ultra-cheap thin-film photovoltaics now going into commercial-scale production -- not R&D, not laboratory prototypes, but large-scale commercial production -- by companies like Ovonics and Nanosolar will revolutionize the production, distribution and use of electricity, analagous to the way that microcomputers revolutionized "data processing".

Some electric utility industry analysts are arguing that any type of large, centralized power plant, whether coal, gas or nuclear, is a already a very risky investment because centralized electricity generation will be obsoleted by distributed generation from ultra-cheap photovoltaics and small-scale wind power well within the operating lifetime of the power plants.

Even with existing, more expensive photovoltaic technologies, world wide grid-connected solar electricity generation grew by 50 percent in 2006 alone, making it the fastest growing form of energy production in the world. Production capacity for polysilicon, the raw material of photovoltaics (as well as for semiconductor chips), is being rapidly expanded and combined with technology improvements will reduce the cost of photovolaics by 40 percent within the next few years. When that happens, grid-connected PV will really explode.

Meanwhile, wind power grew almost 26 percent worldwide in 2006, adding 15,200 megawatts of new wind turbines which will generate as much electricity annually as 23 average-sized U.S. coal-fired power plants. India was the third largest wind turbine installer and China was fifth, with a 170 percent increase in new wind power installations over 2005.

This is the future. The dinosaur coal, oil, nuclear and gas interests are doing their utmost to delay it as long as possible, and although they will cause a lot of harm, ultimately they will fail.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 17, 2007 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

trex: It's getting warmer every year John. Warmest years on record in fact. Snowpack and glaciers disappearing, record droughts, disappearing arctic ice, bleached and dying coral reefs, increased ocean acidity, climate-based migrations of all kinds of species and die-offs of those unable to cope with the changes, growing zones moving northward, pacific islands eroding under rising sea levels -- and on and on and on.

2007 was an unusually cold year in the southern hemisphere. The Andes, Buenos Aires, S. Africa all had record or near record lows. The south Pacific and south Atlantic also had, and still have, temperatures that are way below average. Antarctica had the most snow and ice cover ever recorded (of course, Antarctica hasn't had recordings going back a long time.) Farther north, the hurricane season was less extreme than in recent years, and less extreme than forecast, due in part to reduced ocean temperatures.

Bruce the Canuck: Probabilities are enough. Even if there is only say a 10% probability of 4C warming this century, the costs of reducing emissions by 50% will be lower than the cost of inaction. At the limit, if the risk of say 8C warming is even as low as 1%, the cost of that outcome (population collapse) exceed any economic cost in lost leasure goods.

I agree with Bruce the Canuck: paying now to reduce the risk of global warming is good insurance, especially since many of the things to be paid for (renewable energy supplies, reforestation, CO2 sequestration [e.g. for boosting oil output from established wells], increased fuel efficiency) are good for other reasons. But it would be a terrible mistake to try to do too much too soon. Nothing will be done rapidly anyway (because nothing can be done rapidly), warming to dangerous levels will take decades at least, and much work is already underway to reduce the threat.

And it is an equally serious mistake to wait for some kind of international governmental policy that results in transfers of wealth to the corrupt governments of poor nations. And it is an equally serious mistake for people who believe in global warming (or, like me, the risk of global warming) to postpone what we can do now. If half of the families in the U.S. (say 25 million out of 50 million believing families) bought their own CO2 offsets, the total investment would contribute significantly toward achieving the desired goals. That $25B invested annually in diverse ways would make a measurable impact before Venice goes under. Al Gore bought his [from his own company!], Prince Charles bought his, I bought mine. All you true believers out there need to back your beliefs with your own investments. This problem can be solved without any more wasteful Bali style conferences, treaties, or (imaginary) Democratic landslides in 2008.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on December 17, 2007 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

You're also, for a physics phd, making a simple error in reasoning: the issue is climate, not weather

And you, Bruce the Canuck, are showing your incredible ignorance about chaotic systems by your comment.

Modeling climate is about modeling weather. The problem with all climate models is that the weather system contains chaotic problems. These are problems which do not fit standard modeling techniques easily. The problem is very small changes in the initial conditions bring about large changes in the results.
It would be nice if every science yielded easily predictable results. Then everything could just be simply modeled with the linear thinking that everyone could understand. Coming up with climate change is not just a simple matter of taking large averages of known simple equations. This is why it is so difficult.

Posted by: John Hansen on December 17, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

2007 was an unusually cold year in the southern hemisphere.

It pretty cold in my room right now too. Still doesn't have any bearing on this:

2007 likely to be 'warmest on record'

Antarctica had the most snow and ice cover ever recorded

Yes, there are localized aberrations in a chaotic system. Go figure. If only we could truck that Antarctic ice to the ecosystems where humans live and depend on it for water and energy and food, and where its disappearing at a rate unheard of in recorded history.

Posted by: trex on December 17, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Antarctica had the most snow and ice cover ever recorded

Upon further investigation, I think you're going to need to provide a cite for this claim, particularly after reading this:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 “Antarctica is on the verge of a catastrophe—for the world,” said United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki Mon, in a statement on November 9. He had just toured the world’s greatest environmental marvels. Instead of being happy after the junket, Ban was sad.

“The glaciers here on King George Island have shrunk by 10 percent. Some in Admiralty Bay have retreated by 25 kilometers. You know how the Larsen B ice sheet collapsed several years ago and disappeared within weeks —the size of Rhode Island, 87 kilometers,” he said.

Here is the rest of Ban’s statement at Antartica:

“What alarms me is not the melting snow and glaciers, alone. It is that the Larsen phenomenon could repeat itself on a vastly greater scale. Scientists here have told me that the entire Western Antarctic Ice Shelf —the WAIS—is at risk. It is all floating ice, one fifth of the entire continent. If it broke up, sea levels could rise by 6 meters or 18 feet. Think of that. And it could happen quickly, almost overnight in geological terms.

“This is not scare-mongering. I am not trying to frighten you. According to recent studies, 138 tons of ice are now being lost every year, mostly from the Western Ice Shelf.

“That deep blue water absorbs more heat than sea covered with ice. The sea ice around Antarctica is vanishing too.

“There are other deeply worrying signs. The penguin population of Chabrier Rock, a main breeding ground, has declined by 57 percent in the last 25 years. It is the same elsewhere. What will happen to the annual march of the penguins in the future? Will there even be one?

“Grass is growing for the first time ever here on King George Island—including a grass used on American golf courses. It rains, increasingly often in the summer rather than snows.

“These things should alarm us all. Antarctica is a natural lab that helps us understand what is happening to our world. We must save this precious earth, including all that is here. It is a natural wonder, but above all, it is our common home.

“It is here where our work, together, comes into focus. We see Antarctica’s beauty—and the danger global warming represents, and the urgency that we do something about it. I am determined that we shall.”

Matt, were you wildly off base again? Tsk tsk.

Posted by: trex on December 17, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

MR> It will take so much to overcome societal inertia that carbon taxes, and tighter regulation of vehicle mileage needs to happen now, for large changes to even be possible 10 years from now.

W/R to "corrupt governments of poor nations", we badly need the moral authority to be able to pressure India and China into real cuts in a decade. Right now we have none. That's the game, and it has to be played.

JH>The problem is very small changes in the initial conditions bring about large changes in the results...

Actually no, it's not the same as weather, at least not the way you would like to imply. Estimated climate sensitivity to doubling CO2 has stayed in a range of 1.5 to 4.5C for decades. It's a remarkably robust outcome of the research despite massive increases in effort expended.

Haven't you seen the discussions about this all over recently? It can be viewed as a lopsided histogram, with a long tail towards the higher-temperature outcomes. The chaotic nature of the system warns of the danger of *high* end sensitivity.

If you're going to emphasize its chaotic nature, you're inherently warning people of the small but real chance we could trigger catastrophic warming. It is not a comforting aspect for decision making. Maybe you'd better find a new talking point then eh?

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on December 17, 2007 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Agreement to reduce population growth, let alone reduce absolute population numbers? None-existent; the subject not even raised.

This will be one more step in the posturing of the early 21st century that will do precious little to reduce the true horrors of what is building up for the mid-century. Meanwhile the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth are competing with each other about who most fervently believes a fairy story about how some magical king in the sky will save us all from the inevitable laws of biology, chemistry and physics, and Malthus is made fun of as the guy who got it wrong.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on December 17, 2007 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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