People talkin’ #4

Here’s the latest open thread — the place to explore the outer limits of climate change science, policy and politics, without fear of being declared off topic or other heinous sins. Have at it…

33 thoughts on “People talkin’ #4”

    1. I made an observation that was NOT patently absurd, on reading an article and being introduced to an issue for the very first time.

      I was pointed to the reasoning behind the substitution, and am on record as having accepted the reasonableness of the substitution.

      Yet again, the extent to which something has been “done to death” has no bearing on physical reality, and if the subject bores you, you have an absolute right to move on to more interesting things.

      Your unredeemed and consistent rudeness was clearly not about the science at all, because, unless you have something new to add, we do not dispute the science.

      While it seems to give you some kind of satisfaction (presumably you would not otherwise keep doing it), I doubt your display serves any other helpful purpose, and is probably more likely to damage the cause any misinformation I may spread..

      Politeness, or silence, costs nothing

      1. I think you would have been more reticent it you’d wandered into a discussion somewhere on string theory or microsurgery – but no, when it comes to weather and climate, we’re awash with expertise! If you had taken the trouble you would have observed that the “Treadgold smear” thread was very long, and replete with links and references that would have shown you that the NZ temperature series was robust. It also had material on the 11-station series, developed partly to help show what frauds Treadgold and his cronies are. Your assertion effectively amounted to an attempt to outright refute an important part of the 7SS, and query the competence and integrity of those involved in developing it. As I also know the primary individuals concerned, I take a particularly dim view of this and make no apology for my remarks.

        I will not be responding to any more of your contributions to this forum – but have little doubt that you insist on having the last word.

        1. Welcome back RW

          The article was written in lay person’s language, and was clearly NOT intended exclusively for experts.
          If I had stumbled across ANY article of interest, on ANY topic, and spotted what I thought was a flaw , I would have commented (and frequently do). That is what the comments function is for.

          You will note I withdrew my “assertion” once the reasoning behind that issue was pointed out.

          One of the great things about these forums is that such interaction represents a great opportunity to test and if necessary modify one’s assumptions.

          None of this explains your behaviour however

  1. Notice of a seminar that might be of interest.

    “Biophysical Limits and their Policy Implications”

    Hosted by the Institute of Policy Studies, School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington and Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research

    Pipitea Campus
    Wednesday 8th June 6-7.30 pm and all day Thursday 9th June.

    I think that it is free but you need to check with IPS.

    Cheers Doug

  2. ArchPrime
    While less population would be a good thing, it is apparent to anyone following the debate that those who want to delay or prevent mitigation of CO2 emissions have a habit of saying that population is the problem and therefore why even try to mitigate emissions. It seems to be used to deflect the conversation to something that is probably harder to solve than the emissions themselves. Not that i think we can’t improve the population numbers. Ironically, the political party that wants to eliminate planned parenthood and is against birth control, is the one making these claims to bolster their denial.

    “and the driver is on coke”

    More likely the driver is on Koch

  3. AP @ May 9, 2011 at 9:25 pm – final par:

    What would you do – ( or advocate ) in respect of not gaming population persé ?

    Let’s say my interest goes back to a memorable exchange with Ivan Illich (in ChCh back then from his seminary in Mexico) in which I – the youngun, so to say, demanded he answer, “What you going to do about the population bomb?” FTR, he blew up. Tho that was never my point and I’ve therefore come to think of his response as deliberately acting distractionary.

    Hope this helps and I’m not considered patronising etc.. Do try answer..

    1. Hi Tom

      I have a blog article of my own , which happens to touch on this.

      As has been pointed out by NigelJ, the world population growth trend is tapering off, and if existing factors that influence people away from large families are sustained, the world population looks set to start falling again some time this century.

      The factors that influence family size seem to be: education of women, economic and social alternatives for women, apart from child rearing, social security, substitution of material wealth for children as a display of status, postponement of children in pursuit of material, educational an other ambitions.

      The common thread facilitating all of these is the world economy. Greedy people looking out for themselves, inadvertently generating economic benefits for society (as well as costs). Very far from perfect, or equitable – but so far nobody has come up with a more persuasive motivating force for good (or ill) than self interest.

      Some basic globally applied rules are important, to kerb the ills, but if we kerb too drastically, more people get hurt than are protected.

      It is widely asserted that earth is already well beyond its sustainable carrying capacity – our unsustainable economy is also now our (temporary) life support system. Imagine the absolute misery and chaos that would ensue if we applied the handbrake significantly to the aspirations let alone the means of survival for billions of people.

      My current thinking is that unless we become pretty certain that we face a civilization ending cliff, we just have to accept the bump in the road in order to keep the life support system going for as long as we can in order to facilitate population decline through choice (i.e self interest), and in order to keep the innovation rate high (again self interest – people will get REMARKABLY rich selling power that is cheaper than fossil fuels)

      That is not to say we cannot simultaneously be rewarding smaller families and innovation directly through tax & social policy & research & innovation start up grants etc – but establishing world spanning Cap & Trade bureaucracies, with all the illogical distortions , corruption, special interest preferential treatment, spin doctoring and diversion of resources & effort that huge bureaucratic systems entails is NOT the answer.

      1. so to summarise: wait until climate change is absolutely undeniable before trying to do anything whatsoever about it. avoid any kind of globally coordinated response. use as much oil as possible until technological wizards come up with new energy alternative. reduce the population of the third world by using special magical powers. problem solved and we all happily drive our SUVs into the sunset…

  4. Yes the bus carries all sorts of passengers, screaming out all sorts of crazy ideas, and indeed the driver (if he exists at all) and the passengers are all also somewhat myopic, and all are cursed with varying types of tunnel vision to boot. The cliff many discern (or ignore) may be huge, or may turn out to be a bump in the road… But we know for sure that if the cliff is as close as we think, a handbrake just won’t realistically be enough to stop the bus in time, and whatever pain may lie ahead, if we jump out of a speeding vehicle now, people will definitely get hurt – and we will all loose our ride.

    Analogies are fun.

    1. Yes all sorts of voices and some of those voices belong to people who are actually familiar with the landscape because they have studied it. There is a lot of agreement from those that have studied it that the cliff is very steep and very close but the driver, much like yourself, insists he knows better, is too good a driver to ever crash and everything is under control.
      I don’t share your confidence.

      1. I don’t remember claiming the driver knows better, or that I know better, or claiming confidence either way. I mostly remember advocating we play the odds on threats from all directions as best we see them, in a way that does not disregard other issues.

        There is mayhem at stake if we act decisively to prevent emissions, and mayhem also at stake if we ignore the problem

        I am looking for a third way.- to navigate between both these disaster scenarios.

        Giving ourselves a few generations longer to reign in population pressure and produce alternative energy innovations and thus allow emissions to fall away naturally might just be that way, In other words reducing the risks from human fallout from attempts to enforce kerbs, and accepting meanwhile the increased risk from climate.

        A strong (with current technology = C02 belching) world economy is ironically the one best placed to facilitate adaptation to climate change.

        As oil gets more expensive, incentives to drive the innovation we want increase naturally as well.

        In other words, I think if we support the trends already in play, we are more likely to survive the threats from economic suppression AND from climate

        1. There are a number of problems with the approach you seem to want us to take. The first is that it depends on a misreading or misunderstanding of the evidence. The most important point you’re missing is that their is a considerable lag built in to the system — usually said to be around 30 years. Using your bus analogy: it’s as if the driver’s reaction time between deciding to apply the handbrake and braking beginning was 30 years. This lag occurs because it takes the surface layers of the global ocean a long time to come into thermal equilibrium. If we wait 30 years to see what happens, and continue to increase the atmospheric greenhouse gas loading in the interim, then if we decide to act on the basis of the damage we see then, we will face another three decades of steadily worsening damage. In other words, if we wait to see how big the cliff is, it will be too late to avoid hitting it or falling off.

          Another key point is that we can get a pretty good handle on were we’re heading by looking at what we know about climate history. During the last interglacial, CO2 levels topped out at about 300 ppm, global temperatures were similar to or a little higher than today, and sea level was around 6 metres higher than present. Current CO2 level is 393 ppm. The last time the atmosphere held that amount of carbon (the Pliocene, 3m to 5m years ago), sea level was 25 metres above present.

          Finally, there’s the question of risk management. You’re an architect. You understand why structures are designed to withstand low probability, high impact events. We have to apply the same approach to action on climate. In the case of climate change, the risk of change severe enough to threaten our civilisation is real, and we have to take that into account when deciding what to do.

          1. “You understand why structures are designed to withstand low probability, high impact events.”

            based on what I’ve read so far I think his approach might be, we’re not sure an earthquake will happen and if things start shaking we’ll just add in some structural supports then.

            don’t think I’d want to live in anything he’s designed…

            1. You are not far off – though Engineers rather than Architects work out earthquake loadings, yes they design for less than the worst case, because worst case design costs so much more it would stymie too many other objectives. So yes we balance risk with other things, revising our risk assessments when reality upsets our previous risk assessments.

            2. “revising our risk assessments when reality upsets our previous risk assessments”

              and how did that work out in the last earthquake? any buildings fall down?

            3. Hi nommopilot. Yes indeed, plenty of buildings fell down – it was a 1 in 2500 year event.
              None collapsed that meet the current Building Code,- they did their job by getting everyone out safely. though many now have to be rebuilt. .
              The only “safe” alternative is not to build at all, or to build for only a tiny wealthy elite able to afford expensive earthquake proof construction – with all the death & deprivation for everyone else that entails.

              As much as we are attracted to black and white answers, risk management in this world involves trading each risk & cost off against all others.

              More people die than necessary if we fail to work with the shades of grey at hand.

          2. Hi Gareth
            Yes you have a good point with lag.

            If that causal relationship bears out (and you will know all the claims that it doesn’t, and that C02 has historically followed rather than leading temperature), once the lag applying to current C02 plays out, it would seem to be a given that we will experience 25m sea level rises whatever we do, even if we do somehow hold C02 to current levels.

            In other words our large cities and huge tracts of highly populated & fertile land are already gone.

            Imagine if on top of this, in 30 or 100 years time we had a substantially reduced economy, no longer capable of supporting out current, let alone projected future populations or their aspirations.

            How would we possibly even begin the global scale humanitarian work required, let alone relocation and reconstruction work required?

            I don’t think we will be emitting at current levels for much longer even if no globally coordinated action occurs. Oil prices will help with that, as will innovation and natural population decline – and initiatives to fast track development & deployment of new technologies

            As bad as it may be, our fossil fuelled economy is a necessary evil that we are stuck with for a while yet – because it is our life support system for now & parachute for when we hit the cliff..

            If we really do face 25m sea level rises what ever we do from here, the handbrake option is already meaningless and will inflict more humanitarian harm than good. A large portion of humanity faces extinction anyway – which all by itself will cut emissions.

            If reality is less dramatic (I have seen IPCC projections of between 1-2 meters over next 100 years) then great – but we will have more survivors to feed & relocate, and will need an economy capable of doing so.

            1. I think you miss the point about the lag — often called the “climate commitment”, because we are committed to further warming whenever we finally stabilise atmospheric CO2. Acting now, and doing so with vigour, not only limits future damage (because we stabilise at a lower level), it gives us the chance to avoid the worst long term effects (getting the full 25m rise is likely to take hundreds of years) by giving us time to actively remove carbon from the atmosphere. Planting lots of forests, carbon capture and storage, that sort of thing.

              It’s clear current atmospheric carbon levels are not “safe”, and that the targets being discussed internationally are even worse (see Skeptical Science here). If we are going to be able to feed and clothe and provide a decent life for all the people on the planet, then the last thing we should be doing is exacerbating climate change.

              We are certainly stuck with our current energy system for the time being, and it will take decades to change it fully over to non-fossil sources, but that is not an argument for doing nothing! Every reasonable economic analysis suggests that it is orders of magnitude cheaper to make the investments in changing energy sources than it is to wear the costs of inaction.

            2. AP like most other “Deniers” you cite the “economy” as the cause for which we should stay away from strategic plans for CO2 reductions.
              Do you have any scientific EVIDENCE aside from your personal convictions which you will agree are no base for anything that the economy will be better off in say 40 years if we wait with strategic emissions reductions?
              Do you have any scientific EVIDENCE at all that the calculations telling us the earlier we start to change and adopt the less the economic pain will be are somehow false?
              I put it to you that if you actually cared about the economy of this country and the rest of the world then you should be on the forefront of those moving towards 21st century technology and sustainable economic practices.
              Anything else will harm the golden goose, the economy, much much more!

            3. Hi Gareth – again I cannot respond directly to your comment! – a mess for anyone attempting to follow this in future

              I do understand your point about lag, and mine is that given that lag, we are already committed to sea level rise. I am inclined to assume the IPCC estimate of 1-2 meters over next century, assuming current trends continue. Assuming current trends do continue, by the end of that century, population will have stabilised and will be starting to drop. Anything that undermines the economy’s ability to fund that drop needs to be considered part as of the situation.

              The “do nothing” scenario is thus for additional forcing to plateau anyway, though obviously at an uncomfortable level, with ongoing sea level rises in the pipeline even once that plateau is reached.

              So yes, I am also banking on alternative energy infrastructures becoming increasingly mainstream, and for this to be reducing emissions overall, and bringing forward that emissions peak.

              If that doesn’t happen, then yes we are in trouble.

              I am not advocating doing nothing – but I am advocating that additional bureaucracy is the worst response.

              the most effective and in my opinion economically viable approach if there is to be intervention, is via a simple carbon tax – NOT Cap & Trade & qiotas etc with all the horse trading & special exemptions & differential treatment & other distortion introduced as people game the system (as they always do with bureaucracy).

              A simple carbon tax is as good a basis for raising tax revenue as any other, and if it replaces income tax and other consumption taxes, such that the average person has the same net income to spend, the economy is not contracted in anything like the same way – merely powerfully rewarded for moving away from fossil fuel.
              The substantial benefit to the economy of eliminating the horrible time & resource consuming compliance costs of meeting income tax obligations would also kick in.

              I suspect that if we indeed replaced other taxes worldwide with a very simple carbon tax (no exemptions or preferential treatment), emissions would plummet within a generation.
              Of course this would annoy those wanting special treatment.

            4. There’s a limit to the number of indents the system allows, that’s all. I can make it go deeper, as it were, but then you end up with very narrow and long comments…

              Over the next century, SLR of approx 2m is a reasonable expectation (at the moment) because big ice sheets should take a long time to melt. That doesn’t mean that 2m will be easy to adapt to — think of the tens of millions living in the Asian megadeltas, and the vast amount of infrastructure around the world built at or near sea level (this week’s Listener has a good discussion of the issue, BTW).

              The handbrake option is really the only sensible one, given what we know now, because it should (if we’re lucky) give us time to avoid the long term huge damage (which extends a very long way beyond just SLR). That said, we can’t assume that +1.5C or 2C brings any real certainty of “safety”.

              As to tax versus cap’n’trade: that’s a choice to make. Politically, cap’n’trade is preferred because it’s an explicitly market-based mechanism that politicians can stack to support their chosen friends. A flat tax might well be preferable in terms of economic efficiency, but the chances of getting one set a level sufficient to galvanise the required changes looks vanishingly small.

              My rather pessimistic view is that at some point there will be a “climate disaster” of sufficient scale to force the international community to take emergency action. There will then be a “wartime” response, and theoretical arguments about economic cost and efficiency will take second place to trying to survive.

  5. AP,

    Hi there… In making this comment to one of yours – I really don’t have time to go find it presently, but the words – “has come up with a more persuasive motivating force for good (or ill) than self interest.” spring to mind.

    Might you consider survival more persuasive motivation.. yes yes I recognise that survival might well precede all other self-interest at a personal level.. yet the issue is macro and likely long on policy matters..?

    Another small thing.. you’ll be aware of critical path ( and perhaps cp analysis).. what in your view is the point of no return? Could you assist with some kind of risk assessment and attendent consequences..?

  6. Sorry to those that have asked me questions recently – under a bit of deadline pressure at the moment.
    To try to quickly answer as many points as I can in one go.

    Thomas’s question in particular was do I have “scientific EVIDENCE at all that the calculations telling us the earlier we start to change and adopt the less the economic pain will be are somehow false?”

    No – and if I did, any evidence to dispute an economic assertion would need to be economic, not scientific.

    AS you probably know, unfortunately economic modelling is not very reliable yet – like climate modelling it brings together many known relationships between things whose interactions can be identified in isolation, in an attempt to forecast the future of an entire system of these things. As with climate modelling though, while each elemental relationship might be verifiable in isolation (you can demonstrate greenhouse process from C02 in a lab), there is no easy way to prove that the interactions between all the elements of the system are valid as modelled, or even that all relevant processes have been included – even when they are tuned to back project & match historic data.

    Another fundamental concern with such modelling (for scientific or economic purposes) as a valid scientific methodology is falsifiability. Any scientist in testing a hypothesis will explicitly identify what real world evidence would show that the hypothesis is false – eliminating a false hypothesis is the entire purpose of testing. The modellers however do not seem to have identified for us any evidence that could be sufficient to demonstrate their hypothesis is false.

    That sort of thing aside, the models (climate & economic) are the best we can do right now – but right now must also be taken with a pinch of salt.

    We do know that at our current technological level that C02 output is a crudely a function of economy size –the recession for example has temporarily reduced the overall rate of growth of emissions .
    I think it is reasonable to assume that , until technology changes, to have no emissions, we would need to have no economic activity.

    I also think it is reasonable to assume that a very large proportion of the human species would die if all economic activity ceased, and the remainder would go back to living lives that were pretty unpleasant and short by today’s standards

    Whether globally coordinated or not, serious emissions reductions equates to serious reduction in economy size equates to many people dying. No I do not have scientific evidence for this, (and to test the hypothesis, I would need to seriously reduce global economic activity), but it seems a reasonable assumption . And this is even before we have to deal with sea level rises.

    The ONLY hope of avoiding this pain that I can see is with technology and/or population decline. There is no other realistic scenario that I have seen for significantly reducing emissions without excessive pain, though would welcome any proposals that show otherwise

    As even Jim Hansen points out, the Globally Coordinated Action proposed to date (Cap & Trade) is likely to be pretty ineffective at reducing C02, while also harming everyone except politicians & special interests.

  7. Time for a bit of controversy? Americans are the problem!
    In the English speaking world all of the denialist movements are spawned or adopted by North America. Climate change, Creationism, Vaccine related health effects, Phone masts, Holocaust denial, Moon Landings, etc. The resulting influence on blogs, web traffic and lazy journalists is disproportionate. This is not to suggest that only negative influences emanate from that region, only that the ‘balance’ emphasizes the contrarians out of proportion.

Leave a Reply