July 20, 2005
Realism on Climate Change
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change
This week at the XXV International Population Conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, in Tours, France, Tim Dyson of the London School of Economics presented a very interesting paper that presents some refreshingly clear thinking on climate change. Dyson's conference presentation is titled, "Development, population, climate change: some painful conclusions."
Here is the abstract to Dyson's paper prepared for the conference:
"On development, demography and climate change: The end of the world as we know it?
London School of Economics
Paper prepared for Session 952 of the XXVth Conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, Tours, 18-23 July, 2005
Adopting a holistic stance, the present paper attempts to provide fresh perspective on global warming and climate change. It does so by considering most major sides of the issue, and, quite consciously, it does so from a distance. Essentially, five main points are made. First, that since about 1800 economic development has been based on the burning of fossil fuels, and this will continue to apply for the foreseeable future. Of course, there will be increases in the efficiency with which they are used, but there is no real alternative to the continued - indeed increasing - use of these fuels for purposes of economic development. Second, due to momentum in economic, demographic, and climate processes, it is inevitable that there will be a major rise in the level of atmospheric CO2 during the twenty-first century. Demographic and CO2 emissions data are presented to substantiate this. Third, available data on global temperatures, which are also presented, suggest strongly that the coming warming of the Earth will be appreciably faster than anything that human populations have experienced in historical times.
The paper shows that a rise in world surface temperature of anywhere between 1.6 and 6.6 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 is quite conceivable - and this is a conclusion that does not require much complex science to appreciate. Furthermore, particularly in a system that is being forced, the chances of an abrupt change in climate happening must be rated as fair. Fourth, while it is impossible to attach precise probabilities to different scenarios, the range of plausible unpleasant climate outcomes seems at least as great as the range of more manageable ones. The agricultural, political, economic, demographic, social and other consequences of future climate change are likely to be considerable - indeed, they could be almost inconceivable. In a world of perhaps nine billion people, adverse changes could well occur on several fronts simultaneously and to cumulative adverse effect. There is a pressing need to improve ways of thinking about what could happen - because current prognostications by environmental and social scientists are often rather restricted and predictable. Finally, the paper argues that human experience of other difficult 'long wave' threats (e.g. HIV/AIDS) reveals a broadly analogous sequence of reactions. In short: (i) scientific understanding advances rapidly, but (ii) avoidance, denial, and reproach characterize the overall societal response, therefore, (iii) there is relatively little behavioral change, until (iv) evidence of damage becomes plain. Apropos carbon emissions and climate change, however, it is argued here that not only is major behavioral change unlikely in the foreseeable future, but it probably wouldn't make much difference even were it to occur. In all likelihood, events are now set to run their course."
This excerpt from the paper is particularly on point:
"Following publication of the IPCC's second report, world leaders met in Kyoto in 1997. But in many respects the ensuing 'Kyoto process' can itself be seen as one chiefly concerned with ways of avoiding making reductions in CO2 emissions. Examples of this tendency include the discussion of 'carbon sequestration' i.e. the planting of trees and other vegetation to help 'neutralize' CO2 emissions. It took considerable time for the limitations of this approach to be appreciated fully - in particular, that over the long run the areas of forest required are incredibly great and that there is no feasible way of stopping the 'respiration' of sequestrated carbon back into the atmosphere (Lohmann 1999). Another approach with a strong element of avoidance - one that has occupied armies of negotiators, lawyers, economists, consultants, etc, the very stuff of Weberian bureaucratization (Prins 2003) - is the construction of 'carbon markets'. The theory is that by enabling 'emissions trading' such markets will allow some countries (usually richer ones, with high emissions) to pay others (usually poorer ones, with low emissions) - essentially as a way of reducing the need to make any reductions at all. The fact is that: None of Kyoto's market measures tackle directly the physical root of global warming: the transfer of fossil fuels from underground, where they are effectively isolated from the atmosphere, to the air. (Lohmann 2001:5).
It was noted above that in the last decade or so virtually all countries have continued to burn greater amounts of fossil fuel. This also applies to those that have arguably been most prominent in supporting the Kyoto process - notably Canada, Japan and those of the EU. Many of these countries are unlikely to meet their CO2 reduction targets agreed under the Kyoto treaty (which finally came into force in 2005). Thus comparing 1990 and 2002, it is estimated that Canada's emissions increased by 22 percent and Japan's by 13. While the CO2 emissions of the EU(15) remained roughly constant, this was mainly due to reductions in Germany and Britain - both of which gained fortuitously from a move away from coaltowards natural gas (which emits less CO2 per unit of energy). Of the remaining countries in the EU(15), only Sweden - which relies heavily on hydro and nuclear - registered a fall in CO2 emissions. Of the 36 'Annex B' countries of the Kyoto treaty (i.e. the industrialized countries, including former eastern bloc nations), only 12 experienced declines in emissions: the three in the EU(15), plus nine former eastern bloc nations. If one excludes these, then CO2 emissions among the remaining 24 Annex B countries rose by 13 percent during 1990-2002 (Zittel and Treber 2003). Of course, the United States, the world's largest emitter of CO2, is not a signatory to the Kyoto treaty. And, to complete the list of predictable social reactions, the 'Kyoto process' has involved no shortage of rather bitter recrimination between representatives of the US and EU countries.
The prospects for an enforceable international agreement to significantly reduce CO2 emissions are very poor. While it may be in the interest of the world as a whole to restrict the burning of fossil fuels, it is in the interest of individual countries to avoid making such changes. Moreover, the enormous complexities involved - many of them created and informed by matters of interest - will also hinder agreement. Doubtless there will be gains in energy use efficiency, shifts towards less carbon intensive fuels, and greater use of renewable energy sources (e.g. solar, wind and tidal power). But except for a massive shift towards nuclear - which has many serious problems attached, and would in any case take decades to bring about - there are limits to what such changes could possibly achieve in terms of CO2 reduction. Other technological ideas - like the development of the so-called 'hydrogen economy', or the extraction of CO2 from coal and its sequestration underground or at sea - are remote, even fanciful ideas as large scale and significant solutions to the problem. Indeed, such notions can themselves be the basis of avoidance inasmuch as they suggest that something is being done. Understandably, poor countries are unlikely to put great effort into constraining their CO2 emissions - especially in the face of massive discrepancies between them and the rich. In sum, for the foreseeable future the basic response to global warming will be one of avoidance and, at most, marginal change. That the absolute amount of CO2 emitted is likely to rise is shown by an examination of basic demographic and emissions data in the next section."
The whole paper is worth reading, and can be found here".Posted on July 20, 2005 12:46 AM
A well written and thoughtful article, however it would have better met its stated objective if it mentioned the possibility that scientists that seek and accept funding from advocacy groups and government agencies are perhaps as likely to be corrupted by the sources of their livelihoods as are scientists funded by profit seeking organizations. Implying otherwise is simply a modern version of the ad hominem attack. The safeguard against bias and error in science has always been an on-going process of review, criticism, and the independent replication of results. Appeals to consensus and majoritarianism are political not scientific arguments.
Posted by: D. F. Linton at July 21, 2005 06:46 AM
Heh, heh, heh! If this is "Realism on Climate Change," I hate to see what the fantasies are!
Well, the progress in the 21st century, in terms of economic, technical, and human health development is likely to dwarf that of the 20th century. I’m predicting a factor of 1000 growth in per-capita GDP. That is, I’m predicting a world per-capita GDP (in year 2000 dollars) in 2100 of over $10,000,000. In other words, no one on earth in the year 2100 will be less than a multi-millionaire by today’s standards.
But even if per-capita economic growth in the 21st century only equals that of the 20th century, it will still mean that the per-capita world GDP in 2100 will be over $50,000. In other words, the average person in the world in 2100 will still be wealthier than the average person in the richest country in the world in 2000.
And that does not even count the technical and human health progress that can be expected in the 21st century (e.g. mitigation/control of hurricanes so that they don’t become powerful, complete eradication of malaria, clothing that cools the body, etc.).
So how in the world can anyone reasonably claim that the warming that might occur in the 21st century will cause “the end of the world as we have known it?”
The IPCC’s upper value of 5.8 degrees Celsius is pseudoscientific rubbish. This paper’s upper value of 6.6 degrees Celsius is even more blatant pseudoscientic rubbish. THAT is the similarity they share; it has absolutely nothing to do with “computer models…attuned to the same basic information.”
3) “Doubtless there will be gains in energy use efficiency, shifts towards less carbon intensive fuels, and greater use of renewable energy sources (e.g. solar, wind and tidal power). But except for a massive shift towards nuclear - which has many serious problems attached, and would in any case take decades to bring about - there are limits to what such changes could possibly achieve in terms of CO2 reduction.”
This is nonsense. It is indeed true that there are limits on how quickly the world can move towards photovoltaics. But there is absolutely no technical barrier to humans attaining 100% of their energy needs from photovoltaics. And the author completely neglects nuclear fusion. (This is much like people in 1905 who might have completely ignored the possibility that humans could ever fly across oceans or continents.)
4) “But in many respects the ensuing 'Kyoto process' can itself be seen as
This completely ignores the idea of ocean surface removal of CO2 (e.g. with iron fertilization).
5) “Another approach with a strong element of avoidance - one that has occupied armies of negotiators, lawyers, economists, consultants, etc, the very stuff of Weberian bureaucratization (Prins 2003) - is the construction of ‘carbon markets’. The theory is that by enabling ‘emissions trading’ such markets will allow some countries (usually richer ones, with high emissions)
Perhaps the emissions trading concepts currently under discussion/implementation are flawed. But this appears to dismiss “carbon markets” in principle. That is complete nonsense. (It's absolutely shocking that any *economist* would do such a thing. Talk about left-wing!) U.S. “trading” of SO2 and NOx emissions has been a resounding success…producing far larger emission reductions at far less cost than was originally thought possible.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at July 21, 2005 10:06 AM
Regarding the first comment about research bias, one really can't discuss this issue without considering the recent history of the tobacco issue. Broadly speaking, it turned out that the industry-funded research was rigged, and the government-funded research was not. There's simply been too much money injected into the climate debate by ExxonMobil et al to not believe that essentially the same thing is at work.
Regarding the second comment, it became obvious very quickly that it was another post from Bahner. Extrapolating his calculation of personal wealth in 2100, approximately in what year will aggregate wealth expressed in dollars exceed the number of elementary particles in the universe? Mark, the odd thing is that I too am an optimist by disposition. It's just that history has been a bit of a bumpy ride. That's been true even when looking at the extreme short-term constituted by recorded history. One can easily imagine your particular brand of optimism being shared by all sorts of folks who were living in materially plush times just before the axe fell. I'm no expert on this stuff, but I think it's an important mental exercise to try to place yourself in the position of, e.g., the Easter Islanders as they cut down the last of their forests and try to imagine how they rationalized doing so even after the consequences had become obvious. As you know, Roger and others have argued at great length that a variety of steps (e.g., greater energy efficiency) that would ameliorate global warming are entirely justifiable within their own immediate terms. Yet, progress is very hard. We see General Motors, a very large organization run by some very smart people, in deep trouble right now due to some extreme short-term thinking. You have to ask yourself what it is about human beings that makes this kind of irrationality possible.
Posted by: Steve Bloom at July 22, 2005 12:47 PM
Steve Bloom writes, "Extrapolating his calculation of personal wealth in 2100, approximately in what year will aggregate wealth expressed in dollars exceed the number of elementary particles in the universe?"
Assuming a worldwide population (of hydrocarbon-based humans) of 10 billion in 2100, a per-capita GDP of $10 million (in year 2000 dollars) would produce a total world GDP of 100 quadrillion dollars (i.e. 100 x 10^15).
Given the fact that there are 6.022 x 10^23 hydrogen atoms in ***1 gram*** of hydrogen, one should be able to see quite easily that the number of dollars in the world isn't going to exceed the number of elementary particles in the universe anytime within the projection periods of the IPCC.
"Mark, the odd thing is that I too am an optimist by disposition."
I am NOT an optimist. My projection of a world per-capita GDP of $10,000,000 (in year 2000 dollars) in the year 2100 is neither "optimistic" nor "pessimistic". I'm not relying on "optimism," I'm relying on the ***sciences*** of economics and technological trends analysis.
When I predict that Robert E. Lucas Jr. and virutually the entire economics profession (with exceptions like Arnold Kling and Robin Hanson) dramatically underpredict economic growth in the 21st century, it's not because I'm "optimistic" and they are "pessimistic;" it's because I don't think they accurately foresee the effects on economic growth of computers that equal and then exceed the human brain in computing capability.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at July 24, 2005 01:32 PM
Geek alert...completely needless calculation following:
1) Total number of atoms in the universe estimated at 10^70 (10 to the 70th power).
2) Assuming total wealth of 100 x 10^15 in the year 2100, and total wealth increasing by a factor of a million each subsequent century...
3) ...total wealth equals number of atoms in the universe in about 8 centuries. (Surprisingly quickly!)
But I think people will stop counting even by 2100.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at July 24, 2005 07:33 PM
Sorry Mr. Bahner...but your calculations don't seem to make any sense in terms of "practical" value.
Posted by: Nathan Owens at July 28, 2005 12:58 AM
You also stated that there will be clothing that will "cool the body" in the future. I am assuming, you mean that even if there is global warming, we will just put on a special clothes and they will cool our bodies down?
Hmm... Well you know, if the summers get much warmer, the crops won't grow...and if the crops don't grow...we don't eat.
So, Mr. Bahner, will there also be special clothing the crops can wear so they can cool down as well???????
I guess my left-wing brain doesn't understand all this technology you speak of...
Posted by: Nathan Owens at July 28, 2005 01:09 AM
First, the download produces a document that is completely garbled and illegible; someone ought to fix that.
Second, as a matter of policy, the refusal to take adequate steps in light of potentially significant adverse consequences, is the height of imprudence and the polar opposite of conservatism.
Face this fact: we are not talking about curtailing quality of life or standard of living in any real sense. We are merely talking about changing the base of our energy infrastructure from fossil fuels to nuclear fission, wind, solar, etc., and increasing the efficiency of various goods and services. All of these steps will increase rather than decrease economic activity, so the position based on economic impact is specious at best. Would anyone like to step up to the microphone here and argue in favor of squanderousness and recklessness? I thought not.
And yet the "do-nothing" and "head in clouds" schools of economics are doing precisely that by default. Imprudent, anticonservative, squanderous, and downright shameful in light of what is at stake.
Posted by: George Gleason at July 28, 2005 04:23 AM
I too found the comment about "cooling clothes" rather vapid unless entropy is repealed. Any machine that pumps heat from one side to the other (a hot side vs. a cool side) expends energy which is not recoverable. This therefore means that widespread utilization of such fantastic cladding will rapidly exacerbate the heat situation. And this is still not speaking to the probable high energy costs researching, developing, producing and transporting said clothes.
When it comes to "Pseudoscience" it appears that you are simply resorting to wishful ignorance.
Posted by: Bruce McDonald at July 28, 2005 10:39 AM
Speaking of vapid comments, it seems Mr. Bahner is full of them. I am curious how Mr. Bahner engaged in "the ***sciences*** of economics and technological trends analysis" without doing any such pseudoscientific activities as curve fitting. Perhaps he would like to explain why it is not "blatant nonsense" to argue that "fitting a polynomial curve through *technologic development* data that - completely arbitrarily! - started during a time of ***extreme technological development***" will produce *anything* with any semblance of value... One might continue "so of course a polynomial curve fitted through that data is going to produce dramatic increases when extrapolated to the future."
I would like to read a well reasoned rebuttal of the arguments in the original paper, but I guess I’ll have to settle for some minimal comic relief value from Mr. Bahner’s posts.
Posted by: Richard Richson at August 9, 2005 03:49 PM