November 30, 2006
Less than A Quarter Inch by 2100
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change
Following up on earlier discussions on the Mass. vs. EPA Supreme Court oral arguments and specifically on the issue of standing and redressibility, here are some numbers on the effects of the emissions reductions being discussed in the oral arguments and their effects on future sea level rise.
Assume the following:
A. Sea level will at an average of 3 mm/year
B. Of this 1 mm/year is already committed to (e.g., due to non-human causes, human caused due to past GHG emissions)
C. Emissions reductions have an instantaneous effect on sea level rise and that effect if proportional to the total emissions (of course this is not true, but makes this exercise easier, and makes my analysis conservative as emission reductions actually have less than this effect)
Under these assumptions what would the effects of EPA regulation as discussed yesterday be on future sea level rise?
Let’s go out to 2100 and assume that regulations are in place and successful by 2010 (not realistic, but again conservative).
90 years of Business as usual (BAU) * 3 mm/year = 270 mm = 10.63 inches
90 years of BAU minus 2.5% = 90 + 175.5 = 265.5 mm = 10.45 inches
Time delay until 270 mm is reached = 18 months
(If you would prefer to apply the effects of emissions reductions to the full 3 mm/year, then the numbers are 263.25 mm = 10.36 inches = 27 months)
What does this mean?
The maximum effect if reducing global emissions by 2.5% (i.e., as suggested in oral arguments yesterday) would be to reduce projected sea level rise by a less than a fifth of an inch in 2100. In other words, the sea level that would have occurred in January, 2100 would be put off until June, 2101. If you’d prefer to apply the effects of future emissions reductions of 2.5% to the total sea level rise (i.e., ignoring the existing commitment) then the numbers are a quarter inch and March, 2102.
Are these meaningful with respect to redressing damages? In my opinion, no they are not. In fact, I would argue that there is in fact no difference in damages that exists at a difference of less than a quarter inch of sea level.
Seems to me that these numbers might have been raised in the arguments at some point.Posted on November 30, 2006 10:39 AM
A small company is pouring chemicals into the Mississippi River without a Clean Water Act permit. I sue to enforce the Clean Water Act. I claim that I fish on the river and pollutants make the fish dangerous to eat.
But there are millions and millions of gallons of chemicals emitted into the Mississippi River. Even if I fish relatively near the company, there is no way for me to show that the small company's marginal emissions will get into the fish and that those specific emissions will make the fish I will eat any more unhealthy.
Hence, in Roger's world, I have no standing.
I could use examples from the Endangered Species Act or really any other environmental law as well. Roger doesn't seem to realize it, but he is articulating a standing rule that is far different from the one we have now.
Posted by: Chris Giovinazzo at November 30, 2006 11:02 AM
Let me be clear --- I have not said that Massachussetts has no standing in this case.
Justice Souter asked what the effects of EPA regulations of US auto emissions would have on redressing harm. Perhaps he thinks it is important. It may or may not be significant inhis judgment, who knows, but he did ask the question. I found the discussion of this subject pretty weak in the oral arguments, hence I am seeking to clarify the issue here.
I will repeat, I am not a law expert nor am I articulating a general policy on standing.
If the effects of regulating US auto emissions on redressing harm matter in this case, as seems obvious from the oral arguments, then this analysis should be considered. If redressibility does not matter, as you suggest, then this analysis does not matter. I am happy to leave that part to the judges.
However, they should have solid piolicy arguments before them in making such judgments, wouldn't you agree?
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at November 30, 2006 11:23 AM
Rodger is correctly interpreting the requirements for standing. One of the issues in the current Supreme Court case is when can someone sue to force a federal agency to take regulatory action.
If someone's actions are causing harm, the person being harmed can request a federal agency to do something that would reduce or stop the harm. If the agency denies the request the effected party can sue for a court order forcing the agency to act.
To establish standing (the right to sue) there has to be a harm. The science is firm enough to show harm. The next step is to show that the requested action will reduce or stop the harm (this is the redress part). The reduction of pollution is small and will have at best a very small effect.
This will be a close call. Although the potential of reducing harm is uncertain there is in the U.S. legal system a tradition of having open access to the courts and judges are reluctant to shut people out.
Posted by: Joseph O'Sullivan at November 30, 2006 11:53 AM
A further point in reponse -- your analogy to the CWA breaks down in your first sentence as it assumes that regulations already exist under the law. this of coure in not the case with repsect to CO2, indeed that is the point of the current lawsuit we are discussing. So there is some circular logic involved. Once CO2 is regulated by EPA, then I'd agree with your analogy.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at November 30, 2006 12:10 PM
Sorry Joseph, the science is not enough to show (net) harm. It is enough to show anthropogenically caused change, but climate is always changing, and warm has historically been good.
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at November 30, 2006 01:00 PM
Wrong. In the US, warming will be good, on average. However, that average hides winners and losers. Climate change will obviously hurt consumers who will need to buy more electricity to cool their houses, energy companies who will be able to sell less oil and gas in winter for heating, ski resorts who will have to invest more in artificial snow, and so on.
Those who stand to win from climate change are unlikely to go to court. Those who lose, are.
Posted by: Richard Tol at November 30, 2006 01:31 PM
You must be aware of some regional modeling successes in GCM's that I'm not. Our knowledge of feedbacks is extremely weak.
Alarmists say feedbacks are unknown but will be a net positive. How do they know that? They're unknown. Convection and its influence on clouds is particularly unknown.
Here is a link alluding to how land wasting is contributing to warming. There are more than one way to anthropogenically contribute to global warming - and this paper shows how CO2 fertilization could actually offset the radiant properties of its increase, let alone enhancing the food supply.
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at November 30, 2006 02:10 PM
"Those who stand to win from climate change are unlikely to go to court. Those who lose, are."
If the Supreme Court commands the EPA regulate CO2 emissions from cars in order to postpone the hypothetical erosion of two inches of Massachusetts beach by one year, I will have to pay more for a car. I am then a loser! Can I then sue Massachusetts for damages?
Of course, all of this ignores coastal dynamics. Beach erosion, like global warming, is not that straightforward. Sea level has been rising since the end of the last ice age, more or less. In the last 100 years, some beaches have actually grown and land has expanded quite naturally, despite an extimated 8" of sea level rise. Other areas have seen much more erosion than rising sea levels could explain on their own. Some of this is due to shifting coastal currents and storms. Also, Coastal land use changes can have a huge impact!
Assuming that a ten inch rise in sea levels will result in the lose of 500 inches of beach is not correct. It will likely be much less than that and may even be negligable.
The real danger in this case would be the precident of winning a lawsuit over hypothetical damages taking place in a non-linear, chaotic future. Given that such futures are not predictable, one would be able to alledge any potential damage in the future and demand regulation or compensation in the present. It is a legal slope much steeper and more dangerous than the Massachusetts coastline.
Posted by: Jim Clarke at November 30, 2006 02:48 PM
Hi Roger - I am a lawyer myself. Standing doctrine is (in my view) extremely self-contradictory and often silly. A big problem is it creates this situation where it blurs merits and jurisdiction.
So it is unclear to me whether Souter is getting at standing (a jurisdictional issue) or the merits. His point might be a merits one: he might be inquiring whether EPA could reasonably decide that regulation is pointless because the benefit would be so marginal.
But if his questioning is a standing question - have the plaintiffs shown (1) injury, (2) causation, and (3) redressibility, that is a legally different issue (or should be). Thus, it can be simultaneously true that (1) EPA reasonably believed that regulation would have minimal impact, but (2) plaintiffs still have standing.
The fact that the CWA regs already exist (while CO2 regs do not) would not be a relevant issue for standing purposes. For example, I could change the hypothetical as follows. I am mad because EPA has failed to regulate the particular kind of pollution coming from the small company up river. I want to argue that the Clean Water Act requires EPA to pass such regulations. In that situation, the standing argument will be the same. I can only get into court if i can show that EPA's failure to regulate causes injury to me and that regulating would redress the injury.
Posted by: Chris Giovinazzo at November 30, 2006 02:51 PM
Thanks Chris for the further details.
Question for you -- could EPA be sued to regulate the breathing of you or I (instead of a small company upriver) because we emit CO2 when we breath?
(I'd assume no, but what is the difference between this instance and auto emissions?)
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at November 30, 2006 03:18 PM
Reposting in brief my prior answer since you've moved the question to a new thread:
-- Sea level rise can exert huge leverage, bending ice sheets along the grounding line where they fracture.
Consider the leverage the whole floating area of an ice sheet exerts along the fulcrum line when the floating part is lifted a quarter inch above the prior average.
"Ice shelf rifting: In 2005-06 ... study rifts at the front of the ice shelves. ... little is known about the processes involved in rift propagation, and we do not know how these processes will respond to climate change. .... [rift] propagation is faster in the summer than in winter (Fricker et al., 2005a). .... rift propagation is episodic and occurs in discrete events separated by approximately 2 weeks. [highest lunar tides? -hr]
"... ICESat data to study the vertical structure of rifts and the mélange which fills them, revealing that mélange accounts for about 30% of the entire ice shelf thickness (Fricker et al., 2005c; Figure 1). ...
"... In 2005-06, ... CESat data to map the grounding zones of the ice shelves - the dynamically-active transition zones between grounded and floating ice. ICESat can "see" the tide-forced flexure zone between fully grounded continental ice and fully floating ice shelf ice, identifying the landward and seaward limits of ice flexure ....."
"... glaciologists believe areas called ice "shelves," floating slabs of ice that extend from the coasts of the Antarctic Ice Sheet out to sea, may be the first indicators of how climate change is affecting the Antarctic continent because of their direct contact with the ocean and their sensitivity to air temperature warming. Some ice shelves are located in conditions that are close to the melting point of ice, and are therefore more sensitive to changes in atmospheric temperature.
Posted by: hank at November 30, 2006 03:22 PM
Hank- Thanks for participating -- though please describe the relevance of all of this information to this discussion. Thanks.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at November 30, 2006 03:37 PM
Roger - you ask an excellent question and perhaps a bit more detail on how the Clean Air Act works will help.
There are two steps to regulation under the Clean Air Act. First, EPA must make an "endangerment finding." Essentially, EPA must determine whether or not a certain kind of emission (from either motor vehicles or stationary sources of pollution) endangers health or welfare.
Until now, EPA has declined to find that carbon dioxide emissions constitute such an endangerment. If EPA were to find that carbon dioxide endangers health and welfare, EPA would then be required to regulate to reduce the emissions.
Legally, although Massachusetts is obviously seeking CO2 regulation, the legal relief Massachusetts seeks is simply to force EPA to make the endangerment finding. To show standing, then, Massachusetts needs to show a particular stake in EPA making the endangerment finding. Massachusetts argues (1) carbon dioxide causes global warming which eventually will cost us some of our territory; (2) endangerment finding would lead to regulation of carbond dioxide; and (3) regulation would mitigate this harm.
I don't believe that the argument that regulation would be ineffective is a response to standing as phrased here. If regulations would be of minimal use, then EPA should win on the merits, but not at the standing stage. For standing purposes, I believe the question should simply be, do emissions of this type cause harms specific to the plaintiff? Would regulation in any way redress those harms, i.e. make them less likely or delay them?
The minute we require a more specific degree of redressibility, we are forcing merits questions into the standing decision. I believe doing that would be inconsistent with case law on standing in all sorts of other environmental litigation. Yet another example: let's say I try to stop the construction of a road because I say it will reduce habitat for an endangered bird species. For standing purposes, I say that I go out and bird watch and I like looking at the species. This will easily give me standing without further evidence. I don't have to prove that this road construction will truly and significantly alter my chance to see the bird to establish standing. That's a merits question - if the road has no impact on the species, the project can proceed. But I still get to have my day in court.
Obviously, at least 4 members of the Court don't seem to agree with me, and they want to do some of the impacts analysis as part of the standing analysis. I think that's inconsistent with environmental litigation in many other areas. Global warming seems different because the impacts are as dispersed as they could possibly be. But ultimately it's not that different from lots of other environmental lawsuits and my big fear is that if standing is denied here, it will reverberate throughout environmental law.
Posted by: Chris Giovinazzo at November 30, 2006 08:17 PM
Chris- Thanks .. this helps to explain why there is a split among the judges.
Reading between the lines of your response, the answer to my question -- "could EPA be sued to regulate the breathing of you or I (instead of a small company upriver) because we emit CO2 when we breath?" -- appears then to be yes on standing, no on merits. Correct?
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at November 30, 2006 08:35 PM
Roger, you asked what possible difference a quarter inch average rise in sea level could make. I answered that it lifts the floating ice portion of the ice sheets -- increasing the force along the rift line between floating and grounded ice. That breaks the sheet up into pieces, which eventually fall apart.
The quarter inch, times the surface area of the floating ice, is the change in leverage exerted on the rift zones. That's the answer to your question, from the published research.
The area has been instrumented for a long time; the last major collapse happened in the early 1960s, so the research covers the recent spike in fossil fuel burning since the 1970s -- half the total anthropogenic carbon dioxide -- and the current estimate is five years til the next large piece, 30x30 km., comes off. This is a rate of change issue that is a feedback for sea level rise.
Do you see why it's an answer to your question? Look at it:
As to worrying that the government will be regulating your breathing, you don't exhale new carbon dioxide from fossil fuel sources, identifiable by having no carbon-14 left. You're biological, not a corporation, so you're safe there, eh?
Of course that's the real worry for those who see only politics here, isn't it? The suspicion that it's all a socialistic or capitalistic conspiracy and science has nothing to do with it. Same argument that was made about the chlorofluorocarbons and the tobacco business.
Focus on what actual difference a quarter inch average sea level rise can make on the physical world.
Posted by: hank at December 1, 2006 12:11 AM
Further to Roger's question on breathing, let's say the EPA is required to regulated CO2 emissions, the world economy tanks and I lose my job. What redress do I have if I do not live in the US? Probably none.
Let's say I get together with 100k plus similarly disaffected people and we decide to get our own redress?
All hypothetical of course but I just created a spreadsheet that suggests a 59.38% chance (±2.67) of this happening.
Posted by: Jeff Norman at December 1, 2006 06:01 AM
Thanks for the follow up. If a quarter inch of sea level rise is going to lead to the collapse of ice sheets, then we are indeed in trouble as sea levels are projected to rise by much more than that regardless of policies. Fortunately, not many scientists believe that will occur.
My question about regulating breathing was obvious a thought experiment in my conversation with Chris. I am not at all worried about it in the real world.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 1, 2006 06:38 AM
As far as a quarter inch rise, I think we need to keep it in the perspective of the real world, where tides are much more than that. However, a real world perspective tends to make alarmists stick their fingers in their ears and shout lalalalala...
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at December 1, 2006 10:04 AM
Richard Tol speculates that ski resorts could be harmed by AGHG emissions in that they might need to reduce hours, make more artificial snow etc.
But isn’t that the whole point of new regulation anyway? To influence our activities.
Loading up the family to fly to a ski resort is one of the most fossil fuel intensive activities I can think of. Should we really shed a tear for those who would "pollute" the air for the mere thrill of schussing down a mountain side? Wouldn't the climate be healthier if we all stayed home and just did sit-ups instead?
Next, I’d like to point out that if a naturally occurring gas like CO2 can be designated a “pollutant” based entirely upon the way it was generated then we’re going to have big trouble ahead with water vapor (H2O); the pollutant produced by the hydrogen economy which everyone knows is by far the most significant GHG.
Posted by: Bruce Frykman at December 1, 2006 10:35 AM
>As far as a quarter inch rise
Now that's a different question, isn't it? The global average change isn't like the brief change caused by a single tide or storm (which we already know does break up ice sheets sometimes).
The global average change is an increase in the total total force applied.
Ever used a torque wrench?
Posted by: hank at December 1, 2006 02:09 PM
If "naturally occuring" is a sufficient criterion for eliminating something as a potential pollutant then many accepted pollutant substances could be crossed off the list, mercury and asbestos come to mind.
Don't worry about water vapour, it does not remain in the atmosphere long enough to cause any climate change. I could imagine a city so full of hydrogen burning vehicles that it rains constantly, this might be a legitimate reason for regulation of H2O emissions. Is that so ridiculous?
Posted by: coby at December 1, 2006 03:50 PM
Coby- Thanks -- the issue that you raise is not so far-fetched:
Pielke, Jr., R.A., R.A. Klein, G. Maricle, and T. Chase, 2003: Hydrogen Cars and Water Vapor, Science, Vol 302, No. 5649: pp 1329.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 1, 2006 04:06 PM
Roger, yesterday in the previous thread, you asked me the following question:
“What effect will a reduction of US auto emissions (by the levels being discussed in this case if you want a simple number, from today's 6% of global emissions to today's 4.5% of global emission, lets say achieved by 2015), have on sea level rise along the US coasts (if you need a location, how about Cape Cod, if you need a date how about 2040, 2080, and 2100), and references to literature are welcomed?”
First, I don’t think Justice Souter’s question exhibits egregious misunderstanding of the science, as you and others here seem quick to suggest; it is focused primarily on the legal requirement for standing, which Chris Giovinazzo has explained better than I could. And insofar as I understand the “standing” issue, it is more likely that your take on the question exhibits a misunderstanding of the law (though this is no criticism, since I have no better credentials here than you, despite having learned quite a lot about it through this process), so it is probably a good thing that neither you nor I are in a position to decide this.
Second, as I heard it, Souter was exploring whether a particular, simple approach (the idea that reductions, even small ones, lead to reductions, perhaps only small ones, in damages) is enough to satisfy the redressability prong of standing. Your caution #1 avoids precisely the question Souter was asking (or insists on reflexively answering it in the negative), which was, “is the general argument enough?” Even if you, together with the Solicitor General, answer his question in the negative, that still leaves open the question of whether standing might be met under a broader test (neglecting your caution #2, which we are required to do once you answer Souter’s constrained hypothetical in the negative), like the one that Justice Breyer suggested immediately following Souter’s comment:
“Suppose others cooperate? Suppose, for example, they regulate this and before you know it, they start to sequester carbon with the power plants, and before you know it, they decide ethanol might be a good idea, and before you know it, they decide any one of 15 things, each of which has an impact, and lo and behold, Cape Cod is saved. Now why is it unreasonable? Why is it unreasonable to go to an agency and say now you do your part, which is 6 percent, and now we're going to go to a different agency like NHTSA and we're going to ask them too, and we're going to go to your electricity regulation program, and coal. And there are like not a million things that have to be done, maybe there are only seven. [ Probably Breyer has read his Pacala and Socolow! ] But by the time we get those seven things done, we'll make a big difference. Now what is it in the law that says that somehow a person cannot go to an agency and say we want you to do your part?”
I do not know whether Breyer’s take will be accepted by a majority of the Court (though it seems unlikely to be accepted by Roberts, who at one point referred to that approach as “spinning out conjecture upon conjecture of the sort we disapprove”), but it seems to me a good way to interpret an 18th century concept (standing) in a way that allows it to apply realistically to 21st century problems like climate change -- hard-to-discern manifestations at global and century-long scales of the classic tragedy of the commons.
Your approach, by contrast, would like Scalia and perhaps Roberts, seem to require that government, whose fundamental job is supposed to include the correction of the kinds of market failures that cause tragedies of the commons, willfully blind itself to these mechanisms, and abide by rules (such as obsolete standards for standing) that would reproduce in the public sphere the tragedy all over again.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at December 1, 2006 05:34 PM
Roger, regarding your question to Chris Giovinazzo: "could EPA be sued to regulate the breathing of you or I (instead of a small company upriver) because we emit CO2 when we breath?" -- appears then to be yes on standing, no on merits. Correct?”
Incorrect. CO2 from heterotrophic respiration (including the very small fraction that comes from human breathing), in no way causes or contributes to global warming (viz, in the absence of the activities like fossil fuel burning that DO cause global warming, we would not have global warming, despite widespread human breathing).
Thus, such a suit would fail all three standing prongs: no injury, no causality, no redressability. Indeed, with no injury, the second two are moot.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at December 1, 2006 05:44 PM
Scott- Thanks for your comments. I have a few reactions. First, I note that you are playing both sides of the commons argument when you write:
"In the absence of the activities like fossil fuel burning that DO cause global warming, we would not have global warming, despite widespread human breathing."
Well, it seems that one could equally make the argument that in the absence of all fossil fuel burning except US autos we wouldn't have global warming either (or more accurately, not detectable, not dangerous, not injurious).
For just about any particular source of CO2 one could make this argument. I think you'd need a better one.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 1, 2006 07:03 PM
A few further reactions.
1. As I mentioned to Chris, and I'll repeat to you, I am not arguing for a particular legal outcome in this case, nor on the legal principles involved. I barely understand them, much less have a considered position on them;-)
2. To my reading, Justice Souter's line of questions pretty clearly reflected a misunderstanding of the notion of stocks and flows, e.g. --
Maybe he was simply being clever in his questions, as you suggest, but I don't think he would have asked the following if he really understood the issue:
"Their point is that will reduce the degree of global warming and likely reduce the degree of loss, if it is only by two and a half percent. What's wrong with that?"
Mr. Garre answered: "Hemm, Haww ..." -- He could have instead said "What is wrong with that argument is that under the most aggressive projections for future sea level rise under the IPCC and the most optimistic assumptions for successful regulation of U.S. greenhouse gases from autos the sea level on the Massachusetts coast would decrease by only one fifth of an inch by 2100, an amount that probably could not even be detected, much less associated with and loss of coastline or damage. The outcome of this lawsuit and implicated regulations therefore has no bearing on future damages."
Again, I don't know if this particular detail matters legally. But it does seem important from a substantive perspective.
3. I certainly hope that you get the outcome that you are looking for from this lawsuit. I personally don't know what to expect in this case, but I do have far greater confidence that whatever the outcome is, it probably will make exceedingly little difference on future carbon dioxide emissions or the impacts of climate on things that people care about.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 1, 2006 07:19 PM
"Seems to me that these numbers might have been raised in the arguments at some point."
Your numbers are extremely conservative. Essentially, you're assuming that only CO2 effects sea level rise.
It's quite possible that black carbon emissions could have a much bigger effect on melting of the Greenland ice sheet (and others) than CO2 emissions. Thus, CO2 emissions could easily contribute far less than you calculate.
Further, methane and HFCs also contribute to global warming.
So a 2.5% reduction in CO2 emissions could well have far less than a 2.5% reduction in the amount of sea level rise. In fact, given the virtual certainty that black carbon emissions are significant in enhancing snow melting and reducing snow albedo, it's virtually certain that a 2.5% reduction in CO2 emissions would have less than a 2.5% reduction in the amount of sea level rise.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at December 1, 2006 10:40 PM
"Climate change will obviously hurt consumers who will need to buy more electricity to cool their houses, energy companies who will be able to sell less oil and gas in winter for heating,..."
Unless they live in areas that have no heating costs at all, the decrease in heating costs in winter may exceed the increase in cooling costs in summer. So it's not at all "obvious" that all consumers whose cooling bills go up will experience a NET harm (a NET increase in energy costs).
Likewise, the energy companies that sell less natural gas for heating homes in the winter may end up selling MORE natural gas to electrical generating companies in the summer. Or they may even end up selling more to natural gas to directly to customers in the summers, if customers have natural-gas-based fuel cells in a few decades. (I plan to install a fuel cell in my place as soon as they become economical, which I expect to happen in less than 2 decades.)
Even ski resorts who might shell out more money for snow-making equipment might benefit if the milder weather makes it easier to get to the ski resorts.
I don't think anything is particularly "obvious" about trying to anticipate what the world will be like many decades into the future. Educated and scientific estimates can be made, but "obvious" isn't an appropriate word.
Posted by: Mark Bahner at December 1, 2006 11:07 PM
So the argument that incremental changes don't matter because they are "insignificant", fails at some point - an unknown point, a priori - because once crossed such thresholds cannot be "uncrossed". This is compounded enormously by the inherent lags in the system. It is the potential for committing now, to a non-linear change that will only be realized sometime later, that really underlies the need for caution. To dissect changes to their minutest components and argue that any or all are not significant is a convenient rhetorical device, but, to paraphrase Richard Feynman, nature will not be fooled. Whether it is an airconditioner in Melbourne, or an oil furnace in Madison, the final mole of CO2 may push us to a point where the world is no longer the same.
I suspect your arguments, built on thinking in a linear-repsonse world, would lead to tolerating actions up-to, and beyond, the point of collapse for the non-linear system we live in.
Posted by: Tas at December 2, 2006 02:31 AM
Thanks much for your comment.
In general, your logic is compelling to me and indeed makes a strong case for reducing emissions.
However, do note that the assumptions that I am using in this exercise are those of the IPCC, which does not, as I understand it, provide projections that consider such non-linear responses. Perhaps the next IPCC report will provide such data.
As far as whether such policy changes "matter" for the impacts of sea level rise related to nonlinear thresholds -- this is a very complicated argument to make. Consider for instance, if (hypothetically) the Greenland ice sheet ice sheets collapses at 8 inches of sea level rise or 100 inches, then the difference between 10.45 and 10.63 (or 10 and 15) inches doesn't really matter. If it collapses at 10.5 inches, then you have an argument . . .
More generally, some have argued that legal systems (including the US) are ill-suited to deal with such challenges and have concluded that we must either rework those systems (e.g., FCCC) or misjustify policies for a good cause (e.g., marginal reductions in GHGs will reduce climate impacts). As an alternative, I propose that we develop more compelling justifications for action, many of which will go beyond the issue of climate change. See my congressional testimony from last summer for details.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 2, 2006 06:41 AM
I do not agree with your argument that "It is the potential for committing now, to a non-linear change that will only be realized sometime later, that really underlies the need for caution."
While state changes in climate are possible, it is not possible to predict what combination of impacts in the complex system will lead to a state change. The actions of humanity are just as likely to prevent a state change as they are to cause one. Any speculation one way or another is just that, speculation.
The assumption that impacts have only negative consequences in a chaotic, non-linear system is the great fallacy of the global warming debate. If it were true, life on Earth would have ended before it got started! Based on evolution, a more valid argument would be that change is absolutely vital for a healthy biosphere.
It is equally fallacious to believe that we can tweak emissions of a trace gas in the atmosphere and knowingly reduce damage to the Mass. coastline 100 years from now!
The fact is that any change to the biosphere will produce winners and losers. The only way for humans to prevent having an impact is to not exist. Since we do exist any actions we take will produce changes and there will be winners and losers. Furthermore, since the future is not knowable, it is possible to build computer models that will predict the future losers based entirely on the assumptions we use to build the models. With a minor tweak to the assumptions, the models can make losers out of virtually everything. The current representation of AGW is a case in point.
If we legally validate the use of virtual models to assess hypothetical future damages, then everyone in the world is already a victim worthy of legal redress.
Obviously, the argument here is not workable. The law needs to rely on something more substantial than the hypothetical simulations of a chaotic, non-linear future, no matter how many people have faith in the simulations.
Posted by: Jim Clarke at December 2, 2006 08:54 AM
Roger, You said I was “playing both sides of the commons argument” when I wrote "In the absence of the activities like fossil fuel burning that DO cause global warming, we would not have global warming, despite widespread human breathing."
I answered this yesterday, but my answer seems to have gone missing, so here it is again.
I am not playing both sides. CO2 from fossil fuel combustion causes and contributes to anthropogenic global warming. CO2 from heterotrophic respiration (including human breathing) does not. In order for a commons problem to exist, there has to be a problem in the first place, and heterotrophic respiration is simply not a problem to begin with. If the total respiratory fluxes of CO2 (on the order of 100 GtC/year, far larger than the fossil fuel flux of ~7Gt C/yr) caused a problem, then you might argue that the miniscule contribution of human breathing was a commons problem, but it doesn't and it isn’t.
Respiration (oxidation of reduced carbon to CO2) is predicated on the prior photosynthetic reduction of atmospheric CO2 to organic carbon by plants. It is a neutral cycle.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at December 2, 2006 09:50 AM
Thanks. I don't know what happened to your earlier reply, it never appeared. Sorry about that.
Your choice to balance respiration with photosynthesis is arbitrary. While this is a silly example, why not extend this sort of balance to the US as a whole where US auto emissions are perhaps more than offset by afforestation (I don't know that this is the case, but lets assume it for discussion). That would be an equally arbitrary balancing.
To quote Tas above, "To dissect changes to their minutest components and argue that any or all are not significant is a convenient rhetorical device, but, to paraphrase Richard Feynman, nature will not be fooled."
It seems to me that if one is going to argue that one small anthropogenic source of CO2 contributes to the global warming problem, but another one does not, is to invite considerable arbitrariness into this discussion.
EPA, if I am not mistaken, is supposed to regulate based on the risk of a hazard, not the origin of that hazard. Consider arsenic as an example. (I believe that regulatory exemptions are sought and granted, as they are in other areas, like methyl bromide. CO2 regulation, if it were to occur, would likely see similar exemptions.)
If CO2 is indeed a pollutant then it seems inescapable that any source of the pollutant would therefore be subject to regulation, not just those sources whose origins might be disapproved of by some parties.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 2, 2006 12:47 PM
Roger, there's a logical conclusion to your argument. It fails.
You say -- for argument -- that photosynthesis (e.g. trees) maybe would remove fossil carbon dioxide equal to what auto use produces, locally, and so -- arguably -- burning fossil fuel doesn't add anything significant compared to breathing.
Then you claim one source of CO2 is the same as the other. That obfuscates "source" -- a Western Coals argument, eh?
Stop the car, and hold your breath. Now, neither you nor your car is adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, while you're stopped.
What's the difference?
Answer: you're don't burn fossil fuel, so you can't stop. You burn the products of photosynthesis, you're on all the time.
You're sharing the world we evolved in with the primary producers -- they take care of your need for photosynthesis (about 22 square feet*) on an annual basis. Your car, however, overloads them. Nothing exists to take care of its CO2 output.
You know what primary productivity is. That sets the annual limit on carbon dioxide use.
You know human energy use exceeds primary productivity annually.
You can't grow enough trees or algae to remove all fossil carbon dioxide after burning the year's fossil fuel --- any more than you can have current energy consumption using solar and biomass, year by year.
So the excess is there -- distinct from what's in the natural carbon cycle. What matters is the excess beyond what gets recycled each year.
You can't "launder" the carbon dioxide -- claiming it's all the same once it's in the air, that the source can't be traced. No more than the banks can argue that all money is the same. It ain't so.
Fossil fuels are depleted of C14, and excessive in mercury, thorium, uranium, and the rest that bioaccumulates. The fact that the stuff bioaccumulates is the reason air pollution controls already address some of that stuff. The fact that fossil carbon doesn't get photosynthesized at the rate we're burning fossil fuels is the new problem.
Posted by: hank at December 2, 2006 02:48 PM
Hank- Thanks for your comment. Perhaps EPA might rely on this line of thinking in the future. Of course, if your logic is that used in regulation then it would provide a strong(er) incentive for the development of "air capture" technologies (direct removal of CO2 from ambient air), If the auto industry (or whomever) removed what emissions they put in then they could claim to be in balance along the lines that you suggest. EPA practice currently however is not to make the distinction that you have, e.g., with arsenic. Thanks.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 2, 2006 03:16 PM
Roger, Regarding the part of your response yesterday:
“3. I certainly hope that you get the outcome that you are looking for from this lawsuit. I personally don't know what to expect in this case, but I do have far greater confidence that whatever the outcome is, it probably will make exceedingly little difference on future carbon dioxide emissions or the impacts of climate on things that people care about.”
The outcome I am looking for would in the end make more than a little difference, and is exactly the one suggested by Justice Breyer at oral argument:
“Suppose others cooperate? Suppose, for example,
I think the chances of this outcome were at least slightly enhanced by the Supreme Court taking the case, no matter how it is decided.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at December 2, 2006 03:31 PM
I think you're still going with the Western Fuels line of argument, and I think they have it backwards --- because the excess CO2 in the biosphere directly from fossil sources is coming from point source use it can be easily captured there.
There are many other examples where public policy has no argument that point sources can best be controlled first (oil and gas drilling mud, for example, and nuclear waste, and water wells high in arsenic). Old tech coal plants in normal use emit more radiation (thorium and uranium) than modern fission power plants, along with the mercury emissions. Next is collectible pollution, like street drains collecting lead and petroleum that are best kept separate from sewage.
Anything dispersed will bioaccumulate eventually -- that's how the coal got so dirty, it's concentrated accumulated carbon and the toxic material that the living things collected last time 'round. It needn't all be re-emitted, now that there's a chance of intelligent design happening in the biosphere.
Many energy companies are arguing in favor of carbon regulation, because it will double their benefits --- closed combustion coal burning, in particular -- they will profit from both the economies of more efficient plants and the tax and regulatory certainty of knowing public policy is paying them to close out the old dirty coal plants.
Trying to capture fossil carbon after it's burned and emitted is like trying to capture laundered money after it's been spent, at the expense of the overall economy instead of at the expense of the company that's trying to hide their responsibility for it.
I don't see how any public policy argument can be made for unconstrained dirty energy use.
Posted by: hank at December 2, 2006 03:58 PM
"Your choice to balance respiration with photosynthesis is arbitrary. While this is a silly example, why not extend this sort of balance to the US as a whole where US auto emissions are perhaps more than offset by afforestation (I don't know that this is the case, but lets assume it for discussion). That would be an equally arbitrary balancing."
No, the choice to balance respiration with photosynthesis isn't arbitrary. Suppose you're a vegetarian (for convenience) and you don't use any fossil fuels to grow your crops. Then you eat the crops and respire CO2. But you grow crops that absorb the CO2 that you've respired.
Prior to burning fossil fuels, CO2 was balance and stable in the atmosphere at approximately 280 ppm for thousands of years. It's only the burning of fossil fuels that creates the imbalance.
"It seems to me that if one is going to argue that one small anthropogenic source of CO2 contributes to the global warming problem, but another one does not, is to invite considerable arbitrariness into this discussion."
No, the key is the burning of fossil fuels. It's only the small sources of CO2 that use fossil fuels that contribute to CO2 imbalance.
Now, if you want to argue that the State of Massachusetts argument could be extended to allow EPA to regulate CO2 emissions from the 31 cubic centimeter rototiller I just bought, and that would be such as small source of *fossil fuel* CO2 as to be ridiculous, then you'd have a very convincing argument. (Especially since even U.S. auto emissions are trivial with respect to sea level rise, as you've already pointed out. And you're using very conservative--overestimating the actual effect--calculations, to boot.)
Posted by: Mark Bahner at December 2, 2006 05:11 PM
"The federal government may use California's strict pollution rules for lawnmowers and other small-engine machines as a national standard .... to cut smog emissions from the highly polluting engines by about 35 percent."
Posted by: hank at December 2, 2006 07:41 PM
Without even going back to discussing solids and creep, your latest statements amaze me.
"You can't grow enough trees or algae to remove all fossil carbon dioxide after burning the year's fossil fuel" is a pretty rash statement, and ultimately untrue within a couple of decades, one way or another.
You also seem quite myopic to not see that fossil fuels are themselves a product of photosynthesis.
Your comment about pollution from accumulated toxic material rings true, but you totally miss the point. It's much easier to remove the *byproducts* of combustion than it is to remove the actual *product* - aka CO2, the base of the food chain. Instead of removing it all, why not just remove the bad stuff?
Tax Bads, Not Goods.
CO2 is not a "bad" - or at least has not yet been proven to be "bad" at anywhere near the current level. It could end up that we are simply rescuing that element which life on Earth is based on from the depths of Earth and re-enriching the biosphere. A billion people on the edge of starvation might be depending on it. We really have no clue, in terms of reality.
And reality is what ultimately counts.
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at December 2, 2006 09:02 PM
On Pacala and Socolow:
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 2, 2006 09:03 PM
Another comment that seems to have been lost in the ether (originally posted just before my comment about what I hoped to see from this case, re-quoting Breyer):
Roger, it is your approach (counting human breathing as hypotehtically contributing to anthropogenic global warming) that is arbitrary.
The distinction I articulated -- between a neutral global carbon cycle (including all heterotrophic respiration of which human breathing is a part), which does not in any way cause or contribute to what is generally referred to as anthropogenic global warming, and the fossil fuel burning perturbation to that neutral cycle, which does -- is not arbitrary, it is fundamental. Moreover, it is not my distinction, it is a scientific one recognized by any scientist who studies carbon cycling, biogeochemistry, or ecosystem ecology.
Your argument that abatement of 2.5% of GHG emissions would be too small to meet the redressability prong of standing is an arguable point, and will likely carry weight with at least 2 or 3 judges, and maybe even 5, enough to lose Massachusetts et al. the standing argument. But your point about human breathing is not arguable, it is just an error.
If you don’t understand this, I encourage you to read up on basic biogeochemistry and global elemental cycling (William Schlesinger’s text, “Biogeochemistry: an Analysis of Global Change”, is the standard in the field: http://www.amazon.com/Biogeochemistry-Analysis-Global-W-H-Schlesinger/dp/012625155X ). If you do understand it, then I would encourage you to stop engaging in sophistry. It confuses rather than clarifies, and hinders the policy discussion about what to do about climate change.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at December 2, 2006 09:45 PM
Ah, yes, the Western Fuels bedtime story: 'rescuing the lost carbon from under the ground and restoring it to benefit the biosphere; carbon dioxide, we call it life'.
Well, bless your heart, that's all I can say.
Posted by: hank at December 2, 2006 10:52 PM
Sounds like a great plan! Have the EPA classify CO2 as a pollutant. Then, of course, liberally apply the precautionary principle. Replace an enormous quantity fire-extinguishers. Put scrubbers on all carbonated beverage containers, such as beer, wine, soda etc. And of course, no more dry ice at the family reunion picnic, without a getting a special permit from multiple agencies.
Now that I think about it. I wonder what a spaghetti graph of various carbonated beverages produced over the last couple hundred years looks like next to the IPCC one on temperature.;-)
Posted by: Bob K at December 3, 2006 03:18 AM
Scott- Thanks for your further comments. Just a few replies and then I am happy to agree to disagree on this point.
1. The carbon cycle as "neutral"? I'm not sure what this means, but if you mean "equilibrium" then I disagree. Once again, the example of breathing was meant to illustrate a legal point. Your response that it does not "matter" makes my point.
2. You are of course advancing an specific invocation of a general argument that I discussed at the beginning of this paper as "Bright Sun World":
Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2005. Misdefining ‘‘climate change’’: consequences for science and action, Environmental Science & Policy, Vol. 8, pp. 548-561.
If the cause is natural, the argument goes, then there can be no problem. This logic has not held sway with EPA in, for instance, cases of arsenic regulation. You may choose to give certain emissions moral standing over others, as does the FCCC (e.g., developing countries emissions currently are not under Kyoto), but so far such an approach has not worked. Maybe it will.
3. Empty appeals to authority and science, denigrations of serious discussion as "sophistry", and calls for silence when you disagree illustrate exactly what is wrong with the role many scientists are taking in climate politics. Scientists will do themselves a favor by realizing that reasonable people can have reasonable differences of opinion on an issue as complex and challenging as climate change.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 3, 2006 07:55 AM
(1) Carbon-cycle neutral (not equilibrium) means that what comes in goes back out (biological respiration by heterotrophs putting CO2 into the atmosphere is balanced by photosynthesis by autotrophs taking CO2 back out). I did not say that your assertion about human breathing did not “matter” to the law, I said that it was an “error,” irrespective of legalities.
(2) You misunderstand me, I am specifically *not* invocating a distinction between natural and not natural, I am invocating a distinction between cause and non-cause. Whether somebody wants to attach moral weight to natural vs. non-natural causes is entirely beside the point: the point is that breathing does not “cause” global warming. The return of fossil organic carbon that has been sequestered for 300 million years does. The fact that the return is accomplished by humans makes little difference, and it would induce the same climatic “problem” (from the point of view of those of us living here) if accomplished by “natural” causes. Natural climate changes in times past, perhaps the closest paleoclimate analogy being the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum 55 million years ago (when lots of stored carbon was released to the atmosphere), would be no less a problem for being natural if their analogue occurred today on human timescales.
(3) “Empty appeals to authority or science” may well be a problem in the general debate over climate change, and I am entirely sympathetic to examinations of the problems induced by disguising political disagreements as scientific ones, and of masking political agendas as objective scientific claims. I agree with you that it is widespread, and corrosive. It is precisely for this reason that I would be especially concerned to distinguish between “empty appeals” that are attempts to denigrate based on inappropriate or false appeals to authority, and real ones where the science is clear and can inform the discussion.
My appeal was not empty, it was substantive (and I suppose it is not really an appeal either because I am myself an authority on this specific area of carbon cycle and climate change). It is simply incorrect to say that human breathing in any way causes the climate problem at issue here. There are certainly plenty of areas where people can disagree, but there are also cases where there is an objective reality, about which reasonable people cannot, in fact, disagree reasonably (e.g. it is not “reasonable” to say, as some have, that biological species do not come about by evolution through natural selection, that there is no stratospheric ozone hole, or that the ozone hole is not caused by CFCs, that fossil fuel burning is not increasing atmospheric CO2 or that CO2 in the atmosphere does not affect climate). As the old saw goes, “we are entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts.”
I agree that the line between fact and opinion is often blurry, that the hard cases probably outnumber the easy ones, and in general the full debate about any real-world situation touching on science will be a complex mixture. But there are also some easy cases, and to knowingly argue as if an easy case were a matter of legitimate difference of opinion is, indeed, sophistry (i.e., “plausible but fallacious argumentation”). Pointing out that an argument is in fact fallacious does no harm to the recognition (which I fully share) “that reasonable people can have reasonable differences of opinion on an issue as complex and challenging as climate change.” Indeed, dispensing with the fallacious arguments should facilitate elucidation of the reasonable arguments.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at December 3, 2006 09:49 AM
A few more reactions ...
You have mischaracterized my position when you write: "It is simply incorrect to say that human breathing in any way causes the climate problem at issue here."
Let me try to be absolutely clear -- With your support of Mass. in the SC case you are advocating government regulation of the carbon cycle. But not the whole carbon cycle -- you have made a distinction between those emissions which cause global warming and those that don't. You make this distinction by matching up sources and sinks. The part that is in imbalance is the human production of fossil fuels, presumably offset by whatever excess natural sink exists. You see this distinction as immutably inherent in the nature of carbon science. Hence you have asserted anyone who sees things differently must be in "error" as proven by science.
But your view is not broadly shared. The exact same debate that you and I are having has been taking place under the FCCC in terms of whether forests should count as carbon sinks:
Some argue that forests are part of the natural system that is in balance, and aren't part of the problem (sound familiar?), and others argue that we should treat the carbon cycle comprehensively without prejudicing a source or sink according to any factor. On this issue, science does not (and cannot) tell who is in "error" and who is not. Decisions about how we might regulate the carbon cycle are not be dictated by science. How one decides to treat sources and sinks, whether matching them up or treating them separately, could in principle be implemented as the basis for a carbon management regime. The decision is a political decision and not a scientific one.
My points are therefore that:
1) If you assert that some carbon dioxide emissions do not cause global warming but others do, then one could equally well use your logic to argue that the emissions at stake in the Mass. vs. EPA do not cause global warming either, and this could be for two reasons:
1a) First, the emissions at stake in the EPA case are not by themselves large enough to cause detectable global warming or harm. I recognize that courts need not find specific injury related to specific emissions to regulate, however as we discussed this is relevant to standing and merits. We need not revisit this discussion further.
1b) Second, one could argue that the emissions at stake in the EPA case are part of the overall US carbon budget and are more than offset by the sequestration of carbon in US trees (again, the numbers don't exactly match up, but pretend that they do for discussion).
Hence, just as you have decided to define human respiration as being in balance with the earth system, I could define auto emissions as being "in balance" with the larger US economy. To take this a step further, what if the auto industry decided to purchase carbon offsets for each car sold? Recently on our campus some group was selling these for autos for $10/year. What if auto companies simply added $10/year to the cost of a car (assuming some lifespan for the auto, say 10 years). Could they then argue that their emissions were in balance? According to our logic I don't see how you cold argue otherwise.
2) You may not be starting out by making a distinction between "natural" and "human" sources, but based upon where you end up this is a distinction without a difference. To counter my assertion, please cite an example of a "natural" source of CO2 that you think should be regulated or a "human" source that you think should not be. To make this specific, in your view, should US forests be regulated along the same lines as US autos would be under EPA? I expect that you will say that US forests should not be regulated.
Bottom line is that there are many issues subject to legitimate debate on the management of the global carbon cycle. And appeals to science as the ultimate arbiter of these disputes simply don't work as the issues involved go well beyond science.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 3, 2006 10:46 AM
The reply to each scientific point is a broad fuzzy statement attempting distraction, eh?
Why is Western Fuels' policy to deny the fact that it's fossil fuel use that has overwhelmed the natural carbon cycle? Their output is traceable to its source.
Okay, your distractions --- I'll take that one:
Roger: "cite an example of a "natural" source of CO2 that you think should be regulated"
Answer: asteroid impacts; large ones naturally produce drastic excursions in CO2. I think they should be regulated (not eliminated --- catch-and-release on a safer vector, with tagging, for later mining).
Answer: the Deccan Trap and other basalt flows, the Yosemite and other calderas. I think they should be regulated. No idea how, yet; perhaps they're contra coup injuries from asteroid impacts or crustal readjustments from rapid changes in glaciation, so do the research. For those, being flexible and having leeway is the only preparation possible.
Answer: methane hydrate eruptions, which we may be able to regulate by regulating the rate at which fossil fuel is burned.
Answer: large dieoffs of marine organisms; which we may be able to regulate by regulating the rate at which fossil fuel is burned.
Those are natural sources -- that in the past have produced CO2 excursions, none more I think than about a tenth as fast as the current human fossil carbon excursion, arm waving on the number.
Any single source of great magnitude that we can regulate, we should. We know the consequences and the sources.
Roger, can you suggest any natural or anthropogenic cause of catastrophic _decreases_ in atmospheric CO2, that could be initiated intentionally after such an event, that would be preferable to stopping the event from happening?
Roger's "policy" is to ignore the rate of change, which is the fundamental problem --- ignore the fact that adding fossil carbon is the change that's too fast for the biological cycling to keep up, so excess CO2 builds up in the atmosphere for millenia.
When your policy is to ignore the rate of change of fossil fuel input, it's possible to proceed by splitting up sources and sinks and claiming that piecemeal, they can be balanced --- in a musical chairs game where the last player loses.
Policy then suggests what? Buy carbon rights from poor third and fourth world countries, claim we are balancing _our_ emissions, leaving the responsibility to take care of the problem with those countries?
But Roger, if the money were really enough to fix the problem, we could have fixed it ourselves --- playing policy games is just a shell game to shuffle responsibility to others, to protect short term profits for the point source industry.
Is that all "Policy" means? Or does Policy ever say "this is happening on my watch, so I am responsible, it's my watch"?
Posted by: hank at December 3, 2006 02:02 PM
Hank- As I've stated on many occasions, I think that we should be taking actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change, including reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide. Exactly how to do that is the subject of much discussion in many places around the world. This blog is one such place where such discussions take place. But please recognize that you may not like or agree with everything you read here. Given the diversity of participants, that is almost guaranteed. Thanks for participating.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 3, 2006 02:20 PM
Roger, I don't question your blogging philosophy.
I think you're disagreeing with Dr. Saleska -- but are you disagreeing with him about the factual science?
It seems to me you're just saying you don't want to see the facts addressed here, but maybe you're disagreeing on the facts?
It would help if you'd say what you understand, rather than just suggesting new tangential questions
I'm sure someone at Colorado will lend you the Biogeochemical Cycles text? ($25 used at Amazon, I've ordered one).
Dr. Saleska, if you know of a good study guide or archived student notes to go with the book -- please suggest ways to learn this stuff. If you can teach us, maybe you can teach the Supremes.
Posted by: hank at December 3, 2006 04:47 PM
Thanks. There are no disagreements on facts, just what the facts mean for action and institutions. Some people believe that facts dictate these answers, I see much more conscious choice involved.
Also, if, after you've read the biogeochemical textbook, you'd like a recommendation for a book on science in policy and politics, I'd be happy to suggest one ;-)
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 3, 2006 06:09 PM
No argument about the facts? Would you list those you consider relevant and agreed to? I keep trying to pin down facts and the discussion seems to veer away in all directions.
Posted by: hank at December 3, 2006 06:35 PM
Since you're "an authority on this specific area of carbon cycle and climate change" maybe you could answer these. How much damage to arable land and hence carbon sinks have 6 1/2 billion people done? Then, how much has carbon sink increased due to the increase in concentration of CO2? How do you differentiate that? I'm sure you would agree that since commercial greenhouses run at 800 to 1000 ppm CO2, we can unequivocally state that *some* flora on Earth is starved of CO2. How much?
Again your logic fails. You state:
"We know the consequences and the sources"
Hardly. We know what models tell us, which is different than reality. We also know that in the paleo record, temperature changes led CO2 changes - not the other way around.
Again you are incorrect. The half life of CO2 in the atmosphere is only on the order of decades, not millennia.
I'm sure you know John Lefebvre founded NETeller, and that he's backing DeSmogBlog to the tune of said $300k. What might be the connection there?
But, after you're done reading Roger's recommendation for a book on science in policy and politics, you might want to check out a basic mechanics of materials coursebook to reference creep in solids, so that you learn a quarter inch rise in sea level over several decades is inconsequential.
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at December 3, 2006 07:16 PM
>materials ... inconsequential
If your textbook says it can't happen, check the research.
Posted by: hank at December 3, 2006 07:45 PM
Hi Jim, (December 2 8:54)
Thanks for picking up some of my comments. I don't really disagree with your thrust - you say:
> While state changes in climate are possible, it
This really is the problem - predictability in a non-linear world. If we have the option of exercising caution in the face of imperfect predictions, then we can insure against the uncertainty. This is not my area of expertise, but I find that those whom I meet from the insurance world prefer to put a premium on actions that step into uncertainty.
I diverge from your commentary when you say:
It is unlikely that pushing the system further from its pre-anthropogenic state can prevent a state-change. We can only hope that it doesn't trigger one.
Jim, you do state that:
I agree that the changed world will produce winners as well as losers. But we live in modern societies that seek to spread the burden/benefit of external disasters/windfalls and to support those more vulnerable: especially in circumstances beyond their control. Is this not the mark of our claim to be civilized? To use the past evolutionary argument is to sustitute Darwin's "red in tooth and claw" for a world we might hope has evolved to a higher level. In the archaean past, following catastrophe, 99% of living organisms might perish, with the 1% carrying the genetic code forwards. I really do not think this is a model of what we seek for the future. So once again, a practical prudence is what I return to.
The real question facing us all is "How do we approach uncertainty?".
Posted by: Tas at December 4, 2006 02:15 AM
The Earth is going to get much warmer in the long term, wether we stop driving our cars or not. In the short term, we can probably expect a few more Little Ice Ages. This much is shown in the fossile record. There are broad temperature cycles, at which we happen to currently be comming out of a cooling trend and into a (natural) warming one. There are bigger, more powerful forces at work then the potential greenhouse effects of CO2, such as orbital periods, solar output (a change of ±2% is enough to snowball or fry the Earth), solar magnetic field strength, Earths albido, etc. As the Kyoto Accord has proven, our attempts at CO2 reduction are woefully inadequate and prohibatly expensive...money better spent on more important matters such as infrastructure, health care, combating disease etc. What we should be asking ourselves is at what point is it morally justifiable to keep on worrying about CO2, and when should we be focusing our attention and resources on more important matters? It seems kinda silly to be taking drastic and expensive measures to combat a bearly noticable threat 50 years in the future when millions of people are dying from AIDS, malaria, starvation, war, etc.
Seems to me that we need to get our priorities straight.
Posted by: Ahmad at December 4, 2006 02:29 AM
Hank, you really need to take a holiday on ice. Have you ever seen ice in real life? I mean the real thing, glaciers and the like? Do you underatnd the material properties of ice? That is what Steve is talking about. Ice is not a purely brittle material such as glass (even glass isn't all brittle), and we are now talking about 1/2 inch applied slowly. The ice will not break due to this, it will bend and reshape. The leverage will never get to be.
Now, if you happened to get 1/2 inch immediately the ice would not break. It would still bend and reshape. Ice really is a flexible material, old ice even more than young.
Posted by: Anders at December 4, 2006 06:57 AM
Dr. Saleska, how's this look as a chapter on material cycles?
What does increasing sea level do?
The policy question is whether to consider the science, which shows change happening, or to base decisions on the textbooks and belief that you're stating, that nothing could be happening yet.
That's the two-step dance: "Nothing is happening, and it's already too late to stop it from happening" -- which can be the truth, given the time lag in these things. That's why adding foresight to policy, always very hard, takes reading the science.
Antarctic Ice Shelves and Ice Sheet Evolution: ... New Insight into Ice Shelf Rift Propagation from Geodetic and Seismic Monitoring ... Rifts in Antarctic ice shelves are large through-cutting fractures ...
Roger raised this with, I think, his usual skill by presenting the argument as old style policymakers approach it -- we can't see the problem, we don't do science so we can't foresee the problem, so we can't do anything because there's no problem.
And as Roger points out, science is challenging that on many fronts in many agencies and court cases.
That's not the challenge in the current Supreme Court case, if standing works as an argument -- if it works the challenge goes back to the EPA.
Posted by: hank at December 4, 2006 08:32 AM
Roger, I don’t know how you manage to keep up with your whole blog, but to keep up my end of the one thread you have going with me:
1. Yesterday you said, “You have mischaracterized my position when you write: ‘It is simply incorrect to say that human breathing in any way causes the climate problem at issue here.’” But when you first brought up the topic of human breathing, in a response to Chris Giovinazzo on Nov 30 I think, you argued, although admitting that it was somewhat silly, that someone suing EPA to regulate human breathing as a cause of global warming, would or should win on standing. This means, at least implicitly, that you think human breathing in some way causes climate problems (causality is the second prong of the standing test). If you are now backing off this claim or saying that you did not intend to make that claim, then we have no more disagreement, on that topic anyway.
2. Re. the debate about forests and carbon sinks. You said this debate shows that my view about the carbon cycle is not broadly shared, but forest debate is not the same as the debate we were having about respiration. The general scientific point (which is in fact broadly shared) is that the components of a neutral carbon cycle do not affect the global warming problem we are discussing, but perturbations to that cycle do. Fossil fuel burning is a perturbation that adds carbon to the atmosphere, and so is deforestation (albeit on a shorter timescale). Reforestation/afforestation is a perturbation in the other direction that mitigates or partially diminishes the original perturbations. So does the technology in the air capture post you just put up.
3. You are (again) fighting a straw man. I never said that science was the “ultimate arbiter of these disputes” (and I doubt anybody would make such a sweeping claim -- as you say, these disputes go way beyond science). I only suggest that science can be the ultimate arbiter of some (scientific) questions that may be relevant to those disputes. I am not saying that policies couldn’t be constructed to add carbon cycle flows up in various ways, of course they can. I was only making a specific, narrow, undisputed (except, seemingly, by you) scientific claim: human breathing – or the much larger flow of respiration of which it is a part – does not *cause* AGW. (you are the one that suggested it could be considered a cause.) I was also arguing that this claim is not arbitrary, but objectively testable. We could (in principle) do an experiment: stop the fossil fuel burning and other activities that theory says are causing AGW, and see if heterotrophic respiration (which will continue with its massive flows of ~100 GtC annual releases of CO2 to the atmosphere) causes a global warming. It wouldn’t.
4. I don’t see how your continued insistence on distinguishing “natural” from non-natural components is relevant to this thread. As I have said several times, causes of climate change can be either natural or non-natural, that doesn’t matter for whether we should as humans worry about the consequences.
5. Regarding your challenge on point 3:
If you will accept the more general verb phrase “take action on” in place of “regulate” (which doesn’t seem to fit “natural” processes), we should indeed consider actions such as:
-- inducing perturbations in natural carbon flows that compensate or counteract the human-caused perturbations. These include reforestation/afforestation, the displacement of fossil fuel sources by biomass fuel sources, or possibly, fertilization of the oceans to induce carbon sequestration (although there are many potential problems with this that would have to be addressed).
-- if we found out that some natural process was going to destabilize methane clathrates, and there was something we could do about it (not sure what that might be), we should try to stop it, given the bad climatic consequences of clathrate destabilization.
-- if a giant meteorite were headed towards the earth (a natural process like the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs), we should try to stop it.
On the other side, human breathing is an anthropogenic source that should not be regulated. And although I am not a close observer of the details of FCCC and Kyoto, some kind of release from regulation for the needs of developing countries, allowing expansion of their per capita emissions for awhile, probably makes sense. (though it probably would have to be narrower than the current carte blanche exemption that extends to China and India).
I don’t know that I would say that “along the same lines” but contrary to your prediction I think it probably would make sense to regulate U.S. forests, as part of a harmonized approach that comprehensively, and within the limits of our scientific understanding, attempts to encompass all processes that influence atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.
Hope this helps clarify things.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at December 4, 2006 01:26 PM
Thanks for your comments. The link you provide is to my colleague Jason Neff's class on Global Change. The link looks good, and given that Jason is a first rate biogeochemist, I have no doubt that his materials are accurate and reliable!
I am currently teaching a similar course with my colleague here, Julia Cole. See http://www.geo.arizona.edu/geo4xx/geos478/
Posted by: Scott Saleska at December 4, 2006 01:35 PM
Thanks Scott for your continued participation. I have just a few responses, and maybe we can pick this up again when the SC rules;-)
1. You write, ". . .in a response to Chris Giovinazzo on Nov 30 I think, you argued, although admitting that it was somewhat silly, that someone suing EPA to regulate human breathing as a cause of global warming, would or should win on standing. This means, at least implicitly, that you think . . ."
No. I was simply applying Chris' criteria to see if I understood what he meant. I was not advocating a general or specific principle for legal standing.
2. Your response misses the point about the Kyoto/forest debate, which begins by acknowledging that perturbations to forests have an effect. The debate is about whether afforestation should count as an emissions offset. Some poeple say no since it does not get to the causes of global warming (i.e., fossil fuel burning).
3. You write -- "I am not saying that policies couldn’t be constructed to add carbon cycle flows up in various ways, of course they can."
Good. After I cancel out the double negatives ;-) I think then we are in 100% agreement!
4. We agree then.
(Feel free to have the last word on this exchange if you'd like. I'm done for now;-)
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 4, 2006 02:08 PM
These are good questions:
"is it morally justifiable to keep on worrying about CO2, and when should we be focusing our attention and resources on more important matters? It seems kinda silly to be taking drastic and expensive measures to combat a bearly noticable threat 50 years in the future when millions of people are dying from AIDS, malaria, starvation, war, etc. Seems to me that we need to get our priorities straight."
I would simply observe that the problems that those in the developed nations are most concerned about are quite naturally those that they view as most directly affecting their own interests, including the interests of their children. That may explain why the discussion tends to focus on mitigation rather than adaptation.
Adaptation in the developed world will occur throughout the private economy without much government involvement, but mitigation requires international coordination. This is why the climate change worriers largely focus on mitigation.
I submit that those who profess to be most interested in the welfare of the developing world and who insist that we adopt no government-mandated mitigation measures are largely apologists for those who benefit most from using the atmosphere as a GHG dump; they, too, probably have no real appetite for the difficult and expensive task of using domestic tax dollars in a coordinated effort to help poorer countries to develop and to adapt to looming climate change.
In other words, self-interest rules.
Posted by: TokyoTom at December 4, 2006 06:57 PM
Just out of curiosity - a key principle of Kyoto, the developed nations first procedure, was based partially on the fact that AGW has become a problem primarily due to anthropogenic factors heretofore stemming from the practices and economies of developed states, with all the economic and moral baggage that carries with it; but also, and possibly more pertinent to this case, because of the theory that if, at the global level any successful effort to change the current trajectory in GHG emissions were to occur, it would require actions by developing states that would only be taken once it became clear that developed states were taking the issue seriously. So here’s my question. If as a result of serious regulatory actions on the part of the EPA other countries were to follow with stronger efforts at emission controls than they would have otherwise undertaken, would that lead to those EPA regulations having an impact on sea level change greater than the above calculations, and might that be something that SCOTUS could and should consider in its decision.
Posted by: mb at December 5, 2006 12:18 AM
mb- This exact question was indeed discussed in the SC arguments. Justice Kennedy (if recollection serves) advanced exactly this hypothesis. Justice Roberts was less optimistic, calling it I think, "conjecture upon conjecture". So the court seems to hold different views as to whether the effects of US regulations on other countries might be a factor to consider in this decision. Thanks.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 5, 2006 06:44 AM
The other aspect to the question I wanted to raise is whether, if as a result of serious regulatory actions on the part of the EPA other countries were to follow with stronger efforts at emission controls than they would have otherwise undertaken, there might be something of a "multiplier" effect that's not considered in the model of the effects EPA regulations upon which you based your calculations, and that the impact of such a dynamic could lead to greater impact on sea level change by EPA regs than those suggested in the calculations.
This is of course conjecture, and indeed a sort of thought experiment, but I would think it's a relevant consideration given that such a dynamic has been an underlying principle of global action on AGW, and given that we are dealing with a situation that is currently marked by significant areas of uncertainty.
Posted by: mb at December 5, 2006 10:23 AM
Thanks. Assume that US action motivates a 20% decrease in total global emissions. Under the assumptions presented above this would reduce the increase in global sea level rise in 2100 by 1.4 inches. For every addition 10% decrease in emissions, simply add another 0.7 inches.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at December 5, 2006 02:58 PM
That sounds like a significant amount of delay, and delay is the whole point --- nobody expects to stop the warming already in the pipeline, but actions taken early can delay it, allowing time to plan and cope. Don't all the policy people agree that's the situation, the goal is to delay the peak by reducing input early?
Tides affect speed of Antarctic ice slide
OSLO (Reuters) - Tides affect the speed at which an Antarctic ice sheet bigger than the Netherlands is sliding toward the sea, adding a surprise piece to a puzzle about ocean levels and global warming, a study showed on Wednesday.
The Rutford Ice Stream of western Antarctica slips about a meter (3 ft) a day toward the sea but the rate varies 20 percent in tandem with two-week tidal cycles, it said. And the effect is felt even on ice more than 40 km (25 miles) inland.
"We've known that (twice-daily) tides affect the motion of ice streams but we didn't know it happened on this two-weekly time scale," said Hilmar Gudmundsson, an Icelandic glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey.
"For such a large mass of ice to respond to ocean tides like this illustrates how sensitively the Antarctic Ice Sheet reacts to environmental changes," he said of a report published in the scientific journal Nature.....
Posted by: hank at December 21, 2006 07:30 PM
Another article, with a bit more of the same quotation, here: http://www.physorg.com/news85844283.html
---- quoting ----
"... This unexpected result shows that the Rutford Ice stream (larger than Holland) varies its speed by as much as 20% every two weeks. Ice streams – and the speed at which they flow – influence global sea level. Understanding their behaviour has been a priority for some time. On average the Rutford Ice Stream moves forward by one metre every day.
Reporting this week in the journal Nature, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) glaciologist Hilmar Gudmundsson says,
‘We've never seen anything like this before. The discovery that the spring-neap tidal cycle exerts such a strong influence on an ice stream tens of kilometres away is a total surprise. For such a large mass of ice to respond to ocean tides like this illustrates how sensitively the Antarctic Ice Sheet reacts to environmental changes. Glaciologists need now to rethink how the Antarctic Ice Sheets reacts to external forces. '
The variations in flow of the Rutford Ice Stream are related to the vertical motion of the ocean caused by the gravitational effects of the sun and moon. Every two weeks sees large tides, the so-called spring tides which are followed by small tides, the neap tides. Scientists expect movement of the floating ice shelves, but the Rutford Ice Stream is grounded in the shallow waters of the Antarctic continental shelf.
Posted by: hank at January 4, 2007 03:32 PM
Fracture initiation, but not fracture propagation, is limited by the strength of the ice:
Propagation of water-filled crevasses through glaciers is investigated based on the linear elastic fracture mechanics approach. A crevasse will penetrate to the depth where the stress intensity factor at the crevasse tip equals the fracture toughness of glacier ice. A crevasse subjected to inflow of water will continue to propagate downward with the propagation speed controlled primarily by the rate of water injection. While the far-field tensile stress and fracture toughness determine where crevasses can form, once initiated, the rate of water-driven crevasse propagation is nearly independent of these two parameters. Thus, rapid transfer of surface meltwater to the bed of a cold glacier requires abundant ponding at the surface to initiate and sustain full thickness fracturing before refreezing occurs.
Posted by: hank at January 13, 2007 08:59 AM
"... SE Texas' beaches retreat inland about 1,500 feet (455m) for each foot (0.3m)of sea level rise. "
found at RC recently
Posted by: hank at January 17, 2007 12:01 PM