[Published on ABC’s The Drum Opinion 13 Dec]
Climate negotiators in Durban have agreed to a “roadmap” that would leave the world at high risk of severe or catastrophic global warming. They have belatedly agreed to discuss adopting outdated targets that would not come into force until 2020, far too late by current climate criteria.
Recent studies require greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced much faster than previously proposed, to give us even a moderate chance of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius (2°C). Meanwhile the climate science now says the threshold of “dangerous” warming is only 1°C.
The world has warmed about 0.6°C since the 1970s. If currently advised reductions of greenhouse gas emissions were realised there would still, by recent calculations, be a 90% chance global warming will exceed 2°C. This used to be regarded as the threshold of “dangerous” climate change, but is now regarded as the threshold of “extremely dangerous” climate change. At that level, global warming effects would be widespread and severe.
However, somewhere between about 2°C and 4°C lurks a tipping point, beyond which global warming will run beyond human control, driven by natural feedback mechanisms that drive temperatures higher, perhaps to 6°C or 8°C, no-one knows. 4°C would already imply severe effects, plausibly “incompatible with an organised global community”. Higher temperatures could result in the extinction half or more of the world’s species and the deaths of much of the human population from starvation, disease and war.
To have even a moderate chance (one in two or one in three) of staying below 2°C, the rich countries need to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions immediately, and emissions by developing countries must peak no later than 2020. In both cases subsequent reductions of emissions must be by as much as 6% per year, which is much faster than anything contemplated at present.
These conclusions are from a paper by Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows and published by Britain’s Royal Society. A good summary, with additional graphics, is given by David Roberts at Grist. Professor Anderson is a leading climate researcher at a leading institution, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research. The paper synthesises a large amount of work on current climate science and on the effect of projected emissions. This means it is not just the opinion of a couple of excitable scientists. The authors are in a position to reflect the current state of the science.
Two things have changed over the past few years. Climate science has shown that the planet is more sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously thought. At the same time scientists have realised that the key constraint on emissions is the cumulative total amount of carbon dioxide that has been emitted, because the carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a century or more. Aiming for reductions by 2050 is not enough, especially if emissions rise in the meantime. There is only so much more carbon dioxide we can emit, and most projected reduction paths have considerably exceeded that budget.
Many previous strategies tried to soften the policy requirements on other ways as well. For example, they assumed steep reductions in emissions could be postponed until new technologies were developed, like carbon capture and storage (CCS). But CCS has so far been only a pipe dream and a distraction. Meanwhile political procrastination has wasted more precious time.
The reductions that policy makers have been arguing about, but not yet implementing, were supposed to meet the 2°C target with some reasonable assurance – say a better than two in three chance. Instead the chance is down to 10% or less. There is a 50% chance currently proposed policies would result in 3°C warming. For all we know, that could give us a 50% chance of runaway warming and the ultimate global catastrophe.
If airline staff told you your plane had a 1% chance of crashing, would you board it? Well, we have been planning a flight that would supposedly give us a 33% chance of very severe weather and perhaps a ten percent chance of crashing. Do you still trust the planners? Now it turns out the chance of very severe weather is actually 90% and the chance of crashing is 50%.
We should also bear in mind that uncertainty cuts both ways. So far the scientific assessments of the danger have proven to be underestimates. Although the projections from two or three decades ago are proving broadly correct, the Earth is actually responding faster than anticipated. So even this assessment could prove to be too optimistic. The most critical uncertainty is that it is very hard to determine where tipping points might be. For all we know, the climate might already be tipping.
Professor Anderson concludes that “… the prospects for avoiding dangerous climate change, if they exist at all, are increasingly slim.”
Actually the technical means to reduce the danger are available. The obstacles are mainly psychological and political. It has been known for some time that the quickest and most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to dramatically increase the efficiency with which we use energy. For example our buildings can be built to use only 10-20% of the energy they presently use. Cars could still be twice as efficient. Many factories can reduce their energy needs by 50-80%. If clear incentives, information and assistance were deployed, we would soon discover many more ways to save energy.
We are so wasteful, compared with current best designs, that we are wasting money as well as energy. The cost of big gains in efficiency will therefore not be large. The costs will certainly not wreck the economy, that is disinformation put about by the fossil fuel industry.
As our need for energy declines, renewable energy sources become more sufficient and more cost-effective, so there is a double bonus. Even better, the same approach to increasing energy efficiency can also increase the efficiency with which we use other resources, so our heavy footprint on the Earth can be lightened. We can stop polluting and degrading water, soil, forests, habitats. This approach yields a triple bonus.
Other claimed solutions, such as CCS or nuclear power, bring spinoff problems rather than spinoff benefits, and don’t even address the broader environmental problems. Besides, CCS is still mostly fantasy and nuclear power takes so long to develop it would be much too late. Replacing coal with natural gas, which generates less carbon dioxide, is also quite insufficient.
You don’t hear about the clean, efficient approach because it would reduce the profits of the fossil fuel and other industries that profit from our wastefulness. Politicians will only find the will to challenge them when enough of us challenge our politicians.
You also don’t hear about this approach because mainstream economists are wedded to perpetual growth. These are the people who brought us the Global Financial Crisis. Increasing numbers of non-mainstream economists are now saying the mainstream is deluded and practising pseudo-science. They don’t even include money and debt in their fancy computer models of the economy. Hard to believe.
The other reason we don’t hear about the clean, efficient approach is because it is hard to hear bad news and be told we have to change our ways. Yes, it is challenging. No, the messenger is not an alarmist, it is the news that is alarming. No, the remedy need not bring great hardship, and in many ways our quality of life would improve as we move off the materialist treadmill.
Some people claim there is no global warming. The current state of the evidence makes such people flat-earthers. Many others deny we are the cause. The most prominent of these deniers are not scientists, they are media people or politicians, so how could they know? They claim they are backed by scientists, but only a tiny fraction of climate scientists dispute the majority message. They claim there is no evidence, but there are many lines of direct evidence.
The deniers claim there is a scientific conspiracy, but that is just rubbish. What about the motives of ExxonMobil, which funds denier web sites to create confusion? They claim the “climategate” emails proved the conspiracy, but that is one of the biggest beat-ups ever. The scientists involved were discussing some peripheral data, not the overall state of the planet. They used some intemperate language among themselves. Newsweek called the controversy a “highly orchestrated, manufactured scandal”.
Some of the more thoughtful sceptics discuss the scientific uncertainty, but conflate this with the policy question. Of course there is uncertainty in the science. The policy question is what to do about the risk that the science is right. We have known all along that decisions would have to be made before the picture was clear, because the warming effects of greenhouse gas emissions are delayed. We will not feel the full effects of the gases already emitted for another decade or two. The policy question is whether preventative action is good insurance, especially as the premium is not so expensive.
In this situation we can only try to make the best assessment. The people who can best assess the climate are those who have been studying it all their lives. The role of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has been to distill the collective judgement of climate scientists. The message has been clear and getting clearer for two or three decades. We seem to be in great danger.
It is time to stop indulging the deniers. Science is about figuring out how the world works. Climate scientists have been telling us increasingly clearly that we have a problem.
We need to listen, and we need to act, and very soon.
More amateurish nonsense from the alarmists.
First, the paper by Anderson and Bows does not present any new climate science, but merely reframes the impact of a lack of mitigation into emotive and alarmist terms. Contrary to the implications of this article, the authors are not climate scientists.
“However, somewhere between about 2C and 4C lurks a tipping point, beyond which global warming will run beyond human control, driven by natural feedback mechanisms that drive temperatures higher, perhaps to 6C or 8C, no-one knows.” Indeed, no-one knows, because the statement is a fabrication. The claim of “tipping point” is not supported by any reference given in this article, it is apparently the product of Geoff Davies imagination.
“Climate science has shown that the planet is more sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously thought.” This is referenced with an article written by none other than Geoff Davies. So now the author is referencing himself?
“scientific assessments of the danger have proven to be underestimates … the Earth is actually responding faster than anticipated”. This nonsense is repeated continually despite the latest data saying the exact opposite, that the rate of heating in the oceans is slowing, and the global temperatures for the last 12 years have been relatively static. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/09/08/global-ocean-heat-content-is-still-flat/
“The obstacles are mainly psychological and political. … buildings can be built to use only 10-20 per cent of the energy they presently use. Cars could still be twice as efficient. Many factories can reduce their energy needs by 50-80 per cent.” Claims, but no references to any studies which demonstrate the technical viability and cost/benefit. Next the author will be telling us that cars can run on tap water. The technical solution to emissions reductions are not simple, and they are very costly compared to the savings in energy that they yield.
“As our need for energy declines, renewable energy sources become more sufficient and more cost-effective” More cost effective, really? How does that happen? The author doesn’t explain, but instead leaves the claim as if it is fact.
“the clean, efficient approach because it would reduce the profits of the fossil fuel and other industries that profit from our wastefulness … “ Actually, the energy companies profit nicely from renewable energy uptake, because they have substantial ownership across all technologies. So they really don’t care, they have already hedged themselves market change. This Big Oil conspiracy theory gets an airing continually (without any attempt to provide proof), and yet the so-called “deniers “ are the ones howled down for accusing scientists of conspiracy which has already been proven by ClimateGate. The hypocrisy of this is appalling.
“in many ways our quality of life would improve as we move off the materialist treadmill.”
I see. Thanks Geoff for informing me of how everyone should live in your new utopian vision. Now back to the real world
Anderson and Bowes present new modelling of the effect of CO2 budgets.
If you troubled to follow the links provided you would find sources. There are also other articles on this site and elsewhere. If you had an interest in learning rather than denying, you would look rather than just dismiss.
Firstly I should point out, that I did indeed follow all the links in your article, and noted all of your sources, and more. Including the key paper that you reference by Anderson and Bowes. I believe my description of the paper, and their qualifications, are completely accurate.
My post points out all of the claims that you have failed to reference, and are therefore invalid (at least by any normal standards typically applied in academic circles). You can, if you wish, correct this by providing a range of suitable sources for the following claims:
“somewhere between about 2C and 4C lurks a tipping point” (no reference supplied, assumed a fabrication)
-“ Higher temperatures could result in the extinction half or more of the world’s species and the deaths of much of the human population from starvation, disease and war.” (no reference supplied, assumed a deliberate misdirection built around the word “could”)
“Climate science has shown that the planet is more sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously thought” (you provide only one reference to Hansen et al via an opinion piece written by you, I can provide dozens of references to peer reviewed literature that conclude to the contrary of Hansen et al)
-“the carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a century or more” (no reference supplied, assumed a fabrication.)
“scientific assessments of the danger have proven to be underestimates … the Earth is actually responding faster than anticipated”. (no reference supplied, there are numerous peer-reviewed studies indicating to the contrary)
You claim I am “denying” rather than learning. I think you are in denial of the vast body of study that we call climate science, and you advertise this by failing to properly qualify your claims. The reason why I insist that you properly reference your claims, is that I most definitely have a keen interest in learning, I have been studying this subject now since my father (an engineer who worked with the AAEC, ANTSO and CSIRO) predicted 40 years ago that CO2 emissions and climate change science would cause political upheaval in the early 21st century. He was right. I myself followed in my father’s footsteps, and I am a qualified engineer, so trained in science and technology.
You make numerous claims in the area of energy conservation, renewable energy, and nuclear power for which you are in no way qualified. On this matter you lurch around my own area of expertise. Yet you feel no need to reference nor support any of your preconceived notions on energy technology, but rely instead on whim. I feel I should let you know, that your musings on this subject are, to the mature and educated eye, less credible than those of a primary school student.
Your condescending response to me appears to be based on the assumption that you know more than me on this subject. I hope this response has the effect intended, which is to give you pause. Perhaps it is you who should show more interest in learning rather than denying.
Apparently you are offended because I didn’t respond in detail. Look at your own offensive tone before you accuse others. Your approach was point-scoring, insulting (“amateurish nonsense from the alarmists”), and sarcastic, and I have better things to do than reiterate, yet again, arguments against your own claims when you are merely defending a position.
My article was an article, not a thesis or a scientific paper. There is ample evidence to support my article, and I’m not going to do your work for you, except a few of obvious examples.
The link on climate sensitivity is to my summary of a paper by Hansen and Sato, yet you characterise my link as providing no independent support.
My link on energy efficiency provides many links to sources. Likewise my link regarding the costs of efficiency.
The story that there has been no warming since 1998 is an elementary misreading/cherry picking of the full data set. See my post http://betternature.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/2010-equal-hottest-ever/. 1998 was the strongest el nino ever, and anyway only one compilation shows it as the hottest ever. If you choose 1997 or 1999 as your base year (equally indefensible) you get a completely different story.
Finally, apparently you haven’t understood the Anderson and Bows paper, which does present new modelling. It takes the new approach of using cumulative emissions as the constraint, and models what must be done to meet that constraint. I never said it was a new “climate model”. If their conclusions are alarming, and rouse your emotions, so be it, you malign the messengers when you claim they “merely reframe the impact of a lack of mitigation into emotive and alarmist terms”.
It has been a very cold and wet start to summer 2011(who could have guessed).
I will see if the atmospheric pressure gradient has increased over the last 15 years.
Thanks for your work.
Thanks Dino. Yes, cold here too so far, hoping for something better than an English summer (cringe) in our new home.
“There is ample evidence to support my article”
Another bold claim with no proof. I have asked for specific references to a list of claims. You wave your hand, and again demand that I read your opinion pieces for proof. And you insist on the veracity of a single paper by Hansen et al as absolute proof on the issue of climate sensitivity. If you want to convince intelligent people of your position, you need to do better than that.
Science, for your ignorant information, does not deal in proof, that is the domain of mathematics. Science cites evidence, which is what I have done. I do not claim any evidence as “absolute proof”. You have comprehensively misrepresented my words all through this exchange, but you don’t even seem to be capable of understanding that.
I think you would not be satisfied until I had reproduced the entire corpus of climate science, and probably not then. I have much better things to do than try to educate your unreceptive self, sorry if that leaves you feeling patronised. You and all the other instant experts who infest online comment sites imagine that scientists haven’t thought of all the tired old points you keep raising, and long-since addressed them – that’s presumption. Your only response when scientists come back and disagree with you is to shout “conspiracy”. That’s pathetic.
Merry Christmas Geoff,
It would appear that you continue to underestimate me. Be assured, I am trained in science, having completed a tertiary degree including mathematics, physics, and chemistry, both pure and applied. So your opportunity to lord your status as a scientist as argument by authority falls to dust. I am well aware of the difference between scientific evidence and mathematical proof. I was using the word “proof” on the common form, for your somewhat common self, that for some (grossly unscientific) reason argues openly that consensus represents scientific truth.
I find it remarkable that you should deride and patronise me by referring to me as an “instant expert”. Such hypocrisy, Geoff, really! By what authority do you claim expertise in climate science? You are a retired geophysicist, no more qualified than myself, and yet you maintain a blog expressing you opinions as if they are holy writ. As I have already pointed out, I have probably been at this game for much longer than you. From my viewpoint it is you and the alarmists who are the “instant experts”.
Your claim that my “tired old points” have been long since addressed by scientists, appears to assume that I have questioned climate science. Yet I have made no claims, neither here nor on the Drum. I have merely requested that those like you who make claims should provide evidence via references. I don’t require you to “reproduce the entire corpus of climate science”. I ask only that you point to your sources. Since you provide none, I must assume you have none, unless you can show your sources for the following claims:
• “somewhere between about 2C and 4C lurks a tipping point”
• “ Higher temperatures could result in the extinction half or more of the world’s species and the deaths of much of the human population from starvation, disease and war.”
• ”the carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a century or more”
• “scientific assessments of the danger have proven to be underestimates … the Earth is actually responding faster than anticipated”.
Now, is that really too much to ask of a scientist of you self-assessed calibre?
Finally, I have never claimed any conspiracy as you have so boldly accused. It would appear that you are extending your habit of making claims regarding climate science, and also making personal accusations, based purely on fabrication.
Congrats! You’ve won the argument! You’ve won!!!
I never would have had it in me to respond as Geoff has, still he had a lot of money and free time to lose had he not ‘defended’ the ‘position’.
Now I can see you have plenty of time on your hands by the above posts and what appears to be few friends or family to spend time with on Christmas day (from your last post) so if as you say-
“It would appear that you continue to underestimate me. Be assured, I am trained in science, having completed a tertiary degree including mathematics, physics, and chemistry, both pure and applied.”
“Now, is that really too much to ask of a scientist of you self-assessed calibre?”
Would you please direct me to your assessments of climate science. That is, from your studies and work what is it we should be examining?
Rest assured, though I haven’t the qualifications you have, I am literate in all of your Tertiary subjects mentioned above.
All I ask is that you direct me to your website where we can discuss your findings in a manner similar to your postings here.
I look forward to your directions.
The main reason I choose not to repeat background to you is that you gave your game away at the very beginning: “More amateurish nonsense from the alarmists”. You have already reached your conclusion, regardless of what evidence I might provide to you. By describing me as an alarmist, you show yourself as a denier, unwilling to contemplate that it might be the news that is alarming, not the messenger.
As I noted, my article was an article, not a scientific paper. As I also noted, I have better things to do than to document every instance of something you choose to question, for as long as you might keep asking. I have spent much effort over many years countering misconceptions about global warming, citing sources as I went, but there is a never-ending supply of deniers like you and it’s time I spent my effort more productively. If you conclude from this that the climate science and emissions modelling I cite are all junk, then you are of course free to draw that conclusion, but it is a flimsy basis indeed.
Your comments are also sprinkled with offensive characterisations (“alarmist”, “absolute proof”, “holy writ” etc.). You’ve had a pretty good say here Greig. Any further comments that depart from the substance of the issues are likely to be deleted.
As you will see here and on other posts, I tolerate debate and disagreement, but not offensiveness. If you want to comment here, keep it civil.
You accuse me of being rude, but how am I worse than the clear intent you show within your article. You refer to “deniers” who are ignorant non-scientists (so “how could they know”) and, you level a direct accusation at those who disagree with your views as being driven by a Big Oil fuelled conspiracy. In what way have I done worse? I believe my comments toward you are no more offensive than your remarks to those, like me, who are not scientifically ignorant, not in any way funded by Exxon, and yet are deeply sceptical of the mainstream view (that you are promoting) that we somehow face a certain climate cataclysm unless we change our sinful ways.
And Geoff I note you have no problem in accusing me of being a “denier”, whilst in the same breath steadfastly refusing to provide any evidence for your alarmist claims. Who is in denial? Here, I make no claims, I ask only that you back up with the scientific sources for your comments. And yes, Geoff, no offence meant, but your comments are alarmist. i.e. you raise unjustified alarm based on what are clearly fabrications, and not science.
Others may accept your refusal to provide references for your alarmist claims – your weak excuses based on my perceived rudeness. But most will know that you are only obfuscating because you know, as well as I do, that there is no scientific evidence for a lurking tipping point, no basis for a claim that climate change will herald “extinction of half of the world’s species and the deaths of much of the human population”, that the longevity of CO2 in the atmosphere is unknown and hotly debated, and that other than computer modelling (which is not science), there is no evidence of climate change “danger”.
If your case is strong, then you should be able to debate these four points. With each refusal to respond your case weakens.
Happy New Year Geoff.
Fine Greig, you have made your views very clear.
You have also, again, misrepresented my position, which is not that we face a “certain” climate cataclysm. Neither have you properly read the links that were provided. The Hansen and Sato paper, which I discuss in the link on climate sensitivity, and which you can read for yourself, gives evidence that is quite independent of computer models. My post Last Call on Climate ( http://betternature.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/last-call-on-climate/ ) addresses many of your concerns – what I call dominos there are what I call tipping points here. My post “Still Warming …” (http://betternature.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/still-warming/) cites direct measurements favouring the CO2 warming hypothesis and contradicting rival hypotheses. Your claims there is no evidence for such things merely documents your ignorance of the evidence. Now please stop cluttering this space with claims there is no evidence when there is plenty provided virtually under you nose.
I will now take my own advice from the article: “It is time to stop indulging the deniers.”
I thank-you for your response, as I believe it can draw to a close this discussion. Fortunately, as I have been on a boating trip with my family over Christmas and New Year, I have plenty of time to read. And so I have read all of your articles, and followed up on all of the quoted references for the articles.
Firstly, I cannot see how you would know my views, as I have not expressed them here. I am merely asking for a reasonable level of validation for your alarmist claims. I have not said there is “no evidence” of anthropogenic global warming, only that YOUR claims are not substantiated by science. The fact that you should immediately characterise my views are “denialism” speaks volumes about your objectivity. Like so many alarmists, you cannot see the difference between accepted and validated climate science, and your fabricated predication of doom.
As I have previously pointed out your reference to Hansen et al is accepted, but its claims on climate sensitivity are contradicted by many other valid peer reviewed work. (Lindzen, Spencer, Paltridge, etc). Who is right? The only valid answer is: “we don’t yet know”.
In response to my request for scientific references in support of your alarmist claims (above), you have provided two links, both (again) referencing your own work.
Your first referenced article initially pays homage to Lovelock’s Limits to Growth (rightly acknowledging that the books predictions were wrong), then in similar style proceeds to make unsubstantiated claims about tipping points (“dominoes”) related to premature projections of catastrophic Arctic ice loss, scientifically unsubstantiated claims about the possible breakup of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets causing a rapid 5m sea level rise, reduced phytoplankton due to increased ocean acidification (read: reduced alkalinity), reduced ocean absorption of CO2, etc, none of which have actually been demonstrated empirically with any accuracy. The article’s claims are not linked to valid peer reviewed science (certainly nothing relevant is to be found in McCracken et al). Rather this is deemed by you as inappropriate as scientists are inappropriately conservative (are they Geoff, really, or are they just being scientists and being appropriately sceptical?).
This is a classic piece of hype, as it demonstrates the way alarmists wilfully extrapolate upon viable hypotheses, with wild and unsubstantiated speculation, and somehow manage to convince themselves that the claims are couched in valid science.
The second half of the linked article is a compendium of wishful thinking and speculation about engineering solutions to reducing greenhouse emissions, and psychobabble about why people are afraid of change, and conspiracy theories about how ExxonMobile rules our lives. The article does not reference a single valid cost/benefit analysis, but is apparently predicated on that idea that the cost of energy (or the price to consumers and industry) is utterly irrelevant. To an engineer having spent 30 years studying this subject, the article is nonsense. Hint: The reason why renewables are not more widespread in adoption is COST and associated impact on trade competitiveness.
The second piece is pure propaganda, does not reference any science, and provides no sources at all.
But I digress, Geoff, because this is clearly all just deliberate obfuscation on your part. If the alarmist claims you have made (above) had any scientific basis, you could simply reference the published science. But you cannot, as I suspected, because your claims are fabrications.
Again, have a happy New Year Geoff.
Anyone following this exchange with Greig can look for themselves at the links provided in my last comment and see that in fact many sources are provided, including in the second, which lists a series of relevant sources at the end (it was an essay, not a paper).
You might also note that Limits to Growth was not by Lovelock (he of Gaia), it was by Meadows et al., and that my essay does not acknowledge they were wrong. On the contrary I noted that the incorrect predictions attributed to them were not in fact made by them, and their projection that, without a change of trajectory, limits to growth would be encountered within 100 years (i.e. by 2072) has not been contradicted.
So this Greig cannot even accurately characterise something that is readily checkable right on this site.
I will not review the substance of the issues Greig disputes, they can be checked by reading the linked articles, for those interested.
Greig concludes his latest comment by charging me with “deliberate obfuscation” and of fabricating my claims. These comments confirm the bad faith that he(?) opened with. I might normally delete the comment on that basis, but I will leave it as an example of the way mainstream science gets misrepresented and dismissed by such people. On the other hand I will not accept any more comments from Greig.
OK Geoff, I am happy to let the reader determine whether your claims are indeed based on valid peer reviewed science (“mainstream”?), or simply on deliberately alarmist projections.