You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.
A longer post today, covering some familiar material, which the Old Man thought might be of more general use. If you disagree, feel free to comment. If you want to snark, don’t bother.
What follows was written in response to an email sent; the correspondent’s comments are in italic, followed by my responses.
I hope you don’t object to me making a few observations about your proposed document.
I have been a student of climate science for a couple of years now and a postgrad part-timer on environmental ethics, so have done a substantial amount of research on climate change, energy, peak oil and politics. These are my thoughts, please don’t mind my presumption; I hope you find them useful, or at least thought-provoking…
• I think contrary to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, by 2100 it is very feasible that surface oceanic temperatures will have increased by 6˚C – and equatorial parts of continents by 10˚C.
These feelings, whilst understandable, are not supported by the current science, as you will know. My take on this is that a 3c rise is very likely, a 4c rise likely, a 5c rise plausible. With unconstrained global development, there is a small chance of a 6c rise. But the amount of increase beyond 3c is less pertinent, since the consequences of a change at this level are a) not well understood, but a source of deep concern to many scientists, and b) likely to be sufficient in and of themselves to radically transform our world. This second point is not well appreciated outside science circles, because it doesn’t sound like a big change, but it really is a massive alteration in relation to the stability we have previously experienced in the post-industrial era. Simply put, our existing infrastructure is likely to collapse under the pressure of such a change.
A scenario without Gulf Stream reversal is…
(the most likely scenario is neither reversal nor shutdown of the THC, but fluctuation at previously unknown levels, the consequences of which will mainly be felt in Europe and North Africa). But the science is so uncertain that discussion of these possibilities is invariably speculative. However, there is a demonstrable and measurable risk of this, and this must be factored in to any consideration of the future shape of the world and the UK.
• World population displacements.
This does not require THC changes or a 6c rise; this, I am certain, is already inevitable; indeed, in some places it has already begun. My estimate is that within 40 years there will be 150-1000 million people displaced due to climate change, poor international policy and the ancillary effects of these.
• A world food crisis.
This has already begun and will worsen dramatically in the near future.
• Over the next 150 years mankind will see very large increases in sea levels.
This is not very likely. An increase of 1-1.5 metres globally is feasible, and is supported by recent science. Again, this is much worse than it sounds; Portsmouth, for example, will cease to exist. It is hard to find a scientifically rational scenario where sea level will rise more than this. They don’t need to, in order to change our world substantially. Say goodbye to Bangladesh…
• Markedly after 2080, emissions of methyl clathrates from shallow oceans, and methane from permafrost areas, will lead to final temperature rises of ~ 35˚C.
This is absolutely unknowable and highly speculative. Though the conditions under which massive clathrate releases are still not well understood, the thinking is that whilst this is not impossible, it is too uncertain to include in a realistic future analysis. Methane release is a more real and serious issue, but is already factored in to the numbers cited above. Over the next 100 years, uncertainty over methane might plausibly result in an increase of global temperature to 4.5c-5c. The amount of methane required to raise temperatures by 30c is unimaginably vast and almost certainly more than exists on the planet.
To quote a phrase from Lenin: ‘What is to be Done?’.
• We see an ‘energy gap’, globally and in the UK. Peak oil production may have happened in 2007 or 2008, peak capacity may occur up to 2010. Peak gas is expected five years after peak oil, i.e. around 2013. Nuclear will not fill this gap.
In the short term, the ONLY realistic energy option for the UK is wind power; at least until better technology has been developed and is shown to be economically viable.
• If the US develops Thorium reactors, we should collaborate on this and with the EU on Carlo Rubbia style ‘energy amplifiers’.
This implies a reliance on future technologies which is characteristic of an American way of thinking (don’t change anything now, wait tiill we have found the answers…). These may or may not happen. We cannot wait; by the time it is a reality, we will have condemned ourselves to disaster.
• Coal is a disaster (Climate Change), and terrible example to other nations. No coal without secure 100% carbon capture and disposal. There is more than one technology for this. They should be developed with vigour.
The government and big business must get over the obsession with cheaply available energy; the price of energy is not just its cost, but also its consequences. The real future price of cheap energy now is measurable in human lives lost, nations damaged beyond survival. Fossil fuels must be wound down at the fastest rate possible. A Carbon tax is a good start; it should be draconian.
• Coal efficient energy burn, if this is possible, needs to be retrofitted to Chinese coal fired stations. All nations need to work together on this, because the Chinese will not dismantle their coal fired stations, though it is imperative that they must.
But who will pay for this? That is the real question, to which there is no simple answer.
• The wind farm electricity generation ‘ramp up’ must be massive, and provides opportunities for British Industry.
This is already the government’s intention, but in spite of best efforts, it is still held up by ambiguity in the planning process which allows local authorities to delay projects by years, thus making them uneconomic. For a wind ramp up to happen, the global supply chain must be stiffened, the UK must commit publically and vocally to the proposal, so manufacturers and developers can plan properly, and the planning process must be made absolutely clear, and supportive of wind projects, except in very specific and significant circumstances.
• Energy storage for wind generation is important – see suggestions in our report. This simply does not exist yet; anyway, for the next 12 years it is not an issue; we will use or export all the wind energy that can be created easily.
• The government must enforce Grid efficiency and construction.
This may require caps on dividend and shareholding profits for utility companies which would make them uncompetitive. It is necessary, but will almost certainly require some kind of subsidy or support.
I would also recommend discussions with Amory Lovins, Roger Pielke Sr. (not Jr), the British Antarctic Survey, Robert M Grumbine and Paul Baer, amongst others. George Marshall and William Connolley also have useful contributions to make.
I hope you find these comments useful; I am keen that [x] gets the best possible message based on the best available information. Whilst our perception of the problems is different, our intention is the same…
Thanks to the dashboard, the Old Man discovers that the paper we worked so hard on last year, which he had to put aside due to other commitments, has once again become relevant, courtesy of the very journal which rejected us. Roger Pielke Sr comments here, and James Annan here.
There is no question that there were some imperfections in our work (all down to me, not my co-authors), and that a more rigorous approach would have been preferable, but one works with the resources and opportunities available and, if the results are sufficiently interesting (which I would contend they are), then publication of a provisional paper (to allow for development and public interaction) is a valid and useful exercise.
In the short period following our initial blogging of the paper and its results, and in response to the very helpful and supportive critiques from Stoat, Uncle Eli, Gavin and others, I did approach Hans von Storch, who you will recall had engaged in similar exercises with Dennis Bray (also with imperfections), asking if some kind of collaboration was possible, but received no response. Because I did not have the means nor the facilities to engage in a fuller, more rigorous approach myself, we were more or less forced to set the work aside.
Acouple of months ago, the subject arose once more on RealClimate, at which time I suggested (via the comments) that, should the community be sufficiently interested, I would consider addressing the issue of scientific opinion once more; again, no response.
I am tempted (often) to conclude that there are more interesting and more important issues than ‘consensus’, but then one looks at ‘skeptical science’ and sees that it is still a very popular canard in the denialosphere (it’s their third most popular myth, apparently).
I would point out here, once again, that the original intention of the research was to try to establish, as far as was possible, what scientists involved in climate-related science honestly thought of the IPCC AR4. There was no agenda, implicit or explicit, to ‘prove’ either that there is or isn’t a ‘consensus’ – in fact, we even avoided the term consciously, choosing ‘agreement’ instead – and the database was as carefully controlled as possible – I would argue, the ‘purest’ of its kind used in any such study to date.
It’s the Old Man’s contention that, with acknowledgement of the legitimate concerns of our critics, our paper remains the most interesting and most relevant of the overt attempts to poll scientists on climate change. I’d also lay odds that a better paper by us, using a comparable database but more carefully prepared and more rigorously managed, would produce very closely comparable results to the original.
So where does all this leave us and our paper? I don’t know that anything has changed, but, since Fred Spilhaus behaved decently to me personally, during our correspondence, and I respect him and his professionalism, I think I’ll write and ask him if a letter, referencing the earlier work, would be, given their apparent chance of editorial heart, sufficiently interesting to publish.
More on this at a later date.
This newish paper in The Cryosphere, by Sole et.al., seems to be a decent stab at analysing mass balance changes in the Greenland Ice Sheet and suggesting an explanation.
By their calculations, marine terminating glaciers are thinning much faster than land terminating ones. But they are, mostly, definitely thinning; this should come as no surprise to readers of the literature.
Their broad conclusion is that recent changes in the GrIS probably have most to do with changes in the surrounding ocean conditions. One of the more interesting suggestions they make is that, once marine terminating glaciers lose contact with their outlets (shame there’s no timeframe), the GrIS is unlikely to contribute much to sea level rise (sort of obvious, but worth noting).
Skumtics needn’t bother atarting to infer anything from this: the GrIS contribution to sea level rise is small, and anyway, sea level rise, in spite of the attention of the media, is not likely to be the most significant consequence of climate change. For this, I’d suggest drought and famine are likeliest contenders, closely followed by political instability and climate migration.
Good to see Stoat staying on the case: I think I probably share his POV on this subject, with less scientific basis. Note, following the comments I made in response to the posts by Antony Watts, that current sea ice anomaly is around -1 million km2; I’m optimistic that my predictions back then might be cashed in by March.
I’m currently framing a bet I would be willing to put money on. More later when I have done so.
Finally, thank you to all 41000 viewers who, by accident or design, have hit my page. Given my lowly estate and somewhat inconsistent blogging habits, it’s more than I ever imagined. I hope of you have got something from these pages. Best wishes 🙂
A lot of navel searching has been going on since the credit crunch hit.
What surprised the Old Man is that so many people were caught by surprise. It is relatively easy to see the weaknesses in the capital system as it exists currently, and crashes are an intrinsic part of the process of balancing markets.
So there are a lot of questions about whether there is a better way of doing things; of managing or handling economies, of States, of large political entities.
The assumption being that, whilst the present meme; free-market neo-liberal leaning capital economies, is poor, there is no historic alternative that even looks close to being attractive.
But the generally liberal, non-interventionist, egalitarian principles which are supposed to underlie a ‘good’ democracy need not be abandoned completely.
There is a way forward, of this I am sure, but before a new ideology is framed or built, there need to be solid foundations.
For the Old Man, who has searched navels for a very long time, the foundation of a political, social or economic system must be an ethical system. Without establishing what the state is for, what the purpose of the state is, and what moral basis exists as its primary justification, nothing will be built at all.
That ethical system could be founded on Phenomenology.
Perhaps this is an idea who’s time is coming.
I’ll write more on this later.
Gets in the way of being a dedicated blogger.
You’ll be pleased to know that in the past few weeks I have managed to work out a bit more on the meaning of life. I am now comfortable that I understand what sort of being a human is, or ‘the meaning of being’, if you like. I’ve been working on this for about twenty years now, but understanding isn’t amenable to rushing.
It is possible to derive from a clear definition of the meaning of being, a purpose to life itself, but there are still gaps in the connection process. When it comes to a moral being, the force of the definition is so strong that one is inclined to slide from the IS to the OUGHT, a potentially fatal flaw in reasoning being overlooked thereby.
Two more small points; first, I am reasonably convinced that I now ‘know’ how to be happy (how anyone can be happy, permanently (ish)). I have also worked out a methodology to help fast-track other interested people to an understand of the meaning of their being and the secret of happiness. If you are interested in learning this stuff, I suppose I might be inclined to take on a student or two, but given the intensity and complexity of humans, and the demands of work and life, I don’t know that I could spare the time, tbh.
Nothing to do with climate change, but I’ll come back to that at some point in the near future.