Posted by: ericgrimsrud | November 23, 2013

So where we are at this point?

For about five years now, I have followed the science and public discussions of the man-caused global warming issue on almost a daily basis.  Therefore, I thought it proper to provide a summary at this point of my own thoughts concerning where we currently are in understanding and reacting to this problem. Those thoughts go as follows:

1)  We are not going to be able to retard warming to less than 2 C, as we had previously hoped.

2)   We are headed, instead, for at least 3 C of warming and more likely, 4 C, with even higher levels possible by the end of this century.  That is a lot of warming – note that the  temperature difference between that of the last glacial period 16,000 years ago and today is only 5 C.

3)   All of this is very bad news.  We are already seeing what a warming of only about 0.8 C has done to our planet.  It is generally agreed that a warming of 4 C would cause changes that are incompatible with existing forms of civilization – and that is where we appear to be presently headed with “business-as-usual”.  In addition, we also know that irreversible “run-away” effects are likely to kick in with temperature increases of this magnitude.  If so, the game really is “over” with respect to human intervention.

4)  The developed nations of the world are largely responsible for existing detrimental conditions on Earth and the emerging countries, such as China and India, are expected to cause the bulk of CO2 emissions in the future.

5)  Nevertheless and because we have so little time left for addressing this problem, all world wide emissions of CO2 must be reduced starting immediately using unprecedented rates of reduction – even if those levels of reduction are detrimental to financial growth and prosperity throughout the world.  That rate of global emission reduction must be about 10% per year starting now with the goal of eliminating all CO2 emission throughout the world for energy production within the next 20 years (minimal emissions will still be required for food production).

6)  Existing economic theory must take a back seat in planning until that theory matures to a level appropriate for dealing with to a new “quantum age” in which we now live – where large step changes are occurring rather than the smooth, smaller, and more predictable changes of the past.  Just as Newton’s insights cannot tell us anything about subatomic particles, existing economic theories are of little use for addressing the “discontinuities” and environmental uncertainties that will kick in during the coming decades.

7)  A lion’s share of CO2 emissions can be attributed to a small minority of the world’s population.  In general, the lifestyles of the wealthy persons among us cause most of the CO2 emissions. Whether or not this statement is fair does not matter – it is simply a fact that must be recognized and used.  In order to reduce emissions rapidly in the next couple decades, we must focus on reducing emission where the vast majority of them occur – that is, the ongoing activities of the wealthy among us – in all countries of the world where ever wealthy people live.  Of the 7 billion people in the world today, the majority of them are poor and any changes we can encourage in their lifestyles will be of much less importance to total CO2 emissions resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels. The ball is clearly in the courts of the wealthy inhabitants of the Earth if we are to make substantial reductions.

8)  Who are the wealthy ones among us.  Look in the mirror.  I am certainly one as are essentially all of the other scientists and professionals with whom we have daily interactions in the USA.  This includes, for example, everyone who flies in an airplane at least once a year.

9)  For those of us that don’t agree with or like what I just said in point 8,  the obvious next question is would we prefer to deal with a 4 C hotter world instead?  That is our choice – one or the other.  And it must be a group decision – we will all suffer the same consequences of it.

10)  We like to deceive ourselves with the notion that something in the various fledging fields of BIG TECHNOLOGY is going to come to the rescue at some future time. Improvements in those areas are actually occurring.  But, unfortunately, the time scale required for the industrial scale implementation of all of these (such as carbon capture and sequestration or the construction of nuclear power plants) is too great to address our critially important and immediate need for reductions in CO2 emissions RIGHT NOW.  Many of these BIG TECH schemes are great ideas that should have been implemented 30 years ago.  I still favor many of them today because they might help a great deal in another 20 years – if we can also do what needs to be done in the next 20 years.  Ours is not so much a “long term” problem as it now is a “short term” problem.  The reason for this was made very clear by Dr. Kevin Anderson in a video I showed in an earlier post (please watch it again at http://www.climatecodered.org/2011/12/professor-kevin-anderson-climate-change.html ).  CO2 emissions are presently the greatest they have ever been and it is the ACCUMULATIVE  TOTAL emissions that matter.  We can make a significant dent in those cumulative emissions of CO2 only if we act NOW when they are so very great.  What happens 20 or more years from now will be of little consequence if we use too much of our cummulative emission allowance in the present and next decade.

11)  Doing all of this will require an unprecedented amount of both bottom up and top down leadership, sacrifice, and hard work at both the national and global levels. Many Americans will dismiss all of this because of their profound distaste for all things “governmental”, “communal” and especially “global”.  I would not even be surprised if some would prefer that they and their descendants perish in a 4 C world than sacrifice what they believe to be their own personal “freedom”, whatever that is.  On the other hand, perhaps the words of Benjamin Franklin might have some meaning for even the “ideologically pure”.  Upon signing the Declaration of Independence, he is reported to have said “Gentlemen, we must now hang together, lest we hang separately”.

12)  While we do not seem to have attractive choices before us, we still must do the best we can.  Our planet is now a relatively small place and we know of nowhere else in our universe that we can move to.  We should not simply give up and if you saw pictures of my grandchildren, you would know why I say that. On top of that, I have been raised in a religious (Norsk Lutheran) environment in which I was taught that we are obliged to use the gifts we have been given while on this Earth. In the case of human beings, that would include a brain which reportedly is one of the best among the species that have survived, to date.  Being very new arrivals to the planet, however, it is not a all clear that our species will be able solve the problem its recent presence has created.

13)  Approaching this problem with unwarranted hubris will be suicidal.  Clearly, our species is not yet that smart and needs to learn a great deal about its place in the universe before it destroys its fragile niche.

14)  If I were to indulge in the “something might come up” line of wishful thinking, the only realistic hope I might harbor for the next 5 years would be that human beings come out of their sanctuaries of denial and/or feigned ignorance and support forceful actions centered on their descendant’s welfare rather than their own.


Responses

  1. I completely agree. Why won’t people listen? It is very discouraging.

    Paul

    >

  2. “The developed nations of the world are largely responsible for existing detrimental conditions on Earth and the emerging countries, such as China and India, are expected to cause the bulk of CO2 emissions in the future.”

    Eric; Have you ever considered that maybe you are trying to cripple the wrong country with your stance on carbon based energy and maybe you should move to China to wage your war?

    China is going coal crazy: imports jump 56%
    Frik Els | February 8, 2013
    Chinese customs data out on Friday show imports of coal amounted to 30.5 million tonnes in January, up 56.3% compared to 2012, already a record year.
    http://www.mining.com/china-is-going-coal-crazy-imports-jump-56-75637/

    CHART: China is burning coal at an insane rate
    Frik Els | January 29, 2013
    […]
    “Growth in coal consumption in China has been even more spectacular than its output growth – growing for 12 years in a row – according to newly released international data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA):
    China’s coal use grew by 325 million tons in 2011, accounting for 87% of the 374 million ton global increase in coal use. Of the 2.9 billion tons of global coal demand growth since 2000, China accounted for 2.3 billion tons (82%). China now accounts for 47% of global coal consumption—almost as much as the entire rest of the world combined.”
    http://www.mining.com/chinese-coal-imports-could-jump-to-500m-tonnes-in-3-years-89246/

    It doesn’t appear that the Canadians are paying much heed to your gnashing of teeth either.
    Canadian mining and oil companies set to expand staff numbers
    Marc Howe | February 6, 2013
    http://www.mining.com/canadian-mining-and-oil-companies-plan-to-expand-headcounts-50586/

    {Response from EPG: John, What you say about China and Canada is true and constitutes major hindrances to solving the AGW problem on a global basis. However, I have no interest in “crippling” any country. My interest is in addressing the AGW problem on a global basis. IN this quest, nationalism has no place. Again in Frankin’s words, if we get it wrong and don’t work together we will all hang. And I know, I know, I know – this presents no problem for you, John, since you are a Denier. And you need not remind us of that here. We live in a great country in which anyone can hold any opinion one wishes – no matter how scientifically illiterate.

    And John, yes I do tend to snip comments that do not stick to the issue being addressed by the main post. If you want to expand on issues of your own personal interest in the manner you wish, I suggest you start your own website.]

  3. “In addition, we also know that irreversible “run-away” effects are likely to kick in with temperature increases of this magnitude.  If so, the game really is “over” with respect to human intervention.”

    Eric; When in the past long history of the earth’s existence when CO2 levels were far in excess of what they are now, did these irreversible “run-away” effects kick in? You can’t answer that question because it never happened even when the CO2 levels were as follows:

    [John, I’ll cut you off right there to tell you when such an event did occur. It is called the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maxima (PETM). Look it up. It is described on my short course as well as many other place. It led to about 150,000 years of elevated temperatures after its occurence about 56 Myears ago.]

  4. “Of the 7 billion people in the world today, the majority of them are poor and any changes we can encourage in their lifestyles will be of much less importance to total CO2 emissions resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels. The ball is clearly in the courts of the wealthy inhabitants of the Earth if we are to make substantial reductions.” So your answer Eric that everyone but you I’m sure need to also be ‘Poor’.
    “Of the 7 billion people in the world today, the majority of them are poor….” and the reason that they are “poor” is because they lack a basic source of cheap energy that fossil fuels provide. You, being the extreme far left liberal that you are, declare that you feel their pain while attempting to keep them in the cold and dark smoke filled environment that they are forced to live in because of their lack of power.
    “We utilize energy from carbon, not because we are bad people, but because it is the affordable foundation on which the profound improvements in our standard of living have been achieved – our progress in health and welfare.” (the increase in life expectancy should also be mentioned) If one travels to different parts of the world where people are not blessed with our energy resources and; therefore, the electricity and fuels provided by these fossil fuels, one can see just how hard and in most cases short life is.

    I hope that Eric remembers when this recently happed: (July 31, 2012) “On Tuesday, India suffered the largest electrical blackout in history, affecting an area encompassing about 670 million people, or roughly 10 percent of the world’s population.”
    This is even more interesting regarding this incident:
    “India’s power sector has long been considered a potentially crippling hindrance to the country’s economic prospects. Part of the problem is access; more than 300 million people in India still have no electricity.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/01/world/asia/power-outages-hit-600-million-in-india.html?pagewanted=all

    The use of fossil fuels that has improved the lives of humans more in the last 100 years than in all of the recorded history of human existence on the planet. Today in the US, 2% of the population is able to feed the other 98% of the population plus a good part of the world because of the use of fossil fuels. If you contest that, then show me along with showing me the proof of an experiment that shows that the amount of CO2 now present in the atmosphere has one damn thing to do with the earth’s climate. It has never done so in the past; so, why would it do so now? Temperature on earth have been gradually increasing since the end of the Little Ice Age or it would not have ended.
     
    It is kind of hard to know just what to believe, right, Eric. I have a few questions for you. Just which period in the past would have qualified for your climatic “utopia” since you believe that things are so bad now?
     
    Would it have been before 1900 when the life expectancy for men was 46.3 and 48.1 for women in the US; by 1998 according to a Berkeley study, that had improved to 73.8 for men and 79.5 for women.
    http://demog.berkeley.edu/~andrew/1918/figure2.html
    According to another study in 1930 the life expectancy for both sexes was 59.7 years. and in 2010 it was 78.7 years.
    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005148.html
     
    “Despite the rise in real income, by the end of the century life was still hard for the average European, compared to 21st century European standards. In Britain the average male was dead at 51.5 years of age, the average woman at 55.4. In France these figures were 45.4 and 50, in Spain at 41 and 42.5. Figures for the Russians, available in 1895, have the average male dead at 31.4 years and the average woman at 33.3.”
    http://www.fsmitha.com/h3/h49soc.htm
     
    I would think that people being able to eat better food and with less effort to produce that food would have a significant bearing on this increase in life expectancy. It seems like weather extremes are not a new thing, and how much CO2 has to do with it is nothing, zero.
    1963 One of the coldest winters in England and Wales on record lasting from 22 December 1962 till the thaw started on 6 March 1963.

    [Response from EPG: John, If you don’t mind, I’ll stick to the point of my post. Again, as a professional scientist, I am certain the we must cut CO2 emissions ASAP on a global basis. I realize that the use of fossil fuels made the industrial age possible along with all the improvements in Western life that you mention. No argument there, of course. But going forward we must cut total global emissions and that means that the emerging countries will hopefully learn that they can not afford to follow our example. I am not saying this is fair. I am saying that it is necessary if all people of the world are not to “hang” separately for the same reason – CO2 levels that are too high.
    So the only thing that the developed world can do to help the undeveloped countries is to help them find alternatives to carbon just as we are finding them in our own countries.

    I suspect that you won’t like that I idea because you will then think we are providing too much foreign aid for no good reason (because you are a Denier of AGW). Thus, you have nothing to offer those of us who believe that future elevated CO2 levels will be exceedingly detrimental to future generations and must be avoided. Fine, have your view – promote increased CO2 emissions in the underdeveloped world if you like. But don’t expect knowledgeable and responsible people, including scientists to think you are anything other than a scientifically illiterate whacko. There are web site that will welcome your thoughts, you know. Try WUWT, for example, which is run by and frequented by your kindred spirits.]


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