Arguing about 2 degrees C

A couple of days ago I read a Nature comment by Oliver Geden called Policy: Climate advisers must maintain integrity. My intial impression was quite positive as it seemed to say some quite reasonable things, for example

Scientific advisers must resist pressures that undermine the integrity of climate science. Instead of spreading false optimism, they must stand firm and defend their intellectual independence, findings and recommendations — no matter how politically unpalatable

However, the basic message in the Oliver Geden’s article seems to be the 2oC target is probably not achievable and that climate scientists should stop present scenarios suggesting that it is, when it very obviously isn’t. Consequently, some are not that impressed with Oliver Geden’s comment. In an article called the climate blame game has begun, and its getting ugly Michael Mann says

It is certainly the case that preventing 2 degree warming is still very much physically possible,…..The only obstacles at this point are political will, not physics.

I think what I had not appreciated, is that there is a bit of a turf war going on, between those who regard themselves as having specific policy expertise, and climate scientists, who they regard as being politically naive. I encountered a Glen Peters video presentation – that I’ll post at the end – that seems to present this kind of argument.

My problem with all of this is that there would seem to be a hierachy of realities. There is physical reality, over which we have no direct control; how our climate will respond to a change in anthropogenic forcing depends only on the laws of physics, not on whether the consequences are inconvenient or not. The next level would seem to be technological reality; what can we do to address this physical reality. There are presumably limitations to what we can actually do with technology, but my sense is that the relevant limitations are those related to how much we’re willing to invest, rather than some fundamental limitation. The final level would seem to be political/societal reality. This – to me – would seem to be the one aspect over which we have complete control, and yet seems to be what some would like to regard as the ultimate limiting factor.

So, climate science can tell us the likely impacts of various future pathways. Other scientists/engineers can inform us of what possible technology pathways we could consider. Policy makers can then use this information to inform their policy decisions. What some seem to be suggesting is that political reality makes certain pathways virtually impossible, and that those who have no formal policy expertise should stop pretending that these pathways are possible. My fundamental problem with this is that we’re essentially arguing that a supposed reality over which we have complete control, trumps a reality over which we have no control.

Of course, when I say we have no control over our climate, I mean given a particular emission pathway. We do have some control; we can simply choose to follow a different emission pathway. However, what some seem to be suggesting is that the optimal pathway should be defined by what is politically realistic, not by what is optimal in terms of minimising the impact of anthropogenically-driven climate disruption. I find this highly unsatisfactory. Rather than finding ways in which we can deal with a physical reality, we’re finding excuses for not doing so. I should make clear that I don’t think that addressing climate change is going to be easy; both politically and technologically. However, that – in my opinion – is not a satisfactory reason for not even trying to do so.

Okay, I think I’ve said enough. I said I’d post Glen Peters’s video, so it’s below. Would be interested in what others think of it. This post has also rather diverged into an area that is slightly outside my comfort zone, so if I have misunderstood the dynamic at play, feel free to clarify it in the comments. I do, however, particularly dislike the idea that there are certain researchers who have the expertise to be involved in policy discussions, and some that do not. I don’t think that a self-professed view that your expertise gives you a better understanding of political reality than others, gives you a special policy platform.

Edit – 08/05/2015: I was rightly criticised for this phrase, which I wrote rather poorly

However, what some seem to be suggesting is that the optimal pathway should be defined by what is politically realistic, not by what is optimal in terms of minimising the impact of anthropogenically-driven climate disruption.

Just for clarity here, I’ll roughly repeat what I said in the comments. I agree that possible climate disruption is not the only factor that we should be considering. Other factors, such as the economic impact of the various pathways are also important. I was really just trying to distinguish between a purely political reality (which I think we can influence) and a purely physical reality (that we really can’t, given the laws of physics). I’ll acknowledge a somewhat physical science bias to this view too 🙂

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133 Responses to Arguing about 2 degrees C

  1. Eli Rabett says:

    Hanson thinks that 2 C would be a disaster. He states that the number was chosen decades ago because

    That number (2 degrees) was chosen because it was convenient and thought that well that will give us a few decades so we can set targets for the middle of the century.

    Actually what the science tells us is we have an emergency, this is actually a global crisis and the science for that is crystal clear. It’s not obvious to the public because the climate system responds slowly, the ocean is 4 kilometres deep, these ice sheets are 3 kilometres thick. They only respond over timescales of decades to centuries, but once the processes are started it’s going to be extremely difficult if not impossible to stop them.

    So what the science actually tells us is that we should reduce emissions as fast as practical, bearing in mind the economic consequences, but in fact the actions that are necessary are not economically harmful. You just have to make the prices of fossil fuels honest

    So who are you going to trust?

  2. John Hartz says:

    How the human race decides to reduce carbon emissions should also take into account the consequences of ocean acidification.

  3. Eli Rabett says:

    Besides, the policy makers have already decided that 3 C is the new 2 C. We are fried.

  4. Eli,

    Hanson thinks that 2 C would be a disaster.

    Yes, I read a recent article quoting Hansen where I think he said that, or something like that. I broadly agree. I guess don’t know if it’s going to be a disaster, but I think there is a good chance of it being so and I would much prefer that we decided to do our best to not actually find out.

  5. Besides, the policy makers have already decided that 3 C is the new 2 C. We are fried.

    Someone should really go and explain the meaning of the word “irreversible”.

  6. John Hartz says:

    The issues raised in the OP are also getting a lot of attention in the media and the blogosphere. For example…

    The world is falling further behind the goal to avoid more than 2C of global warming despite rapid progress in renewables and other areas, according to a new assessment from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

    For the first time since it started tracking progress, none of 19 key areas for tackling climate change are on track to meet their contribution towards a sub-2C world, says the IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2015, published on 4 May. It says five technologies or sectors are off track, and the outlook for the remaining 14 is failing to improve fast enough.

    Carbon Brief has summarised the mammoth 412-page assessment in a single graphic, which shows where progress is falling furthest behind the path to 2C, and where there are rays of hope.

    19 reasons why the world is missing the 2C climate change limit by Simon Evans, The Carbon Brief, May 7, 2015

  7. Eli Rabett says:

    For a policy maker irreversible means you lost the last election.

  8. For a policy maker irreversible means you lost the last election.

    As some here may be about to discover. 5 minutes of voting left.

  9. Andrew dodds says:

    2K seems the limit of ‘bad stuff happens but not The Apocolypse’.. by 3K – lots of elements of the system will be very far from equilibrium. Here be dragons..

  10. Andrew dodds says:

    1st exit poll. No climate action this side of 2020.

  11. Mal Adapted says:

    ATTP:

    The final level would seem to be political/societal reality. This – to me – would seem to be the one aspect over which we have complete control, and yet seems to be what some would like to regard as the ultimate limiting factor.

    I think I see the source of your confusion: what’s this we business? The tendency of individuals to pursue their own short-term interests at the expense of their long-term interests, not to mention other people’s interests, is precisely the problem.

    By ‘we’, do you mean the people who comment on your blog? Do we have any control over the behavior of people like the Koch brothers, or James Inhofe? How can we effectively counter the fossil-fuel billionaires’ wealth and the political expertise they can hire with it? I don’t “like” to regard those as the ultimate limiting factor, but I don’t have a solution to them either.

  12. Mal,
    All I really meant was we humans. We can – in theory – define our political system any way we like and – given how many different ones exist – have done so. Of course, reality is very different, and I’m certainly not suggesting that it’s easy to do so. What I was really thinking of was a scenario in which some alien civilisation visits in a few hundred years times and asks why we didn’t do anything about a problem we had largely understood for decades, and those around at the time respond with “we decided it wasn’t politically feasible”.

  13. I had the feeling that the main complaint of Oliver Geden was that the last IPCC report had a scenario in which we may stay below 2°C, but that this scenario requires that we develop technologies to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. It sounds reasonable that he would like that to be clearly communicated. I think most people, even most climate change interested people, do not know this. Removing CO2 from the atmosphere would probably be very expensive. To avoid these costs it would make sense to put more more investment into reducing CO2 emissions now.

    The IPCC scenarios are not intended to be policy advice, however. Just possible scenario’s to give people a feel for what is needed. There are simpler climate models that give policy people the ability to compute the climatic changes for any scenario they need information on.

    The final level would seem to be political/societal reality. This – to me – would seem to be the one aspect over which we have complete control, and yet seems to be what some would like to regard as the ultimate limiting factor.

    If the “we” means all people in this world having one opinion and living in perfect harmony, you are right. However, we have some vested interests, likely a few percent of people who think that climate change is the best thing that ever happened and many people who would love to look away and believe any fairytale the former groups tell them.

    If the “we” are only the reasonable people, then there is certainly no “complete control”, but there are various political routes to get to a good or to a bad solution of the climate problem. Great that political scientists are thinking about the best way to solve the problem. That “best” includes “realistic” in the face of opposition of those people that do not want to solve the problem.

    The 2-degree limit is also just an intermediary limit. In the end we will have to go back to about the old temperature otherwise the cultures in low-lying countries will disappear (or more likely, they will start geo-engineering). Sea level rise will only stop when we get back to the temperature we had when we invented civilization. (As a participant of the climate debate, I almost had a tendency to write “civilization”.)

  14. If the “we” means all people in this world having one opinion and living in perfect harmony, you are right. However, we have some vested interests, likely a few percent of people who think that climate change is the best thing that ever happened and many people who would love to look away and believe any fairytale the former groups tell them.

    I agree. The “we” was just meant to be all the people and, as I mentioned above, it was motivated more by a sense that we may look back and say “why didn’t we do something” rather than a sense that there is a realistic scenario where we do.

  15. > what is optimal in terms of minimising the impact of anthropogenically-driven climate disruption

    This isn’t a clearly defined concept (we’ve been over this before). You can minimise “climate disruption” by not emitting any more CO2; that’s not an option. Or you can minimise the impact of climate change, plus measures to deal with it on the economy. But that might not provide the answer you like: maybe the answer is do very little. I don’t think you should be evading / eliding the issue, as you have.

  16. WMC,

    This isn’t a clearly defined concept (we’ve been over this before). You can minimise “climate disruption” by not emitting any more CO2; that’s not an option. Or you can minimise the impact of climate change, plus measures to deal with it on the economy. But that might not provide the answer you like: maybe the answer is do very little. I don’t think you should be evading / eliding the issue, as you have.

    Yes, I agree. I should probably have added that it is a balance between minimising climate disruption and minimising economic disruption, although the “optimal” was intended to include that by implication. Fair point, though – I should have made that explicit.

    Having said that, though, I think I would struggle to be convinced that there is an economic imperative for selecting a pathway that gives a significant (say > 30%) chance of more than 3oC by 2100. Not only do we not know with any confidence the economic impact of such a level of warming, the climate impacts – as I understand it – of such a level of warming are expected to be severe.

  17. Or maybe not an alien civilization but our children.

  18. WMC,
    I knew I wanted to add more. My main issue with this whole topic, and which I may not have expressed as well as I should have (and it would be interesting to hear your views) is that the current argument appears to be that keeping warming below 2oC is simply politically unrealistic. In my view that is very different to an actual analysis that shows that our optimal policy (based on as many factors as we can reasonably assess) is one that leads to more than 2oC of warming. It just seems a very weak kind of position – it won’t work, so let’s not bother.

  19. Do you really think we’re close to agreeing on even a framework for assessing what “our optimal policy (based on as many factors as we can reasonably assess)” even is? I doubt it. If you look at the IPCC report things, and ignore Hansen, then the damage from 2 oC to 2100 is slight.

  20. Realities come on many levels, many more than three. Few of them are as static as basic physics, but it may take very long to change them, and they are really realities.

    Moving from innovation to deployment at a level that really makes an difference takes time.

    Modifying the infrastructure takes time. Doing that without major economic disruptions may add to the time it takes.

    Getting the political systems of most countries to act in the way required takes also time.

    I have asked already many times before, who are the “we” to make things change. Now several others have joined the chorus.

  21. WMC,

    If you look at the IPCC report things, and ignore Hansen, then the damage from 2 oC to 2100 is slight.

    Do you mean economic of physical? Also, from what I’ve read of the reports, there might be a lower level of confidence in the actual impacts, not necessarily that they will be slight?

    One problem I always have, is that I can understand the more fundamentally physical impacts (heatwaves, precipitation,..) but have little feeling for how well I/we understand the more complex impacts – agriculture, ecosystems.

  22. Pekka,

    Realities come on many levels, many more than three. Few of them are as static as basic physics, but it may take very long to change them, and they are really realities.

    I agree, but there are some over which have more direct control than others.

    I have asked already many times before, who are the “we” to make things change.
    Now several others have joined the chorus.

    Not quite sure what you mean by this.

  23. > Realities come on many levels, many more than three.

    I concur. There are at least three six:

    http://contrarianmatrix.wordpress.com

    Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?

  24. Physical, of course. In economic terms I’m pretty sure the costs of damage are significantly less than the (economic) benefits, so the net costs are negative.

  25. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: The following pragraph provides a much-needed context for the first quote from Geden’s article that you inserted in your OP.

    There is another casualty: scientific advice. Climate scientists and economists who counsel policy-makers are being pressured to extend their models and options for delivering mitigation later. This has introduced dubious concepts, such as repaying ‘carbon debt’ through ‘negative emissions’ to offset delayed mitigation — in theory.

  26. WMC,
    Thanks, just wasn’t sure. I guess a point is, though, that the only emission pathway that virtually guarantees 2oC or less by 2100 is RCP2.6 which is probably a very unlikely scenario.

  27. Joseph says:

    I hope people don’t read Dr. Curry’s blog and think that we need less funding for studying the impacts of climate change because the money is causing “bias” or some other such nonsense. I think we need to act now but we should always be looking to the science to determine if we need to make adjustments because of new findings.

  28. Ian Forrester says:

    An increase of 2C globally is equivalent to approximately 4C over land. Recent research has shown that for every 1C increase in night time temperature there is a 10% decrease in rice yields. Thus there could be a 40% decrease in rice yields with a global increase of 2C.

    http://www.pnas.org/content/101/27/9971.full

    Other cereals have been shown to have a similar decrease in yield. This decrease in carbohydrate storage is because during the night plants switch from photosynthesis to respiration and burn carbohydrates rather than storing them.

    http://corn.osu.edu/newsletters/2012/21-22/high-temperature-effects-on-corn-and-soybean

  29. MIchael Hauber says:

    I think you are missing a vital level – and that is the level of translating consequences into terms that matter to us. Climate scientists can tell us how many degrees of warming, how many extra hurricanes, how many meters of sea level rise to expect, but climate science cannot say whether or not this is a disaster. We need engineers to tell us how much extra it will cost to build hurricane proof infrastructure, economists to tell us how much it will cost to relocate that parts of our cities out of the way of sea level rise, agriculturalists to tell us how much food productivity might be lost, ecologists to explain what the risks of ecological disruption might be etc etc.

    Personally I have not seen any known and confidently predictable consequences of climate change that are particularly disastrous. It is the unknowns that are scary. What if we see an ecological disruption like the pine bark beetle that kills people (or one of our top crops) instead of trees? What if the oceans start putting a lot poisonous gases into the atmosphere. What if agriculture collapses. What if major wars erupt following climate stresses. What if the permafrost does thaw in only a few decades? Considering the high impact low probability consequences that are impossible to confidently predict, the only safe limit is 0. But that is not possible.

    So the next best is ‘as low as possible’. And research into setting targets suggests that setting a target that is achievable but difficult results in the best improvement in performance. So setting such a target via a political assessment of what is hard but possible should result in the largest reductions in emissions and get us as close as possible to the 0 target that the science really says that we need to achieve to be safe from the low probability high impact consequences.

  30. Economics cannot replace ethics.

    Especially when it comes to 2100, where the result almost entirely depends on an arbitrary discount rate. If the discount rate is high enough, it makes economically sense to destroy the planet later to create lots of shareholder value now. (And I see no reason to stop thinking in 2100.)

    Especially when it comes to the entire world with its huge differences in wealth. Where a typical economist would put a price on someone’s head (normally related to how much somebodies work is worth) and see whether saving this persons life makes economic sense. If Liberia is depopulated that would be economically optimal if some US billionaires would just make sufficient amounts of money to compensate this.

    It is nice when they compute something, but I feel that all humans should make such decisions, not just economists. Talking about economically optimal does not make much sense. Except maybe when talking to someone who is invested in this way of thinking to show him (normally a him) that even in his world view, it makes sense to do something.

  31. Joseph says: “I hope people don’t read Dr. Curry’s blog and think that we need less funding for studying the impacts of climate change because the money is causing “bias” or some other such nonsense.

    Last weekends post. Mitigation sceptics no longer wanting to fund climate science makes no sense what so ever.

    Do mitigation sceptics really want to signal that the science is settled, no more research needed? If they want to change the consensus that will take research to provide new arguments and evidence. Finally, they are often advocating adaptation-only policies, then you have to know what to adapt to. To adapt to any possible change is very expensive.

  32. Ned says:

    However, what some seem to be suggesting is that the optimal pathway should be defined by what is politically realistic…

    No, no, no. What some are suggesting is that the *realistic* pathway should be defined by what is politically realistic. “Optimal” has nothing to do with this.

    Forget about climate change, and consider some other problem — e.g., poverty or racism or AIDS or warfare or terrorism or the oppression of women or what have you. All of those are “under our control” as you would put it — they’re not physical necessities. In principle, “we” could solve any of them, if everyone everywhere suddenly began acting in ways conducive to solving them.

    But no one that I know of expects those problems to be solved in a short period of time, by people spontaneously deciding to do the right thing. Even with lots of people dedicating their lives to ending hunger and war and the oppression of women etc., the best we can expect is a gradual improvement over the coming decades.

    By all means, work to keep climate change below 2C. And work to end poverty, and all those other problems. Solving them would obviously be “optimal”! But don’t *plan* on them being solved any time soon.

    ——————-
    For the sake of making a point, I’m ignoring WMC’s unrelated point, that it’s not actually clear what balance of mitigation vs adaptation is “optimal”.

  33. John Hartz says:

    For a more detailed analysis of Geden ‘s article, see:

    Little Chance to Restrain Global Warming to 2 Degrees, Critic Argues by Lisa Friedman, ClimateWire/Scientific American, May 7, 2015

  34. John Hartz says:

    From Friedman’s article cited above…

    Geden’s piece draws heavily from University of California, San Diego, political scientist David Victor, who argued in a controversial Nature article last year that the internationally accepted goal just isn’t squaring with reality. The world’s emissions trajectories and continued reliance on fossil fuels, he argues, blow us past 2 degrees.

  35. MikeH says:

    @WMC

    If you look at the IPCC report things, and ignore Hansen, then the damage from 2 oC to 2100 is slight.

    The latest reports of “unstoppable” Antarctic icesheet melting alone suggests we are on track to get closer to a metre of sea level rise by 2100 and that has been triggered with a global temperature rise so far of less than a degree. John Church who was the lead author of the SLR chapter in AR5 concedes that it was likely too conservative.

    “slight” damage? I do not think so.

    This is what AR5 WG2 says about SLR impacts

    Risks increase disproportionately as temperature increases between 1–2°C additional warming and become high above 3°C, due to the potential for a large and irreversible sea level rise from ice sheet loss

    “potential for a large and irreversible sea level rise from ice sheet loss” ? Sorry but that horse has already bolted!

    https://theconversation.com/we-can-now-only-watch-as-west-antarcticas-ice-sheets-collapse-26957
    https://theconversation.com/antarctic-ice-sheet-past-the-point-of-no-return-26634

  36. Ned,

    “Optimal” has nothing to do with this.

    Yes, that was poorly phrased.

    By all means, work to keep climate change below 2C. And work to end poverty, and all those other problems. Solving them would obviously be “optimal”! But don’t *plan* on them being solved any time soon.

    Except that the how much of a problem global warming/climate change is likely to be depends on what we choose to do and how soon we choose to do so.

  37. magnus w says:

    Several has touched on it already, economics is not good enough to be able to tells us how much this will effect us at 2100. Several high range economists already made this point… it could give us a hint but what will happen for example if china is particularly hard hit by climate change and start to take it in to accounts in trade… what about biodiversity or if the rate of BNP growth does not pic up and so on… I think it is wise to lean on economics and look at what it tells us but as I have said from the start this is a moral/ethical issue and so is Discount rate…

  38. I think Ned’s comparison to poverty or racism etc is an excellent and illuminating one.

    > we are on track to get closer to a metre of sea level rise by 2100

    {{cn}}

    > This is what AR5 WG2 says about SLR

    And yet you dismiss what WG1 says about the magnitude of SLR. That’s cherry picking.

  39. BBD says:

    WMC

    Cherry picking is what AR5 did.

  40. nicholbrummer says:

    It isn’t for nothing that people are thinking and talking about geoengineering. Either the more extreme kind that modifies the sunlight reaching the earth, or the not so extreme kinds that are meant to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and oceans. Neither is technically out of the question. But it doesn’t seem to make much sense to sell either as a silver bullet. Methods to remove CO2 are ways to undo some part of past emissions. But they won’t be for free. On the other hand: they do seem to exist.

    I would say that the 2K warming is a science based estimate of where the threshold will be to severe pain, damage, loss.

    Political ‘reality’ has the property that it can change. What is totally ‘unrealistic’ now can become much more ‘realistic’ later. Many things did change. Tobacco got restricted, slavery got abolished, we have pedestrian zones in old town centres that had been clogged up by cars for decades. If you think ahead over more than a decade, political reality is even very likely to change.

    .. I’ve been looking into olivine weathering to reduce acidity in the sea and at the same time remove CO2 from the atmosphere. I’m even working on a website for the dutch ‘olivine foundation’ of Olaf Schuiling, one of the proponents: http://testunit.nl (temporary URL).

  41. MikeH says:

    @WMC

    I didn’t dismiss it. I pointed you to a recent comment from Church, the lead author.

    Stefan Rahmstorf explained why the IPCC report said what it did.
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/10/sea-level-in-the-5th-ipcc-report/

    But it is clearly now out of date. But even if you stick with the WG1 figures, as Stefan notes

    For high emissions IPCC now predicts a global rise by 52-98 cm by the year 2100, which would threaten the survival of coastal cities and entire island nations. But even with aggressive emissions reductions, a rise by 28-61 cm is predicted. Even under this highly optimistic scenario we might see over half a meter of sea-level rise, with serious impacts on many coastal areas, including coastal erosion and a greatly increased risk of flooding.

    He also quotes Anders Levermann, one of the other lead authors.

    the report notes that should sectors of the marine-based ice sheets of Antarctic collapse, sea level could rise by an additional several tenths of a meter during the 21st century.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/10/sea-level-in-the-5th-ipcc-report/#sthash.pv4aHCKn.dpuf

    It is all there if you want to read it.

    So I am still looking for this “slight” damage that you were referring to

  42. WMC,

    I think Ned’s comparison to poverty or racism etc is an excellent and illuminating one.

    I was trying to work out if I agree. I do agree with this

    Even with lots of people dedicating their lives to ending hunger and war and the oppression of women etc., the best we can expect is a gradual improvement over the coming decades.

    This seems a fair point. However, there does seem to be a fundamental difference. If we slowly work to address these issues, there will be a point in time in the future where we might regard things as having improved by some acceptable amount. It doesn’t necessarily depend on how quickly we try to address them; we could try to address them faster, or slower, and still ultimately achieve the same final goal (of course, the people who suffer while we try to address this will be different, but the ultimate goal can be achieved – I think). This – as I understand it – isn’t the case with climate change. The rate at which we choose to address this will influence the final outcome.

    I should add that I think what I’ve written has been somewhat over- (or mis-)interpreted. Maybe my own fault for mot being clearer. I may make this more confused by trying to explain it a bit more, and there was definitely an element of physical scientist bias. What I was really trying to get at in the post was this sense that there are some who seem to be trying to undermine the influence of physical scientists by arguing that they don’t understand political reality. I do realise that there is a genuine political reality and that influencing it isn’t easy. However, the physical impact of climate change doesn’t care about how inconvenient, or convenient, it is to address this issue. Essentially I find the argument that we can’t do anything about this, so let’s stop pretending that we can, very weak.

  43. > So I am still looking for this “slight” damage that you were referring to

    Its a matter of scale. If you measure it in absolute dollars, it will be squeeellllions and look like a Very Big Number indeed. But measured relative to economic activity, it will be slight. Remember, this is already factored into the cost-benefit analyses, which this discussion is rather painfully ignoring.

    All this “the IPCC underestimates…” stuff. How do you think you’re going to sell that to people that don’t want to hear even the central IPCC values? How will the conversation go:

    Science types: hey, there’s trouble ahead! The IPCC tells that XYZ…
    “Skeptics”: yeah, maybe, but the IPCC are UN and…
    Science types: Oh, by the way, did we tell you that we don’t actually believe the IPCC? They keep low-balling stuff.
    “Skeptics”: hey, snap! We don’t believe the IPCC either! And now you tell us that instead of this “consensus” you keep on telling us about, you want us to believe a bunch of disparate people? Ha, screw that.

    > the argument that we can’t do anything about this, so let’s stop pretending that we can, very weak.

    Happy to agree with you there. We clearly can do something about it, if we want to.

  44. BBD says:

    I would like to propose a modest step in the right direction.

    Abolish campaign donations to political parties. Fund election campaigns from the public purse. Ask the electorate to accept this as the price of a functional democracy.

    Get vested interest out of politics.

  45. Andrew Dodds says:

    With regards to moving to a zero-CO2 economy..

    We know that pretty much however you do it, the result is that the energy part of the economy has dramatically lower ‘running costs’ – i.e. you don’t spend much at all on fuel. Which is also true on the Nuclear route as long as you use breeders. So over a long timescale, it’s almost certainly cheaper.

    We also know that the transition will happen (assuming no Apocalypse) between now and 2100 because there are insufficient fossil fuels to not transition. And it’s also true that later mitigation means spending all the costs of extracting several decades worth of fossil fuels.

    (As an aside, right now the developed countries are awash with underemployed capital and labour, so it’s not like we’d be displacing anything)

    Given this, even if there was no damage from global warming to consider, there would be a good economic case for driving a transition to a nuclear+renewable economy. Of course, if you allow for the discounting approach this isn’t true.. but that’s basically saying that economics trumps physics.

  46. MikeH says:

    I am not trying to convince any “skeptics”, I am discussing this with you and trying to understand “slight”.

    So “slight” is in fact a “Very Big Number” which can be made to look “slight” by comparing to a much larger number.

    The problem of course is that “slight” aka “Very Big Number” remains a “Very Big Number” in many countries who do not have the much larger number to compare it to.

    And please, do not go all Lomborg on me. The response to date suggests that any chance that the rich nations will bail out the poor with amounts significant enough to allow them deal with SLR is largely propaganda.

  47. > So “slight” is in fact a “Very Big Number” which can be made to look “slight” by comparing to a much larger number.

    Yes. If you can’t do comparisons, you can’t say anything useful or interesting.

  48. Jim Hunt says:

    Eli – First the bad news from the UK. It is rumoured that Ed is about to resign, and Dave is on his way to see The Queen later:

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2015/may/08/election-2015-live-labour-and-libdems-crushed-in-shock-election-result

    Next some bad news from Oz for Bjorn:

    http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201505087564/message-vice-chancellor-australian-consensus-centre

    I have today spoken to the Federal Government and Bjorn Lomborg advising them of the barriers that currently exist to the creation of the Centre and the University’s decision to cancel the contract and return the money to the government.

    Yours sincerely

    Paul Johnson

    Vice Chancellor

  49. WMC,

    Happy to agree with you there. We clearly can do something about it, if we want to.

    Could almost replace my whole post with that 🙂

  50. BBD says:

    While it is possible to make a cost-benefit argument that we should do not-very-much during the C21st, it is uncomfortably limited and self-serving to do so. What of the impacts of SLR in the coming centuries (say at >1m per century)? The gravity-driven and irreversible drainage of the WAIS seems to be dependent on what we do *now*. This is in *our* hands. It’s fine to say okay – I don’t care about future centuries at all, just a CBA of this one – but that must be explicit. The full consequences cannot simply be blanked out by stopping the tape at the end of 2099.

    Since we are speaking of gravity-driven and irreversible processes, let’s revisit the well-worn analogy of the person jumping off a tall building. At first, all is reasonably well (C21st) but the ground is approaching. To focus the attention, imagine the jumper is holding a new-born baby.

  51. I don’t feel very comfortable trying to look more than a century ahead.

  52. Carl says:

    With the incredibly slow rise in temperatures will we ever reach 2C?
    Anyway, congrats with the election results!

  53. Andrew Dodds says:

    Well, at least as far as the UK is concerned, there won’t be any action this side of 2020 anyway.

    Although perm-austerity in the EU seems to be doing a number on emissions, perhaps that’s the plan..

  54. Jim Hunt says:

    Carl – Yes.

    Forgive me if I don’t share your election result enthusiasm.

    Are you familiar with Tamino’s oeuvre? E.g.:

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/the-impact-of-the-hiatus/

    and/or the current ENSO forecasts?

  55. John Hartz says:

    Directly related to the OP…

    The international goal to limit global warming to 2C should be “stringently defended”, UN climate negotiators will be told next month.

    Even this level of temperature rise would put the world’s poor at “very high risk” of climate impacts and “less warming would be preferable”.

    These were some of the key messages from two years of talks between more than 70 country representatives and scientists, published by the UN this week.

    2C warming goal is a ‘defence line’, governments told by Megan Darby, RTCC, May 7, 2015

    The quality of the discourse on this comment thread might be improved if commenters were to peruse the UN document cited and linked to by Darby in the above article.

  56. John Hartz says:

    Speaking of party politics….

    The G.O.P.’s War on Science Gets Worse by Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, May 6, 2015

  57. Eli Rabett says:

    Even with lots of people dedicating their lives to ending hunger and war and the oppression of women etc., the best we can expect is a gradual improvement over the coming decades.

    When Eli was but a bunny in the early 1950s (a cute one tho, Mom Rabett had pictures), people in Europe were starving, or at least undernourished and we sent food and clothing packages to relatives in England who were still under rationing, although not quite starving due to imports of food from the antipodes.

    People in China WERE starving, literally, by the millions

    Women were simply not allowed to be more than secretaries, nurses and grade school teachers. Why do you think the quality of teachers was so high then?

    One could go on.

  58. jinghis says:

    In investing there is a saying, don’t throw good money after bad. If an investment isn’t going to work out for any reason, quit investing. Spending more money on it will just make it worse.

    What is the result of 30 years of activism trying to reduce CO2 Emissions? A new high? 400ppm? And environmental activists steadily losing political influence? As the election in Britain so apply demonstrates.

    Perhaps another question is more pertinent. Who has benefitted from the war on CO2? The government and the oil producers, through higher taxes and the highest revenues in history (the oil companies). And of course the Chinese.

    If the goal really is to reduce CO2 emissions or reduce dependance on fossil fuels the answer is blindingly obvious. Interestingly it would unite environmentalists and capitalists, politically. The only ones who would get hurt would be the oil producers, and maybe some government bureaucracies.

    I don’t particularly like being a tool, how about you ATTP?

  59. I don’t particularly like being a tool, how about you ATTP?

    Maybe you could clarify what you meant by the term “tool”.

  60. Hanson thinks that 2 C would be a disaster

    Hansen is an ideologue.

    No, the stadials are not valid analogs to CO2 forcing.

    The stadials encountered 10,000 years of higher Arctic summer time temperatures.
    The slow CO2 forcing exhibits a few decades of higher Arctic winter time temperatures, and untold portion of which may be natural.

    And actual sea level rise is about 3mm per year, and untold portion of which is not related to CO2 forcing.

    GCMs predict significantly greater precipitation over Greenland and Antarctica which should tend to reduce sea level, not increase it, though the models are probably not reliable.

    It is anxiety to imagine disaster when none exists.

  61. Gator says:

    WC asserts that damages from climate change will be slight. On what does he base this assertion? There is the famous gremlin paper by he-who-should-not-be-named… What other evidence is there that damage will be slight?

    On the other hand, there is an argument to be made that switching to renewable energy can benefit the economy. There is lots of material and infrastructure to be built and installed; should result in less pollution, and therefore less cost to society. Etc. Etc. Yes, I am an old hippy at heart. But to me it seems more plausible that in this case doing the right thing will be better in terms of any measure you choose than just doing nothing and proceeding as we are. Right now there are plenty of people invested in fossil fuels who are fighting to keep their short term livelihood going full steam. There’s no reason we have to go along with that.

    This is an old fight, and you can find parallels in any number of political movements. Here in the US the south seceded to prevent their own economic problems… slaves were a huge part of the economy. 150 years later, can we say the US is a better place with no slaves? What’s the discount rate?

  62. Eli Rabett says:

    No Eddie, Hansen is a moderate Republican, but also a scientist who sees what is happening. You are an ideologue.

  63. Eli Rabett says:

    Oh yeah, the West Antarctic ice shelves are toast on a 100 year basis, which should, in the Hansen sense, be amusing.

    https://www.sciencenews.org/article/antarctic-ice-shelves-rapidly-melting

  64. BBD says:

    TurbEd

    And actual sea level rise is about 3mm per year, and untold portion of which is not related to CO2 forcing.

    Really? So what else is causing energy to accumulate in the oceans and resulting in thermal expansion?

    Unicorn farts? Evil magic?

  65. BBD says:

    TurbEd

    GCMs predict significantly greater precipitation over Greenland and Antarctica which should tend to reduce sea level, not increase it

    Reference?

    Not if ice mass loss through glacial drainage is greater than mass gain through precipitation…

    Describe ice mass balance change on the GriS and WAIS for us, TurbEd.

  66. Hansen and Schneider each said it was more or less ok to lie about global warming with extreme scenarios because the notorious ends justified the means.
    I should believe the predictions of those who first told me they might lie?
    Particularly when they’ve failed at three decade predicitons?
    No.

    We hold predictions to account and dismiss wild imagination of things.

  67. That article doesn’t give any timescales.

  68. > WC asserts that damages from climate change will be slight. On what does he base this assertion?

    Things like the Stern report.

  69. BBD says:

    TurbEd

    [Chill. -W]

    Please explain what is causing energy to accumulate in the global ocean. Please back up your assertions wrt SLR reduction with a reference and a description of ice mass change on the GriS and WAIS since ~2000.

  70. BBD, I didn’t say global warming isn’t occurring or that ocean heat content isn’t rising.

    What I did say is that this doesn’t mean disaster and that sea level appears to be rising a few inches per century, though as you know, a rapidly rising portion of that is from ground water use.

    As you know from reading IPCC reports, precipitation is modeled to increase over Greenland and Antarctica, though that is just a model result and not a given.

    It’s not Eli’s fault – Hansen, who is not a dummy, and even right about a lot of things, is fanning the flames to gen up movements. But it strikes a nerve when scientists mislead.

  71. jinghis says:

    What I mean by “tool’ is a dupe, a stooge or a useful idiot.

    One of the oldest political stratagems is divide and conquer. Any capitalist wants to eliminate competitors and the ideal way from their perspective is to regulate them out of existence. Big Oil’s competitors are Nuclear and Coal, so what you see in reality is Nuclear and Coal being regulated away while oil revenue sky rockets.

    We have been divided and conquered. I can only stand back gazing in awe at how masterfully the oil companies, governments (political parties) and in particular the Saudi’s have manipulated us. Oil is now king, with no pretenders left. Yeah I know the Chinese and Indian’s are dramatically ramping up coal usage, dramatically increasing CO2 emissions and devastating the the Western economies at the same time.

    We have only ourselves to blame. It would have been so easy to boost nuclear power, driving down energy costs, lowering CO2 emissions, raising our standard of living, etc. etc.

    But no, we prefer fighting among ourselves. It makes us feel good. And heck we put on a good show. Bread and circuses for all!

  72. izen says:

    @-BBD
    “Abolish campaign donations to political parties. Fund election campaigns from the public purse. Ask the electorate to accept this as the price of a functional democracy.
    Get vested interest out of politics.”

    It is much more likely that national and international governance will actually make significant cuts to emissions in time to avoid more damage than they have already caused.

    The whole point of democratic politics is to make vested interests in politics acceptable to the electorate. Politics IS the exercise of vested interests, your ‘modest proposal’ would (and has historically) resulted in a military takeover or coup by a totalitarian government to reinstate the political BAU.

  73. izen says:

    @-Turbulent Eddie
    ” Hansen, who is not a dummy, and even right about a lot of things, is fanning the flames to gen up movements. ”

    Your deep insight into Hansen’s motivation is very impressive.

    @-“But it strikes a nerve when scientists mislead.”

    Imagine how much more irritating when non-scientists claim to have sufficient insight… and mislead on a subject they are clearly unfit to address.

  74. Marco says:

    “Hansen and Schneider each said it was more or less ok to lie about global warming with extreme scenarios because the notorious ends justified the means.”

    Citation needed.

    I predict this will include the commonly deliberately and maliciously abbreviated quote from Schneider.

  75. Geden’s point is simple. In private, there is a consensus (>97%) among climate policy analysts that the 2K target is impossible. In public, the same people pretend that it can be met. Perhaps it is time to reclaim our academic freedom and present our research findings, however unpalatable.

  76. Richard,
    For once, I happen to broadly agree. Maybe “impossible” is a little stronger than I would accept, but certainly “very difficult”. On the other hand, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with illustrating what kind of emission pathway would be required to meet a target. That it might be impossible to follow that pathway, doesn’t make presenting it somehow wrong. If anything, you need to know what they are to have some idea if it is possible or not.

  77. entropicman says:

    BBC

    I vaguely rememember turbulent Eddie’s reference. It said that increased precipitation would cancel out 8% of the increased land ice loss.

  78. Willard says:

    > Things like the Stern report.

    Which one, and where, Dr.?

  79. Sure, “impossible” means different things to different people. A nuclear war between India and China would greatly help in keeping temperatures down, but is not generally considered as a desirable option.

    Both Geden and Peters point out, as did the IPCC before them and the EMF before that, that 2K means that we have a few decades to make negative-carbon energy work at scale. and a few years to convince the world to adopt a climate policy that is good bit more stringent than the EU’s.

    Unless, of course, Dick Lindzen has been right all along about the climate sensitivity.

  80. Brandon Gates says:

    BBD,

    Abolish campaign donations to political parties. Fund election campaigns from the public purse. Ask the electorate to accept this as the price of a functional democracy.

    Too effin’ right, mate. Alas, the fox watcheth the hen house.

  81. This quote by Prof. Hans Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, has always stuck in my mind…

    “Political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it’s completely useless,”

    I think this commentary paper by Kevin Anderson and Alice-Bow is really interesting in that it points out many of the same challenges as Gedon’s piece but comes to quite different conclusions…

    A new paradigm for climate change
    http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n9/full/nclimate1646.html?WT.ec_id=NCLIMATE-201209

    Anderson delves into these ideas further in these two talks…

    Real clothes for the Emperor: Facing the challenges of climate change

    The emissions case for a radical plan

    and the Tyndall center even went so far as to organize a radical emissions reduction conference…
    http://tyndall.ac.uk/communication/news-archive/2013/radical-emissions-reduction-conference-videos-now-online

    Which has results in a special issue in Carbon Management…
    http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showAxaArticles?journalCode=tcmt20

  82. Richard,
    Okay, just to be clear my “very difficult” implied “very difficult while still maintaining and improving standards of living, and without something very undesirable happening.” I might have hoped that that would be obvious, but I was lulled into a false sense of security. Must remember to maintain my general sense of distrust and cynicism in future.

    Unless, of course, Dick Lindzen has been right all along about the climate sensitivity.

    I don’t think anyone credible thinks that he is. You might try reading the recent Bjorn Stevens paper.

  83. Joshua says:

    ==> “Hansen and Schneider each said it was more or less ok to lie about global warming with extreme scenarios because the notorious ends justified the means.”

    Well, it’s debatable about whether or not that’s true, but even if it obviously accurate,…

    ==> “I should believe the predictions of those who first told me they might lie?”

    I should expect productive discussion with someone who cherry-picks particular statements from people not involved in the current discussion to generalize about the beliefs of other people he’s currently in discussion with?

  84. “Political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it’s completely useless,”

    Yes, that would be my view. I gather some disagree and seem to that physical reality has little influence on political reality. In fact, this seemed to be Oliver Geden’s view

  85. Jim Hunt says:

    TGI – Thanks for the “Carbon Management” link.

    As luck would have it I recently attended a seminar Kevin Anderson gave at Exeter University. When I arrived I discovered my GoPro at the bottom of my bag, and Kevin and Peter Cox kindly allowed me to turn it on:

    You will note that he suggests a technically feasible “radical plan” for achieving < 2 degrees C. Whether it's politically feasible is another matter entirely!

  86. BBD says:

    izen

    The whole point of democratic politics is to make vested interests in politics acceptable to the electorate. Politics IS the exercise of vested interests, your ‘modest proposal’ would (and has historically) resulted in a military takeover or coup by a totalitarian government to reinstate the political BAU.

    That’s an interesting perspective.

  87. izen says:

    @-Richard Tol
    “A nuclear war between India and China would greatly help in keeping temperatures down, but is not generally considered as a desirable option.”

    I wonder if such a war is more likely if climate change had caused repeated famine and political disruption in both nations?

    http://www.icrisat.org/journal/SpecialProject/sp8.pdf

  88. izen says:

    Sometimes it is ‘interesting’ to view something according what function it performs, rather than any claimed value or ethical worth.
    (2K? grin)

  89. Mal Adapted says:

    ATTP:

    All I really meant was we humans. We can – in theory – define our political system any way we like and – given how many different ones exist – have done so.

    OK, so you wanna walk back the part of your OP where you say “This – to me – would seem to be the one aspect over which we have complete control, and yet seems to be what some would like to regard as the ultimate limiting factor”? Because in the US at least, the people who stand to lose the most if CO2 emissions are curtailed have what sure looks like an unbreakable grip on the reins of power. Ideological AGW-denial is easy to find, but it wouldn’t be decisive without the influence of fossil-fuel $billions. That is “political/societal reality” in my country, and I most emphatically do not “like” it, but I’m can’t escape the conviction that it’s the ultimate limiting factor for the trajectory of global climate! I’d love to hear your plan for getting past it. Please tell me, sir, What Is to Be Done?

  90. Mal,

    I’d love to hear your plan for getting past it. Please tell me, sir, What Is to Be Done?

    I think you may have misunderstood me. I wasn’t suggesting that we would do something or that I have any idea how to get us to do so. I was making the rather trivial suggestion that as a supposedly intelligent, rational species, we can both understand the issue that may need addressing and could decide to address it, if we wanted to do so. I don’t think that that we may well choose to not do so, makes that not true.

    Having said that, I did wonder if there is any evidence that our societies/civilisations are now so complex that even though we have the intellect to understand the complexities of something like climate science, and the ability to find some way to sensibly address it, that it is now virtually impossible that we will actually do so.

  91. John Hartz says:

    Speaking of the role of nuclear power…

    For decades, France has been a living laboratory for atomic energy, getting nearly three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear power — a higher proportion by far than in any other country.

    And France’s nuclear companies have long been seen as leaders in building and safely operating uranium-fueled reactors around the world — including in the United States — and championed by Paris as star exporters and ambassadors of French technological prowess.

    But in the last few years, the French dynamo has started to stall. New plants that were meant to showcase the industry’s most advanced technology are years behind schedule and billions of euros over budget. Worse, recently discovered problems at one site have raised new doubts about when, or even if, they will be completed.

    French Nuclear Model Falters by David Jolly and Stanley Reed, New York Times, May 7, 2015

  92. Gator says:

    @WC
    “> WC asserts that damages from climate change will be slight. On what does he base this assertion?

    Things like the Stern report.”

    http://www.wwf.se/source.php/1169157/Stern%20Report_Exec%20Summary.pdf
    Granted this is only the executive summary, but in bold it states early on:
    “The benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs”

    Perhaps we should be working on the strong early action part?

  93. Jim Hunt – Thanks for your link too 🙂

  94. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> “Having said that, I did wonder if there is any evidence that our societies/civilisations are now so complex that even though we have the intellect to understand the complexities of something like climate science, and the ability to find some way to sensibly address it, that it is now virtually impossible that we will actually do so.”

    If you have some time to kill….you might find this discussion related to your comment interesting interesting. If you any workouts on some sort of exercise machine, it passes the time:

    http://www.intelligencesquared.com/events/democracy-even-the-best-ideas-can-fail-francis-fukuyama-david-runciman/

  95. Brandon Gates says:

    JH,

    Speaking of the role of nuclear power…

    As a fan of fission over coal, I find this article somewhat disheartening. Perhaps the easiest way to explain why would be to mentally replace “Areva” with “Solyndra”.

  96. matt says:

    jinghis,

    > It would have been so easy to boost nuclear power, driving down energy costs…

    Source? I am a fan of nuclear (in the long long game), but boosting nuclear driving down prices in the near term is not something I have seen evidence for (even from the pro-nukes ppl).

  97. Eli Rabett says:

    Looks like Geden and Richard Tol has reached stage five
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/sep/16/climate-change-contrarians-5-stages-denial

    1. Deny the problem exists
    2. Deny we are the cause
    3. Deny that it’s a problem (gremlins are useful for this)
    4. Deny we can solve it
    5. It’s too late. Lie back and enjoy the heat.

  98. Susan Anderson says:

    Having misposted on an earlier discussion, here’s more about ostrich politics.

    Elizabeth Kolbert (who recently received a Pulitzer for her Sixth Extinction>) covers one recent part of the attempt to kill the messenger on this side of the pond:
    http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/gop-war-on-science-gets-worse

    the idea that ignoring a problem isn’t going to make it go away is one that kids should grasp by the time they’re six or seven. But ignoring a problem does often make it more difficult to solve. And that, you have to assume, in a perverse way, is the goal here. What we don’t know, we can’t act on.

    She cites Obama (whose record is mixed, given the false premise that fracking is “cleaner”, imnsho a dubious proposition based on incomplete accounting) in an earlier article:

    “Those of us in positions of responsibility, we’ll need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of posterity. Because you and your children, and your children’s children, will have to live with the consequences of our decisions.”

  99. Susan Anderson says:

    oh sigh, bad html italics … but it’s still legible.

  100. Mal Adapted says:

    ATTP:

    I think you may have misunderstood me.

    I can’t tell if you’ve misunderstood me or if you’re dodging. I’ll be more direct: What did you mean by “what some would like to regard as the ultimate limiting factor”? That sounds like you’re denying the cause of the political paralysis that prevents the government of the US, at least, from enacting an effective decarbonization policy, or regarding it as an excuse for inaction. Do you discount the power wielded by the financial interests who will lose under any such policy? What action do you imagine might overcome that power? Or do you think an effective global solution to AGW doesn’t depend on US government policy?

  101. Oliver Geden is firmly in the Pielke/Hulme/Breakthrough Institute ‘climate mitigation-action delayer’ camp as his previous publications and citations amply demonstrate – just as this latest one does. Several times on Twitter, as with the BTI, I have tried to get Geden to answer the question: if not 2ºC then what temperature and related carbon budget limit target would he prefer? He always dodges while claiming to be objective and pragmatic, which is entirely evasionary. If he is suggesting a different path then he should tell us what he is suggesting and why that is better.

    Yes, let’s admit that limiting to 2ºC is already very difficult but that does not mean that the pragmatic policy is to give up on 2ºC. It should mean that the alarm is ringing very loudly to say that the ‘honest brokering’ of policy advisors like Geden has entirely failed to move policy in the direction of actually achieving the emission cuts necessary. This latest article is just another attempt to evade the culpability of ‘advisors’ like himself for this ongoing policy failure. Shooting the messenger, he wants to blame climate scientists for pointing out inconvenient truths: so much for his integrity as a policy advisor. It’s hard to see Geden’s article as anything more than another prolonged effort to keep reality from intruding on his own political preferences for climate inaction.

    Rather than giving up on 2ºC as a target limit we should be redoubling (trebling, ten-folding) efforts to achieve the related, future, capped global carbon budget. It may well be that this requires negative emissions (as well as massive social change) and it may well be that we don’t achieve them, but with very strong policies aiming at 2ºC we might still miss and hit 2.5ºC. Whatever your politics that’s bad but it’s a hell of a lot better than Geden’s argument, which still pretends it is pragmatic to go on until we actually hit walls at 3ºC, or 4ºC, or now if you live in Kiribati with the sea already coming in. This version of ‘pragmatism’ (aka Pielke Jr’s rusty ‘law’) is just excuse-making for continuing to do little or nothing even in the teeth of the evidence.

    Concentrating on the difficulties in policy is not smart or pragmatic if it just avoids stating the realities of the extraordinary global climate risk that our actions right now directly affect. We may desire to avoid driving into a brick wall but that does actually require a policy that involves *not* steering directly toward it and accelerating. Geden clearly finds the emission projections presented by climate science as “sometimes unwelcome — perspectives to the global climate-policy discourse”. It is mitigation action evaders masquerading as honest brokers who need to wake up to physical reality if they are to finally show some integrity as climate policy advisors. It would be great if they could wake up and help hit the brakes before we all run out of road.

  102. Mal,
    I think we’re talking at cross purposes.

    That sounds like you’re denying the cause of the political paralysis that prevents the government of the US, at least, from enacting an effective decarbonization policy, or regarding it as an excuse for inaction.

    No, that’s certainly not what I’m suggesting. If anything what I’m suggesting is that there are those who are arguing that this political paralysis is a form of reality about which we can do nothing. My point was that such a political reality is clearly not something about which we can do nothing, even if we do ultimately choose to do nothing. If anything, I object to this kind of framing; the suggestion that our flawed political system somehow trumps physical reality, when it comes to deciding how to address a complex and potentially serious issue.

  103. Paul,

    This latest article is just another attempt to evade the culpability of ‘advisors’ like himself for this ongoing policy failure. Shooting the messenger, he wants to blame climate scientists for pointing out inconvenient truths: so much for his integrity as a policy advisor.

    Yes, it does certainly appear that way. I’ve seen the same with science communication; people who criticise scientists for not being more effective at communicating science, rather than actually helping to do it better. Similarly here; policy people criticising scientists for not being more effective at influencing policy. Well, scientists aren’t marketing experts and probably shouldn’t be. Their role should be to explain – as clearly as possible – what the evidence suggests. If people choose to ignore them, there’s not much more they can do. However, I suspect we’ll see more of this. As it becomes more and more evident that we’ve left things rather late, there’ll be all sorts of people criticising scientists for not doing more and for not being more effective; most of whom will probably be those who helped to delay action.

  104. ATTP,

    Yes, I think that’s right, we will likely see more of this messenger-blaming of science and scientists even though the political, economic and societal ‘climate experts’ are the very ones who have failed most to communicate the realities of climate risk to policy-makers. They could have done and should be doing far more to encourage the political, economic and social change as needed to achieve “substantial and sustained reductions in GHG emissions”, as the IPCC say.

    Planning that has “integrity” always looks first at avoiding unbearable, undiscountable risks, suggesting otherwise as Geden repeatedly does in articles, is irresponsible policy advice that deserves to be discounted.

    Another point to note is Nature’s continued willingness to publish this kind of reality trolling. Naively, I’d like to think the editors would understand the difference between physical reality and wishful thinking dressed up in political excuse-making. It seems not though.

  105. Richard says:

    The immediate question I have is will Prime Minister Cameron signal that he respects the science by appointing a Minister in charge of the CC portfolio who is half credible at taking this seriously?
    What would Maggie think about his decision and those to come over the next 5 year?

    wp.me/p5pqmv-1E … i will now go for the dog walk while the “don’t be so naive” admonishments come it (and I think you may be right!).

  106. Eli Rabett says:

    Paul put it well, but Eli has had such thoughts and my, did it piss off our brethren on the journalistic side. It’s not that scientists are or are not lousy communicators (say that and the Rabett will lock you in a room with Richard Alley for example), but that journalists are lousy communicators. It’s their fucking (emphasis added) job and they are screwing it up to a fare-thee-well. It ain’t just climate either.John Fleck still will not speak to Eli.

    The farmers are more worried that the government will put them out of business than the weather, but, of course, climate change is doing the job through its cats paw weather

    “Mitigation is not yet really something our society wants to talk about, and that’s reflected in our farmers,” he said.

    Much of this puts Eli in mind of a new book, Better Off Without Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession, by Chuck Thompson, which bluntly puts it that the US (or at least the part without Kansas to Florida, would be a lot better off without the South. The opening says it all

    Hang out in my living room on any national election night and at some point in the evening, usually around 7 p.m. Pacific time, you’re almost certain to hear me scream something like: “Why in the hell does the United States—and by extension the entire free world, capitalist dominion, and all of Christendom—allow its government to be held hostage by a coalition of bought-and-paid-for political swamp scum from the most uneducated, morbidly obese, racist, indigent, xenophobic, socially stunted, and generally ass-backwards part of the country?”

    YMMV

  107. It’s not that scientists are or are not lousy communicators (say that and the Rabett will lock you in a room with Richard Alley for example), but that journalists are lousy communicators. It’s their fucking (emphasis added) job and they are screwing it up to a fare-thee-well.

    Some are very good, but, yes, as a group they are not doing humanity a service. Unfortunately, we do need them to reach the people we need to reach. Here on the blogs we reach people who already know more than enough and people who reject the information with all the brainpower they can muster.

  108. Jim Hunt says:

    Richard – You may recall that on St. Valentine’s Day 2015 our Great British Prime Minister signed up to take the matter wholly seriously:

    Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today. It is not just a threat to the environment, but also to our national and global security, to poverty eradication and economic prosperity.

    Dave, Nick and Ed Pledge to Save the Planet

    You may also note than I am a cynical old so and so, and I recall what he said in 2010:

    https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pms-speech-at-decc

  109. Susan Anderson says:

    Having inveighed against the largely liberal New York Times in the US only a few minutes ago, I’d like to give credit where credit is due. {Warning: NYT limits nonsubscribers to 10 (?) free articles per month.} This learning unit is very fine, and I could wish that at the very least, all NYT reporters covering climate absorb the materials:
    http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/22/guest-post-climate-change-questions-for-citizen-scientists/

    Climate change news can be alarming — like the information … about the likelihood of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts on people and ecosystems.” It can also be confusing, raising troubling questions and revealing conflicting priorities, contentious debates and polarized views about everything from the science itself to ideas for tackling the problem.

    “But climate change is the kind of messy, complex scientific problem that news reports increasingly ask us to make sense of. From the spread of the Ebola virus to securing cyberspaces, ensuring food and water safety and making energy choices, it helps to adopt the mind-set of a good scientist (and good critical thinker) to understand our changing world.

  110. Susan Anderson says:

    Jim Hunt, I have to confess that I subscribe to the Russell Brand/George Monbiot take on all that. At least you’re trying to do something about it, hats off to you!

  111. Jim Hunt says:

    Thanks very much for your kind words Susan. However in my experience DECC take remarkably little notice of my words of wisdom. Neither does Russell Brand for that matter!

    Meanwhile, in the latest news on the Great British “reshuffle”:

    Amber Rudd was appointed Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on 11 May 2015.

    https://www.gov.uk/government/ministers/secretary-of-state-for-energy-and-climate-change

  112. MMM says:

    So, I think the key question here isn’t “is 2 degrees achievable” but “does having a 2 degree target help or hurt attempts to move forward with abatement policies?” I didn’t really start paying serious attention to the climate policy scene until 2000 or so, but I remember looking at the Kyoto process and thinking that a less ambitious, less target-driven approach might have yielded more mitigation than Kyoto. My personal ideal policy would have focused on a few things:

    1: Reduced fossil fuel subsidies
    2: Harmonized taxes (with higher taxes in higher median per-capita income nations, and lower in poorer nations)
    3: Development assistance for developing nation renewables & adaptation
    4: Research agenda on batteries, renewables, etc.

    And then you ratchet up over time, rather than trying for an all-or-nothing all-in-one-fell-swoop let’s-allocate-our entire carbon budget over space and time type of policy. And if everyone is always saying, “OMG, if we exceed 2 degrees, DOOM! And we can only make 2 degrees if we start NOW!” then that often seems to lead to, “well, we aren’t starting now, so let’s give up”.

    I prefer the philosophy of “every ton of emission reduction matters. I prefer 2 degrees to 3 degrees, but also 3 degrees to 4 degrees, so let’s just get started with what we can get done now, and get better with practice”.

    -MMM

  113. Jim Hunt says:

    BBD,

    Thanks for the heads up about the BBC’s (unusually accurate!) take on matters.

    Regarding “the question of the UK’s trajectory on CO2 cuts” and the “three-way party leaders’ pledge in February”, I figured I’d start lobbying Ms. Rudd as soon as she arrived at her new desk:

    Any chance of a “retweet” or three?

  114. Susan Anderson says:

    Jim Hunt, you might take some comfort from the undoubted fact that fracking in this country has got a whole lot of politically inactive people hot and bothered and opposition is growing at quite a rate. You might also like to take a look at this:
    http://www.dwarshuis.com/earthquakes-groningen-gas-field/visualisation/

    As for Cameron, he appears to be even more of a hypocrite than I thought.

    I apologize for linking DotEarth, given its shortcomings, but the article and comments here provide a good few resources all in one place, along with an oversupply of deniers.
    http://www.dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/oklahomas-options-now-that-state-and-federal-scientists-confirm-big-earthquake-impact-from-water-disposal/

  115. My personal ideal policy would have focused on a few things:

    1: Reduced fossil fuel subsidies
    2: Harmonized taxes (with higher taxes in higher median per-capita income nations, and lower in poorer nations)
    3: Development assistance for developing nation renewables & adaptation
    4: Research agenda on batteries, renewables, etc.

    This has the added benefit that you agree on things that politicians/governments can actually influence. Fluctuations in economic growth or a nuclear accident make it hard to achieve a precise level of emissions.

    Furthermore, developing the right technologies, efficiency standards, trying out societal changes and similar developments are in this stage much more important than emissions. Once we have the right mix of solutions for the important countries, the fossil fuel industry will be whipped out within a decade. (This would also be my answer to people who plot historical emissions as proof that nothing has happened the last 25 years and everyone should just lie back like a good lukewarmer. At lot has happened, you just do not see it yet in the emissions. They do not show you the growth rates of sun and wind.)

  116. BBD says:

    At lot has happened, you just do not see it yet in the emissions. They do not show you the growth rates of sun and wind.

    There’s room for improvement. Mainly what I see is lots and lots of fossil fuels:

  117. BBD says:

    Sorry – missed the link: figure is from the IEA 2014 Key World Energy Statistics report.

  118. verytallguy says:

    MMM,

    My personal ideal policy would have focused on a few things:

    1: Reduced fossil fuel subsidies
    2: Harmonized taxes (with higher taxes in higher median per-capita income nations, and lower in poorer nations)
    3: Development assistance for developing nation renewables & adaptation
    4: Research agenda on batteries, renewables, etc.

    I’d largely agree with this, but add at the very top

    0. Stop investment in fossil fuel dependent infrastructure.

    We are currently investing hugely in infrastructure that guarantees further increases in CO2, let alone decreases. This includes inefficient buildings, roadbuilding, airport expansions, out of town developments etc.

    I also agree with the sentiment that by trying to do everything, we end up doing nothing. Even if it turns out all we achieve is 3 degrees rather than 4, that’s actually a much bigger impact than the difference between 2 to 3 degrees.

  119. Arthur Smith says:

    BBD – as I recall, those numbers are a little misleading as they don’t take into account the “quality” of an energy source. Electricity, which is the direct output of solar and wind (and hydro), is far higher quality than the thermal energy you get from fossil or nuclear sources. You roughly need to multiply the hydro and other shares there by a factor of 3 to get a more reasonable view. Yes it’s still a small number, but not quite so small, and more importantly it’s been growin fast.

  120. BBD says:

    Arthur Smith

    Everything in the graph is expressed in Mtoe, so presumably that conversion is implicit?

    Interesting point, all the same.

    I agree with Victor V and you that the rate of growth of renewables is very rapid, but the truth is, it has to go much faster still. The point I was trying to make is that as global energy consumption has risen, the amount of FFs has increased and the proportion of FFs to alternatives hasn’t changed much. That’s what needs to stop. Future growth in energy demand must be met by growth in renewables, not yet more coal and gas.

  121. MMM says:

    “Fluctuations in economic growth or a nuclear accident make it hard to achieve a precise level of emissions”

    Yes, that is one reason I prefer harmonized taxes to cap and trade. The other is that with cap and trade, you have to get every nation to agree on an individual target, and different potential choices of national caps could lead to very different cash flows from nation to nation… which makes it very difficult to ever get nations to agree on anything (remember the Russian “hot air” from Kyoto?). Harmonized taxes keeps the money within each national boundary, which should make international agreements much less contentious, and to the extent that we think that certain countries should have weaker targets, you either let them set lower domestic taxes, or explicitly agree on international transfers…

  122. John Hartz says:

    Geden’s Nature comment also prompted David Roberts to explore the key issues it raises in his in-depth article:

    The awful truth about climate change no one wants to admit by David Roberts, Vox, May 15, 2015

    Per usual, Roberts pulls no punches.

  123. Michael Lloyd says:

    @JH

    Thank you for the link.

    Nothing specifically new in the article for me. I do have a degree of scepticism as to whether we can maintain business as usual over this century.

    The question I have been puzzling over is whether there are substantial scientific reasons for our inability to act. I am thinking here not only regarding climate change but specifically the human race’s treatment of a finite planet as infinite.

    Any suggestions for further reading?

  124. I’ve been thinking of reading The Sixth Extinction – OMG Alarmist, Alarmist!!!!!

  125. Michael Lloyd says:

    Thanks for the suggestions but these are not what I was looking for.

    I have Dilworth’s Too Smart For Our Own Good. The question is: Is Dilworth’s hypothesis scientifically sound or are there opposing scientific findings that indicate the human race can take control of its survival before events impose a differing form of homeostasis on us?

  126. BBD says:

    Michael Lloyd

    I haven’t read Dilworth so I can’t comment.

    ATTP

    Another one in the stack for me, too. So many books, so little time…

  127. Michael Lloyd says:

    BBD,

    If you are interested, here is a review of Dilworth’s book:

    http://questioneverything.typepad.com/question_everything/2012/02/what-is-a-smart-species-like-us-doing-in-a-predicament-like-this.html

    and this is an example of how others are asking questions on the nature of denial:

    http://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-10-31/are-we-hard-wired-to-think-we-can-grow-forever

  128. John Hartz says:

    Micahel Lloyd: In the context of your querry, the following caught my eye.

    As a species, we don’t seem to be very good at dealing with nonlinearity. We cope moderately well with situations and environments that are changing gradually. But sudden, major discontinuities – what some people call “tipping points” – leave us spooked. That’s why we are so perversely relaxed about climate change, for example: things are changing slowly, imperceptibly almost, but so far there hasn’t been the kind of sharp, catastrophic change that would lead us seriously to recalibrate our behaviour and attitudes.

    We are ignoring the new machine age at our peril by John Naughton, The Guardian, May 17, 2015

  129. Pingback: Climate targets | …and Then There's Physics

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