Eric Rignot on climate action

I thought I would post this short interview with Eric Rignot. I found it here, but I think it originates from Climate denial crock of the week. I won’t say much about what he says, but he does make the point that addressing climate change isn’t going to be easy, but that he hopes that we do. I agree; the most complex aspect of this whole topic is not climate science itself, but what we should do, given the evidence that climate science is presenting. However, that it is going to be very difficult, is not a very good reason for not doing something. This is one reason I find myself getting frustrated by those (like Oliver Geden) who seem to be arguing that the realities of policy making mean that we should stop believing that evidence-based policy making is actually possible. Well, maybe, but that doesn’t change that the evidence exists, or change what it is suggesting.

I’ll finish by simply repeating what I’ve said many times before; without as yet undeveloped technologies, climate change is probably irreversible on human timescales. We don’t get a do-over!

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68 Responses to Eric Rignot on climate action

  1. russellseitz says:

    The ability to model climate 100 years in advance was among the technologies as yet undeveloped in Tyndall and Arrehenius’ day.

  2. The ability to model climate 100 years in advance was among the technologies as yet undeveloped in Tyndall and Arrehenius’ day.

    True, but that wasn’t because the physics was wrong.

  3. I had a discussion with a few people about the phrase, “the science is settled…” the other day. I contend that in a political context it’s short for, “the science is settled… enough for us to know we need to act on climate”.

    For the scientist, of course, there’s still plenty to do to reduce uncertainties, but how many of them think that there is even the slightest chance that there’s something yet to discover that will suggest we don’t need to start acting, tout de suite?

  4. It will take a huge popular movement. Not just a few scientists. Especially not scientists talking to US/UKIP political activists that did not come to their opposition to mitigation based on science, but because the have other values than the rest of the world.

    Get organised. Is everyone here already member of Friend of the Earth?

  5. I was a member of FoE and Greenpeace for many years, Victor, but I stopped contributing to both when I realised climate change meant we should seriously consider nuclear (which is not perfect, but needs must).

    I also have come to realise that lobbying politicians and big businesses is pointless. We need to lobby our fellow man in the street; our neighbours and friends. In a democracy, when enough ordinary voters become concerned, the politicians and big businesses will be forced to follow.

  6. The more difficult it is to get wise policies and efficient solutions implemented the more important it is to analyze and discuss which solutions are really efficient, and how support can be built for the implementation of wise policies. Discussing climate science is of little help in that.

  7. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: Your OP reinforces my belief that we should stop wasting valuable time and energy chasing the tails of contrarions such as Roger Pielke Sr around the blogosphere and in Twitter-land.

  8. Pekka,
    That may well be true, but that doesn’t mean that discussing climate science has no value.

  9. John Hartz says:

    ATTP:

    “…without as yet undeveloped technologies, climate change is probably irreversible on human timescales.”

    As long as the top scientsts and engineers in major develeped countries are employed to develop and refine weapons of mass destruction, what you are calling for will not happen.

    As long as the political leadership of major developed countries are willing to expand outlandish sums on “national defense,” what you are calling for will not happen.

  10. johnrussell40 says:

    “I was a member of FoE and Greenpeace for many years, Victor, but I stopped contributing to both when I realised climate change meant we should seriously consider nuclear (which is not perfect, but needs must).”

    Do I understand it correctly that you are in favour of nuclear energy because of climate change and not for other reasons? If that is the case, isn’t it a minor implementation detail of a (technological) future we cannot predict? Whether nuclear is cheaper and easier to implement against the resistance of the population or whether storage, strong smart grids and fluctuating market electricity prices will get supply and demand together is an empirical question.

    I would not see that as a strong reason not to organize. The energy section may just be 6% of the economy, but that is still quite a power to fight against. The population does not automatically get what they want, if only what they want in also influenced by the spin of the establishment. If you are not willing to compromise and organise then the establishment will win and it will become hot. Just join a organisation in favour of nuclear energy to compensate.

  11. The message from climate science has not changed much since AR4 (or perhaps since TAR). It’s not likely to change much over the next several years. Therefore the real question is, how the policies and concrete action can be made to respond best to the existing knowledge.

    If Oliver Geden tells that the realities of policy making make progress very difficult, you may disagree but you should not shoot the messenger simply because you don’t like the message. His message should rather be taken as a warning and an argument for putting more emphasis in understanding the political processes.

  12. Pekka,

    If Oliver Geden tells that the realities of policy making make progress very difficult, you may disagree but you should not shoot the messenger simply because you don’t like the message.

    Firstly, I didn’t shoot the messenger, I pointed out that I’m frustrated by those who appear to be suggesting that evidence-based policy making is unrealistic. That is quite a bit different to suggesting that it is difficult. Difficult I agree with. Difficult, however, isn’t the same as impossible. If those like Geden were trying to find ways to improve this, I would have no criticism. My issue is with the apparent suggestion that we can’t do anything other than work within the existing framework, in which evidence-based policy is ineffective.

    Also, please read what I write carefully. This is my impression of what Geden – for example – is saying. If my interpretation of what someone like Geden is saying is incorrect, feel free to correct me. However, it’s hard to interpret it differently when he tweets thing like this.

    To be clear, though, this post wasn’t meant to be specifically about people with views like that of Oliver Geden. I do, however, find the rather negative message that Oliver Geden seems to present, rather frustrating.

  13. Gingerbaker says:

    “… the most complex aspect of this whole topic is not climate science itself, but what we should do, given the evidence that climate science is presenting. ”

    I don’t understand your confusion. What we should do seems to me to be very clear – we need to build and deploy a new carbon-free energy utility system. And I suggest we actually get to the building and deploying part, and skip the unnecessary middleman (carbon taxes, cap and trade, fossil fuel regulations, etc).

    And if you think such an idea is too simplistic, unfeasible, or unduly techno-centric, please direct your attention to China. Where they have the radical notion that a national energy crisis is best addressed on a national scale with a national program of …wait for it…building and deploying a new carbon-free energy utility system. Where, if the last few months(!) of construction are a valid indicator, they have already peaked their coal use 15 years early.

  14. Gingerbaker,
    Ahh, okay, maybe I should really have said
    ““… the most complex aspect of this whole topic is not climate science itself, but getting sufficient agreement about what we should do, given the evidence that climate science is presenting. ”

  15. @VictorV

    I’m not “in favour of nuclear…”; I’m in favour of whatever it takes to eliminate carbon emissions from power generation—which will probably mean we need a mix of efficiency improvements (demand reduction), renewables and nuclear. But I’m not an engineer so I’d prefer to give the experts a free hand to use all the tools to come up with the most appropriate mix that achieves our set goals.

    I’m guessing for the time being we’ll still need some fossil fuels as a raw material for products we need (like cement), though I would hope we’ll find ways to limit their GH emissions and embody more carbon in building products. I’m also a greatly excited by planned re-use, recycling and cradle-to-cradle design: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cradle-to-cradle_design. As I trust you can tell, my approach is that we should dictate the outcomes we want, not the way they should be achieved. I guess this is a sort of ‘market economy’ but with very tight regulation over ‘side effects’ we don’t want.

    I accept that the establishment influences the population using ‘spin’. That’s why we need, as individuals, to do all we can to counter that spin. I have sympathy with organisations such a FoE and Greenpeace but some of the specific things they do make it easy for the media and others to typecast them in a negative way. I believe we’ll have more impact with the sort of general ‘People’s climate movement’ we saw in New York and other cities last year: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Climate_March.

  16. @Gingerbaker

    China is a command economy, not a democracy. Most of the rest of the world is a democracy and we have to work with what we’ve got: hence the need to persuade—a slow job.

    But in one sense you’re correct. China will show the rest of the world what’s possible when there’s political will for change.

  17. Willard says:

    > I’m frustrated by those who appear to be suggesting that evidence-based policy making is unrealistic.

    More so when all this “messaging” amounts to replace “evidence-based” with “evidence-oriented”:

    As if evidence-based approaches did not take values, pragmatics, political affiliation, and other interests into consideration.

    The whole exchange with Oliver was quite something.

  18. Rachel M says:

    I saw that Tweet of Oliver Geden’s and some of the subsequent discussion on Twitter and I disagree with him. What he’s saying sounds a bit like this, “Yes the evidence tells us that releasing toxic waste into our water supply is going to be harmful to our health but in the real world, it’s too difficult to avoid this so we should just put up with it.” This is intellectually lazy, in my opinion, and incredibly lacking in ambition and drive. How did he become head of organisation with an attitude like that?

  19. As if evidence-based approaches did not take values, pragmatics, political affiliation, and other interests into consideration.

    Yes, I thought the same myself. Does Oliver Geden really think that scientists think that policy makers must consider their evidence and only their evidence? What’s maybe more interesting is that Oliver Geden seems to be actively arguing for a smaller role for scientific evidence, rather than for a bigger role for values, etc.

  20. Mburns says:

    I think the main problem with mobilizing the political an public will in adopting and implementing a coherent set policies and strategies is that there does not appear to be a consistent message from the advocates about what is specifically needed to avert CAGW.
    I would be characterized as a skeptic or denier so my view is biased. However, among the advocacy groups there seems to be a wide range of views – from it’s too late already to avoid catastrophe to we still have 20 – 30 years; and prescriptions ranging from immediate discontinuation of fossil fuels to a much more gradual approach.
    The result, in my opinion, is a public that is really convinced there is problem that needs immediate attention let alone immediate drastic action. I think the public finds the advocacy groups arguments contradictory, unconvincing and at times unserious.
    As I say I’m biased so my opinion may just be projection.

  21. “The ability to model climate 100 years in advance was among the technologies as yet undeveloped in Tyndall and Arrehenius’ day.”

    Don’t conflate ability to model with accurate prediction.

  22. “In fact, our current levels of greenhouse gas emissions already imply a 10 percent probability of global warming exceeding a disastrous level of six degrees by the end of this century.”

    No scientific basis for a claim such as this – it implies the ability to make accurate predictions of climate a century out. Might as well say, climate models could be in error by 500%.

    Since the largest trend to date ( 1975 to present ) is about 1.9C per century, one needs a reason to consider a higher rate. I can think of reasons to consider lower warming rates ( deceleration of forcing rates, low end population scenarios, nearly all developed countries with declining CO2 rates already ) but I can’t identify any reasons to consider higher rates.

  23. “Climate change will leave no aspect of our society and natural world untouched.”

    Universal, sweeping claims such as these both evoke intensity ( everything will be affected ) and lack the specificity of falsifiable predictions which are more the hallmark of scientific endeavour.

    Climate is not determined by global average temperature and the changes in temperature that will occur are small compared to seasonal, diurnal, inter-day, and various other natural fluctuations.

    Humans have spread ( from a warm evolutionary past in Africa ) to every climate on earth.
    And human civilization made its most notable advancements ( ‘cradle of civilization’ ) during the warmest parts of this interglacial.

    Keep a broad context.

  24. Mburns,
    This David Roberts post is worth reading. In particular the first figure that shows where we are now, and the figure near the end that shows the various pathways that would give us a 66% chance of staying below 2oC. 2oC isn’t some boundary between safe and dangerous, but there are a few things to bear in mind. Climate change and the impacts of climate change largely depend on how much we emit. If there is a level of cumulative emissions that will produce severe risks, the longer we take to do something to reduce our emissions, the faster we will have to do so in future if we wish to avoid those impacts. Whether we want to avoid them is, of course, a societal/policy decisions, but that doesn’t change this basic picture.

  25. TE,

    No scientific basis for a claim such as this – it implies the ability to make accurate predictions of climate a century out. Might as well say, climate models could be in error by 500%.

    I disagree, there is a basis for this claim. It is based on one of the high emission pathways. That climate models may be completely wrong (I doubt they are) does not mean that there is no scientific basis for this claim. Past trends are also largely irrelevant.

    Universal, sweeping claims such as these both evoke intensity ( everything will be affected ) and lack the specificity of falsifiable predictions which are more the hallmark of scientific endeavour.

    I wondered if someone would mention this. Yes, they were rather sweeping. However, it is probably roughly true when you consider all the changes that will probably take place. I also find it interesting that some are willing to make such claims despite all the pressure to avoid doing so.

    Humans have spread ( from a warm evolutionary past in Africa ) to every climate on earth.
    And human civilization made its most notable advancements ( ‘cradle of civilization’ ) during the warmest parts of this interglacial.

    Do you really think that we still live in a world where people can simply move if their current locations becomes unable to support them?

  26. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: A nice summary of the human race’s ability to tolerate heat and humidity is contained in the article,
    The heat and the death toll are rising in India. Is this a glimpse of Earth’s future? by Catherine de Lange, Observer, May 30, 2015

    You may want to import the graphic from this article. I do not know how to do so.

  27. BBD says:

    While I’m not one to push the high-end warming scenarios too hard, even the more moderate ~3C increase in GAT by century’s end will be horrible. Let’s remember that this is a global average temperature, that two-thirds of the globe is sea and that SSTs are on average cooler than land surface temperatures. ~3C GAT means rather more that 3C on land, where we live and where we will be struggling to keep agriculture going in the face of droughts, heatwaves, flooding, fungal and insect pests etc.

    There’s nothing like a bit of global food insecurity to bring out the best in humanity, so I suspect we’re going to seem serious geopolitical instability escalating if it starts to get too warm. And there are no Pollyannas in a foxhole.

  28. izen says:

    @-johnrussell40
    “China is a command economy, not a democracy. Most of the rest of the world is a democracy and we have to work with what we’ve got: hence the need to persuade—a slow job”

    I doubt that ‘most of the rest of the world’ actually get to vote, I doubt the majority of the world population actually get to vote at all, and if they do very few get to vote for any political system that has the will or ability to implement the sort of policy that China has shown it is willing to follow in the face of the scientific evidence. perhaps this reality is what Oliver Geden is alluding too?

    Most of the rest of the world, that is not a command economy is dominated by global business interests that long since secured the national governments as entirely complicit and compliant to their priorities. Democratic choice is restricted to minor policy adjustments and catering to the ‘patriotic’ or xenophobic traits within populations as a means of perpetuating their occupation of the seat of government.

    @-TE
    “Humans have spread ( from a warm evolutionary past in Africa ) to every climate on earth.
    And human civilization made its most notable advancements ( ‘cradle of civilization’ ) during the warmest parts of this interglacial.”

    But not during previous interglacial a when it was warmer than the Holocene peak.
    Present temperatures are likely to reach those previous {Eemian etc} extremes.

    @-“Keep a broad context.”

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/05/india-heat-wave-tests-water-supply-deaths-2000-150530032253669.html

  29. Mburns says:

    ATTP,
    The Roberts post is interesting. It is predicated on dire climatic and environmental consequences resulting from current rate and volume of Co2 emissions. I can’t argue with his general
    observations that politicians and other policy makers wants to believe that the incremental and largely uncoordinated efforts to date will be successful and that they are loathe to give the public bad news. Still, if Roberts is correct it’s already too late for effective mitigation. That implies adaptation is the most effective option. His overall message of impending catastrophe and his observation that “Climate changes slowly …. It barely rises above background noise.” highlights the policy problem. The general public really won’t be galvaninized into action until it’s obvious “the world is ending”.

  30. Mburns,

    Still, if Roberts is correct it’s already too late for effective mitigation.

    I disagree. Cumulative emissions are relevant. The less we emit, the less severe the impacts will likely be.

    That implies adaptation is the most effective option.

    Some form of adaptation is unavoidable. That doesn’t mean – IMO – that we should give up on mitigation. It’s not an either or situation.

    The general public really won’t be galvaninized into action until it’s obvious “the world is ending”.

    Well, yes, it is possible that we won’t take this seriously until it becomes obvious that we should do so. “World is ending” is a bit extreme, though 🙂

  31. Mburns says:

    ATTP,
    I agree that adaptation and mitigation are not mutually exclusive. It was my take away from Roberts was that he didn’t think our current mitigation efforts and any plausible” increase in those efforts in the near to mid term will have any meaningful effect in avoiding the likely climate catastrophe.
    An obvious crisis tends to focus the public mind. Until then mitigation advocates will have an uphill battle, I think.

  32. Mburns,
    I think he was talking about achieving a 2oC goal specifically, though. He also said

    The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit.

    Whether or not “catastrophe” is the right word, I think he’s right that some pretty severe things will happen if we carry on as we are.

    An obvious crisis tends to focus the public mind. Until then mitigation advocates will have an uphill battle, I think.

    I agree.

  33. John Hartz says:

    Mburns:

    An obvious crisis tends to focus the public mind.

    Only if we actually pay attention to what’s happening. For example, the ongoing heatwave in India doesn’t seem to be ringing many alarm bells in English-speaking Western democracies.

  34. John Hartz says:

    Here’s how the current heatwave in India fits into the bigger picture.

    As the death toll in the current heat wave crossed the 2,000 mark, this has become the fifth deadliest ever heatwave in the world and the second deadliest in India, according to an international database of disasters.

    Weathermen are predicting that there are a few more days left in the ongoing heatwave which has killed the most number of people in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, while affecting large parts of the rest of the country.

    The deadliest heatwave on record in India is the 1998 one in which 2,541 people died. The most lethal heatwave in the world was the one that crippled Europe in 2003, killing 71,310 people. These figures are maintained in the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) maintained by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based in Brussels, Belgium.

    You’re experiencing world’s 5th deadliest heatwave ever by Subodh Varma,TNN, Times of India, May 31, 2015

  35. Once again Pekka wants to quash innovation. One of the significant issues that mainstream climate science will have to address is an inability to be able to model something as ordinary as ENSO. There are stirrings from the denial side of climate sphere that this in fact can be solved. We all know that there are smart people working on both camps, but it would truly be embarrassing if they got a leg up on us realists.

    Recently a denier came over to the Azimuth Forum and posted a new thread with this title: “I’ve cracked the ENSO code and an introduction on me, Per Strandberg”

    I think I know what he is up to, because it has some vague similarities to what I have been working on in terms of a modeling approach. But he is being cryptic on the details, obviously afraid that someone will steal his ideas.

    The beauty of science is that one can judge models objectively, and not dismiss them out-of-hand as many of the scolds want to do. So Pekka says don’t discuss climate science when talking policy — why when the spin–off chances regarding the science of wind, waves, and solar are so vast?

  36. It’s frustrating all the nonsense all around, and particularly annoying when people we mostly agree with go off on this it’s too late business. I could wish there was some way to get them to pay proper attention. It is indeed lazy. We sit at a place where all our comforts are mostly still ours (except a whole lot of global parts are going haywire) and seem to think when the time comes we will just lay down and accept. We don’t want to be bothered changing our habitual insourciance: centuries of plundering an earth that we should have learned by now is not free.

    Nobody gives up in a “normal” crisis. And this is the mother of all crises. I don’t separate all the bits; the water shortage, the heat in India, the toxic waste, all the latest “disasters”, the wars and teenagers with guns out of control, all the signs and symptoms of self-indulgence and failure to share properly. It’s nothing new to say, how do we bring it home that this is the biggest ever threat to all our lives, and hugging ourselves in distress isn’t accomplishing anything.

    There are so many possible occupations that are better than hugging our prerogatives and saying we can’t do nuffin’.

    Well, words full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, but the Geden McPherson stuff gets me down.

  37. Willard says:

    > Does Oliver Geden really think that scientists think that policy makers must consider their evidence and only their evidence?

    Brace yourselves, paradigms are shifting:

    [P]aradigms is one of those word like elucidate whose time has come and deservedly gone. Eli remembers when elucidate had crept into every other abstract as is this paper elucidates the changing climate or whatever. Paradigm is another. Of course one can wish for a paradigm shift in the use of paradigms, unlikely to be granted as it is the go to for every third rater on the planet.

    http://rabett.blogspot.com/2015/05/die-paradigmgemeinschaft.html

  38. matt says:

    TE,

    > “…but I can’t identify any reasons to consider higher rates.”

    Really? I don’t think you are trying very hard.

  39. Really? I don’t think you are trying very hard.

    Indeed. That we could double CO2 by the middle of this century means that we can almost double the anthropogenic forcing in the next 40-50 years. That means we could warm as much in the next 40-50 years as we have in the last 130 years. Surface warming trends in excess of 0.2oC per decade are, therefore, quite possible.

  40. Andrew Dodds says:

    Mburns –

    Indeed, WWII was a classic example. Even though Hitler had written down pretty much everything he was going to do and proceeded to do them throughout the 1930s, there were always plenty of voices saying that we didn’t really need to worry and his ambitions would just be limited ones. That didn’t really work out well.

    The problem is that it’s really hard to see how global warming can have an equivalent to an Invasion Of Poland or Pearl Harbor moment, and even if it did – imagine that somehow the WAIS broke apart and floated off over a couple of years, which I can’t see happening – it would by definition come too late.

    Even things like mega-heatwaves don’t seem to have much influence; it’s clear that any galvanizing event would have to be worse. More to the point, it has to be dramatically worse than whatever the locals regard as ‘normal’, which will itself change with global warming.

  41. Mal Adapted says:

    MBurns:

    Still, if Roberts is correct it’s already too late for effective mitigation. That implies adaptation is the most effective option.

    Do you understand that it’s not “the” climate catastrophe we should be trying to mitigate, but that catastrophe will be progressively more severe as CO2 continues to increase? As ATTP reminded you,

    2oC isn’t some boundary between safe and dangerous…Cumulative emissions are relevant. The less we emit, the less severe the impacts will likely be.

    Isn’t it clear that while a 2 degree world will be catastrophic for many people, a 4 degree world will be worse, and 6 degrees will be hellish?

  42. John Hartz says:

    The international “Climate Summit” scheduled to begin on Nov 30 in Paris will be a watershed moment in the human race’s efforts to address manamdae climate change. Here are some of the salient features of the conference as posted on the French governement’s offical website. It would behoove all of us to carefully read and digest the fact sheets linked to in the below excerpts. The information contained in the fact sheets directly bears on the OP and this ongoing discussion.

    The 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP21, will be held from November the 30th to December the 11th, 2015 on the Paris-Le Bourget site, bringing together around 40,000 participants in total – delegates representing each country, observers, and civil society members. It is the largest diplomatic event ever hosted by France and one of the largest climate conferences ever organized.

    The stakes are high: the aim is to reach, for the first time, a universal, legally binding agreement that will enable us to combat climate change effectively and boost the transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.

    To achieve this, the future agreement must focus equally on mitigation – that is, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to below 2°C – and societies’ adaptation to existing climate changes. These efforts must take into account the needs and capacities of each country. The agreement will enter into force in 2020 and will need to be sustainable to enable long-term change.

    Link to press factsheet on Adaptation

    In addition, each country must publish its national contribution, presenting its national efforts, as soon as possible and before COP21. This exercise is a new development in international climate negotiations and France has undertaken to help certain countries that are in difficulty to prepare their contribution, so that each one can present a national contribution to the global effort against climate change that corresponds to its situation. Shortly before COP21, the UNFCCC secretariat will publish a summary of these contributions, to give an indication of the cumulative impact of all these efforts.

    Link to press factsheet on INDCs

    Another key objective of the COP21 is the mobilization of $100 billion per year by developed countries, from public and private sources, from 2020. This commitment, made in Copenhagen, should enable developing countries to combat climate change whilst promoting fair and sustainable development. Some of these funds will pass through the Green Climate Fund, which has received initial capital of $10.2 billion, including almost $1 billion from France. More generally, COP21 needs to guide economic and financial stakeholders towards redirecting their investments in order to launch the transition to low-carbon economies.

    Link to press factsheet on Financing

    Many initiatives are currently being developed by a range of non-governmental stakeholders: cities, regions, businesses, associations, and so on. This is known as the Agenda of Solutions. Since the New York Climate Summit of September 2014, there has been a growing trend towards concrete action, exchange of best practices and knowledge transfer. These initiatives will supplement States’ commitments, raise awareness of economic and social opportunities, and thus help to strengthen individual ambitions.

    Link to press factsheet on the Agenda of Solutions – Background, aim, key dates

    Link to press factsheet on the Agenda of Solutions – Vision and approach

  43. Mburns says:

    Mal Adapted,

    My later comments were related to the Roberts article our host linked. Roberts, if I’m reading him right, thinks there’s no way any of the current efforts will keep future warming to within 2C. What policies have a chance of being supported to avert a 4-6 C? A rapid decarbonization of the economy is going to require overwhelming support from the electorate, to say nothing of the international coordination that will be needed.

  44. Mburns,
    Yes, I think Roberts’s article was about the chance of keeping below 2oC, which he thinks is now almost impossible. I tend to agree, although I don’t think that that means that we should stop trying to do so. Keeping below 4-6oC is clearly easier than keeping below 2oC, but the damages are likely non-linear. The impact of going from 2 – 3oC will likely be greater than going from 1 – 2oC, for example. The longer we put off doing something, the more severe the impacts will become and the harder it will become to address. I agree that it’s difficult, but I think it’s a mistake to not be doing something. That european fossil fuel companies are trying to argue for an introduction of a some kind of carbon tax is, I think, a positive step.

  45. @John Hartz

    Did you see this: http://www.rtcc.org/2015/06/01/oil-giants-support-for-un-climate-pact-signals-change-in-strategy/

    Although industry insiders think they’re really just sticking the boot into coal and pushing for gas, of which they hold large reserves, an admission that “climate change is a critical challenge for our world”, helps to marginalise those in denial and make it more difficult to backtrack.

  46. Mburns says:

    ATTP,

    I agree, if one thinks man made carbon emissions are leading to serious climatic disruptions in the upcoming century then doing whatever mitigation you can makes some sense. But in your reply you appear to concede that no effort on the scale necessary is likely to begin any time soon. A carbon tax here a renewables mandate there are rather ad hoc. It certainly doesn’t communicate any urgency to the general public.
    The single thing, besides some visibly overwhelming climatic event, that might get the public’s attention would be a concerted and pervasive push for nuclear power. I have no brief for nuclear one or the other but it does seem to fit the bill for generating economy scale power with virtually no carbon emissions. Frankly, I’ve been astonished the Climate Change advocacy groups haven’t rallied behind it.
    For skeptics/deniers like me it indicates a certain unseriousness in their arguments.

  47. Willard says:

    > A carbon tax here a renewables mandate there are rather ad hoc.

    I don’t always like taxes, but when I do, I make sure they fall from the sky and become necessary by divine right.

    ***

    > Frankly, I’ve been astonished […]

    Thank you for your concerns.

  48. Mburns says:

    Willard,

    I never like taxes but they are necessary. I prefer them to be as low and efficient as possible to accomplish the governments duties, but neither main political party does a good job in that respect.
    Being a skeptic I’m not concerned that the efforts to decarbonization have been, at best, maginally effective. I’ve been trying to keep to the topic of the post.
    Perhaps my comment on nuclear power was taken as snark. If so, I’m sure the fault lies with my writing skills.

  49. John Hartz says:

    Mburns: A carbon tax must be high enough to cause people to change their purchasing habits.

  50. Mburns says:

    John Hartz,

    True enough. But there have to be sufficient alternatives to purchase. Otherwise you just increase the economic burden without changing the offending behavior.

  51. John Hartz says:

    Mburns: When prices rise, people also conserve by purchasing less.

  52. Willard says:

    > Being a skeptic […]

    Being a ninja, I disapprove of playing identity politics, more so when the “skeptic” label is plastered over a libertarian stance. Also, I prefer the word “contrarian.” As a ninja, it goes without saying.

  53. As far as a carbon tax is concerned, it is not formally intended as a mechanism to change people’s purchasing habits. It is simply meant to be a mechanism for including all the costs (externalities) of – for example – burning carbon. It is determined on the basis of an estimate of future damages and then – using a discount rate – estimating the cost today. A carbon tax is intended to allow the market to determine the optimal technology. If fossil fuels with a properly priced carbon tax are still cheapest, that’s what we will presumably use. On the other hand, if alternatives become cheaper, then we’d presumably start switiching to alternatives.

    So, it’s really just a market-based solution. My main issues with a carbon tax is it doesn’t – by itself – do anything specifically address climate change. We could simply decide to pay a carbon tax and carry on as we are. Of course, a carbon tax on fossil fuels would presumably incentivise investment in alternatives. Also, it should rise with time (future emissions do more damage than current emissions) so alternatives should eventually become economically competitive. There’s just no guarantee that this would happen at some optimal time (well, it would presumably be the optimal time with respect to a market-based solution, but may not be the optimal time under a different sense of what is optimal).

  54. aTTP,

    The carbon tax is supposed to be a Pigouvian tax that rises rather rapidly to be as high as the monetary value of the damages from emissions. If that level does not lead to some specific reduction in releases, then the theory is that suffering the damage is better for the humankind than the cost of the action that’s required for further reduction in emissions.

    The problem is, of course, that it’s very difficult to tell, what the right level of the tax is. That means, however, that it’s equally (or more) difficult to tell, which actions lead to best common good.

  55. jsam says:

    The right level of tax is not the current, zero, level.

  56. The carbon tax is supposed to be a Pigouvian tax that rises rather rapidly to be as high as the monetary value of the damages from emissions. If that level does not lead to some specific reduction in releases, then the theory is that suffering the damage is better for the humankind than the cost of the action that’s required for further reduction in emissions.

    Yes, I thought that was roughly what I’d said.

    The problem is, of course, that it’s very difficult to tell, what the right level of the tax is.

    Indeed. We can’t even seem to agree on the correct discount rate, let alone whether or not it is possible to reliable estimate the damages many decades in the future.

  57. The right level of tax is not the current, zero, level.

    Yes, that’s almost certainly true.

  58. aTTP,

    What I thought as different from what you wrote in my comment is that I tried to tell that carbon tax is as good a solution as any other we can envision. It has problems, but only problems that we have anyway.

    The only additional problem related to carbon tax is the difficulty of deciding about one that’s on the right level as estimated from all available evidence. (The decision should be made simultaneously widely enough internationally.)

  59. Mburns says:

    Willard,
    Contrarian works fine. But I’m not offended by denier. Labels are sometimes used as pejoratives but overall they’re just shorthand. My self identification in the thread is meant in good faith.
    The topic had far less to do with the science of Climate Change (of which I understand very little) than with the political aspects. I found it an interesting one and offered my opinions. I wanted to make sure my bias was made known so as not to misrepresent my position.

  60. Pekka,

    What I thought as different from what you wrote in my comment is that I tried to tell that carbon tax is as good a solution as any other we can envision. It has problems, but only problems that we have anyway.

    Well, yes, I agree that a carbon tax is as a good a solution as any other that we have at the moment. The rest of my earlier comment wasn’t arguing against it, just pointing out that the outcome will only be optimal in some market-based sense.

  61. John Hartz says:

    Perhaps we should ask or resident economists, Richard Tol, for advice on how to set the price of a carbon tax correctly? 🙂

    We alao have the issue of whether or not the tax is applied across-the-board internationally or is set on a country-by-country basis.

    In addition, is it applied at the point of extraction/refinement, or at the point of consumption?

  62. Mburns says:

    John Hartz,

    Again, true enough. raise the cost of something and you’ll usually get decreased demand. But as ATTP says further to your post you don’t necessarily get the result you want in terms Climate Change mitigation.

  63. Mburns says:

    John Hartz,
    I think the further you get from local taxing jurisdictions the harder the more difficult for the taxing regime to be enacted let alone implemented. Perhaps customs duties of some sort could work.

    As to taxing the source, provider or consumer doesn’t eventually become a cost borne by the consumer? To impact the source Regulation is probably the best bet.

    Why isn’t nuclear a priority in the portfolio of solutions. I understand the regulatory hurdles are extraordinary but there doesn’t seem to be any support for making nuclear a practical option.

  64. Willard says:

    > The right level of tax is not the current, zero, level.

    Some may argue it’s even negative, if a subsidy is a negative tax.

    ***

    > As to taxing the source, provider or consumer doesn’t eventually become a cost borne by the consumer?

    Whatever one taxes becomes a burden to the consumer. Whatever one does not tax too. The polluter-pays principle won’t change that truism.

    The same argument can be made for the claim that we ought to tax only when necessary. This applies trivially, unless we can find someone who’d argue we tax just for the fun of it. This sidesteps the issue of deciding what would be fair or effective:

    The alternative to a one-size-fits-all approach to social policy is to recognize that for any given social problem, there will be a range, perhaps narrow, of effective solutions, and these are not likely to include unrestricted market competition or suffocating total control by a bureaucratic state. Indeed, in general, the question is what is the proper mix of decentrialized competition and centralized construction of the rules and regulations governing competition. This is not a moral issue and it does not depend on one’s political ideology.

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R3LDKCPBFKACU4

    Mitigation will happen, sooner or later. Adaptation too. Humans usually try everything and see what works. Ideally, they learn from experience, and stop doing things that hurt them. Sometimes, it takes time, though.

    It takes more time when we’re waiting for Godot while discussing ideological truisms.

  65. Eli Rabett says:

    Geden, as Willard points out is that majic combination of intellectually lazy and shallow that characterizes self promoters everywhere. He somehow neglects pointing out that what he is writing about is the impossibility of reaching a political agreement that would limit climate change rather than the technical ability (we have that), and then berates others who say, that well, yes, if the political will existed it could be done.

    Geden is a political scientist. It’s his f*u*c*k*i*n*g job (as Hyman Kaplan would say) to figure out how and, of course the serious political scientists are trying

  66. Willard says:

    Necessity and impossibility are strangely relative:

    Think about the wolves. They’re anti-Grrrrowth.

    Thank you.

  67. John Hartz says:

    The following will serve to remind all of us that the problem we are addressing is unprecedented in all of human history.

    “You can call it the policy problem from hell,” Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, told NCR, “because you almost couldn’t design a problem that’s a worse fit with our underlying psychology or our institutions of decision-making.”

    Psychological barriers complicate overcoming climate change denial by Brian Roewe, National Catholic Reporter, June 1, 2015

  68. Brian Dodge says:

    Turbulent – “but I can’t identify any reasons to consider higher rates.”
    http://neven1.typepad.com/.a/6a0133f03a1e37970b017744cf5360970d-pi
    Even Professor Christy in his recent comments to the Congressional Committee on Natural Resources showed that models overestimate upper tropospheric warming – and therefore underestimate climate sensitivity (less negative lapse rate feedback). Even though he studiously avoided pointing out the underestimate out to the politicians, I doubt that he doesn’t know the higher ECS implications of an observed lack, or less prominent, tropospheric “hot spot.” Do you really think that it’s a safe bet that inaccuracies in models and observations must be in favor of do-nothing policies? That if ECS is 3 +- 1.5 degrees C, that it must be less than 3?
    I’m sure you have seen this – http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47. The annual variablity(difference between minimum and maximum Arctic sea ice has increased – http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/nsidc-seaice-n/from:1979.16/every:12/offset:-16/plot/nsidc-seaice-n/from:1979.6/every:12/offset:-7.5; the spread between maximum and average rainfall in the NE US has increased – http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/our-changing-climate/heavy-downpours-increasing; the mean and standard deviation in distribution of temperatures have both changed for the worse – http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/hansen_17/; there are indications that the intensity and waviness (group and phase velocity) of the jetstream have slowed, contributing to increases in heat waves(blocking highs), drought(the”ridiculously resilient ridge” off California), and cold weather(Arctic outbreaks) – http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/10/1/014005/article. Are you confident that the latest step in the climate escalator(“the Pause”) isn’t longerand larger(because of increased CO2), and more likely to fool you into misunderestimating the underlying trend in global warming, and the severity of its consequences?

    Especially the consequences.

    If you look at crop yield versus temperature – https://www.nrel.colostate.edu/projects/century/MANUAL/html_manual/fig3-8b.gif – the losses on the warming side are exponential with temperature. I took the equations from http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0103-84782004000100009 , and got an excellent fit to a second order polynomial.
    The rate of flow in flooding(cubic meters per second), varies as the cube of the depth – google “sheet flow volume derivation”, or plug the stage vs cfs data from http://pbs.twimg.com/media/CFxw1K-WYAEm0OI.png into a spreadsheet(I got an exponent of 3.1 for the best fit exponential trend line). The energy applied by a flood to bridges, houses, etc is proportional to m*v^2, and m is varying cubically; the point where things break is a high order nonlinearity; this means the damage function is a very high order polynomial.
    Cascade failures pose very high risks. All the damage at Fukushima Daichi started with flooding which knocked out a few hundred kW of backup power generation in the basement. Onagawa power plant experienced the same 13 meter tsunami, but has a 14 meter seawall, and is back online. If you multiply the changing temperature probability function from Hansen’s paper linked above by a 2nd, 3rd, or higher order polynomial damage function, which end of the curve dominates the risk(probability X damage)?

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