Calling out alarmism

It was quite interesting to observe some of the defenses of yesterday’s Sun article by a wannabee journalist. One was that it somehow compensated for alarmism in the media. Well, that you think someone else’s article is wrong, doesn’t make this one less wrong. Another was criticising climate scientists for attacking this article, but not calling out alarmism in other articles. This is a fairly typical argument; climate scientists can’t be trusted because they don’t call out alarmism, or they’re not being consistent because they criticise one “side”, but not the other.

Such claims are, firstly, not really true, but there is also something that people who make such claims should think about a little (assuming they’re interested in actually giving this any thought at all, that is). Whether we should be alarmed, or not, about the consequences of climate change is a judgement. It’s a complicated situation and there are many valid ways in which to consider this. As a scientist, my interest is in what evidence people present in support of their position, not in what judgement they’ve chosen to make given that evidence. Scientists may disagree with the judgement someone has made, but scientists don’t have some kind of right to only allow people to use the evidence to make judgements with which they’d agree. The important thing scientifically, in my view, is whether or not they’ve presented a reasonable representation of the available scientific evidence, not what judgement they’ve drawn, given that scientific evidence.

For example, consider an article that has a rather alarmist tone and that suggests that we could see substantial sea level rise in the next century, a substantial increase in global surface temperature, increases in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events, changes to the hydrological cycle, a significant increase in ocean acidification. I – and other scientists – may disagree with the tone of the article, but if the article has presented a reasonable representation of what is possible (with suitable caveats), what is there – scientifically – to criticise? Scientists aren’t here to tone troll the media. In some sense, they’re not even here to correct the media, but if they are to do so, their expertise might suggest that they should be critising the interpretation of the scientific evidence, not the judgement that the author has chosen to make, given that evidence.

So, maybe the reason climate scientists appear to criticise one “side” more than the other, is that one “side” (as illustrated by yesterday’s Sun article) typically publishes articles that are full of scientific errors, and the other does not. There might be some articles that are alarmist and scientifically wrong, and others that show little concern and represent a reasonable interpretation of the evidence, but I’d be surprised if you could find many examples of such articles. Of course, feel free to prove me wrong through the comments.

On that note, I thought I might advertise Doug McNeall’s second installment of his series on how to win at Twitter (which I suspect was partly motivated by yesterday’s Twitter storm over the rather silly Sun article).

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110 Responses to Calling out alarmism

  1. It’s possible that those who argue that scientists should call out alarmism simply don’t understand the difference between being alarmed about the possibility of something happening that we could potentially avoid, and being alarmist. The alternative, is that those who make such claims are arguing that scientists should make the same value judgments as they have, which might seem rather ironic given how often the same people complain about censorship and attacks on free speech.

  2. “(which I suspect was partly motivated by yesterday’s Twitter storm over the rather silly Sun article)”

    Which I suspect was partly motivated by the behaviour of someone else, but I cannot criticise you because you formulated carefully and the evidence is not public.

    It happens that I criticize someone for being factually wrong on the more alarming side, but it is rare. This simply happens less often; probably because the real range of possibilities is sufficiently alarming. It is harder to be sure an exaggeration goes too far than physics/science being violated; such as denying the greenhouse exists (Tim Ball) or cools (The Hockeyschick), that global warming has stopped or that we will not see an increase in precipitation and floods.

  3. Victor,
    Hmm, you’ve slightly confused me with this (okay, maybe I do get it)

    Which I suspect was partly motivated by the behaviour of someone else, but I cannot criticise you because you formulated carefully and the evidence is not public.

    In a sense it’s a bit like the whole idea of falsification. There are some things we’re pretty convinced cannot happen, like global cooling if we continue to emit CO2 into the atmosphere (baring something extreme like a super volcanoe or an asteroid strike). There are other things we can’t rule out (collapse of the WAIS). Hence, it is much easier to criticise those who make claims that are almost certainly wrong, than to criticise those who might highlight things that are unlikely, but possible.

  4. toby52 says:

    Climate Feedback is a site where scientists review media articles on climate change – sort of the worm turning, as it were.

    This article on Arctic by Christopher Booker got short shrift (-2) for scientific credibility, while the other one on El Nino by Brad Plumer got a +1.7.

    http://climatefeedback.org/evaluation/the-telegraph-christopher-booker-arctic-ice-has-made-fools-of-warmists/

    http://climatefeedback.org/evaluation/brad-plumer-el-nino-explained-why-this-years-could-be-one-of-the-strongest-on-record/

    More relevant, this article in Rolling Stone by Eric Holthaus was considered over the top and alarmist by some scientists who reviewed it.

    http://climatefeedback.org/evaluation/rolling-stone-eric-holthaus-point-of-no-return-climate-change-nightmares/

    So at least one case where scientists, or at least one scientist, have highlighted alarmism.

  5. Pete Best says:

    Oddly a lot of decisions where the available scientific evidence is or is not taken into account may mean that some people get hurt or ill or even die (or dont) .ACC is a global issue and has no boundaries.

    Therefore put in context maybe ACC might create a few winners in the short term but in the long run and assuming BAU (the political system is paralysed by inaction and lack of motive to do something about it) we all lose (yes some more than others I am sure) but if we continue as we are arguing and discussing carbon emissions and what we do about it and what it means if we do nothing or something we edge towards 2C (1.5C is already guaranteed due to thermal lag of the oceans) which is what all of this is really about. All of our posturing, denial or acceptance is waiting for what exactly?

  6. toby,
    That kind of illustrates the point that scientists do call out alarmism when they see it and that articles that highlight alarming possibilities aren’t necessarily alarmist.

  7. John says:

    It seems those who are the most trigger happy to point out scientific “alarmism” are doubly guilty of espousing alarmist views themselves – eg. we will destroy the world’s economy through mild mitigation efforts, leftists are going to control the world population through carbon regulation, poor people in Africa will all die if they use alternative energy instead of coal, wind farms are causing a bird genocide, sane climate policy will usher in a new dark age of totalitarianism, etc. The list, unfortunately, goes on.

    So, YES! I think scientists should call out alarmism. We should ALL root out this insidious tripe wherever we find it and expose it for the nonsense that it is.

  8. John,
    Yes, that’s indeed rather typical. Those who claim that others are engaging in alarmism, typically do exactly that when talking about economics/poverty/…. It would be nice to believe that they really are concerned about poor people in the developing world, but it is sometimes hard to do so, especially when few – if any – of their arguments are really based on actually doing something to explicitly help the poor.

  9. “might”, “suspect”, “partly motivated”

    Ha!!! Your typical miserable rhetorical trick, claiming not to be sure. You did advertise Doug’s post, you dog. Fight this culture war like a man.

  10. Hold on, Doug’s post is about how to win at Twitter, not how to win in blog wars. For that, I think you need to understand ClimateBallTM.

  11. I’m perfectly balanced, it is just that the weight of the evidence made me keel over.

  12. Joshua says:

    I have yet to see a “skeptic” be accountable for the polemic nature of the term “alarmist.”

    I did see one come close, by suggesting that he didn’t realize the polemic nature of the term until he looked into it. But even that underlines the problem whereby the term was used in a matter-of-fact way to describe people more concerned than he about the risks of ACO2 (in particular scientists) with a term that he hadn’t bothered to understeand.

    “Skepticism” in many “skeptics” is built upon an inherently unskeptical foundation; in this case one of the foundation stones being that anyone who is more alarmed than they about the potential risks of ACO2 emissions is therefore an “alarmist.”

    It’s particularly ironic since many of those same “skeptics” say that they don’t don’t that ACO2 emissions warm the climate but that they just don’t know the magnitude of the effect. Why would assume that someone more concerned than you about ACO2 emissions – but who recognizes that there is uncertainty as to the magnitude and time horizon for imp;act – is an “alarmist” if you, yourself, don’t know if ACO2 emissions will cause harm?

  13. Joshua says:

    After re-reading that after it was posted, it become clear that using pronouns accurately just doesn’t kick in before coffee.

  14. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    “Whether we should be alarmed, or not, about the consequences of climate change is a judgement.”

    Just wanted to repeat that for emphasis. It’s something that typically gets lost in these discussions – I must say on both sides, but it does nicely capture why they use of the term “alarmist” by our friends such as Richard Tol displays highly unskeptical thinking.

  15. toby52 says:

    Richard Tol,

    A chip on both shoulders does indeed make one perfectly balanced. (\sarc)

  16. Hans Erren says:

    The problem with alarmism is that the dire predictions only will materialise long after the predicttor is dead so he can not be held accountable, like Malthus. On the other hand Ehrlich and Carson were wrong but people still believe their predictions have merit.

  17. Magma says:

    the reason… is that one “side”… typically publishes articles that are full of scientific errors, and the other does not

    Yes, neatly summarized in a sentence. There is the related question of different motives, but that is harder to prove and too readily slips into a “he said, she said” battle of ad hominem attacks.

  18. Hans,

    The problem with alarmism is that the dire predictions only will materialise long after the predicttor is dead so he can not be held accountable

    For someone who seems to engage regularly in this topic, you still seem confused about the difference between a projection and a prediction. It is quite an important difference and it really would be worth you putting some effort into understanding this distinction.

  19. Paul S says:

    That’s not a problem with alarmism, it’s a problem with long-term predictions. Those now predicting that there are no problems or substantial risks and everything will be fine are equally unaccountable.

  20. Joshua says:

    ==> “The problem with alarmism is that the dire predictions only will materialise long after the predicttor is dead so he can not be held accountable, like Malthus. ”

    The problem with “skepticism” is that it contains shallow arguments such as that one.

    What “alarmism” are you speaking of?

    The problem with the outcomes of ACO2 emissions is that the impact will only become certain long after we are all dead.

    It is a problem that is baked in to the cake.

    “Skeptics,” who say that concern (greater than their own) about the risks posed by ACO2 emissions = “alarmism” cannot be held accountable for their argument.

    But that’s not important anyway, IMO. The very notion of being “held accountable” is a fantasy in this context. How would anyone expressing opinions in open forums such as the Internet be “held accountable?”

    The question of interest to me is why they don’t hold themselves accountable to the degree where they don’t make such shallow arguments.

    “Humanity faces a plethora of challenges—poverty, inequality, armed conflicts, etc.—and one might think that global climate change should be considered simply one among a multiplicity of morally significant issues. Indeed, this has been a common theme among those critics who argue that international efforts at global cooperation should centre on specific achievable tasks—such as the alleviation of poverty, the eradication of diseases, international debt reduction etc.—rather than on the elusive goal of limiting carbon emissions on a global scale.3 Yet there are good reasons why the topic of climate change should occupy a special place in today’s political, moral, and philosophical landscape. For one, in spite of all the uncertainties that attach to specific predictions concerning the impact of climate change on individual communities and social-ecological systems, we know enough about its long-term effects to know that many of the more immediate problems—rising sea levels, disappearing glaciers and other freshwater reserves, disruptions of agriculture—will themselves be influenced, and typically exacerbated, by climate change. In addition, the problem of climate change also exhibits genuinely novel structural features that imbue it with a moral significance that cannot easily be\ reduced to the sum total of its adverse first-order effects that might result from a changing climate.

    The structural novelty of climate change as a moral problem is two-fold. Whereas part of the novelty consists in the degree, or extent, to which climate change instantiates familiar ethical dilemmas, some of the new structural features relate directly to the nature of the dynamic, causal and temporal processes involved. Regarding the former, consider the role of intention and agency in the evaluation of actions, such as the burning of fossil fuels, that contribute to climate change. Few people would claim that the current problem of global climate change is the result of anyone intentionally setting out to change the world’s climate system. To be sure, there have been (and continue to be) attempts to control the weather and climate4, mostly at the local and regional level, and in recent years there has been a growing debate about the prospects of ‘geo-engineering’ as a response to climate change, but for the most part our current levels of climate change are the unintended consequence of actions performed for other reasons—which is not to say that agents are not often culpably negligent since lack of intention does not render entirely foreseeable consequences morally insignificant. By and large, the anthropogenic contribution to climate change is a side effect of rapid industrialization, population growth, and increasing levels of consumption and mobility. As a corollary, it is important to note that climate change “is caused not by a single agent, but by a vast number of individuals and institutions not unified by a comprehensive structure of agency.”5 At the level of individual emissions, the contribution to climate change of any one individual is virtually negligible—even when that individual engages in the most lavish ‘high-carbon lifestyle’ and consumption patterns.6 (The picture is somewhat different if one looks at institutions, which is why a number of climate activists 4 Philosophy and Public Issues – A Changing Moral Climate 172 have begun to single out, say, individual coal plants and their corporate owners.7) Yet, it is the (past and present) emissions of billions of individuals, predominantly from industrialized (or rapidly industrializing) countries, which collectively have set in motion the ongoing warming of the planet.

    How the causally distributed nature of climate change obscures its moral significance can be seen by way of contrast with other widely discussed global challenges. Consider the example of global poverty. While no single individual’s donation will be sufficient to bring world poverty to an end, even a small donation will make a measurable difference to the lives of specific others. Unfortunately, in the case of climate change, a similarly salient link between individual action and measurable beneficial effects is lacking. Even if I were to reduce my inflated first-world carbon footprint to levels at, or below, what is considered sustainable (ca. 2 metric tonnes per year), I could not reasonably expect this action alone to have any measurable mitigating effect with respect to the consequences of climate change, not least since the causal effects of any particular emission are impossible to trace. This means that, in turn, moral responsibility for the adverse effects of climate change is highly distributed. The novelty of climate change, considered as a moral problem, is thus partly due to the unprecedented degree of causal and geographical dispersion of what is essentially an unwelcome side effect of ‘our’ (first-world) lifestyles.

    A second set of considerations arises from the fact that the dynamic, causal and temporal processes of climate change are not only causally and geographically dispersed, but also temporally extended. Many of the processes that are affected by increased greenhouse gas levels and that are, in turn, responsible for the potentially adverse consequences associated with climate change, operate on a time scale of decades or centuries—much longer than the time scales that are usually considered in moral evaluations of different actions. Thus, the average lifetime of
    carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been estimated to be on the scale of decades (35-90 years),8 with a significant proportion of surplus carbon dioxide remaining in the atmosphere for
    millennia.9 Furthermore, it takes considerable time for the atmosphere to reach thermal equilibrium, once greenhouse gas concentrations have increased. Even if we were to cease emitting CO2 entirely, thus stabilizing greenhouse gas levels at current levels, we could still expect future warming and the gradual unfolding of long-term processes (e.g. the melting of glaciers).

    The above analysis has led some commentators to describe climate change as “a substantially deferred phenomenon.”10 This temporal deferral has a number of unwelcome consequences. For one, it leads to a further dissociation—in addition to the geographical and causal dispersion—between individual human actions and their adverse consequences on the climate, as well as between, on the one hand, our acknowledgment of climate change as a global problem and, on the other hand, our attributions of moral and political responsibility. Furthermore,
    because of the significant time delay between emissions and their long-term consequences, there remains the serious danger of our inadvertently crossing systemic thresholds (‘tipping points’), which could not easily be undone. In this case, inaction would breed irreversibility. The distributed nature of climate change and the very real possibility of radically altered long-term futures, details of which remain uncertain, are bound to create a state of anxiety, not least for anyone attached to the idea that our current lifestyles, civilizational structures, and population density should ideally be maintained in perpetuity.

    The moral and political problem of climate change is as much an intergenerational problem as it is a problem for existing institutional frameworks of governance and global decisionmaking—partly because it brings into sharp focus the relative inadequacy of the latter in dealing with substantially deferred phenomena. Our moral practices and political mechanisms, which have been honed to deal with situations of (largely synchronic) conflict, governed by identifiable patterns of agency, cause and effect, seem to be woefully inadequate when it comes to the (diachronic) consequences of highly distributed human actions and their impact on processes that unfold at the time scale of biogeochemical cycles. It has even been argued that the structure of the moral and political problems posed by climate change, and of the various relations and trade-offs that exist between them, may be such that they effectively preclude collaborative good faith efforts to tackle climate change and its consequences. Stephen Gardiner has coined the phrase “perfect moral storm” to refer to just this aspect of what he calls “the ethical tragedy of climate change.” As Gardiner sees it, the confluence of the various aspects described so far—the truly global nature of the problem, the causal, geographical, and temporal dissociation between individual emissions and their long-term consequences, and the theoretical poverty of our moral and political frameworks—may conspire to create a motivational gap between the recognition of the problem and the (individual and institutional) willingness to do something about it. One deep worry concerns the possibility that the very complexity of the problem “may turn out to be perfectly convenient for us, the current generation, and indeed for each successor generation as it comes to occupy our position”11—insofar as it allows each generation to postpone meaningful (and ever costlier) climate action until the next generation. Such ‘intergenerational buck-passing’ is especially dangerous in cases, such as greenhouse gas emissions, where the effects of past missed opportunities accumulate. Effective action to prevent a global climate crisis, then, seems to require nothing short of a collective exercise of the moral imagination, on the part of the present generation as well as for generations to come. As Malcolm Bull puts it in a review of Gardiner’s book, climate ethics may not be “morality applied but morality discovered, a new chapter in the moral education of mankind.”

    http://fqp.luiss.it/files/2014/06/9_Gelfert_Climate-Scepticism-Epistemic-Dissonance-and-the-Ethics-of-Uncertainty_PPI_vol3_n1_20131.pdf

  21. Willard says:

    The problem with contrarian concerns is that they are void of predictors and have no decision value, like just about anything one can read by market fundamentalists. On the other hand Hayek and Friedman were mostly wrong but people still believe they’re gods or something.

  22. Hans Erren says:

    ATTP RCP8.5 is considered a prediction, I hear all the time that we are on it’s track, however, i don’t believe that when the earth will be boiling in 2100 as a result of this “very unlikely” scenario, that emissions will be kept high for another full century do you? Nice for model input, but absolutely useless for policymakers.

  23. Joshua says:

    ==> “ATTP RCP8.5 is considered a prediction, I hear all the time that we are on it’s track, ”

    Oy.

  24. Joshua says:

    Hans –

    How would you differentiate between a prediction w/r/t RCP 8.5 and a projection w/r/t RCP 8.5?

  25. Hans,

    ATTP RCP8.5 is considered a prediction

    By whom? Not by anyone who actually understands this topic.

    Nice for model input, but absolutely useless for policymakers.

    How is “if you want to avoid the following, we would suggest not doing this” bad for policy makers?

  26. Hans Erren says:

    Joshua, IPCC stretched the scenario window to 2100 because until 2050 there is virtually no difference between the scenarios. So in essence: no it is not our concern, but that of india and china in 2040. And most skeptics do have a solution: it is called nuclear. But most clmate activists are more afraid of nuclear than of global warming.

  27. Hans Erren says:

    Dinner time in holland, back later this evening.

  28. Hans,

    But most clmate activists are more afraid of nuclear than of global warming.

    Bullshit. If you’re going to make stuff up about other people, I wouldn’t rush back.

  29. Joshua says:

    Hans –

    Most importantly, enjoy your dinner.

    And if you do come back, maybe you can explain whether your 2:46 was intended as an answer to my 2:42, and if so, elaborate.

  30. BBD says:

    Joshua, IPCC stretched the scenario window to 2100 because until 2050 there is virtually no difference between the scenarios.

    Cobblers.

    See for yourself.

  31. JCH says:

    Well, he is going to continue making stuff up. Pay me enough, you can store the spent fuel in my garage. I’ll do anything for money. Make a nice container that matches my salt and pepper shakers, and I’ll store it on my dinning room table.

  32. BBD says:

    Marine ice sheets scare me much more than new nuclear.

  33. Willard says:

    > RCP8.5 is considered a prediction

    Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) are four greenhouse gas concentration (not emissions) trajectories adopted by the IPCC for its fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in 2014. It supersedes Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) projections published in 2000.

    The pathways are used for climate modeling and research. They describe four possible climate futures, all of which are considered possible depending on how much greenhouse gases are emitted in the years to come. The four RCPs, RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6, and RCP8.5, are named after a possible range of radiative forcing values in the year 2100 relative to pre-industrial values (+2.6, +4.5, +6.0, and +8.5 W/m2, respectively).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representative_Concentration_Pathways

    I predict a switch from science to journalism.

    ***

    Hans,

    Can you replicate here the content of the post on the Forum, Listserv, or else [1] “at the start of 2003”, as was the written in the very first sentence of our beloved Bishop’s hit job, which (as you told me a while ago) you have published on Sun Jan 26, 2003 at 10:27 pm?

    Many thanks!

    [1]: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/climatesceptics/

  34. Right, since the RCP RF in 2000 was about 2W/m^2:

    RCP8.5 -> 6.5W/m^2/century.
    Observed -> 3.4W/m^2/century ( latest ten year trend in NOAA GHG )

    RF is increasing at a about half the rate of RCP8.5.

  35. TE,
    Please can we stop this. It depends on how much we emit in the future. Not on how much we’ve emitted in the past. If you can’t get this basic fact, maybe you should go away and think about it a little more. It’s not complicated!

  36. ‘Alarmism’ means lying and exaggeration to create a scare. Now who would be doing that?

    Certainly not research scientists who spend months and years studying and processing data before making their projections. And as I understand it, in simple terms, a projection is basically, “if ‘x’, and ‘y’, then Z”. Change ‘x’ or ‘y’ and the projection changes accordingly. This is so bloody simple even someone like me who got no further than ‘O’ level in physics and maths can understand it..

    ‘Predictions’ are the output of astrologists and gamblers. Oh, and I nearly forgot: economists.

  37. TE,
    Please can we stop this. It depends on how much we emit in the future. Not on how much we’ve emitted in the past. If you can’t get this basic fact, maybe you should go away and think about it a little more. It’s not complicated!

    I can tell you good reasons why future forcing should decelerate
    1. population is decelerating and
    2. energy efficiency is increasing.

    Do you have any good reasons for thinking that the rate of forcing will double?

  38. BBD says:

    Do you have any good reasons for thinking that the rate of forcing will double?

    FFS Eddie, these are scenarios not predictions. Read the words.

    400ppm will probably collapse the WAIS eventually and I have little doubt we’ll get to around 560ppm later this century and God knows what that will bring.

    After emissions, the most dangerous thing on the table is complacency.

  39. BBD says:

    I can tell you good reasons why future forcing should decelerate

    1. population is decelerating and
    2. energy efficiency is increasing.

    Still on track for about 10bn by 2050 last time I checked and there are way too many libertarians pushing coal for development and nay-saying technology transfers to the global South.

    So enough with the Pollyanna shtick.

  40. TE,

    I can tell you good reasons why future forcing should decelerate
    1. population is decelerating and
    2. energy efficiency is increasing.

    How are those good reasons? Population is still likely to increase. Energy use is also likely to increase. Every RCP scenario assumes more fossil fuels than today. The only way the emissions go down in some scenarios is because of CCS. Also, this isn’t about thinking that it will double, it’s about pointing out that if it were to double the consequences might be severe, which was kind of the whole point of this post.

  41. wehappyfew says:

    “1. population is decelerating and
    2. energy efficiency is increasing.”

    Classic TE innumeracy.

    The population is still increasing (with a decelerating rate), so forcings are still increasing due to population growth.

    “Energy efficiency” in terms of GDP/energy could be increasing, but CO2 per capita is still growing (because coal use in China and India is growing very fast), so the second factor in the forcings growth rate is also increasing.

    TE cites latest ten years of GHG forcing data:

    growth rate from 2004 to 2014 = 3.4W/m^2

    … neglects to mention previous ten years of data

    growth rate from 1994 to 2004 = 3.27W/m^2

    hmmmm…. an accelerating rate of GHG forcing…. whoodda thunkit?

  42. wehappyfew says:

    that’s 3.4 and 3.27 W/m^2 / century of course.

    I always try to sneak in one math mistake in a post complaining about innumeracy.

  43. “Also, this is isn’t about thinking that it will double, it’s about pointing out that if it were to double the consequences might be severe, which was kind of the whole point of this post.”

    I just wanted to repeat what aTTP wrote because TE is not understanding this point and it’s pretty fundamental.

  44. izen says:

    Saying what might happen if emissions double when it is highly unlikely they could double, is alarmist.

  45. A decrease in population would not imply a deceleration in energy consumption.

    “But the poor” is a double-edge sword.

  46. Paul S says:

    I can tell you good reasons why future forcing should decelerate
    1. population is decelerating and
    2. energy efficiency is increasing.

    Population deceleration in China since 1990 has gone hand-in-hand with a quadrupling of CO2 emissions.

  47. Richard says:

    I think the @ClimateFdBk approach is a great way forward (annotating articles) [hopefully sufficiently well resourced].

    This demonstrates balance (not the false balance the BBC has often be charged with), when there is a method for selecting targets for review (but all are judged according to the same scientific standards).

    So if an over zealous article in The Guardian has over stepped the mark, call it out.

    A model to ‘score’ publishers/ title for relative performance might even begin to moderate behaviour (I am an optimistic soul!).

    I would add that many of the errors in articles are not solely about facts or scientific interpretation, but those age old rhetorical errors of argument the Greeks knew something about (extending a position /argument; attributing motives; appeal to the mean; etc.), as documented by Thouless many years ago.

    https://www.divinetruth.com/www/en/pdf/People/Other/Robert%20Thouless%20-%20Straight%20And%20Crooked%20Thinking.pdf

    Dare I say, ‘we’ have all been guilty of falling foul of these rhetorical errors from time to time, and politicians have made it into an art form. Cleaning these up makes way for a clearer view of the science and its implications, even while taking the fun banter out for some people.

  48. Rob Nicholls says:

    “Fight this culture war like a man.” Thank you Victor Venema, that really brightened up my day.

  49. dhogaza says:

    Hans:

    “And most skeptics do have a solution: it is called nuclear.”

    Why would skeptics have a solution to a problem that doesn’t (in their minds) exist?

  50. Richard,
    Climate Feedback does look like a good approach, but you do have to be aware of the critically analysing horse shit issue 🙂

  51. Richard says:

    ATTP – you are a zen master at ClimateBall whereas I am a mere grasshopper 🙂

  52. Richard says:

    Hans E – regarding reducing emissions (just saw your comments somewhere back) … the carbon elephant in the room is that it is the cumulative concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere that counts.

    It takes a very long time (centuries) to get us from say a peak of say 560ppm (double pre-industrial) back down to say 350ppm [<< let's call the the Hansen Limit] (see helpful note at bottom).

    Hence, the peak for CO2 concentrations must be both as EARLY as possible and as LOW as possible, and even then, IPCC assumes (for best case RCP) the use of Carbon Capture & Storage. Environmentalists hate CCS because it is seen as a ploy by fossil fuel industries to keep burning. And in a talk by Boehmer I saw from 2013, he noted that US spent a piddling amount on carbon capture research. Others there (e.g. Prof. Lackner) say 'get real', the numbers need to add up, we have to do it sooner or later (without letting up on decarbonisation drive). So it is a multi-track strategy not a simplistic either/or/or.

    http://earth.columbia.edu/videos/watch/75

    And even when we get from 80% fossil fuel energy to 80% zero carbon (best case, by 2050), by then the accumulated carbon would need to be removed faster than the earth system can achieve that, so we would need non-electricity-generator variants of carbon capture (and one idea is a small scale massively scale-out-able kind).

    The elephant in the room is currently not going away and is getting bigger and bigger (by 2ppm at least p.a.) as we speak.

    Helpful Note:

    Q. "… but I thought 50% (very approx.) of annual CO2 goes into ocean?"

    A. "yes, you are right, but the upper ocean is poorly mixed with the lower deep ocean, as known since at least the 1950s, and so the annually accumulating excess CO2 in atmosphere is only 'washed out' at a very slow rate. That is the rate at which the upper atmosphere uses physical and chemical processes to remove CO2 in the upper ocean, and deposit in the depths."

  53. Richard,
    I think there are also some reasonably fundamental issues with CCS. As I understand it, 1kg of coal will produce about 3kg of CO2. Coal has a density of about 1.5g cm-3. So, even if you could get the CO2 to a density similar to that of water, the volume would still be 4.5 times greater than the initial volume of the coal that was burned. This is what I think is being pointed out in the video in this comment.

    How does one deal with this? Maybe there is some solution to this and if Kit Carruthers is around, maybe he can find some error in what I’ve said, or has some explanation for what could be done.

  54. Richard says:

    I understand there are problems with todays systems. There were problems with solar 20 years ago.

    Boehmers point is that if the US spends a few tends of millions on carbon capture, yet 100s of billions on military … have they got the right priorities?

    How do we do the maths of unbearable increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere in 50 years time WITHOUT a method of removing it?

    How do we address the Elephant in the room if not by some carbon capture process (new ones welcome)?

  55. Richard says:

    Oh, and of course in parallel with an increasing drive to decarbonise electricity production, transport, etc. (no ‘getting of the hook’ there). But we will end up needing both tracks in the strategy it seems.

  56. Pete Best says:

    http://kevinanderson.info/blog/response-to-decc-ministers-amber-rudd-speech-on-climate-change/

    Kevin Anderson knows all about cumulative emissions and is forever pointing out that this is the issue we all need face but for some reason our present Government and the ones before it don’t think it an issue at all and short term economic goals come first at all costs by the looks of it.

    Maybe its Austerity, maybe out position in the world or our national debt pile but whatever the reason the UK is making nothing more than token gestures towards mitigating its carbon obligations.

  57. Richard says:

    Han E – my typo count has gotten high today … 7:24am, last para correction “… upper OCEAN uses physical and chemical processes ….

  58. Sam taylor says:

    Richard,

    “How do we do the maths of unbearable increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere in 50 years time WITHOUT a method of removing it?”

    Well, we probably don’t. As for how much the US spends on the military, you’re looking at the wrong cost. The real cost for building the size of the machine we’d need to capture all that CO2 would be energetic and material, not monetary. I’ve not read the numbers for a while, but I’m pretty sure that capturing and liquefying the CO2 involves of the order of 10kWh/ton, which when you start scaling it up to the numbers required is huge. I simply don’t think it remotely feasible on the scale required. Saying that “there were problems with solar 20 years ago” doesn’t really address the central issue here.

  59. Pete,

    Kevin Anderson knows all about cumulative emissions

    The whole issue of cumulative emissions is really important and it really does seem to be either being misunderstood, or ignored. There are two things that I think we need to stress (and the Kevin Anderson probably does) and that is that without a way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere, climate change will be irreversible on human timescales, and that the fundamental metric is cumulative emissions (how much we emit in total, not how much we emit per year).

  60. Sam taylor says:

    Pete,

    I always find it ironic that environmentalists tend also to be anti-austerity, and often don’t like the big banks either. Austerity, the associated unemployment and economic misery, is doing a fantastic job of reducing carbon emissions within the EU. Similarly, the wonderful financial crisis engineered by fraudulent mortgage loans and their repackaging helped trigger the financial crisis and ensuing recession, which was the dominant driver of the recent reductions in US carbon emissions ( http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/150721/ncomms8714/full/ncomms8714.html ).

    Indeed I find it odd that you mention Kevin Anderson in the same post as you do austerity, when Anderson himself has said that ” the logic of such studies suggests (extremely) dangerous climate change can only be avoided if economic growth is exchanged, at least temporarily, for a period of planned austerity within Annex 1 nations” ( http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1934/20 ).

  61. Richard says:

    Sam – OK, so how would you address the elephant in the room (assuming you see it there)? Do you believe there will be an exponential transition to zero carbon that will make the problem disappear?

  62. Do you believe there will be an exponential transition to zero carbon that will make the problem disappear?

    I agree that this is a real issue. CCS (unless someone can convince me otherwise) sounds extremely difficult, if only because of the scale of what would be required. It may be solveable. If not, we really do seem to have this issue that to provide increasing energy to a growing population will require an increasing use of fossil fuels, and if we can’t avoid emitting this CO2 into the atmosphere, a continued increase in the rate of emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. If so, staying below 650ppm (or less than about 1300GtC cumulative) by 2100 is going to be extremely difficult and this would mean a change in forcing of at least 4.5Wm-2, essentially guaranteeing something between 2oC and 3oC.

  63. Pete Best says:

    Sam,

    I am not anti anything except stupidity which we appear to be quite good at in order to remain as we are. Our recent Austerity and recession reduced emissions for a bit but globally they are still rising albeit slightly slower but on average on decadal scaled its around 2-3% per annum which means a doubling in 70/3 or 2 = 28 years (average) which is not good news for all of us but for some not good news at all.

    If we are all about jobs and prosperity and progress then lets frak, lets just keep going BAU. What! we are doing, well there you are then.

  64. Richard says:

    Sam/ ATTP – I think my broader view is that – in the spirit of the multiple ‘wedges’ model (efficiency, transport, renewable generation, CCS, etc.) – that we cannot afford to naysay anything that might provide a contribution. 10kWh/ton is not a fundamental law of physics. Innovation, new approaches, etc. Too often I see people promoting one wedges when we need all we can get! Even then, it isn’t, as the American’s would say “a slam dunk”.

    Pete – Worth noting that recently (last year or so) Bloomberg have been reporting a divergence between growth and carbon emissions (presumably for multiple reasons – renewables growth, teleconferencing not travelling, etc.). This means that low carbon does not have to mean low growth. In fact, building a new renewables infrastructure could be just the boost needed!

  65. Richard,

    in the spirit of the multiple ‘wedges’ model (efficiency, transport, renewable generation, CCS, etc.) – that we cannot afford to naysay anything that might provide a contribution.

    I agree completely. I’m certainly not trying to dismiss an option and I do find it annoying when people who have a particular preference spend most of their time dismissing alternatives, rather than simply promoting their preferred option. However, what I think you were getting at in an earlier comment is also important. We also shouldn’t use the possibility that we might develop something like CCS in the future as essentially an argument for simply carrying on as we are.

  66. BBD says:

    Too often I see people promoting one wedges when we need all we can get!

    This is, IMO, as dangerous as denialism in its way.

  67. Sam taylor says:

    Richard,

    I very strongly doubt that there is going to be an “exponential energy transition” to zero carbon sources. For solar and wind to get close to, say, even a quarter of world energy consumption will probably take many decades, especially given the difficulty of large-scale integration of intermittent sources into the grid. The energy system is large, slow moving and full of lots of long-lived capital. The kind of exponential transition that people like Kurzweil think will happen is nonsense. Besides which, current experience with Germany (where investment in new renewables is falling) suggests that a logistic is what we’ll actually see.

    As for “addressing the elephant”, I can certainly do that. Once addressed, the elephant must still be persuaded to leave the room, which is the tricky part. I think, from an engineering viewpoint, the only plausible solution involves extremely rapid cuts to emissions and energy use in most advanced nations, which will likely lead to a pretty big recession (larger than economists would anticipate due to a lack of understanding of how energy is related to economic growth) and in general a lower standard of living. However this isn’t politically likely, so instead we’ll end up toying around with things like CCS and geoengineering, and people will say “efficiency” and “renewables” more and more because they’re the politically easy choice, and we’ll keep on growing and emitting on something resembling a BAU track for as long as we can until some combination of diminishing quality of energy resources and instabilities due to climate change and other environmental stressors start to serve as a noose gradually tightening around the neck of the world economy and begin to degrade its ability to keep functioning. Even if we do somehow get to zero carbon energy, I very much doubt it would stop our degradation of the biosphere in other ways (Nitrogen and phospohorous, other pollutants, biodiversity loss, appropriation of larger and larger amounts of NPP, novel greenhouse gases from other processes), ultimately leading to the same endpoint.

  68. Pete Best says:

    Richard:

    Pete – Worth noting that recently (last year or so) Bloomberg have been reporting a divergence between growth and carbon emissions (presumably for multiple reasons – renewables growth, teleconferencing not travelling, etc.). This means that low carbon does not have to mean low growth. In fact, building a new renewables infrastructure could be just the boost needed!

    That might not be anything more than a fluke rather than anything deemed statistically significant as it has only been reported on last year. Sure we can do more with more efficient technologies and indeed use none fossil fuel technologies on top our current fossil fuels to break this direct link to fossil fuel usage indeed. However the annual BP report and others sees the majority of the worlds future energy growth coming from fossil fuels and as it already has a massive in place infrastructure and lots of money to buy favour through lobbyists and politicians and dare I say denialists of whatever persuasion then its still a hard battle for the less catastrophic future.

  69. Richard says:

    Sam & Pete – thanks for your honest albeit sombre assessment. Now where did I leave my half full glass? Maybe James Lovelock’s dystopian outlook (“Rough Ride to the Future”) is not so crazy after all. God Help Us! (and I’m an atheist)

  70. Sam taylor says:

    Richard,

    I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not hugely optimistic. I think the thing that is often left out in these discussions is ‘human nature’, or whatever one wants to call it. Our brains simply aren’t very good at dealing with distant slow-moving problems like climate change. Dan Kahneman (father of behavioural economics) basically sees climate change as a kind of perfect example of a problem which our cognitive biases like loss aversion will paralyse us and prevent inaction. I’ve seen him quoted as saying he sees no path to success.

    For efficiency to be successful, we also need to twin it with sufficiency and perhaps austerity, but I don’t think that would be popular.

  71. Sam,
    I hope you are wrong too, but I suspect you do have a point. It is distinctly possible (as Dan Kahneman is getting at) that climate change is operating at the optimally worst timescale. Long enough that we tend to ignore it at the moment, but fast enough that we’ll experience the negative consequences when it’s too late to do much about them.

  72. Pete Best says:

    Richard

    Forgive me but what I am saying is that we can do it, we do have the technology and the means but presently the motive is somewhat vague where it counts, in Government, sure we have all of these meetings but the first one was RIO in 92 and all we have achieved in that time is an increase in emissions of 20 billion tonnes, remember that.

    Now that said, we can take some hope from China’s emissions peaking around 2020 rather than 2030 or 40 as it was first thought. This is a massive plus and their agreement with the USA can only be good but good is all relative and not absolute so we can still live in hope but reality can be harder still.

  73. Joshua says:

    Looks like Hans’ dinners are quite extensive.

  74. Maybe, or maybe I was a little harsh in my response. On the other hand, if someone is going to simply resort to simplistic generalisations, I can’t see much point in extensive further discussions.

  75. Joshua says:

    Point? There’s supposed to be a point to this?

    Speaking of which:

    “Lord Stern has mounted his high horse, ready to slay the dragon of opposition to anything he deems a good idea at the time.

    The problem is that Lord Stern’s views seem fluid to say the least. Back in 2009 he was telling the world that rich nations would have to forgo growth in order to stop climate change.

    Now he is telling us that portraying economic growth and climate change action as being in conflict is “diversionary” and a “misunderstanding of economic development”.

    The question readers want answered is “Does Lord Stern ever actually mean anything he says?”..

    http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2015/8/27/the-ever-changing-story-of-stern.htm

    What point could there be in discussions with someone who engages in such obviously fallacious rhetorical ploys to cover over a fundamental logical error as Montford does there?

    I’m not going to bother reading the comments at Bishop Hill, or the related thread at WUWT, to see if any “skeptics” will point out the obvious logical problems with the main thrust of Montford’s argument there (as emphasized by my use of bold), but I will issue a challenge to any of the resident “skeptics” here, who I like to think are more authentically skeptical than the typical “skeptics” at either of those other two blogs: Which of those among you will comment to call out Montfort’s (and by extension, Anthony’s) logic problems there?

    And perhaps Matt Ridley will weigh in to comment as to whether the ridiculing of Stern at a personal level is an indicator that Stern’s arguments must be valid?

  76. Actually, you should read the comments on that post. Quite interesting. Quite amusing, really. The idea that someone would expect a serious discussion on Bishop-Hill and be surprised when they’re misquoted, is just a little odd for someone who’s been engaged in the blog wars for a number of years.

  77. Now that said, we can take some hope from China’s emissions peaking around 2020 rather than 2030 or 40 as it was first thought.

    Even more hope – China’s emissions appear to have peaked in 2013:

  78. And perhaps Matt Ridley will weigh in to comment as to whether the ridiculing of Stern at a personal level is an indicator that Stern’s arguments must be valid?

    As you probably realise, this type of reasoning is uni-directional. It only applies when someone is ridiculing the person making this claim, not when you’re the person doing the ridiculing, or agree with the person doing the ridiculing.

  79. TE,
    And in 1995, and possibly around 2006/2007. Do you seriously think you’re making some kind of sensible argument? It’s bizarre.

    Of course, if the Chinese economy does go through some kind of collapse, then you may well – by chance – be right about China. However, a world population that continues to increase, and an increasing demand for energy, would seem to suggest that a reduction in global emissions is highly unlikely, unless we implement alternative energy sources, or develop viable CCS technology soon. I guess you could argue for a global economic collapse, but I don’t how that is something to be promoting or looking forward to.

  80. ATTP: I think there are also some reasonably fundamental issues with CCS. As I understand it, 1kg of coal will produce about 3kg of CO2. Coal has a density of about 1.5g cm-3. So, even if you could get the CO2 to a density similar to that of water, the volume would still be 4.5 times greater than the initial volume of the coal that was burned.

    Maybe we could bind the CO2 and use it to raise the land to adapt to sea level rise. It should be possible to make something like coal out of it.

  81. Victor,

    Maybe we could bind the CO2 and use it to raise the land to adapt to sea level rise. It should be possible to make something like coal out of it.

    I think that converting it back to coal would be energetically unfavourable 🙂

  82. Sam taylor says: Austerity, the associated unemployment and economic misery, is doing a fantastic job of reducing carbon emissions within the EU.

    In the end we have to get to a situation with no CO2 emissions. Thus the proposal of Sam Taylor would be to totally destroy the entire economy.

    I’d rather build up a renewable energy system that will cost a few percent of the economy, which will be finished in 2050 when we may well be almost twice as rich as now.

    Human prosperity is also valuable, contribute to civilisation and it is politically easier to do than ramming the economy into the ground the Sam Taylor way.

  83. Sam taylor says: I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not hugely optimistic. I think the thing that is often left out in these discussions is ‘human nature’, or whatever one wants to call it. Our brains simply aren’t very good at dealing with distant slow-moving problems like climate change.

    Thus I guess you do not think that the communists of the world sat around the table one day and decided that faking that climate change exists was the easiest way to install a communist world government?

  84. Joshua says:

    Anders –

    ==> “As you probably realise, this type of reasoning is uni-directional. It only applies when someone is ridiculing the person making this claim, not when you’re the person doing the ridiculing, or agree with the person doing the ridiculing.

    Exhibit B:

    From none other than Judith:

    ” I guess the real lesson from this paper is that you can get any kind of twaddle published, if you keep trying and submit it to different journals.”

    Apparently the logic applies to: Learning from mistakes in climate research

    But it doesn’t apply to: Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the literature: A re-analysis

    Perhaps it’s meaningful that so many “skeptics” consider Judith’s analysis to be above reproach (and insult me for questioning Judith’s reasoning) even as she, as a highly qualified scientist well-steeped in the scientific method, employs such a clear and obvious double-standard within her contributions to the discussion about the discussion about climate change.

    Everyone makes such mistakes. It’s a by-product of our cognitive and psychological attributes. What I find most instructive is how people respond when such mistakes are pointed out.

    So far, no response from Judith, and not one “skeptic” pointing out or acknowledging Judith’s clearly fallacious logic. I would guess (without looking) that a similar pattern will play out at Bishop HIll and at WUWT w/r/t the faulty critique of Stern.

    Sameosameo.

  85. I would guess (without looking) that a similar pattern will play out at Bishop HIll and at WUWT w/r/t the faulty critique of Stern.

    Indeed, I’d be flabergasted if it didn’t.

  86. It should be possible to make something like coal out of it.

    Or even useful carbon fibers. I’m not advocating this, or know much about it, but I did see it the other day:

    http://www.technologyreview.com/news/540706/researcher-demonstrates-how-to-suck-carbon-from-the-air-make-stuff-from-it/

  87. TE,
    Yes, I saw that one too. I actually tried to look up to see how much “stuff” we might need per year, compared to how much CO2 we’re emitting per year, but I couldn’t find any sensible numbers.

  88. izen says:

    The techno-cornucopian solution is the gene-modified bacteria, or nanotech machine constructing, Air Coral. Plant a seed and it grows limestone in the shape/amount you want. (Just add water and calcium)

  89. Richard says:

    izen, what are they smoking? I may need some 🙂

  90. izen says:

    @-Richard

    Cordwainer Smith was probably the first to talk about air coral in his Instrumentality of Mankind fiction, but since then it has made regular appearances in many different Sci Fi novels from everyone from Brin to Niven. Seems to be a common feature of the imaginary literary future.

  91. BBD says:

    Well it’s interesting that we are now talking of CCS in the same breath as science fiction 🙂

  92. Layperson alert here. Problem with phraseology on reduced emissions. Every emission is additional. A slowdown in the acceleration is not even a leveling off. Gotta get rates of increase, leveling off, slowdown, and actual removal straight here. I like to use obesity for a comparison.

    Obese person has to slow down rate of increase, then stop increasing, then reduce, and then it’s a long road back to “normal”. It’s too easy to complain that slowing down the rate of increase is more progress than it is.

    re CCS, another lay “trick” (hah!). Think about the sheer quantities (somebody mentioned this). Once properly thought about, it boggles the mind. Where does it go? How much does it cost?

    In the US, we are having a wakeup around Trump. Turns out a huge part of the population trusts him as a person who speaks for them. Throwing a tantrum and killing off or deporting the people to “blame” for the trouble will take care of the problem …

  93. izen says:

    Any prediction, about the state of future human societies can be classified as either ‘Alarmist’ or ‘Utopian’. Other antonyms might be Panglossian or complacent.

    Utopian futures invariably involve significant qualitative changes in scientific knowledge, the structure of society and individual behavior.

    Dystopian futures usually invoke simple quantitative changes in present trends.

  94. Richard says:

    Susan – a love your layperson’s guide to weight loss, carbon style. My point exactly. My other point is … if we fail to get the weight down, the analogy fails. Nature has not fast diet. Then what do we do? Resign ourselves to the worst, or try to do something? The elephant ain’t going nowhere, whether it turns out to be a 450ppm sized one, 600ppm, or worse, we are already in (its) deep shit (excuse my French, but 400ppm > any time in last million years). Denigration of (current) attempts at CCS (because they are linked so closely to fossil fuel industry delay tactics, or geo-engineering fantasies) is simply avoiding the imperative for precautionary R&D at the very least. Am I wrong to call that out? Maybe a reframing might help.

  95. @Richard

    As far as I can see from what I’ve read, CCS—as imagined and piloted at the moment—can only ever be a tiny little fix for a massive problem. The only hope I can see is to fix carbon out of the air and turn it into something relatively stable or, ideally, useful. The best hope so far would seem to subsidise farmers to build up the carbon content of the soil and to reforest as much of the planet as possible. Planting in high latitudes that are currently thawing would have the double effect of halting oxidisation of the tundra as well as storing carbon in wood. I’d like to say let’s get cracking, but first we have to win round populations-in-denial who think the future lies in better iPhones and more long-haul holidays.

    More on soil here: http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2015/08/why-are-soils-so-important-for-our-climate

  96. Michael Lloyd says:

    You could always try the ‘Genghis Khan solution’.

    https://carnegiescience.edu/news/war-plague-no-match-deforestation-driving-co2-buildup

    700 million tons of carbon sequestered. A bit drastic, though!

  97. BBD says:

    “We had to destroy civilisation in order to save it”.

  98. Eli Rabett says:

    The problem with CCS or TE is where you gonna get the energy from

  99. BBD says:

    The Zero Point Field man! It’s gonna save us I tell you.

  100. Richard says:

    @johnrussel and @eli – I am not a proponent of CCS as currently conceived by Shell or whoever. I am a fan of anyone who a) sees the elephant b) has ideas for dealing with it. Pot shots at CCS is just another form of denial amongst some (not you guys I stress). It is one wedge we can’t ignore.

  101. Rob Nicholls says:

    “It should be possible to make something like coal out of it.” Surely diamonds would be better.
    I mean, how difficult can it be? 🙂

    It scares me a lot that we seem to be in a situation where we’re going to need CCS to work, but I agree that it shouldn’t be dismissed, as Richard and ATTP have pointed out above. Getting across the idea that CCS won’t in any way get us off the hook and that we need all the other massive rapid changes to happen to the way energy is produced and used if we’re going to tackle climate change successfully is not going to be easy.

    I agree generally that most options for GHG emission reductions should not be dismissed, although I personally would make an exception for austerity. Leaving aside its all-too-predictable effects on economic growth (which even sections of the IMF seem finally to be waking up to! They’re bl**** commies at the IMF, you know), austerity often seems to me to hit the poor much harder than the rich (not least because the poor depend more on the public services that austerity destroys than the rich do); also I don’t see where the hundreds of billions of dollars / pounds of investment in low carbon energy infrastructure is going to come from if we shrink states so much that they can’t do anything.

  102. Joseph says:

    I think ultimately that the media is responsible for making sure that the views of a number of relevant scientists are heard when they are reporting on a particular study, especially if the findings are considered significant. For climate change, they could ask members of the IPCC that specialize in the particular area, who they should consider interviewing. If they get input from a good sample, it would be more difficult for “alarmist” or more precisely obviously exaggerated views to be presented by the reporter or the scientists interviewed. Or at least the public could realize that there seems to be significant dispute over the implications of a particular study.

  103. Richard says:

    @Rob – CCS is one specific approach to ‘carbon reduction’ or ‘negative emissions’. I think we need another label for [the set of] the plethora of other ideas (John cited one), otherwise it will remain stigmatised. COP21 is naturally focusing on emission reductions (not arguing with that, we know how to do it! The technology is all there. Just a matter of political will.) I am just saying the sooner or latter we’ll need the other track (negative emissions, to use the most opaque label), and currently it seems little more than a footnote in the debate.

  104. About CCS (yes, I agree, it must be one of the wedges, and we need anything and everything that will help).

    “Decades on, the promise of ‘clean coal’ remains elusive” [end extracted below]
    https://theconversation.com/decades-on-the-promise-of-clean-coal-remains-elusive-46522

    Those paying attention remind me that apathy and despair are just forms of laziness. Faced with an immediate crisis, we would not hesitate to act. This is no different (though I confess I am more of a writer than a doer).

    The elusive dream

    The Queensland “Zerogen” project collapsed, at great expense to the taxpayer, in 2010.

    In 2013 it emerged that the Coal21 fund set up in 2006 to fund CCS projects had been retooled to fund promotion of coal.

    Although one Canadian project is now operating (thanks to an unusual synchronicity of large amounts research and development funding, the willingness of a company to get onto the learning curve, and a market for the carbon dioxide), the trajectory of CCS is very weak compared with earlier expectations.

    In Australia the coal industry has set up another roundtable and continues to produce glossy brochures and graphs.

    There are daunting legal and technological risks to carbon capture and storage, alongside the challenges of corporate technology strategy.

    The dilemma for the industry is this: if CCS doesn’t work, fossil fuel companies are left naked, with no other technological fix to offer. If it does work, they will need to start implementing it, which will cost a fortune and eat into their profits (based on insights from James Meadowcraft at the University of Carleton).

    The fundamental dilemma for the rest of us is this: in order to drive investment, there would need to be (among other factors) a very high carbon price. But a high carbon price would also encourage the growth of renewable energy, which would remove the need for the CCS infrastructure.

  105. Rob Nicholls says:

    Richard “I am just saying the sooner or latter we’ll need the other track (negative emissions, to use the most opaque label), and currently it seems little more than a footnote in the debate.” This makes a lot of sense to me.

    I don’t know how much investment there is into R&D for negative emissions technologies (I note your comment about US investment of a few tens of millions of dollars into carbon capture) but I would suspect it is small compared to the urgency of the problem and compared to estimates of subsidies to fossil fuel use (including estimates of the true cost of carbon emissions) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/18/fossil-fuel-companies-getting-10m-a-minute-in-subsidies-says-imf

    Susan Anderson – thanks for the quote from The Conversation. Where it says “…a high carbon price would also encourage the growth of renewable energy, which would remove the need for the CCS infrastructure” – is this true in the long-term? If net human emissions remain above zero (which seems likely to me), presumably something like CCS or “negative emissions technology” will be needed at some point. I suppose there are a lot of reasons why governments and corporations wouldn’t necessarily act with such a long-term view in mind though.

  106. Rob Nicholls says:

    ” I suppose there are a lot of reasons why governments and corporations wouldn’t necessarily act with such a long-term view in mind though.” To contradict what I said there, obviously the way we’re going at the moment, we’re going to need CCS or other negative emissions technology pretty damn soon, which scares me because we’re a very long way from anything being implemented on a big enough scale and CCS at least seems inherently very risky (although perhaps I’m wrong about that?)…It all makes emission reductions all the more urgent.

  107. BBD says:

    With CCS, it’s about deciding how big the wedge is going to be. Given the logistical issues arising at large scale, it might be a shim*, rather than a wedge. Chemistry can make a mountain out of a mole hill.

    *Where I was brought up, a shim is a thin wedge. Like the beer mat you slip under a table leg to kill the wobble.

  108. FLwolverine says:

    This may be a dumb question, so I’ll apologize in advance.

    The article on Genghis Khan says “During high-mortality events, such as wars and plagues, large areas of croplands and pastures have been abandoned and forests have re-grown, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”. Given the amount of warming already baked into our future, and the effect that warming has/will have on forest environments – so that species are going extinct in some areas while new species are showing up in other areas; not to mention invasive harmful insects and diseases – would a high mortality event have the same outcome today as in the past? Would abandoned croplands and pastures be more likely to turn into desert or savannah than go back to forests?

    Thanks.

  109. FLwolverine,

    Given the amount of warming already baked into our future

    In a sense this isn’t quite true. If – by some freakish chance – we were to stop emitting all GHGs, then the atmospheric CO2 would probably be drawn down at a rate that largely halted future warming. It’s only baked in if we fix atmospheric CO2 at current levels. However, fixing the atmospheric CO2 at current levels would require emissions of only about 10% of today’s level, so – in reality – we probably have baked in future warming, but it’s not quite as simple as it may seem.

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