Open Thread

The last thread is intended only to enable anyone to express an opinion about the probability of disastrous climate change under business-as-usual.

But it’s natural that folks want to discuss related issues, and even argue with each other about their stated estimates.

So — here’s an open thread. Please use the “What is epsilon?” thread ONLY to state your estimate, use this one to discuss at length. Thanks.

177 responses to “Open Thread

  1. EFS_Junior wrote:

    In this real world scenario, I am extremely doubtful that humankind will do anything meaningful in the near-to-intermediate term (meaning before mid-century).

    I brought up a similar point and thought that this would be a good place to expand: When will we (for now, let we=USA) pass legislation to reduce carbon emissions? What will be the precipitating event and when will that occur?

    My guesses: 2040, near-complete Arctic sea ice melt, and 2030

    • More probably it will be political momentum than a physical event. At least, that has been the case for every other country/state I can think of for passing legislation.

      But EFS qualified with ‘meaningful’ action. I feel a little bit more optimistic since Australia passed legislation for a carbon tax, and if we continue to have a strong economy over the next 10 years, that might give other countries confidence – but I still doubt that much will happen in the near-term. I’d guess 30 years before there is a meaningful international effort. 2040, same as you. Perhaps sooner, if the market for green tech begins to look like a winner.

      • I was hopeful that there would be some momentum, but resistance has been strong in the US and any momentum in the last 4 years has gone the other way (but am I focusing too much on short-term variation? Hmmmm…..). I think it will take an event like Katrina or 9/11 that is obviously linked to AGW to get people in the US out their torpor.

        If green tech looks more attractive, maybe the barriers will fall sooner.

      • These conversations about the initiation of meaningul action are an interesting side-branch to the epsilon issue.

        I had wanted to link to a recent discussion of the window of opportunity for preventing warming that exceeds 2 degrees celcius, but frustratingly I don’t seem to have it in my tab forest. The discussion considered different peak times of emissions, and the nature of the annual percentage cuts that would need to follow in order to avoid passing 2 C. The cuts were related to the collapse of the Soviet Union, for context.

        If anyone remembers the source of this discussion, it’s be good to have the link.

    • I really think that the collapse of organised climate science denial is critical to the timing of action – even when outright denial isn’t dominant it helps to entrench the view that nothing much can be done any time soon. Given that it’s a strategy that’s proven so successful, those using it for commercial or political gain will want to keep on doing it. When pressed they will do it even harder. But that also takes them closer to a tipping point, one that more outrageously irrational claims from people and orgs that should, and probably do know better, might take them past.

      Surely the lobbying organisations of commerce and industry that have been pushing doubt, denial and delay don’t have anything like 100% backing from their membership. Surely the Insurance sector alone, which does have a background in assessing risk, must be concerned about it even if, at the purely short term commercial decision making level they might find some interest in common with those pushing Business as Usual – I’m thinking because the risks to wider commercial investments being impacted can have priority over longer term harms. But there must be cracks there.

      My own instinct tells me the denialist position is a house of cards, it’s irrationality a serious weakness. Also the immorality of deliberately preventing action in the face of an impending global catastrophe – rather like a coalition of Japanese business leaders whipping up a campaign to discredit the Tsunami warning service because public fear of tsunamis is bad for their businesses – should not be understated; Freedom of ideas and opinions and the right to hold and express them are one thing but that ‘right’ isn’t paramount and should not be used to protect dangerously irresponsible ideas and opinions from being exposed for the truly ugly things that they are. Those that do seek to use freedom of speech to protect climate science denial can’t be criticised harshly enough IMO.

      • Yes, the collapse of denial will be a key phase. I think the next 20 years should do it. Given their strident predictions of a new ice age, any continued warming will be enough to see them ignored for good. It could be much sooner. A massive El Nino in the next 5 years would probably kill them off (metaphorically, of course!).

        Then its just a matter of getting people to vote for short term pain in return for long term gain. People have done this willingly when the choice was stark enough. Look at rationing in WW2.

    • Deech56 wrote:

      What will be the precipitating event

      As an outsider I consider that nothing short of a complete re-working of your broken democracy will allow legislation to combat the excesses of the fossil fuel and related interests. This is not to say that our (UK) legislature is free of sloth in this area with increasing signs of back-peddling by the incumbents WRT renewable energy and the rumoured acceptance of Canadian tar-sands slicks.

      The change in emphasis in your legislature will only come about when the purveyors of lying propaganda WRT the strength of the anthropogenic signal, that is those rogue scientists and their bull-horns in the media who encourage naked self interest in elements of your legislature, are exposed and recognised for what they are by a significant fraction of the US population.

      Blogs such as this one, and Skeptical Science, Deltoid, DeepClimate, DeSmogBlog, RealClimate, amongst others as well as the likes of Peter Sinclair and Potholer) are slowly getting the message out. Unfortunately this is inhibited by the closed minds of those who largely get their news from Fox etc. A way has to be found for reaching these, sadly it will need to be brave people who do this.

      Getting rid of ‘The Money’ talks effect in the US is of paramount importance too.

  2. Sure thing!–though I posted a couple of comments as replies before getting to the request at the bottom of the ‘epsilon’ post.

    Clearly ‘epsilon’ was a great conversation piece!

  3. On the ‘epsilon’ thread, Ray Ladbury wrote:

    “Or Africa could take off economically, increasing the demand for fossil fuels.”

    Interestingly, I was just reading (in The Economist, which I think has reasonable credibility) that growth in sub-Saharan Africa has been surprisingly robust over the last few years, despite some of the terrible governance that is still in evidence.

    It may be, too, that development there will rely relatively more upon renewables than has been the case in the West. There was also a story about essentially that dynamic WRT solar power in India this morning–let’s see if I can find it for illustrative purposes. . .

    (Not the one I had in mind, but it gets to the issue pretty well. Note the government target of 20 GW solar installed over the next decade. Also note that the dynamic at play pretty much flips the often-mooted grid reliability issues.)

    • David B. Benson

      That’s wonderful but the 20 GW nameplate power rating translates into about 4 GWh as the sun only generates when it shines. That’s an average of 4 watt-hours per day per capita in India.

    • I think it’s easy for those of us with reliable, grid-connected power to underestimate the attractiveness of renewables in developing countries.

      I was in Cambodia recently and was told that the cost of electricity in a village near Siem Riap was US$0.50/kWh. PV has the huge advantage that it competes against retail pricing, not generation cost, and the cost of PV has come down so much since the Chinese entered the market that it’s actually a much cheaper option in places like that, especially when you factor in the lack of infrastructure (e.g. powerlines) that would need to be built for centralised power generation systems.

      Additionally, while we might take a fairly dim view of not having power available on-demand, for someone who hasn’t had power, even intermittent power is a boon. (And even for someone connected to the grid in many of these countries, the power is intermittent anyway, as pointed out by the article on India you linked to.)

      I actually lived on a remote station during the 70s and we use to run a diesel generator intermittently to charge a huge bank of batteries to provide us with electricity — nowadays a set of solar panels would actually be a better option.

  4. Of course, the potential for disastrous climate change is also dependent on several other problems which we face at the moment. In no particular order I would include: the end of ‘easy’ oil (so called peak oil); resource depletion (including such things as water and phosphorous — both vital for food production); deforestation; ocean acidification… and all, of course, made worse by the multiplier, over-population.

    These problems will impact in ways which could make potential climate change worse or indeed, less worse. The symptom we’ll see first will be a shortage of food, which could lead to wars. Anyway you look at it, the time to start making changes to the way we live in order to avoid a disaster has long past.

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that my estimate of a 90% chance in seeing 1 one billion deaths is a significant underestimate.

  5. The issue with regulating CO2 emissions is that they regulate – at best – the energy intensity of various processes. But they don’t regulate how many people can access the wealth of industrial society – nor the time during which they benefit from it.

    The real issue is : can we do it without FF ? some think it is possible. In this case, the problem of FF exhaustion and CO2 is basically solved – just limit the amount of FF to a reasonable value to allow a transition and let’s do it.

    The real issue is if we can’t sustain industrial society without FF – a possibility far from being excluded (I don’t think climate scientists have definitely proven it was possible !). In this case, we are doomed anyway – not a pleasant perspective for sure, but we must envision it. Then the only question is : how far can we sustain the industrial society before an unavoidable collapse ? and is there a “best compromise value” of the amount of FF we are allowed to burn ? the question is no more “can we avoid a catastrophe” (it will happen anyway) but “how do we manage the remaining time before the catastrophe ?”

    Note that this is not a very unusual problem. in some sense, it is the usual question of our own life . Death is unavoidable, the only question is : how do we manage the time meanwhile?

    • Jarch.

      With respect to the question “can we sustain industrial society [over many centuries, say] without fossil fuels?”, I would say “yes, but only with no more than 10% of the current global human population”. The issue is not just a matter of energy access, but of the overall resource use that comes with access to industrially-used levels of energy.

      As we have decades ago significantly invalidated the (population) caveat condition, the underlying premise (about sustaining industrial society) is negated – unless action is taken soon to rapidly ‘revalidate’ the caveat condition.

  6. In terms of the Challenger disaster in the last thread, there was a pretty clear upper bound on the maximum risk of disaster, LOVC loss of vehicle and crew, assuming you discount secondary effects, like crashing Challenger into the WTC or something.

    With AGW, the consequences are a lot less well defined, from significantly more damage due to extreme weather events, complete loss of sea ice, loss of commercial fisheries, and loss of 10, 50, 90, 99% of humans, etc….

    Maybe it would be interesting to survey what people expect at a constant epsilon? The epsilon of 1% used to justify the Iraq War comes to mind.

    If the 1% epsilon was worth a war’s worth of resources, one might wonder what other dire AGW consequences are at that low epsilon and whether they are worthy of similar blood and treasure.

    On the high epsilon side, like 90-99% certainty of consequence, wouldn’t ameliorating the consequence be worth 90-99 times as much as the 1% epsilon risk?

  7. A ‘dumb’ question on climate sensitivity – one on which I am convinced that somebody like Spencer or Lindzen is already trying to somehow take advantage (by neglecting that factor or in some other way) in a future paper in which they will again claim that sensitivity is low – what if the increase in the global temperature anomaly that we see for the last 3 decades or so (where we have good data from a number of sources, including some ocean data) is not a direct measurement of climate sensitivity but instead is limited by the flow of heat towards the deep ocean? What if we will face a sensitivity of 4 or 5 after just 200-500 years (since by that time all Arctic Ice will anyway be gone anyway, and a certain part of the Antarctic Ice)? Why isn’t that hypothesis – which is anyway vastly more likely than delusional claims for a sensitivity around 1 – being discussed a lot more in the peer-reviewed literature?

    • David B. Benson

      The full climate sensitvity, generally called Earth system sensitivity (but the name is not yet standardized) to distinguish it from the so-called fast feedback Charney climate sensitivity, is estimated to be around 4.5–5 K.

    • The issue on the magnitude of climate sensitivity is one that I was going to raise in the epsilon thread, but my post there had already grown too large.

      I have said elsewhere recently that I suspect that the global temperature sensitivity for the range from 280 to 400 ppm (say) CO2, will be different – and lower – than the sensitivity for the next several hundred parts per million above around 400 ppm.

      Most discussions of the impacts of global warming would probably indirectly incorporate this idea when they raise issues of non-linearity or step-changes for example, but I think that it is worth formally and explicitly emphasising that climate sensitivity needn’t be constant across a range of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Not emphasising this issue lulls politicians and public alike into a simplified and likely inadequate-for-appropriate-action mindset.

  8. A response to DB from the epsilon thread. I don’t see India and Pak going nuclear as things unfold. Nuclear is an option for for distant combatants. Nuclear between neighbors would only make any existing problem ten times worse for both states, and it would mean the end of any trigger-pulling regime.

    With my pessimistic goggles on, I see the disaster as arising from four major forcings:
    1. rapid warming
    2. the falling rate of profit
    3. the end of cheap liquid FF
    4. political instability (where not the result of no. 2)

    Probable feedbacks (spread over a century)
    1. increase in funds needed to alleviate the effects of rapid warming
    2. decrease in infrastructure funding (unless widespread adoption of electric distribution of goods, along with increased nuclear and coal)
    3. temporary increase in urban/suburban flight in developed nations, curbed by real estate opportunism
    4. increase in manufacturing mobility and localization
    5. food and water stress
    6. decrease in innovation/R&D funding
    7. increase in reactionary and military thinking
    8. decrease in education funding
    9. major political disruption
    10. decreased internal security
    11. increased terrorism in geopolitically critical states
    12. risk of destabilized global currency system via runaway inflation in key global states
    13. Widespread deregulation and/or lack of enforcement, exacerbating the health consequences of rapid warming
    14. Mowing down of the African and Amazonian rain forests.
    15. All species migrate to Canada.

    Widespread death and misery. Eventual re-organization. Managed democratic economy operating in much smaller cells. Probably won’t happen, though. We’re humans, after all. We have the greatest economic mode ever, and we’re smart enough to invent technology that solves everything. What was I worried about?

    Do we get Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It, or one of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Californias? Somehow, I doubt Callenbach’s Ecotopia will come to pass.

    • @ DSL

      I was referring to the tensions between 2 standoffs: the Pakistan vs India and Iran vs the world. Escalating social unrest caused by relentless famines, floods & pestilence + medium range missiles + weaponized fissionable material + starving populations + ideologically-driven religious extremists with nothing to lose coupled with the idea that a preemptive strike would mitigate & minimize collateral damage = a nasty recipe.

      • You forgot the raisins in your recipe: outsiders vying for access to remaining fossil fuels, drugs, and land routes. Plus a decline in OPEC state power. It would be just lovely if Israel began a program of expansion in the middle of it all. Nothing’s off the table, I agree, but I think it’ll all happen on the ground, conventionally, and in the midst of constant, large migrations and internal political mayhem.

    • Sorry, missed this:

      If we’re lucky, we’ll get A Canticle for Leibowitz

    • DSL.

      I’d modify slightly your ‘forcing’:

      2. the falling rate of profit


      2. the falling rate of growth

      Some profit is entirely feasible in a sustainable steady-state system, and in such a system fluctuating profit (within reason) is also sustainable.

      However the Western economic model is one that is necessarily predicated on perpetual growth, and anyone with basic mathematics knowledge and finite-systems understanding will appreciate that there is – mandatorily – no long-term future in such a model.

      The practical consequences of falling rates of growth are all-too-easily seen in the political and economic fallings-out when country’s GDPs (or other measures of growth) drop below their desired sweet zones. The astonishing thing is that most politicians and economists (and business people…) who long ago eschewed belief in Santa Claus still believe in the economic Hog Father that is eternal growth.

      There are none so blind…

      • Bernard, I’ll agree, but I (or perhaps “and I do”) mean the tendency for profit to fall in the current mode of production when productivity and middle class reserve capital remain steady or decline (and both are set for global decline). It’s essentially a decline in growth. I’ll tentatively agree with your assertion about sustainable steady-state modes, though in those modes the idea of “profit” is looked at in a very different way.

      • DSL.

        I think that we are in concordance!

      • If only economists could think like pilots (aircraft) where, ‘..every take-off is optional but once airborne a landing (or contact with the surface) is mandatory’.

  9. In this discussion, we tend to focus on the radiative properties of CO2,while neglecting its chemical properties; even in the absence of a warming effect, the chemical changes to the ocean caused by anthropogenic carbon emissions are disastrous. It’s hard to imagine how humans would survive in a world with microbe-dominated, euxinic oceans that emit gigatons of H2S into the atmosphere.

    • And for disastrous impact long before that point, we have to face a billion people currently dependent on fisheries for protein.

      • We are already seeing problems with juvenile shellfish…

        Wind direction provides the biggest warning when to plug intake pipes to the shellfish holding tanks. At the Whiskey Creek Hatchery, for example, growers have learned when the wind shifts from the south to the north, they have a 24 hour window before corrosive water shows up at their intake pipe. Other growers also have learned to fill shellfish tanks late in the day instead of mornings, and to use water intakes at different depths.

        West Coast shellfish farms impacted by ocean acidification
        Laine Welch, Dec 21, 2011 – 09:20 AM AKST

        … and against expectations, juvenile, regular fish…

        … many scientists have suggested that acidification wouldn’t be problematic for marine fish because they don’t have exoskeletons and because as adults they possess mechanisms that allow them to tolerate high concentrations of CO2….

        Christopher Gobler, a marine biologist at Stony Brook University in New York, decided to test the effects of rising CO2 levels on the growth and survival of Menidia beryllina, a common schooling fish found in estuaries along the North American coast….

        “Right away, we saw results,” says Gobler. “Survival rates were cut in half or worse with high concentrations of CO2.” When CO2 concentrations reached 1,000 p.p.m., one-week survival rates dropped by 74%.

        Acidic oceans threaten fish: Stocks could suffer as seas soak up more carbon dioxide.
        Hannah Hoag, 11 December 2011

        Makes sense, actually, that it we are talking about juvenile fish.

      • Correction…

        The issues for regular fish are at CO2 levels that have been projected for later in this century. (I didn’t realize that I hadn’t made that clear in the comment until after I hit post.)

  10. Tamino:

    Bob Tisdale made this criticism of your paper:

    What is your response ?

    [Response: Pathetic.]

  11. Dave X., It is a common misunderstanding that the upper limit to consequences of a catastrophic failure of a spacecraft is the cost of the mission itself. This is most definitely NOT the case.

    A failure, especially one that makes the papers, also results in
    1)increased operational costs,
    2)loss of prestige and future business for a contractor or funding for an agency,
    3)R&D costs to work around the cause of the disaster,
    4)delays for future missions,
    5)loss of morale, decreased attractiveness for good employees
    6)diminished ability to fill corporate or agency mission (e.g. supply space station)
    7)and so on.

    Anyone of these can far outstrip the cost of the mission, and the costs of these intangibles are difficult to bound. Do you think there would be such a furor to privatize NASA if all the shuttle missions had been successful?

    • They may be far larger than the direct or marginal costs of the mission, but they are still fairly well connected to the loss of vehicle and crew. I’d imagine management could have some failure mode and effects analysis that would start with mission LOVC and work from there.

      One bound that NASA might be able to set would be total loss of itself as an agency. There are much higher bounds, like igniting the whole atmosphere with some fancy new rocket as in some sci-fi stories. The LHC quantum vacuum bubble collapse might be another greater-than-total lost-of-agency outcome. However, those sorts of bounds are often outside of the control of the folks doing the assessment and bound-estimating (e.g., if vacuum bubble collapse is really risk, then we’re not going to prevent the natural cosmic rays from doing it elsewhere in our universr by shutting down the LHC.)

      With “climate change disaster” there isn’t a single agency who would bear the responsibility, the costs, or be able to make decisions that would change the outcomes. The problem of bounding climate change disaster seems much harder because there isn’t an agency or corporation responsible for examining and assessing the full effects. If Bangladesh gets 2m of SLR in 2100-2200, would the US DOE care?

  12. JARCH, The real question is whether a sustainable economy is possible–sustainable not just in terms of energy infrastructure, but also other resources. In addition, there is the question of how we manage to support an aging population as population growth is reversed and population begins to decrease. This is something no human society has ever accomplished.

    • Never? Well I suppose that’s true where the olds are relegated to the sidelines.

      My view is that we’ll change our practices in relation to ‘working life’ and ‘retirement’. Setting aside the grossly physically demanding and risky occupations like shearing or smoke jumping or carpet laying or mining, most people over 65 are fit enough to work. Probably not fulltime. Probably not year in, year out. But they can work.

      Probably require a whole lot of legislative argy-bargy around taxes and superannuation and pensions, but it will get done. Eventually.

      • The elderly aren’t as cute as kids, but during the baby boom of the 50’s we managed by having half of the adult population (commonly known as women) leaving the paid workforce and working full-time bringing up the kids, while being supported by a male in the paid workforce.

        There were problems with this model, but it worked surprisingly well.

    • Ray I think it is all a question of time scales. What is not sustainable is an exponential growth over a time much longer than a growth characteristic time scale. It is approximately sustainable over some growth time scales. What is new in our society if the spectacular shortening of the growth time scale, making the limits visible within some generations (and probably our time life). But in some sense, it is certain that we will go towards a sustainable way of life, whatever it will be, because unsustainable ones will – by definition- disappear.

      The only question is : what will it be ? it is not excluded that cutting off all FF consumptions will make us go back to agricultural societies. i’m not sure that many people would be happy with that – so the question of CC is linked to the question of energy resources. If it is impossible to sustain our society without FF (which, if true, would basically explain the common failure of all ” CO2 reduction policies” ) , then can we define a “best way” of managing what is left ? is there an optimal quantity before we should stop using them ? I must say that I am not really convinced by political mottos like “450 ppm” , “390 ppm” , “2°C” : I’d like these values to be more substantiated by cost-benefit analysis , I’d like these values to be determined by some rationale instead of being “intuited”.

  13. Kevin O'Neill

    Several decades ago one of my favorite books was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Working around (among other motifs) a theme of change and how we as individuals, as a community, as a culture deal with it.

    I’ve been following changes in the Arctic, and sea ice particularly, for more than 15 years. I view the Arctic as the canary in the coal mine. Add to that Monty Python’s Dead Parrot Sketch and you arrive at my currently held position: we’re headed for massive climate disruptions. How we deal with it will determine weather (sic) it’s ‘disastrous’ or not. In other words, I believe potentially disastrous climate change is all but a certainty; if not by mid-century, then certainly by century’s end.

    I believe the greatest risk to humanity is that there will be winners and losers. We’ve shown little capacity as a species to willingly share our good fortune with those outside of our own ‘tribe’. The climate change ‘losers’ are unlikely to accept their lot happily.

    Perhaps my pessimism is grounded in the great dystopian novels that were part of my H.S. education; Ape and Essence, 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451. And while I think it unlikely that the number of humans populating this Earth will actually decline, the same cannot be said for virtually every other species on the planet. For many of these species zoos, aquariums, and a few scattered wildlife refuges will be the only thing between them and extinction.

    • Kevin O’Neill.

      And while I think it unlikely that the number of humans populating this Earth will actually decline, …

      On this matter I have to disagree. I would suggest that it is inevitable that human numbers will decline.

      Consider the trajectory of human population growth through to the year 2000. Consider the area under the curve, and most especially, consider the integral from the year 1750 through to 2000.

      Whilst doing so, consider also that it is the human.time product that has impacted the planet’s non-human species population sizes; the species extinctions; the forest, fisheries, fossil fuel, topsoil, and other finite resource depletions; and sundry other essentially irreversible changes that are evident today.

      Now, consider the trajectory described by the situation where human population does not decrease. Following on from the previous exercise, determine the integral from 2000 to 2250. Are any bells ringing yet? If not, consider then the magnitude of resource use that the human.time product would require given the resultant integral, and assuming that the division of resource use follows the inequitable 80:20 split that has been the case so far…

      Where are the resources going to come from in order to sustain such a non-reduced population in the future, even at the level of ‘lifestyle’ and inequitous division evidenced thus far?

      Not only do I suggest that human numbers will decline, but I will stick my neck out and say that the future trajectory will mirror overall rates of energy released from fossil fuel combustion, as much as human population has already followed fossil fuel combustion to date. Given that total annual fossil carbon combustion is demonstrating a relatively classic gaussian distribution, the implications for the next dozen or so generations of humans are quite stark indeed…

      • It is arguable that the entire Green Revolution was an exercise in learning how humans could take one-time windfall resources like fossil fuels and aquifers and turn them into food that briefly allowed us to surpass the capability of the planet to support us sustainably. If this is the case, then the planet’s sustainable human populationis probably something like the pre- green revolution population of ~2.5 billion, many of whom were confronting severe food insecurity.

        Arguably, our brief sojourn in super-saturated population may well have damaged permanently the planets ability to support us–particularly, the oceans, farmland and watersheds. If so, it may be that we have decreased the planet’s capability to something more like 1 billion people or even less.

        Population dynamics suggests that in a hard dieback like this, population would first overshoot the target on the way down, but then increase to oscillate about it. This suggest that we could see human populations ~5-10% of current levels in a few hundred years. Whether the horseman that carries out that harvest is climate change or whether it just rides along as a 5th horseman will be a matter of only academic interest to our progeny. I suspect most of them will die cursing us with their final breaths.

      • I suspect most of them will die cursing us with their final breaths.

        Indeed, indeed. If only we each had the facility and the mandatory obligation to look directly into the eyes of our great, great grandchildren.


        There have been discussions of human population, quality of life, and energy use for decades. From the warnings of Malthus to those of the Ehrlichs and the Club of Rome, cornucopians have always responded with what is essentially a denial of the laws of thermodynamics. Yet nowhere have I ever seen an argument that is anything more than a nit-pick about the placement of a peak on the graphs…

        For some very interesting insights into the ‘simple’ energy/population issue, it’s worth reading the comments in this thread:

        A similar post, although I have small issue with some of the assumptions:

        If anyone is curious to see a take on the same subject with some climate change parameters thrown in, try:

        although, again I have reservations about some of the assumptions – and lack thereof…

        Ther are thousands more like these, of course, whether on this particular site or elsewhere.

        In all of this, there is, frustratingly, little sign that reality has sunk into the global human awareness. Oh, there are knots of people like those here talking about it, and there are organisations and Big Names speaking up, but so far the closest attempt to ameliorate human damage to the biosphere has been Bolivia’s efforts to give the environment some legal rights to exist. When it takes a country disparaged by the First World to come up with something like this, there is something very definitely wrong – and unsustainable – with the way our species as a whole is behaving.

        And except for a few analyses like the (still limited in scope) third link above, few are really, explicitly considering the synergy of all the different pressures that humans are applying to their living system, and especially the pressures that will manifest over centuries as a result of our modification of the climate and of ocean acidity. I’m not sure if it’s because focussing on just a small part of the overall problem permits the illusion of easy solution, or because approaching the matter holistically is just too complex a task, but I suspect that in terms of our species being able to control the future now in any way at all that would lead to a non-disasterous consequence, the horse has long ago and well and truly bolted.

      • That is a bit gloomy. There are already countries with birth rates that would (without immigration) lead to falling populations. Whatever conditions cause low birthrates (and female education and participation in the workforce is one), we should be busily trying to spread to the whole world. I often see a peak population of 9 billion later this century quoted.

        However I think that measures to reduce the birth rate are urgent.

      • Ray argues above that the planet used to have a capability for supporting some 2 billion people ‘sustainably’, by which presumably what is meant is continuing indefinitely, but that we have in the last couple of hundred years reduced this capacity to 1 billion, and that sooner or later we will find population reduced to that level.

        If this is really true then the species really is facing an event which far exceeds the magnitude of the Black Death. We are talking 80% population reduction. Ray does not seem to be saying that this will be due to global warming. It will be due to some combination of circumstances largely coming about from the exhaustion of fossil fuels, and the consequent inability of the population to support itself. Global warming might either be a precipitating cause, or merely an adjunct to a catastrophe occurring due largely to the fossil fuel exhaustion.

        He does not seem to say it will happen all that soon, only that it will be in the next few hundred years, with an uncertain time of onset.

        Well, its a deeply serious point, albeit hard to evaluate, but one would like to see more evidence for the 1 billion figure and a better fleshed out and more specific scenario than has appeared so far.

  14. looks relevant. There’s a number of possible disasters, and to miss them all might need something like P_safe=(1-epsilon_single)^n_disasters

  15. An open thread is as good a place to pop in as any…
    Been a lurker of sorts here for a while… I do not harbor any doubts about AGW and what it likely implies…

    I have a Ph.D. in Experimental Particle Physics, call me a retired Higgs hunter, late of Wall St. so I have a good idea what it means to dig a signal out of dreck… What I have I no idea about though, is digging a signal out that is ideologically charged…Afterall, no one really gets bent out of shape in Congress if the Higgs is a Type II Two-Doublet model or not…similarly, EXXON does not have a strong opinion….I tip my cap to all the rationalists that populate the blogosphere, but most of all, I tip my cap to the scientists themselves…

    Purely based on demeanor, presentation, scientific rigor, the “Warmist” sites run circles around the “Skeptics” but those are not the front lines of this battle… From the perspective of the public, this site is a veritable Ivory Tower…This is only to give you some perspective….

    I spend a good part of my time at a leading financial site,
    Lets just say that Ron Paul is worshipped and that I am in the minority when it comes to AGW, at least in in the Comments… It is truly a streetfight there, definitely not for mixed company.. Once upon a time, the Hedge was also a bastion of peak oil denial, it is safe to say that the ZH is now peak oil aware.. Maybe, rationaly thought will prevail there as well for AGW…..

  16. Maybe the next question is the really difficult one.

    Given your estimate of the likelihood of sufficient global warming to lead to a disaster, where disaster is global die-off of the scale of the Black Death, to what level and by when do you think global CO2 emissions should be reduced?

    And give a couple of lines on how specifically you think it should be done. Eg ‘abolish the motor car’, ‘move to electric cars’, ‘migrate to 75% solar and wind generation’.

    • Michel,
      I think this is the wrong question. We are already seeing significant consequences in which climate change is likely a contributing factor (TX droughts, Moscow heat wave and fires, increased drought, expansion of range of agricultural pests and invasives,…). These effects will get worse as we continue to raise CO2 levels. More and more severe effects will start to occur. What is more, we are already starting to see more influx of carbon from the environment–e.g. methane plumes in the Arctic. That is a definite and dangerous turning point.

      So the question is not how bad we can let things get, but rather what we can do to keep things from getting worse. First and foremost, we need a new and sustainable energy infrastructure–based as much as possible on renewable resources. This energy infrastructure must be deployed not just in the US but as much as possible around the globe. That means we have to assist developing countries in developing their energy and transportation infrastructure. This has the added beneficial effect that living standards and expectations will improve with the corresponding drop in fertility, limiting population increases to the previewed limit of 9-10 billion (I hope, at least).

      I favor “as much renewable as possible” over a fixed value–different regions will have different capabilities in terms of what renewables can supply. Beyond renewables, we have to rely on nukes, fusion–anything so we don’t have to burn coal.

      You mention cars. Transportation in general is one of the most challenging aspects of developing a sustainable infrastructure. I don’t think it is a matter of banning private automobiles, but we certainly need to move to technologies that make sense–hybrids, high-efficiency diesel, electric, fuel cells…

      I am a strong believer in free markets. However, for a free market to function, goods and services must reflect their full, true cost–and that includes the cost to the environment, transport costs (and their environmental effect). Only then can consumers make rational choices.

      Finally, we are going to need new technologies and new science to get through this. Government needs to play a role in getting this effort off the ground. If we do this right, it is quite possible that addressing climate change could actually improve our living standards rather than diminish them–at least in the medium and long term.

      • Its about doing something effective.

        In terms of practical politics, the program to reduce carbon emissions by some even very large defined percentage is one that could conceivably do what you believe to be necessary (whatever that this, its not clear what it is). The program to do whatever we can with renewables has almost no chance of making whatever reductions you think are necessary.

        The UK’s legally mandated targets for instance are 50% below 1990 levels by 2025, 60% cuts by 2030 and 80% cuts by 2050. Whether it is doable or not, if this is what is necessary for the US and the rest of the world too, the only way to do it is by setting it as a target and making the required massive social changes necessary. Just building a few more turbines is not going to even get close.

        To make 80% cuts from 1990 levels the UK is really going to have to abolish the private car. But that is only a start. We are talking wartime rationing lifestyles. Everything is going to have to change, shopping and consumption, heating and ventilation, manufacturing. The only way to get to those targets to formally adopt them, and to implement through rationing. Just doing our best and hoping will not get anywhere near there.

        So once again, what would your program be? What level of carbon emissions globally or US do you think is required to be safe?

    • m: The program to do whatever we can with renewables has almost no chance of making whatever reductions you think are necessary.

      BPL: Sez you.

  17. Andrew Gillett

    Off topic, but what happened to this link which I bookmarked?

    [Response: Look here.]

  18. My opinion of 90%, leaves a 10% probability that BAU will not lead to disastrous climate change. This 10% comes from roughly two sources:

    1. There remains a large uncertainty on both the radiative impact of CO2, and other GHGs, and the climate sensitivity. If we were very lucky, and both of these come in at the low end of present estimated ranges, then BAU wouldn’t have particularly catastrophic effects.

    2. It is possible that a particular piece of technological innovation will suddenly emerge that will make the problem of GHGs go away without us having to do anything purposeful.

  19. flakmeister,
    Also a former experimental particle physicist–from the early Tevatron days.

    It used to be that people recognized that while one was entitled to an opinion, they were not entitled to make up facts. The Paulistas (as well as the Karl Rove disciples) seem to have utterly rejected this distinction. I wonder if they realize how pathetic it makes their political philosophy look when they must reject physical reality to give it a semblance of validity. While I suppose there is hope that rational thought and evidence might prevail eventually, many of these folks simply refuse to admit that anthropogenic climate change is possible, and if you’re Prior in Bayes’ theorem is zero for an event, it will remain zero regardless of the evidence.

    • Debating Libertarians for the past while has certainly reinforced the evidence for double-wish-think becoming more and more prevalent….
      Never let facts get in the way of Ideology as I see it…. It is only through very hard work will we “Rationalistas” prevail. Sites like this one are so important in that they insure non-specialists are up to date as possible with Climate Science developments. Arguing with the a$$hats would be even more difficult….


      PS In my youth I worked on expts. at SLAC, BNL, FNAL and CERN….

  20. Whether wisely or from blissful ignorance, Tamino did well not to engage the recent ‘Tisdale Takes On Tamino’ fiasco at WUWT.

    Skimming it quickly: Motivated to avenge past suggestions that he is statistically incompetent, Bob Tisdale proves them true beyond doubt. In comments he falls back on the defense that the non-statistical parts of his long post still make sense. Fan base cannot follow this but remains confident he is right.

  21. India and Pakistan have already exchanged fire and had troops killed over which side owns a glacier. China also wants the Siachen glacier region. All three have nukes. I don’t put a mistakenly optimistic first strike past any one of them.

    • Neither did Gwynn Dyer–and he earned a doctorate in military history (which he taught at Sandhurst), and has interviewed high-ranking military and political officials from many nations including all the great powers. His “Climate Wars” includes among its many unsettling scenarios a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, motivated primarily by “water rivalry.” My review summary is here:

  22. As I said in the Epsilon thread, it seems that people have a very high threshold for “disaster”. Pakistan’s agriculture has been wiped out 2 years in a row, Does “disaster” need to be more melodramatic? more picturesque? local? A hungry Pakistan is an unstable Pakistan. Their plight is a terrible humanitarian and political disaster. And that kind of political instability is exactly one of the chief worries attendant on AGW.

    And it’s happening now.

    • Yes, it is happening now, and its a threat all right. But is it really due to global warming? Pielke jr argues convincingly that there is no rise in extreme weather events. A fortiori there cannot be any rise due to warming. In fact, Pielke argues that there is actually a fall in hurricanes. I am not at all sure that lowering carbon emissions is a cost effective way of avoiding crop failure in Pakistan. Though I am very convinced that if at all possible we should avoid them. Just perhaps choose more effective and direct methods.

      [Response: Pielke Jr. is wrong. Here is just one example. Too bad that when it came to his claims, skepticism deserted you.]

      • “I am not at all sure that lowering carbon emissions is a cost effective way of avoiding crop failure in Pakistan.”

        A simple hike in food prices toppled the governments of Egypt and Tunisia. Neither of which have no nuclear weapons. Pakistan does. How much would you pay to keep existing nukes out of the hands of genuine Islamic fundamentalists? How much did we pay to stem the possibility that Iraq might get them?

  23. Hansen and Sato on extreme temps. Both the mean and variance of the temp. distribution increases which leads to increases in extreme temps.

  24. You know what I love? I love the denialists who quote a probability to 3 significant figures when they aren’t basing their assessment on any data to begin with. I mean, what is the thought process that goes into that.

    “Hmm. If I say zero, it won’t look credible, and 1% is too high. 0.0000001? Hmm, that looks wrong. 0.001%. Better, but it looks arbitrary. How about 0.0039%. There. That’ll impress ’em.”

  25. Can anyone cast some light on the writings of Nasif Nahle. I can understand some of his ranting which are obviously bunkum but he appears to base most of his calculations on papers by Hottel and Leckner which deal with (I think) the absorption and emission spectrum in furnaces which he extrapolates to the atmosphere.
    I do not have the expertise to get to grips with his arguments.
    I have read a long to and fro between Nasif and De Witt Payne on science of doom although I’m inclined to think De Witt made more sense I couldn’t really understand Nasifs arguments. The papers by Hottel and Leckner are way over my head.

  26. Ken Fabian, Not sure what species you’ve been hanging with, but humans have an amazing ability to delude themselves. I am sure that many denialists have convinced themselves there is no real danger–that the scientists are wrong, or the new technology will save us.

    Humans are not just stupid–they’re creatively stupid.

  27. Jim Shewan,
    OK, near as I can tell, Nahle is an idiot who is confused by the name of the greenhouse effect. He’s a friggin’ biologist ferchrissake. Who cares what he thinks about climate?

  28. Tony O'Brien

    So much potential for something to come out of left field and catch us by surprise. Something so insignificant now, could become virtually uncontrollable. The unknown unknowns.

    But we are not even planning for the known, let alone the reasonably likely. Robert Repetto wrote a paper called “The Adaption Myth” So far it holds true. We seemed doomed to one failed post event adaption attempt after another.

    With so many Word War Two analogies, the one that seems most relevant is the defense on Singapore. The Japanese could not possibly come to Singapore via land. When that possibility was realised preparation was frowned upon because it would scare the population.

    So many problems we face, so much refusal to face any of the facts. While I may be too pessimistic, it does not mean the problems are not there. It is the level of utter denial that scares me most: that has me convinced our society will not adapt or even try to.

    • I actually think there’s more adaptation going on than you might think. It’s scattershot, and way below what’s needed, but much better than none. See, for example, Amy Seidl’s writing.

  29. I’ll define disasterous as >3K deaths from a single event that is generally conceded to be attributed to AGW within the next 30 years. My choice of the number of deaths is related to 9/11 given the magnitude of response to that event.


    • Well that would make the 03 Europe and ’10 Russian heatwaves significant events.

      So I think your ‘number of deaths’ signifier needs an adjunct. 9/11 and the tsunamis of Japan and 2004 in the Indian Ocean meet the requirement – as long as there are cameras to record and disseminate the horrors of the event. People really do need to ‘see it with my own eyes’ unfortunately. What ghastly
      kind of flood footage would convey the message that **this one** is entirely due to changing climate I dread to think.

    • Perceptions of Climate Change: The New Climate Dice (PDF). Hansen, Sato, Reudy.

      This hot extreme, which covered much less than 1% of Earth’s surface in the period of climatology [1951-1980], now typically covers about 10% of the land area. We conclude that extreme heat waves, such as that in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and Moscow in 2010, were “caused” by global warming, because their likelihood was negligible prior to the recent rapid global warming. We discuss practical implications of this substantial, growing climate change.

      Increase of extreme events in a warming world, Rahmstorf (2011).

      We estimate that climatic warming has increased the number of new global-mean temperature records expected in the last decade from 0.1 to 2.8. For July temperature in Moscow, we estimate that the local warming trend has increased the number of records expected in the past decade fivefold, which implies an approximate 80% probability that the 2010 July heat record would not have occurred without climate warming.

  30. oops, prior post was to the wrong thread, please ignore it here.

    • i always thought that la nina conditions caused extreme dry weather in the southern usa….

      • They do appear to do just that–I’m an Atlanta-area resident–but what is your point? Your comment is apparently a reply, but I can’t tell what you are replying to.

        Surely you are not suggesting that *only* El Nino is capable of inducing drought?

  31. I’m not sure how the ITER project is going, but I hope that nuclear fusion can turn this around.

    It would be nice (if somewhat utopian) to believe that a few hundred years from now, we would burn coal only to fine tune our climate.

    • I’m actually much more encouraged by the Polywell work, currently being funded by the US Navy. They did Ok with picking a relative winner with fission, after all…

  32. Sticking to strict numbers, the development of industrial societies have undoubtedly strongly *reduced* the number of casualties by natural disasters – the sheltering effects of better infrastructures, better medical aid, efficient and fast means of transportation, being much larger than the effect of the increase of natural disasters – whose growth and attribution to CC are actually hardly measurable. So IF CO2 reduction strategy would hamper the development of poor countries , the resulting effect is likely to be *negative*, at least up to some point. This the simple and understandable reason why developing countries do not accept to reduce their own CO2 production (only, at best, their carbon intensity, which is very different and does *not* imply a reduction of CO2 emissions). Again, as I said above, the question is to define a “less worse” path is a complicated one, because it requires to carefully estimate all costs and benefits of using/not using FF – I must say that I find most discussions on this issue are very crude and oversimplified.

    • “So IF CO2 reduction strategy would hamper the development of poor countries , the resulting effect is likely to be *negative*, at least up to some point.”

      The status of that conditional is, I think, the crux of where we’ve disagreed on this in the past. No point rehashing it at the moment–I, at least, don’t have anything new to add just now–but I’ll say that you’ve accurately encapsulated (IMO) one of the dynamics at play in the COP conferences over the years.

  33. A simple thought experiment at the “Science of Doom” demonstrates to me at least that Nahle talks bunkum regarding the so called “creation of energy” in the standard diagram of the global mean energy budget.
    However I’ve seen no explanation of what the papers by Hottel and subsequently Leckner really mean and is Nahle misrepresenting the papers or has he just got his wires crossed.
    Nahle is one of the latest “Great Cooling Hopes” for a lot of skeptics and merely calling him an idiot or a biologist is just oxygen for these people.
    I am sure it is frustrating and annoying in the extreme to have to continually debunk rediculous non science but I think scientists have for too long just shrugged their shoulders and dismissed iidiots as idiots and it may be a contributing cause of having the possibility of the US having a GW denier as president.

  34. Guys, it’s “disastrous.” No “e.”

  35. Bernard J.,
    I have often said that there are two types of demographers–the Malthusians and those who are bad at math. The arguments of the cornucopians all assume we are immune to the rules of population biology–a population nearing the maximum it’s environment will support can overshoot that maximum, sometimes considerably, and especially if there is a one-time influx of a limiting resource (e.g. petroleum, aquifer water…), but it will crash all the harder because of it. To be fair, the Ehrlichs have also ignored the potential for one-time windfalls, as well as their peril.

    As to the idea of growth, I am not as pessimistic as some. I believe that growth can occur without a constant influx of resources if we take into account technological innovation. Much of our improved standard of living is directly traceable to improved technology rather than increased consumption. Growth of the future will rely on constructs like Moore’s Law and Rosenfeld’s Law rather than increased extraction. What is needed is nothing less than a new industrial revolution–one in which both machines and their operators can be retrained as the product they make is improved.

    • Ray, thanks for your thoughts on growth. It’s a crucial question, and one that is still barely on the radar for even informed members of the public. I think that a lot of economic growth can occur in the realm of ‘software’ (using that term in an expansive, metaphoric sort of way.)

      But the whole question needs a ton of work.

      • The concept of decoupling GDP growth from emissions (or environmental damage) has beenthe holy grail of rational libertarians. But the evidence so far is pretty negative with the only hint at a decoupling ignoring the fact that the west has off-shored much of its environmental damage to the developing world (esp China, India).

        So my view is that the current free-market ideology is unsustainable. I think there are models that may be more sustainable and prof tim jackson produced an enouraging report for the UK govt’s sustainability commission called ‘Prosperity without Growth’ which is also a very readable book. Sadly, one of the first things our conservative govt did was scrap the SDC!

      • How far back do you have to go to reach an emissions level that equals 20% of the 1990 level?

    • I agree with improvement and in effect, lower carbon intensity for a given level of performance, and computers is a good example. Its real, its happened. But I can’t see this being enough to sustain current levels of consumption even of more efficient products.

      You would have to imagine malls heated and cooled more efficiently. Yes, but that much more? Down by 80%? Then the cars we drive in to them would have to be say 20% of current materials and fuel consumption. Then the stuff we buy would have to be 20%. I can’t see it happening, can anyone?

      If our goal is 20% of 1990 emissions, we must surely be talking rationing and closing down huge sections of industry. Not that I am objecting to that.

      • You know, when I grew up I could walk to a corner store in maybe 3 minutes. Our grocery store was a 15 minute walk, maybe a7-8 minute drive (because you had to go around to the railway crossing.) The absence of malls was not a terrible privation.

        We may well be able to organize things differently without simply ‘closing down huge sections of industry.’ (Though no doubt some industries will suffer, as others will prosper.)

  36. Richard Simons

    I have often been struck by the apparent naivity of many demographers when it comes to predicting future world populations, so I checked out the contents of degree programs in demography. It seems that there is emphasis on economics, anthropology and social studies, but essentially nothing on population ecology and resource availability and management. This might explain the existence of cornucopians.
    I am aware of the danger of thinking that experts in another area are missing the obvious, but when I see population projections that seem to ignore things like irrigation water and nutrient availability, oceanic acidification, global warming and so on I really wonder.

    Bernard J;
    I missed your comment at first, which expresses my feelings better than I could put them.

  37. JARCH,
    First, if developing countries rely on fossil fuels, they will merely be creating an infrastructure that will soon be obsolete and worthless even as they borrow momentary prosperity from their progeny.

    Fossil fuels are a one-time bonanza. If we do not develop an infrastructure based on renewables, then all we will have done is unleash a momentary orgy of consumption even as we decimated the planets ability to support our progeny.

    The risks climate change poses to developing nations, with their food insecurity and burgeoning populations are far greater evem than the risks they pose for us. Yes, I agree that the developed world should lead the way, but if we do not and rush off to oblivion, developing nations would be foolish to follow us.

    • Steve Metzler

      Well surmised. My gut feeling is that perhaps 1% of the world population (or less) appreciate these facts. Or maybe ‘inevitabilities’ is a better word. How long do you estimate it will be before enough people come on board to effect a change in the status quo?

      • Steve Metzler,
        It is not as if what I’ve said requires any great intelligence to fathom. Fossil fuels are finite. They will run out. When they do, if we don’t have something to replace them with, then civilization will have shot its bolt.

        The problem is not that any of the issues are particularly difficult to understand. Rather, I think that because the average person does not perceive an acceptable solution ready at hand, they choose also not to see the problem. So perhaps the solution does not require a critical mass of humanity. Perhaps it requires instead the right humans to develop a solution. As Steve Jobs said one time in dismissing the idea of focus groups, “How do people know what they want until we show it to them.”

        Now I will admit that life would be a whole helluva lot easier for the problem solvers if people would realize the need to buy time by cutting back on consumption. I will not, however, hold my breath.

        If you look at the crises we have faced in recent years:
        The Y2K bug–solved by a cadre of elite professionals, with the public so oblivious that they now claim it was a scam by Microsoft to sell new software.

        SARS–again, the pros solve the problem, while the general population pretends it’s not a problem

        Swine flu, polio, smallpox, antibiotic resistant TB, resistant malaria–all tackled or being tackled by a small elite while the public are comfortably oblivious. Why should we expect the solution to climate change to be any different.

        And if it can’t be solved by the pros? Well, life will persist even if we do not.

    • …If developing countries rely on fossil fuels, they will merely be creating an infrastructure that will soon be obsolete and worthless even as they borrow momentary prosperity from their progeny.

      Fossil fuels are a one-time bonanza. If we do not develop an infrastructure based on renewables, then all we will have done is unleash a momentary orgy of consumption even as we decimated the planet’s ability to support our progeny.

      The risks climate change poses to developing nations, with their food insecurity and burgeoning populations, are far greater even than the risks they pose for us.

      This should have been carved 20 years ago in front of the main doors of the United Nations headquarters.

  38. Jim Shewan,
    Doesn’t the fact that the inmates at WTFUWT, etc. are willing to blindly follow an idiot who tells them what they want to hear tell you all you need to know about prospects of bringing them around to the side of logic, reason and evidence?

    Nahle’s ideas are not only wrong, but laughably so. He is a clown who doesn’t get the joke. How much more pathetic are the followers motivated by their ideological prejudices to reject any evidence put in front of them?

  39. Tony O'Brien

    Ray Ladbury,
    Agree with everything you said except your certainty that the developed world will cope better. We have so much further to fall and as individuals are so divorced from our food production systems. The complexity of our economic system is a trap.

  40. This is off the topic of epsilon (well, almost), but I thought that I’d make another stab in the dark and predict the annual GISS land-and-sea mean January-December temperature for the next WMO-defined El Niño year…

    0.70 ± 0.10 degree celcius.

  41. Er, “…temperature anomaly…”!

  42. From the Friends of the Earth site:

    “If UK carbon dioxide emissions for the rest of the year continue to be 2.1 per cent higher than 2005, carbon dioxide emissions for 2006 will exceed 156 million tonnes,4.4 per cent higher than when Labour came to power in 1997. This would mean that UK carbon dioxide emissions would be just 3.3 per cent below 1990 levels. When Labour came to power they were 7.4 percent below 1990 levels. ”

    The target is 80% reductions from the 1990 level of 161 million tonnes by 2050. Is this really possible without massive changes to UK society and living and economy? Is that level of change what is really needed, and is it practical for the world as a whole?

    I mean, this is really radical. This really is WWII rationing levels of consumption.

  43. I mean, this is really radical. This really is WWII rationing levels of consumption.

    No, given the recalcitrance that humanity has thus far shown, it’s much worse than that, and this is something that both causes denialism of the science in political and business quarters, and stymies attempts to address the problem by those who do not deny it.

    At the top of this I mentioned a recent analysis of exactly this issue, an analysis that I was unable to locate. If anyone knows of the piece, this would be a good time to link.

  44. “I mean, this is really radical. This really is WWII rationing levels of consumption.”

    No it isn’t, that’s extraordinarily alarmist. In WWII the UK turned about 25% of its GDP to the war effort, we are talking about a fraction of that.

  45. “Is this really possible without massive changes to UK society and living and economy? Is that level of change what is really needed, and is it practical for the world as a whole?”

    My answers are: yes, yes and yes.

    The Stern report estimated a mitigation cost of (IIRC) about 5% of GDP, which is certainly significant, but is doable. In addition, renewables technologies are advancing very rapidly–especially in terms of costs. (That was the ‘good side’ of the Solyndra fiasco–it resulted in large part from Solyndra not being able to keep up with the declining prices of competitors/the PV marketplace.) That will help keep the disruption less than ‘massive.’

    The climate math says that, yes, we do need to achieve ‘massive’ reductions in GHGs. You can quibble around the edges by fussing with scenarios and climate sensitivity numbers, but at the end of the day there is no credible way around the need to seriously mitigate emissions. That’s what is so damnably ‘inconvenient’. . .

    Is it practical for the world? Yes, because the developing world has less invested in the old ways of doing business. Hence (for example) the Indian government’s 2009 goal to add 20 GW of solar generation capacity by 2020. . . which looks to be on-track, a couple of years in:

    It makes sense in part because the grid is so poor; adding distributed solar generation during the day improves reliability (most especially for the folks whose roofs hold panels!) The microlending concept has helped make this affordable–partly because when you have basically no access to electricity, a small amount is vastly better than none.

    • David B. Benson

      Wonderful! However, 20 GW of nameplate power at a capacity factor of around 20% is but 4 GWh per day. With over a billion people in India, that averages to less than 4 watt-hours per day per capita.

      • I think it’s more useful to think of it in terms of overall capacity rather than wh/day per capita since it’s hard to visualise the significance of that unless you know current consumption.

        4 GW turns out to be about 2% of current capacity. (FWIW, hydro is 21% and coal is 55%, according to Wikipedia.) So it is pretty small, but now we know it’s small relative to Indian consumption as well. :-)

        Interestingly, according to that Wikipedia article, India has transmission losses more than twice as high as the world average. “Loss reduction technologies, if adopted in India, can add about 30 GW of electrical power, while simultaneously reducing electricity cost and carbon footprint pollution per MWHr used.”

        Sounds like a winner.

      • All right, that was probably too curt. I’ll expand.

        First, why do you assume a capacity factor of 20% for solar? That’s a typical number for wind; in India the quality of the solar resource is very good indeed, as discussed out in the link above. And the demand for electricity is highest during the day (despite the attractiveness of having some electric lighting in the evening, which is also discussed in the article.) So while the capacity factor is clearly below 50% based upon the diurnal cycle, it’s better in effect due to its inherent (partial) correlation with the demand curve.

        Moreover, India’s capacity today is around 185 GW, and solar doesn’t even make the list of also-ran energy sources. So the proposed goal would take solar from around 0% to around 10% of total generation in ten years–well, really twelve since this goal was announced about two years ago–and does so affordably and reliably.

        This is nothing about which to be dismissive.

      • Looking for info on solar capacity factor, I find that numbers vary quite a bit; one source has PV in Arizona at 19%–obviously right in line with what David said. India’s numbers are probably better–maybe 25% or so?–but I didn’t find anything actually quantified.

        There’s an update, though; India’s now doubling down (really up, and not really double):

        Note that this does not include small-scale projects, which are both popular and institutionally supported. Note also that India projects that solar will hit “grid [cost] parity” with coal in 2018. (One recent Chinese study, BTW, projected that milestone for China to arrive in 2015.)

      • “Looking for info on solar capacity factor, I find that numbers vary quite a bit; one source has PV in Arizona at 19%–obviously right in line with what David said.”

        We need to be a bit careful with terminology here because there are two distinct things that could be referred to.

        The first is the percentage of incident radiation that is converted into electricity. For PV it varies greatly depending on what technology is used but for the commercial panels on the market today it’s about 20%. From memory, the best cells in the lab are running at about twice that but are much more expensive and are only of interest if area becomes a concern, which for PV I don’t believe it is. (Reason: detached houses already have enough roof area to generate over 100% of a household’s annual electricity needs in a sunny climate with existing technology. Since using the roof doesn’t actually take up any extra land, I think it’s more important how much it costs to install than what percentage of the roof is covered. If we simply covered all the equator-facing portions of all the roofs in sunny areas of the world we’d already make a big dent in fossil fuel electricity generation with existing technology.)

        We can ignore this meaning of “capacity factor” in this context because the “nameplate capacity” for solar is already taking it into account.

        The second is the average insolation an area receives per year. The Wikipedia article I linked to before had a link to this page, which states that the average insolation for India is between 1500-2000 sunshine hours per year, which is an average of 4.1-5.5 sunshine hours per day, or, purely by coincidence, also roughly 20%. This is taking into account night time, cloudy days, and possibly sun angle (i.e. the fact that a horizontal panel will receive less light per square metre at low sun angles). This is actually a bit lower than I expected for India but consistent with this page.

        I certainly wouldn’t be dismissive of solar in India, and I think PV has huge advantages for developing countries, but I think India could also do a lot better, which your second link effectively proves. I expect the planned capacity to be revised upwards several times before that date is reached.

        If you want to see really staggering numbers, look at the growth in wind power in China. They had 1.3 GW of nameplate capacity in 2005 and in 2007 they set a target of 30 GW by 2020. They exceeded their 2020 target less than three years later! Three years to install what they expected to spend the next 13 years installing. Right now they have 45 GW and they aim to hit 100 GW by the end of 2015. (Their biggest problem is actually getting the grid infrastructure to catch up with the pace of wind turbine installation.)

      • “If you want to see really staggering numbers, look at the growth in wind power in China.” I know; I’ve commented on this before, in disputing whether or not the end of the fossil fuel era will mean the fall of civilization, regardless of climate change.

      • David B. Benson

        Capacity factor is actual average production divided by nameplate: 20% is typical for California (other than out in the desert where it is 25%) and France. So I estimated that would be about right for India; it wasn’t a coincidence.

        India’s electirc grid needs lotsa work; maybe now they can afford it. In the nonce it is certainly the case that off-grid electricity is highly valuable. I simply pointed out that on a per capita basis not much is in the current plan.

        Whether on-grid or off-grid, the most valuable electricity appears to be in the early night — after the sun goes down, hmmm? So all off-grid generation I know about includes some battary or othr storage for this purpose; the cost of this adddition is not minor.

      • Jason and Kevin,
        Yes, the Chinese numbers on windpower are impressive, but can you trust the numbers? There is lots of incentive to exaggerate success from the village up to the National level. However, I suspect even the unadorned numbers are strong. Yet another area where China is leaving us coughing on their dust (though less literally, in this case).

      • Thanks for nailing that down, DB. It sounds like we’re actually pretty close on this; you’re emphasizing the caveats, I’m emphasizing that this is an incredible start. (Which I still think is the case–but then I, like many of us I suspect, am hungry for some good news. There’s little enough, most of the time.)

        And I’m happy to have learned a bit more.

      • Ray: “Yes, the Chinese numbers on windpower are impressive, but can you trust the numbers? There is lots of incentive to exaggerate success from the village up to the National level.”

        I suspect the numbers are accurate, simply because they actually highlight a bit of mismanagement on the part of the Chinese government. They underestimated how strongly the incentives they put in place would stimulate growth in wind power and were caught off-guard because they couldn’t actually connect the new wind farms to the grid as fast as they were being built. The build rate for 2011 seems to have dropped off a fair bit because of this.

        I have seen this in other places as well — a residential PV incentive scheme in Western Australia (feed-in tarriffs) had to be cancelled several years early (after just a year, if memory serves) because the response was much higher than expected and threatened to blow the budget. (Now they’ve gone too far the other way, dropping feed-in rates to just 0.07c/kWh while they charge us 0.20c/kWh for electricity that they provide to us. Since there’s a separate “supply charge” in the power bill that is meant to cover infrastructure I think the retail rate should match the feed-in rate.)

        The federal scheme also had to be scaled back for the same reasons.

        What this tells me is that renewables are actually very close to price competitive already and people need very little incentive to jump on this bandwagon in a big way. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in getting a cheque from the power company rather than a bill, and feeling like you’re saving the planet at the same time is just a bonus.

        As an aside, there are also some interesting practical solutions to wind’s intermittency that are actually being used that don’t require big investments. Here’s an example:

        We have a number of small towns that are too isolated to have grid connections and too small for the more efficient power generation systems, so they use diesel that has to be trucked in by road.

        The power company has developed “low load diesel” power generators that use very little fuel when not under load but can increase output more-or-less instantly and coupled them with small wind farms. The energy “storage” is in the form of diesel that has not been burnt that otherwise would be — 100% storage efficiency! (In fact, more than 100% when you take into account the trucking costs.) The wind farms effectively increase the efficiency of the diesel generators by 40-50%, and in this case the wind is competing against road-transported diesel power, not the much cheaper coal power.

      • Such wind-diesel systems are also finding some favor in remote Alaskan communities, I’ve read.

  46. And of course, we need to stop burning GHGs anyway, because the supply is declining–especially for oil. If you’ve got to stop eventually anyway, and there are big advantages to stopping sooner, then clearly making a effort to do so is at least well worth considering.

  47. Michel, I think what you are ignoring is that–as Kevin said–there is no choice but to move away from fossil fuels. We’re running out. The choice is whether we do so deliberately, in an ordered way, while developing new sources of energy, or do we simply wait for the thud when we hit bottom.

    You will note that I said fossil fuels should reflect their full cost–including to the environment. That will require taxes or some other mechanism, and this could be used to fund energy development. I don’t even buy that it would necessarily reduce standards of living. Higher energy costs will put a premium on efficiency, on local production and on innovation. The first saves money. The second brings production home from the dark satanic mills of China, and the third promotes economic growth by introducing new discoveries and inventions. I really do think fossil fuels have allowed developed countries to become fat, lazy and complacent. Forcing some change could benefit us–and it will certainly improve the world our progeny live in.

    As to conservation, I noted with interest the avalanche that cut power from hydroelectric plants to Juneau, Alaska. Suddenly, energy was expensive, and people cut their consumpion by over 30% in a period of a few weeks without any severe diminution in quality of life. Whatever we cut now, buys time for us to find solutions. With all the time we’ve already wasted, time is now worth more than gold.

  48. Stumbled across this — just an eyeballed comment about what looked to the writer like a 100-year cycle in CO2 from the Law Dome ice core; curious if anyone knows of other references to this idea.
    —- quote follows—
    “I was calculating historical rates of CO2 change, I ran though the 1000-year Law Dome record and saw this: Pre-1750 CO2 rates, based upon the Law Dome ice cores. There appears to be both a clear periodicity and a major perturbation in this record. I wonder why? [click for data source]!
    Not only does there appear to be a centennial-scale oscillation in the preindustrial CO2 accumulation rate, there is a clear perturbation around 1500-1700. Intriguingly, these dates roughly correspond to the start of the Little Ice Age. In fact, some have pointed to the decline in CO2 as measured by the Law Dome data as evidence for a speculative but intriguing explanation for the LIA: depopulation caused by the Black Death reversed land use trends, causing reforestation of agricultural land and removing carbon from the atmosphere. I am unfamiliar with the oscillation, however – if you know more about it, or would like to help me crunch these numbers more thoroughly, let me know ……”

    That’s from here, it’s an aside in a decent debunking — the author’s main post criticizing congressional testimony that tried to claim no problem from ocean acidification — at

    • The first spanish explorer [1500+/- ] of the amazon reported it to have a prosperous agricultural civilisation, [I’ve seen population estimates as high as 60m though generally they’re about a quarter of this] which collapsed shortly after leaving almost no trace, except for the ‘black earth’ areas of high fertility they created, more of which are being discovered all the time, as the forests [which soaked up the c02?]are destroyed.

  49. I’m not sure odds or odds ratios are appropriate for these predictions. (Risk ratios certainly aren’t.) We might model them like Hansen, Sato, and Ruedy have recently done (“Perceptions of climate change: The new climate dice”), trying to register them against familiar population models, and thereby derive these odds. Alas, I don’t think it’s clear how to deal with “5-sigma anomalies”. That could be because the events we are witnessing are unlikely, so the location estimate of these models should be shifted higher, or it could mean these are (becoming) bad models, including unwarranted impositions of independence and stationarity assumptions. I don’t at all disagree with Hansen, Sato, and Ruedy’s conclusion, that we are heading into dangerous terrain and really ought to turn around. I just don’t know how to convert their “…, 4-sigma, 5-sigma …” into a sensible odds statement.

    I like much better the approach of Rahmstorf and Coumou (PNAS, “Increase of extreme events in a warming world”) where the issues of non-stationarity and dependence are tackled head-on. They propose a stochastic model which can be enlisted to explain patterns of extreme excursions or “hurdles” as a function of various increasing trends. In short (read their paper for argument and ideas if the maths turn you off), with a long term stable background, new records become less and less likely, since it’s “harder” to exceed the record set previously with each one. If that pattern isn’t what’s seen — if records are broken on a regular basis, say — then the hypothesis of a long term stable background is of lower likelihood than one positing an upwards trend. What’s nice about this is that it acknowledges the tie between setting of records and the amount of time records have been kept, and it is agnostic about the form of statistical model.

    Of course, these are all retrospective assessments, and the fluids and mechanisms of the world can be a nonlinear place. Oceans, from what I’ve learned, are not likely to change quickly in their behavior. There’s a lot of inertia in the climate system which damps changes. But, given the lack of understanding of how quickly ice floes fracture, or the weather effects of suddenly lower albedo in polar climes, there may be nonlinear surprises in store.

    I won’t put a number on them, but their potential severity and irreversibility are large enough that I’m tempted to invoke the immortal characterizations of The Berenstain Bears, but won’t. Let’s just say we’re well into conducting this uncontrolled experiment, and the paths forward do not look good:

    Either way, there WILL be a reduction in the output of CO2, whether or not it’s on the other side of irreversibility. That will occur when the global economy crashes, crushed by the costs of having to deal with one national emergency after another, whether due to lack of water, too much water, displaced persons, or lack of electrical power.

  50. For fun, I offer this booklet from Heartland, which they were advertising in 2008. Those who have been reading Open Mind a while may detect a problem or so.

  51. David B. Benson

    JasonB | January 11, 2012 at 6:20 am — Buying from you at around 1/3rd of the price they sell to you is economically correct for several forms of power grid. [And I understand that there is a separate infrastructure charge.]

    Sorry, but your generation is only worth that little in comparison to the utilty’s own (schedulable) generators.

    • I looked into it a little more and I can see why a price of 7 c/kWh could be seen as economically “correct”, if there is such a concept — it’s in the ballpark for the average wholesale price of electricity from the generators. (The utility doesn’t have its own generators; there’s a generation market, a transmission & distribution provider, and retailers. The retailers are the ones paying the customer for their solar power.)

      However, for solar in particular, its peak output usually coincides with the highest prices on the market, and the wholesale prices during that time (at least for last month) were between 7 and 10 c/kWh — so from the electricity retailer’s point of view, the solar power is actually a pretty good deal if they’re paying a fixed price of 7 c.

      One thing the retailer can’t do anything about, however, is the fact that they’re effectively paying the owner of the solar panels the full retail price (including taxes, etc.) for any electricty that the owner generates that is less that the owner’s own consumption. If the power from the panels to the grid isn’t accounted for then that becomes “that is less that the owner’s own consumption at any particular point in time”, and if it is accounted for then that becomes “that is less that the owner’s own consumption over the billnig period” (or possibly less with smart metering) and you get to use the grid as an inexhaustable battery for free (well, apart from the infrastructure charge, of course, but you pay that anyway). In the latter case that justifies a bigger installation because it’s worthwhile generating excess power during the day and then drawing it back off the grid again during the night.

      • David B. Benson

        You are approaching the (better, a) correct answer. If your retialer pays between 7 and 10 c/Kwh during the sunny periods then power economics I use suggests you are receiving rather too much at 7 c/Kwh. In effect, oher ratepayers are subsidizing you to some extent.

      • I’m interested in knowing how you work out the “correct” answer.

        And it’s actually not the other ratepayers that are subsidising those that are using solar power in our case, it’s taxpayers in general. They’re also subsidising those using coal as well. The price paid by the end user isn’t actually enough to cover the power generation cost (most of it coal) plus the distribution cost plus the federal tax, let alone the retailer’s cost or margin. (Also note that actually I don’t have PV because the prime area on my roof is already occupied by a solar hot water system and has been for many years, which leaves me with average usage of about 11 kWh/day.)

        I believe the 7 c/kWh for solar was actually the price nominated by the utility to the government on the basis that it was what they could generate coal-fired electricity for. I just had my doubts that they had nominated a fair market value for electricity that actually reduces their reliance on more expensive peaking power generation. And once the carbon tax comes into effect in the middle of this year, that coal power is going to go up a fair bit more as well.

        So after years of subsidising electricity users in general through my taxes (and until a few years ago the price of electricity had been fixed at 12 c/kWh for a decade, with a massive shortfall being topped up by taxpayers) I’m quite happy to see the true cost of generation influencing the retail price (and in another year or two the retail price will be high enough that no more subsidies will be required). And I’ll make the point, once again, that that no matter what the utility thinks of it, there’s nothing it can do about PV offsetting a householder’s own consumption, which the utility effectively pays full retail for.

      • JasonB makes a good point: “…there’s nothing it can do about PV offsetting a householder’s own consumption, which the utility effectively pays full retail for.” There is a further implication here. With either “time of day” or “smart” metering, if the utility calculates things like mine (PG&E) does, you can use a lot more low value off-peak power than you generate at peak times and still break even on your bill. You will not actually be carbon neutral however (something to think about if carbon neutral is one of your goals).

      • David B. Benson

        JasonB — Working out a correct and ideally fair rate for residential solar PV is not straighforward. Of course with tazpayer susidies it doesn’t even have to be done rationally. I’ll attempt to sketch the major factors in what I consider to be a correct cost analysis.

        First of all, there is just the grid and all the eqipment hug on it. The division into retail, transmission and generation is a legal fiction which we can ignore; it remains the case that all expenses have to be met irrespective of that arbitrary division.

        The expenses are either fixed or variable with the amount of electricity provided. The fixed expenses are payments on capital invested b ut also fixed operations and maintenance costs (O&M). The variable expenses are mostly for fuel but also a very small portion for O&M which varies with use. Generators with very small variable expenses include wind, solar, hydro and nuclear as none consume fuel (for nuclear, the rods must be replaced periodically in any case so a fixed O&M cost). Generators with significant variable costs include coal and natgas burners. Again, all costs must be met on a quarterly or annual basis.

        Unschedulable generators incldue wind and solar. As these have very low variable cost such units are dispatched first (use it or lose it). But since the orginal energy source is intermittent (coudy ways for solar) for reliability there has to be a balancing agent, i.e., backup. The balancing agent’s fixed costs must be met even if the agent is rarely used. One way to do so is to charge very high rates for such services.

        SInce the utility has no choice but to accept excess electricity from residential solar PV the utility cannot afford to pay much for that since, in effect, the utility is also paying the fixed costs for the idle balancing agent. Then when the balancing agent is required to operate to maintain gird stabiity the fixed costs are (mostly) already covered and that electricity is then priced for (almost) only the variable costs of generation; this avoids electricity bills with spikes in the prices which is what most customers prefer.

        I haven’t mention all the details which tend to force up the prices which the utility must charge for and so also tend to force down the price the utility shoould pay for unscheduable electricity from a residential solar PV owner. Depending upon the exact nature of any particular grid the total result is approximately that electricity from a residential solar PV is worth about half of that from the utilty’s own generators.

        I hope that is at least moderately clear and answers (most of) your questions.

      • Gavin's Pussycat

        David, I think what you’re trying to say is that intermittent sources of power selling back to the grid can only save the fuel cost, not the installed capacity capital cost, of the fossil fuel power they replace. Right?

      • David B. Benson

        Gavin’s Pussycat — Yes, the capital plus fixed O&M of the balancving agent must be recovered in any case; only the variable costs (mostly for fuel) can be foregone when using solar PV. That is the simple version. Including all the minor factors ends up driving down the value of solar PV.

      • Thanks David. You might find this interesting if you haven’t already read it:

        Click to access 52978.pdf

        They make the point that if PV penetration exceeds just 10% in California then it will often need to be curtailed because it will be generating more power than can be used given the limited ability of traditional large thermal plants to reduce output (output range 50%-100% for coal, and fixed 100% for nuclear). (At lower penetration rates, up to 6%, PV is actually beneficial because it allows less usage of peaking power generators — at higher rates, however, it’s generating so much that baseload at minimum + wind + PV is greater than load.)

        However, adding solar thermal with heat storage to the mix actually increases the penetration ability of PV because the solar thermal plants have higher ramp rates and lower minimum outputs than traditional large thermal plants, so replacing traditional plants with these plants increases grid flexibility and its ability to accommodate wind and PV, to the extent that a total solar contribution in excess of 50% (PV + CSP) becomes viable.

        It’s not in the paper, but I can also see a special benefit for the US as well, if the whole country was interconnected — since the best solar sites are in the south west, but most of the population is in the east, the eastern part could take advantage of solar-generated power later into the afternoon and early evening even without storage than otherwise would be possible.

      • That last is a good observation. My impression is that the East-West connectivity right now is not great, though. (You are also making me wonder what progress is being made toward the grid upgrade that everyone says is needed, even without drastically increased penetration of renewables.)

      • David B. Benson

        Unfortunately not on the interlie losses must be figured in, but HVDC transmission is now in the range of 1–10 million $/km. In addition, a Poyry (Finalnd) study recently cluded that n-S interties made more sense for Europe that E-W ones. I suspect the same is true in the US.

        However, most (but not all) power engineers agree that more interties are desirable. Just don’t assume it’ll actualy solve all that many probems.

      • David, I think perhaps your first sentence got a bit glitched? At any rate, I don’t thoroughly understand it. Perhaps you’d care to expand?

        The E-W versus N-S question has been recurrent in the context of Canadian political and cultural debates–interestingly so, I think, in connection with your comment. Certainly the lines from Hydro Quebec run south! There’s some talk of exporting power from BC (something that’s been eschewed in the past) to the US Pacific Northwest as well.

        Yet the logic of a Western resource and an Eastern market, a la Jason’s last comment, seems to have something to recommend it.

      • David B. Benson

        JasonB — Unfortunately, NREL delivers a 403 (permission denied) when I attempt to access the pdf you linked. :-(

      • David B. Benson

        JasonB — I was able to use my search engine to obtain an accessible copy; read it tomorrow.

      • Hi David, do you have a link to the Pöyry report? I searched everywhere and couldn’t find anything more recent than this one.

        In any case, I think E-W interties are much less interesting for Europe than the US for a couple of reasons, the main one being that the areas of highest population density in Europe are at most one time zone away from the westernmost solar-generating areas, whereas the majority of the US population is concentrated in the eastern half, up to three time zones away from the best solar-generating areas.

        On the other hand, N-S connections would be especially attractive to Europe because it has great storage options in the north (the storage capacity of NORDEL + UCTE is 177 TWh, enough for more than a month of average consumption in EU + Norway combined!) while the solar resources are in the south.

        I also suspect that Europe is small enough that the weather is too highly correlated over much of it for E-W connections to solve that, whereas the US has much better opportunities for interconnections to average out the effects of weather in different areas. Europe will also be more heavily dependent on wind in a relatively small area than the US will be because the US has more solar opportunities and more geographically separated wind resources.

      • David B. Benson

        Kevin McKinney & JasonB — I’ll try again. First of all, determine the losses for a long HVDC line; not insignificant. Second, consider the cost and the lengthy delay in building such, the delays primarily due to right-of-way issues. I’ve seen studies from both the US and Europe suggesting considerable interties but the practicalities have to be figured in. I’m unconvinced that such would prove more economic than providing more local generation via NPPs.

        The Poyry report is entitled
        ANALYSING TECHNICAL CONSTRAINTS ON RENEWABLE GENERATION TO 2050, A report to the Committee on Climate Change, March 2011
        and might ber obtasinable from

        For the record, the is a BPA/BCHydro intrtie as energy is exchanged regularly in both directions; I don’t know what the net flow is, but the US has an international treaty obligation to provide a certain amount of free energy over that intertie in exchange for flood control services on the Upper Columbia River.

      • David B. Benson

        Kevin McKinney & JasonB — If you wish to expore these matters furthr, I recommend moving the discussion to Open Thread 20, the current one, on Braqve New Climate. There are ample resources there and these matters are not directly related to the statistics of climate.

      • Thanks, David. I probably should hang out more at BNC–so many websites, so little time. . .

      • David,

        I came across that Pöyry report during my searches but ignored it because it was a report on renewable energy for the UK and didn’t seem relevant. Can you point to the section you were referring to?

        Regarding E-W interconnection in the US, I’m certainly not the first to come up with the idea — e.g. see “Proposed Lines” on The technical challenges and legal obstacles don’t seem any more insurmountable than a major rollout of new nuclear would entail. There’s already a 1,980 km 6.4 GW link in China that has 7% transmission losses and took 2.5 years to build, and Brazil is expecting to complete a 2,500 km 3.15 GW link this year.

      • David B. Benson

        JasonB — Try section 6 and references therein. However, the study I was thinking of was another, probably earlier, report which I can no longer locate.

        Surprising as it may seem, even a 6 GW transmission line won’t do much. I have yet to see as much benefit as in simply building NPPs close to demand centers.

        In any case, my prior comment still stands. This subthread is becoming increasingly a difficult method of communication.

  52. Glenn Tamblyn


    Bob Tisdale has a post up at WTFUWT, accepting criticisms of his earlier posts (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa – and the devotees are loving him for it)

    Then he proceeds into some sort of long analysis of ENSO and how you and Stefan have it wrong.

    Looking forward to your response….

  53. Tamino…. (in case you are listening)

    I have been using FR2011 as a hammer to debate a few skeptics….I have to admit, it is a sledgehammer!

    A couple of questions:

    1) Can the data and technique be used to show a different warming trend in day-night delineated data?

    2) Have you ever made residual plots where one of the three exogenous factors was left out in turn?


  54. Flakmeister,
    I believe Tamino’s first effort used ENSO only, but that was over a year ago, so don’t quote me.

    “….Of course there’s no trend over the last couple thousand years. Because we haven’t been screwing up the climate until the industrial age. That’s the point.]…”

    I have a question for Tamino.

    If it were possible to take a random 100 year segment of the last couple thousand years, (if you had that instrumental data), what would you find?
    What would be the probability of finding a linear trend similar to gistemp? What is the probability of success? From the skeptical side, what is anti- epsilon?

    [Response: The dog is the weather.]

  56. Isotopious, well, look at the paleoclimate reconstructions. Even if you take into account uncertainties, the past 40 years have been unprecedented both in terms of warming magnitude and slope.

    If I had an opportunity to place a bet on the future of mankind at >20:1 odds, I wouldn’t take it.

  57. Tamino.
    How about using Arctic temperatures just as an exercise and see what you find. However, if you want to use a random segment more than 100 years, say 300 years, then increase sample size to 6000 years. If you want a short period of 60 years, then decrease the sample size accordingly.

    What is the average r squared value after repeating the process 50 times? Are there any interesting trends over 60, 100, 300 years ?

    In the instance that no trend is found, how many years does it take by shifting the period forward to get an r squared value compared to gistemp for that period? Is it more or less than the period in question?

    While this exercise proves very little as far as global change is concerned, it will give you some insight into whether the Arctic temperatures at present are anything out of the ordinary. I bet they are not.



  58. Here you go, Tamino.
    Just for fun, I spliced gistemp (64N – 90N) on to Greenland Ice Core data. Here is the first 160 years from present (2005) at 7 year resolution. Not accurate but accurate enough.


    The average r squared is 0.4 ….Seems there are plenty of warming and cooling events.
    There is no significant trend in r values, not for 6000 years anyway.

    Is GISP a good proxy for the entire planet. No. But you get the picture.

    [Response: You don’t get the picture.]

  59. Isotopious, It is not that there have not been warming and cooling events in the past. It is the speed and magnitude of the current event plus the fact that we have a complex global civilization of 7 billion people and growing that are dependent on a stable climate for survival. Need me to draw you a map?

    • It’s been drawn enough times already; he just won’t look.

      Particularly salient is the fact that we needn’t (and, properly, mustn’t) argue purely from a statistical perspective; as you and Tamino have both pointed out, there’s quite a bit of relevant physics to take into account.

  60. Interesting, WRT to past threads on disasters and on tornadic activity, is this item in Science Daily:

    First success in predicting conditions favoring the formation of tornadoes—and increased understanding, potentially including the vexing question of whether there is any link with a warming climate.

  61. First time comment, promoted by epsilon. I think the only thing that can stop disastrous climate change now [from agp] is some other disaster such as a massive volcanic eruption. I also think it’s imminent, specifically when the coast of north east greenland is ice free the warm ocean currents that now keep europe warm will hug that coast pass through the framm straight turn west between the pole and the north coast then circulate clockwise around the pole to bathe eastern siberia . Given the ‘right’ local weather conditions this could happen this coming year unless there’s a serious amount of ice mass accumulation soon.
    I’d be very happy to be wrong.
    Realistic moves by politicians to bring down emmisions, for me will be a sign it’s too late.

    • Off the top of my head, it seems unlikely that currents will be affected so directly or so rapidly by the sea ice (or lack thereof.) I think they push the ice more than the ice directs them. And that ‘left turn’ would be fighting both bathymetry and the Coriolis force:

      I will say, though, that I haven’t heard any confident predictions about just what *will* happen when we get that first ice-free September minimum.

      • I’m thinking that it’s the fresh[er] water ‘blanket’ and the bathymetry that squeezes the current out now, but when the dampening effect of the sea ice /-bergs has gone tidal forces will cause sufficient mixing for the warm currents to progress poleward, nearer the surface, held against the coast by the coriolis effect/force.

  62. While perusing the idiocy in the comments section on Yahoo News, I found myself wondering how denialists can still deny we are changing the climate when we have had nearly 40 years of simultaneous tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling. This is absolutely diagnostic of a greenhouse gas at work.

    This got me wondering: What are the pieces of evidence that make it impossible for you to doubt that we are warming the planet. Not that I think we can persuade most denialists regardless of the evidence we bring to bear, but…maybe there are a couple of reasonable people left out there.

    • Quite a few, actually. They just aren’t paying attention, what with being out of work, busy with kids, worrying about retirement, or distracted with celebrity media.

      Or whatever.

  63. Richard Simons

    In the late 60s, in an undergraduate crop physiology lecture we were shown the few years of Mauna Loa data then available and learnt about absorption spectra, etc. The lecturer considered that global warming would become apparent by the end of the century. Since then I don’t think I’ve ever really doubted that it was on the way although I have wondered about the impact of aerosols.

    For me, the major individual lines of evidence are the global temperature record, the loss of Arctic ice and the range extension of various species. One that many people here (Manitoba) are aware of is the shorter ice road season. Perhaps most convincing for me, however, is that it all fits together.

    • “….it all fits together.”

      Precisely. It really is the jigsaw effect.

      We haven’t finalised the position of every little, odd-shaped piece. We do know that the picture =is= the one on the box and not a random assortment of leftover bits from other puzzles. We might suspect that some of those bits of the boat in the foreground really belong with the same coloured shrub in the background. More work required there.

      But we’re perfectly entitled to get irritated. We’ve got 3500 pieces of a gigantic circular puzzle already placed – and the edge is p.e.r.f.e.c.t. We’ve got plenty of pieces yet to place, a few patchy areas and a couple of spots that might need reworking. And a neighbour pops their head around the door and suggests you’ve got it all wrong. Grrrrrr.

  64. David B. Benson

    Tamino — Whan you have the time and inclination I, for one, would apprecitate an analysis for the differences, appropraite adjusted of course, between the global (or northern hemisphere) land surface temperature and STT products. I understand there is a problem around 1950 or so but the last 20 years may also be worthy of some graphics, etc.

  65. Over on the epsilon thread some character who styles himself as Michael Moon said:

    Man is the animal who adapts our environment to ourselves. This possibility IS zero, and I do not understand why, with virtually no evidence whatsoever, you are all so eager to believe in disaster.

    It’s depressing to see how easily our species succumbs to false logic. At it’s very essence, Moon’s failing is that he doesn’t understand the difference between “can” and “will”.

    He certainly does not understand the “why” that underpins it all.

  66. Came across this, it’s about a year old, might be worth follow up for the statistical question involved; it’s topical in a number of ways. I don’t know what’s happened but the choice of baselines — how long methane is a forcing — is a question where physics and statistics may be entangled:

  67. In various posts on here looking at temp trends and trends vs noise, Tamino says that the modern era of global started in 1975. Can someone explain why that is?

    We are rude about people who pick 1998 and then say ‘look – no wraming since then’. So if we pick 1975 whilst explaiing graphs we need to have a justification for that year rather than another. I hope this is a place I can find enlightenment on this point.

    thank you.

    [Response: Here.]

  68. Roy Spencer has an interesting graph of radiative forcing which comes from data at the RCP Scenario data group which I guess is used for climate projections.

    An interesting point is that the forcing in 2010 (2.16 W/m2) was only just higher than the forcing in 2002 (2.15 W/m2), i.e. virtually no increase in 8 years. Of course, that outcome is very unlikely to happen again in the foreseeable future.

  69. I got to write about this–this morning shows another round of disastrous tornados to start off the 2012 storm season. Last year–April 5–straight-line winds (I heard, unofficially and perhaps unreliably that they were gusting to 60 mph) laid 60 or 65 feet of oak tree neatly into our bedroom; we were out of the house until December 20, and we’re still dealing with consequences. Last night I sat up and watched the front come through north Georgia, until I couldn’t stay awake any longer. I went to bed and hoped for the best; there’s yet another oak leaning over our bedroom, and not much money to do anything about it.

    This morning, I grabbed a coffee, turned on the TV, and found that North Georgia took some damage–Paulding county is going to need to repair their airport and a school, and quite a few homeowners there are going to be rebuilding housse totally destroyed–presuming they are insured, that is.

    But in Indiana there was a whole town said to be “blasted from the map,” and Kentucky had over 20 fatalities. 31 known deaths so far, nationwide, and I’d lay long odds that that will rise now that daylight is here and SAR and assessment teams are out. (And in passing, blessings on ’em, too!)

    I’m not aware of any science linking tornado frequency or severity to climate change. But we sure have had a mild winter, and this particular outbreak came about via the collision of a cold front and some especially warm and juicy air from the Gulf. And, as blogged here last year, the spring of 2011 was statistically quite anomalous for tornadic outbursts. Damn, how familiar this seems. I really hope that this year doesn’t bring a repeat of last.

    But maybe I’m just over-sensitized.

  70. Update, from USA today, which just happened to be the top hit:

    “The storm outbreak has the potential to be the USA’s largest ever recorded in March, Weather Channel severe storm expert Greg Forbes said. The Storm Prediction Center had received 99 reports of tornadoes from Friday across the central and southern USA. Ten tornadoes were reported on Saturday in Georgia and Florida.

    “Only days into the month, this is already the USA’s deadliest March for tornadoes since 1994, when 40 people were killed, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

    “The storm system was so strong and vast that as many as 34 million people were in the “high” or “moderate” risk categories for severe weather on Friday, says meteorologist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.”