It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Friday, April 4, 2008

Inuit Word for "Red Herring"

Well, Andrew Revkin rubs me the wrong way once again with his overblown mea culpa about whether there is or is not an Inuit word for "robin".

I'm a bit tired of people making mountains out of molehills. I understand why Andy felt compelled to take this up, but I would rather he had done so in passing rather than making a whole feature out of it. This misdirects our attentions.

Perhaps there is some overlap of the vast natural range of the robin and the vast historical territory of the Inuit. There is little doubt that the range of northern hemisphere temperate species is moving northward, though, and so the overlap must be increasing, and more dramatically the further north one goes.

Accordingly, some people are seeing robins who have never seen them before and don't have a name for them. The contrary position isn't even plausible.

If Knappenberger and Michaels want to argue that species ranges aren't shifting northward they should do so. Shooting down anecdotes with counter-anecdotes doesn't advance understanding.

Suppose we stipulate that *some* Inuit have a word for robin and some don't.

Suppose, for a minute, we stop yelling at each other about imaginary yes/no questions and try to find questions that are more suited for science than for a courtroom. Among the most notable is this: what is the maximum peak concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere that doesn't carry so much risk that we need to avoid it at all costs.

There must be such a number; 100% CO2 for instance, would be too much for anyone who doesn't favor instant universal asphyxiation. Most of us think the number is on this side of 550 ppm, about double the natural background. I for one favor 450 as a target; even that carries substantial risk.

Before I see much consideration of the vague discontents of the likes of Mr Knappenberger and/or Mr Michaels, I'd like to see them advance such a number and defend it.

We absolutely have to drop the idiotic idea that carbon is innocent until proven guilty. This is not a trial at law. This is a huge decision with many tradeoffs, and people need to take a position on a spectrum. Both "innocent" and "guilty" are entirely inappropriate and destructive positions.

Please stop "taking sides" and please ***pick a number***.


Michael Tobis said...

David Benson pipes up on the wrong thread that he takes the number to be 315, fully admitting that it's behind us already.

I think that's a different number: the final value. I'm asking what the peak should be.

I don't think people should get away with continued sniping at the science without expressing an opinion on the number. It's not that it should be illegal, it should just be recognized as of very limited utility. We need to decide on a number, no matter how brilliant or otherwise the field of climatology might be. It has always struck me that the less you respect the field, the more stringent your preferred policy response should be.

David B. Benson said...

Yes, on the thread just below this one. Apologies for the wrong location.

Naturally I should prefer the peak to be the current value: 385. Alas, that won't happen. I estimate that with a tremendous effort, the peak can be held to 450.

Unfortunately, not less.

EliRabett said...

As with many things there is not a single number. Eli likes 5, a good compromise between 0 and 9, a bit on the optimistic side tho.

However, to the point at hand. Probably we are committed to ~500 ppm no matter what. That is dangerous, but to an extent manageable without collapse. OTOH a good long term target would be 350-400.

Eli thinks that the idea of a target is however, the wrong thing for this time and place, because the Pielke's of the World will and have argued that anything done to reach that target will not have any effect. Eli presumes the Rogers are telling their kids to lay back and enjoy it.

Rather than a target amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases, let us target rates of change. Let us commit to first decreasing the rate of change by say half in ten years, then half of that in ten, and reaching zero increas by 2040 or so. Ambitious goals.

Michael Tobis said...

Eli, probably those constraints amount to a peak number pretty narrowly. I do think the virtue of simplicity might have some value here.

EliRabett said...

No, because a goal in 2040 is meaningless, we need a goal for next year, for the next five years, ten years etc. Otherwise the peanut just gets pushed down the road. Since we both know that the mixing ratio will increase until we decrease emissions greatly, we need goals which can show progress.