The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

More Big Picture Futurism

here's Roger Pielke Jr :

(Update: Eli argues in the comments that this quote sort of slyly backs into Pielke's actual position, rather than advocating it. Note the telltale "when" and the "inevitably" in "when these sorts of approaches inevitably fail", and this LATimes article wherein he describes himself as a "non-skeptic heretic".)
Unrestrained emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will no doubt have effects on the global earth system, including the oceans, atmosphere, and land surface. There is a chance that these effects could be relatively benign, but there is also a chance that the effects could be quite severe. I personally lean toward the latter view, ...

I am certainly not opposed to efforts to put a price on carbon, but at the same time we also need to be fully aware of the realities of politics which suggest that putting a price on carbon may not actually occur or, if it does occur, may be implemented at a meaningless level in small parts of the global economy. Therefore, we’d better be ready with another strategy when these sorts of approaches inevitably fail. ...

The flip side to making carbon pricier is to make carbon-free energy sources relatively cheaper.
and here's an interview with Jeffrey Sachs who seems to get much more attention in the UK than he does on this side of the pond, for some reason:
And even if these technologies do exist, so do intractable barriers at every level from between different disciplines of science and squabbling government departments on the minute scale to, on the global level, a system of multilateral institutions which is at its lowest ever ebb - not to mention the war on terror which is "a disastrous distraction from real problems".

"It's an American habit," he concludes. "We seem to move from defining an enemy to defining an enemy. The idea of my book is that we all have common interests and common problems, and it's trying to surmount them for future generations."

3 comments:

EliRabett said...

Note the slippery

"There is a chance that these effects could be relatively benign, but there is also a chance that the effects could be quite severe. I personally lean toward the latter view, ..."
Followed by the slide into well what will happen won't be SO bad so we can do "moderate" nothings. This is an old tactic used by Pielke's teachers.

tidal said...

There is an interesting - almost throwaway - tidbit in Pielke's commentary w.r.t. "air capture" (a topic that I see Michael Schellenberger of Breakthrough Inst. is also raising at Climate Progress): Pielke: "In addition, the costs of air capture provide a hard estimate of the true costs of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and thus provide a valuable baseline for evaluating other approaches based on social engineering."

They seem to have rather high hopes for air capture - despite the peculiar idea of focussing CO2 capture on 382ppm ambient air, instead of from highly-concentrated "at source" production sites. I don't share that enthusiasm - nevertheless:

Maybe you call them on this? I.e. if, as he says, the "hard estimate of the true costs of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere" is the all-in cost of air removal (i.e. including transport and long-term storage), then perchance this is the price per ton of CO2 that Pielke, et al., would "recommend" for his point 2: "make carbon emissions pricier"?

Schellenberger is claiming that the cost of air capture may approach $30 - $50/ton CO2 (not including storage, etc.) sometime in the future. I think that beggars belief, but nonetheless, you have the start of some number that they are claiming is a "hard estimate of true costs".

Instead of imposing a cost based on estimated externalities, you would impose a baseline CO2 emissions cost representing the expense of reversing the imposed quantity of your emissions (which would work for vehicles as well, when you think about it). Want to emit CO2? Go ahead. But you have to pay for its equivalent removal from air. Cheaper to avoid emissions by point-capture of CO2, or other methods? Fine, avoid the emissions and avoid the cost of subsequent removal...

iirc, the CURRENT estimated cost of air removal is far higher - perhaps $130/ton or more just for "capture" - so they might try to use the "breakthrough" escape and claim that it makes no sense to impose costs today that are "sure to be" lower in the future. Whatever - at least it begins a concrete dialogue and doesn't allow them to simply "imagine" future breakthrough technologies and price points...

Anyway, I am just thinking out loud here. But it just seems to me that Pielke has just inadvertently published the price he thinks we should impose on carbon emissions, and he/they should be held to it. If not, they are being egregiously inconsistent... again ;}

Curious if any others were struck by this...

EliRabett said...

tidal, great minds think alike, but Eli does not necessarily like the conclusions he is driven to in this matter, they are too dark.