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)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Roger Jr's Top Ten Opinions

I think my moratorium on RP Jr is going to end, so while we are on the subject of lists of ten, I decided to visit Roger's top ten list (more recently, also here) and respond briefly to his points:
1. There is no greenhouse gas signal in the economic or human toll record of disasters.

Arguably true, so far. It's a noisy signal, though Eli has an interesting counterargument. As with most historical arguments, of secondary importance.

2. The IPCC has dramatically underestimated the scale of the stabilization challenge.

I don't know what IPCC says about this, but I think it is true and a very important point that many people are absurdly confident about this being cheap and easy.

3. Geoengineering via stratospheric injection or marine cloud whitening is a bad idea.

I agree to the first, am undecided on the second, which may offer fine-grain controls and is immediately reversible. However, as a substitute for decarbonization it is not worth considering.

4. Air capture research is a very good idea.

Sure, though there is a sequestration problem that goes with it.

5. Adaptation is very important and not a trade off with mitigation.

Certainly. Does anyone dispute this one? It has a straw-man feel to me.

6. Current mitigation policies, at national and international levels, are inevitably doomed to fail.

I strongly disagree with the formulation. What succeeds or fails politically is within the capacity of humans to decide.

7. An alternative approach to mitigation from that of the FCCC has better prospects for success.

This is hopelessly vague.

8. Current technologies are not sufficient to reach mitigation goals.

I strongly disagree. Again it is a matter of will. But I agree it won't be easy.

9. In their political enthusiasm, some leading scientists have behaved badly.

This is marginal at worst. The circumstances in which we find ourselves are unprecedented. The right behavior is not always easy to know. I know of nothing that any climate scientist has done that is worth raising to the level of a major public issue. The recent supposed scandals have been a malicious distraction and refer to no important issues of substance whatsoever.

10. Leading scientific assessments have botched major issues (like disasters).

Roger's historical disaster thing isn't a major issue in my opinion, so that's hardly a good example. I don't know of major issues that have been botched, and I don't know that the fact that Roger's own position is not taken as consensus in IPCC is dispositive. Almost everything is liable to dispute; the main thing is to get the right level of risk represented.

Odd. He presented his points sorted by the ones I would agree with first and the ones I would dislike second. What are the odds of that? (2 * 5/10 * 4/9 * 3/8 * 2/7 * 1/6 = 0.4% Weird.)

Anyway, I'm having trouble extracting a coherent position from all of this. The reader is invited to compare this list with my summary of my position which I think tells a story and describes a coherent and consistent point of view.

18 comments:

Dan Olner said...

Hadn't read your point of view in a nutshell before - awesome. It's a while back now - would it remain pretty much the same if you re-wrote it today?

ourchangingclimate said...

My markedly more wordy reply to Roger's points is here: http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/comment-on-pielke-jr/

Esp on point 9 I had some beef with Roger's (very implicit) take.

Bart

Vinny Burgoo said...

Re 10, how can the disaster thing not be a major issue? An increase in extreme weather events is near the top of just about every list of climate-change impacts. If it doesn't belong there then that's a big deal.

Two things can justify its inclusion: if the historical records shows a rising trend in disasters (RPJ says they don't) and if computer projections show a rising trend. You say that historical records are of secondary importance, but the computer projections are still very wobbly at scales relevant to disaster-modelling (even the famous wetter-gets-wetter-and-drier-gets-drier meme is starting to crumble) so surely we should look for corroborating evidence wherever it might be found - and where better than in what has actually happened?

We've already had about a third of the warming expected by 2100. How far along the line would we have to be for you to take the historical record more seriously? Let's say it's 2080 and we've had three-quarters of the projected global mean temperature rise (or half of it or three times): would that be enough?

VB

NewYork said...

"9. In their political enthusiasm, some leading scientists have behaved badly."

Maybe he's talking about some of the folks at the Heartland conference, in which case he'd be right.

Michael Tobis said...

Dan, I remain pleased with my "nutshell" document and wouldn't retract anything. There are some new things I intend to add.

Steve Bloom said...

9 can only be a reference to Klotzbach et al. RP Jr. is nothing if not humble.

manuel "moe" g said...

Thanks Bart/ourchangingclimate for the link.

Special thanks for your quoting of David Keith:

"However when people and the political community hear technical people say “can’t be done” they assume we mean that technically can’t be done and that is untrue and destructive.
It’s destructive because it hides the central moral choice: we could cut emissions if we want to, we could have started decades ago when the scientific warnings about climate change were first raised, but we decided not to. It was a choice, implicit or not. A choice that, in effect, we cared more about current consumption than we did about preserving our grandchildren’s chances to enjoy a climate like the one in which our civilization developed."

Where do I agree with RPJr's list, and the viewpoint of the very-very-balanced never-dare-call-us-deniers boys and girls? The most I would grant to RPJr, Fuller, et al. is that the lack of political will is as least as important as the science. (I will not grant any more, because their behavior is consistent with a mania to provide intellectual cover for the powerful who refuse to consider a change in consumption consistent with the mainstream scientific view of the risk of climate disruption and ocean acidification. The behavior consistent with mania (squealing for false balance and blubbering from hurt feelings from those naughty scientists) separates them from rational actors.)

These fellows cannot help but telegraph their moves, and, reading the above from RPJr, we can infer that in the near future morality and moral consequence will completely vanish from scope of their analysis. It is a three-legged stool - science, morality, policy - and it is sufficient (and efficient) to attack a single leg to compromise the whole. Their arguments (along with Kloor and Curry), now we are in the post-email-hacking phase, will suddenly be devoid of moral language, and they will open up the waterworks with Glenn-Beck-like whaling sniveling if any mainstream climate scientist dares to use moral language or draw out moral imperatives.

RPJr has already practiced with the term "stealth advocacy" for any climate scientist who has not suffered frontal lobe damage - in other words, for any scientists who is a whole human and cannot resist finding out the consequences of common moral imperatives (that we human individuals owe the future of the same quality (if not quantity) that we owe to the past that born us), and acting accordingly.

manuel "moe" g said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Tobis said...

Joe Romm, via email:

Note Pielke uses the clever phrasing "There is no greenhouse gas signal in the economic or human toll record of disasters."

There is a climate signal.

Pielke in Nature: “Clearly, since 1970 climate change … has shaped the disaster loss record.”
http://climateprogress.org/2010/01/26/ipcc-scienceclimate-change-is-the-single-greatest-risk-facing-the-insurance-industry

Climate change is a fact, and it is almost entirely made by man. It is jointly responsible for the rise in severe weather-related natural disasters, since the weather machine is “running in top gear”. The figures speak for themselves: according to data gathered by Munich Re, weather-related natural catastrophes have produced US$ 1,600bn in total losses since 1980, and climate change is definitely a significant contributing factor. We assume that the annual loss amount attributable to climate change is already in the low double-digit billion euro range. And the figure is bound to rise dramatically in future.

Those are the words of the CEO of Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, in December.

Steve Bloom said...

Vinny, is the shell game Roger plays with the disaster statistics actually not clear to you?

Steve Bloom said...

Also:

"even the famous wetter-gets-wetter-and-drier-gets-drier meme is starting to crumble"

Source for that claim?

"We've already had about a third of the warming expected by 2100. How far along the line would we have to be for you to take the historical record more seriously? Let's say it's 2080 and we've had three-quarters of the projected global mean temperature rise (or half of it or three times): would that be enough?"

I know you've been exposed many times to the obvious concept that the effects of climate change lag the forcings considerably. Why pretend otherwise?

Michael Tobis said...

Vinny: "how can the disaster thing not be a major issue? An increase in extreme weather events is near the top of just about every list of climate-change impacts. If it doesn't belong there then that's a big deal"

The signal is just emerging from the noise, and this is a particularly noisy component of the signal.

The future isn't obtained by extrapolating. The historical record is somewhat useful in testing theory, but not as useful as it might be because it wasn;t collected for the purpose of detecting climate change. So all we can say is that the expectations are not falsified.

It's another case of simply assuming that climatologists are idiots. If claims were being made that are already falsified by observations at the time they are made, they wouldn't be very plausible claims, would they?

So the severe event record at least arguably doesn't tell us anything one way or the other yet. As I understand it the evidence is leaning toward increasing severity of certain sorts of events but isn't absolutely compelling. That's all; it's not really a front burner question because that's about what would have been expected at this stage.

AK said...

"4. Air capture research is a very good idea.

Sure, though there is a sequestration problem that goes with it.


I just don't get this. It depends entirely on how you do the capture. If you do it biologically, then carbonize, the resulting charcoal can be sunk in deep, anoxic trenches. OK, some of the piles might overlay some abyssal life forms, but with care the dumping piles can be positioned so they preserve continuity and take only a small proportion of any ecozone.

My favorite at the moment is GM sphagnum moss, grown in floating artificial bogs offshore from some major rivers (where fresh water can be supplied from the river).

OTOH, similar floating bogs interspersed with Concentrating Solar power plants could achieve some real synergy: waste heat from power generation could directly drive ocean-cooled distillation plants, with the water dumped directly into the floating bogs.

If you cover the bogs with pressurized domes, which would provide storm protection as well as isolation from windblown spores and seeds, you could probably artificially increase the pCO2 and pCO2/pO2 ratio by an order of magnitude or two, substantially improving the energy efficiency of sunlight capture.

If you use solar heat (waste or otherwise) to drive the carbonization, the flammable gasses evolved could probably be fractionated, shipped, and sold as fuel.

There are boundless opportunities for synergies there, and the tech required would probably need only minor refinements beyond off-the-shelf.

Steve Bloom said...

"If you do it biologically, then carbonize, the resulting charcoal can be sunk in deep, anoxic trenches."

Et voila, coal! (h/t Jim Hansen)

Steve Bloom said...

NPR ATC had something topical today, pointing out that expansion of official flood zones into new areas looks to be a financial disaster for those newly required to buy flood insurance. Of course this won't involve insurance losses as such, so RP Jr. can ignore them completely.

Vinny Burgoo said...

Steve Bloom: Vinny, is the shell game Roger plays with the disaster statistics actually not clear to you?

No, it isn't. Please explain.

I confess that I have taken his criticisms of the sanctioned scientific consensus on the trend in extreme weather events largely on trust. In my defence, I once had a close look at how the European Commission's environmental directorate uses disaster statistics from CRED's EM-DAT database to justify imposing carbon this, that and the other on EU citizens: a totally shameless abuse of statistics.

But put me out of my ignorance, please. How does Roger play games with the statistics?

Re my 'even the famous wetter-gets-wetter-and-drier-gets-drier meme is starting to crumble', see 'Global Warming Pattern Formation: Sea Surface Temperature and Rainfall' by Xie et al.

VB

Vinny Burgoo said...

MT: It's another case of simply assuming that climatologists are idiots.

What does that mean? Which case and whose assumptions?

Second point: That a signal has yet to emerge from the historical record is no reason to relegate the historical record to the second division.

Third: Thanks for responding to a layman's comments but an answer would be even better. How can the disaster thing not be a major issue?

Steve Bloom said...

Vinny, on the first point, I think it's sufficient to note the rather loose relationship between extreme events, disasters and insurance losses due to disasters. The latter is a very fuzzy proxy for the others.

Re Xie et al. (pdf), I think you're confusing the specific with the general. That the tropics will get wetter and the subtropics drier as warming proceeds isn't challenged by the paper. Rather, the authors find that this trend has more spatial variability than previously modeled.