"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Friday, August 13, 2010

Kloor Calls Me a Hypocrite

I've got a bit of a soap opera on my hands here. I'd appreciate some advice.

I suggested to Keith Kloor (#46) that he ought to mention the bizarre anomalies of 2010 on his blog:
Keith, it is hard for me to take this enterprise seriously if you don’t find space for some talk about what is happening in Russia, Pakistan, China and the eastern US this summer.

The situation on the ground has changed in the last couple of months, folks. You’d think that might have some effect on the argument.
Keith deflects this (#48) by making a similar challenge to me:
No, let’s talk about adaptation. Michael (46) writes:

“The situation on the ground has changed in the last couple of months, folks. You’d think that might have some effect on the argument.”

Well, for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right: that these events you refer to have a AGW fingerprint. Well, realistically, you must know that this doesn’t change the other facts on the ground: that fossil fuels will still be the dominant source of the world’s energy for the foreseable future, even if tomorrow China, India, Russia and the U.S. all agreed to curtail their carbon emissions.

So where does that leave you with your high-minded concerns for the people of Pakistan, Russia, etc? Surely you’ll start arguing forcefully that we should start to pay equal attention to adaptation, in order to mitigate future suffering that is bound to come from more AGW-related floods, fires, and heatwaves?

Can I expect this to have some effect on your argument? Can I expect you to talk more about adaptation?
I responded to his request (#59) as follows:
Regarding adaptation, a few points.

Adaptation is crucial. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

As Eli says, “no adaptation without mitigation”. Without mitigation, the size of the disruption we are adapting to grows without any meaningful bound. If we are determined to get to the worst case, it will be pretty much the worst.

Adaptation is relatively local and relatively short-term. Mitigation is global and long-term. So we don’t need to talk about century time scales for adaptation, nor do we need to talk about global policy alignment and international governance.

A given level of climate change will have a larger effect in poorly governed countries than in well-run ones. Russia is as rich as, say, Chile, which responded very effectively to a recent (albeit nonanthropogenic) disaster. Russia has little tradition of effective local governance, and a long history of environmental neglect, and it is showing. I don’t think anybody is saying otherwise.

Wealthy countries are not immune, especially if they neglect infrastructure as if they couldn’t afford it. (That’s the real lesson of the arguably entirely natural Katrina, isn’t it?) See recent comments by the governor of Iowa “This is the new normal”.

While some polities are better at optimizing good times and others are better at preparing for bad times and others are good for nothing at all, there is plenty of precedent for adaptation at the regional scale. We know, intellectually and practically, how to do it, even if some of us chose not to.

We have no comparable skills in making global decisions. Mitigation, after all, is just adaptation writ large; adaptation that won’t work unless everybody cooperates. So adaptation is just ordinary, local politics and should be discussed in locally focussed fora. In large countries like the US, or at the international aid level, there are perhaps some issues about cross-subsidies, but while important, they are not qualitatively dissimilar from disaster relief and infrastructure assistance issues in the past. Mitigation, however, presents new and urgent difficulties which require changes in how the whole world operates.

There is a cliche metaphor about adaptation without mitigation: deck chairs.

In short, adaptation and mitigation are not a tradeoff. They are two faces of the same coin. The longer mitigation is delayed, the more mitigation will cost and the more adaptation will cost. But most adaptation discussion needs to focus on particular regions and particular vulnerabilities.

None of this makes the present hemispheric meteorological configuration any less weird. This is, arguably, not “weather” in the ordinary sense. It should cause people to rethink their opinions.

I for one feel very differently about the situation now than I did a few weeks ago. A few weeks ago I thought “major impacts in the future are very likely”. Now I think “major impacts have very likely started”.
Really, I thought that was fair and responsive and pretty useful. So, since I responded (I thought reasonably and responsibly) to his challenge, did he respond to mine?

See for yourself. He responded with a top-level article, mostly about what I take to be some imaginary version of me, called The Ethical Hypocrites. He summarizes my response (he links to exactly the text quoted above) about mitigation thus:
Tobis countered with the typical zero-sum talking point, that mitigation (curbing carbon emissions) has to take precedence over adaptation, and that in any event, adaptation was largely a local matter.

This is the standard argument from climate advocates, who believe that encouraging talk about adaptation will undermine the urgency that should be paid to mitigation. Thus, the emphasis has to remain on mitigation, they argue.

But now that climate advocates such as Tobis are asserting that climate change has arrived with a vengeance, with tragic human consequences, I’m wondering: is it not irresponsible and unethical of them to play down the need for adaptation in order to keep the focus on mitigation?
Is that a fair summary?

Did I really "play down" the need for adaptation?

I'm happy to discuss any of the points here. I can imagine somebody thinking I am wrong about this, but I'd really like some insight into how someone would see what I said as hypocritical.

At first I thought Keith was being defensive, just trying to avoid the factual questions about 2010 as entering a new phase in climate change. But he seems bound and determined to accuse me of something now; that seems more than just ducking the question I asked him. I wonder what this is about.


Hank Roberts said...


KK is like the guy in the army who's always picking fights with his fellow soldiers as long as there's no actual enemy within reach. And his reach is short.

I'd urge all involved to look around for better opponents. Plenty of opportunities, instead of picking on the imperfections of those doing something positive, e.g.

Lou Grinzo said...

If you had indeed played down the importance of adaptation, then he would have a point. But you didn't so he doesn't.

I'm boggled by Keith's interpretation of your comments.

IMO, you have it exactly right. We do need both adaptation and mitigation, thanks to the horribly inconvenient timing of the effects triggered by already-emitted CO2. We've painted ourselves into an extremely tight and nasty corner, one that closes off many (most?) of the more attractive policy options.

David B. Benson said...

A little mitigation will remove the need for alota adaptation; indeed, adaptations to extreme heat are physiologically impossible. So some of Irrigated afforestation of the Sahara and Australian Outback to end global warming would more than pay for itself in reduced adapation and suffering. So would building lotsa NPPs to retire coal burners; here are some New Reactor Designs

Anonymous said...

I've run into similar.
The final reply from Kloor demonstrates that you were never really debating the topic with him - he heard what he wanted to hear.
Hopefully freak and once in a 1000 years events start to change political risk assessments in favour of both mitigation and adaption (I can't understand how Kloor can basically undermine mitigation and accept business-as-usual with adaption).

Scruffy Dan said...

It is beginning to feel like this is more than an honest misunderstanding.

When you start off by saying Adaptation is crucial, it is hard to understand how someone can claim that you downplay it.

Saying adaptation is crucial but not sufficient is not the same as saying mitigation precedence over adaptation.

In reality we need both. And you made that point clearly. Not sure how it got twisted around like that.

EliRabett said...

The simple answer is that the Pielkesphere perceives MT as a threat, a real honest broker, and is simply lying about him to tear him down.

One answer is to ignore them, the other to attack.

David B. Benson said...

Bizarre. Some minutes ago I submitted a comment (which included two links, nicely formatted). I even saw it as a comment. It has since disappeared.

Maybe earlier in the week the same thing happened here (or was it on James' Empty Blog?).

Tim Lambert said...

No it's not fair, but given Kloor's past conduct, it's surely no surprise.

Michael Tobis said...

It's Blogger's new spam filter being aggressive.

Anna Haynes said...

Expect baiting. Lots of clever baiting. An artwork of tied flies, crafted with care to elicit a particular statement.

In this case, perhaps, it's prospecting for responses bearing on "adaptation"-focused organizations like the Sierra Nevada Alliance -

"The Sierra Nevada Alliance Sierra Water & Climate Change Program is an ambitious effort to tap the rocket. If you tap a rocket when it first takes off, the course of the rocket is drastically changed with minimum effort.... we believe the next three years are our opportunity to tap the rocket of climate change and water issues. If we engage now, we have the best opportunity *****to ensure [that] natural resource protection is highly valued***** when planning how to **adapt** California's water delivery system and other resource management practices for climate change."

Wrong rocket, folks.

(or - to return to the flyfishing metaphor - I could be all wet.)

Anna Haynes said...

Michael & others, what's your view of an organization that gives climate "outreach" talks all over the region, talks which indicate that climate change will be manageable (nothing to get hysterical about), & that what we should be doing about it is personal-action stuff, community-action stuff, and "adapting" - but that gives short shrift(s) to building political will and to exercising it?

David B. Benson said...

Anna Haynes --- Outrageously wrong.

Need to promote massive sequestration by planting lots of trees, even where these have to be irrigated. Need to replace coal burners by modern nuclear power plants. Both are expensive, so tap into the bloated military budget.

One cannot physiologically adapt to extreme heat.

David B. Benson said...

Here is the other one:
New Reactor Designs

David B. Benson said...

Well, my orginal comments, #3, fianlly appeared somehow.

Steve Bloom said...

What Hank, Eli and Tim said.

Kloor see arguments for large-scale mitigation in the short term as reducing the room for the Lomborgian/Pielkean/Breakthroughian/Revkinian TechnoPony. He finds it depressing to consider the prospect that we'll have to struggle to find the resources for mitigation and adaptation even while those resources shrink. Well, I find it depressing, too, but not to the point of pretending it's not likely to happen that way and ignoring the early signs.

Hank Roberts said...

As Doug B. points out here:
verifying claims of mitigation is going to be very uncomfortable for industries and governments, which now say "trust us"; the ref. is to

dhogaza said...

Keith Kloor has refused to post this comment of mine (rejected in personal e-mail):

"dhogaza Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
August 14th, 2010 at 12:53 am
“Let’s go back and look at one of the comments in a previous thread that prompted this current post. He writes: “Adaptation is crucial. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient.”

In the next sentence, he says: “As Eli says, ‘no adaptation without mitigation.’”
What does that mean? Well, further down in the same comment, we have some elaboration: “There is a cliche metaphor about adaptation without mitigation: deck chairs.”
So, in full, I take Tobis to mean that adaptation is ultimately fruitless without mitigation. Fair enough?”

That’s accurate.
But in your top post, you say this:

Tobis countered with the typical zero-sum talking point, that mitigation (curbing carbon emissions) has to take precedence over adaptation”

Which, as Arthur Smith points out, is a misrepresentation of what Michael said. As your own quotes of Michael make clear.

MT is clear, and I agree: adaptation is not sufficient. We must mitigate.

Unless you think that the loss of the great temperate zone grain producing regions of central and eastern Europe, Russia, the US and Canada won’t cause hardship. There’s a reason everyone buys wheat from us lucky few, of course …

Adaptation, in this case, might involve starvation famines with world-wide implications."

He says I should post here (we're all hilterites here, or something)

dhogaza said...

Keith Kloor also refuses to post this:

"Meanwhile, as you continue to assert, AGW linked weather disaster is upon us. If this is the case, all I’m suggesting is that you and Romm and others that profess to care so deeply about humanity should start talking more about the urgent need for adaptation in some areas of the world."

Good grief. MT has answered you before. Yes, the dull-witted governments of the world will move forward with adaptation, and MT has said he has nothing to add to the argument that engineers etc are perfectly capable of doing (I’m extrapolating his “lack of expertise” comment to an assumption he is not a PE).

He has said, “this is not something I can add to”, as opposed to the big picture.

How difficult is English, if it’s your mother tongue?

And, your statement’s false, you’re still on the “uncertainty tells us we needn’t care” crap."

dhogaza said...

And for the hell of it (private e-mail)

On Aug 13, 2010, at 10:10 PM, keith kloor wrote:

Keith Kloor:

"I don't know why you bother. Aren't you supposed to be kicking back, enjoying the end of humanity?"


No, I'm like Tom Toles, saying I *should*, but refusing to give up.

Unlike you, who are wholeheartedly pushing for the end of humanity.


Keith Kloor is dangerous.

I agree with MT, though, that we seem to be experiencing a sea-change in on-the-ground evidence (actually I was feeling this last winter, with the effects of a relatively mild El Niño).

With La Niña on us for the next year or so, news won't be so startling, but each El Niño from here on in will be interesting.

dhogaza said...

I shouldn't, but I will, since Keith insists on polluting my inbox rather than approving my posts:

On Aug 13, 2010, at 10:10 PM, keith kloor wrote:

'I don't know why you bother. Aren't you supposed to be kicking back, enjoying the end of humanity?'

And you're, of course, kicking back enjoying your contribution to the potential end of humanity ..."

And it's true, That's what these supposed "honest broker" clones are doing. Sitting back, full of their sense of moral superiority, as Rome burns (well, Russia sweltering in this case).

Unknown said...

Well, well, I see that dhogoza took me up on my suggestion that he post his comments here. There must be at least ten more to come.

I also see that he published my email to him, which is fine. But in the spirit of fairness, let me reciprocate. Here's his response after I made my suggestion that he come over here:

"Probably a good idea.

On the one side, a scientist, who has been misrepresented by a deeply dishonest fuck like you.

On the other side, a deeply dishonest fuck like you.

BTW, the Russians are telling us that the heat wave in Russia is unprecedented in 1,000 years. Yet you're pretending that the jury's out."

Oh, and just for the hell of it, here's another gem that quickly followed that one:

"You have the reading comprehension of a three year old.

And are evil, on top of it."

dhogoza, thanks for keeping it real.

Michael Tobis said...

Well, y'all are really testing my moderation policies by quoting EACH OTHER'S excesses... I don't know what ad homs in private emails are for, really, except to give the other guy the chance to embarrass you.

I have squelched dhogaza in the past, but I guess I have to make an exception this time. Arrgh.

OK, you two, enough flame war. I want actual content or nothing. Even if you are just quoting the other guy's flames, it's off limits from here in.

And dhogaza, I'd like to especially commend to you the benefits of understatement. You don't get the ecstatic joy of letting off steam, but it's compensated by a delicious sense of smug superiority that can last for weeks if done right :-)

manuel moe g said...

It is a three-legged stool, and to attack a single leg is sufficient to compromise the stool.

The three legs are: morality, science, and policy.

To deny the science, post climate-gate, looks silly to the people who matter. As fossil fuels get more expensive and the rate of increase in price accelerates, anyway, it makes sense to tax them, above their higher price, for mitigation of the externalities. The option of cheap fossil fuels just doesn't exist anymore. (What a blessing something like "peak oil" happened around this time, or else we would be utterly doomed!)

So the last leg left to attack is morality, through some mumbo-jumbo moralistic mud-slinging argument: that if you attempt to preserve modern civilization for arbitrarily many generations, with fossil fuels correctly taxed, you will have less resources to lavish on today's poor. We would love to tax fossil fuels, but our hearts are just too darn big!

It is a ruse made clear by contemplating how little was "lavished" on yesterday's poor, during the time of cheap and plentiful fossil fuels. If those years were truly an Eden, and the milk of human compassion flowed even for the most forsaken, they might have an argument. But, with just a little contemplation, you can recognize them for the craven ghouls that they are. And who really is crying crocodile tears.

The adaptation argument is just lame. We could live as Canadian Native Americans, in the upper latitudes, and just let global warming translate into more grasses to fatten up the deer and rabbits we hunt with wooden arrows. And if we merrily tolerate a population crash of twice order of magnitude. You will never get any specifics about adaption out of them, because it is all too silly. All we get is some weird argument that MT is a hypocrite for not indulging time-wasting prattle about leather moccasins, or whatever groundbreaking thought on adaptation MT is immorally censoring.

The Pielkesphere's behavior is consistent with striving mightily to provide cover for those who would leave coal and other fossil fuels (but especially coal) under-taxed, so they can ducats today for the price of sickening risk of deprivation for tomorrow's generations. They sing for their supper. "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair. Those who provide cover for leaving fossil fuels under-taxed will find recompense. Anyway, I am not required to have perfect knowledge of the contents of their heads; it is sufficient to find a plausible model of behavior consistent with their habits of action.

MT's patience is incredible. And if KK is unwilling to post dhogaza's comments, I am unwilling to consider KK an authoritative source on full spectrum of thought on climate disruption. And if KK is just another slanted source, what is the attraction over other slanted sources? It is not mastery of the science, that is for sure. And for all the jibber-jabber of economics and political science we hear from KK and the rest of the Pielkesphere, why are they so quiet on past successes of climate stewardship, like the ban on CFCs, which had a substantial economic and political component? Why? Because that would suggest reasonable steps to walk towards a sensible taxation regime on fossil fuels. And their job depends on steering the conversation away from that conclusion.

manuel moe g said...

Har. Actually, if I received that kind of message, I would censored dhogaza too -- so I owe KK a bit of an apology.

I would buy dhogaza a six-pack, but only cans, no bottles - as punishment. And I want him to think long and hard about what he has done. ;-)

Marco said...

OK, I'll try a substantive response:
In my opinion, Keith takes the "no adaptation without mitigation" as "you're not allowed to adapt unless you also mitigate". AFAIK, both you and Eli all fully aware that we are already adapting. We do this, because we really have to, and because it is much easier (in particular policy wise, it's not necessarily easier economically).

I think what Keith does not realise is that adaptation very easily aggravates the problems (require even more adaptation ad infinitum) if you do not have mitigation also.

For example, he proposed to help developing countries develop their energy supply, so they get richer, so they can then easier adapt (I'm interpreting this a bit, so please do check Keith's comments on C-A-S and correct me if I am wrong).
Sounds logical to some extent, if not for the simple fact that if you do not think about mitigation at the same time, you increase GHG emissions, meaning those countries will have to adapt even more. Which requires money, requires them to be richer, requires more energy (again, if you do not think about mitigation), which increases GHG emissions, which requires more adaptation...da capo.

Of course, we *could* help developing countries with their energy needs so they can adapt, AND mitigate. That is, don't blindly help them get more energy and better energy distribution, but (to the extent possible) GHG neutral energy production. A combination of mitigation and adaptation!

It would be nice if we could also do that in our countries, of course, but it is often more difficult to break a system down, to build one up.

Deech56 said...

Thank God there weren't any "honest brokers" when the WHO decided to eradicate smallpox.

Scientist advocates. Check.
Side effects of vaccine. Check
Large international bureaucratic organization. Check.
Some loss of personal freedom. Check.

Smallpox eradication. What a bad idea in retrospect.

Deech56 said...

dhogaza, Kloor appears to be playing games with you, and unfortunately, you fell for it. I saw nothing wrong with the e-mail you posted here @ August 13, 2010 10:22 PM. The next one had a minor ad hom that could have been edited out; some people, not me, I hasten to add, might say that he was counting on you to implode, thereby undercutting your credibility. Combined with calling Michael's stance hypocritical...

Deech56 said...

Speaking of Tom Toles (whom I've read since way back when he started at the Buffalo Courier-Express):

This may be the only political issue whose results could be catastrophic PERMANENTLY. But the deliberate dust storm thrown up by fossil-fuel-centric interests has succeeded in contaminating and paralyzing the American response. Quite a victory for the deniers! It looks like mass-suicide to me.

h/t Romm the horrible.

willard said...

I fail to see how calling a position hypocrit can lead to some good discussion. I fail to see how calling a person hypocrit can lead to some good discussion.

I also fail to see how responding to these callings by acting all touchy-feely or flummoxed or Dhogazean can be any good.

It is also quite obvious that the patio chairs theme could be seen as a way to downplay adaptation. That certainly pushed a button in Keith. This theme needs more nuance.

Besides, there is a difference between paying lips service to adaptation and promoting it. Clarifying what adaptation means, talking about it positively, talking about it more will have to be done. So Keith has a point, even if he did not sold it in any constructive manner.

So yes, adaptation is necessary. When do we start to talk about it? Talking about adaptation can help reach a broader audience to which the idea of mitigation can be introduced. Here is the outline:

- Look at this adaptation.
- Adaptation is not sufficient.
- Without mitigation, this adaptation won't help us cope.

Adaptation and mitigation are jargon words, by the way. I have no idea what they are supposed to mean. A bad selling start.

Craig Allen said...

Davi B Benson,

The idea of planting forests in the Australian Australian outback is just fantasy thinking. We have already all but destroyed our greatest river system by syphoning of the bulk of it's water for irrigation. The desert and surrounding semi-arid regions are the way they are very good reasons. Trying to plant and irrigate forests in vast areas of stinking hot landscape would just waste an insanely large amount of water, destroy further river systems. And it would cause salinization that dwarfs Australia's current appalling dryland salinity crisis in which huge proportions of our agricultural landscapes are being poisoned. The government is proposing buying back huge amounts of irrigation entitlements from farmers, shutting down some of our most productive irrigation districts in a desperate attempt to save the rivers of our Murray-Darling System. There is no way they are going to then turn around and pour it out into the desert. It just won't work.

Anonymous said...

... how does one adapt to unpredicted(able?) changes in the fluid flow.

Michael Tobis said...

Lazar, bingo.

There can only be adaptation to what you expect, or what you gave seen. As the problem gets worse, even what you adapt to will be wrong. As soon as Iowa has adapted to unheard of floods, they may find themselves in a twenty year drought.

Or Brazil can start adapting to hurricanes, only to have them disappear again. It's hard to know. The faster the forcing changes, the more fluid regimes we'll go bouncing through, and the less adaptivity adaptation will even have.

But climate models are not good enough to motivate adaptation to non-obvious risks. It would only take a year to build heat refuges in Moscow, but who would have thought of it?

To suggest that Miami prepare for hurricanes or El Paso prepare for drought is fine, but has nothing to do with climate *change*, just with climate.

But the Colorado gang want us to discuss pre-adaptation to future change. Fine. The first step is a massive effort in climate modeling and data collection. Let's get going, and see whether we can improve regional prediction. Then we can talk about pre-adaptation.

Now let them discuss the fact that climate change impacts have already started, and see if that affects their position. Since all signs are that it won't, we tentatively conclude that they don't much care about reality.

Hank Roberts said...

Ditto on pumped irrigation, not because the idea isn't good in isolation, but because of realpolitik.

Longer: You imagine we create large power and water purification systems and set them up, but they won't be taken over by people who want to use the power for immediate profit and the water for increased population growth rates for longterm profit, where 'profit' is defined as more people at the expense of the planet.

Shorter: when the power goes off the new forests burn.

On KK -- he appears to want to be seen as the big dog on the reasonable responsive side, much like RPJr. You don't get that way by attacking the problem, you get it by attacking the people competing for position as best solution experts, remembering the trick is to get control of the money.

That's what the industries are all doing -- saying pay us to do less damage, and pay us again to do the adaptation and remediation.

Unintended consequences: guaranteed, and often overwhelming.

guthrie said...

Ahh, mitigation. I seem to recall that Tol thinks it isn't too expensive. It probably isn't too expensive when you figure it in with the normal infrastructural improvement costs you face, although it will be interesting trying to do it all at the same time as peak oil...
But the other question is how far can mitigation take you before things change too much? I see the sheer uncertainty has already been covered, and thats something else it would be nice to discuss.

Michael Tobis said...

Guthrie, don't you have your ten dollar words scrambled?

By "mitigation" the jargon means putting less radiatively active pollutants into the air.

By "adaptation" I had thought we meant "coping with the consequences of the pollutants that will be there anyway".

However, it seems some people mean "coping with the consequences in advance of the consequences", in which sense it actually is competitive with mitigation in the sense that it draws on present-day resources to cope with future problems.

This remarkably seems to assume some pretty remarkable sophistication in the models which the very same people seem to believe we have hardly any of at all. This approach is one that I don't fully understand.

Nick Palmer said...

Actually, I quite enjoyed seeing KK get a metaphorical tongue lashing from Dhogaza. I'm a bit sick and tired of all the politically correct politeness that we are supposed to adopt when talking to and about the "sceptic" elements, just to prevent them getting on their high horses and whining about being disrespected.

I do not respect them. I do not think they should be respected. I would say they are rather like how Lady Caroline Lamb described the poet Lord Byron - mad, bad, and dangerous to know. They are imposing risks on my future, my family's future, the-world-as-we-know-it's future because of their overweening self-belief - their arrogant self-confidence that there is no serious problem.

I think they need to be remorselessly exposed in public as being (at least) wanting in their comprehension of the science, the issues, the potential consequences etc.

If people listen to these characters and decide policy, believing the implied argument that because there is uncertainty that therefore we will be perfectly safe (as they seem to believe that magically any uncertainties will be always in our favour) and then the uncertainties prove to be not in our favour when we have run the experiment, then we will all be in serious trouble.

The KK's of this world are playing God with all of us with their seemingly unbreakable ideés fixe that we can't wreck our "conditions as we know them" climate. By all means, let them gamble with their own lives but let's not allow them to gamble with those of others.

guthrie said...

Whoops. My mistake.

I get what you are saying, and it is a point which doesn't seem to come up much. Come to think of it I've seen very little in the press about adaptation or mitigation, they'd rather feed on the he said she said stuff. So we need blogs doing things beyond the factual science of what is happening and why, instead about what may happen and how and what can be done about it.

Steve Bloom said...

willard, Michael provided the definitions, but for a real-world example of how the adaptation over mitigation game is played see Revkin's reply here and read his first link wherein a number of leading scientists explain to him why he's wrong. With this "tertiary" remark he proves he learned nothing.

Michael, this is a great example of future effects being used as an argument against mitigation, albeit not coherently.

David B. Benson said...

Pico --- You didn't read the paper very carefully (the pdf is free, click on it). The idea is to desalinate sea water and pump the resulting fresh water to the trees.

In any case, I link to that paper to illustrate just how massive the replanting effort is going to have to be, not that using the Australian Outback is necessarily the best plan.

Hank Roberts --- One expects some rationality in the face of this ongoing slow catastrophy.

Hank Roberts said...

> One expects some rationality

"I think it would be a good idea."
-- Gandhi

Hank Roberts said...

But seriously, David, if you set up a large power plant, desalination system, and pumps, and start delivering fresh water and electricity to the inland deserts of the Sahara and Australia, you'll end up not with big tree farms, certainly nor new wilderness forest ecologies -- but with new prime locations for large populations of refugees -- and KK will tell you that's the right use of the money and energy and space.

Pumped irrigation forests are a lovely idea in theory.

Consider the ancillary costs of protecting and maintaining them surrounded by hungry poor people. I don't see that included in the cost figures.

I'd argue that using the same energy and money and fresh water to replace fossil fueled agriculture would be more likely to succeed.

And, on topic, replacing fossil fuel use is more straightforward than trying to take the CO2 back out of the atmosphere -- easier to do the accounting, easier to assure it's not just used elsewhere.

Michael Tobis said...

It doesn't require salty water to ruin desert soil; the desert itself provides the salt as I understand it. Wetting it increases osmotic pressure and salt is driven upward to the surface, or something like that.

Also we have a limit of about 50x present-day energy use from non-fossil sources, at which point direct temperature forcing from waste heat starts to become important enough to alter the climate directly.

It's good to kick such ideas around, but so far I think it's fair to say that nothing sustainable, cheap and easy at scale is known.

joabbess said...


I have not read all the other comments yet, so I bet what I'm about to share is not new.

You are not a hypocrite. You are eminently sensible and well-reasoned.

Keith Kloor is right in one respect, and yet wrong at the same time. He writes, "we should start to pay equal attention to adaptation". Yes, adaptation is essential, for poorer and richer regions alike.

However, we do already pay equal attention to adaptation. That is one of the bases of the calls for the international community to create a mega-fund to support such adaptation and "prevention" actions in poorer regions of the world. ("Prevention" meaning avoiding locking in high Carbon Dioxide Emissions in the economic development of the developing countries.)

What Keith Kloor cannot appear to accept is that mitigation of emissions in richer regions is essential to avoid Climate damages overtaking economic development and economic stability, everywhere.

Climate damages have been estimated to be accruing at roughly 6% a year. Here's some data :-


Economic growth is virtually stagnant, for a number of reasons, including Climate damages. Have you checked the futures price of bread for December 2010 ? But that's not real growth - that's scarcity pricing.

It is entirely possible that Carbon Dioxide Emissions mitigation in industrialised countries is becoming essential to prevent a complete collapse of the global economy.

David B. Benson said...

Hank Roberts --- That too. I want both, using NPPs for both, but the new tree plantations certainly would not be "wilderness", but rather carbon sequestration sites; the trees are turned into biochar when mature and the biochar buried. All that makes some work for some of those currently unemployed across the Magreb. Check the unemployment rates in Lybia and Tunisia for example.

Michael Tobis --- Growing plants in the desert is a fine art in which the Israelis are accomplished practioners of drip irrigation. This would certainly work in most of the Sahara; dunno about in Oz.

EliRabett said...

Willard, some time ago Eli, or more accurately, J. Willard Rabett, made the point you are getting at

1. Adaptation responds to current losses.
2. Mitigation responds to future losses
3. Adaptation alone plus future costs is more expensive than mitigation,
4. Adaptation without mitigation drives procrastination penalties to infinity.

Spread the word

EliRabett said...

Michael, you underestimate what a threat you are to the Colorado folk. If significant dangers and loss is associated with the current situation, their entire argument collapses. They have always assumed that danger is far away, and when it comes, it will come slowly.

Richard Mercer said...

To mix metaphors; putting the cart (adaptation) before the horse(mitigation), is like digging your self into a hole and adapting to the hole instead of stopping digging.

Michael Tobis said...


Marco said...

Judith is quite the special one. On the thread (comment 46) she asks "what about the record cold in South America?"
I wonder whether she's just parroting deniosphere talking points again, because when I do a little bit of googling, I find comments like:
"The last time something of this magnitude happened was 47 years ago"
"Argentina measured the coldest temperatures in 10 years"
"This week Peru’s capital, Lima, recorded its lowest temperatures in 46 years at 8C"
Gosh. Quite the "record cold" to compare to the record heat in Russia (hottest ever measured in several regions), Pakistan (also recorded highest temperature recently), Finland (ibid), etc. etc.

I may be wrong here, I just can't find anything that supports her in putting the cold in parts of South America opposite the extreme heat elsewhere.

One thing, however, is of interest: from what I have understood, the Western coast of South America is usually warming during an El Nino, and colder during a La Nina. Which makes the current cold quite freakish. Changing weather patterns?

Steve Bloom said...

That's far from the only sloppy error she made, which makes her unique among the scientists I've seen in action. It's very close to a Gish Gallop.

Deech56 said...

It seems to me that the important task is to advocate for mitigation. The challenge for us isn't to respond to an immediate threat (we're well adapted to do that) but to anticipate a threat that takes years or decades to come to fruition. Anticipating long-term threats does not come naturally.

IIRC, prophets were only held in high esteem in retrospect.

willard said...

Ok, let's look at it:

1. Adaptation responds to current losses.
2. Mitigation responds to future losses

We still don't know what is adaptation, nor mitigation. If it's a response for now, it might be more than adaptation. I understand the concept of loss, but I am not sure how it applies to adaptation.

Mitigation, what a lousy word. No wonder people won't buy that.

3. Adaptation alone plus future costs is more expensive than mitigation,

Oha. This sentence has ten words. It contains an equation. There is something fishy about "adaptation alone". Ah, yes, #4. "Future costs" is undefined.

4. Adaptation without mitigation drives procrastination penalties to infinity.

This is the clearest line. Too bad it uses "procrastination". There is nothing to do with this human trait. And it's psychologizing. Infinity? What is infinity, asks the finitist?


Won't spread that word as it is. Don't have time to offer an alternative until next week. **Moby Dick** awaits me, far away from any net grid.

Let's try to use the Climate Change idea of MT, in the meanwhile. Not (just) Global Warming: Climate Change. Sounds truer, like "Not Irak war: Irak occupation."

Deech56 said...

So I guess the idea is that the energy imbalance causes a buildup of energy that needs to be dissipated. Sort of like tropical storms in summer.

Hank Roberts said...

> new tree plantations

Monocultures don't work. A ring of desert around an artificial monoculture isn't going to protect it from pests, or from producing pests that will spread elsewhere.

Much easier to collect seaweed from the eutrophication zones at the mouths of major rivers for example. Who needs elaborate pumped irrigation, when we have this happening 'for free' now?

Look at the numbers here:


Extract the omega-3s for use in aquaculture feed, then biochar the rest -- a positive contribution to the immediate welfare of the people there.

Yes, you'd have to convince the government to admit the problem (sigh)

Hank Roberts said...

Seriously, look at these pictures:
http://www.google.com/images?q=china green algae

Michael Tobis said...

You mean


Yuk. But what of it?

Hank Roberts said...

Yep, sorry about the line break.
Clicking on this

brings up this caption:

"Green algae smothering beaches in east China's Shandong province. Oil giant ExxonMobil announced an alliance Tuesday with biotech firm Synthetic Genomics to make a new biofuel from photosynthetic algae."


Let's hope they leave behind a biochar that can be buried instead of burning it all.

Hank Roberts said...

The classic leap from "it's too soon to mitigate" directly to "it's too late to mitigate" illustrated here:


"There are those who say we should focus more on adaptation to the effects of climate change rather than mitigation of the causes, because of a political/economic agenda and/or because they "believe" that anthropogenic (human-influenced) global warming is a crock.

By contrast, I don't "believe" AGW is bunkum; rather, to me it's real and very serious. But I think that its dangerous effects are neither 50 or 100 years away, nor going to wait for the Earth's temperature to rise another one or two degrees C (or F). They're here already. And for that reason, we need to focus more on adaptation. Now."

Hank Roberts said...

> what of it?
Harvesting: mitigation of a CO2/warming-related problem, one not easy to adapt to.

Lewis said...

Michael, I don't know if you saw my apology on collide-a-scape but here bit is again:
Keith, I apologize to Michael Tobis if I was somewhat over the top – I did not in any way mean that Micheal or other mainstream environmentalist are like Pol Pot or have an agenda that is the same.
I expressed my self clumsily but what I did mean and believe quite sincerely is that much of environmentalism is on a spectrum, that if viewed from a historical point of view, shares many of the attitudes of nihilism and misanthropy, which at extremes has produced the utopian projects which filled, with horror, the last century. This is a general historical , philosophical point and is indicative of a malaise general to mankind. I also believe that modern capitalism is itself a product of this nihilism, in fact, nihilism in action, hence its highly destructive, amortising, alienating character. I am therefore by no means a conservative or right winger. These distinctions are just passée.

To repeat, I apologise if I offended Michael or any sincere thinking environmentalists. I will try to write not so clumsily next time.
Yours sincerely
Lewis Deane.

Lewis said...

Unsure whether the comment was published so forgive the repeat
Keith, I apologize to Michael Tobis if I was somewhat over the top – I did not in any way mean that Micheal or other mainstream environmentalist are like Pol Pot or have an agenda that is the same.
I expressed my self clumsily but what I did mean and believe quite sincerely is that much of environmentalism is on a spectrum, that if viewed from a historical point of view, shares many of the attitudes of nihilism and misanthropy, which at extremes has produced the utopian projects which filled, with horror, the last century. This is a general historical , philosophical point and is indicative of a malaise general to mankind. I also believe that modern capitalism is itself a product of this nihilism, in fact, nihilism in action, hence its highly destructive, amortising, alienating character. I am therefore by no means a conservative or right winger. These distinctions are just passée.

To repeat, I apologise if I offended Michael or any sincere thinking environmentalists. I will try to write not so clumsily next time.
Yours sincerely
Lewis Deane.

Richard Mercer said...

There's an article posted at Watthead on a related topic. Its by Devon Sezey of the Breakthrough Institute in defense of Bill Gates' calls for money for research, to develop better renewable energy technology. Here, mitigation now with what we have, is pitted against focusing on research for better and cheaper alternatives.

While much of what he says is reasonable, I disagree with his conslusions.
Throw money at research, but throw More money at deploying current technology, is what I believe. We don't have a decade or two for discovery and commercialization of new technology. When it does come, so much the better.

Much of his argument is based on the assumption that renewables are too expensive. Compared with what? Fossil fuels that will only get more expensive, and have huge externalized costs, and which receive 12 times as much in subsidies as renewables do (according to the IEA)?
$46 billion in subsidies for renewables last year, and
over $500 billion for fossil fuels.

That's $5 trillion per decade for fossil fuels. Imagine how much you could stimulate growth of solar and wind with that kind of money.

So far there are no comments at the Watthead article.

Richard Mercer said...

Here's the link

"In Defense of Bill Gates"
Posted by Devon Swezey


EliRabett said...

Sorry Willard, you want a book, try this, Eli provided an elevator speech, something that is also useful

dhogaza said...

"It doesn't require salty water to ruin desert soil; the desert itself provides the salt as I understand it. Wetting it increases osmotic pressure and salt is driven upward to the surface, or something like that."

Go read up on why the Salton Sea is "salton".

You're right. Irrigating what was once something of a salt pan, leads to more salt migrating to the surface, which then has to be flushed out with more fresh water to (temporarily) restore the soil to the point where our veggies can be grown.

And it all ends up in the Salton Sea, which is dying.

Here's an image of what large scale ag in the Imperial Valley looks like

dhogaza said...

Guess I could be a bit more complete, here, the Imperial Valley is irrigated by the (very fresh) Colorado River.

From the Imperial Irrigation District website:

"With more than 3,000 miles of canals and drains, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) is the largest irrigation district in the nation. As a public agency, IID strives to provide the highest level of service at the most economical price while still preserving the unique ecosystem associated with this working landscape. The IID Water Department is responsible for the timely operation and maintenance of the extensive open channel system, and effectively delivers up to 3.1 million acre-feet of IID’s Colorado River entitlement annually to nearly one-half million irrigated acres."

Open channel system. It's not enough that the Colorado at times no longer reaches the sea, they more or less brag about maintaining the open water (i.e. irrigation canals which lose much water to evaporation) rather than bring conservation efforts to the forefront.

Probably has to do with the lack of water conservation efforts that can be brought to the forefront.

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