"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Z Comendador's response

Normally I don't offer a guest posting to people who have contributed to Watt's site.

But I did take on Alberto Z Comendador at some length in Medium, and he has asked to continue the conversation. His response was too long for a Blogger comment, so I agreed to post it. Also he seems rather polite for a Wattsian, and indeed given my approach to him seems rather open-minded. Also his counterarguments here show that he has been thinking about the problem - agree or otherwise these comments are not shallow or ideological.

Perhaps one can hope against hope for some meaningful communication, or at least some exchange of opinions that doesn't descend into rudeness.

I encourage anyone participating to take special care to be polite in this case. I will moderate this thread rather fiercely, though as usual, not necessarily quickly, with my apologies to all for delay in removing ad hominem attacks and polarizing rhetorical flourishes.

Correspondents are reminded that Blogger doesn't allow editing of comments - it's either all or nothing. Please speak as if you were debating with a cousin at Thanksgiving dinner at your grandmother's house, and drop the sneering before you post, or your effort may be in vain.

- mt

Hi, first of all thanks for letting me post here.

So it's not like I disagree with the points. It's just that I don't think they really matter.

1) '2 degrees C is claimed to be “Thermageddon”'

It's true that mainstream climate scientists usually steer clear of doomsday rhetoric (well maybe Hansen is an exception but he's sort of retired). This doesn't really matter, in my view, because the people striking deals do engage in this sort of thing.


500 days to avoid climate chaos. You can find plenty of similar statements from Kerry, Figueres, etc. So it's not like this stuff comes only from Bill McKibben and his ilk.

And not even this Fabius gentleman explicitly said 2ºC = disaster. The proposition sounds ridiculous when phrased that way. But many alarmists (because that's the only way to describe Fabius, Kerry and others) engage in a sleight  of hand to IMPLY that, in fact, 2ºC or a similar temperature rise is equivalent to some sort of mega-catastrophe.

Think about it: what happens if a deal isn't hammered out in COP21? Well it could be done in COP22, or 23, by which time CO2 concentrations will have risen, uhm, 8ppm? That is to say, 2%. How much additional warming does that 'lock in'?

Now, it's true that depending on the ECS one chooses to believe, CO2 concentrations could in a couple decades  reach concentrations that would make a rise of 2ºC (or a similar figure) inevitable, unless massive emission reductions are implemented soon. So it's true that this may indeed be the last chance to remain within one of these targets... but when people say something like 'we have 500 days to avoid climate chaos' and in fact they mean 'we have 500 days to avoid 2ºC', or 1.9ºC, or 2.3ºC or whatever similar number, the only conclusion one can draw is that the speaker is making an equivalence between 'climate chaos' and said temperature rise.

Like I said, they don't state it explicitly but the implication is there. Somehow, 'we have 500 days to avoid 2ºC'  doesn't quite cut it, because anyone who has any idea of the numbers involved knows there isn't anything special  about this ‘tipping point’ – the deal could simply be signed 0.2ºC later.

At the end of this post I will revisit this exercise, to find out just how much 'urgency' there has been in the issue since Exxon ‘discovered’ climate change in 1977.

2) 'Impacts of a Given Warming are implied Instantaneous'

True that many of the impacts may simply be taking longer and thus haven't been detected/analyzed yet, but what can one do when talking about this? Other than adding the caveat that 'bad stuff may just take longer to happen'.

3) 'Damage is Implied to be Linear with Temperature Change'

Not really. I actually 100% with what you wrote here - obviously temperature increases (or decreases) don't work linearly, just like beer, or eggs or exercise don't benefit/harm you linearly. Actually this might be one of the few points of certainty: a very large change in temps will be harmful, no matter the sign. 30ºC up would be devastating, and 30ºC down would kill us all. Or nearly all.

My point is that 1ºC is a small change. Perhaps an additional degree is 10 times more harmful, or perhaps the first degree is actually beneficial while the second is harmful (in which case the 'x times more harmful' comparison doesn't make sense). My point was simply that, given the lack of evidence that this first 1C rise (over 130 years) has actually caused a lot of damage, one should not be especially worried about one degree more.

4) 'IPCC (AR5) Report is implied Contemporaneous with 1 C global warming'

Since the news started with Met Office I checked HadCRUT. Not much happening - temps were high in the 2010 El Niño, then went down, then went to a record high in the 2015 El Niño. So I don't see how this affects the overall picture – perhaps by 2010 temp rise had been 0.9C instead of 1C, and it will go down to 0.9C again with La Niña, then 0.95C or whatever. Not much to write about.


5) 'Statistical Analyses are presumed Instantaneous'

They are not instantaneous, but in the US temp records go back to the XIX century. So do hurricane, tornado, and precipitation/flood records. So in fact the records on weather events are among the longest-running in the whole climate field. It's not like satellite temps or CO2 concentrations which have only been known for a few decades.

This issue reminds of a comment Willis Eschenbach made about solar-inspired theories of climate change in WUWT.

More or less it read: people have been looking for a correlation between the sun and stuff on Earth for 200 years... if it was there, wouldn’t we have found it already?

In the case of warming, there are several variables (temperature itself, moisture, pressure) and one can slice the data in pretty much infinite ways. Something similar happens with solar-related stuff, as anyone looking for a ‘connection’ can choose among TSI, hotspots, the 11-year cycle, cosmic rays, whatever – and then you can choose from different datasets and slice and dice the numbers. These things are then theorized to cause reduced cloud cover… or something about the sea level… or something about temperature itself… or anything else, really.

When you have a big number of ‘factors’ that can correlate to an infinite number of things happening (‘increased tornado activity in Norway during autumn months’), of course you are going to find something. It would be astonishing if nothing correlated with anything else. And now, I won’t pretend I understand the stats involved, but anybody reading a discussion can guess who talks straight and who talks dodgy… and I can tell that after every Willis article dissecting a paper solar-induced weather, the authors of said papers either don’t show up at all or offer only hand-waving responses.

So this non-scientist thinks warming-induced bad weather is in a similar situation to the solar-induced kind. Of course one cannot totally close the door on a hypothesis. Perhaps people have been crunching the temperature-vs-weather-disaster numbers the wrong way all this time and there is in fact a connection... but the evidence in that direction isn't strong.

6) 'CO2 is presumed to be on Trial'

So this is probably the only point where we disagree. You say: 'the questions we should be asking ourselves are at about what level our monkeying with [the effect of CO2] is risky. And so far, the vast predominance of evidence is that we are near this point'. Then you cite the corresponding IPCC chapters.

Let me be honest, I have read chunks of climate papers here and there, but I don't follow the issue in nearly enough detail to talk about that (and I haven't read the IPCC stuff beyond the SPM). So I would prefer to shut up on this point, though I would be grateful if you could summarize what these chapters have found that is so concerning... and

I know it's a complex issue, but if the IPCC's conclusions on extreme weather can be summarized, I suppose this can as well.

7) 'Absence of Proof is conflated with Proof of Absence'

True, but again, other than adding the caveat that 'X may well have happened – it's just that we cannot prove it', what can one say?

Absence of proof is not proof of absence... nor is it a reason to do anything in particular.

8) About 'Thermageddon', well, some in the climate debate are in fact alarmists who spin every single storm as a 'fingerprint' of the damage we're doing to Mother Nature. I don't think there is a conspiracy, but I do find it ridiculous – hence the term.

Does this mean I'm mocking anyone who is concerned by global warming, wants to reduce GHG emissions, etc? No.

Going back to the 'Exxon knew' issue, one of the 'smoking guns' is a presentation somebody made at the company in 1977. Now, you'll be asking what the hell does this have to do with your article, as you didn't even mention this.


Let's do a thought experiment. Suppose that upon seeing this massively speculative, handwaving presentation with temperature projections that turned out to be massively wrong, Exxon execs have a change of heart and decide to give up on oil and gas. After doing so they convince the rest of the world to give up on fossil fuels altogether or nearly so, and emissions are reduced to a nadir - just enough to offset CO2 concentration declines, thus leaving us with 330ppm nowadays, just like in 1977 or so. Forget for a second that if we cannot get rid of fossil fuels now, and it would have been a tad more difficult in 1977 due to the price of batteries and solar panels and all.

Today we're at 400ppm, so the increase has been 21%, or 28% logarithmically. With ECS of 2ºC (most recent studies are around that figure), these 38 years have 'locked in' an additional... 0.56C.

So it looks like giving up on fossil fuels 38 years ago wouldn’t have changed things that much, and waiting a decade to sign that climate deal isn’t going to hurt much either. I’ll tell John Kerry if I see him.

And sorry if some of my tweets seemed offensive. Things can sound very brusque in twitter.



Alberto Zaragoza Comendador said...

Hi, thanks for posting this.

There are a few things I didn't mention and looking back they mattered. While the connection between temps and extreme weather hasn't been established, there is a much stronger case for two other events: acidification and sea level rise.

About the first, not doubt that greater CO2 causes ocean acidification (decreased alkalinity, a skeptic would say). What has not been established is how this affects sea life. Again, this is a case of the dose makes the poison: very low pH would kill everything, but it's not clear if changing from 8.1 to 8 has much effect. CO2 fertilization is the same but in reverse, i.e. for benefits: very low CO2 devastates plants, but it's not established whether going from 500ppm to 1000ppm is going to help a lot.

About SLR, the issue is how much of the 3mm/year or so we have today is due to modern/manmade/GHGmade warming. Looking at it the other way, you'd have to know what was the rate of SLR before 1950 or so, which presumably is the rate that would remain if we stopped emissions and could roll the clock back to 300ppm or any other previous level.

On this point I recently find a 'wow, I'd never thought of that' moment when I read about groundwater depletion. Turns out this alone is causing about 0.8mm/year in SLR. Of course there was some depletion going on back in 1900, so acceleration in SLR due to this issue has been less 0.8mm/year, but population was less than 2 billion and water use a fraction of today's.

So groundwater depletion is about 25% of total current SLR (according to this study), and it may even constitute a majority of modern or manmade SLR. This is actually a case in which quantifying the consequences of a given action (if not the costs themselves) is fairly straightforward, i.e. 'just' calculate or estimate groundwater depletion per region to see how much is going into the oceans and how much different countries are contributing to the problem. That's very rare for negative externalities, which are usually impossible to quantify and 'cost' as much as the researcher wants.

Finally, another issue I didn't discuss is events caused by warming but which aren't themselves weather events. This could include anything from increased malaria incidence to reduced tourism in too-hot regions; these are the kind of studies parodied in a 'list of things caused by global warming'. Of course I'm not an expert in the many fields, but it's fair to say these studies are even more speculative than the weather-related stuff. Yes, some regions may become too hot for tourism...and others may go from not-hot-enough to just right.

Michael Tobis said...

The trouble with conversations of this sort is that they sprawl out of control. One experience with those whom we feel underplay the risks is this scattershot approach, which is sometimes called the Gish Gallop.

And I'm guilty of it myself, for having found eight dubious assumptions hiding within your tweet. I am not sure if you are agreeing with me that these assumptions were behind the tweet, or that they do not support your complaint about my claim that we are collectively flirting with disaster,

I would like to commend you for the thought you have put into these points.

I think it only makes sense to take them on one at a time.

So regarding your first point, it boils down to two things. First, criticism of politicians for rhetoric you find overwrought. I am a supporter of Kerry and Figueres, and McKibben has only recently started to disappoint me.

( see https://medium.com/@mtobis/investigate-exxon-but-blame-yourself-d93eb69d341c )

Is putting great emphasis on Paris in particular and urgency more generally excessive? In support of this you offer that

"what happens if a deal isn't hammered out in COP21? Well it could be done in COP22, or 23, by which time CO2 concentrations will have risen, uhm, 8ppm? That is to say, 2%. How much additional warming does that 'lock in'?"

Well, this is the litany of delay, isn;t it? That argument could be used forever. And it looks like it will be.

When I started thinking about this, it was commonly asserted that if we did not act soon, GMST could rise AS MUCH AS 2 C. Now we are talking about whether heroic efforts to have a chance to keep GMST AS LOW AS 2 C are feasible. The goal posts haven't shifted, so much as having been painted a very different color. So we need to look at this 2 C target in its historical context.


Michael Tobis said...

The main achievement in Copenhagen was an explicit if non-binding commitment to treat 2 C as a safety limit. Many are now pointing out that staying within that limit is implausible using foreseeable strategies.

"when people say something like 'we have 500 days to avoid climate chaos' and in fact they mean 'we have 500 days to avoid 2ºC', or 1.9ºC, or 2.3ºC or whatever similar number, the only conclusion one can draw is that the speaker is making an equivalence between 'climate chaos' and said temperature rise."

I agree that 'climate chaos' and GMST are not the same thing. In fact, what is really needed is a peak CO2 concentration that is substantially smaller than would happen under unconstrained development of fossil fuels.. (This goal is arguably not sufficient to avoid climate chaos, but it's certainly necessary). The 2 C number is really a guess - we are talking about a "66% chance of 2 C" really. What it amounts to is a 450 ppmv target.

Such targets rapidly become inaccessible long before they are crossed. It is important to understand the numerous delays in the political and economic spheres. We cannot realistically give up fossil fuels overnight, and ambient carbon capture schemes are speculative, expensive, and not fundable in the absence of a global carbon policy.

It's also very important to understand that the Paris meeting will not actually succeed in collecting national commitments to 450 ppmv or indeed to any peak concentration whatsoever. While the numbers tell us that to avoid very bizarre climate disruption we need to reach effectively zero net carbon emissions this century, the national commitments aggregate to nothing of the sort. And of course, even so, the United States is incapable of passing a binding treaty, and many other nations have local politics that could abrogate treaties. So we are not looking at a remotely effective agreement. A failure to even achieve this much in Paris, which I greatly fear despite all the happy talk (we had happy talk leading to Copenhagen too) will leave us with no vision for progress at all.

While you are squirming about politicians over-threatening regarding the consequences of failure at Paris I am squirming about them overpromising the ambitions. Even in the best case we remain on a disastrous course; just a somewhat less imminently disastrous one. To overstate the dire implications of failure at this meeting seems to me difficult. Your suggestion that it is about 8 ppmv is therefor, while literally perhaps true (a shade optimistic) missing the point. Enormous investments in fossil infrastructure are ongoing and in important places (notably India) accelerating. A continued pattern of consistent failure at COP meetings indicates we will not only miss 450 ppmv, but that we will fail to cap emissions altogether, the consequences of which would indeed be disastrous.

I stress that our choices are between failure to commit to a CO2 concentration cap, and failure to achieve anything at all. The former is the best case result from Paris. The latter doesn't physically prevent us from catastrophe. Indeed, the physics still give us plenty of time to avoid, say, 2.5 C. Maybe that will be tolerable. But the politics and the economics and the social lag times do not paint a pretty picture.

Michael Tobis said...

So let's bring back the focus. I claimed that we find ourselves in an "ongoing flirtation with an astonishingly severe global disaster"; I suggested that implicit in your criticism was a claim that 2 C is catastrophic. My response is that a failure at Paris would be catastrophic. You seem to think that success at Paris would amount to limiting GMST increase to 2 C. But it won't even limit GMST at all. A failure at Paris would mean a continued incompetence by the world at addressing the issue at all.

As a person who is interested in defining truth, I am not willing to defend anything any politician says in stretching the truth to achieve a worthwhile goal. Unfortunately, it's what they do. But failure in Paris isn't just a few ppmv more on the pile, though it certainly is that. What we're trying to get a handle on is the time constant for the world to realize that zero net carbon emissions is necessary. With every failure, our estimate of that delay gets longer.

The gap between 450 ppmv and stable vs 550 ppmv and relatively slowly rising by 2100 is the gap between what is needed and what Paris can provide. There are worse outcomes than 550 ppmv and relatively slowly rising. It's on that side of the ledger that climate chaos lies, and a continued failure of COP is quite likely to take us there.

Michael Tobis said...

"My point is that 1ºC is a small change. Perhaps an additional degree is 10 times more harmful, or perhaps the first degree is actually beneficial while the second is harmful (in which case the 'x times more harmful' comparison doesn't make sense)."


"My point was simply that, given the lack of evidence that this first 1C rise (over 130 years) has actually caused a lot of damage, one should not be especially worried about one degree more."

What lack of evidence? That's absurd. And even if that were fair, how would your conclusion follow?

Michael Tobis said...

On 5 and 6 you are just missing my points.

Michael Tobis said...

Re # 7Absence of proof is not absence of evidence. That's the whole point of my CO2 on Trial article.

Michael Tobis said...

re #8. I am, trying to write a book about this, so stay tuned, but you miss the idea of the "fingerprint" concept rather badly.

In all your points, as I said to begin with, you are leaning pretty hard in the direction of a refusal to contemplate the plausible magnitude and timing of our collective risk, and so you advocate an insouciance which is not actually reasonable.

Tom said...

Mr. Commendador's point about lack of evidence to date is actually pertinent. Frequency and intensity of storms? Nothing there. Global drought? Nothing there. U.S. heatwaves? Nothing there. Sea level rise? Nothing there.

What we have seen since Trenberth's assertion of extreme weather in 2005 is the usual distribution of extreme weather events. Moscow heatwave, Pakistani floods, Texas drought, California drought, Syrian drought. All with antecedents that were more severe in the historical record.

The outlier is flooding, which appears to be more frequent. However, because the Dartmouth database is fed by news reports, it is clear that some of the increased frequency is due to better access to news in the developing world. Damage and casualty reports for flooding are skewed by rapid population increases in delta regions, putting both people and their assets in harm's way.



Michael Tobis said...

Each of these points is separate, and there's a certain amount of Bayesian/frequentist confusion that gives naysayers a way to sat that nothing is happening.

Just yesterday I asked a world-traveling ornithologist if he thought that climate anomaly related stress on bird populations was increasing in his own experience. Like most people who watch some particular aspect of climate closely, he was inclined to the affirmative, but he was unaware of proof. He also did say, unprompted, that there was no question among bird people that ranges of species are moving poleward.

I am trying to write a book on the general question of attribution of this sort, including but not limited to how and why it gets overvalued in the public discussion (the fault on that is not wholly on the naysayer side).

But on "Sea level rise? Nothing there" you're just wrong. That's silly.

Tom said...

I am starting my next book (The Lukewarmer's Way is doing very well, thanks for asking). It will be called something like 'The RAMA Initiative',where RAMA stands for Recognition, Attribution, Mitigation and Adaptation. I will be interviewing some from the consensus, alarmist, skeptic and lukewarmer position on this.

Attribution can become a nit-picking point, especially given the accuracy of our measuring technologies at present. What I think is likely to be useful is to end up with something saying, (numbers invented)

"As best we can tell, somewhere between half and 66% of the warming from 1976-1998 was probably caused by human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, but also including deforestation, black soot and other changes in land use. This translates into about 0.3C in warming in a 2-decade time period. Now, predicting the future of climate is not easy, but it is easy to see a variety of scenarios where adding that type of warming to an already changed climate would not be helpful to much of humanity, especially those whose poverty already leaves them vulnerable to current climate."

Michael Tobis said...

As best we can tell, approximately 110% of the warming is net anthropogenic. This is similar to teh GHG component, as the other anthro warming forcings are roughly balanced by anthro aerosol. But feel free to invent more reassuring numbers, I guess. I don't see how I can stop you from doing that.


Tom said...

As I said, those numbers were just plug-ins, not meant to represent reality. But then, I don't think 110% represents reality either.

Tom said...

As for stopping me from doing it, it's actually kinda easy. Show me you're right and I'm wrong.

Michael Tobis said...

It's not that hard to explain that you're wrong on this 100% point, but it's possible. Convincing you is another matter. There's a hackneyed cliche about leading horses to water that comes to mind.

Nevertheless, it's now on my infeasibly long list of feasible things to write about.

Tom said...

Yes, you'll have to work hard. When only 66% of climate scientists agree that half or more of current warming is from human emissions of greenhouse gases, 110% is a bit of a stretch.

Tom said...

Michael, you'll have a lot of explaining to do. I am open to changing my mind and have done so many times when faced with new facts--or explanations.

But you have a lot to overcome--see Bart's survey for example. While 66% of climate scientists report that half or more of the current warming is caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases, there is a gulf between that opinion and the 15% who said more than 100% of warming is caused by human emissions.

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

While 66% of climate scientists report that half or more of the current warming is caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases, there is a gulf between that opinion and the 15% who said more than 100% of warming is caused by human emissions.
Science isn't done by consensus, and it is quite remarkable that you would make such an argument. The best estimate of 110% comes from detailed attribution studies using fingerprint analysis done by experts, not by polling some sample of scientists. It is quite difficult to construct a plausible scenario in which a substantial fraction of our recent warming has been non-anthropogenic. I realise that this alone doesn't mean it is probably more than all, but that is what the most detailed analyses suggest.