More Time on the Climate

I thought I would put this in my own post rather than respond to Alex’s because it crosses af few points that have been bobbing around my head for a while. And since we’re having an AGW fight anyway…

The President released his climate plan today. It is a lot less ambitious than his previous plans. No cap-and-trade or anything. It does quite a bit by executive order. I expect legal challenges but Congress punted much of its regulatory and law-making ability on the environment to the EPA long ago and the Courts have, so far, not reined that power in.

However, even this plan, flawed as it is, is a huge pullback from the President’s earlier promises for “decisive action”. The pullback is partially a result of the GOP opposing his climate plans. But it is also a recognition that the political landscape has changed. Over the last few years we have seen:

  • A slower rate of warming than the previous 20-30 years (which I’ll address in more detail below).
  • A rolling disaster in Europe where climate change policies have resulted in higher energy bills, outsourcing and little to no reduction in CO2 emissions.
  • A huge drop in American CO2 emissions thanks to better efficiency and fracking.
  • As Alex noted, the Obama plan includes heavier regulation of existing power plants. This is probably DOA but it isn’t entirely a bad idea. The oldest plants are the most polluting — not just in terms of greenhouse gases but in terms of everything. Replacing them with cleaner plants isn’t the worst idea to come out of the Administration but one could choose a more economically strong time to do it.

    But the plan includes two steps that I think are in the right direction:

    The White House is hammering out an agreement with China and other countries to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas used in everything from soda machines to many car air conditioners. The administration will also develop a plan for curbing methane emissions from natural-gas production.

    I’ve talked about this before. Methane and HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases that don’t have to be emitted. They are a result of waste, outdated technology and poor maintenance. Curbing those emissions wouldn’t hurt the economy; it would benefit it. George W. Bush pursued agreement on these pollutants with almost no recognition from the supposed greens. Maybe they’ll acknowledge it now that their hero has embraced the policy.

    There’s also this:

    The White House also plans to help state and local agencies prepare for the impacts of climate change that are lurking in the near future, such as sea-level rise or flooding or extreme weather. An example: All federally-funded rebuilding after superstorm Sandy now has to take the risks of future flooding into account.

    Bjorn Lomborg has been on the adaptation crusade for years. The idea is that even if we stopped emitting CO2 today, temperatures would continue to rise. We’re going to have to adapt to a warmer world no matter what. Acknowledging that and doing something about it may be much smarter than ham-fisted caps on carbon. In fact, much of our infrastructure isn’t up to the challenge even without global warming. Sandy was an event that could happen even in a cooling world and one for which much of the East Coast was unprepared.

    Now to return to one subject. The fact that global warming has slowed for the last decade is moderately interesting. It doesn’t “disprove” global warming any more than a stock market crash disproves capitalism or an 0-4 disproves Miguel Cabrera’s ability to punish baseballs. If you look at the temperature record, you’ll see times when global warming has slowed, times when it has gone faster. Complex systems never behave monotonically. But the 100-year trend is toward warmer temperatures and every piece of information we have indicates that rise should continue.

    However, it is true that the last 10-20 years have seen temperatures rise at a slower rate than the previous 30 and the rise has been toward the lower end of climate model predictions. And the last year has come out with a number of studies that may show exactly why:

    A major new study published in Nature Geoscience reports that future global warming is likely to be significantly less than many climate model projections have suggested. The authors cannot be characterized by opponents as climate change “deniers.” Using recent data from the continued slowdown in global temperature increases, the researchers estimated new equilibrium climate sensitivity and transient climate response numbers.

    Their calculations hint that, on the current course, the 21st century should see a warming of 1-2 degrees celsius, rather than the 3-4.5 degrees the IPCC predicted in their last report (and rumors are that the next IPCC report will also lower their predictions). That seemingly minor change is important: most climatologist believe that two degrees would not be a gigantic problem. And they’re known to be pessimistic.

    Now I should stress that these analyses may be missing low on climate sensitivity just as the old ones missed high. But similar results have been showing up in the literature all over the place. Moreover, the data are showing that the climate sensitivity may have been overestimated. If these lower estimates of climate sensitivity are accurate and if the slower warming of the last decade is more indicative of the true climate sensitivity that the rapid warming of the 80’s and 90’s, it means we have a lot more time than anticipated to solve the problem; decades longer.

    What this supports is what I’ve said before: governments need to abandon the idea of hamstringing the economy and pouring subsidies into marginal technology like electric cars. The problem of global warming can not and should not be solved today. Instead, we should be investing in basic research to discover new technologies. When these technologies are developed, the only mandate we will need is for people to form an orderly queue to buy and use them.

    Think about where we were fifty years ago, technologically. No internet. Television was coming into its own. Computers were confined to major universities and businesses. There were still epidemics of measles, mumps and rubella. Not small epidemics from idiot parents but massive ones. The typical car got about 10 miles per gallon.

    In fifty years, we might have nuclear fusion.

    The slowdown of global warming buys us time. It extends the point at which warming would potentially become dangerous decades into the future. And the parts of the Obama climate plan that aren’t stupid also extend the time baseline. Cutting down on HFC’s and methane emissions would buy more time at no economic cost. Adapting cities to rising ocean levels buys more time (and is a good idea anyway). Putting in better flood building codes buys more time. All of this buys us the critical time that is needed to develop real alternatives to fossil fuels.

    Obama’s climate change plan shows a faint sliver of reality. At this rate, he might actually propose a sensible climate policy sometimes around 2145.

    Comments are closed.

    1. hist_ed

      Curbing those emissions wouldn’t hurt the economy; it would benefit it.

      Other than preventing conjectured AGW problems, How?

      It doesn’t “disprove” global warming any more than a stock market crash disproves capitalism or an 0-4 disproves Miguel Cabrera’s ability to punish baseballs.

      Your capitalism comparison doesn’t cut it. No economist who is in favor of free markets suggests that downturns won’t happen. Every free market economist in fact thinks that downturns are a necessary part of free markets and are impossible to prevent. As one of the articles I posted on Alex’s thread says, the current temperature pause is almost outside what the models thought possible (2% likely is the figure cited, in a few more years we will be in impossible temperatures according to the models).

      If you look at the temperature record, you’ll see times when global warming has slowed, times when it has gone faster.

      Yes but in those times we were emitting far less CO2. The entire AGW thesis is built around the theory that the more CO2 you put into the atmosphere, the more warming you get. Comparing this pause to the 1950s isn’t valid because there was far less CO2 then and we were producing far less.

      Their calculations hint that, on the current course, the 21st century should see a warming of 1-2 degrees celsius, rather than the 3-4.5 degrees the IPCC predicted in their last report (and rumors are that the next IPCC report will also lower their predictions).

      But within this range is the amount of warming we likely had from 1800 to 1900 before mass industrialization, most coal fired plants and the automobile. In other words, the range includes the natural rate of warming. (And if you look at the chart on your Berkeley link and cherry pick your years, it is far less warming than we experienced from 1830 to 1900).

      The biggest take away is that we have been told to make huge changes to the economy based on models that are not accurate. The science is settled was the phrase for years. Now we see that the settled science was simply wrong. But we are to genuflect to the high priests again and put our faith in them that THIS time they are correct.

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    2. CM

      Despite a large increase in heat being absorbed by the Earth’s climate system (oceans, land & ice), the first decade of the 21st century saw a slowdown in the rate of global surface warming (surface air temperatures).

      A climate model-based study, Meehl (2011), predicted that this was largely due to anomalous heat removed from the surface ocean and instead transported down into the deep ocean. This anomalous deep ocean warming was later confirmed by observations.

      This deep ocean warming in the model occurred during negative phases of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), an index of the mean state of the north and south Pacific Ocean, and was most likely in response to intensification of the wind-driven ocean circulation.

      Meehl (2013) is an update to their previous work, and the authors show that accelerated warming decades are associated with the positive phase of the IPO. This is a result of a weaker wind-driven ocean circulation, when a large decrease in heat transported to the deep ocean allows the surface ocean to warm quickly, and this in turn raises global surface temperatures.

      This modelling work, combined with current understanding of the wind-driven ocean circulation, implies that global surface temperatures will rise quickly when the IPO switches from the current negative phase to a positive phase.

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/A-Looming-Climate-Shift-Will-Ocean-Heat-Come-Back-to-Haunt-us.html

      I guess we’ll see. But it would account for what has been happening – the heat is going into the deep ocean.

      Only about 2% of the planet’s overall warming heats the atmosphere, so if we focus only on surface air temperatures, we miss 98% of the overall warming of the globe.

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    3. Hal_10000 *

      Hist_ed, if you have 100 years worth of data, you are going to get outliers that are 2% probable. That is especially true if you overestimated the rate of heat to begin with. The simple fact is that the AGW theory fit the data better than any alternative theory that has been proposed.

      The biggest take away is that we have been told to make huge changes to the economy based on models that are not accurate. The science is settled was the phrase for years. Now we see that the settled science was simply wrong. But we are to genuflect to the high priests again and put our faith in them that THIS time they are correct.

      I would modify that a bit. The claims that we were headed for a catastrophe — as I warned them at the time — were overblown. This is a problem. But it’s a solvable one. And the solution is progress, not a return to the dark ages or collectivism.

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    4. Hal_10000 *

      Other than preventing conjectured AGW problems, How?

      Venting methane into the atmosphere benefits absolutely no one and throws away a resource that is worth money. HFC’s do not come cheap; venting them into the atmosphere is like throwing money into the sky.

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    5. CM

      And the solution is progress, not a return to the dark ages or collectivism

      That’s the equivalent of saying that libertarians want their country to be like Somalia.

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    6. Hal_10000 *

      That’s the equivalent of saying that libertarians want their country to be like Somalia.

      :)

      Fair enough. I wrote that while sitting in a room with an old CFC bulb that was making me envy my grandmother and her candles and mirrors.

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    7. Mississippi Yankee

      I would modify that a bit. The claims that we were headed for a catastrophe — as I warned them at the time — were overblown.

      Who did you warn Hal? Just how high up in the Climate Change oligarchy are you?

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    8. CM

      If the heating has simply been occurring in the deep oceans (see my links and the associated science), then there is simply a delay. It’s the equivalent of a chicken stepping out onto a freeway and the first vehicle missing it. As you said Hal, there are times when global warming has slowed, times when it has gone faster. But that’s the observable air temperature, it doesn’t include ocean temps and certainly not deep ocean temps.

      Nobody has claimed that the warming or any of the effects would be linear. That would be a ridiculous thing to try and claim.

      The fact the US is doing well but the good work is being undone by China should make it even more important for the US to recognise that this requires global action. No country is going to be able to do anything meaningful alone. If we’re going to cut this off at the pass, we need to form a posse.

      A major new study published in Nature Geoscience reports that future global warming is likely to be significantly less than many climate model projections have suggested. The authors cannot be characterized by opponents as climate change “deniers.” Using recent data from the continued slowdown in global temperature increases, the researchers estimated new equilibrium climate sensitivity and transient climate response numbers.

      However:

      A recent study by Alexander Otto of Oxford University and colleagues, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, also considered future global warming in the context of observations of global mean temperature change over the last decade.

      Unlike that study, our results do not show lower climate sensitivity or lower mean projected global warming. Our study uses the same observed global atmospheric and ocean temperature data. But we also used observed carbon dioxide data and represented important additional processes in our simplified climate model, particularly the carbon cycle on the land and in the ocean and uncertainties in the climate forcing due to aerosols.

      In our study, the reductions in uncertainty came from using the observations, the relationships between them and how these affect the parameters in the simple climate model. We found 63% of the uncertainty in projected warming was due to single sources, such as climate sensitivity, the carbon cycle components and the cooling effect of aerosols, while 37% of uncertainty came from the combination of these sources.

      Once we reduced the uncertainty we found there is an increased risk of exceeding a lower temperature change threshold, but a reduced chance of exceeding a high threshold. That is, for business-as-usual emissions of greenhouse gases, exceeding 6°C global warming by 2100 is now unlikely, while exceeding 2°C is virtually certain.

      These results reconfirm the need for urgent and substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions if the world is to avoid exceeding the global warming target of 2°C. Keeping warming below 2°C is necessary to minimise dangerous climate change.

      It is unlikely that uncertainties in projected warming will be reduced substantially. Indeed, if you allow for population growth, levels of economic activity, growth in demand for energy and the means of producing that energy, overall uncertainty increases. We just have to accept that we will have to manage the risks of global warming with the knowledge we have. We may not know exactly how much and by when average temperatures change, but we know they will. This is an experiment we probably don’t want to make with the only planet we have to live on.

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/Uncertaint-no-excuse-for-procrastinating-on-climate-change.html

      At the end of the day that’s what this is all about – prudent and sensible risk management. We’re managing the planet (a non-renewable resource).

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    9. hist_ed

      Venting methane into the atmosphere benefits absolutely no one and throws away a resource that is worth money. HFC’s do not come cheap; venting them into the atmosphere is like throwing money into the sky.

      Come on Hal, that statement is beneath you. You know enough econ to understand why. For others that don’t: if there was money to be made, the corporations that do this wouldn’t dump this stuff. While methane and HFCs are worth money, they obviously aren’t worth more money than the cost of capturing, storing and transporting them to market (and, of course, venting methane into the atmosphere benefits the companies’ stock holders and customers because not doing so would increase their costs).

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    10. hist_ed

      Hist_ed, if you have 100 years worth of data, you are going to get outliers that are 2% probable. That is especially true if you overestimated the rate of heat to begin with. The simple fact is that the AGW theory fit the data better than any alternative theory that has been proposed.

      Hal your statement would be valid if we were talking about a single year. In the last 100 years, temperature declined for 20 or 30 of them (40s to 70s) and stayed stable for at least 15 of them (if memory serves the mid 1930 to mid 1940s also were pretty flat so let’s add ten more). This means 35 to 55 of the last 100 years don’t fit the AGW pattern. That is a big hole in the theory.

      CM:

      Nobody has claimed that the warming or any of the effects would be linear. That would be a ridiculous thing to try and claim.

      Every graph I have ever seen of projected warming shows a line that goes up faster and faster over time. Can you show us one, published before this year, that doesn’t?

      While I think AGW is largely crap, I will admit that the lack of it over the last 15 years does not disprove the theory. What it does do, as I wrote above and elsewhere, is show that the certainty that almost every politician, journalist, NGO and prominent scientist presented to the world for decades was absurd. Their motivations are open to debate (though there are a few choice quotes that have leaked out over the years that are pretty damning), but what cannot be reasonably debated is that almost everyone involved in opining on one side of this subject either grossly exaggerated or weren’t competent to discuss it. They dismissed critics as cranks, idiots and mercenaries. They did the same to others who believed the theory but just didn’t agree with the preferred solutions or who voice uncertainties about the problem’s severity. And now we are to go back to the same people and swallow their next opinion (which will for most be “yep, this is just a pause, I just know that disaster is coming and we must act in the next 7 to 10 years).

      Oh and there is a competing theory. Solar activity, interstellar particles. You all know it. You dismiss it because the same crew that failed to accurately predict the temperatures for the last 15 years also dismissed it. Given their batting average, you might want to reconsider it as a possible explanation (and one that fits the temperature record for better than AGW).

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    11. CM

      Gosh Xetrov, anyone would think you were trying to shut down the discussion….;-)

      Hal your statement would be valid if we were talking about a single year. In the last 100 years, temperature declined for 20 or 30 of them (40s to 70s) and stayed stable for at least 15 of them (if memory serves the mid 1930 to mid 1940s also were pretty flat so let’s add ten more). This means 35 to 55 of the last 100 years don’t fit the AGW pattern. That is a big hole in the theory.

      Depends on whether, overall, the ups outweighed the downs. They did. Substantially.
      Individual years will never ‘fit a pattern’, because ‘a pattern’ isn’t about individual years but a trend. When it comes to climate, it’s a long term trend.

      Every graph I have ever seen of projected warming shows a line that goes up faster and faster over time. Can you show us one, published before this year, that doesn’t?

      They generally show a range, to account for the most likely possibilities (given natural variations and climate sensitivity). Google ‘projected temperature increase’ or similar, and that’s what you’ll see. I’ve no idea what graphs you’re talking about. Are you seriously trying to argue that any reputable has suggested the rise in temperature will be linear?

      What it does do, as I wrote above and elsewhere, is show that the certainty that almost every politician, journalist, NGO and prominent scientist presented to the world for decades was absurd.

      Certainty about what exactly? Be specific. Nothing so far is inconsistent with what certainty has been expressed about.

      Their motivations are open to debate (though there are a few choice quotes that have leaked out over the years that are pretty damning),

      For example?

      but what cannot be reasonably debated is that almost everyone involved in opining on one side of this subject either grossly exaggerated or weren’t competent to discuss it.

      I agree, that cannot be reasonably debated as it’s an absurd claim.

      They dismissed critics as cranks, idiots and mercenaries.

      Many people are. They give themselves away in a number of ways.

      And now we are to go back to the same people and swallow their next opinion (which will for most be “yep, this is just a pause, I just know that disaster is coming and we must act in the next 7 to 10 years).

      I thought you acknowledged that a lack of warming over the past 15 years (even though that is untrue) doesn’t disprove the theory? Which is it?

      Oh and there is a competing theory. Solar activity, interstellar particles. You all know it. You dismiss it because the same crew that failed to accurately predict the temperatures for the last 15 years also dismissed it.

      No, it’s been dismissed because it doesn’t work. And there have been plenty of 15 year periods where air temps (leaving alone that the energy imbalance has now likely been explained by warming in the deep ocean) didn’t increase (or it even decreased). It all depends on where you cherry-pick your start and end points, and what else you wish to ignore.

      There we go Xetrov, zero links. I’ll do what the others do and argue science by citing nothing scientific. Better?

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    12. Xetrov

      Gosh Xetrov, anyone would think you were trying to shut down the discussion….;-)

      Nah, this is an actual GW thread. Have fun, you’ve been saving up.

      There we go Xetrov, zero links. I’ll do what the others do and argue science by citing nothing scientific. Better?

      Actually, yeah. It is.

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    13. CM

      Nah, this is an actual GW thread. Have fun, you’ve been saving up.

      I wouldn’t want anyone to call you a troll…….

      Actually, yeah. It is.

      Hmmmm……there is a lot I could say about that, but I won’t…..I think you already know what it would be anyway.

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