Skip to comments.The heat is on
Posted on 09/10/2006 12:35:39 AM PDT by Einigkeit_Recht_Freiheit
The uncertainty surrounding climate change argues for action, not inaction. America should lead the way
FOR most of the Earth's history, the planet has been either very cold, by our standards, or very hot. Fifty million years ago there was no ice on the poles and crocodiles lived in Wyoming. Eighteen thousand years ago there was ice two miles thick in Scotland and, because of the size of the ice sheets, the sea level was 130m lower. Ice-core studies show that in some places dramatic changes happened remarkably swiftly: temperatures rose by as much as 20°C in a decade. Then, 10,000 years ago, the wild fluctuations stopped, and the climate settled down to the balmy, stable state that the world has enjoyed since then. At about that time, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, mankind started to progress.
Man-made greenhouse gases now threaten this stability. Climate change is complicated and uncertain, but, as our survey this week explains, the underlying calculation is fairly straightforward. The global average temperature is expected to increase by between 1.4°C and 5.8°C this century. The bottom end of the range would make life a little more comfortable for northern areas and a little less pleasant for southern ones. Anything much higher than that could lead to catastrophic rises in sea levels, increases in extreme weather events such as hurricanes, flooding and drought, falling agricultural production and, perhaps, famine and mass population movement.
Nobody knows which is likelier, for the climate is a system of almost infinite complexity. Predicting how much hotter a particular level of carbon dioxide will make the world is impossible. It's not just that the precise effect of greenhouse gases on temperature is unclear. It's also that warming has countless indirect effects. It may set off mechanisms that tend to cool things down (clouds which block out sunlight, for instance) or ones that heat the world further (by melting soils in which greenhouse gases are frozen, for instance). The system could right itself or spin out of human control.
This uncertainty is central to the difficulty of tackling the problem. Since the costs of climate change are unknown, the benefits of trying to do anything to prevent it are, by definition, unclear. What's more, if they accrue at all, they will do so at some point in the future. So is it really worth using public resources now to avert an uncertain, distant risk, especially when the cash could be spent instead on goods and services that would have a measurable near-term benefit?
If the risk is big enough, yes. Governments do it all the time. They spend a small slice of tax revenue on keeping standing armies not because they think their countries are in imminent danger of invasion but because, if it happened, the consequences would be catastrophic. Individuals do so too. They spend a little of their incomes on household insurance not because they think their homes are likely to be torched next week but because, if it happened, the results would be disastrous. Similarly, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the risk of a climatic catastrophe is high enough for the world to spend a small proportion of its income trying to prevent one from happening.
And the slice of global output that would have to be spent to control emissions is probably not huge. The cost differential between fossil-fuel-generated energy and some alternatives is already small, and is likely to come down. Economists trying to guess the ultimate cost of limiting carbon dioxide concentrations to 550 parts per million or below (the current level is 380ppm, 450ppm is reckoned to be ambitious and 550ppm liveable with) struggle with uncertainties too. Some models suggest there would be no cost; others that global output could be as much as 5% lower by the end of the century than if there were no attempt to control emissions. But most estimates are at the low endbelow 1%.
What Kyoto did The Kyoto protocol, which tried to get the world's big polluters to commit themselves to cutting emissions to 1990 levels or below, was not a complete failure. European Union countries and Japan will probably hit their targets, even if Canada does not. Kyoto has also created a global market in carbon reduction, which allows emissions to be cut relatively efficiently. But it will not have much impact on emissions, and therefore on the speed of climate change, because it does not require developing countries to cut their emissions, and because America did not ratify it.
The United States is the world's biggest producer of greenhouse gases, though not for long. Every year China is building power-generating capacity almost equivalent to Britain's entire stock, almost all of it burning coalthe dirtiest fuel. It will shortly overtake America, and India is not far behind. Developing countries argue, quite reasonably, that, since the rich world created the problem, it must take the lead in solving it. So, if America continues to refuse to do anything to control its emissions, developing countries won't do anything about theirs. If America takes action, they just might.
Two measures are needed. One is an economic tool which puts a price on emitting greenhouse gases. That could be a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, such as Europe's Emissions-Trading Scheme, which limits how much producers can emit, and lets them buy and sell emissions credits. Ideally, politicians would choose the more efficient carbon tax, which implies a relatively stable price that producers can build into their investment plans. The more volatile cap-and-trade system, however, is easier to sell to producers, who can get free allowances when the scheme is introduced.
Either of these schemes should decrease the use of fossil fuels and increase the use of alternatives. In doing so, they are bound to raise energy prices. To keep down price rises, and thus ease the political process, governments should employ a second tool: spending to help promising new technologies get to market. Carbon sequestration, which offers the possibility of capturing carbon produced by dirty power stations and storing it underground, is a prime candidate.
Although George Bush now argues that America needs to wean itself off its dependency on oil, his administration still refuses to take serious action. But other Americans are moving. California's state assembly has just passed tough Kyoto-style targets. Many businesses, fearing that they will end up having to deal with a patchwork of state-level measures, now want federal controls. And conservative America, once solidly sceptical, is now split over the issue, as Christians concerned about mankind's stewardship of the Earth, neo-cons keen to reduce America's dependency on the Middle East and farmers who see alternative energy as a new potential source of energy come round to the idea of cutting down on carbon.
Mr Bush has got two years left in the job. He would like to be remembered as a straightshooter who did the right thing. Tackling climate change would be one way to do that.
I am suprised they allowed that second paragraph to go to print. They took a survey?
It goes downhill from there
But the first paragraph is a keeper.
I take that back. I just reread that first one and it wont fly either. Why would a "serious" paper allow this garbage?
I do, I do.
It's $4.00 an hour because Pascal is an illegal!
This ALL about partisan politics and economics (as in destroying the economies of the West) and nothing about science.
Twenty years ago the same quality of "scientists" were telling us we were absolutely causing a brand new ice age--and they were just as positive about that as they are about global warming.
Check out some of the global warming sales groups like that group of "Concerned Scientists". See how many of their "scientists" have degrees in Library Science, Psychology, Sociology, etc. and how few in the hard sciences.
Are you aware that over 17,000 REAL scientists have signed a petition questioning the authenticity of the science re: global warming?
I disagree. Having a strong economy is the key to our security. That is how we won WWII and how we defeated the Soviet Union.
The most important thing for our economy is the use of the most economical source of energy. Right now that is oil. Doesn't matter if it comes from Saudi or Alaska or Nigeria.
No, paying for a more expensive fuel while others use a more economical one is not good for our security. Producing our own resources would be good for our security. Instead we let environmentalists and democrats hold us hostage while we fund our enemies.
It also coincides with an exponential increase in the number of humans that die every year. So, clearly, human death causes global warming. It also coincides with an exponential decrease in the number of pirates in the world. So, clearly, piracy was keeping global warming in check.
Association isn't causation, my FRiend.
"Reading comprehension my FRiend.' - how about a bit of historical comprehension?
The "minor" changes which have occurred resulted in Greenland going from a place where Vikings lived in a grazing based farm system to a frozen wasteland.
To assume that man can control climate reminds me of what Robert Ardrey called the "Illusion of Central Position". It is a reference to the infantile assumption that the world revolves around the infant.
Perhaps Ardrey was correct when he said that many of the Liberal delusions can be traced to arrested development and retention of the Illusion of Central Position into adulthood.
"Fifty million years ago there was no ice on the poles and crocodiles lived in Wyoming."
Fifty million years ago Wyoming would have been on the equator.
The liberal mindset at its finest.
"The fact that it is happening about 100 times faster than naturally and coincides with an exponential increase in CO2 in the atmosphere which just so happened to coincide with an exponential increase in human burning of fossil fuels is what leads me to believe that humans are affecting the change to some degree."
There's correlation, yes, but not necessarily causation.
For example, humans first started developing agriculture at the beginning of the Neolithic Revolution. At this time, humans started living in permanent settlements and finally gained control of their food supply, which led to a skyrocketing of the human population. Now, hominids have been using fire since Homo Habilis, but never in the numbers that our Neolithic ancestors did. The rate of usage of firewood jumped enormously at that time.
The time period in question also corresponded to a dramatic rise in Earth's temperatures and the receding of the glaciers. Could the increased prevalence of fire use by Man have dumped enough CO2 into the atmosphere to perhaps trigger the end of the last Ice Age?
Because Earth's climate exhibits a bi-stable state, like the author describes (i.e. either very hot or very cold, never in between), then the transition from one state to the other HAS to be fast. It would be fast with or without our intervention, regardless of whether we try to help it along or try to hold it back.
We would do much, much better to allocate our hard-won intelligence to trying to figure out how to live in the soon-to-be warmer planet, rather than bickering about why it's happening or, even worse, exerting Herculean but ultimately futile efforts to stop it.
Humans thinking that they can adjust the gasses in the atmosphere by ANY MEANS is arrogant.. Just ONE volcano will change it again..
We don't know for certain. Right now, based on evidence we've accumulated, we believe that we're in a rare temperate plateau between normally hot and cold extremes, and that we're accelerating in a slide towards the hot state.
This is all based on large amounts of inference. It could be completely wrong, but right now it matches the accumulated evidence to the best of our ability to compare and analyze.
Of course, just because you know your world model may be faulty, doesn't mean you should live your life catering to the possible faultiness. In other words, just because you can hedge your bets on your belief doesn't mean you should hedge your actions. I recognize that there's an outside chance that I may be hallucinating the chair in front of my computer desk right now, but I'm still going to sit on it without even pausing. :)
Are you saying you don't understand a changing environment and evolutionary changes thereof?
Why would wood smoke be cleaner?
The city of Spokane, located in a broad valley and troubled occasionally by temperature inversions, often on such occasions bans heating with wood stoves, of which there are many in that city, or imposes regulations requiring what is called "clean" burning, which, as I understand the matter, is detectable by the visual density/color of the smoke emitted. This is done for air quality considerations (i.e., human health, livability), not because of the Global Warming Syndrome.
(I don't live in Spokane, but nearby in Idaho and every day get news from Spokane TV)
The result, in the case of large glaciers, can depend on whether the ice has accumulated on land or on(in) water.
Khabibullo Abdusamatov is chief of the Space Exploration Department of the Central Astronomical Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the supervisor of the Astrometria project of the Russian part of the International Space Station, Doctor of Physical Sciences.
Solar Cycle 25 peaking around 2022 could be one of the weakest in centuries.
May 10, 2006: The Sun's Great Conveyor Belt has slowed to a record-low crawl, according to research by NASA solar physicist David Hathaway. "It's off the bottom of the charts," he says. "This has important repercussions for future solar activity."
The Great Conveyor Belt is a massive circulating current of fire (hot plasma) within the Sun. It has two branches, north and south, each taking about 40 years to perform one complete circuit. Researchers believe the turning of the belt controls the sunspot cycle, and that's why the slowdown is important.
Right: The sun's "Great Conveyor Belt" in profile.
"Normally, the conveyor belt moves about 1 meter per secondwalking pace," says Hathaway. "That's how it has been since the late 19th century." In recent years, however, the belt has decelerated to 0.75 m/s in the north and 0.35 m/s in the south. "We've never seen speeds so low."
According to theory and observation, the speed of the belt foretells the intensity of sunspot activity ~20 years in the future. A slow belt means lower solar activity; a fast belt means stronger activity. The reasons for this are explained in the Science@NASA story Solar Storm Warning.
"The slowdown we see now means that Solar Cycle 25, peaking around the year 2022, could be one of the weakest in centuries," says Hathaway.
This is interesting news for astronauts. Solar Cycle 25 is when the Vision for Space Exploration should be in full flower, with men and women back on the Moon preparing to go to Mars. A weak solar cycle means they won't have to worry so much about solar flares and radiation storms.
Above: In red, David Hathaway's predictions for the next two solar cycles and, in pink, Mausumi Dikpati's prediction for cycle 24.
On the other hand, they will have to worry more about cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are high-energy particles from deep space; they penetrate metal, plastic, flesh and bone. Astronauts exposed to cosmic rays develop an increased risk of cancer, cataracts and other maladies. Ironically, solar explosions, which produce their own deadly radiation, sweep away the even deadlier cosmic rays. As flares subside, cosmic rays intensifyyin, yang.
Hathaway's prediction should not be confused with another recent forecast: A team led by physicist Mausumi Dikpata of NCAR has predicted that Cycle 24, peaking in 2011 or 2012, will be intense. Hathaway agrees: "Cycle 24 will be strong. Cycle 25 will be weak. Both of these predictions are based on the observed behavior of the conveyor belt."
How do you observe a belt that plunges 200,000 km below the surface of the sun?
"We do it using sunspots," Hathaway explains. Sunspots are magnetic knots that bubble up from the base of the conveyor belt, eventually popping through the surface of the sun. Astronomers have long known that sunspots have a tendency to driftfrom mid solar latitudes toward the sun's equator. According to current thinking, this drift is caused by the motion of the conveyor belt. "By measuring the drift of sunspot groups," says Hathaway, "we indirectly measure the speed of the belt."
Right: Hathaway monitors the speed of the Conveyor Belt by plotting the drift of sunspot groups from high to low solar latitude. This plot is called "the Butterfly Diagram." The tilt of the wings reveal the speed of the Conveyor Belt. [More]
Using historical sunspot records, Hathaway has succeeded in clocking the conveyor belt as far back as 1890. The numbers are compelling: For more than a century, "the speed of the belt has been a good predictor of future solar activity."
If the trend holds, Solar Cycle 25 in 2022 could be, like the belt itself, "off the bottom of the charts."
Thanks for the "ping".
From the article, I gather that "The Economist" needs a new "science editor".
The following excerpts are especially goofy:
"...Then, 10,000 years ago, the wild fluctuations stopped, and the climate settled down to [a] balmy, stable state..."
[Tell that to the Greenland's Viking settlers!]
"...Climate change is complicated and uncertain...climate is a system of almost infinite complexity. Predicting how much hotter a particular level of carbon dioxide will make the world is impossible....the precise effect of greenhouse gases on temperature is unclear...The system could right itself or spin out of human control [HUMAN control? LOL!!]...This uncertainty is central to the difficulty of tackling the problem. Since the costs of climate change are unknown, the benefits of trying to do anything to prevent it are, by definition, unclear..."
"The uncertainty surrounding climate change argues for action, not inaction."
[Yes, indeedy, let's do SOMETHING so we can all "feel" self-righteous!]
"...The Kyoto protocol...was not a complete failure...[because]...Kyoto... created a...market in carbon...which allows emissions to be cut...But it will not have much impact on emissions, and therefore on the speed of climate change..." [ and the difference between "not much impact" and "failure" is?? LOL!]
"Carbon sequestration, which offers the possibility of capturing carbon produced by dirty power stations and storing it underground [but NOT in the continuing low-cost re-forestation of places like Vermont], is a prime candidate."
IMHO, if there were more "truth" to the global warming story, there would be no need for such breathless "hyping" of the issue by profit-seeking entities like "The Economist".
Indeed, I pointed out some of those problems as well.
Ultimately, it seems like regardless of the certainty or lack thereof of human involvement we are going to get action on it.
Better to have a Republican do it to minimize the impact rather than a leftist who will maximize the power-grab.
I think we have a difference in opinion of whether it is better for America if Republicans:
(1) Cooperate with Democrats to enact harsh "Environmental Laws" or
(2) Resist (perhaps futilely) efforts by Democrats to enact harsh "Environmental Laws".
I believe that Republican cooperation with Democrats on this issue, will:
(a) result in harsher, more damaging environmental laws because conceding [in error] that a "global warming problem" actually exists will also concede "leadership" to the Democrats on this political issue and
(b) mean that Republicans will have to share the blame when those harsh laws cause massive job losses in the US -- while doing nothing at all to effect either CO2 levels or global temperatures. Moreover, this "shared blame" will make it harder for Republicans to use the "I told you so" argument to rally support to repeal those damaging "feel-good" laws.
As they say: "Sleep with dogs, catch fleas."
Agreed, to an extent. I wholly agree that allocating the quantities of mankind's effort to the kind of reforms that the environmentalists advocate is a huge, huge mistake, especially if they intend to put the power of government (i.e. the use of force) behind them.
Rather, I take a quintessentially capitalistic approach to this whole thing. If you really believe that the Earth is warming, then rather than screaming your head off like a little sissy about it, invest in beachfront property in Nevada. Buy futures in tropical-friendly foodcrops. Sell off your time-share in Honolulu. Put your money where your mouth is!
The whole point of having a human brain is to use it, with some modicum of reliability, to predict the future. You can't guarantee that the sun will rise tomorrow, but that's certainly the way to bet! You don't know that winter will follow fall this year - maybe some heretofore unknown gravitational wave of gargantuan proportions will fling the Earth backwards in its orbit! - but fall is still when you should harvest and store your crops.
So, insofar as we can use our brain to process the information of our senses, some people "know" that the Earth's temperature is rising. And if that's their knowledge, then they should damn well act on that knowledge, just as someone who knows that winter is coming should start harvesting their crops in fall.
P.S. Interesting articles about that Russian guy and about the solar storm cycle!