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Dana's 50th: Why I Blog

Posted on 28 March 2011 by dana1981

This is my 50th Skeptical Science blog post, and John has given me free reign to try and write something "epic".  I want to start out by thanking John for making Skeptical Science (SkS) into such a great resource (the best climate science blog on the planet!), and allowing me to contribute to it.  Thanks to the other SkS authors for giving me such good feedback on my articles, and thanks to the readers for the valuable comments and discussions on the posts.

As I'm sure was the case for a lot of people, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth first piqued my interest in climate science.  After seeing the film, I decided to research the subject for myself to determine whether the situation was really as dire as it was portrayed.  I started reading mainstream media articles, then climate blogs, then books and peer-reviewed papers.  Over the past 5 years, the more I've learned about the climate, the more concerned I've become.

My first SkS blog post was about quantifying the human contribution to global warming.  That, combined with the human fingerprints of global warming create a pretty airtight case that humans are driving the current warming trend.  When we say "the science is settled", that's what we're talking about.

There are of course significant uncertainties remaining.  For example, the cloud feedback, and sensitivity of the climate to increasing CO2.  And climate sensitivity is the major key to determining the threat posed by climate change.  That being said, climate sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric CO2, which we are on pace to reach in about 50 years, is very likely between 1.5 and 4.5°C.  I've always been impressed about the agreement between numerous different estimates of climate sensitivity, from empirical data from recent changes, to paeloclimate measurements, to climate model runs.

If this wide body of evidence is correct, then we're headed for the 2°C "danger limit" within about 50 years.  This is where I become very concerned.  I'm an environmental scientist and risk assessor, and when it comes to public health and welfare, we don't mess around.  If there's a chance a site is contaminated and poses a threat to the public, the site owner has to either prove that it's safe or clean it up.  With the climate, we're not holding ourselves to this same conservative standard.  We're taking a very cavalier approach, failing to heed the warnings of the scientific experts, and putting public health and welfare at great risk.

It's true that there is a chance that the "skeptics" are right and the consequences of human greenhouse gas emissions won't be dire, but the probability is very low.  I've examined the claims of a number of "skeptic" climate scientists, including Lindzen, Spencer, and Christy, and I do not find them very compelling.  There's a slim possibility that they are correct, that climate sensitivity is low and there is some internal radaitive forcing driving the climate.  But to act on this improbable hypothesis, ignoring the much more compelling case which is supported by a consensus of scientific experts, that we are driving the climate towards potentially catastrophic consequences for much of life on Earth, is downright foolish.

I convinced John to expand SkS to address climate solutions in addition to the fundamental science.  I examined economic studies, and found that carbon pricing has a small economic impact, and in fact its benefits outweigh its costs several times over, as we've seen in real-world examples.  And I've recently blogged about two plans to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources in a timely manner.

When you put together the immense risks posed by greenhouse gas-driven climate change, the minimal economic impacts of carbon pricing, and the roadmaps to use the carbon revenues to transition to a low-carbon economy, it just makes me think "what the heck are we waiting for?".  And then recently watching Republicans in U.S. Congress regurgitate the same myths we've debunked on SkS, while trying to justify some very anti-science legislation rather than trying to actually address the problem, was very frustrating.

I always come back to the risk assessment and management perspective.  Climate change poses one of the greatest potential risks the human race has ever faced.  From a risk management standpoint, even if you're personally unconvinced by the scientific evidence, it just makes no sense to risk the future of human society and a great many of the species on Earth on the slim probability that the scientific experts are wrong and you're right.  The risks and consequences are just too great.  We're on track for a potential mass extinction event for goodness sakes.

I think a lot of people are in denial about the magnitude of this threat, but many others are simply unaware of it.  And that's why I blog.  I think those of us who understand the potential threat have a duty to try and communicate it to those who don't, and convince them to try and do something about it.  The magnitude of the problem is so large that we can't solve it without having majorities in every country on board.

Ultimately it's not about proving which "side" is right, because we can't know that until future events play out.  It's all about mitigating risk.  As Lonnie Thompson put it, we're committed to a certain amount of climate change, and "The only question is how much we will mitigate, adapt, and suffer".  Personally, I'd like to reduce the risk of suffering as much as possible.  I don't want to bet public health and welfare on the off chance that the "skeptics" are right.  And I think those who are actively trying to prevent us from taking the steps to reduce that risk of suffering are doing our country, human society, and the world a great disservice.  To those who are doing what they can to communicate the risk and threat to the public, thanks, and keep up the good work!

The only question is how much we will mitigate, adapt, and suffer

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 61:

  1. Ah, I remember your first post Dana :) I can feel the nostalgia now. Glad I could contribute to your work here even before I became an author!
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  2. "I examined economic studies, and found that carbon pricing has a small economic impact, and in fact its benefits outweigh its costs several times over, as we've seen in real-world examples."

    Dana,
    Saying that mitigating or adapting to climate change will bear no economic costs is deluding ourselves.In fact, the whole point of mitigation measures such as carbon taxation or ETS is to impact on people's wallets so that they change their behaviour.
    But fundamentally, economic "growth" is the root cause of runaway carbon emissions as well as other environmental impacts ( degradation of landscapes, natural habitats, destruction of renewable respources and natural ecoservices)....
    My point here is that we are not addressing the fundamental problem of " externalities" by saying to the public: You can vote for climate change measures and it will not impact your "lifestyle". It would be better if the economic argument of climate change action emphasised the devastating effect of economic growth overall and called for a review of the current economic model which is focussed on material wealth rather than well being.
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  3. Phil - that's not what I said. I'm not saying people won't change their lifestyles. In fact, the way individuals can make sure carbon pricing doesn't impact their wallets is by taking advantage of energy efficiency programs.

    I'm talking about impacts to the economy as a whole, which will be small, and benefits will outweigh costs. And that's economics, not energy. Energy consumption will have to become more efficient overall as well. I think you're misreading what I'm saying.
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  4. Thanks for the 50 posts, Dana - especially the recent ones about what can be done to fix the problem. It's always useful to have a potential solution handy when stating there's a problem.
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  5. Dana,
    Thank you for your carefully researched and referenced posts.
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  6. Thank you for posts that examine the potential solutions, and the political situation that prevents the common sense answers from occurring.

    While the science is important, in 2011 we are no longer looking for evidence that AGW is happening - we are reeling from the first love tap from mother earth (summer of 2010, et al.).

    So how we move the politicians in various capitals from pandering to entrenched interest to working for the common good is the next essential step.

    For what it is worth - the case for early adopters and energy savings is HUGE - the early adopters, who act before the market signal is clear get government and other subsidies (in many cases). But they will reap the same financial reward as those who wait until the payback is less than 5 years, or whatever criteria makes energy efficiency/renewables viable in the free market.

    So if you have a dollar to spend, and wonder what the best investment is - right now it is in subsidized energy efficiency. Insulation, windows, more efficient appliances, more efficient transport (electric cars in particular), and it is in subsidized active systems - solar thermal (first), wind, PV - if you can get a 3rd party to share that cost now, your savings will be identical (actually higher because you have used the system longer) to the person who buys it after the subsidy ends.

    So the best use of a marginal investable dollar, in these extremely uncertain economic times, is obvious.

    For early adopters, the cost for converting to energy efficiency/renewable energy is not only small, but actually negative (as in you save more money than you spend). Break even (what this Blog has been jumping up and down about (aka grid parity)) means your 20 or 30 year costs are the same between paying the utility or throwing up wind/PV.

    Early adopters, especially for solar thermal, are in positive territory after 5-15 years (depends what fuel you are replacing). That is, between twice as well off or 6 times as well off (regarding energy) as the person who chooses to wait.
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  7. Its a moral issue...
    http://moralground.com/mission/

    >Yes, our lives must be an expression of what we most deeply value.
    >Yes, we can and must make conscience-driven choices about how we spend our money and time.
    >Yes, we must provide a safe and thriving future for our children.
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  8. Please support and pass on….
    “Addressing Global Warming, I vow to eliminate all my non-essential flying. It’s a moral issue…”
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/ClimateFlightAction/165484890164497?v=info

    By signing up to reducing your non-essential flying you make a big impact on emissions reduction in multiple ways.
    >Your emissions are substantially reduce.
    >Your resolution highlights and focus the urgency of the issue and the sort of effort that will be required to address the problem with your peers.
    >Lead by example. We can not ask for climate action without making the first move.
    >You reenforce and provide suport
    to consolidate action in tackling global warming.
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  9. Dana, 50 more blogs, please. I've read them all and found many of them helpful in clarifying my climate understanding.
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  10. Thanks for your great work in this forum and others.
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  11. What a marvelous post Dana.

    I rarely post, but I enjoyed yours so much I felt it deserved a response.

    You say,"the minimal economic impacts of carbon pricing"

    What? Are you kidding me?

    Nine tenths of humanity is already hovering just above the poverty line. Any carbon pricing will push that nine tenths below the poverty line, and push the majority of the remaining one tenth close to the poverty line.

    You say "I'm an environmental scientist and risk assessor, and when it comes to public health and welfare, we don't mess around. If there's a chance a site is contaminated and poses a threat to the public, the site owner has to either prove that it's safe or clean it up."

    But that’s the whole point isn’t it. You have a vested interest, your job.

    You say, “It's true that there is a chance that the "skeptics" are right and the consequences of human greenhouse gas emissions won't be dire.”

    On the other hand if the skeptics are wrong, what is going to happen?

    Have you read “Man’s search for meaning,” by Viktor E. Frankl.

    If not, you should.

    Vikto E. Frankl was a highly intelligent human being. Probably more intelligent than you or I.

    If you are right when you say, “we are driving the climate towards potentially catastrophic consequences for much of life on Earth.” It really doesn’t matter.

    What matters is that a tiny bit of humanity will survive. Like Darwin says, it’s the survival of the fittest.

    Believe me humanity will survive. I know it will :-)
    http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/smith-michael_on-globalism.html
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  12. Thanks for the nice comments all.

    miekol -
    "Any carbon pricing will push that nine tenths below the poverty line, and push the majority of the remaining one tenth close to the poverty line."
    Nope. Please see CO2 limits will hurt the poor.
    "You have a vested interest, your job."
    Sorry, what exactly are you suggesting my vested interest is?
    "On the other hand if the skeptics are wrong, what is going to happen?"
    That's kind of the point. If the "skeptics" are wrong and we behave as though they're right, we're screwed.
    "What matters is that a tiny bit of humanity will survive."
    Survival of a tiny bit of humanity is a pretty damn low bar to set. I'd prefer to aim a little bit higher.
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  13. "Nine tenths of humanity is already hovering just above the poverty line. Any carbon pricing will push that nine tenths below the poverty line, and push the majority of the remaining one tenth close to the poverty line."

    Well, Miekol, if you're so *genuinely* concerned about the welfare of those 9/10ths living close to the poverty line, then I'm sure we'll here you *loudly* demanding that Western Political Parties impose penalties on any corporations that fail to pay 3rd world nations the same wages for their labor as they pay western workers? I'm equally sure that you'll demand that Western Corporations be *forced* to pay 3rd world nations the same price for their resources as what they'd pay in the 1st world too. You really do have to *love* the selective "compassion" of the contrarians like Miekol-they're happy to leave the majority of humanity near the poverty line if it means their corporate buddies can bring home record profits, but the moment you talk about saving the environment, the hue & cry becomes "think of the poor". What contrarians hate is the idea that poor nations *could*, with help from Western Nations, supply their energy needs in a low-carbon fashion &-in the process-avoid having to buy carbon-based fuels from wealthy corporations at highly inflated prices. After all, a nation locked in a poverty cycle due to dependence on fossil fuels is much easier to manipulate & exploit.
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  14. The post Marcus at 16:46 PM on 28 March, 2011 is so offensive that it will likely be deleted.
    Perhaps it should not be deleted to remind us of that old saying--
    "What Peter tells me about Paul, tells me more about Peter than it does about Paul"
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  15. Well in that case, John D, Miekol's post should be deleted too-as he is being deeply offensive. Exactly *what* do you find so offensive about my post John? The "concern for the poor" meme is a common argument I hear from those opposed to action on climate change. If you can *prove* me wrong, John D, then I'll happily retract my post, but I fear your objection to it is that it tells some harsh truths about the Contrarians.
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  16. johnd, you have a seriously skewed idea of what is offensive. Miekol suggsts that all that matters is that a tiny vestige of humanity survives, but you think it is Marcus' post that is offensive.
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  17. After all, John, Miekol explicitly accuses Dana of having a vested interest in calling for controls on carbon emissions-thus calling into question her integrity. I was merely questioning Miekol's compassion towards the world's poor. Seems a fair trade to me.
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  18. I find it a tragically funny that Miekol finds the following so offense it needs to be censored:
    "if you're so *genuinely* concerned about the welfare of those 9/10ths living close to the poverty line, then I'm sure we'll here you *loudly* demanding that Western Political Parties impose penalties on any corporations that fail to pay 3rd world nations the same wages for their labor as they pay western workers?"
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    It is the Free-wheeling Free-Market that has created this crisis - yes change will be tough, and with every season we continue to ignore Earth's reality, that change will become even tougher.

    As for Miekol suggested solution here's a case in point for how business-as-usual benefits the plight of the poor:
    "Since the 1990s, 40 percent of the increased wealth went into the pockets of the rich minority, while only 1 percent went to the poor majority."

    http://academic.udayton.edu/race/06hrights/georegions/northamerica/china03.htm
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  19. Dana, Congratulations on fifty excellent posts and on your fiftieth post!!

    It did a very nice job of summing up the story. And I always love those relevant hot links.

    I have benefited from reading your posts and look forward to many more.

    peter
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  20. Dana. Thanks for 50 lots of good reading.

    Hoping for 50+ more, sooner rather than later.
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  21. I respect your involvement in the cause you're defending, but I cannot agree with some of your assertions

    "And climate sensitivity is the major key to determining the threat posed by climate change."
    No, it's just only ONE of the major keys : at least two others are the amount of FF we can really extract from the Earth, and the real impact of 1°C warming on mankind. You seem to assume that these two factors are much better known that climate sensitivity (in this case determination of CS would indeed be the crucial step)- but they're obviously not.

    " That being said, climate sensitivity to a doubling of atmospheric CO2, which we are on pace to reach in about 50 years, is very likely between 1.5 and 4.5°C. I've always been impressed about the agreement between numerous different estimates of climate sensitivity, from empirical data from recent changes, to paeloclimate measurements, to climate model runs."

    well you're easily impressed : if a range of a factor 3 is called an "agreement", then many fields of science become very accurate suddenly ! how can you call that a scientific assessment ? and I recall that's only ONE of the factors - the two others are not better determined. So by multiplying three ill-known factors , we could reach the accurate determination of a "2°C "danger limit"" and know exactly how much FF we should extract to reach it, notwithstanding the uncertainty of a factor 3 in the sensitivity ? I still to understand how this miracle occurs.

    And the point is that you totally overlook the real problem, which will be the LACK of FF Like you, I think that " a lot of people are in denial about the magnitude of this threat, but many others are simply unaware of it."
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  22. I'm afraid that, if the so-called skeptics are so skeptical of the obvious physical science, they'll surely be much more skeptical of impact assessments... My motivation is to move the debate from the absurd place in which it is now, toward impacts and mitigation/adaptation options, but I think the battle in that field will be much harder...

    *I also began to investigate and communicate about climate science as a result of An Inconvenient Truth.
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  23. Jesús, taking a precise example, you think that qualifying a factor 3 of uncertainty as "impressive agreement" is a piece of "obvious physical science" ? Obviously, "obvious" has not the same meaning for everybody.
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  24. Great job, Dana. Hope there will be much more.

    About those so addicted to oil that can't think of any alternative:

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  25. Gilles, I suggest you work through probability assessments. When different methods, independent data and independent judgments end up with similar probability distributions, it _is_ rather impressive agreement. By all indications, the sensitivity is a stochastic variable, meaning that it could take (and in fact does) any in a range of values. We take the expected value as the most likely estimate for medium-long time feedbacks, but different factors may put the actual, realized value higher or lower. That further research may change the probability distribution, dos not mean that the distribution we use today is "wrong", simply that with more knowledge, we can make more precise assessments. You may think about domestic energy consumption as an example - it may look rather random with enormous variance when you just plot readings from different houses over the world together, but identifying the most important covariates, you can make much more precise estimations about actual energy use.

    AND - the important thing here is the integral of the sensitivity pdf for a given set of GHG (mostly CO2)parameters and the costs - which represents the best total cost estimate. It is very tempting to truncate the range of integration here, as some outcomes may seem very unlikely. But, as the Fukushima disaster illustrates, it is not acceptable to disregard some outcomes just because we consider them unlikely.

    This game is exactly what lots of "skeptics" play, which is why it is difficult for me to take them completely seriously: You can't just omit values you don't like, and you are not entitled to set probabilities to zero if it can be argued they are not.
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  26. "Gilles, I suggest you work through probability assessments. When different methods, independent data and independent judgments end up with similar probability distributions, it _is_ rather impressive agreement"

    Given the fact that "probability distribution" is just an a posteriori comparison of various estimates, I can't understand at all what you mean by "independant judgements end up with similar probability distribution". It's just like saying "each person size ends up with the same probability distribution - that's an impressive agreement". This is pure nonsense. another piece of "obvious good science " !
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  27. Dana,

    I want to say how much I have enjoyed your posts, and appreciate your selfless dedication to the task.

    Given his importance in your own life, it is also an opportunity for me to pay tribute to Al Gore, whose film “An Inconvenient Truth” was the culmination of years of tireless work taking his message around the world. But for a few votes in Florida in the year 2000, amidst allegations of Republican shenanigans, he would have been president of the United States. Those who admire him may feel this was a great loss, but I have come to see something providential in the outcome. In the years that followed, Gore was able to speak with a freedom and conviction about climate change in a way that may have not been possible from the Oval Office. Gore was too good to be president. He was and is a prophet of our time. We ignore him at our peril!
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  28. # 26

    Given the fact that "probability distribution" is just an a posteriori comparison of various estimates, I can't understand at all what you mean by "independant judgements end up with similar probability distribution". It's just like saying "each person size ends up with the same probability distribution - that's an impressive agreement". This is pure nonsense. another piece of "obvious good science " !
    !!!!!!

    I suggested you work through these types of estimation problems. You _might_ understand it then, but you can't understand that it is relevant and important that using different data, methodical approaches and judgment criteria end up with the same conclusions re probability distibutions, I don't think I personally am able to help you.
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  29. Gilles, yet again we see your ability to make utterly ludicrous & totally unfounded assertions. We also see your unerring ability to "believe" that you know more than the world's climate scientists-who've been studying the issues of climate science for several decades-even though you admit you're not a scientists. Well, take it from someone who *is* a scientist Gilles-your claims are without any basis in *fact* &-unless you're prepared to provide....oh, I don't know....some *evidence* to back a single fallacious claim you've made, then I think its for the best that everyone here just ignore your rants.
    For the record, even a very modest 0.6 degrees of warming is already causing rapid loss of multi-year Arctic Ice & accelerating loss of the Greenland Glacier. Another 0.6 to 1 degree of warming will almost certainly be sufficient to melt both the tundra ice & clathrates-both of which will lead to a release of *dangerous* amounts of methane-which will drive temperatures well past the ranges put forward by the IPCC, without the need to extract every last ounce of coal or oil. Of course, you don't help your own case when in one breath you claim we're going to increase our extraction of "cheap" coal & oil, then in the very next breath claim that there isn't sufficient fossil fuels to cause a doubling in CO2 (though you don't provide solid evidence to back either assertions). If you can't even be consistent, Gilles, then how can anyone here take you seriously? I'd suggest you stop wasting time here until you have something substantial to add to the debate, Gilles.
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  30. Marcus, lack of consistency and self-contradictory statements are the hallmark of the "climate skeptic".

    I, too, was particularly suprised by Gilles' assertion that there's not enough fossil fuels to raise CO2 enough to cause a problem, given the ardent promotion on other threads of FF as the *only* way to generate wealth.

    Then again, it's consistent if the message you're trying to push is "drill, baby, drill!", and bedamned with the consequences.

    Given that the alternative involves the capability of providing clean energy worldwide that doesn't require a continuous supply of (soon to be increasingly rare & expensive) fuel, and has significantly less environmental impacts quite apart from climate change issues, it sometimes is really hard to understand the almost dogmatic resistance to the idea of weaning the global economy off fossil fuels.
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  31. Your "How We Know Recent Global Warming Is Not Natural" post is easily my favorite post on this website. I show that to anyone who tells me that it is "natural" and it certainly gives them something to think hard about. Thanks Dana for all your hard work.
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  32. I think all that has really been accomplished is that a problem has been identified. I think the solutions that have been offered up are rotten. Does anyone have a plan that does not involve raising taxes on gasoline prices? The newest thing I have heard about is building flexi windmills that are floatable, which would be floated out to the deep ocean to catch the more powerful winds. The problem is that operating costs would be very high.
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  33. Note to Moderators, 12, Dana,

    There is no content behind the link Dana provided at post 12, CO2 limits will hurt the poor.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Thanks for pointing that out; I've left a note for Dana asking if this is the URL intended.
  34. @Marcus

    I don't think the problem is the western corporations. I think China is the big problem. I think right now we have the reverse of what we need. Seems to me that the regulations we have on our companies are too strict and so they just import items from China. I think we should have stricter regulations on China.
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  35. Jay... It always amuses me when people talk about China without knowing anything about China. What you have in China is a country in rapid transition to being a first world nation. But still ~2/3 of their population has seen none of the advances that have taken place there.

    Is China categorically on this road of "no regulation" in order to promote business? Not at all. In fact, they are doing exactly what we did as we developed as a nation. They're installing regulations!

    I spend a lot of time in China. My wife is Chinese. I've worked with factories in China for a decade. You know what the big complaints from factory owners are? "Oh, minimum wage laws forcing us to pay more for labor. Oh, the rules on how much work we can require our workers to do is getting more strict." And so on.

    The regulations we have on corporations are there for a reason. We developed them over many long hard decades of learning hard lessons about how companies can mistreat people and the environment. China is in the process of trying to quickly install the same regulations that keep our nation prosperous.
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  36. Thanks again for the nice comments all.

    Sphaerica and DB - yes sorry, I thought John had made the blog post DB linked into the rebuttal to "CO2 limits will hurt the poor". He's a busy fellow - probably just hasn't had time yet!

    My response to Gilles on fossil fuel reserves is the same as my comments to "skeptics" in this article. Maybe we don't have enough fossil fuel reserves to raise global temperatures much above the 'danger limit'. I think this is an exceptionally unlikely scenario, but it's possible. Do we want to bet our future on this possible but unlikely scenario? I sure don't.

    Cadbury - economic studies have shown that carbon pricing will have a pretty minimal impact on gasoline prices, raising them in the ballpark of 10%, as I recall. Considering that our gas prices are about half of what they are in most of Europe despite the recent rise, I don't think that's unreasonable.
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  37. Rob is right about China. They are also on track to implement a carbon cap and trade system before the USA, which as an American, I find deeply embarrassing, since we're responsible for about 3 times more of the increase in atmospheric CO2 than China, and are already a developed nation.
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  38. There is also a challenge when looking at the per capita output of CO2 for China. If you spend any time there living with actual people and seeing how they live their lives (which I do with family there every year) you realize Chinese people are actually not using outrageous amounts of energy.

    Most people in China ride rapid transit. Most Chinese cities are so large and dense it's not that useful to actually own a vehicle except as a status symbol. China has an extensive rail system connecting cities and that is how most get around. Most major cities either already have a metro rail system or has one under construction.

    In people's homes they use very little heating and cooling. Culturally they don't like clothes washing machines and prefer to wash by hand and hang clothes to dry. Chinese people are very low carbon. The energy they do use is often not very efficient but they use so little of it that it's not a huge consequence.

    I would contend, though, that a huge amount of energy is used in producing concrete for construction of high rise living complexes. These things have been growing like weeds in China for 30 years now with no indication of slowing down any time soon. But again, 2/3 of Chinese people are still living an agrarian lifestyle so they have a lot of work to do.

    But a large portion of China's output of CO2 comes from making goods for the western world. When we exported our manufacturing to China we also exported a large amount of our own CO2 production.
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  39. Dana,

    I very sincere thanks for all your hard work. The standard of your work is always high and yet written at a level that resonates with those not as well informed about all the nuances and complexities of climate science. Keep up the excellent work and I look forward to reading (and learning) more.
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  40. Rob #38: "looking at the per capita output of CO2 for China"

    Spot on. See the chart of per capita CO2 emissions. Places like the small Middle Eastern states are the worst per capita; the US is #11, China is #80.

    Which countries stand to lose more of their 'individual lifestyle' if the cost of emitting CO2 increases? Probably those where the per capita rate is highest. Does that help explain why the US is so allergic to any form of regulation?
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  41. muoncounter: "Which countries stand to lose more of their 'individual lifestyle' if the cost of emitting CO2 increases? Probably those where the per capita rate is highest."

    United States: 18.9 metric tons per capita
    United Kingdom: 8.9 metric tons per capita
    France: 6 metric tons per capita

    Is the 'individual lifestyle' in the United Kingdom less than half as good as it is in the United States? Less than a third in France? If not, then I don't think your emissions per capita = lifestyle quality hypothesis holds up.
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  42. I should clarify...

    You (muoncounter) are likely correct that these usage figures are a good indication of why places like the U.S. (and Australia, which has similar results) are so averse to regulation. However, the much lower ratings in other locations with similar standards of living would seem to indicate that those fears are misplaced.
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  43. CBD #41: "I don't think your emissions per capita = lifestyle quality"

    I certainly do not suggest that; it is almost Gillesian in its illogic. My statement was in response to Jay Cadbury's 'China is to blame'. I suggest that if there is a price to emitting CO2, it will impact the US -- and that is why the US is so stubbornly resistant to paying that price.
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  44. Yeah, I knew that came out wrong as soon as I hit 'Submit'. Hence the followup.

    Basically, >if< the U.S. continued its current emissions then a price on those would significantly impact it and thus there is a 'logical reason' for resistance to putting a price on carbon.

    However, comparison to other industrialized nations indicates that those high emissions levels are not required to maintain the U.S. standard of living - other countries achieve comparable results with vastly lower emissions.

    Something of a self-fulfilling prophecy... the U.S. does not want to put a price on carbon because that would be costly with their current emissions... which are outlandishly high because there is no price on carbon.
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  45. A price on carbon emissions really wouldn't be that tough for the US. As I've discussed in previous posts, proposed legislation like Waxman-Markey was projected to cost the average American 75 cents per week per person. Gas prices would only rise modestly, energy bills would effectively remain flat as people took advantage of energy efficiency programs funded by the carbon revenues. And overall benefits would significantly outpace costs. And I also linked to a discussion of a real-world example, the RGGI in the Northeastern US.

    Americans are definitely afraid it will be painful, but studies show it really won't be that bad.
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  46. The conversation has turned to one of my favorite points regarding climate change. The actual cost is likely to be zero, or even negative (that is profitable). Many people are paying ~100/fillup of their vehicle. Switch that to a Nissan Leaf and 8 solar panels: price per fillup is now zero. Payback time for the solar panels and the extra cost of the electric car? About 5 years

    Many people pay 600-1800/year for heating. Switch that to solar thermal and pay 150-500. Payback time - less than 10 years for propane and electric, 10-14 for natural gas.

    And on and on and so it goes.

    The strongest known force in the universe is an American's desire to avoid a "tax" - so put a tax on carbon and watch how fast the offending item (carbon) is not used.

    Now some caveats - the Leaf only goes 100 miles per charge, some of the carbon tax avoidance will come out as burning trees in inefficient wood stoves. American cities would be smart to ban wood stoves now, so as not to look the bad guy when we finally get a carbon tax.

    Now factor in the growth to the economy in switching over, and increased financial stability of all participants (the utility can't turn your heat off when it is solar powered and contained on your property).

    As a society, we will be dramatically and strictly better off.
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  47. actually thoughtfull - I think you've nailed the point that the up-front costs (i.e. buying an EV or solar panels) are significant, but in the long run the net cost is small and we even save money. The problem is convincing people to make the up-front investments, especially in today's political climate where politicians are trying to cut funding from as many programs as possible.

    Of course that's where the carbon price comes in. But then they say you're taxing people and businesses, and we're also very anti-tax right now.

    So ultimately you have to put it all together in a climate bill and sell it to the American people. Which Democrats did successfully in 2009 - a majority of Americans supported the legislation, and it passed the House, but the Senate Republican minority blocked it. And then we elected a bunch more of them in 2010. Americans support this legislation, but consider it a very low priority.

    So ultimately it boils down to the fact that we need to convince Americans not only that climate legislation is a good idea, but that they need to make it a high priority, and make politicians who block it pay at the ballot box.
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  48. SNRratio : could you please be more precise of what you're referring to as "different data or methodologies ending up with the same probability distribution " - because I don't see what you mean.

    Marcus#29 : "even though you admit you're not a scientists"
    at least a definite piece of evidence that you don't listen to what I'm saying or don't understand it - I never admitted that I wasn't a scientist, for the very good reason that I am one, and I'd have no interest in saying the opposite. Is my english really that poor ?
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  49. Giles, I think SNRatio's point is that there are many different estimates for the climate sensitivity due to a doubling of CO2. For instance it may be based on a simple radiation model where the sea is modelled as a slab or a complex model which accounts for ocean currents, aerosols and other GHGs. You could look at the history of the Earth to determine its response to CO2 or look at modern data and estimate the climate sensitivity.

    If these methods come up with a similar figure than you would be more certain that those figures are reasonable? Even though the range is quite large 3C is considered far more likely than 1.5C.Here is a list of calculated climate sensitivities.
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  50. #48 Gilles:
    Think of my example of estimating domestic energy consumption from individual house recordings/estimates - without having any net result readings - think of it like everyone being off-grid wrt utilities. You can pick a huge variety of estimators, using parameters like area, temperature, construction type and building standards, types of heating, appliances etc. If you construct estimators from disjoint sets of such parameters, you may be on the way to producing independent estimates, and the choices may represent different methodologies. If, then, different methodologies end up generating very similar estimates for the distribution of consumption, this will normally be considered significant, because with real independence of parameters (their "readout", that is), you would not expect that to happen by chance.

    In the climate setting, temperatures and their distribution throughout the atmosphere, integrated radiation balance and sea level could be examples of independent indicators. The parameters themselves are of course not independent, but our measurements of them are. The same could also apply for modeling: When different sets of assumptions and approaches produce similar results.

    And when we are basically searching for a probability distribution, large variance does not have to mean low precision - we may have a precise estimate of this huge variance, and we may even get localization measures like expectation right. But with large variance, it may be important to try to identify covariates in order to estimate better - think of latitude and land/sea neigborhood area ratio in the case of domestic energy consumption.

    In climate sensitivity, there is much uncertainty about possible covariates - and what is a good way of modeling. Covariates are typically intensively used in regression approaches, but with complex feedback mechanisms, less simplistic approaches may be necessary. Roy Spencer and Richard Lindzen both argue that sensitivity is very low, and as long as their hypotheses are not physically impossible, their estimates have some positive probability. Because water vapor is the strongest greenhouse gas, and its lifetime may be just a few days, instant feedbacks may depend on a lot of hard to sort out factors. Some of them give higher, some lower CO2 sensitivity, and it may be possible to cherry-pick conditions to support quite different sensitivity estimates. What counts in the long run, is the long-time average of the sensitivity, but this may in fact be impossible to predict in advance with high precision.


    #46 actually thoughtful: Defining standards, either by regulation or by customer expectations, may help. As consumers, we are inclined to behave opportunistically rather than long-time rationally. And this is perfectly natural - estimating long-term results may be very difficult. When I built my house about 30 years ago, I knew that some decisions were completely irrational according to the standards and assumptions made then. But I have never regretted them, and now, most are integrated into Norwegian building code (without me talking publicly about it at all).
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