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Realistically What Might the Future Climate Look Like?

Posted on 31 August 2012 by dana1981

Robert Watson, former Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), recently made headlines by declaring that it is unlikely we will be able to limit global warming to the 2°C 'danger limit'.  This past April, the International Energy Agency similarly warned that we are rapidly running out of time to avoid blowing past 2°C global warming compared to late 19th Century temperatures.  The reason for their pessimism is illustrated in the 'ski slopes' graphic, which depicts how steep emissions cuts will have to be in order to give ourselves a good chance to stay below the 2°C target, given different peak emissions dates (Figure 1).

ski slopes

Figure 1: Three scenarios, each of which would limit the total global emission of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning and industrial processes to 750 billion tonnes over the period 2010–2050.  Source: German Advisory Council on Global Change, WBGU (2009)

Clearly our CO2 emissions have not yet peaked - in fact they increased by 1 billion tonnes between 2010 and 2011 despite a continued global economic recession; therefore, the green curve is no longer an option.  There has also been little progress toward an international climate accord to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which suggests that the blue curve does not represent a likely scenario either - in order to achieve peak emissions in 2015 we would have to take serious steps to reduce emissions today, which we are not.  The red curve seems the most likely, but the required cuts are so steep that it is unlikely we will be able to achieve them, which means we are indeed likely to surpass the 2°C target.

Thus it is worth exploring the question, what would a world with >2°C global surface warming look like?

Global Warming Impacts

The 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) summarizes the magnitudes of impact of various degrees of warming here, and graphically in Figure 2, relative to ~1990 temperatures (~0.6°C above late 19th Century temperatures).

fig spm.2

Figure 2: Illustrative examples of global impacts projected for climate changes (and sea level and atmospheric carbon dioxide where relevant) associated with different amounts of increase in global average surface temperature in the 21st century. The black lines link impacts, dotted arrows indicate impacts continuing with increasing temperature. Entries are placed so that the left-hand side of the text indicates the approximate onset of a given impact. Quantitative entries for water stress and flooding represent the additional impacts of climate change relative to the conditions projected across the range of Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) scenarios. Adaptation to climate change is not included in these estimations. Confidence levels for all statements are high.  IPCC AR4 WGII Figure SPM.2.  Click the image for a larger version.

Some adverse impacts are expected even before we reach the 2°C limit, for example hundreds of millions of people being subjected to increased water stress, increasing drought at mid-latitudes (as we recently discussed here), increased coral bleaching, increased coastal damage from floods and storms, and increased morbidity and mortality from more frequent and intense heat waves (see here), floods, and droughts.  However, by and large these are impacts which we should be able to adapt to, at a cost, but without disastrous consequences.

Once we surpass the 2°C target, the impacts listed above are exacerbated, and some new impacts will occur.  Most corals will bleach, and widespread coral mortality is expected ~3°C above late 19th Century temperatures.  Up to 30% of global species will be at risk for extinction, and the figure could exceed 40% if we surpass 4°C, as we continue on the path toward the Earth's sixth mass extinction.  Coastal flooding will impact millions more people at ~2.5°C, and a number of adverse health effects are expected to continue rising along with temperatures.

Reasons for Concern

Smith et al. (2009) (on which the late great Stephen Schneider was a co-author) updated the IPCC impact assessment, arriving at similar conclusions.  For example,

"There is medium confidence that ~20–30% of known plant and animal species are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5 °C to 2.5 °C over 1980–1999"

"increases in drought, heat waves, and floods are projected in many regions and would have adverse impacts, including increased water stress, wildfire frequency, and flood risks (starting at less than 1 °C of additional warming above 1990 levels) and adverse health effects (slightly above 1 °C)"

"climate change over the next century is likely to adversely affect hundreds of millions of people through increased coastal flooding after a further 2 °C warming from 1990 levels; reductions in water supplies (0.4 to 1.7 billion people affected with less than a 1 °C warming from 1990 levels); and increased health impacts (that are already being observed"

Smith et al. updated the 2001 IPCC report 'burning embers' diagram to reflect their findings (Figure 3).  On this figure, white regions indicate neutral or low impacts or risks, yellow indicates negative impacts for some systems or more significant risks, and red indicates substantial negative impacts or risks that are more widespread and/or severe.  They have grouped the various climate change consequences into 'reasons for concern' (RFCs), summarized below.

smith embers

Figure 3:  Risks from climate change, by reason for concern (RFC). Climate change consequences are plotted against increases in global mean temperature (°C) after 1990. Each column corresponds to a specific RFC and represents additional outcomes associated with increasing global mean temperature. The color scheme represents progressively increasing levels of risk and should not be interpreted as representing ‘‘dangerous anthropogenic interference,’’ which is a value judgment. The historical period 1900 to 2000 warmed by 0.6 °C and led to some impacts. It should be noted that this figure addresses only how risks change as global mean temperature increases, not how risks might change at different rates of warming. Furthermore, it does not address when impacts might be realized, nor does it account for the effects of different development pathways on vulnerability.

  • Risk to Unique and Threatened Systems addresses the potential for increased damage to or irreversible loss of unique and threatened systems, such as coral reefs, tropical glaciers, endangered species, unique ecosystems, biodiversity hotspots, small island states, and indigenous communities.
     
  • Risk of Extreme Weather Events tracks increases in extreme events with substantial consequences for societies and natural systems. Examples include increase in the frequency, intensity, or consequences of heat waves, floods, droughts, wildfires, or tropical cyclones.
     
  • Distribution of Impacts concerns disparities of impacts.  Some regions, countries, and populations face greater harm from climate change, whereas other regions, countries, or populations would be much less harmed—and some may benefit; the magnitude of harm can also vary within regions and across sectors and populations.
     
  • Aggregate Damages covers comprehensive measures of impacts. Impacts distributed across the globe can be aggregated into a single metric, such as monetary damages, lives affected, or lives lost. Aggregation techniques vary in their treatment of equity of outcomes, as well as treatment of impacts that are not easily quantified.
     
  • Risks of Large-Scale Discontinuities represents the likelihood that certain phenomena (sometimes called tipping points) would occur, any of which may be accompanied by very large impacts. These phenomena include the deglaciation (partial or complete) of the West Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets and major changes in some components of the Earth’s climate system, such as a substantial reduction or collapse of the North Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.

All of these reasons for concern enter the red (substantial negative impact, high risk) region by 4°C.  Aggregate impacts are in the red region by 3°C, and some types of concerns are in the red region by 1°C.

For more details we also recommend Mark Lynas' book Six Degrees, which goes through the climate impacts from each subsequent degree of warming, based on a very thorough review of the scientific literature.  A brief review of the book by Eric Steig and summary of some key impacts is available here.  National Geographic also did a series of videos on the Six Degrees theme, which no longer seem to be available on their websites, but which can still be found on YouTube.

This is Why Reducing Emissions is Critical

We're not yet committed to surpassing 2°C global warming, but as Watson noted, we are quickly running out of time to realistically give ourselves a chance to stay below that 'danger limit'.  However, 2°C is not a do-or-die threshold.  Every bit of CO2 emissions we can reduce means that much avoided future warming, which means that much avoided climate change impacts.  As Lonnie Thompson noted, the more global warming we manage to mitigate, the less adaption and suffering we will be forced to cope with in the future.

Realistically, based on the current political climate (which we will explore in another post next week), limiting global warming to 2°C is probably the best we can do.  However, there is a big difference between 2°C and 3°C, between 3°C and 4°C, and anything greater than 4°C can probably accurately be described as catastrophic, since various tipping points are expected to be triggered at this level.  Right now, we are on track for the catastrophic consequences (widespread coral mortality, mass extinctions, hundreds of millions of people adversely impacted by droughts, floods, heat waves, etc.).  But we're not stuck on that track just yet, and we need to move ourselves as far off of it as possible by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as soon and as much as possible.

There are of course many people who believe that the planet will not warm as much, or that the impacts of the associated climate change will be as bad as the body of scientific evidence suggests.  That is certainly a possiblity, and we very much hope that their optimistic view is correct.  However, what we have presented here is the best summary of scientific evidence available, and it paints a very bleak picture if we fail to rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

If we continue forward on our current path, catastrophe is not just a possible outcome, it is the most probable outcome.  And an intelligent risk management approach would involve taking steps to prevent a catastrophic scenario if it were a mere possibility, let alone the most probable outcome.  This is especially true since the most important component of the solution - carbon pricing - can be implemented at a relatively low cost, and a far lower cost than trying to adapt to the climate change consequences we have discussed here (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Approximate costs of climate action (green) and inaction (red) in 2100 and 2200. Sources: German Institute for Economic Research and Watkiss et al. 2005

Climate contrarians will often mock 'CAGW' (catastrophic anthropogenic global warming), but the sad reality is that CAGW is looking more and more likely every day.  But it's critical that we don't give up, that we keep doing everything we can do to reduce our emissions as much as possible in order to avoid as many catastrophic consequences as possible, for the sake of future generations and all species on Earth.  The future climate will probably be much more challenging for life on Earth than today's, but we still can and must limit the damage.

Note: this post has been incorporated into the Advanced rebuttal to the myth "it's not bad."

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 79:

  1. In an utterly selfish way, when I first began looking into this issue (ca. 1990) and some predictions somewhat mirrored this one, I pooh-poohed it. Couldn't possibly be viable. We're too small to make these changes to our giant world.

    Aha.

    By 2000, I no longer rejected the science, but (and here's the selfish bit) I was pretty well convinced I'd be long dead before this all came to pass.

    Given I am a 1957 model, it begins to look more and more likely I *could* see some of these deleterious effects. strictly for my own self, i am glad I chose to not have kids but that in *no way* obviates my fears for those I will leave behind.

    I guess that is what drives me to ~distraction~, listening to the deniers' throw roadblocks (and let's be *very* clear: they ahve been insanely successful in their blocking maneuvers) up to making progress on this. We have wasted 20+ years, years that could've gone so far towards drawing down our collective carbon footprint. I'm truly alarmed, and saddened.

    Dana, once more let me be one to thank your for your tireless efforts to counter this; in my 'geologist's hat,' I'm doing all I can to try to trim tab this ship, towards a rational, sane future. Your posts (and all others here) go a long way to helping me do just that.
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  2. If the call is "that we keep doing everything we can do to reduce our emissions as much as possible in order to avoid as many catastrophic consequences as possible, for the sake of future generations and all species on Earth", then may I suggest that the best way to start is to lead by example.

    Instead of constantly decrying the World for not acting, take the challenge and eliminate your GHG emissions totally. Take the bull by the horns, lead by example, show the world how it's done. To be taken seriously, you need to lead.
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  3. Climate ostriches like you ignore the fact that this very forum is leading by example by its existence. Despite the continual trolling by deniers.

    Might I suggest putting your actions where your mouth is and start being part of the solution instead of being part of the ostrich herd?
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  4. Dale, frankly that is what I and many others do. However, looking at many of my fellows, I doubt very much that they will follow me. I have trouble getting my children to take navy showers. MacKay's "Sustainable Energy without all the hot air" (available online) gives you a pretty good indication of the limits of what an individual can do.

    A better solution is an alternative energy structure and that is not done by individuals. Suppose you simply banned the creation of new coal power plants. No immediate impact but you have to have a plan for how to replace old stations. All other kinds of electricity generation are available. The best technology will come to fore without any other government intervention simply from market demand. Of course, a government decree like that is unacceptable in many parts of the world (not in NZ however), so instead expensive and inefficient schemes like carbon tax or trading schemes are required to have the same effect.
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  5. Dale @2, I do lead by example. Can I now expect you to follow suit?
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  6. Speaking of leading by example...

    So...where's Dale's Starfish?
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  7. Dale, what you are suggesting (individual effort) will, in the absence of effective society-wide efforts, lead to collective action problems and, most likely, eventual failure.

    Revolutionary changes to entrenched socioeconomic systems aren't going to happen without substantial institutional and other reforms.
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  8. You know, I just got this line from someone else on another site. Is it the latest ostrich defense? "If you really believed what you say, you wouldn't needlessly generate CO2 by using the Internet to argue with me. If you really believe in GHGs and AGW, and aren't a hypocrite, you wouldn't even be here right now, and we could all stop listening to you."
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  9. Sphaerica, it's the Al Gore defense. "If Al Gore isn't living in a cave then he doesn't believe in AGW therefore I don't have to believe in AGW or change my behavior in any way." It's a great way to justify continuing the status quo guilt free.
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  10. RE#8
    Wow, that is most certainly a disheartening comment.

    I do find it difficult in my own situation in a shared apartment to control my housemates energy behavior. With them often leaving the TV on, or stereo on once music stops, food in the fridge going off, and of course always with the lights on.

    I have succeeded in convincing them to step up from 10% green power to 25% green power.

    I think with this recent arctic 2012 low, we will see more 'lukewarmers' appearing.
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  11. The question of whether I am a hypocrite has no bearing on whether I am right or not.

    The laws of physics are supremely indifferent to our hypocsrisy. They are what they are.
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  12. For what it's worth: I do an 8 mile round trip commute by bicycle every day. I also drive a small diesel car which does 50/75mpg (40/60 US). I fly to scientific conferences when the train is impractical, but complain about it. My house uses less-efficient halogen lighting rather than CFLs because CFLs are a migrane trigger for my wife. I am a hypocrite. The laws of physics remain unmoved.
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  13. The big issue, of course, is that addressing the biggest sources of GHG emissions is frequently the most cost effective approach. You get twice the reduction in fuel consumption (and corresponding emissions) by replacing a 15mpg vehicle with a 30mpg vehicle, than by replacing a 30mpg vehicle by a 60mpg vehicle. (Counterintuitive, but true.)

    Applying this to the social domain, the biggest emissions gains are probably to be made by convincing people who are taking no action to take some action, rather than by convincing those who are already taking action to take more.
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  14. To all who question if I'm following suit. Oh no, a "denier ostrich" who actually believes in sustainable energy, the greenhouse effect and man's impact on environment who simply believes the IPCC to be wrong on vapor feedback, can actually do things:
    - solar panels
    - grow own vegies
    - less "hooved" meat more "toed" meat (eg: chicken)
    - moved work so travel time each way cut from 1 hour to 15 mins
    - unfortunately need "big dirty" cars as we have three kids (hard to fit three child car seats in a small car)
    - energy efficient halogen globes instead of old style ones
    - water savers on taps
    - rain water tank
    - grey water capture and use around house (coupled with better detergents)
    - we take kids camping at least one a month to appreciate what's outside the "big smoke"

    Yes, denier ostriches do stuff.
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  15. Oh, forgot to mention the single most effective thing to cut our nighttime grid power usage (daytime covered by solar of course):
    - remote control shutoff power boards. One click and nearly every electronic device is shut off at the board (no standby modes)
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  16. Dale,

    My sincere compliments on taking serious action. Simple behavior changes are the most basic core to solving the problem.

    I only wish that you realized that for every bit of action you take personally, your words and attitude stall such action in hundreds or thousands of others. The chorus of Dale's in the world is pretty much keeping the problem from being tangibly solved. We don't need a few individuals to do such things, we need it to be the rule, not the exception.

    While your (energy efficiency) actions as an individual are laudable, you are much like Anthony Watts. Twenty years from now, when denial is no longer anything but a truly laughable option, he'll be bragging about how he's always driven a green car and been energy efficient, so don't blame him. Sadly, there's no way that's going to be an adequate defense for the part he's played in damaging all of our futures, by helping to keep everyone else from taking simple, adequate action.
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  17. BTW, for myself...

    I work at home. No commute. I put less than 2,000 miles a year on the car myself, although as a family with 3 drivers we probably total about 10,000 a year. The car only gets 30 mpg, because it's 12 years old and while we can afford it, I won't buy another (because manufacturing the new car would generate tons more carbon than I'll burn by driving this one with the low mileage it gets). We try very, very hard not to "just run out for a loaf of bread." We make the most of the gas we burn.

    Lots of green energy bulbs, proper insulation, thermostat kept very low (programmable), etc. We use natural gas for heat and cooking, which is cleaner than most options (fuel oil, or coal-generated electricity). I also have the worst lawn on the block because I won't fertilize it 27 times a year like my neighbors. I'd love to get solar panels, too, but I have to win the battle with my wife over how it will look (women are so concerned with appearances).

    I used to have a great garden and grow a substantial amount of our own vegetables, but the trees around the house got too tall and put an end to that with shade... and I wont' cut those trees down just to have a vegetable garden.
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  18. Dale, all very commendable. Here are some of mine:

    * no kids
    * no pets
    * no flying since 1980
    * acclimatised to ambient temperatures except for November-March
    * no air-con
    * heating when required from wood
    * grow my own veg
    * using permaculture ideas in land management
    * mileage 50% what it was ten years ago and falling annually
    * work at home

    However, if I were to do all that then post articles on e.g. WUWT ridiculing climate science and pooh-poohing renewable energy, it'd be like a lifelong Labour voter spending all of their time campaigning for the Tories!
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  19. To echo all who do what they can (think Edmund Burke) let me chime in: I too, and for a loooong time (i.e., been driving high-mileage weenie cars ever since I began driving, in 1977, not common for the States), plus I was raised by parents who lived through the Depression: As a consequence, it's deeply ingrained in my psyche to 'use it up, wear it out, make it do." I grow some of my vegies, I shop locally, I do my level best to buy only domestically-produced goods, yatta, yatta, yatta.

    One stumbling block in the USA wrt automotive choices is, because of CA Air Resources Board's (CARB) utter disdain for diesels (they've never gotten over VW Rabbits and crappy American passenger diesels of the 70s and 80s), we aren't allowed the really good hi-mileage small turbodiesels Europe and most all other Commonwelath countries get. Because of my situation, I *do* have to commute, to the tune of ~35K miles/annum (hard to do machine work at home!).

    so, my point is, structurally, we in the states are limited in our choices of hi-mileage vehicles. If I could, I would replace my 'gas hog' of a Hyundai (33 mpg) for a European turbodiesel (some easily exceeding 50 mpUS-g) in a New freakin-Yawk minute!

    Bottom line? As an individual, and *assuming* 80% were to follow our lead (our = those like all above who do serious green living) would make a difference, and that alone would force a structural change in our energy policy, which is *abysmal.*

    Dale, that's the point I'd like to make, same as some others: You can *do* all the right stuff, but if you talk like an ostrich (and you have), you (mis)lead others into doing less. Talk, in this case, is NOT cheap, due to many politico-socioeconomic issues. Good onya for ~doing~ the right stuff, now, *talk* the right stuff. Question, be skeptical, and that's all well and dandy: when you spew like an ostrich, those not as close to the fencetop as you will focus on your words, and not your actions. It's ~way~ easier for most to just stick their heads in some (overheated, polluted) sand, than to admit they're part of the problem.
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  20. At risk of taking the discussion in another direction, nuclear power, combined with electric vehicles could make a significant difference. But it is probably too late for the nuclear bit, given the lead time for construction. I was surprised to red recently that 25% of South Australia's energy comes from wind!
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  21. Thanks Dana, great post.

    My question: this post contains no mention of Arctic sea ice and the rapid changes in the Arctic more generally. Do you think that the much faster than expected decline throws any question marks on any of the other claims about likely effects of certain temperature rises? What is your impression of the research suggesting links between declining sea ice cover --> increased amplitude in the waviness of the jet stream --> decreased jet stream wave progression --> increased frequency of "blocking patterns" --> increased likelihood of certain kinds of extreme weather in the NH?
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  22. Byron @21 - thanks. I'm not really familiar with the research connecting Arctic changes with changing weather patterns throughout the NH, just vaguely aware that such research exists. I do have a post on Arctic sea ice decline coming up next week, but it won't deal with that particular aspect. It does address sea ice declining faster than expected though.

    Where Arctic warming and ice decline really concern me is the various methane deposits (i.e. under permafrost and methane clathrates). Those feedbacks could make the warming discussed above occur faster than we expect.
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  23. Hi, Dana! Great work!

    How about modifying Figure 1. to account for food we have to eat from time to time. Zero emissons are out of question unless we're going to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.

    Lets stay skeptical about that one.
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  24. Bostjan @23 - thanks. Figure 1 just represents CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Though we would have to figure out agriculture sans fossil fuels to achieve zero emissions.
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  25. Dana @24 Even if we exclude emissions from land use, cattle,etc. will still need something to run tractors and stuff on, loads of energy for nitrogen fixation, pesticides, and so on. At the moment we plow an area the size of S America. What on Earth are we going to run the machinery on after 2060's? Solar? Biofuels? I firmly believe that any scenario saying that by year xy we'll achieve zero emissions from fossil fuels is just wishful thinking and hardly serious science.

    I can believe that the author of figure 1 was well intentioned. Reductions presented in it are tremendous. But we always have to compare data/ideas to reality. In this case reality is saying that emissions simply have to collapse (vertically) today to a certain level which we'll give us enough emissions budget to keep farming. Otherwise we'll blow way pass the target emissions or we'll go hungry even before drought gets us.

    But agriculture is just one sector. I can imagine many other sectors will never possibly phase out fossil fuels completely.

    So, to answer the question about the future climate - here where I live it's going to be dry and sunny with temps up to 50 C most of the summer. Used to be quite cold and really wet.

    Somebody prove me wrong! I'd really appreciate.
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  26. Bostjan @25 - it's plausible that agriculture could be run on biofuels, perhaps in combination with other technologies. It's impossible to say what sorts of technological developments we'll have in the next 30 years. If you prefer, you can make the ski slopes even steeper and leave some amount of the emissions budget for subsequent years.
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  27. Agriculture:
    1) Electric tractors already exist, and one great thing about farm machinery is that it tends to have a limited radius of use.

    2) Still, things like 300HP combines are tough, and they may well have to rely on biofuels. if at some point, nobody can grow corn because of lack of fuel, some of that corn will go into biofuel. Of curse, one would first want to electrify as much as possible, and before going to biofuel conversion, look at burning biomass to produce electricity.

    3) In US MidWest, wind turbines are quite compatible with farms, since they consume only a few % of the acreage, given spacing requirements for big turbines.
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  28. Dale - now have you calculated what your CO2 percentage saving actually amounts to?

    Also, in the appropriate place (ie not in this thread), how about you post the science which makes you think IPCC is wrong about water vapour?

    You have also only commented on individual responsibility. Perhaps you might think what actions should government be doing (perhaps commenting here if appropriate.
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  29. All discussion of limiting warming to 2 degrees is useless unless we end all GHG emissions. As long as the world’s total emissions keep going up we will pass that magic number. Unless the world is prepared to end all emissions in the next few years we will see the world’s average warming go beyond that. I base this on the fact that CO2 will linger in the atmosphere for hundreds if not thousands of years before natural processes begin to reduce them. The USGS has been conducting research on the Pliocene warm period since the 1980’s; it is called the PRISM project (Pliocene Research Interpretation and Synoptic Mapping). They have shown that with CO2 levels very much like we have today the world warmed about 2 to 3 degrees Celsius. This was without the addition of cooling aerosols that modern civilization also pumps into the atmosphere. So that magic number of 2 degrees, to my thinking, is past. The world will continue to belch CO2 for many decades to come because only China can control China and only India can control India. They will eventually reduce when they are good and ready and reduction will not get the job done. Reduction will only slow the growth of CO2 emissions, it will not end them. That, of course, also goes for the US and Canada and any other country the folks here would like to add to the list of relentless GHG emitters.

    The IPCC is notoriously conservative in their estimate of warming, ice melt and sea level rise. I have been influenced by the work done by the USGS, Dr James Hansen, Dr Michael Mann, Dr Gavin Schmidt, Dr Lee R Kump, and Professor Jonathan Foley. There are others who share their views but they are the ones who have convinced me. I’m sure a few here will disagree with me but I recommend that you investigate their work. My layman’s opinion does not really matter. Go to the meetings where these gentlemen present their work and have at them. Challenge them to defend their work.

    My opinion of the magic 2 degree “limit” is that it is bunk! If we stop at 1.8 degrees will we all be safe? If we arrive at 2.2 degrees are we all doomed? The world has experienced less than 1 degree so far and look at the chaotic disruptions to climate we have experienced. Will agriculture be able to keep up with ever rising demand and cope with further disruptions? Corp yields have been virtually flat for years. New seeds, if you are willing to accept the new engineered seeds, have been designed to cope with drought and ethanol production. The seed engineers have not been able to boost yield.

    I applaud all who have made personal choices to reduce their carbon footprint. I too have taken up the struggle but reduction will not bring us back to a pre-industrial climate. We are all in for a very challenging future. My children and grandchildren are in for a very challenging future. But focusing on 2 degrees is pointless. We need to focus on moving away from fossil fuel use, on carbon neutral solutions and on mitigation strategies so civilization can survive into the next century.
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  30. scaddenp @28
    No I haven't calculated how much CO2 I'm mitigating. But to me the issue isn't CO2. The issue is reducing man's footprint on the planet as a whole. I eat less hoofed meat as they cause much worse erosion than toed meat. I grow my own vegies to reduce the amount of chemically/GM grown vegies. I bought solar panels to move to sustainable energy.

    To me the problem isn't global warming, climate disruption, CO2, or whatever this week's catch phrase is. To me the issue is that human's have too large a negative footprint on the planet.
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  31. "Papers coming out like 'the climate dice' are not science but opinion (activism)."

    Ridiculous. "Dice" is simply a metaphor to illustrate probabilities. Probabilities are definitely a realm of science.
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  32. "Scientists aren't supposed to have opinions. "

    Who told you that? Scientists aren't something other than people. They have to have opinions.
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  33. Dale,

    You can't tell the BS from the truth because you haven't studied the science enough. I strongly suggest that, if you have the time, you stop posting comments, stop getting angry at everything, and take it on yourself to truly and completely learn and understand everything there is to know about it.

    Only then will you be qualified to call "BS" on any particular claim.

    And no, you don't know nearly enough yet. Don't read articles and blogs and summaries. Read actual papers, and text books. Go down to the very source, and be skeptical even when reading that.

    But skeptical without arrogance. Beware of Dunning-Kruger.
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  34. M Tucker @26

    Coludn't agree with you more that only drastic and quick cuts in emissions can keep us at 2oC.

    1.8 or 2.2 oC doesn't look like much of a difference- but based on what we've experienced in last 30 years it translates into additional 1 oC on top of 3,6 oC here at my place. Combined with reduced rainfall - yes, it's a big deal! Might just be the limit over which we can't addapt any more.

    New varietis of crops won't save us. Climate is progressing faster than any breeding of new varietis can. "Drought resistant" concept means the plant will die a bit later, but without water it simply won't grow. Not to mention heat stress.

    JohnMashey @27 Solar tractors might be fun at a golf course or small and flat plots, but feeding 9 billion people is a different story. Wind turbines on fields is a good idea. But then you can farm only in windy places. It requires heavy investment and I'm qite sure someone will be able to pay more for the electricity than falling yealds can bring in. Growing food is not that profitable, but if it was, most people couldn't afford eating much. Burning biomass can be short term solution, but after a few years soil looses fertility if it does't get organic material back. There's also nitrogen problem with it. Nothing grows without it, so we'd need to use much more fertilisers, meaning more energy imput. I'm quite skeptical about using biofuels to run agriculture. It simply doesn't make sense because we'd need to use more land than we're using for farming now, plus the fertiliser problem and emissons from land use.

    Transportation is easy to solve because it runs on roads. Agriculture needs living soils, water and right weather.
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  35. (Snip)

    Jeffrey @31:
    'If we do A, then B will probably happen' is an opinion. That is not science. You can't experimentally test for that. However if you say something like 'When condition A exists, test show B is probable', that's experimental science. Personal opinion does not belong in science. Scientists may have personal opinions, but they have no place in science literature.

    Sphaerica:
    I did used to read a lot of papers in fact. Now, due to lack of time it's a lot harder. There's also an element of lack of interest too. That turning point I can pinpoint specifically. When "science" said that obesity causes global warming, that's when you lost me. http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/05/16/2247103.htm

    That's the type of BS that is making people scoff. The sad reality is that when the dust settles, no matter who "wins" science will be the biggest loser.
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    Moderator Response:

    TC: Moderation complaint snipped. Dale, compliance with the comments policy is not optional. If you took the effort to comply, moderators would be saved considerable effort, and you could have as complete a conversation as you desire, provided you remain on topic.

    [DB] As a subsequent comment to this by Dale was too egregious to survive moderation I am placing this warning here:

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right. This privilege can and will be rescinded if the posting individual continues to treat adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Moderating this site is a tiresome chore, particularly when commentators repeatedly submit offensive, off-topic posts, knowingly false statements and continually complains about moderation. We really appreciate people's cooperation in abiding by the Comments Policy, which is largely responsible for the quality of this site.

    Finally, please understand that moderation policies are not open for discussion. If you find yourself incapable of abiding by these common set of rules that everyone else observes, then a change of venues is in the offing.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it. Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter, as no further warnings shall be given.

  36. Dale, I agree with those points. But getting meaningful reductions in GHG by the energy conservation actions of concerned individuals alone seems very unlikely. I have the feeling from your posts that you do not support action on climate change. Is truly motivated by a belief in low climate sensitivity (and I dont see a post yet where you provide the evidence to support this), or because you dont like the proposed solutions?
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  37. Back in the early sixties when we began seriously talking of going to the moon, none of us believed we'd get there by going outside-- alone-- and urgently flapping our arms and vigorously jumping. No matter how sincere or generous was our individual desire to make a footprint separated 385,000km distant by nothing but two deep gravitational wells, we knew we couldn't do it by acting as individuals, without the distinguishing human characteristic of informed organization on a massive scale.

    By all means, look out for opportunities to lessen your footprint. But recognize that items such as halogen bulbs, polyethylene water tanks, metal fasteners and a myriad of other articles-- even, unfortunately, solar panels-- needed to implement a solo effort are presently themselves part and parcel of the system of unaccounted external costs that are leading us to disaster.

    When it comes to addressing the dire curves Dana shows at the beginning of this article, we hang together or we hang separately, to paraphrase. The same hugely informed, massively powerful organizational skill that lets us do amazing things such as to entirely free spacecraft from our solar system is what's going to save us from the pickle we've created by using those same powers of organization more thoughtlessly, if anything can.
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  38. Sphaerica @8,

    Your latest ostrich defence reminds me past arguments by the "skeptics" that "warmists" are trying to "return us to the caves" and that "warmists" also deny the "skeptics" a voice is this "debate".

    Now we have an example of delialists trying to both deny climate scientist their voice (by suggesting they renounce their internet access) and return us to the caves (by dumping the non carbon-neutral technology rather than changing its underlying power infrastructure).

    Can you imagine a better comedy of self-contradicting nonsense? I don't know if I have to LOL or simply cry over the fact how low a human stupidity can descend...
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  39. Dale @35, the article on obesity and global warming, or at least the so called "skeptic" commentary on it, is exactly why I cannot take global warming skepticism seriously as an intellectual position. The article reports on a study by two medical doctors published in the Lancet which concludes that, all else being equal, obese people have a larger carbon footprint than non-obese people.

    You want to purport that this sort of claim is, "the type of BS that is making people scoff". It is very far from evident, however, that the claim that obese people have a larger carbon footprint is BS of any sort. Indeed, the proposition is inherently plausible, although I doubt that loosing weight would be the most cost effective way for most westerners to reduce their carbon footprint. (On the other hand, it is a low cost method of doing so with substantial secondary benefits.)

    Of course, claiming that it is absurd to believe that obesity increases carbon footprints is a hard sell. So you misrepresent the article as claiming that obesity causes global warming. That of course, would be absurd, but it is not anything like what the author of the news article or the original study claim. Indeed, the word "cause" does not even appear in the article. The closest the article comes to saying anything like that is when it says:

    "Obese and overweight people require more fuel to transport them and the food they eat, and a literally swelling global population will make this source of greenhouse emissions worse, say UK researchers."


    That is, obese people generate more CO2 emissions than equivalent non-obese people, and this source of additional emissions will increase with increases in obesity.

    At this point, if you have any intellectual integrity, you will apologize for providing such a misleading example; and you will be asking some hard questions of the AGW deniers that steered you wrong on this article. You will also be applying much more skepticism to those deniers. I doubt any of the above will happen, of course. Why would I expect anything like it from somebody who thinks Anthony (AHI*) Watts is as informative as SkS.

    (*Antarctic Heat Island)
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  40. Tom:
    I've already given my opinion, but it was deemed not appropriate for this site. I will not be giving it again.

    Thanks
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  41. I agree with Tom's commentary on Dale's opinion. Further, I want to point that Dale's "BS" acronym can be taken as inappropriate, inflammatory term that he should also apologise for.

    As Dale admits in his closing comment @40, his opinion (or more precisely his way of opining) is indeed inappropriate, not only for this site but for any decent site. If Dale adheres to his closing comment do do not opine on this site anymore, I will not be missing him.
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  42. We made a conscious decision a few years ago to act ourselves. I do not believe anyone has the political power or will to to anything, so action must come locally. We installed solar energy panels, switched to wood fired stoves, we grow our own veg and try and work from home as much as possible. I know this sounds smug, and I'm aware not everyone has the opportunity to change. But the financial benefit has been great. It helped put a child through University which was a major unpredicted benefit. Even if we just start with switching to LED lighting it will help, but one of the things that prevent people acting is that the problem is so huge, and that they expect the government or IPCC to act on their behalf. It's not going to happen, we have to pursuade everyone that they have the power to change things and every little helps. Measures to address climate change start at home, we must act locally.
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  43. The "4 degrees" conference held in Australia was devoted to exploring what happens as climate warms beyond the 2 degree target adopted in climate negotiations.

    The conference was inspired by the Royal Society "4 degrees" conference held in the UK. Conference organizers mentioned that when they attended the UK conference 4 degrees of warming was regarded as something civilization could not allow to happen and hence was unlikely. By the time the follow up Australian conference was held the idea of 4 degrees or more was, incredibly, becoming far more credible.

    The conference has a website where many presentations are available in audio. This page contains links to the audios.

    John Schellnhuber's keynote speech Climate Change: The Critical Decade is particularly recommended.

    Schellnhuber gave another speech:Strange Encounters behind the 2 degrees C Firewall which is also very good.

    I've been studying both speeches and forget what is covered best in which. He was part of the group that came up with the original idea for the IPCC "burning embers" charts shown updated by Smith et.al. in the above post. one of his specialties is tipping points. In the "Strange Encounters..." speech he explains very well what the 2 degrees target meant. For one thing, although 2 degrees was declared in political negotiations to be "safe" according to Schellnhuber, it means the end for coral reefs worldwide.

    "But who needs coral reefs anyway?" He sadly joked. He offers the best explanation I have heard for why using the analogy that there is a limit in billions of tonnes of carbon that can be added in total to the atmosphere when talking about the solution to climate, as opposed to talking about restricting emissions to "x"% by some date in a given country.

    The prior Royal Society 4 degrees conference is well worth studying as well. This Wikipedia page contains links to the conference video presentation page as well as much other useful info. I'm travelling and don't have access to my home computer which has better links to all presentations of this conference but you can find everything with a tiny bit of work.

    Once people realize that 2 degrees was never "safe", and that the 2 degree target could well be out of our hands now, some minds turn from despair to geoengineering. I monitor a geoengineering group that is an exchange of views between some of the top researchers, i.e. Keith, Caldeira, etc., and this is what I feel. they aren't profit seeking cowboys- they are deeply concerned about what happens if say the Republicans suddenly wake up to the facts and immediately want to apply some wacked out scheme touted by such as Lomborg. They want to be able to say something about what scientific investigation of various techniques has shown might happen as civilization finds itself unable to face its present and becomes ready to try anything.

    Kevin Anderson's views are also worth study. Anderson is associated with the Tyndall Centre in the UK, which is sometimes billed as the UK's premier climate research institution. He feels climate scientists, and anyone who has been in any way minimizing how serious the problem we now face is need to be more explicit about what they know and feel in the future. an example of what he's critiquing: the Stern report he says contains fudged date and impossible assumptions as it concludes climate could be solved at reasonable cost, and he states categorically that most of his colleagues understand this but have been rather quiet.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] The Royal Society 4 Degrees issue can be found here (many articles are open-access).
  44. Caldeira, and others, have pointed out many times that human engineered modifications to the atmosphere to cool the earth could cause unintended consequences. A severe drought or heat wave occurring after a nation, or group of nations, embarks on a modification program might be taken as an act of aggression by the suffering party. With conflicts due to unwelcome immigrations already taking place due to climate disruptions, and considering many well respected organizations predict these will only intensify as the climate becomes more unstable, this will only add another layer that could easily lead to catastrophic wars.

    Schellnhuber’s comment is surprisingly narrow-minded. Acidification of the oceans is not just a threat to corals but to the base of the food chain that most fish and all apex predators depend. These bureaucrats remind me of the discussions held by the collection of middle managers, phone sanitizers, and hairdressers as described by Douglas Adams.
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  45. re: obese people and their carbon footprint department

    the Royal Society just published a special Geoengineering issue which contained an article on summarizing work studying which crops would reflect most sunlight back out to space. There are differences between different crops and between different strains of each crop when you examine the effect they have on local albedo.

    When civilization gets serious everything is going to be thrown at the problem.

    The issue contains an article on if it is possible for the planet to experience what specialists call a "runaway greenhouse effect", i.e. turning Earth into something like Venus by elevating the temperature so much the oceans boil away, which Jim Hansen said in a Bjerknes Lecture at the AGU that he thinks is a "dead certainty" if all fossil fuels are burned. The authors examined the issue, and the Royal Society publishers published the research because Hansen took a position. What a relief to discover that if you accept that the simple models employed are right, all that can happen and this is said to be a remote possibility by the modellers, is a "moist greenhouse", that wouldn't boil the oceans away. I think that event ends civilization and all or most all of life I'm still studying....

    Schellnhuber says PIK examined the issue a bit as well and he also said, at the Australian 4 degrees conference in one of his speeches that what can happen is you heat the planet up slowly in human terms rapidly in geological terms and once you cross a line somewhere around 4-6 degrees I seem to remember the system takes off and doesn't stabilize until the temperature is far higher.
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  46. Tom @39, I googled "Antarctic Heat Island" and nearly choked. You should post an absurdity factor warning.
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  47. garethman @42 It's great that you are taking these steps. Every little bit helps, but I'm sure you realize that not everyone can do the same. I suppose if everyone became a back-to-the-lander, our emissions would drop to near zero, but there isn't enough arable land to go around. Minifarms are not as efficient, for one thing, and then there is the problem of distribution. If everyone is a farmer, who is going to deliver food to where it can't be grown? Who is going to make new vaccines? I'm afraid we can't return to primitive agriculture without a massive loss of population.
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  48. Personally, I don't feel that people properly understand that we are locked in, so to speak to at least a world with 2 degrees more warming, that even if action is taken today the graphs aren't going to change direction.

    I have tried searching the interwebs to see if any studies or surveys (such as this one by the George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication) but it is difficult to see what people's understanding or opinions are on the matter on this. I would be interested in the results of this question "If we were to stop emissions today do you think that future warming be avoided?"

    A further 2 degrees warming, for me is an extremely concerning scenario. Non science folk I have spoken to don't really understand that even if we could curb emissions we are on track to a vastly different climate that people alive today grew up with.
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  49. It may be late in the discussion, but shouldn't someone call Dale's attention to the argument that AGW is a tragedy of the commons?
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  50. I apologize to Bostjan whose post I accidentally deleted. It is reproduced below in full:

    "Bostjan at 21:53 PM on 2 September 2012 (Email commenter)
    @yocta 48

    How could "people" understand that we're locked in to at least 2 oC more when even well intentioned people such as Prof Schellnhuber give out completely contradicting massages?

    If you carefully listen at what he said at the Melbourne conference you'll notice contradicting massages. On one hand he acknowledges that we're already comited ourselves to at least 2,4 oC (20min of his talk) and then goes on showing the graf form Figure 1 as a way to stay below 2oC (40min). He would've been consistent if he'd mentioned some 3,6 -4 oC sulforic acid GE. But he didn't.

    In the same speech he also clearly says that scientist have to persue their careers, so they won't - in his words - go into really "interesting" topics, but will follow the money. That's why one should be really skeptical about what institutions (IPCC, IAE, WBGU,...) are saying. Not because of the people that work for them, not at all. I have great admiration for their work and achievements. But it's the power of those (politicians) who are employing them that make all the difference. One thing is when you're exchanging ideas about facts with other scientists and completely different when you're advising Angela Merkel, the german version of a tea party leader.

    What politician will employ scientist who told the truth that we need to tell the public: look, it's really bad, forget your car, your flights to Ibiza and your pensions. There is no politician to pay for that. Try limit maximum speed at autobahn to 90 km/h, let alone telling people they can't drive at all until we've found enough carbon neutral electricity and changed the fleet of millions of internal combustion cars for electric ones.

    Have to be frank, it's not only politicians who don't want to hear that. Nobody really. Me included.

    But as Anderson says, unless we face the truth both individually and collectively, there's no way way out of this catastrophe.

    But it's the scientists whos work must be absolutely clear about the facts."
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