Only Make Believe

by Dave Schuler on January 24, 2013

Robert Samuelson takes note of the gap between rhetoric and the cold, hard, practical facts:

On the baby boom, Obama said: “We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”

On climate change: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

Against this rousing rhetoric stand daunting realities.

The problem with the first issue is one well-known to most people who’ve taken an economics course: butter or guns? It is not merely that federal spending must be allocated. It is that labor, materials, and ingenuity are all finite commodities. Choices must necessarily be made.

The problem with the second is that we can’t solve the problem of climate change by any measures we take here up to and including huddling naked in fireless caves, eating our meat (or, presumably, grass) raw. The growing carbon production outside the United States ensures that:

On climate change, the difficulty is greater. Environmentalists argue that emissions from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) need to be cut 50 percent to 80 percent by mid-century to avoid a ruinous warming. The problem is that there’s simply no plausible way to get from here to there without, in effect, shutting down the world economy.

Consider a recent study by the International Energy Agency in Paris. Under current policies, it forecasts that world energy demand will rise 47 percent between 2010 and 2035 and the increase in emissions of carbon dioxide — the largest greenhouse gas — will be almost the same. Even when the forecast assumes greater energy efficiencies and a larger shift to wind, solar and other non-fossil fuel sources, energy demand grows 35 percent by 2035 and CO2 emissions 23 percent.

Virtually all the increases occur in China, India and other developing countries. By 2035, estimates the IEA, the number of passenger vehicles in the world will double to 1.7 billion. Electricity demand will surge, as industry expands, more people move into the middle class and many now without electricity (1.3 billion) receive it. American CO2 emissions are projected to stay roughly level by 2035, but even if they fell sharply, the declines wouldn’t offset increases elsewhere in the world.

Bjørn Lomborg makes a similar point this morning:

In the long run, the world needs to cut carbon dioxide because it causes global warming. But if the main effort to cut emissions is through subsidies for chic renewables like wind and solar power, virtually no good will be achieved—at very high cost. The cost of climate policies just for the European Union—intended to reduce emissions by 2020 to 20% below 1990 levels—are estimated at about $250 billion annually. And the benefits, when estimated using a standard climate model, will reduce temperature only by an immeasurable one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit by the end of the century.

Even in 2035, with the most optimistic scenario, the International Energy Agency estimates that just 2.4% of the world’s energy will come from wind and only 1% from solar. As is the case today, almost 80% will still come from fossil fuels. As long as green energy is more expensive than fossil fuels, growing consumer markets like those in China and India will continue to use them, despite what well-meaning but broke Westerners try to do.

I think that Dr. Lomborg’s proposal, increased investment in research on “green energy” as opposed to production, is practically refuted by his own observation. If we absolutely must throw money at something it should be geoengineering—remediation rather than increased efficiency. At least it’s something effective we could do without international cooperation.

Neither electoral success nor even legislative success are enough. Even the best of intentions won’t cause make believe solutions to work.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

TastyBits January 24, 2013 at 10:48 am

The problem with runaway anything is that once that number is reached, all is lost, and nothing will have any effect. I predict the magic number for CO2 concentration leading to runaway global warming will increase. When the choice is between money and science, money always wins.

It seems that the same mechanism that reflects outgoing infrared heat back to Earth should reflect incoming waves also, but I do not have time to look into this.

Steve Verdon January 24, 2013 at 11:51 am

It seems that the same mechanism that reflects outgoing infrared heat back to Earth should reflect incoming waves also, but I do not have time to look into this.

Okay, let me preface this first, I’m going by memory from a long time ago and this is something I know very little about, but what the Hell this is the internet where everyone is an expert on everything!

My understanding was that part of the GW/CC issue has to do with the wave length of the energy coming to earth from the sun vs. the energy that is “bounced” back. The analogy is like a car in a parking lot. The long waves penetrate the car, warming it, but shorter waves are reflected back that don’t penetrate thus warming the car even further. So when you get back to your car, it is considerably hotter than the surrounding air in the parking lot.

Of course, my memory could all be rubbish and that is all nonsense.

I also do recall there are some (man-made) particulates in the atmosphere that do reflect heat (i.e. increase albedo). But that isn’t all that desirable either from a health stand point.

TastyBits January 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm

@Steve Verdon

You are probably right. That sounds like something that would be included in the theory. I am guessing the glass is supposed to be the atmosphere. The problem is a relatively small space and lack of air movement. An attic has the same problem, and the solution is to provide adequate ventilation not to tax carbon.

Drew January 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Aside from the fact there is not a damned thing we can do about it……..:

China and India are going to do what they are going to do. It will dwarf any US actions. It is what it is.

Steve -

You are very close. Its not so much long vs short waves. Its what are the wavelengths that greenhouse gases absorb. Their is a spectrum of them. “Greenhouse gases” absorb the sun’s radiated energy until saturated. Re-emitted energy is then “trapped” in the atmosphere, heating it. The issue is this: how robust is the CO2 issue? MMGW cultists will tell you it dominates. Others will tell you that variations in solar activity dominates. The MMGW types will tell you that solar flares are inversely correlated with temperature. Set aside for the moment that the historical data is suspect to the point of absurdity as to accuracy, and many studies and alternative views squelched……

As I have pointed out, CERN has done some work recently on nucleation of water vapor by radiation. Water vapor is actually a greenhouse gas. It prevents radiation outward from earth. (See: Arizona vs Florida at night) But if created by flares it would also have to saturate before having an effect. A solar flare would actually be inversely correlated with temperature, at least for some time. It throws the so-called “certainty” and “settled science” into a tizzy. Nothing is certain. Remember the CO2 induced ice age from those same oh-so-certain scientists in the 70s?? Ooops.

But hey, if your real objective is to create a rationale to raise taxes by scaremongering carbon………any prediction will do. As I’ve said before, if you really believe in CO2 induced MMGW, you’d better spend your time figuring out how to adapt. Because more CO2 is coming like a runaway freight train. And the Chinese and Indians and Brazilians will laugh all the way to the US’ economic self immolation.

steve January 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm

” Remember the CO2 induced ice age from those same oh-so-certain scientists in the 70s?? Ooops.”

Nope. I really don’t, because it is a myth. The scientists never said any such thing. A few science writers drawing upon a few, not the majority, of studies made this claim. Of the 71 papers looking at long term temperature trends published between 1965 and 1979, 44 predicted warming, 7 cooling and 20 were neutral. Lots of links to the reviews at link. (I know you dont read science anymore, and I stopped my subscriptions to Science and Nature several years ago, but this is pretty easy to find out.)

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2008/10/global-cooling-was-a-myth.html

Steve

TastyBits January 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm

@Drew

Years ago I saw a proposal to require pool covers to limit greenhouse gas production. This was about the time when painting roofs and roads white was also proposed.

I think most of the “scientists” are mathematicians, and the theory is based upon statistics not physics. The “hockey stick” predicting runaway warming was based upon faulty math, but the hysteria continues.

The tilt of the Earth’s axis is a major controlling factor for the climate. For the northern hemisphere, the Earth is closest to the Sun, but the north pole is tilted away from the Sun. The axis has a wobble that is a factor in the ice age cycle.

Taxing human for CO2 production is easier than taxing the Sun for electromagnetic radiation production. Hence, CO2 is the problem not the Sun.

jan January 24, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Another climatologist, Dr. Roy Spencer, who joins the rather long list of skeptics questioning the theories behind the adamant claims of AGW ‘scientists:’ Our Chaotic Climate System.

Drew January 24, 2013 at 3:00 pm

steve

You are correct. What I should have said is: what made it into the public discourse based upon those seizing upon the supposed authority of “scientists.” And that, of course, is the political realm, where the action on regulation, taxation etc is. Just like today.

However, there is a bottom line: there is no “settled science,” then or now. There is just a political agenda.

Drew January 24, 2013 at 3:13 pm

PS

Although I don’t in fact read science mags anymore, it is worth pointing out that as unsettled (heh, diplomatic, eh?) as MMGW is, Alex Knapp made a point to me a while back that is far more plausible and perhaps important from my point of view. That is the amount of CO2 dissolving in the oceans and the effect on coral reefs and aquatic life from increased acidity.

However, once again, not a damned thing we in the US are going to do about it.

jan January 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm

“However, there is a bottom line: there is no “settled science,” then or now. There is just a political agenda.”

That is the significant defining difference between skeptics of AGW and so-called warmists, who are 100% behind it.

Skeptics view climate change with a larger inquiring mind POV. They see many angles to the discussion, and, IMO, look at climate deviations with more honesty and less political motivation than those claiming to be warmists.

Warmists, though, seem to be stuck on one cause,, and one cause alone, no matter what other data or scientific speculation makes it way into the dialogue.

Dr Spencer, who I cited above, asserts that one factor, in pushing the AGW agenda, is that government funding, not big business funding is what feeds these research projects. And, those projects which support government policy are the ones getting the money, rather than those who question or debunk such policy.

TastyBits January 24, 2013 at 3:46 pm

@jan

Skeptic implies questioning a valid theory. AWG is as valid as Big Foot. In science, it ain’t valid until it has been validated. At best, AWG is a working hypothesis.

Dave Schuler January 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm

However, once again, not a damned thing we in the US are going to do about it.

Not quite true. Imagine, just for the sake of argument, that rather than throwing money down the green energy sinkhole we were devoting more attention to efficient capture technologies, especially capture technologies that produced useful end products. In principle we could extract more carbon from the atmosphere than they’re putting in.

Drew January 24, 2013 at 3:53 pm

BTW………all you closet physical chemists. Here’s a little riddle.

Most of the planet’s CO2 is dissolved in the oceans. As we all know from our soda cans, warm water will not retain in solution as much CO2 as cold water. If the earth, and therefore the oceans, are warming, why doesn’t the additional CO2 expelled into the atmosphere create basically a global warming perpetual motion machine?

Drew January 24, 2013 at 4:04 pm

“Imagine, just for the sake of argument, that rather than throwing money down the green energy sinkhole we were devoting more attention to efficient capture technologies, especially capture technologies that produced useful end products. In principle we could extract more carbon from the atmosphere than they’re putting in.”

Where do I sign up? Let’s set aside putting a dollar value on what “devoting more attention” means and “in principle.” I’d be all for it. But notice I said in the US. You have seen the statistics. In fact I think you have published some in your essays. The developing countries are simply dominating with increased output any CO2 reducing technologies we could realistically implement here. We might be able to get some sort of cooperation out of, say, India. The Europeans can drive their Smart Cars etc. But Russia and China?? (BTW – you know who is going aerosol crazy right now? S America)

I know it sounds fatalistic and pessimistic, but I wouldn’t try to save New Orleans’ broken levees with buckets either.

Drew January 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm

I want to make something clear. If I actually thought MMGW was a real, or at least a material issue, I’d be right there calling for whatever action I thought was feasible.

But the science is murky at best, the studies have been shown to not be pure from a data and methodology standpoint, alternative views are suppressed; and predictions faulty and exaggerated. Further, the common thread with most environmental issues is self de-industrialization and tax sourcing. As jan points out – follow the money…..and motive At this point, this is a well settled political issue, but nowhere close to settled science.

Zachriel January 24, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Drew: If the earth, and therefore the oceans, are warming, why doesn’t the additional CO2 expelled into the atmosphere create basically a global warming perpetual motion machine?

Because the amount of CO2 absorbed by the oceans is a function not only of temperature, but the partial pressure. As the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing, the oceans absorb more CO2, resulting in increased acidification.

Drew: the science is murky at best

That is incorrect. This NOAA chart might help clarify matters. It shows data from a variety of sources, including satellite, balloon and ground-based instrumentation. In particular, note that the lower troposphere is warming, as is the surface. Meanwhile, the stratosphere is cooling, the *signature* of greenhouse warming.
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/globalwarming/ar4-fig-3-17.gif

Drew: If I actually thought MMGW was a real, or at least a material issue, I’d be right there calling for whatever action I thought was feasible.

That’s the question in the original post.

Dave Schuler: If we absolutely must throw money at something it should be geoengineering—remediation rather than increased efficiency.

CO2 is very dilute in the atmosphere, so you would have to scrub a large volume to make a difference. Scrubbing at the source of emission is probably the best choice.

Icepick January 24, 2013 at 5:33 pm

However, once again, not a damned thing we in the US are going to do about it.

Speak for yourself. I got poor. And poor people have smaller carbon footprints. Now if I could just get Algore to buy my excess carbon credits maybe I could get my damned teeth fixed.

Dave Schuler January 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Since Chinese sulfur dioxide is known to have crossed the ocean to the Pacific Northwest, I think it’s probably reasonable to suppose that carbon dioxide does, too. You’re right that it would be easier at the source but we have a lot more control over what goes on within our own territory than within China’s.

Icepick:

My researches into the issue have convinced me that, since so much of the carbon production is done by the highest income earners, regressive taxes are unlikely to have much if any effect.

Icepick January 24, 2013 at 5:42 pm

If the earth, and therefore the oceans, are warming, why doesn’t the additional CO2 expelled into the atmosphere create basically a global warming perpetual motion machine?

As I recall something like what you described was hypothesized as one of the major elements behind the Permian extinction event. Seems I remember partially correctly.

Icepick January 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm

(BTW – you know who is going aerosol crazy right now? S America)

Maybe they just want more killer tans?

Dave Schuler January 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Presumably, y’all are aware that the actual reason for the extinction of the dinosaurs is well known.

Icepick January 24, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Schuler, I’m not talking about that extinction event. I’m talking about the big extinction event. It interrupted the reign of the proto-mammals and led to the rise of the dinosaurs, probably because they had more efficient lungs, IIRC. (Oxygen levels had dropped after the P-T extinction.)

Dave Schuler January 24, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Yeah, I know the difference. I’m just cracking wise.

Icepick January 24, 2013 at 6:19 pm
Icepick January 24, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Sorry, it’s a family pride thing. Synapsids and therapsids never get their due.

jan January 26, 2013 at 11:15 am

While Obama continues to hype AGW in his 2nd term agenda, in hopes of carbon taxation, apparently there is more of a climate-crisis downgrade occurring.

According to the much respected Research Council of Norway:

“We are most likely witnessing natural fluctuations in the climate system – changes that can occur over several decades – and which are coming on top of a long-term warming. The natural changes resulted in a rapid global temperature rise in the 1990s, whereas the natural variations between 2000 and 2010 may have resulted in the levelling off we are observing now.”

Could this reference of “natural fluctuations in the climate system” at all infer that they are growing to believe that climate is cyclical? And, if this is their inference, doesn’t that support the research of ‘skeptics’ versus the adamant CO2 claims of warmists, as there being only one major cause for the noted climate deviations?

Zachriel January 26, 2013 at 12:25 pm

jan: Could this reference of “natural fluctuations in the climate system” at all infer that they are growing to believe that climate is cyclical? And, if this is their inference, doesn’t that support the research of ‘skeptics’ versus the adamant CO2 claims of warmists, as there being only one major cause for the noted climate deviations?

No serious researcher claims that the climate system is simple or that change is only driven by a single mechanism. The researchers you cited are calculating a climate sensitivity of about 2°C per doubling of CO2. That is hardly insignificant, and unless humans change their trajectory, they will more than double CO2. Per your own citation:

“Terje Berntsen {co-author} emphasises that his project’s findings must not be construed as an excuse for complacency in addressing human-induced global warming. The results do indicate, however, that it may be more within our reach to achieve global climate targets than previously thought.

“Regardless, the fight cannot be won without implementing substantial climate measures within the next few years.”

See, Aldrin et al, Bayesian estimation of climate sensitivity based on a simple climate model fitted to observations of hemispheric temperatures and global ocean heat content, Environmetrics 2012.

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