15 August 2010

Climate Porn - 2010

Today, the New York Times takes its turn with extreme weather and global warming.  The article has this wonderful quote from Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at NASA and blogger at Real Climate:
If you ask me as a person, do I think the Russian heat wave has to do with climate change, the answer is yes.  If you ask me as a scientist whether I have proved it, the answer is no — at least not yet.
This neatly sums up the first of two reasons why I think that the current debate over whether greenhouse gas emissions caused/exacerbated/influenced recent disasters around the world is a fruitless debate.  It is not a debate that can be resolved empirically, but rather depends upon hunches, speculation and beliefs.  Debates that cannot be resolved empirically necessarily involve extra-scientific factors.  There is nothing unusual such "post-normal" situations, as they are common, but like Gavin Schmidt we should be clear about when we are in such a context.

While I have no illusions that the inane debate over causality of specific physical events will continue as long there is weather, there should be no ambiguity in the fact that researchers who have looked for a signal of increasing GHGs in increasing disaster losses (whether measured in dollars or in lives) have yet to see such a signal.  It would be scientifically incorrect to claim that GHGs have been shown to account for any portion of the damage or suffering resulting from recent events.

The second reason that the present debate is fruitless is that it has no practical significance.  Consider the options.

Imagine that there was a scientific consensus that no signal of greenhouse gases could be seen in today's weather extremes.  In such a world would we be able to forget about mitigation and adaptation?  Absolutely not.  The reasons why action makes sense on decarbonizing the global economy and building resiliency have a much broader basis.

Similarly, if there was a scientific consensus that a clear signal greenhouse gas emissions could be seen in recent events, it not would support a reordering of policy priorities for exactly the same reasons.  The simple fact is that any action on greenhouse gases would be a horribly slow and indirect way of trying to modulate disasters, as the effects could not even be seen for many decades.  This is not an argument against trying to stabilize greenhouse gases, but it is an argument against suggesting that reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be an effective tool of disaster mitigation.

The debate over global warming and extremes has been well characterized as "climate porn."  And like porn it is not going away anytime soon (the image of the top of this post is from five years ago), and perhaps nor should it, as everyone really seems to like it.  However, at the same time, it is important to recognize that the enjoying of and participating in the making of climate porn does nothing (and maybe less) to advance climate policies.  But it is sure hard to look away.

14 comments:

  1. Aw, man. I thought we were going to see Joanne Nova in a whipped cream bikini or something.

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  2. "Joanne Nova in a whipped cream bikini or something."

    I'd sign that petition . . . . :)

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  3. "Similarly, if there was a scientific consensus that a clear signal greenhouse gas emissions could be seen in recent events, it not would support a reordering of policy priorities for exactly the same reasons."
    This sentence needs help.

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  4. Roger:

    You say: "The reasons why action makes sense on decarbonizing the global economy and building resiliency have a much broader basis."

    The commitment to providing "insurance" (mitigation?) against the projected damaging risks of increasing atmospheric CO2, has effects on other 'values' quite independently of the role fossil fuels have, and may yet play, in shaping global economies. Whether, in the long term, those 'damages' would be more expensive than the economic 'gains' of decarbonizing the global economy currently remains open to debate.

    Therefore the issue of whether to begin to mitigate, sooner – rather than later – has TWO sides. It should be (equally?) motivated by both considerations.

    It's not clear to me which consideration makes the issue "broader", and therefore more urgent ?-)

    Examples of simultaneous solutions to both of these problems, with existing technologies, are covered in my Dec. 2009, Climatic Change papers:

    http://www.springerlink.com/openurl.asp?genre=article&id=doi:10.1007/s10584-009-9626-y

    and

    http://www.springerlink.com/openurl.asp?genre=article&id=doi:10.1007/s10584-009-9625-z

    These address BOTH drastically REDUCING atmospheric CO2 concentrations and consequently also providing sustainable, eco-neutral supplies of wood to 'forever' REPLACE fossil fuels for energy and for use as stock for the petrochemical industries – at costs at about half that for Carbon Capture and Sequestration – because you get BOTH for about the price of one!

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  5. You said: "Imagine that there was a scientific consensus that no signal of greenhouse gases could be seen in today's weather extremes. In such a world would we be able to forget about mitigation and adaptation? Absolutely not. The reasons why action makes sense on decarbonizing the global economy and building resiliency have a much broader basis."

    From previous writing, I know I should not take this statement too far. That being said, it is a useful and terrible argument to undercut skeptical reproaches to the debate. The technical reasons for temperature rises are critical to WHAT we do: if getting off the use of fossil fuel is a good idea (I believe it is), then society needs to make the moves to switch fuel usage, not decrease fossil fuel usage. The negative approach loses steam (literally)when the reasons for it go away. The positive approach keeps us going even if, say, geologists find much, much more fossil fuel supplies available. When CO2 and scarcity fall away (if they do), then we will return to our ways. If a social change is underway for social, strategic and philosophical reasons, the change will continue.

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  6. The answer is always better and/or cheaper. Cheap base-level electric power will drive all sorts of wild and wonderful innovations. Banning or severely limiting the use of fossil fuels in the US will have as much impact as Prohibition.

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  7. -5- Raoul Drake

    You should take a look at the presentation that Roger posted of one of his speech to realize what is it your asking for.

    Roger,

    Wouldn't it be more scientifically accurate to say:

    'The heat wave would have happen AGW or not, that AGW may have worsen it, but that we are unable to distinguished what is the natural part and what is the AGW part, since it is still inside natural variability.'

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  8. It is useful though in separating out the honest from the dishonest and true investigative scientists from dogmatic activists for whom everything vaguely unusual is caused by global warming.

    The real debate about jet_stream blocking causal mechanisms is likely far from inane. But will it be pursued correctly without preconceptions?

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  9. If CO2 is not causing a worldwide climate catastrophe, then spending time controlling CO2 is not a viable primary goal.
    I would suggest that reducing true toxins in the environment, mitigating real damage, restoring habitat and reducing habitat reduction are goals that have been justifiably accepted.
    At best, achieving these acceptable goals by way of CO2 regulation is an indirect and unclear means of achieving this goal.
    If climate catastrophe is off the table, then CO2 should be off the table.

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  10. "The reasons why action makes sense on decarbonizing the global economy and building resiliency have a much broader basis."

    Forget it Roger.

    It is not self evident that [policy forced] decarbonisation "makes sense" and I am not going to buy you book to find out your reasoning.

    That leaves me in a difficult position to fairly appraise your postion on this.

    Agreed, adapation is simply a good idea - but again, the debate is about the role (if any) of public policy intervention.

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  11. Geckko (Mon Aug 16, 10:17:00 AM MDT),

    IMO, no government has any business forcing any sort of decarbonization on anybody. It is clear to me that I have the science on my side.

    So-called “Progressives” have always believed that their self-righteous tyranny can (and should) solve every one of life’s little (and big) problems. They have a blind and absolute confidence in their big government religious dogma. But, just like Roger, are utterly unwilling to publicly debate the merits of these beliefs.

    That said, I applaud Roger for standing up to the hysteria mongers who, IMO, knowingly deliberately and cynically confuse weather and climate for personal gain.

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  12. To back-correct substantial temperature over-predictions, the IPCC climate models assume significantly higher albedo by 'polluted clouds with smaller droplet size'. There is no general experimental proof of this so the climate models are wrong, the CAGW scare is not justified and AGW amplification may be <<1.

    The probable explanation is that there is another optical effect at the tops of clouds. I've got some ideas about this. They explain measured cloud albedos up to 0.9 and an angular dependence of radiance. At low solar incidence, you can see the effect with the naked eye. The 'Twomey theory' behind the now failed 'polluted cloud cooling' hypothesis, increased optical depth with more, smaller cloud droplets, cannot predict >0.5 albedo nor measured angular dependence.

    What's really interesting is that NASA publications claim a totally false physics ['more, smaller droplets with greater surface area reflect more sunlight']. It could be a mistake: it could be an attempt to deceive.

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