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How are the poor impacted by climate change?

What the science says...

Those who contribute the least greenhouse gases will be most impacted by climate change.

Climate Myth...

CO2 limits will hurt the poor
"Legally mandated measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are likely to have significant adverse impacts on GDP growth of developing countries, including India." (Pradipto Ghosh, as quoted by Associated Press)

The central question of climate change is, How will it affect humanity? This question can be examined by estimating which regions are most vulnerable to future climate change (Samson et al 2011). The researchers then compared the global map of climate vulnerability to a global map of carbon dioxide emissions. The disturbing finding was that the countries that have contributed the least to carbon dioxide emissions are the same regions that will be most affected by the impacts of climate change.

To estimate the impact of climate change on people, James Samson and his co-authors developed a new metric called Climate Demography Vulnerability Index (CDVI). This takes into account how regional climate will change as well as how much local population is expected to grow. They incorporated this index into a global map and found highly vulnerable regions included central South America, the Middle East and both eastern and southern Africa. Less vulnerable regions were largely in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere.

Figure 1: Global Climate Demography Vulnerability Index. Red corresponds to more vulnerable regions, blue to less vulnerable regions. White areas corresponds to regions with little or no population (Samson et al 2011).

Next, they created a map of national carbon dioxide emissions per capita. They found the countries most severely impacted by climate change contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions. It is quite striking that blue, less-polluting regions in the CO2 emissions map correspond to the red, highly vulnerable areas in the vulnerability map.

Figure 2: National average per capita CO2 emissions based on OECD/IEA 2006 national CO2 emissions (OECD/IEA, 2008)  and UNPD 2006 national population size (UNPD, 2007).

The study didn't delve into the question of which countries are least able to adapt to the impacts of climate change. But it doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to surmise that the poor, developing countries that emit the least pollution are also those with the least amount of infrastructure to deal with climate impacts. So we are left with a double irony - the countries that contribute least to global warming are both the most impacted and the least able to adapt.

This research put into perspective those who try to delay climate action, arguing that "CO2 limits will hurt the poor". This argument is usually code for "rich, developed countries should be able to pollute as much as they like". This presents us with a moral hazard. If those who are emitting the most greenhouse gas are the least affected by direct global warming impacts, how shall we motivate them to change?

Last updated on 29 March 2011 by John Cook.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 56:

  1. This article doesn't really adress the point.

    The skeptic argument you underscore is : 'CO2 limits will hurt the poor. Legally mandated measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are likely to have significant adverse impacts on GDP growth of developing countries. This in turn will have serious implications for our poverty alleviation programs.'

    To show that CO2 rise will harm the poor (Samson et al 2011) does not tell us if the skeptic argument above is right or wrong. A better way to do so would be to show that poverty alleviaton does not imply a carbon rise.
  2. Ray, (replying from here) Your characteriztion of "western powers" seems seriously at odds with what I see. If you dont mitigate emissions, then the studies show climate change will affect the poorer countries much harder than the west. Kyoto didnt apply to undeveloped nations. Negotiation have focussed on reduction of emissions in west so poorer nations can grow and on the west (who are historically responsible for almost all of the extra GHG currently in atmosphere) funding ways for growth in these countries in ways that doesnt damage the climate. Can you interpret Doha in any other way??

  3. For a look at historical emissions and what would be an equitable distribution, look at the opening of MacKay's "Sustainable energy without the hot air", specifically here.

  4. One other thought from discussions with rabid libertarians that objected to any kind of international agreement on grounds that it was one set of nations interfering with liberty of another. The usual addendum to complete freedom of action is the assumption of full responsibility for the consequences of action. I have no problem with this. So if we scrapped any international negotiation, how happy would you be with apportioning the full costs of adaptation whereever they occur (since you cant keep you emissions within your boundaries) on the basis of accumulative emissions that caused the problem? That would include countries taking their share of refugees?

    On that basis, USA, UK and Germany would bear the brute of adaptation costs. Since studies show adaptation more expensive than mitigation, I woiuld mitigate real fast to avoid the liability.

  5. scaddenp.  Have you actually looked at the takeup of the Doha meeting?  The major polluters are noticable by their absence.  US, Canada, China, India.  37 countries signed onto the Doha agreement.  These countries are responsible for 15% of the global emissions.  Not exactly a stunning result by our leaders in view of the stated seriousness of climate change.   But what was the opinion of concerned groups?  

    Asad Rehman head of climate and energy at Friends of the Earth had this to say  "A weak and dangerously ineffectual agreement is nothing but a polluters charter – it legitimises a do-nothing approach whilst creating a mirage that governments are acting in the interests of the planet and its people,"  "Doha was a disaster zone where poor developing countries were forced to capitulate to the interests of wealthy countries, effectively condemning their own citizens to the climate crisis. The blame for the disaster in Doha can be laid squarely at the foot of countries like the USA who have blocked and bullied those who are serious about tackling climate change.  His sentiments encapsulate my own thinking

    Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International accused delegate as being out of touch.  He said " "We ask the negotiators in Doha: Which planet are you on? Clearly not the planet where people are dying from storms, floods and droughts. Nor the planet where renewable energy is growing rapidly and increasing constraints are being placed on the use of dirty fuels such as coal. The politicians and negotiators have lost touch with climate reality – sadly their failure will be paid for in lives and livelihoods,"

    As is apparent these guys, who are a lot closer to the action than either of us, are a lot less enamoured of Doha than you seem to be.  

     

  6. Apologies Ray - your comment was clearly engendered by my comments are whether you were in the ideological camp or not. It is my response to you that would have been off topic and so I have brought it here.

    Ray, the climate negotiations go nowhere because US in particular dont commit to reductions. Without that happening (and Europe) obviously no progress is made, but the intent of Doha is reductions by rich nations without restricting the growth of poorer nations. Not even the US denies this aim. And Kyoto clearly gives lie to your ascertain that idea that western powers are trying to restrict the growth of the poor. Rehman statement says that is it the failure by the west to reduce their emissions (and thus inflicting climate change on the poor) that is the problem.

    However, I now I might have misread you. Your statement was "my political views are that I find it difficult to accept that the major western powers are trying to enforce, on countries which are much poorer than they are, actiions that will disadvantage the citizens of those countries in their efforts to attain the standards of living approaching those of the developed world."

    By this I understood you mean that thought the west was trying to restict growth of emissions in the 3rd world (actions that will disadvantage), where as I realise that you might have meant that they are forced to accept inaction by the west and thus limited by climate change in trying to improve their standard of living. If this was your meaning, then I apologise.

    If you agree that western powers need to drastically reduce emissions so that poor nations can grow without harming their climate, then we have no disagreement.

  7. skept.fr @1 I share your objection.  The fact that CO2 rise and the resulting global warming impacts will disproportionately harm the poor is clear, but that is not inconsistent with the the notion that emissions reductions/limitations/caps will disproportionately harm/burden the poor.  So there is a very uncomfortable balancing of policy considerations to be done.  

    I understand that carbon budgets proposed for climate mitagation tend to be more generous for developing countries, as they ought to be from both an equity/fairness standpoint (atmospheric CO2 being for all intents and purposes cumulative, rich countries have already heaped on way more than our fair share to keep the total within acceptable limits), and a utilitarian standpoint (people in subsaharan Africa, for example, obviously stand to improve their lives a lot more by emitting a little more CO2 than we stand to be burdened by emitting a lot less CO2).  

    Obviously it wouldn't benefit the most disadvantaged for richer countries to continue BAU, unless you buy into some kind of global trickle-down benefit that they will get from our marginally greater prosperity and thus greater charity/aid/whatever.  

    But it seems to me that the question remains to be addressed here whether mitigation of future harms from CO2 outweighs the benefits to today's poor of allowing them to rapidly industrialize by the cheapest means possible.  

  8. Above I say "there is a very uncomfortable balancing of policy considerations to be done."  

    By that I don't mean to imply that I think the right course is unclear, necessarily.  If it's between slowing (not halting, mind you) the alleviation of the worst poverty in the world by only allowing/helping those regions to industrialize mostly if not exclusively through non-emitting energy sources like wind/solar/hydro/geothermal/yet-to-be-perfected fourth generation nuclear/current riskier nuclear, on the one hand, and on the other hand destroying the stability of the climate to the point where mass extinction is a near certainty and the very survival of humanity is in question, obviously it is a no-brainer - we should choose not to destroy the planet.  

    It would be even more of a no-brainer if alleviation of poverty can be done just as rapidly and effectively without fossil fuels (using all those other energy sources) as with fossil fuels, though I doubt that is the case.  

    So I guess my question is, how much agreement is there as to the so-called "tipping points" that would highly likely lead to mass extinction / survival of civilization being in question?  To the extent that it is  "speculative," does that even matter, considering we should err very much on the side of caution when the planet is at stake?  

  9. A dissenter/denier/contrarian/whatever friend of mine keeps bringing up the issue of forgoing fossil-fuel based industrialization being a lost opportunity to alleviate the world's worst poverty.  (We generally have these discussions on my Facebook timeline.)  He also brings up the whole gamut of meritless "scientific" arguments (solar activity, Milankovitch cycles, cosmic rays, nameless "natural cycles," platitudes about "uncertainty/complexity") as well as the usual conspiracy theories about AGW theory being a commie plot to bring down the west, etc., all of which made it hard for me to take his poverty argument seriously for a long time.  

    I'm not even sure that alleviation of poverty argument is a good argument against aggressive emissions reductions. It's just that I haven't been able to find any satisfying discussion of it on the web.  This may be because the kind of analysis I would ideally like to see would probably take a lot of experts a long time to put together: I would like to see analysis of an emissions pathway that at least a majority of scientists would consider prudent (i.e., at a bare minimum avoiding any significant risk of a "Hell on Earth" scenario within the next X number of years - 100? 150?, such as requiring mass evacuations of coastal cities and low-lying island nations, etc.) in terms of what increase in power generation per capita can feasibly be distributed to the poorest regions of the world within the constraints of that emissions pathway by X date, what the difference is (if any) between that increase and the increase that would be feasible by X date in a free-for-all scenario with no emissions restrictions, and what that difference implies in terms of a sacrifice in quality of life (if any) that today's poor will have to make for the sake of avoiding climate catastrophe.  I have no idea what that kind of analysis would entail, or whether it might take so long or depend on so many political unknowns (for example) that it wouldn't be worth doing, but I would like to see somebody take a stab at it.  

    Of course, there is another elephant in the room, which is that if our rate of consumption of global resources across the board already far exceeds Earth's ability to replenish them (see "Earth Overshoot Day," "Ecological Debt Day," which the Global Footprint Network says that we hit this year on August 20), then it's frightening to think what would happen if every country in the world had a population that consumed like America's or Europe's populations.  This doesn't change the fact that some people live on appallingly little and consume far less than their fair share of resources, but it would be crazy to pursue policies aimed toward making sure that everybody in the world overconsumes to the same degree as I do in America.  They have a right to scale up consumption, but not to our current level, and I have no right to remain at my current level of consumption.  Reducing inequality is a noble goal, but if the Global Footprint Network is anywhere close to right, then reducing inequality will have to involve meeting somewhere in the middle or we are screwed.

     

  10. I am just now noticing that the discussion of socioeconomic considerations of mitigation is a little more robust over at this thread:  

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-too-hard.htm

     

  11. "Those who contribute the least greenhouse gases will be most impacted by climate change."

    This is what destroyed my enthusiasm for wind and solar energies in 2010.  I attended a green jobs workshop in which a representative of Apollo Alliance made the above statement.  When I asked him about that, he mentioned that the people contributing the least to climate change were also poor.  I am not sure where Apollo Alliance found that guy.

  12. Coolbreeze - I am having trouble understanding why statements that people contributing least to climate change were also poor would destroy your enthusiam for wind and solar?? Doesnt make sense. I think the statement is true - the countries with lowest emissions (especially lowest emission per capita) are also among the poorest.

  13. @ scaddenp: Because , stating that people contributing the least to climate change are poor does not give low/no emission technology (wind and solar power) a reputation of economic prosperity. 

  14. I still dont follow. The people who need to install wind/solar are the rich countries. I'm not quite sure why you link  low/no emission tech and economic prosperity. The two dont seem linked to me, except that if we dont move to a low/no emission power generation then the costs of adapting to climate change will do economic damage (and a great deal worse to poor countries). The poor contribute less to emissions, not because they use low emission technology, but because they use less energy.

  15. Cool breeze - There is no contradiction, and I don't see why that statement should disillusion you.

    The global poor contribute the least to AGW due to their low per capita energy use, and due to their thinner margins for agriculture, water, and the income with which to adapt, they will be the most impacted by climate change.

    This connects to an inverted position really puzzles me - Roy Spencer, for example, has been going on about mitigation efforts harming the poor, when it's really the Business As Usual (BAU) approach that he promotes that will do the most damage to the poor he seemingly champions... He seems to live in a backwards Bizzaro world.

  16. I see what you are saying, scaddenp and KR.  But the following combination below is more likely to make me sing the praises of a fossil fuel burning economy and the lavish lifestyles it can support, rather than an economy based on wind and solar. 

    • Those contributing the least to the problem suffer from its effects the most
    • Those contributing the least to the problem are also poor.

    The lesson from this is to have money if you want to be insulated from climate change effects.  In this country, the petroleum corporations have provided a good living for a lot of people.  Meanwhile, the "green energy" lobby courts the government to build it up, using climate change as a motivator.

    While wind and solar are viable sources of supplemental power, they just have not been the economic stimulator that petroleum has been in the U.S.  The mountains of money generated by the petroleum industry still persuade much more strongly than the climate change talk of green energy companies, even after environmental costs have been weighed.

  17. Coolbreeze - So in your opinion your own self-interest justifies you saying "screw you" to those who will suffer directly due to that self-interest and your actions? That seems the very definition of irresponsible.

    Some notes: 

    • Wealth (and energy) are key components in reducing poverty, in improving quality of living everywhere. 
    • The pursuit of that wealth via purely fossil fuel consumption leads to damages for everyone.
    • Even if you have the wealth to mitigate those damages (ordering your food or coffee from a new country due to crop changes, for example), you are less wealthy as a result of that mitigation. 
    • Renewable energy has the promise of raising everyones wealth without the accompanying carbon detriments. 

    I'll just note that solar (growing 50-60% compounded annually over the last five years) and wind (30% growth rate over last decade) are, contrary to your assertion, economic stimulators. 

  18. I am somewhat stunned by your approach. I am sure that you would object if someone setup next to you and made lots of money while dousing you and your family in toxic emissions. If you reject the idea of taking responsibility of harm caused to others by your actions, then I cannot see how you can expect your views to be respected.

    By your logic, the world should still be mining and using asbestos. The US economy grew strong on homegrown or cheap imported oil but I would say the 7bbl/day imported now is certainly not helping the US economy.

    I also dont your logic. People are not poor because they dont use much fossil fuel - they dont use much fossil fuel because they are poor. I would strongly agree that you having a strong economy is good but its doesnt follow that the energy to drive it has to come from fossil fuel.

    " even after environmental costs have been weighed."  So can you point us to a study which supports this (and contradicts all the other studies saying the opposite).

     

  19. Coolbreeze @16:

    1)  You are assuming that those who will suffer more will suffer more because of their poverty.  That is only partly correct.  Even if they had the same wealth as us, however, they would still suffer more on average because, as it turns out, the geographical locations in which the rich people live who have caused nearly all of the problems just happen to be the the geographical locations in which the largest detrimental impacts will be felt (on average).

    2)  That wealth will buffer (not insulate) you from the effects of climate change does not mean you will not suffer from climate change.  Put differently, that the poor will suffer more does not imply the rich will not suffer.  In fact, if things turn out poorly it is possible that even the rich will suffer sufficiently that the global economy will collapse.  At that point the rich, who depend most on that economy, will suffer most.  That is not a likely outcome with BAU (<33%), but it is a sufficiently plausible outcome that it should be included in our planning with regard to further fossil fuel use.

    3)  If all people in the world used fossil fuels at the rate of the EU (let alone the USA), climate change would be almost gaurantteed to collapse the world economy and would be a plausible risk of driving the Earth to near universal extinction.  As it is a basic principle of morality "to do unto others as we would have them do unto us", it becomes unethical to use fossil fuels into the future at rates which cannot be sustained globally.  It is even more unethical given the balance of benefits and risks.  Not only do we preclude the poor from becoming rich through fossil fuel use by our rate of consumption, but we actively harm them by that consumption.

    4)  There is a strong relationship between energy use and wealth in a society.  Cheap fossil fuels have allowed western society to become wealthy to a level beyond the imagination of all prior ages.  That fossil fuel use, however, is a short term thing, even without climate change.  Fossil fuels are a limited resource.  Therefore it is incumbent on us to use the huge wealth gained from fossil fuel use to establish a sustainable energy economy.  If we fail to do so, we condemn near future (<300 years) generations to an energy economy not much greater than that durring the renaisance - a level unable to sustain the rate of scientific research and investment needed to switch to a sustainable high energy economy.

    Because of global warming, the time to begin the sustained switch from a FF to a sustainable high energy economy was 25 years ago.  Even ignoring global warming it will occure within 30 years.  Sing the praises of fossil fuels as much as you like, but they were always (and at most) a scaffold to the future.  Don't make the mistake of thinking the scaffold is the tower it is used to construct - and absolutely do not invest so heavilly in the scaffold that you are left unable to lay the foundation of the tower.

  20. A lot of good input, Tom Curtis.


    Scaddenp:  You are correct that poverty would more likely cause low fossil fuel use, rather than the other way around.  It is still not inspiring to me, however, for a representative of Apollo Alliance to state that those emitting the least suffer the most, and that they are poor too.  It does not really sell people on good behavior.

    And KR.    I am aware, by the way, that solar and wind are growing markets, although they still don't drive the economy on the scale of petroleum.

    When I watch the automobile traffic, I think of how petroleum is enabling soccer moms to quickly transport kids in three different directions in the afternoon.  When I buy parts for my bicycle, I know that petroleum powered vehicles got those bike parts distributed efficiently to stores near me. And I see the comfortable life my brother and his wife provide for their kids from their petroleum company salaries. 

    In the future, more people may be drawing the big bucks from wind and solar too.  That would be great.  But the sales force for wind and solar should consider leaving out statements about those emitting the least getting the brunt of it.

    And I notice, KR, that you mention my self interests and actions and throw in the word irresponsible.  Careful!  This forum is not about my actions or yours; you are unfamiliar with my life anyway.

  21. Sorry -  "It does not really sell people on good behavior." What is that supposed to mean? Low emitters that are likely to be disproportionately affected by climate change are subsidence farmers like on the great river deltas (Eg Ganges, Niger, Mekong etc). In what way is their behaviour bad and why is reducing your emissions so they dont suffer uninspiring to you? You seem to be implying that poor is immoral.

    I am sure people got comfortable lives from their asbestos and tobacco shares too. Doesnt mean they should. Fortunately, Tesla and other are showing the way for you to continue energy-extravagant lifestyles without petroleum.

  22. This topic is to some extent about your or my actions. The Myth is:

    "Curbing emissions will hurt the poor". Hurting the poor is assumed to be morally bad; ergo curbing emssions is immoral. This argument only matters to be people whose actions are guided by morally.

    The article points out the premise is false; not curbing emissions will hurt the poor more.

  23. CoolBreeze @20, when they are trying to persuade others, people try to use the points that they think the others will find persuasive.  Thus we can deduce from the Apollo Alliance's sales pitch that they think their customers will be motivated by basic notions of equity, and will consider a situation in which they are profiting at the expense of others (ie, by using fossil fuels, the greatest harms of which will afflict the poorest globally) undesirable.  Apollo Alliance's sales team seem to assume that the knowledge of that unfair situation will motivate its customers to do what they can to reduce the unfairness of the situation, at least to the extent of buying their products.  They are probably right about most of their potential customers, though certainly not all of them.  I would be greatly saddened to learn that aspect of the sales pitch was counter-productive overall because it would indicate wide spread lack of concern with equity in their marketplace.

    As I have provided clear reasons to not treat the fact that the globally poorest will suffer most from climate change as a reason to not reduce fossil fuel use, we are now only discussing whether or not mentioning the disproportionate impact of global warming on the poor is more or less likely to persuade people to modify their behaviour and reduce emissions.  If we do not consider you as an example of people who would be dissuaded from reducing emissions (with the corrollary that you have limitted interest in basic fairness), then what we have is a discussion about whether you or Apollo Alliance have best gauged the motivations of your fellow citizens.  As you present no evidence on the topic (unless you wish to present yourself as an anecdotal counter example), you have no case to argue.  Possibly neither do Apollo Alliance, but companies tend to very carefully examine the effectiveness of their sales pitches so that their belief is at least likely to be empirically based.

  24. I love Tesla roadsters; I saw one in Portland.  I would have paid into the waiting list for one a few years back, if only I had the clams to do it.

    F.Y.I.: I didn't say that the behavior of subsidence farmers was bad.  I did mention good behavior, in reference to a low emission lifestyle.

    Being poor is not immoral, and I would not imply such a thing.  But being wealthy is certainly advantageous, and I encourage wealth.  I tell people that the way to help those vulnerable to climate change is to extend opportunity to the poor; wealth puts people in the position to do so.

    We all know that there is an environmental impact to burning fossil fuels.  But my concern about that is limited, particularly when people of high-impact lifestyles are making significant contributions back to humanity.  One way people give back here in the state of Oregon is participating in habitat restorations.  Another way is by helping the poor.  Getting out of poverty makes people more resilient to climate change (an ongoing phenomenon which was occurring even before fossil fuels came about). 

    I will gladly continue pointing out how attached people are (in my nation of the U.S. at least) to the luxuries that fossil fuels bring.

  25. Not what fossil fuel bring - but what energy brings and FF aren't the only way to do it.

    I would applaud efforts to improve the environment, but an ounce of restoration does not offset a pound of damage. It might salve a conscience but is meaningless in the larger picture of future impacts.

    Good for you if you can get Bangladeshi farmers out of poverty - where are they going to live? Frankly this is fine words with no meaningful action. Back your assertion with some actual studies. You will find plenty of more somber studies to the contrary in the IPCC AR2.

  26. "I will gladly continue pointing out how attached people are (in my nation of the U.S. at least) to the luxuries that fossil fuels bring."

    Will you just as gladly tell me how me those people living that lifestyle are taking responsibility for the damage their lifestyle will do to other which lack those choices?

  27. Perhaps it is out of the power of the typical petroleum-burning American to get Bangladeshi farmers out of hardship.  I doubt that giving up petroleum will change that: don't you? 

    But we contribute how we can.  And like it or not, everybody has an impact on the environment in some way: everybody: with or without the luxuries owed to fossil fuels.

    The trees we plant here in Oregon are not meaningless, by the way.  They actually help keep the air as breathable as it is.  The automobiles emit CO2; the trees take in CO2 and emit oxygen.  I won't even bother citing a study on that, because it is so established in science.

    The riparian zone restorations in urban areas have filtered mucho automobile run-off.  Ongoing efforts at cleaning rivers have made a dramatic difference in the water quality of the Willamette and Tualatin Rivers in the Portland metro area, etc, etc., etc. Oregonians have chosen to put a lot of effort into these very meaningful efforts that significantly mitigate pollution, rather than giving up fossil fuels altogether.  And we will keep having the guilt trips thrown at us about 3rd world farmers. 

    You know what else Oregonians do that you may or may not consider meaningful?  We supplement our energy with wind and solar.  But, I will reiterate that when the sales force states that those contributing the least emissions get the brunt, it does not build the attractiveness of the product!

  28. I doubt you will either but giving up on coal (more important than petroleum) will significantly reduce their exposure to climate change.

    The most significant way (perhaps only meaningful way) is stop CO2 emissions. That is what is needed. If you emit, then you need to take responsibility for the damage you will do to others. How many Bangladeshis will Oregon take?

    The oceans are actually more significant than trees for breathable air, but perhaps you should ask instead how much CO2 is being sequestered by your tree planting compared to the amount emitted. I would guess from other figures that one year's effort would offset maybe a few seconds of emissions. That is not meaningful.

    If you dont like the guilt traps than we have to stop behaving in ways that impacts others. Getting off fossil fuel. It might cost you more your energy (until you remove subsidies on FF, then who knows), but that is the price you pay instead of others.

    " But, I will reiterate that when the sales force states that those contributing the least emissions get the brunt, it does not build the attractiveness of the product!" That remains the most warped logic I have heard in a while. They are saying reducing your emissions give you the opportunity to help those who are taking the cost of using FF but arent contributing to the problem.

  29. @ scaddenp: People have impacts to the environment whether they use FF's or not.

    Take solar panels, for instance.  Totally, angelically impact free: right?  Not when one considers the rare earth metals involved.  The extraction mining for these could be done on U.S. soil, turning streams to acid here.  Or, the mining could be done in the third world, where laborers will work in conditions bordering on slavery, and some other country gets the environmental toll. 

  30. Coolbreeze, responses to your various 'arguments';

    1: Solar requires rare earth metals and harms the environment - Nothing is absolutely zero impact, but arguing that this means we shouldn't go with things that have a vastly lower impact is taking 'false equivalency' to ridiculous levels. Also, not all forms of solar power require rare earth metals. The most promising recent advancements in solar PV have been with panels made of tin perovskites. Hardly a rare or toxic substance.

    2: Oceans absorb CO2 so sea level rise is good - Not when most of the sea level rise is due to thermal expansion and the rate of CO2 absorption decreases as temperature increases. That is, sea levels are rising primarily because the oceans are getting warmer (matter expands when heated)... and warmer water absorbs less CO2. You are also again using the 'false equivalency' fallacy... pretending that the (erroneous) benefit of rising sea levels absorbing more CO2 completely offsets the harm caused by sea level rise.

    3: CO2 boosts crop yields - Yes and no. In a controlled environment higher CO2 levels boost crop yields up to a certain point. In the open atmosphere higher CO2 levels boost some crop yields and lower others through increased heat, drought, flooding, and spread of species harmful to the crops. Recent studies suggest that the balance of these effects has already turned negative (i.e. total crop yields are down), and there is no question that significant further warming will result in greatly decreased agricultural output.

  31. Thanks CB.

    1.  I look forward to continued advancements such as these in solar tech.

    That being said, I am glad petroleum power is in place to get food and other goods transported efficiently.  When the social costs and benefits are weighed, people choose to support fossil fuel technology time and time again.  Take for instance the Thailand-Myanmar border area, where I was based last fall.  As I would walk to the nearest village, I would see truckload after truckload hauling produce south towards Bangkok.  I was grateful there was petroleum to move those trucks, so that people in Bangkok could receive large quantities of food in a timely manner.  Imagine how un-lucrative it would be for those rural farmers to move their produce to Bangkok with zero emission technology.  The people of Bangkok and other large urban areas around the world will understandably choose the climate change impacts of greenhouse emissions over starvation.  Maybe in the future, electric vehicles (charged by solar panels) will kick ass at hauling large loads like petroleum does.  That would be splendid.

  32. Coolbreeze, 

    I'm having a hard time getting my head around your arguments.

    No one is suggesting that Bangkok farmers immediately shift to zero carbon technologies to move their crops.  Even though they use trucks that run on petroleum, countries like Thailand and Myanmar still emit far less CO2 per person than the US, Canada, Australia, Europe do. We have the economic power and technological ability to change that for ourselves.  Those truck drivers are not the problem.  

    It seems you are arguing against a sudden shift to alternative, zero-carbon energy sources that must be complete and immediate.  That is a straw man.  No one thinks that is a realistic solution and no one who is actually informed about the situation argues for it. No one thinks we should subject people to abject poverty to prepare for a carbon free energy system in the future.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying to continuing to improve market share of renewable energy sources, or developing technologies to make that happen, or that can be used by those very Bangkok farmers. There is no reason to think that can't happen.

    Speaking from a self-interested position that you seem to prefer as most realistic, we (the developed world) should do this because, frankly, it will have to happen regardless. Petroleum and gas reserves will decline or become a lot more expensive to obtain. Climate change impacts will become impossible to ignore.  If we don't develop renewable energy someone else will come in and do it for us eventually.  Then the transport driven by soccer moms and Bangkok farmers will be made by "someone else" and we may become economically irrelevant.  The Bagnkok farmers should support that effort too, because, in the end, they will suffer less serious consequences.

    Also, no one here (as far as I know) is arguing that petroleum has not done well by us economically — thank you great oil reserves of the earth! The future is the problem.  Should we be happy to suffer future consequences of continuing dependence on fossil fuels simply out of an emotional attachment to what an inert resource has done for us in the past? 

  33. Also, 

    Sea level rise will have little effect pre se on CO2 absorption. I addition to CBDs discussion about effects of temp on absorption of CO2 by the ocean.  To avoid going to far off topic, I would suggest reviewing the "OA is not OK" series. That outlines the chemistry that links most of the storage of inorganic carbon in the ocean to the amount of base cations (Ca, Mg, ) in ocean water.  That amount is not tied to either expansion of seawater by heating, or affected by inputs of freshwater from melting ice.  

    The post on the "CO2 is plant food" myth is relevant to your discussion of the effects of CO2 on agriculture. I would discuss those issues there. It's worth noting that many of the expected negative consequences of climate change on the developing coutries are related to agriculture.  

  34. "... many of the negative consequences of climate change on the developing countries are related to agriculture."

    ... as well as contributing other environmental impacts like excess nitrogen and phosphorous contribution to water, etc.  All of that that gets weighed against the benefits of agriculture feeding people en masse.  I will be the first to admit that I survive and thrive on the products of agriculture.  Like pretty much anyone alive, I will gladly choose some climate impacts over starvation: even when the IPCC reminds us that the global temperature has warmed a whopping 0.85 degrees celsius in a span of over 130 years.

    Response:

    [DB]  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.

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    Fixed text.

  35. Coolbreeze:


    even when the IPCC reminds us that the global temperature has warmed a whopping 0.85 degrees celsius in a span of over 140 [130/whatever] years.


    I must say that this kind of comment is one of my pet peeves. Small changes in global mean temperature have large, far-reaching consequences. I do not feel this is a terribly difficult concept to grasp.

    I mean, it's only a 4-6°C drop from now to the depths of the last glacial period. You'd hardly notice that change in an afternoon, but in terms of global mean temperature it's the difference between what we have now and mile-high ice sheets covering large portions of the northern hemisphere.

    So I strongly encourage you to look at the evidence of current impacts (e.g. impacts as described in IPCC WG2, US National Climate Assessment, etc.), rather than apparently dismissing global mean temperature changes to date just because the number looks small.


    Like pretty much anyone alive, I will gladly choose some climate impacts over starvation


    As far as I can see, one of the things that others have been trying to get at in this thread is that, owing to chronic reductions in crop yield, acute crises from droughts or flooding, and (in the case of ocean acidification) reduced productivity of ocean biomes exploited for food sources, starvation is a potential (if not yet 100% certain) climate impact, especially in tropical/subtropical regions.

  36. Coolbreeze, ignoring the flippancy, I think there is an important principle missing. If your farming stuffs a waterway, then it is local in effect. Your nation makes the mess, it has to deal with the consequences.

    The negatives of CO2 emissions however are global. The idea that is it okay for one group of people to enjoy all the benefits of something while another group of people pay the price is I would suggest a rather "unAmerican" attitude? In particular the rich countries are getting to enjoy the benefits you point out of cheap FF while non-emitters in very poor countries pay a disproportiate amount of price through the effects of climate change.

    It largely comes down to problem that what you pay for FF does not reflect the actual full cost of using it. Its cheapness leads to poor usage of the resource and false pricing compared to other forms of generation.

    Substition is possible. So is using less. Average energy use for USA is 250kWh per person per day. Europe and Japan are around 120 while here in NZ it is 90. I strongly suspect that US citizens could lead rich, useful and meaningful lives with rather less energy use.

  37. Have the moderators taken a holiday?

    On this thread cool breeze has continuously violated the rule against sloganeering, and by now must surely also be violating the rule against excessive repetition.  He is patently simply a troll, interested only in getting his views published and having no regard to either evidence or rebutal.

    Meanwhile on the "water vapour" thread, Arthur is making repeated accusations of malpractise without any basis.

    Response:

    [DB] There are no holidays for moderators.  Life, however, does impede sometimes.  Moderation implemented.

  38. Historically, population booms have occurred based on climate and coinciding with that have been technological increases. This is why the least populous countries have historically been those closer to the equator. Countries in sub-saharan Africa, countries in huge swaths of desert such as Saudi Arabia, and countries in dense jungles have never had very high populations and consequently saw very little development. This leads to my argument. You cannot take very sparsely populated countries such as those in sub-saharan and central africa, or mountain and jungle covered countries such as those found in central America as examples of a general decrease in standards of living. You cannot use these sparsely populated countries as the basis for your argument that the poor will be less well off. It is only specific to these areas. You are using the most underrepresented countries as your data. China for example has far more poverty stricken people compared to these African countries when you take into account total population and percentage of the poor. 249.984 million people in china lived on less than $2 a day in 2011. Rwanada had 52.6 million people living on less than $2 a day in 2011. China had almost 5 times as many people in poverty as Rwanda a country more affected by Global Warming. 

    Another thing this does not take into account is the movement of peoples. It assumes populations will stay in an environment becoming desertified when this is just not true. Therefore the entire argument is actually fallacious because it is based on a false assumption.

    And finally your assumption at the end that these poor countries will not develop is actually contradictory since the data your using is at the same time assuming the populations of these countries will increase, which they have presently been doing, and because of this population increase also consume more carbon. It also fails to take into account market (technological) adapatations. States in the southern U.S. and other developing cities have seen booms in populations since the development of technologies such as centralized air conditioning. 

  39. Grizwald57 wrote "This is why the least populous countries have historically been those closer to the equator."

    This isn't actually true

    Europe is densely populated, but it seems the exception rather than the rule and on average tropical countries appear to be more populous than those in temperate regions (with the exception of Europe).  Desert regions are a result of Hadley cells IIRC, and it is hardly surprising that deserts have a low population density, but these regions are not actually on the equator.

    It isn't clear to me what you are trying to say in your post.  Perhaps it would help if you were to clearly state what your position actually is on the question of how the poor are likely to be impacted by climate change.

  40. Perhaps I was wrong. I was using the equator as my judgment. But my real statement was that areas that are less economically suitable have never been and most likely will never be largely populated because of the natural limitations. These places are as I said usually deserts, mountains, and jungles. And you can see on average these places are not very populous. 

    Your map does indicate population DENSITY is higher in those regions that are more vulnerable. But density only compares population to the size of the country. If you look at these carribean islands, and countries such as Columbia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, ect, you'lle find that these countries don't have as many people living in poverty as do countries such as China, India, U.S., ect. In summary, the more populous countries (countries which have more people living in poverty) tend to be  better economically suited and better prepared to handle severe climate change. Countries which are not well prepared to handle climate change do not have high populations of poor people, so it is incorrect to say that climate change will hurt the poor more.

    I will not state my position. This is my critique of the Skeptical Science argument that the poor will be worse off because of climate change. More people would be lifted out of poverty than would be hurt from AGW.

  41. Grizwald57 - From the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers, section 2.3, Future risks and impacts caused by a changing climate:

    Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.

    References are given, the data is mostly in the AR5 WG2 report, Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. I would have to say the evidence does not support your point of view. The poor will be more affected by AGW than the rest of the population. 

  42. KR...

    This report states the threats and impacts but fails to acknowledge human adaptations in the face of these impacts. Rather it's solution is to use the hand of government to enforce unnatural market adaptations. Historically, there has always been a human response to environmental change. Either humans change or they die off. As AGW impacts the environment, individual human responses to it will vary, but no matter what, each response will be in the best interest of each human.

    Furthermore, regarding the impact upon poverty, it is false to state that one economic class will be more impacted than a higher economic class. If you lower the standard of living for one economic class it will impact the standard of living for another economic class. You must look at the average standard of living for all economic classes together. If the standard of living for the poor is worsened by AGW, then consquentially the standard of living for the rich will also be worsened because of AGW. 

    Finally, I want to address the assumption, it seems, that AGW will create a decline in the standard of living for all of humanity worldwide. The only real impact it would have is to limit the growth of our standard of living. What I mean by this is as AGW continues to impact the world, the market response to it will reach a limit, inhibiting further growth. But the standard of living will not fall, rather it will reach a limit. 

    Alot of this argument made by climate scientists and advocates of public policy changes seems to be in parallel with the same argument about population growth. The main argument people use in support of limiting population growth is that we will not be able to feed everyone and people will die off. As if in the future we will have hundreds of babies and 90% will die off. Yet this argument fails because it assumes people will continue having babies with a 90% mortality rate.

    Industrial use of carbon on a global scale has increased the standard of living tremendously. In fact, by my guess, its probably saved billions of lives. To turn back on this progrss, and regress, would be to condemn millions to starvation and death. Advocates of cutting back carbon emissions because of AGW bring up alot of fears about the future, yet they offer the wrong solutions. 

  43. "If the standard of living for the poor is worsened by AGW, then consquentially the standard of living for the rich will also be worsened because of AGW. "

    I am not sure I follow this. This surely only applies when there is close economic connection.

    A realistic scenario is for sealevel rise to significantly worsen conditions in densely populated deltas with largely poor farmers, eg Bangladesh. Salt contamination, land loss, storm surges will likely result in deaths, loss of livelihood and inland migration with resulting heightened communal tensions. These impacts I note to people who contribute next to nothing to AGW and who lives have certainly not be enriched by FF in any significant way that I am aware of.

    I dont see how the effects on these people will have any significant economic impact on rich European or Americans who contribute the most to AGW and who have the means to decarbonize their energy supplies. Tell me how decarbonizing these economies is going to "to condemn millions to starvation and death"?

  44. Grizwald57 @42, spoken with the true calousness of the fanatical market enthusiast.

    Thus we have:

    "Either humans change or they die off. As AGW impacts the environment, individual human responses to it will vary, but no matter what, each response will be in the best interest of each human."

    Which is false.  What you meant to say was that "each response will be in the best interest of each human given their marketable economic resources", at least if you are going to represent economic theory accurately.  In 1983-85 in Ethiopia, what was in "the best interest of" 400,000 humans "given their marketable economic resources" was to die from starvation.

    Now unless you are so truly divorced from reality as to think dieing from starvation is in anybody's best interest, you need to recognize that markets fail.  They particularly fail for the poor, whose limited market resources leave them vulnerable to the whims of the wealthy (as for example, in the great Irish potato famine in which thousands starved to death while abundant Irish wheat crops were sold to England for English bread).

    Even thus corrected for reality, the claim would still be wrong.  It reqires the further correction that "each response will be in the percieved best interest of each human given their marketable economic resources".  Given inperfect human knowledge, misperceptions of the best self interest are common, and actively promoted by the advertizing industry (whose real economic task is to destroy utility).

    The best available evidence suggests that not curtailing GHG emissions is an example of such misperception.  That is, all current Integrated Assessment Models (IAM) show real future economic growth is best achieved by limiting carbon equivalent emissions.  That includes those IAMs with a very high discount for the future, and which rate welfare based on current wealth distributions (ie, consider the suffering of the poor less important the the restricted growth of wealth of the rich).

    A fatal flaw of those IAMs is that they isolated economic growth from impacts of CO2.  That is, they assume the same base economic growth rate regardless of temperature increase.  As economic impacts approach, and exceed growth rates at higher temperatures, that is a thoroughly unjustified assumption and there is a real possibility that by the end of this century, economic growth will be a thing of the past.  The assumption (and that is all it is) that "The only real impact it would have is to limit the growth of our standard of living" is not justified, and allmost certainly false if high end projections of temperature increase by the end of this century are realized (or if high end projections of economic impacts are realized with central estimates of temperature increase).

  45. scaddenp @43, in a way that point of Grizwald57 is correct.  It is also misleading.  The growth of income of the wealthy is partly coupled to the overall growth in the economy.  If the people of Bangladesh are flooded continually, then the growth of income of the wealthy will be reduced by something in the order of the reduction of wealth in Bangladesh times the proportion of global wealth in Bangladesh (ie, well below rounding error of other effects).  As impacts of global warming increase, the wealthy will only be able to continue to get rich by retaining a larger proportion of global wealth (which can be done in the short term).

    Of course, that logic contradicts Grizwald's later claim that AGW at most can limit economic growth (an unrealistic assumption built into IAMs, not a conclusion from them).

  46. Griszwald57 @42:

    "The main argument people use in support of limiting population growth is that we will not be able to feed everyone and people will die off. As if in the future we will have hundreds of babies and 90% will die off. Yet this argument fails because it assumes people will continue having babies with a 90% mortality rate."

    Historically, the higher the infant mortality rate, the larger the family size people try to maintain.  Consequently you have this argument exactly reversed.  The best hope of reducing population growth is to raise wealth and health resources among the very poor sufficient that they then have smaller families.  (This works best if they do not have religious bars against restricting familly size.)  Of course, failing this population growth will be reduced by other, more tragic means in the future.

    "Industrial use of carbon on a global scale has increased the standard of living tremendously. In fact, by my guess, its probably saved billions of lives. To turn back on this progrss, and regress, would be to condemn millions to starvation and death. Advocates of cutting back carbon emissions because of AGW bring up alot of fears about the future, yet they offer the wrong solutions."

    The premise is correct.  The conclusion does not follow.

    For an analogy, the introduction of plumbing into cities saved thousands of lives.  Unfortunately, the early plumbing (in Europe at least), was made from lead, leading to wide spread lead poisoning.  It did not follow from the fact that the plumbing had saved lives to begin with that the switch from lead to copper plumbing was not a good move.  In like manner, a switch from fossil fuel to renewable energy resources is justified by the threat of AGW even though the initial use of fossil fuels was a good thing.

  47. Tom Curtis...

    How quaint. You rail on the market for apparently not being efficient enough to provide the best interest of the poor. And your examples of this are both in which government action cripled market adjustment and, in the case of Ethiopia, worsened a market bust. 

    But thank you for qualifying my claims. The best interest is in fact a "percieved" best interest. However this is still in the best interest of the individual no matter how much they don't know. What they don't know is irrelevent since they don't know it, and thus they will not be able to adjust their decision. 

    As for the IAM's, you've stated that economic stability would be hurt by rising temperatures but you have not explained why. "economic growth will be a thing of the past" is just false. If you take the economy worldwide for all of recorded history it has seen nothing but economic growth, and it has over time accelerated. What is your argument for this assertion? 

    As for my apparent contradiction, your simply viewing it incorrectly. If the people of Bangladesh are constantly flooded then the wealthy will not invest any capital into Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh would then have to address this constant flooding issue by either running from the tidal wave (the natural human reaction) or somehow economically prevent the flooding (perhaps by somesortof off-shore engineering). To assume there will not be a market response in the face of an ecological disaster is just a weak position to hold.

    "Historically, the higher the infant mortality rate, the larger the family size people try to maintain. Consequently you have this argument exactly reversed." Well I guess the logical conclusion people would naturally come to is wrong... that if you plan on raising a child for the next say 16 years, if you cannot feed that child then it is a misallocation of resources. That is if the chance of your child dieing is about 70% that is equivalent to a great deal of time, energy, and food being waisted. But I will refrain (and I ask you to as well please) to continue arguing this particular issue because it is unrelated.

    When I stated that "they offer the wrong solutions" at the end I was referring to interfeering with the natural market. If AGW is in fact a dire threat to civilization then please by all means continue to support the movement to go green. But please do not use immoral means to achieve your end. That is do not run around the globe with a gun forcibly preventing anyone from using carbon. 

    Response:

    [RH] Please watch the tone. And please read the comments policy before making further comments.

  48. Grizwald57 - All economic decisions have both costs and benefits. In this particular situation the choice lies somewhere in a mix of mitigation choices and forced adaptations to the consequences of our emissions.

    The majority of the studies I've seen on relative cost/benefits indicate that adaptation will cost between 5-10X more than mitigation (including transitioning away from fossil fuels). In fact, much as transitioning from horses to autos led to major economic gains, there are strong indications that the transition to renewables will also lead to net economic gains. While there are a few exceptions to this, they include primarily conomists with unsupportable assumptions and some who assert that we will simply invent our way out of trouble - even though you cannot schedule inventions...

    Note that many adaptation costs will be fixed - salt encroachment into farmlands doesn't differentiate based on local incomes, and the poor will not be able to afford as much adaptation as the rich. The poor will indeed suffer more from adaptation than the rich, even if you ignore the geographic impact factors.

    BAU is, in fact, the more expensive path to take. 

  49. " The people of Bangladesh would then have to address this constant flooding issue by either running from the tidal wave (the natural human reaction) or somehow economically prevent the flooding (perhaps by somesortof off-shore engineering)."

    So I gather you are perfectly happy with one lot of people reaping the benefits while another pay the costs? Do you seriously expect that view to be respected? Or since AGW is caused by rich nations, are suggesting that the rich nations should pay for the Bangladesh (and every other delta) coastal defense? If your neighbours action caused you to lose you land, then I strongly suspect you would run to court of law. Same here?

    And where would expect the Bangladeshi to run to? Are you suggesting the rich countries should take the refugees from the climate problems they have caused?

    The problem with the "natural market" is that the externalities are not being factored into the price, and those affected most have no recourse against those doing the damage. Change that and carbon-based energy becomes expense.

  50. I'm sorry for reposting that. It was my mistake. 

    Tom Curtis...

    Even if I do ignore geographic impact factors, the poor are still going to be able to adapt. Just because there is a wealth inequality does not mean the poor are unable to adapt. It is true that the rich will be more able to adapt but this is true for all circumstances. The rich being more well off than the poor is just a fact of life. But this is not an inherently bad thing. The key thing you said was "as much." As much, is still implying a level of adaptation. I don't have as much food as a millionaire does, but I'm not suffering. When I worked at a fast food restaurant making minimum wage I was not suffering. Just because a person must adapt to a changing environment does not mean they will suffer. If I am a farmer, and for the past 10 years I've noticed decreasing crop yields, I can either continue farming the land knowing eventually I will be unable to produce any crops, invest in better farming techniques, or sell my land for a cheaper price. But the only way I could end up suffering in this situation is if I chose the option which gave me the least percieved benefits which I won't logically do. That is the ONLY way I could end up suffering. Logically, no one would ever choose the option which gave the least benefits.

    Now, if mitigation costs less than adaptation, then either presently or in the near future we should see more private investments into environmental sustainability. If there are net gains to be made from renewble energy (which I suspect in the coming decades), then transitions will be made.

    Response:

    [RH] I would challenge you to go talk to these people and tell them there is "nothing inherently bad" about their situation. http://climateandcapitalism.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2012/08/Bangladesh-floods.jpg (Note: I had to check myself a little by not selecting one of the far worse images of people's situations in Bangladesh.)

    [RH] Also, please, no all-caps, as per comments policy.

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