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Climate change is simple: We do something or we’re screwed

Posted on 8 July 2012 by dana1981

A few months ago we posted a TED talk by James Hansen.  Recently Grist's Dave Roberts gave a TED talk of his own, essentially discussing that if we don't do something to seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next 5-10 years, we're screwed.

Roberts provides supporting documentation for his talk here.  Note that we generally prefer to take a more positive approach, focusing on the fact that while we're running out of time, we're not out of time just yet, so we can still solve the climate problem.

Nevertheless, Roberts gives a good, simple, straightforward presentation, the general gist of which is certainly accurate.  Enjoy.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 60:

  1. I have a slight objection to the phrasing of the problem as being out of time or not. As long as we don't hit a tipping point which would make any effort on our part moot, the damages are not binary, they are analog. Or, put another way, it is not like tossing a coin, you win or you lose; it is more like electric shock. A very little hurts a little, the more you apply, the more it hurts, and there is no real upper limit to the pain, until you are dead.

    It is never a bad idea to slow down the car even if you think you may crash anyway.

    I do not think that Dave Roberts says we are out of time. Out of time would imply that we are already committed to hitting a tipping point that would overwhelm anything we might try to do, and he specifically says that he doesn't think that is very likely, at present.

    An interesting talk. Not much new there, but he has reached most of the same conclusions I have, but then, we all have to watch out for our own confirmation biases.
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  2. Chris G,

    In your analogy, there is a point, however gray and fuzzy it may be, at which the electric shock becomes unbearable, a point at which you would never, ever consider putting up with that much pain.

    That is the point Dave Roberts is talking about. That is what he means by "out of time."

    If we wait too much longer before taking action, the price and the suffering will be way, way beyond anything we would ever choose to endure.
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  3. Hi Sphaerica,
    If you put it that way, OK. It bothers me when people say that there is nothing to be done about it anyway, and the 'out of time' concept can be used (abused?) as leverage by them. I do not wish to give them any leverage.
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  4. ...nothing to be done about it anyway, ...

    as though we are already committed to the worst that could possibly happen, which I would like to think is not the case.
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  5. If George Monbiot (or, rather, Leonardo Maugeri) is right, the worst may have gotten much worse:
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  6. Sphaerica @2, uncertainty is often misinterpreted. Fake "skeptics" think that if the science is uncertain, the future will be less bad than scientists predict; but of course it may be much worse. On the other hand, we are only almost "out of time" if the scientist's predictions are accurate and not overestimating the problem. While the low side uncertainty exists, it is always too soon to say too late. (And while the high side uncertainty exists, it is never correct to say that we have time to spare.)

    This is also on top of Chris G @1, with whom I agree.

    One point that needs to be mentioned, however, is too late for what?

    Assuming scientists central projections are accurate:
    We are already too late to avoid a collision (zero damage from climate change), and passed that point around 1990.

    We are not yet too late to avoid the collision writing of our car, but if we don't brake now a our car is toast.

    If we don't mind the radiator being concentened into the rear fender, we still have time to spare.

    In this situation, policy settings around the world are for steady acceleration.
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  7. The heat across most of the eastern US (east of the Rockies to the Atlantic coast) has been historic. I know so many people that 'believe in global warming' but know so little about what is really happening. I have been looked at as 'alarmist' 'obsessive' discussing to others about the dire danger we are in.

    Now I am gloating - my attitude is simply...'I told you so' 'you snickered' at me and thought I was a 'radical environmentalist' trying to destroy the 'American way of life'. With C02 levels this high ( though this is in the pipeline) We are seeing Carbon in the atmosphere from 1990- or before before when C02 had passed 350ppm. As the decade progresses that warming in the pipeline will rear its ugly head. Is the climate beginning to unravel quicker then many thought? Perhaps- but there is really little time left to stop the worst outcomes that climate change will bring to us.
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  8. The problem is that despite everything that is happening, there are too many people and in the U.S. an entire political party that obstinately contends that it is all alarmist. It is a natural cycle. Man does not have the power to change the climate. It is all a Liberal conspiracy to redistribute wealth. You know all of the excuses.

    It really does not matter how much of the science that you present to these people. They argue forever, call you a liar, don't even acknowledge what you have shown them. It is so beyond belief their blindness to what we are doing. I really don't know how to approach it anymore.
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  9. One of the problems with cross postings like this is that SKS's usual policy of justifying everything by references to the peer reviewed literature goes by the board. This is a pity and I think detracts from the quality of your site.

    Could anyone give me some references to justify the following:

    2 degrees Celsius would be unbearable

    We have to start reducing emissions in 5 to 10 years

    We are on target to reach 4 degrees by the end of the century

    I'm not saying that the evidence is not there - I would like to be able to refer to it.
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  10. Sceptical Wombat, the special report by the WGBU, Solving the Climate Dilemma: The budget approach, directly addresses the second point, and contains relevant discussion on the other two points.
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  11. @9 SW,

    I think we don't need much science to prove that 2c is way beyond the carrying capacity for global civilization.

    Even at the current rate of extreme events societies globally are going to collapse. We are just arriving at 1c. Not even there yet.

    Do you really think that another 1c is not going to be absolute mayhem? Then also add the accelerating sea level. Tusha.

    No need to even then address a 4c scenario.
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  12. Here is a good article on current rate of extreme events
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  13. Whomever can fix it: Tom Curtis' link @10 is broken.
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    Moderator Response: TC: Fixed, and thanks for spotting it.
  14. I watched Robert's talk with interest. We clearly need to build a 'critical mass' of support to pressure the extraordinarily reluctant politicians to even begin addressing the problem. The 'educational' approach Roberts takes is important. But I am wondering if old fashioned story telling approaches might also be key. I am crafting a potential TED video that combines my personal health story- 2 serious diseases, multiple hospitalizations and surgeries- culiminating in a liver donor liver transplant from my brother. It has it all!- my initial 7 year denial of the scientists and the consequences (ambulance, hospitals, surgeries), systems being pushed out of equilibrium, complete with graphs of upward sloping liver function tests ('Keeling Curves!'), tipping points crossed, and, finally, maturing to the stage of facing the information, making the hard choices-asking a family member to donate over half their liver- and (for me) coming out to the other side...all in analogy to climate change. (please see 'My Personal Story' on for more of the story) Coming soon to a theater near you.
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  15. How long is the lag in the system?

    For El Nino it seems about 6 months, for the sun it seems about 2 years, the Argus current takes 4-35 years to reach the North Atlantic, but what is the lag between CO2 forcing and heat realisation?

    Say it is only 20years for 80% warming like Hansen's suggests, then considering the rise in CO2 since 1990, 350ppm to 393ppm, or 35% or all humankind's CO2 emissions in the last 20 years, and the last 10 years has had low low sunspot activity, been shaded by the Asia smog and S02, with nitrogen fertilizes effects rducing warming further due to ozone formations from NO destroying methane and predominantly La Nina conditions and maybe things are sobering.

    And the man in the video never mention so much stuff as well, like waste, pollution, overexploitation, invasive alien's, methane re-rise, forest fires, the albedo accelerator that is kicking in terms of ice sheet surface, snow melt and sea ice loss.

    These weathee extremes are clearly serious and the last time USA hada major drought the whole economny sort of stopped, and let's face it the world's ecomony isn't that robust at present.

    How to do we get to 350ppm?

    And given paleo data that isn't that safe!

    Make the impossible possible he says?

    That would take a transformative scale change to all levels of society across the world.

    That seems impossible, unless everyone takes on board that environmental change is now and serious and is soemthign to do everything about otherwise the legacy we leave is civilization chaos which in past times has never been pretty.

    Adaptation is also needed to protct food and water security agaisnt the times.

    So a reasonable challenge, so like the man in the video says why isn't everyone making their primary drive to restore to 350ppm and to prepare for the changes to come?
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  16. Paul Magnus 11

    Even at the current rate of extreme events societies globally are going to collapse. We are just arriving at 1c. Not even there yet.

    The IPCC SREX report disagrees with your position. No strong evidence to support GW is causing "extreme" weather events.

    Read more here.
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  17. Clyde: Have you read the IPCC SREX, rather than second hand reports of its contents? The material on Disaster losses is quite concerning, especially given the current fragility of the global economy.
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  18. Composer99 @13: The link in 10 should read LINK
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    Moderator Response: [RH] Fixed link that was breaking page formatting.
  19. One of the main problems with trying to convince the general public of the danger is the concentration on whether GW is AGW or not. They get hung up on that point and because they refuse to believe that we are to blame, they think we we cannot supply the solution. This is an easy position to adopt because it means no effort on their part and it helps them believe what their favourite colmnist has said in their daily/Sunday paper. Not only that, but it is happening very slowly in terms of human lifetimes, which is a deception, I know.

    However, if an asteroid were headed our way, would we just put our head between our knees and kiss our backsides goodbye, or would we try and do something? Even the general public would support action despite the fact that it is clearly not an asteroid of our making and the possible actions are far more limited than the current climate changes ones are. Also, even the thickest of newspaper columnists would support taking action in such circumstances. Well, having said that, there are a couple I can think of and a peer of the realm who would say it is nothing to worry about in order to get attention.

    So what am I recommending? Well, stop debating the 'A' in AGW. Take it as read that we are to blame and leave those who disagree to carry on the debate elsewhere, away from the mainstream. Push quantifying the precise long-term temperature effects of cutting GHG emissions within possible sensitivities to GHG (obviously narrowing the sensitivity band as sensitivity becomes more clearly constrained) and start a serious debate on alternative energy supply.

    In particular, lend support to Thorium nuclear reactors, which I believe the USA and China are now collaborating on. We simply cannot afford to take the 'If its nuclear, it must be dangerous and must not be used' approach. Not using it is damn dangerous if Mr Roberts is anywhere near correct in his prognosis.

    It would not hurt to start compiling a list of persons who we believe are against taking action for reasons that do not have a valid, ie not debunked, scientific foundation. The time might well arise when the only way to get some action is to get people facing charges of crimes against humanity. That might even shut up a certain attention seeking peer.

    Finally, David Roberts is correct when he says that we do not need to know the details in order to act. We know the science of the greenhouse effect and we know that we are pumping GHGs into the atmosphere. The dangers are clear and so too is the necessary action.
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  20. I'm with Funglestrumpet @19. Details, shmetails. All we laymen need to know to shut down the deniers is that it is them vs. the virtual unanimity of the climate science community. How often do 98% of scientists agree on anything? I think it's time to get beyond the debate stage, marginalize the naysayers, and pressure the world's leaders to act in unison. How on earth did we get past Y2K so smoothly? What process was used to kick everyone's tuchas on that issue? Whatever it was, we need more of it. (And I also agree we need to re-think nuclear. Yes, I'm fully aware of the dangers; I just think we're going to have to re-evaluate those dangers as "acceptable risks".)
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  21. fungelstrumpet @19, the strategy of ignoring the A in AGW is doomed to failure. The simple reason is that "their favourite colmnist" is sure to also be telling them that "it is the sun" and that solar scientists are predicting a Maunder Minimum, so the problem will magically go away; or perhaps that "it's a natural oscillation" which, having oscillated up is about to oscillate down and so will again magically disappear.

    What is worse, we, having neglected the A, will be unable to counter them, for it is the A that is the sole basis for our predictions of ongoing, and increasingly rapid warming.

    On top of that, you can be sure that "their favourite colomnist" will very quickly tell them, if we drop the A, that we were wrong about the A all along, and what else are we wrong about that we are not telling them.

    Like it or not, the only successful communication strategy has been, and remains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
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  22. Great post. But we should realize that "Do Something..." does not mean wimpy-ass dumb tweaks to business-as-usual.
    ("OK, I'll bring a cloth bag to the supermarket" )

    Nope, our tepid compromises mean nothing. ( OK we will try carbon cap and trade - but only if we keep up profits.) Nor does it mean we can try smart actions too late. ("OK, if you insist, a carbon tax - but that's all I will accept.)

    No, we cannot let runaway climate change begin. It really means no more carbon combustion - none. And we have to sequester carbon. Oh and no more hockey stick Population growth. None. No more humans ("OK, we'll accept 1.5 children per family [but only voluntarily!]")

    The wonderful thing about physical laws of climate science is that there really is no room for compromise. We are defeated, and all we can do is mitigate this defeat to a level that may permit multigenerational survival. No negotiations. We can only decide now how difficult we want to make it. Sorry, no compromises.
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  23. We are committed to change much worse than that which has destroyed previous civilizations. To make matters worse our super economic efficiency has, in many cases, been at the price of resilience. We are so much more vulnerable than most realize.

    It would appear whatever happens, we are committed to much pain. It is still possible that a better system will arise out of the ashes, but the transition will be horrific.

    The longer we carry on as we are the less will come out at the other end. The steps we need to make will also change society in a way that will help us get through it all. This is the change that conservatives fear above all and why they are so reactionary.

    Carry on as we are without any action and by the end of the century we will have set in motion changes that will in all probability claim humanity itself. This is less scary to the conservative mind than changing the concept of property. They truly believe better dead than red, and they have a pretty wide definition of red.
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  24. rpauli @22, the primary constraint on human well being, at least in material terms, is the energy available to meet those material needs and desires. Currently humans use enough energy for that purpose to generate 0.028 W/m^2 of energy globally. In contrast, we receive an average of 240 W/m^2 from the Sun. That means we could increase our energy use from renewable sources till it used just 1% of energy from the Sun that arrives at Earth and expand our energy consumption by a factor of 85. It would be preferable if that expansion came without a concurrent expansion in population so that we could expand our energy consumption (and hence wealth) per capita; but it is not necessary. Scenarios of doom and gloom because of a need to switch to renewable energy are therefore completely unwarranted. Nor is there an immediate need to stop population growth (although there is a need for population to stabilize within the next century).

    Nor are the prospects of doom from Global Warming so certain that we cannot afford a measured approach. That measured approach requires that we immediately and unilaterally (for all Western nations) end emissions growth and start reductions at at least 3% per annum by 2015 as the prelude to negotiating a global agreement to reduce effective global emissions to zero by 2050. It does not mean simply cutting of all combustion of fossil fuels, which would introduce a human disaster worse than any in prospect from global warming.
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  25. TonyO @23, on the contrary, it is still on the cards that we could tackle global warming at a cost that does not preclude continuing economic growth (see my immediately preceding post). It is urgent, however, that we stop dawdling about doing so. A further 10-15 years of inaction will make your prognosis accurate.
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  26. In transferring the knowledge into the society, one does wonder why it takes so long for anything is being accepted in some societies. I think is a good reading for that.
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  27. Kevin C 17

    The material on Disaster losses is quite concerning,

    Does the IPCC SREX say GW is causing the "extreme" weather events happening today? Theres a difference between being concerned over material loss & whats causing the events.

    Heres another reference.

    "The heat wave today is primarily natural climate variability," agreed Dr. William Patzert, an global climate change researcher with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

    Read more here.

    He goes on to say how bad things will be do to GW. He doesn't say when anybody can say GW is causing the events.
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  28. Just something to ponder. I say the recession was the main cause. Others disagree. One thing for sure, it wasn't massive govt regulations or Cap & Trade that caused the drop. I guess if the economy ever starts growing at 3-4% for a couple of years we'll have a better idea if the recession was a big factor.

    America’s carbon emissions may drop back close to 1990 levels this year.

    Total energy carbon emissions were 5,473 million tons in 2011 and last year fell below the 1996 mark of 5,501 million tons.

    The first quarter 2012 reduction of 7.5% makes it possible that this year emissions will fall back essentially to the 1990 level of 5,039 million tons. That is shockingly good news.

    Details from the EIA here. PDF page.

    I didn't see a place to post on CO2 levels. My apologies if this isn't the right place.
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  29. Clyde, no one weather event is "caused" by AGW. The warming climate changes the frequency and severity of extreme events. This obviously is effecting insurance now and will do so more into the future. See this article and perhaps respond there.

    While the US might bring energy emissions down, how much of this is done by exporting emissions to China? World CO2 emissions continue to rise and climate responds to the global emissions, not the local ones.
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  30. #27 Clyde. If you're still unable to make the connection between heatwaves and global warming - perhaps you can answer the question as to why heatwaves such as the one the USA is experiencing (and, for example, Texas last year, and Russia the year before) are demonstrably happening more frequently and with greater severity in global trends established over the past 60 years (Hansen et al 2011)?

    The global pattern and trend is unmistakeable. Note that this is based on observed surface temperature data, not modelled. You can pretend it's 'natural variability' if you like, but the variability is not the same as it was 30 years ago. Roll the dice now, you'll get a 3-sigma heat event in your area sooner than you'd like. Are ya feelin' lucky?
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  31. Clyde - when it comes to extreme weather the increased severity and frequency of heatwaves are pretty much a global warming slamdunk. These SkS posts explain the concept:

    1. Extreme Events Increase With Global Warming

    2. NASA scientists expect more rapid global warming in the very near future (part 2) - see the heading entitled "damn statistics".

    So the basics are; that with no climate warming the probability of record-breaking warm extremes decreases with time, whereas in a warming climate the probability of record-breaking increases. All very intuitively easy to grasp. And you will note that one of James Hansen's papers shows a dramatic increase in warm temperature extremes in the observational record. See:

    3. Quantifying Extreme Heat Events

    Bottom line: expect more severe and frequent record-breaking warm events in the future.
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  32. Tom Curtis at #24.

    The problem of how much energy humanity uses lies not just with the energy itself (especially with how it's obtained), but with what humans do with that energy.

    The issues that the planet has with the serious pressures on species, on whole ecosystems, on soil and water reserves, amongst other things, are the manifestations of human energy use. Even if we were to cap the global human energy use to today's levels, we would still be eroding the natural capital of the planet such that rates of species extinctions, of ecosytem degradation and loss, of water and soil resource degradation, will all continue to increase toward eventual collapse.

    The only way that we can avoid the inevitable result would be to dramatically reduce our per captia resource use, and as humans are showing no inclination to reduce either that or the strong correlate that is energy use, it seems that the only choice currently is how much climate change we add to the other agents of biospheric compromise that will lead to global societal collapse.

    It's thermodynamics - there's no such thing as a free lunch, especially when all embodied costs are accounted for.
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  33. Bernard J @32, eco-system degradation is certainly a problem, but it is a distinct problem from global warming. So the first point is that any difficulty we have tackling eco-system degradation does not automatically carry through to an inability to tackle global warming. Further, increased energy use per capita could well be a means of tackling eco-system collapse, provided energy production can be decoupled from GHG emissions. For instance, with increase energy availability, most human water needs could be provided by desalinization and/or recycling. With a ready supply of water and energy, food can be provided by hydroponics, thereby eliminating the problems of soil degradation. Consequently I cannot accept your pessimistic prognosis.

    More importantly, it is a simple fact about human nature that you will not persuade them to downsize their demand. Some few you may, but the result will be simple that those amenable to your views will have less relative wealth, and consequently less influence on the course of the economy. You may consider this fact disasterous, but I consider it just as a constraint on solving the problems. It certainly does not mean the problem cannot be solved - but it does mean that pushing solutions that require us to wear a hair shirt is a waste of time.
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  34. Tom.

    Bernard J @32, eco-system degradation is certainly a problem, but it is a distinct problem from global warming.

    Not entirely, as the effects of global warming will seriously exacerbate ecosystem degradation.

    But that's a little beside my original point, which is that providing abundant renewable energy to replace fossil energy will not solve all of the problems that beset our society and the biosphere. And in solving the problem of fossil-fueled energy sources, we need to be cognisant of not adding to ecosystem degradation in other ways.

    More importantly, it is a simple fact about human nature that you will not persuade them to downsize their demand.

    Sadly, in the context of its consequences, I very much concur with you on this point.

    However, a corollary of this fact is that you are just as unlikely to see humans give up their wonderful new and renewable sources of energy for use in exploiting the rest of the planet's resources. Even if desalination could provide at an environmentally neutral cost limitless water for hydroponic vegetable growth, again at an environmentally neutral cost, it's not going to happen in the next century at a scale that is going to supply food to the planet. And if it does, it won't satisfy the global appetite for meat, which correlates closely with wealth (and hence with energy use), so the pressures on soils would remain and likely increase in rate, essentially in fulfilment of Jevon's paradox.

    Further, there is no simple quick fix to fish stock over-exploitation, and there is no quick fix to the clearing of forests in many parts of the world.

    Abundant renewable energy won't reverse urban/suburban sprawl that follows energy wealth - again, it's Jevon's paradox. And a lot of that sprawl occurs in biodiversity-rich areas, so once more the pressure on ecology is not relieved.

    Abundant renewable energy will not slow, for decades at least, the trajectory of population growth: this is already set by the demographic structures of countries with growing populations and with little prospect of the imminent appearance of wealth, and the cultural sequelæ that follow wealth and that would otherwise put the brakes on further growth. So, with a population that is likely to be at least 50% greater than it is now by the end of the century, should the wheels not fall off the wagon before then, we would have billions more people expecting to live lives enriched by at least as much energy (and concommitant non-energy resource use) as we Westerners use now. Even if we assume that future non-energy resource use somehow decreases even as we continue to use energy, we'd need to decrease our non-energy resource use by an average of two thirds with that 50% population increase, to remain at the current (unsustainable) levels.

    Further, abundant renewable energy will very likely increase the complexity of the global societal and technological systems, and there is a whole discipline that recognises the vulnerability of complex systems to catastrophic failure. In the 'natural world' such failure is part and parcel of creating eventual resilience over evolutionary timescales via the mechanism of survival of the fittest. Nature red in tooth and claw, as it were...

    When inevitable failures of human systems occur there is damage, as we've seen in history, but a future society built to even more complexity using limitless energy, in a world damaged by previous over-exploitation, will see failures of a magnitude that would not be countenanced if we could know of them beforehand. Some might argue that we have resilience already, or how could 'it' all work as it does, but the very fact that our society is not in balance with the biosphere contradicts that notion. The very fact that our society has wobbled from are really minor financial crises contradicts that notion, and the fact that there are not-so-small hurdles on the horizon such as the intractable US debt contradicts that notion.

    And this is beside the flaps that our societies are currently having about Peak Oil and climate change.

    I'm not saying that renewables are not desperately required. They most certainly are. However, they are only a part of a solution, and of a solution that needs to be found and enacted quickly, before thermodynamics take matters into its own hands.

    Humanity's unbalance with the planet on which it lives is like a chain. Reinforcing one weak link - energy - isn't necessarily going to prevent breakages elsewhere in the chain, and if doing so means that we believe that we can continue hauling the same overload as in the past, then we're still going to have catastrophic failure somewhere in the chain.

    In other threads there are emphases on the conservation of energy, and on mass balance. The very same thermodynamic principles apply to all human activity within the biolithohydrosphere. You are correct to point out that our human nature contrains how we respond to problems, but thermodynamics is an even tighter contraint on the final results of our responses. If we can't prune our impact to live within the limits of the planet, the planet's limits will do it for us. Sadly, that outcome should it eventuate will be disasterous for many millions (even billions?) of humans,and most of those will be people who were never responsible for the problems in the first place.

    And in that alternative outcome, even hair shirts may be a luxury.
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  35. Regarding population growth - Most of the estimates I've seen (such as this 2004 UN report) indicate that we'll probably peak at a population of 9-10 billion late in the 21st century, with a slow decline afterwards, based upon decreasing birth rates and aging populations. "Peak population" is in sight.

    Of course, when I was born the world population was ~4B, and we're currently over 7B; 9-10B is a huge increase, with a huge impact.

    It seems unlikely to me that we'll ever have the entire world population at a point where it can use energy at the level the US or other first world countries now do - but I do expect that the development of renewables will provide a pathway to increasing the total energy available to the world, with benefits accruing for the average person everywhere. If, of course, we manage not to destroy our agriculture before cutting off the carbon emissions...
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  36. KR.

    As the graph below indicates the UN mid-range estimate for the global human population at 2100 is around 10.1 to 10.2 billion.

    I suspect that this is predicated on a complex range of assumptions, some of which are unlikely to hold for that long, including the reaching of no significant limits of essential resources.

    However, for my previous comment where the underlying assumption of the discussion was that energy availability is not a limit, I assumed that other limits usually taken to impinge on the mid-range human population growth estimate would be pushed back ever so slightly as a consequence of this energy bounty, and thus that a 50% increase to 10.5 billion was a good ball-park. I did this primarily to put the relative proportions of resource use into easy context for the post, and given current trends and an assumption of no resource limits I'd say that there would be a better than even chance of it occurring.

    In truth, I strongly suspect that the wheels to which I referred on the aforementioned wagon will have well and truly fallen off before 2100. In fact I suspect that the actual number will be much less than 9 billion - and the thing to keep in mind in that scenario is that the change in trajectory will occur with much 'premature' death, and with the accompanying anguished tragedy and economic and social damage that would inevitably occur at that scale.

    A growth curve simply does not change to that extent without serious intervention in population trajectories in at least a big proportion of the world's nations, and if that intervention is not premature death it would be greatly reduced fertility, which would most likely come from government-imposed reproductive austerity.

    This is the 'nice' view though: more likely it will be disease, famine and war that ride shotgun to the excess deaths, as a consequence of the factors to which I pessimistically referred in my post at #34. The abject failure of the Rio summit just over a week ago is, in my book, the final nail in the coffin, the straw that will break the camel's back... That the world's governments could not only not act at this point in time, but that they did in fact abdicate all pretense at moving to sustainability, signals that the time has passed for serious addressing of the world's environmental problems before significant damage occurs.
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  37. Tom and dana.

    I recognise that my points are not specifically about addressing climate change in order to avoid a global 'screwing', and I do apologise if they are shifting the topic somewhat, but I feel that they are important in gauging the overall measuring of the collective actions required to address the sum total of the challenges the world faces.

    If you'd prefer, I'm happy to carry the conversation to another thread.
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  38. Bernard J. - The 10.1-10.2 mid-line level is about what I've been seeing in predictions too. Much of that prediction is based on changes in the total fertility rate (TFR) (number of children born per woman over their lifespan, as a statistical average) which is dropping in much of the world. Currently it's at roughly 2.52 globallyo, dropping through 2.36 in the next 5-10 years, down from just under 5 in the 50's.

    In first world countries the replacement rate for stable population is ~2.1, while for developing countries it's between 2.5-3.3 due to higher mortality.

    However: I feel you are completely correct about the 'wheels falling off' prior to a population peak. The impacts on agriculture alone will impose additional constraints on populations. And the longer we wait, the worse it will be.
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  39. skywatcher 30

    perhaps you can answer the question as to why heatwaves such as the one the USA is experiencing (and, for example, Texas last year, and Russia the year before)

    I did not write the IPCC SREX. It's my understanding the IPCC is the big chief so to speak on GW matters.

    “Long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded (medium evidence, high agreement).”

    You use one paper from Mr Hansen to suggest the IPCC SREX is wrong. Richard Klein might disagree with your point. He "scolds" some guy named Joe Romm for misrepresenting the findings.

    Read more here.


    Several studies show that the anomalous long-lasting Russian heat wave in summer 2010, linked to a long-persistent blocking high, appears as a result of natural atmospheric variability.


    The deadly Russian heat wave of 2010 was due to a natural atmospheric phenomenon often associated with weather extremes, according to a new NOAA study.

    Two papers that disagree with Mr Hansen. GW had little to do with the Russian heatwave.
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  40. Clyde - it is doubtful science is sufficiently advanced to attribute specific heat events solely to natural variability. To do so one would need to tease out the man-made global warming signal which is responsible for warming the ocean basins and increasing the water vapour holding capacity of the atmosphere - two crucial components in the transport of energy around the planet, and therefore important to weather. How does one apportion blame solely to natural variability when the entire planet, and consequently all weather, is affected by global warming?

    And importantly, the studies need to examine upstream/downstream phenomena which may have contributed to blocking patterns. Indeed, some research suggests blocking patterns become more persistent at the Earth warms. See SkS post: Linking Weird Weather to Rapid Warming of the Arctic

    Whilst the science of attributing specific events to global warming/natural variability is in its infancy, the statistical basis for the expectation of increased frequency and severity of record-breaking warm extremes is both well-founded and easy enough to understand. You simply need to read, absorb and understand the links that were provided to you earlier.

    And one final point, the work by NASA scientists Hansen, Sato & Ruedy are simply observations of the GISS temperature record. The increase in the extreme warm events (3 sigma) are a historical fact.
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  41. Tom Curtis @25
    Dealing effectively with global warming will not be bad for the economy, on the contrary it will be beneficial.

    Investment in energy efficiency would be a huge employment creator, hugely beneficial and with a surprising quick payback period. Renewables will also be an employment creator, more than the equivalent investment in coal or nuclear.

    The required investments can be small scale, local and will increase resilience. They will also give greater independence from the huge global financial companies. There will be no need for the multi level financialization of financialization. One reason renewables are so opposed by people not in the oil and gas industry.

    What I was saying is that our current economic soccial system is very much more fragile than people understand. Even if the effects of climate change are not that serious it will still be a too big a shock for the system. But the effects of climate change are already guaranteed to be serious.
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  42. Interesting to perhaps consider that the heatwaves in Russia and US have happened while ENSO ONI index is negative. How ugly would summer be when coinciding with an El Nino event of 1.5 or greater?
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  43. 16, Clyde,

    During the first week after a physical has shown that you have cancer you feel fine. So you figure you don't need to do anything about it, and you can let the cancer take its course until it becomes a problem?

    We've only gotten to 0.8˚C of the 1.4˚C temperature change to which we have already committed, and of the 2˚C to 2.5˚C that we are very, very unlikely (at our current pace of action) to avoid.

    You really believe that just because current extremes can't be definitively, statistically and un-categorically tied to climate change, that that means that climate change is harmless? Is that really your position?

    [Please don't bother to answer. The question is rhetorical. I really don't care to hear your response.]
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  44. Clyde, you did not answer my question. It is an observed fact that there has ben an observed progressive increase in extreme heat events across the globe over the past 50 years. What is causing that increase?

    An analogy:
    Striker V Natural always scores about 20 goals a season for his football club. They are distributed at random through the season, and the club win about half their games in the season, finishing mid-table. The club then sign another striker to play alongside V Natural, called Ant Ropogenic, who starts slowly, scoring only a few goals in his first few seasons, but gradually increasing his scoring rate to more than 20 goals a season. Eventually Earth United are winning more games and ultimately win the league.

    You are looking at the final scores in the league-winning season, and don't know who scored each goal in each game (just as we can't tease out every specific storm, low presure or blocking high that is caused by AGW). Maybe V Natural scored all the goals? Yet before Ant Ropogenic started playing, the team were mid-table and mediocre. Not so many wins! [ie extreme events] How confident are you that V Natural scored all the goals in the league-winning season? How confident are you, for any one game [any one extreme event], that Ant Ropogenic didn't contribute to the victory?

    The analogy is far from perfect, but you have to ask yourself, in a world that is warming rapidly, why the observed increase in extremes of high temperature (commonly called heatwaves) would have nothing to do with the forced warming that is going on?

    From SREX:
    "In many (but not all) regions over the globe with sufficient data, there is medium confidence that the length or number of warm spells or heat waves[3] has increased." "It is likely that anthropogenic influences have led to warming of extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures at the global scale."

    Your first link is paywalled and the abstract does not contradict Hansen; NOAA in your second link say this, entirely consistent with Hansen:
    "And while the scientists could not attribute the intensity of this particular heat wave to climate change, they found that extreme heat waves are likely to become increasingly frequent in the region in coming decades."

    So NOAA are entirely consistent with Hansen et al. Trying to attribute individual weather events to climate change is a mugs game, but observing the global change in trends is actually quite straightforward. AGW plays a role in determining the pattern of weather events - a pattern that sees episodes of increased heatwaves (e.g. USA now), and increased floods and rain (e.g. UK just now), but patterns that are not static. Maybe next year the UK will suffer a heatwave (it just had a drought too before the spring/summer rains), maybe Washington will be flooded next year. Who knows where the extremes will happen? But I'd bet on the global patterns continuing and intensifying. All consistent with the intesifying water cycle in a warming world. Are you still confident that Texas and Russian heatwaves have nothing to do with climate change?
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  45. Tony O @41, I have no doubt that in the long term investment in renewables is good for the economy, and in particularly if compared to the difference of the effect of AGW on the economy if we do not invest in renewables. In the short term, however it is a cost.

    It is a cost because in the sort term it requires more workers for the same level of power production. (I believe in the long term that will reverse.) The economy is a means of allocated limited resources, and the crucial limiting resources are human work, and energy. If we have more people working to generate the same amount of electricity, that means we must pay more for the same amount of electricity - or pay the workers less than they would otherwise have been payed. In either event that is a cost on the economy. In the simplest terms, because those extra workers are producing electricity, it means they are not producing other goods or services that we might otherwise have desired.

    You may argue that the extra wages come from the money saved by not needing to pay for fuel. That is a fair point, but the cost of the fuel comes from wages paid to extract and transport the fuel (including the costs of building the equipment used for that purpose). So if revenue neutral, ie, the saving in fuel exactly match the increased wages, we are merely substituting wages paid in our nation for wages paid overseas. This is not exact, because there are variations in returns on investment, and variations in wages paid. But the principle is essentially correct and means the equation of more jobs ergo good for the economy does not hold.

    This issue is different from the question of full employment, which is good for the economy but can be accomplished independently of investment in renewables. Effectively the choice with appropriate economic policy is full employment with renewables and without; and if renewables require more employment for the same electricity supply, full employment without renewables results in more goods and services being produced, and hence is better for the economy.
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  46. I have no doubt that in the long term investment in renewables is good for the economy, and in particularly if compared to the difference of the effect of AGW on the economy if we do not invest in renewables. In the short term, however it is a cost.

    If only the two major political parties (and most of the economists) in Australia could be pursuaded to consider the long term in this context, rather than to see no further than the ends of their electoral/annual-bottom-line noses.

    Yesterday a Labor politician called the Greens the party of the protest vote. It's more likely that the Greens are the only party with clear vision, and the only party with policies that could operate sustainably into the far future.
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  47. KR

    Much of that prediction is based on changes in the total fertility rate (TFR) (number of children born per woman over their lifespan, as a statistical average) which is dropping in much of the world. Currently it's at roughly 2.52 globallyo, dropping through 2.36 in the next 5-10 years, down from just under 5 in the 50's.

    Indeed, and the TFRs are one of the parameters that I frequently wonder about. They are (inversely) correlated with education and with energy use, and given the very high probability of the supply of both latter parameters being compromised in the future, it begs the question about whether TFRs will rebound as a consequence.

    It will be a complicated dance with the degree to which we are able to introduce renewable energy, both in response to climate change and to peaking fossil fuels. Of course, superimposed will be inevitable future shocks to societies, and what the net effects of such shocks are on subsequent population trajectories.
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  48. On thinking about it, I realise that my post about the energy policies of the Australian political parties might stray too close to (and overstep) the boundaries of Skeptical Science's own policies. If so, I'm happy for it (and this post) to be removed.
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  49. Bernard J. - It is my guess that education and birth control are making their inroads. That is strongly dependent on any number of factors, not the least of which are stability of civil society and the permeation/influence of various cultures by first world TV shows (which show the possibilities of education).

    However, I have some small hope that the 60 year trend in TFR and the 45 year trend in net reproduction rate (peaked at 1.869 in 1965-1970, now at 1.082) are sustainable directions. It will not be sufficient on it's own to avoid a huge AGW impact, but it's at least one positive note. We seem to be avoiding the r/K choice 'r' style reproduction crash.
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  50. KR.

    We seem to be avoiding the r/K choice 'r' style reproduction crash.

    The fly in the ointment is the human propensity to switch from K to r (and vice versa) when life history determinants change. I was 'raised' in my undergraduate work on MacArthur and Wilson's paradigm, and whilst it's instructive as far as it goes, my PhD and subsequent work underscored for me the importance of overall life history.

    I sincerely hope that your impression is correct though, and that the underlying factors remain firmly in place. If not, the toe-curling fact is that human numbers will still eventually drop, but with the causative agent being mortality changes rather than fertility limitations. Under such a scenario we're also likely to swing back further into 'r' territory, which will make the resultant decline even more of a tragedy.

    Again, the fiasco a few weeks ago in Rio, and the essential failure of Copenhagen, do not bode well for our abilities in anything resembling appropriate global management of the farm. One important litmus test for indicating eleventh-hour consciousness-shifting will be whether Australia manages to keep its price on carbon beyond the life of the current government.

    If not, anything that humans do achieve afterward will be little more than the closing of the barn door...
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