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Peer reviewed impacts of global warming

Posted on 24 January 2010 by John Cook

If the IPCC's mistaken prediction that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035 taught us anything, it's that we should always source our information from peer reviewed scientific literature rather than media articles. Consequently, I've spent the weekend overhauling the list of positives and negatives of global warming so that all sources were peer reviewed. The list is by no means comprehensive and I welcome any comments mentioning other impacts of global warming found in peer reviewed papers (good or bad). Please include a link to either the abstract or if possible, the full paper. Note to skeptics - here is an opportunity to pad out the positive column if you can find peer reviewed papers outlining any benefits of global warming.

Positives

Negatives

Agriculture

Agriculture

  • Decelerating tropical forest growth (Feeley 2007)
  • Increase of wildfire activity (Westerling 2006)
  • Increased range and severity of crop disease (Evans 2008)
  • Encroachment of shrubs into grasslands, rendering rangeland unsuitable for domestic livestock grazing (Morgan 2007)
  • Decreased water supply in the Colorado River Basin (McCabe 2007)
  • Decreasing water supply to the Murray-Darling Basin (Cai 2008)
  • Decreasing human water supplies, increased fire frequency, ecosystem change and expanded deserts (Solomon 2009)
  • Decline in rice yields due to warmer nighttime minimum temperatures (Peng 2004, Tao 2008)

Health

  • Winter deaths will decline as temperatures warm (HPA 2007)

Health

  • Increased deaths to heatwaves - 5.74% increase to heatwaves compared to 1.59% to cold snaps (Medina-Ramon 2007)
  • Spread in mosquite-borne diseases such as Malaria and Dengue Fever (Epstein 1998)
  • Increase in occurrence of allergic symptoms due to rise in allergenic pollen (Rogers 2006)

Arctic Melt

  • An ice-free Northwest Passage, providing a shipping shortcut between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (Kerr 2002, Stroeve 2008)

Arctic Melt

  • Loss of 2/3 of the world's polar bear population within 50 years (Amstrup 2007)
  • Melting of Arctic lakes leading to positive feedback from methane bubbling (Walter 2007)
  • Less compacted ice, hazardous floes and more mobile icebergs posing increased risk to shipping (IICWG 2009)
  • Drying of arctic ponds with subsequent damage to ecosystem (Smol 2007)

Environment

  • Greener rainforests due to higher sunlight levels due to fewer rain clouds (Saleska 2009)
  • Increase in chinstrap and gentoo penguins (Ducklow 2006)

Environment

  • Rainforests releasing CO2 as regions become drier (Saleska 2009)
  • Extinction of the European land leech (Kutschera 2007)
  • Decrease in Adélie penguin numbers  (Ducklow 2006)
  • Disruption to New Zealand aquatic species such as salmonids, stream invertebrates, fishes (Ryan 2007)
  • Oxygen poor ocean zones are growing  (Stramma 2008, Shaffer 2009)
  • Increased mortality rates of healthy trees in Western U.S. forest (Pennisi 2009)
  • More severe and extensive vegetation die-off due to warmer droughts (Breshears 2009)
  • Increased pine tree mortality due to outbreaks of pine beetles (Kurz 2008)

Ocean Acidification

  • Oceans uptake of carbon dioxide, moderates future global warming (Orr 2005)

Ocean Acidification

Glacier Melt

Glacier Melt

  • Severe consequences for one-sixth of world's population dependent on glacial melt for water supply (Barnett 2005)

Economical

  • Increased cod fishing leading to improved Greenland economy (Nyegaard 2007)

Economical

  • Economic damage to poorer, low latitude countries (Mendelsohn 2006)
  • Billions of dollars of damage to public infrastructure (Larsen 2007)
  • Reduced water supply in New Mexico (Hurd 2008)

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Comments 51 to 96 out of 96:

  1. Actually, on a bright note, CSIRO scientists recently found that the rise in temperature needed to melt the methane clathrates is actually *higher* than previously thought. Doesn't help us much with CO2-induced warming, but a sudden release of methane from the clathrates could have resulted in a mass extinction much like that at the Permian-Triassic boundary!
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  2. As the snow blows sidewise in the darkness outside, I make my best effort to convince myself of the negative effects of global warming. As created, I am egotistic by nature, and what might be positive to me, could well be negative to someone else. There is also this aspect of degree. A little global warming might be generally beneficial, a lot on the other hand, catastrophic. As far as concerns for Nature, there was a time when life thrived on a very much warmer planet. Not sure why this is never mentioned on this site. Maybe there is some connection afterall between AGW and burning fossilized dinosaurs.
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    Response: "there was a time when life thrived on a very much warmer planet.  Not sure why this is never mentioned on this site"

    This idea is explored when considering whether animals and plants can adapt to global warming. The reason why nature is at threat from current global warming is because the rate of current warming is so rapid (and expected to accelerate), we're heading into temperatures that most existing species have never experienced and species are already under threat from other human impacts.
  3. We're not burning fossilized dinosaurs, RSVP, we mostly burn fossilized trees. As for the benefits of global warming in winter-time, what about the negative impacts during spring & summer? Excessive warming can create major shifts in the spring & summer rainfall on which our agriculture relies. Increased warming can also lead to increased senescence, which in effect means that crops will "grow old before their time", resulting in decreased biomass. Also, there are signs in the literature that increased CO2 levels pushes plant biomass from seed production towards vegetative biomass. These 3 factors could combine to substantially decrease the amount of edible biomass on the planet (well for humans at any rate). This doesn't just impact on humans directly, but also on the biomass of the livestock animals which eat vegetable matter. That seems a pretty poor substitute for warmer winters to me (especially when one considers the role of winter weather in recharging aquifers). As to the ability of past animals & plants to survive in warmer conditions-well isn't it funny how 99% of the animals that thrived then no longer seem to be with us? Also, whilst dinosaurs, conifers & ferns might have thrived in a warm CO2 rich atmosphere, the mammals & edible grasses-on which our modern agriculture depends-all evolved in a cooler low-CO2 environment.
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  4. It's highly misleading to point out that the ecosystem, in some form or another, survived even to huge mass extinctions. Shifting the point of view from humans to nature as a whole is like accepting an eventual self-caused extinction of the human race, or at least of its civilization (beware, i'm not saying it's going to happen, but it's a possible consequence of that kind of reasoning). While it will probably happen anyway in a more or less far future, i'd not be so self-destructive to accelerate our fate.
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  5. Riccardo. The Mayans were faced with ever increasing droughts as a result of a much, *much* slower warming period. Eventually it wiped them out as a civilization. Yet I bet that, if you could go back & ask them if they thought these droughts might mean the end of civilization as they knew it, they probably would have answered "no"! I sometimes feel its the same today, that we're so convinced that modern Western Civilization can never end, that we're walking-open eyed-towards our own destruction!
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  6. Another analogy Riccardo. The Anasazi were also faced with the same warming event the Mayans faced. For them it caused a decline in the size & number of available trees for construction. Yet even as their available resources became increasingly depleted, they actually became *more* opulent in their consumption patterns. Again, sound familiar? You see, climate change or not, our world is increasingly facing shortage of a number of key resources-water, oil & even coal. Yet instead of curbing our consumption, we're *increasing* our consumption. That's a recipe for societal suicide-much as occurred with the Anasazi, who have disappeared-leaving behind only their huge stone houses!
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  7. Benefits of global warming. Well if we put it down to the last 150years of burning fossil fuels then were to start..... 1) General improved living conditions of all of humanity. Not a peer-reviewed statement but no less wrong. I heard a beutiful statement today "the people of Bangladesh in 100 years will have the same quality of life as presently enjoyed in the Netherlands". Again non peer-reviewed but a better asperation than doom for us all. (the more progressive amoung us might demand it comes quicker)
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    Response: "the people of Bangladesh in 100 years will have the same quality of life as presently enjoyed in the Netherlands"

    Actually, 100 years from now, as Bangladesh is such a low lying country, it is one of the regions that will be worst hit by rising sea levels (Dasgupta 2007).
  8. HumanityRules, that's the benefit of burning fossils fuels, not global warming.
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  9. Marcus, resource scarcity may well cause the collapse of a civilization but it's not the only possible outcome. It's all up to the impact of the change and to the choices the society makes.
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  10. At present extreme weather has the greatest impact on lives when it strike the poorest. The only thing that will change that is greater wealth in the poorest countries. The surest route to wealth for these people is unrestrained economic development. There is no attempt here to calculate the death/quality of life from trying to counter global warming through contracting economic development. I'm not sure if there are peer-reviewed papers on this topic, it doesn't seem a priority amoung many global warming scientists.
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  11. Data from Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT) Station ALOHA. Seems biological, biochemical and biophysical data has been collected from 1980's to present. One paper identifies acidification of the ocean http://www.pnas.org/content/106/30/12235.full.pdf Several others have identified increase in primary production and biomass of plankton http://icesjms.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/61/4/457 http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2007/2006JC003730.shtml The biomass increases are seen at depth which has seen greatest increase in pH (small point is Turley paper in ocean acidification peer-reviewed? It appears to be a DEFRA (UK government) publication)
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  12. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability Chapter 13: Latin America 13.4 Summary of expected key future impacts and vulnerabilities 13.4.1 Natural ecosystems http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg2/en/ch13s13-4.html#13-4-1 "Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state, not necessarily producing gradual changes between the current and the future situation (Rowell and Moore, 2000). It is more probable that forests will be replaced by ecosystems that have more resistance to multiple stresses caused by temperature increase, droughts and fires, such as tropical savannas" You can follow IPCC peer review process on this paragraph at http://ipcc-wg2.gov/publications/AR4/ar4review_access.html Both First & Second Order Draft Comments worth reading. Unfortunately it's impossible to cite or quote them. However, I can tell you that there is nothing in the reviews concerning 13.4.1 except some anonymous insistance in Second Order Draft (expert) Comments to increase the perceived probability of savannization of the Amazon with no reference whatsoever. Still, there is a reference in the text itself to Rowell and Moore, 2000. WWF/IUCN Global Review of Forest Fires Prepared by Andy Rowell & Dr. Peter F. Moore http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2000-047.pdf It is not a peer reviewed paper, but a pamphlet sponsored by NGO pressure groups. Still, Rowell and Moore may be respected scientists. Are they? It depends. Andy Rowell is an award-winning freelance writer and investigative journalist specialising in environmental and health issues. http://www.tcij.org/about-2/teachers-and-speakers/andy-rowell Dr. Moore is a Policy Analyst & Forest Fire Management Specialist with high-level policy and analytical skills and a strong understanding of government administration. http://www.ifmeg.com/CV/Dr%20Peter%20Moore.pdf Enuff said. Still, the core claim, savannization of parts of the Amazon basin can be real. Not due to global warming perhaps, but landuse change. Triggered by increased demand to alcohol for fuel as a renewable energy source. One sets the forest on fire, plants sugarcane, manufactures fuel, sells it and takes the money. It's as simple as that. If the net result, after leaving the land alone once again were savannah or forest regrowth, we do not know, at least not based on IPCC AR4. There might be refereed scientific literature on the subject, but it was not utilised in this case.
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  13. to tadzio: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot
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  14. JC: 'I would be quite happy if you were to take the time to find more papers showing contrary results to papers currently listed. I appreciate the feedback you provided on forest growth and crop disease. It's not a competition to see who gets the biggest list but an effort to portray the state of the science.' I don't think that's possible with a tabulation like this. It's not a worthwhile exercise. I provided forest-growth and crop-disease info solely to make that point. The only way that listing single studies could work would be if you could somehow provide studies that were the most representative of the current state of the science in each area of impact - and surely no single individual knows enough about the enormous literature of anthropogenic climate change to be able to do that. Crowd-sourced offerings from commenters aren't the solution, either. How can you know that we know what we're talking about? (And how can your readers?) You have said that you'll use synthesis papers (overviews, reviews) when they become available instead of single studies. That's a better approach but you'd still need to be seriously well-informed about all aspects of the literature. Recent syntheses are available for several of the slots currently occupied by single studies in your tabulation but you haven't used them. Why is that? Possibly because the field is too large even when synthesized by experts. Ideally, you need to recruit a vast international organization packed full of experts in many different fields organized into various teams to evaluate the various claims made by the enormous literature and present an honest, informed picture of the whole thing. Oh. That's been tried. And it failed to be objective. Never mind. It's the best there is. Do you honestly think your blog can do better?
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  15. Watts is busily burning the IPCC report at his site. I suspect this is a way of avoiding explaining to his followers why he dispatched them to waste time and passion ruining their own favorite theory, but he's got a number of reporters trained to realize they can do point 'n' click journalism from his site. Pretty nasty stuff, there. Watts and his bunch are extraordinarily eager and happy to sling mud. I hope the U.N does not allow itself to be stampeded by lazy reporters.
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  16. Vinny, I think this is an interesting exercise. If a comparable or better database already exists then please tell...
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  17. BTW, Berényi Péter's most recent post to this looks very impressive but it appears to essentially be lifted from Watts' site. Watts is engaging in hyperbole. Berényi Péter, you should perhaps not be so trusting. Even the comments thread at Watts' site pokes many holes in this latest unscandal.
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  18. John, Perhaps as well as the specific sections you also include an overview or Gaia type section to include papers like this: http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2009/2009_Rockstrom_etal_2.pdf
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  19. doug, you don't need Anthony Watts to verify the Amazon thing for you. You can do it yourself, just follow the links. Looks like the peer review process was redefined indeed by IPCC. It is a serious issue, simple hand waving does not make it go away. And there is more to it. The forty percent figure in AR4 13.4.1 is almost as bad as the 80% Himalayan glacier loss in 28 years. In fact less than 10% of the rain forest is in some danger there because of logging, not "global warming". And even there not all the trees are gone, just up to 40% of them. This is the figure that made its way into AR4 in a contorted way via an unrefereed paper made up by a journalist and a lobbyist. Once again, not just due process is lacking, but truth as well.
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  20. doug_bostrom, The complete paper trail on the 40% rainforest claim is explained here http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2010/01/corruption-of-science.html As you say you can choose to trust it or not. Just as an aside. Why shouldn't the "savannization of the Amazon" occur. In developed countries we have cut down most of our forest to provide land for wealth generation. Why shouldn't the Brazilians be allowed to do the same. Having said that the Brazilians have already protected 40% of the rain forest as wilderness, for that they should be applauded.
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  21. HumanityRules, do you think for one second that those Multinational companies who thrive on the low-wage, low-tax, cheap resource environment of the Third World are in any way interested in seeing these regions benefit from any kind of economic development? No, much better to keep them poor in order to maintain profits. One way to keep them poor is to keep them dependent on very expensive, outside sources for energy & fuel, thus maintaining high levels of debt & diverting wealth *away* from raising the standard of living. The best way to ensure a better standard of living for countries like Bangladesh is not through burning more fossil fuels, but through (a) providing better education & higher paid jobs, (b) building better, more efficient infrastructure, (c) helping poor nations to generate energy using locally available materials & (d) paying these countries a more reasonable price for access to their resources. Of course this won't happen because it interferes with the ability of certain groups to MAXIMIZE PROFITS. These are often the very same groups who go around telling us that Global Warming isn't real!
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  22. The same is true about the destruction of the Amazon HR. Its being destroyed *not* for the enrichment of the Brazilian people, but for the enrichment of Multinational Companies which thrive on either cheap timber or cheap, short-term pasture for cattle. The ordinary people of Brazil, meanwhile, continue to mostly live in abject squalor.
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  23. HumanityRules, Berényi Péter, I see that you're fully signed on with Watts et al and their reckless campaign of degeneration and destruction. Lacking a powerful, robust argument against the fundamental physics at play here, a scorched earth maneuver is of course their only bet. They'll burn the academy to the ground if that's what is needed to pursue their course. Inadvertently smashing individual careers and decades of well earned public trust in the benefits of science is no deterrent. The rot they're spreading will not automatically confine itself to whatever fields of inquiry they must attack. Your thought leaders may well succeed in their twisted and perverse quest, but success does not correlate well with correctness or justice, as we've seen time and again. I hope you've been very careful in thinking about the choices you're making here. There's a long future ahead of you, time for lots of regrets.
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  24. Marcus a) better education - you can do this the low carbon way (blackboards and chalk) or high carbon way (computers). i know which would be more important for my children and children in Bangladesh. b) building better infrastructure requires energy. This can come from backbreaking human labour (with a pickaxe) or the high carbon/high tech way with machinery. I know which I wouldn't get out of bed to do and which shouldn't be forced on the Bangladesh. c) energy through local resourses. The reverse side of this is exclusion from international hydrocarbon products. These still remain the cheapest form of energy, the reason they are first choice for the west. d) No real arguement there except you seem to be putting future embargoes on Nigerian oil and Indonesian coal while the USA, UK and Australia have undoubtedly seen great benefit from exploiting there own hydrocarbons in the past. I'm not a gungho capitalist and I'm well aware of the injustices and inequalities of the system but we shouldn't mix up the progressive aspects of modern development with the regressive power structures. Multinational capitalism exists in every country. It is not a reason to deny Bangladeshis, Brazillians or the Chinese access to cheap, abundant power and jobs.
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  25. I keep saying that overpopulation is THE problem. If there is one thing humans could possibly control, it is population growth (at least more easily than forcing reduced per capita consumption). And if humans dont do this for themselves, Nature will...(as is becoming evident).
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  26. RSVP, you try telling that to the corporations & religious institutions who thrive of an ever growing population. As long as they dictate the course of government policy then you'll *never* get your wish. Even if we somehow level out our population below 8 billion, it's unlikely we'll be able survive at those numbers once all the oil & coal runs out-which is why its even more imperative that we start switching to low-carbon, renewable energy sources *before* our non-renewable energy sources run out. So, whether we look at it from a CO2 or resource depletion perspective, cutting our use of fossil fuels is a *good thing*!
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  27. My point, HR, is that the correlation between burning more fossil fuels & wealth generation is not as strong as you seem to think. We had industrialization in Europe & the US for at least a century before the standard of living rose for average workers. This improvement came about because ordinary workers fought-tooth & nail-for better pay & conditions, & access to affordable education & health care, not to mention access to social security. Even today employers would like nothing more than to take this all away from us or-failing that-shift the jobs to low labor cost countries. Many western nations have achieved very high per capita GDP whilst having below average per capita energy use-mostly due to making more efficient use of energy & fuel-which is what we should be encouraging in the 3rd world. We should also be encouraging a greater use of renewable energy sources suitable to the region-like Geothermal power for Indonesia & Solar Power for Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as industrial co-generation & biomass-gas. My point is that wealth generation *can* be suitably achieved *without* a corresponding rise in CO2 emissions-as long as we help the developing world to avoid the pitfalls that we endured. Using their plight as an excuse to ignore global warming, though, is a total cop-out!
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  28. doug, scientists are for doing science, not politics. These guys missed this subtle point, so they deserve their fate. Otherwise if carbon dioxide were in fact a problem, all this talk about renewable energy is crap. There is not nearly enough to cover the needs of economy. BTW, according to the principle of cui bono, it must be the nuclear lobby that lurkes in the background. For at the moment nuclear energy is the only viable alternative to burning carbon compounds and it makes no carbon dioxide at all. Hydrocarbon industry comes as a second bet, as coal produces twice as much CO2 than oil or methane for the same energy output. Oherwise energy is NOT a limited resource. We have this huge fusion power plant nearby. At its surface the EM radiation power flux is 63 MW/m^2, total power output is 3.85x10^26 W and it can not even be switched off. It is not availability that restricts usage, but lack of technology. We should work on that (informatics of matter, i.e. molecular nanotech) and forget the rest. Or, if it is really urgent, learn to love nuke. Pour taxpayers money into immediate development of thorium breeder reactors. They do not make plutonium (the stuff used in warheads) and would generate a hundred times less nuclear waste than present day models. Thorium reserves last for thousands of years. RSVP, overpopulation is a problem, but earth is not overpopulated that much. The present state would ceartainly not justify austere measures like genocide, mass sterilization, artificial famines (e.g. by biofuel rush), industry restrictions, compulsory vegetarianism, free euthanasia, abolition of constitutional rights, etc. Raising the educational level of girls worldwide should suffice. The overall fertility of educated women is much lower, independent of culture. It costs (taxpayer's) money, but worth it. Does not curtail freedom, makes informed decision possible. Education restricted to boys does not have the same effect.
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  29. Berényi Péter "scientists are for doing science, not politics. These guys missed this subtle point, so they deserve their fate." Watts et al are making this all about politics. They highlight whatever defects w/IPCC processes they can, to score political points. At the same time they carefully ignore or downplay those results which are unquestionably dependable, all with an eye toward driving public policy. That's political activity. Surely this is obvious? I also think you underestimate the inability of the average person to compartmentalize the message that Watts is sending; it's not just climate scientists who are going to be dragged down, but epidemiologists, materials researchers, others. This is going to be extraordinarily destructive to public policy outcomes springing from a wide array of fields. I honestly do not understand your remarks about renewable energy being "crap" when just a paragraph later you extol the virtues of the fusion power plant available to us just 1 AU distant. With the exception of geothermal power, renewable energy resources have in common that with more or less efficiency they're all powered by the local fusion plant. As you say, it is dependable and free to the extent we can figure out how to exploit it. W/regard to particular technological choices as substitutes for fossil fuels, I'm fairly convinced that we're going to require a widely heterogeneous mix of resources because of the bulky amount of energy required as well as the contextual sensitivity of particular technologies versus deployment scenarios. I'm frankly amazed at how the same group that is in consensus about climate change fragments into a disorganized rabble of constituencies flogging particular technological hobby horses; lack of pragmatism as well as fond wishes for the financial success of various proprietary systems is a serious hindrance to progress.
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  30. doug, the sun is OK, but the key is "more or less efficiency". At the moment it's rather less. Except hydropower, perhaps. However, almost all the easily exploitable sites are already in use and there is also the issue of environmental damage. Which, in this case, does not need rocket science to be demonstrated. If millions of people should be relocated from their homes in a short time frame because of a single industrial project, it stinks. All the other "alternative" energy sources either do considerable damage to their immediate environment or are prohibitively expensive, making government support on taxpayers' money a must. Even with these caveats dismissed alternative energy could only serve a tiny portion of demand. The perfect technology to exploit solar power is of course around for at least 700 million years. The only problem is that plants are not power plants. That is, they were not designed to serve a single purpose or at least this purpose was not to collect solar energy but to make some more plants, similar to them. Of course this end is impossible to achieve without an energy collection and storage system, but they also have many other devices which are not needed for simple power generation. They are much better suited for food production, because we ourselves and our domestic animals are definitely designed to exploit plants. Not just the energy contents, but also a gazillion of raw and prefabricated materials stored in them along with fat and sugar. The long term solution is to build specific molecular machinery to do the twofold job of capturing radiation in some not too flammable/explosive but still energy-rich molecular complex (e.g. sugar) using atmospheric carbon, storing the stuff locally then another module, a fuel cell would transform it back to CO2 while generating electricity as needed. The solar panel itself would be a closely packed matrix of such micron sized modules with appropriate interfaces to the power grid. It is possible. But it becomes economically viable only if such solar panels would not cost more than plain old roof tiles. In order to achieve such a price drop for a macroscopic size intricate, well defined and functional molecular structure, self replicating programmable nanobots (assemblers) are needed as manufacturing devices. A whole lot of them. The technology is in the pipeline, but still needs much work. And I do mean much. Also, molecular nanotechnology has its own grave dangers. In the meantime if one wants to banish carbon based fuels, we are left with nukes. Nature is ruthless. Or you can go back to ax and spit, I'd rather not. The basic raw material for MNT is carbon with its marvelous structure forming capabilities (also exploited by life); conceivably airborne carbon, saving transportation costs this way. Should the technology become mature, carbon dioxide depletion of the atmosphere becomes a real threat. It should be replenished. Using coal, oil and natural gas of course (I am not sure they can be summed up as fossil fuels). Otherwise one is forced to default to limestone, risking ocean alkalinification. You guys sometimes remind me to jinxes at the end of the nineteenth century preaching doom because of ever increasing traffic and transportation. According to them all the great cities of the world should have been buried under heaps of horse dung long ago. If you want to fight for something really beneficial, insist on accounting rules should be changed (there are [flawed] multilateral treaties behind it). Gifts of nature (like a native forest or a clean river) would be registered according to their re-production costs, not production costs as it is practiced now (and which is zero, of course). With the new accounting system the phenomenal economic growth of China during the last few decades would nearly vanish, for example. The reproduction costs of a pleasant environment for people there are prohibitive. It's a loan with a rather high interest rate, missing from the books. Also, alleged "free competition" between European and North American work force and semi-slave labor under communist rule is preposterous. An extra duty should be established on goods coming from countries where workers' rights are not honored, amounting to the difference in extra profits won by oppression. Nothing destroys technological progress more effectively than cheap labor. Who would invest in R&D if productivity is not an issue?
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  31. Of course it would be profoundly wrong for wealthy industrialised nations to prevent developing countries from expanding their economies and making their people more prosperous. But it is also irresponsible to suggest they continue the increased burning of fossil fuels, given the effect that continuing global warming will have on those countries - rising sea levels in Bangladesh and increased desertification in China for example. Which leads us to a quandry - how can we increase the prosperity of those countries and at the same time ensure they contribute to the neccessary cuts in GHG emissions. It ain't an easy one, but surely those industrialised nations, being responsible for much of the problem and having themselves become wealthy whilst burning fossil fuels with merry abandon have a moral duty to help provide a solution. The kind of global fund mooted at Copenhagen would be a start but it will need other imaginative solutions as well. Now personally I like my comfortable western lifestyle, I enjoy jetting off on foreign holidays and I have no desire to don a hair shirt and live in a yurt. But I don't see how there is a solution (not to mention that we also have to sort out our own GHG emissions) without some pain on our part.
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  32. If 2 of the richest countries that have huge areas of desert with the best solar pv potential (USA / Australia) can't even build big pv farms then what hope does africa have?
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  33. Berényi Péter at 08:49 AM on 28 January, 2010 "You guys sometimes remind me to jinxes at the end of the nineteenth century preaching doom because of ever increasing traffic and transportation. According to them all the great cities of the world should have been buried under heaps of horse dung long ago." Bah. We're not doomed, we're like roaches. But we don't have to live like insects, either. There's a big difference in population, some 5 billion or a 430% increase since 1900. Expecting to draw a useful conclusion from 110 year old population data is a mistake.
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  34. You can defuse the population bomb through restriction of carbon based energy usage only by generating artificial famines. Is that what you want? I propose building & maintaining schools, training & paying teachers, educating girls worldwide. In several decades you'll have quite different problems with an overaged declining world population (as Europe and Japan already have). But it is another story.
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  35. The Sahara was more fertile before about 4K years ago when the temperature was hotter. Is it possible that it will become so again when global warming kicks in?
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  36. canbanjo at 10:36 AM on 28 January, 2010 "what hope does africa have?" None. Solar power is hopeless until solar panel prices drop below that of leaves, a goal achievable only by self replicating systems. It requires brand new technology not developed yet.
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  37. Bruce Cooke, probably 4000 years ago it was not hotter than now. A proposed mechanism for the drying of the Sahara is a shift of the monsoon due to the changing earth tilt angle; the reduced summer insolation was not strong enough to pull the monsoon north.
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  38. Berényi Péter at 01:02 AM on 30 January, 2010 "Solar power is hopeless until..." Actually Africa is a place where little teeny-tiny solar panels have made a huge difference in a lot of folks' lives. There is no power grid at all over much of the continent, a problem for industry and shocking for those of us who grew up with electricity available in arbitrarily large quantities. Yet there are literally millions of persons in Africa who are able to enjoy a modicum of lighting, radio broadcast reception, and a few other small amenities thanks to the common use of a ~15W panels attached to batteries. Selling parts for these is a thriving industry. Benefits include being able to read, burning deaths avoided, money saved by not purchasing kerosene. On the other hand, when you've grown up with grid power, a different story. 15W is not going to make most of us happy, but Africa does afford an interesting perspective on how little electricity is required to obtain a large benefit.
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  39. doug, as soon as solar power becomes cheaper than other sources, it would not need government subvention on taxpayers' money and would replace traditional power plants soon. However, a level playground is a must, otherwise economy would suffer. Until that time it may make sense (on increased cost, not exactly for the poor) if there is no power grid nearby. Otherwise the best investment right now is to R&D, not installation. It is not just about solar panels, battery packs are of more concern (and pricey). Earth is round, sun is not up all the time.
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  40. Berenyi Peter at 08:32 AM on 30 January, 2010 That post sort of goes "splat" against reality. "as soon as solar power becomes cheaper than other sources, it would not need government subvention on taxpayers' money.." In the real world situation in Africa I described, there is no other electrical power source and the installations are not paid for by taxation. "Until that time it may make sense (on increased cost, not exactly for the poor) if there is no power grid nearby. " In the real world situation I described, the users are definitively poor by almost any measure, and there is indeed (as I mentioned) no grid whatsoever. "It is not just about solar panels, battery packs are of more concern (and pricey)." In the real world situation I described, these are not sufficient deterrents to stop people from enjoying the benefits of electricity, solar in this case because that's all that's available. "Earth is round, sun is not up all the time. " In the real world situation I described, that is apparently not a problem for the consumers. They do not complain, they simply use the watthours available. You were describing something hypothetical. You are intelligent and a gifted writer, but you spend a lot of time in your imagination. I was actually describing something that has the amazingly wonderful and irreplaceable virtue of existence.
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  41. OK, I see your point. However, small but still expensive solar panels, not produced locally and with no grid or battery backup whatsoever would not change global energy usage patterns. What is more, they would not even promote economic, intellectual & spiritual development in those regions. Glass beads for the natives.
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  42. Berényi Péter at 22:18 PM on 30 January, 2010 "What is more, they would not even promote economic, intellectual & spiritual development in those regions. Glass beads for the natives. " Avast there, you have to spend more time looking, less time thinking! That whole sentence was conjecture, and wrong. You can do better. In point of fact, one of the remarkable benefits of these tiny private solar installations I've described is the gift of reading. In the kind of subsistence economy I'm speaking of, these devices mean the difference between being able to read versus sitting in the dark. They have been a boon to education. And it's a global phenomenon, most visible in Africa but true also for instance in Mongolia or wherever a grid is not present. No, 15W panels are not going to supplant Western style grids. I guess my original point was, the first 15W bring a huge benefit; a little electricity brings a significant fraction of the benefits of electrification and this is particularly visible where a grid has not inculcated huge expectations and waste. Perhaps also as with the example of cellular phones leapfrogging copper telecommunications systems in developing nations, assuming that a Western style grid is a mandatory prerequisite for social progress is something to consider carefully.
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  43. Riccardo, Thanks for the link. Fascinating reading and shows how complex it all is at the micro level. I'll read up again on the earth tilt stuff in my reference book of choice - 'A Rough Guide to Climate Science'
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  44. I'm just a screenwriter living in Burbank and am having the debate with what are obviously right-wing, John Locke-ish, extreme deniers. I made the mistake of saying there wasn't a peer reviewed study denying global warning. So these climate change deniers verbally spanked me and sent me to a couple websites. After a short review, it was clear few of these sites denied warming was occurring but blamed it on the natural cycle, the sun etc. Please try and educate me on the general conclusions I reach from the twenty or so articles studies, charts, I've read--in other words please tell me if my conclusions have any merit: 1.) The scientific community almost unanimously agrees Earth is in a warming period as part of the natural cycle. 2.) The debate is between those who believe the spikes in temps, ice melting, oceans rising, etc.--the "negatives" seen in the last 150 years--are due to human activity, and those who claim human activity cannot possibly affect such forces that manifest over hundreds of thousands of years. 3.) From what I read, the "negative" studies far outweigh the "positive" studies and our planetary survival could well be in question if we don't act now. My friend sent me an e-mail extolling the virtues of the free market and the horrible economic impact transitioning to alternative energies would be. He ended the e-mail in big red letters...OIL IS GOOD. I don't think he'd be convinced if penguins moved next door. I won't try. I just want to know if a non-science guy like me was generally reading the data accurately. Forgive the intrusion on your discussion, just though I'd ask.
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    Moderator Response: [Daniel Bailey] Let me first start off by saying (in my best Ed McMahon imitation): "Welcome to Skeptical Science!" Second, you're not intruding: you're a guest here and guests get treated as valued persons (until some outwear their welcome then they get the ol' Heave-Ho!). Third (before we get to the main act), you have the right of it. Some will never be convinced of Christ's 2nd Coming unless they can stick a finger in His side... With the opening fanfare done, let's dig in, shall we?

    There is an immense amount of reference material discussed here and it can be a bit difficult at first to find an answer to your questions. That's why we recommend that Newcomers, Start Here and then learn The Big Picture.

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  45. Gairzo #94 Asking questions is good. I don't think you summed up well the current scientific understanding about GW. About your conclusion #1: there are many natural cycles known to science. None of them explain the recent warming (over the last half a century or so). For mor detail, you can see these posts here (among others): It's a natural cycle It's the sun So, the scientific consensus and the evidence do not point to natural causes. I think that kind of covers your #2 too. Your #3, which refers to this post specifically, is basically correct, although I'd elaborate more on the "planetary survival" bit. Let's say we'd have a lot of negative impacts on both human societies and ecosystems. for a more comprehensive picture ov the available evidence, there the Scientific Guide to GW Skepticism too. I hope this gives you a starting point. Feel free to ask. Oh, and welcome to SkS.
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  46. "The scientific community almost unanimously agrees Earth is in a warming period as part of the natural cycle." Nope. That's the thing: according to identified "natural" cycles, we should be heading for an ice age. We're not. During the last solar minimum, average global temp increased. Shorter-term natural cycles--El Nino/La Nina--do not add heat/energy to the atmosphere; they move it around. The scientific community almost unanimously agrees that Earth is warming due to increased CO2, CH4, and H20 lengthening the path of infrared radiation as it exits the system. It's like a detour because of road construction: same number of cars entering and exiting the system, but more time is spent driving (and perhaps dropping by the Arctic Ice store on the way to melt a few kilos). As for No. 2, the more serious debate is between those who have various opinions on feedback mechanisms (particularly albedo in the form of land use, clouds, snow cover, etc.). That CO2 is a path lengthener is hardly seriously debated anymore (except here, by a handful). So as the drivers drive home via the detour, how many wrecks will they cause, causing more detours? As Arctic sea ice is diminished, how does that affect planetary albedo? As the temp rises, how much more water vapor (a GHG) does that put into the troposphere? No. 3: It seems that way. Life is persistent, but the speed of environmental change can't exceed the speed of evolution, or life will suffer. Our ability to adapt--as a species--is wicked. But there are seven billion of us living in a pretty complicated and sketchy system of food, water, shelter, and energy distribution. Minor disruptions, like the Japanese earthquake, cause thousands of deaths. It's easy to say that increased warmth will lengthen the growing season, but the person saying it usually hasn't taken into account everything else happening simultaneously: migrations, economic and political considerations, disease adaptation, insect (both as pollinator and pest) adaptation, changes in precipitation patterns and intensities, and all the interconnections between these elements. Your friend is right: Oil is good -- how we use oil . . . well that's another question.
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