On agw as a big red herring

Byron asked: “Sam, do you agree that there is a significant body of hard-core deniers who are not open to evidence? I am not saying that every contrarian belongs to this group (nor that pathological behaviour is confined to contrarians), simply that there are powerful economic, ideological and social forces leading many to a place of epistemic closure on this matter. Would you agree?”

My simple answer is ‘yes’. Anthropogenic Global Warming (agw) as presented is a major challenge to the status quo, and so all those with interests in preserving the status quo will have a bias to resist the conclusions of agw. These can take many stripes; often, I would accept, there is a reactionary element involved, and there may even be some legacy influence from fossil-fuel providers funding propaganda.

However, it is also true – so it seems to me – that there are hard-core ‘affirmers’ who are equivalently immune to evidence, and that there are “powerful economic, ideological and social forces leading many to a place of epistemic closure” in favour of the agw hypothesis.

To my mind, agw is a plausible hypothesis with a significant amount of supporting evidence. It is less than certain; most of all, the dire predictions are much less than certain, and I tend to see bad theology in them.

Beyond this, I tend to see Liebig’s law as relevant. The dire predictions associated with the IPCC tend to assume, more or less business as usual, ongoing into through the twenty first century. This seems mindless to me. There is not a hope of business being anything like usual for the next fifteen years, let alone the next fifty or hundred. That is seen most explicitly for me in the assumptions employed re: fossil fuel use, but it applies to all the other limits to growth that we are hitting (and Byron has a useful list here). If we take Liebig’s law to apply to the world system as a whole (which I think is reasonable) then it seems highly likely to me that a very great number of the measures and results being sought by agw advocates will be imposed upon human society by reality. Our carbon dioxide emissions, and the whole impact of industrialisation upon the ecosphere, will substantially reduce from present levels. I see this as beyond any choice, whether that choice be made by individuals, nations or humanity as a whole. We in the industrial world are going to have to get used to using a great deal less energy, and soon (my wild-assed guess: 50% less energy in 15 years).

Which is why I see agw as a red herring. Although it makes for some dramatic pictures, the science behind agw is less certain than the science behind other ecological concerns (Peak Oil, deforestation, water scarcity etc), and the prognoses from agw are even less certain. Worse than this, they are alarmist and appeal to fear, and that has theological problems too. I simply do not see what is either achieved or achievable by the IPCC and its cohorts. Whereas something like Transition Towns (on the practical side) and the Dark Mountain project (on the human culture side) – these I find exciting, practical and inspiring.

49 thoughts on “On agw as a big red herring

  1. Sam, as I noted in a comment on your 2005 post on the bad apocalyptic theology of doomerism, I agree that a nihilistic pessimism that is ultimately quietist about the threats facing humanity and which prefers to passively sit back (and even cheer) as the boat goes down is perverse and inhuman. I also agree that we have good reasons for thinking the next fifty years are likely to be much more difficult (economically, ecologically, socially, politically) than the last fifty. Climate change is one, but not the only one, of those reasons.

    However, I don’t see it as a red herring, but actually as a multiplier of many of the other issues. This means that it ought to neither be ignored, nor myopically treated as the only ecological catastrophe worth caring about.

    The reasons why I still see it as a serious issue have to do with your reading of IPCC and alarmism. I think you are over-reading the place of the IPCC. There is good reason to think that the structures of the IPCC (like most major scientific organisations) are deliberately (and perhaps rightly) biased towards a conservative reading of the evidence. That is, they are (on the whole) more concerned about false positives than false negatives. For instance, AR4’s take on likely sea level rise deliberately low-balled the estimate by a factor of at least 2 and possibly more. This was because of significant gaps in the knowledge at the time relating to various feedback mechanisms and dynamic ice flow (i.e. ice sheet collapse or rapid melting), so these were simply ignored (and this was noted in footnotes and text that was generally overlooked by most readers who jumped straight to the numbers). Furthermore, the IPCC has shown quite a significant ability to be open to new evidence and has changed its position on many factors over the years. It may be that there are some who agree with the mainstream view on AGW who are epistemically closed, but to argue that there is an “equivalence” between, say, the level of closure in the Heartland Institute and at the IPCC is, in my mind, quite ludicrous.

    If one wants to point to more extreme views amongst those concerned about AGW, they appear amongst those warning of the small, but not negligible chance of IPCC predictions being significantly understated. The “equivalent” to the best known deniers is not the IPCC, but those making predictions closer to The Day After Tomorrow.

  2. (cont.)
    Even amongst reputable scientists in relevant fields, there are at least as many who think that the IPCC estimates will turn out to be too weak as there are who believe them overstated.

    As for IPCC assuming business as usual for the next hundred years, it is true that some of their scenarios appear implausibly rosy, but it is important to note that (a) they include many different scenarios with a variety of different social and political responses playing out over the coming decades and (b) even with severe disruption from peak oil and other factors, while carbon emissions are highly likely to peak before 2030, I don’t see the demand for and use of carbon-intensive sources of energy falling significantly faster than what is required. You are (rightly, I think) critical of those who see population rapidly falling to a tiny fraction of its current level and human society reverting to a state of nature within decades. It is much more likely to be a long decline (in the words of JMG), a series of emergencies and crises with periods of relative stability but an overall negative trend on measures such as life expectancy, economic growth, energy use, and so on. Under such a scenario, climate change remains a very significant problem, and a multiplier of so many other problems (biodiversity loss, agricultural stability, fresh water access, ability to cope with extreme weather events, deforestation, oceanic life depletion and so on).

    In summary, climate change: it is not the end of the world, but it may be a significant part of the end of the world as we know it.

  3. I simply do not see what is either achieved or achievable by the IPCC and its cohorts.
    By “cohorts”, I assume you mean the UN, national governments, national scientific bodies and the like? Even if you intended it more narrowly, given the IPCC’s input into these other institutions, here are a few suggestions of things both already achieved and where continued work is both possible and desirable:
    • Increased protection of existing ancient forests, decreases in rates of deforestation and incentives towards more sustainable forest management. Same for wetlands and a number of other crucial ecosystems.
    • Stimulating investment now in renewable sources of energy (which are not going to make peak oil irrelevant or the future rosy, but at least some of which may be very important long term investments for the benefit of local and regional communities). At the very least, stimulating greater awareness of the myriad ways our society depends on fossil fuels and so giving us an opportunity to re-evaluate.
    • Highlighting human capacity to affect the systems on which we depend for stable communities and so contributing to a re-awakening of ecological consciousness and opening debates on ecological ethics, not least concerning the relation of poverty/wealth and ecological responsibility. Generally, helping to put ecological concerns on the table of decision makers at every level (would transition towns have achieved all that it currently has without the work of the IPCC and co in raising awareness?).
    • Giving us insights into which earth systems are going to become increasingly fragile or vulnerable over the coming decades and so helping us understand the planet on which we live.
    • Providing another strand of evidence for the self-destructiveness of our current myths about economic growth.
    • Encouraging government policy to be grounded in (though not necessarily dictated by) scientific research.
    • Modelling international co-operation and co-ordination on major scientific research projects.
    • Keeping conspiracy theorists everywhere distracted from the real Illuminati.

    OK, so that last one was a joke, but I’m sure I could come up with more if I kept thinking about it.

    So while I don’t see the IPCC as any kind of messiah, I do see national and international politics playing a significant role in shaping the rate and severity of our long decline. In an analogy I’ve used before, the car may be out of control and headed for a crash, but the driver’s decisions in this small window of opportunity might still affect how many people are killed or injured.

  4. Byron – I’m not sure I agree that the IPCC is more biased against false positives. That may well be true in the small details, where scientists still hold sway, but in terms of the summary for policymakers – and hence, the political ‘heft’ of the reports – alarmism seems to be the prevailing flavour. I haven’t looked in to the sea level rise situation in much great detail, but I find the recovery in arctic ice cover – after all the fuss three years ago – quite telling.

    Small point – I’d disaggregate life expectancy from “overall negative trend on measures such as life expectancy, economic growth, energy use”. The latter I see as inevitably shrinking before reaching a sustainable point, I think that whether the former falls or not is much more under human control.

    On the last point, that’s an interesting list but I don’t find it convincing. This may be an area where ideological blinkers come in – I’m much more persuaded that centralisation is part of the problem, ie that the governments will increase complexity at a time when a reduction in complexity is mandated. We’ll muddle through from the bottom up, and the sooner that central governments get out of the way the better. (I’m aware that you’ve got AB Rowan on your side in this 😉 )

  5. Show me the recovery in Arctic sea ice. Although the surface area has fluctuated, volume has remained at record lows. And actually, although area was up on the long term trend a few months ago, it is now down below it again. Also remember that Arctic sea ice has very little to do with rising sea levels (except indirectly as a feedback, and as a heat store). Arctic volumes are still down, and Greenland and Antarctic volumes (which do directly contribute to sea levels) are also dropping rapidly. But the point about IPCC being very conservative on sea levels is neither novel or idiosyncratic. It is there is the report, and has been widely commented on.

    As for the executive summary misrepresenting the science, can you give me some examples where the summary is more alarmist than the detailed work?

    Yes, life expectancy needn’t correlate with those other factors. You’re right.

    You may be right on centralisation, and the need for decreasing complexity. I am genuinely quite open, even sympathetic to that (and it is interesting that the Green political movement in most parts of the world, while committed to internationalism of focus, is also generally for devolution of power and re-localisation of decision making: i.e. think globally, act locally). My point was simply that IPCC and its cohorts may still have a wide number of very useful contributions to make. Out of interest, are you opposed to all kinds of centralisation, or primarily to political centralisation? That is, would it be best if all national and international scientific bodies also stood out of the way on all matters?

  6. Isn’t volume a lagging indicator behind area? (that is, having a larger area leads to greater volume over the course of time, but with a lag). I’ll explore further the info on the volume of the ice-caps (my understanding is that re: Greenland, the extent is shrinking but the volume is growing; re: Antarctica both are growing, ie Antarctica is not showing a significant warming trend at all).

    One slightly philosophical point: I’m not doubting that there has been warming for the last 150 years (and that there is therefore a lot of evidence for that, and for the consequences of that, eg species shifting, general rise in sea level). I also don’t doubt that emission of CO2 plays some part in it. What I am agnostic about (or sceptical, whatever vocabulary seems appropriate) is the _extent_ of the anthropogenic cause of that change, and, therefore, some of the forecasts being employed. Thought it might be helpful to clarify that.

    I’ll dig out some examples of alarmism, time and clarity of mind permitting 😉

    Re: centralisation, I’m in favour of that ugly word subsidiarity, and I do think there are some things best directed from a central location. I don’t think there are many, though. I’m very influenced by Tainter on this (although my preferences were established long before reading him).

  7. Interesting discussion. Please do keep it up (and keep the focus on data rather than prejudicial philosophical blinkers :))

  8. Floating sea ice needs to be carefully distinguished from land based ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. The graphs I linked to were for volume and area of Arctic sea ice. Volume has been in fairly consistent decline. The area, though fluctuating more, is again currently below 2007 levels, with a long term negative trend. The apparent “recovery” in Feb-Mar was really a displacement of the peak extent a little later in the year. The causes and implications of this are not yet understood (as far as I am aware).

    As for volume of Greenland ice sheets, from GRACE satellite gravity measurements, altimetry studies, a new study looking at uplift rates and from net accumulation/loss studies, all point to an accelerating rate of ice mass loss. See also here for the distribution and here for a study claiming that long term CO2 levels between 400 and 560 ppm are enough for Greenland to collapse. Do you have studies that indicate increasing mass?

    Similarly, the most recent studies of which I’m aware indicate that Antarctica is warming. Although sea ice is slightly increasing in area (due to factors other than temperature), the volume of ice in the land ice sheet is dropping, once again at an accelerating rate. Ice loss is faster in the west than the east, but both seem to have negative trends.

    Hope you’re feeling better soon.

  9. While I agree with his point that our intuitions are very bad at handling geological-scale numbers, the WUWT post considerably overstates his case. He seems to assume or imply that (a) loss of Greenland ice will only be of concern once it has entirely disappeared (hence his focus on future dates of disappearance) and (b) that ice loss is likely to continue unabated, when the data currently show acceleration of the rate of loss and this acceleration is what is worrying glaciologists.

  10. Hi Sam, I’ve been lurking for a little while.

    In relation to Byron’s question, Mike Hulme has given, I think, a good answer in this interview with spiked’s Tim Black.

    Whilst your reference to Liebig’s Law is apposite, I think people need to understand, particularly if we are willing to acknowledge that the 1.5 billion people in poor nations should enjoy the benefits of access to energy in order to improve their lives including better nutrition and health outcomes, then we must accept that we will be consuming globally much greater amounts of energy in the future (well at least 50+ years). This will in effect force decarbonisation, but over a longer time frame than most people seem willing to admit.

    There are two things I like in the interview with Hulme, the first is the point he makes about the way those who want to use science to drive policy are unwilling/unable to acknowledge the uncertainty in the science and the other his underlining of the fact that as far as policy is concerned, climate science at best must take its (humble) place amongst a range of other factors: politics, ideology/theology, specific environmental issues, demographics, ethics, cultural factors, technology and so on (OK, I’m adding a few additional factors to Hulme’s list). All very helpful.

    Just a couple of other points.

    I note Byron writing that Artic sea ice is currently below 2007 levels with a long term negative trend. I think matters are a little more complex. WUWT (Steve Goddard) have been monitoring Artic sea ice and their most recent post is here. Just how important all this, well people can argue until the cows come home, but as for what can be done about it, i.e. precise measures over such and such time frame, well that is an entirely different matter, as is the degree of importance we attach to the matter.

    I had a look at the Willis Eschenbach and John Cook posts – I think they are using the same GRACE satellite data. From John I learnt that there has been an accelerating ice loss for Greenland but no context is given. From Willis Eschenbach, I’m given a context: the loss of ice from Greenland amounts to an annual loss of 0.008%, and a time to total loss of 12,000 years. OK, if the loss is accelerating, Willis’ estimate will come back from 12,000 years, but I doubt back to 100 years, or even 1,000 years. Problems do need to be graded, contexts, including historical context should be given and uncertainties must be acknowledged. Otherwise punters like me remain in our sceptical/agnostic, “throw up the hands in the air” boxes.

  11. if we are willing to acknowledge that the 1.5 billion people in poor nations should enjoy the benefits of access to energy in order to improve their lives including better nutrition and health outcomes, then we must accept that we will be consuming globally much greater amounts of energy in the future (well at least 50+ years).
    This is not necessarily true if there is convergence and contraction of not just carbon emissions but energy use.

    This will in effect force decarbonisation, but over a longer time frame than most people seem willing to admit.
    Increasing energy use will force decarbonisation? Can you explain how? Peak oil?

    From Willis Eschenbach, I’m given a context
    Eschenbach give ones piece of context, but neglects others (acceleration and what a >1m rise by 2100 would mean). Acceleration means that Greenland will contribute more and more to sea level rises. Yes, it might take centuries or more for the entire 6.5 m of rise to occur, but all the most credible estimates for 2100 are between 0.75-2m (and for this rapid rise to continue for centuries). This is not Day After Tomorrow material, but it is still serious. And remember, this is still assuming no significant positive feedback kicks in for a non-linear experience (these scenarios are also explicitly excluded by the IPCC due to lack of adequate understanding, another sign of the conservative IPCC method).

    Arctic sea ice as “more complex” = three of the four measures of Arctic sea ice (which all use different methods or assumptions) put the current extent below 2007, the fourth puts it still a little above. All measures of volume put 2010 as lowest ever recorded. Oh, and WUWT says that “there just isn’t much happening” during the part of the year with the steepest gradient of sea ice decline.

    Problems do need to be graded, contexts, including historical context should be given and uncertainties must be acknowledged. Otherwise punters like me remain in our sceptical/agnostic, “throw up the hands in the air” boxes.
    Exactly, which is why the IPCC did such a good job. Have you read much of AR4? It really is worth a read to see how much conextualisation, careful weighing of studies and grading of problems is present. Uncertainties in the IPCC report were well acknowledged, as they are in the most recent report from the NRC in the US. Remember, though, that these uncertainties cut both ways; things could be not as bad as we think, or could be worse than we think.

    In a AAAS presentation this year, William R. Freudenburg of UC Santa Barbara discussed his research on “the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge”:New scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is “worse than previously expected,” rather than “not as bad as previously expected”.

  12. Increasing energy use will force decarbonisation? Can you explain how? Peak oil?

    I think there is so much political capital invested in “doing something about global warming”, combined with concerns over energy fuel security, that non fossil fuels/renewable energy will increasingly generate energy driving down the proportion derived from fossil fuels – but it sure has a long way to go. Peak oil and gas may assist, but I suspect there will be further large finds, especially as price escalates. I’m also hopeful about nuclear energy, not overly so, but hopeful.

    Re Greenland, with the greatest of respect, I think we just need to remind ourselves that there is a lot of uncertainty. The best thing is to keep a close watch over coming years, even decades and adopt appropriate adapting measures as and when required. Barring some world catastrophe – war on a grand scale, an economic collapse to send us back into the jungle or some version of the black death, CO2 levels are just going to keep on rising despite all the huff and puff in the world.

    Have you read much of AR4?

    I read WG1 and WG3 SFP papers as they were issued back in 2007.

    I must say I find the issues raised by Hulme far more interesting than squabbling over precise measures of climate and knock on effects in 50, 100 years time. Whether or not you are sold on the alarmist position, or I on the sceptical/agnostic position, enough has been raised about the subject that policy is what is now important, and the science with all its uncertainties will be just one of a number of inputs.

    Have you read the Hartwell paper?

    I’d be interested in your comments. It made a good deal of sense to me.

  13. So you’re defining “decarbonisation” as a reduction in proportion of energy from carbon-intensive sources, not necessarily an overall drop in carbon emissions?

    Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty, but this cuts both ways. The best estimates give us a mean of our current knowledge. It might not be so bad. Or equally, it might be worse. So if there is a decent chance of it being bad or worse, then trying to minimise the harm ahead of time is generally a good option, We’ve debated in the past about the relative costs of prevention vs cure, but I’m still not convinced, since in the majority of cases, prevention is much, much cheaper than cure. A $500,000 safety feature that Deepwater Horizon dropped to save money could have prevented a disaster whose final bill may run into the tens of billions. Or to pick another example, the latest UN report on biodiversity due out this northern summer is likely to estimate that preventing biodiversity loss is ten to one hundred times cheaper than trying to adapt to a more biologically fragile and impoverished world. But these arguments are worthy of pagans who think only of profit. Isn’t there an ethical imperative for us to not cause widespread destruction of God’s good creation and of our co-worshippers?

    CO2 levels are just going to keep on rising despite all the huff and puff in the world
    That may or may not be true. The same was said about CFCs and acid rain by advocates of adaptation, but both have been more or less successfully addressed by systems that ended up costing less than expected. And I realise that CO2 is far more closely woven into the global economy that CFCs or sulphur dioxide and that the climate system is more complex than the ozone layer or acid rain (and so these analogies are only partial, as the Hartwell paper points out). Nonetheless, the rate and extent of the rise in GHGs will significantly influence the rate and extent of climate disruption and so action to slow or reverse the former is not irrelevant.

    If you’ve read even part of AR4, you may have noticed how it does so many of the things you’re keen to see. It is no wide-eyed alarmist propaganda literature, nor is the new report from the US NRC.

    Hulme is right to say that science and ethics are not coterminous (nor are ethics and policy). But science is still highly relevant for both ethics and policy, as I’ve said before 😉 (and in our 100+ replies to each other, I don’t think you questioned that basic claim of my post). So as I’ve said many times before, climate change is not the only or the greatest moral challenge of our day, yet it is right and proper to pay close attention to it for the sake our neighbours and the living systems of our planet.

    I’ve read about half the Hartwell paper (including the conclusion) and think I broadly agree with the main thrust. My reading so far is that they are trying to say something like this: treating climate change as the only or primary problem faced by contemporary society through a paradigm of risks associated with inaction is shortsighted and ineffective and that it would be more effective to look for synergies between addressing/minimising/adapting to the effects of climate change and other aspects of human (and ecological) flourishing. With that I agree. I also agree that assuming that science can simply set policy without further discussion is also a category mistake.

    What was it about the Hartwell paper that you like?

  14. So you’re defining “decarbonisation” as a reduction in proportion of energy from carbon-intensive sources, not necessarily an overall drop in carbon emissions?

    I’m not ruling either out, over a 50+ year time frame (Sam’s 15 yrs far too short).

    So if there is a decent chance of it being bad or worse, then trying to minimise the harm ahead of time is generally a good option.

    No, while it is good to consider what steps may be appropriate, this conclusion of yours doesn’t follow for two reasons.

    1. Lack of uncertainty regarding precisely what is the most appropriate action to take, especially when other just as serious (or more serious) problems might crop up in the future

    2. Technical problems are best dealt with at the point of impact, and if we assume technological breakthroughs continue then best to leave rather than anticipate and find out your solution is mismatched to some future eventuality.

    Your Deepwater Horizon analogy doesn’t work in the same way that likening climate agnostics/sceptics to the resistance to action on smoking doesn’t work, and for the reason given in the Harwell Paper (you ask me what I like in the Hartwell paper)

    The Deepwater Horizon problem is an engineering issue that could have and should have been worked through before construction began. In Hartwell terminology it is (like the link between smoking and cancer) a “tame” problem – complicated, but with defined and achievable end-states, whereas climate change is a “wicked” problem – comprising open, complex and imperfectly understood systems. According to Hartwell, and I’m certain they are right, “wicked” problems demand profound understanding of their integration in social systems, their irreducible complexity and intractable nature.

    By the way, for the same reason, your analogy with CFCs and acid rain doesn’t work either, both were/are “tame”, not “wicked” problems.

    I have been following the recent discussion of whether the EU should ramp up the cut in CO2 emissions from 20% to 30% above 1990 levels by 2020. Apparently sense has prevailed and the figure will remain at 20%. However some basket case from Friends of the Earth has come out saying that the EU wasn’t driving cuts fast enough, a 40% cut was the minimum required.

    Do these people have any understanding of the implications of what they are recommending – just how would the EU get emissions to 40% below 1990 levels. How much industry are they willing to send offshore, how many people are they willing to drive into poverty? It’s just ridiculous.

    Byron, my basic training was in engineering. I worked in industry 25 yrs, all of that time struggling with imperfect technology trying to make product in the right quantities, according to specification of the required quality, thereby, keeping people in employment and generating sufficient profit to give the Government tax revenues and satisfy the shareholders, who in all probability included the employees’ superannuation funds.

  15. To continue.

    I hope you agree that given the caveats of my last post the world will be requiring more energy in the future not less.

    Let us accept the global warming alarmist concern that CO2 is bad stuff and we need to remove it from the equation (OK, for argument’s sake, I’m with you at this point).

    How is it to be done?

    I’ll leave out getting rid of carbon black and growing more trees – that will help, but at the margins.

    Hydroelectricity – well we have probably got most of that by now.

    Hot rocks, geothermal, harnessing the tide – all interesting but a long, long way to go. Can’t predict too much at this stage, but let’s put money into them.

    Solar. There are two sorts. Photo voltaics and solar thermal.

    Solar voltaics has been growing as roof top installations with fabulous feed-in tariffs 5 to 10 times greater than what the big coal fired generators get paid – just how long Governments are prepared to subsidise at this level remains to be seen. George Monbiot is as I’m sure you know, extremely critical about what he calls the “solar panel rip off”. There are a few commercial installations in the range 25-60 MW, with some in the range of 500MW to 600 MW proposed. A 154 MW PV proposal at Mildura fell over late last year, despite Governments offering subsidies equivalent to 20% of anticipated cost.

    Solar Thermal – not much going yet apart from the 354 MW farm in the Mojave Desert, California.

    The problem with solar is the load factor – the Mojave Desert farm operates in the region of 21% utilisation factor.

    OK, work proposed on molten salt heat storage systems to get the utilisation factors up, but a very long way to go (hasn’t stopped someone proposing that all Australia’s energy requirements be met by a combination of windfarms and solar thermal farms coupled with molten salt storage. Well, that will get nowhere even if endorsed by the Governor of Victoria).

    Estimates I’ve seen suggest solar power might generate 5% global energy requirements by 2025.

    Windfarms. Again not as simple as you would expect. Utilisation factors between 25% to 40%, problems (= money) connecting into the grid, new transmission lines required. Also, required to be linked to continuous, easily ramped up and down backup supply such a hydro or gas turbines. Denmark has the highest penetration with wind farms supplying 20% of energy requirements but cannot all be used in Denmark – windfarm output is exported to Norway/Sweden who have the necessary hydro power to compensate power variability.

    In addition to the extreme variability in utilisation, windfarms are hugely inefficient in terms of land required. There is a proposal close to approval involving 242 2MW turbines between Skipton and Beaufort west of Ballarat. The turbines extend over an area of 800 sq kms. The locals are fighting the proposal though sufficient farmers have been found to make land available. Personally, I think Australia is problematic for large scale windfarm developments, not just because of the subsidies required or their general ugliness but more especially because we have relatively small hydro capacity to act as a backup.

    Carbon coal and capture is another possibility. Our Government has bravely allocated ca $2.4 billion towards its development. I applaud them for it but there is no commercial CCS operation at this point in time even of a developmental size. The Norwegians have just pulled out of their big project at Mongstad. Whilst the technical components exist there are considerable uncertainties over storage underground whilst the power required for capture and storage ups the amount of coal required to generate the same amount of electricity by about 30%. Nothing much doing on this front for 10-15+ yrs, and that’s just to get started.

    To be concluded

  16. Which brings us the one assured, safe supply of clean energy, with high 90%+ utilisation (based around planned maintenance upgrade shutdowns): nuclear.

    Again not straightforward: Costly, long lead times, issues of siting, waste disposal, sufficient available technical knowhow, etc. It has been estimated that the opposition of the environmental movement in the USA led to the abandonment of 200 proposed nuclear power plants. Talk about being hoisted on your own petard! In my book, the Greens have got a lot to answer for.

    Nuclear can be done. France with 80% of its energy needs met by nuclear proves it. But that required huge commitment, financial backing by Government. Today power utilities in the private sector who will be wary. Will Governments support nuclear power or will the Greens again defeat the only sure clean energy?

    All I’m trying to say Byron, people need to be realistic. Switching out of fossil fields will be extremely costly and slow process. The global warming alarmists better be right.

    The other point is that the West, and Europe in particular is losing the ability to shape where CO2 emissions are going. But that’s another story

    That will do for now – thank goodness.

  17. David – I appreciate your answer, and while I lack the background to be able to assess all the details, on my limited knowledge, it sounds about right. I have never said that there is an obvious “solution”. Indeed, I have blogged about the predicament we currently face (which is not limited to climate change, of course). I also appreciate that some activism simplifies the problem to encourage action, and that some solutions create more problems elsewhere (perhaps the Green opposition to nuclear is one example. As I’ve told Dave Lankshear, I am open to this, though am not yet fully convinced. I have no vested loyalty for or against nuclear power. I note also in passing that nuclear plants require huge amounts of water (solar and wind are almost zero after construction), which is generally released at a much higher temperature, causing its own problems).

    That said, your list of possible responses focuses only on electricity generation, which is responsible for perhaps 1/4 of GHG emissions. Most analysts agree that there is no silver bullet, but that a range of strategies will be required to reduce and delay the impact of climate disruption.

    Growing more trees? As you say it is not irrelevant and we need more of it, but even more important is slowing/stopping deforestation. That’s about 20% of emissions right there. Of course this can’t be stopped overnight, but there are a variety of realistic options to slow the rate of deforestation and present ancient forests (which hold much more carbon than newer plantations).

    More efficient building and heating techniques can also have a big impact, since so much energy is embodied in construction.

    Avoiding the really heavy polluting options, like tar sands.

    Investing in rail systems can shift a lot of freight and passengers off roads. Of course rail still uses power, but generally this is much more efficient than road transport.

    And urban planning and education of women and biochar and farming practices and so on and so on. There are various sites that discuss a broad range of strategies, many of them which actually save money (but which require changes in assumption or practice and which are opposed by vested interests and intertia), or are at least quite cheap.

    The potential for low-hanging fruit of relatively “easy” reductions is (imperfectly, but powerfully) show in noticing that the lifestyle of the average Australian or American has a carbon footprint twice that of Europeans, who generally enjoy about the same or higher levels of development on most measures. A good summary can be found here.

    However, I would argue that one of the most important responses, and one that goes well beyond climate change, is building an awareness of how destructive and unsustainable our current levels of consumption are, and nurturing respect, thankfulness and contentment. These are moral issues that have to do with how much we eat, how much stuff we buy, how much we travel and so on. We have generally swallowed the lie that “we are what we consume”, that we need to be consuming more for our lives to be improving. It is not true personally or globally. This is a shift of mindset and has a great deal to do with the good news of Jesus, who came to liberate us from slavery to Mammon and into the free service of God and neighbour.

  18. likening climate agnostics/sceptics to the resistance to action on smoking doesn’t work
    I agree that there are significant differences in the problems (high levels of smoking vs climate disruption) and in the possible responses. However, do you agree that there are some striking similarities in the tactics employed by large corporations with a vested interest in minimising the problem? (Sam, I’m also interested in your response to this). I am not saying that all sceptics are in the pay of big oil, but do you accept that big oil, like big tobacco, have well documented efforts to muddy the waters on this?

  19. PS To get a glimpse of various carbon sources and their relative size (at least in the US, which I think this image refers to), see here.

  20. Hi Byron,

    I’ll give a very quick response as I want to have a computer free weekend.

    I would like to come back later to the other sources of CO2 that you raise and the issue of human responses to climate fears.

    I obviously resonate with you when you write about Christian conviction and lifestyle – a point that I would like to explore is the likelihood that this will be embraced by our fellow citizens, let alone well off Christians. But let’s discuss this at a later date.

    I’m glad that you are willing to acknowledge the existence (and characterisation) of “tame” and “wicked” problems – the distinction really helps to get back to reality, however talk of some striking similarities in the tactics employed by large corporations whilst undoubtedly true is a red herring in the context of dealing with the issue (see, I’ve avoided writing, “solving the problem”).

    Having formed a good opinion of him on account of his saneness, I’ve just started reading Mike Hulme’s Why we disagree about climate change.

    I wish you and your family a pleasant and relaxing weekend.

  21. whether this will be embraced by our fellow citizens
    I take it that we don’t pursue faithfulness (including contentment and thankfulness) primarily because others might copy us. We do so because that is the call of God on our lives, and it is the way of freedom, joy and life. If others follow because they have found something attractive in God’s work amongst us, then praise God. It is also happens that pursuing godliness has positive social effects, then all the better (and we probably shouldn’t be surprised, really).

    let alone our fellow Christians
    Do you believe in repentance? I do. And I believe that those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. It may not be immediate or overnight, but I have great hope that God is at work in the hearts of lives of those who listen for his call.

    Yes, tame and wicked may have a little mileage and may help to clarify some of the disagreements over policy questions. But it cannot be used as a get out of gaol free card to say that this issue has zero analogy with previous situations. The parallels (conceptual, strategic, economic and even at the level of personnel) between the confusion machine on tobacco/cancer and the confusion machine on carbon dioxide/climate change are too striking to ignore.

    Though perhaps we need to take a step back. Will you grant that there was a well-funded, deliberate strategy of confusion and delay employed by big tobacco to muddy the waters of what the mainstream science was finding through the use of front groups, pseudo-scientists and the like?

  22. Thanks for this fascinating discussion.
    Byron – yes, I’d agree that there was some big-oil funded denialism, but I’d also say that it’s largely beside the point now. McIntyre’s work, for example, isn’t either true or false dependent on what research has been funded elsewhere, with whatever agenda.

  23. Byron, you are an all or nothing man as far as climate change is concerned, which whilst it has its attractions, is not going to work in the real world of climate at least not without a real impending climatic catastrophe at hand.

    I see that you are dismissive of the distinction between tame and wicked problems (may have a little mileage) preferring to liken it to a gaol free card. Whilst I might be repeating myself, again with respect, we need to get past drawing parallels between the confusion machine on tobacco/cancer and the confusion machine on carbon dioxide/climate change.

    This is not the real issue. The issue, and here for the sake of argument I’m with you on climate change and the need to do something about it, is what should be done, remembering that we are dealing with a global problem, requiring global solutions – we may get our own people off smoking and ipso facto achieve better health outcomes for them, but reducing our 1.5% contribution to CO2 emissions by 50% makes b.. all difference to the predicted vicious knock on effects of global warming contingent upon rising CO2 levels.

    I know with John Cook’s help and others you are up on the science – well ahead of me. However, there are just so many difficulties. Here are some.

    1. The idea that the science is settled is an oxymoron. One of the good results coming out of climategate with its rather unseemly revelations is that this point is being more clearly acknowledged with now the Royal Society about to do some backtracking. I presume you have read Roger Harrabin’s excellent weekend reflection.

    2. Analogies with tame problems like protecting the ozone layer don’t work. The ozone layer problem could be dealt with relatively simply because technologies already existed to halt the emissions, the cost of enticing developing countries to comply was not exorbitant and the impact on economic competiveness was strictly minimal. None of this is true of CO2 related global warming. For global warming, the policies needed are essentially industrial and economic in nature, and on a global scale.

    3. Copenhagen demonstrated just how hard this will be. The Europeans and Japan took the lead under Kyoto; at Copenhagen they weren’t in the frame, they certainly didn’t contribute in any positive way to the outcome. Sure, in the lead up to Copenhagen many countries including all the significant growing economies – Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, India and China made promises to cut emissions. What killed Copenhagen was national interest – too many freeloaders trying to use climate change for their own political purposes like dragging more AID money from the West, the unwillingness of China and India to kerb their respective economic growth despite being #1 and #3 in terms of CO2 emissions, some countries seeing benefit from global warming whilst the oil producers were never going to support any regime which would regulate their main export into oblivion.

    4. I won’t repeat what I’ve said before re technology, other than to point out that attempts to cut back on fossil fuels in any substantial way requires that alternative non fossil fuel technology exists as a reliable proven replacement without requiring large ongoing subsidies that Governments, particularly in current straightened circumstances simply cannot afford.

    To be continued.

  24. 5. Ultimately public perception needs to change on a global basis if radical action to address human induced global warming is to occur. At the present time we are a very long way from such fixed resolute opinion. It is one thing to record a majority to express their very great concern about global warming or express as belief that it is human induced and therefore must be addressed by Governments, etc. So far in polls yielding these opinions, when specifically asked, there is very little support for action that impinges directly on the lives of those sampled by the polls. I’m sure you have been following the UK YouGov polls while here is a link to a report on a recent Australian poll.

    6. Leaving aside the public’s unwillingness to make financial sacrifices to address climate change, the fact that there has been a lull in global warming for 12-15 years now hasn’t help public perception, rather it is likely to have hardened public opposition, as no doubt the climategate and Copenhagen fiascos have done so. Also problematic is the concept of acting now against one’s own perceived self interest to benefit future generations dealing with a problem which may not eventuate and regardless, that future generations may be better able to tackle through decades of further technological progress.

    So does all this mean we do nothing?

    Not at all.

    This is where I make my reference to the Hartwell paper. Forget emission targets. Focus on developing alternative affordable non fossil fuel technology, if necessary by introducing a gradually increasing carbon tax to underwrite the development of the necessary technology. Additionally, I would add the importance of the big emitters clubbing together (forget the UN too big and diffuse with too many nut cases) and negotiating agreements amongst themselves much like the GATT trade talks of several decades ago.

    This will do me for today but I note that Byron has taken exception to this paragraph of mine.

    I obviously resonate with you when you write about Christian conviction and lifestyle – a point that I would like to explore is the likelihood that this will be embraced by our fellow citizens, let alone well off Christians. But let’s discuss this at a later date.

    I undertake to come back to it tomorrow, DV, as I believe Byron misrepresents my position (I’m not suggesting intentionally) and regardless, holds unrealistic views concerning human nature.

  25. Regarding Byron contesting my earlier link on Arctic sea ice, here is a follow up report from WUWT based on US Navy data demonstrating that the volume of Arctic sea ice has increase between May 2008 and May 2010.

  26. Here is a worthwhile comment on The Royal Society’s decision to rewrite their take on climate change by Professor (now retired) Philip Stott.

  27. The Navy data seems to be based on predictions of their model (reading the comments), rather than actual observations. Still, the interesting point is that the Navy have a strong interest in getting this right. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of this as it obviously goes against the usual claims of declining volume.

  28. David, your final link was to a man who asks the following rhetorical questions, each of which I find quite misleading and/or misinformed:
    How can any scientist worth their salt accept predictions based on only one, partial variable?
    Show me a scientist who does this. Predictions are made based on a wide array of variables.

    How can any scientist worth their salt accept that a retrospective regression fit constitutes ‘foundational’ evidence, or even, science?
    Show me a scientist who does the former (foundational evidence). As for the latter, retrospective regression fit has a long history of use in modelling in all kinds of areas.

    How can any scientist worth their salt accept predictions based on models for which we know virtually nothing about some 80 per cent of the factors involved, including some of the more fundamental, such as water vapour and clouds?
    Prof Stott may know virtually nothing about water vapour and clouds, but that is not true of those researching these phenomenon and constructing the models. This is a massive overstatement of the uncertainties.

    The WUWT post compares the forecast for a single day in 2008 with the forecast for a single day in 2010 in order to make a general claim about trends.

    you are an all or nothing man as far as climate change is concerned
    Can you explain what you mean? I am all for the best science, yes. If you mean that I accept every dire prediction made by anyone, as long as it is as bad as possible, then no, I am clearly not.

    1. The idea that the science is settled is an oxymoron.
    Have I ever said this?

    now the Royal Society about to do some backtracking
    Evidence? Here is the RS announcement. Where is the backtracking? I guess we’ll see what they say when the report actually comes out.

    2. Analogies with tame problems like protecting the ozone layer don’t work
    Dismissing all analogies because of outstanding differences between situations just won’t work. I said that I accept that climate change is quite different to ozone depletion (and have said this a number of times before). But such differences don’t immediately illegitimise all comparisons.

    I see that you are dismissive of the distinction between tame and wicked problems
    I think you have misunderstood my point. I think the distinction is interesting and fruitful, just that it cannot be used to deny all analogical comparisons.

    we need to get past drawing parallels between the confusion machine on tobacco/cancer and the confusion machine on carbon dioxide/climate change
    Yes, of course we need to do more than simply note the parallels and though that were the end of the question. However, it will not do to simply dismiss the parallels as irrelevant. Particularly if, as you note, public opinion can be fickle, then those who are deliberately using strategic misinformation to manipulating the political process for personal (or corporate) gain ought to be held to account, as the tobacco companies were, whether this is big oil funding denial or scientists fudging results to secure funding. Democracy (and the free market for that matter) relies on the flow of good information.

  29. 4. attempts to cut back on fossil fuels in any substantial way requires that alternative non fossil fuel technology exists as a reliable proven replacement without requiring large ongoing subsidies that Governments, particularly in current straightened circumstances simply cannot afford.
    Again, you seem to assume that electricity production is the only important consideration. What new technology is required to reduce rates of deforestation, consumption of energy-intensive agricultural products, levels of consumer demand, to shift agricultural and construction practices, to build more rail or for all the other contributions to the puzzle? Furthermore, we need to remember that subsidies for fossil fuel production dwarf those for alternatives.

    5. I agree that some measure of understanding is required by the public, though leaders ought to do what is best, not simply what a majority want. And in polling, for every poll, there is another one. But as we’ve said before, what the general population thinks is generally not a very good way into working out what is actually the case and may or may not give much guidance concerning what ought to be done.

  30. Byron, you didn’t like this statement of mine

    I obviously resonate with you when you write about Christian conviction and lifestyle – a point that I would like to explore is the likelihood that this will be embraced by our fellow citizens, let alone well off Christians. But let’s discuss this at a later date.

    The first point I would like to make is that I want to decouple Christian conviction and lifestyle from climate change, certainly as far as motivation is concerned.

    The second point is that I want to give expression to what is I mean by “Christian conviction and lifestyle”.

    Approximately 20 years ago I went through a very difficult patch in my life, and what was most helpful at the time was Calvin’s teaching on the Christian life which runs over several chapters starting with Book 3.VII of the Institutes. Calvin sees four planks to the Christian life. First (I’m writing from memory) the call to deny ourselves, truly the most radical of all calls (Mk 8:34), Second, the call to take up that cross which God fashions uniquely for each one of his children out of the circumstances of their lives, third to increasingly orientate our lives away from this world to the world to come, i.e. to understand that our true citizenship lies in heaven above (or more correctly the new earth to come (Phil 3:20, 2 Peter 3:13), fourth, granted that all this is so, it is also true that God gives us many things in this life richly to enjoy.

    I find that analysis very helpful. In taking up that “uniquely fashioned cross”, I am brought into conformity with our Lord Jesus. Peter expresses it somewhat differently but again I find very helpfully (1 Peter 2:20f), that in my life, in bearing that uniquely fashioned cross, I am following in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus. Despite my failures, that is the way I see my life.

    The point that I seek to establish is simply that to be a Christian is first and foremost to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

    Flowing out of this understanding (to be) realised in my life are experiences of joy, thankfulness, acceptance, contentment and the like.

    One of the consequences of this understanding is that our lives should be simply lived, informed by the Word, open to the Spirit, avoiding accumulation of material positions, demonstrating an ongoing, personal willingness to serve and to share what we have been given with others.

    The point I was trying to make is that this kind of lifestyle is not voluntarily entered into, at least not easily, and without the motivation of a saving relationship to Jesus Christ, why would you expect to see it, voluntarily entered into? Not only that, but how many Christians embrace this understanding of the Christian life?

    We live in a very self centred, individualistic age with an overpowering fixation to eat, drink and be merry for without a religious faith, this is all that we have. We can never ignore the depth of human wantonness and misdirection.

    For these reasons, I am quite pessimistic that national calls for a simpler lifestyle because global warming requires it, will be voluntarily picked up. Where I live I see big houses being built, enormous 4 wheel drive vehicles being used to ferry children to and from school, both husband and wife (if at all married) working to maintain their lifestyle and so on.

  31. Regarding your comments on Philip Stott – I think you are a little hasty in condemning him. He is reasonably substantial in his own right. Your faith in the climate scientists constructing models, etc is touching but you really should be a little more circumspect.
    I have noticed in reading Why we disagree about climate change, that Mike Hulme makes cautionary points about the limits of science. Hulme is no lightweight – he is a Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia and founded the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in 2000.

    Here is a rather long quote from p106 well worth considering.

    There are three limits to science that we must recognise. First, scientific knowledge about climate change will always be incomplete, and it will always be uncertain. Science always speaks with a conditional voice, or at least good science always does. Belief in the power of science requires a simultaneous doubt about the final and ultimate adequacy of any scientific knowledge claim. We must recognise that uncertainty and humility should always be essential features of any public policy debate which involves science, not least climate change-Certainty is the anomalous condition for humanity, not uncertainty

    Second, we must recognise that beyond such ‘normal’ scientific uncertainty, knowledge as a public commodity will always have been shaped to some degree by the processes by which it emerges into the social world and through which it subsequently circulates. What will in the end count as scientific knowledge for public decision making is not necessarily the same knowledge that first emerged in the laboratory. In the production, or better still the co-production, of climate change knowledge for public policy, trust in the processes of science and participation in the social processes of co-production are essential. Without trust and/or participation, scientific knowledge about climate change is unlikely to prove robust enough to be put to good use. The separation of knowledge about climate change from the politics Of climate change – a process that has been described as ‘purification’ – is no longer possible, even if it ever was. The more widely this is recognised the better.

    Third, we must be more honest and transparent about what science can tell us and what it can’t. We should not hide behind science when difficult ethical choices are called for. We must not always defer to ‘science’ or to the ‘voices of scientists’ when we need to make decisions about what to do. These are decisions that in relation to climate change will always entail judgements beyond the reach of science.

    There is just so much you can read, but this book is well worth the effort – I’m nearly half way through.

  32. David – It seems you have misunderstood me regarding the relation of Christian discipleship, social change and climate action. I am with Calvin (although, as you note, I believe his dualist and escapist tendencies show through at point three and require further scriptural reformulation and refocussing) and with you in affirming that faith in Christ is the heart of Christian discipleship and of any Christian understanding of a modest, humble, content and simple life free from greed.

    I also affirmed that social change doesn’t automatically flow from Christian discipleship, that is, that the church may or may not end up changing the world. I said that some people may be attracted by the godliness, simplicity and honesty of the Christian lifestyle and may end up praising God as a result (as both Jesus and Peter mention: Matt 5.16; 1 Peter 2.12). This may not always happen, and may not result in widespread social change. But then again, it might, and has done so in the past (for instance, attitudes towards exposing newborns in the ancient world amongst many other examples).

    And I acknowledged that Christians in developed countries face the idolatry of consumerism as perhaps the most significant spiritual battle today (and one which many who profess Christ seem to lose as often as win).

    I too am quite pessimistic about the social outlook for rapid change, even amongst Christians. Indeed, if you read my blog consistently, you may have noticed that this is something of a theme.

    However, I also believe in repentance and that the gospel has good news for those being consumed by consumerism, namely the liberating call of Christ to take up our cross and die with him, being set free from our guilt by his death and from our fear by his resurrection (and vice versa). And so I believe in proclaiming this good news in word and deed to Christians and non-Christians terrified, despairing or in denial (or simply ignorant) about the state of the world. I do not believe that the proclamation of this good news is divinely guaranteed to prevent us (both within and outside the church) from very significant self-harm. But I do believe that the call of Christ gives me no other option. This is a path of grief, of disappointment, of pain, of failure. But perhaps, by God’s grace, also of resurrection.

  33. I meant no disrespect to Prof Stott. One generally doesn’t become emeritus by chance or incompetence.

    But I stand by my comment that the three questions he put on his blog are misleading and if they were included in a paper he tried to publish, would be very likely to be knocked back.

    Thanks for the Hulme quote. I don’t significantly disagree. I have always said that ethics and the sciences are not the same thing and that science has its limits. If you had been part of some conversations I was in just a couple of years ago, you would know that I am no fan of scientism, but believe that the sciences needs to understand its limited, servant role. By the same token, within the sphere of that role, it can be a very good (not perfect, but very good) servant of certain kinds of knowledge and ought not to be dismissed for merely partisan reasons.

  34. Hi Byron,

    Thank you for your helpful points of clarification re the Christian life. I enjoy your writing greatly.

    I wrote as I did as much for myself as my understanding of the Christian life came about over time through reflection on Scripture, a dose of Calvin and personal experience, without any reference to the possible implications of climate change for how we might (should) live life. I wanted to see how my understanding of the Christian life accommodated climate change, as much as anything refracted through the things you have been saying to me both here and on your blog (hope you don’t mind our conversation spilling over onto your blog, Sam!).

    I could see as I wrote that Calvin’s third point/plank might be a sticking point for you which indeed you confirmed in your response.

    I do think this matter of our true home is something that you need to give further consideration to, if only because the Bible compels us to do so. I truly believe, and perhaps this goes with my relatively advanced age (born 1943) but also something of the perspective of Ecclesiastes that the Christian’s true home lies the other side of Christ’s return in glory. Romans 8:18f is writ extremely large in my mind.

    Human rebellion, human shaking the fist at God, has so deeply and irreparably harmed all of creation that there is this terrible frustration, death and decay, and yet also a longing, a groaning at the very heart of creation, in every aspect of creation – mountains, plains, seas, fauna and flora for redemption and recreation. We will not see this until the coming again of our Lord Jesus in judgment and purging and cleansing fire for the recreation of the heavens and earth, the setting of all wrongs for rights. If I know anything, I know this, if I hold to anything, I hold to this. Ultimately it is a matter of vindication and justice.

    Now maybe what is being said of the catastrophic effects of climate change may be a part of this larger picture. I don’t know and of course insofar as it is within our power and it is a real threat, of course we must act to prevent terrible outcomes. This is all part of our two eyed stance.

    Ultimately we believe God is sovereign, that He works all things out according to His purposes and one day that will be revealed for all to see to be the case. God never forsakes the works of His hands, our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.

    In the meantime we beaver away, sharing the Gospel of redemption amongst lost people who generally don’t know they are lost, seeking as best we can to fulfil our cultural mandate, even daring to hope on that score some of our cultural endeavour will pass into the world to come (Rev 21:24)

    But I’m rabbiting on.

    By the way, I think you would really enjoy/appreciate Why we disagree about climate change

    Every blessing in Christ


  35. Thanks David. Again, I think we share an enormous amount of common theological ground here.

    I do think this matter of our true home is something that you need to give further consideration to […] Romans 8:18f is writ extremely large in my mind.
    As it is in mine. I have also discussed our true home being God’s future, making us aliens and strangers for now.

    Human rebellion, human shaking the fist at God, has so deeply and irreparably harmed all of creation […] Ultimately it is a matter of vindication and justice. Now maybe what is being said of the catastrophic effects of climate change may be a part of this larger picture.
    Yes, I’m with you for basically this whole paragraph (though I’d want to say more, of course, about what this means today, as groaning people in a groaning world). We are discussing the relation of orthodox Christian eschatology to ethics (and ecology), which has really been the overriding theme of my blog, and of my current research. If you scan down the list of tags in my sidebar, you’ll see not simply “climate change” and “ecology”, but words like “church”, “creation”, “eschatology”, “ethics”, “God”, “gospel”, “Jesus”, “love” and “resurrection” also jump out.

  36. In the meantime we beaver away, sharing the Gospel of redemption amongst lost people who generally don’t know they are lost, seeking as best we can to fulfil our cultural mandate, even daring to hope on that score some of our cultural endeavour will pass into the world to come (Rev 21:24)
    While I don’t deny the cultural mandate, I’m not sure I’d place it as the second human task alongside sharing the Gospel. What I would put next to “sharing the Gospel of redemption” is “loving our neighbour”. This is the lens through which I would seek to understand both the cultural mandate (and its continuity into the eschaton: what lasts? Love, according to 1 Cor 13) and our response to ecological degradation. I think the category of love, while in some senses too broad to give specific instruction on what I will pursue this minute (which neighbour? how will I love them? what do they need? and so on, all need to be filled out with more than simply the summons to love), nonetheless presents itself as a unifying direction to all our actions: whether sharing the gospel, feeding the hungry, or noticing how more people might be hungry in the future due to current ecologically-destructive patterns. And this can’t be divorced from loving God; the two are mutually interpreting.

    But now I am preaching and I suspect we are still in agreement. 🙂

    I suspect that our differences occur here:
    insofar as it is within our power and it is a real threat, of course we must act to prevent terrible outcomes.
    Perhaps our biggest outstanding differences are that we have contrasting estimations of (a) the reality and extent of the threat and (b) the degree to which terrible outcomes can be prevented or minimised. And I think that you are more passionate about our differences on (b) than (a). Is this a fair representation? (By the way, I have said relatively little in our discussion about (b), since my initial focus was much more on (a)).

    Thanks again for your comments and to Sam for hosting this ongoing discussion. Those interested in earlier chapters can wade through the discussion here.

    I will look into the Hulme book as it has been recommended before. Thanks!

  37. Byron,

    My sincere apologies for disappearing and not responding. Other matters intervened. We can pick up the conversation again further down the track. I have appreciated our conversations.

    I finished Hulme – I really like the tame-wicked problem paradigm. I have four or five other books on my list. For the record:

    Climate:The Great Delusion by Christian Gerondeau

    Power Hungry by Robert Bryce – wealth of factual info about energy and power, ploughing thro’ it at present.

    Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living by Nick Spencer et al I got to p45 and thought it rather dated and gullible, but I should try to finish.

    Ian Plimer’s volume – yet to read and may not bother

    Helm and Hepburn’s The Economics and Politics of Climate Change – a lot of essays, I think Helm is good value

    I also have Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist and will get Roger Pielke Jr’s The Climate Fix when it is published in September.

    I think I’m more interested in the policy issues around climate change, whilst remaining agnostic on whether IPCC projections will eventuate or not, though clearly they can’t be dismissed out of hand, since so many scientists have (unwisely, in my view) staked their reputations on them. There is no point in me being dogmatic on the science though frankly the sooner the IPCC ditches the arguably discredited Hockey Stick the better in my view.

    I’m also interested in a theological evaluation of what to make of the arguments and what stance on climate change might best align with the Bible and confessional commitments such as 2K theology. I look forward to interacting more with you around these issues.

    Cheers for now.


  38. Just finished, Power Hungry by a rambunctious American, Robert Bryce that Byron would probably hate but has a wealth of detail on the energy scene a subject largely missing from IPCC process.

    Also finished, Climate: The Great Delusion written by a French Engineer, Christian Gerondeau. Now this is definitely a book to be read.

    Gerondeau raises the issue of peak oil, peak gas, peak coal and puts figures on reserves and calculates tonnes of CO2 that would be emitted from the burning of all known reserves.

    He reckons oil’s proven oil reserves will give another 40 yrs of production at current rates of use, but on the basis that further discoveries will be made, including exploitation of non conventional oil shales and oil sands, the 40 yrs may extend out to no more than 100 years and in the process add 1,000 billion tonnes of CO2 (a rough estimate) to the 2,800 tonnes already in the atmosphere.

    He estimates proven reserves of conventional natural gas represent 60 years at the present rate of consumption and postulates further discoveries, etc, yielding 100 years spply, thereby adding a further 600 billion tonnes of CO2.

    Likewise similar considerations for coal taking into account the rapid increase in extraction to meet the demands of China, India, etc means most of the world’s reachable coal will probably be consumed this century (and that’s another 2,000 billion tonnes of CO2).

    The point of all this is that virtually all remaining CO2 arising from fossil fuel will have been emitted by the end of this century.

    When around a further 500 billion tonnes of CO2 arising from deforestation and farming activities are added in and then allowing for absorption by the natural environment including the oceans, we are left with about 5,000 billion tonnes (give or take a billion) CO2 in the atmosphere by the end of the century, but with no more fossil fuel left to burn.

    His next point is that regardless of all the huffing and puffing in the world, all that fossil fuel will be mined and burnt., which is to say all the target reductions in emissions currently being talked about is nonsense, but importantly there is a cap to those emissions, and in fact by the second half of the current century a decline in emissions will occur as the amounts of oil, gas and coal extracted wind down. So yes, 80% reduction in CO2 emissions and more but likely a decade or two later than 2050.

    Gerondeau makes further interesting points about the scenarios in the IPCC: the fact that those producing the highest temperature/sea level rises are based on very high rates of emissions through to the end of the century which do not accord at all well with the rapidly depleting amounts of oil, gas and coal being burnt. Using the above analysis for peak oil, gas and coal combined with the IPCC scenarios he argues that at most the ocean rise will be about 30 cm and temperature rise may be 2.5 degrees C tops. And you can see where that is going.

  39. Thanks David for your reading list. I’ve also been away for a while, so no problem on delays!

    (NB I assume “2k theology” = two kingdom theology?)

  40. I don’t doubt that peak oil will factor in future emissions scenarios and am also aware that some (though by no means all) of the IPCC scenarios include unlikely levels of emissions growth, as I have said in the past. However, if you buy this argument about peak oil, then you have even more reason to be a big supporter of shifting our energy base, since the difficulties and costs of switching from a carbon-based energy supply to alternative forms of energy is set not only by climate considerations but also by geological limits.

    However, let’s examine Gerondeau’s case and see where it takes us. First a few questions to check that he’s doing his homework.

    Has he factored in the reduction of carbon sinks being recorded in oceans and soils? Particularly since some studies link higher temperatures to reduced ability of soil and oceans to act as sinks (indeed, some show that beyond certain temperatures, these may even become sources). Though I also heard of a study yesterday that linked loss of fish stocks to the decreased oceanic sink capacity. Remember too that ocean acidification (and warming) is likely to continue to affect phytoplankton growth in ways not fully understood, perhaps further undermining the ocean’s ability to draw carbon.

    Where has he got the figure for deforestation? I’ve seen figures saying that up to 7,500 Gt of CO2 are stored in forests and soils (both have to be taken into account, since deforested areas release carbon not only from the wood but also the carbon-rich soils). The trees themselves store in the order of 3,670 Gt of CO2 (of course, they actually store it as carbon, and so there is something like 1,000 Gt of carbon, which has to be multiplied by about 3.67 to work out the equivalent weight of CO2). NB These figures vary, depending on which study you look at, and I haven’t had a chance to determine which is the best, so I’ve just picked a figure that seemed about average from glancing at a few.

    Does he take into account the potential exploitation of methane clathrates, another huge source of hydrocarbons (estimates vary wildly but average about 10,000Gt)?

    And what about various non-linear feedback mechanisms? Does he discuss those? (Such as the unintended release of methane clathrates mentioned above). 2ºC is considered by many to be the start of the range where the chance of more feedbacks kicking in increases.

  41. PS I wrote this reply fairly quickly and might have made some basic mistakes. If so, please point them out since doing this research has only made me more pessimistic about the likelihood of peak oil “rescuing” us from the worst of climate change.

    If your answer depends on estimates of climate sensitivity well below the accepted range of 2.0ºC-4.5ºC please explain why we should pin our hopes on a figure that most climate scientists believe is highly unlikely.

  42. Ah, sorry – I’ve already noted my first major error. When you said that we were left with 5,000 Gt of CO2 in the atmosphere, I misread that as an additional 5,000Gt from today (for a total of 8,000 Gt).

    That makes quite a difference, since then we’re talking about somewhat more than a single doubling, rather than somewhere closer to a quadrupling. And so with figures between somewhat higher than 2.0ºC and somewhat higher than 4.5ºC. Still considerably more than G’s maximum of 2.5ºC, though below the apocalyptic outcomes of >6ºC.

    I knew I had to have something wrong, because it looked at first like his estimate was going to be significantly higher than the IPCC. As it is, it falls out to be closer to the average.

  43. There is an interesting point made by Hans Werner Sinn which relates to David’s synopsis of the Gerondeau book. (Sinn is part of LMU Munich and head of major German research institute CES/IFO.) He has been arguing for some time that, as David said, “regardless of all the huffing and puffing in the world, all that fossil fuel will be mined and burnt.” Economically speaking, if a lot of us switch to green energy, all this will do is depress the world price of fossil fuels. This isn’t going to stop most of them being mined, as even “if all countries of the world were to introduce such a [green] tax because world market prices cannot be pushed down where extraction is no longer profitable. After all, the extraction costs are only a tiny fraction of the overall price.” (See here.) This works in reverse too: even if fossil fuels are heavily subsidised it may not make much difference.

    The bit I particularly like is that green policies may have perverse effects. It’s the time path of fossil fuel prices that determine extraction incentives. Suppose say oil producers expect carbon taxes to rise over time/more wind turbines to be built; this will depress future net of tax prices because demand falls. So it is better to get the oil out now while prices are more favourable! So these policies may increase the current extraction rate.

  44. Sorry Byron,

    I have had too much on the go at present to pick up our discussion, may be tomorrow or over the weekend. I had seen the reference by the IEA to coal subsidies. If I recall exactly, they are occuring in the developing world – Government’s rushing to get electricity out to their people.

  45. Hi Byron,

    2k theology = two kingdom theology. At the Colloquium I’m involved in organising late July we will have a fine old time working through the implications of two kingdom theology and Kuyperian neo Calvinism for the legitimacy of religion to engage in the public square.

    Yes, I’m all in favour of shifting the energy base to nuclear, but gas preferentially to coal as well. However, this still doesn’t get around the issue that all the coal, oil, and gas gets used up – it just means we let the developing world get a better crack at these resources.

    Regarding Gerondeau’s book (you should try and get hold of it – less than 150 pages, good read and quite inexpensive). I’m not sure he has taken into account your Siberian methane deposits or cattle burping/farting.

    He says there is currently 2,800 billion tonnes CO2 in the atmosphere at present, exhausting the oil gives an extra 1,000 billion tonnes, natural gas another 600 billion tonnes, coal 2,000 billion tonnes, deforestation and farming adds 500 billion tonnes, all of which he rounds up to 4,500 billion tonnes. He next argues with reference to something called the Global Carbon Project(?) that about half of this additional 4,500 billion tonnes CO2 will be absorbed by the natural environment, in particular by the oceans.

    Thus extinction of the fossil fuel reserves will bring, subject to various caveats which you would need to read for yourself, the quantity of atmospheric CO2 to ca 5,000 billion tonnes on top of current 2,800 billion tonnes, i.e. the concentration of CO2 will reach ca 700 ppm cf current 380 ppm (he has a graph lifting the 700 ppm to 750 ppm).

    He then mounts an argument that CO2 emissions will peak around mid century.

    A point he returns to several times (which I find congenial) is that the increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is the price to be paid (yes, I know all this is arguable, but it is certainly arguable!) for enabling the greater part of the world’s population to escape from poverty, destitution, disease and (early) death in just a few generations, as did the inhabitants of today’s developed countries – which is of course the point of view of China, India, et al and the reason why the fossil fuels will not be allowed to stay in the ground.

    Regarding the 2.5C° temp rise he gets it by looking at the 6 scenarios in AR4 which contain a range of 20 to 130 billion tonnes CO2 pa emissions at the end 0f this century (current figure 50 billion tonnes) resulting in a temperature rise spread of 1C° to 6C°, and basically says phooey! The upper end of CO2 emissions used in the models is nonsense since fossil fuels are running out. He gets his 2.5C° by saying emissions will lie between 25 billion tonnes pa and 65 billion tonnes pa by the end of the century, which leads him to AR4 scenarios B1, A1T, B2 and A1B as the only ones to be considered.

    Life is full of paradoxes. You can’t be both a fervent believer in peak fossil fuel (like it’s already or about to peak) and a climate change alarmist at the same time, and yet so many hold to both positions!

    Another paradox concerns windfarms which allegedly are CO2 free but in fact do virtually nothing to reduce CO 2 emissions. Come on, Byron, challenge me to justify that statement!

  46. He gets his 2.5C° by saying emissions will lie between 25 billion tonnes pa and 65 billion tonnes pa by the end of the century, which leads him to AR4 scenarios B1, A1T, B2 and A1B as the only ones to be considered.
    Are you serious? He is way more naive than I thought if he calculates temp rise from annual emissions in 2100 rather than cumulative emissions. What we’re emitting in 2100 is largely irrelevant. The real question is how much we’ve emitted between now and then and when it was emitted.

    If we hit 700-750 ppm that is well over a doubling of CO2 and the current IPCC understanding of sensitivity puts the average surface atmospheric temp rise as 2-4.5ºC per doubling, with a best estimate around 3ºC (including some short term feedbacks such as water vapour), which means most likely warming above 3ºC, but with a max likely warming above 4.5ºC.

    It certainly doesn’t sound like he’s taken a possible methane gun into consideration, since the chances of a significant release of frozen methane hydrates and the rate at which they might be emitted are questions that are still wide open. No can really knows at the moment, which is a pretty large uncertainty to live with.

    And what about other positive feedbacks? Large scale forest death, decline of oceanic carbon sink, loss of Arctic albido and so on. None of these are included in the IPCC models.

    Either >2-4.5ºC warming, or much worse if we’ve inadvertently unleashed significant positive feedbacks. Have you done any reading on what a 4ºC warming would mean? Much of the southern US would be pretty much uninhabitable during summer, African agriculture would be decimated, large patches of our prime agricultural land around the world would be dust bowls, the Amazon would be in serious danger of collapsing and burning, as would many other large forests, corals are long gone, and with them any hope of sustainable fishing on a large scale, the oceans are rapidly acidifying, Greenland will continue to melt for centuries, more or less unstoppably, and probably the West Antarctic too, resulting in about 30 cm sea level rise every decade for centuries.

    But even if we’re “safe” with a >4.5ºC rise from a methane gun, the figures you mention don’t include non-conventional fossil fuels (tar sands, oil shale, etc.).

    I’m afraid that peak oil and climate change are not necessarily alternative threats, but could be cumulative, especially if the former encourages us to exploit all the fossil fuel sources (including non-conventional).

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