Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Happy talk about the climate

[Update for the rest of you: I've had smarter insects go splat on my windshield than these climate denialists whose comments I don't even bother reading. Do your best to learn to ignore them.]

[Update for climate change denialists: please save me the trouble of marking your comments as spam. This blog is not for the willfully ignorant or the scientifically illiterate, so a hearty good-bye to you all.]

The non-binding climate deal which the US and China just signed will allow the Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to go to 500ppm and beyond by the end of the century, far past the current concentration of 400ppm. Historically, this concentration was sufficient to produce an ice-free Arctic, significantly higher ocean levels, and an environment unlikely to be able to sustain large human populations.

According to a November 2011 study published in Science, “On our current emissions path, CO2 levels in 2100 will hit levels last seen when the Earth was 29°F (16°C) hotter.” Scientists participating in the IPCC have warned that just a 4ºC rise will mean that “people won't be able to cope, let alone work productively, in the hottest parts of the year.”

In short, this deal does nothing to forestall a complete, total, unmitigated disaster that is likely to spell the end of agriculture, urbanized civilization, and may doom humans, along with most other large vertebrate species, to extinction.

At the same time, May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org, had this to say: “It’s no coincidence that after the biggest climate mobilization in history, world leaders are stepping up their ambition on climate action. This announcement is a sign that President Obama is taking his climate legacy seriously and is willing to stand up to big polluters.”

Perhaps it is time to rename 350.org to something closer to reality. This organization has obviously lost its fight to limit atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350ppm, and the fact that its leaders are claiming victory and want to continue the fight can only mean one thing: there never was a fight, just some of the usual useless politicking.

Of course, the White House was also quick to take credit, claiming that “the new U.S. goal will double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average during the 2005-2020 period to 2.3-2.8 percent per year on average between 2020 and 2025.”

Against this backdrop of unmistakeable failure of environmentalism, there are actual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions taking place in the US—certainly too small to save us, but real nevertheless. The reason they are taking place is that the US economy is becoming increasingly hollowed out. At this rate, the US will not have much of an industrial economy left in the time frame addressed by this climate deal. Obama's willingness to sign it signals, among other things, a recognition of the ongoing economic collapse, and an assumption that it will only accelerate. His “2.3-2.8 percent per year on average” sets an optimistic upper bound on how slowly the US will collapse.

China's situation is rather different. In signing the climate deal, the Chinese played to a domestic audience that is increasingly upset by the environmental devastation it cannot possibly ignore, including filthy air, rivers full of dead pigs and other such wonders. At the same time, the Chinese leadership still sees economic growth as something that's required for it to maintain political stability, and economic growth in turn requires burning more fossil fuels.

Yes, there was talk of “renewables” such as wind and solar, but wind and solar installations are built and maintained using an industrial base that runs on fossil fuels. They only provide energy when it's sunny and/or windy and are incapable of providing for the constant base load that an industrialized society demands. There was also talk of “zero-carbon” energy sources such as nuclear, and the plan requires China to build an additional terawatt of nuclear power generation, but it must be kept in mind that nuclear power plants consume prodigious amounts fossil fuel energy during their decade-long construction phase, then pay it back while operating, but then continue to consume fossil fuel energy into the indefinite future—or melt down like Fukushima Daiichi in Japan.

Unlike the US, which, once the current, short-lived fracking bonanza is over, will go back to juggling resource depletion and economic collapse, China is building two massive natural gas pipelines to connect it to Russia's plentiful reserves which, unlike the very expensive “tight gas” produced in the US by fracking, can be produced quite cheaply. This may allow China's economy to continue growing for some time, and placate its population by reducing the urban smog problem through lessening its reliance on coal.

Thus, this climate deal seems to mean the following things:

1. The US is going to continue collapsing, and even the Obama administration takes this for granted and has set a safe upper bound on how slowly this collapse will unfold.

2. China will continue growing, gobbling up ever more reserves, until something breaks (which it will).

3. Climate activists in the US will continue tooting their horns, expecting us to believe that they have achieved something other than defeat.


Harry Willis said...

I first read about global warming and the ominous rise in CO2 concentrations in 1969. It was about 6% over baseline at that point, if memory serves. I thought then, and think now, that the problem with fossil fuel emissions is that they are involved in our lives at simply too basic a level. It's illuminating maybe to compare it to other environmental successes, relatively speaking. To deal with ozone, you needed another way to propel that deodorant and keep those pits smelling fresh at 5 pm, and some alterations in refrigerants. For acid rain, smokestack scrubbers and cap-and-trade. Car-produced smog, catalytic converters. Life could go on much as it did before and the world's population could keep growing beyond all sustainable limits. But to deal with the CO2 problem, we actually would have had to change our lives fundamentally, and very few people wanted to suffer such inconvenience merely for the sake of survival.

Rajeev Prakash said...

Came across articles which suggest that global warming is a result of increased solar activity and that now it has been reversed. Such claims have been made my credible scientists such as Habibullo I. Abdussamatov, John L. Casey etc. According to them we are in for an ice age period which may last for decades . Growing glacial ice sheets and global drop in temperatures as a result of solar hibernation go along with this theory.Solar acivity patterns match those before the little ice age period of the early 1800s.

matilda said...


The Electric Universe theory people and individuals like those behind http://www.suspicious0bservers.org/ are of the mind that our climate is influenced far more by the sun and energies in space.

They suggest that the sun has a cycle and we are entering a period of rapid global cooling as exhibited by the decrease in sun spot activity and solar flaring.

They opine that pollution, while horrific and self-destructive, are no match at this time for the impact, or lack thereof, of the sun.

I am curious about your thoughts on this – thanks.

Batalos said...

Nothing could prevent CO2 from rising except a full halt of the industrial civi.

LL Pete said...

We can rush here and there and frantically arrange and rearrange the deck chairs to our heart's content, but really, as more than one insightful commenter has said, "This is what collapse looks like."

Andy Brown said...

We have a bad habit of assuming that since individual humans are capable of intelligence, forethought and planning - somehow we are also capable collectively. Our own species collectively demonstrates the cognitive abilities of a toxic lichen. Civilizations, perhaps achieve the blind tropisms of a nematode or a pea plant - evading the occasional fatal obstacle. A nation or a government can often lurch around with the spastic enthusiasms of a poorly coordinated toddler. I don't place much hope in the plans of our leaders or their critics, but hey, sometimes yelling at toddlers helps - if only as a personal tonic.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Rajeev, Matilda -

The solar hypothesis is invalidated by observation. Regardless of what the sun is doing, average global temperatures are setting new records all the time, and arctic summertime temperatures are off the charts, with Baffin Island recording temperatures over 20ºC, whereas it's supposed to be closer to 0ºC. Climate science is full of unsolved problems, but this simply isn't one of them, and anyone who tells you otherwise is attempting to waste your time.

simon.dc3 said...

haha Dmitry, the moment I heard the supposedly 2.3% - 2.8% reduction in carbon the US will commit to, right away I was thinking "Less Industrial Output = Less Carbon Emissions", thus use the figure of the foreseen industrial decline and commit to that carbon decrease in climate talks.
Given all other metric is manipulated for financial effect, this rate of carbon reduction is likely the best gauge unknowingly provided by the status quo on how steadily downward US economic/industrial spiralling will be to 2030.

So far we have no way of knowing if it is calculated based on climate-effect-on-industry, or industrial-decline alone. Impossible these people will be thinking in terms of complex systems, so most likely it is one of those two.

I liked how it is 'non-binding', because of course American ingenuity will bottle a star in a lab beaker and have fusion any day now.

Then they'll terraform Mars into Heavens, letting Earth fully lapse into Purgatory for the criminally poor --all 7 billions of us--, Venus into Hades for the million or so adherents to the Laws of Thermodynamics and the doubters of infinite growth who kept the souls weighed down for so long. Mars Heaven for the deservedly rich corporation whose soul will be evident to every Justice in the Supreme Court and every priest in the IMF and World Bank :-D

acomfort said...

Tragedy of the Commons can explain much of the problem we have of working together to combat global warming.

The tragedy of the commons is a dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen.

3 min, easy to follow.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Actually, the so-called tragedy of the commons is simply an artifact of a broken society that puts the interests of the individual ahead of those of the group. It largely goes away as soon as one takes one's Anglo blinkers off. Of course, there are always a few bad eggs who will claim that "What's mine is mine," but that's why there are machetes and pointed sticks or, in the case of bigger entities, the nuclear deterrent. Eventually those who insist on individual property rights and.trash the commons will self-destruct, but they may manage to take the rest of us with them.

Kutamun said...

Gday Dmitri ,
Well there was a lot of the usual anti Putin ballyhoo all over our mainstream press here in the Ozland , where we are xurrently smashing all sorts of speing temperature records while steadfastly maintaining that climate change is all a communist plot masterminded by the dastardly ex KGB man , BIG BAd Vlad .( BBV).
The shenannigans started at the airport when we sent a junior office intern to greet bBV , though the laughing started to peter out as reports of russian warships off our northern approaches started to filter in - Shirtfronted , ha !
For his part BBV was mostly gracious , that wicked Russian sense of humour very much in evidence as he thanked us for our "warmth" ( it was over 40 degreees for most of the conference , in a state that has not seen rain for some three years in its vast farming areas ) ...all in all , the usual circus that you would expect from the unsociable anglo primates from the pimple on the a...s of the world !
Cheers Mate

Tomuru said...

Maybe we have a few madmen in positions of power that think that nuclear winter will stop climate change and eliminate a lot of the excess world population. This it may do. Are they truly this mad?

ultra said...

Global warming


Dmitry Orlov said...

ultra -

The polar vortex dislocation is consistent with global warming. High arctic temperatures due to the missing sea ice cause less stratification of jet stream patterns. The jet stream starts to meander north to south and back, shifting arctic air masses far to the south, resulting in record-cold winters. It's what's expected.

Ken Barrows said...


The USA, much to my surprise, is not the entire world. Here's an estimate of earth temperature today:

K Satifka said...

I watched a segment last Sunday on "60 Minutes" about our disappearing groundwater. Seems there is another aquifer hundreds of feet below the one nearer the surface. In places like drought-ridden central California, in order to feed their huge amount of agriculture, they are pumping out this water at an alarming rate, and it is being quickly depleted. This crisis of disappearing water is happening all over the world. Additionally, since this water is so far underground, my first thoughts were about the danger of fracking polluting this deep water. Care to comment, Dmitry?

Marc L Bernstein said...

I have never heard of a civilization that has not had a tragedy of the commons.

Has there ever been a nation in history whose government deliberately lies to its own citizens with as much frequency as does the government of the USA?

Something tells me that cultural collapse is already underway in the USA. Morris Berman wrote a trilogy of books (The Twilight of American Culture [2000], Dark Ages America [2006] and Why America Failed [2011]) describing how this happened.

The only people who seem capable of "joyful" exuberance in this nation are the blissfully ignorant, privileged youth. The word "joyful" is put in quotes because it depends on your definition of joy. Their joy is transient and short-lived.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Re California and water, California is not suitable for agriculture without massive amounts of irrigation. Farms and irrigation projects were started during a time when the climate was wetter than usual. Droughts of various lengths of time some lasting for decades or longer were part of the normal climate mix. California is 3 years into the current drought. If the drought goes on much longer, we may start to see climate refugees. The California drought is probably not caused by global warming but rather part of a normal pattern but global warming makes it worse because higher temperatures make for faster evaporation from the ground and more rapid melting of the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada, the ag industry's primary water reservoir. Absent the gradual melting of snow, man-made reservoirs go dry too early and the ag game has to be cancelled. Billboards along the road in the central valley blame the Democrats in Washington for the drought. Yes, they are to blame because they allocate some water to rivers to keep the salmon fishery alive. But by and large, the problem is that California is suitable for agriculture on an intermittent basis only and people moved into the state thinking that the good century long wetter than average weather was the norm. The natives that inhabited California before the Europeans never practiced agriculture. It would be nice to think that they had better judgment than the Europeans but probably not.
I don't think California is running out of water, it's just not suitable for agriculture on a long term basis. The whole southwest of the US is like a big open air boom and bust museum. One ghost town after another a monument to resource depletion. We will probably start to see more of these ghost towns in the coming years. Take a drive across the great plains sometime and venture off the interstate and you will see the effects of water depletion there as well.
I think we need to stop looking at agriculture as a sustainable practice. Some places it might be, but in much of the country west of the Mississippi (good candidate for unspell), it is an extractive enterprise like mining, except it mines topsoil and fossil water deposits. Once those are gone, the ag game is over. And global warming doesn't help.

michigan native said...

But look at how cold the winters are getting, claim some who insist now that "global warming is a hoax".

It is geo-engineering on the part of the Illuminati, part of "agenda 21" or some horse hockey like that, to cull our numbers, along with chemtrails, Ebola and other pandemics, acne, bad breath, baldness, etc ad naseum and of course, their secret HAARP weapons that are using to trigger all these earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc

And when Elvis is not hiding in the Rockies with his secret UN army, conspiring to put computer chips under our skin with the mark of the beast, they are hoarding the endless supply of oil to control us. Look at the price of oil drop, say the cornucopians, who think the world is awash with endless oil and this latest price dip proves it.

How do you answer these people, other than suggest they start taking their psych meds?

Dmitry Orlov said...

michigan native -

I don't know what you do about such people. What I do is tell them that they are absolutely right, about everything. And if they press me about it, I tell them that it's just my gut feeling, that I don't have any facts. This approach does seem to work, at least in terms of securing their cooperation for things that don't impinge on the fate of humanity, the solar system, or our local galactic cluster.

Dave Kimble said...

I believe that the IPCC climate science is correct, and the models are fairly accurate, and will get more so as more data comes in. What I KNOW is wrong is the quantity of fossil fuels the IPCC suggests will be burned in the years out to 2100.

The lowest scenario the IPCC put forward is Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 2.6 . It was formulated by Vuuren as an attempt to discover what fossil fuel burning rates would cause a Radiative Forcing peak of 3 W/m² and then decline, hence its original title of RCP 3PD . This corresponds to a temperature increase of +2°C.

The fossil fuel burning rates are shown in http://www1.ethz.ch/uns/edu/teach/bachelor/autumn/energmob/Vuuren_et_al_2011_RCP26.pdf
from which I have extracted this chart : http://www.davekimble.org.au/peakoil/charts/Vuuren.RCP2.6.fuel-types.png
It is hard to see exactly what is going on here, except that the total amount of energy being used keeps rising, as it must if industrialised civilisation is to continue.

So I have deconstructed the chart and rebuilt it as 3 charts for oil, gas and coal, combining the "normal" and "with CCS" types:

Now anyone who knows anything about Peak Oil, Gas and Coal can see immediately that the burning rates RCP 2.6 is talking about just are NOT POSSIBLE. The fuels exist underground in sufficient quantity, but the extraction rates (tonnes per year) cannot happen.

So RCP 2.6 and its prediction of +2°C will not be achieved due to Peak Fossils.

I expect something more like +1.5°C by 2045 and a slow decline after that.
Now even that might be enough to be very nasty, but it is nothing like the horror stories you seem to be worried about.

What IS horrific is the simple fact that industrialised civilisation will collapse if it doesn't get its energy fix. Without refined oil products, which power 95% of the world's transport, it will be impossible to keep the electricity system going. And without electricity, cities can't pump water and sewerage, or keep the internet going. So banking becomes impossible, ordering stock (particularly food) for shops will stop, and no one will know what the hell is going on because the phone system is down, and email, Twitter, Facebook, TV and radio.

That kind of implosion can happen virtually overnight, and will certainly happen before any of your climate change horrors can eventuate. The only up-side to this is that Nature will heave a huge sigh of relief as the engines fall silent.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

my apologies re drought in CA misinformation that I posted. I stumbled into this article just recently that blames the CA drought directly on global warming effects.
details here: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=132709
The printed media here in CA report the drought under the category of shit happens for no apparent reason. Nobody is to blame for anything. Nothing to be done about it.

Gardengate said...

Dear Dmitry,

Thank you for your comment in response to michigan native, we have been doing pretty much the same thing, like when people ask us why we don't shop at walmart, we just tell them we don't like the color of their buildings.