Several recent blog posts have come to my attention that I want to pass on to readers of this blog because all three make good points and, ultimately justify a pragmatic approach in my opinion. I have summarized them below but recommend that you read them all in their entirety.
Judith Curry argues that the science does not support the claims that climate change in an existential threat. I believe it is safe to say that Cliff Mass is more worried about the threats of climate change but makes the point that there is an active group in the climate debate, “mainly on the political left, that is highly partisan, anxious and often despairing, self-righteous, big on blame and social justice, and willing to attack those that disagree with them” that he believes may in the end do more harm than good. Finally, Larry Kummer offers suggestions that could be implemented today with widespread support from most of society.
Judith Curry writing on her Climate Etc blog posted her response to a reporter’s questions about the current state of climate limits and timelines. The reporter asked about the deadlines (e.g., the 12 years to act) currently in the news. She concluded:
Bottom line is that these timelines are meaningless. While we have confidence in the sign of the temperature change, we have no idea what its magnitude will turn out to be. Apart from uncertainties in emissions and the Earth’s carbon cycle, we are still facing a factor of 3 or more uncertainty in the sensitivity of the Earth’s climate to CO2, and we have no idea how natural climate variability (solar, volcanoes, ocean oscillations) will play out in the 21st century. And even if we did have significant confidence in the amount of global warming, we still don’t have much of a handle on how this will change extreme weather events. With regards to species and ecosystems, land use and exploitation is a far bigger issue.
Cleaner sources of energy have several different threads of justification, but thinking that sending CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 or whenever is going to improve the weather and the environment by 2100 is a pipe dream. If such reductions come at the expense of economic development, then vulnerability to extreme weather events will increase.
There is a reason that the so-called climate change problem has been referred to as a ‘wicked mess.’
Cliff Mass has his own blog on weather and climate. He recently posted on the Real Climate Debate. The point of his post was that there are two groups of people active in the climate change debate covered by media and politicians. He defines the two groups as the ACT group (Apolitical/Confident/Technical) and the the ASP group (Anxious, Social-Justice, Partisan). The ACT group thinks that global warming is a technical problem with technical solutions while the ASP group see that social change is necessary to deal with global warming and that will require re-organizing society. His bottom line:
Progress on climate change is being undermined by the efforts of the highly vocal, partisan, and ineffective ASP group. They are standing in the way of bipartisan action on climate change, efforts to fix our forests, and the use of essential technologies. They are a big part of the problem, not the solution.
In contrast to the ASP folks, the ACT group generally tries to stay out of the public eye, quietly completing the work needed to develop the technologies and infrastructure that will allow us to mitigate and adapt to climate change. In the end, they will save us. That is, if the ASP folks don’t get in their way.
Larry Kummer writing at the Fabius Maximus blog recommended issues that he hopes a presidential candidate can adopt that will address serious threats. One of the issues he included was Climate Change. The only disagreement I have with his recommendations concerns conversion to non-carbon-based energy. I think this needs to be included but would prefer that the emphasis be on R&D to find alternatives that are cheaper than fossil fuels. Until that happens I believe that Roger Pielke Jr.’s Iron Law of Climate Policy will make implementation impossible. His “iron law” simply states that “while people are often willing to pay some price for achieving environmental objectives, that willingness has its limits”. Larry’s recommendations are:
We are locked into two camps, with a large confused mass between the climate extremists and those who deny that global warming is a threat. The resulting gridlock leaves us vulnerable to the inevitable repeat of past extreme weather and the effects of the continuation of the two centuries of warming (from a combination of natural and anthropogenic factors). We can continue to do almost nothing, waiting for one side to stampede the American public into acquiescence – or for the weather to decide for us. Or we can immediately take smaller but still effectual steps. I gave these recommendations six years, and they remain sound today. They could command popular support.
- Increased government funding for climate sciences. Many key aspects (e.g., global temperature data collection and analysis) are grossly underfunded. But this research should be run with tighter standards (e.g., posting of data and methods, review by unaffiliated experts), just as we do for biomedical research – and for the same reason, to increase its reliability.
- Fund a review of the climate forecasting models by a multidisciplinary team of relevant experts who have not been central players in this debate. Include a broader pool than those who have dominated the field, such as geologists, chemists, statisticians and software engineers. This should include a back-test of the climate models used in the first four Assessment Reports of the IPCC (i.e., run them with forcing data through now, and compare their predictions with actual weather). This will tell us much (details here).
- We should begin a well-funded conversion in fifty years to mostly non-carbon-based energy sources. We need not wreck the economy or defund defenses against the many other threats we face. This is justified by both environmental and economic reasons (see these posts for details). As we learn more about climate change, this program can be accelerated if necessary.
- Begin more aggressive efforts to prepare for extreme climate. We’re not prepared for repeat of past extreme weather(e.g., a major hurricane hitting NYC), let alone predictable climate change (e.g., sea levels climbing, as they have for thousands of years).
My pragmatic take based on these posts. Climate change is an extraordinarily difficult problem to understand but the extremely bad projections are very unlikely. Unfortunately those worst-case projections have the attention of a segment of society that is convinced otherwise and their passion may make reasonable and no regrets responses impossible. Because we don’t understand natural variability well enough to pick out the small signal of human-caused global warming and, more importantly because the current alternatives to will be extremely expensive we need to monitor the climate better, focus our climate research on results and natural variability, develop a research program to develop alternative to fossil fuels that are cheaper than they are, and finally develop resiliency to observed extreme weather.