Climate Models

Climate Models
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In my experience, the first thing everyone wants to know when they discover they’re in the company of a self-identified conservative is what he thinks about climate change (what he thinks about gay marriage is usually a close second, though even that’s becoming a bit passé).

As is so often the case with political crusades the fashionable left appears to be winning, one’s position on climate change is fast becoming little more than a sort of status signifier, with “correct” views serving as a proxy for respectability and sanity, while critical, unorthodox, or contrarian views bring warnings of madness and ignorance. Orthodox climate change opinions are associated with respectable things like nature and scientists; unorthodox ones are tied to horrible things like Republicans and, with the growing popularity of the slur “denier,” the Holocaust.

Such an ultra-judgemental dichotomy hasn’t exactly done great things for the intellectual vigour of the larger climate change debate. People— especially people eagerly courting elite approval or elite standing — don’t necessarily understand anything substantial about the issue one way or another, but clamour to support the “right side” just the same, since the alternative is so culturally stigmatized. Increasingly, it’s a conversation that’s over before it even begins.

My own, somewhat less insecure approach is to deconstruct the matter into a series of sub-questions, and engage with those. Climate change, after all, is less a single take-it-or-leave it preposition than a series of interlocking concerns, some of which have vastly harder answers than others.

Is climate change real? Well it depends what sort of climate we’re referring to, and how exactly it’s supposed to be changing.

We used to talk about “global warming,” but that term’s fallen out of fashion for being too specific.

According to the Met Office — Britain’s leading weather institute— the “ten hottest years on record” all occurred after 1998. Yet the years after 1998 also reveal a sort of “pause” in the increase of warming, meaning those last 16 hot years form a smooth plateau that continues to this day. “The case of the missing heat,” as Nature put it, and “the biggest mystery in climate science today.”

This unexpectedly missing heat, in turn, caused some embarrassment last year when it was revealed that 114 of the last 117 global warming predictions of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had been somewhat off — and all off in the direction of “overestimated global warming,” to once again quote Nature. Subsequent predictions have back-peddled accordingly, with the fifth IPCC congress now predicting the world will heat up somewhere between 1 to 4.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

Will the results be catastrophic? Well, considering that a warming increase below two degrees is considered relatively innocuous, in the words of Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal, this means, by the IPPC’s own estimates, “there is a better than 50-50 chance that by 2083, the benefits of climate change will still outweigh the harm.” To be fair, that also means there’s a 50% chance the harm will outweigh the benefit, with the harm in question entailing rising sea levels, droughts, wilting forests, and all the rest of it.

We’re supposed to regard such vast ambiguities as the stuff of “settled science.” And perhaps it is, in the sense the findings in question are the result of scientific methods and standards universally regarded as rigorous and sound by the academy. Yet there can still exist a great deal of space between a science that is academically legitimate and a science capable of accurately predicting the short-term future. It’s for this reason  I’ve never seen anything particularly fringy about having some healthy climate change skepticism — without necessarily going so far as to embrace the demonized label of climate skeptic, proper.

The more interesting question, in any case, is whether the phenomena of climate change is something we can stop, or even reverse; whether we can continue the present “pause” forever, or even go back to pre-19998 temperatures — and even more particularly, whether the many things our governments are insisting we do in the name of “fighting” the worst-case scenario, the four-degree future, are in fact, practical, realistic means to achieving this goal.

President Obama announced last week he wants to see American power plants cut their total carbon-dioxide emissions 30% by 2030. Sometime next year, the Environmental Protection Agency will decree unique Co2 reduction expectations for each state depending on how much they’re polluting at present — Texas will have a higher hill to climb than Oregon, for instance — and if the states don’t pass their own regulations to meet these goals a few years after that, the EPA will impose some. Mostly, the hope is that states will move to shut down their dirty coal-fired plants — of which there are about 500 across America — and move to cleaner renewables, like solar and wind.

The US Chamber of Commerce doesn’t like this. They say fallout from plant closures will result in the loss of millions of jobs, and the ensuing shift to less efficient methods of power generation will provoke a dramatic spike in electricity prices. This, in turn, will percolate throughout the larger economy, with the final price tag totalling some $51 billion in lost economic output.

It’s a story that will sound familiar to many Canadians, particularly those in Ontario, where that province’s similarly-motived 2009 Green Energy Act is now blamed for hiking the cost of electricity nearly 300%, and thus helping dramatically spike the cost of doing business.

The EPA claims the Chamber’s numbers are wrong, but on some level, it shouldn’t really matter. Fighting climate change is not something you do because it’s good for the economy, it’s something you do in spite of crass economic worries because it represents an existential threat to the survival of humanity itself.

But, as the old saying goes, America can’t save the world all by its lonesome. American Co2 emissions — which have actually been declining in recent years, and are presently at a 20-year low — only represent about one-fifth of global pollution, with the greenhouse gasses produced by the combined might of India, Russia, and China comprising something closer to 30%. I listened to the inaugural speech of the new Indian prime minister the other day; though he made reference to climate change, when it came to emissions he spoke only of “mitigation,” not regulation. The new leader of the Chinese Communist Party, meanwhile has followed a similar path during his first year in office, worrying loudly but doing little of substance to help reverse his own country’s greenhouse emissions — which have more than doubled since 2000 and continue to climb. And of course we all know Russia’s stance on fossil fuels.

President Obama has stated that his government’s regulations are intended, at least in part, to set an “example” for other nations, and prove that America is “serious” about climate change, tacitly conceding — ironically, as many global warming ultra-doomsdayers already do — that nothing America does on the pollution front really matters on any level but the symbolic.

To be sure, Americans will enjoy having the air they breathe — already some of the cleanest in the world — become slightly cleaner, and I’m sure the well-connected folks who tend to benefit the most from “green” energy contracts will enjoy their newfound riches. But in terms of whether the economic costs associated with waging a prolonged war against coal power and imposing a bevy of fresh energy regulations on every state are a price worth paying to secure Mr. Obama’s legacy as the president who “cared” about solving a looming climate crisis that might not be solvable and may not even be a crisis — well, that’s some science that really needs settling.




^ 54 Comments...

  1. David

    My biggest concern with the right's stance on climate change is that whether they are right or not, it often seems to be used as an excuse to say "the left is wrong, greenhouse gases aren't our concern, drill, baby, drill!" I'm sure the left had a factor in the reduction of CO2 from the US, a lot of conservative politicians and voters say that if they were completely in charge all of that would be erased. Plus, it's no secret that the oil and gas lobby is a powerful one in Washington.

    Of course China and India (and others) are bigger polluters and contributors to the problem. However, this means we should do all we can in our own backyard to fix the problem, and do what we can with the other countries.

  2. Michael

    Exactly! Who knows, our neighbors might see something in our backyard that they like! The important thing is to keep on developing that tech and actually implement as much of it as we can. Other countries will fall in line as the tech improves and drops in price, but that won't happen unless someone does it first–the early adopter always pays the highest price. It isn't just leading by example, it's also leading by having the Nicest Stuff.

  3. Dan

    The measurements of global temperatures are setted, as they are just measurements. Measurements are easy. Predicting future temperatures and other aspects of climate is much, much more difficult and is hardly a settled science.

  4. jdjddkd

    I'm all for it for a bit of a selfish reason; there's no way we can cut out that much stable power generation capability without a good amount of increase in nuclear power, which certainly opens up more job opportunities for me eventually. That, and I don't really care to see all those ugly removed hilltop sites, and the externalities opposed by fossil fuels are rather atrocious.

  5. SovAtman

    My feeling about nuclear power at this point is that it should only be built and managed by the public sector, possibly with international partnerships on safety. I mean the biggest crux with the Fukushima disaster seemed to be that the private constructors somehow got away with building it on a fault line to meet the lowest projected risk of earthquake magnitude. There was no "better safe than sorry" approach when it came to maximizing private profit margins. What are your thoughts on this? I know public sector projects don't have the best reputation, but they've been largely successful when it comes to public energy endeavours.

    Also, how's thorium coming?

  6. Jake_Ackers

    What normally will happen is like all energy. Heavily regulated by the gov't. Just run by private so the gov't doesn't have to deal with unions. Plus nuclear is a national security concern so it will be regulated. Nuclear in this country is so regulated, it is being regulated out of existence. Plus its clean and at least you can contain the waste

    France recycles almost all of its nuclear waste. We aren't allowed in the US because the environmentalist wanted a built up of nuclear waste so everyone would protest nuclear power. Didn't work so we just shove it into a mountain. Otherwise if we do recycle what is left we can put on a space elevator in the future and shove it into the Sun. At least that is the long term plan. Then there is Cold Fusion.

  7. Nerdling

    Cold fusion is bullcrap. Standard fusion, yes (there's already been a successful reaction which generated more energy than it used), but cold fusion is complete fantasy.

  8. Jake_Ackers

    All these arguments are irrelevant. All we need is an alternative to oil which is algae. And to coal which is nuclear energy.

    All of which happen to be the Left which are blocking. France and subs all use nuclear. No problem. Just don't build it on a fault line.

    We would of been able to use algae by now but we rather give money to the Solyndra and Fisker of the world instead of making a Green Manhattan Project.

    Moreover, focus on pollution. We can see pollution. That is something that needs to be reduced. You can clean up factories in the US, but will China and India follow? No. Humanity needs a replacement for oil.

  9. jdjddkd

    For once I absolutely agree with you!

  10. Rachel

    You agree that the "Left" is blocking algae power?

  11. SovAtman

    Bad news. The bidders got back to us, and they're ONLY proposing sites on a fault line. They want to know the lowest magnitude of earthquake we'll require them to fortify against, so they can low-ball negotiate that down a couple more points.

  12. Colin Minich

    It'll be so righteous the day nuclear fusion is capable of powering up entire cities and all around. The energy creation from the formation of helium is astounding yet so little of it is written up.

    And yeah good luck getting China, Russia, and India to follow suit. Kyoto was a classic sign that China is using some BS "I stick up for the little guy against the evil decadent West" to cover up the fact they're horrid in environmental management.

  13. Jake_Ackers

    Which is why we want a Sky Manhattan Project. China controls 95-98 percent of all access to Earth's rare materials. Helium is limited on earth. Plus on the moon there is Helium 3. Although not much of it. Great energy source.

    Whomever makes the first space elevator will control 90 percent of all space traffic.

  14. Anonymous

    Well, no matter how severe climate change is, there are going to be trade-offs between reducing CO2 emissions and Economic impact. Personally, I am against wind and solar because it space and water inefficient in its present state. I am for more nuclear though.

  15. Simon

    "unorthodox ones are tied to horrible things like Republicans and, with the growing popularity of the slur “denier,” the Holocaust."

    Perhaps you and a few of your friends think "Holocaust" when you hear the word "denier", but I don't think this association exists among the general public at all. Most people simply do not hear enough and talk enough about Holocaust deniers for the words to become automatically linked in their mind. I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of the population were shocked to learn that an active fringe movement of Holocaust deniers actually exists!

  16. SovAtman

    Yeah, that line struck me as a little strange. 'Climate change denier' conjures images of religious fundamentalists and tea-partiers more than neo-nazis and terrorists.

  17. Jake_Ackers

    Politics is in our language, language is in our politics. I've heard that Climate Change denier is done on purpose. It's the most common time denier is used.

  18. Simon

    Are you saying that "climate change denier" is the most common use of the word "denier", or "Holocaust denier" is? If "climate change denier" is the most common use of the word, then it seems likely that people will associate "denier" with climate change more than they will with the Holocaust.

    I also see "vaccine denier" reasonably often, and I would say that the stereotype of an anti-vaxer is a new-age California hippie, rather than a gun-toting, red-blooded Republican. So that to me seems to kind of bust the idea that "denier" is a word used to tar right-wingers.

    "HIV denier" is another one, though that's a bit rarer.

  19. Bob

    Why the quotes on "correct"? The left's position is straight-up correct, full stop. There hasn't been any ambiguity on whether overall warming is occurring or that humans are the primary contributor for several years now (the better part of a decade, really), though we've obviously fleshed out details of how climate is affected and somewhat face-palmingly had to switch to 'climate change' to cater to the numerous people too stupid to understand that global warming =/= local warming, necessarily. Because apparently 'currents' are too complex a concept for some people to grasp, I guess.

    The left is pretty much correct from a policy perspective, too. The first world leading on the tech curve and making the more responsible version of things so overwhelmingly cost-effective that other countries would be dumb not to adopt it is pretty much how this ALWAYS works, if you're going with "China's big, we shouldn't even try" then you missed some pretty important chapters in world history in middle school.

  20. Garuda

    Is there anything folk are being asked to do re climate change that is not a good idea for other reasons?

    Less reliance on fossil fuels?

    Recycling and reducing pollution?

    Flood prevention and management?

    The usual answer is: "But if you institute that you'll cripple the economy."
    I'd rather have the crippled economy now than a flooding and toxic mess when oil runs out.

    I live in the UK. It seems we HAVE to be a military world power, and an economic world leader, and a diplomatic leader, and so on and so on. But not an ecological world leader, because there's no point doing that…

    I really hope that the more dire climate change predictions are overblown. I suspect many climate change scientists hope they're wrong. Or it's going to be a miserable few decades…

  21. Rachel

    As it happens, even the US Chamber of Commerce couldn't come up with an estimate of "cripple the economy" that wasn't trivial: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/28/cheap

  22. CAB

    I disagree strongly with you JJ, but at least you don't seem to be openly denying that humans may be involved in global warming.
    First, while the IPCC may have overstated their estimates, the indication is that the planet has been warming since the introduction of CO2. Because climate modeling is a new and complex science we are unable to determine exactly why the climate change has "paused", but neither side can be certain what it will do. We can only see what it has been doing and try to explain why.
    As for the 1 – 4.5 change, I read the report and it seems to indicate a 2 – 4.5 change, with less than a 1.5 change being very unlikely.
    (2°C to 4.5°C, with a most likely value of about 3°C. Equilibrium climate sensitivity is very likely larger than 1.5°C. ) http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/

    Your report from the WSJ, a notorious global warming denier, says under 2 degrees will be ok. I'm not sure what ok means, but I'm sure 2 degrees will still have a significant impact, especially on poor and coastal populations. Maybe it will be ok for Matt Ridley.
    But say it is 3 or 4, is that ok? I refer to a web comic, xkcd, http://xkcd.com/1379/ which seems to say that a change in 4.5 degrees Celsius down would be a return to ice age. I would imagine the corollary then in a 4.5 increase would be just as serious.
    For the Chamber of Commerce, they issued their report before the President indicated the percentage of reduction. Their estimate it turns out was a 42% cut in emissions when the actual one issued by President Obama was only 30%.
    "http://www.planetexperts.com/paul-krugman-pokes-holes-chamber-commerces-epa-attack/"
    Yet the Chamber of Commerce has not issued a follow up report to fix their error.

    Some people say that many jobs will be lost in the USA, but the coal industry by their own effort to improve profit has been cutting jobs for a long time. The number of people that work for coal companies is not a significant part of the population. It is like your article about the Keystone pipeline. Americans have started to recognize that the companies don't care about the citizens. They get the profit, we get the cost.

    It is true that China and India have surpassed us in CO2 emissions per country, but they are certainly far below us in per capita emissions. We can't speak to being more responsible until they have reached the same level in individual pollution. But even if they had, I've never heard anyone really the defend the sentiment of "well they are just going to mess it up anyways, so we shouldn't try our best."

    Finally, the idea of holding onto fossil fuels seems in some way anti-american. We speak so much of inovation in the USA, but now when we have the best chance to innovate and get ahead of the competition (India, China, etc) by developing new technologies (the prime mover of capital in the modern era) we decide to sit out the game. It doesn't seem to make much sense to me.

  23. Dan

    India and China may not have passed the US in per capita emissions, but several countries have. And per GDP the US is actually doing especially well.

  24. projectiridium

    What I have always felt was so unfortunate about the climate change debate is just how quickly it morphed from a technical problem to a nearly entirely political one. Way, way too much emphasis was put on the question of 'are humans the cause?' Generally, the worst possible thing you can do when you find a technical problem is determine blame before you determine the solution. That is a recipe for foot dragging (and, boy has there been foot dragging). Even if the tone change was as simple as 'there needs to be less CO2 in the atmosphere' from 'Humans need to stop emitting so much CO2' I think would have put fewer folks on the defensive. Climate change would also feel less partisan if causes championed by conservatives, such as fracking, were said to be helpful for reducing the severity of the change (natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel from a CO2 perspective, so NG replacing coal on a massive scale [as it has been in the US] is extremely beneficial).

    One question that JJ missed about the climate change debate is: 'Is reducing emissions the best and most practical way to handle the climate change problem?' A decade ago, none of the other solutions seemed practical. Since then, the amount of CO2 reduction that climate scientists say we need to avoid disaster has increased substantially. At this point, I don't see reducing CO2 to solve the problem as practical either. Perhaps it is time to dust off those old geoengineering plans and see how to make them better. Asking conservatives for a bunch of $10 billion CO2 sequestion plants has got to be easier than asking them for a wholesale change to their lifestyle (which isn't to imply that liberals live a carbon neutral lifestyle, either).

  25. Jake_Ackers

    Better to take the 10billion and give it to NASA and tell them to find a strain of algae to replace oil. If we used all the alternative energy money toward one project. We would of find an alternative by now.

  26. robota rozum

    Mr. McCullough, America has 11% of the population of Russia, India, and China. If your numbers are correct and we produce 50% of their pollution, we are clearly the biggest problem, no? Reducing our pollution to merely their level would result in a 15% drop in the world's pollution production.

  27. Glen

    If any of you ever took an Earth Science course, you'd already know Climate change is inevitable, as we are coming OUT of an Ice Age, meaning we are in a rapid changing climate already.

    Global warming 'truthers' are gullible idiots with no Science education, as the comments above illustrate.

    You truthers need to learn facts:

    One volcano can spew in one day more CO2 than humanity can in a year.

    Scrubbing coal fumes actually removes the soot that would easily of help cool the planet, same with volcanic dust, desert dust, and nuked concrete which would cause a 'nuclear winter'.

    Chopping forests down helps cool the planet, ancient humans affected the climate this way long before English was a language.

    Siberias permafrost is warming, which will release a REAL greenhouse gas called methane that will make everything we do to reduce CO2 emissions utterly pointless.

    We need oil for more than fuel idiots, all our food is grown w/fertilizers made from oil, plastics, medicines, etc.

    Heating homes with electricity is moronic and almost evil, in Canada, we use methane to heat homes, we can't stop… too many homes setup this way. Also, lots of things we can make from methane!

    Every last global warming truther I've seen in the last 15 years, thinks that fighting oil companies actually is a good idea, despite the fact a world wide famine woud occur without the oil industry.

    When starving half of humanity to death, you need liberals to pull it off, ask Stalin and Mao how liberal regulation helped them starve off their 'undesirables'.

  28. Garuda

    Some interesting points there.

    Climate Change IS a natural phenomena, but that doesn't mean humanity can't push it along. Like pushing a car down a hill.

    As far as I know, we finished "coming out of an ice age" millenia ago, and are due another one (these things being about 50k years apart?).

    A volcano CAN spew out a huge amount of CO2. Few do, and infrequently. They also put out massive clouds of ash and particulates, which have a further cooling effect. I believe this was noted after the eruptions of Krakatoa in the 19th century, and Mt St Helens in the 20th.

    Unsure of the effects of cutting down forests. Probably a bad idea for other reasons.

    Yes, Methane is a more effective greenhouse gas than Co2. I think it's 70 times more effective? And about 100th of the quantity of Co2? But you are correct re the permafrost. And the degassing of the Antarctic ocean. And the melting of the Arctic ice cap to decrease the planets albedo. And so on. Positive feedback loops, "the sleeping giants", eventually to eclipse humanities contributions. That car's picking up speed…

    We DO use oil for more than fuel. But how much is used as fuel? 40%? 60%? 80%? I don't know. And given it's other vital uses (medicines particularly), wouldn't it be a good idea to use less of it for fuel, fertilizers and plastics if at all possible. I rather doubt oil reserves will out last the technologies depending on them, and that's without touching the "peak oil" debate.

    8 billion humans on the planet. It becomes more and more difficult to feed everybody. We can use new fertilizers, open up more farmlands, make food distribution more efficient…. and is the population likely to stop rising in response? The more complex and finely tuned the system, the the more vulnerable to disruption. Climate change will disrupt stuff. It is already. I think a worldwide famine is inevitable.

  29. Jack B Nimble

    My ex-sister-in-law used to say how much she hated seeing trucks on the freeway. Just more pollution and oil used, she would say. I said I hope she doesn't like things like foods that can't be produced locally, because without the trucks we wouldn't have them. It is impossible to feed modern population centers without airplanes, trains, boats, and/or trucks. All of which require a form of oil.

    If you look at the breakdown of crude oil (http://www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/energy/nonrenewable/crude.php) you see that most of it becomes fuel used for transportation. It isn't as simple as saying "turn all the oil into other things" because you need certain combinations of hydrocarbons to get certain results. A barrel of crude oil is basically a mixed bag of lots of different hydrocarbons which need to be refined out and then can be turned into individual products.

  30. Rachel

    Most freight trains currently *use* a form of oil (diesel). Unlike the other things you mention, they don't need it so much; trains can be electrified (high speed passenger rail is almost always electrified, also urban transit) and thus free of fossil fuel dependence. More trains and denser settlement would mean fewer long-distance trucks.

    I've seen "trolleytrucks" (like trolleybuses, powered by overhead wires) suggested, but I'm skeptical. I'd say planes, boats, and trucks do need liquid fuels. But big container ships are more energy efficient than anything, and we don't need planes to feed ourselves (though they're nice for perishable imports).

    Need trucks for last mile delivery, but over those distances electric trucks would become feasible. Or use of carbon-neutral air-to-fuel, despite the higher prices; at that point labor costs are probably dwarfing fuel costs.

  31. projectiridium

    Population is going to stop rising regardless. The wealthiest nations, where hunger is the smallest concern, also tend to have the lowest fertility rates. Not a single country in Europe or the G8 has a fertility rate exceeding 2.1 (depending on if you go by Wolfram Alpha or the CIA, the highest rate is either 2.05 in the US or 2.08 in France). Every single time, as countries develop, their fertility rate drops off a cliff. Current UN models predict that population will more or less level off at 11 billion.

    GMO and lab grown meat technology is just getting started, I can't wait to see what sort of efficiency improvements we'll see in agriculture over the next couple of decades. While the whole food production system in the world is quite complex, it is also quite diverse. My local grocery store has fruits, vegetables, meat and fish from literally all over the world. Right now, famine does not seem likely as a global phenomena (which isn't to say there won't be localized tragedies, especially in nations that have not yet industrialized). I especially would not characterize it as inevitable.

  32. Rachel B.

    Hi, I'm a geology major and a global warming 'truther.' Though you are right that one volcano /can/ spew in one day more CO2 than humanity can in a year, currently CO2 emissions from volcanic activity are at 1% the level of human activity. http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanowatch/archive/2007/
    Though we are in a warm period rather than an Ice Age, what distinguishes the global warming phenomenon is the rate of climate change. For this, I refer you to http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/pd/climate

    Independent of global warming, higher CO2 makes it harder for marine organisms to create shells from CaCO3 by increasing the tendency of CaCO3 to dissolve. Scientists have done experiments with marine organisms while varying the atmospheric concentration of CO2, and by the time current levels double, this alone will cause coral bleaching. http://www.amnh.org/learn/climate/Resource3

    You are absolutely right about the Siberian permafrost, though. During the Permian extinction, CO2 from fissure eruptions was enough to melt the permafrost and accelerate the warming. With high temperatures (+10 degrees), dissolved oxygen levels plummeted and ocean circulation slowed, leading to extinction of 99.7% of species. If Russia attempts to tap methane hydrate as an alternative energy source, it is likely for things to go wrong during operations that would release tons more methane to the atmosphere.

    Yes, we use oil for more than fuel. Most plastics, as well as asphalt, are essentially created from the residue that is leftover after oil as a mixture is separated into different containers for octane, etc.
    No one is saying that we need to go without plastics or medicines, that's kind of a strawman. If hypothetically we could choose not to use oil for fuel, we could still create all of the plastics from the hydrocarbons not being burned.

    The most unknown variables in climate research are aerosols, particulates (soot), cloud cover, and solar activity. With more water vapor from increased temperature, you get more clouds. It's unknown if the cloud cover provide negative feedback (slow the warming down) or speed it up.

    Aerosols and particulates require satellite work, and unfortunately after the last satellite launch aimed at constraining aerosols crashed and Republican members of Congress are reluctant to fund another attempt at this research.

    You are right that most scientists think aerosols have a cooling effect, and some scientists do believe that removing these particulates has reversed a 'global dimming' effect and increased the amount of solar radiation reaching Earth. The reason we scrub coal fumes is that that these chemicals in the air are hazardous to human health, viz a viz downtown Beijing. Maybe with more research the 'dimming' effect could be done on purpose in a way where we won't be inhaling soot.

    On solar activity and climate: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-n

    With that said, using only what we know, the mean estimate among current models is a temperature change of 2 degrees in the next 50 years. The mean is still about 2 degrees with models including what is known about aerosols as a factor, but with error bars large enough to go below 0 degrees.

    So, I know this post is incredibly long, and I don't even have a bachelor's degree yet, but as a geology major "if any of you ever took an Earth Science course" just prompted me to speak up.

  33. Rachel

    So wrong. So much wrong.

    "One volcano can spew in one day more CO2 than humanity can in a year. "

    Maybe some supervolcano can, but it's certainly not normal. A volcano is an erupting mountain, mostly made of rock, not CO2. Humanity burns multiple mountains worth of fossil fuels every year; human emissions are like 10-100x greater than vulcanism.

    "Chopping forests down helps cool the planet, ancient humans affected the climate this way long before English was a language. "

    You've got that backwards. Growing forests cools down the planet; there's an idea that the Little Ice Age may have been caused by the Native Americans dying off (90%) due to post 1492 disease, thus stopping their woodland management (burn the undergrowth with fire) and thus much accumulation of wood, removal of atmospheric CO2, and cooling.

    "We need oil for more than fuel idiots, all our food is grown w/fertilizers made from oil, plastics, medicines, etc. "

    AIUI most synthetic fertilizer is made with stranded natural gas, actually, that being hard to ship. Plastics and asphalt are like 5% of US oil use and, more importantly don't contribute to global warming because we don't burn them. (Well, if we recycle them. If the plastic goes to an incinerator it eventually gets burned.) Medicines are completely insignificant in quantity. Also, we could substitute biomass or more elemental feedstocks as plastic inputs, it's not that big a deal.

    "Heating homes with electricity is moronic and almost evil"

    Depends on your electricity source. Burning fossil fuels to make electricity to heat a home via resistance is pretty dirty and inefficient. Using hydropower to run a heat pump is clean and brilliant.

    "lots of things we can make from methane"

    Fine; if you're actually *making things* then you're not releasing CO2 and it's not part of the global warming problem. If you're so big into making things, you should be supportive of not burning methane, after all that's wasting all the things we could be potentially making!

    In reality, almost all fossil fuels are burned.

  34. Ricardo

    Whether fighting climate change is seen as inherently money losing depends on how you value biodiversity. Too rapid climate change without question causes biodiversity loss, but the value of biodiversity is open for debate.

  35. Victor

    China at least does eventually have to address their pollution issues, if for no other reason than their own local concerns. Air quality is getting ridiculously terrible in most coal-burning cities, and becoming a major health concern. Likewise, India has serious water-quality issues in rural areas.

    Even if it does just come in the form of mitigation, China and India will eventually have to address pollution issues if for no other reason than modernization.

  36. David L

    And avoiding full scale riots. The implied contract between the CCP and the Chinese people is that the former should be allowed to stay in power to broaden prosperity for the latter; continued pollution in cities next to hundreds of millions of net-connected angry citizens will change sooner or later.

    As for India, I think rising expectations by both city dwellers and rural citizens will unify Indians across caste, religion, geographic state, and income. Modi's populism could mean a quicker response or consolidation of power to ignore it.

  37. Brandon

    While I like the idea of making the effort to mitigate greenhouse gases, and even would get behind subsidies to make otherwise inefficient energy production like solar/wind "competitive" with coal/gas/ect. I /really/ don't like the idea of our government shooting a torpedo in our still recovering economy.

    The only upticks I've heard of, and seen are at the extreme high end of the economy, where people make paychecks/benefits that dwarf what say a coal miner would make. As soon as the fed stops pumping imaginary money into our economy, that will be gone too. I can't imagine any scenario where gutting a low skill/experience industry like coal, or any of our fossil fuel industries, ends well.

    Much like the military, "green" adventures can only be funded by a strong economy. If we don't have a strong economy, neither should be even considered until that is changed.

  38. Rachel

    There aren't many coal jobs.

    '"green" adventures can only be funded by a strong economy'

    Not at all! In fact, a time of high unemployment and near zero interest rates is the *perfect* time for a massive investment in new infrastructure. Borrowing is cheap and lots of people can be employed building rail, transit, solar/wind power, more efficient homes, etc. without 'crowding out' private investment, since private investment is obviously failing to find any use for millions of people as it is.

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    Just some quick math:

    Americans (roughly 4% of the world's population) contribute 20% of the C02 emissions.
    India, Russia and China (roughly 37% of the world's population) contribute 30% of the C02 emissions.

    And that's neglecting the fact that America and Europe are using those countries to manifacture their products…. So it might seem to be rather misleading to compare just the bare percentages…

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