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Prepare for Global Warming June 21, 2006

Posted by federalist in Energy.

Maybe global warming is happening, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s caused by people, maybe not. Maybe it’s not too late to stop it, or maybe we’ve begun an irreversible, cataclysmic descent into planetary conditions unlike any human beings have ever known.

There’s a lot we don’t know, but one thing I believe we do know is that if change is coming we can adapt. Even the most extreme scenarios suggested by global warming alarmists seem to give us a generation or two to watch as oceans and temperatures rise, storms become more violent, and local climates shift. Well, buildings are typically depreciated over forty years. It’s a shame to have to eventually abandon existing cities, but it’s not economically devastating. If we believe the worst then new buildings should all be hurricane-rated and built on ground that will not be underwater when all the polar ice has melted. Humans can relocate en masse over the course of a generation, and though we will lose land mass overall, plenty of previously uninviting regions will become desirable. Just make sure your Miami condo is a lease, and if you’re looking for a long-term real estate investment (and you believe in global warming) then buy land in Greenland, or Antarctica. Agriculture has been adapted to almost every climate on earth (especially warm ones). Even if farming and building technologies did not continue to advance, it seems hard to imagine a global warming scenario that would truly devastate our civilization.

In the worst case scenario, humans will have to make a lot of changes. These chages require economic productivity, and economic productivity depends on cheap energy. Fossil fuel is the cheapest energy we have right now, so let’s dig in!



1. federalist - January 24, 2007

Holman Jenkins Jr. in today’s column on “Decoding Climate Politics” offers a good summary:

A carbon tax would be the efficient way of encouraging businesses and consumers to make less carbon-intensive energy choices. Government would not have to exercise an improbable clairvoyance about which technologies will pay off in the future. There’d be less scope for Congress to favor some industries over others purely on the basis of lobbying clout.

The most enlightened of the enlightened (love note to Kevin Hassett) are those who see how a carbon tax might be used to overhaul the tax system and make it more pro-growth in its treatment of savings and investment.

There’s your scorecard. Unfortunately, because a carbon tax would lead to a direct (rather than surreptitious) increase in the cost of gasoline, the path of enlightenment will not be the path of politics. Of one other thing you can also be sure — the impact on climate change of any policy issuing from Washington will be nil.

By common (if fudgy) estimate, the biosphere can take up less than three billion tons of atmospheric carbon a year. Human industry produces 7.5 billion tons, a volume that continues to grow rapidly as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia (not covered by Kyoto) develop their economies, and as European countries and Japan (covered by Kyoto) blow past their limits. Consider too that carbon is hardly the sole, and perhaps not even the dominant, force behind the ostensible warming of the past century.

The only thing that will save us now is the likelihood (very high) that the most dire forecasts of climate change are wrong; the chance (not improbable) that the biosphere will evolve to make use of a slightly more carbon-rich atmosphere; and the prospect (nearly certain) that mankind will seek to adapt to whatever climate it finds itself confronted with.

2. federalist - February 5, 2007

Philip Stott summarizes a fascinating and compelling theory of what really drives global climate change — and reiterates the absurdity of trying to control climate change through changes in human activity:

[T]here is a counterparadigm, relating to the serious uncertainties of water vapor and clouds, now waiting in the wings. In the words of Dr. Henrik Svensmark, director of the Center for Sun-Climate Research at the Danish National Space Center: “The greenhouse effect must play some role. But those who are absolutely certain that the rise in temperatures is due solely to carbon dioxide have no scientific justification. It’s pure guesswork.” A key piece of research in this emerging new paradigm was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A (October 2006): “Do electrons help to make the clouds?”

Using a box of air in a Copenhagen lab, physicists managed to trace the growth of clusters of molecules of the kind that build cloud condensation nuclei. These are specks of sulfuric acid on which cloud droplets form. High-energy particles driven through the laboratory ceiling by exploded stars far away in the galaxy — cosmic rays — liberated electrons in the air, which helped the molecular clusters to form much faster than atmospheric scientists have predicted. This process could well explain a long-touted link between cosmic rays, cloudiness and climate change.

The implications for climate physics, solar-terrestrial physics and terrestrial-galactic physics are enormous. This experiment ties in elegantly with the work of certain geochemists and astronomers, who for some time have been implicating cosmic rays and water vapor, rather than carbon dioxide, as the main drivers of climate change. Indeed, they have put down up to 75% of all change to these drivers.

Cosmic rays are known to boost cloud formation — and, in turn, reduce earth temperatures — by creating ions that cause water droplets to condense. Calculating temperature changes at the earth’s surface — by studying oxygen isotopes trapped in rocks formed by ancient marine fossils — scientists then compared these with variations in cosmic-ray activity, determined by looking at how cosmic rays have affected iron isotopes in meteorites. Their results suggest that temperature fluctuations are more likely to relate to cosmic-ray activity than to carbon dioxide. By contrast, they found no correlation between temperature variation and the changing patterns of CO2 in the atmosphere. But the mechanism remained far from understood — until last October, that is, when the team in the Copenhagen lab may have discovered it.

Who knows where this exciting research will lead? What it unquestionably shows, however, is that the science of climate change is far from settled, and most certainly not by a government-vetted committee policy “summary” from a U.N. supercommittee.

The inconvenient truth remains that climate is the most complex, coupled, nonlinear, chaotic system known. In such a system, both “doing something” (emitting human-induced gases) and “not doing something” (not emitting) at the margins are equally unpredictable. What climate will we produce? Will it be better? And, if we get there, won’t it, too, change?

This is the fatal flaw at the heart of the whole global-warming debacle. Climate change must be accepted as the norm, not as an exception, and it must be seen primarily as a political and economic issue, focusing on how best humanity can continue to adapt to constant change, hot, wet, cold or dry. The concept of achieving a “stable climate” is a dangerous oxymoron.

3. federalist - February 20, 2007

Dr. Mike Cohick offers a useful historical perspective in a Feb 13 letter in the WSJ:

It is time to put global warming into some sensible perspective. Every time global warming occurred during recorded history, civilization flourished and the world-wide standard of living increased. Examples are the Roman civilization (200 B.C.-500 A.D.,) the Medieval warm period (900-1300 A.D.), and the current period (1850-present). Storms were less destructive, food was more plentiful, disease was less of a problem and life spans were extended. The opposite is true when climate change proceeds in the opposite direction. Storms were devastating, food production was severely reduced, disease, including plagues, was common, and life spans brutally shortened. Examples are the Dark Ages (500-900 A.D.) and the Little Ice Age (1300-1850 A.D.).

I suggest to anyone concerned about rising sea levels to act as soon as the water begins lapping at his boots. Take a couple of steps back away from the beach. Do not stand there until the water is ankle level waiting for the U.N. or the other climate extremists to come and rescue you.

4. federalist - March 5, 2007
5. federalist - April 6, 2007

Homan Jenkins has a delicious essay on this question, “Climate of Opinion.”

6. federalist - August 26, 2007

Bjorn Lomborg backs up the thesis that it will be a lot more effective to prepare for extreme weather than to try to avert it:

It has become more popular than ever to reside in low-lying, coastal areas that are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather. … It’s obvious that more damage will occur when many more people with much more wealth live in harm’s way.

Presumably, our goal is to help humans and the planet. Cutting carbon is a very poor way of doing that. If coastal populations kept increasing but we managed to halt climate warming, then research shows that there would still be a 500% increase in hurricane damage in 50 years’ time. On the other hand, if we let climate warming continue but stopped more people from moving into harm’s way, the increase in hurricane damage would be less than 10%.

7. federalist - September 10, 2007

Fred Singer offers more perspective in this month’s Imprimis:

It is also worth noting that tens of thousands of interested persons benefit directly from the global warming scare—at the expense of the ordinary consumer.

The irony is that a slightly warmer climate with more carbon dioxide is in many ways bene-ficial rather than damaging. Economic studies have demonstrated that a modest warming and higher CO2 levels will increase GNP and raise standards of living, primarily by improving agriculture and forestry. It’s a well-known fact that CO2 is plant food and essential to the growth of crops and trees—and ultimately to the well-being of animals and humans.

You wouldn’t know it from Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, but there are many upsides to global warming: Northern homes could save on heating fuel. Canadian farmers could har-vest bumper crops. Greenland may become awash in cod and oil riches. Shippers could count on an Arctic shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific. Forests may expand.
Mongolia could become an economic superpower. This is all speculative, even a little face-tious. But still, might there be a silver lining for the frigid regions of Canada and Russia? “It’s not that there won’t be bad things happening in those countries,” economics professor Robert O. Mendelsohn of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies says. “But the idea is that they will get such large gains, especially in agriculture, that they will be bigger than the losses.” Mendelsohn has looked at how gross domestic product around the world would be affected under different warming scenarios through 2100. Canada and Russia tend to come out as clear gainers, as does much of northern Europe and Mongolia, largely be-cause of projected increases in agricultural production.

8. federalist - October 15, 2007

Fred Ikle and Lowell Wood today note that if we really want to cool the planet then by far the most cost-effective and practical method involves “climate geo-engineering” by dispersing aerosols in the stratosphere to reflect sunlight:

In 1992, a report by the National Academy of Sciences found the prospect of stratospheric albedo enhancement “feasible, economical, and capable.” And there are a great many geo-engineering options apart from adding sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere.

9. federalist - January 5, 2009

WSJ quotes Harold Ambler:

[T]he theory that carbon dioxide “drives” climate in any meaningful way is simply wrong. . . . Carbon dioxide cannot absorb an unlimited amount of infrared radiation. Why not? Because it only absorbs heat along limited bandwidths, and is already absorbing just about everything it can. That is why plotted on a graph, C02’s ability to capture heat follows a logarithmic curve. We are already very near the maximum absorption level. Further, the IPCC Fourth Assessment, like all the ones before it, is based on computer models that presume a positive feedback of atmospheric warming via increased water vapor. . . . This mechanism has never been shown to exist. Indeed, increased temperature leads to increased evaporation of the oceans, which leads to increased cloud cover (one cooling effect) and increased precipitation (a bigger cooling effect). Within certain bounds, in other words, the ocean-atmosphere system has a very effective self-regulating tendency. By the way, water vapor is far more prevalent, and relevant, in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide — a trace gas. Water vapor’s absorption spectrum also overlays that of carbon dioxide. They cannot both absorb the same energy! The relative might of water vapor and relative weakness of carbon dioxide is exemplified by the extraordinary cooling experienced each night in desert regions, where water in the atmosphere is nearly non-existent.

10. federalist - May 11, 2009

James Benefiel reminds us how absurd it is to focus on carbon dioxide when talking about greenhouse gases:

By far, the largest greenhouse gas influence comes from water vapor, at about 95%. Calculations often ignore water vapor so as to inflate contributions from CO2 by making them bigger percentages of only a small piece of the pie. Only about 3.2% of atmospheric CO2 is man-made, divided among transportation, energy production, etc. So total elimination of these portions would leave 96.8% of CO2 remaining.

The bottom line is that after adjusting for relative influence on greenhouse warming, water vapor is responsible for 95%, and CO2 for 3.5% of the greenhouse heat retention. When natural CO2 is subtracted, then the man-generated CO2 contributes just 0.117%. That is 0.117% of the total greenhouse effect, probably too small to detect any change elimination of this might impart.

11. federalist - November 29, 2009

More perspective on the costs and potential benefits of curbing global warming, vs. just keeping people from building shoddy structures along coasts exposed to severe weather (via Bjorn Lomborg):

Roger A. Pielke Jr. noted in a 2005 paper for Environmental Science and Policy that if everything else stays the same but we halt global warming, there would still be a 500% increase in hurricane damage in 50 years time. If global warming continues but we halt the number of people moving into harms’ way, the increase in hurricane damage would be less than 10%. If the entire world had signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, and its binding restrictions were to last all the way until 2050, the predicted reduction in global warming could cut hurricane damage by half a percentage point.

I.e., at least in terms of

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