I leave soon for three months and will not be able to post. I’ll put up an open thread right before I go, but I wanted to go back to the beginning of this blog and grab some of the basics of why Lukewarmers are Lukewarmers and why we are different from either the most skeptical of skeptics or the most concerned of the climate concerned.
(The short answer is that we believe global warming to be real and potentially quite serious, but that ‘when offered an over/under bet on 3C sensitivity, we’ll take the under’–Steve Mosher)
The theory of global warming is solid, staid and uncontroversial. All things considered, if we double the concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, temperatures should increase by 1.1C over what they otherwise would have been.
The theory of atmospheric sensitivity is a different story. The political controversy that has raged since 1988 centers on the idea that our atmosphere is sensitive to changes and that changes produced by humanity–in particular our emissions of greenhouse gases–will cause more warming than just the 1.1C from the emissions themselves.
Everybody’s tired of the climate wars.
But not tired enough to quit fighting. This weblog is an attempt to differentiate some of us involved in the discussion from people at the extremes, those who hold either unwarrantedly skeptical views of what really is basic science or those who have let their imaginations run wild with apocalyptic visions of a future that the science does not predict.
We are Lukewarmers. We’re not organized. There is no motto, no creed, no manifesto. We don’t meet, we converse infrequently and we don’t have a secret handshake.
What we seem (so far) to have in common is an understanding that the basic underpinnings of climate science are understandable, well-grounded and not controversial, plus the growing realization that one of the key components of an extended theory of climate change has been pushed too far.
That component is the sensitivity of our atmosphere to a doubling of the concentrations of CO2. The activists who have tried to dominate the discussion of climate change for more than twenty years have insisted that this sensitivity is high, and will amplify the warming caused by CO2 by 3, 4 or even 10 times the 1C of warming provided by a doubling of CO2 alone.
Lukwarmers, for a variety of reasons, think it’s lower.
We don’t know what sensitivity is. In fact, there is more than one type of sensitivity and more than one definition. That doesn’t help matters.
Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, highlighted recent work by Nic Lewis, who used observational data to postulate that a doubling of CO2 will lead to a warming of 1.6°-1.7°C (2.9°-3.1°F). Ridley’s piece was also published in the Wall Street Journal. The articles (and a vehement, if knee-jerk, response by Joe Romm, was discussed at Bishop Hill’s blog here, here, here and elsewhere.
My own contribution to the debate, published in my other weblog here, is based on decidedly lower math. I noted that during the recent (hotly debated) plateau in temperatures, humankind has managed to emit one third of all the greenhouse gases they have ever spit into the atmosphere–without any tangible effects on temperatures. Now, climate science allows for uneven steps in temperature change, and I am perfectly comfortable with that. The current warming period is certainly characterized as a sawtooth form imposed on a rising trend. It is conceivable that this is just another pause that will be followed by another period of temperature rises.
But this pause in the temperature rises has lasted longer than previous pauses. Since 1998 there has been little if any net rise in temperatures. Should this pause continue for just a few more years it will mathematically invalidate many of the climate models’ predictions.
And it almost beggars belief that the sheer quantity of emissions since 1998 can have so little effect–if sensitivity is high. On the other hand, if sensitivity is as low as Nic Lewis postulates (as have others before him), it would make more sense that a massive outgassing of CO2 in a short timeframe could still have a small effect.
What we’re left with is the realization that this period will be the proving ground for the various theories of sensitivity. Global emissions are hardly likely to go down–indeed, they will probably continue to increase, as developing countries continue to burn incredible quantities of coal in their race to provide modern lifestyles to their citizens. By the end of the decade humanity will have emitted one half of their historical total of greenhouse gases since 1998.
The results will be interesting. If the current temperature plateau holds, the climate activists will have to maintain that the lag between emission and response is so great that previous temperature rises were quite possible linked to other phenomena than human CO2–or else revise their sensitivity figures.
If, on the other hand, temperatures begin once again to rise quickly, many skeptics will have to acknowledge many uncomfortable conclusions of the climate scientists they have been fighting so bitterly.
In either case, this decade will provide something the debate has sorely needed for 25 years–answers.
I’ve said it often enough, but I’ll repeat what I think we should do while waiting for clarity regarding sensitivity and other unresolved issues with the science:
1. Tax CO2 at a starting rate of $12/ton and revisit the rate every 10 years, adjusting the rate to reflect changes in CO2 concentrations and a pre-agreed metric for climate change that has occurred in the interim.
2. Spend a global total of $100 billion for the transfer of technology to the developing world for the purpose of reducing the impact of development technologies, in hopes that they can leapfrog one or two generations of energy development.
3. Commit to spending over the course of this century on moving roads inland, removing permission for construction on threatened coasts and flood plains. The EPA found that this would cost about $400 billion for the United States about 20 years ago–adjust for inflation. But that’s a one-time cost.
4. Continue Steven Chu’s investment strategy for reducing costs in renewable energy, storage and transmission. Continue with ARPA-E at full funding. We may have another Solyndra–probably will, in fact. But we may also have another Tesla, which didn’t technically come from that program, but serves as an inspiration.
5. Encourage the U.S. EPA to regulate CO2 emissions from large emitters.
6. Accelerate permitting for new nuclear power plants to maintain nuclear power’s percentage of electricity at 20% in the U.S.
7. Uprate existing hydroelectric plants to take advantage of advances in turbine technology.
8. Mandate uptake of GPS within the air traffic control infrastructure and controlled and one-step descent on landing.
9. Homogenize permitting and regulation for installation of solar and wind power. Maintain current levels of subsidies and RPS.
10. Increase utilization of Combined Heat and Power facilities from its current 7% of primary energy production to the world average of 9% and then by steps in northern regions to benchmark levels found in Denmark, Holland and other northern European countries.
11. Support introduction of charging stations for electric vehicles.
12. Force existing coal power plants to meet best available technology standards or close.
Okay–last post for three months on Wednesday…
This is for Willard: