Answering Tamsin Edwards’ Important Question

Climate modeler Tamsin Edwards is one of the sanest people involved in public discussions of climate change. She gets it. She doesn’t demonize, she engages. She doesn’t rant, she discusses.

Ms. Edwards has an article up on the Guardian that I saw courtesy of Judith Curry’s excellent Week in Review series. I used to try and do a weekly review–now I don’t have to.

Ms.Edwards’ article is about Lukewarmers and it is good. Not perfect–she gets some things about us wrong, but overall it is a credit to her.

Her article ends with a question for Lukewarmers and I want to provide an answer. She writes, “If you agree with mainstream scientists, what would you be willing to do to reduce the predicted risks of substantial warming? And if you’re a lukewarmer, confident the Earth is not very sensitive, what would be at risk if you were wrong?”

As a Lukewarmer we have the added risk of being wrong in two directions. If the Lukewarm position overstates coming warming, our focus on no regrets policies, technology transfer and the revenue neutrality of the carbon tax I advocate minimize the risk of huge overspending on warming that doesn’t occur.

But somehow I don’t think Tamsin was thinking of that direction to our potential error.

If we underestimate upcoming warming what are the consequences?

I submit that the path to emission reductions almost has to start with the policy preferences Lukewarmers endorse. Indeed, many of our policy preferences are actually votes in favor of continuing policies that predate the Lukewarmer position, such as a focus on energy efficiency. Governments are investing in innovation in energy generation and storage. Technology transfer is taking place.

True progress on mitigation is likely to take most of the rest of the century to achieve. Even if it were today determined that more aggressive action is required to combat climate change because it is ‘worse than we thought’, the first actions taken are likely to be actions Lukewarmers propose. Just as with energy efficiency, climate change mitigation would begin with the low-hanging fruit.

For example, I heartily endorse the actions described as Fast Mitigation, especially chasing after black soot that changes the albedo of the Northern Hemisphere by graying up snow. If you imagine Paris coming up with a treaty that magically authorizes a command and control response to global warming starting today, it still makes sense to go after black soot and the other Fast Mitigation policies first. Fast Mitigation reduces forcings by 0.5C this century while top down emission control policies would only reduce forcings by 0.1C.

In a sane world we would beef up the things we are doing that are working in parallel with new activities.

So if instead the Paris conference on climate change mistakenly votes for a Lukewarm view of climate change and climate change proves to be higher than we think–and that is a possibility–then we will have merely started down the road that Paris would lead us down if the Alarmist view had won the day. But we would have done it more quickly and quite possibly more cost effectively.

I hope Tamsin Edwards keeps coming up with more intelligent commentary and intelligent questions for Lukewarmers. We need to be challenged on our premises more frequently. Precisely because we are in the middle of the food fight between skeptics and alarmists (we participate in the food fight too, I’m not suggesting we are somehow above the fray), it is easy to say that because we are attacked by both skeptics and alarmists we must be doing something right.

While I hope that’s true, it’s not a given. The skeptics and alarmists could both be wrong and we could be as well. We could easily all be wrong. That’s why the discussion is still important in 2015.

13 responses to “Answering Tamsin Edwards’ Important Question

  1. “Fast Mitigation reduces forcings by 0.5C this century while top down emission control policies would only reduce forcings by 0.1C. ”
    Tom, not following this at all. How did you arrive at those figures? E.g. accepting the IPCC sensitivity (which I don’t, but leaving that aside), the difference between RCP8.5 and RCP2.6 is a lot more than 0.1 K by the end of the 21st century. Are you assuming that mitigation can not possibly achieve a RCP2.6-like trajectory?

  2. Hi HaroldW,

    Fast Mitigation is a focus on a limited set of actions, not the entire portfolio of things we can do to reduce forcings. The figures are from the Fast Mitigation people–maybe they’re a bit over-optimistic, but time will tell.

  3. What mitigation technology exists at this time?
    None.
    What cures offered by the climate consensus have done anything of any significance at all?
    None.
    What promised technologies for mitigation are close (next ten years) of being applied in significant ways?
    None.

  4. The right question to ask? What is the chance that there is a greater man made environmental problem than co2? Is an increase in average global temperature our greatest threat caused by human activity?
    Yes, we should eliminate co2 by doing things we should be doing anyway? Transportation is probably a better place to start than power plants. We could eliminate the ethanol subsidy. End clear cutting, especially in the tropics.
    As far as the carbon tax, it would be counterproductive without an appropriate methane tax. If we put in realistic numbers for fugitive methane from horizontal drilling, then we are essentially killing the industry.

  5. You may or may not have noticed. There is a new term in the climatesphere – mitigation skeptic. I believe it was coined by Victor Venema. It is a good term. It fits well in a focus on the goal communication model. Unfortunately, most of its current usage conflates mitigation skepticism with climate skepticism. Because of their penchant for poor message framing, the climateers use a word like mitigation rather than clearer word like energy transformation or replacing fossil fuels.

  6. Still waiting to see who will post the list showing that there is a mitigation technology that actually exists.

  7. And soot reduction is only mitigation be redefining the term “mitigation”.

  8. Hunter,

    Nuclear
    Ground temperature assisted heat pumps
    Hybrid and EV cars
    Solar photo voltaic
    How many more do you need?

    • How ’bout planting trees?

      • Tom,
        Planting trees is too much like real work for the climate fanatic. Does even one of the big greens profiting off of the climate obsession have a significant sustained tree planting program? I happen to agree with planting trees- for reasons that have nothing to do with CO2 ppm.

    • Paul,
      Those are not new, and large scale solar does not work. My take on “mitigation” is the CO2 capture and other loser tech like windmills.
      Hybrid and EV have been outed for their actual footprints sometime ago.
      Nuclear is only held back by big green, so that is ironic.

  9. Pingback: On a Broader Definition of a “Lukewarmer” | A Chemist in Langley

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