Is it the diagnosis or the prescription?

Update: As pointed out by MikeM in comments, I got the numbers wrong for forcings in watts per square meter. Sorry! Here’s the chart from IPCC AR5–I’ll update numbers and text below and adjust the text accordingly. Let me know if I missed anything.

ipcc_rad_forc_ar5

This is reposted from something I just wrote for Cliscep–I ran out of time for a separate post today… but Happy Sunday to all!

Patient disease

There are those who label opponents of the climate consensus as climate ‘deniers’ and some of those who do go out of their way to make sure that the term is as loaded as possible. When asked what it is these ‘deniers’ deny, the explanation varies, but usually boils down to ‘you don’t agree with our policy proposals so you must be denying climate science.’ If it hasn’t already, the conversation quickly breaks down when these climate activists are informed that ‘non-sequitur’ actually has a meaning.

As a non-scientist lukewarmer, I cheerfully accept the bulk of the science regarding climate change. I have no problems with the greenhouse effect, radiative transfer, the possibility of the amplification of warming caused by human effects, etc. Although what I see and read leads me to the belief that atmospheric sensitivity is at the low end of the IPCC’s 1.5C -4.5C range, it wouldn’t bring me to the point of existential crisis to find out I am wrong.

When Al Gore said ‘the planet has a fever,’ he introduced a medical metaphor that has persisted since he said it. Activists often say ‘If a doctor tells you you have cancer you normally accept it–even if you get a second opinion, it’s from another doctor.’

Although I think we should talk about climate change as complex interactions between various elements of the atmospheric and hydrological cycle, if you want to reduce it to a medical metaphor, I guess I can live with that. But it’s pretty clear that instead of talking about a fever, cancer or another favorite, heart disease, we should class human-caused climate change as a chronic condition along the lines of obesity, diabetes or alcoholism. Excess CO2 has led to a physical condition that we will have to manage or suffer serious (but not fatal) consequences.

But whatever. I accept the diagnosis. The climate has warmed and we are most probably a significant cause of this warming.

As a Lukewarmer my issues with the consensus are not about the science. Rather, I don’t agree with most of what is prescribed as a cure. Cap and Trade seems like a bad joke, REDD seems like a scam. Flying 44,000 people to Paris to talk about climate change partially due to air travel seems out of a Monty Python sketch.

Worst of all is the monomaniacal focus on CO2 emissions. These emissions constitute only one-third of human effects on the climate, yet that is the only thing that gets looked at, measured and combatted. Methane is actually a significant contributor to human influences, but it is rarely mentioned. Usually it is combined with CO2 to provide a larger total called ‘CO2 equivalents,’ then ushered quickly off stage so we can get back to the exciting conversations about sequestering CO2 underground and other megaprojects.

But, rice paddies aside, methane is easier to fight. We know where it’s coming from and we know how to stop it. Why is nobody making a fuss about it?

Similarly, black carbon causes about one-third as much as CO2 of human influences on the climate (as much as 1 watt per square meter in forcing), yet it is ignored. Deforestation causes about 17% of our influence but is left out of the conversation.

Enter ‘Fast Mitigation,’ a new strategy to eliminate SLCPs (Short-Lived Climate Pollutants) including methane, black carbon, hydrofluourocarbons and tropospheric ozone. All of these factors are subject to human mitigation with existing technology and would have a dramatic effect on climate change. If implemented now, they could reduce temperatures by 0.5C by 2050, all else being equal.

The reaction of climate activists to Fast Mitigation is telling–they have derided it and sought to deligitimize those who advocate it, inventing terms like ‘mitigation skeptic’ the better to marginalize the views and viewholders.

However, combined with current efforts to get coal out of the power generation business, reversal of deforestation and the continued growth of renewables at a market-based pace, it seems like it would be easier to chart a strategy aimed at the 70% of human-influences on climate change that are not related to CO2 emissions in a manner that is both easier and cheaper.

Call it Fast Mitigation Plus. It doesn’t mean we have to abandon efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. It just means we broaden our focus to include all human influences, not just the one that is most expensive to fix, which is also the one we don’t really know how to fix.

Call it treating the patient, not the symptom.

6 responses to “Is it the diagnosis or the prescription?

  1. Tom,

    Some of your numbers are ludicrous.

    “Worst of all is the monomaniacal focus on CO2 emissions. These emissions constitute only one-third of human effects on the climate”

    According to AR 5, Table 8.2, CO2 anthropogenic forcing is 1.8 W/m^2, all well-mixed anthropogenic greenhouse gases are 2.8 W/m^2, and total anthropogenic forcing is 2.3 W/m^2. So CO2 is 80% of the total.

    “Methane is actually a greater contributor than CO2”

    No, methane is 0.5 W/m^2.

    “But, rice paddies aside, methane is easier to fight. We know where it’s coming from and we know how to stop it.”

    Flat wrong. methane comes from a vast number of tiny sources. We have a pretty good idea where it comes from, but no idea how to stop 90% of it, other than draining all the wetlands (I am sure you don’t advocate that). Very roughly, emissions are something like 40% natural, 20% rice paddies, 20% cattle, 20% fossil fuel production. We could probably reduce the last by a bit and cool things off by a few hundredths of a degree.

    Why is nobody making a fuss about it?

    “Similarly, black carbon causes about one-third as much as CO2 of human influences on the climate”

    Not according to the consensus.

    “Deforestation causes about 17% of our influence”

    Mostly due to increased CO2.

    “but is left out of the conversation.”

    You’re joking?

    “Enter ‘Fast Mitigation,’ a new strategy to eliminate SLCPs (Short-Lived Climate Pollutants) including methane, black carbon, hydrofluourocarbons and tropospheric ozone.”

    A completely misguided idea. There is absolutely nothing to mitigate since the net effect to date is either negligible or beneficial. The only reason for concern is that once we put a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere, we have no way to do anything about it; so we can’t wait for it to be a problem before we act. If in fact fast mitigation can have a significant effect (I doubt it), then we should keep it as our ace in the hole should mitigation be required at some point in the future.

    “they could reduce temperatures by 0.5C by 2050, all else being equal.”

    Rubbish. That is 60% of the warming to date.

    • Hi Mike

      I must have been looking at someone else’s chart. Here’s the IPCC confirming your statement:

      • As for the 0.5C reduction from Fast Mitigation, that’s what they say: “The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) has identified strategies to mitigate these emissions which, if deployed by 2030, could slow down the warming expected by 2050 by about 0.5°C globally and by about 0.7°C in the Arctic by 2040.[1] These strategies can be adapted to different sectors and situations.”

      • Tom,

        “Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) has ”

        OK, what forcings do they attribute to the things they propose to control? So far as I can tell, they don’t say. By what % do they assume those can be reduced? They don’t say. What total forcing do they assume? They don’t say. What climate sensitivity do they assume? They don’t say.

        Science-free BS.

        Not to mention that if there is a real problem then Fast Mitigation is at best useless and at worst harmful.

        Looks to me like the purpose of CCAC is good PR for the businesses that support them.

        You are better than this, Tom.

  2. I’m for nuclear power because I know we are running out of fossil fuels. We need something viable until a viable technology becomes available. Geoengineering is also an option. And of course we should strive to reduce methane emissions. For example grow rice varieties which emit less methane.

  3. Modern medicine treats the symptom and does not really pay much attention to the person, as long as payment is assured.
    Speaking of symptoms, what are they, exactly?
    – I mean the ones that actually exist.
    Not the faux symptoms like “ocean acidification” “sea level rise”, “run away greenhouse” and such.

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