html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: In our lifetimes.

Monday, January 08, 2007

In our lifetimes.

This Chron article about the effects of climate change on California is exactly what I expect.

We will not grow rich or smart enough fast enough to head this off. Our best efforts now could barely cushion this. And this is just the water story, not the fire-forest story, which I barely know but suspect is nearly as crippling. We will live in the 1930's again before we die, and I am the only person here who jokes about liking this.

Do not, you blind motherfuckers, tell me that "the science is not certain" or that "maybe it won't be so bad" or that "we'll adjust, with science!, and there will be new beachfront property!". Do not, you selfish, shortsighted, ignorant donkeys, laugh about your gas mileage and using all the oil up fast. Rate matters, jackasses. Instead, as an experiment, think to yourself: if I were certain of this prediction, what would I do now to make it not happen? Would I change my habits today? Then hear me, because the most impressive people I know have said for two decades that this is coming. The only thing surprising them now is that it is happening faster than they thought. You pissant selfish shits, you will drag me down with you. You will take my state out before you go, and you will do that because you like to drive and you like the taste of meat and you don't want to wear a sweater in your house. Today I am scared and pissed; if you aren't, you are willfully ignorant. When the drought comes, or the rising water, it will not care what your ideological agenda was. Climate change is a mechanistic function of physical limits. Accept limits, accept responsibility and change your behavior.

50 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's well written fiction, but note that many of the horrible effects are our response to events, not the events themselves.

While I agree with many of your urgings, the post sounds more scared than encouraging or persuasive.

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hard to buy into these theories. It's become way too political, with way too much doomsday garbage. I almost always hear about it in this for here, in the form of a threat, or a very emotional plea.

Maybe it's true, maybe it's not, I don't really keep up with it. But, I can remember the other similar environmental scares, the hole in the ozone layer, that suddenly in the mid to late 90s everyone just stopped caring about. Global cooling from the 80s. Nuclear waste, and the horrors of nuclear power in general. The garbage crisis. And on, and on.

It's hard for me to care about the latest scare.

And, ultimately, if our best efforts could barely cushion whatever you think is coming, what's the point in trying? Why give up a lot of things in a futile attempt to prevent something that may not even be real to begin with?

Justin

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Dagon said...

Shorten your challenge. Don't specify "to make it not happen", just say:
think to yourself: if I were certain of this prediction, what would I do now?

"make it not happen" is fairly low on my list of things I would do. This is because I don't see much chance of success. If it's going to happen in my lifetime, it's likely to do so regardless of my actions.

Even if I can put it off by a year or ten, it's not clear how much effort I should spend on doing so, as opposed to enjoying the prosperity I now have while I have it.

And by preparing by making sure I have diverse assets (physical and knowledge) that will retain some value in a very wide range of possible futures.

And by not living in California.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Dagon:
It won't be better in other places. It is just that California has done enough forecasting to have some handle on what our particular problems will be. Other places aren't even looking.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous ptm said...

Justin, on the whole in the ozone layer -

That was an issue. Then there was a concerted response (no more CFC's) that had the desired scientific effects. It's not an issue anymore because we took prompt action, which would suggest a rather different lesson than that things go away on their own.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous ptm said...

um. "hole in the ozone layer"

good thing techies don't need to know how to spell, right?

2:14 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

which would suggest a rather different lesson than that things go away on their own.

... or that they were false alarms.

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that I'll be sure to sell off any real estate here and be out of California by then. I'll be living somewhere where fresh water availability is not an issue. Say Minnesota or Michigan. :)

Like someone else said, if this in eminent in the next 30 years, I may plan for it, but I doubt that I can do much to change it.

-Tim.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Badgering people and counting on moral suasion to change enough people's habits to make a difference is not a good plan.

It doesn't even work when there is a HOT WAR going on, with BOMBS landing in your CAPITAL CITY (cfr WWII England). What actually winds up having an effect is draconian rationing. Only then can you make a dent in people's behavior.

Changing your own behavior will make you feel noble, but will have no effect on the outcome. Badgering other people will make you feel even more noble, but will have no effect on the outcome.

So what is the real plan?

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, not buying it.

1) As I understand it, the hole is still over the antarctic, and it grows and shrinks in a cycle, as was originally thought.

2) The hole was how big again? The size of the US? The size of Texas? Something huge. It was supposed to devestate the environment, they ban CFCs, which are heavier than air, btw, and overnight the hole, and issue are gone?

There was a lot of hysteria, action was taken, and then there was nothing. No reports about it slowly coming back, or anything, it just vanished from the news.

Justin

2:21 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Mark:
To prevent or slow some climate change?
Individually change our CO2 generating behaviors AT LEAST in the fairly-convenient, high-results range, and ALSO in the sacrificing some of the things I like doing now range.
Collectively change our behaviors, by imposing regulation and taxes that prevent behavior that is predictably destructive and generate income that can be used to make structural changes.
Publicize the problem, in all the ways that will make people take notice.

On the water front?
Build the Peripheral Canal. Build delivery system interties, to increase system flexibilities. Decrease dependence on consumptive water use. Increase water reuse, including recycling wastewater. Make explicit hard decisions about water and land use in advance of the problem. Prohibit all building on flood plains. Match the number of people in a city to the number their local water sources can support.

More?

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Justin, just because it vanished from the news doesn't mean it vanished:

http://esrl.noaa.gov/csd/assessments/2002/executive_summary.html#A

Strong action to halt use of ozone depleting substances made a big difference. The problem is still there, but stopped growing, and they are predicting substantial recovery of the ozone layer by mid-century.

Marcus

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, I don't claim to have any real knowledge about any of these things.

My point is, the pattern is the same, again and again. Hysteria, a demand for immediate drastic measures with a threat that we're all going to die otherwise. Then, the next crisis comes along, and the old one is forgotten.

And, often, it seems the hysteria was based on nothing.

The nuclear energy thing. It's ridiculous that we still have coal burning power plants. And, now even some of the environmentalists are coming around saying opposing nuclear power was a mistake, because the other options, like coal, and hydro are worse, and you simply can't power a city on solar.

And, I've seen some VERY radical, environment altering solutions proposed for global warming, with no concern at all for the consequences if they're wrong.

Justin

2:41 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Justin, hon, the people who do know are tremendously scared. They are fringe freakshow people either, they are the entire reputable scientific establishment. You're dismissing them out of hand, and I don't entirely know why you are so unwilling to hear this message. Maybe 'cause it sucks so hard or maybe 'cause if you believed it and traced its causes back, in some part, to yourself, your native integrity would force you to make changes you don't want to.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

aren't

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or, a better example, one you're more likely to jump on board for.

Has anyone seen the hysteria that got whipped up during the early days of the anti-drug movement?

Commercials running talking about the dangers of marijuana, about how it would lead to kids killing their parents in a drug induced rage?

I don't trust any movement that relies on public hysteria to drive it.

Justin

2:49 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

It doesn't rely on public hysteria. It has data proving that CO2 levels are rising, a mechanism explaining how increased CO2 levels would cause climate change, and data that climate change is happening. People are scared because the effects are on the order of loss-of-American-cities. People are strident because they don't know how else to convince people that longterm painful changes that people cannot sense on a daily basis are worthy of current sacrifice.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm unwilling to care because it's the same thing I've seen again and again. People with an agenda pushing it with hysteria. I don't know what the science is.

I find it hard to believe that there's a concensus on global warming when I read contradictory reports all the time. Of course, that is all in the news. I don't subscribe to any scientific climate journals.

But, this claim that you know some smart people who believe in it doesn't move me at all. I know smart people who don't believe in it. And, so what on all counts. Either way it's just an appeal to authority fallacy. Without there being more real data in places where I'm likely to see it, without me seeing people with models making accurate predictions for next year, I just don't care.

It may be real, it may not be real. It'd be great if people didn't waste so much, if people would turn off the lights and whatnot at night, and not heat their homes to 75 degrees in the winter, or cool them all day long, that would be great, with or without global warming as a threat. So, I'm not in total disagreement here.

I just don't buy into movements based on hysteria.

Justin

2:58 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Shit. I am so California biased. The costs of climate change include the loss of entire island nations.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Let's agree to disagree, then, in keeping with my belief that you don't change people by arguing on the internets.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Mitch said...

Justin:
There was a lot of hysteria, action was taken, and then there was nothing. No reports about it slowly coming back, or anything, it just vanished from the news.
This is from last June. It's a news story about some studies that had just come out suggesting that the ozone hole has stabilized. It was on Ars, even, so I'd think you might have seen it.

While it's true that CFCs are heavier than air, the atmosphere gets mixed well enough that they're essentially evenly distributed (until you get high enough that they get broken down by UV).

Megan:
This Chron article about the effects of climate change on Californis is exactly what I expect
The article says that it describes a worst case scenario. The worst case scenario is exactly what you expect?

I think it is, and this is why you're so worked up, and also why you're at one end of the belief distribution. Fringe, in other words.

I actually like CFCs as an example. There was a clear, present, and measurable threat, and while there was some controversy it was relatively short lived, and everyone got together and made a change. And it worked. Much less effort was expended on moral suasion than with climate change.

Reducing carbon emissions will take more effort than reducing CFC use, granted. And the controversy will last longer, mainly because anthropogenic climate change is less clear-cut than the ozone hole is. But Kyoto, the CFC example, and all the research on energy alternatives make me think that there are both policy and physical solutions for reducing carbon emissions.

At this point, it looks like we might just have to wait and see who's right, Borlaug-Ehrlich style. Care for a wager?

How about this: I claim that in 2050 real US GDP per capita will be higher than it is today.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

because the effects are on the order of loss-of-American-cities.

To be fair, now, the only American cities we are going to lose are in places no one cares about anyway. Like Florida.

My favorite part of the article was the typical Californian hubris: "we Californians have established the standard for societal response to catastrophic water shortages and supply disruption"

Because those dirty, stupid Chinamen and Indian macacas certainly won't have figured it out until the super brilliant Californians get out of their limousines and hand them the answer.

Ah well, I guess you have to write to your audience.

Out of curiosity, what kind of climate change prevention things do you do, Megan? I watched Al Gore's movie, went to his web site to Take Action, and found I was already doing everything they list. All of my electricity is generated by wind-power, I buy carbon offsets for my car, I ride my bike to work a decent amount during the summer and telecommute during the winter, etc.

It was actually vaguely depressing because it gave the impression there was nothing more that I could do.

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing is, I could be sold on this, it should ultimately be a matter of fact. I just don't see it in anything I read. I read contradictions.

But, the problem you're going to have is there are a lot of people like me. I'm never going to be convinced by politicians. I don't care what Al Gore thinks about the issue. I saw his movie, and it left me with a lot of questions, it didn't sell me on anything.

I think the environmental movement would be a lot more effective if they chose their battles more carefully. But, as it is, they bounce from one dooms day prediction to the next. It's hard to take seriously. And it's very hard to determine what's real and what isn't.

But, like I said, I'm all for people being more careful with their waste. It's ridiculous that people leave lights on all night. Or run their heaters all day. Think of all the devices in your home right now slowly sucking up power for no reason. Anything that uses a remote, anything with a clock, anything that's instant on. Your appliances, like your fridge and freezer. There's a lot of pointless waste that I think most people aren't even aware of.

My roommate was complaining about the power bills being too high. He replaced all the light bulbs in common areas with compact florescents. Fine. But what's hilarious, is he hasn't changed any of his bad behavior. I still come home and find the tv on, the video game system running, the stereo on, and lights on all over the place, and him not home.

He's never going to learn. I mean, he's even concerned about the electricty use, but he still doesn't change his behavior.

I'd be surprised if pointless electric waste wasn't a major contributing factor to CO2 emissions.

Oh well
Justin

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No cheer from this much more moderate article in the NY Times, that bastion of tree-hating Republicans? ;) It's not California-specific, but still.

And BTW, while I was looking for the link via Volokh Conspiracy I discovered that Doremus was blogging here, which you may have already known.

I'll admit I'm sometimes biased against arguments in favor of major behavior changes to supposedly help the environment because I suspect that the people who make them have an ulterior social agenda in opposition to my own well-being.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Justus:
The standard climate change stuff; when I tried to take the Slate carbon-budget challenge, my numbers were so low (prolly 'cause I don't have a car and am vegetarian) that they didn't have a tally sheet for me.

To be fair, now, the only American cities we are going to lose are in places no one cares about anyway. Like Florida.

Or New Orleans. Or Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Mitch:
I'm surprised no one has called me out for living in Sac, considering that it is predicted to go under in a Millenial flood. But it doesn't even have to be this bad. What if there are catastrophic floods or fires or droughts every ten to fifteen years? How frequent would there have to be before the costs of dealing with them eat any budget available for future investments, like education or research? This isn't even counting smaller gradual changes, like universal increasing depth to groundwater, or additional required fertilizers because nitrogen-fixing microbes in the soil are 10% less efficient in hotter temperatures (I don't know that one is the case, but I'm making up a plausible example), or increased coastal erosion. Our economy will be both constantly taxed and in huge chunks. I am not optimistic.

What stakes? I usually wager for chocolate chip cookies, of which mine are the best ever. But after the collapse, I don't know if I'll be able to get vanilla.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Spungen:
Awesome. I'm totally gonna read her stuff; she's the smartest ever.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Also, if Holdren thinks there is hope for averting catastrophe, I should as well. Mind you though, catastrophe has already come; three years ago, the loss of New Orleans would have been considered unthinkable.

3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The loss of New Orleans was unthinkable? I thought it was predicted? I thought they knew the levees wouldn't hold under conditions that weren't so unlikely.

And, why buy that was due to global warming? Where was the horrible hurricane season that was predicted for this year? Why not assume New Orleans just happened to run out of luck? It was going to happen eventually, global warming or not, as I understood it.

Justin

3:56 PM  
Anonymous ptm said...

Stupid question -
"Decrease dependence on consumptive water use. "

What does "consumptive" mean in this context? Residential? Residential + irrigation? All use that's not dumped right back into water sources? Cause I thought that residential use typically only makes up 5-10% of total use in the US.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

ptm:
Not a stupid question; I was typing really fast, and the distinction isn't a very good one. Consumptive uses are ones where the water can't be captured again afterwards, sometimes 'cause it is gone (evaporation and transpiration) or sometimes because the use deteriorates the quality so much that it would cost too much to clean.

What I really meant was get urban use down to health and safety uses plus a margin for comfort, eliminate non-essential uses (like lawns, but NOT playing fields, which is turf and TOTALLY different). Make explicit choices about what ag water use we want to support (not based on our current allocation, which is essentially an historically based arbitrary hierarchy with no assessment of whether it is a good use of water), set what we consider to be the minimum flows for environmental needs, and then decide how those will be ratcheted back in shortfall.

I'm going to get fired.

Justin:
I'm usually your biggest fan, but today I don't want to keep having this conversation. You admit you haven't studied this; you don't believe the people who have studied it; you won't spend the time to look into who is a credible source and who isn't, so you discount all information equally; you've already made up your mind. I have too, so what are we getting out of this?

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does catastrophe really mean? I doubt civilization is going to end, or that we'll see tent camps of California migrants along I-80 like the article suggests. But if Sacramento the Central Valley becomes a much lousier place to live, or Sacramento is hit by a major flood (which does not seem so dependent on global warming, as it regularly flooded pre-settlement), then those are really sucky outcomes that will have a major negative effect on my quality of life.

Civilization didn't end when New Orleans went under, but if you lived there it might as well have.

Marcus

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Make explicit choices about what ag water use we want to support (not based on our current allocation, which is essentially an historically based arbitrary hierarchy with no assessment of whether it is a good use..."

It's astounding how much of California government policy can be described in exactly this way. It got fixed in law once, the beneficiary group won't tolerate any change, the public is not organized enough to support change in the wider interest. Democracy in action.

Marcus

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get really tired of people (anonymous) mentioning the "global cooling" "freakout" as if it's a legitimate data point. That was almost totally media-driven, had almost no science behind it, and was an extant concern for a couple years, tops? Anecdote is not the singular of data.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous ptm said...

That sure seems like what you'd do if you were designing from the ground up.

So to speak.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You will take my state out before you go, and you will do that because you like to drive

Megan, I'm curious: Are you suggesting no one in California should drive cars at all? Or just that we carpool more, or use more fuel-efficient vehicles? What are your views on semi-trucks used for transporting food and goods? (Apologies if I've missed a previous post explaining.)

I'm curious as to how it works being an adult, out of school, gainfully employed, and living without a car, anywhere in California. How does dating work, are you limited to men in the immediate neighborhood? (I understand you live in the "Lavender Heights" area, which would probably limit your options.) Do you think that when you have kids you'll be able to maintain that lifestyle? And how long have you been doing this for -- was it something your parents did when you were young, or something fairly recent?

When I lived in downtown Sac, the walkability was nice, but I never felt I had the option of completely doing without a car and neither did anyone else I knew.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Mitch said...

What stakes?
Given that I'll be 74, some of my initial thoughts are probably not such a good idea. If I win, though, there may be some helpful pharmaceuticals available. Hmmm.
Chocolate chip cookies are probably the way to go.
But after the collapse, I don't know if I'll be able to get vanilla.
If there's a collapse, then getting vanilla would be my problem. It would probably be warm enough that I could grow it in northern California, though :)

How frequent would there have to be before the costs of dealing with them eat any budget available for future investments, like education or research?
I think if there were frequent big problems like droughts or floods or fires, that would concentrate investment in those areas enough to mitigate them.

You're right, of course, that change could be too great or too fast to deal with. I think where we disagree is in how flexible our civilization/economy would be in responding to change, and this affects our estimates of how dramatic the change would have to be for there to be a collapse. And we probably disagree about how dramatic the changes are going to be, given that I think the transition away from fossil fuels isn't too technically or economically challenging. As long as oil stays this expensive.

The pace and magnitude of climate change, its effects, and of our response is impossible to predict with any hope of precision (right now, anyway). Generally speaking, though, I think people who predict doom (like Ehrlich) underestimate the response to problems.

It's hard to move from static to dynamic analysis; it's easier to keep one part of the system in your head and assume everything else is fixed. So there's a tendency to take a trend line and extrapolate it straight into the future. Whenever you hear someone say "If we keep going like this.." then that's probably what's going on. But no trend is linear. Especially if it's the worst-case one.

That's incredibly hand-wavy, of course, but the tendency toward straight-line extrapolation is real enough, and a common mistake, I think. Sorry if it seems like I handwaved away your concerns, but really, it's just impossible to say much concretely at this point. I just think that we'll be able to bend those trendlines back into the good range.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Spungen:
People in California should move closer together, into cities that become walkable as the densities increase. Carpool yes, reduce trips yes, increase fuel efficiencies yes.

Um, carlessness seems to be the least of my problems dating men. Finding them anywhere is the larger hurdle.

No, I don't think I could be carless when I have kids, although here, at least, I know several couples with one car between them.

I've done it for six-seven months now. It has decreased my living radius very slightly, been a pain in the ass on two occasions, and increased my overall quality of life. I am surprised by how very often I enjoy being on my bike when I wouldn't have chosen to bike if I had a car available. I'm not really liking the cold.

I think I can hold out with no car until I have a major life change; nothing is pressuring me to get one in my current situation. I dread buying a car so much that I'm sure I'll not get a car until six months after I do need one.

5:51 PM  
Blogger vinc said...

I'm the wrong kind of scientist to come in contact with climate scientists regularly. But I do read Science and Nature regularly, and it's been years since I've seen any hint of a controversy over whether human CO2 emissions were having a significant impact over the environment.

There's tons of debate, obviously, but the debate is not of the form "will global warming occur?" but rather "when global warming occurs, will it be bad, or will it be really bad?"

If you want to fact-check me you can probably go to a publicly available and relatively accessible magazine like Scientific American and look through their archives.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous John said...

For positive proof of global warming and its effect on humans, see this photo.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

That is very persuasive. When you see the proof presented like that, you can't really dispute it anymore.

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

America is wont to say, after a battle, "we own the skies". Maybe the idea of property is the problem here and maybe if America (not just California) spent less money on bombing other people ...


"You pissant selfish shits, you will drag me down with you."

Isn't that what the whole world has been saying to America over the last 30 years ?

12:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's hardly the case that most experts on climate change subscribe to this kind of disaster scenario. Even that comically alarmist newspaper article admits that what it describes is a worst case.

The Stern report on climate change predicts that global warming, if unchecked, would most likely cause a loss of 5% of global GDP over the next century. The report cites 20% as a worst case figure. By comparison, living "in the 1930s again before we die" would entail a GDP loss of more like 90%.

On top of this, even if we accept the most dire predictions in the Stern report, it's hardly obvious what should be done. Stern recommends spending 1% of GDP each year on preventing fighting global warming. But 1% of global GDP would be easily enough to, for example, feed every starving person in Africa in perpetuity.

If we're going to torch 1% of GDP on something, it's far from obvious to me that we should spend it on making sure a bunch of Californians don't have to move to Missouri when we could be solving all of 3rd world poverty instead.

Check out Tyler Cowen's post on Stern for some interesting comments.

Phil

1:25 AM  
Blogger Slocum said...

It won't be better in other places. It is just that California has done enough forecasting to have some handle on what our particular problems will be. Other places aren't even looking.

Really? There is no region on earth that will benefit from a warmer climate (say, through a longer growing season)? Greenland, after all, was a whole lot more habitable during the Medieval Warming Period.

And since Megan is so militant I assume she certainly must have given up all long distance air travel for work and pleasure (the distances are great, the seat-mile fuel economy is marginal, and the exhaust fumes are pumped directly into the upper atmosphere where they contribute most to warming -- not just from the carbon but also by triggering cloud formation).

I know many academics (I live in a university town) who would never drive a Hummer and consider themselves strong environmentalists but don't think twice about flying regularly across the country and around the world to conferences (not on their own dime, of course). Do they not know about the global warming effects of this activity -- or do they not want to know?

6:03 AM  
Anonymous Amelia said...

It doesn't really matter if it's certain or not, I'd say. With potential damage so large, the mere fact that there is a significant probability should suffice to make people act. Some contributions are so easy, buy an efficient car, take the bike/bus more often, cut the air conditioning a little and dress appropriately, turn off the lights in rooms you don't use anyways, buy a smaller fridge that's fully sufficient, turn off the computer and TV over night (and not just stand-by), etc. No one gets hurt, it is better for your fitness, health and budget and if everyone does it you'll have at least some effect. I don't get why people don't do that. No big sacrifices involved. It might not suffice overall, but it's a first step.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Megan,

I've been reading your stuff for many months and I think you have an awesome blog. But I found this post disappointing. It's just not as thoughtful as most of your stuff. I'm not adverse to strong words on important issuesI ain't no sissy who runs away from conflictbut I think that your anger has detracted from your analysis in this case.

Look, this is a typical collective action problem. Whether I use an SUV or a pair of rollerskates for the rest of my life doesn't make one bit of difference. And unless you hope to pass some truly draconian legislation (unlikely to make it through our form of government) you can't expect that every single person is going to change their behavior just because you're persuasive.

Since global warming IS real, IS Man-Made, and IS a huge threat, what should we do?

First thing: Nuclear energy, and lots of it. France gets 70-80% of its energy from emissions-free nuclear. that's right, 4/5 of their energy comes with no greenhouse gases. We could stop thousands of tons of emissions if we were willing to do it. (It seems that the environmentalists, for crissakes, don't like it.)

Next thing: Geo-engineering. look, you're an engineer and I'm not. But I know some stuff about social science. You can't simply ask a citizenry to possibly commit economic suicideat least some firms/industries might just dieand then expect not to have any resistance. You're going to get resistance. And in our republican form of government, resistance means that things don't get done.

On the other hand, if spraying water molecules into the sky or flying a giant shiny kite or otherwise increasing albedo can halt global warming, then this is the type of stuff we should be pursuing. Why? Because China, India, and the developing world are getting richer, polluting more, and unlikely to submit to demands from the already-wealthy world that would ask them to slow their growth. And this is understandable.

Once again, Megan, I absolutely love your blog and I hope we can still be friends.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

amelia-

What you're describing is a form of
Pascals' Wager
.

Count me in Justin's camp on this one -- there's just too much noise, and too many people who *want* GW to be true to validate their lifestyle choices (Hello, smug-bumper-sticker-on-my-subaru-wagon crowd!). Combine that with my innate conservativism (in the old-school sense of being distrustful of change), and I'm going to wait and see a little while longer.

-Dex

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a first-time commentor, I don't want to step on any toes, but wanted to add one thing.

The thing that worries me most about the global warming debate is this: supposing everyone does modify their behavior, and we reverse the warming trend. How long before we end up in the completely opposite position, facing a global cooling trend, and doing everything we can trying to avoid an ice age?

Those that insist on doing something now to stop, slow, or prevent warming base their arguments on the idea that warming is a positive feedback loop, i.e. once it gets going, it builds momentum and becomes more difficult to slow or stop. Likewise, I've heard the same of ice ages: once a large enough portion of the planet is covered in ice, we get a positive feedback loop where more sunlight is reflected back into space than is absorbed by the planet, causing the planet to get even colder, and prolonging the ice age.

I'm no climatologist, so my opinion really has no bearing on the matter, but I was intrigued by the discussion. I have no problem with individuals doing whatever they want to try to prevent what they consider to be a significant threat; I would do the same. What I disagree with is trying to come up with a public policy solution that spends lots of money trying to solve the problem while probably making it worse. In the end, that seems to be the result of most big government "solutions". They'll spend enough to find out the problem's bigger than they thought and they need more money to continue fixing it.

Now there's a positive feedback loop for you.

Coyote blog had a comment on this as well.

--mith

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Justin on this one.
The article was probably meant to inspire the reaction that you had to it.
I call this emotional manipulation, which detracts from how true I actually think it is.
I don't have a problem hearing the facts about global warming. But this type of emotional hysteria has me ducking away from this article as being a place to find accurate information (even if it has accurate information, it feels like its buried impossibly between the huge flood and the drought!).
-Mel

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

myth

Global cooling is at least 2000 years away, and more likely 8000 years. The primary mechanism in global cooling is the Milunkovitch cycles (peturbation of the Earth in its orbit around the sun) and they are on a 20000 year periodicity.

If we do hit global cooling sooner, we do something about it. Like chop down trees and burn them. Not difficult.

Anonymous

- you are wrong about France. France gets 2/3rds of roughly 35% (ie roughly 20% of total) of *total* energy from nuclear.

A big difference. Nuclear can be part of the solution, it cannot be the whole solution.

If you take the French equivalent across the (far larger) US and Chinese power plant requirements, you get something like 1000 large new nuclear power plants (or about 10 times as many as the US currently has). Cost would be something like 20 trillion dollars *before* we work out what to do with the waste, and find the uranium to fuel them (currently, 40% of uranium supplies come from dismantled bombs and fuel cores).

Put it another way, that is to complete 2 nuclear reactors every month from now until 2048. Since we can't start for at least another 5 years, 2053.

It's possible, but it isn't some fast thing.

- geoengineering. This has been looked at again, and again-- from seeding the oceans with iron (more algae) to spraying SO2 into the atmosphere (the Chinese already do it because they haven't implemented scrubbers in their power plants-- the problem is the effect is very short lived).

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/06/geo-engineering-in-vogue/

if there were any easy solutions in geoengineering, we would be grabbing them.

Sadly, there aren't.

6:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/
06/geo-engineering-in-vogue/

6:28 AM  

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