Global Warming - Let's talk specifics

This is a new thread I’m kicking off from the What if AGW is Wrong? thread.

The ground rules: For the purposes of this thread, please start with the assumption that A) Global Warming is real, B) Humans are responsible for at least some of it. This is not the thread to rehash the argument over global warming itself.

What I want to talk about here are the practical implications and reasonable responses to Global Warming. Cost/benefit analysis, discussions of specific technologies or legislation that would improve the situation.

A couple of reference materials to get started:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - Summary for Policymakers. The full scientific report is not yet available.

The Stern Review. Provided by DSeid. I haven’t read it yet.

The Fraser Institute’s independent Summary for Policymakers

The basic questions to be asked are:

  • How much damage will Global Warming due to the planet and the global economy, best case and worst case based on the high and low range estimates of the IPCC report?

  • How feasible is it to do anything about it? How much of an impact can we really make on warming in the first place?

  • How feasible is it politically and economically?

  • What are the alternatives to cutting demand for power?

  • Could we achieve the same ecoomic goals by taking the money that would be spent on carbon reduction and applying it as direct aid to the regions that would sustain severe economic losses?

  • If we don’t try to stop CO2 emissions, what are the real risks of the more devastating scenarios? How much of a risk premium do we need to assign to the cost of global warming?

To me, these are all open questions worthy of debate. I’ll be back later.

I don’t have anything to offer at the moment, but the OP and others might be interested in the current (January/February 2007) issue of the Boston Review, which has several articles advocating different approaches to the problem. All the articles seem to be available online.

Infinite in both cases. The IPCC report reflects purely physical changes with some reference to the associated economic costs predicated on business as usual. The reality is that in the extreme ranges we will almost certainly see major wars triggered by global wamring due to famine and drought. For example Israel has already threatened to blow up dams used by its neigbours. Imagine a prolonged period in which the middle east recieves no reliable rianfall at all. There is simply no way of estimating the worst case coomic costs because the worst case will make the cost of WWII look like chicken feed.

The same goes for the low end cost. The best case scenario is that the benefits actually outweight the detrimetal effects and global warming is a major economic benefit.

Hard to say, too many variables. With a dedicated international effort using nuclear power and assuming geosequestaration lives up to its potential then we could put the genie back in the bottle within 100 years. ie we could be back to 1850 levels by 2100. That however is hardly feasible for all sorts of reasons, but it does address the issue of how much impact we can make: as much as we choose to.

As the world exists now it is totally non-feasible.

The western economies simply will not accept a reduction in either their residents’ living standards or their power base to benefit the corrupt regimes of the devloping world. Meanwhile the emerging economies simply will not condemn their people to more generations of poverty and lack of development to enable the western powers to continue to dominate them. Without both the US and EU as well as and China and India at the table nothing can be done and there is no way they will all sit down together.

You’ve produced a false dilemma insofar as cutting demand for power isn’t really the issue. We can happily use much more power than we are using now provided that we use renewables or nuclear instead of fossil fuels. The world has plenty of power that doesn’t have a significant greenhouse cost, we just don’t use it because it is more epxlensive/less convenient.

Not as far as anyone can tell.

One thing the last 70 years has taught us is that change in the developing world has to be self generated. Foreign aid is simply pouring money into a black hole. Foreign aid to assist with the effects of climate change would be no different. Based on past experience >80% will simply be stolen and the rest mis-spent on inappropriate cosmetic measures. In contrast an ability for thes eocuntries to develop internally viable economies has proved to be a stable and working solution because people are protective of the money they earn.

As far as dumping money from say Los Angeles into Loiusiana, that’s pointless because the population of ther US and other developed countires is mobile enough to simply leave affected areas and the infrastructure and economy is robust enough to handle that. Paying people to stay in affected regions, which is essentially what internal aid is, is as pointless as paying people to live in the Nevada desert.

Like I said, the ultimate risk is infinitely high: world war or nuclear war. That’s the problem with these scenarios, you can peg the risk as high as you like. A more meaningful question is what the likelihood is of the any given outcome, but when the stakes are infinitely high how much risk are you prepared to take? Is a 1% increase in the risk of nuclear war acceptable?

The simple fact is that any global destabilisation in the political and economic institutions comes with severe risks. Doesn’t matter if that is caused by military buildups, wars, disease famine or global warming.

I don’t see nuclear war as a necessary option.

If Africa fries then … well sadly, so what ?

Israel has ( my Israeli friends told me ) been toying with the idea of buildings some massive towers to evaporate sea water - since it is crude technology I would like to see whether it works.

Vast new areas would become pleasantly temperate, and oddly, subject to non corrupt construction companies, ‘new build’ can be a lot more effective than maintaining ancient infrastructure ( Germany and Japan did well after WWII )

From the linked Stern Review (BAU = Business as Usual)

That BAU estimate is of course not the worst case scenerio for BAU. IPPC cannot rule out scenerios of geater than 4.5 degrees increase assciated with a likely doubling even if they are considered unlikely. The risk of those scenerios is smaller but real as well … but like the risk of a housefire, something that I’d like to insure against if I could do so economically. Hitting those reduction targets would be best case. Obviously the Stern Review’s conclusion is that it is very feasible.

The real costs of mitigation are hard to estimate because we do not know what technological innovation will bring. Consider just the addition of widespread acceptance of electric vehicles coupled with nuclear and/or renewables based electrical power plants … the prototype Volt comes to mind. Huge impact little cost. Couple that with biorefinery technologies. Not cornbased ethanol, but biorefinery based on mixed grass stands. Can those both be developed in an energy efficient manner such that both the US and emerging economic superpowers like China find them attractive?

Just as the costs of BAU may include unknowns like more war, etc., the benefits of mitigation also include some intangibles. A decreased worlwide reliance on the ME for energy would be a major plus. Keeping global warming down to the low end would help our own agricultural output. If mitigation is done wisely environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality and better species diversification would also occur. Freindly fire although hard to quantify in dollars and cents.

My other link was to a hedge model. The short of that link was that if we assume that we will have to do something about it at some point and that we just don’t know what we will have to do, then insuring against those future costs now with mitigation efforts is a very cost effective approach similar to buying insurance against future uncertainty.

If we’re limited to just the IPCC report, why ask us? :slight_smile:

The truth is that nobody knows for sure. Most people (at least that I meet) seem to think the problem with global warming is simply that everywhere will get warmer, possibily with a side order of giant tidal waves like in “The Day after Tomorrow,” but the real risk is long term changes in climactic patterns. Just having the gulf stream stop would essentially destroy European civilization and force the migration of at least a hundred million people. But will that happen? What about the “cool and dry Earth” scenario, which could in fact destroy human civilization? Maybe that’ll happen and maybe not.

The long term effects, to be honest, range from “very slow change that overall we can handle” to “Rapid chance that will seriously fuck us over.” the Earth’s climate is too complex a system to really know what sure what the introduction of more energy will do.

Of course, as Blake points out, it’s theoretically possible that global warming could benefit us all. If you posit a scenario where the world’s patterns generally stay more or less the same but the world does warm up, you might get a situation with more rainfall and more usable land; the world’s deserts, as well as the Arctic areas of Russia and Canada, are presently more or less useless to human beings. Imagine what you could do if the Northwest Territory was eight degrees warmer and had lots of arable land. That seems unlikely, but you never know. So that’s the best case.

It’s quite technically feasible. There’s not really any particular reason why you could not replace most fossil fuel with nuclear energy. No, I’m not suggesting every car have a nuclear engine,. but you could have electric vehicles juiced up by nuclear power plants, homes heated with nuclear-generated electricity, so on and so forth. There’s still a place for fossil fuels (aircraft) but, technically speaking, 90% of fossil fuel use could be replaced.

Not in the slightest. The up front cost would be colossal, in the trillions, and the world’s rich countries would have to subsidize the poor. And you still have a lot of idiots opposed to nuclear power who don’t seem to grasp that with a little care, nuclear energy WON’T destroy the planet’s ecosystem, while fossil fuels very well might.

Nuclear power. See above.

Cutting demand for energy is not an option. I’m sorry, but reducing world fuel usage from today’s levels will have little impact at all, at least within the ranges discussed in Kyoto and that sort of thing. Cutting our emissions of greenhouse gases by 25% will simply delay global warming, not stop it, and in the long run who cares if it’s ten years late getting to the dance? You have to cut it by a huge amount, eighty percent or more, by ELIMINATING fossil fuel usage in any application where it’s not really needed.

Not sure I understand the question.

The potential risk is the death of four to six billion people and the complete breakdown of human civilization. I’m not saying that will happen but it’s theoretically possible, if global warming results in a radical climate change, under many possible scenarios.

Of course, that’s also true of an asteroid strike; a nice big ol’ rock could kill every human on the planet in six months, and it’s perfectly possible that it could happen this April (it’s frighteningly easy for asteroids to get close to us without us noticing.) But that’s very unlikely. What I don’t know, and what nobody really knows for sure, is the odds to apply to any given climate change scenario.

Skulk in the hills with a bit of hi-tech

Africa will die of AIDS before it toasts, China is smart enough to employ the odd Dutch dyke builder and Bangladesh will move its shoreline economy inland - because it is a shoreland economy.

This whole thing is a load of nonsense, if you or is it your Gods believed in anything then it should be Chaos Theory - like NOLA getting stuffed by a barge.

Our absolute first priority, before forcing massive changes for miniscule carbon savings (like the fluorescent light bulbs thread), would be to stop the burning of the Amazon, which contributes a massive slice of the carbon emissions of the world (but is rarely listed because it’s not an industrial effect)

Cutting greenhouse gases by cutting demand for power is pie in the sky. Every available fossil fuel that can be extracted economically from mother earth will end up in the atmosphere. Some nations might try to cut, but the rest of the world is rapidly developing an increasing appetite for fossil fuels and much less likely to thwart their economies. So it really is us or them.

The real concern is the need to develop an alternative source of energy infrastructure on a scale comparable to the fossil fuel industry. I’m talking nuclear energy, and the subsequently derived hydrogen fuel. The technology is proven, both for developing nuclear plants, manufacturing hydrogen, and delivering a natural gas to a mobile engine cylinder. Fortunately, greenhouse gases from this entire operating system is zero.
Such an undertaking to replace fossil fuels would require a massive capital cost comprising a considerable initial expenditure of fossil fuel. It is imperative to embark on this program while fossil fuels are still as cheap as they are now.

I think you are almost all making great points and suggestions. Blake, an especially excellent analysis. **Sam ** thank you for starting this thread.

Part of the problem solving is to stop looking for a magic bullet. The problems need to be addressed with dozens of methods. We need ways that do not derail existing and growing economies. We need new industries and many world treaties. Kyoto is indeed flawed, but this should not rule out other treaties.

Saving power is a worthwhile goal. It reduces the need to build more power plants and increases our ability to take off duty the dirtiest coal plants.

Building Nuclear Power plants is a large and relatively inexpensive part of creating low emission power to replace dirty Coal.
New clean Coal plants would allow the US and China to continue to use this very inexpensive and plentiful resource. Paging Una to speak with authority of what we can feasibly do to make clean coal plants.

Hybrid, Electric & Hydrogen cars replacing standard Internal Combustion Engines would reduce a large amount of Green House gases. If the EU, USA, Japan, Korea and China put their efforts into these technologies, the cost and efficiency will soon make some or all of them feasible. This would then translate to the rest of the world. Hybrids in particular are a major effort now in Japan and China. Plug-in Hybrids would do wonders for the US’ large suburban population.

Efficient appliances and lighting: CFL and LED lighting with improved energy star appliances, Air conditioners and water heater especially will save a very large amount of electricity. This is a very economically feasible goal. BTW: LCD TVs and monitors should at least be encouraged as they are much more efficient than tubes, plasma or projection technologies. On a personnel note, I plan to buy only LCDs for now on and plan on buying a laptop as my next computer despite my love for building and tinkering with desktops. One more small sacrifice I can make.

Stopping the burning of the Amazon is a great point. It releases much store Carbon into the atmosphere. I am not sure about the amount suggested above. However, it is another large factor. On that same note, planting a lot more trees would increase the storage of carbon. The wood should then be earmarked for furniture and landfill where it will act as a long-term carbon sink. (Please let me know if I am wrong about this or if there are better uses for the wood to help global warming).

Solar and Wind power can be an ever-increasing source of power generation. Animal groups need to understand that Wind Power killing a few birds a year can help save many endangered species in the end. Solar is making many break-through yearly now. They are getting more inexpensive and more efficient.

Improved housing technologies can help. We need to build new houses that take better advantage of the environment they are in and are more efficient at heating, cooling and lighting.

Technologies involved in Carbon Sequestion need to be pursued. A boost in Fusion research would probably be a good idea. It would be nice if we could finally get a working plant in the next 50 years. Pebble-Bed reactors need to be brought on-line and perfected.

**Technologies, small sacrifices, intelligent agriculture, architecture, and more efficiencies, can combine to solve the human portion of Global Warming in a hundred years. I believe we can do it. **


To me, thinking about this in terms of “how much will it cost?” is the wrong approach. I think the right approach is to say, “How will a future based on alternate energy sources make life better for everyone?” You can enumerate all the ways life will be better for individuals as well as the collectivity, and you can cite a bunch of things – reduced carbon emissions, lower cost for energy, lessened environmental degradation from mining and drilling, energy security, etc., etc. – and after that, you say, “Sounds good. Let’s forge ahead, and hang the expense.”

The fact is, the world does have enough money to create a different energy future. I know people will think I’m being cavalier about the money, but the fact is, every advance in human history has cost huge amounts of money, and has found someone willing to pay for it, often without a ton of trouble. Consider, for example, how casually we embarked on the Iraq war, and what the ultimate cost will be. Or consider how much money was fronted up by investors to fund the dot-com boom, and how much of that money just evaporated for them. Even those people who lost big time (me, for example) can console themselves with the thought that they helped pay for the robust Internet we know and love.

Same deal with fighting global warming: throw some government money at the problem, offer incentives to get the private sector to invest in promising technologies, trot out that old chestnut about national security – it’ll cost a ton, but who can doubt that the ultimate benefits will ripple through every layer of society?

Just a quick plug for the Feb 9th edition of Science which I just got to reading while waitng at my daughter’s gymnastics class today. The focus is on renewable energy sources and current research trends. Factoids from that issue:

The EU now has wind farms providing the equivilant of 50 coal fired power plants.

Solar technology is becoming cheaper and may reach a cost-effective point soon; one take of many presented is to use fuel cells in reverse to produce hydrogen from water with solar energy.

Biofuel research is looking way beyond corn-based ethanol with its well known limitations. Better plant choices and better enzymes are on the way.

Carbon sequestration technologies are still in an early phase with many open questions.

The main thesis is that we need to balance investment in the fundamental research with the investment in utilizing the fixes we currently have.