Friday, April 27, 2012

People and the Planet: contraception and reduction of consumption

The UK Royal Society has published a report on environmental pressures from population and consumption, entitled People and the Planet. The conclusion offers a stark choice:
Over the next 30 – 40 years the confluence of the
challenges described in this report provides the
opportunity to move towards a sustainable economy
and a better world for the majority of humanity,
or alternatively the risk of social, economic and
environmental failures and catastrophes on a scale
never imagined.

We had several discussions on this blog about the issues of alarmism, and about population growth in relation to climate change, highlighting the so called Kaya identity. The Royal Society Report addresses the wider issue of the future of humanity and singles out population and consumption levels (but making frequent comments on climate change). It is in line with many scientists' adherence to Neo-Malthusian principles.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The old script

In a nice turn of events Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) makes a statement about catastrophic climate change. A few days ago I posted Jim Lovelock's insights about his misplaced alarmism. Now we have just such an example of alarmism at the service of climate policy, old style. Ahead of a meeting of energy ministers in London, the IEA director warns of catastrophic consequences if politicians fail to act. The intervention appears to have a special target: David Cameron, the British Prime minister who is expected to make a speech at the meeting which has been the object of much speculation over the past week or so ('will he stick to his ambitious climate policy or avoid the issue?').

Monday, April 23, 2012

Climate change, yes but not too soon - Lovelock

In an interview with msnbc the famous philosopher-scientist admits that he was being too alarmist about climate change. He says the same applies to other influential voices in the environmentalist debate such as Al Gore. But Lovelock is unique in his self-critical attitude, something he had already done in the 1990s when he realized that his reassurances about the ozone layer were misplaced. His honesty shows the limits of scientific reasoning when making evaluations of uncertain developments. And he admits being wrong in opposite directions, in the first case not alarming at all (or, rather, reassuring), in the second alarming too much. Perhaps the second was a reaction to the first, maybe an overreaction.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Good science on Himalayan glaciers

In the aftermath of Glaciergate, this week's issue of the journal Science includes a sober and informative review article by a large team of researchers lead by Tobias Bolch of the University of Zurich on the state and fate of Himalayan glaciers. Unfortunately, the paper is pay-walled. I think this is a another  nice example of an article that should be unlocked to show that technical and objective, and at the same time accessible and also quite relevant, information in climate research is still possible. 

climate cultures: the air we live in

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Doctrine or Consensus?

Recently a reader of the blog asked some specific questions about the results in the survey of climate scientists. The questions are:

Is there one group of scientists who are unconvinced on many of the questions you ask, or are different scientists more unconvinced on different points?

If the issue is a very expensive and extensive mitigation strategy, what fraction of respondents actually feel forced to answer Yes because they are very convinced by all the sub issues that would make that strategy necessary? And what fraction might believe in most of them, but disagree on enough points that they would not see an extensive mitigation strategy as a good idea.

Are the people who disagree with details AGW consensus the same group throughout, or are there some people who disagree with some aspects but agree with others?

A comparison based on expertise (questions 4 – 6) of:

  • change mostly due to CO2
  • seriousness of issue
  • potential for catastrophe
  • mitigation vs adaptation
  • IPCC over or under estimates sensitivity
  • need for immediate action for mitigation

 In the following I attempt to answer some of these questions.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Climate change in the back of our minds

Maybe Obama doesn't talk about climate change anymore (see yesterday's post), but obviously American citizens have it in mind. The New York Times reports that "In Polls, many link extremes to climate change":
A poll due for release on Wednesday shows that a large majority of Americans believe that this year’s unusually warm winter, last year’s blistering summer and some other weather disasters were probably made worse by global warming (...)  Read together, the polls suggest that direct experience of erratic weather may be convincing some people that the problem is no longer just a vague and distant threat.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Climate Change & Rhetoric

In January, Max Boykoff wrote an opinion piece in the Washington post about an Interesting shift in Obama's 'climate change' rhetoric. Obama stopped almost completely using the term "climate change"; instead, he talks about "energy" and "clean energy".  According to another study, this seems to reflect a worldwide tendency. Boykoff complains that "clean energy" does not cover impacts such as changing land use, deforestation, and other forms of climate pollution than carbon.  "Clean energy" also avoids the problem of curbing consumption. Correctly, he reminds us that
Calling climate change by another name creates limits of its own. The way we talk about the problem affects how we deal with it. And though some new wording may deflect political heat, it can’t alter the fact that, “climate change” or not, the climate is changing.
On the other hand, does it matter that Max Boykoff talks of "climate change" in general when he means "anthropogenic" or "human-made" climate change?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

AGU Interview with Bjorn Stevens

New interview in the series of the AGU Atmospheric Science Newsletter No. 6(1) with Bjorn Stevens.
Bjorn Stevens is a director at the Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology where he leads the Atmosphere in the Earth System Department and is a professor at the University of Hamburg. Prior to moving to Hamburg Dr. Stevens was a professor of Dynamic Meteorology at the University of California of Los Angeles. His research blends modeling, theory and field work to help articulate the role of clouds and atmospheric convection in the climate system. Dr. Stevens has made pioneering contributions to our understanding of mixing and microphysical processes on the structure and organization of marine boundary layer clouds, whose statistics regulate the flow of energy through the Earth system. Small changes in such clouds can greatly amplify, or dampen, perturbations to the Earth system. Dr. Stevens received a PhD in Atmospheric Science in 1996 from the Colorado State University in Ft Collins CO, and holds a Bachelor and Masters of Science in electrical engineering from Iowa State University.
This is no. 13 in this series of interviews.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Roll Over Walt Whitman

Make way for the International Poets of Climate Change (IPCC II).  Somebody is desperately seeking something.

'Are you an ECO POET? Climate science needs YOU'
'Creative writing and global warming formally allied'

Oh  model! Oh model!
Thou doth render fear
Or is it a case
Of scientific diarrhea?

OK, I'll take the course.

Stakeholder Stakeholder
What should you hear
There's a coming crisis
Now go live in fear


Monday, April 2, 2012

Lesson 1: How to become a critical blogger

A critical blogger's mindset rests on a few basic assumptions. Here an example: Bishop Hill presents a new climate course by Mike Hulme via a story in the Times Higher Education. The course combines environmental sciences and the humanities; Hulme says that  he "became increasingly frustrated that science alone cannot motivate social change". Bishop Hill comments as follows:
"As a taxpayer, I must say I struggle with the idea that I should be forced to pay people to work on coming up with new tactics to get me to amend my ways. This seems to me to be political campaigning rather than academic research."