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Climate Apocalypse 
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
I meant to respond to this earlier, but I've been traveling a lot lately.

Robert Tulip wrote:
You say you don't doubt anthropogenic causes for climate change, you just doubt the ability of scientists to measure it and of humanity to "do anything to change the path we're on". This sort of extreme pessimism is like a death warrant for the planet. It still amounts to denial.


A denier would say global warming isn't really happening. A cynic would say there's no hope in the face of such danger. The two positions are mutually exclusive. I can't be both. There's much we don't know about climate change and likening me to a Holocaust denier simply because I don't agree with certain assertions is really an attempt to dichotomize the situation.

All I've been saying all along is that such claims as the world will warm by x degrees are just not very meaningful. That the four degrees is an extrapolation of "current global trends" is exactly right. We have talked before of world population projections which are simple extrapolations of current birth trends. As birth trends change, so do the extrapolations. So to extrapolate current warming trends ignores all of the complexities that can lead to reasonable questions regarding climate change.

Indeed there are many reasonable positions between the two extremes: 1) global warming is definitely taking place and it's all due to human activity; and 2) global warming is a bunch of bull hockey. Just because I'm not jumping on your particular bandwagon doesn't mean I'm a denier. You are attempting to frame the argument with only two positions, not taking into account the many shades of gray in between.


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Fri Jul 22, 2011 11:37 am
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
Geo, thank you for continuing the conversation. I note that this thread is the Featured Article on the Booktalk home page, so there are probably a few other readers, and I hope some will chime in.

I think you have backtracked slightly from your initial comments that I objected to, where you used terms such as "preposterous" and "malarkey" in relation to the extrapolation of current trends. It was these loaded terms that led me to an equally robust response. If you look at the science behind these extrapolations, they start from the theory of CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and how the alarming vertical line in graphs of the CO concentration in the air suggest likely future trends. The extrapolations recognize that policy change could stabilize CO2 concentrations, but that current practices are in fact moving in the opposite direction, with accelerating rate of CO2 emission increase pointing to an unprecedented climate instability that amounts to a global experiment in accidental engineering.

The alarming truth is that left unchecked, global warming could produce a planetary catastrophe that would dwarf the Second World War. The point of the quote I included earlier from Winston Churchill was that to call for calm in this situation today has the same moral standing as the calls in his day to appease Adolph Hitler.

So we should we wary of taking a global scientific consensus with a grain of salt. It actually is quite "meaningful", to use your term, to note that our planet is in the early stages of what for a person would be a medical emergency like cerebral meningitis. Responsible doctors do not tell such patients that their symptoms are meaningless, they rush them to an intensive care unit.



Fri Jul 22, 2011 6:07 pm
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
Here is something I've been meaning to ask: Is too much made of CO2? I mean, in your previous post you reference how there once was a theory of c02 being a greenhouse gas and yet most of the talk about AGW that I hear gives me the impression that c02 is considered the only greenhouse gas. Is there anything that can be done about methane, water vapor et al... ? Or is your proposed action liable to have a welcome effect on these gases as well as C02?


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Sat Jul 23, 2011 4:55 am
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
While methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, there is over 200 times more CO2 in the atmosphere. Hence the amount of warming methane contributes is 28% of the warming CO2 contributes.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/methane ... arming.htm

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On the apocalyptic front, there is a suggestion that CO2 emissions could lead to a tipping point where vast quantities of methane buried in the ocean and permafrost, known as clathrates, could be released. The science suggests this is unlikely - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_gun_hypothesis. There is some suggestion a big methane burp may have caused the Permian extinction 250 million years ago when 96% of sea species went extinct.

We have a real apocalypse on our hands with C02 denial. The problem is that economic growth now depends on fossil fuels so we are burning them like there is no tomorrow. All the hand-wringing conceals the remorseless fact that emission rates are rapidly increasing. Back in 2006, Future Pundit said "Not only is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) getting pumped into the atmosphere increasing but the rate at which it is increasing is itself increasing. In the last 5 years the rate of growth in CO2 emissions was 5 times faster than it was in the 1990s. The global growth in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels was 4 times greater in the period between 2000 to 2005 than in the preceding 10 years."

My theory is that enormous algae ponds on the ocean could be like Band-Aids for Gaia. Covering 0.1% of the sea should be enough to stabilise and regulate the climate, prevent mass extinctions, address global energy and food shortages and create large new profitable enterprises. We need a new paradigm for a new age. Time is short.



Sat Jul 23, 2011 6:09 am
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
My first thought was that 28% of the warming CO2 produces is a significant amount. Is it? Isn't water vapor the greenhouse gas responsible for the greatest warming effect? I'm asking these things because it seems to me that every time CO2 solutions/warnings are presented there is a near complete, lest's say, snarkily, denial, of there being other major contributors to the warming of the planet. I'd like to know why this is. You say, rightly, that our economy is based around the burning of fossil fuels and then seem surprised, at the very least, disappointed, that there is a large percentage of the population in resistance to the idea that we need to cut back. Of course there is - there always will be when you go after a society's way of life! Anyway, this is the background behind why I think it would be a good idea to at least look at those greenhouse which the economy does not actually depend on as well as the one it does. For all I know, which is very little, there may be a vast amount of research dedicated to methane and water vapor reduction. Maybe it's been decided that nothing can be done about them. I don't know. And every time I ask, as I did here, the reply is some form of, But it's CO2 that we need to look at. Well then look at it. But why not look at the other gases as well. Wouldn't that be a reasonable aproach?


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Sun Jul 24, 2011 4:48 am
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
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You say, rightly, that our economy is based around the burning of fossil fuels and then seem surprised, at the very least, disappointed, that there is a large percentage of the population in resistance to the idea that we need to cut back. Of course there is - there always will be when you go after a society's way of life!
I do not agree that we have to use less energy. Cutting energy use is pointless, partly because it just exports jobs to countries such as India and China that have no intention of cutting use. The context is that emissions are accelerating, and this aggregate problem will not be fixed by rationing, carbon taxes or frugality. It is pointless for an individual or a nation to feel virtuous about being frugal with energy, because individual actions make no difference to the climate. What is needed is a global shift to new technology, as advocated by the Copenhagen Consensus as I mentioned earlier in this thread. Using less energy is counterproductive because it gives the false impression of contributing to a solution. The only effective contribution individuals can make is advocacy and investment in research and development for game changing technology.

This Copenhagen Consensus paper on energy research at fixtheclimate.com sets this out rather starkly. Some key points:
Quote:
1. Any attempt to reduce carbon emissions by artificially reducing the availability of energy will not be accepted.
2. A technology-led climate policy is a means of breaking the knot.
3. A technology-led policy is not a recipe for subsidies to energy production.
4. The blinders that have distorted climate policy to date need to be replaced by a hardheaded appreciation of the nature and magnitude of the technological task ahead.
5. For a global average GDP growth rate of 2.4% (1990-2100) estimates of the carbon-free power required by 2100 generally fall in the range of 25-40 terawatts (TW).
6. Currently, the world’s consumption of energy measured in power terms is 16.5 TW of which about 15% is carbon-neutral.
7. Taken altogether, current energy technologies, if hugely scaled up, might get us halfway toward a stabilization path by 2050 - but only a fraction of the way toward achieving stabilization by 2100.
8. There is still a large technology gap between usable carbon-neutral energy with current technologies and the amount required for climate stabilization.
9. Major breakthroughs in new as well as existing energy technologies and sources will be required for stabilization at 550 ppm, and even more so for stabilization at 450 ppm.


Quote:
28% of the warming CO2 produces is a significant amount. Is it? Isn't water vapor the greenhouse gas responsible for the greatest warming effect?
Yes, methane is significant. But methane only stays in the air for less than a decade, whereas CO2 stays for over a century and is therefore far slower and harder to address. By comparison, water vapor stays in the air for only 9 days. Scientists have considered these factors carefully, and CO2 is easily the main problem. We are rapidly changing the amount of CO2 but the amount of water vapor is fairly stable. As well, water vapor stays in the lower atmosphere, whereas CO2 and methane mix up to the top of the atmosphere where much of the greenhouse effect occurs.

Some links on methane and water vapor
http://www.sciscoop.com/climate-change-evidence.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse ... ater_vapor
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methane#At ... ic_methane



Last edited by Robert Tulip on Sun Jul 24, 2011 7:35 am, edited 3 times in total.



Sun Jul 24, 2011 7:08 am
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
Yes, it's a mistake to accept at face value the statement that CO2, a minor greenhouse gas by volume, can't be as significant in warming as so many scientists are saying. You have to look at the persistence of CO2 and its contribution to a water-vapor feedback loop.

Although it would be folly to continue to base our economy on fossil fuels, the vision of ever-expanding human energy use--from whatever the source--is folly, too. That vision is no less hubristic than the prevailing view of our importance in the world. With exponentially-increasing energy use you have a multitude of other effects on the rest of life on the planet, a primary one being the effect of human population on habitats. This will be the case even if the proposed energy panacea has no unintended bad effects, a possibility that is near zero. We need to face the fact that oil and coal, for all the problems we see in them, are miracle fuels in terms of their energy density. Exclusive reliance on what are now alternatives will necessarily entail much lower per capita energy use.

Living in harmony with the planet and putting no limits on the growth of our species are mutually exclusive. We need to adjust ourselves to the world, not adjust the world to ourselves. The latter direction shouldn't be viewed in a near-religious way as our taking control of evolution.



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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
Robert Tulip wrote:
. . . I am very far from believing a catastrophe is inevitable. My point in this thread is that a catastrophe can be averted through concerted action. It is possible for humans to shift to a new paradigm of harmony with nature that will still enable economic growth. Failure to engage with the global reality of climate change would result in catastrophe though.

Robert Tulip wrote:
. . . We have a real apocalypse on our hands with C02 denial. The problem is that economic growth now depends on fossil fuels so we are burning them like there is no tomorrow. All the hand-wringing conceals the remorseless fact that emission rates are rapidly increasing. Back in 2006, Future Pundit said "Not only is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) getting pumped into the atmosphere increasing but the rate at which it is increasing is itself increasing. In the last 5 years the rate of growth in CO2 emissions was 5 times faster than it was in the 1990s. The global growth in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels was 4 times greater in the period between 2000 to 2005 than in the preceding 10 years."

My theory is that enormous algae ponds on the ocean could be like Band-Aids for Gaia. Covering 0.1% of the sea should be enough to stabilise and regulate the climate, prevent mass extinctions, address global energy and food shortages and create large new profitable enterprises. We need a new paradigm for a new age. Time is short.


Certainly the U.S. and other nations should study ways to address climate change. In a sense we have no choice. The algae ponds are an intriguing idea, but can you prove that such ponds would absorb meaningful levels of C02? I would think you would need to start with a small scale model (1 acre perhaps) and measure how much C02 is absorbed. I've aways been intrigued with the notion of converting C02 back to O at the source of combustion, so all cars and trucks would be equipped with converters that would be powered by some of the energy being released by the combustion. I don't know if this is technically feasible or not, but it's a nice idea.

Your use of the word "band-aid" is appropriate. To me it seems obvious that the underlying cause of global warming and other environmental woes are due to humans occupying an ever-expanding niche on the planet. Humans—always selfish, destructive, and short-sighted—now dominate the earth and we are overwhelming it—upsetting the balance of nature to the detriment of other species and ultimately of ourselves.

Jared Diamond in The Third Chimpanzee shows that human migrations in the past were always accompanied by mass extinctions of large mammals. Evidence shows that we are living through a massive extinction event right now. There's no question that the humans are displacing other organisms. We have eliminated all predators and through advances in science and medicine, reduced mortality from diseases that would otherwise have checked our population. But clearly, there are limits. No population can grow indefinitely. We will eventually outstrip our resource base.

I totally agree that there has to be a paradigm change, but due to our extreme short-sightedness and willful ignorance, it will likely have to be triggered by some cataclysmic event. As you say, our addiction to oil knows no bounds. We won't quit our habit willingly because it literally fuels our economy and greatly subsidizes the costs of food production. Current human population levels are certainly intrinsically tied to the availability of cheap (petroleum) energy. We are very literally riding a wave that has to crash some day.


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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
geo wrote:
The algae ponds are an intriguing idea, but can you prove that such ponds would absorb meaningful levels of C02? I would think you would need to start with a small scale model (1 acre perhaps) and measure how much C02 is absorbed.
The most promising method for bulk fuel production from algae is likely to emerge from the work of the US National Aeronautical and Space Administration, NASA, in their OMEGA Project - Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae.

Dr. Jonathan Trent, chief scientist for OMEGA, recently explained the status of the project (link). OMEGA plans to grow algae by pumping wastewater from sewage plants into floating fabric bags located in sheltered coastal bays. OMEGA has identified San Francisco Bay as an optimal test site, with readily available nutrient supply adjacent to suitable pilot locations, as well as abundant human capital in the innovation hub of Silicon Valley.

Sewage contains high levels of nutrients, and can be treated offshore in floating farms to produce algae and fresh water, instead of just dumping the treated waste at sea. Dr. Trent has shown that once the sewage is fully converted to algae, it can be simply processed to thick slush by putting it in a floating bag of a material that allows fresh water to escape by osmosis into the surrounding sea while retaining the algae cells in the bag. The concentrated algae is then a valuable commercial bulk commodity.

Where the ideas I have presented add to the NASA proposal is in using bags of fresh water for stability, buoyancy and energy. For example, a floating bag of fresh water could fairly simply pump vast quantities of sewage, or rich deep water to the surface, just using tidal energy, or possibly wave energy. If this idea can be tested on small scale in a sheltered accessible location such as San Francisco Bay, this will establish if it has potential to operate on larger scale.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory proposed in the 1970s to locate algae farms adjacent to coal-fired power stations and to pump all the emissions through the farm. A constraint for this is the cost of pumping. If algae farms are located in shallow tidal locations, it should be possible to use tidal energy to pump CO2 from nearby power stations, at effectively zero energy cost. The produced algae can fuel the power station, creating a closed loop so that no emissions escape to the atmosphere.



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Mon Jul 25, 2011 6:45 am
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
The paradigm shift I believe is needed isn't a technical one (which to me doesn't qualify as this anyway), but one of values. I admit that this is a long shot given our nature and history, but we need to focus on the idea of societies being truly commonwealths, in which wealth and material goods are shared, individual wealth is greatly deemphasized, and natural resources are everyone's to enjoy and protect. Yes, basically good old socialism. Some of the northern European countires are leading the way.



Mon Jul 25, 2011 7:21 am
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
DWill, I hate to pop your socialist bubble, but Scandinavia is not socialist. In fact, the Ludwig von Mises Institute shows that Scandinavia generally enjoys stronger capitalist standards than the USA in many respects. I'm sure some readers would like to make ad hominem criticisms of the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, but it does provide a fairly robust measure of rank, and the northern Europeans are up there in the top thirty. Market capitalism is why they are rich; their high standards are despite their social democratic welfare state tendencies, (which have been rejected by Sweden and Denmark) not because of them.

Socialism is about big government. It does not protect the environment because it corrupts property rights, markets, incentives and regulation in the name of buying votes through class war. Carbon taxes are just a front for socialism, for people who want to get on the big government gravy train. The only real way to protect the environment, at least in terms of the global problem of CO2, is to make sustainable industries profitable, so countries who cannot afford to subsidise basket weaver technology like wind farms and solar panels will adopt new technologies. That is why a paradigm shift has to focus on technology, within a strong capitalist business enabling environment. Current technology for energy is not sustainable. Anything that cannot be sustained will stop.



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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
I hang around on another conservative site where socialism is usually equated to Naziism. I guess I'm curious more than anything. I've heard some very convincing arguments that socialist programs lead to a sense of entitlement where more and more people become dependent on the government. We are seeing the consequences of this in Europe now, especially in Greece and Italy where larger governments have resulted in bankrupt states. I'm more or less moderate-conservative in my thinking and I have a fairly libertarian view of big government and fiscal policies. So, where on the planet has socialism actually worked well? It could be that the time simply isn't right for socialism, but that it may be someday. But right now, I would argue it's best for the people to keep government as small as humanly possible. Less chance of bloat and corruption, I'd think.


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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
Robert Tulip wrote:
It is pointless for an individual or a nation to feel virtuous about being frugal with energy, because individual actions make no difference to the climate.
hrm. I am not sure why 'feel virtuous' is included in your reply since it lends itself more to an ethical argument than to the practical one your posts, in my eyes anyway, have been centered on. Then again, I guess you have branced out on more philosophic matters in this thread... well then to go with the thought for a moment. I recall hearing that the USA consumes, roughly, 25% of the world's energy while having, roughly, 5% of the world's population. Assuming this to be essentially true, it's a situation where frugality could be claimed should this same 5% of the world's population uses merely, say, 20% of its energy. It's all topsy-turvy! I don't consider it being frugal, but simply coming closer to living within one's means - which, now that you mention it, is something I recall as once being regarded as something of a virtue! Besides, if those who directly benefit from the consumption of fossil fuels are regarded as collectively comprising Satan's fingers cutting back, in itself, is something one should actually feel good about. So I do disagree that it is pointless cutting back on participation with a system that is viewed as being an inherently destructive one. Really, I consider it a matter of arrogance - if my action alone won't bring about a desired result then I refuse to perform said action. bah. Go vote, don't buy a particular product, buy a particular product, cut back, spend more, do what you want - it's the shifless finger-in-the-wind nature of our society that is without virtue not a person, no matter how seemingly misguided, who lives his convictions.

Quote:
Yes, methane is significant. But methane only stays in the air for less than a decade, whereas CO2 stays for over a century and is therefore far slower and harder to address. By comparison, water vapor stays in the air for only 9 days. Scientists have considered these factors carefully, and CO2 is easily the main problem. We are rapidly changing the amount of CO2 but the amount of water vapor is fairly stable. As well, water vapor stays in the lower atmosphere, whereas CO2 and methane mix up to the top of the atmosphere where much of the greenhouse effect occurs.
Yes, methane is significant. Now let's ignore it. That's what I get from your reply. I won't continue asking the same thing, since you've already given answers and provided links to the question. The problem is, I don't see from your reply (and I'm not looking at the links) a reason that allows me to understand why it is that methane and water vapor are not, even potentially, significant factors when it comes to reversing the warming trend of the planet. So water stays in the lower atmosphere and in the air for only 9 days, and is stable and so on - so what? Why does all this mean it couldn't be lessened? I'm not saying you're wrong. I am saying you can't explain it so that someone who knows next to nothing about the matter, and is open to proposals, could possibly understand it well enough to in good conscience agree with your general position. And this is the type of person you most need to convince, isn't it?


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Wed Jul 27, 2011 7:51 pm
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
Hey guys, the word socialism was used partly tongue-in-cheek. Here in the U.S. it doesn't take a lot for the 'socialist' charge to be fired off by our politicians, and they would certainly see Scandinavian government programs as being entirely socialist, although those governments don't fit some classical model of socialism. It's the activist-for-the-sake-of-the-common-good type of government that I had in mind. Check out what Stockholm, Europe's green capital, has done in terms of environmental initiatives.



Wed Jul 27, 2011 10:36 pm
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Post Re: Climate Apocalypse
The latest from Jonathan Trent of NASA OMEGA - Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae




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