The Soft Climate Change Denial Process

A two-thirds chance of probably escaping dangerous climate change 

Once upon a time the international community agreed on the goal of keeping the warming of the planet above “pre-industrial” times of 2 degrees centigrade. There was a lot of debate about whether or not there was any real scientific basis to this target, with some considering it too high, but it became the de facto international target. There is still an accepted probability that dangerous climate change may set in at below 20C.

Then there was the question of what level of greenhouse gases (GHGs) would limit warming to 20C. In the insurance industry, and financial risk management, probabilities of 99% or 95% are normal for assessing an acceptable risk level. The problem was that using a 95%/99% probability, the acceptable level of atmospheric GHGs would be so low that human civilization would have to immediately engage in deep cuts in emissions. So, to keep this unpleasant reality at bay, a probability of 66% was used. This provided an acceptable carbon dioxide equivalent concentration of 450 parts per millions. Continue reading

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The Inability To Accept That Growth And Sustainability Are Not Reconcilable

There seems to be a complete inability for senior policy makers to even countenance the possibility that a period of economic contraction may be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the rate required to forestall dangerous climate change. This inability was on display in an interview given by Christiana Figueres, the former UN Climate Chief, to Radio New Zealand[1]. She went out of her way to state that the decarbonization of the global economy was not inconsistent with continued economic growth. The desperation to not question the growth paradigm, and the many misleading tactics used to keep questions of growth at bay, were fully on display in the Figueres interview and the recent paper she published with others[2]:

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Less Bread More Circuses?

The Roman poet Juvenal stated that the common people were only interested in bread (income) and circuses (entertainment) rather than real freedom. With the advent of modern communications technologies, from the printed word to the Internet, the ability to provide the required entertainment has increased exponentially. In the postwar period, from about 1945 to 1970, the industrialized countries delivered both more income and more entertainment to the average citizen. Since that time, the mixture of globalization and neoliberalism has halted the increase in median incomes; in some cases median incomes have actually fallen (especially when less manipulated measures of inflation are used). Continue reading

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Is The Plateauing Of Carbon Dioxide Emissions Over?

The biggest reason for the near plateauing in carbon dioxide emissions over the past few years has been the reduction in coal use in China (which uses about half the world’s coal, 3,546 metric tonnes in 2016 from 3,969 Mt in 2013[1]), as well as in other countries such as the UK (18 Mt from 61Mt) and the USA (661 Mt from 837 Mt). It was always going to be difficult for China to keep reducing coal use while its economy kept growing at 6-7%, continuously increasing the demand for electricity; even if that growth is less focused on heavy industry. The change in the US was driven as much by the price of coal relative to natural gas, and the UK simply doesn’t have that much coal capacity left to shut down. Continue reading

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The Evidence Against The Existence of A Positive Carbon Budget Continues to Mount

The Arctic Sea Ice Forum (ASIF) is an invaluable source of information that I regularly read and contribute to. One of the discussion threads on the forum is entitled “Conservative Scientists & its Consequences” that addresses the divergence between public statements on climate change and the findings of recent scientific research. This divergence facilitates much of the soft-denial maintained in official policy circles, with the concept of a carbon budget being a good example. Even Non-Governmental Organizations, such as Carbon Tracker, keep using carbon budgets that do not take into account more recent research findings. As such, they propagate the myth that a carbon budget exists and that we still have two to three decades to reduce emissions to zero.

In a previous post I have addressed some of the issues that argue for the lack of a carbon budget. Below, I list some more such issues that have come to light as an increasing pace of scientific studies invalidates the assumptions used in the mainstream climate models. Continue reading

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The Impacts Of An Ice Free Arctic: A Climate Paradigm Shift?

The possibility of abrupt changes in Earth Systems provides a unique challenge for the scientific and policy-making community. The current scientific processes, and the way in which new knowledge is created and becomes generally accepted, were developed during a time when Earth Systems could be assumed to be stable over timescales of decades and centuries. The emphasis was placed upon painstaking verification, and attempted nullification of a given hypothesis, rather than speed. The peer-review process utilized by academic journals may in itself take years, after many years spent in the field and constructing and validating hypotheses from the underlying data. Continue reading

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CO2e Increases By 4 ppm For The Second Year In A Row

In 2016 the combined effect of all greenhouse gases (CO2e which includes the effects of such gases as methane and nitrous oxide) increased by the equivalent of 4ppm of CO2, to 489ppm, according to NOAA[i]. This is the second year in a row that CO2e has increased by 4ppm, and this decade the yearly increase has not been below 3ppm. The average increase is close to 3.5ppm CO2e, well above the rate of increase in CO2 alone. At this rate, the level of CO2e will hit 500ppm by 2020. In prehistoric times, such a level has been associated with temperatures 30C above preindustrial levels. The only thing counter-balancing these high levels of greenhouse gases are the atmospheric sulfate aerosols, produced by such things as burning coal, that help reflect back the Sun’s energy. Without those, the Earth would already be on a rapid path to catastrophic climate change. Continue reading

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Defending Soft Denial While The Arctic Ice Melts Away

There have been countless aggrieved comments from across the world about Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Treaty. There has also been much academic angst about Trump’s use of an MIT study that showed that the Paris emission reduction commitments will have reduced surface air temperatures in 2050 “by about 0.120C under all three scenarios”[1]. Instead of attacking the climate negotiations as being absurdly pathetic, the academics referred to it as being a useful step. This is what we have come to; facilitating soft denial in the face of impending disaster. On a monthly basis, global average temperatures in 2016 exceeded the 1.50C limit[2] that was so trumpeted as a new commitment at Paris, and on an annual basis temperatures were 1.10C above preindustrial times[3]. At least Trump and his acolytes are truthful about their denial, unlike the Canadian Prime Minister who says all the right words and then authorizes new pipelines and does not have the policies in place to back even his minimal emission reduction commitments[4]. Continue reading

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Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions

In a paper authored by Jim Hansen and a number of other climate scientists[1], the concept of “climate debt” is raised. This is the amount of carbon dioxide that will have be removed from the atmosphere at a future date due to a lack of emission reductions in the present. This can be seen as an intergenerational debt, run up by the present adult generations but to be paid out by the future ones. Global temperatures averaged 1.10C above preindustrial levels in 2016 (excluding the short-term warming impact of the 2015/16 El Nino)[2]. An extra 0.50C of delayed warming is baked in through the thermal inertia of the oceans, and up to another 0.50C may also be as the dimming effect of aerosols (produced by burning fossil fuels, especially coal, and land use changes) is reduced. Therefore an above 20C temperature rise may already be baked in at current CO2 levels. Continue reading

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Will Self-Driving Electric Cars Revolutionize and Decarbonize The Transport Sector By 2030?

There have been a slew of reports recently about the promise of self-driving electric vehicles to revolutionize the transport sector while massively reducing transport-related carbon emissions. One of the most bullish of these reports[1] is from the Silicon Valley think tank RethinkX, founded by entrepreneur and futurist Tony Seba. The breathless prose is evident from the first paragraph of the executive summary:

We are on the cusp of one of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruptions of transportation in history. By 2030, within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals, in a new business model we call “transport-as-a-service” (TaaS). The TaaS disruption will have enormous implications across the transportation and oil industries, decimating entire portions of their value chains, causing oil demand and prices to plummet, and destroying trillions of dollars in investor value — but also creating trillions of dollars in new business opportunities, consumer surplus and GDP growth.” Continue reading

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