Three Surprises on Climate Change from Economist Michael Grubb

By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Michael Grubb, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at University College London and a grantee of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, co-authored a recent study showing that what many saw as an overambitious goal to keep the earth’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius may actually be reachable. Climate change deniers quickly pounced, using the hopeful news as an excuse to blame researchers for updating their models and to downplay the climate crisis. Two years after 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement on climate, Grubb explained what the researchers really found and shared with INET surprising developments on global warming, the future of nuclear energy, and why the rest of the climate community isn’t too worried about President Trump.

Lynn Parramore: Let’s talk about the recent study you co-authored that created a media stir. You found that things might be a little better than we thought in terms of the Earth’s temperature rising. Can you explain your conclusions and how they have been spun in the press?

Michael Grubb: Sure. It turns out that we had a longer period than expected where temperatures didn’t rise as fast as the trend of the previous few decades – though they have jumped in the past couple of years. So we updated estimates that were almost a decade old. I do want to emphasize that the difference between what we found and what was widely understood from previous research is small— it shouldn’t have been a massive deal.

Our study in no way means that we don’t have a climate crisis. But we might be slightly better positioned to meet certain goals, like those set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement, than we thought.

LP: And yet Breitbart and other media outlets shouted that climate scientists “admit they were wrong about global warming.” How do you respond to that? How can scientists combat the misinformation?

MG: Partly it’s a problem of scientists not communicating effectively what they do. They run big, complicated models, and measure the past. Scientists looked at C02 emissions since the Industrial Revolution and made projections based on their findings: For every billion tons of carbon we dump into the atmosphere, the temperature goes up by a certain amount.

Based on those assessments, the people who had been running the big modeling projections, said, ok, if we want to prevent the global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, then we can have only have so much in emissions—and it looks like we’ve only got a few years left at current emission rates before we pass the limit.

Governments made a deal in Paris based on ‘avoiding dangerous interference’ with the climate system, which included this target of 1.5 degrees Celsius at the ambitious end. A lot of people, including me, were pessimistic about achieving that goal.

The studies had actually presented estimates on temperatures rising within a range, but unfortunately, some in the scientific community succumbed to the demand for a single number. So they chose a number in the middle of the range that the models showed. Where we are today is actually well within the range of the models. We’re just not right in the middle. We have additional information about what’s happened since then and we have slightly different estimates of the way gases other than CO2 contribute to rising temperatures.

LP: So it’s not that scientists got anything wrong. Rather, it’s a matter of previous findings becoming oversimplified in the public discussion and of more information coming to light since then.

Right. Unfortunately, a lot of misleading things have come out in the press, especially Breitbart, which got it all wrong. But this is the basic challenge for science. If you really look at what’s happened in relation to this paper, you see that science is about continually trying to improve your estimates. The political approach being adopted, in contrast, is to say that any attempt to improve anything in your estimation is treated as, “Oh, well, it was all wrong before then!”

How is knowledge supposed to advance if you never improve on what you did before?  There’s also a huge challenge about how to effectively communicate uncertainty and complexity.

LP: You actually once stated that the Paris goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius was “incompatible with democracy.”

MG: I did! That was actually my first tweet ever.

LP: That was a doozy. Has anything else happened since that tweet to change your mind?

MG: Yes it has! I was responding to the notion held by many that we could reach the goal technologically if we spent enough quickly enough. Well, of course! But the problem is a political one. It’s a social science problem. Instead of social scientists in this space, we have modelers churning out models with targeted carbon prices and so on, when in reality we can’t get even a small part of it through a political system.

So that tweet was my cri de coeur to say, look, this goal is impossibly ambitious in real countries where people vote and may well object to what we’d have to do. So you’d better start thinking about the social scientific aspects.

Three things have changed since the tweet. First, we now have an approach that indicates we may have about 20 years of current emissions before we blow the 1.5 degree Celsius goal – meaning for example, if we reduce in a slight line from today for 40 years we might do it. Second, to everyone’s surprise, Chinese emissions have stopped growing for the previous two years, and global emissions stopped growing, too. I don’t know if that’s enduring, but it looks like China has shifted and that’s a fantastic development. The third thing is that the cost of renewables has collapsed faster than expected.

I put those three things together, and it’s no longer inconceivable—though still really tough!—to reach certain goals. The Paris Agreement said that avoiding dangerous interference means keeping the global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius (compared to preindustrial levels) and pursuing efforts towards 1.5 degrees. That range is beginning to look plausible and sensible. Even if we reach 1.6 or 1.8 degrees, at least we’ve not gone over 2 degrees. With a tremendous amount of commitment and work and a lot of luck, maybe we could even get to 1.5 degrees, but I’m not going to hang my mast on that. But within the range set out in the Paris agreement? Yes, if we were willing to try.

LP: If we want to make progress on climate change, do you believe nuclear will be a big part of the future? Are there options for clean, abundant energy other than renewables?

MG: I don’t think the signs point to nuclear as the most important option for the future. In Europe, the costs seem to keep escalating and appetite for this (and the risks) associated with nuclear is decreasing.

We need to see how far the renewables revolution goes. While it remains to see how well it works, this may also unleash potential in hydrogen gas, since we can use surplus renewables to produce hydrogen as a fuel by splitting water. It’s also a good way to store energy, which could make renewables more attractive.

LP: How does this process of splitting water to produce hydrogen help solve the problem of storing energy from wind and solar?

MG: When you have a surplus of renewable energy, you really don’t want the wind farm or the solar cells belting out power that won’t be used for anything. So what do you do with it?

One thing you can do is to simply run an electric current through water, which splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen. You then channel the hydrogen into gas grids. Typically you mix it in with methane, which is the standard natural gas.

When the hydrogen burns, water is reformed—you’re basically turning it back into water.  It’s just about the cleanest form of energy. And a lot of bang for your buck.

LP: Much of your work has concentrated on practical measures for dealing with climate change. Which countries or regions have done the best in dealing with them? And how successful has the world as a whole been?

MG: The world as a whole not very successful so far, let’s be honest. I would say that the most successful parts of the world have been Scandinavia, then California and northwest Europe. The Californian systems have been pretty good from what I know. Their approach to carbon prices is smarter than the European approach. It sets a price corridor on its emissions trading system that includes border adjustments—that is to say, it takes into account carbon emissions from electricity that comes from out of the state. California might do something similar with imported cement. The state also acknowledges that carbon pricing is only one amongst many elements of its climate change strategy, and that’s dead right.

You can argue about Germany because they have spent a lot of money. They have not gotten emissions down substantially yet, but they have basically broken the back of wind and solar technology, which is of global benefit.

I think Britain has been a bit slower and more cautious but is also doing things more efficiently and getting more results in transforming its power sector, including getting out of coal.

We should also give reasonable credit for the fact that China is storming up the field. I don’t think it’s yet overtaken California or Western Europe, and China is a complicated place with a lot of fights going on. But things look promising.

There are other pockets of interesting places, like some of the Latin American countries—Brazil has been pretty good in a number of areas. In India, Modi seems to be seriously turning the country around in terms of renewable energy ambitions and that could be very big.

LP: What about the situation under Trump? Many are worried that he may bolster older energy sources and fail to commit to renewables. How does the rest of the world react to him in terms of climate?

MG: In the climate change professional community in Europe, there is actually a much more relaxed attitude than you would think because the view is, well, Trump might blather but he can’t stop the demise of coal. It does get worrying if he tries to subsidize coal to keep it alive. But is this his proposition to make American great again? Trying to subsidize coal to stay in the last century’s energy system? That’s a ludicrous position.

We do worry about Trump withdrawing finance from international systems and efforts on climate change—that could be potentially very damaging. These include the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, and the various international funds that made agreements under these deals to help developing countries both adapt to the impacts of climate change and to decarbonize their development.

On transport, Trump could do a lot perhaps to slow down electric vehicles or stop the toughening up of car efficiency standards. But generally I think the feeling is that Trump is actually not going to do much to change the American energy system.

There definitely seems to be an increase in interest and engagement on climate at the state and city level, and these initiatives have been moderately successful in communicating the message, at least to Europe, that the president does not represent the entirety of the U.S.

So on all those grounds there’s a more relaxed reaction. Where I think the real worry comes in is that every country has its skeptics: in particular, there are skeptics in developing countries that have been dragged into the Paris Agreement. That deal was largely designed to satisfy U.S. demands, but Trump withdrew from it, and the developing countries think, wait, the developed countries were supposed to be serious and help to drive down the cost of the technologies and stick to their commitments. But if the U.S. is going to walk away, what are you expecting us to do? That’s the real danger: Trump’s withdrawal is used as an excuse by those who really don’t want to do anything.

LP: What’s your view on climate change and its relationship to rising inequality in the world? How do we tackle this problem?

MG: One thing that is not strong enough in the debate is an understanding of how much climate change could make the world a more unequal place. To an important degree, it’s the poor people who die when you have heat waves and major storm events. Understanding that leads you to focus on the urgent need to help economic development and adaptation, which is precisely what developing countries have said all along.

If Trump withdraws finance from the international system, this exacerbates the potential fact that energy becomes a business where the rich world dumps damage on the rest of the world, particularly the poor, and then refuses to accept any responsibility either for helping them or even to stop killing them through environmental damage.

I think the best ameliorating factor, helped enormously by the solar revolution, is the potential to get cheap, clean power baked in as part of economic development in the 21st century. This is a huge opportunity and potentially a leveler as well.

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44 comments

  1. MG

    Does anyone really think that Trump could even define what climate change is let alone even briefly discuss any of the actual policies or nuances around it?

    He supposedly spends 8 hours/day watching TV and is hyperfocused on news outlets that mention & discuss him.

    He isn’t a dangerous megalomaniac but just an old, narcissistic blowhard who neither cares or is willing to do any hard work or deal with nuance.

    If Trump is impeached and/or resigns which I see as incredibly remote odds before 2020, then you end up with Pence who frightens me a lot more than Trump. Pence knows how the Hill works from his time serving there as a Congressman and is known to be a fastidious worker to accomplish his goals.

    Reply
    1. jrs

      Yep 4-8 hours of t.v. a day. Some might say so does the average American, maybe but the average American has a job and it’s not being president, they give their best mental attention and the most alert hours of the day to the job, maybe some of them watch t.v. (and probably while doing other household things) for 4 hours when they come home after a long commute too tired to do any serious work or thinking. Sad, but such is life at present. But Trump is our joke of a president and does this.

      However, it does diffuse the blame for Trump’s policies in a way, they don’t originate out of his uniquely evil head but are also the policies of the media in many ways. How many serious climate change discussions are there really on the MSM? And they also basically elected him by covering him more than all other candidates. Well Trump also has horrible advisors of course, if he listens to them any more than he does to Fox though.

      Reply
  2. Synoia

    OK, so you produce hydrogen from peak generation, a light gas, then compress it, or liquefy it, and now have a bomb, to smooth out demand.

    Next?

    Civil engineers build targets.

    Reply
    1. Grumpy Engineer

      And don’t forget about hydrogen embrittlement, where hydrogen atoms can diffuse into metal and cause it to become brittle and much more susceptible to sudden fracture. There are known techniques for dealing with this problem, but unfortunately, most of the natural gas pipelines out there (which would be the most logical conduits for transporting renewable-electrolyzed hydrogen) were not designed with any of these countermeasures against embrittlement in place.

      The net result? We’d need an entirely new network of embrittlement-proof pipelines to carry hydrogen to stations where it would be burned to generate power. And if the Keystone XL and Mountain Valley Pipeline debates have demonstrated anything, it’s that people have VERY little desire to have pipelines carrying flammable substances anywhere near them. It’s not just NIMBY (“not in my back yard”), but BANANA (“build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything”).

      Given how pipeline permitting processes have worked as of late, I’d be astonished if we could build a nationwide network of hydrogen pipelines in less than a century. If the majority opinion among climate scientists is actually correct, we don’t have nearly that much time.

      Reply
      1. Norb

        Instead of building infrastructure to transport energy long distance around the country, returning to smaller, localized systems offers much potential. Thinking along the lines of sustainability produces a different kind of network.

        As cities, towns, and whole regions of the country are searching for means to revitalize the local economy, shouldn’t these energy needs be incorporated into the manufacturing potential of regions?

        It seems that if a location could provide cheep, renewable energy, whole infrastructures could be built up around that energy source. Great fanfare was recently made about Bill Gates and associates plans to build the city of the future in Arizona. Those plans seemed more on integrating the latest technology in a gated community, not a sincere desire to construct a livable city of the future- taking into account all the needs of manufacture.

        Reply
        1. Grumpy Engineer

          “Smaller, localized system” only work when they have a small community to support. But how will we power large cities like New York, Atlanta, Chicago, etc., where over 50% of US citizens reside? These cities don’t have room for a bunch of distributed hydrogen-based energy storage and power generation systems. Not to mention the (likely insurmountable) political obstacles that would arise when trying to site those facilities in areas with high population density. Given the way our cities are structured today, the ability to ship in energy from remote locales is a hard requirement. There’s no getting around it.

          Bill Gates may be building the “city of the future” in Arizona, but unless he builds a thousand of those cities and somehow convinces the many millions of residents of our current non-green cities to abandon (not sell, but abandon) their homes to move into them, it’ll constitute a small, incremental improvement at best.

          Reply
          1. Saylor

            But all of your above mentioned cities are located by large bodies of water (for hydrogen production and storage) and said bodies of water could also be utilized for solar, wind and even kinetic wave electricity generation. The answer to clean energy may have to become ’boutique’ in nature. But I still see no good reason not to have regional energy production. And as such would be much better for homeland security (rather than centralized production which is far more susceptible to natural or man made destructive events.

            Reply
      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        First, I am glad to see the concept of electrolyzing water down into oxygen and hydrogen with surplus renewable electricity making it from the comments to a hosted post.

        Second, the details must indeed be attended to. Admitting to the detailed problems is the first step towards seeking detailed solutions.

        Why is it that the electrolyzed hydrogen has to be sent somewhere remote in pipelines? Why can’t the hydrogen be stored in hydrogen proof tanks right next to the renewable electricity farms? And when the winds stops or the sun goes down, the hydrogen can be burned for electricity right there on site. And the electricity from the burning hydrogen can be sent down the same high tension lines which the non-surplus electricity is sent down to begin with.

        Is there anything philosophically wrong or logically impossible about that plan for using the storable hydrogen made with the surplus electricity?

        Reply
        1. Grumpy Engineer

          No, there’s nothing physically impossible about using electrolyzed hydrogen as the basis for an energy storage system. The only technical catch with your plan is the desire to generate, store, and use the hydrogen near the wind and solar farms. That won’t work, as there’s typically little water available on the mountain ridges and arid environments where those facilities are best located.

          However, you can send your surplus power over the grid to a separate station near a body of water that was equipped with electrolyzers, fuel cells (or conventional generators driven by hydrogen-burning turbines or reciprocating engines), and a large bank of storage tanks to hold liquefied hydrogen.

          Indeed, such a solution is technically feasible today. All of the building blocks exist and are commercially available. However, NOBODY is doing it. All attention is on lithium-ion batteries instead. The relevant question is then “Why?”.

          I suspect the answer is cost. I don’t have the time or data to come up with a dollars/MWh cost estimate, but if hydrogen-based energy storage were commercially viable, power companies would already be doing it to meet the supply-vs-demand challenges they have today.

          And that’s a shame. There are some serious concerns with lithium technology (like cobalt constraints and unwanted self-discharge behavior) that will seriously impede its deployment for truly large-scale multi-TWh energy storage. Using hydrogen would scale more readily. But if it costs too much, it’ll never fly.

          Reply
          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Send the surplus electricity to where the water is? Ah yes! I knew a solution was out there somewhere waiting to be thought of.

            And there are some places where the water is not that far from the desert where huge solar power farms may be built. The Mojave Desert and the Western Edge of the Sonora Desert are not that far from the California/Mexico/Baja California coast. A whole Pacific Oceanload of sea water just waiting to be electrolized. And then de-electrolized back into water and put right back into the ocean whenever the stored-as-hydrogen power needs to be re-accessed.

            The same could be done throughout North Africa, Arabia, Iraq and Iran. Saudi Arabia could become the . . . uhh . . . “Saudi Arabia of Solar Power”.

            And some lucky areas have yet another way to get power in the desert when the sun goes down. Egypt could build huge solar power farms in its Western Desert. It could also have pipelines from the Mediterranean Sea down to the Qattara Depression for powering hydro-turbines at night. If peace ever comes to Israel/ Palestine/ Jordan, then the area could run solar farms by day and have hydro-electric power from water flowing from the Med to the Dead Sea at night. Somalia could do the same with solar farms by day and water power from the Red Sea to the Danakil Depression at night. If peace ever comes to Somalia.

            Reply
    2. John k

      Just like nat gas. Nothing new, except it burns without generating co2.
      Nat gas is only liquified to ship across oceans, not done when pipelines are feasible. Yes, those ships are potential targets.
      So h2 works as a battery, generating electricity when the sun and wind are not.

      Reply
    3. lyle

      Actually you take the hydrogen and make it into methane using the sabitier reaction. Then you need no new infrastructure. You can indeed then pump it into the existing natural gas storage fields (depleted gas fields). This does yield some additional energy that you can use to get a bit more methane (It takes CO2 out of the atmosphere to do this so burning the methane is really no different than burning wood. net CO2 relase should be zero in the absence of losses. A link to the description of the reaction: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabatier_reaction. In addition if caverns are available, you can pipe the O2 produced into storage caverns and combine it with the methane to power combined cycle plants if periods when renewables don’t produce enough energy.

      Reply
      1. Synoia

        Sabatier reaction

        It involves the reaction of hydrogen with carbon dioxide at elevated temperatures (optimally 300–400 °C) and pressures in the presence of a nickel catalyst to produce methane and water. Optionally, ruthenium on alumina (aluminium oxide) makes a more efficient catalyst. It is described by the following exothermic reaction:

        CO2 + 4H2 → CH4 + 2H2O   ∆H = −165.0 kJ/mol

        Err, no. Store the hydrogen where generated from electricity, and produce electricity form burning the hydrogen in situ.

        No piping hydrogen, no complex set of procedures to turn hydrogen into methane, just electrickery and electrickery out. Assuming the plant site is connected to the grid.

        Reply
        1. Grumpy Engineer

          Using the Sabatier reaction only works if you have a nearly pure supply of CO2 with which you can mix your H2. Unfortunately, the biggest points sources of CO2 emissions in the world are power plants, which emit about ~80% N2, ~10% O2, and ~10% CO2 in their exhaust streams. [No, power stations don’t burn a stoichiometric mix. If they did, they’d burn out their combustors. Net result: lots of leftover O2.] If you mix H2 with this stream in hopes of getting pure methane, you’ll find that most of it reacts with the oxygen instead. Lots of water wapor, essentially zero methane.

          You’ll have to go through some sort of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) process first to purify the CO2. Unfortunately, most efforts at CCS have failed: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608191/clean-coals-flagship-project-has-failed/

          Without CCS, using the Sabatier reaction for energy storage is a pipe dream.

          Reply
  3. Jef

    So not only can we use less energy, use only expensive less useful energy, we can also keep the economy growing AND solve global poverty. Count me skeptical.

    Reply
  4. Synoia

    This is very true:

    To an important degree, it’s the poor people who die when you have heat waves and major storm events. Understanding that leads you to focus on the urgent need to help economic development and adaptation, which is precisely what developing countries have said all along.

    Many poor people live in the US.

    Reply
  5. Wukchumni

    This was posted yesterday in links, and it’s in regards to abrupt climate change, which is the X Factor, as we’ve been conditioned to think that yeah, shifts gonna happen, but around 2100, so no biggie.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRs4kIthJ9k&t=2269s

    In some ways, what’s going on with the antarctic melting out, is similar to how a Frenchman would’ve reacted to a series of failed wheat harvests in the 1780’s, in that he had no idea what was the catalyst, and although there’s plenty of information available to us, we too seem oblivious to what will bring the end of our capitalistic ways as we know it.

    If our powers that be knew that the potential of 20 feet in sea rise was going to happen virtually overnight, wouldn’t you keep mum about it?

    The state of Florida not allowing climate change wordage was quaint, but now it’s the official US Government mantra, as well.

    That seems to be the position we’ve embraced.

    Reply
  6. Saylor

    I believe it is not so much Trump as it is those who have been placed ‘in charge’ by him. The removal of protection of streams and such is one example.

    I have been amazed at the resistance of the government towards such as solar power ever since Regan immediately had the solar panels removed from the White House that Carter had installed. Carter’s move was one showing leadership. So was Regan’s. Unfortunately in the wrong direction.

    The excess power supply going to creating hydrogen is a ‘no brainer’ to me.

    For the sake of homeland security, our energy production should be a regional as possible (down to the level of family if possible, municipal/county otherwise. And said hydrogen could then be used to power the electrical production during ‘no sun’ times.

    This would be a tremendous boost economically in the long run…, for citizens, for large energy corporations…,not so much.

    Just wait until Iceland becomes a super power because of their ability to produce cheap regional energy…that’ll show ya. LOL

    Reply
  7. Ben Fitzkee

    Yves,

    It would be appropriate to tack on an introduction, or disclaimer to the beginning of this post.

    Grubb’s assertion that “we might be slightly better positioned to meet certain goals, like those set forth in the 2015 Paris Agreement, than we thought.” is dependent upon assumptions not discussed in the interview. This assumption is that Negative Emissions Technology (NET) will work, will work on a large scale, and will not have significant unintended negative consequences. Here is a section from his abstract

    “Assuming emissions peak and decline to below current levels by 2030, and continue thereafter on a much steeper decline, which would be historically unprecedented but consistent with a standard ambitious mitigation scenario (RCP2.6), results in a likely range of peak warming of 1.2–2.0 °C above the mid-nineteenth century.”

    It’s fine if Grubb wants to make this dangerous assumption, but readers should be alerted to the fact that his three rosy surprises still aren’t enough to deliver on 1.5, 2.0, or even 3.0 dergrees warming without the dangerous assumption that NETs will work.

    Reply
    1. Ben Fitzkee

      I forgot to point out that the quote from his Grubb’s abstract reveals the assumption, which is why I included it. The giveaway is his reliance on RCP2.6 which relies heavily on NETs to achieve the required emission reductions to have a reasonable chance of staying below 2 degrees.

      Reply
  8. pohzzer

    Whistling past the graveyard. Barring a countering cataclysmic natural event, supervolcanic eruption or major asteroid impact, runaway global warming is in progress to be closely followed by runaway nuclear meltdowns around the world. At BEST there are five more years of relative calm before the foundations of civilization start crumbling in earnest. This is already baked into the cake, there is nothing humans can now do to alter that outcome. Planetary macro-life will not survive the radioactive hellhole the earth will become and will not return for several million years.

    Enjoy life while you can,

    Reply
    1. Aumua

      Surely there is a middle ground here, between “Nothing to see here, folks. Everything’s fine. Problem? What problem?” and “We’re DOOMED, it’s ALL OVER, the END IS NIGH!” Abandon hope, embrace despair and shame and prepare to die!”

      But then, what fun would that be I guess, right? We all want to be the ones in the know.

      Reply
      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I am reminded of the scene in “Cloud Atlas” where Sonmi is asked to tell her version of the Truth. Just as there are no differing versions of the Truth there is no “middle ground” in Climate Disruption. There is what there is … and there is how to adapt to what is. You don’t need to hold on to Hope to keep on keeping on.

        There are many versions of the parable of the two frogs but this is version I like:
        Two frogs fell into a bucket of cream and try though might neither frog can climb out of the bucket. One frog gives up Hope and stops trying and drowns. The other frog keeps swimming — driven not by Hope but by the certain knowledge that not swimming means drowning in the cream. Eventually a lump of butter forms in the cream because of the frog’s swimming. The frog climbs onto the butter and jumps out of the bucket.

        Thinking further on the two frogs — one frog might have climbed on the back of the other frog and jumped out. I’m not sure how to regard that variant on the story.

        Reply
        1. Jeremy Grimm

          I think I know which frog our ‘Elite’ would have us be. And the frog story becomes interesting again if we ask ourselves — those of us in the developed world regarding the developing world — which frog?

          Reply
      2. pohzzer

        Middle ground? Nature and the laws of physics don’t seek politically correct ‘middle ground’. They are what they are.

        Dead certain manmade armageddon will be here soon enough, in the meantime, since there is nothing to be done to stop it, don’t worry and be happy. The monied elite .0001% will live a while longer in their NBC equipped bunkers, but there is no surviving for long in the world that is coming.

        Reply
      1. blennylips

        I believe pohzzer is referring to the fact that the ~450 nuclear power plants in the world require access to an external power grid to maintain cooling and not explode. Don’t forget that we store much of our accumulated waste in pools above the reactors too. Much nasty MOX.

        I think his forecast is very likely.

        Reply
        1. blennylips

          a link?

          Guy McPherson may have been caught up in the current harassment storm, but you cannot explore this area without running into him. One of the original doomsteaders. Give him a search.

          Reply
          1. Jeremy Grimm

            I’ve been to Guy McPherson’s site and watched several of his videos. I don’t recall him bringing up the Nuclear scenario and he lost some of his ‘cred’ with his move to New Mexico. [Didn’t he take note of the predictions for serious drought?] However searches on EMP and the 1859 Carrington Event and Solar Flare activity sometimes mention nuclear melt-down.

            I’m fishing for more details. Nuclear power plants generate electricity and feed it to the grid … so how and why do they depend on the grid being up for the energy to run their cooling pumps? Is this another case where we’re saving a few investment dollars at great cost?

            Reply
            1. blennylips

              Here is one place Guy talks about it: https://guymcpherson.com/2011/08/three-paths-to-near-term-human-extinction/

              But it is not brain surgery on rocket scientists.

              Climate weirdness is crumbling infrastructure making the grid more fragile and an accident more likely.

              Fukushima is a good example. External grid went down and they have limited supplies of fuel to run generators — not to mention much of that was damaged in the quake. This inexorably lead to hydrogen explosions and cores spewing into the atmosphere and trying to melting its way to the antipodal point (https://www.antipodesmap.com/).

              Reply
              1. Jeremy Grimm

                Nuclear power plants generate electricity and feed it to the grid … so how and why do they depend on the grid being up for the energy to run their cooling pumps? Is this another case where we’re saving a few investment dollars at great cost? Why do they need generators if they are an electric power generator?

                Reply
                1. blennylips

                  I’m just spitballing it here, Jeremy G, so corrections welcome:

                  Not all electric power generation is created equal. It’s probably generated on site to optimize for transmission. Not so much for the Black & Decker React’r Sav’r sitting in the corner.

                  Every article I read seems to just assume without explaining.

                  Reply
            2. pohzzer

              I went looking for climate armageddon information and ran into Guy McPherson’s YT vids after I figured out on my own what was coming and that it meant an accompanying nuclear armageddon. I didn’t agree with McPherson’s timing though, total human extinction in ten years or by 2030 seemed wack. 2050 was more in the ballpark and maybe 2100 for billionaires in their ‘super’ bunkers.

              Reply
        2. blennylips

          (gaak! how do I kill this extraneous comment?, sorry)

          a link?

          Guy McPherson may have (saw a rumor, can’t find now) been caught up in the current harassment storm, but you cannot explore this area without running into him. One of the original doomsteaders. Give him a search.

          Reply
  9. sharonsj

    According to the massive report on global warming leaked to the New York Times, planetary temperature has already gone up 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than half of the 3 degrees C he talks about. And since parts of Antarctica are warming three times faster than anticipated, we may not have 20 years.

    Reply
    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Link, please. Thanks.

      It’s not political, but it’s lack of confidence. From above:

      The studies had actually presented estimates on temperatures rising within a range, but unfortunately, some in the scientific community succumbed to the demand for a single number. So they chose a number in the middle of the range that the models showed. Where we are today is actually well within the range of the models. We’re just not right in the middle. We have additional information about what’s happened since then and we have slightly different estimates of the way gases other than CO2 contribute to rising temperatures.

      LP: So it’s not that scientists got anything wrong. Rather, it’s a matter of previous findings becoming oversimplified in the public discussion and of more information coming to light since then.

      Right. Unfortunately, a lot of misleading things have come out in the press, especially Breitbart, which got it all wrong. But this is the basic challenge for science. If you really look at what’s happened in relation to this paper, you see that science is about continually trying to improve your estimates. The political approach being adopted, in contrast, is to say that any attempt to improve anything in your estimation is treated as, “Oh, well, it was all wrong before then!”

      1. It’s always ranges.
      2. How do you get an accord with a range?
      3. It’s some in the science community who succumbed to the demand of a single number, not Breitbart. Those who demanded, and those gave in got it all wrong.
      4. Confidence relates to how much you have improved (or changed) your estimation. What we deemed ‘the best scientists’ is a relative term, graded on a curve (for those professors who don’t grade on a curve). On an absolute scale, they could be rather off the mark. So, one needs to be skeptical, if one’s open minded about any inquiry. And if we’re already 1.6 F, that’s not confidence inspiring.

      Reply
    2. ewmayer

      “planetary temperature has already gone up 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than half of the 3 degrees C he talks about.”

      And I think I just heard the faint tinkling noise of another units-conversion-challenged project crashing into Mars.

      Reply
  10. Grumpy Engineer

    Yes, succumbing to a demand for a single number was a terrible mistake. The climate models out there can vary a LOT, as seen in the following paper that summarizes results from 37 CMIP5 models (representing the state of the art) and compared them to reality:

    https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/faaf/c49809f966e371ef4178a05231b1177700e8.pdf

    Is there consensus that global warming is real? Yes, there is. Is there consensus on how bad it’s going to be? Um, no, not so much. Simulation results are all over the map. Polls of actual scientists, when asking “how much?”, show considerable variability as well.

    And unfortunately, our inability to predict the future of global warming with confidence inhibits our ability to come up with good policies. Do we take things slowly with an emphasis on cost-effectiveness to avoid unwanted damage to people’s power bills? Do we go on a wartime-equivalent footing and say “to hell with the costs” and push forward as hard as we can? Do we engage on untested geoengineering efforts (with possibly harmful side effects) to counteract CO2 levels that are already too high? The right answer depends on how bad global warming is actually going to be, and our best estimates today still come with a considerable range.

    I think the tone of the debate would be considerably improved if people were more aware of just how much uncertainty remains in the science.

    Reply
    1. Jamie

      And unfortunately, our inability to predict the future of global warming with confidence inhibits our ability to come up with good policies.

      I think you need to be specific about who “we” are in your reference to “our inability” and “our ability”. Obviously “our inability to predict the future of global warming with confidence” refers to the science community. But it is not the mandate of the science community to “come up with good policies”. So that’s a different “we”. And many of “us” like to think that a “good” policy is one that takes uncertainty into account, not the policy of doing nothing in the face of uncertainty, but a policy of hedging one’s bets. I personally think there are a number of very good policy proposals that are being deliberately ignored by “our” fearless leaders. Because “we” don’t exist as a unified polity, “good” policy is sacrificed on the alter of greed every day.

      Now, one can certainly argue that another characteristic of “good” policy is political feasibility and any policy that doesn’t have a chance in hell of being endorsed by “our” elites is ipso facto “bad” policy. But if you believe that, then there is no connection at all between scientific certainty and good policy. Because “our” elites have amply demonstrated immunity to neutral reason based policy and a clear preference for policy that aggrandizes their own wealth and power. So under certain definitions, “good” policy is nothing but a unicorn. But under other definitions, “good” policy is just common sense.

      As a result, I think that the entirety of the debate, not just the tone, is stymied by the claim that “we” need to be more aware of how uncertain climate science is. “We” have already had decades of MSM messaging about climate science uncertainty and that has not produced any “good” policy for “us”. The problem, from my point of view is that there is no coherent “we” in this discussion. And yes, the “tone” of the debate might “improve” if “we” all pretend that “we” are unified in “our” desires to be rational and do the right thing. But the resulting policy will never be “good” policy.

      Reply
      1. Grumpy Engineer

        You make some good points here, and that’s what scares me the most about the calls for a “wartime-equivalent footing”. And they key point is this: Do we really trust our political leadership (i.e., the “elites” in DC) to come up with good policies if given total control over our energy infrastructure? I certainly don’t. A fair number of Republicans seem determined to swamp us in pollution, while a fair number of Democrats seem determined to have us freeze to death at night. I can’t think of a single politician that has presented an energy plan that would truly be cleaner, more cost-effective, and more reliable.

        Reply
  11. urdsama

    I’d feel better about this if it was coming from an engineer or scientist working on some part of the climate change issue.

    An economist, not so much.

    Personally I think we are entering the phase where anything positive is being given more weight to the public than it is in scientific circles so people don’t completely despair and give up.

    Reply
  12. Jeremy Grimm

    All the fuss about carbon budgets and carbon markets, and pressing models between fractions of a degree — even a degree Centigrade — is flea skinning. Add in the rosy assumptions about carbon sequestration which Ben Fitzkee noted in a comment above and these “surprising developments on global warming” by William Grubb are surprising only in their ability to garner notice of any sort.

    Videos of the lectures from the currently ongoing 2017 American Geophysical Union (AGU) can be viewed online [https://fallmeeting.agu.org/2017/virtual-options/] and some of them should be available on youtube in early January 2018.

    Reply
  13. nonsense factory

    Hey, this very paper was discussed by the climate experts at realclimate:
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2017/10/1-5oc-geophysically-impossible-or-not/

    The range of post-2014 allowable emissions for a 66% chance of not passing 1.5ºC in Millar et al of 200-240GtC implies that the planet would exceed the threshold after 2030 at current emissions levels, compared with the AR5 analysis which would imply most likely exceedance before 2020. Assuming the Millar numbers are correct changes 1.5ºC from fantasy to merely very difficult.

    But is this statement overconfident? Last week’s post on Realclimate raised a couple of issues which imply that both the choice of observational dataset and the chosen pre-industrial baseline period can influence the conclusion of how much warming the Earth has experienced to date. Here, I consider three aspects of the analysis – and assess how they influence the conclusions of the study.

    Conclusion is that we may have already exceeded the 1.5 threshold.

    So, is it appropriate to say that 1.5ºC is geophysically possible? Perhaps plausible would be a better word. Depending on which temperature dataset we choose, the TEB for 1.5 degrees may already be exceeded. Although it would certainly be useful to know what the underlying climate attractor of the Earth system is, any estimate we produce is subject to error.

    We ultimately face a question of what we trust more: our estimate of our cumulative emissions to date combined with our full knowledge of how much warming that might imply, or an estimate of how warm the system was in 2014 which is subject to error due to observational uncertainty and natural variability. Changing the baseline for warming and cumulative emissions is effectively a bias correction, a statement that models have simulated the past sufficiently poorly that they warrant bias correction which allows for emissions to date to be swept under the carpet. Alternatively, we trust the cumulative emissions number and treat the models as full proxies for reality, as was done in AR5, which would tell us that the emissions to date have already brought us to the brink of exceedance of the 1.5 degree threshold.

    Reply

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