Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Look at the Scope of the Climate Work Ahead


by Gaius Publius

One small but important piece of the climate puzzle post-Paris is the vast divide between the stated aspirational goal — to keep global warming to no more than 1.5 degree Celsius over the pre-industrial level — and the commitments made by nations to achieve that goal. Naomi Klein expresses the problem very well in the short video above.

In sum (my emphasis):
The Paris Climate Deal Will Not Save Us

The agreement will still raise global temperatures 3 to 4 degrees Celsius.

... The climate deal that has been negotiated at COP21 crossed multiple red lines: Scientific red lines, equity red lines, legal red lines, and more. The emissions targets outlined in the deal still amount to increases of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius—an increase incompatible with organized civil society. So today, protesters came together in the center of Paris to say that the deal cannot be the end of our climate justice struggle. ...
I referenced that data here, quoting Scientific American (my emphasis):
It is still difficult to say how much temperatures will rise by 2050 or 2100 due to the carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere known as the warming in the pipeline. There is a lag between any rise in CO2 levels and the heating that results, so the planet is locked in to further warming and to the chief repercussions such as further sea level rise. But the IPCC has released good estimates of the pipeline: the best case is that the average global temperature at the Earths surface will rise 1.5 degrees C by 2100, compared with 1990 levels. The worst case is 4.5 degrees C, and the most likely case is 3 degrees C.

In his own assessment of the numbers, Dana Nuccitelli, a physicist who writes at the Skeptical Science blog known for deep analysis of these matters notes that the 1.5 degrees C case would only be possible if the world stopped increasing emissions by 2020 and then began reducing them by 3.5 percent a year. As he notes, that scenario involves extremely aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Best case–worst case analyses express a range with probabilities (likelihoods) assigned to values within that range. Here, the range of the warming in the pipeline is between 1.5°C and 4.5°C, with the highest likelihood value being 3°C. Note that this is just the statistical most likely outcome out of a range of possible outcomes under a given analytic scenario. Still, the lowest number in that range is already 1.5°C warming.

Other Studies Confirm This Conclusion

Compare that analysis, from the IPCC, with this very similar finding, from a peer-reviewed paper published in PNAS. The abstract is below (language alert, this is science-talk, but understandable if you take it slow; my emphasis):
On avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system: Formidable challenges ahead

The observed increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) since the preindustrial era has most likely committed the world to a warming of 2.4°C (1.4°C to 4.3°C) above the preindustrial surface temperatures. The committed warming is inferred from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates of the greenhouse forcing and climate sensitivity. The estimated warming of 2.4°C is the equilibrium warming above preindustrial temperatures that the world will observe even if GHG concentrations are held fixed at their 2005 concentration levels but without any other anthropogenic forcing such as the cooling effect of aerosols [airborne particles from burning coal]. The range of 1.4°C to 4.3°C in the committed warming overlaps and surpasses the currently perceived threshold range of 1°C to 3°C for dangerous anthropogenic interference with many of the climate-tipping elements such as the summer arctic sea ice, Himalayan–Tibetan glaciers, and the Greenland Ice Sheet. IPCC models suggest that ~25% (0.6°C) of the committed warming has been realized as of now. About 90% or more of the rest of the committed warming of 1.6°C will unfold during the 21st century, determined by the rate of the unmasking of the aerosol cooling effect by air pollution abatement laws and by the rate of release of the GHGs-forcing stored in the oceans. The accompanying sea-level rise can continue for more than several centuries. Lastly, even the most aggressive CO2 mitigation steps as envisioned now can only limit further additions to the committed warming, but not reduce the already committed GHGs warming of 2.4°C.
Notice that their most-likely (highest probability) temperature is not exactly halfway between the extremes, but still, these findings are very similar to the IPCC's. Caveat one: These are models, not measurements. Caveat two: Most models are wrong to the slow side.

Giving Fire Back to Prometheus

Does this mean we're "doomed"? Not in my estimation. But I agree with those who left Paris with guarded optimism. Yes, it matters a great deal, the admission that 2°C is the wrong target. But there's one whale of a lot of work to do to force the desired result — hold warming to "just" 1.5°C, and then bring it down by planting and reforestation.

This may be the hardest work this species has ever done. In the beginning, as we emerged into civilization, we were given fire as a source of energy — all we had to do was burn it.

Prometheus, bringer of fire, punished for the crime of rendering less "the sum of human wretchedness" (Byron). Can we replace his gift with another?

Now at the other end of our civilized life, we have all the fire we want — all we have to do is not burn it.

Two Ways You Can Help

I've urged this before, but in light of the above it bears repeating endlessly. The paper I cited said unequivocally (my emphasis): "The estimated warming of 2.4°C is the equilibrium warming above preindustrial temperatures that the world will observe even if GHG concentrations are held fixed at their 2005 concentration levels". Holding "concentrations" fixed means making sure the current atmospheric CO2 concentration — 400 ppm — not increase. It means ... well, "stop now," right?

There's only one scenario under which that is remotely achievable. Let's say the "now" in "stop now" is 10 years, that the U.S. converts to 100% renewable energy in 10 years' time. I hear from friends in the renewables industry that this is doable if sufficient resources are committed to the task. We have those resources, just as we had them in World War II, but the "free market" won't solve this one, certainly not at the speed needed, and everyone reading this knows that. The "free market" is what David Koch manipulates every day of his life to increase his wealth. Only the government can force commitment of resources on the scale necessary, and I think everyone reading this knows that as well.

So the first way to achieve this goal is to spread the word as far and wide as you can — that a World War II-style mobilization is the answer, and the only one, in the long term. One group that's spreading that word is these people. You can help, either by joining with them or just by saying this to everyone you know:
"To get the best climate result, stop emissions completely at the earliest date possible. Every increase from 400 ppm is another climate wound our children will bear."
I mean exactly that: Say it to everyone and say it now. If Florida real estate became worthless tomorrow and the whole country freaked about it, we'd have one shot to direct that energy. Let's direct it to a solution that can work. Again, your voice — Stop Now, Mobilize Now — is as needed as anyone else's.

A second way to help, and I mean this too, is to back Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. Sanders gets it on climate, and he's the only viable candidate not beholden to the money that owns this country and its governance. You can contribute to his campaign here (adjust the split any way you like at the link). And thanks!


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At 11:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Let us assume the leaders and people of the world unite in recognizing the importance of dealing with climate change.

They commit to begin immediately the conversion to 100% renewable energy sources.

The issue is that it will still take the use of fossil fuel to build the infrastructure (solar, wind and even nuclear, if you want) of a "sustainable" energy future.

Have you seen any calculations of how much CO2 emission must be expected from such a direct build-out of what will eventually be a low CO2-emitting system in use? How does the CO2 emitted in the realization of the sustainable system compare with the figures that have been incorporated into the 1.5℃ > 2.0℃ discussion?

John Puma

At 9:53 AM, Blogger Gaius Publius said...

Hi John,

I don't imagine the energy expended would be significantly greater than currently expended. Plus, as large renewables-only power facilities come online, they replace retired FF facilities. So if there's a bump, it's offset by the inevitable (and intentional) drawdown. It's the only way we get to zero, by drawing down.

Now consider the context in which this occurs. During WWII, resources were diverted, mainly from the consumer economy. So there's a savings in that diversion.

These are just first thoughts, but the real comparison must be to a 10-year period, say, in which U.S. emits FF at a rate of 1.5 GtC per year (that number's close), yielding a 10-year output of 15 GtC. Now a linear drawdown, for the sake of discussion — 1.5 + .9x1.5 + .8x1.5 + .7x1.5 ... — yields a 10-year output of ~8 GtC. Even assuming a bump in emissions during year 1 or 2, the carbon output over the conversion period is significantly less that it would otherwise have been. And in the next 10 years and beyond, it's near or at zero forever.



At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As 4 degree Hellary Cronically CACKLES, She (And THEY) are $TILL $tanding.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good first reply and GP's reply to that along with the original piece delineates a good number of the variables that are rarely if ever considered when building models for future consequences.

Given that NO SUCH 10-year project, similar in scope and effort to the Manhattan Project, will NEVER, EVER, EVER be undertaken by the free market (fossil fuels are too cheap and energy efficient) and must be mandated by government. However, with world governments under the thrall of the big money and FTAs forbidding government undertaking any endeavor that infringes on any potential profit by the fossil industries, this won't ever happen.

How about these variables:

1) with the DNC's thumb on the election scales favoring hilbillary, the only candidate who isn't owned by the money probably can't win. So the BEST viable result is one who will continue what obamination did (implement the "drill baby drill" meme for the money) while kvetching about it. No matter which viable candidate wins, there SHALL BE WARS, so oil will be burnt in the defense of the oil industry.

2) how much will demand drop? Except for the top 5%, incomes have dropped. The only model that will end up with a decline in burning shit for power is the one that considers the fall in demand due to the fall in incomes. Will that decline offset the natural increase due to the increase in population (for some period of time)?? Most models say no. But the RATE OF INCREASE in demand due to there being another billion hominids needing warmth and such will probably decline. But still, this means a regular increase in burning.

3) I've seen estimates all over the map on the additional effect of the boiling off of methane ices and other trapped reservoirs of methane in such as thawing permafrosts, etc. The effects are included in only SOME models which try to calculate how much that rate of release will increase as the atmosphere and oceans rise in temperatures... as well as how much sequestered methane is in those reservoirs. They also really don't try to accommodate the amount that is released/leaked by the explosion of fracking to access more and more natural gas for which there really is no market at present.

4) along with the flood of natural gas, what about the flood of oil that is being extracted due to the contrived low price (to hurt Russia and Iran). There are almost literally oceans of unrefined oil in tanks and tankers that have no market for refined product. To push that product to the market, the price of gas and other oil products are low which encourages burning. How long will the contrived low prices remain -- and may they go lower? And how much demand can really be stimulated by the low prices? After all, see above for the reason demand can't be infinite -- folks just don't have the extra income to take many car/plane trips that aren't necessary.


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