Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sitting and Waiting For Events To 'Run Their Course'

This comes via James Wolcott, via Energy Bulletin, via Roger Pielke Jr. so you may have seen it already, but just in case you haven't, I thought it was worth mentioning.

Global warming is a complex, controversial issue and it can be hard to find good sources which provide a detached overview of both the politics and science involved and a clear, calm assessment of where we're at and where we're headed. Which is why a paper like this one, by Tim Dyson, professor of Population Studies at the London School of Economics, which can provide this kind of overview in 15 largely non-technical, jargon-free pages is worth linking to.

Since, no matter what I say, I know only a few people are likely to actually follow the link, I'll quote from the abstract,
"Essentially, five main points are made. First, that since about 1800 economic development has been based on the burning of fossil fuels, and this will continue to apply for the foreseeable future. Of course, there will be increases in the efficiency with which they are used, but there is no real alternative to the continued - indeed increasing - use of these fuels for purposes of economic development. Second, due to momentum in economic, demographic, and climate processes, it is inevitable that there will be a major rise in the level of atmospheric CO2 during the twenty-first century. Demographic and CO2 emissions data are presented to substantiate this. Third, available data on global temperatures, which are also presented, suggest strongly that the coming warming of the Earth will be appreciably faster than anything that human populations have experienced in historical times. The paper shows that a rise in world surface temperature of anywhere between 1.6 and 6.6 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 is quite conceivable - and this is a conclusion that does not require much complex science to appreciate. Furthermore, particularly in a system that is being forced, the chances of an abrupt change in climate happening must be rated as fair. Fourth, while it is impossible to attach precise probabilities to different scenarios, the range of plausible unpleasant climate outcomes seems at least as great as the range of more manageable ones. The agricultural, political, economic, demographic, social and other consequences of future climate change are likely to be considerable -indeed, they could be almost inconceivable. In a world of perhaps nine billion people, adverse changes could well occur on several fronts simultaneously and to cumulative adverse effect. There is a pressing need to improve ways of thinking about what could happen - because current prognostications by environmental and social scientists are often rather restricted and predictable. Finally, the paper argues that human experience of other difficult 'long wave' threats (e.g. HIV/AIDS) reveals a broadly analogous sequence of reactions. In short: (i) scientific understanding advances rapidly, but (ii) avoidance, denial, and reproach characterize the overall societal response, therefore, (iii) there is relatively little behavioral change, until (iv) evidence of damage becomes plain. Apropos carbon
emissions and climate change, however, it is argued here that not only is major behavioral change unlikely in the foreseeable future, but it probably wouldn't make much difference even were it to occur. In all likelihood, events are now set to run their course."

As the paper notes, the Canadian record on greenhouse gases is especially grim:
"It was noted above that in the last decade or so virtually all countries have continued to burn greater amounts of fossil fuel. This also applies to those that have arguably been most prominent in supporting the Kyoto process - notably Canada, Japan and those of the EU. Many of these countries are unlikely to meet their CO2 reduction targets agreed under the Kyoto treaty (which finally came into force in 2005). Thus comparing 1990 and 2002, it is estimated that Canada's emissions increased by 22 percent and Japan's by 13. While the CO2 emissions of the EU(15) remained roughly constant, this was mainly due to reductions in Germany and Britain - both of which gained fortuitously from a move away from coal towards natural gas (which emits less CO2 per unit of energy)."

At least the Ontario Liberals plan to close the provinces coal plants (largely replacing them with natural gas in the medium term) should help bring our emissions down. Aside from that I think our best bet is to combine a carbon tax with substantial long term per/kwh incentives for renewable power and significant investments in new hydro capacity, both small and large scale. But I've been over that ground before. Anyway, there's lots more good stuff in Dyson's paper beyond what I've quoted, so I recommend giving it a look.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home