Climate crunch: the fierce urgency of now

In November 2009, in the run up to the Copenhagen conference I published a post Climate crunch and Copenhagen: the fierce urgency of now. (Link no longer available.) For my first climate change post in 2011 I’ve reposted most of that post, with slight variations, and leaving out the direct commentary on Copenhagen.

My intention is to remind people that action on climate change is urgent, and that there is a severe penalty in leaving action to a later date.

Substantively the post outlines the carbon budget approach to climate stabilisation which gives prime place to carbon equity. If Australia wants to show leadership in climate change internationally we should seek zero net emissions by 2030. We would still blow our equitable carbon budget which requires zero emissions by 2019, but with that kind of leadership we should get away with it. Also we should use our land and our forests to create carbon sinks in order to then go negative in net emissions.

The reprised post is below the fold.

Back in 2003 James Hansen was saying that we had about 10 years to get ourselves organised to tackle global warming and climate change. You ignore him at your peril.

For three days in May 2009 some of the best minds on the planet attended a curious meeting at Cambridge University, the St James’s Palace Nobel Laureate Symposium, to contribute their ideas and authority to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, in this case the climate crisis and its implications.

The choice of topic is not surprising. This was the second such meeting. The first was two years earlier at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. So the list of participants included one Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of said Potsdam Institute, Malte Meinshausen from the same place, Rachendra Pachauri, the IPCC head honcho, Lords Giddens and Stern, and a fella called Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy for the USA.

The message from our intellectual elders is captured in the phrase:

The fierce urgency of now…

As it happens the folk at Potsdam have been putting a bit of flesh on that message.

One of the more interesting scenarios for stabilisation I’ve seen recently came from Bill Hare of Potsdam in Chapter 2 of the Worldwatch Institute State of the World 2009 report:

Figure 1: Bill Hare's stabilisation trajectory for a safe climate

This he reckons is the “emissions pathway required to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius with higher confidence”. Start early, go hard and reach zero emissions by 2050, then go negative. The trajectory is designed for a safe landing. After flirting with 2C the temperature is meant to come back to 1C above pre-industrial in the latter part of this century.

The same sort of thinking was contained in the Climate crunch issue on Nature where Malte Meinshausen did much of the heavy lifting. The basic concept here was that there is a limited remaining budget of carbon that we can put into the atmosphere before we hit 2C. The cumulative quantity of emissions is what’s important. Since industrialisation we’ve already used up half our allowable budget. We can do the same again and that’s it.

It is commonly thought that if we start later we have to cut harder, but that’s OK provided we reach the same end point by 2050. What Meinshausen et al are saying is that if we start later we have to hit that end point sooner than 2050. It’s the area under the line on the graph that’s important, stupid!

Hare was looking at a safe climate scenario. Meinshausen based his calculations on the riskier kind of scenario being adopted politically around the world of a 50% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050 and zero by about 2080:

Figure 2: Meinshausen’s stabilisation path and related temperature values

This scenario has a 75% chance of not breaching the 2°C limit. The graph comes from an article by Stefan Rahmstorf, where he puts the situation in, well, very plain German. (For plain English, see RealClimate.) The budget for 2000-2050 is 1000gt of CO2 (or around 1500gt CO2e). But oops! we’ve blown a third of it already in the years 2000-2008! So our options are spelt out in Meinshausen’s second graph:

Figure 3: Meinshausen’s emissions reduction options

If we leave peaking global emissions from 2010 until 2015, the penalty is that the annual reduction rate goes up from 2% to 3.6%. I was actually shocked by the difference every five years makes. Remember the words of our elders!

50% reduction by 2050 depends on peaking in 2010. If you leave it until 2015 it has to be 90% by 2050 for the same climate outcome. Leave peaking to 2020 and we need zero by 2045.

The task becomes virtually impossible if you leave world-wide peaking later than 2020.

Now the Germans have taken the remaining emissions budget and looked at the implications for individual countries (now behind the paywall) if the budget is allocated equitably, based on population. Then they’ve specified how many years it would take major emitters to blow their budget at current emissions rates. Here are some of the results:

Figure 4: Future responsibility for emissions

A few things stand out. Firstly, the US is in a hopeless situation. If, say, they bought credits from India and other developing countries there would be a massive transfer of wealth.

Secondly, no-one should be buying credits from China, which might come as a surprise to them. China will use up its budget by 2033 at current emissions rates.

Third, the future of the planet does depend critically on what the US and China do.

Australia presumably is worse placed than the US.

What the world has been doing lately is illustrated in Will Steffen’s recent report which contained this graph:

Figure 5: CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2007

The Raupach et al 2007 paper which contained the original graph indicated that 70% of the increase in emissions was coming from developing and transitional economies. There is obviously an urgent need to equip these countries with renewable energy technology. We, the world, cannot afford for them to pollute their way to prosperity.

I think the Germans’ approach is rational and gives a new gloss to the phrase “common but differentiated responsibility”. Paying for the external cost of our lifestyles and exercising responsibility towards both the planet and posterity. We know that that the world does not operate according to reason but what the Germans have done provides a useful perspective with which to judge the outcomes of Copenhagen and subsequent meetings. So far they all FAIL.

I’ll finish with some comments from me, totally unqualified lay person.

First, two degrees isn’t safe. This from the RealClimate link:

We feel compelled to note that even a “moderate” warming of 2°C stands a strong chance of provoking drought and storm responses that could challenge civilized society, leading potentially to the conflict and suffering that go with failed states and mass migrations. Global warming of 2°C would leave the Earth warmer than it has been in millions of years, a disruption of climate conditions that have been stable for longer than the history of human agriculture. Given the drought that already afflicts Australia, the crumbling of the sea ice in the Arctic, and the increasing storm damage after only 0.8°C of warming so far, calling 2°C a danger limit seems to us pretty cavalier.

Second, I would understand that the Meinshausen scenarios are worked out with models that don’t include the longer term feedbacks James Hansen talks about. Even reaching Bill Hare’s 1C safe target would leave ice melting more than it is at present.

Third, as we saw in looking at Susan Solomon’s work, if we hit zero emissions tomorrow the climate would take a long time to recover. Delays measured in decades have consequences measured in centuries.

Fourth, no-one really knows when we might hit one of those dreaded tipping points that could by themselves ramp up the temperature a couple of degrees, or perhaps freeze Europe over.

That and more is why I’d prefer to take Bill Hare’s stabilisation path and shorten it to reach zero by 2030. But I guess it will take the world at least 10 years to wake up. By then it will be desperately close to game over as far as our emissions budget is concerned.

I think at least some of the European policy makers know. It’s the Americans, the Chinese and the rest of us that need to wake up.

The Holocene has been good for us as a species, but right now I fear we are heading somewhere else – somewhere called Perdition.

Update: I’ve added below an image from Hans Joachim (John) Schellnhuber, who is head of the Potsdam Institute and the boss of Rahmstorf and Meinshausen mentioned in the post.

Figure 6: Stabilisation scenarios using the 'carbon budget' approach

Germany is a fairly typical advanced economy with per capita emissions similar to Great Britain and France. High polluting countries like the US and Australia, if they are not to bludge on the efforts of others, should hit zero before 2020. If we don’t do that we should be prepared to pay others not to pollute in order to make up the difference.

Remember that all this is based on a 75% chance (scarily inadequate) of staying within the ‘guard rail’ of 2C. People like Schellnhuber, Rahmstorf and Meinshausen know that 2C is too high for a safe climate. They invented the concept in the mid-1990s and it took over a decade to be accepted by policy makers. Meanwhile the science had moved on.

All this is profoundly depressing, but needs to be faced. Now.

86 thoughts on “Climate crunch: the fierce urgency of now”

  1. Brian,

    It is becoming blatantly obvious that our existing structure of government is not capable of reacting to environmental threat.

    One of the cental causes of this failure is that there is very little technical expertise with in the governing parties. It is essential that along with the need for more female decision makers we equally urgently need more technically qualified and scientifically adept decision makers within the political process. And I don’t mean a token one or two, I mean 50% at least.

    The last 10 years have been choked with economists professing that a market solution to global warming is the most efficient. End result….zero action. Economists have failed to protect aour interests. The lawyers have shown that in the absense of any personal scientific aptitude that they will listen to “persuasive argument” and vested interests in determining how to act. End result abject failure.

    We have a desperate and ultra urgent need for scietific and engineering competence within our government decision making circle, within the cabinet. We do not legal industry based science interpreters within cabinet, we need actual direct scientific expertise. Or we are doomed,…with urgency.

  2. Here is a question. Would you feel safe with a lawyer performing your heart surgery….acting under advisement by a committee of doctors?

  3. I feel very sorry for Brian, here.
    He and others around the place have worked hard for years to explain climate change and enviro, but it is a subject being buried under the rug, quite assiduously, these days.
    For my part, I’m glad I’m growing older, since when things do finally seize up, at least I’ll be in my grave.

  4. That last sentence should be “acting under advisement by a committee of doctors, and pharmaceutical industry lobbyists?”

  5. Look what else is happening in just four years ( ) Doctor shortages. Nurse shortages. Water shortages. Oil shortages. Rare earth mineral shortages. Energy workforce shortages. Climate data shortages. Unstable energy prices.

    We’re not moving forward fast enough with these mitigation and adaptation policies. It’s been 30 years of a lot of megawords but not a lot of megawatts (of renewables) or negawatts (of energy efficiency).

    Yes, as you say, “All this is profoundly depressing, but needs to be faced. Now.”

  6. This year is Julia Gillard’s last chance to demonstrate that she is genuinely concerned about the unprecedented danger posed to everything that is Australia by global warming and that she is competent to make the changes of direction so desperately urged by science (our best real knowledge base). Is Julia a Merkel, or is she a Pallin. Does she stack up as the real leader that I believed here to be when I phoned her office to urge here to consider the leadership role. Will I be ultimately bitterly disappointed, will I discover that you are just another bureaucrat on a higher pay scale?

    This is your year, Julia. And it starts right now. You have been to Queensland to glimpse the devastation of our environmental future. Do you understand the nature of the danger? Will you go back to your office and concetrate on the healing? or will you assign well experienced people to perform that healing process, and throw your immense energy at the task of PREVENTION.

    Are you going to make me proud for your skills as a true leader?

  7. Brian, nice (& scary) post.

    As a small niggle, I worry about ‘paying’ poorer countries for carbon credits. How could those payments be made to avoid most of them being siphoned off by various unsavoury companies and leaders.

    I wonder if this has any interesting parallels with Mark’s posts on the death of western liberal universalism though. Maybe we shouldn’t have the _right_ to say how that money gets used, given that we’ve already blown the credit limit, so to speak.

  8. Oh good one, Jess, lets forget about the big picture and concentrate on the brush strokes, especially the ones we haven’t made yet.
    Blank canvas
    that is our civilisation’s future.

  9. BilB @ 5,
    You will be bitterly disappointed, I fear, even though I hope you won’t.
    And you’ve only just discovered that when it comes to predicting the future tarot card readers are more accurate than economists because economists haven’t yet woken up to the fact that they practice a discipline akin to science fiction?

  10. “We have a desperate and ultra urgent need for scietific and engineering competence within our government decision making circle, within the cabinet.”

    Do you really think that is the issue? If you do I think you have misdiagnosed the problem. Regardless of the expertise of those in cabinent posts, climate action on the scale you regard as necessary isn’t a political equilibrium. In the current environment it wouldn’t matter if Julia suddently morphed into Bob Brown. He couldn’t get large-scale action through the parliament and would promptly find himself out of office once he had to face the electorate.

    Besides, the analogy of lawyers performing open heart surgery is flawed. Scientists are skilled scientists, not necessarily public policymakers or political leaders. The comment about economists is similarly off the mark. Economists don’t control government decisionmaking. None of the economists advising the government recommended that Rudd and Gillard take the CPRS off the table. It was a political decision. What makes you think scientists would be taken any more seriously?

  11. Paul Burns: there’s a quote along the lines of it being very difficult to convince someone of a fact that they rely on not knowing to maintain their way of life. I mean, if there’s any group in the world who would be susceptable to the meme “if you pay someone enough they’ll believe anything” it would be economists, surely? So it doesn’t really matter whether econmics is a science or just a poeculiar fetish, what matters is how much we’re paying economists.

    Bilb: I think Jess’s point is more that we know from experience that pouring large amounts of money into poor countries results in huge corruption, so what makes anyone think that we *can* pay poor countries for their unused emissions? History suggests that we’d make a few people very rich and have little to no effect on what actually happens in the poor countries. So in terms of reducing emissions, we’d be better off doing something different – perhaps buying the right to build and run infrastructure (a variant on the world bank model).

  12. In a piece called “High Noon for 2°C” for a Swedish NGO group, Airclim, Hare and Meinshausen covered the carbon budget again, but revealed a little more about the two degrees. They have published together on this before, going back to 2000 and they have also published before on the subject with Allen and Raper. However, it was presented as “new science”.

    The carbon budget paper by Hare Meinshausen et al was a computer modeling exercise, claiming that less than half the proven economically recoverable oil, gas and coal reserves can still be emitted up to 2050 to achieve a goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees C. In an article for Airclim, Sweden, they admit that:

    “any such target is a value judgment made by policy makers, and hopefully, informed by science in regard to the consequences if we did not limit global warming to below 2°C.”

    Such vagueness matters not in the brave new world of climate science and the 2 degree meme has become a “scientific law”, repeated daily by advocate scientists, politicians and NGO activists.

    Hare says that the 2 degree C limit emerged from a 1989 UN Environment Program Advisory Group Report, but it was in 1996 that it was first adopted by the European Union Environment Council.

    In 1989 they were initially pushing for 1 degree, which didn’t give them much room for manouevre, in view of the claim that 0.7 degrees had already happened.

    In the real world it is quite obvious that CO2 levels are not driving temperature upwards, regardless of James Hansen, who you listen to at your peril. He can produce rising temperatures from places where they have no sensors

  13. LO, if economists don’t control (or at least profoundly influence) government policy, how come there’s still this delusion that privatisation is a Good Thing?

    BilB is quite correct – we are poorly served by having our parliaments full of lawyers (and others) ignorant of basic science. I can’t remember who it was, but someone said some years ago that the trouble with lawyers is that they think a scientific opinion is much the same as a legal opinion.

  14. LO,

    Indeed politics is a mystical thing which unlike theatre does not come out all right on the night.

    Yes I do believe that the above is the issue. I did not say that Labour should change to the exlusion of all other parties. We need technical expertise on both sides of the house, in all parties. In the so doing we would have 3 times more consensus and equally less conflict because science is more uniform in its underlying belief structure, even though not absolutely so. E=MC^2 is the same for both labour and liberal scientists. There is a far better opportunity for competing idealogies to cooperate when there is less scope for contention. The legal based system that we have is built on a foundation of conflict. The only thing that labour and liberal have in common is that they use the same language and are paid (as far as we are aware) in he same currency. That is not good enough to manage our community around a looming global catastrophy that has the potential to destroy everything that we have achieved. Did you not see the streets in Queensland where the entire contents from the flood effected houses lines the footpaths heading for the tip. That is just the beginning of what will happen from now on, year after year. And we all share the cost of that until we get to the point where with the ever increasing frequency and violence of these climate driven diasters insurance is no longer a valid concept.

    I was just talking at length with my friend Bill K whose political involvement goes back to Whitlam’s day, and in reaction to talking about some ball bustingly stupid thing that has occured he remarked “it seems that humans are to be one of natures failed experiments”. I have to agree, and uniquely compared to other species that have persisted for tens and hundreds of millions of years (unlike our 3) we have engineered our own destruction.

  15. The GW problem wil not be solved unless we completely re-think the way we provide and implement electrical services, transport services and manufacturing technologies.
    This rethink has to occur at all levels , the technological and scientific , the implementation and the “big plan”.
    The first thing we should do is lock up all those greens that are infected with Rousseau disease and the PV panacea disorder.
    Second thing we should do is come up with a credible and feasible preliminary program that does not involve returning us to some imagined bucolic utopia or some ultra technological nuclear based police state.
    Call it the fucking third way if you like, but it is possible to fix the mess; all it needs is some clear thinking and organisation.
    Will never happen

  16. Bilb: Part of what is wrong with our legal system is that the Attorney General is always a lawyer. So the legal system never gets the scrutiny it needs from a bright outsider looking in. The other problem is that being a lawyer gives the Attorney Generals the idea that they understand the law even though they may not have the relevant experience or ability to be the top law manager. So they start making decisions that are outside their expertize because “I am a lawyer”. My view at the time was that British economy was badly damaged under Harold Wilson because they man had a first class economics degree and thought he knew what he was doing.
    Combet is a mining engineer but what we need in cabinet is someone with the technical credibility that comes from the years of experience that Combet hasn’t got.
    Suggest the best answer to the cabinet expertise issue is to at least partly do what the yanks do and appoint some cabinet ministers externally. Appropriate appointments of people with serious experience in managing technology and engineering projects would help. There may also be a case for having a Ken Henry as treasurer rather than Swan.

  17. great post brian. a quick note that most of these estimates of the ‘carbon budget’ do not consider historical emissisions in any meaningful way and so write off the North’s historical overconsumption that actually caused climate change. factor those reductions in and the amount owed to developing countries is even higher. you can see this explained in more detail here:

    might be why bolivia refused to accept the ultimatum in cancan?

  18. On politics, you have the case in Germany, where Angela Merkel has a PhD in physical chemistry and has previously been minister for the environment. Her top adviser on climate change is Schellnhuber, who gets to brief her personally. I think we can be confident that he’s told her what the score is.

    But then the political realities come in, as Hansen was told when he got to see their minister for the environment. (He wanted to talk to Merkel, but came up short.)

    There are effective coal mining interests within Germany, but to get something through the EU is herding cats, with the Poles wanting to mine coal and the Italians dragging the chain etc. Where they got to is in no small measure due to Merkel who was president of the EU when they put their deal together. She also headed Bush off in the G8 when he was threatening to derail everything.

    But having settled on certain targets it’s very difficult to throw the whole thing open again.

    Gillard has on her famous committee Will Steffen. It’s presumptuous of me to assess his science, but his 2009 report (large pdf) seemed pretty sound. I have no idea, though, what he thinks of the Potsdam stabilisation stuff.

  19. Brian: In one sense this is a very good article with lots of useful graphs and a cogent argument.
    In other ways it is a terrible article. It is another ticking bomb that can be added to the arsenal of the Barnaby Joyces of the world. It is a bomb because, once you start talking about things like negative emissions, the message is that we have to choose between two very destructive alternatives for ending the world as we know it.
    The message we need to get out is that there are serious things we can do right now that will at least slow down climate change without destroying the economy or changing the world as we know it very much at all. I think there is a real problem with people of good intent scaring the voters and actually slowing down climate action.
    Huggy @15 puts the problem nicely when he says:

    The first thing we should do is lock up all those greens that are infected with Rousseau disease and the PV panacea disorder.
    Second thing we should do is come up with a credible and feasible preliminary program that does not involve returning us to some imagined bucolic utopia or some ultra technological nuclear based police state.

    It would have been better if he had added the renewable and carbon price panaceas to his list.
    However, I disagree with Huggy when he calls for major rethinks in his areas of interest. The challenge with the current government is to push them into doing something serious before the next election. The problem is that they are addicted to procrastination and rethinks and shouldn’t be encouraged.
    Perhaps the more logical approach is look at what we could get for various levels of economic pain.
    For example, think about what we a very affordable per capita cost of one dollar/day(8 billion/yr)would mean.
    1. A carbon price of $19/tonne (land and agriculture related emissions excluded.) – Not enough to drive investment in clean electricity so not much action here.
    2. A increase in the average price of power of 3.65 cents/kWh. Under a “contract for the supply of cleaner electricity’ approach this would be enough to allow for complete replacement of coal fired power by a mix of CCGT gas transition and renewables. Rough calcs equate this to a 75% reduction in power related emissions – a saleable prospect?

  20. The excellent report by Will Steffen proves, once again, that the problem is very well understood.
    We need solutions not endless analysis.
    The solutions on offer range from the absurd- injection of SO2 into the stratosphere , through to the too late – Nuclear; to the totally ineffectual – PV on family home rooftops.
    There is a suite of options available, many of which will actually be effective , some may sound a bit way out but they all need evaluation.
    Evaluation of solutions, and then large scale implementation, that is the question.

  21. We need solutions not endless analysis.

    Agree – we need to start doing stuff more, and planning less.

    I don’t think anyone really knows what a “low-carbon” industrial infrastructure will look like, and what bits are easy and what bits are hard.

    But we will only find out by doing and trying different things.

  22. @ BilB, we have to start worrying about brush strokes at some point.

    In terms of the big picture a lot of the problem comes down to what people value, and there’s no ‘scientific’ way of arguing against a value judgement.

    As an example, say I was a governing authority presented with a plan to open a mine in rural Australia. Economics tells me this would result in a multibillion dollar injection into the local economy and generate hundreds of jobs, and science tells me that it will wipe out several species of frog. I can agree 100% with both statements of fact, and yet I still have to make a value judgement on which is better – frogs or money?

    For some people, 80% loss of biodiversity and far worse living conditions in the future is an acceptable price to pay for better living conditions in the near term. Simply shouting that you’re going to lose hundreds of species at them is not going to change their minds. How should leaders persuade them otherwise then?

  23. harbinger @ 12, I thought you were doing quite well on the history of the 2C guardrail. Then you went off the rails in the last para.

    John D @ 21, sooner or later politicians and the people have to face the truth.

    Back in 2006 with the Stern report people were talking stabilisation at 550ppm when they knew it should be at least 450ppm. Scientists were altering their message to keep the politicians in the game and not dismissing them as unrealistic dreamers.

    By the time of the IPCC in 2007 they were saying 450ppm or 550ppm. The ALP’s policies were determined at a weekend meeting in Brisbane in June 2007. Because of this Garnaut was constrained by his terms of reference to consider 450ppm and 550ppm scenarios.

    Garnaut realised that the risk of dangerous climate change with those parameters was unacceptable. We know that he knew about Weitzman’s long-tail climate sensitivity risk assessment stuff, but chose to ignore it.

    Meanwhile the actions Australia was prepared to take were consistent with 650ppm or more.

    In December 2007 at the AGU meeting, while the Bali UNFCC climate meeting was in progress, Hansen said we must aim for 350ppm. Ever since then people aiming for 450ppm have had to admit that it involves overshooting and risk.

    The Potsdam approach takes 2C seriously as a political reality and makes the best of it.

    You can’t ask the likes of Australia and the US to do the impossible. But you can ask them to pursue a similar path to Germany from a higher base. This involves 40-45% by 2020 and the rest by 2030. This is not too much. Largely convert to the grid to gas, electrify transport as much as possible etc by 2020 and then go for broke by 2030.

    This is worthy of being called the ‘greatest moral challenge of our times’.

    But this is a concession to what’s required and will mean that other countries will have to do more to save our bacon.

    Schellnhuber’s diagram allows India and Burkina Faso to increase emissions, but in an orderly manner and they too will have to hit zero by 2050.

    There’s no getting away from it. The sooner China, India etc realise that they can’t make things up to suit themselves, the better. The Potsdam framework provides a basis for talking about it.

    But before anything can work the penny has to drop in the US.

  24. Jess, Bolt has also chosen a series that suits his argument a bit better. Take a look at the last three decades on NASA GISS.

    But if Roy Spencer says that 1998 remains the highest, then of course we need look no further.

  25. What was the name of NASAs satellite in 1880 that took those readings.NASA started in 1958?

  26. A few contributors have mentioned that they think the systems of political organisation we have developed appear to be incapable of dealing with the science and the politics of the issue of AGW.
    Fair enough when you consider the efforts being made so far and the apparent willingness of some parts of society to proceed with no concern for the long term changes that are predicted.
    But what in our physical, cultural or social evolution would have prepared us for such a situation?
    The time frames being considered are too vast, the effects being described while dramatic are often at a remove from most people’s lived experience.When they are involved how much more placating is it to expalin that it is just natural variation etc etc etc?
    We have evolved to self preserve but the time frame is almost immediate compared with the 50-100 year time frames mentioned in AGW.
    It is appreciated by many that change is needed but this challenge is I think entirely novel in human history – if biological history is a guide then extinctions often follow such developments….there isn’t a mechanism we can employ to help ourselves.

  27. murph @ 31, I’m currently reading Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth. It looks to see whether we will have a Medean or a Gaian future. Whether we will destroy ourselves or reach a new level of cooperation.

    This review and what I’ve read so far tells you where he’s going – in the direction of hope.

    I can’t yet assess how convincing he is, but he takes you on an interesting journey.

  28. Brian: If you look at what I said @21 and the current state climate modelling I have no hesitation in saying that a prudent government should get on with something like the $1.00/day per capita plan. The risks of incurring this cost is minute compared with the risk of doing nothing. I would say the same about a range of climate actions that would also have little effect on the economy.
    On the other hand, if we are talking about locking the country into a process that will end up with negative emissions I would suggest that a prudent government would hesitate and would want to be very very sure of the science before taking such an extreme step.
    Three points here:
    1. We don’t have to lock in now.
    2. Convincing governments that they have to lock in now or do nothing pushes governments towards deciding to do nothing.
    3. Implementing something like a $1.00/day per capita plan quickly will have a very significant impact on our cumulative emissions for the next 40 yrs.
    The look at the moment is that we will go into the next election with emissions still rising and not enough contracts in place for getting the reduction emissions back on even the governments targets to be met.

  29. My point is that CO2 has not been above 300ppm for probably a million years and it’s not rocket science to see that it has to come down to something approaching that. Why not lay it all out honestly, and sure, we reassess things along the way. No government can lock in something like that beyond the next election.

    But Gillard’s aim, as she correctly saw at the outset, must be to work towards bipartisanship. It can only be based on openness and frankness. We leave ourselves open if we retain a hidden agenda.

    Maybe there are reasons why I’d never be a politician!

  30. I think we need to be looking at CO2 removal right about now. My understanding is the technology exists, but is “expensive” (to which my reply would “so what?”). If anyone has info let me know.

    We should set whatever they are up, at more or less whatever cost, using solar panels and just let them progressively chug away while we work at reductions.

    Its not like we have a whole lot of options.

    And more generally, next time someone wants to tell me about the “cost” of abatemetn measures, they really need to be seen against the astronomical economic cost of climate change – rather than a now completely disappeared hlacyin past of cheap power.

    It was never “cheap” – we just were just putting the true cost on lay by for the future. Not even a distant one.

    And since we all realsied this c 1990, its all been utter, dismal stupidity since.

  31. The problem with having Lawyers in a position of power is not their inability to understand the science. I have seen with my own eyes a barrister speed read 10 pages of brief 5 minutes before a hearing and demonstrate his complete understanding of a complex property settlement.

    The problem with lawyers is that their profession demands that ethics and truth are transcended by the principle of working for the best interests of whoever pays.

    What’s that you say? Politicians are paid by the taxpayer? Well, if you can bend your scruples like a lawyer does, ‘because that’s our legal system’, then it’s going to be even easier to bend them when you have far more power and less accountability as a politician. Like being paid for the same job twice with conflicting interest?

  32. Man is the cruelest animal on Earth, good luck with removing the need of man to dominate his environment to the exclusion of all other considerations.

  33. LEFTY E @ 40

    I couldn’t find a mention of the SUN,that thing that provide %100 of our heat?

  34. CRAIGY, have you wondered why the earth has been on a cooling trend overall for the last 65 million years while the sun has gotten hotter?

    I can see you are a nark, and I’m going to ignore you from now on.

  35. brian.
    What is YOUR definition of nark.?I hope its not because i asked a question you cant answer or because i dont agree with you.

    “”Readers are most welcome to comment and debate. Rational disagreement and civil interchange is thoroughly encouraged. However, please keep discussion civilised.””

    please point to your evidence of:
    the earth has been on a cooling trend overall for the last 65 million years while the sun has gotten hotter?

    I am being both, rational and civil.

  36. I am being both, rational and civil.

    …so was Pontius Pilate.

    Start here:

    You are welcome to comment and debate, CRAIGY. You are not, however, welcome to waste people’s time asking questions you could answer yourself with a scant few minutes research. If you can’t be bothered to go to even that level of effort yourself, why should anybody humour you by chasing all the balls you want to throw all over the park?

    Ain’t gonna play fetch for you.

    You don’t think this is an urgent, important issue? Fine, go on thinking that.

    Although, come to think of it, it’s odd that you’re spending your time trawling around on internet boards about an issue that you believe to be non-urgent and unimportant. That’s the sort of thing a nark would do, don’tcha reckon?

  37. Craigy, as Mercurius found, mateiral is on that site addressing your point

    The best way to detect changes in the actual output of the sun versus changes in the radiation reaching the earth’s surface because of clouds, smoke, dust or pollution is by taking readings from space.

    This is a job for satellites. According to PMOD at the World Radiation Center there has been no increase in solar irradiance since at least 1978 when satellite observations began. This means that for the last thirty years, while the temperature has been rising fastest, the sun has shown no trend.

    Is it possible you believe other incorrect things, simply because you haven’t taken the time to look for a few minutes?

  38. sorry mercurius

    when i was younger, a NARK , was an informant to the police.
    I have only recently purchased a computer and more recently discovered “blogs”
    my research leads to dead ends and contradictions
    this subject interests me , for my own reasons
    i was looking for a site that is objective,not pro- this or pro-that
    if you can suggest one i would be thankful
    i have many unanswered questions
    if i am in the wrong place, just let me know
    im NOT interested in “preaching to the converted” sites

  39. Craigy,

    May I suggest that you look at the recent presentation by Dr Tony Harmet at University of Queensland. Dr Harmet is the head of the Scripps Institution which runs the Argos project as well as many others including satellites (I believe). You should be able to down load the speech at ABC Big Ideas.

    Dr Harmet in his talk touches on the issue of solar variability, which the Scripps has studied, and says that it is a minor variable input into global warming.

  40. CRAIGY @ 45:

    What is YOUR definition of nark.?I hope its not because i asked a question you cant answer or because i dont agree with you.

    “Nark” can mean what you say, but according to my Australian Oxford Dictionary, in Australia it’s likely to mean “an annoying person or thing”.

    please point to your evidence of:
    the earth has been on a cooling trend overall for the last 65 million years while the sun has gotten hotter?

    I can’t promise you but I think it was James Hansen’s Iowa testimony.

    If you want to learn stuff, try Skeptical Science. You might learn there that not all the extra heat goes in the atmosphere.

    Now I’ll try to keep my promise.

  41. Brian, did you see the Harmet presentation? If you did not then I think that you should. This is a guy (Australian) who has 1400 scientists reporting directly to him on a broad subject base. The Scipps Institution is the organisation that operates the Maona Loa observatory which is used as the basis for CO2 atmospheric levels. He also speaks of snarks and denialists.

  42. Glad Graigy is here.I set out with the same problem,not knowing what to think about AGW.I am now convinced that most of the stupidity is referring to people like Bolt.And I posted something on another of these Brian jobs here, that disputes the matter entirely.What has been reported about Solar Activity for this year remains a concern.Whereas Brian is leading people down a blind path.I suspect within two years there will be mass sackings of Academics and Scientists in Australia brought about by both Australians who have been overseas and the irrationality of the insistances.The reason flood events cannot be construed to be a process of AGW because they are outside the record of the last major event,thus not a cycle either.The floods also reduce electricity use,mining and normal CO2 fuel etc. emissions.Although botanical losses and other pollution etc. will be at play.Brian is using the presentation of Science as Science itself.And the constant requirement for urgency isn’t that dramatic,and others recently as Warmers have said that.Its like the more the evidence for global Cooling,the more they ratchet up these strange figures of global temperatures.Sadly,I think Newspaper Sites are doing a better job of what is actually occuring,say England and weather colder than what was considered a warm period.And if it is a comparison that covers over a 1000 years into a warm period.Then it is odd that the assumed accuracy of global temperatures continues to be asserted.When does this Occam’s Razor thingo get to seeing a temperature below that of a considered warm period justifies no longer taking any interest in what Hansen has to say about what is the cause.There has also been more ice coverage in the Artic area now for two years running!?

  43. Pendant alert. Narc as a police undercover agent (not informant) is spelt N-a-r-c. Its derivation is from Narcotics Bureau. It is an Americanism. A police informant is a dog, snitch,et al.
    [Runs away after apologising for being OT.)

  44. @PB Nah, that’s fascinating! I didn’t know that. 🙂

    [carefully stashes trivia in brain for later regurgitation]

  45. I wonder about the NBN and FTTH – so bitterly opposed by some on this site – is it possible that the global adoption of FTTH would have the largest impact on CO2 emissions?
    1. No longer any excuse for executive jaunts to conferences and meetings
    2. No more trips to the shopping centre for stuff, you order it from home and it is delivered by efficient electric delivery vehicles
    No more shipping of shrink wrapped software around the world, no more newspapers, no more books, no more video shops. No more driving to work (well less). All sorts of CO2 producing businesses would go to the wall. Politicians could stay home and pontificate in 3D from their living room.
    Yes I know that 10 Google searches consume 1 kWh – but this can be fixed.


  46. BilB @ 51, I think the name is Dr Tony Haymet. I heard him on the ABC a couple of years ago, but didn’t hear him at QU unfortunately.

    Has he been here since April?

  47. I like your thinking Huggy. Behaviour change is going to be one tough nut to crack in combatting AGW. Where technology can create redundancy, as in your examples, it short circuits the difficulty of behaviour change.
    I’d go further. Smart cars that won’t ‘program’ (ie start – or stop) for unnecessarily short trips and won’t idle for drive-through restaurants. The necessity to apply to say the patent office for an ‘approval’ to make and market electric items such as electric carving knife, foot massagers etcetera.
    You know it makes sense.

  48. Brian, yes it was the 14th of April, but I only saw it viewed last week.

    towards the bottom. He was talking largely about Argos and other programmes but the general climate situation wasvery much centre stage, including ocean heating and acidification.

  49. pa t @52

    I suspect within two years there will be mass sackings of Academics and Scientists in Australia brought about by both Australians who have been overseas and the irrationality of the insistances.

    Lol, now we know the secret agenda of the scepTics. Interesting to know you proposing for no more new research in health, vehicle safety, food production, building materials et al and presumably prefer to go back to the rational ‘dark ages’ and burning of witches and heretics.

    You may just have to a few more to that mass sacking list. All those risk management people in the Queensland Government are equally deluded (hope the link will work)

    Why is it that all these science conspiracy howling people actually fall for one of the most obvious cons dished up by people of very dubious character and want to neuter the very body that has effectively given us the knowledge of which humanity today could not exist without as we do.

    pa t, skepticism requires a certain degree of knowledge and open mindedness and science is all about validity and reliability, which your sources are not. When you provide me with links of Sandstone science establishment to support your thesis I will take notice. Otherwise don’t insult my intelligence and scientific training, thanks!

  50. Pablo @57.
    In my brave new world the jobs don’t go away its just that you won’t have to travel to the office or to the shop or campus.
    This means the end of the CBD and the hallowed halls of academe and the end of checkouts and traffic congestion. Those employed in checkouts will move to delivery.

    Meantime industrial processes will move forward at their own pace.

    I know it makes sense.

  51. Here’s an interesting link:,0,6481221.story

    Scientist proves conservatism and belief in climate change aren’t incompatible

    MIT professor Kerry Emanuel is among a rare breed of conservative scientists who are sounding the alarm for climate change and criticizing Republicans’ ‘agenda of denial’ and ‘anti-science stance.’


    Emanuel dislikes applying the word “skeptic” to those who deny climate change. He says all scientists are skeptical; that’s the nature of the field. His own innate skepticism meant that it took him longer than his colleagues to be persuaded of climate change, Emanuel said.

    He remembers thinking it ridiculous when a noted climatologist told Congress in 1988 that he was all but certain that the climate was changing. Yet, as analyses of climate data advanced through the 1990s and Emanuel found a relationship between hurricanes and climate change in his own work, he came to see a link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.


    Emanuel waded into the fray early last year. He wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal criticizing a friend and colleague for dismissing the evidence of climate change and clinging “to the agenda of denial.” Then Emanuel added his name to the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, a website run by scientists to provide accurate information from top researchers in climate-related fields.

    I’ve always rebelled against the thinking that ideology can trump fact, said Emanuel, 55. The people who call themselves conservative these days aren’t conservative by my definition. I think they’re quite radical.


    I am a rare example of a Republican scientist, but I am seriously thinking about changing affiliation owing to the Republicans’ increasingly anti-science stance, he wrote in an e-mail. The best way to elevate the number of Republican scientists is to get Republican politicians to stop beating up on science and scientists

  52. Hey all
    Thanks for the links
    Some times theres too much info and not enough time.
    The issue is very complicated,not as straight forward as some people make out.
    both fore and against.
    thanks again.

  53. ootz, the first law of ozblogging – you do not pay attention to p.a.travers.

    Paul Burns, why were you alerting us to dangly jewellery? The only time I have heard the term nark as a noun is in reference to police informers (yes with a k), but then I have heard of being narked off as colloquial australian useage.

    CRAIGY, there’s not “one side versus the other side” in this matter, there’s extremely good science with overwhelmingly strong evidence competing against vested political and economic interests. I know which side I’d back.

  54. Brian @37: We are at cross purposes here. Politicians have been told about the climate science and what has to be done in the longer term if serious problems are to be avoided. What concerns me though is the fact that bugger all is happening despite all the availability of all this information.
    The issue I am concerned about is how the hell do we get some action in the short term. My line is we can do something like halve our emissions for remarkably little economic pain. This is the message we need to get out right now.

  55. Good on you, John D, that is indeed the case. The fact is that the politicians have messed the whole thing up to the extent that we face paying twice for the solution. The electricity industry is already receiving all of the funding that they need to achieve the 50% reduction in CO2 emissions, but they are taking this as profit rather than funds for reinvestment. OMG who would have ever guessed that business would react that way. The problem is that the funds, the electricity price increases amounting 10 billion dollars a year, flow into the hands of the electricity retailers, not the power generators, and this has happened because the CPRS, which was to force the generator operators to invest in low emission infrastructure in order to remain operational, never eventuated. So now there is a lot of “lobby money” available from the electricity retailers to the Abbott opposition to ensure that any meaningful form of carbon tax never, ever, ever, materialises.

    However there is scope for some clawback if you read the CPRS and followed the press realeses as all of this was happening. The statements said that if the CPRS was to fail then half of the electricity price increases were to be recinded. Well that is not going to happen, so what the government can do is tax the electricity distributors 50% of their increases and apply a further 2 cent per unit levy on retail electricity sales. This will achieve the same thing with a very reduced further increase in the price of electricity (still far less than the scheduled coming price increases). The end result will be a 10 billion dollar per year infrastructure fund to get the transition to renewables under way with the urgency that is now universally expected.

    Maybe I am being a little to hasrsh on Julia. The reality is that she does not have the power to drive the changes positively till July. She may be laying down a truly inspirational and devastatingly (for the opposition) effective plan.

    Here is hoping.

  56. John D, fair enough, but let me put it this way. Politicians do need to get the message that doing something significant about climate change will cost buggerall. But there some related messages that they need to understand with equal force. The first is, what constitutes “something significant”? The climate crunch, carbon budget scenario will tell them that The Greens notion of 40 to 45% by 2020 is about the bare minimum. And can be achieved reasonably painlessly.

    The second thing they need to understand is that there is a penalty, quite an extreme one, in not acting decisively now.

    The third message is that if they don’t act decisively soon, it will be too late.

    The extreme urgency of now…

  57. Brian (or anyone else), can you recommend anywhere that has a good basic primer about climate change i.e. what it is, how we know it’s happening etc? Thanks.

  58. Fine, I don’t particularly look for primers, so I’m not the best one to ask. The first thing that made sense to me was an article by James Hansen in the Scientific American in 2003. It was a shortened version of this one on the net. The first part of that article explains a lot of basic concepts, with boxes etc.

    There was one diagram that the print article had that the online one lacks. It was the explanation of the greenhouse effect, which is fundamental. In googling I found this one (see second image). That one importantly shows that the greenhouse gases don’t reflect the outgoing radiation, the radiation is captured and retransmitted in all directions.

    What it doesn’t explain is that the incoming radiation is short wave and vigorous. The outgoing (mostly at night as the earth’s surface cools) is longer wave and more easily captured by trace gases and water vapour.

    Hansen’s Iowa testimony puts the whole thing in an historical/geological paleoclimate context, with copious images at the end.

    I have a few sites bookmarked that might be helpful:

    Climate Ark

    Global Greenhouse

    New Scientist



    ARIC/defra teaching packs

    That’s something to go on with. I haven’t reviewed any of these sites.

  59. Hey Fine,

    Before you get bogged down in detail watch this video

    This man is a scientist at the core of the science and he shows you some of the devices and techniques used by his 1400 scientists to collect the information that you will then read about at the many other web sites that evaluate this information and attempt to predict what is happening with our climate.

    But the most fundamantal thing that you have to know before you wade into everything that this is all about is that….

    the trees on your block of land, or in your nearby park, came out of the


    not out of the ground.

    Trees are sitting on and in the ground but the substance that makes them tall and big and strong is from Carbon Dioxide from the Air. Any thing green receives sunlight energy and uses that to take carbon dioxide and break it down into carbon and oxygen so that it can used the carbon to build its structure, and then releases the oxygen back to the air. This is the oxygen that we need to breath, and to run our cars and planes. The thing with machinery is that it needs lots of oxygen. A basic 1000 CC car uses as much oxygen as 1000 people breathing. Just imagine what that is for a jet engine. So our machinery is chewing through the atmosphere’s oxygen to throw back into the atmosphere billions of tonnes of Carbon Dioxide.

    That is the basic knowledge starting point. Read on.

  60. Thanks to you both. I’m looking for resources that sceptics can be given which explains things in a straightforward way. This may not persuade everyone. But, I think there are people who are sceptics because idiots like Bolt have muddied the waters so much.

  61. Fine there’s one book I can recommend. It’s not a primer, rather an investigation, giving the sceptics’ case due respect. It’s Poles Apart by Gareth Morgan and John McCrystal. Morgan is a finance advisory guru in NZ and McCrystal a science writer.

    They look at the cases put by what they call Sceptics and Alarmists (because the climate science position is indeed alarming).

    They come out in favour of the Alarmists, but do some useful work along the way. It has a good section on modelling, and, rightly, I think, see climate sensitivity (the warming consequent on doubling CO2) as a core issue.

    Morgan has plenty of dosh and became interested because of the changes he saw in doing a motor cycle tour of the world, just for the hell of it.

  62. Don’t assume, Fine, that denialists know the very basics. In 1990 in NZ, a while ago now, I tested the then Minister for Energy and Environment, Richard Prebble, with the tree origin story. He did not know, and yet had been in the midst of making key decisions such as shelving New Zealands gas to ethanol programme and having the plans to have NZ’s car running on ethanol blends dropped in favour of importing cheap petrol.

    Today’s denialists display a peculiar mix of religion and lack of science knowledge, a mental tar ball that anti science seems to stick really well.

    Good luck with that one.

  63. FINE @72
    There are also some credible scientists who have ” muddied the waters” as you say.


    Making it difficult for ” average Joe voter” to be,” absolutely sure”.

    And i think for the majority of people who vote along traditional party lines, on many issues,
    have got to be” absolutely sure” before changing their vote.

    The scientists don’t decide who governs,” average Joe voter”does.

    I also think,most people don’t know enough about it.

    Who’s fault is that?
    I’m AM educating myself on this issue, but most people i know don’t make the same effort.

  64. Forgetting Plimer for a minute,are you saying all the other scientists on that list have no credibility and their statements are incorrect?

    And how does the “regular punter ” tell the difference between a credible or non-credible scientist.? When we are told “trust the science,trust the science”

    I can tell a BUL…..TER when i meet one, but its difficult to tell when just reading text.

  65. Well, Fred Singer and at least a couple of others are probably even less credible than Plimer.

  66. If you read the statements Craigey most express concern as a matter of degree rather than absolute rejection. In other words the sum total of their opinions represents a minor negative adjustment to the total body of opinion and in no way represents a totally contrary view, with just a few individual exceptions.

  67. Also Fine, Barry Brook has put together a bit of a reading list with some commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of each.

    These may be pertinent.

    Edmond Mathez. Climate Change: The Science of Global Warming and Our Energy Future. Columbia University Press, 2009 (318 pp). A richly illustrated guide to all aspects of climate science, impacts, adaptation and mitigation. Superficial in parts, but mostly a superb overview, and excellent value as a student text


    Michael Mann & Lee Kump. Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming. DK, 2008 (208 pp). A layman’s guide to the IPCC reports. The text is fairly straightforward and won’t reveal much that is new to those already familiar with the evidence, but probably useful for the beginner. Worth getting, however, for the superb quality of the numerous colour figures.

    Stewart Cohen & Melissa Waddell. Climate Change in the 21st Century. McGill-Queen’s UP, 2010 (379 pp). Mostly a standard, plain text overview of climate change, but saved by the excellent concluding chapters on integrated assessment models and the interrelationship and synergies of anthropogenic climate change within the broader global environmental debate

  68. Bilb @65: The CPRS was a major setback to Brian’s extreme urgency of now. Firstly, 3 years were wasted because resources were diverted from doing the things that we obviously had to do. Secondly, the plan as developed meant that it would be years more before the permit price rose high enough to drive real action.
    Worst of all, when Barnaby choice started his “great big tax on everything scare campaign Penny Wong was unable to kill it because she couldn’t get up and say “Bullshit – this is how much it will affect individuals and this is what it will achieve.” Labor has learned nothing. They are stuffing around about putting a price on carbon,
    still talking about introducing it at a price that will be too low to drive much action and still not getting on with the things that obviously need doing.
    The best way of driving the politics of the “urgency of now” is to divide the action into packets that allow people to understand what it will cost them and what effect it will have.
    Bilb: I don’t think we need an infrastructure fund to drive the generation side of the power clean-up. If you use my contract approach it is up to those tendering for the contracts to raise the funds.

  69. CRAIGY, here’s a clue.

    The basic concepts aren’t all that difficult once you get your head around them and they make sense overall. There is a coherence factor in the main features of climate science.

    With the other lot you find a standard range of faults, the worst of which is quoting other scientists as saying what they don’t say, sometimes the opposite. So your confidence suffers.

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