Saturday, February 25, 2012

Richard Lindzen on Global Warming

Via a link from Eric Raymond, I've just been reading a presentation by Richard Lindzen, an MIT climate scientist critical of  current global warming arguments. His basic claims:

1. The direct effect of a doubling of atmospheric CO2 should be about a one degree C increase in global temperatures. The substantially larger effect projected in the IPCC reports depends on positive feedbacks in their models.

2. The atmosphere is a sufficiently complicated system so that predicting feedback effects on the basis of theory is difficult or impossible. Insofar as the feedbacks can be estimated empirically, they appear to be negative, not positive.

3. The historical evidence shows about a one degree increase from the past doubling. In order to make that consistent with the models it is necessary to include in the models additional features to explain a lower increase than would otherwise be predicted.

Interested readers should follow the link and look at the presentation themselves, both because my summary may not be entirely accurate--it's based on a single reading--and because there is a lot more there. 

I do not know enough about climate science to judge the argument on its merits. Lindzen sounds convincing, but it would be nice to see what sort of rebuttals people who disagree with him can offer—perhaps some readers can offer links to such. As I have commented in earlier posts, my own criticism of current global warming arguments and policy is based on the economics not the climate science. I have yet to see any convincing reason to believe that an increase in temperature of the magnitude suggested by the IPCC reports would have net negative consequences, let alone catastrophic ones. Apropos of which ... .

Human settlement and agriculture are currently limited by cold not by heat—the equator is populated, the poles are not. If global temperatures go up, more land in the northern hemisphere should become warm enough for human purposes. How big is the effect—by how many miles does the temperature contour shift? I recently did a very rough back-of-the-envelope calculation in response to someone online suggesting that the effect was larger than I was assuming, and concluded he was correct. 

I estimated the rate at which temperatures change as you move north from a page showing that day's maximum temperatures in different parts of the world. Assuming the rate of change is uniform and about the same for maximum, minimum, and average, a three degree C increase in temperature represents a shift of climate contours by more than two hundred miles—enough to more than double the effective area of Canada. Hopefully some reader can point me at a more accurate estimate, but I think that's sufficient to suggest the scale of the effect.

Freeman Dyson, in The Scientist as Rebel, argues that increased CO2 should have a larger effect on temperatures in colder areas. The argument is fairly simple. Water vapor is a strong greenhouse gas. The more water vapor in the air, the less the effect of adding CO2. The colder the climate, the less water vapor in the air. 

If he is right, then the effect on the northern limits of human habitation should be larger than my calculation shows. As far as I can see, the result is a large gain from the standpoint of human beings, via a large increase in the amount of usable land in North America and Eurasia. It would be interesting to compare the size of that increase to the size of the decrease in usable land from the sea level rise of a foot or two suggested by the IPCC models; my guess is that the decrease is much less than the increase, but I have not done the calculation.

One would also expect an increase in average temperatures to raise them at the equator—although by less, if Dyson is correct. I am not sure how large the resulting negative effects would be; people live and farm at the equator, but my guess is that temperatures are already above what would be optimal from their standpoint, hence an increase would be, for them, a loss not a gain.
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Tim Lambert, in the comments, offers a link to a page with criticisms of Lindzen's position.

46 Comments:

At 4:04 PM, February 25, 2012, Anonymous Chris Hibbert said...

I'm not a climate scientist either, but Lindzen's calm rational review is consistent with my reading of the situation. Temperatures are going up, but not by much, and we don't know why to many significant digits. It seems unlikely that the consequences are going to be catastrophic in the near term, and even in the medium term (say 20 years out), society should be far more knowledgeable and far more capable of doing something if something needs to be done.

 
At 6:56 PM, February 25, 2012, Anonymous Henry said...

I think there's room for economics in deciding how to weight the scientific consensus on AGW.

I think almost every lay person on both sides is irrational about this issue, often deciding what is ideologically appealing to them or the beliefs of groups they have affinity with and then asserting 100% confidence in one side or the other. There doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground.

Could we come up with a reasonably objective way of doing this? We start by considering that scientists respond to incentives, but without the one-sided analysis like "scientists are all part of the big goverment agenda" or "anti-AGW scientists are all corporate shills". Both may have some degree of truth which we should take into account.

My guess is that there is something like a 90-95% chance that AGW is occurring to a significant degree. This recognises that scientists have good, but not perfect incentives to be truth-seekers and that people (scientists included) tend to significantly underestimate uncertainty. Thus, even if governments are to do something about climate change, it should still probably be less than the degree advocated by climate scientists.

 
At 10:50 PM, February 25, 2012, Blogger Xerographica said...

Can't really contribute much in the way of critical analysis...but it really tugs at my heartstrings to see the polar bears sitting on tiny rapidly shrinking slabs of ice slowly drifting away. I think that's what they are going to do to me when I get old...if not sooner.

Oh wait...I thought of some critical analysis. We should always be very wary of the fatal conceit and unintended consequences. We overestimate our own intelligence if we think we can truly grasp the impact our activities have on the planet. Therefore, if we do err, it should be on the side of caution.

Then again, I might just be saying that because I'm biased towards polar bears. Then again...I REALLY hate the cold. When I spent a month doing military training up in the Andes...it was the worst. There was no water pressure so taking a shower was pretty much like standing naked under an icicle that was slowly melting. That being said, one of my fondest memories was when I took a break from chopping wood and I briefly saw an Andean condor soaring high up in the clouds.

Well...my point was that my biases probably cancel each other out...but then I started to talk about nature again...so I guess that they really do not.

 
At 11:50 PM, February 25, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Therefore, if we do err, it should be on the side of caution."

That sounds reasonable, but I'm not sure it is an option, or even what it means. Consider two problems:

1. The "solution" most commonly proposed is a sharp reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Since, at present, alternative energy sources are mostly more expensive, doing that imposes a very large cost, much of it on societies whose populations are finally getting out of millenia of poverty. Is doing that caution?

2. We are currently in an interglacial--a warm period between glaciations. If we drop off that interglacial, the result could easily be half a mile or more of ice over the present locations of Chicago and London and a massive reduction in usable land area. That's a much bigger catastrophe than the likely consequences of global warming. So does being cautious mean pumping as much CO2 as possible out, in order to warm the planet and postpone the next glaciation?

To put it more generally, in this case as in many others there is no safe option, only a choice among different risks.

 
At 12:26 AM, February 26, 2012, Blogger Antisthenes said...

If I was to propose spending billions to counter a problem that has not been properly identified with solutions that had outcomes that the consequences of which were not understood I would be considered at best eccentric at worst insane.

 
At 1:03 AM, February 26, 2012, Blogger Xerographica said...

Heh, it's kind of funny. Matt Zwolinski (the owner of the Bleeding Heart Libertarian blog) and I recently had a somewhat similar discussion...Fallibilism vs Fairness. It's funny because this entry of yours is a perfect example of what I was trying to argue. Well...it's also funny because the discussion resulted in my banishment from his website!

His argument was that people do have a moral obligation to save drowning children...therefore the government has a moral obligation to help people.

Here's a section of what I wrote to Zwolinski...

"We're dealing with n+1 problems multiplied by n+1 solutions. YOU see a drowning child so you think everybody should have a moral obligation to do something about that drowning child. Do what though? Should people spend their limited time/money trying to save that one child or spend their limited time/money trying to prevent future children from drowning? Or should they spend their limited time/money trying to solve the problems that THEY see?"

In this situation I see a planet in peril so I think that everybody should have a moral obligation to save the planet! Well... kinda... but not really.

My solution is a bigger picture solution. It's to allow people to reveal their preferences by directly allocating their taxes and selling their votes.

If I want to save the planet then I should be allowed to allocate as much of my taxes to the EPA as I wanted. Clearly...if I wasn't happy with their solutions then I would allocate my taxes to other government organizations in an attempt to maximize my utility.

We all stand to benefit as a society if taxpayers are allowed to consider the opportunity costs of the things they want.

In terms of selling votes. Let's say Brazil was going to vote on whether it should develop or conserve huge tracts of rain forest. In this case I'd send a lot of money to the conservation organization that was purchasing votes from the Brazilian people. Then I'd encourage you to do the same! Then we'd get into a debate about the effectiveness of conserving the rain forest. Then we'd resolve the debate by dueling...in WoW. I'd probably win though because you're not much into PVP.

Speaking of saving the planet...if you get a chance you should read my analysis of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. I was shocked that one of the leaders, Margaret Flowers, was making practical suggestions that were completely impervious to even the best libertarian critiques of the OWS movement.

 
At 5:01 AM, February 26, 2012, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

Here's what's wrong with Lindzen's argument:

http://www.skepticalscience.com/lindzen-illusion-4-climate-sensitivity.html

 
At 6:39 AM, February 26, 2012, Blogger Jon said...

It's fascinating and a bit scary that global warming deniers like Lindzen get so much attention. Naomi Klein has a recent cover piece in The Nation (subsequent Q&A and link to that article here) which explains what might otherwise be baffling. The denial community is right about one thing. Any kind of meaningful response to the climate crises is fatal to free markets and capitalism.

In reality this is an overwhelming scientific consensus. If this isn't persuasive nothing will be. Why? It's not about the facts. Dealing with this issue conflicts fundamentally with those that hold to a free market capitalistic world view. And so we hear about Lindzen. Roy Spencer (Rush Limbaugh's "official" climate expert.) A handful of others. The arguments often contradict each other (it's not happening, it is happening but man's not responsible, man is responsible but doing anything about it isn't worth it) but they all advance the same goal. Don't do anything to change it. Why? Because on free market capitalism it's impossible.

 
At 7:14 AM, February 26, 2012, Anonymous Michael Brock said...

I highly recommend following the blog climate-skeptic. He's put forth the same arguments and in greater detail, also has many other great posts on this debate.

http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2009/11/catastrophe-denied-video-from-my-climate-lecture.html

 
At 10:48 AM, February 26, 2012, Blogger jimbino said...

David says,

...people live and farm at the equator, but my guess is that temperatures are already above what would be optimal from their standpoint, hence an increase would be, for them, a loss not a gain.

I'm a Texan who's spent many a week in equatorial rainforests and have to take exception to the notion that it is too hot there.

Summer highs in Austin, far north of the Tropic of Cancer, can hover around 100 degF for 3 months without end and regularly reach 105 degF in Rio de Janeiro, which lies right on the Tropic of Capricorn.

Year-round highs in Manaus and in the Congo, both on the equator, on the other hand, do not vary much from between 80 degF and 95 degF, at which temperature a tropical storm regularly arrives to lower the temperature. Such a situation would be considered ideal by lots of Texans.

What's miserable about the tropics are the extreme and unrelenting humidity and high night-time temperatures, neither of which seem to adversely affect agriculture. I can't see how either a small rise in equatorial temperatures or an extension of the tropical rainforest to the north and south of the equator would present any problem to mankind whatsoever. To the contrary, the many relatively arid lands to the north (Roraima) and south (the Sertão), would presumably become much more productive.

 
At 11:09 AM, February 26, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tim offers a link to a critique of Lindzen's position, but a rather technical one; it's hard for an outsider to tell if the particular criticisms are correct or not (perhaps inevitable in a technical field). In any case, thanks.

Can anyone point at a similar rebuttal of the arguments I've been making--questioning not the climate predictions but the claim that such changes would have large net negative effects?

 
At 12:08 PM, February 26, 2012, Anonymous Allan Walstad said...

"Any kind of meaningful response to the climate crises is fatal to free markets and capitalism."

And what is fatal to free markets and capitalism is fatal to the future of any sort of civilization featuring liberty and general prosperity. So Jon, if you are correct and if the climate catastrophists are correct, then the future is unqualifiedly bleak.

At this point it appears that climate catastrophists think they can simply simply run doubters out of town with empty ridicule. Relatively polite examples are Jon's dismissal of a "handful" of skeptical researchers and his smug reference to "contradictory" arguments that are better understood as complementary: in addition to questions about the extent and cause of late-20th century warming, there are also questions of relative harm and benefit and questions about what could reasonably done to slow or halt climate change in the short term anyway.

For me the doubts start with the fact that yes, the academic world is on-average far to the collectivist left of political center, and yes, academic collectivists have been prone to issue bogus dire warnings of impending capitalism-caused doom, such as the skyrocketing population and mass starvation that we purportedly should have experienced by now. There's also undoubtedly a research funding incentive to identify and pursue ominous problems. Along came the climategate emails showing rather unseemly behavior among scientists at the heart of the global warming "consensus." (We should all be thankful to the anonymous whistle-blower.) Then it became increasingly obvious that the apparent warming trend of the 80s and 90s was not continuing into this century.

Natural climate change has radically influenced the evolution of humans and human civilization; the real question is whether the late-20th century thermometer rises reflected substantially anthropogenic effects, a question which itself largely hinges on whether they fall outside the natural range of temperature fluctuations. That brings us to the notorious "hockeystick" graph which somehow doesn't show the medieval warming when Vikings were farming Greenland. Statistician Steve McIntyre and others demonstrated that the treatment of the temperature proxy data was prone to artificial generation of hockeysticks by massively exaggerating the contribution of a few questionable data sets, and this work was some of what the climate insiders were trying to keep out of the professional literature, as revealed in the climategate emails. The credibility of these insiders came to an end for me when I learned how the tree ring temperature proxy data had been left off the temperature graph where they diverged from the latter 20th century thermometer readings.

I suggest Roger Pielke's book The Climate Fix. Pielke is a warming believer and calls for action, but he is relatively realistic about what can be reasonably achieved and how to go about it.

 
At 4:11 PM, February 26, 2012, Anonymous Laird said...

I think it's interesting (amusing? ironic?) that people like Zwolinski assert that we have a "moral obligation to save drowning children", but these same people have no problem with destroying our economy so our children will live in abject poverty in that marginally cooler world. And many of those same people have no problem with government spending on such a massive scale that our descendants will be saddled in perpetuity with the debt we've created to satisfy our current desires. These people are pathetic.

Personally, I have no doubt that the climate is changing: it has been doing that since the world began. I do have serious doubts about the degree which man's activities are contributing to it (can anyone in the warmist camp say "hubris"?). And, as David said, there has been pitifully little serious cost-benefit analysis of the effect of a slightly warmer climate. My belief it that it will be substantially to the good. If a few low-lying areas are flooded there will be plenty of time (decades) for people to relocate, and we certainly have the ability to build dikes and levees to protect any areas which are really worth protecting. The Dutch are quite good at it.

 
At 6:33 PM, February 26, 2012, Blogger John Cunningham said...

agreat comment quoting Eric Hoffer, at http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2012/02/25/of-nature-fakery-eco-destruction-and-the-nature-of-fakery/

“There’s something Eric Hoffer said: “Intellectuals cannot operate at room temperature.” There always has to be a crisis–some terrible reason why their superior wisdom and virtue must be imposed on the unthinking masses. It doesn’t matter what the crisis is. A hundred years ago it was eugenics. At the time of the first Earth Day a generation ago, the big scare was global cooling, a big ice age. They go from one to the other. It meets their psychological needs and gives them a reason for exercising their power.”

Curious how all the climactic crises of the past 50 years [overpopulation, coming ice age, coming global warming, climate change] all call for the same remedy--the end of free markets and imposition of rule by intellectual planners.

 
At 7:51 PM, February 26, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You see... it's like this.

Lindzen gets attention because he is believable, because he is not strident but relentlessly logical, because he is qualified and because he knows his stuff very broadly. He also knows the climate game as a leading participant for decades and knows the game from the inside.

Most reports of his activities and opinions, since they are intent on smearing him, tend to leave out that he was not only a contributor to IPCC climate reports but a lead author no less. He has the credentials to comment and even to refute.
He scares the shit out of more strident alarmists for that reason.
I say if you cannot convince HIM or others of his calibre that the world is going to burn up, then you haven't done due diligence and we ought to be flying some satellites to settle the concerns.

 
At 10:01 PM, February 26, 2012, Blogger Russ Nelson said...

John: there is no problem that central planning cannot solve; there is no problem that free markets did not create.

 
At 12:59 AM, February 27, 2012, Blogger EH said...

The rebuttal article of Lindzen is rather weak. Yes, his claims of temperature sensitivity are based on little data and limited methods; but the same could be said, and more strongly, of the opposition. Whom, somehow, do not seem to have any problems publishing their wares; but then again, they formed a supermajority in the 'scientific community' to begin with.

Making claims that Lindzens estimates are not consistent with recent temperature developments is utterly silly, and serves only to betray the intellectual dishonesty of the author; that temperature is not linked one-to-one to CO2 is obvious even to the most zealous AGWer. Any recent temperature development would be consistent with any estimated CO2 sensitivity.

Given the poor quality of all these studies, I side with Lindzens intuition: the history of our planet has been remarkably stable for over 4 billion years. It does not seem to be the playball of a system dominated by positive feedbacks. And the bistable patterns we do see, such as iceages, that must involve a form of positive feedback, fail to be explained by a CO2-temperature link. CO2 only rises after iceages decide to end, nor is there any reason to believe ice ages begin for a lack of CO2.

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/01/30/co2-temperatures-and-ice-ages/

Looking at the vostok data, which is by far the best data to investigate this issue as far as im aware, all we see is spikes in temperature CAUSING spikes in CO2. There are plenty of 'random' and fairly large spikes in CO2 during the interglacials not caused by a temperature increase; and never are they a trigger for any detectable runaway warming. That little piece of analysis by itself is a fairly strong disproof of any sort of significantly positive CO2 feedback; nobody doubts the positive feedback in the other direction, and it takes only two positive feedbacks between two variables to tango.

Challenge to the AGWers: can you make a model that is a reasonable fit to the vostok data, that involves a large CO2->temperature feedback, and any reasonable temperature->CO2 feedback? Bonus question: can you do it without invoking other mechanisms, that dont make the CO2-temperature link look a complete sideshow? Id be impressed.

 
At 6:09 AM, February 27, 2012, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

David, here is a summary of the effects of warming -- on net it is harmful.

 
At 8:15 AM, February 27, 2012, Blogger EH said...

Tim: your link containing talking points on the effect of warming: most points rest on the underlying assumption that a warm planet is a dry planet.

With respect to that: can you link to a source that actually substantiates the widespread assumption that a warmer world would be a drier world? In the typical paper that estimates the effect of warming on a region, the effect of warmer climate is based on extrapolation of weather. (warm summers are dry summers. Lets extrapolate from that relationship). The general sillyness of this reasoning aside, outside of the community of AGW scientists, it is a well established notion that warm planets are in fact wet planets. OTOH, deserts thrive during ice ages:

http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/nerc.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Last_glacial_vegetation_map.png

Yeah, that looks like a very inviting planet... half ice-sheet, half 'extreme desert'.

Perhaps a complex argument can be made, that things will get drier before they get wetter with increasing temperature; but ive never seen it been made. We are certainly not at some magical point of minimum desertification, since they have been know to be pretty much absent in the more median and warmer days of our planet.

(Ditto for the talking point repeated in every newspaper article and 'AGW factsheet', that wed see 'more extreme weather events'. I guess it makes for such a nice headline that it doesnt need any substantiation.)

Note that its the tropics that are at the equator, where the highest radiation influx occurs. The problem of deserts it not that they get too much sun to be productive land; the tropics get more. Their problem is that they get too little water. By itself, a local warming in a desert area will make the desert bigger, and crop yields lower; no argument there. But the effect of global warming is quite more subtle, and probably directly opposed. Warmer water evaporates much faster, and what goes up, must come down.

Just as with CO2 sensitivity, the position of AGWers on desertification flies in the face of the best available long term evidence. Youd think they be on top of that and at least try to build a defense; but the strategy seems to be not to attract too much attention to their exposed flanks; why would you if you have a tight grip on the publication pipeline anyway?

 
At 11:19 AM, February 27, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tim:

Thanks for the link on effects of warming--I find it utterly unconvincing. As I've commented before, the externality argument, in this context and others, can easily be rigged to go however the arguer wants--by selecting which externalities to consider and how generously to estimate them. For instance, unless I missed it, the page doesn't even mention the benefit of an increase by hundreds of thousand square miles in the habitable area of the northern hemisphere.

Let me also point out, since you raise the issue of dishonesty wrt Julian Simon, what I take as suspicious in the page you point to:

"Increased deaths to heatwaves - 5.74% increase to heatwaves compared to 1.59% to cold snaps (Medina-Ramon 2007)"

The figures appear to be a percent increase, which doesn't tell us anything about how the increase in number of deaths compares to the decrease. I may be mistaken, but I believe that at present deaths due to cold are much more common than due to heat.

In any case, the page makes no attempt to actually estimate costs and benefits and add them up. Consider, for example, that all of the "rising sea level" costs combined add up, in the IPCC projections, to only a foot or two.

 
At 12:50 PM, February 27, 2012, Anonymous Daublin said...

An even stronger argument against anti-CO2 policies is that the widely proposed policies do not address the stated problem.

The stated problem is that if CO2 levels double, then it will lead to a catastrophe. The popular responses are to become more energy efficient and to use cleaner sources of energy. However, these measures have no hope of bringing CO2 emissions to below the replacement level.

As such, the popular policies merely delay a catastrophe, not prevent it. If you really buy the catastrophist argument, then you should be arguing not that people drive hybrids and ride the bus. You should be arguing that people stay home. You should be arguing not that people using florescent lights, but that they don't use lights.

 
At 7:21 AM, February 28, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, your back-of-the-envelope calculation is a little sloppy. Manmade climate change does more than just increase temperatures - think changes in extremes, shifts in rainfall patterns, ecosystem changes, and so on. Adapting to climate change is much more than just moving poleward - which is an option not necessarily readily available to the people in Africa and South America.

Also, you're assuming that the coastal areas changed by sea level rise are one-to-one replaceable by inland areas. That makes no sense.

Lastly, the areas that as they warm will become more suitable for agriculture aren't suitable now just because they're too cold; there are other factors (precipitation, growing season length, lack of topsoil, etc.) that will not make it easy to simply shift agriculture toward the poles.

 
At 10:40 AM, February 28, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous correctly points out that my back of the envelope calculation was just that--a very rough first approximation.

The problem with the argument he implies against its conclusion is that it depends, so far as I can tell, on the implicit assumption that the present state of the earth was designed for our convenience, hence that random changes can be expected, on average, to make things worse. I doubt Anonymous believes in that assumption. But without it, how does one get from the, surely correct, claim that climate change will involve changes other than simply raising temperature to the conclusion that those changes will, on net, make the results worse?

As I have pointed out before, the only other defense of his argument is the observation that we are currently adapted to current conditions. That a good argument with regard to rapid change. But over a century, humans will change what they are doing in lots of other ways, with or without climate change, so won't be doing things at the end of the period in the same way they were doing them in the beginning.

With regard to gains vs losses of land, I suggest that Anonymous do for himself a back of the envelope calculation on the areas involved. My guess is that he will find that the gains are two or three orders of magnitude larger in area than the losses, making his suspicion that the losses may represent more value to humans than the gains implausible.

 
At 12:34 AM, February 29, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

I found an estimate, how accurate I don't know, of the amount of land affected by sea-level rise:

"The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 26,000 square kilometers of land would be lost should sea level rise by 0.66 meters,"
(http://www.climate.org/topics/sea-level/index.html)

My estimate for the effect of warming on usable land area in the northern hemisphere is a shift of about 500 km along a line about 12,000 km long--the width of Canada plus northern Eurasia. That gives an area of about 6 million square km, so between two and three orders of magnitude larger than the sea level effect.

 
At 4:44 AM, February 29, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please read:

http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/an-open-letter-to-richard-lindzen/

 
At 7:52 AM, February 29, 2012, Blogger Xerographica said...

Speaking of unintended consequences...

"All of this is interesting not just because it's amazing to regenerate a Pleistocene plant, which of course it is, but because the permafrost may be an important new gene pool. Other ancient squirrel burrows have been found in the Yukon territory and in Alaska. That's interesting for pure research, but also because of what may happen as the planet warms and more permafrost regions thaw. Organisms will be released from their long, cold sleep, and these ancient life forms could become part of modern ecosystems, affecting modern phenotypes and changing the landscape." - Russian Scientists Grow Pleistocene-Era Plants From Seeds Buried By Squirrels 30,000 Years Ago

 
At 9:15 AM, February 29, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But over a century, humans will change what they are doing in lots of other ways, with or without climate change, so won't be doing things at the end of the period in the same way they were doing them in the beginning.

To a point. I suspect we will still be living in cities, many of which are in coastal and littoral areas that are vulnerable to sea level rise, we will still be using agriculture to grow our food, we will still depend on the goods and services the environment gives us (and to which we too often ascribe no value or low value), and so on.

I suppose one could claim that 100 years from now, we will all be living in space cities or on the moon, and thus what happens on earth is irrelevant, but I'm not quite that technophilic.

There's also the issue that we as a species have not ever had to adapt to such rapid changes with a population of 7+ billion of us. That adds a dimension of uncertainty to the "we'll just adapt as we always have" argument.

As for the land area gained vs. land area lost calculation, it's irrelevant, by and large. Manhattan, for example, is about 60 km^2 of land, but that doesn't mean that if it becomes far less habitable, any new 60 km^2 of land that becomes more habitable can therefore substitute for it.

One last issue is that simple poleward migration may be untenable, if for no other reason than all habitable land areas are already claimed and controlled by various nations; moving New Mexicans into Colorado, and Coloradans into Wyoming, and Wyomingites into Montana doesn't pose problems from an international relations viewpoint, but moving Montanans into Saskatchewan and Alberta likely would.

 
At 11:50 AM, February 29, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"I suspect we will still be living in cities, many of which are in coastal and littoral areas that are vulnerable to sea level rise, "

To sea level rise of a foot or two? That is the magnitude we're talking about. What cities are vulnerable to that, and if there are any, why can they not protect themselves from an effect that small by diking?

" we will still be using agriculture to grow our food, we will still depend on the goods and services the environment gives us (and to which we too often ascribe no value or low value), and so on."

Yes. You are missing the point of my argument.

Change can make agriculture work better or worse, give us more or fewer environmental benefits. The question is why we would expect the effect to be negative. I offered one reason--because our specific choices, such as crops and location of houses, are adapted to current circumstances. That reason doesn't work for slow change, for the reason I pointed out.

Do you have another? What reason can you offer to think that the net effect of decreasing usable land area by a small amount and increasing it by a huge amount will be negative? Of random changes in the pattern of rainfall? Of increasing CO2, a major input to plant growth?

And we don't have to move large numbers of people around to adjust. If the effective size of Canada, for agricultural purposes, increases sharply, Canadians can farm the additional land and sell the crop to people elsewhere.

Also, of course, over a century people will be moving around--as you may have noticed if you live in America and look around you.

 
At 1:14 PM, February 29, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To sea level rise of a foot or two? That is the magnitude we're talking about. What cities are vulnerable to that, and if there are any, why can they not protect themselves from an effect that small by diking?

According to this analysis, about 145 million people will be effected by a 1 meter sea level rise. That's not a small number.

How would one propose to protect, say, Bangladesh, home to many millions of quite poor people? Sure, the Dutch have spent a non-trivial amount of their GDP to protect their country from the ocean, but translating their expenditures to Bangladesh's GDP will likely result in a price tag far out of Bangladesh's reach.

As for agricultural productivity, it's where it is because of amenable temperature, precipitation, irrigation capacity, soil, transport systems, growing season length, and more. To move that considerable infrastructure elsewhere is non-trivial, and may not be possible at reasonable cost. And plant growth is much more limited by the list of factors I've given above than just CO2. It won't matter how much CO2 is in the atmosphere if the soil is poor, as a specific.

Yes, people move around all the time. I don't think it's fair to claim that (say) moving from Minneapolis to Houston because one finds a job in Houston is similar to moving from Houston to Minneapolis because summertime temperature extremes in Houston become intolerable, even with A/C.

 
At 4:32 PM, February 29, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous writes:

"According to this analysis, about 145 million people will be effected by a 1 meter sea level rise."

1 meter is more than the IPCC projections for the next century. And the count of people implicitly assumes that population don't shift over that century in response to changes.

Furthermore, "effected" (they mean affected) is sufficiently vague so that we don't know what their claim is. Are they saying that that many people live in places that would be below high tide if sea level rose by a meter? I doubt it, although it's possible. So far as I can tell, the page provides a conclusion but no support, so one cannot tell either what they are really claiming or whether it's true.

"Sure, the Dutch have spent a non-trivial amount of their GDP to protect their country from the ocean, but translating their expenditures to Bangladesh's GDP will likely result in a price tag far out of Bangladesh's reach."

The Dutch were reclaiming land below high tide in the thirteenth century--with 13th c. technology and levels of income. Any guess as to how their GDP then compares with Bangladesh's GDP now--or what it will be over the next century?

Your agricultural argument keeps ignoring my point. Obviously some places are better suited than others. But is there any reason to think that the land which will become available, climatologically speaking, is worse than the average? So much worse that two hundred square kilometers of it are less valuable to humans than one square kilometer within a hundred feet of the coast? That's roughly what your argument requires.

As to people moving around, you might consider that several million of the current inhabitants of the U.S. came here within the last two decades, and a much larger number are immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants, over the past century. Moving here from Japan or Russia was a considerably larger shift than moving from Texas to Canada would be.

 
At 12:14 AM, March 01, 2012, Anonymous Patrick said...

David, with respect to the question of cold deaths avoided vs heat deaths added, your own observations suggest that the linked page may be roughly correct: cold deaths should stay about the same while heat deaths should rise. It's ultimately about a shifting market equilibrium point.

As you point out, humans inhabit the equator but not the poles. As temperature gets farther from some optimum, the cost of living rises, and among those costs are deaths due to heat or cold. The largest north or south latitude people inhabit is determined a balance: the costs of living in a poor climate exactly balance the benefit of the extra land available. If temperature rises, that latitude will increase until the costs and benefits again balance. Since the total increase in inhabited land will be small compared to the area we currently inhabit, we can expect that the benefits (and hence demand) will be about the same, and so the costs, including the number of deaths, should also be the same. There may be fewer deaths in Ontario but more in the Northwest Territories.

The equator, by contrast, is inhabited, suggesting that the benefits there are larger than the costs: people would live at latitudes less than zero if they existed. In other words, this is a corner solution. If temperatures were to rise, the land will probably still be worth inhabiting. The price will fall, since costs (including deaths) will rise, but the price will remain greater than zero.

Thus, the increase of deaths due to heat may not be cancelled by a decrease of cold deaths, but only because the increase in total deaths is worth the cost.

 
At 9:07 AM, March 01, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1 meter is more than the IPCC projections for the next century.

The caveat there is that in the AR4, the IPCC didn't include SLR contributions from ice sheets, so the estimate is likely low.

So far as I can tell, the page provides a conclusion but no support, so one cannot tell either what they are really claiming or whether it's true.

The full analysis is here (PDF); you can look at their assumptions and methods.

The Dutch were reclaiming land below high tide in the thirteenth century--with 13th c. technology and levels of income. Any guess as to how their GDP then compares with Bangladesh's GDP now--or what it will be over the next century?

Then again, what the Bangladeshis have to spend on protection from sea level rise is wealth that isn't available for other purposes. The irony, of course, is that they'll be paying for costs that they didn't themselves cause. There are elements of justice and fairness that are missing.

But is there any reason to think that the land which will become available, climatologically speaking, is worse than the average?

That assumes that the reason these areas aren't exploited for agriculture now is simply that they're too cold, which may not necessarily be the case. As I said, there's more to a piece of land being arable than just temperature. It may be the case that the non-temperature-related changes in the climate system may overwhelm the gain created by warmer temperatures.

I don't think we're talking the same regions here. The land area lost because of sea level rise isn't why sea level rise could be bad, it's because those areas are where many people live and we have developed a massive infrastructure over many centuries. As I tried to make clear earlier, one cannot just pack and move Manhattan inland.

That's a separate issue from the suitability of land, generally, for agriculture. I'm thinking here of the shifting of the prime American farmland of the Central Plains generally northward.

As to people moving around, you might consider that several million of the current inhabitants of the U.S. came here within the last two decades

I don't think you can say that since Central and South Americans moved into the US, the reasons for and impacts from such movements aren't too different from (say) Ethopians moving into Kenya because of famine. The two are different.

 
At 1:52 PM, March 01, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

To Anonymous:

Thanks for the link--an interesting piece. The population figure is indeed based on people within one meter of high tide. Note that:

"While the damages from sea-level rise are substantial, they are small compared to the total economy, provided that coastal protection is built."

Looking at Figure 10, total damage cost for the decade 2080-2089 for a .5 m rise, which is about what current IPCC projections suggest, are about 10 billion dollars--a tiny sum in terms of the world economy. Even for the 1 m rise, the total is only a little over 100 billion--or 10 billion a year during that decade. All of these figure are assuming optimal diking and including the cost of the diking as part of the damage costs.

"That assumes that the reason these areas aren't exploited for agriculture now is simply that they're too cold, which may not necessarily be the case."

What I was estimating was not how much land was or wasn't used for agriculture but how much land shifted from being unusable because of cold to not being unusable because of cold. Do you have any reason to believe that a larger fraction of the land so shifting than of all other land would be unusable for other reasons? If not, then the best guess is that the proportional increase in land not unusable because of cold will be about the same as the proportional increase in usable land, no?

"It may be the case that the non-temperature-related changes in the climate system may overwhelm the gain created by warmer temperatures."

Surely possible, but is there any more reason to believe that those changes will make things worse than that they will make them better? That's the challenge you don't seem to be responding to. As I keep pointing out, the present state of the world wasn't designed for our convenience, so why do you assume that random changes will have negative effects?

"I don't think you can say that since Central and South Americans moved into the US, the reasons for and impacts from such movements aren't too different from (say) Ethopians moving into Kenya because of famine. The two are different."

Yes. And population shifts occurring over a century due to the very slow changes we are discussing are much more like the former than the latter.

 
At 10:23 PM, March 01, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Here's what's wrong with Lindzen's argument"

And Tim Lambert would know because he remains a level 3 IT teacher at an Australian university?

For heaven's sake.

 
At 6:02 PM, March 02, 2012, Blogger Bravin Neff said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6:04 PM, March 02, 2012, Blogger Bravin Neff said...

In Response to Those Who Fear Climate Science Threatens Capitalism

The success of capitalism is reliant upon two broad theoretical frameworks: (1) the coherence of its internal logic (the ordinal theory of utility, marginal rate of substitution, utility maximization, etc.) and (2) the background metaphysical beliefs of what constitutes persons and their workings. #1 is ordinary economics, and #2 is the koolaid we collectively believe about ourselves, which has many sources. #1 "works" because it is internally consistent with #2, to a large degree. But what happens when you consider #2 will change?

You Double Down On Capitalism

I venture to guess people are afraid on behalf of capitalism's sake because they believe the current state of #2 is an eternal truth akin to history having “ended” in the question of personal identity. If correct, this would imply capitalism-as-best-system is a necessary truth as well, instead of a contingent truth that happens to align itself well with the current state of koolaid.

That belief is almost certainly not correct. The koolaid will change, and it will take the social system with it. The last glacial period ended roughly 12,000 years before capitalism came into existence. It is totally unrealistic to think the understanding of persons (i.e., #2) will not have radically changed by the next one. Capitalism happens to be the best and most efficient system on this little shaded region here  of the time continuum, but that’s just a historical fact.

Take the separateness of persons. Much of the current koolaid considers that the separateness of persons is metaphysically significant. Economics takes it as a given, and it is used to yield all kinds of results, from deontological/Nozickian style libertarian rights on the morality side to the near-hero-worshipping of individuality in considerations of efficiency. But the advances made in the cognitive sciences are certainly pointing toward the notion nonreductionism of persons is false, and have been for decades. To quote Derek Parfit, the separateness of persons is not a “deep fact.” In fact it is metaphysically trivial. This koolaid will likely take several centuries to gain traction, but my guess is that it will have a serious impact on whatever social system exists then. Maybe humans will come back around to the anarcho comunitarianism of the San people. Regardless, certainly these changes will fit well within the glacial timeframe. Capitalism as we currently know it will be long gone before the next glacial episode. Maybe the next thing will be called “capitalism 2,” but losing the first version is nothing to be afraid of.

Or how about free will. We lose a little bit every year. You couldn’t possibly find some koolaid that doesn’t have a bigger long run implication on considerations of justice, desert and the rest. If you think the direction of understanding of persons 300 years hence is likely to be Man that is Perfectly Free, you are not paying attention. Along with the personal identity stuff, maybe the future social system will be modeled not on “individuals” with “preferences” that are “free to chose,” but rather “overlapping sub-persons” (and even “over-lapping multi-persons” in the case of brain-bisection patients) with “multiple overlapping and conflicting time horizons” with “limited agency.”

Whatever the truth ends up being, it will not be today’s truth.

 
At 7:58 AM, March 06, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Skeptical Science has a new post up taking a critical look at Lindzen's presentation.

 
At 10:49 AM, March 06, 2012, Anonymous Andy Z said...

The argument that "fossil fuels are cheap" requires strong ridicule. Fossil fuels have been responsible for the largest increases in government size for the past two decades. Two wars over fossil fuels, >$1 Trillion of treasure lost.

The libertarian love of government fossil fuel subsidization is quite odd indeed.

 
At 5:41 PM, March 06, 2012, Anonymous Allan Walstad said...

Andy Z: Fossil fuels don't grow government or make war. Misguided PEOPLE grow government and make war.

 
At 9:16 AM, March 07, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Andy Z seems to think that the cost of fossil fuels should include the cost of recent U.S. wars. Petroleum is fungible--the effect on the world price depends on how much is produced and sold, not on who the producers choose to sell it to. The Iraq war didn't make oil more available to the U.S., it made it less available--to the U.S. and everyone else--since it reduced output.

 
At 3:43 PM, March 07, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one has a rebuttal to Dr. Lindzen because he never uses speculations and only states facts. Ten years ago he said that the climate models of Dr. Hansen and others were deeply flawed and we would not have the temperature elevations they predicted. Now we know he was correct. A slight warming of the planet over the next 50 years will be trivial, so there isn't a need to spend a trillion dollars on sequestering CO2. The evidence is building that the Medieval Warm period was definitely warmer in not only the northern hemisphere but the entire planet, and we have excellent proof that ocean levels were not higher. The cost of photovoltaic energy is following Moore's law and will be far cheaper than oil or coal in 20 years or even much sooner. Since China and India will not agree to our emission standards, what we do in the US won't have any effect on the world CO2 levels. Pushing more stringent CO2 standards will simply add significant costs to power plants and make electricity more expensive. This hurts everyone, but really hurts many of our manufacturing businesses. In 20 years Al Gore will be demonized and everyone will distrust scientists. It is sad.

 
At 10:16 AM, March 08, 2012, Blogger Fearsome Tycoon said...

Another problem is the validity of predictions. It's one thing to say "Scientists have predicted," and quite another to say "Scientists have successfully predicted with a 95% success rate." The former can be said of century-scale climate modeling. The latter cannot.

 
At 9:27 AM, March 11, 2012, Blogger Mercy Vetsel said...

Friedman wrote:
Tim offers a link to a critique of Lindzen's position, but a rather technical one;

Notice that the critique completely skips over the key element of Lindzen comments -- the difference between the direct, physical warming from the green house effect and the second order "positive feedback" effect.

This is the essential dishonesty of the argument put forth by Tim and other alarmists and it doesn't require much technical knowledge to spot.

Lindzen says:

climate sensitivity =
direct physical greenhouse effect
+ 2nd order model-predicted effects

Now, I'd LOVE for someone to share with me a link where one of the thousands of alarmists self-tasked with educating the public address this basic framework.

What they do instead is gloss over the distinction so that they can trumpet the consensus regarding the well understood first component to bash skeptics of the second component of the equation and simultaneously use the alarming predictions of the second component to push drastic political action.

What turned me off to the skeptics was this essential dishonesty and Tim's link provides a very typical example.

Before trying to overwhelm us with a bunch of techno-speak could we please have the alarmists confirm or deny the overall framework of the sensitivity that Lindzen describes?

In my experience the answer is NO because these people are not scientists but political hacks engaged in total ideological war.

Jim Hansen, Al Gore and other holy climate warriors have admitted that Climate Change is too important to trust the public with the truth:

http://www.sustainableoregon.com/oktolie.html

So in conclusion, I'll second Friedman. I would LOVE to see an HONEST response to the framework that Lindzen describes.

-Mercy

-Mercy

 
At 10:49 AM, March 11, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mercy, see my comment from 06 March.

 
At 7:47 AM, March 16, 2012, Blogger Mercy Vetsel said...

Anon (Mar 6 and Mar 12):

Yes I've read the skeptical science (a very effective defender of the faith cite).

While they applaud Lindzen for agreeing with them on the basic physics of CO2, they don't address the distinction he makes between the well-established direct warming effect of CO2 and the model-predicted multiplications.

Instead, they skip over this distinction and argue that Lindzen in wrong in his assessment of the quality of the magnification predicted by climate models.

This is precisely the lawyerly concede-nothing approach to debate that I'm referring to. This has no place in science and has soured the image of climate alarmists for independent-minded observers.

-Mercy

 
At 7:50 AM, March 16, 2012, Blogger Mercy Vetsel said...

Anon (Mar 6 and Mar 12):

P.S. go back to the three points that Friedman gleaned from the presentation.

The [un]Skeptical Science site doesn't address any of these points specifically.

-Mercy

 

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