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 Planting trees is not a sufficient solution to Climate Change. Emitting less carbon dioxide, methane and fluorocarbons is essential.
Carbon absorbed by trees is released when they die, rot or burn.
 Turning food into motor fuel (ethanol) is not a moral solution to Climate Change.
Famine is a likely symptom of the changes (as in 2012).

Climate Change

Has it begun yet? We shan't know for certain for some years yet (1990).
(Actually, that's nonsense. It's here already (2007) and getting worse.)

Connections

Famine

 Geotherapy

 OTEC

Population

 All other problems

Solutions

Problem

Problem

A scientific consensus at present agrees that increasing the proportion of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides, and non-natural gases (e.g. CFCs) in the atmosphere is producing climatic changes.

These ideas are not recent but at least 110 years old:This article indicates how old this idea is.

In the 19th century, scientists realized that gases in the atmosphere cause a "greenhouse effect" which affects the planet's temperature. These scientists were interested chiefly in the possibility that a lower level of carbon dioxide gas might explain the ice ages of the distant past. At the turn of the century, Svante Arrhenius calculated that emissions from human industry might someday bring a global warming.

There is also agreement that these gases are producing warming effects. There is no agreement on all the details of change. Thus it is not possible to predict how any particular area may be affected. What is considered likely is a long period (centuries) of unpredictability.

Contrarians
There are, however, people who claim to disagree and say that space measurements of global temperature do not show any change. Unfortunately governments in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan appeared until 2009 to be listening to this minority rather than the majority of experts in climatology. This topic is still under discussion but the consensus could only change if data do not confirm the effect. The dissentients have been accused of being paid by the oil and coal companies, for their own purposes and to have done no published research. There is also a group of political advocates who claim there is no problem. These too seem to be connected with the Oil and Coal industries. There is no doubt that in the recent past Exxon-Mobil has been funding propaganda organisations to make these claims. In late 2006 there are signs that even Exxon may be changing its policy (but in 2009 it is funding a political campaign against US government desire to control carbon).

The Royal Society - the Academy of Science for Britain - has accused Exxon-Mobile of a campaign of misinformation.

New Scientist articles refuting the arguments of the Contrarians

See also some notes in the article on Bad Scholarship.

Denialists
Deniers' "petition" shown to be fake


Political Change
Important political changes could be produced by changes in rainfall.

For example, the United States owes much of its present influence to its ability to export food and feed many other parts of the world which cannot feed their population. Should the main grain producing areas of the United States receive less rainfall there may be less maize and wheat to export (as in 2012 when there was a serious drought across large parts of the US). Those countries at present dependent on these exports may not be able to find alternative sources. Famine on a very large scale is possible. A United States that could not export food might become a much weaker power.

Adaptation?
It is not known whether some at present dry lands may become wetter (but see Lynas for an overview). Even if they do, very large investments would be necessary to make them suitable for production. The same is true of land which is at present too cold to grow crops. There would be a delay, perhaps of decades, before they could become substitute producers. Canada and Russia may become more important food exporters. (But they may not as the soils at present too cold have other missing qualities). The Sahel may become wetter.

Another result of warming is the possibility of increased intensity and frequency of destructive hurricanes as the surface temperature of the sea in some parts increases.

A third probable effect is a rise in sea level which might cover the land area of several oceanic countries, including Kiribati, Tuvalu, Maldives, Marshall Islands and large parts of such densely populated sea deltas as Egypt, Bangladesh and the Mississippi Delta. Much of Florida would be covered in sea. Stephen Mithen has written about human experience the last time there was rapid rise in sea level.

Linked to warming is the possible death from overheating of the coral reefs which protect many islands and coastlines. (See Thomas J Goreau.) Coral reef damage has already been observed and linked with increased ocean surface temperatures. Tree rings in some areas of Tasmania show that significant warming has occurred in the last two decades, at the time when the models predict it.

El Nino events seem to be appearing more frequently (Mithen says that during the height of the Ice Age they occurred only every 800 years). The pattern of ocean currents and winds in the Pacific region reverses, sending heavy rain and winds to the eastern side but reducing rainfall on the western side. Thus droughts occur inAustralia, Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Floods and storms occur in California and the Pacific coast of South America. Frequency is now down to about every 7 years.

2010-2011 saw the opposite phenomenon when the La Nina event caused very serious floods in Queensland, Sri Lanka and Brazil.

African and European climates are also affected by these events with renewed African droughts. The 1992 drought in southern Africa caused famine and economic damage. So does the 2009 drought in East Africa.

Migration of climatic zones is believed likely to occur faster than vegetation can move to adapt to it. This may lead to a period during which forests located in places which are no longer climatically suitable will die. No doubt ecological rescue will be needed to replant these forests in more suitable areas. The death of forests may release more carbon dioxide, thus creating a positive (reinforcing) feedback. Warming the northern Tundra and Arctic ocean, if it occurs, is likely to release large quantities of methane, a powerful warming gas to produce more positive feedback. The lack of ice in the Arctic Ocean reduces the reflective surface that at present reflects summer sunlight back into space. The Arctic summer sea ice is predicted to disappear entirely in the near future.

Large scale migration of peoples will occur. At the end of the Roman Empire the migration of quite small groups of people caused immense political change. If the tens of millions of people of the Egyptian delta need to move, where will they go? More tens of millions may need to move from the Ganges delta of Bangladesh. Southern Europeans may already be experiencing frequent droughts as far north as southern Britain. If Italy and Spain become Sahara-like, their people will want to move to northern Europe. This sort of migration could produce serious political change of an entirely unpredictable nature. In total there may be thousands of millions who need to move. Many will die. Adaptation is not an easy alternative to mitigation - an excuse for doing too little or nothing.

The Roman Empire had plenty of unused land and still the migrations caused its fall. There is no unused land in the world today, though there is some which could be used more intensively.

The main human adaptation to the larger temperature rises will be a reduction in population.


Summary
Is there climate change?

1. Phenomenology
The study of glaciers, sea ice, the timing of events in the seasons - such as the flowering times of plants and the nesting times of birds - shows rapid change all over the planet. There is also evidence from tree rings.

2. Measurements
Measurements made by satellite and other means show rises everywhere.
Measurements of the composition of the atmosphere are available to show the rise in carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution began with the burning of coal.

3. Theory
The theory that radiation incoming and outgoing is affected by the composition of the atmosphere (greenhouse theory) has been part of science for over 100 years. As with the theory of evolution experimental work since then has continually refined and confirmed the theory.

4. Can future states be predicted?
Yes. Increasing complexity of climatological work shows that the current level of certain gases in the atmosphere, and the rate of increase, implies serious changes in climate with inferable dangers for human societies.

5. Is the origin of the changes in atmospheric gases known?
Yes, the hundreds of gigatonnes of carbon dioxide released by burning coal and oil since the beginning of the industrial revolution are the source of rising quantities of the gas in the atmosphere. No other source (such as volcanoes) comes near this source. The sources of other gases such as Methane are also well-known.

6. Has this anything to do with socialism?
This is one of the accusations by certain people with right wing views. It's a physical matter, unconnected with human views about how to organise human society. Science is independent of politics.


There is the possibility of catastrophic change on a scale hard to imagine. This article discusses the work that suggests this. So does this one. Human civilisation could be very seriously damaged. If this is true, those who deny the need to change our ways and who prevented remedial measures may be viewed in the near future as criminals. Perhaps they hope they will be dead before anything needs to be done - or they face trial.

New Scientist Article on the extent of climate change expected.

Stern Review

BBC report on 2007 IPCC report
IPCC report American meteorological society
American geophysical union
American Society for the Advancement of Science
Useful climate graphic of the rise in temperatures with time.

As the Arctic Ocean becomes ice free in the summer, the Permafrost surrounding the ocean is tending to melt, with release of methane on a large scale. This is probably greatly accelerating the rate of change, making mitigation action urgent.

Summer 2010 has seen at least four weather disasters, whose severity is compatible with Climate Theory.

These are:

  • Russia - very high temperatures and drought, causing forest fires and poor grain harvest;
  • Pakistan floods caused by unusually intense Monsoon;
  • China similar heavy rain causing landslides and many deaths.
  • Niger floods from an unusually intense west African monsoon.

The general cause of all four is said to be a deviation of the Jet Stream, possibly affected by temperature differences between Arctic (rising) and Equatorial areas. Will 2010 be marked as the first year of serious climate events?

November 2010-January 2011 show a series of flooding episodes, associated with La Nina events.

  • Australia - Queensland flooding, paralysing coal exports and agriculture
  • Sri Lanka floods caused by unusually intense Monsoon;
  • Brazil - Flooding and landslides

Interesting Reading
Fred Pearce - The Last Generation
Scary book but he has met the main students of climate. Suppose he and they are right? Bad times ahead, quite soon.


Sir Nicholas Stern - Review of the economics of Climate Change


Mark Lynas - Six degrees Our future on a hotter planet
A useful source of information about the implications of allowing carbon dioxide and methane to build up in the atmosphere, and the changes that each level of these gases will produce in habitability of human settlements. Another scary book.



Guardian article Lynas believes serious damage is inevitable

Science Daily
New Scientist

articles refuting the arguments of the Contrarians


Useful Blog


This Atlantic Monthly article from 1998 discusses some of the consequences of changes in climate.
Part 1

Part 2
David King - The Hot Topic


The Hot Topic: How to Tackle Global Warming and Still Keep the Lights on



Robert Kunzig and Wallace Broecker - Fixing Climate


Fixing Climate: The story of climate science - and how to stop global warming


"Science" Journal Health effects of Climate Change

Summary

Problem

Possible Solutions

James Lovelock has argued in his book "Gaia" that the function of the deposits of carbon compounds is to regulate climate by removing carbon from the atmosphere, as the sun's output gradually increases.

What is needed is a long-term program beginning as soon as possible to reduce the use of these stored carbon deposits - coal and oil - for energy production and their replacement by energy derived from solar input. Thus the base load of energy production should become direct use of solar power in the form of electricity and heat, and indirectly in the form of wind, hydroelectricity, waves and ocean thermal temperature differences or biomass conversion such as biogas and sustainable firewood. A program to bring this about will require the kind of investment which until recently has gone into military expenditure. It will need to come from the present rich countries' taxpayers and consumers.

Some forms of solar energy at present are much more expensive than fossil fuel systems. But if the costs of pollution, including acid rain and climate change were to be added to coal and oil systems the true costs of these systems would emerge as much higher. Solar energy might even be shown to be comparable in total cost.

Ocean Thermal power, if it could be made economic, would have an associated benefit in tending to moderate the power of hurricanes. If this could be priced it might improve the economics.

In the long run many of the functions performed by carbon fuels may be transferred to hydrogen derived from solar energy. Such a system could continue indefinitely.

There may also be a need to accelerate the absorption of the carbon already loose in the atmosphere. This can include:

1) increasing the area of forests (but see Population - some of the former forest land is being used to grow food) and use of wood in building to store carbon; this includes replanting the tropical rain forests which have been destroyed, using, perhaps, Vietnamese experience and techniques.

2) growing algae to polymerize carbon into storable and usable hard plastic.

3) increasing the productivity of the oceans by adding deficient nutrients such as iron. (But this proposal has been criticized as expensive and possibly ineffective)

All proposed solutions have a very long time before they would show any effects. From the politicians' point of view this means that taxes must be spent which will not show results until the generation of their great grandchildren. But most democratic systems concentrate on the next election. The remaining dictatorships show that their leaders don't care.

Fiscal measures which have been proposed are higher taxes on fossil fuel energy systems in order to raise funds for investing in renewable energy systems and to account for the ecological damage of fossil fuels. The effect would be to hamper fossil fuels in the market and encourage solar-based energy. In Sweden an energy tax is to be offset against lower income taxes in order to have a neutral effect on government revenues.

Enthusiasts for applying market principles to every field of human activity suggest that carbon emissions should be traded. Thus those people and industries who do not emit carbon should be able to sell their "rights" to emit carbon dioxide to those industries that already do so. Gradually, the permits would be reduced so that the price of carbon would rise and the emitters be encouraged to pass on the price rise to their customers, and to convert to energy that does not emit carbon. A carbon trading system has already been set up by the European Union. However some of the largest emitters - air and land transport - have been excluded from the system, so far.

It has been observed that the carbon trading schemes seem to benefit mainly the sort of people who have caused the worldwide financial and economic system to collapse while not resulting in actual physical construction of non-carbon energy production. In practice industries buy credits while continuing to emit carbon dioxide; there is no sign that equivalent carbon absorption or non-carbon energy is produced by the system. The only effective change would be building and operating non-carbon energy systems. Physical change is needed, not fantasy markets.

Nuclear enthusiasts propose more nuclear power but it is unlikely that democratic societies will permit this - certainly not on the very large scale which would be needed. The incidence of radiation release causing early death outside the existing plants is already unacceptable (regulatory agencies tend to claim that they are "acceptable" but no actual people have voted to accept them).

All this suggests that what is needed is a human cultural change of the magnitude and suddenness which accompanied the rise of Islam in the 7th century. That is, there may be a need for the creation of taboos for good scientific reasons on the use of oil and other fossil fuels and concentration on these topics as the main topic of economic and political discourse (and effective policy). It implies a mass movement covering all continents, but especially in the western nations whose culture has originated the harmful technologies. Possibly the present Green parties are a foretaste.

Failure to adopt any solution would make the situation worse. However, it is probable that no measures taken now will prevent very considerable climate changes, as the system is still responding to the warming gases already in the atmosphere. What is possible by human efforts now is to limit the final extremes of the change, and also the time it lasts.

Iceland has a government plan to convert transport to hydrogen, derived from its hydroelectricity and geothermal power.

The leading world powers agreed to a treaty at Kyoto in 1997 taking effect 16 February 2005. They agreed to reduce carbon and methane emissions. The United States, Australia and some other large emitters did not ratify this treaty. Nor did it apply to India, China and other "developing" countries.

Perhaps one day those states outside the system may find their exports taxed because of the unfair cheapness of not following the protocol.

 Detailed Proposals on Mitigation can be found here.

In July 2005 the United States agreed with Australia, Japan, India and China an agreement to transfer technology for increasing energy efficiency. However it did not specify any reduction in emissions. Kyoto expresses a target of reductions. Even if these are achieved most scientists agree that this would only be a preliminary move towards the drastic reductions that would be needed to limit the extent and duration of climate change.

The ruling group in the United States, like the oil company ExxonMobil, appears not to accept the concept of climate change, and therefore denies any need to modify human behaviour towards reducing the use of oil and coal. The United States is the world's largest user of these fossil fuels (2% of the world's population, producing 24% of the gases) - though soon to be overtaken by China.

Although the Federal Government has resisted any change to the rate of carbon emissions, several state and city governments have adopted a policy of shadowing the Kyoto targets and of encouraging low energy vehicles and solar energy. Possibly a new US Federal Government in the future (2009) may change the policy. In fact, the President, Barack Obama, has stated he wishes to have a serious climate policy. We shall see.

Article about energy alternatives.

History
The history of the development of this idea shows how new ideas gradually spread in human society. The first scientific observation that Carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere affects solar radiation was made 120 years ago. Until the 1970s this observation did not affect policy and did not seem to have any practical implications. But the measurement of the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and other gases (such as methane and artificial chemicals) has gradually shown the scientific community that there are serious problems.

As with any new idea the first response by many people has been to deny that anything is happening. The next stage seems to be a recognition that maybe something is happening but that it isn't important. As the whole climate change problematique* has huge financial implications some financial interests begin to want to resist some responses to such a problem.

An example from recent history is the evidence that tobacco smoking has serious health implications. The basic research was done in the 1950s (some of it by the present author). The implication of the research was that people should smoke less or not at all. This threatened the profits of everyone involved in growing and selling tobacco. The industry responded by attempting to discredit the scientific evidence that tobacco is harmful, thus delaying legislation controlling smoking by several decades. Now (2006) smoking is being forbidden in more and more places where once it was allowed.

In the case of Climate Change the industries that felt most threatened by this knowledge were those involved in digging and selling coal, and extracting and selling oil.

The oil companies formed a propaganda organisation "Global Climate Coalition" to deny the facts, or to spread doubt that the scientific evidence is reliable. Most of the oil companies have now left this organisation which is now mainly supported by Exxon-Mobil, which continues to lobby politicians and give money to the same public relations companies that organised the tobacco companies' resistance to controls on smoking. As part of this propoganda effort the Koch brothers in the United States are paying for a very right wing political organisation, the Tea Party, whose main purpose is to prevent interference with the oil industry’s freedom to do what ever it wants.

The present decade (2007) shows the latest development. Almost everyone now accepts the scientific evidence, other than those influenced by the money of the industrial resistance. Most politicians (other than the recent - 2001 to 2009 - US Federal government) now admit there is a problem, and propose minor adjustments to policy. (These include small taxes on oil products, and the setting up of carbon emission markets.)

However, there is still a resistance to admitting the scale of policy changes that are needed - the redesign of the whole energy system of the planet. Will we reach the stage at which the need for redesign is actually admitted and proceeded with?

Humans need to stop burning oil and coal, except on a very small scale, and replace them with solar based energy. There are large implications of the adoption of such a policy. Thus urban settlement patterns in some industrialised countries, especially in North America, depend on cheap oil products. It seems quite possible that the investment in low density housing of the last 60 years (the period when the automobile became a mass market utility) will prove to have been entirely wasted. People will have to abandon the low density suburbs.

Consumption in general will need to be diverted into investment, presumably for a long period. Politicians don't like to admit to their voters that they are going to have to live on less in future. The whole pattern of the modern economy is based on unlimited consumption. There may well be a return to the 1940s when consumption was severely limited - and wasting food was a punishable offence in Britain - but there were no problems of obesity. Here is an article by a former British Environment minister.

Costs of adaptation
Other investment will be needed to deal with the unavoidable consequences of the atmosphere changes that have already occurred. The world's cities that will be flooded by sea level rise have to be replaced.

The right wing enthusiasts for the free market complain that talking about climate change is a plot against their dogma. However, it has to be wondered whether their system can in fact respond to the need to control and reverse the problem. (It wasn't any help when the banks collapsed in 2008-9.) The present system of organising the economy grew up in a world where resources seemed inexhaustible and the ability of the atmosphere to absorb waste products seemed unlimited. Thus there was no price constraint on emissions. (They were treated as "externalities"). The free market system may not be suited to the new conditions. How can a system be devised to decrease the use of oil and coal rapidly?

Sir Nicholas Stern, a leading British economist, has produced a major report on the economics of Climate Change and recommendations on the economic cost of making adjustments to world economies. This seems likely to be influential in changing government policies (despite the opposition of the recent US Federal government).

At the Bali Conference (December 2007) on making an agreement to follow the Kyoto Protocol, the United States delegation was reported as resisting every practical measure that would require the US to reduce its emissions - which in fact continue to increase. The rest of the world awaits the end of the Bush regime in January 2009.

President Obama has announced his intention of making serious attempts to reduce US emissions. However, there are real doubts that even if he achieves his aims the climate catastrophe is now developing so fast that they would not stave off a rise above two degrees - the threshold at which serious movements of population become unavoidable. Meanwhile his requests for legislation are being resisted by the Congress - no doubt influenced by those who pay for their re-election campaigns, rather than by the voters - that is the unscrupulous Oil Industry lobbyinsts paid by the Koch Brothers.


*problematique - a word perhaps first used by the Club of Rome to express the idea that some problems are so intermeshed that they make a complex network of problems, all of which have to be tackled simultaneously.

 Copenhagen failure

In my opinion the Copenhagen conference (December 2009) had merely symbolic significance. I will think something important is happening only if I see actual physical solar energy generators being built in the Sahara and Florida and Australia. I would take the British government more seriously if they issued contracts for an electric power line to Iceland and invested in tidal power on a large scale. (In October 2010 they cancelled all work on tidal power in the Bristol Channel, which could generate about 8% of Britain's electric needs.)

Maybe the industrial countries will promise money to the poorer countries. I doubt if they will actually pay it. And if they do pay it I am sure most of it will end up in Switzerland.

If people were serious they would build the new energy system now. No international treaty is needed for Australia and Florida to convert themselves to solar energy. Nor for the European Union to build solar plants in southern Spain (already one is operating) and North Africa. China has an impressive record of installing solar and wind power.

 James Lovelock - Gaia


 
James Lovelock - Revenge of Gaia



Gaias Rache

Interview with Lovelock
He is extremely pessimistic, believing world human population will be reduced to between 500 million and 1000 million by the end of the crisis.
George Monbiot - Heat: How we can stop the planet burning
Some practical policies to prevent catastrophe




Hitze

Guardian review


Kim Stanley Robinson - 50 Degrees Below
Fiction about the science of climate change



Lester brown Plan B 3.0


UK earlier version

Plan B 2.0


Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

Plan B 3.0: So retten wir die Welt

Le plan B : Pour un pacte Écologique mondial

Greg Craven - What is the worst that could happen



What's the Worst That Could Happen?: A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate

Other Web sites

United Nations

CNN - Text of Kyoto treaty

BBC series
 New Scientist articles
After effect of warming

Last revised 12/08/12


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