Sunday, March 25, 2007

Crisis? What crisis?

This debate has been discussed at length on RC already, but the audio is up on the web so I had a listen to it - all 90 minutes. The only real surprise was that any scientists would try to oppose the motion - that "global warming is not a crisis" - and it's only to be expected that they would struggle. Of course it's not a "crisis", but rather a long-term problem. There is nothing special about this year, or even this decade, compared to the previous or next, other than that it happens to be the one we are currently in. In fact the entire problem centres on the fact that climate change is a long-term issue, rather than something that can come to a turning point and be resolved.

The debate was mostly a rather obvious rehash of all the usual talking points. Someone on teh opposing side scored a palpable hit in getting Lindzen to admit that one of these points was bogus, but I was so underwhelmed by the whole thing that I can't even remember what it was they were talking about at the time (and I'm not sitting through the whole thing again to find out). It was notable that the worst on the side of the proposers was Crichton, by a distance - he sounded vague, incoherent and off-topic (was he drunk?) and on the other side Ekwurzel was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. She appears to be not so much a scientist as a spokesperson for the Union of Concerned Scientists. The remaining 4 made a pretty good fist of things given the situation, I thought. But I'm not really sure what the point was. The motion was enough of a straw man that neither side really had a chance to make things very interesting.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if "crisis" got defined more precisely, but if not the hash was unavoidable. IMHO an appropriate definition is "substantial risk of dangerous climate change," to which (blithely skipping over the needed further definitions of "substantial" and "dangerous") we can all say yes, yes?

As you have pointed out elsewhere, it is a serious problem that the sort of impacts we might hope to predict in a 50-year time-frame (e.g., the consequences of summer Arctic sea ice loss, loss of year-round water flow from Tinetan plateau glaciers) are likely already unstoppable, and things out in the 200-300 year time-frame (such as the risk of 6-meter sea level rise) are distant enough that people will tend to define them as not crises no matter how unpleasant they will be for those experiencing them. IOW, it seems that people tend to respond only to short-term extreme weather events (e.g. Katrina) as anything like a crisis. Is people stupid? People is, I think.

James Annan said...

"substantial risk of dangerous climate change,"

I don't want to seem too nit-picky and evasive, but I'm a little uncomfortable with talking about the "risk" of (ie assigning probabilities to) things that are actually a matter of choice. Is there a substantial risk that I will eat too much cake tonight? jules (from outside the system, and indeed outside the country) would probably say yes, but for me it is a matter of choice rather than uncertainty. But certainly it is well within our (collective) grasp to follow something akin to one of the high IPCC emissions trajectories resulting in accelerating climate change, and that's something that I think we should make some effort to avoid.

Although some would no doubt find grounds to disagree, I don't actually think that the current rate of climate change (0.2C/decade) is especially disastrous (it may on balance be harmful overall, and I'm sure it is to some species/people). The really big issue is making sure it doesn't double or worse, and hopefully bring it down a bit. I'm also not sure that "stabilising climate" is really a meaningful or useful goal - if we could get the warming rate down to 0.1C/decade or below then that would buy rather a lot of time and maybe the problem would pretty much go away in another couple of generations.

As I have also mentioned before, the political time scale is several orders of magnitude more rapid than the climate time scale and policies that seem unthinkable one year may be adapted rather more rapidly than we currently anticipate (eg the recent UK and EU decisions).

Anonymous said...

Isn't the question much less what is happening and what can/should we realistically do about it?

There you run the gamut in responses from "Nothing! This is great, and the crops will grow better!" to "Disaster looms! And Kyoto fixes everything if only Bush were dead!"

That level of debate accomplishes nothing, and any scientist who pretends that Kyoto is the answer based on its actual acknowledged projected outcomes, if it were indeed fully successful in meeting its goals, is smoking something out there.

The real point seems to be political all the way, that is Kyoto as a symbolic step, which has issues based on economics, does it not? Is that the smartest approach?

Brian said...

Suppose we hadn't done anything about the loss of the ozone layer until now, with CFCs and related chemicals continuing their upward-production rate from the 1970s. I'd say we'd then have both a crisis and a long-term problem, so the concepts aren't exclusive.

As far as risk versus choice, if your one sixth-billionth of the decision making apparatus, the "choice" component becomes pretty diluted.

Brian said...

Make that "you're". Must preview comments...

James Annan said...

Suppose we hadn't done anything about the loss of the ozone layer...

Well, maybe. But despite all the hot air, I don't see any evidence of serious harm occurring right now due to anthropogenically-forced climate change (over and above the existing vulnerabilities and ecosystem destruction from other causes), nor any evidence that right now is a particularly crucial moment in history. It's all harbingers and what-ifs, and action will take many decades.

As for making the choice, well perhaps if our input to the decision-making process is so negligible then climate scientists should pack up and go home :-) (Actually I have a post in the works on this.) I think it is clear that large parts of global society have already chosen to head away from the "business as usual" track, so I would assign very low probability to this scenario. Anyway I'm not sure I can stand the prospect of another 50 years of "catastrophic crisis of calamitous climate change" hype...

EliRabett said...

That's what the three year old said as he stepped into traffic

Anonymous said...

"Of course it's not a "crisis", but rather a long-term problem. "

Global warming is NOT a long-term problem. What utter rubbish you people talk.

Its global COOLING that is the long-term problem.

Does anyone remember evidence?

James Annan said...

Graeme Bird,

Please don't stop taking the tablets.

Anonymous said...

No no. Lets go over this again.

Now if you were right and I was wrong, and you WEREN'T in denial it would be a simple matter of you coming up with the evidence.

But the fact is you HAVE NO evidence.

So I must repeat.

1. We do not have a long-term warming problem. Thats you in total fantasy-land.

2. We have instead a long-term COOLING problem as we have had for some millions of years.

3. You have an EVIDENCE problem in that YOU DON'T HAVE ANY.

4. You have a leftist-projection problem in that you are projecting your own un-science onto your betters.