Global warming (Alert: this won’t be boring)

Global warming is real; at least partly man-caused; and will be disruptive.

Some talk as though our putting carbon into the atmosphere, for all those years, and continuing to do it, has been stupid, even crazy, and we’ve got to stop. But if we hadn’t been doing it, the average human today would live in squalid poverty.

Amid all the chest-thumping about global warming, here’s what’s rarely said: 1) we can’t stop it. Even if we cut carbon emissions to zero today, temperatures would still rise; just a tiny bit more slowly. And, 2) Any such cutback would dramatically increase human poverty and suffering.

Bjorn Lomborg has calculated that the cost of cutting carbon emissions (in terms of human quality of life) would be FIFTY TIMES the costs (in terms of global warming effects) thereby averted.

Now that’s really stupid and crazy.

Global warming is not the biggest problem confronting humanity; not even close. Under a worst-case scenario the number of humans that would perish due to climate change would be dwarfed by the number who will die due to our familiar and boring old problems of poverty and disease. A dollar spent on those problems will produce greatly more human benefit than a dollar spent to hold down global temperature.

So why is the latter still being advocated? One cannot escape the feeling that many of these advocates want to scale back modern industrial society not so much because they fear global warming as because they just, well, hate modern industrial society. This is akin to a religion: seeing humanity as tainted by primordial sin (supposed environmental profligacy) which requires redemptive punishment.

So, what should we do instead?

Stop all this foolishness about direct reductions in carbon emissions. Our resources can be much more effectively spent on 1) ramping up research on alternative technologies that, ultimately, economically, and naturally, will supplant existing ones; and, 2) preparing to adapt to and cope with the effects of inevitable global warming. Both approaches would cost a small fraction of trying to moderate temperature rises by scaling back carbon emissions directly.

Meantime, there are actually some approaches that would cool the planet with vastly more economic efficiency than would carbon cutbacks. Levitt and Dubner’s recent book, Superfreakonomics discusses a few. One is Nathan Myhrvold’s well thought-out plan for diverting existing sulfur dioxide emissions from the lower to the upper atmosphere, thereby mimicking the global cooling effects of major volcanic eruptions (such as 1816’s “year without a summer”). This would be almost laughably cheap to implement.

Of course, it would lack the satisfying thwack of redemptive punishment for mankind’s “sins.” Maybe that’s why the global warming industry seems so uninterested.

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5 Responses to “Global warming (Alert: this won’t be boring)”

  1. John Says:

    I completely agree with your views on Global Warming.

    “This is akin to a religion: seeing humanity as tainted by primordial sin (supposed environmental profligacy) which requires redemptive punishment.”

    The definition of “religion” is once again stretched to include religously nueteral movements and concepts that you are opposed to. This follows the pattern of defining humanistic / Atheistic despots as Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin as being somehow “religous” and therefore not humanists.

    This appears to be a doctrine similar to a Christian fundamentalist defining “Satanic practices” as anything that he is personally opposed to and that is a real or imagined source of harm.

    Now…. remove “Satan” and replace it with the stretched definitions of “religion”. This doctrine is very similar to the theistic fundamentalists that you seem to oppose.

  2. t Says:

    Full disclosure: I’m an atheist and and do not “hate modern industrial technology”

    a) You’re right – there is a certain religiosity that exists among *some* “climate activists” (for lack of a better term). It’s annoying. Gore’s approach has always seemed damaging to the climate change mitigation cause due to exaggeration and hyperbole.

    b) As much as that is true, among the right there does seem to be an equally religious fervor in favor of unadulterated economic growth at all costs. I often see a false dilemma: It’s either all our industrialized comforts or just plain squalor. But there is a middle ground where we might accept that there are actually some things that we ought to do without if the price is too high. Do we really need that new HD TV, DVR, Blue Ray, car every two years, etc. etc.?

    c) Lomborg: I’ve read him and really appreciated the reading. What he brings to the table is a desire to look at cold numbers in making decisions (and an amazing amount of data analysis). Do be aware that he is controversial and that some of his conclusions are not valid (as would happen to anyone who ventures far outside their area of expertise). The wikipedia article on the Skeptical Environmentalist is a good starting point.

    d) Superfreakanomics Chapter 5. There has been a huge uproar over this one and it really seems that Levitt and Dubner missed the mark. See for instance http://tinyurl.com/yh4xz6q and http://tinyurl.com/ykwporn

  3. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thanks for commenting intelligently. Best regards Frank

  4. Malcolm Muir Says:

    My background is scientific although not specifically climate science. I have been following AGW since about 2001. In the beginning I felt it was probably very real and the proposed solutions (i.e. Kyoto) far from adequate. As I explored the science however I have shifted my position.

    The Earth is heated by the sun which is sufficiently warm that it radiates mostly in the visible light and near infrared parts of the spectrum. The Earth, being much cooler, re-radiates back into space in the far infrared. The greenhouse effect is that a greenhouse gas absorbs energy from below and radiates it in all directions sending some of it back to Earth. Each greenhouse gas will absorb and re-radiate energy only at wavelengths which correspond to allowed energy transitions in the molecule. Each greenhouse gas would be expected to have less and less effect as a higher and higher percentage of the energy is absorbed. For CO2 there are three such wavelengths. In each case 1000 feet of air is fully opaque at the wavelengths. Thus CO2 has done almost all of the damage it can already and additional CO2 wold be expected to add almost no additional greenhouse effect warming. The AGW proponents argue that a small rise caused by CO2 will cause a much larger rise by causing more water to evaporate adding more water vapor to the air (positive feedback). This is a feedback effect and feedback is an area where I do have expertise. Our climate appears to have some strong self regulating (negative feedback) properties not positive (wildly oscillating or banging into limits) feedback type behavior.

    Additionally if the greenhouse effect were to cause surface temperature rise it would cause an even larger rise in the temperature of the lower atmosphere. Years of balloon and now satellite data show no such effect. This alone is enough to disprove the AGW hypothesis.

    So what is causing the warming? In the last few months more and more evidence has been showing up pointing to the idea that the reported rise is totally explainable as a combination of urban island (heat sources near the temperature monitoring stations) and doctored data. It will be interesting to see what comes out if and when this is thoroughly investigated.

    One final point: CO2 is one of two primary plant nutrients. Higher levels of atmospheric CO2 cause plants go grow significantly better and need less water (the other primary nutrient). Thus our adding CO2 to the air is actually helping to feed the world.

  5. cece Says:

    dang most of these comments are as long as the speech

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