Copenhagen / Countdown (1) Potpourri
Copenhagen / Countdown (1) Potpourri
I have been more than occupied with getting ready for the Conference of Parties (COP15) in Copenhagen in December. The University of Michigan will have more than 40 members in its delegation, and our students have successfully raised enough money to go. Here is the first of many thanks to a variety of units at the University of Michigan and to Wunderground.com. Next week we will launch a special COP15 web page. It will be, primarily, student driven.
I was interviewed earlier this week about what I expected to happen in Copenhagen and what we should strive to accomplishment.
We already know several important things – there will be no U.S. climate legislation by the time we go to Copenhagen. You might recall that the US House passed the Waxman-Markey Bill in the summer. The Senate is developing their bill, which I can’t imagine before late in the winter or early in the spring. Then, with reconciliation of the House and Senate bills, the mid-term elections – well, I imagine that the machinations of legislation and lobbying will push climate change legislation close enough to the mid-term election that it will languish next to health care and Afghanistan and the economy. I think that there will be climate legislation, but I bet that it will be early in year 4 of the Obama administration, with its passage dependent on what Obama’s re-election looks like. (Uncharacteristic political prediction there.)
You already know that on Obama’s trip to Asia that China and U.S. agreed to table many issues of climate change. The realities of complex problem solving reveals its many heads. One of the reasons that the problem appears intractable is that there is so much focus on the long-term reduction goals. This comes at the expense of making progress on the near-term issues that would really matter in the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases - mitigation .
It is my opinion that we must focus on doing those things that build the base for the future. I don’t think it is possible to determine the end game, but it is essential to start down the path to manage our greenhouse gas emissions. As has been stated and restated, more efficient generation, transmission, and use of energy both reduces emission and saves money. Strategies and policies to “scale up” the actions of individuals should be incentivized and codified – that is, put into building codes. Not only should efforts to improve efficiency be accelerated, but policies to turn more efficient use of energy into actual greenhouse gas reductions are required. If we just use more energy because we can afford to use more energy, then it will not help to mitigate climate change.
Efficiency offers a strategy for reducing emissions, but it does not span the problem. We must make the investments in technologies that support development of viable non-fossil fuel sources of energy. We need investments in transmission infrastructure that both reduce stunning inefficiencies in electrical transmission and allow the transmission from energy rich areas to energy consumers - for example, wind-generated electricity from North Dakota or West Texas to Chicago or Dallas. Imagine the savings that would occur, even in coal generation, if the coal was not moved a thousand miles or across the ocean before it was burned.
As essential as technologies that improve the generation and use of energy, we must also develop technologies that allow us to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and that prevents carbon dioxide from combustion from ever getting into the atmosphere. We cannot rely on the terrestrial biosphere and the ocean to remove, safely, atmospheric carbon dioxide. We have to accept that our imperative for economic growth will lead to more emissions in the next decades. We have to invest to develop technologies that allow us to manage our waste – to manage the climate.
We have to accept that our present “built-in” warming and new emissions will cause warming and lead to sea level rise and change the usual ebb and flow of fresh water. This means that we would benefit from planning for the eventuality of the disruptions to the routine that will come from these changes. The scientists and engineers of the world are often drawn to projects such as sea walls, dikes and levees, floating cities, dams, lakes, tunnels and canals. Some prescient governments are already planning, if not making infrastructure expenditures in anticipation of predicted changes in the climate.
When I was doing my process-based analysis of climate change in India this past summer, the geo-political elements of the problem struck me. Bangladesh is often listed as one of the most vulnerable countries because it is low lying, crowded, and poor – that is, it will be highly impacted by sea level rise and more damaging storm surges associated with tropical storms. From another perspective, Bangladesh has very little domain over the rivers that supply its fresh water. The head waters of these rivers are in the high Himalaya and are controlled by more wealthy, larger countries. Plus, the seasonal cycle of snow, snow melt and rain will, with a high degree of certainty, change. It is hard to imagine that we have the political stability and the political and societal will to address these problems far in advance. An amazing outcome of a meeting like Copenhagen would be policies that link development and climate adaptation together with negotiations of super-national management of water resources.
While we have the means to address many of these problems in a substantive way, the rationalist in me doubts that we will move quickly in this direction. Therefore, greenhouse gases will continue to accumulate for some decades. Success in Copenhagen will be that we start to utilize and value efficiency in a systematic way, that we provide the marginal investments in technology and infrastructure improvement, that we don’t simply defer another 10 years, another 100 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
I will end this blog with some comments about the week’s news. First I watched with wonder as the publication of a new study about breast cancer screening became conflated with the efforts to reform the U.S. health care system. (I will state as a person privileged with a good job and presumably good health insurance, I have seen 15 years of deteriorating coverage, decreasing access to doctors, and startling denials and mismanagement of claims. I have hired someone to deal with my insurance company. This is a problem that needs addressing!) That said, I was watching the hyper-vigilant reporters and pundits and experts with the benefit of no sound at the gym. They reminded me of guppies in a fish tank waiting for food to be sprinkled into the water, where they would attack, shred, spit, and spew, and turn it all into a mélange of waste. The use of information and knowledge by society to align with what we believe and want simply, well , it is parsed into our growing tribalism.
It’s not just climate change.
We go into the meeting in Copenhagen with such an interesting set of circumstances. We have those who juxtapose this week’s weather and this year’s “climate” with the reality of global warming. We have the bizarre coincidence (I presume) of the hacking of the email of the Climate Research Unit and the viral chum-fest that spreads across the web. (RealClimate: The CRU hack ) We have new lows in northern sea ice in November (that seems important to me), and a new paper that shows record highs have been occurring a rate twice as fast as record lows.
I hope you have fun with it all.
Faceted Search of Blogs at climateknowledge.org
Updated: 02:41 AM GMT del 08 Aprile 2010
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What’s in a name? / Climate Change / Global Warming
What’s in a name? / Climate Change / Global Warming
For those interested in the trip to Copenhagen discussed in the last blog, or those who are using the blogs in their classes, then see below.
I did a series of blogs from a meeting on climate and public health in Goa, India. The question was posed at the beginning of the meeting - Will someone please explain the difference between climate variability and climate change? I was recently talking with Jerry Mahlman about the terms “climate change” and “global warming.” Jerry was saying that using the term “climate change” was, well, wimpy – perhaps politically expedient. “Global warming,” he maintained, is a better term because it is concrete, conveys information, and describes the basic consequence of carbon dioxide pollution. These are all fundamental words with meanings that, now, permeate politics and business discussions; they extend far beyond the confines of the community of climate scientists.
There is always variability in the climate; hence, the climate is always changing. If you wanted to take a scientist’s point of view, then first you would have to define “climate.” Climate has traditionally been defined as average weather, but climate is far broader than temperature and rain, the usual measures of weather. (Here is a previous blog on the subject.) For the sake of argument, however, define “climate” as the average temperature of the surface of the Earth. The first question is then how do you define the average – 1 week, 1 month, 1 year, 10 years, a century? For a variety of reasons climate got defined as a 30 year average of weather. Another question might be – over what area of the globe do we average? In this case we have chosen a global average, so the whole globe. There are many arguments about what is the appropriate average, and in particular, as we have observed the ocean and understand the ocean’s role in climate, a 30 year average is pretty short. For this blog, however, we can define the climate as an average of the global surface temperature, and climate change means that the global surface temperature changes with time. The mathematically oriented would say there is a time derivative of average global surface temperature.
Given an average temperature, we would expect there to be variability above and below this average. That is, one year is different from the next. This variability comes from all types of causes – natural and human-caused. Natural variability is often attributed to changes in the energy that comes from the Sun or volcanic eruptions. But there is a lot of variability that is associated with “the weather.” Here I use weather in a generalized sense that also contains natural ocean-atmosphere variability such as El Nino, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the North Atlantic Oscillation. (see this blog and this blog for more information on such variability.) Human-caused changes in the global averaged surface temperature come from, most prominently, greenhouse gases and changes in land surface – trees versus farms versus parks versus parking lots.
Even in the best of worlds, scientists have to worry about how to determine what variability is “natural” and what is “human-caused?” This is the attribution problem, and here is a link to a whole series on attribution. Also though, you have to worry about whether or not we have experienced and measured all climate variability? The answer to this question is, obviously, no. We know there are ice ages and previous times when the Earth was much warmer. This brings another attribute to the definition of “climate change,” that is, the human dimension. From a practical point of view we are interested in is the climate changing at a rate than matters to humans? Civilization has developed in a temperate climate with stable sea level.
Climate change, therefore, could be viewed as whether or not the average weather is changing or whether or not climate variability is changing – perhaps, whether or not the average is changing to lie outside of the “normal,” or observed, variability. Given the challenges of defining climate as “average weather,” it is almost certain that the climate is changing, irrespective of what humans are doing.
Some would argue that “climate change” became the term of choice because it was acceptable in decent company. We could all agree that the climate is changing, but to say that the globe was warming was a value judgment, a conclusion, that was more definitive. It was a statement that could cause a reaction that would “end the conversation.”
Yes, I recall during the 1990s something of a search for the simple “one word” description of climate change. Aside from “global warming” being, perhaps, politically divisive, there was the idea that it was “too simple.” I have also had the conversation with Jerry Mahlman that the real problem was water, water resources, and sea level rise. Global warming “of a couple degrees” was not so threatening; in fact, some would make the argument that people prefer a warmer climate. Hence, to talk about warming diverted the conversation away from the real problem. So “climate change” is also a term where people migrated to include not only temperature, but water, and permafrost, and sea level, and ice sheets, and sea ice. You could bundle it all up.
I work hard in this blog to walk the line between complexity and simplicity. What term, what metaphor, what concept is simple enough to explain what is happening, but complex enough to embrace adequate complexity to be meaningful? Presuming a devoted and diligent readership, you might have noted that I have moved towards “global warming,” or the “consequences of a warming planet,” or “water in warmer environment.” It’s a little like the attention that I try to give to “the scientific investigation of climate” instead of “the science.” We know enough and the consequences are large enough that we do need to make the concrete statement, the value judgment – we know the sign, the surface of the Earth has and will warm.
It’s been busy and I have been slow on the blogs. At the top of the list of busy is the Conference of Parties in Copenhagen in December. This is the fifteenth such meeting. It’s a show, where there is an attempt to build policy. The official focus of this will be beyond Kyoto. To some of us, it never really felt we got to Kyoto, but … Also every advocacy group in the world, both for and against will be there. The University of Michigan and Alma College will have a delegation there of about 40 people … students, faculty, alumni and affiliates. The students have done OK raising money. Now we need to find rooms.
Several people have told me they use these blogs in classes. Laura Bell and I have set up a data base that uses a simple faceted search to organize the blogs. It’s built on mediawiki. Have a look, and let us know if it works and how it could be made better. (climateknowledge.org/Blogs)
Figure 1: Sky at Vedauvoo Rocks, October 2009
Updated: 06:02 PM GMT del 21 novembre 2009
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