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Tierney on Using Energy, Getting Rich, and Saving the Planet

John Tierney argues that:

1. There will be no green revolution in energy or anything else. No leader or law or treaty will radically change the energy sources for people and industries in the United States or other countries. No recession or depression will make a lasting change in consumers' passions to use energy, make money and buy new technology — and that, believe it or not, is good news, because...

2. The richer everyone gets, the greener the planet will be in the long run.

How could this be? Tierney explains:

By the 1990s, researchers realized that graphs of environmental impact didn't produce a simple upward-sloping line as countries got richer. The line more often rose, flattened out and then reversed so that it sloped downward, forming the shape of a dome or an inverted U — what's called a Kuznets curve.

In dozens of studies, researchers identified Kuznets curves for a variety of environmental problems. There are exceptions to the trend, especially in countries with inept governments and poor systems of property rights, but in general, richer is eventually greener. As incomes go up, people often focus first on cleaning up their drinking water, and then later on air pollutants like sulfur dioxide.

Tierney makes two big mistakes. First, the environmental Kuznets curves (which are themselves somewhat controversial) depend on legal institutions to translate people's preferences into outcomes (as Tierney briefly acknowledges). As I get richer, I am willing to pay more for clean air. But I can't buy clean air at the store. I have to lobby my legislator for regulation that increases the price of goods that I buy.

This makes good sense if I live in a city with factories that pollute the air and can be regulated. But if the problem is flooding caused by greenhouse gas emissions, I can't just lobby my legislature to fix the problem. If my city or state or national government increases the costs of fossil fuels, while the rest of the world does nothing, the effect on climate change will be virtually nil. I have to lobby my government to enter treaties with other governments. But if Tierney is right that "no leader or law or treaty will radically change the energy sources for people and industries in the United States or other countries," then I am wasting my time trying to lobby my government. I'll be richer but more miserable because I can't do anything about climate change—and over the long term I'll not even be richer in monetary terms, as my taxes rise so that the government can afford sea walls and the like.

What Tierney misses is that the Kuznets curves assume the government doing something at the behest of citizens. He talks as though richer people will independently consume less as they become richer, but there is absolutely no evidence of that!

Second, there is no particular reason to think that the Kuznets curves (even if there is one for carbon, and it is not clear there is) will level off in all countries in time to save us from the worst consequences of climate change. Indeed, if Tierney is right that the Kuznet curve peaks at when a country's income reaches $30,000 per capita, then we are in deep trouble. China's per capita income is around $6,000 and it is the biggest emitter in the world. Even with relatively optimistic assumptions, we will be in trouble unless carbon emissions from the energy sector has been reduced to zero or close to it by, say, 2050 (based on figures taken from the Stern Review). (Agriculture and land use, which are harder to control, would continue to account for significant increases in greenhouse gases, and of course there is the large stock of carbon already in the atmosphere.) Even if the United States and other rich countries have in fact reduced their energy-related emissions to zero by that time, on Tierney's account China, India, Indonesia and other huge industrializing or industrialized countries will be belching out vast quantities of the stuff, far more than is being emitted today, and with disastrous consequences if mainstream climate models are correct.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Is Richer Greener?
  2. Is Richer Greener? A Comment on Posner on Tierney:
  3. Tierney on Using Energy, Getting Rich, and Saving the Planet
Stan Kjar (mail):
It's a good thing that the mainstream climate models are overestimating warming, because you are right, China, India, and the developing world and emitting a lot of carbon dioxide.

Lucia Liljegren's blog has the latest global temperature compared to model outputs here.

Currently the models are overestimating temperature rise. Only time will tell if the models are really wrong, but we'll need a nice temperature spike to catch back up.
4.23.2009 5:17pm
c.gray (mail):

Even with relatively optimistic assumptions, we will be in trouble unless carbon emissions from the energy sector has been reduced to zero or close to it by, say, 2050 (based on figures taken from the Stern Review).


Whatever anyone believes about the Stern report's claims about climate change's causes, potential for future harm, and ease of mitigation, the document used discount values for purely economic values such as time preference and risk aversion that are patently ridiculous.
4.23.2009 5:32pm
wm13:
Per Freeman Dyson, we need only lobby our government to develop bioengineered plants that remove the excess carbon from the air. It won't be that hard. This solution doesn't appeal to "root canal environmentalists," but, as we realize over the next decade or two that root canal solutions aren't going to happen, we will implement Dyson's program.
4.23.2009 5:53pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
I think Tierney wrote about pollution, not CO2.
4.23.2009 5:53pm
Dan Hamilton:

China, India, Indonesia and other huge industrializing or industrialized countries


These countries are the reason it makes no sence for the US and the rest of the world to try and do anything about Global Warming. Nothing we could do would stop them from belching out greenhouse gases.

If nothing that you can do will help them why bankrupt yourself trying to lower your greenhouse gases. Prepare for what can happen. By preparation you might be able to help people.

Best way to tell if a Global Warming Believer is serious and realy believes it is happening rather then using the scare to change GOVERNMENT POLICY, ask them about using Nuc power. If they yell and screem NEVER, NEVER, VEVER. You know that they don't realy believe they just want to control how people live. Not them, but other people.

First it was global Cooling, Then it was Global Warming, now it's Global Climate Change. Like this is something new and radical.
4.23.2009 6:05pm
Brett:
Tierney also fails to account for people like me, who despite being (relatively) rich deliberately pollute and consume as much as humanly possible as a protest against watermelon environmentalism.
4.23.2009 6:06pm
James Gibson (mail):
And I'm to the point of letting the Climate Change people hang themselves. Our new National Science Adviser suggesting the creation of an artificial volcano to throw tons of dust into the air while other activists are suggesting we remove the particle catchers and sulfur scrubbers from our smoke stacks to create solar dimming.

We have had two straight cold winters and yet I am awaiting the mandatory announcement that this year we may have total melt-off of the North Pole sea ice. According to the National snow and Ice Data Center, North Pole sea ice (at this moment) is nearly as great as the median 1979-2000 value and well above the 2007 amount at this time of year.

And while we are just beginning to recover from this recession, Waxman wants a mandatory 20% carbon reduction and its costs. Activists for Cap and Trade are suggesting moving whole industries to foreign countries in order to meet such reduction targets. And the new treaty is endanger of collapsing before its made because the prime movers for Kyoto (India and China) don't want a new one that puts reduction requirements on them.

I used to say this was just an international version of the energy tax credit scam Carter was talked into in the late 70s. Its gotten worse then a scam, its turning into an international scandal.
4.23.2009 6:07pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Veal Calf Guy: CO2 is a pollutant now, didn't you hear?
4.23.2009 6:31pm
teqjack (mail):
Market is not enough, it takes governemnt to change us from "dirty" to "clean?"

Takes both, lusually depending on scale.

Adding whale-oil lamps to candles and olive-oil lamps did not take a government department. Conversion of whale-oil lamps to kerosene did not take a government mandate. Nor converting to piped-in gaslight. Electric lighting, well, yes, especially large-scale dams and transmission-tower property clearances.
4.23.2009 6:43pm
Blue:
We're not going to have zero emmissions from the energy sector by 2050. Any plan relying on that is simply fantastic.
4.23.2009 6:50pm
Colin Fraizer (mail):
Blue is right that it is fantastic. If climate change were an actual crisis, all possible solutions (including geo-engineering) would be on the table. As it is, the only solution we're allowed to consider is: use less energy.

The fact is that much of our climate is determined by things besides GHGs. (For example, solar output and volcanic eruptions.) Instead of trying to achieve some sort of climatic stasis, we should be preparing technologies that let us control or moderate climate.

When confronted with the reality that most of the little things we're nagged to do in the name of "greenness" are (at best) useless and (at worst) counterproductive (e.g. most recycling), environmentalists still don't bend. They don't see that their preferences are just another religion. They care less about what I do with my genitals than traditional religion, but they want to control everything I do with the rest of my body (and mind).
4.23.2009 7:07pm
cboldt (mail):
-- They care less about what I do with my genitals than traditional religion, but they want to control everything I do with the rest of my body (and mind). --
.
It's all about control. They're happy to limit your right to reproduce, too, seeing as how children are net CO2 emitters.
.
Join the hive. Be happy.
4.23.2009 7:40pm
Mac (mail):
I wonder when the Government at the behest of the Environmentalists will start killing their citizens for polluting the atmosphere? After all, every time everyone exhales, CO2 is released.

Don't the plants and trees have anything to say about this? Compared to certain times in the past, green things are CO2 starved today as there is not nearly as much of it in the atmosphere today as there has been at times in the past. Commercial greenhouses inject CO2 into their atmosphere to promote plant growth. The plants and trees are starving!

CO2 is a lagging, not a leading indicator of warming. The planet warms and the oceans, which are tremendous retainers of CO2, give up their CO2 and it goes into the atmosphere in incredible quantities. Can anyone tell me how the Government is going to get the oceans to quit this bad habit?
4.23.2009 7:56pm
ctd (mail):
with disastrous consequences if mainstream climate models are correct.

Apparently, they're not correct. NASA studies indicate we're starting into a cooling phase. We might actually _want_ artificial warming effects so the planet doesn't get too cold for our convenience!

Recent non-dismissable studies also indicate that natural global warming was being _reduced_ by heavy use of aerosols, and that the uptick in temperature later in the century actually occurred because of international treaties banning use of such atmosphere-affecting artificial gasses.

BTW: the planet is dealing with CO2 just fine. IIRC, There are more trees than ever in recorded history. And the "warming" being decried was 1 degree F over the last _century_.

Upshot: we don't really know what's going on. Climate changes - cope.
4.23.2009 8:00pm
MCM (mail):
Apparently, they're not correct. NASA studies indicate we're starting into a cooling phase.


Links please.

IIRC, There are more trees than ever in recorded history.


Not all trees are created equal. A newly planted tree in a tree farm takes decades to sequester as much carbon as was in, say, a 50 meter-tall Amazon rainforest tree. You can't just count the number of trees; it's apples and oranges (and pecan and maple and mahogany... et cetera).
4.23.2009 8:10pm
bbbeard (mail):
The point that Tierney is making is that it is affluence that stimulates people to want to pay for a better environment. If you want your children and grandchildren to have a planet that is cleaner than the one we have, support policies that will build affluence here and abroad as quickly as possible.

Sure, some of that environmental quality is "purchased" through governmental mechanisms, with standards that impose costs on society, mandates that interfere with free trade, massive cleanups that benefit no one and everyone, and so forth. Affluent societies make the decisions to sacrifice wealth to make these purchases. To a lesser extent individuals make purchases and sacrifices in their own microeconomic worlds on what they perceive to be things that improve environmental quality, like more fuel-efficient cars, recycling of garbage, composting, reuse, and many other little things. But you're also right, it takes a political process (distinct from a "legal process"?) to implement these societal choices.

But what policies build affluence? In a word, freedom. What policies destroy affluence? Collectivism. What Barack Obama is doing now to dismantle our free market economy and to replace it with a command economy will ultimately lead to environmental degradation you cannot imagine (not to mention the impact of increasing domestic social unrest at the impoverishment of our country, and the impact of destabilizing the international community through America's abdication of leadership. Want a clean environment? Take away Iran's nukes....Want chaos? Make America just another nation among equals.) If you want to understand what collectivism and central planning do for the environment, just look at the former Soviet Union. They were experts -- technocrats and ideologues that believed that they had the right and the wisdom to control every aspect of their subjects' lives. And they made a hash of their environment.

Sound familiar? Can't you see the same hubris at work here?

BBB
4.23.2009 8:10pm
CheckEnclosed (mail):
At what median terrestrial temperature do "mainstream models" predict that Earth will have the greatest carrying capacity in terms of live humans?

Shouldn't that be the target of any generally utilitarian climate policy (or does taking up The Green Man's Burden imply that population of some less enlightened countries should be lmited)?

Absent such a target, we can't say that Earth is either warmer or colder than it ought to be (though we may be able to say that gradual change in the right direction is better than abrupt change).
4.23.2009 8:44pm
rosetta's stones:

"If you want your children and grandchildren to have a planet that is cleaner than the one we have, support policies that will build affluence here and abroad as quickly as possible."


Absolutely. For most of my career, the number that we've kicked around as the % of GDP that the US (and other developed nations) has spent on the environment and pollution control is 2%, and my understanding is that that number has held since before the industrial revolution.

So, given 2% of GDP will be spent, how do you grow the total effort? You expand the GDP. That's why our air and water has gotten much cleaner, because we've had additional total money to spend on it, but the fraction is still likely still the same ol' 2% of GDP.
4.23.2009 9:20pm
geokstr (mail):

Mac:
I wonder when the Government at the behest of the Environmentalists will start killing their citizens for polluting the atmosphere?

For decades now, environmentalists have been busy killing people in the name of their religion, but it's OK, it's just been the dark skinned inhabitants of other countries. It of course has been completely justified, and for the long-term good of Mother Gaia. Several tens of millions of Africans and Asians have been prevented from adding to atmospheric poisons because they no longer produce personal exalations. They were caused to prematurely expire from malaria that could have been easily controlled with the only thing more hateful, evil and dangerous than atoms, DDT. (Bush excepted.)
4.23.2009 9:22pm
swg:

He talks as though richer people will independently consume less as they become richer, but there is absolutely no evidence of that!

Or maybe he means they'll consume differently, and there's certainly good theory behind (and likely evidence of) that. Richer people want greener things; they'll buy from greener companies; businesses will try to be greener; air becomes cleaner. I think you give this idea too little credit - doesn't it suggest the Kuznets curve might not depend entirely on legal institutions?
4.23.2009 9:39pm
Ricardo (mail):
Compared to certain times in the past, green things are CO2 starved today as there is not nearly as much of it in the atmosphere today as there has been at times in the past.

CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has been steadily increasing since 1958. Obviously, "green things" can't be that starved as otherwise they would be counteracting the upward trend in CO2 concentration.

CO2 is a lagging, not a leading indicator of warming. The planet warms and the oceans, which are tremendous retainers of CO2, give up their CO2 and it goes into the atmosphere in incredible quantities.

Since CO2 concentration has been increasing since at least 1958, I suppose you are going to state here that you strongly disagree with those who say the planet is not warming? Or is it possible this increase in CO2 is due to industrial activity, that maybe, just maybe it could lead to a slight increase in global temperature and this would, as you state, warm the oceans leading to further release of CO2 which would exacerbate warming?
4.23.2009 9:50pm
Pashley (mail):
The problem isn't climate change, which might actually be real. The problem is a fantastical notion of what is possible through government action. Changing the weather? Regulate the whole world's energy consumption, including plants and animal biological action? Its all pink elephants. Right up there with eliminating poverty, empty the cities back to the countryside, or any other fantastical amd unrealistic vision.
4.23.2009 10:01pm
Ricardo (mail):
According to the National snow and Ice Data Center, North Pole sea ice (at this moment) is nearly as great as the median 1979-2000 value and well above the 2007 amount at this time of year.

Why the median value? Oh wait:

Sea ice extent averaged over the month of March 2009 was 15.16 million square kilometers (5.85 million square miles). This was 730,000 square kilometers (282,000 square miles) above the record low of 2006, but 590,000 square kilometers (228,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average.


Link

Trends matter more than anything, though, so you can simply click on that link, scroll down to Figure 3, and observe the trend for yourself.
4.23.2009 10:43pm
EPluribusMoney (mail):
For decades now, environmentalists have been busy killing people in the name of their religion, but it's OK, it's just been the dark skinned inhabitants of other countries.

No, they kill Americans too by forcing people to have smaller cars which have higher death rates in accidents. Environmentalists obviously think saving oil is worth dying for.
4.23.2009 11:24pm
Curt Fischer:
EPluribusMoney: If a gun grabber told you that you were killing Americans because you believed in a society where people were free to own firearms, which leads to higher death rates in shootings, how would you respond?
4.23.2009 11:59pm
John Moore (www):
Mac (mail):

I wonder when the Government at the behest of the Environmentalists will start killing their citizens for polluting the atmosphere? After all, every time everyone exhales, CO2 is released.

In addition to the DDT-ban holocaust, any actions which reduce global GDP kill people in the poorer nations.

MCM

Not all trees are created equal. A newly planted tree in a tree farm takes decades to sequester as much carbon as was in, say, a 50 meter-tall Amazon rainforest tree.

Yeah, but the Amazon rainforest trees are being cut down to make land to produce bio-ethanol. But hey, it's green!

Ricardo

Since CO2 concentration has been increasing since at least 1958, I suppose you are going to state here that you strongly disagree with those who say the planet is not warming? Or is it possible this increase in CO2 is due to industrial activity, that maybe, just maybe it could lead to a slight increase in global temperature and this would, as you state, warm the oceans leading to further release of CO2 which would exacerbate warming?

1958?
CO2 concentration has been increasing since the mid 19th century. Importantly, it has been increasing since 1998, while the temperature has been dropping.

Physics tells us that, barring secondary effects, each doubling of CO2 will increase temperatures about 1 degree C (far below the alarmist numbers).

Alarmist tell us that the temperature will rise much more rapidly, but this is based on computer models that absolutely cannot be calibrated, and which rely on remarkably high degrees of positive feedback to achieve their high numbers.

Botany tells us (confirmed by agronomy experiments recently) that increased CO2 leads to better plant growth.

Al Gore tells us that things are much, much worse. Hansen, the NASA leader of the global warming hysteria, tells scientists that they need to exaggerate the trend to save the planet.

Engineering (my field) and simple economics tells us that no way are we going to make a significant dent in CO2 concentrations with all the "green" proposals made so far, but that we could do major damage to the economies of the world, leading to:

1) increased deaths in the 4th world

2) increase poverty throughout the world

3) reduced freedom

4) cheating by less scrupulous countries (China for example) that simply negates any "benefits" produced, while shifting wealth and jobs to China (and India).
4.24.2009 12:37am
John Moore (www):
Oh, btw, Ricardo... the earth has been warming for several hundred years - longer than the CO2 concentration increase.

So let's all wreck the economy to prevent a hypothetical danger.

And, of course, we can't possibly use nucular [sic] power because it isn't green.
4.24.2009 12:38am
bbbeard (mail):
Ricardo wrote: Trends matter more than anything, though, so you can simply click on that link, scroll down to Figure 3, and observe the trend for yourself.

I'm not disagreeing with the Arctic sea ice trend, exactly, but it bears pointing out that when the ice dipped quite a bit in 2007, you didn't see any of the alarmists trotting out the 30-year trendline. Instead all the hype was about the much steeper decline from 2004-2007. Now that the ice has rebounded above the trendline, the alarmists point to the 30-year trend and tell us to ignore the short-term shift. This is yet another example of selection bias in the climate change arena.

But, yes, look at the trend. The average decline over the whole cycle is reportedly even steeper (-4.2% per decade, cf. Meier et al.).... The arctic seems to be bearing the brunt of shifts in climate (unlike the antarctic), as Sarah Palin pointed out.

BBB
4.24.2009 1:07am
Ricardo (mail):
Now that the ice has rebounded above the trendline, the alarmists point to the 30-year trend and tell us to ignore the short-term shift. This is yet another example of selection bias in the climate change arena.

It's only "selection bias" if you yourself engage in selection bias by focusing more on the cacophony of certain alarmists rather than on the long-term trends of primary data sources.

What I always find interesting about climate change debates on this blog is that there are always several different people each with different, contradictory arguments all arguing against the idea that there is human-caused climate change. For instance, there will inevitably be one person who claims global temps peaked in 1998 (the other side of the same vice you mention above) while another will say the earth is warming but not due to any human activity. These people never argue with each other (and sometimes it is even the same person!).
4.24.2009 2:22am
pmorem (mail):
If surviving today is a question, thinking about tomorrow is a luxury. If tomorrow is in doubt, thinking about the future is a luxury.

We look to the future, and see caring for our environment as a necessity. We forget the luxury of our lives.

Others do not live in the same luxury. Convincing them that our luxury is important to them seems a daunting task. Worse, it strikes me as .. "Imperialistic".
4.24.2009 2:29am
BGates:
It's only "selection bias" if you yourself engage in selection bias by focusing more on the cacophony of certain alarmists

Hansen et al are doing good science until we point out that they aren't, at which point they're committing the error of unfairly reading the data, but we're committing the error of listening to them.

Rather than focusing on the cacophony of the Nobel committee, the Motion Picture Academy, tv, newspapers, and the Democratic party, we should really talk more about figure 3.
4.24.2009 3:49am
BGates:
there are always several different people each with different, contradictory arguments all arguing against the idea that there is human-caused climate change

Galileo and the church had different, contradictory arguments each opposed to the idea that Apollo dragged the sun across the sky with his chariot. Advantage: Apollo.
4.24.2009 3:59am
MCM (mail):
Not all trees are created equal. A newly planted tree in a tree farm takes decades to sequester as much carbon as was in, say, a 50 meter-tall Amazon rainforest tree.
Yeah, but the Amazon rainforest trees are being cut down to make land to produce bio-ethanol. But hey, it's green!


No, I think the consensus is now that biofuels are not green, and most of the people who believed it was green weren't really well informed. Biofuels are a great strategy Big Agribusiness to increase demand for their products, but aren't much of a solution to any problem.
4.24.2009 7:25am
MCM (mail):
Also:

The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied


-internal memo from Global Climate Coalition in 1995, an industry funded lobbying group.

This while they were launching PR campaigns telling the public misleading half-truths like "scientists differ" about global warming.
4.24.2009 7:29am
Brett Bellmore:
Some interesting graphs comparing the models to the actual climate measurements:



Frankly, the models don't look all that good. I bet they'd look even worse, if they stopped changing them at any point, and just let them run.

I'm disappointed in the modelers; With that many free parameters, they ought to be able to get a better match than that!
4.24.2009 7:50am
rosignol (mail):
But if the problem is flooding caused by greenhouse gas emissions, I can't just lobby my legislature to fix the problem.

Apparently you are unaware of these guys.
4.24.2009 8:11am
ctd (mail):
the consensus is now that biofuels are not green, and most of the people who believed it was green weren't really well informed. Biofuels are a great strategy Big Agribusiness to increase demand for their products, but aren't much of a solution to any problem.

Yup, again: follow the money. Scientists inclined to accept money seem inclined to produce reports which show whatever results the money-givers want ... such as "the globe is warming, we're all gonna die".

And if we keep following the money, we end up at the doorstep of a home burning orders of magnitude more energy than the median US home (which in turn uses far more than the world median home) - the sociopolitical prophet of Global Warming (TM) and heavy user of private jets, Al Gore. (Funny, his archnemisis lives in a humble passive-energy low-emissions earth-friendly home far in the country. But perhaps I digress from the thread.)
4.24.2009 8:55am
EcoLawyer:
Usually smart people post to VC. This thread is the most inane thing I've ever read. Do a little research people and don't let you ideological blinkers cloud your vision. Some of these studies you quote don't even say what you say they say (like the sea ice center). No serious scientist or policymaker doubts the existence of anthropomorphic global climate change. You consign yourselves to the fringes of politics if you insist on burying your head in the sand.

What's more, your critiques are really irrelevant. Dramatic government intervention (like the federal highway projects in the 1950s) on behalf of alternative energy will create jobs, save money, reduce dependence on foreign oil, improve the environment, and increase our national security. You have a lot to answer for if you want to continue to oppose this transformation because you think you know better than 99.9% of the world's scientists.
4.24.2009 8:59am
EcoLawyer:
Of course, I meant anthropogenic, not anthropomorphic, which would be curious indeed. Sorry.
4.24.2009 9:00am
Ricardo (mail):
Rather than focusing on the cacophony of the Nobel committee, the Motion Picture Academy, tv, newspapers, and the Democratic party, we should really talk more about figure 3.

Translation: instead of engaging in ad hominem arguments, we should instead focus on the facts and the data. Yes, I would say that's a pretty sensible idea. Thanks for agreeing.
4.24.2009 9:13am
Gosh dern hippies:
Great blog post, Posner. It's refreshing at times to see articulated, well-considered discussions of climate issues from either side of the political divide.

But wow, this comment thread has a lot of vitriol and hate towards these evil phantasms of "environmentalists" - clearly a singular organism of irrational thought hellbent on holding everyone hostage. There are degrees of everything, and many people seek to help the environment but not steal all your hard earned money. Many (very many) people seek to help the environment through nuclear power. Stop making these discussions "us versus them" - founding every argument on your own victimization is pathetic.

I may personally agree with many of the sentiments expressed here, but I am smart enough to know that expressing them like a raving lunatic bemoaning the evils of "those environmentalists" gets one nowhere.
4.24.2009 9:25am
Losantiville:
Brett -

I'm practicing a deliberate increase in CO2 production as well.

Drive 10-year-old 8-cylinder cars. Burn rubbish in fireplace. Burn yard waste in outdoor firepit. (Burning trash costs nothing.) Exercise to increase CO2 exhalation.

Free the carbon!
4.24.2009 10:22am
Curt Fischer:
Thanks to Pashley, Gosh dern hippies, and Ecolawyer for making it worthwhile to read through the comment section here.

The partisan rancor around issues of climate almost always obscures legitimate points of debate. The fact is, climate change is an unavoidable consequence of emitting huge amounts of fossil-fuel-derived carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But how will the climate change? How will the changes be distributed across contries, states, and ecosystems? What will the local costs (and benefits) of these climate disturbances be? Are political plans to create "green" jobs aiming to improve national security or to mitigate against climate change? If the latter, how sure are we that climate change will have a net negative impact in the US, and how sure are we that the proposed policies will mitigate this impact?

The frothing-at-the-mouth commenters here don't engage on these questions. Instead they all become armchair climate scientists, and bad ones at that. "CO2 is plant food!" "Exercise to increase CO2 exhalation!" The world might be a more fun place to live if these arguments were persuasive, I guess, but unfortunately, they are not.

Lastly, I see people have been throwing around numbers for Arctic sea ice. Most of the numbers have been for areal coverage of sea ice. It's worth checking out numbers for the total ice volume as well. Thick ice was the norm, and thin ice may cover a lot of area, but it still a significant perturbation to the arctic ecosystem. Maybe the change in the Arctic, and the probable resulting temporary plunge in Arctic biodiversity is something we don't need to worry about. But it is happening.
4.24.2009 10:53am
Old Forester (mail):
The capture of CO2 by trees is a function of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is more eficient in the youngest leaves (or needles) on the tree and the youngest trees have the highest percentage of young leaves. Look up into a tree crown and you will see that on older trees leaves and needles are concentrated on the outer ends of older branches and in the top third of the crown. On younger trees, these photosynthesising structures are much more evenly distributed and occupy a larger percentage of the crown. Therefore, younger faster growing trees are more efficient users of CO2. The 50 meter tree that you describe is simply the accumulation of decades of this photosynthesis. They may be carbon sinks representing past carbon sequestration but they are doing little to sequester current CO2
4.24.2009 11:02am
rosetta's stones:

EcoLawyer:
Usually smart people post to VC. This thread is the most inane thing I've ever read. Do a little research people and don't let you ideological blinkers cloud your vision. Some of these studies you quote don't even say what you say they say (like the sea ice center). No serious scientist or policymaker doubts the existence of anthropomorphic global climate change. You consign yourselves to the fringes of politics if you insist on burying your head in the sand.

What's more, your critiques are really irrelevant. Dramatic government intervention (like the federal highway projects in the 1950s) on behalf of alternative energy will create jobs, save money, reduce dependence on foreign oil, improve the environment, and increase our national security. You have a lot to answer for if you want to continue to oppose this transformation because you think you know better than 99.9% of the world's scientists.


This has to be parody, right?

Come on, man, fess up!

And the "EcoLawyer" tag is simply a masterstroke ! I doff my chapeau, sir.
4.24.2009 11:58am
rosetta's stones:

EcoLawyer:
Of course, I meant anthropogenic, not anthropomorphic, which would be curious indeed. Sorry.


Stop it, EcoLawyer... you're killin' me!
4.24.2009 12:01pm
Old Forester (mail):
Sorry,

To be clear, I was directing my comments to MCM, above
4.24.2009 12:20pm
Crust (mail):
wm13:
Per Freeman Dyson, we need only lobby our government to develop bioengineered plants that remove the excess carbon from the air. It won't be that hard.
If you think it's so easy, there's a $25 million prize waiting for you (the Branson/Gore prize for developing a technology to take significant amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere).
4.24.2009 12:54pm
Mac (mail):

Galileo and the church had different, contradictory arguments each opposed to the idea that Apollo dragged the sun across the sky with his chariot. Advantage: Apollo.



BGates,

That is a myth re the Catholic Church. The Church was science at the time and knew full well that Galileo was essentially correct. Galileo's sin was that about this, and other things at other times of his life, he could never keep his mouth shut. It is more complex. Galileo was incorrect on some things and the Church also felt his science was faulty, something Galileo did not take kindly to. Galileo was later proven wrong about some things and proven right about others, by a Jesuit priest, no less. It is way more complex than the current simplistic thought of the Church vs. Galileo. Quite fascinating, too.
4.24.2009 1:31pm
Sk (mail):
"Even with relatively optimistic assumptions, we will be in trouble unless carbon emissions from the energy sector has been reduced to zero or close to it by, say, 2050"

anyone who could write this sentence has absolutely no understanding of science or math. If your worldview is based on taking this sentence seriously, you are utterly devoid of understanding the way the universe works. it is beyond innumeracy, or scientific illiteracy. It is simply beyond rational explanation.

Sk
4.24.2009 1:41pm
John Moore (www):
EcoLawyer:

Usually smart people post to VC. This thread is the most inane thing I've ever read. Do a little research people and don't let you ideological blinkers cloud your vision. Some of these studies you quote don't even say what you say they say (like the sea ice center). No serious scientist or policymaker doubts the existence of anthropomorphic global climate change. You consign yourselves to the fringes of politics if you insist on burying your head in the sand.


Not true. No serious scientist doubts that the earth has been warming for the last several hundred years (including well before the CO2 increase). No serious scientist doubts that, in the absence of feedback, each doubling of CO2 results in an increase of temperature of about 1 degree C. No scientist with a rudimentary understanding of time series analysis is sure that the warming is a result of the increase of CO2 from roughly .000275 to .000380 of the atmosphere, especially since the correlation is very poor.

Notice that the undisputed facts above do not lead to doomsday scenarios so popular among the statist policy makers, the environmentalists, and those (like Al Gore and Hansen) who make money off the "crisis."

Finally, your characterization of this thread is a bit off. There are a lot of thoughtful people who are really fed up of the high ratio of BS to science put forward by the global warming alarmists, and who are expressing their frustration here as satire and cynical comments. I don't blame them.

Perhaps you would care to tell us what it is about climate models that make them so believable that we should take drastic economic actions as a result? Is it our ability to measure their results? Is it our confidence in the thousands of paramterizations that go into them? Is it that they produce results consistent with other times when the CO2 levels were at, say .000500 or .000850?

As for policymakers, what they believe is irrelevant to science, but sadly relevant to how we live our lives.
4.24.2009 2:57pm
geokstr (mail):
It's now obvious that only a lawyer who is a True Believer could ever be intelligent enough to understand this issue. I'm just too dumb to grasp that true science is based on repeating, loudly, over and over again, that there is consensus among the other True Believers and that skeptics are the equivalent of Holocaust deniers, but not as bright.

I apologize to my betters, and will now urge all the rest of us uneducated rubes out here in flyover country to mea culpa as well. We'll simply acquiesce to the total restructuring of our entire economy at a cost of tens of trillions of dollars, because the really educated people say so.

But, ho boy, you'd better be right, because if you're not, in ten or twenty years, there's gonna be a lot of pissed off people looking for scalps.
4.24.2009 4:05pm
Opher Banarie (mail) (www):
It would be very simple to make sense of all these projections. All the "True Believers" need to do is explain what caused the Ice Ages to come and go before there was an industrial base on the planet. Just lay it out for us bone-heads, since the global warming "debate" is over you must have enough time on your hands.
4.24.2009 5:35pm
JEM:
EcoLawyer: "No serious scientist or policymaker doubts the existence of anthropomorphic global climate change."

I'm sorry, but comments like that are a clear example of why many of us believe that EcoLawyers represent one of the greatest threats mankind faces right now.
4.25.2009 10:35am
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):
There is a rather simplistic solution to climate change, found in the TTAPS study, the most important groundbreaking scientific paper since "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".
4.25.2009 10:51am
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

Blue is right that it is fantastic. If climate change were an actual crisis, all possible solutions (including geo-engineering) would be on the table. As it is, the only solution we're allowed to consider is: use less energy.

That is exactly like the reasoning behind abstinence-only sex education. Abstinence from sex is the only solution to unplanned pregnancy that we are allowed to consider.

In fact, people who claim that the only solution to climate change is abstinence and people who claim that the only solution to umplanned pregnancy is abstinence are pretty much the same people.

Therefore, younger faster growing trees are more efficient users of CO2. The 50 meter tree that you describe is simply the accumulation of decades of this photosynthesis. They may be carbon sinks representing past carbon sequestration but they are doing little to sequester current CO2

So if we needed to remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, cutting down old trees, burying their remains (perhaps at Yucca Mountain) and planting a young tree would be a simple solution.
4.25.2009 11:00am
Old Forester (mail):
Michael Ejercito

Or perhaps we could cut them and turn them into houses and other useful things where they would remain as CO2 sinks, but provide more of a public benefit.
4.25.2009 12:34pm
Mark in Texas (mail):
EcoLawyer - No serious scientist or policymaker doubts the existence of anthropomorphic global climate change.

No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
4.25.2009 12:53pm
rmark (mail):
http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_2_carbon.html
4.27.2009 3:48pm

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