What to do about climate change

2012-03-19

in Bombs and rockets, Economics, Law, Politics, The environment

Recently, I suggested that perhaps there is a division between ethical questions that are hard to answer and those where the answers are merely deeply inconvenient.

Something a bit similar is probably true of climate change policies. There are a few things we should obviously do, but many large questions outstanding.

Something clear: carbon pricing

For example, I think it’s clear that we need an economy-wide price on carbon. Every activity that produces greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution causes harm that isn’t reflected in its price. When you buy a car, or gasoline, or a laptop, or airline tickets, the cost should include some reckoning of how much harm is being done by the GHG pollution you are causing. As I mentioned before, the purpose of this extra cost isn’t to pay compensation to the victims, but rather to discourage the harmful behaviour. As such, the price on carbon needs to be set high enough to drive people to change their behaviour.

There are those who object to the idea of pricing carbon at all – often because they distrust capitalism and market mechanisms. I can understand the sentiment, but I think the urgency of climate change obligates us to develop mechanisms that are capable of working within the general systems we have. Carbon pricing fits the bill. (More on my fantasy climate policy is here).

Something uncertain: nuclear power

One question with no clear answer is what ought to be done with nuclear power. In a weird reversal of their stereotypical roles, The Economist is now calling nuclear power “the dream that failed” while George Monbiot is emphatically encouraging the British government to stick with nuclear because of the importance of cutting GHG pollution.

I have written before about the tricky balance involved in the nuclear decision (PDF). I don’t think the answer is clear. Nuclear power stations have certainly played a role in making GHG pollution levels lower than they would have been in a world without nuclear power. At the same time, nuclear power stations are dangerous, both in terms of accidents and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In terms of cost, I still think the figures that are available are too contradictory and untrustworthy to be used as the basis for sound decision-making.

One shot

In the end, humanity only has one shot at this. We have one planet that we will warm to a greater or lesser degree and one global civilization that we will power to a greater or lesser degree in one way or another. We have options with varying levels of risk and types of risk (risks of doing nothing, risks of geoengineering, etc). Finally, we have governments that have largely failed to appreciate the seriousness of the issue, and a powerful assortment of industries dependent on fossil fuels that have been very effective at pressuring governments to do nothing major about the problem of climate change.

One way or another, the people who are young today will probably live to see which way the world will go. If we keep burning fossil fuels in the way we are now, the best science suggests that we are headed for a world more than 4°C warmer with sea levels several metres higher and other serious unpredictable effects. Alternatively, if we get serious about the multi-decadal project of decarbonizing the global energy supply, people who are young today may live to see the emergence of a global civilization that runs on renewable forms of energy within a stable climate.

P.S. I think the question of what individuals can most productively do in response to climate change is pretty clear: lobby your elected representatives. If you really want to focus on reducing your personal impact instead of changing the system, the best choice may be to travel less, eat less meat, and avoid having children.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

James Aach March 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Yes, conservation should be the first, second and third item in any energy plan, whether personal or at the national level.

We’ll make better decisions about our energy future if we first understand our energy present. Awhile back I wrote the novel “Rad Decision” providing an inside look at how a nuclear plant works in good and bad times. (I’ve worked in the US nuclear industry well over twenty years but am not a “true believer”.) It turned out the plant profiled and the bad times bear a strong resemblance to Fukushima. Rad Decision is available free online (just google the title).. .. There are no advertisements and no sponsors. The book has garnered a lot of positive reviews from readers .

. March 19, 2012 at 7:23 pm

What happens when you get the chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, the chief scientist of Greenpeace, an energy and environmental policy expert, and an environmental activist/politician in a room together to talk about nuclear energy?

You can listen to the whole (very, very interesting) conversation—part of the Science Question Time series—which was recorded last Thursday at the Institute of Physics in London.

Byron Smith March 22, 2012 at 9:35 pm

To my mind, infrastructure is extremely important, as is policy, but more important than either is a change of culture away from hyperconsumerism. Without this, infrastructure and policy will always be pushing uphill. We need to see a change in what is acceptable and thinkable. Therefore, lifestyle changes are not simply about reducing your personal impact, nor are they merely to make your (very important) political actions more credible, but they are also a vote for a different culture, an example of a flourishing life without the need to amass ever more stuff and expect ever higher levels of material wealth. Infrastructure changes take decades, and every piece of infrastructure we are building that fails to be low impact only locks in further damage. Culture change also usually takes decades or longer, but has the possibility of much faster shifts. Witness the fairly dramatic and sudden shift in attitudes towards consumption not long after the outbreak of WWII. The chances of achieving a similar speed of change may be small, but unless we’re also changing the culture, infrastructure and policy won’t get us nearly far enough or fast enough (though, of course, they can play some role in shifting the culture too).

Byron Smith March 22, 2012 at 9:36 pm

I missed James’ comment – I agree. Conservation (not merely efficiency) needs to be top of the list. The assumption of endless growth in energy use and material resources (which all have embodied energy, as well as generating their own ecological predicaments beyond climate) is not one that we can live with. It has to go.

. March 23, 2012 at 7:45 am
Milan March 25, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Byron,

To my mind, infrastructure is extremely important, as is policy, but more important than either is a change of culture away from hyperconsumerism. Without this, infrastructure and policy will always be pushing uphill.

Large-scale changes in culture could be helpful for combating climate change, but I am not sure if they are within the scope of what we can intentionally create. In some cases, cultures may be able to adapt to endure more effectively in their environment, but it seems quite likely that people will continue to value their own welfare far above that of others.

That’s not to say that it is useless to try to change culture – just that we also need to develop ways of dealing with climate change in a world where culture remains largely the same.

We need to see a change in what is acceptable and thinkable. Therefore, lifestyle changes are not simply about reducing your personal impact, nor are they merely to make your (very important) political actions more credible, but they are also a vote for a different culture, an example of a flourishing life without the need to amass ever more stuff and expect ever higher levels of material wealth.

‘Stuff’ is just one source of emissions. We need to produce a world where people get light, heat, transport, and everything else from low-carbon sources.

Arguably, we need to change the source of our energy more than we need to change what we do with that energy.

Byron Smith March 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm

I am not sure if they are within the scope of what we can intentionally create
They have happened before. On smaller issues, admittedly,* or over longer time frames, but in a globalised world, perhaps the potential for cultural change has also accelerated.
*Check out attitudes to, say, smoking, or drink driving, or race, or gender, or sexual practices, or even to consumption itself – our assumptions about what is necessary or desirable have been deeply shaped by advertising and example over just a handful of decades. Or further back, witness attitudes towards slavery, women’s suffrage, colonialism, or many other things. All these were changed deliberately (or have large contributions from deliberate campaigns to change public opinion) by a small group of committed individuals working over a number of years (sometimes decades). Yes, they sometimes had assistance from other factors (e.g. broader economic shifts, government policy, and so on), but culture is not nearly as immutable as it is sometimes made out to be. Our society has already undergone the rapid shift in values probably in all human history over the last handful of decades. The elevation of greed and consumption as fundamental social goods are relatively new (at least in a popular cultural meme).

seems quite likely that people will continue to value their own welfare far above that of others.
Notice that the cultural shift I mentioned wasn’t explicitly about selflessness, but simply a disillusionment with acquisitiveness as a foundational aspect of human flourishing. Of course, I think a tilt towards greater appreciation of communal goods is both desirable and possible (not least because part of the immense cultural shift we’ve already experienced has been a large tilt towards individualism). This isn’t to say I expect or hope for the eradication of all selfish or self-regarding motives, simply for a shift in the cultural emphasis. Plenty of other and previous cultures have had a higher value on the common good and it is quite possible for us to rediscover this (or reformulate it for our own time).

I also accept the need for infrastructural and policy change, as I mentioned (and these are not irrelevant to cultural change), though I think that alone they will never get us anywhere near far enough or fast enough and are likely to continue to generating a cultural backlash that could undo any gains made.

Yes, consumer goods are indeed only one source of emissions. I guess I was using “stuff” as a shorthand for total consumption, including energy consumption. Reading the Hot Air book a few months ago actually prompted me to crunch some numbers regarding my own life and I discovered that I think I have dropped my energy footprint by perhaps 70-80% over the last 10-15 years, and while switching to renewable electricity (at least for all domestic power) and organic local food (again, in general) have got me some of the way, the lion’s share has come from behavioural change in the level of my consumption of all goods (including energy, transport and so on). So I’m still very active in reading about infrastructure debates and policy questions, as these are important. But I’m increasingly becoming convinced that cultural change needs to stay at the top of the agenda, and these other factors explicitly be linked to it. That is to say, I think that “stealth” tactics (e.g. emphasising “green growth” or possible personal gain from investing in renewables) will only get us so far as long as they don’t challenge the prevailing ideology of endless growth and maximising consumption.

Byron Smith March 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm

consumer goods are indeed only one source of emissions.
Also, emissions are only one source of ecological threat. While climate is probably the central and most insidious of them, if we only look at GHG emissions without keeping an eye on our exploitation of other non-renewable resources (or overexploitation of renewable resources), then we’ll still be in deep trouble. Shifting the culture surrounding consumption expectations is relevant to the vast majority of ecological challenges.

Byron Smith March 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Oops – only the first line ought to have been italicised.

Milan March 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm

‘i’ tag closed

Milan March 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Infrastructure changes take decades, and every piece of infrastructure we are building that fails to be low impact only locks in further damage.

I think this is a critical point. Whatever we choose – whether it’s more fossil fuels, renewables, nuclear, or something different – we will need to invest trillions of dollars in the decades ahead. It seems sensible to avoid investing in technology that we will need to scrap when we finally get serious about climate change.

Culture change also usually takes decades or longer, but has the possibility of much faster shifts. Witness the fairly dramatic and sudden shift in attitudes towards consumption not long after the outbreak of WWII. The chances of achieving a similar speed of change may be small, but unless we’re also changing the culture, infrastructure and policy won’t get us nearly far enough or fast enough (though, of course, they can play some role in shifting the culture too).

Are you mostly talking about the American experience in WWII?

Whether you are or not, it seems pertinent to ask what about that conflict motivated people in so many countries to do so much in response. I think at least part of that must have been a real fear about what would happen to them and to people they cared about if the war was won by those on the other side.

I don’t think most people are anywhere close to feeling that sort of fear about climate change.

Byron Smith March 26, 2012 at 10:47 pm

I actually had the UK experience primarily in mind (since that’s where I’m currently living). The shift in culture was even more pronounced here with quite serious food rationing throughout most of the war, and more severe shortages of all kinds of goods. Invasion was also an imminent threat for a number of years. Yet, looking back on it, those who were not directly involved in combat (and who did not lose a loved one) very often rate that period as one of the happiest and most meaning periods of their life. Intriguingly, I’ve heard that mental illness rates dropped very significantly throughout the period of the war.

I entirely agree that we’re nowhere near that level of consciousness, and acknowledge that the difference in the nature of the threat (impersonal, slow, cumulative, largely invisible, global, generational and so on) makes awareness far more difficult to raise and concern far more difficult to sustain. I don’t pretend that cultural change is simple or easy, just that it is crucial.

The sunk costs effect of infrastructure is very important and so these battles are worth fighting hard. Yet my impression is that every infrastructure (or policy) victory that is not accompanied by a ongoing shift in culture also generates more resentment and backlash in public opinion. This is my impression of the Australian situation with the introduction of a carbon price that the majority of the population don’t understand (or misunderstand), don’t grasp the need for, or suspect the motives of those who introduced it. It has all become immensely partisan and it threatens to entrench resentment towards all climate action amongst half the population because the government didn’t do a good job (at all!) at explaining why it was needed and what they hoped to achieve. Similarly, my impression of the US context is that Obama has large abandoned the field in trying to explain or highlight the threat of climate change and has retreated to rhetoric of green jobs or clean energy. That is, by ceasing to explain and focus on the threat, his policies invite critique on grounds other than the primary reason for endorsing them. Without cultural shift, the long-term motivation for maintaining these efforts is absent and the very real threat in both contexts is of the other side of politics largely undoing what small (very small!) gains have been made.

The lack of fear about climate change, or rather the way that certain fears distort and paralyse the debate while other (potentially more productive) fears are left unexplored, is a significant part of my PhD. I am, in effect, trying to recover a certain positive role for fear (as well as critiquing various negative roles), seeking to locate fears in ways that generate moral attention rather than distracting it.

Byron Smith March 26, 2012 at 10:48 pm

PS Thanks for fixing the italicisation.

peer reviewed science April 1, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Decomposing the 2010 global carbon dioxide emissions rebound

Frank Jotzo,
Paul J. Burke,
Peter J. Wood,
Andrew Macintosh
& David I. Stern

Peters et al.1 show that global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustion, cement production and gas flaring grew faster than the historical average annual rate during 2010, negating the decrease in 2009 associated with the global financial crisis. We extend the work of Peters et al. by using decomposition analysis to show that the rising energy intensity of the global economy was an important factor in the 2010 emissions surge, together with an increase in the carbon intensity of the energy mix. We expect the 2010 surge to be exceptional.

The percentage change in carbon dioxide emissions from energy (emissions from fossil-fuel combustion, but excluding those from cement production and gas flaring) can be decomposed into changes in (1) gross domestic product (GDP), (2) the ratio of primary energy use to GDP (energy intensity), and (3) the ratio of carbon dioxide to primary energy use (carbon intensity of energy) (Table 1). For this decomposition, we use the latest data from the International Energy Agency2, extended to 2010 using growth rates from BP3, the International Monetary Fund4 and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)5 (Supplementary Table S1).

Milan April 17, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I actually had the UK experience primarily in mind (since that’s where I’m currently living). The shift in culture was even more pronounced here with quite serious food rationing throughout most of the war, and more severe shortages of all kinds of goods. Invasion was also an imminent threat for a number of years. Yet, looking back on it, those who were not directly involved in combat (and who did not lose a loved one) very often rate that period as one of the happiest and most meaning periods of their life. Intriguingly, I’ve heard that mental illness rates dropped very significantly throughout the period of the war.

It seems plausible to me that people can get along better as part of a larger purpose than they can by themselves. Perhaps one reason why people remember the wartime period in a reasonably favourable way is because of that. It may also be possible to take advantage of that sort of solidarity to help address climate change.

I entirely agree that we’re nowhere near that level of consciousness, and acknowledge that the difference in the nature of the threat (impersonal, slow, cumulative, largely invisible, global, generational and so on) makes awareness far more difficult to raise and concern far more difficult to sustain. I don’t pretend that cultural change is simple or easy, just that it is crucial.

Do you think there is any way to accelerate cultural change? Climate change art, maybe? We may not have enough time to fix the problem, once the physical signs of climate change are sinister and unmistakable.

The sunk costs effect of infrastructure is very important and so these battles are worth fighting hard. Yet my impression is that every infrastructure (or policy) victory that is not accompanied by a ongoing shift in culture also generates more resentment and backlash in public opinion.

This is a difficulty. In Canada, a lot of effort is going into fighting pipelines in order to constrain the growth of the oil sands. If those efforts succeed, but is causes the general public to become hostile to climate change mitigation, the problem may get even harder to solve.

There are so many reasons why this is a problem of exceptional difficulty:

1. There is no guarantee that there is a solution at all

2. Many plausible solutions are contradictory

3. Large-scale and complex societal trends other than climate change will affect the degree of success produced by our efforts

etc

Milan April 17, 2012 at 10:42 pm

This is my impression of the Australian situation with the introduction of a carbon price that the majority of the population don’t understand (or misunderstand), don’t grasp the need for, or suspect the motives of those who introduced it. It has all become immensely partisan and it threatens to entrench resentment towards all climate action amongst half the population because the government didn’t do a good job (at all!) at explaining why it was needed and what they hoped to achieve.

I suppose it’s hard to solve climate change by stealth if the population notices what you are doing and vociferously objects.

Similarly, it will always be possible for opposition parties in democracies to promise the elimination of unpopular taxes and restrictive policies (ignoring the conflict of interest at the heart of climate change).

The chances of success do seem greater if the population accepts the need for the policies, but it isn’t clear to me how such support can be built. Most people seem indifferent even to the danger that we will render humanity extinct within the lifetime of some of those alive now.

Similarly, my impression of the US context is that Obama has large abandoned the field in trying to explain or highlight the threat of climate change and has retreated to rhetoric of green jobs or clean energy. That is, by ceasing to explain and focus on the threat, his policies invite critique on grounds other than the primary reason for endorsing them. Without cultural shift, the long-term motivation for maintaining these efforts is absent and the very real threat in both contexts is of the other side of politics largely undoing what small (very small!) gains have been made.

Obama is in an even more difficult situation than us, rhetorically. Not only does he need to try to convince people to make sacrifices in order to help others, but he needs to deal strategically with the other branches of government, and with Republican and Democratic parties in which there is little support for aggressive action on climate.

Perhaps he could do more to explain why dealing with climate change is important, but I suspect he is focused on the succession of tactical battles that the presidency seems to involve inevitably.

The lack of fear about climate change, or rather the way that certain fears distort and paralyse the debate while other (potentially more productive) fears are left unexplored, is a significant part of my PhD. I am, in effect, trying to recover a certain positive role for fear (as well as critiquing various negative roles), seeking to locate fears in ways that generate moral attention rather than distracting it.

I think we need fear to deal with the climate problem. People need to look at the impacts and the projections and feel at least a measure of fear that things they care about will be taken away or significantly altered for the worse due to climate change.

How to cultivate those feelings is as mysterious to me as the process of changing culture.

Milan April 17, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Perhaps one advantage that arises from the lack of political coordination between and within countries is that we will inevitably try many different approaches to dealing with climate change.

Some people describe the U.S. states as ‘laboratories’ where policies can be tested, allowing the best to be applied elsewhere.

Perhaps without intending it, the chaotic and uncoordinated character of global climate change policy will yield some useful information about what works and what doesn’t. I just hope we have the time and political will to apply such lessons when they arise.

Byron Smith April 18, 2012 at 9:58 am

I think we’re in substantial agreement on pretty much everything you’ve just written.

Do you think there is any way to accelerate cultural change?
All of the above, I suspect. Constant messaging has an important role because repetition is very important for memory, but so does the association of strong emotions with particular ideas (hence a role for fear, if handled carefully). Opinion leaders and role models have a part to play, as does education on the basic science. Social disgust and/or ridicule at undesirable behaviour and attitudes is important too (think about how unacceptable racism has become in most circles over the last couple of decades). Regulations can set the boundaries (e.g. changes in smoking laws or drink driving). Hearing how climate change will affect values you care about is a good way in (for instance, pointing out just how radical the social, economic and political changes are likely to be under unmitigated climate change. Joe Romm makes this point often: that if you’re against big government, then mitigation is crucial).

I’m sure there are many other facets as well, but I’m working with a rough definition of culture as what is acceptable behaviour or thinkable concepts amongst a group of people. It has become unthinkable that we might deny women the vote or that we might leave unwanted babies out in the open to die of exposure. It has become unacceptable (in many circumstances) to have another one “for the road” or to smoke in a car with children or to use particular racial epithets in polite company. These changes didn’t happen overnight, but nor did they happen by chance. In each case, deliberate campaigns were waged successfully (more or less) to change public opinion on these matters.

Climate change does present unique challenges in many of the ways you’ve already mentioned, plus in its time-sensitive nature. If we had failed to change the culture of drink driving for another thirty years, then many more people would have die, but the problem itself would not have become significantly worse (apart from perhaps being a little more firmly entrenched in our cultural history). If we fail to do anything about climate change for another thirty years (or have another thirty years of cultural change as slow as the last thirty), then we’ll be in a very significantly more dire situation than we are now.

Byron Smith April 18, 2012 at 11:36 am

I can tell you one way to not do it. Like this.

Milan April 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm

If we fail to do anything about climate change for another thirty years (or have another thirty years of cultural change as slow as the last thirty), then we’ll be in a very significantly more dire situation than we are now.

Based on projections like this, it seems like understatement to say that thirty more years of inaction would have dire consequences.

Sometimes, it seems to me that our whole political and economic system is an accidental doomsday machine. The way it has been set up, it prioritizes short-term economic growth over just about everything and ignores major long-term problems.

The survival of the human species may depend on changing that, and quickly.

souris June 14, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I expect to live at least thirty more years, so I expect to see good chunks of the U.S. coastline underwater. I have an Imus Geographics map on my wall at work and it helpfully points to all the coastal wetlands.

Currently our national conversation has nearly abandoned issues related to climate change, despite continuing news bits about “hottest year on record” “10th year of drought” etc. You would think people would start to realize “this is not a drought … this is actually the way things are now.”

I have no hostages to the future, so at the personal level my concern is with securing a place to live out my life that is sustainable and low-impact. On the macro level … well, my representatives have already heard quite a bit from me, but I expect I will be getting a bit louder.

Milan June 14, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Even if we release enough greenhouse gas pollution to eventually melt the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, the scientific analysis I have read suggests that they will probably take centuries to melt.

During the next 50 years, my wild guess is that changes in rainfall patterns will be the aspect of climate change that has the most impact on humanity. If there are big changes in precipitation patterns, it could create agricultural challenges that could create further unrest. Of course, that’s all speculation.

One of the most challenging things about climate change is how hard it is to know what sort of changes to expect in any particular location or on any particular timescale.

Byron Smith June 16, 2012 at 2:34 am

I agree with Milan’s wild guess. Precipitation changes as mediated through agriculture (along with many other factors, of course) and then through various complex mechanisms into economics and geopolitics, are likely to be the most pressing concerns over the next few decades. Over centuries, sea level rise will have perhaps the largest effect. Over millennia and longer, biodiversity decline will be the biggest.

Milan June 16, 2012 at 10:43 am

Of course, if a Venus-style runaway greenhouse effect occurs, the rapid increase in surface temperature to several hundred degrees Celsius will probably be the dominant cause of human suffering and damage to natural systems…

Byron Smith June 16, 2012 at 1:57 pm

I’m not aware of any other climate scientists who take a Venus-scenario seriously. It seems to be only Hansen. Or have I missed others?

. June 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm

There may have been times in the Earth’s history when CO2 was as high as 4000 ppm without causing a runaway greenhouse effect. But the solar irradiance was less at that time.

What is different about the human-made forcing is the rapidity at which we are increasing it, on the time scale of a century or a few centuries. It does not provide enough time for negative feedbacks, such as changes in the weathering rate, to be a major factor.

There is also a danger that humans could cause the release of methane hydrates, perhaps more rapidly than in some of the cases in the geologic record.

In my opinion, if we burn all the coal, there is a good chance that we will initiate the runaway greenhouse effect. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale (a.k.a. oil shale), I think it is a dead certainty.”Climate Threat to the Planet”

. June 16, 2012 at 7:22 pm

The runaway greenhouse that presumably led to the present Venus is an extreme form of the water vapor feedback that amplifies the effect of CO2 increases on Earth. Is there a risk that anthropogenic global warming could kick the Earth into a runaway greenhouse state? Almost certainly not. For an atmosphere saturated with water vapor, but with no CO2 in it, the threshold absorbed solar radiation for triggering a runaway greenhouse is about 350 Watts/m2 (see Kasting Icarus 74 (1988)). The addition of up to 8 times present CO2 might bring this threshold down to around 325 Watts/m2 , but the fact that the Earth’s atmosphere is substantially undersaturated with respect to water vapor probably brings the threshold back up to the neighborhood of 375 Watts/m2. Allowing for a 20% albedo (considerably less than the actual albedo of Earth), our present absorbed solar radiation is only about 275 Watts/m2, comfortably below the threshold. The Earth may well succumb to a runaway greenhouse as the Sun continues to brighten over the next billion years or so, but the amount of CO2 we could add to the atmosphere by burning all available fossil fuel reserves would not move us significantly closer to the runaway greenhouse threshold. There are plenty of nightmares lurking in anthropogenic global warming, but the runaway greenhouse is not among them.

Byron Smith June 17, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Yep, thanks for those two references. I’ve seen them both and the second was one of the reasons I was hesitant about accepting Hansen on this. I’ve seen other scientists make similar points about a Venus scenario being unrealistic. We don’t need to think we’re going to end up like Venus to think that we could still be on a path to total catastrophe. In my opinion mentioning Hansen’s Venus point ends up proving to be a distraction for most people.

Byron Smith June 17, 2012 at 7:48 pm

PS This is one of the reasons it is important to be careful with phrases like “runaway” climate change. When discussing feedbacks, it’s important to not give the impression that they will continue indefinitely (or rather, that they won’t reach a point at which they will be overwhelmed by negative feedbacks and reach a new equilibrium state). So no need to scare people with 100+ºC of warming, when 4-8ºC is probably sufficient to see off human civilisation, and probably most present species (expert opinions seem to differ as whether homo sapiens is likely to be among those going extinct at the more extreme end of warming, i.e. >6ºC).

Milan June 17, 2012 at 10:18 pm

This thread is probably a better place to discuss whether Hansen’s Venus concerns are justified or not.

Has be published any papers on the Venus scenario in peer-reviewed journals? Have any other scientists been co-authors?

Byron Smith June 18, 2012 at 12:39 am

Switching threads.

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