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Analysis of "New" UN Climate Warming

Under mounting pressure from climate catastrophists to ignore uncertainties in the science and to produce definitive statements that can be used as calls for government interventionism, the UN will apparently release a new "warning" this week:

Global warming is destroying species, raising sea levels and threatening millions of poor people, the United Nations' top scientific panel will say in a report today that U.N. officials hope will help mobilize the world to take tougher actions on climate change.

The report argues that only firm action, including putting a price on carbon-dioxide emissions, will avoid more catastrophic events.

Those actions will take a small part of the world's economic growth and will be substantially less than the costs of doing nothing, the report says.

For the first time, the UN is trying to argue explicitly that the cost of CO2 abatement is lower than the cost of doing nothing.  They are arguing that a cooler but poorer world is superior to a warmer and richer world.  I am glad they are finally arguing this point.  Because while we can argue about the truth of how much the world has warmed and how much is due to man, the UN is DEAD WRONG on this point.  The cost of aggressive CO2 abatement is far, far higher than the cost of doing nothing.

The report presumably will be released by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who demonstrated his stunning ignorance of climate science, geology, and geography on a recent climate-junket to Antarctica.  Let's take it line by line.

Is man destroying or threatening species?  Absolutely.  Is this threat from CO2 and warming? No, and I have read every inch of the UN IPCC report and you can find no evidence for this proposition. But saying this rallies the environmental base (the hard core environmentalists don't really care about poor people, at least when their interests conflict with animals).  Most of the evidence is that species thrive in warmer weather, and polar bears have survived several inter-glaciation periods where the north pole melted entirely in the summer.

Are sea levels rising?  Yes.  In fact, they have been rising for at least 150 years, and in fact have been rising steadily and at roughly the same rate since the last ice age.  We have seen absolutely no acceleration of the underlying sea level rise trend. Further, the UN's IPCC does have a forecast for sea level rise over the next century.  Even using temperature forecasts I consider exaggerated, the UN does not forecast more than about a foot of sea level rise over the coming century, only a bit more than what the sea level has risen over the last 150 years.  This is a great example of the disconnect between the UN political climate reports and the science underlying them.  The guys writing the summary know that their report says only a few inches of sea level rise, so they just say it is rising, and then let the crazies like Al Gore throw around numbers like 20 feet.

Here is an interesting thought:  If I say the sea levels will rise 0" over the next 100 years, the UN will call me out and say I am wrong.  However, when Al Gore said sea levels will rise 20 feet in his movie An Inconvenient Truth, no one at the UN or the IPCC called him out, despite the fact that my forecast was only a few inches off from theirs and his was 19 feet off the mark.

And of course, there are the poor.  The number one biggest losers in any effort to abate CO2 emissions will be the poor.  In wealthy countries like the US, the poor will be the hardest hit by $10 or even $20 gas prices that would be necessary to rolling CO2 production back to 1990 levels.  In the third world, nearly a billion people just starting to emerge from poverty will have no chance of doing so if their economies are hamstrung with CO2 limits.  The poor will be devastated by aggressive CO2 limits.

Weighed against this economic disaster would be, what? How would rising world temperatures hurt the poor?  Well, its not at all clear.  A foot of sea-level rise is very unlikely to hurt many poor people, though it might inconvenience a few rich owners of beach-front luxury homes.  Here is a clarifying question I often ask people -- would you rather fifteen Atlantic hurricanes each year, or sixteen hurricanes each year and Carribbean economies that are twice as rich and therefore have twice the resources to handle hurricanes.  This is the colder and poorer vs. warmer and richer choice.  We see this in Bangladesh today.  Why do orders of magnitude more people die in Bangladesh cyclones than class 5 hurricanes on the US shore?  Because they are poor, not because of anything having to do with global warming.

It is often claimed that global warming will cause droughts, but in fact warmer world temperatures will vaporize more water in the atmosphere and should net increase rain, not drought.  And many of the farmers in the northern hemisphere would enjoy longer growing seasons and thereby more food production.

Glaciers and ice caps are melting at a rapid rate; animals and plants are shifting their range to accommodate warmer air and water; and planting seasons are changing, the report said.

Yes, land-based ice is melting in the Northern Hemisphere.  This is 15% of the world's ice.  85% of the world's ice is in Antarctica, which is increasing. Seriously.  I know you don't believe this if you trust the media, but the ice that is melting in Greenland is tiny compared to the ice that is increasing at the South Pole.  In fact, the IPCC gets most of its prjected sea rise from thermal expansion of warmer oceans, not from ice melting.  And don't you love the "planting seasons are changing."  That sounds like its scary, or something, until you recognize the truth is that planting seasons are changing, becoming longer and more beneficial to food production!

On many occasions, I have discussed the bad science that goes into these apocalyptic forecasts.  But that science is of top quality compared to the economics that must have gone into the statement that:

The most stringent efforts to stabilize greenhouse gases would cost the world's economies 0.12 percent of their average annual growth to 2050, the report estimates.

This is absolute, unmitigated crap. Though I have not seen specifics in this report, the UN's position has generally been that emissions should be rolled back to 1990 levels (the target embodied in the Kyoto treaty).  Such a target implies reductions of more than 20% from where we are today and well over 50% from where we will be in 2050.  These are enormous cuts that cannot be achieved with current technology without massive reductions in economic growth. The world economy is inextricably tied to the burning of fossil fuels. And, unlike ancillary emissions like SO2, CO2 emissions cannot be limited without actually reducing carbon combustion since it is fundamental to the combustion chemistry.  Even supporters of legislation such as the Bingaman-Specter bill admit that as much as a trillion dollars will need to be spent to reduce global temperatures about 0.13C.  And that is a trillion for the first tenth of a degree -- the law of diminishing returns means that each additional tenth will cost more.

Lets look at history as our guide.  Most of the European countries and Japan signed onto the Kyoto Treaty to reduce emissions to 1990 levels.  They have taken many expensive steps to do so, implemented many more controls than in the US, and have gas prices as much as double those in the US.  During the period since 1990, most of these countries, unlike the US and China and India, have been in a deep and extended economic recession, which tends to suppress the growth of fossil fuel consumption.  Also, the CO2 numbers for countries like Russia and Germany benefit greatly from the fall of the old Communist Block, as their 1990 base year CO2 numbers include many horribly inefficient and polluting Soviet industries that have since been shut down.  And, given all this, they STILL are going to miss their numbers.  These countries have experienced reductions in economic growth orders of magnitude greater than this 0.12 percent quoted by the UN, and that still is not enough to reduce CO2 to target levels.  Only outright contraction of the world's economy is going to suffice [note: A strong commitment to replacing coal plants with nuclear might be a partial solution, but it will never happen because the people calling for CO2 controls are the same ones who shut down our nuclear programs. Also, technological change is always possible.  It would be awesome if someone found a way to roll out sheets of efficient solar cells like carpet out of Dalton, Georgia, but that has not happened yet.]

The UN has gotten to such low cost estimates for their government controls because they have convinced themselves, much like the promoters of building football stadiums for billionaire team owners, that they will get a huge return from the government CO2 controls:

"There is high agreement and much evidence that mitigation actions can result in near-term co-benefits, for example improved health due to reduced air pollution, that may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs," said the report, which summarizes research over five years of more than 2,000 of the world's top climate-change scientists...

The U.N. panel embraced the arguments of British economist Nicholas Stern, who concluded last year that the cost of taking tough measures to curb pollution will be repaid in the long run.

Nicholas Stern?  Haven't we heard that name before?  Why, yes we have.  He is the man that said that all of the world's climate problems would go away if we forced all the western economies to look just like India.

Mr Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank, sends out a very clear message: “We need to cut down the total amount of carbon emissions by half by 2050.” At current levels, the per capita global emissions stand at 7 tonnes, or a total of 40-45 gigatonnes. At this rate, global temperatures could rise by 2.5-3 degrees by then. But to reduce the per capita emissions by half in 2050, most countries would have to be carbon neutral. For instance, the US currently has, at 20-25 tonnes, per capita emissions levels that are three times the global average.

The European Union’s emission levels stand at 10-15 tonnes per capita. China is at about 3-4 tonnes per capita and India, at 1 tonne per capita, is the only large-sized economy that is below the desired carbon emission levels of 2050. “India should keep it that way and insist that the rich countries pay their share of the burden in reducing emissions,” says Mr Stern.

Which, by the way, is exactly my point.  I very much hope Mr. Stern continues to make this clear in public.  One of the ways catastrophists support their cause of massive government interventionism is to try to portray the answer as little cutsie actions, like your 5-year-old helping with the recycling.  This is not what is require to meet these targets. What is required is ratchet down the US economy until we are all about as wealthy as the average Indian.  I guess that would at least take care of the outsourcing "problem."

One of the ways that the UN gets away with this is that no one has the time to read the detailed scientific report, and so reporters rely on the summaries like these.  Unfortunately, the same people who write the scientific sections are not the people who write the summaries.  Careful language about uncertainties, which are still huge, in the science are replaced by summaries written by politicians that say:

The near-final draft, approved Friday by representatives of more than 140 governments meeting in Valencia, Spain, said global warming is "unequivocal" and said man's actions are heading toward "abrupt or irreversible climate changes and impacts."...

"This will be viewed by all as a definitive report. It is the blueprint for the Bali talks," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who will be at the Indonesian U.N. meeting beginning Dec. 3 as part of a U.S. senatorial delegation.

Another technique used by the UN that we see in play here is their willingness to cherry-pick one author that follows the UN narrative to refute a whole body of science that is contrary to the narrative.  Thus, the UN latched onto Michael Mann's hockey stick to overturn a consensus that there was a Medieval warm period, and now they have latched onto Nicholas Stern to overturn the opinion of, approximately, every other economist in the world who think CO2 mitigation will be really expensive.

As always, you are encourage to view my movie What is Normal:  A Critique of Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming Theory or check out my book (free online) called A Skeptical Layman's Guide to Anthropogenic Global Warming.

By the way, in the title I put "new" in quotes.  Here is why.  I just read a presentation by Dr. Richard Lindzen from 1992 that shows that catastrophists were declaring the debate "over" as early as 1989, before any real research had even been performed:

By early 1989, however, the popular media in Europe and the United States were declaring that "all scientists'' agreed that warming was real and catastrophic in its potential.
In the meantime, the global warming circus was in full swing. Meetings were going on nonstop. One of the more striking of those meetings was hosted in the summer of 1989 by Robert Redford at his ranch in Sundance, Utah. Redford proclaimed that it was time to stop research and begin acting. I suppose that that was a reasonable suggestion for an actor to make, but it is also indicative of the overall attitude toward science. Barbara Streisand personally undertook to support the research of Michael Oppenheimer at the Environmental Defense Fund, although he is primarily an advocate and not a climatologist. Meryl Streep made an appeal on public television to stop warming. A bill was even prepared to guarantee Americans a stable climate

Posted on November 18, 2007 at 10:48 AM | Permalink


a href="http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10476904&ref=rss">Scientists agree global warming is killing the world - 19 Nov 2007 - NZ Herald: New Zealand National news: "'It's a bit of a luddite mentality, to be blunt. In the long run there's no question [reducing emissions] will make us better off, but potentially there could be long-term economic benefits as well.'"

Posted by: HL | Nov 18, 2007 12:57:43 PM

Going back to the India equation, I question if it really is 1 ton per capital.

As a thot exercise without going into certifiiable stats, take a closer look at modern technology: If the avg American is spewing 20-25 tons, that's due to 2.5 cars per household, AC/Central heating, swimming pool, lawnmower and all the other amenities we take for granted.

Likewise for the Euros, their standard of living is less than ours in that the rich will be on par with our avg American, while the low to middle class gets by with less -- fewer cars, no pool, lawnmower etc, to include smaller living spaces. So on a per capital basis, yes the Euros expend less emissions than in the US. And given their high population density to available land, they would hit the ceiling before we will.

Example; In 1990, a driver could find a public parking space day or night in any part of Berlin. And traffic jams were a moot point. Explaining to Berliners the traffic jams and 1 hour commutes in DFW was for them unimaginable. 5 years later, Berliners had to factor in an extra 10 - 15 mins for a cross-town trip due to traffic & finding a parking spot. Nowadays, you might as well tack on at least a 1/2 hour plus to make the same trip by private auto compared to 1990. There comes a point where for the avg Berliners, owning a car might not make sense anymore, so that sort of consumption would peak. To wit, there are still plenty of Berliners that have never driven or owned a car, let alone a license because it simply isn't worth it. In any case, I think they've reached the point of no return in that they can't go back to 1990s levels unless there is a drastic improvement in efficiencies of current amenities. But to take away or ratchet down the standard of living is impossible, even in a socialist environment.

It is fair to surmise that in India, only the rich approximates our consumption, while the vast but growing lower classes are getting by with much less than what an American or Euro would consider acceptable. As the lower classes become affluent, they will want cars, PCs, big screen TV etc. To wit, Tata is betting they will sell a hundred-million new cars within the next couple of years. Tell me that India, with a current population of 1 billion, won't quadruple their emissions by 2010.

But I digress, the real point that I wanted to ask, just how accurate is this 1 ton per capital? Are they even calculating the emissions that come from burning wood for cooking & heat and other primitive and inefficient methods of consuming energy for basic survival? Seems to me that a poor family of 4 would expend more than even 4 tons of emissions per year.

May be a dumb analogy, but Stern hasn't even passed the smell test. I mean that literally as anyone who has been in a 2nd or 3rd world country would know. The examples that Stern lauds have a serious case of air pollution that Westerners can't even begin to comprehend.

My apologies for the bandwidth.

Posted by: Andy | Nov 18, 2007 4:32:21 PM

"It would be awesome if someone found a way to roll out sheets of efficient solar cells like carpet out of Dalton, Georgia, but that has not happened yet"

Interesting thought, but even it we had cheap solar cells we'd probably have to carpet a significant chunk of north america with them. I'm not sure that would go down too well with the general public if,
say, we tried to cover all of New Mexico with solar cells. With any sustainable energy source, you need to look at how much energy you can get from that source. You also need to consider the cost of that source. Even rough numbers are better than nothing.

David MacKay has written a very interesting book about sustainable energy
You can download his book for free.

He also has a shorter presentation on the topic here

David MacKay puts real numbers into his book to give a rough idea of how much power can be reasonably generated by sustainable sources like solar, wind, tides, etc.. He then compares that against typical daily usage per person. While his book uses numbers from the UK, you can adjust his numbers for the US and Canada.

For anyone who is giving thought to global warming (on either side of the debate), they must also consider alternative energy sources. As with global warming, one needs to critically analyze any alternate energy source to see if it is viable.

Posted by: fgw | Nov 19, 2007 12:49:18 PM

fgw, just out of curiosity, with a massive carpeting of solar panels, such as the reflector types, covering all of New Mexico: I wonder if anyone set out to determine what would be the ecological effect of sunlight not reaching the ground? Would there be some unintended consequence due to warmer than usual ambient air and cooler ground?

For example, higher humidity leading to greater cloud cover & precipitation? Higher winds?

Posted by: Andy | Nov 19, 2007 11:44:04 PM

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