James Hansen et al “the accepted 2 degrees target is dangerously too warm”

“Although there is merit in simply chronicling what is happening, there is still opportunity for humanity to exercise free will.

I have finally found the time to read the entire Hansen et al paper Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”. The complete paper was released December 3rd on the open access journal PlosOne as Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature.

I think this is one of the most important climate papers of 2013. James Hansen and 17 coauthors succeed to boil down the current state of climate research to 26 pages (including the five pages of references). The authors make a strong case that the two-degree-consensus is dangerous.  Unlike other high profile climate scientists, actions are proposed that will actually work, included the “N word” advanced 4th generation nuclear power.

To announce the paper Hansen and coauthor Pushker Kharecha published a letter outlining the case that two degrees is dangerous, then go straight into solutions: cooperative technology development and deployment, and especially, rapid deployment of gen 3+ and gen 4 nuclear power. 

(…snip…) Governments should also support technology research, development and demonstration of carbon-free energy including advanced generation nuclear power as well as renewable energy, especially in view of the urgency with which emissions from coal and unconventional fossil fuels must be eliminated. (Unconventional fossil fuels include tar sands, shale-derived oil and gas, and methane hydrates.)


A preferable approach, for the sake of both global climate and local pollution reduction, would be a combination of renewable energy and advanced (3rd and 4th) generation nuclear power plants2. Abundant affordable clean energy is essential to provide the energy needed to raise billions of people out of poverty, which empirical evidence indicates is a requirement for reducing fertility rates, thus lowering human population, and giving hope that we can provide the opportunity of a good life to all humanity while allowing other life on the planet to flourish.

When the world’s leading nations recognize the urgency of phasing out fossil fuel emissions, and realize that we are all in the same boat, it should be possible to agree on cooperative technology development and deployment. History, including World War II and the Apollo program, reveal how rapidly technology can be developed and deployed. Phase-out of most coal emissions and a substantial reduction of oil and gas use could be achieved rapidly. This would require agreement among leading nations not only to have common internal rising carbon fees, but also an agreement to cooperate in rapid technology development.

Surely rapid phase-down of coal emissions requires a major role for advanced-generation safer nuclear power. Nuclear technology has advanced significantly over the past few decades such that there is now the potential to produce modular 3rd generation light-water reactors that are passively safe, i.e., reactors that would shut down automatically in case of an anomaly such as an earthquake and have the ability to keep the nuclear fuel cool without an external power source. The same concept, modular3 simplified reactor design with factory production and shipping to the utility site, is appropriate for 4th generation reactors, and these should also be pursued to deal with nuclear waste, utilizing the waste as fuel.

Fortunately, the place where deployment of advanced nuclear technology is most urgently needed, China, is also the place that has the potential to rapidly build and grow the manufacturing capability. What is needed is cooperation with nations that have developed relevant technical abilities, especially the United States. Such cooperation has potential for enormous mutual and global benefits via development of scalable affordable carbon-free energy. Contrary to assertions of dedicated anti-nuke activists, such technology can be made more resistant than existing technology to exploitation by terrorists who may seek weapons material. Dangers from rogue states or terrorists will always exist, and the best way to minimize such danger is to cooperate in developing the safest technology, not to pretend that anti-nuclear activism will cause nuclear technology to disappear from the planet.

The principal policy allowing renewable energies to grow to almost 2% of global energy use has been laws imposing specified “renewable energy portfolio standards” (RPS) on utilities or other mandates for renewable energy use. These policies have aided growth of renewables, and by spreading costs among all utility customers of feed-in tariffs, added transmission lines, and the backup power needed for intermittent renewables (usually fossil fuel based), the electricity cost has been bearable as long as the portion of renewables is small. Now for the sake of moving rapidly to carbon-free power while minimizing electricity costs, the need is for “clean energy portfolio standards” (CPS), thus allowing nuclear energy to compete with renewable energies.

The previously discussed 3 November open letter ‘To Those Influencing Environmental Policy But Opposed to Nuclear Power’ has provoked much needed debate. Let us hope that this new paper and the PlOS ONE call for solutions papers builds on that interest to get something done.

there is still opportunity for humanity to exercise free will.

and free will means “be effective” not more failed “Kyoto commitments”.

Jeffrey Sachs: On climate, more ‘now’ and ‘how’ is needed

John Rennie interviews Jeff Sachs for The Gleaming Retort:

Sachs … is also a coauthor, with climatologist James Hansen and a multidisciplinary team of other specialists, of a recent report in the journal PLOS ONE that made a plea for 1 degree Celsius, not 2 degrees, as the appropriate ceiling for permissible warming in the future.

To get his impressions of the report’s content and of its policy implications, I spoke with Sachs a few days before the paper’s publication. What follows is a summary of that conversation.

2 °C is too much

Asked to describe the PLOS ONE report, Sachs calls it “one of the best, concise, up-to-date summaries” of current scientific understanding about the state of the warming problem, drawing on paleoclimate data, climate models, and empirical tracking of global temperatures. (He is also quick to credit it primarily to Hansen, who led the work.)

All those indications, Sachs says, lead to the same conclusions: that the impacts of climate change are already being felt, that they will multiply tremendously in the future, and that feedbacks in the climate system could greatly amplify both the future warming and the consequences associated with it.

No matter whether one favors the limit for future warming to be 1 °C or 2, Sachs says, “we’re off course for either,” with current mainstream projections suggesting that future warming could be headed toward 3-4 °C. But the PLOS ONE paper argues that even the 2 °C target accepted in past global discussions is potentially far more dangerous than was realized. “That two degree figure, which is taken as optimistic by most mainstream observers, is itself wildly complacent,” Sachs says.


David Montgomery – Testimony for Hearing on EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations

Prof. Montgomery’s prepared testimony is here [PDF]. It’s really excellent, science-based guidance to the politicians — it is worth reading the whole text. Fortunately Judith Curry also took an interest in Montgomery’s testimony so Judith and her commenters offer lots of useful insights. Altogether this is a very long post (26,000 words) but very worthwhile. Included are attempted rebuttals by Georgia Tech colleague Paul Baer.

I am not a fan of the EPA endangerment finding on CO2 – if any GHG policy is to be effective and affordable, regulation is not that tool.

Personally I found the most useful comments were those by Judith Curry , Richard Tol, and “Max Manacker” (you can search for (“curryja”, “richard tol” and “manacker”). I will quote Max Manacker’s summary comment as I agree with Montgomery and Max. For brevity I have excised Max’s comments on the Baer, Heinz rebuttals:

Here is my take on all this, for what it’s worth.

Dr. David Montgomery makes four important points at the start of his written testimony:

First, if the U.S. were to act without solid assurance of comparable efforts by China, India, and other industrialized countries, its efforts would make almost no difference to global temperature, especially if industrial production and associated emissions are simply exported to other countries.

Second, even global action is unlikely to yield U.S. benefits commensurate with the costs it would incur in making steep GHG emission cuts.

Third, globally, even with moderate emission reductions, benefits would not be much greater than costs and,

Fourth, conflicting economic interests will make international agreements on mandatory limits unstable.

Montgomery discounts the idea that regulations will cause companies to take actions to save money, which they would otherwise not do:

Any claim that a regulation or standard will on balance save money should be regarded with a high degree of skepticism unless accompanied by a well researched and peer reviewed demonstration that the specific action will cure a market failure, and do so without administrative costs great enough to wipe out the gains.

He points out why climate policy will not promote a new clean energy export industry in the U.S., citing the experience of the past 10 years. This experience shows that they rather cause the loss of U.S. jobs with the possible addition of a few new jobs located outside the U.S.

Montgomery then addresses the great uncertainties plus the “winners and losers” argument mentioned by Dr. Curry in her testimony before U.S. Congress:

Even if the goal of industrial policy were accepted, mandatory reductions on greenhouse gas emissions are the wrong way to go about it.

The most fundamental error is failing to admit how little is known about the direct causes of damage to human and economic systems that have been attributed to climate change.

Some changes may be beneficial, such as increased growing seasons and carbon dioxide fertilization in high latitudes, and some are negative, such as drought or storms in tropical areas. But the range of possibilities and whether it adds up to a positive or a negative in any particular region is impossible to predict with confidence. Therefore, any economic evaluation of damages is equally uncertain.

He points out how cost/benefit analyses for specific actionable proposals are hardly ever made. Instead the whole palette of possible worst-case scenarios is presented as justification for action.

In analyzing any particular policy the costs of that policy must be compared to the damage it avoids. It is shocking how rarely this fundamental economic principle is violated.

Montgomery makes a good case for his conclusion that attempts to change our planet’s climate will neither change the climate perceptibly nor show cost effective economic benefits, such as creating jobs.

He also points out that they would be totally meaningless without world-wide cooperation, and this is highly unlikely to occur.

{snip Baer, Heinz criticisms}

I’d say the testimony of Montgomery is much more convincing than the rebuttals of either Baer or Heinz.

But then, Montgomery had a lot of time to prepare his testimony, while Baer and Heinz were just “shooting from the hip” in response.


The Hartwell Paper: Oblique strategies

…in The Economist 11 May 2010 there’s a discussion of the Hartwell Paper:

(…) Where the Hartwell paper becomes controversial is in its approach to decarbonisation. The authors argue that the large emerging economies are clearly fuelling themselves with renewables and nuclear as well as, rather than instead of, fossil fuels, for various reasons, and that this will not change soon. Nor, they imply, should it. They argue that there is something wrong with a world in which carbon-dioxide levels are kept to 450 parts per million (a trajectory widely deemed compatible with a 2 degree cap on warming) but at the same time more than a billion of the poorest people are left without electricity, as in one much discussed scenario from the International Energy Agency.

Their oblique approach is to aim instead for a world with accessible, secure low cost energy for all. The hope, intuition or strategy at play here is that since fossil fuels cannot deliver such a world, its achievement will, in itself, bring about decarbonisation on a massive scale. Following a path stressing clean energy as a development issue provides a more pleasant journey to the same objective.

(…) The Hartwellites do not disagree with the science in general and certainly don’t think there is no reason to act. They simply doubt that action along this one axis (carbon-dioxide reduction) can ever be made politically compelling. Instead, their oblique strategies (…) are to concentrate on easy opportunities and efficiency, energy and dignity.

In the comments I found the following observation from one of our favorite energy policy analyst/observers, the pseudonymous “harrywr2“:

One of the problems in the ‘energy debate’ is that various institutions use the ‘average’ price of coal to decide which actions may or may not make ‘economic’ sense.

The worlds greatest pile of coal sits in Gillette, Wyoming..where one can show up with a pickup truck and get a ton of coal for $12. There aren’t any ‘alternative’ energy options available that will ever compete against $12/ton coal.

In the ‘real’ world, coal has to be shipped to a market. That $12/ton coal in Wyoming ends up costing $100/ton by the time it is put on a train, hauled over the rocky mountains, put on a boat and floated across the pacific to China.

The Copenhagen folks I suppose could point to the level of investment the Chinese are making in hydro,nuclear and wind and congratulate themselves on finally convincing the Chinese on the need to be ‘environmentally friendly’.

Or one could take another view and conclude that the Chinese calculated the cost of importing coal from Wyoming and decided that ‘alternative energy’ was cheaper and as a bonus they would be congratulated by the Copenhagen folks for finally becoming ‘environmentally conscious’.

If one believes the later then the ‘Hartwell’ focus makes more sense.

Global treaties to reduce CO2 emissions are only going to happen if they coincide with the goal of ‘cheap plentiful electricity for all’.

As Harry outlines, my shorthand of “cheaper than coal” can be misleading unless regionally nuanced. I think that hurdle is valid for most Chinese utility investment decisions – but obviously does not incentivize a Wyoming region utility to choose a low-carbon option.

Rob Dunbar: Discovering ancient climates in oceans and ice

We recommend Rob Dunbar’s recent TED Talk. In this post we are collecting a few of the links we have found researching the drillship JOIDES Resolution and the IODP Wilkes Land Expedition. The photo above is from Rob’s mid-expedition dispatch “Iceberg City “.

Rob Dunbar-Home Page-Stanford University

Robert Dunbar | Center for Ocean Solutions

Rob Dunbar | Ice Stories: Dispatches From Polar Scientists

Tall Tales in the New York Times

Roger Pielke Jr. is an authority on the evidence for climate change signals in tropical storm intensities. See for example here. Roger also maintains a watch for rubbish published in the media or the academic literature. A current standout example is this NY Times silliness:

I’ve made peace with the fact that many people want to believe things utterly unsupported by data, such as what Elisabeth Rosenthal writes in today’s New York Times, that intense storms and floods have become three times more common and increasing damage from such events is evidence of human caused climate change. Of course, people believe a lot of silly things that data don’t support — like President Obama is a Muslim with a fake birth certificate, vaccines cause autism, and climate change is a hoax, just to name a few on a very long list. While such misplaced beliefs are always disconcerting, especially so to academics who actually study these issues, such misjudgments need not necessarily stand in the way of effective action. So it is not worth getting too worked up about tall tales.

But even so, it is still amazing to see the newspaper of record publish a statement like the following about Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies:


Read the whole thing »

Reversing the direction of the positive feedback loop: Part II

Climate scientist Judith Curry is a brave woman. On 4 Nov Judith was at Purdue University, preparing for a panel discussion with Andy Revkin and Roger Pielke Jr. on “Beyond Climategate.” She posted a preview of her talk, focusing on “The positive feedback loop” – excerpt:

(…) I think the dynamics are much more complicated, and can only be understood by considering the ever vexatious feedback loop. There has been a particularly toxic positive feedback loop between climate science and policy and politics, whose direction has arguably been reversed as result of Climategate.

The scientists provided the initial impulse for this feedback loop back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The enviro advocacy groups quickly saw the possibilities and ran with it, with the scientists’ blessing. The enviro advocacy groups saw the climate change issue as an opportunity to enlist scientific support for their preferred energy policy solution. Libertarian think tanks, the traditional foes of the enviro advocacy groups, began countering with doubts about the science. International efforts to deal with the climate change problem were launched in 1992 with the UNFCCC treaty.

That post generated a comment-storm, so Judith has posted a Part II with a more in depth discussion of her framing:

(…) The previous post was written for the Purdue event, I had 10-15 minutes to make a statement. I put forth an argument (the feedback loop) with premises. To many, the premises I put forth seem self evident. Others are demanding “proof” and “evidence” of my premises. My argument, and the premises that it is based on, are offered up for discussion on this blog.

Are any of you tired of the endless debate over who is hero and who is villain in the scenario unfolded in the CRU emails? Even if we were to get rid of all of the “objectionable” characters on both sides of this, would climate science be fixed? Would we have sensible energy policies? No and no. And we can’t frame/narrate/communicate our way out of this either. The problems and the issues are much bigger: geopolitics, economics, clashes of values. An extremely wicked problem for which science does not provide a solution.


So far Judith has about 500 comments on Part I, and as I write 378 comments on Part II.

Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research

Two of the bright lights in the climate change arena are Ken Caldeira and David Keith, who jointly lead the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (FICER). The fund is setting a strong example for transparency on both inputs and outputs. Bill Gates is providing the funding (personally, not the Gates Foundation). Here are a couple of Q/A examples from the FICER information page:

Q. What is the source and size of the fund? Who administers the fund?

A. Since its inception in 2007, FICER has given out grants to 13 research projects and various scientific meetings totaling $4.6 million. Internationally known climate scientists Dr. David Keith of University of Calgary and Dr. Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution select projects that receive support from the fund. While Mr. Gates provides input from time to time on the fund, Drs. Keith and Caldera make final decisions on projects.

Q. Does the fund support research into geoengineering? Does the fund support research into “clean energy”?

A. Yes, the fund supports research into both geoengineering and clean energy, as well as basic climate science research. The directors of the fund believe that society should be spending many tens-of-billions of dollars per year developing and deploying affordable, scalable, near zero-carbon energy sources.

“Geoengineering” is a term that different people use in different ways. Some proposed technologies, for example capturing and sequestering excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, attempt to address the root causes of climate change. These approaches are relatively uncontroversial. Other proposed technologies, for example solar radiation management (SRM) attempt to reduce the effects of climate change but don’t address the root causes. SRM aims to cool the planet, for example by adding reflective aerosols (small particles suspended in air) to the stratosphere where they will reflect some incoming sunlight, cooling the planet. These approaches, which would be a human intervention in the climate system with potential environmental risks, are more controversial.

However, much important research into these approaches, such as computer modeling, laboratory experiments, or passive observations of nature, can be done without any interference in the climate system. This research is as important in determining which geoengineering technologies have limited efficacy, scalability or unacceptable environmental risks as it is in finding viable solutions, and the fund supports these kinds of projects. Further, research will help inform the development of much needed international conventions for any geoengineering field tests.

Q. Does the fund support field testing of geoengineering?

A. FICER has not supported and will not support any field tests of methods that introduce new kinds of interference into the climate system (e.g., solar radiation management, ocean fertilization). We are in favor of field testing industrial processes that can remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Review of The Climate Fix in the Financial Post

Roger Pielke Jr’s new book is out, and highly favorable reviews are beginning to appear. The Terence Corcoran review in the Financial Post is well written — I recommend it. A big plus is that FP also published an excerpt from the book, focused on prof. Pielke’s “iron law” of climate policy.

Here’s Roger on the FP review. And following are a couple of choice paragraphs from the excerpt on the “iron law”

(…) Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics called the contortions of policymakers on energy policy “gloriously incoherent” after observing their behaviour at preparatory meetings immediately preceding the 2008 G8 Summit in Toyako, Japan. In a morning session, Prins relates, policymakers discussed ways to lower the costs of gasoline brought on by the massive run-up in oil prices in 2007 and 2008. Then in the afternoon they reconvened to consider ways to increase the costs of gasoline through caps or taxes to address ever-growing greenhouse-gas emissions around the world.

A 2009 U.S. poll helpfully illustrates the iron law of climate policy. The poll asked respondents about their willingness to support a climate bill in the U.S. Congress at three different annual costs per household. At US$80 per year a majority said that they would support a bill. But at US$175 per year, support dropped by almost half, with a majority expressing opposition to such a bill. At US$770 per year opposition exceeds support by a ratio of about 10 to one.

Our new iPad arrives here in Australia tomorrow. The first ebook that will be loaded is the Kindle edition of The Climate Fix!