Friday, December 19, 2008

The Global Warming and Mitigation Debate Revisited

This post started as a comment on the EfT comment section. It got way to long for a comment, so I decided to turn it into a bog post. I have written everything i have to say here before. But I flatter myself that these things are important, and probably can stand to be repeated. So if all this sounds familiar to the point of being boring, please be patient.

I learned of the CO2/AGW theory during am informal briefing at ORNL by Jerry Olsen in 1971. Jerry was attached to the ORNL-NSF Environmental Studies Program that I was working for. Ihad at the time what amounted to an Internship. Jerry Olson was a plant ecologist who specialized in the role of plants in the world carbon cycle. I suspect hehad just briefed Alvin Weinbero on the increase of the CO2 content of the atmosphere, and its implications for world climate. Shortly afterwards, ORNL set up a group, to study atmospheric CO2, and its effects on global climate, Alvin Weinberg persuaded Freeman Dyson to come to ORNL to participate in the CO2/climate change research. By 1975 Weinberg, who had been director of ORNL, was talking to Congress about climate change. My father was writing about CO2 driven climate change as accepted scientific fact in 1977.

I still find it more than a little shocking that people refuse to accept the what a generation ago highly regarded scientists considered to be a a scientific fact. I stopped arguing with global warming skeptics after I analyzed of how the global warming mitigation costs might be paid. I came to the startling conclusion that CO2 mitigation would have significant secondary economic benefits that might appeal to AGW skeptics. First, many fossil fuel power plants are old and need to be replaced. Coal and natural gas are no longer cheap fuels, and most utilities such as TVA have just gone through a round of very substantial electrical price increases, primarily to cover the increasing cost of fossil fuel. Many older fossil fuel power plants are worn out and in need of replacing. Thus the cost of building replacement power plants will have to be paid regardless of what we believe about global warming.

Secondly, eliminating coal from the power mix will probably lower medical costs now born by tax payers, employers, individuals and their families. A few years ago, a group of Canadian doctors and other medical researchers came to the startling conclusion that Canadian coal burning power plants had an adverse health related cost cost attached to them, That cost was paid by Canadian tax payers and by sick individuals and their families, in terms of direct and insurance payment for treatment of medical conditions caused by coal burning pollution. As much as 20% of Canadian and American health care expenses can be tied to the burning of fossil fuels as an energy source by out society. Thus mitigating CO2 emissions will have a large, positive economic benefit, and will improve the health of many people.

There are also similar powerful arguments against gasoline powered cars. Gasoline powered automotive technology and other internal combustion technologies is already a significant drag on the economy, and will become increasingly so. The United States cannot go on paying for imported oil with credit cards. I favor switching to electrical powered cars rather than some carbon neutral liquid fuel. We would get the same sort of secondary health care cost benefits that carbon mitigations in electrical generation would bring us, provided we used electrical power in the transportation system. Liquid fuels, even carbon neutral liquid fuels, would continue to impose indirect health care costs. Thus one need not believe in AGW to acknowledge the benefits of switching to post carbon transportation. I would expect by 2040 that battery technology will be greatly advanced, and that we will either be plugging in our cars at night. Urban trucking should also be electrified, but the long distance trucking industry will probably die, because rail transportation is far more carbon efficient, and can be electrified. The cost of transforming the transportation system will be at least partially paid for as replacement costs for older, worn out equipment. We will also be partially compensated by lower healthcare costs, and by better health.

I would also like to point out the ideological nature of global warming skepticism, and how I think the ideological problem can be made solved. There is a definite political and ideological divide in the global warming debate, with most global warming skeptics tending to be on the political right. For example, last year surveys found that a clear majority of college educated Republicans were global warming skeptics. Am overwhelming majority of Republican political bloggers are global warming skeptics. If we look at Europe we find a similar pattern with skepticism more associated with the right than the left. There are exceptions. Some extreme left-wingers are also global warming skeptics.

I view the skepticism of the right as most unfortunate, for several reasons. First, my analysis suggests that AGW can be mitigated much less government intrusion into the market than many Greens suggests. While I have no doubt that some intrusion may be required, because the crisis resemble a major war in significant respects, it is highly desirable that there be the widest spread support for the needed intrusions as possible. Woodrow Wilson was wise to give Republican Herbert Hoover a major role in the World War I system of economic controls, for example.

I am concerned about the “Green” capture of the left, because “Greens” are not liberals, and they are not political pragmatists. Greens tend to take a view that would require far more government intrusion into the economy, and into the personal lives and lifestyle of people that is justified by the situation we face. Some greens appear to take what can be described as an anthropophobic view point. They don’t like modern civilization, and view it as doomed by energy and resource shortages. They openly view the mass die off of people that would accompany the collapse of modern civilization as a good thing rather than a tragedy. As a liberal I view this attitude to be reprehensible and antithetical to liberal principles. So while I would not agree with political conservatives on many issues, we need them in the discussion on AGW mitigation to balance the views of the nut case Greens.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Some greens appear to take what can be described as an anthropophobic view point. They don’t like modern civilization, and view it as doomed by energy and resource shortages. They openly view the mass die off of people that would accompany the collapse of modern civilization as a good thing rather than a tragedy".

The nuclear community must have done the greens and their forefathers some traumatic assault to make them so crazy and illogical. Have you ever posted a history and an explanation of this pathology?

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

Sun Tzu: The Art of War.

Charles Barton said...

You comments raise issues that should have a long answer if that answer if is to make sense. I have discussed a number of the early figures in the anti-nuclear movement. The most anthrophobic of that lot in my estimation was the wacked out environmentalist David Brower. However the anthrophobic strain of the green movement draws on the Club of Rome/Jay Forrester theories of a catistrophy to civiilization triggered by peak oil and by E. F. Schumacher's economic theory.

donb said...

Count me among the politically conservative global warming skeptics.

However, I think an excellent case can be made for the agressive use of sustainable nuclear energy due to the many other bad things about burning coal and other fossil fuels. I strongly believe that we need to take the bull by the horns and move quickly to replace fossil fuels with nuclear as soon as possible.

If others can be brought along the nuclear path by arguments about anthropogenic-CO2-caused global climate change, well so be it.

Bhuvan Chand said...

i really impress with you blog and plz keep writing for this blog.

Anonymous said...

CharlesB,

What do you think the climate sensitivity is for a doubling of co2?

charlesH

Charles Barton said...

Charles H.If there is an atmospheric doubling of CO, I would advise the purchase of a beach front property on the Canadian Arctic Ocean coast.

Charles Barton said...

Charles H.If there is an atmospheric doubling of CO, I would advise the purchase of a beach front property on the Canadian Arctic Ocean coast.

Anonymous said...

charlesB

You didn't answer the question.

I'll ask another.

What is the relationship between co2 and warming according to the laws of physics?

charlesH

Charles Barton said...

Charles H, I do not intend to debate with you on global warming. i trust the scientific judgement of scientist who i had high regard for, like Jerry Olsen, Alvin Weinberg, Edward Teller, and my father. At one time I participated in a number of debates about global warming, but eventually came to the conclusion that even if global warming were not a problem a good case could be made for the major mitigation measures i supported.

At the moment I am out of the Global warming debate, and I regard what I am doing with my time and energy as being more important than debating global warming skeptics. In order to answer you initial question I would have to do something of a literature search, and you could do that as well as I could if you are simply looking for an answer.

If you are concerned about the relationship between CO2 and warming according to the Laws of Physics, i suggest that you get a hold of a copy of Edward Tellers December 1957 speech to the ACS in which he discussed that topic. I would dearly love to see a copy of that speech myself, because it is of great historic interest. It would be of particular interest to see if Teller made forecasts, and how accurate they turned out to be.

Anonymous said...

charlesB

It would seem your knowledge of co2 warming is limited to feeling some sense of parenthood because your fathers lab called attention to the fact (undisputed) that co2 is a green house gas.

The debate between warmers and skeptics in the scientific community is not over the fact co2 is a greenhouse gas (this has been know for more than 100yrs, your fathers lab didn't discover it). The debate is over how strong it is, the climate sensitivity issue.

Most skeptics would pick a number around 1dc for co2 doubling while most warmers claim it is 3-5dc. To get the higher number warmers have to assume a very large water vapor positive feedback. The whole issue of water, clouds etc is not well understood. Clouds can be positive or negative feedback depending on the type.

This is why I say the warmers see the supporting data glass half full. They assume the type of feed backs that give you the dangerous warming scenario. The skeptics see the glass as half empty. They say there is not sufficient date to support the more dangerous scenarios.

Then of course you have the policy priority debate. Lomborg et al would say that even if there is warming money is better spent providing clean water and sanitation to the worlds poor. Also, it is far cheaper to adapt to warming than controlling co2.

It is quite possible that your father would be a skeptic if he were still with us.

Charles Barton said...

Cool it. I don't debate AGW on this blog, and my knowledge extends considerably beyond a received tradition. I have discussed several debates on my blog bartoncii, but no longer engage in the debate and I see no point in arguing with you now. IWe have known about peak oil since 1956 and we need to start preparing for it now. Thus would be the case even if there was no problem with Global warming. There are serious health care costs related to the use of coal in power production abs both coal and natural gas release radioactive gasses when they are burned. thus there are good reasons to dispense with the burning of all fossil fuel's as soon as possible even even without global warming.

donb said...

Charles Barton said:
There are serious health care costs related to the use of coal in power production as both coal and natural gas release radioactive gasses when they are burned. Thus there are good reasons to dispense with the burning of all fossil fuels as soon as possible even without global warming.

Exactly!

Put the anthropogenic global climate change arguments aside for the moment. Even with them out of the picture, I view it as a crime against humanity that we are not agressively developing and deploying advanced nuclear energy sources. It is a crime against humanity to have vast sources of concentrated clean energy at hand and make no more than token use of them.

We should regard fossil fuels as no more than a transitional source of energy to get us to a nuclear energy future. And since we will likely never totally replace fossil fuels for some uses (e.g., aviation and small scale transportation in remote areas), we need to save fossil fuel for those specialized uses that will continue long into the future.

Anonymous said...

charlesB,

Peak oil, reasons to dispense with oil etc. have nothing to do with AGW being a crisis or not.

My request to you is to avoid disparaging comments regarding AGWCC skeptics. It is not necessary to promote LFTR and is counter productive.

Even if AGW is not a serious problem there are plenty of other reasons to go with LFTR.

charlesH

Charles Barton said...

Charles H, I did not disparaging AGW skeptics some of whom I view as allies, but I did acknowledge being still shocked by their skepticism. I am also a liberal Democrat and I am equally shocked by the ideologically based skepticism about nuclear power that expressed by many Liberal Democrats.

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